The 25th anniversary edition of Monday Night Raw hit all the nostalgic notes it promised over the past few weeks. The Undertaker made his first televised appearance since WrestleMania 33, and inside the Manhattan Center, no less. D-Generation-X brought the band back together, and took Scott Hall (Razor Ramon) and the Balor Club along for the ride.
Chris Jericho sang a song and added to his list, The Dudley Boyz put Heath Slater through a table, the APA held an ever-growing poker game in the back, Christian brought back the Peep Show and the Boogeyman made a special delivery (spoiler alert -- it was worms). But the centerpiece of it all, which came in the opening 20 minutes of the show, saw Stone Cold Steve Austin arrive, hit a pair of stunners on Shane McMahon and one for the old boss, Vince McMahon himself, and leave covered in a cascade of beers.
These were all special moments, but as fun and as memorable as they were, WWE fell into the traps of trying to please too many masters, trying to squeeze in as many legends as possible and trying to keep multiple balls in the air at the same time with a broadcast across two venues.
There was some great nostalgia, some work put towards building up Sunday's Royal Rumble pay-per-view and some intertwining of the old and new to give "the rub" to the next generation, but the end result was a bit clunky and imbalanced. The element of surprise -- the "anything can happen" atmosphere that helped power Raw through its first 25 years -- was a victim of the meticulous planning this show required, and that may have been the biggest letdown of all.
Still, amongst that chaos, there was a lot to enjoy and moments that will be looked back upon fondly, including a historic win for The Miz.
Eight times an Intercontinental champion --The Miz beats Roman Reigns
The lone championship match on this Raw anniversary show was the long-awaited rematch between Roman Reigns and The Miz. Ever since Miz came back from shooting The Marine 6, he's held the mental edge over Reigns and was seemingly set up to fail in his quest to regain his coveted Intercontinental title.
Not so fast, my friend.
In a result that could be indicative of where Raw and Reigns in particular are headed going into the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania, Miz played the numbers game flawlessly, hit a couple of cheap shots and a pair of Skull-Crushing Finales and defeated Reigns to become an eight-time Intercontinental champion.
It's been said that styles make matches, and though they've clashed on a number of occasions, it's striking how well Miz and Reigns work against one another. Each and every Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel spot fit nicely within the match, and each distraction offered a separate, important moment for The Miz to do a different underhanded thing -- and that all added up to just enough to put Reigns away.
While it was The Miz who declared for the Royal Rumble match on Monday, Reigns likely won't be far behind. This result will benefit all of the parties involved, really. The Miz will continue to chip away at the record for most days spent as Intercontinental champion, and with less than 100 days to go before he hits that mark, he'll likely do it in 2018. As for Reigns, he's free to make a beeline to Brock Lesnar and the Universal championship or, should Braun Strowman walk away from the Rumble with the title, Reigns can revisit that war instead.
There's an Elimination Chamber match to come that will also change the trajectory of Raw, but the possibility of Reigns winning a second Rumble match in Philadelphia after the crowd booed him out of the building in 2015 is certainly an interesting possibility.
Balor Club gets in on "too sweet" reunion
Since the Bullet Club co-opted the "too sweet" hand gesture a few years ago in New Japan Pro Wrestling, there have been a handful of small crossovers, be it inside of a WWE ring or some chance meeting on the road captured in a photo or two, between the originators of the symbol, "The Clique", and their younger counterparts.
This just became ‘Too Sweet' as Balor Club entered the fray and threw ‘em up.
But on Monday night, fans at the Manhattan Center and everybody watching Raw 25 got to see the largest such meeting as all of the living members of D-Generation-X came together with Scott Hall, and they collectively crossed paths with Finn Balor, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, now collectively known as Balor Club.
Before they could finish the segment, The Revival came out to interrupt the party. Gallows & Anderson took care of business in fairly short order, in a match reminiscent of some of the short and sweet affairs of old school Monday Night Raw. Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson then became cannon fodder for the legend. There was a toothpick to the eye from Hall, some shake-rattle-n-roll from Jesse James, a fame-asser from Billy Gunn, an X-factor from X-pac, a superkick from Shawn Michaels, a pedigree from Triple H and, to put a nice bow on it all, a Coup de Grace from Balor to seal the deal.
Of all the current talent on Monday night, no one benefited more from the presence of the legends than Balor did (and, by proxy, Gallows & Anderson faired pretty well in their own right). In just a few weeks, Balor Club has picked up a head of steam and it couldn't be happening at a better time of year for everyone involved.
Hits and misses
Seeing The Undertaker walk back into the Manhattan Center was a magical moment, and though he only had a short way to walk to get into the ring, he looked to be moving around far better than he did around WrestleMania 33. The last time Taker had appeared on WWE TV, he had laid his jacket, hat and gloves down in the ring and slowly lowered down into the ramp in Orlando, seemingly signaling the end of his career. The content of his promo in Manhattan was largely non-committal, opening up the possibility of another match without putting too much out there. Let the speculation begin.
The Undertaker, as he did on the very first Monday Night Raw, enters the ring at Manhattan Center. Complete with a Howard Finkel introduction!
Elias continues to get a better hold of the audience each week on Raw, and being across the ring from John Cena can only help him in that effort. He was nearly dispatched in short order, but after slipping out of an Attitude Adjustment and hitting a low blow, Elias nailed Cena with a guitar shot and got the upper hand. Whether this only lasts into the Rumble or carries beyond, getting this opportunity shows just how much value Elias carries at this moment.
Well that was a very unexpected John Cena appearance. We all came in thinking Undertaker angle. But apparently not.
The only women's match we got on Raw 25 was an eight-woman tag team match, as Bayley, Sasha Banks, Asuka and Mickie James beat Alicia Fox, Nia Jax, Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose. It was a fairly lengthy affair, with Banks ultimately getting the submission victory over Fox. As the winning team celebrated, Asuka rocked all of her partners and threw them all over the top rope. It was nice to see her get an edge back after playing nice with her teammates for a few weeks.
Alexa Bliss and Charlotte Flair got heated. Charlotte brought her dad Ric for backup, but Charlotte bringing up the possibility of Bliss not being champion almost felt like a double reverse foreshadowing of what her future might bring with Carmella waiting in the wings. And then there were the returns, as women like Trish Stratus, Kelly Kelly and the Bella Twins returned to Raw as well. With so many legendary women in the building for the show, it was a bit disappointing to see them all just walk out on stage, rather than interacting with the women carrying out their legacy on the current roster. Alas, there will be time for that on Sunday when at least a few of the legends seem likely do a slightly more hands-on job of working with the women of today.
After several hours subsisting largely on what was going on at Barclays Center, which had them restless, the Manhattan Center crowd got to see Woken Matt Hardy take on Bray Wyatt. It was a strong effort and a dramatic departure from the pair laughing back and forth at each other; they got intensely physical, and predictable weird. Wyatt got a clear and decisive victory, but the "Great War" seems to be far from over. After the cameras stopped rolling, Jeff Hardy came out in front of the live crowd and gave every indication that when he returns, it will be as Woken Matt's compatriot, Brother Nero. If this all sounds like nonsense words to you, just Google it.
Vince McMahon toed the line between getting a laugh and turning the crowd against him on a whim seamlessly. We all knew that no matter how many times he called himself old and decrepit, Austin was going to hit at least one stunner on him -- but namedropping AARP and claiming to live in a retirement community was a nice touch.