So we’ve rolled back around to another Monday, now just two Raw’s removed from the Royal Rumble – aside from something goofy with Jerry “The King” Lawler in his hometown of Memphis, what exactly should fans expect from tonight’s episode of WWE’s flagship presentation?
Arguably the biggest news going into the show is the announcement of a triple-threat Intercontinental Title match tonight. Champion Dean Ambrose will defend against former champ and former brother Seth Rollins, as well as The All Mighty Bobby Lashley. Rollins had earned his shot last week, but was derailed by Lashley, who allowed Ambrose to take the win. The controversial finish was enough to warrant a rematch, and as his punishment, Lashley gets inserted into the bout too. Thus far along, Operation Change hasn’t brought about any difference with names at the top of the card; perhaps tonight brings a new champion. Ambrose and Rollins have been featured dance partners, either with or against each other, for what feels like an eternity. There needs to be a catalyst to drive them apart, and Ambrose dropping the strap tonight to Lashley would accomplish that. Rollins would, in some measure, have achieved his goal of seeing Ambrose vanquished, and can move on in earnest to the Rumble. Ambrose can forget about his former BFF, and either set his sights on regaining the title in a feud with Lashley, or head in a different direction altogether. If either former Shield member leaves Raw with that belt tonight, expect to see that pair continue to clash into the foreseeable future. With any luck, we can expect a modicum of change to come this evening, with Lashley claiming his first title since returning to the company.
The other announced match this evening will feature Raw Women’s champ Ronda Rousey teaming with her Royal Rumble challenger Sasha Banks to take on Samoan Superwomen Nia Jax and Tamina Snuka. Building to the Rumble title match, we should expect anything but smooth sailing for Rousey and Banks tonight, but what form will rough waves take? Will miscommunication end up costing the duo the match in some form? That seems unlikely, because although it may stir the pot, there’s nothing on the line tonight. It seems more likely to expect Banks to turn on Rousey. This guarantees the match has heat headed into Phoenix, and also lends more credibility to Banks’ chances as challenger.
Should we expect to see more entrants into the Royal Rumbles? So far, Raw has Drew McIntyre, Finn Balor, Elias, Baron Corbin, Jinder Mahal, Apollo Crews, Lashley, Rollins and Ambrose in the men’s match, and Bayley, Ember Moon, Natalya, the Riott Squad, Alicia Fox and Banks in the women’s. Bray Wyatt is almost certainly being saved for a Rumble return, so probably won’t be announced. Which means, as far as the men are concerned, it looks like only Dolph Ziggler is yet to declare from the upper-reaches of the singles division. If more red-brand boys are going to enter, they’ll either be more recognizable to viewers of Main Event, or in tag teams. Neither Jax or Tamina have officially opted in to the Rumble yet, so we could see that made official tonight. Expect several spots to be left open for NXT call-ups – either new ones, or the yet-to-debut ones we’ve already been promised.
Braun Strowman could technically also still enter the Rumble despite his title shot at the same show, like Banks has. As of yet, that hasn’t happened. But neither has anything that suggests Strowman is actually all healed up and ready to roll in two weeks. After last Monday’s pointless, boring spot between Strowman and the man he’ll challenge for the Universal title at the Rumble, Brock Lesnar, expect to see something – anything – tonight that re-establishes Strowman as a monster. Anything to remind fans why he has this shot, and why anyone thought he had a snowball’s chance in Hell of beating The Beast. If we don’t get a display of chaos and carnage out of Strowman this evening, it can only be because his elbow bone spur surgery recovery isn’t going according to plan. Either way, it’s safe to say nobody should expect anything to happen between now and the Rumble to make you actually want to get invested in this match. Come Jan. 27, it’ll either be a surprisingly good bout nobody anticipated, or the forgettable plod-fest everyone thinks it will be.
Finally, in the tag team division, we continue to see more evidence of change, as The Revival were screwed in controversial fashion last Monday. Maybe whoever is in charge of the tag stuff in Creative didn’t get the memo. Maybe #FTR on the trunks was a direct reference to Being the Elite (as if there’s any way it wasn’t), and things will never be any different for the greatest tag team that never was. Tarnished wins for babyface champions do absolutely nothing for the champs, the titles, or the challengers. Chad Gable and Bobby Rooooooo have the same, if not diminished, appeal to the fans as they did the week before; neither is enhanced, neither is any more interesting. The Revival just keep sinking deeper. Putting the belts on them at this point, with no momentum behind them and no story outside of, “we’re the team that gets screwed a lot,” would actually devalue the belts. Who would have expected that? With any luck, this pairing will soon be on their way to All Elite Wrestling, along with Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, to revive themselves. As for tonight’s Raw, expect another ‘F’ for The Revival, and with any luck, something else for the rest of the division to do.
Without trying to come across as overly cynical or negative – it is still early days – it’s not feeling like we’re getting the radical changes Raw so desperately needs at a suitable pace. Maybe Apollo Crews has enjoyed a bit more TV time, but even that’s arguable. They’d been using him progressively more and more since Fall, it could be his push at this time was planned all along. The women and midcard have been given more time in the ring, without which graduating to the next level is all but impossible. But there’s been no real shuffle, no real ‘change’ anyone can sink their teeth in to. The only real palpable change on the show has been a shift in atmosphere – whereby the commentators and McMahon’s talk a lot about change. With just two weeks to go before their second-most anticipated PPV of the year, it really feels like Raw should be exciting, interesting television that everyone’s looking forward to. Instead, it feels more like folks who skip the weekly shows and only watch big Network specials will wind up enjoying the Rumble a lot more. On a scale of one to five, with one being, “I Can’t Believe I Stayed Up Till 11 For That,” and five being, “I’m Calling In Sick Tomorrow and Watching Replays All Day,” expect tonight’s episode to rate two.