Winners: Tye Dillinger, Tyler Breeze, and Fandango, Shinsuke Nakamura, Randy Orton, Carmella and Natalya, The Usos, Charlotte, and AJ Styles.
What better way to open a pay-per-view than the WWE’s signature match of the last two years, a six-man tag team match? This time, Tyler Breeze and Fandango were randomly joined by Tye Dillinger (remember him?) and Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin were randomly joined by Mojo Rawley. So does this officially make Gable and Shelton heels now? Why is recently turned lone wolf Mojo teaming with these guys anyway? If you ask me, him and Baron Corbin should form an ass-kicking, bitter tag team. Anyway, great to see Dillinger back on the roster again and being used; he really should have been incorporated into the United States Championship scene before now. Maybe he’ll get a push or something after WrestleMania. Anyway, this was a fast-paced opener to the show that, surprisingly, the crowd was quite into; now all the WWE has to do is actually do something with these guys!
Shinsuke Nakamura and Rusev collided after literally five minutes of build up and what a match it turned out to be. Both guys have this really intense, hard-hitting style that meshed really well, with Rusev using his size and power to try and wear Nakamura down and Shinsuke targeting the knee to chop the giant down. Rusev came back with an explosive Superkick that turned Nakamura literally inside out before Nakamura landed two Kinshasas and claimed a strong victory. While I would have preferred some actual build, or a match between Nakamura and John Cena, this delivered way more than I expected but the WWE really needs to do something with Rusev because he’s so good and is really building a fanbase now.
Bobby Roode put the United States Championship on the line against Randy Orton next and, surprisingly, these two worked pretty well together. Orton’s offense was less slow, plodding, and boring and the two contrasted and complimented each other well. Orton continuously teased the RKO before they traded pin attempts; Roode decided to go to the top rope for…some reason…and ended up falling to the Leaping RKO. Afterwards, Jinder Mahal attacked Orton, only for Roode to take them both out with the Glorious DDT. So, apparently, it is going to be Roode, Orton, and Mahal for the belt at WrestleMania only with the twist that Orton will be the champion. I’m not sure I agree with putting the belt on Orton; he doesn’t really need it and defending against him is surely better than him holding it, plus if he loses at WrestleMania then it begs the question of why bother having him hold it at all.
Carmella and Natalya took on, and defeated, Becky Lynch and Naomi which was another surprise; Carmella actually got a pin fall victory over another woman. Otherwise, I was less than impressed with this effort. This was followed by a successful title defence from the Usos against the New Day after the Bludgeon Brothers interfered just as the match was getting interesting and destroy everybody. As good as the match was, this was a much needed angle for the Bludgeon Brothers; if they want in on the WrestleMania title match and want to make an impact, it’s time to start showcasing their dominance against teams that matter.
Charlotte defended the SmackDown! Live Women’s Championship against Ruby Riott, effectively ending any threat that Riott and her cronies pose to Charlotte and her reign. Ruby looked really good in the match but there was no way she was going to win, really; she could have taken the belt months ago to make the Riott Squad a force to be reckoned with. Instead, without it, they are just three women who like to beat people up. Speaking of which, afterwards, Asuka shows up and decides to pick Charlotte as her WrestleMania opponent. Again, this is the match that makes the most marketable sense but I really feel like Asuka wasted a lot of time on Raw the last few weeks; she could have showed up on SmackDown! Live a couple of times to tease this but, instead, all the build has to happen now.
AJ Styles put the WWE Championship on the line against Baron Corbin, John Cena, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, and Dolph Ziggler in the main event and, immediately, Cena shows his desperation for the WrestleMania spotlight by planting everyone with an Attitude Adjustment except for AJ so they can have a bit of one-on-one. Similar to Elimination Chamber, though, everyone soon gets back in the ring and kicks the shit out of Cena for strong-arming his way into another championship match that didn’t need him. Soon, it all breaks down and the signatures, counters, and finishers go flying all over the place. Owens tries to set up the announce table to put AJ through it but, instead, Cena sends Owens crashing through it with an AA but, after he recovers, he teams up with Sami to clear the ring and Sami offers to lay down for him.
Owens cautiously went for the pin, only to get rolled up and to end up in another brawl with Zayn. Shane McMahon starts yelling at them and ends up getting Superkicked by Owens; Zayn tried to take advantage and land the Helluva Kick on Owens but ended up eating a Superkick. The others recovered then for the finisher fest: Owens hits Ziggler with the Pop-Up Powerbomb, only for Shane to pull the referee out of the ring and screw him over, then Corbin attacks everyone with the steel steps before Cena AA’s him onto them. Ziggler hits Cena with his Superkick but Cena no-sold it, planted him with the AA, then got hit with the Pop-Up Powerbomb, before AJ came flying in with the Phenomenal Forearm and retained the belt.
This was, actually, some really chaotic fun; the match, though crowded, gelled and flowed really well and AJ looked fantastic all the way through it. Even Corbin got some good chances to shine, using his strength and tenacity to make an impact, and Cena actually contributed to the match in a way he didn’t at Elimination Chamber. Even better, Cena didn’t win and the dream match between Styles and Nakamura is still on and can finally get some traction.
