While surprise turns and shocking reveals are often the currency that make the Road to WrestleMania such a profitable stretch of the annual journey for WWE, sometimes itâs taking the known destination and tweaking it just enough that satisfies the most.
After pressing pause on an inevitable feud between Seth Rollins and Triple H for much of the past six months, business picked up in a huge way during Mondayâs episode of Raw by using an unlikely source to light the flame.
Raw general manager Mick Foleyâs involvement in a well-booked storyline with commissioner Stephanie McMahon -- one that dominated much of Mondayâs episode -- set the stage for a thrilling close as Rollins returned to rescue Foley and escalate matters with Triple H in an exciting way.
In the end, one of the most important storylines during the buildup to WrestleMania 33 on Sunday, April 2 took an important step forward without giving away all of its secrets as the rumored return of Finn Balor to the main roster (after a recent return to house shows) never came to fruition.
Raw was fast-paced throughout and electric when it mattered most in the kind of episode that leaves you wanting more just 20 days out from the biggest night in sports entertainment.
WWE Raw results
In the ring -- Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman: Raw opened with these two entering the ring to fireworks and a huge pop from the Detroit crowd. Heyman dropped to his knees to mock Golberg eating an F5 from Lesnar last week and worked hard putting over Lesnarâs finishing move, calling it âthe single most effective finishing move in the history of WWE.â Simple, classic stuff here from Heyman, who closes by saying, âLadies and gentleman, Heymanâs theory of WrestleMania relativity: F5 equals Lesnar goes up, down goes Golberg.â Mic drop. That would be the last time that the potential main event was mentioned on the show.
Backstage confrontation -- Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley: The Raw commissioner pulled the general manager aside to discuss the pressures both are under during WrestleMania season and apologize for her short temper and recent âtough love.â McMahon said she hired Foley for how he connects with fans and superstars but has much more to teach him. She closed by challenging Foley to fire one person on the Raw roster by the end of the night. âCut on person to trim the fat and send a message of strong leadership,â she said. âYou have to think like a business person.â Foley reluctantly said she can count on him.
Sasha Banks def. Dana Brooke via pinfall: With Bayley in her corner, Banks overcme early physicality from Brooke to score a quick three count on a roll-up, using two hands to grab Brookeâs tights. After the match, Charlotte Flair called Brooke âa disgraceâ who doesnât deserve to ride her coattails to WrestleMania. After threatening to get rid of her, Flair is viciously attacked by Brooke her in a one-sided brawl. Flair eventually escaped as a fired up Brooke soaked up âDana! Dana!â chants from the crowd.
The Brian Kendrick & Tony Nese def. TJ Perkins & Akira Tozawa via pinfall: Decent energy in this two-segment cruiserweight tag team match. A diving suicide head butt from Tozawa was instantly followed by Perkinsâ hurricanrana from the ring apron on Nese in a strong double spot. A pair of pin attempts from TJP, including one following a sweet springboard DDT from the top rope, were interrupted by Kendrick run-ins. After Nese pushed Perkins into Tozawa, knocking him out of the ring, Nese rolled up TJP and held the tights to get the pin.
In the ring -- Kevin Owens: Strong ambiance as Owens entered a dimly lit ring with illuminated WrestleMania sign shining behind him. Now that the spotlight is back where it belongs, Owens said he will deal Jericho âthe ultimate payback on the grandest stage of allâ at WrestleMania. âI am going to take Chris Jerichoâs United States title just like he took my title away from me,â Owens said. âAnd once Iâm done, the only thing left of Y2J will be the tears of Jericho. Cry it out â¦ man.â
Chris Jericho & Sami Zayn def. Kevin Owens & Samoa Joe via disqualification: Fantastic Tope Con Hilo from Zayn onto the heel duo was the highlight of this short-lived match that ended when Owens and Joe wouldnât stop doubleteaming Zayn in the middle of the ring. After the referee motioned for the bell, Joe put Zayn in the Coquina Clutch as Owens kicked him. Jericho momentarily broke up the beatdown, but as he attempted to put Owens in the Walls of Jericho, Joe stepped in leading to more doubleteaming as a pack of referees attempted to break things up. Jericho ate a power bomb before Owens and Joe walked off.
Backstage confrontations -- McMahon, Foley, Nia Jax and Jinder Mahal: McMahon suggested Foley fire Zayn, âan underperformer,â before Jax interrupted to complain about Banks being added to the WrestleMania triple threat match and not her, claiming she wants justice. McMahon offered her a match against Raw womenâs champion Bayley later in the night. After the commercial break, Foley was approached about firing rumors by Mahal, who said heâs a main event performer and blamed his struggles on Rusev. Foley put him in a match with Roman Reigns so Mahal could prove himself.
Backstage -- New Day Talks: The New Day worked hard to put over WWEâs new animated âJetsonsâ DVD during a âNew Day Talksâ segment and welcomed the Big Show, who was announced as an entrant in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania. (It looks like that Show-Shaquille OâNeal match is off ... or perhaps OâNeal returns to the battle royal as well).) Titus OâNeil interrupted a woefully unfunny bit by asking why the Titus Brand wasnât included in the movie. Xavier Woods called him Titus âTight Drawsâ OâNeil. Letâs forget this ever happened.
