With the Road to WrestleMania very much underway, it was time to expect twists and turns and this week’s RAW delivered… some mild diversions.
After a graphic in memory of the late Butch Reed and a video chronicling the growing rivalry between WWE Champion Drew McIntyre and his former best friend Sheamus, this week’s RAW opened with a surprising appearance by Shane McMahon alongside Adam Pearce.
“The Best in the World” hyped the upcoming Elimination Chamber PPV, announcing that Drew McIntyre would be defending his title in the Chamber against a rogues gallery of former WWE Champions: Randy Orton, Jeff Hardy, AJ Styles, The Miz and Sheamus. Shane congratulated Pearce on his continued good work before making his exit. As he Shane walked up the ramp, he crossed paths with AJ Styles and Omos, giving a brief nod to their previous history during WrestleMania season.
Styles got on the microphone, asking Adam Pearce for a moment of his time. He also congratulated Pearce on the work he has been doing, and the Elimination Chamber main event idea reiterating the main event’s importance and running through the odds of McIntyre losing the title in the chamber, talking up his own chances of becoming a three-time WWE Champion in the process. Styles went on to say he planned to preview what would happen at Elimination Chamber on RAW, as Jeff Hardy made his way out to the ring for their scheduled match.
As the show came back from the break, there was a preview of this week’s SmackDown, with Seth Rollins scheduled to return, as well as a tease of the fallout from the Edge-Roman Reigns-Kevin Owens segment.
Shane McMahon was seen backstage walking to his car when he was stopped by Drew McIntyre who was not exactly overjoyed by the Elimination Chamber announcement, as he was under the impression he would be facing Sheamus one-on-one. Shane replied that they needed something big for the PPV, and that Drew defending the title in the Chamber fit the bill. Shane wished his friend Drew good luck before exiting the arena.
A decent opening to the show. Shane McMahon’s appearance seemed to hint at something more than a simple announcement, but that didn’t materialise in this opening segment. The main event for Elimination Chamber doesn’t exactly feel fresh or particularly exciting, but for a B-level show to fill time before WrestleMania, it’s a worthy main event.
Jeff Hardy vs AJ Styles
Hardy and Styles kicked things off by feeling each other out with some technical wrestling as Hardy took control with a series of holds and big shoulder block. Styles retaliated with strikes in the corner, but Hardy reversed and returned the favour. After a few more moments of back-and-forth, Hardy took the momentum and hit a series of big manoeuvres including a big back body drop and a leg drop to the midsection. However, Hardy’s knee buckled on an aerial move from the corner and as he recuperated on the outside, Styles would seize the advantage with a huge chop block taking out Hardy’s injured leg. A knee breaker and a modified Blue Thunder Bomb on the ring steps added even more punishment to Hardy’s injured limb as the commercial break began.
After the break, Styles had Hardy back in the ring and continued to work over the injured knee on the mat before eventually locking in the Calf Crusher as Hardy struggled to the bottom rope. Hardy rallied but his leg once again buckled as Styles attempted an Irish whip. Smelling blood, Styles set up for the Phenomenal Forearm, but Hardy crotched him on the ropes to counter. A jawbreaker and leg drop/low dropkick combination from Hardy followed while an inverted Falcon Arrow bagged Hardy a close near fall.
Styles again targeted the knee and attempted a Styles Clash, but Hardy reversed it into a Twist of Fate. However, as Hardy went for the Swanton to finish Styles, his leg slowed him down too much as Styles recovered enough to avoid it, quickly transitioning into the Calf Crusher for the win.
Winner: AJ Styles
A very enjoyable TV match between two experienced veterans. It won’t be a match that sticks in the memory, but it was very well put together and told a great story around Hardy’s injured knee. Solid work from both men.
