Following an at-times entertaining, but ultimately deflating Survivor Series, it’s back to business for Raw and SmackDown Live. While the blue brand has Clash of Champions to look forward to in December, Raw has their sights set directly on the road to WrestleMania kicking off at Royal Rumble. That’s a lot of TV to fill without anything to build toward for quite some time. Tonight’s episode did infuse some new blood into the roster and introduce a surprising title change, but if every Monday night until Rumble is like tonight, it’s gonna be a long couple months.
This Is Their House
Though there were a few moments on tonight’s episode of Raw that made an impact, none came close to the return of Paige. We’ve known for some time that Paige was returning — it was just a question of when and how. We got that answer tonight in a form that nobody could have predicted, as Paige interrupted a fatal four way match between Alicia Fox, Sasha Banks, Mickie James and Bayley to determine the #1 contender for Alexa’s Women’s Championship — but as she put it, she didn’t come alone. She brought along an unlikely pairing of Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, two Tough Enough alums who were fast-tracked through NXT and are, apparently, Raw‘s two newest members. Rose and Deville showcased their finishing moves — a double underhook facebuster on Mickie James and a jumping superkick to Sasha Banks, respectively — after which Paige delivered the first Ram-Paige on television in over a year to Bayley.
After the match, which was thrown out despite fatal four way matches having no disqualifications and a multi-woman match just last week not being thrown out because of outside interference, the debuting trio bumped into the champ backstage and proceeded to administer a beatdown. Going by WWE logic, I’m assuming this means Paige has earned a title shot.
I’m very excited to see Paige back. She’s a great character, and was a competent women’s wrestler before Stephanie McMahon gave birth to the concept of women’s wrestling with the #WomensRevolution™. I’m not entirely sold on the addition of Mandy and Sonya — neither are my favorite wrestlers, but they aren’t bad either, just inexperienced. Compared to the rest of the women’s roster though, Paige is practically a grizzled veteran at this point, so it’s probably a smart move to have her take the two newbies under her wing for a bit. The connection between the three women is tenuous at best, though — Cole did mention that Mandy and Sonya were on the season of Tough Enough that Paige was a judge on, so I guess that’s what they’re rolling with. Either way, it’s great to see Paige back.
It’s sad I even feel the need to bring this up, but I’ll just quickly give kudos to the Houston crowd for not disrespecting Paige in her return. A lot’s happened in the year-plus that she’s been gone involving her personal (sometimes VERY personal) life, so it was refreshing to see her get a unanimously welcoming return instead of some derogatory, embarrassing chants. Good on you, Houston.
McMahon Family Drama, Angle Family Drama
Raw kicked off pretty explosively on paper — Stephanie McMahon, Triple H, Kurt Angle and Braun Strowman (and Jason Jordan) in the same ring at the same time should be pretty huge. Unfortunately, the segment, which was surprisingly short given it involved The Authority who has a penchant for long-winded promos, sort of just fizzled out. Sure, they further teased the inevitable showdown between Triple H and Kurt Angle, as well as Triple H vs. Braun Strowman with a pair of staredowns, but the ultimate purpose of this opener was to announce Braun Strowman vs. Jason Jordan, the least exciting of any possible combination of matchups involving the men in the ring at the time.
It’s at least a good thing that the match made ended up involving two younger, up-and-coming Superstars instead of highlighting the geriatric performers in the ring, which was a major problem in last night’s Survivor Series main event. Yes, Braun ultimately got his moment, but it’s absolutely insane that the McMahon Family Drama is still the central storyline in WWE after all these years. If you told 14 year old me back in 2000 that I’d still be watching the power struggle between the various members of the McMahon family on Raw and SmackDown, I either wouldn’t believe you, or I’d be really concerned about the decisions I made in my life that led me to still watching this stuff 17 years later.
The match between Jordan and Strowman may as well have not even been made, though, as it got interrupted in minutes by Kane. I understand the logic of not giving away clean decisions in matches that matter on free TV, but having this directly follow Paige interrupting the women’s match made it feel especially hollow. Kane did unleash an entertaining thrashing of Strowman, though, including a pretty nasty looking chair-to-the-throat spot that left Braun gasping for air.
Roman Reigns was a guest on Miz TV, and he brought the rest of The Shield with him in a pretty entertaining segment. The crowd was incredibly behind The Miz and the Miztourage to the point of hilarity, even sustaining a sizable "I Bo-Lieve" chant at one point. The Miz did what he always does, cut a stellar promo that gave the crowd no choice but to rally behind him even though he’s a douchebag heel. After a mention that Ambrose and Rollins are gunning for the Raw Tag Team Championships again somewhere down the line, Roman, not wanting to be left out, decided to challenge The Miz for his Intercontinental Championship.
That match served as tonight’s main event, a solid bout that saw neither The Shield or the Miztourage at ringside at first. A surprisingly back and forth match saw Miz exhibit some viciousness we haven’t seen from him possibly ever. An attempted Superman Punch was thwarted by Miz via a nasty mid-air attack to Roman’s knee that left him ragdolling to the ground. The Miz then his a downright violent kick straight to Roman’s temple that would have knocked any mere mortal out for good. Of course, the Big Dog is no mere mortal.
The match turned into a schmozz toward the end, with both The Bar and the remaining members of The Shield storming ringside. The ensuing chaos was enough to net Roman Reigns his first Intercontinental Championship of his career — the only title in WWE that has eluded him to this point, making him the second Grand Slam Champion of The Shield (Dean Ambrose accomplished the feat when he won the Raw Tag Team Championships with Seth Rollins back in August).
It’s obviously unfortunate to see The Miz lose the title that’s become such a central part of his character for years now, and Roman doesn’t need gold to stay relevant, but let’s see where the story goes. The Miz is far too valuable to squander, and I think even WWE knows that by this point.
The Rest of the Card
- Samoa Joe absolutely dominated Finn Balor in the first bit of in-ring action of the evening. It was a pretty unexpected route to take with this match. One one hand, it’s obviously great to see Samoa Joe get a convincing win. But what the hell are they doing with Finn Balor? Guy’s the first Universal Champion ever, but at this rate, he’ll never sniff a main event program again.
- Likewise, Asuka embarrassed Dana Brooke in a quick match. Looks like Asuka has graduated from trouncing local talent and moved onto trouncing the lowest of low carders.
- Cesaro/Sheamus and Ambrose/Rollins are incapable of having bad matches together, but it’s getting a little tiresome. It would have been nice if they just got the Raw Tag Team Championship rematch over with tonight, because while I love both these teams, I’d like to see them both move onto fresh programs.
- The entire Cruiserweight division fought each other in a multi-man tag match for the umpteenth time. Cool.
- Elias did Elias stuff and Matt Hardy ran him off. Cool?
Paige’s return to WWE has been a long time coming, and while her pairing with newcomers Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville is odd, it’s intriguing. Roman winning the Intercontinental Championship was a surprise, but unfortunately, the rest of the show was full of short, meaningless matches and some tiresome retreads. 30 minutes of exciting action on a three hour show is not good enough.