WWE Raw results, recap, grades: Top NXT superstars take over the main roster spotlight
Surprise appearances from the third brand were the highlight of a cluttered show
One night after an exciting close to an up-and-down Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, Monday's episode of Raw was one of the most bizarre in recent memory. Not only was there a lack of cohesive storylines connecting the major themes of the two nights, but this week felt anything but late February on the Road to WrestleMania. Unfortunately, what was likely an ambitious and creative idea -- filling a good portion of the three hours with last-minute NXT call-ups -- came across somewhat flat and confusing, largely due to a disappointing performance from such a flat crowd in Lafayette, Louisiana.
In the end, there would be no Becky Lynch run-in, surprise attack from Brock Lesnar or even a match involving the old faithful Seth Rollins. Instead, there were segments which overlapped for no rhyme or reason and booking that seemed to contradict or forget what had taken place 24 hours earlier. While some of these offenses are forgivable during otherwise dead portions of the WWE calendar year, it's difficult to justify just 48 days out from the biggest night in sports entertainment.
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Surprise NXT debuts take over Raw
Triple H opened the show by reliving the history and big moments from Sunday's Elimination Chamber card. He also put over himself and his fellow D-Generation X stablemates as the headliners in the 2019 WWE Hall of Fame class. But the big news was the announcement that four NXT superstars would be making their Raw debuts: Ricochet. Aleister Black, Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa. Although, what was largely confusing throughout the night was the fact it was never made clear whether they will be permanent additions to the main roster.
Ricochet & Finn Balor def. Lio Rush (via pinfall) & Bobby Lashley: Rush interrupted Balor's in-ring promo, which allowed Lashley to attack the new intercontinental champion from behind. Out came Ricochet to acrobatically even the sides. The subsequent tag match was given the extended treatment as things built toward a hot tag from Balor to Ricochet. After landing a corkscrew Tope Con Hilo onto the floor, Ricochet packaged a springboard shoulder block with his 630 finisher onto Rush for the 1-2-3. Balor later put Ricochet over in a backstage interview before Ricochet delivered an inspirational babyface promo about how he's proof anyone can achieve their dreams.
Johnny Gargano & Tomasso Ciampa def. The Revival via pinfall: The former #DIY reunited for this non-title match and secured a clean victory over the reigning Raw tag team champions. Although the two tag teams had plenty of history in NXT producing epic title matches, this was booked much more in the style of WWE main roster. The finish came after Gargano and Ciampa revived their old #DIY finisher and connected on running knees from opposite corners on Scott Dawson for the pin.
Aleister Black def. Elias via pinfall: Fed up with the way he has been treated of late by the crowd, Elias was set to sing a song for himself only until Black's music interrupted. Black cut a bit of an awkward pre-match promo saying, "If silence and deep sleep is what you seek, then allow me to help you. For tonight, you will fade to black." Black kicked out of Elias's jumping knee late and landed Black Mass for the pin to close an impressive in-ring debut.
It's difficult to get a full read on what actually happened here. For as encouraging as it was -- during WrestleMania season no less -- to see Raw give such an emphatic push to such talented NXT superstars, everything about it felt forced and misleading. Was this just a one-night attempt to boost ratings and another obvious example of how ill-prepared WWE is from a storyline standpoint to connect the dots in an entertaining manner between Royal Rumble and WrestleMania? Or did Vince McMahon and Raw decide to roll the dice and play the hot hands at a key time as potential rival AEW rises up? Will Gargano and Ciampa retain their respective NXT titles? In some ways, this felt like a poor execution of a good idea.
