So, we’re a day late, because your recapper is still slowly dying, we start the Raw recap of with Martin Luther King’s famous inspirational speech, because the 18th was MLK Day. Seems a little atonal, what with Vince’s love of feeding racism to us whenever he’s on screen, but okay. Apparently we’re not acknowledging that. We start Raw proper with enough pyro that I’m starting to worry if the WWE can actually afford it – guys, your ratings aren’t good enough for that, save the money.
Roman Reigns is straight down to the ring, and the boos have started early as everyone’s worrying he’s being set up to win the Royal Rumble again. Didn’t go so well last time. Notable crowd signs are ‘Roman Reigns please marry me’ and the guy next to her with a sign ‘Roman please take her’. Lady, I think your boyfriend’s trying to break up with you. Well, at least he didn’t do it on a PPV. Once more, Roman’s carrying his belt, because he… doesn’t like it around his waist? He wanders past a happy ginger guy in a Bayley shirt, who looks like all his wildest dreams have come true, and ambles his way into the ring. Is it me, or is he losing all sense of urgency? It’s like watching Big Show come out now, all amble and dragging his feet and ‘mom, I don’t wanna wrestle, I wanna watch tv’.
We get a reminder that Brock showed up and threw everyone around before feeding an F5 to Roman, who then grinned about it. Well, he isn’t smiling now, standing in the ring saying that on Sunday, he’s giving us the fight of his life, but right now, he only cares about Brock Lesnar. Well, darling, so do most of the people in the crowd, you’re sort of the warm-up act right now. He calls Lesnar out right now, to come down to the ring and take him on, and…. It’s Jericho. Roman makes a face along the lines of ‘really? You? You can’t remember to put a shirt on under your jacket, you think I’m going to wrestle you?’ He puts a disgruntled hand on his hip, too, it’s adorable.
This is awkward. Roman watches Jericho be a weird dad for a moment, and then goes ‘but you’re not Brock though’ and refuses to go to the prom with him. Jericho invites Roman onto the Highlight Reel with him, and Roman looks at him as if to say ‘we already have Miz TV, and I’m allowed to punch Miz… and he lets me bring Dean’. Roman agrees, and the audience fill in his catchphrase for him… the way they don’t do for Miz. The Euroboys are out, and Sheamus seems a wee bitty miffed that the Royal Rumble has turned into Roman vs Brock – but let’s face it, fella, it was better than you vs Roman. That would have been old and tired – like Jericho.
Sheamus says the title belongs to him, really, and then cements himself as my favourite superstar by questioning Jericho as to whether he ate his shirt. I like a man who makes the obvious jokes. Jericho says Sheamus isn’t entertaining, so he won’t invite him on the show, and Del Rio wanders out to be their golden attack dog and tell us about how he won the biggest Royal Rumble. Again, he’s not welcome. Rusev becomes my new favourite, wiping Sheamus out quickly, when he says that in Bulgaria, every day is a rumble, he had to kick kids off the bus to go to school, and fight to eat, and it’s brilliant, every word is absolute gold. I actually don’t mind a good comedy heel – I think we need a heel who isn’t comic, but these guys actually do it pretty well. Jericho asks Roman who won the Rumble this time last year and Roman… thinks about it… and thinks about it some more… and then gives the smuggest grin seen on something not found drifting in a swamp somewhere and says ‘I did!’. There’s some… lukewarm applause, and he says he eliminated the guy he can’t understand, and then Jericho makes a dick joke – but at least he apologises to Lana about it. It does me a power of good to see Roman having a giggle with Jericho, it really does, but when Rusev issues a challenge, Roman’s laughter ceases, and he’s suddenly all business.
So we’re getting a Reigns vs Rusev match, League of Nations ringside, and Jericho as referee. I’m super glad they made Jericho put a shirt on, even if it does look like it’s a size too small because it belonged to someone else. Hope it wasn’t too whiffy, Y2J!
Rusev’s almost straight out if the ring, waggling his finger at Roman like he’s judging a naughty kitten, and has a cuddle with the golden bae that is Del Rio. Please excuse this recap, I’m on lots of opiates. I’m amazed I can see. Roman takes a hell of a kick to the jaw, and seems to be struggling to get back up, so when we come back from commercial, Roman’s barely standing, but the cries of ‘Roman’ from the crowd seem to bring him back to life, even if taking Rusev down seems to take a lot out of him now. He rallies, as we expect, and there are a few good corner spots for him, but there’s another big kick from Rusev, and then Rusev’s climbing the ropes with Roman on his back – but Reigns fights out of it. There’s a near fall from a sit-out powerbomb to Rusev, which looks very impressive.