After a recap of Bobby Lashley’s brutal beatdown of Riddle last week, Riddle was seen backstage with Keith Lee. Riddle explained that he had a black eye because of Lashley’s attack, but that “laughter is the best medicine” and he spent the week getting “toasty” and binge-watching the Air Bud movies (including listing the films) much to the bemusement of Lee. After Lee questioned Riddle’s choice of continuing to pursue the US title, Riddle continued to talk about Air Bud as an analogy for his situation. Lee suggested that perhaps he had what it takes to best Lashley where Riddle had failed as well as to beat Riddle later in the show, which naturally caused some tension between the two.
Riddle might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there was certainly a time in NXT where he felt like a breakout future star. Whether real-life issues or a lack of faith form management is to blame is unknown, but he is currently being made to look like an idiot week-after-week, and the RVD-Esque character is well past its prime. At least Keith Lee came out of this segment looking strong.
Sheamus was backstage with Adam Pearce and complained about the Elimination Chamber announcement. Pearce tried to sympathise but Sheamus shouted him down, calling Pearce an “empty suit” and claimed he is being disrespected. As he intimidated Pearce, Sheamus threatened to “unleash brutality” on the other competitors and reminded Pearce that he would be responsible.
The New Day vs RETRIBUTION
In chapter 4762 of the rivalry that will never end, Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods took on T-Bar and SlapJack of RETRIBUTION, as Mustafa Ali sat in on commentary. Woods and SlapJack started things out trading mat wrestling holds, chops and strikes before Kingston tagged in as The New Day executed a double team move that resembled a La Mistica into a missile dropkick, which was very impressive.
However, it would not last long as T-Bar would quickly get involved asserting his size and strength advantage, dominating Kofi with some big power moves, while also showcasing his surprising agility for his size. Kingston would regain some control, tossing T-Bar over the top rope, and as SlapJack got involved he followed his partner, allowing Kofi to hit a big dive (with some help from Xavier Woods) to the floor, while Ali fumed at the announcers’ desk.
After the commercial break, T-Bar had regained control battering Woods in the corner with elbows. SlapJack would tag in and hit a solid ground-and-pound as the match settled into a more standard tag team format with RETRIBUTION cutting the ring in half and isolating Woods, including hitting a big double team suplex for a near fall. After a surprise roll-up from Woods, Kofi made the hot tag, speeding things up and hitting both of his opponents with a flurry of offence before nailing a Boom Drop on SlapJack. As T-Bar attempted to intervene he ate a Trouble in Paradise allowing The New Day to finish off SlapJack with Daybreak for the victory.
Winner: The New Day
A solid, but utterly forgettable match. This rivalry needs to end, and continuing to have these two groups feud every week is both tiresome and unnecessary. The New Day’s act continues to become stale, while Retribution is just a mess. The in-ring work is fine, but the characters, the gear and the storyline motivation for these superstars is all over the place. Ali is doing his best, and he was very good on commentary here, but the group is consistently treated like a joke.
Charlotte Flair confronts Lacey Evans and Ric Flair
Next up that famous music played as Ric Flair doddered down the ramp. Honestly, this man should not be on TV during normal times, let alone during a pandemic that puts his life at risk. Lacey Evans followed shortly after as the show went to a commercial break.
As things restarted, Damian Priest was shown backstage talking to Bad Bunny, as the Grammy award-winner agreed to be in Priest’s corner later that night.
Back in the ring, Ric Flair began to explain his affiliation with Lacey Evans and that he was not going to take orders from any woman, including his daughter and to stay at home. He listed Charlotte’s accomplishments, acknowledging she is the best in the company but he also said Evans has all the physical attributes to be a star and he was giving her his knowledge as they will be targeting Asuka and the RAW Women’s Championship. He also said his relationship with Evans is “casual”.
Evans added that she thinks Flair is “cute” but that she respects him and treats like a living legend, unlike Charlotte. Evans went on to call Charlotte a fool for turning her father away and questioned how she can be the villain in things given how Charlotte treated her own father.
