Well, for the second week in a row, Raw started with a match! And not just any match: a steel cage match, something I would argue is probably better saved for your main event but I’ll take this over the same damn opening promo we’ve been subjected to for years on end. So, yeah, Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre looked to settle their differences in a good, old-fashioned cage match; Ziggler ran through McIntyre to start with and tried to get out early but Drew was having none of that and shut him down. Things broke down into a brawl before Ziggler took over with a Fameasser and by slamming Drew into the cage a few times; Drew eventually stopped Dolph from escaping with a Superplex and then threw him head-first into the cage like a javelin. Ziggler landed the Zig-Zag for a near fall but McIntyre got the win after landed two Claymores; after the match, McIntyre beat the piss out of Dolph and vowed to win the Royal Rumble.
Seth Rollins was out next for a bit of a face-to-face with Triple H because, lest we forget, Rollins is the only one who can stand up to the WWE’s authority figures these days. Anyway, Triple H fired Seth up and he vowed to take out Dean Ambrose, Brock Lesnar, and anyone else who gets in his way. Shane McMahon (because the McMahon’s now drift across the brands at will these days) then booked a battle royal to decide who will be the next to face Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship that saw Finn Balor, Zack Ryder, Curt Hawkins, Titus O’Neil, Mojo Rawley, Bo Dallas, Konnor, Viktor, Kalisto, No Way Jose, Apollo Crews, Gran Metalik, Baron Corbin, and Lince Dorado all getting in on the action; that is a lot of underused talent right there! Despite Finn being involved, this was all about Apollo, who tossed fools all over the place and eventually dumped Corbin to get the win and the title shot. It’s nice to see the WWE finally trying, again, to get behind Crews but, honestly, it really feels like Finn needed this push towards an actual belt and an actual goal.
Bayley, Ember Moon, and Sasha Banks went up against the Riott Squad…again…because Women’s Tag Team Championships are coming…at some point…although Sasha ended up getting quite the beat down, the faces took the win once again. Afterwards, Rollins and Bobby Lashley faced off, which saw Seth shut down Lashley’s power game with his high-flying, fast-paced offense…which is kind of par for the course for most of Lashley’s matches since his WWE return. Things didn’t really get a chance to hit a higher gear though as Seth randomly decided that winning isn’t part of his new life philosophy, grabbed a chair, and got himself disqualified by hitting Lashley with it. After the match, Rollins damn near killed Lio Rush with a Stomp, which was probably the best part of this entire match.
The drama surrounding Heath Slater and Rhyno is officially put to an end as they were back in action as a tag team once more, taking on Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers in a bit of a handicap tag team match. The numbers game was enough to distract Rhyno, allowing Mahal to hit the Khallas and get a…I mean, I guess it’s a “big win” because Mahal actually won a match but, c’mon…
Apollo Crews was back in action for his Intercontinental Championship match against Dean Ambrose; kind of feels like this could have been dragged out until Royal Rumble but what do I know? Apollo went at Dean right off the bat and took control quickly and easily with his high-impact offense; Ambrose managed to ground things for a bit but Apollo fired back with a Samoan Drop and the Standing Shooting Star Press. However, Crews crashed and burned on a Frog Splash attempt and finally fell to the Dirty Deeds in a good showing for Crews but the WWE needs to put some effort into making us care about him if they really want people to give a damn when he gets chances like this.
Ronda Rousey and Natalya teamed up against Nia Jax and Tamina in the main event, which was pretty much the final nail in the coffin for Nia and Tamina, I reckon. At least until the Women’s Tag Team Championships come into play; then we might be asked to take them as a serious threat simply because of their size. Here, though, they were little more than cannon fodder for Ronda and her bestest friend in the whole world and Ronda secured the win by making Tamina tap out to the Arm Bar.
The New Day opened the show to announce to the world their numbers for the Royal Rumble match so we’ll be guaranteed to see some mind-blowing shit from Kofi Kingston, as always, and maybe (maybe!) Big E near, or in, the final competitors but, let’s be honest, their roles are pretty well defined as supporting and bolstering this kind of match, not winning it.
Samoa Joe and Jeff Hardy had the first match of the night, which was another rematch from last week. I’ll let it go here as this was more of a means to an end as, with this victory, Joe earned himself a spot in the fatal-five-way match in the main event to try for a shot at the WWE Championship and, honestly, anything that keeps Joe hovering around the main event and the title picture is a good thing.
AJ Styles and Vince McMahon had another encounter backstage; this time, AJ settled for promising to show the “real AJ Styles” in the fatal-five-way match and didn’t slap the taste out of a pensioner’s mouth so…good job on the restraint, I guess.
Afterwards, Rusev and Lana popped out to celebrate Rusev once again becoming the United States Champion. Unfortunately for him, Shinsuke Nakamura decided that he didn’t like losing the belt he tried so hard to get and did very little to defend and attacked them both, leaving Rusev laid out after hitting the Kinshasa. I’m actually happy at the prospect of Nakamura and Rusev facing off one more time as they had a surprisingly decent match last week but I’d rather not see this feud go on past Royal Rumble.
Sonya Deville defeated Naomi with more than a little assistance from Mandy Rose, which was definitely a match that happened. After the match, John Cena made a triumphant return to the WWE and to SmackDown! Live, what a man! Cena issued an open challenge and ended up face-to-face with Becky Lynch! Lynch chewed Cena out but, when Andrade “Cien” Almas and Zelina Vega interrupted, she ended up teaming with Cena in a mixed tag team match. Becky, however, kept herself front and centre by tossing Cena out of the ring after he ran through his Five Moves of Doom and stealing the win for herself with the Dis-Arm-Her on Zelina.
SmackDown! Live ended with the aforementioned fatal-five-way match, which pitted Samoa Joe, AJ Styles, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, and Mustafa Ali against each other to decide who will face Daniel Bryan for the WWE Championship at Royal Rumble. I’m a little confused as to what Orton and Mysterio did to earn a place in this match; Ali makes sense, as he pinned Bryan the other week, Joe obviously earned a shot earlier and AJ was the former champion but why not just make it a triple threat between those guys and have Rey and Orton continue their issues away from the main event and the title picture? Anyway, this was all smoke and mirrors and an excuse to get AJ another shot against Bryan, which is fine as they’re kind of trying to spice his feud with Bryan up a bit with AJ’s new mindset but it does make me wonder what is next for Ali and the weird mini push he’s getting.