In the WWE, larger reveals are purposely saved for a later date. Monday's episode of Raw, the first of 2017, was no different, nearly four weeks out from the Royal Rumble on Jan. 29, which marks the official kickoff to "WrestleMania season."
With a long opening segment and a pair of matches centered upon the never-ending feud involving Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins (with the plot hole of Triple H's 130-day Raw hiatus still upsetting cohesion), there was very much a feeling of Groundhog Day. In fact, according to the database website Cagematch.net, Reigns' match was his 18th on Raw since the brand extension last July, and the 14th that involved Owens or Jericho.
But the feeling of monotony was quickly washed away by the show's final segment, as a series of run-ins from Goldberg, Roman Reigns, Paul Heyman and Braun Strowman brought a fresh feeling to the mix during the debut of "The Kevin Owens Show."
The segment, which ended with Goldberg and Reigns combining for a double spear on Strowman, properly teased the unpredictable nature of the Royal Rumble match, which sets the table for the new feuds heading into WrestleMania. It also reminded viewers exactly why that stretch of programming from late January through the first week of April is always must-see each year, conveniently timed immediately after the conclusion of college football and the NFL.
Seeing Owens, the WWE's Universal champion and leading heel, step to Goldberg was a great tease (especially since Owens was allowed to stand strong without eating a spear). The same can be said for the interaction between Goldberg and Reigns moments later, which left many imagining what a "spear versus spear" match to pass the torch at WrestleMania might look like.
For as much as we might assume the Royal Rumble will set the stage for a WrestleMania rematch between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar after their surprise squash at Survivor Series, the truth is we don't know. And that's why Monday's final segment was the perfect antidote to recent booking trends -- it kept viewers wondering and, most importantly, wanting more.
We may still be a few weeks out from the official start of "WrestleMania season," but a focused effort on increasing the element of surprise would be a welcome treat, if nothing else than to justify the amount of hours one must consume each week in order to stay current on the product.
For as much as Heyman and John Bradshaw Layfield, during a panel discussion on the debut of the WWE Network show "Bring it to the Table" (which aired after Raw), had fun taking shots at the hard-core fans who constantly complain, there's a reason for their disdain.
There are only so many times they can see Reigns kick out after taking a finishing move and not become frustrated.
Hits and misses
Credit WWE for the exceptional storytelling and brutality displayed in Strowman's victory over Sami Zayn in their Last Man Standing match, which proved to be the in-ring highlight of Monday's show. Zayn, whose character has shown tremendous heart throughout this feud, took an incredible beating in a manner which completely put over Strowman as a monster heel. The repackaging of Strowman has been a slow build over the past six months but it has been handled to perfection. While the jury is still out as to whether Braun can hold up his end of the bargain in a main-event feud, he's clearly ready for the opportunity.
Is it me or is Jericho on such a roll right now that there's no limit to the random phrases he is able to get over with the crowd? I think it's fair after a few weeks that we add "sexy piñata" to that list. And what list are we talking about? Yes, the "List of Jericho." Write it down, maaannn.
When Cesaro and Sheamus captured the WWE Raw tag-team titles from The New Day, ending their record-breaking streak, you had to at least wonder whether their reign would become more of a transitional one. Combining a babyface in Cesaro with a heel in Sheamus gives WWE flexibility in terms of which team might be next to take the belts. Here's to hoping that team is Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, who are among the most underutilized of all WWE superstars and plenty deserving. Anderson's pin of Cesaro on Monday, after Sheamus inadvertently cost his teammate a singles match, may have just set the foundation.
It may have taken me a bit longer than most to come around on Jack Gallagher's "Extraordinary Gentleman" shtick, but it's working. And seeing him briefly linked with The New Day during a locker room segment heading into commercial was one heck of a tease.
It has been tough times of late for Titus O'Neil in terms of being involved in anything meaningful. That's why it was good to see him in a singles match against Xavier Woods, after Titus interrupted The New Day's shtick by mimicking their catchphrases. The reason for the push was likely more due to Raw emanating from O'Neil's home city of Tampa, Florida, than anything else. But it was the best use of "The Titus Brand" in many months and he performed well, both in terms of banter and as a physical in-ring presence. The match also provided a platform for the underrated ring work of Woods, who landed a sweet Tope Con Hilo.
Stephanie McMahon's verbal undressing of Bayley during their backstage segment (see more below) was very reminiscent of the "B-plus player" digs she previously used to cut down Daniel Bryan during the buildup to his title win at WrestleMania XXX. It's an angle that works well with the simplicity and innocence of Bayley's ultra-babyface character. While the execution of Bayley's victory over Nia Jax on Monday wasn't perfect, as Sasha Banks' distraction led to a Bayley-to-Belly suplex off the second rope, the result was a positive one as Bayley secured a much-deserved title shot against Charlotte at the Royal Rumble.
Move of the night
A good spot needs both perfect timing and impact, and Jericho had plenty of both when he snuffed out a Superman punch attempt from Reigns on the ring apron with a springboard dropkick. Reigns not only sold the damage well by taking a spill onto the floor, but he barely avoided a count-out defeat (and the loss of his belt due to the lack of a "champion's advantage" in his United States title match) by rolling into the ring at the count of 10.
- WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) January 3, 2017
Line of the night
"Since we have this opportunity for some girl talk, I think you should know that I never wanted you on Monday Night Raw. Mick Foley, he fought for you, he said, 'Oh Bayley, she could be the face of the Raw women's division.' Frankly, I don't see it. Charlotte, she's got power. She's the queen of pay-per-view, she's a larger-than-life superstar. Well you Bayley, you're just like all these people here tonight -- ordinary. I mean you ... you're just ... you're just Bayley." -- Raw commissioner Stephanie McMahon.