Naturally, that brought Charlotte out to the ring. Ric went to hold the ropes open, but Lacey restrained him. Charlotte told Evans that if she really wanted to learn she should have gone to the Performance Center. Charlotte accused Evans of manipulating her father and trying to trade off Charlotte’s name to enhance her own career. Addressing her father, Charlotte illustrated that she should not need to validate him, but that she is proud and never said she would not want his help. However, she had been trying to grow and add the Flair legacy while her father, surrounded by “yes people” had been tarnishing it.
Evans feigned innocence and tried to appeal to Charlotte, saying she would be a far better partner than Asuka. Charlotte responded with laughter and explained that she had been trying to prove she could do this on her own and had succeeded and that she already had a tag partner.
Evans responded that she had her sights set on the RAW Women’s Championship, and she would be next in line for a title shot if she beats Charlotte, which naturally ended up with the match being made and Evans attacking Charlotte, slamming her into the ring steps as the show went to the advert break.
After the adverts, The Miz and John Morrison were backstage with Angel Garza offering to have his back against Damian Priest later in the show.
Charlotte Flair vs Lacey Evans
Back in the ring, Charlotte started off charging at Evans, but Lacey quickly went after the shoulder of Flair that she re-injured before the match. Charlotte recovered hitting a slingshot and a big kick, but Evans again returned to the shoulder with an arm drag and then snapping the arm over the ropes. Evans hit a springboard elbow drop and went for a neckbreaker, but Flair countered it into a big clothesline.
However, the story of the match continued with Evans going back to the arm every time Flair tried to get back on top. Evans doing the “Flair Strut” enraged Charlotte who hit a big suplex before doing a strut of her own. Charlotte went for a dive over the top, but her father got in the way which opened the door for Lacey to drag Charlotte down to the apron, landing hard on her shoulder.
As the match resumed after the commercial break, Evans continued to work over the shoulder of Charlotte, including a pretty poor looking armbar attempt and a knee drop to the left arm. Charlotte continued to try and fight back as Evans dominated by continually returning to the shoulder injury. However, when Evans went for her top rope moonsault, Charlotte was able to get her knees up which injured the knee of Evans in the process. A series of signature Flair chops followed, and a big boot after a missed spot in the corner. Lacey rolled to the floor, and Charlotte followed which, of course, allowed Evans to regain the advantage again slamming Charlotte’s shoulder on the floor.
Back in the ring, Evans went for the Figure Four, but Charlotte escaped before it was locked and hit a huge spear. This led to some jawing with Ric and her unloading a barrage of strikes on Evans in the corner, even pushing the referee leading to the disqualification.
Winner by Disqualification: Lacey Evans
After the match, Charlotte got into it with her Dad briefly before leaving as Ric Flair tended to a fallen Lacey Evans.
This was not a high point on this show. The segment felt like a car crash with particularly poor logic for the characters and a sense of over scripting. The match was better, with Charlotte carrying much of the load but Evans does appear to have improved and as such this was a decent bout. The non-finish was unnecessary but will prolong this programme.
Edge was out next to give an update on his WrestleMania choice. He spoke about the crazy week he just had, highlighting his experiences winning the Royal Rumble, the match with Randy Orton, his appearance on NXT and the confrontation with Roman Reigns on SmackDown. He went on to explain that although he had been close to a decision, the Elimination Chamber main event changes things, so he will need to wait until after the Chamber match to make his decision.
The Miz was out at this point to interrupt, flanked by Angel Garza (in a fetching silk pyjama suit) and John Morrison. Miz said Edge’s speech “reeked of awesomeness” (in a lovely callback) but then he mocked Edge’s decision process. Miz went on to remind Edge that while he is the “Ultimate Opportunist”, Miz is more of a strategist. Miz offers to strategise Edge’s decision – claiming that regardless who Edge picks, Miz will be waiting at WrestleMania with his briefcase in tow to cash-in.
