WWE Raw results, recap, grades: Vince McMahon's return falls flat, new No. 1 contenders named
There were positives to take from Monday's show, just not from the first hour of Raw
In what seemed like a perfect storm of timing, Sunday's fantastic WWE TLC pay-per-view gave way to an episode of Raw which had already announced the return of Vince McMahon in front of the camera. Instead, what we got was something best described as a wait-and-see tease at best and an insulting bait-and-switch at worst, depending upon your perspective. Either way, it's hard to argue against the idea that McMahon's return failed to live up to expectations. Luckily, the remainder of Raw picked up the slack enough to finish off a serviceable episode this close to Christmas week.
Let's take a closer look at what went right for the red brand and what sins might be best deemed as unforgivable, and be sure to check out our audio instant analysis of WWE TLC. Subscribe to the In This Corner with Brian Campbell podcast by clicking the "subscribe" button in the embed below.
Vince McMahon and family announce changes to Raw
WWE wasted no time in giving what was promised as chairman Vince McMahon made his much-hyped return and admitted Raw's need to "change with the times." Out came Stephanie McMahon, brother Shane McMahon and Triple H. All four members echoed each other's sentiments that they haven't done a good job listening to their audience and spoke of a "fresh start" that would begin tonight by taking back Raw and SmackDown. "More importantly," Triple H said, "we will be giving you what you want" with new matchups and faces. "As of now, you are the authority." The McMahons said they would take control -- as a family -- over both Raw and SmackDown Live, which seems to eliminate the commissioner roles but leaves the general manager roles in a state of flux.
Former acting general manager Baron Corbin came out to complain about losing his authority the night before. After what seemed like an ill-fated commercial, the McMahon family chose to incite the crowd into booing loud enough that Corbin's plea to get his job back couldn't be heard. Ultimately, Triple H declared Corbin could only get his job back and run Raw if he beat Kurt Angle right now.
Kurt Angle, Bobby Roode, Chad Gable & Apollo Crews def. Baron Corbin via pinfall (No DQ Match): After Heath Slater came out as special guest referee, Triple H and Shane kept interrupting to add new participants to this 4-on-1 match and change the stipulation to no disqualification. Even Slater began to stomp Corbin before all four wrestlers hit their finishing moves. An Angle Slam led to the finish before Angle added one more on Corbin through a table.
What an epic and monumental waste of time. Even worse, it spoiled what could have been a turning point moment for the direction of creative at a time when fans were still buzzing from TLC. Despite coming out of the gate with big promises of change, WWE chose to follow McMahon's return by essentially repeating the worst match from Sunday's PPV and using the same finish. Could you imagine the crowd's reaction at that moment had McMahon's return been followed by Ronda Rousey and Becky Lynch coming out instead, along with an announcement that the brand split was ending? Or how about anything else other than what happened?
Instead, WWE chose to pander to the live crowd with a gratuitous beating on Corbin that was not only stupid, it allowed the McMahon family to shift the real-life blame for record-low ratings and lazy booking on Raw over the past four months to Corbin's fictional shoulders. (Even though, in kayfabe, Stephanie was actually the one to blame for appointing Corbin to the position and then disappearing.) With the amazing TLC show providing WWE creative the opportunity to create some real momentum (not to mention goodwill) entering the holiday season and the build toward WrestleMania 35, what fans received instead was the same old status quo wrapped in shiny Christmas paper and unfulfilled promises. Grade: D
Natalya earns shot at Ronda Rousey's title
Rousey came out to explain what led to her actions costing Lynch and Charlotte Flair in their title match at TLC. "I didn't come here to justify my actions last night," Rousey said, "I came here to define what a real champion is." She offered a new tradition that champions who defend their titles one night after a pay-per-view and issued an open challenge. After a large group of contenders formed in Gorilla position and began arguing about who would come out, Stephanie came out to say she could no longer play favorites. She booked an eight-woman gauntlet match to determine Rousey's title challenger next week on the Christmas Eve edition of Raw.
