WWE Raw results, recap, grades: Royal Rumble gets shaken up, new champion crowned

WWE

We were promised a few weeks ago, for better or worse, that Raw would be shaken up as the new year began and WrestleMania season kicks into high gear. Well, things were certainly tossed around on Monday night with the Royal Rumble a mere 13 days away. 

So, just how shaken up was the landscape in Memphis on Monday? Well, how about a major championship changing hands with one of the biggest events of the entire year less than two weeks away, while the scheduled match at the Royal Rumble for the most important title on the brand was flipped on its head. Yes, to say that Raw was eventful this week -- while maybe poorly executed at a lot of points -- might be quite the understatement as 'Mania season gets going. 

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Universal title picture rearranged

Raw began with an appearance from Vince McMahon, who arrived in a limousine and checked a scuff in a bit of foreshadowing. Braun Strowman then made his way out to the ring. He said that, while he'll never admit it, Brock Lesnar will always be afraid of him. Strowman called back to all the times Lesnar was avoiding him and promised he'd "get these hands," which prompted an appearance from Baron Corbin, who taunted the fans before telling Strowman to stop lying to them; they believe in him, and all he does is let them down. Corbin pushed Strowman's buttons by saying he can't beat Lesnar and got chased backstage. Elias tipped off Strowman to Corbin hiding in the limo via song. The Royal Rumble universal title challenger then charged for the limo, and since Corbin locked himself inside for safety, Strowman took hold of a lead pipe, smashed out the window and ripped a door off on the driver's side. Corbin was able to wiggle away from danger ... but Strowman was not able to say the same about the wrath of McMahon.

The boss showed up, studied the carnage that had been dealt to his limo and stared Strowman down right into a commercial. Back from the break, Strowman was attempting to reattach the door. McMahon berated Strowman and said the damage he had inflicted would cost him $100,000. Strowman complained about the amount, and because of that, McMahon took away his universal title opportunity against Lesnar in Phoenix. Back from yet another commercial break, Strowman was being escorted from the building by security with Corbin looking on in laughter. 

A shot was shown backstage of Mr. McMahon's office with a slew of low-card superstars, plus EC3, in line in hopes of replacing Strowman against Lesnar. McMahon made his way out to the ring, but before he could utter a word, he was interrupted by the infamous trumpets of 16-time world champion John Cena, who said he knows that McMahon is looking for someone to step up. He reminded McMahon that when everyone left him years ago, he was the man to step up and he's never let him down. If he gets one more chance, he again will not let him down. Cena, in a great callback, proclaimed that he has something no one else backstage has: ruthless aggression. Drew McIntyre interrupted and chastised Cena for saying that he has ruthless aggression. McIntyre got in the face of McMahon and said, "this is what ruthless aggression looks like!" Corbin was next out to briefly state his case before Finn Balor followed.

The appearance from Balor prompted a tense, somewhat worked-shoot moment between the Irishman and McMahon where the boss told the first-ever universal champion he really doesn't stack up physically with the other men in the ring while Balor shot back by telling him that he knows he never really believed in him. A melee ensued that ended with McIntyre taking out Cena with the Claymore kick, and from there, McMahon announced we'll have a Fatal 4-Way bout to determine the new No. 1 contender. Backstage, McMahon was approached by former WWE champion Jinder Mahal, who said he would have been out there if he weren't tending to an injured Sunil Singh from earlier. McMahon said he could choose any of the four competitors from the Fatal 4-Way, and if he's to come out successful, he can take their place in the main event. Mahal chose Balor. 

Finn Balor def. Jinder Mahal via pinfall: Balor was able to overcome a pre-match attack to put Mahal away with the Coup de Grace. 

Finn Balor def. John Cena (via pinfall), Drew McIntyre and Baron Corbin to become No. 1 contender: Balor's long night culminated in earning the right to face Lesnar for the title he never truly lost at the Royal Rumble. Balor pinned Cena following the Coup de Grace after a pretty entertaining main event. Afterwards, Cena took the microphone and gave Balor the seal of approval, saying that he made not only McMahon a believer with his performance Monday night, but he was as well. 