While Jericho’s looking the other way, Sheamus drags Roman out of the ring and slams Roman into the barricades, so Jericho sends Sheamus out to the back. Barrett contests this unfair separation from his wrestling husband, so Jericho relents, and sends the Englishman back to join his partner. Del Rio feels left out, so shouts until Jericho… does a little cartwheel and sends Del Rio out of the ring, too. Moments later, having had time to recover while Jericho does some truly awful dad dancing, Roman hits Rusev with a spear, and wins the match.
For the sake of later spots, I’d like to tell you that this whole thing took 28 minutes, all the talk and set up, plus the match. Just… bear that in mind.
Backstage, Steph is not happy that Jericho made himself a ref and scheduled a match, but I mean… what else were we going to fill that half hour with, Steph? Is your husband alive again yet? We haven’t seen him on Raw or SmackDown since Roman punched him, I mean… is he dead? Is that why you’re wearing black? Jericho basically calls Steph a filthy whore, and she tells him none of his material is original, and then mocks his accent to tell him to leave her product alone. He stares wistfully after her like he wishes he’d made more of a move back in the day. Don’t worry, Chris, she takes all of us that way.
Brie Bella out next with Alicia Fox to face… Nattie? And…. Paige? So this is basically a match to set up for Total Divas, remind us that Natalya is still a wrestler, and because Paige and Alicia have a Total Divas tussle. There’s no reason for this match, no set up, and Nattie wins this farce in under FIVE MINUTES which includes the time taken to show us clips of Total Divas. Can we at least PRETEND that you care about these women as wrestlers instead of just Total Divas numbers? Please? We just had a half hour set-up segment for the Royal Rumble, which is one night, and the set up for a season of Total Divas is under five minutes? This gave us face Paige, as well, for now reason, when she’s been a hell for the moment – though we know she’s rumoured out injured, so perhaps it makes more sense to put her behind Nattie, though you still think there should be some sort of explanation for it.
Frankly, a five minute segment, with a three minute match, is disgraceful.
The Wyatts are wandering out of the bayou next to face the Dudleys, with a recap of last Raw, where the Dudleys won a table match and then the Wyatts broke them for fun and games. I’ve been hoping this is leading to a strong Wyatt family moment – we can but hope. Tonight, Bray Wyatt is actually in the ring, instead of just a disembodied voice, and so Ryback has come in to join the Dudley team. We get a little discussion of how the Royal Rumble might go, and whether Bray will get the support of his family, or be left to struggle on his own.
The crowd chant ‘we want tables’ because we’ve seen this match up a dozen times, and I’m still going to complain about how the Dudleys supposedly want the tag team titles for the tenth time, but aren’t fighting anyone in the tag team division? I don’t understand how that works, honestly. It’s an unremarkable match in a slew of unremarkable matches, and Harper takes down Bubba Ray for the win. Hang on, did they just… win a match? Bray kisses his favourite child on the head, and they slink out, talking something about the end of the world again. Those wacky Wyatts.
We get a close up on the tombola drum for the Royal Rumble draw, and Big Show ambles out, trying to make himself look as big as he can, so there’s a lot of shots from low down, to make him look taller. The Social Outcasts are also here, being cute and adorable – apparently it’s Heath Slater vs Big Show, and Adam Rose has brought out the booty shorts to help distract Big Show from his boyfriend. They don’t let Bo Dallas talk, bless him, because the baby of the family never gets to speak in these things. It’s a thirty second match, because of course it is, Heath Slater looks like he weighs 120lbs soaking wet, and then Curtis Axel decides he wants a go, Adam Rose comes in off the top rope, and Bo Dallas… runs away and straight into a knock-out punch from Big Show. He ambles away, leaving devastation in his wake, poor Social Outcasts scattered everywhere, as a big Rumble challenger.
Steph is backstage, telling the Euroboys that she’s impressed they kept their composure after being not allowed on the Highlight Reel, and being thrown out of ringside during the Roman vs Rusev match. They seem pretty sad about it, so she tells them all of their accomplishments, like a good mommy should, and then basically goes ‘so don’t be a pussy about Jericho, then’. Why do I somehow think we’ll be seeing those boys again tonight?
They’ve let the relic out of the basement again, so Steph’s dragging her dad around to do the first drawing for the Royal Rumble. Seriously, Vince, get back in the cupboard, let Steph have her husband back, because each time you come out, it just looks weird and desperate. Go on a fishing trip, take a cruise, just… go be somewhere else for a whole, okay? We get some dusty history about the old man Steph’s allowed to come to work with her, and then finally the draw.
