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THE 'HAPPY NEW YEAR' EDITION OF RAW: WHAT WORKED, WHAT DIDN'T & WHAT WE LEARNED

By Mike Johnson on 2018-01-02 10:31:00

It's a New Year, everybody!  With WWE kicking off their New Year with the road to the 2018 Royal Rumble, it seemed like a natural time to kick off a deep look at Monday Night Raw, breaking down the positives and negatives as well as what we've learned from the show.  So, here we go!

With the first Raw of the year, WWE's main objective was to get fans back into the swing of things as the company marched further down the road to the Royal Rumble.  Last night was a mostly strong endeavor from the company, as you will see.

WHAT WORKED:

Samoa Joe vs. Roman Reigns.  While Asuka vs. Alexa Bliss was touted as the match that was "Wrestlemania worthy", it was really Joe and Reigns who brought the goods in that regard.  When WWE invests 30 minutes of a three hour show into your match, you either deliver or it's wasted time and money.  In this case, between the pre-match interviews (including Samoa Joe bragging to Dean Ambrose's wife that he had turned Ambrose into a house husband that had to live off her paycheck) to the intensely physical back and forth war they brought forth in the ring, it was a home run.  The "Roman loses the belt if he is DQ'd" stipulation was played perfectly, right down to the smallest detail of having referee John Cone, who Roman manhandled the week before, being the official here.  The near falls in the last five minutes were so good, it didn't matter who won and lost, because they brought each other up to the next level.  Kudos.

Jason Jordan vs. Cesaro.  A very well worked, well booked opening match for Raw.  Cesaro looked like a beast as he continued to work over Jordan's leg and knee.  Jordan did a great job of selling the leg, even while trying to mount his comeback and looked really good in the process.   While the audience has yet to take to Jordan (except when he's tossing big suplexes), his work continues to be very good consistently.  Jordan's feats of strength, including catching Cesaro in mid-air and his one legged bridge pinfall attempt, looked very good.    With Jordan on the ropes, Seth Rollins preventing Sheamus' interference, allowing Jordan to hit a neckbreaker on a distracted Cesaro, gave a good, logical reason for the win without taking away from Cesaro's excellent offense. 

Drew Gulak.  While I fear that by writing this I am going to jinx the guy, Gulak more than anyone else in professional wrestling since the late Larry Sweeney comes off as if he could be the next Bobby Heenan.  Whether it's his wrestling, his promo ability or his knack for comedy and reactions backstage, Gulak is a triple threat in all regards.  His promo last night reading the statement from the sick Enzo Amore, correcting his grammar, was a thing of beauty.  WWE has a goose that will lay golden eggs for them in Gulak as he can be plugged into any scenario and enhance it.  That's the type of talent you want to make a lifer and if you've been overlooking Gulag's work, go back and watch again.

The Club is back together.  While it was too sudden to really mean anything (imagine the Impact is Gallows and Anderson hit the ring and saved Balor from a beating, then cut a great promo?), their squash win over Elias and The Miztourage was quick and decisive;  Putting Gallows, Anderson and Balor all together in the same unit opens up the doors of possibility for three talents who have been far too underutilized over the last year.  While whether WWE will use the trio to the fullest extent, they opened the door last night for more and that's a positive - a small one, but a positive nonetheless.

Kurt Angle found his backbone.  All too often, authority figures are made to look like complete morons on WWE TV, and Kurt Angle has not been immune to this.  However, by laying down the law to Alexa Bliss and The Bar last night during the opening segment of Raw, Angle looked stronger than he has in some time.  He's not Bill Watts in Mid-South yet but this was a considerable improvement.

Matt Hardy.  Every time that character pops up on my TV, I can't help but smile and be entertained.  He could play the Broken or Woken or whatever role for the next 20 years and end up like George Steele or the Mongolian Stomper, being super over while doing very little in the ring, because the character works so well.  It's been great hearing about how Hardy has been staying in character as he enters and exits the venues as well, giving fans who run into him a little extra surprise.

Braun vs. Heath and Rhyno.  How entertaining was that beatdown?  Whether it was the sheer physicality, Strowman goading Slater to get in the ring and fight or the continued beatdown of Rhyno and Slater with powerslam after powerslam, WWE is onto something with Braun Strowman.  I hope they don't miss their window with him by keeping their eye on the potential and long-discussed Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns Wrestlemania 34 main event, because Strowman has lightning in a bottle and once you missed that lightning's window of opportunity, it's near-impossible to recreate (see Goldberg, Bill in WCW; Punk, CM in 2011 WWE)

WHAT DIDN'T:

Alexa Bliss vs. Asuka.  Don't get me wrong, the match was fine, but as something hyped all night as being a "Wrestlemania worthy" match, it didn't live up to that bill.  The wrestling was OK, although I think the bout was a little too long for one where Bliss spent a lot of it on the defensive, and the finish was 100% done correctly, but I didn't feel hyped coming out of it that I wanted to see it again - which I don't think was what WWE wanted coming out of that bout.

