WWE Raw results, recap, grades: Title feuds take center stage on Royal Rumble go-home show

WWE

With just six nights to go until the Royal Rumble event inside Chase Field in Phoenix as WrestleMania is firmly in our sights, Oklahoma City provided the setting Monday night for the go-home edition of Raw. With one of the biggest pay-per-views of the entire year on the horizon, Raw was a rather loaded affair this week with a championship defense even thrown into the mix. 

But Monday's Raw was ultimately a showcase for the feuds featuring the main men's and women's singles titles, as the Brock Lesnar-Finn Balor and Ronda Rousey-Sasha Banks feuds bookended the show. 

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Finn Balor and Brock Lesnar get together

The go-home edition of Raw Monday night kicked off with an appearance from universal champion Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman. The advocate for the reigning universal champ recalled Finn Balor pinning John Cena last week to become the No. 1 contender as well as the endorsement that followed. Heyman said that he agrees that Balor truly does believe in himself on Sunday against Lesnar; his voice is one that matters. But Heyman's is the voice that martyrs. At the Royal Rumble, Heyman foresees Lesnar turning Balor into a martyr for the sin of leading his fans to believe that he stands a chance against the universal champion. We then got our customary Heyman spoiler alert: Even miracles fear Lesnar. Balor will be on his back, looking up and saying, "I believe in Brock Lesnar." 

"No Chance in Hell" then blared over the speakers, and Vince McMahon made his way out to the ring, The chairman told his own version of David and Goliath, with David having been beaten to death and eventually reincarnated as Balor. McMahon heeled it up on the crowd, telling them that if they believe Balor has a chance, then they do believe in fairytales. Braun Strowman interrupted McMahon and made his way out next. Strowman said last week was the worst night of his life, but it was the luckiest for Lesnar since he doesn't have to face him in Phoenix. Balor joined the party next, telling Lesnar directly to his face that he knows he can beat him on Sunday. After Balor gave McMahon his own version of David and Goliath, McMahon told Heyman and Lesnar to stay at ringside for Balor vs. Strowman -- a David and Goliath showdown right here tonight -- after the two got testy with one another earlier in the segment. 

Finn Balor def. Braun Strowman via disqualification: Balor connected with the Coup de Grace to Strowman, but as he was aiming for the pinfall, Lesnar swooped in and nailed his Royal Rumble challenger with an F5. At one point in the bout, Strowman launched Balor from the top rope right into the arms of Lesnar, who then executed .a vicious belly-to-belly suplex on the outside. Balor valiantly fought back, though, getting the better of Lesnar with a shotgun dropkick into the barricade and his signature tope con hilo.

The way they're executing the underdog narrative has been incredibly well done with the little time that's been available to build this title feud, especially with the inclusion of McMahon hanging around as the antagonist. While a Balor victory is unlikely on Sunday, WWE has done well with casting the slightest bit of doubt that Lesnar will be universal champion come Monday morning. But judging by the minimal physical interactions we witnessed on Monday night between Balor and Lesnar, we're in for a treat when these two meet inside Chase Field this weekend -- especially with Lesnar putting those fantastic selling skills to work for his smaller challenger. Grade: A-

Sasha Banks shines ahead of Royal Rumble

Prior to the tag team main event, Ronda Rousey backstage said that she doesn't owe Banks a damn thing. The champ said that she's felt nothing but resentment from her challenger since day one. Rousey was offended by the fact that she offered Banks a title shot and then was immediately insulted by her, and she believes Banks is trying so hard to live like a "Boss" that she's not focusing on becoming better (OK?). In the ring, prior to the match, Banks shot back by running down all her accomplishments and saying Rousey has been handed everything from the moment she walked into the company. She'll make Rousey tap on Sunday just like she did to Nia Jax to earn the shot. 

Sasha Banks & Bayley def. Natalya (via submission) & Ronda Rousey: With Bayley knocking Rousey off the apron, Banks was able to make Natalya tap to the Banks Statement. Following the bout, Banks and Rousey came face-to-face, jawing with one another as they were being pulled apart. 