Who will it be, who will be the first entrant into the Royal Rumble match? It’s Roman, of course, and Vince even throws the original ball back in, and picks a second one, pretending he can’t open the first, just to prove how much is doesn’t matter which one he chooses. Every single ball in there has ‘Roman Reigns’ on it in Arial font, and you can’t convince anyone who isn’t a gullible six-year-old of anything else. But we knew it was going to be – why didn’t you just say you were going to make it the case, instead of wasting our time with this?
They put it back in, draw A SECOND TIME and it’s THE SAME THING. Like, we already knew you’d rigged the game, you don’t need to show us just HOW you rigged the game. A THIRD TIME, this time with Roman’s name out of the running, and again, it’s him. The crowd boo Vince for taking Roman’s catchphrase, and Steph waves like the queen she is, and out they go.
Talking of people who can’t let their daughter come to work on her own, Ric Flair is accompanying Charlotte to ringside to watch Becky vs Tamina. Becky appears to be dressed like a moth for some reason, and Charlotte and Ric are just there to have a good time. Once more, we’re going to time our Divas’ segment, and see how long we get. The two women start off with some really nice test of strength stuff, which means we get a chance to see what a powerhouse Tamina is. She gets an early cover on Becky, who kicks out, and then Tamina’s all power, all pins, and it’s brilliant to see. We don’t get enough of Tamina wrestling – if this is what Sasha and Paige and Nikki being out injured gets us, I’m… not okay with it, but I can deal.
There’s another near fall for Becky, Charlotte smiling implacably at ringside, just to watch Becky basically get buried by Tamina. Becky gets one small package, and a couple of blows in, as well as one good kick, starting to get herself wound up and up to a good pace. Becky gets a lovely arm takedown, and into the disarmer, making Tamina tap out. Four minutes. Are you kidding me?
The segment continues, however, with Becky calling out Charlotte to face her at the Royal Rumble, saying Daddy Flair never turned down a fight, so maybe Charlotte’s not like her old man… or maybe he’s turned coward. Ric makes the title match for Charlotte, who isn’t happy about this, but she walks out and keeps face anyway. This whole segment was eleven minutes. I wish I could say I’m surprised.
Kevin Owens is joining commentary, making it at least 25% more bearable, for a Dean Ambrose and Kalisto match vs Sheamus and Del Rio, with Barrett at ringside. Is Dean not allowed Roman at ringside? Does Roman not want to come and support Dean’s new buddy Kalisto? Is there trouble in paradise? Stay tuned to Raw to find out – or not, because we’ll recap Kalisto’s loss of the US title instead. He held it for one day. Poor Kalisto. We love you, dude, it’s okay. You deserve the title, and everyone likes you.
Kevin Owen makes a good point that no one cares what Byron thinks – poor Byron, you’re so maligned – as Dean throws Kalisto over the ropes, using him as a weapon. Del Rio and Sheamus don’t work well as a team, there’s no fluidity in the combination of their styles, whereas Ambrose is adapting to Kalisto very neatly. It’s an odd match, because Kalisto and Dean are so fast, whereas Sheamus and Del Rio are slower and more deliberate in their motions. There’s a hell of a dropkick from Del Rio to the back of Dean’s head, which looks like it can’t have done anything but hurt, and leaves Dean reeling on his back on the mat, easy to pin.
As always, though, Ambrose has the ability to power through a hell of a lot of punishment, as JBL and KO have a talk about how they follow each other on twitter, like it’s a bromance or something. The hardest part to stomach is, as always, the double stomp set up, because for almost two minutes (that’s half a Diva’s match, you recall), Dean is clearly tensing his arm muscles to hold himself in position for the move. He comes up from it, anyway, and flings Del Rio off the top rope, coming down with a missile dropkick, and though both men are down, Ambrose can’t get the tag in time before Del Rio brings Sheamus is. Still, he manages a lunatic lariat to take Sheamus down for just long enough to tag Kalisto in. In the end, Ambrose is left lying outside the ring, in front of the announce table, courtesy of a running enzuigiri off the announce table from Del Rio, and Sheamus pins Kalisto for the win. The Euroboys have a little cuddle for their win, and Dean sits stunned in front of the announce table – get up, Dean, or you’ll have to listen to Cole, Layfield and Saxton attempt to talk.