Well, that was certainly a lot to take in with the Royal Rumble just around the corner, eh? We don't know for certain why the decision was made to remove Strowman from the title match, but you'll find few who will complain about the opportunity to see Balor take on Lesnar inside Chase Field. With many complaints about the booking of Balor throughout most of 2018, he's off to one hell of a start in 2019 with this incredible opportunity on the horizon. Between the interaction with McMahon and the post-match endorsement from Cena in front of everyone, you're believing they're finally ready to strap the rocket to Balor's back and run with him as "the guy." Now, it's time for the powers-that-be to prove it to all of us -- put the Demon over Lesnar on one of the biggest stages of the year. Grade: B-

New champion crowned

The previously scheduled main event for the evening was a triple threat intercontinental championship match between champion Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Bobby Lashley. That got pushed into the middle of the show due to the Fatal 4-Way announcement. All three men (Lio Rush on Lashley's behalf) cut promos before the match began, and Rollins even went so far as to admit that it may be his last chance at the title.

Intercontinental Championship -- Bobby Lashley def. Dean Ambrose (c) [via pinfall] and Seth Rollins to win the title: In a bit of a shock to some, maybe, Lashley is the new IC titleholder. As Rollins was aiming for the victory over Ambrose with the Stomp, Lio Rush pulled the ropes down, sending Rollins to the floor. From there, Lashley annihilated a hobbled Ambrose with the spear to become the new champion.

With Rolling seemingly eyeing a bigger title on Raw and Ambrose really doing nothing with the intercontinental championship, a switch made a ton of sense here. The match was solid, and commentary did a good job putting over how necessary some gold was for Lashley. This may do wonders for him as an overall character after a rough first nine months since his return after WrestleMania 34. Grade: B

What else happened on Raw?

  • Sasha Banks & Ronda Rousey def. Tamina Snuka & Nia Jax via submission: Banks made Snuka tap to the Banks Statement, and the solidarity between her and Raw women's champion Rousey was short-lived. In a post-match interview in the ring, Rousey attempted to compliment Banks by saying that beating her would be her greatest accomplishment. With Banks obviously annoyed, Rousey doubled down by saying that she'll do everything possible to tap Banks out at the Royal Rumble. Banks then snapped, reminding Rousey she's not the only one who can make people tap out -- as she just witnessed. After telling Rousey she'll tap her out at the Rumble and take her title back, Banks stormed up the ramp and the champ followed where they continued their bickering. 
  • The Revival def. Lucha House Party via pinfall: Scott Dawson nailed Gran Metalik with a DDT for the finish, and while Metalik's foot was on the rope as the count was ongoing, Dash Wilder pushed it off from the outside before the referee could see it. 
  • Bayley, Natalya & Nikki Cross def. The Riott Squad via pinfall: The Banks-Rousey drama from earlier spilled to the backstage are which led to bickering between respective BFFs Bayley and Natalya over who was at fault. Riott Squad confronted them, leading into the six-woman tag where Bayley and Natalya could choose any partner they'd like. That partner was a debuting Cross. Bayley earned the pinfall for her team following the top-rope elbow drop on Liv Morgan. 
  • Moment of Bliss with Paul Heyman: Before Heyman made his way out for his scheduled appearance, Alexa Bliss had quite an announcement. At Elimination Chamber on Feb. 17, the WWE women's tag team champions will finally be crowned as three teams from Raw and three from SmackDown compete inside the chamber for the honor. Bliss then unveiled the new women's tag team titles. As Heyman was running down every man from the upcoming Fatal 4-Way to determine Lesnar's challenger, Otis Dozovic of Heavy Machinery appeared from out of nowhere; and for those of you familiar with NXT, he was acting like ... well, he was acting like Otis as he was enamored with Bliss before partner Tucker Knight dragged him away along with some officials. 

Jack joined CBS Sports in 2018 as an editor and writer covering college football, combat sports and golf. He was raised to love the New York Yankees unconditionally since birth and firmly believes a four-team... Full Bio

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