Kurt Angle opens the show…again…this time to hype his match with Ronda Rousey against Stephanie McMahon and Triple H at WrestleMania. This upsets DA BIG DAWG~!, who pops out to talk some shit about Brock Lesnar. He decides to lay the blame for Lesnar’s attitude and disappearance on Vince McMahon and ends up heading out to Vince’s office. However, Vince shuts it down by claiming Lesnar has special privileges (don’t we bloody know it!) and that, for running his mouth, reigns has been temporarily suspended. This is a very odd turn for the build towards their WrestleMania match; Reigns criticising Lesnar for being the “golden boy” isn’t really working as people love to cheer for Lesnar’s destruction and are still happy to boo Reigns. It might just be me but, whenever the WWE gets Vince involved in top storylines these days, it always seems like a desperate attempt to get some heat against who they want people to boo but Reigns isn’t this hardworking man of the people; he is the golden boy and he should be walking around with a chip on his shoulder after pinning the Undertaker last year. Instead, he is back to being this awkward face who gets in the face of authority despite everyone knowing that he is ear-marked as being the top guy.
Sonya Deville defeated Sonya Deville next after Bayley ran out to take out Mandy Rose and neutralise Absolution’s interference. However, she bailed afterwards and allowed Sasha to get beaten up by Absolution. The Miz tried to stir things up between Seth Rollins and Finn Balor but, although they don’t much like each other, neither man is stupid enough to fall for Miz’s shit, though they do still have a bit of a punch up anyway.
Sheamus and Cesaro looked to finish off the last of Raw’s tag teams in a match against Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas but it never started as the Revival, the Club, Titus Worldwide, and Heath Slater and Rhyno all ran out for a big brawl. The question remains as to who will rise up to challenge the Bar at WrestleMania and why we can’t put a push between a Bar/Club/Revival triple threat. Afterwards John Cena flip-flops again to cry about not having a path to WrestleMania; he says that, even though a couple of weeks ago there was no way that a match between he and the Undertaker could happen, it’s actually the Undertaker who is standing in the way of the match and runs him down. He then officially lays the challenge down for one more match, which is fine but couldn’t we have had Cena bring this much energy and passion for an Undertaker match over the last few weeks instead of unnecessarily clogging up the Elimination Chamber and Fatslane main events with his presence? I get the story they’re trying to tell but, if you’re trying to coax the Undertake rout for (potentially) his last ever match, it deserves more than a few weeks of build, surely?
Finn Balor and Seth Rollins went at it next; the story here was that Balor has Rollins’ number, building off his Universal Championship victory from a while back. These guys are great together; they are literally the WWE’s next big stars and I’m so glad that they’re finally getting an extended program together. Hopefully, with Balor getting a roll-up win over Rollins and showcasing his talent, the WWE will be convinced to put the machine back behind him as the year rolls on…unless Kane needs another sacrificial lamb.
Asuka comes out to talk about challenging Charlotte at WrestleMania, only for Alexa Bliss to come out and criticise her for ducking her in favour of Charlotte. Alexa then sets Asuka up so that she and Mickie James can beat her up ahead of her match against Mickie, but it’s all to no avail as Asuka’s winning streak stays intact ahead of her WrestleMania match. Afterwards, Nia defeats some jobber and then goes mental when she overhears Alexa and Mickie making fun of her. So…I guess it will Nia vs. Alexa at WrestleMania after all, which is great but I wonder if Nia is really working as a face?
All of Raw’s tag teams have a bit of a battle royale to decide who will face the Bar for the belts, only for Braun Strowman to enter himself into the match and kick the hell out of everyone and win it for himself. Interesting twist, will Braun get a partner, perhaps someone from NXT or will the WWE completely decimate the tag team division by having Braun win the belts by himself?
AJ Styles opened the show this week to finally start the hype for his WWE Championship match against Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania. He puts over Nakamura and the match as being a “dream match”, so Shinsuke pops out to tell him about his dream of hitting his knee into AJ’s face and becoming the WWE Champion. Aiden English and Rusev break up the party, so AJ has a match against Rusev; which was going really well, as you’d expect from these two, until English breaks up the Calf Crusher for the disqualification finish. A little later, backstage, AJ chews Nakamura out for getting involved but Shinsuke channels the Steve Austin/Rock feud from WrestleMania X-Seven and promises to keep AJ safe and healthy so he can beat him at WrestleMania.
The Bludgeon Brothers made such an impact at Fatslane that Big E and Jimmy Uso are forced to put aside their difference and face them in a match; however, as accomplished as these two are, they couldn’t stand up against Harper and Rowan, who finished them in under three minutes. Anything that keeps the Bludgeon Brothers looking strong, and viable challengers, to help add some excitement and variety to the tag team division is good in my book.
Asuka makes her SmackDown! Live debut, explaining that she chose to face Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania because she wants to face the best women’s champion. They make nice but you can tell there’s tension boiling under the surface. Speaking of which, Randy Orton sits at ringside to watch Bobby Roode and Jinder Mahal go at it to decide who will face him at WrestleMania. Despite bringing an admirable intensity, Roode still couldn’t quite help Mahal find that edge between the ropes; in the end, it was the distraction from Sunil Singh and the Khallas that won over, so Orton planted Mahal with an RKO.
Carmella continued her sudden winning streak by pinning Naomi; good for her.
Finally, Shane McMahon once again main events SmackDown! Live to announce that Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn will fight, again, at WrestleMania. Owens and Zayn come out and lure Shane into a false sense of security, beating the absolute snot out of him. Then jump him, choke him, wrap a chair around his neck and slam him into the ring post, then take him backstage and Powerbomb him into a bunch of scaffolding to leave him a retching, choking mess. This is all apparently to tie in to Shane taking an indefinite leave of absence but it seems to leave that WrestleMania announcement up in the air as are Owens and Zayn really going to fight again when their issue is more with Shane than each other? Or will Shane make a dramatic, unwelcome comeback with a partner in tow for a tag team match? Either way, I am glad to see Shane getting beaten senseless.