New Year, same old shit as Kurt Angle opens the show to hype up how great 2018 will be for Raw, establish the rules for the women’s Royal Rumble match (newsflash: they’re exactly the same as always), and then ends up being interrupted by Sheamus, Cesaro, Jason Jordan, and Seth Rollins. All the guys complain about the Raw Tag Team Championship match last week, which leads to Jordan facing Cesaro to prove that he deserved the shot and is a team player. Cesaro uses his unparalleled in-ring ability to carry Jordan to a pretty decent match, with the narrative being a bit of a course correction to cast Jordan as a sympathetic, underdog babyface. The crowd wasn’t exactly massively onboard for that but it didn’t really matter as, after Rollins took out Sheamus to level the playing field, he got the win with his still-unnamed pop-up neckbreaker thing. Does anyone else think it’s slightly crazy that the WWE sees more potential in Jordan as a future star than Cesaro?
Bray Wyatt took on Apollo Crews next; Apollo is still being managed by Titus O’Neil but the spotlight is so clearly off of their burgeoning storyline now and firmly on the building feud between Wyatt and “Woken” Matt Hardy. As a result, this plodding and less than exciting match end with Wyatt getting the win and then Matt taunting him on the TitanTron. Yep, you read that right, Wyatt actually won a match but I still have to wonder where this feud between he and Matt is going to lead for them in the future.
Asuka then took on Alexa Bliss in a non-title match that actually lasted longer than a few seconds or minutes, dragging out in a faux classic in order to build up anticipation for Asuka tapping Bliss out to show that she is capable of defeating the Raw Women’s Champion and that she is probably going to win the women’s Royal Rumble match. Good for her, I guess.
Continuing on from my rant from last week, Braun Strowman made short work of Rhyno, again begging the questions as to where Heath Slater and Rhyno were when Kane needed to squash someone. Poor old Heath also got the life slammed out of him when he tried to get involved, once again casting Braun as the most popular monster in the WWE today even when he’s making mincemeat of babyfaces. Afterwards, Kane proposes that they put their differences aside at Royal Rumble to take out Brock Lesnar but Braun couldn’t give a shit about that.
Roman Reigns then continued to impress and surprise by once again putting the Intercontinental Championship on the line against Samoa Joe, with the stipulation being that Reigns would lose the title if he gets disqualified. So, naturally, Joe brought the fight to Reigns, with the two throwing their biggest and best moves at each other and the action spilling out to ringside. Reigns kicked out of the Uranage and attempted to lock in the Coquina Clutch, only for Reigns to roll through and pin Joe following a Spear. If this wasn’t a massive step in the right direction for getting Reigns over as an ass-kicking babyface then I don’t know what is; Joe, like Braun, really brings out the best of Reigns in these massive hoss clashes. Hopefully he is able to ride that momentum and not be greeting with a chorus of boos at WrestleMania.
Apparently, someone is listening to my complaints about the same old six-man tag team matches between the cruiserweights as, this week, Cedric Alexander teamed up with Goldust, of all people, to defeat Drew Gulak and Ariya Daivari. I’m not entirely sure why Goldust was involved here; it’s not like he’s a cruiserweight or a babyface (last I checked…) but hey, you know, it gets him on TV, I suppose.
So, right when the WWE seems like they have given up on Finn Balor by sacrificing him to Kane for no reason and then making him beat nobodies for weeks, they randomly threw him into a six-man tag team match with former Bullet Club buddies Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows to beat Elias, Curtis Axel, and Bo Dallas. So…apparently, the Club are faces now? Or Finn is turning heel? They shared a touching moment with the “Too Sweet!” gesture and looked to be on the same page here; if they could become a fully time stable for a bit, maybe with Finn holding the Intercontinental Championship and the Club as the Raw Tag Team Champions, it might help to get Finn back on course and give the Shield a formidable stable to face when Dean Ambrose returns from injury.
However, Raw’s true main event this week was Paul Heyman coming out with the living lump of muscle Brock Lesnar to go on his using diatribe about how Lesnar is the conqueror and will win at Royal Rumble and obviously win at WrestleMania because he’s the fittest guy ever because he never actually wrestles a match. Kane, however, comes out to challenge that in a confrontation that ends in a pull-apart brawl when the entire Raw locker room empties to keep them from killing each other. Unfortunately, Braun doesn’t head out to just murder them both and give people what they really want; Braun posing with the belt but, hey, there’s always next week.
Like I said, New Year, same old shit as AJ Styles opens the show to hype the Royal Rumble, vow to take the World Championship into, and out of, WrestleMania. However, the real stars of SmackDown! Live soon interrupt, with Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan continuing their passive-aggressive bickering to establish that everyone and their mother will be at ringside for AJ’s match against Sami Zayn later in the night.
The Usos then put the SmackDown! Live Tag Team Championships on the line against Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin in a truly electric match that really went all-out for a television match. The place went unglued when Gable and Shelton hit the Doomsday Powerbomb to win the belts, only for the instant replay to show that the Usos got a tag and the wrong guy was pinned. Naturally, the Usos retained the belts when the match restarted but this went a long way towards building anticipation for the inevitable rematch at Royal Rumble.
The Bludgeon Brothers once again decimated Tyler Breeze and Fandango, this time before the bell could even ring, only for the Ascension to try to help out and get their asses kick, too. So…what’s happening with this now, exactly? Are they going to do a four-on-two handicap match at Royal Rumble to settle the “issues” between these teams? Honestly, this just feels like a massive on-air burial of Breezango after their Fashion File segment actually made them a popular team.
The United States Championship tournament continues with SmackDown! Live’s top heel, Aiden English taking on Xavier Woods and, thankfully, losing in what was, admittedly, a pretty decent match. I don’t recall ever seeing Woods win a singles match, so that was a surprise, but surely there’s no way he’s winning the whole thing?
Six-man chaos continued next, with the Riott Squad defeated Natalya, Tamina, and Carmella and then being cleared away by Charlotte Flair, Naomi, and the returning Becky Lynch. This was simply to build hype for the women’s Royal Rumble match but how the hell can anyone believe that Carmella and Natalya are faces, even by default, out of the blue like this? It’s not like the Riott Squad (or Raw’s Absolution stable) are the nWo but by God if the WWE isn’t trying to make you think they are!
In the main event, AJ Styles took on Sami Zayn, with Shane, Daniel, and Owens all at ringside. If a match happened between these two, I completely missed it because I was too engrossed in the real main event storyline of SmackDown! Live, the one bigger than the World Championship or any full-time, active wrestler. Obviously, I’m talking about the ongoing issues with Shane and Bryan as Shane barred Owens from ringside after he distracted the referee, only for Bryan to call for Shane to leave as well and, in the chaos, Sami was able to land the Helluva Kick and get the shock pin fall on AJ. Afterwards, AJ was rightfully pissed off, which only caused Bryan to book him into a handicap World Championship match at Royal Rumble against both Owens and Zayn. So…I don’t get it; is Bryan turning heel or is Shane? They both seem to be flip-lopping each week and throughout the night of each show. If this is leading to the rumoured match between Shane and Bryan at WrestleMania, I am not fucking interested! I don’t want to see Shane McMahon wrestling matches against anybody and am sick to death of him getting this much spotlight, especially at the detriment of AJ Styles and the World Championship again. It’s actually mind boggling that the WWE would book their top belt in such a way to be overshadowed by Shane and that they really think anybody wants to boo Daniel Bryan.