It's hard to even describe just how off-base and awkward that Rousey promo really was, especially the part where she accused Banks -- of all people -- of not caring enough about wrestling. You can say a lot about Banks, but not caring about her craft enough is certainly a road you don't wanna travel down. Still, though, this title feud has brought out shades of the fiery Banks we all fell in love with in the first place, as evidenced by her incredible rebuttal on the mic and intensity in the ring. Sunday's bout should end up being a lot of fun, regardless of the minor hiccup on Monday. Grade: C

What else happened on Raw?

  • Apollo Crews steps to the IC champ: New intercontinental champion Bobby Lashley and Lio Rush were out for a celebration, which was interrupted by Crews. After asking for a match, Rush told Crews he'll consider it if he can defeat Lashley in a pose off. Naturally, the crowd sided with Crews as he incorporated dance moves into his poses, and he was eventually attacked by the champ. But Crews stood tall by tossing Lashley to the outside and pressing Rush over his head to send him out as well. Back from commercial, the match between Crews and Lashley had already begun. 
  • Bobby Lashley def. Apollo Crews via pinfall: Crews had Rush pressed over his head once again after interference, but this time Lashley hit Crews with the spear followed by the 1-2-3. 
  • Seth Rollins def. Drew McIntyre via pinfall: Prior to the match, Rollins cut quite possibly his best babyface promo yet about his passion for the business and his intentions to walk out the Royal Rumble winner this Sunday. McIntyre followed up by stating his own case for the Rumble win. An incredible match between these two top stars culminated with Rollins surprising McIntyre with a rollup for the victory. 
  • Dean Ambrose promo: The former intercontinental champ cut a backstage promo about the injustice of him not holding the title anymore. He said the Royal Rumble will be his shining moment and he owns the Road to WrestleMania. Come Sunday, justice will be served. 
  • Lucha House Party def. The Singh Brothers (via pinfall) & Jinder Mahal: Firstly: congratulations to Samir & Sunil Singh for having an actual match on television, ring gear and everything. Secondly: it didn't go so well, as Gran Metalik secured the Lucha House Party win with the pinfall on Sunil. 
  • EC3 is still muted: They ran a video package on EC3, and then he appeared backstage where Dana Brooke was asking about his diet and training. EC3 still has not spoken a word since appearing on the main roster, which is an odd choice, to say the least. 
  • Baron Corbin def. Elias via pinfall: After interrupting an Elias concert and getting trolled in the process, Corbin hit Elias with the End of Days after a cheap shot to the throat for the victory. 
  • Alexa Bliss enters the Royal Rumble:The "Moment of Bliss" segment with Nia Jax went off the rails, with Rumble match entrants emerging and brawling all the way to the back. After the brawl, though, Bliss dropped the news that she'll be returning to the ring on Sunday in the 30-woman bout. Following her announcement, though, Lacey Evans came out to take a jab at Bliss' size and proclaim she'll be emerging victorious in Phoenix. 
  • Heavy Machinery def. The Ascension via pinfall: Otis Dozovic & Tucker Knight made their Raw debut Monday night, earning their first victory by putting Viktor away with the Trash Compactor finisher. 
  • Raw Tag Team Championship -- Chad Gable & Bobby Roode (c) def. The Revival via pinfall to retain the titles: Amid rumors of their unhappiness and even asking for their release, The Revival actually appeared in a segment with McMahon himself earlier in the show where they begged for one more title shot with an unbiased referee, who turned out to be Curt Hawkins. Despite their best efforts at cheating to win the titles, which were all caught by Hawkins, Gable pinned Scott Dawson following a crossbody from the top. 
  • Former tag champs reunite: After the match, Wilder and Dawson beat down Hawkins for calling the match fairly, and he was saved by former tag team partner Zack Ryder. It appears we have some old buddies inserting themselves into the shallow Raw tag division. 

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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