Raw Women's Championship No. 1 Contendership -- Natalya def. Sasha Banks via submission to end a Gauntlet Match: The third straight victory for Natalya within the match saw her fight off a series of submission reversals to finally force the tap out via sharpshooter against the fresh Banks. After the victory, Rousey entered the ring to hug and raise the arm of her friend and training partner. Following a tense look between both and a delayed handshake which brought boos from the crowd, they hugged once more to end the show. Order of elimination: Alicia Fox (Bayley), Dana Brooke (Bayley), Bayley (Mickie James), James (Ember Moon), Moon (Natalya), Ruby Riott (Natalya), Banks (Natalya).
WWE not only made the right decision in allowing the women's triple threat match to main event TLC on Sunday, using the final hour of Raw to showcase its same division turned out to be an effective one as well. All of the matches were short, fast-paced and held a good deal of meaning considering a title shot was at stake. It was also a smart use of Rousey without overexposing her in an otherwise meaningless match. In the end, next week's holiday episode seems the perfect setting for this match, even if it felt a bit anticlimactic that Natalya chose not to turn on Rousey to close the show. Grade: B
Seth Rollins gains upper hand on Dean Ambrose
Ambrose entered the ring with his swat team dressed in gas masks and cut a promo on the "disgusting people" in the crowd. He also called out Rollins for "choking in the fourth quarter" the night before by losing his title. Ambrose's challenge to Rollins to come out and tell everyone that he was wrong went unreturned. Finally, Ambrose issued an open challenge for his title.
Intercontinental Championship -- Dean Ambrose (c) def. Tyler Breeze via pinfall: Breeze held the advantage throughout the match and packaged a Beauty Shot and a cross body off the top rope for two. But immediately following a second near fall from Breeze, Ambrose countered with a Dirty Deeds to escape with the win. After the match, he cut a second promo that triggered Rollins' music. Rollins snuck up from behind to reveal himself as a member of Ambrose's swat team and easily beat down both his former teammate and the entire crew. Later on backstage, Rollins knocked down Corbin with a single right hand after he was blamed for everything that led to Corbin losing his job.
Not only was last night's title match at TLC underappreciated by most fans online and those who were in the arena, this feud continued to quietly repair its issues on Monday. Ambrose's heel promo was (wait for it …) pretty darn good and the reveal of Rollins dressed up under a gas mask proved entertaining. In between, Breeze turned out to be a nice surprise as the open challenge opponent and produced a fun match with Ambrose. Grade: B
What else happened on Raw?
- Finn Balor def. Dolph Ziggler via disqualification: Balor kicked out of both the ZigZag and Fameasser on the count of two. Drew McIntyre's attempt to interfere saw Ziggler attack and Balor hit a Tope Con Hilo onto the floor. McIntyre eventually forced the DQ finish by attacking Balor and went on to beat down both decisively, including a Claymore kick to Balor on the floor to stand tall.
- WWE announces five NXT call-ups: Although they didn't actually appear on this week's show, the group of Lars Sullivan, EC3, Nikki Cross, Lacey Evans and Heavy Machinery were named as new additions to the main roster. Each were given a short video package and are the "new faces" the McMahons were teasing in the beginning of the show.
- Two Raw returns also announced: Video packages for both Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens aired during the show with each video noting the respective wrestlers were "returning soon."
- Elias gains revenge on Bobby Lashley: One night after Lashley's victory in their ladder match, he flexed his muscles as Lio Rush insulted the crowd. After Lashley bent over to flex his glutes as the crowd booed, Elias snuck up from behind to break a guitar over his back.
- Raw Tag Team Championship No. 1 Contendership -- The Revival def. The B-Team (via pinfall), AOP and Lucha House Party: Drake Maverick and AOP interrupted Shane in a backstage interview to demand their mandatory title rematch. McMahon called the idea antiquated and booked a four-team match with the winner earning a title shot. The chaotic action featured plenty of high spots from Kalisto and Lince Dorado but the finish came when The Revival hit Bo Dallas with Shatter Machine for the pin.
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