Orlando, Florida, gets the distinction of hosting the first Monday Night Raw of 2019, and the lineup is packed for tonight’s show. With legends lining up to pay homage to the late Mean Gene Okerlund, and the roster ready to begin the full-court press to the Royal Rumble, what can fans expect from this evening’s presentation?
First and foremost, expect a few tears to be shed, and some genuinely heartfelt words shared when it comes to Mean Gene. Okerlund was part of the fabric of the 1980s World Wrestling Federation, as integral to the product as any of the in-ring talent. His performance as a backstage interviewer did as much to put talent over and build their characters as matches. When Okerlund used to ask Hulk Hogan a question, he buzzed with adoration. If he was admonishing a heel for whatever despicable act they’d just committed, the viewer could feel his contempt. He could convey and evoke emotions simply by changing the look on his face, and he knew exactly when to do it. Sheer genius. Hogan is confirmed to be making his long-awaited, much anticipated for various reasons, return to WWE television tonight. Earlier in the week, it was reported Ric Flair would also be on hand this evening, although he’s not in the official preview. Expect to see Hogan and Flair, if he is there, two of the greatest pro wrestlers of a generation, share the ring to give a proper, and very emotional, send off to ‘Mean’ “By God” Gene Okerlund.
John Cena is also being advertised as returning to Raw tonight, following his cameo on SmackDown last week. Over with the blue guys, Cena tried to issue an open challenge, which Women’s Champ Becky Lynch took exception to, leading to a tag match. Expect Cena to try to take the open challenge route again tonight, with several names perhaps answering the call. That could be an interesting match for Bobby Lashley. Drew McIntyre is another who might want to take that challenge. Perhaps even the reinvigorated Seth Rollins (does it feel like Rollins and AJ Styles are playing similar roles at the moment?) would see that as a good chance to prove himself. Perhaps another return for an opponent, like Bray Wyatt? Or it could be used to push a name from the underutilized list – we only saw Zack Ryder once on Raw in 2018, and that was last week. Could he step up to force a totally different 2019 for himself? There’s little doubt Cena’s television appearances are to help ratings and deliver spots that elevate others. It’s unlikely this is a precursor to him entering the Rumble, with his next film (‘Playing with Fire’) ready to get into production soon. He’s only scheduled to be on the road with WWE until next Monday. While a Mania return isn’t off the table yet, they’ll deal with setting up something for that down the road. Expect tonight to be all about whatever happens around Cena, and not Big Match John himself.
Rumble main event set up will go down this evening, with both Universal Champion Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman tapped to appear. Physical interaction between the two will largely depend on how well Strowman’s recovery is going. If the pair do end up in a break-apart brawl later, his elbow’s fine. If not, it probably needs another week or two before he’s fully cleared. The match itself definitely needs some attention, especially since neither man has been seen in a while. But fans will need to see or hear something to give them any reason to believe Strowman could possibly win this time, or they’ll assume this will be another Lesnar cruise to victory. Expect to see Strowman eventually chase Lesnar and advocate Paul Heyman from the ring and up the ramp, after Heyman has verbally run laps around him for 10 minutes.
There are a couple of matches slated for the show, with Raw Tag Champs Bobby Rooooooo and Chad Gable defending against The Revival, and Elias taking on current Raw wrestling dummy substitute Baron Corbin. With The Revival getting another shot at the tag belts so soon after their last attempt, it feels like WWE have decided to make the title switch, which probably means they’ve also decided to split Roode and Gable. Expect to see a title change tonight, and either an argument, or full-blown shoving match between the ex-champs following the bout. Elias has lost a lot of his heat over the last few weeks, so it looks like they’re hoping that turns around while he beats Corbin like a red-headed stepchild. Don’t expect that to work. Do expect to see both of these guys tumble down into midcard obscurity as the year goes on.
Over in the ladies division, no matches are scheduled, but we can expect the women of Raw to be just as deep in Rumble Hype Mode as the men. We should see more official entries into the 30 women Rumble this evening. And tonight sees the debut of Alexa Bliss’ Moment of Bliss talk show. Her first guest will be Raw Women’s Champ Ronda Rousey, so we can expect to find out who her Rumble opponent will be – if she will indeed defend her belt at the PPV. Bliss hyped her show with some disparaging comments towards Piper’s Pit, obviously trying to get under Rousey’s skin by throwing shade at her old favourite. Is there a chance Bliss is cleared for the Rumble and will be the opponent?
It feels like a bit of a different show coming up tonight. The official preview isn’t simply a list of several matches we saw last week written in a different order. Sure, we’ve seen both the advertised bouts before, but not four times in the last five weeks. Cena’s return, albeit a brief one for now, definitely adds the chance of having a big, unexpected moment. And of course, it’ll all be wrapped in a show which will be dedicated to the memory of Mean Gene Okerlund. That alone makes it a Raw worth watching. On a scale of one to five, with one being how it feels when part of the SummerSlam logo falls on your head during a backstage segment, and five being interviewing Hogan after he won the title from Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden, expect tonight’s episode to rate a two-point-five.