Kane and Brock Lesnar closing Raw.  I want to explain that I respect Kane's run and I am sure part of this main event at the Royal Rumble is out of respect for the fact that he's been a consistent performer for the company since 1996, but in 2018, was there really any excitement over Brock and Kane having a pull apart brawl to close Raw?  I didn't feel it, if so.  The Paul Heyman promo was fine but from there, it really felt like a segment that was being foisted upon the audience as opposed to something they desired.  Kane chokeslamming Lesnar, Lesnar sitting up, the brawl - all fine on paper, but much like Kane destroying Finn Balor last year, it feels out of place and forced, especially when the third man in the equation -  a far hotter prospect compared to Kane - Braun Strowman, is nowhere to be found, despite Heyman cutting a promo on him and Kane's attempt to get Braun to team with him to take out the WWE Universal champion.

Goldust teaming with Cedric Alexander.  It sure seems that the big Cruiserweight championship bout WWE has been building to for weeks is cursed, eh?  One has to feel for Enzo Amore being so sick on the road he's checked into an emergency room.  However, when Cedric Alexander's back-up is to team with Goldust in a match where everything seemed designed to make Goldust - a veteran who's work I love and respect personally - the most important character out there during a time where he gets no sustained, consistent push, what does that say about 205 Live's cast of characters?  The work was fine in the ring, but the subliminal message behind it all was no

Bray Wyatt vs. Apollo Crews.  There was not one person in Miami nor one person watching at home who didn't know how the match was going to go, which is OK.  However, the match was way too long and way too competitive for a bout designed to spotlight Wyatt as he builds towards the Matt Hardy feud.  The same thing may have been accomplished better in less time, which is a shame, as Crews is a hell of a hand and deserves better, but hasn't been spotlighted well for a long time.  He'd actually be well served to be shifted to NXT for some freshening up.

WWE InterviewersFor whatever reason, WWE never allows their interviewers to look at anyone but the person cutting the promo and never allows them to sign off with a "Back to you at ringside" or whatever, creating a scenario where, for example, Renee Young looks and smirks lovingly at Roman Reigns as he exits stage left.  It never ceases to be weird or awkward looking to viewers and hopefully, WWE eventually drops this practice.

WHAT WE LEARNED:

30 Competitors in Women's Royal Rumble.  During his opening address to fans on Raw, GM Kurt Angle announced something that a sizable amount of fans had hoped for - that the women's Rumble match will feature 30 combatants.  Unless Angle made a mistake during his promo, that means the female rosters of Raw and Smackdown, plus likely some NXT talents and some surprises, will all be part of the Rumble bout in Philly.  That also means we are pretty much guaranteed an hour of action, which would be the longest women's bout in decades in WWE, perhaps even in the history of the company.  All of this is great news for the fans who love women's wrestling, which, in 2018, are legion.   This is also a great thing behind the scenes as both the men and the women, for the first time in WWE history, will legitimately have the same time and forum to see who can put together the better Rumble match.  That sort of competition can only breed greater interest and a better work ethic among all.

Jason Jordan is a self-centered dope.  The thrill of victory and his first taste of Raw gold have done nothing to help mature Jason Jordan.  Whether it be his ill-thought out confrontation of The Bar (which Seth Rollins smartly knocked him for, as if could have hurt their Raw Tag Team championship run) or Jordan's awesomely clueless declaration to Roman Reigns that he and Seth had Roman's back - as well as the priceless, silent response from Reigns and Rollins - Jordan's quiet, measured growth into what will surely be a great self-absorbed heel turn continues to nail the right notes, week after week, without being overly obvious.

Raw 25 is coming.  Between video clips, old theme music and straightforward promotion, WWE began building the anticipation for the 25th Anniversary of Raw on 1/22 and did it the right way, without overshadowing what was important on last night's episode.  As someone who attended the very first Raw back in 1993, I appreciated the callbacks.

Miz is back!  After a banner 2017, Miz will officially return to Raw next week, likely to stake his claim in the Royal Rumble match.  He'll also give the Miztourage something a bit more worthwhile to do as his second bananas.

The Revival is in name only.  With absolutely no sign of Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson, it seemed as if their return didn't make a blip in the backstage radar.  If they aren't going to be utilized on Raw, they won't be players, which would be a real shame after they've had such bad luck with the injury bug since migrating from NXT.  That team is so good, they deserve better.  Here's to hoping they get a bigger chance to contribute in the weeks to come.

They have chicken soup in catering!  Well, they must right?  It's not like Nia Jax made the chicken soup from scratch for Enzo while backstage, right?  Right?

Mike Johnson can be reached at MikeJohnsonPWInsider@gmail.com and can be followed on Twitter @MikePWInsider.  

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