I’m not entirely sure how we’ve got an hour of Raw left, but okay. We get a recap of earlier in the show, in case we fell asleep halfway through, and then some coverage of the match where Jericho broke Francesca and therefore Xavier Woods. Don’t think we’ve forgotten, Chris, you’re still going to pay for murdering an innocent brass instrument. We’re having a very serious funeral for Francesca, as Xavier weeps on Kofi’s shoulder. Big E will be avenging Francesca by fighting Jey Uso (look, commentary, now you’ll know which is which for once!), and the solemnly clap their hands to the rhythm of her name. I think I’ve seen less sincere spots when someone on the roster’s actually died.
We get a recap of how the Royal Rumble works, and how it will be altered by the introduction of the title being on the line – basically instead of Roman being able to start at number one and maybe have some other guys eliminated by… other guys, because of previous loyalties and enmities, he’ll have a huge target on his back, made bigger by the fact that he won the Rumble last year. We get a lot of shots of Roman holding the title and looking reverent, almost sad, disbelieving. This looks like they’re setting him up to lose the title, but you can never we sure with WWE. We know Vince wants Roman to look strong, but…. I’ll handle this more in my predictions post.
So Big E out to face Jey Uso – the Usos have their usual energy, but Kofi and Xavier are very solemn in their movements, and still in their suits. They’re clearly in mourning, and we should respect that. This is a really interesting match, actually, getting to see one of the Usos on their own, and seeing Big E out on his own merits, too. This is all prep for the tag team title match on Sunday, so obviously they can’t set Jey up to look too strong, as that would take all the guesswork out of the Rumble match. Kofi puts a knee into Jey’s face while the official has his back turned, and Jey retaliates by moving out of the way when big E goes for the splash, leaving him to land right on the apron. Jey gets fired up halfway through, slamming Big E into the barricades, and then a nice splash from the top rope.
In a terrific show of strength, Jey hits a Samoan drop on Big E, and follows it up with a great kick to the jaw, sending Big E down for a near fall at two and a half. Commentary confuse me by talking about Jimmy Uso’s knee about four minutes after Jimmy last did something to help out, and just as Jey makes a bad landing, but it’s just Cole and Layfield’s usual slow style of calling.
We get a weird 8-man tag match which is another one of those used to remind us who these people are who will be in the Royal Rumble on Sunday. So it’s Viktor and Konnor of the Ascension with their Cosmic Daddy, Stardust, and Tyler Breeze – the Star Kids – vs Titus O’Neil, R-Truth, Neville and Mark Henry – Team Skillz. I like seeing Stardust in the ring again, after we heard he has an injured shoulder, and he’s got his Ascension babies to help him out too. The best part of this match is when Neville and Tyler Breeze get into it together, and we get to see the two of them come up viciously together. Obviously they have some ring chemistry from the NXT days, and they look really good in the ring as opposing forces. Neville hits the Red Arrow on Breeze for the win, and the match is over. All we have left is our main event of… the highlight reel? Okay.
Jericho starts off his spiel about how exciting this is going to be, so if you let us down, Jericho, we’re going to let Kevin Owens use you as stress relief. He gets interrupted by Paul Heyman, possibly the best person to be interrupted by, and Jericho interrupts him back! Rude! Heyman reminds Jericho that the last time he faced Lesnar, it didn’t exactly go like Jericho wanted, but he doesn’t have to worry, because Brock wants Roman to be his buddy. This carries on – Heyman and Jericho talk for ten minutes, longer than both Diva’s matches on the card put together. And nothing happens.
Finally, Lesnar’s out to talk to Jericho, now he’s riled up Heyman enough. Brock circles the ring like a shark, making sure that the WWE get their money’s worth, I guess, so they can see him from every angle. The second Brock looks like he’s ready to enter the ring, Roman comes in at a smart pace, and gets into the ring first, leaving Brock on the outside, circling again, with Heyman following his client. Lesnar gets into the ring and Roman doesn’t waste any time, hitting him with a spear straight out of the gate and sending Lesnar down to the ground. The Euroboys arrive to tear Roman off Brock and beat the hell out of him, but as the beast rises, he takes out each of the Euroboys. Once they’re gone, Roman hits another huge spear to Lesnar, and you can see the impact as Brock bounces off the mat. And then – the Wyatts?
When the lights come back up, Roman’s kneeling in the centre of the ring, Lesnar still on the ground in front of him, and the Wyatts have encircled the ring. Roman’s on his own between four of them. He hits Strowman first, then Harper and Roman, but they quickly move in and beat him down, Bray giving sister Abigail to Roman, and then to the slowly rising Lesnar. For once, the Wyatts are slow, menacing, the movements are intense and frightening. Bray says the rumble is his, and as Roman and Brock lie on the mat, motionless, and the boos rise from the crowd, Raw ends. Wow. That was a hell of an ending, and that’s a hell of a set up for Sunday’s rumble.