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25 January 2017

The two most important and exciting episodes of a weekly wrestling television show are always the ones immediately before and after a pay-per-view. Ideally, a lot of effort goes into the go-home show (the one before the PPV) because it’s supposed to tease the viewers to the point that they have to catch the upcoming PPV to find out what happens next. Consequently, the show right after the PPV also has to matter because that’s when you get the immediate fallout from the events of the night before. That’s why the episodes of RAW before and after a PPV, especially a Big Four show, should matter more. Unfortunately, as has been the case with every other episode of RAW, we got a lackluster effort that highlighted RAW’s inherent weaknesses rather than its strengths.

Let’s start off with the Universal Championship feud between Kevin Owens (and Chris Jericho) and Roman Reigns. They announced this week that their title match at the Royal Rumble is now going to be a No Disqualification match, which would have made it more exciting until you realize that now, Chris Jericho can choose to ignore the shark cage stipulation. Think about it. If Jericho just flat out refuses to enter the shark cage, Owens can’t be disqualified since it’s a No DQ match. 

While Owens acted like he was the one who that stipulation hinders, it actually benefits him because (1) he can be as vicious as he wants towards Reigns, and (2) CHRIS JERICHO DOESN’T HAVE TO BE INSIDE THE SHARK CAGE. We can get into a lengthy discussion on the kayfabe legalities of Jericho refusing to enter the shark cage as a result of the No DQ stipulation, but I’m sure even the RAW writers didn’t think that far ahead, so let’s not waste our time here.

Moving on, let’s switch gears and talk about Sami Zayn. Here’s the one guy on RAW who had to qualify for his spot in the Royal Rumble Match. Unlike everyone else on both brands who just declared their entry into the match—which nobody's explained nor justified, by the way—he went out of his way to ask Mick Foley how to go about it. How unlucky was this guy that Stephanie McMahon overheard him and decided to put him in a match against Seth Rollins for the latter’s spot in the Royal Rumble Match? HE WAS THE ONE GUY WHO WAS WILLING TO GO THROUGH ACTUAL PROTOCOL, GUYS.

Granted, we got one hell of a match between Sami Zayn and Seth Rollins. And sure, I’ll buy the fact that the finish of the match actually brings Triple H back into the storyline and forces him to deal with Rollins and further that storyline. But here’s the problem: you’re supposed to have the biggest Royal Rumble field ever and you just took out one of your biggest stars in Seth Rollins. I don’t think this ends here, however, so I expect Rollins to beat someone up and to take that guy’s spot by Monday morning (Manila time). 

And then there was that closing segment featuring the WWE’s geriatric wing. First, you have to feel for Goldberg, whose night just went horribly wrong from the moment he went out. The pyro must have busted him open, and the blood just kept oozing out of his head, making for quite the uncomfortable view. The fact that good ol’ Bill kept flubbing his lines out there made him look even more like a jabroni, so I’m sure even he was thankful when Paul Heyman mercifully cut him off. 

I was actually fine with the surprise Brock Lesnar appearance, and how it led to everyone getting shocked by a Fat Undertaker sighting. The problem here was that all three of them just had a standoff to close the show. Was it a case of all three dudes waiting for the first one to strike? Were they all equally surprised that the Undertaker’s gut had grown that much? Did they all forget their lines at that very moment? Yes, I get that they couldn’t afford to make any of the three senior citizens look weak heading into the Rumble, but ending the show the way they did was just awkward. 

*****

When you look at this year’s Royal Rumble card, you’ll notice that five out of the eight announced matches are RAW-exclusive matches. To add to that, 13 of the 22 announced Royal Rumble Match participants are RAW Superstars. That actually says a lot about how much RAW needs the Royal Rumble to hype up its own product, as opposed to SmackDown Live, which has done pretty well in making every episode matter by making each match or segment count towards the bigger picture. 

From an event planning stage, it’s actually okay for RAW to dominate the Rumble in terms of branding because the February PPV (Elimination Chamber), which takes place in three weeks, is one for the blue brand. So it sort of balances things out on that level. That said, it shouldn’t take away from the fact that RAW has anchored itself so much to PPVs for angles to matter, whereas SmackDown Live can do just fine with its own solid booking.

I just feel bad for Cesaro/Sheamus, The Club, Nia Jax, and especially, Sasha Banks. All four of them will have to fight for relevance on the Kickoff, which is quite a drop from Sasha, who was main-eventing shows just 3-4 months ago. As always, fantastic job, Monday Night RAW. C-.

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