Edge angrily responded, telling Miz that he put the Money in the Bank briefcase on the map and he knows a thing or two about the concept. Edge said he knows that he’ll need eyes in the back of his head when he wins the title of his choosing, but mocks Miz for telling him his plan, as now he’ll be expecting it. Edge also went on to tell Miz he needs to worry about the Chamber, Damian Priest and Bad Bunny, not him. Edge got more animated as he outlined his need to be champion, and how much of a different level he is on compared to The Miz before leaving having made his point.
Another excellent promo from Edge with a strong focus and a logical conclusion for his character in terms of the big decision regarding WrestleMania. The Miz was fine here, but at no point did this succeed in making Miz feel like a genuine threat.
Damian Priest w/ Bad Bunny vs Angel Garza w/ Miz + Morrison
After the break, Damian Priest made his way out with bad Bunny for his match with Garza, segueing from the previous segment.
Priest started off strong with a big kick and stomps in the corner. Garza tried to get things moving but quickly ate a spinning heel kick from Priest. Garza used a distraction from Miz to hit a thumb to the throat and followed up with a big clothesline and a dropkick for a quick near fall.
The shenanigans continued as Miz and Morrison got further involved much to the chagrin of Bad Bunny who received the unwelcome gift of Garza’s tear-away trousers to the face. Garza would lock in a leglock of some kind, possibly a modified reverse Indian deathlock, but Priest powered out and powered up, hitting big strikes to Garza and a series of kicks and elbows.
Priest hit a big jumping elbow in the corner, but Miz and Morrison again got involved allowing Garza to clothesline Priest to the floor where the Miz and Morrison laid in kicks to a downed Priest while Garza distracted the referee. Bad Bunny got involved, grabbing the Money in the Bank briefcase and throwing it into the ring, which prompted Morrison to go after it and the referee to respond by ejecting Miz and Morrison. Smart.
With the distractions gone, Priest was able to take advantage by hitting a bell clap and The Reckoning to Garza for the win.
Winner: Damian Priest
Another strong outing from Priest and a nice showcase for the criminally underused Garza. The Bad Bunny stuff was kept to a minimum and what he did here was functional and is clearly leading to something more for him in Mania season. Good work all around in moving this story forward and continuing to build interest in Priest.
Backstage, Charly Caruso was with Drew McIntyre. She asked him for a reaction to the Chamber news. Drew said it is WrestleMania season and to expect the unexpected, using that to move onto the Sheamus situation and his feelings on that matter. Drew explained that Sheamus could have had a title shot without betraying him, simply asking for one. He said his focus on this show is Randy Orton and defeating him without allowing Orton to take him out. McIntyre went on to say he has a bullseye on his back between the Chamber match, Orton, Sheamus, Miz and his briefcase and Edge too. He said he is backed into a corner like a wild animal and will rip the face off anyone who comes at him.
After the break, it was announced that Lacey Evans will face Asuka at Elimination Chamber for the title as a result of her “win” over Charlotte Flair.
Bianca Belair was backstage with Charly Caruso, and like Edge, she outlined her crazy week and reminded the audience that she is the EST of WWE, and it is “her time”. She explained that as a smart challenger she won’t be revealing anything right away. Belair complimented Asuka, Sasha Banks and Lacey Evans, and explained that she will need to be at her best for WrestleMania.
However, before she could continue, Asuka appeared, very excited. Asuka congratulated Belair on the Royal Rumble but also said that it doesn’t mean she is ready for Asuka. Belair briefly seemed irritated, but then went on to say that she is ready, but Lacey Evans definitely is not. Belair also said if Asuka beats Evans, she might just be seeing more of Belair on RAW, which left Asuka pondering that scenario.
Riddle vs Keith Lee
Riddle was out first, quickly followed by Lee, as MVP joined on commentary to watch the match. As things started, Riddle offered a fist bump and Lee reluctantly accepted. They tied up and Riddle immediately went for an armbar, but Lee powered out. Riddle went for a takedown, but Lee turned it into a gutwrench. Riddle tried for a sleeper and got his hooks in, but Lee threw him off. After a test of strength, Riddle hit some big body shots and kicks in the corner, but as Riddle rushed in Lee hit a huge pounce, knocking Riddle across the ring for a near fall. Big body shots from Lee in the corner followed as Riddle gasped for air before Lee hit a huge Irish whip to the corner.