Tag Team Championship No. 1 contenders match -- Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs. Sheamus & Cesaro ends in a double disqualification: The March Madness-inspired promo by the Certified Gs was solid. With a WrestleMania title match at stake for the winner, Gallows and Anderson made sure we never got that far by emerging from the crowd to attack Sheamus and Cass on the floor simultaneously. The Club continued to dominated both teams by throwing Sheamus into the ring post outside before superkicking Amore off the ring apron and landing a Magic Killer on Cesaro in a dominant showing. After the match, Foley blew up at the tag team champs and said he was tempted to fire them but instead put together a triple threat title match at WrestleMania.
Roman Reigns def. Jinder Mahal via pinfall: A mid-match gong teasing The Undertakerâs arrival nearly cost Reigns the as Mahal used the false distraction to rally. But Reigns drew angrier as the match went on and fought him off to earn a pin after a Superman Punch.
Confrontation -- Reigns and Shawn Michaels: Reigns called out The Undertaker after the match. Following an awkwardly placed commercial break, Michaels made a surprise entrance instead. HBK told Reigns he already looked distracted and unfocused, noting that The Undertaker will eat him alive at WrestleMania if he is already rattled. A defensive Reigns countered by saying, âI appreciate the advice, but with all due respect, The Undertaker retired you, and Iâm the guy that is going to retire him.â Great close from a borderline heel Reigns, who dropped the mic before leaving the ring. Braun Strowman interrupted Reignsâ walk up the ramp with a vicious blindside shoulder tackle. The crowd chanted, âThank you Strowman!â
Austin Aries def. Ariya Daivari via pinfall: Decent showcase match for Aries during his in-ring Raw debut. Spinning elbow and suicide dive through the bottom rope highlighted Ariesâ offense, along with a slam that dropped Daivari on his head. Aries finished him off with a discus forearm as cruiserweight champion Neville watched angrily from backstage.
The Big Show def. Titus OâNeil via pinfall: Brief showcase match for Big Show, who uses a trio of chokeslams to put him OâNeil away.
Backstage -- Sasha Banks and Bayley: Banks encouraged Bayley not to listen to her âhatersâ in a segment that felt like a tease of a future heel turn for Banks. Bayley was left with a nervous expression after Banks shook her hand.
Backstage -- Chris Jericho: Jericho promised to deliver to Owens âthe revenge of Jericho: Iâm going to pay him back â¦ man.â Jericho said he will expose the real Owens next week on Raw during a special edition of the Highlight Reel.
Bayley def. Nia Jax via disqualification: Weak finish to a rather uneventful match as Jax was disqualified for repeated kicks in the corner after multiple warnings. Afterwards, Jax threw Bayley into the barricade outside the ring to further enhance her statement from earlier in the night while building more doubt in Bayleyâs mind. Jax closed by turning to Bayley and yelling, âIâm a woman, youâre a girl.â Sure looks like the triple threat is going to expand by one.
Confrontation -- McMahon and Foley: Foley attempted to fire McMahon from the Raw roster, telling her how cruel she and her husband, Triple H, have become. McMahon obviously had none of that, and The Gameâs music hit, leading him to bully Foley in a juicy, insult-filled debate that ended with Triple H and McMahon threatening the WWE futures of Foleyâs children. After initially walking away defeated, Foley shocked Triple H by placing his hand inside Mr. Socko and delivering a Mandible Claw. He broke the hold after a low blow from McMahon.
With that, Seth Rollinsâ music hit and he limped down with a knee brace and single crutch to save Foley. Rollins threw his crutch down and dove into the ring, getting the best of Triple H before dropkicking him onto the floor. But Triple H returned with the crutch to attack Rollinsâ injured knee a few times with it before placing him into a kneebar until a group of referees forced him to release it.
WWE Raw superlatives
Line of the night: âI appreciate the advice, but with all due respect, The Undertaker retired you, and Iâm the guy that is going to retire him.â -- Roman Reigns to Shawn Michaels
Moves of the night: It wasnât as technically brilliant as Perkinsâ springboard DDT, but Strowmanâs shoulder tackle on Reigns came out of nowhere and left an instant impact.
MVP -- Mick Foley: Consistently putting over his fear and disgust throughout the night for the predicament he was placed in by McMahon, Foley took his performance to another level during the closing segment. His verbal jousting with Triple H -- including removing his own teeth to make a point -- and his surprise attack with Socko went a long way in helping the segment overachieve so boldly.
Overall: Sometimes a red-hot closing segment is all you need to go home and happy and forget the earlier sins. But this episode had good balance and an incredibly quick pace before the strong finish thanks to a series of short matches and energetic dialogue exchanges. It wasnât perfect but this had enough unexpected WrestleMania heat late to suffice a strong grade. Grade: A-