Although the matches were certainly intriguing, each of the debuts lacked any form of storyline, depth or thought (save for Revival trading words with their old #DIY foes backstage). Considering how red-hot the Gargano-Ciampa arc currently is over the past year on NXT, seeing them team up again so haphazardly on Monday with no explanation as to whether this is a full-time #DIY heel reunion felt like too much of a good thing. This seemed more like a glorified house show meant to pop the live crowd. Only, in this case, the Lafayette faithful acted as if they had never seen NXT or any of its stars before. Had this been a more woke crowd ready to eat up the unique nature of what WWE was trying to accomplish, things likely would've been different. Grade: C+
Ronda Rousey retains in main event rematch
Raw Women's Championship -- Ronda Rousey (c) def. Ruby Riott via submission to retain the title: One night after her virtual squash match victory at Elimination Chamber, a still-sore Rousey from Becky Lynch's post-match attack was pushed to the limit by Riott. A series of dramatic near falls, helped by distractions from Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan, nearly saw Riott win the title. Instead, Rousey splashed the trio of heels off the top rope onto the outside and applied her armbar shortly after for the pin. Rousey then easily fought off a post-match attack from Logan and Morgan.
Should you grade this main event segment simply on match quality alone, this was a good one. In fact, one could argue this was the level of match that fans deserved to have seen on Sunday night. The problem is, from a storyline standpoint, how little the booking of this match actually made sense. In what world would Riott, fresh off a near squash defeat on a PPV, deserve an immediate title rematch the next night? Even worse, this was the exact kind of match that Vince McMahon and Triple H had said was outdated and would no longer be seen on Raw and SmackDown when they announced that the fans were now The Authority. It's the small details that still matter, which is why Rousey failing to address Lynch's actions from Sunday night stood out like a sore thumb. Grade: C+
What else happened on Raw?
- Braun Strowman def. Baron Corbin in a tables match: Strowman sold rib and back injuries suffered the night before from an attack by Corbin, Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley, and spent the majority of Monday's match getting beat up outside the ring. The tide turned in this lengthy opening match when Corbin leaped off the apron and was struck with the ring steps. Strowman hit a running powerslam through a table propped up inside the ring for the win. After the match, Strowman crossed paths with Paul Heyman on the ramp and briefly choked him with one hand before pushing him.
- Lucha House Party def. Zack Ryder & Curt Hawkins via pinfall: Hawkins' WWE record losing streak continued in this brief match, which featured the aerial stylings of Gran Metalik and Lince Dorado. The finish came as Dorado pinned Hawkins, who was left distraught after the match and apologizing as Ryder consoled him.
- Lacey Evans interrupts Heavy Machinery: In a bizarre segment taking place on the top of the stage (before members of the previous match had exited the ringside area), Tucker and Otis shared their love of "steaks and weights" with Charly Caruso. Out came Evans, recently called up from NXT, to strut up and down the ramp past them. Heavy Machinery followed her lead and did the same, which caused a smile from Evans. Tucker and Otis then did the Bushwackers walk before an oddly-placed commercial drop ended things.
- Bayley & Sasha Banks thank the WWE Universe: Fresh off becoming inaugural WWE women's tag team champions the night before, the Boss 'n' Hug Connection cut a generic promo thanking fans before proclaiming they are "changing the world." Nia Jax & Tamina Snuka came out to heckle them, calling it "a nauseating lovefest." A scuffle ensued before quickly dispersing in a segment that glaringly lacked substance.
- Drew McIntyre def. Dean Ambrose via pinfall: This match was created when McIntyre approached Triple H backstage to plead for a match against Seth Rollins in order to prove he belongs in the WrestleMania main event. Ambrose walked in and slapped McIntyre across the face. Their subsequent match didn't last long as a pair of Claymore kicks lifted McIntyre in a virtual squash match as Ambrose continues his jobbing tour of the entire Raw roster.
- Paul Heyman looks back on Brock Lesnar's fighting history: After breaking free from Strowman's choke attempt when they crossed paths on the stage, Lesnar's advocate threw to a two-part video package that looked back on everything from his amateur wrestling and early WWE rise to his run as UFC champion. Heyman added that "there isn't enough fire in Seth Rollins's soul to burn down Suplex City" when they meet at WrestleMania. Rollins was interviewed afterwards backstage where he denied a death wish or any regrets. "I'm walking into WrestleMania with an acceptance of my fate," he said. Ambrose walked by for an awkward exchange that left Rollins asking if his former Shield teammate had lost his mind.
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