Riddle would try and rebound and get some big strikes in, but Lee decked him with a huge left hand. Riddle kept going with more big kicks and strikes, but Lee kept throwing bombs at him before Riddle used his speed to circumvent Lee and hit a huge up-kick to the face, and a running forearm.
Lee came back after Riddle failed on an attempt at an exploder suplex, hitting Grizzly Magnum and trying for the Spirit Bomb, but Riddle escaped hitting a knee from the middle rope for a one-count. Riddle landed a Floating Bro, but Lee kicked out at two.
A series of Bro-Tons were next, but Lee blocked a Final Flash, powering up into a Spirit Bomb attempt, only for Riddle to counter that into an attempted triangle choke. Lee went down to his knees, but tried to power out, eventually succeeding and throwing Riddle to the corner. Riddle came back with a Final Flash, but as he went to try for a second one Lee caught him and nailed the Spirit Bomb for the hard-fought victory.
Winner: Keith Lee
After the match, Lee offered his hand to Riddle, but as he accepted Bobby Lashley attacked both men. Lee and Lashley locked eyes, and Lashley hit an impressive chokeslam on Lee, ragdolled Riddle in the Hurt Lock, and dropped Keith Lee with two spears, before throwing Lee into the post and then nailing him with the ring steps.
A fantastic match between two men at the top of their game. While these two may have had numerous encounters on the indie scene before WWE, this was the first time in a WWE ring and it did not disappoint. The post-match angle with Lashley sets up a three-way match nicely and hopefully a big WrestleMania match for Keith Lee.
A video package on the feud between Randy Orton and Drew McIntyre aired with clips from Hell in a Cell and Night of Champions. Once it finished, Randy Orton was backstage outlining their history and the “unfinished business” between them. Orton reminded Drew that although Drew dethroned him, he will take the title back at Elimination Chamber. He said the title means everything to him and he is willing to do anything he needs to do, and his actions (including setting The Fiend on fire) are justified by the end result, Orton as WWE Champion.
Tables Match: Lana w/ Naomi vs Nia Jax w/ Shayna Baszler
Nia Jax was out first, with Shayna Baszler at ringside while Lana was accompanied by Naomi. A recap is shown of the many, many times Lana was put through the announce table by Jax last year which led up to this match. As expected, Jax took control early dominating the much smaller Lana including hitting a powerbomb in the early going, and then another powerbomb while talking trash. Jax locked in a Stretcher Muffler on the previously injured leg of Lana, before slamming her into the turnbuckle and choking Lana on the bottom rope. Jax tried to throw Lana over the top through a table but Lana wriggled away, before dodging a Jax leg drop on the mat. Lana fought back with kicks, again dodging Jax but she was quickly overpowered.
Another powerbomb was attempted by Jax, but Lana countered with a headscissors takeover leaving Jax on the apron. As Jax wobbled, Lana went for kicks and tried to break Jax’s grip, but Nia retaliated with a headbutt. Jax dragged her back to the apron, but she missed a leg drop and landed on her tailbone. As Jax stumbled around ringside in pain, Lana was able to shove her through a leaning table for the win.
After the match, Shayna Baszler attacked Lana, but got a swift kick in the face from Naomi for her troubles, followed by a jumping kick from the second rope.
Naomi vs Shayna Baszler
As the show came back from the break, Naomi and Shayna Baszler were in the ring ready to start an impromptu match. This match started with a much quicker pace as Naomi used her athleticism to stun Baszler in the early going before Baszler could sweep Naomi’s leg and utilise her ground game.
Shayna stomped on Naomi’s elbow, before locking in a top wrist lock and a modified kimura. Naomi would escape using kicks, before hitting a series of leg lariats and a hurricanrana, as well as a big facebuster. Baszler would counter a bulldog attempt into the Kirifuda Clutch, but Naomi was able to reach the ropes and broke the hold.
