From the moment he made his shocking main roster debut last week by attacking (and injuring) Seth Rollins as the newly installed muscle for Triple H and The Authority, Samoa Joe has given the appearance that he belongs as a featured player on Raw.
Monday night's appearance took things to a whole new level.
Packaging his ice-cold demeanor within a well-tailored suit, Samoa Joe was all business in delivering a convincing promo to Raw general manager Mick Foley before staring down Roman Reigns in the opening segment. He went on to close the show with an equally impressive in-ring Raw debut, pinning Reigns (with the help of Braun Strowman) in the kind of physical match that best suits his skill set.
If viewers are trained to expect more from WWE's booking and creative team in the two months between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania, Monday's episode did nothing to disappoint. Raw featured a solid mix of high energy, minor swerves and creative teases ahead of the March 5 Fastlane pay-per-view.
With Rollins' real-life injury being announced Monday as a torn MCL, meaning a return at WrestleMania isn't entirely out of the question, it's difficult to know exactly where Samoa Joe is headed in terms of his storyline future. But the uncertainty helped ease any negative thoughts that his heel heat was robbed by Strowman's run-in following the main event.
After his entrance provided enough distraction for Reigns to be pinned, Strowman handed out a devastating beating, which included hitting Reigns in the face with the ring steps and screaming in his face, "I told you I was coming for you!" Strowman wrapped the assault with a brutal running powerslam through the ringside barrier wall amid chants of "Thank you Strowman!" from the Portland, Oregon, crowd.
Strowman, whose interference cost Reigns the WWE Universal championship at the Royal Rumble (before Reigns returned the favor the next night on Raw), was granted an official match against Reigns at Fastlane by Foley earlier in Monday's episode following his victory in a 4-on-1 handicap match.
While Strowman's late run-in certainly cost Samoa Joe the glory of an uncompromised win, it was enough of a powerful statement regarding Strowman's viability in a high-level feud against Reigns to be forgiven. And despite Samoa Joe's violent finishing move, the Muscle Buster, proving to be curiously absent on Monday, he couldn't ask for much more in terms of being put over strong in his first full night on Raw.
Sure, this wasn't Finn Balor pinning Roman Reigns clean to earn a title shot, like we saw last August, but Samoa Joe was given one heck of a platform on Monday to showcase what makes him dangerous and entertaining.
Goldberg plans busy spring
Interrupting a comedic segment between Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho, in which Jericho added five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady to his infamous list, Goldberg immediately showed the heel duo he meant business with a scathing promo.
"You've got two choices, ladies," Goldberg said. "You step aside and live or you see if you can grow a pair, step up to the plate and take me on 2-on-1. Right here, right now."
Goldberg, who recently turned 50, went on to accept Brock Lesnar's challenge to a match at WrestleMania 33. But he wasn't finished. He went on to coerce Jericho into accepting, on Owens' behalf, a match between Goldberg and Owens for the WWE Universal championship at Fastlane.
The development was an interesting one, fueling previously traded online rumors that Goldberg was set to enter WrestleMania with the title, giving more prestige to his match with Lesnar. Goldberg attempted to stamp the moment on Monday by grabbing Jericho's clipboard and personally adding himself to "the list."
The most disappointing development related to the Goldberg news was the reveal that Lesnar made an appearance after the cameras turned off, taking part in the dark match main event. Considering how limited his appearances are thanks to his part-time schedule and how much his mere presence seems to raise the property value on Raw, it felt like nothing short of a missed opportunity.
Hits and misses
Despite its stubborn refusal to turn Reigns heel, credit WWE for booking him with enough of a hardened edge in Monday's opening segment that it allowed Samoa Joe -- the more critically beloved of the two by hardened fans -- to be received as a babyface by the crowd. Reigns gave a short but powerful promo that had heel written all over it. "We've never met before, but my name is Roman Reigns and I'm the baddest man to step foot in WWE. So the moment you sign that contract, that means you are in my yard. So I'll give him two choices Portland, he's about to shut his mouth or I'll cave it in." Reigns' rant was foreshadowed by an unprovoked tweet one week earlier that, at the time, lacked context.
He may have fallen just short for this week's Line of the Night honors, but color commentator Corey Graves delivered one humorous sound bite after another on Monday. His best line came during Strowman's victory in a 4-on-1 squash match, describing one of the enhancement talent by saying, "Strowman just kicked that guy back to his day job in a Winger cover band."
Don't look now, but it appears that WWE has figured out how to properly book Nia Jax's unrivaled power within the women's division. One week after being put over strong in a dominant victory over Sasha Banks at the Royal Rumble, Jax laid waste to Bayley in a manner that properly communicated just how menacing and unique her character has the potential to be. Gone was the comedically bad selling to smaller opponents as Jax benefited from a Charlotte distraction to pin Bayley following a strong Samoan drop. Not only did announcer Michael Cole work hard to provide background details of Jax's narrative by mentioning how she was kicked out of karate class as a youth for being too violent, Jax went old-school heel by turning to a young female fan in the front row and saying, "Watch her die," while manhandling Bayley on the floor. This was the best and most believable Jax has been presented on the main roster.
Say what you will about 205 Live, WWE's cruiserweight-exclusive show on Tuesday nights, and whether or not it's your cup of tea, but the show undeniably has a star on its hands thanks to Neville's recent heel turn. His promo to Austin Aries on Monday was strong during an in-ring interview, which also showcased just how well Aries has advanced on the microphone in a short time. The Tuesday trio of Aries, Graves and Mauro Ranallo just might be the best announcing team WWE has going for itself at the moment.
While Samoa Joe's impressive in-ring debut on Raw will rightfully steal the headlines, cruiserweight Akira Tozawa failed to disappoint just the same in his first match on the main roster. Tozawa, a native of Japan, was impressive during a run to the quarterfinals of the WWE Cruiserweight Classic last summer. He defeated Drew Gulak on Monday following a well-executed German suplex with a bridge, which the announce team worked hard to put over throughout the match (along with Tozawa's "gas tank," mentioning his "Stamina Monster" nickname).
Move of the night
While Strowman's running powerslam on Reigns, which obliterated a ringside barrier wall, certainly had the biggest impact of any move on Monday, a series of daring aerial attacks from the cream of WWE's cruiserweight division took top honors. From Tony Nese's impressive corkscrew dive onto the floor to Cedric Alexander's breathtaking Tope Con Hilo, the sequence showcased everything the 205-pound crew has to offer.
- WWE (@WWE) February 7, 2017
Line of the night
"Eighteen years. It took me 18 years to be standing in this ring right now. And in those 18 years when you claim to be such a big fan of mine, one man opened the door and gave me an opportunity. And if loyalty to that one man means coming out here, beating up Seth Rollins and putting him on the shelf, so be it. In fact, I'm putting your whole locker room on notice. I will come out here night after night. I will beat down your heroes and choke them out. And when they wake up, I will beat them down all over again because 'The Destroyer' has arrived and there is nothing you can do about it." -- Samoa Joe to Raw general manager Mick Foley.