With Naomi down, Baszler went to the floor and attacked Lana throwing her into a barricade. However, that distraction allowed Naomi to roll Shayna up as she re-entered the ring for the surprise win.
While this may not have quite been the blow-off to this programme, allowing Lana to get a measure of revenge was enjoyable and this builds to a potentially fun match between Lana and Naomi and the champions. The latter match of the two was much better from an in-ring perspective and Baszler continues to be a highlight with her unique offence while having Naomi back on RAW has thrown up a number of intriguing possible match-ups.
Randy Orton vs Drew McIntyre
A quick video package highlighting the brutality of the Elimination Chamber aired, before transitioning into Randy Orton’s entrance for his non-title match with Drew McIntyre. Interestingly, up to this point nothing about The Fiend, or the weirdness with Alexa Bliss last week had been mentioned on this show.
With a commercial break and a quick plug for NXT this week out of the way, the Lashley/Riddle/Lee triple threat was confirmed for Elimination Chamber. Drew McIntyre then made his entrance, sword and all.
The early going was as expected with Orton threatening an RKO early, only for Drew to respond with a Claymore attempt. Orton rolled to the floor but was caught with a big boot as he re-entered allowing Drew to try for a draping DDT, only for Orton to counter and whip him into the corner.
However, before things could continue Sheamus made his way in a hurry to ringside, stopping short of the ring, which Orton capitalised on by nailing McIntyre with a big shot to the back of the head. Orton sent McIntyre into each post and left him on the floor as Sheamus watched on as the show went to the break.
As things recommenced, Orton remained in control but Drew continued to try and fight back. Orton again threw him to the floor, hitting a belly-to-back suplex on the announce table before rolling Drew back into the ring. Drew attempted to power out of an Orton chinlock as things devolved into a slugfest.
McIntyre executed two huge overhead belly-to-belly suplexes, followed by a beautiful neckbreaker and kip-up. McIntyre tried for the Futureshock DDT, but Orton reversed into a jackknife cover for a near fall, but McIntyre then landed a massive spinebuster for his own near fall.
Frustrated, McIntyre went to the top rope but Orton caught him as they traded punches, before Orton nailed a huge superkick on Drew for yet another close two-count. As they both staggered gingerly to their feet, McIntyre lamped Orton with a Glasgow Kiss, but as he charged at Orton, the Wiley veteran dodged McIntyre, sending him to the apron and setting up for the patented Orton draping DDT.
With McIntyre down, Orton began setting up for the RKO, but as he went for it, Drew countered with a Futureshock DDT. However, before Drew could finish things off, Sheamus came in and went for the Brogue Kick, but caught Orton unintentionally, only to taste a Claymore from McIntyre immediately as the bell rang with the match presumably rules a no-contest.
RAW went off the air abruptly with McIntyre standing tall and holding his title aloft while Orton and Sheamus lay prone on the mat.
A largely so-so RAW this week. The main event was very good but nothing new in terms of what Orton and McIntyre have produced in the past six months against each other. Sheamus getting involved was logical and it makes sense that with the two PPVs looming before WrestleMania you squeeze both a Chamber match and a Sheamus vs McIntyre singles match out of this programme before moving onto the Mania build. For Randy Orton, it seems bizarre that the Alexa Bliss stuff was barely mentioned and that seemed to have been totally dropped with Bliss not even on this week’s show. Weird.
The rest of the show was enjoyable but largely uneventful. Riddle vs Keith Lee was an obvious highlight, and the three-way match with those two and Bobby Lashley could be all kinds of fun. The Lacey Evans/Charlotte feud is hard to watch, while RETRIBUTION need to be put out of their misery. The gimmick is not working.
Everything else seemed geared towards the Elimination Chamber and largely it all worked. Nothing mind-blowing, but nothing terrible either.
All pics and videos courtesy of WWE