It’s time to go home. One more Monday Night Raw to run before 2019’s edition of the Royal Rumble, and it comes to us tonight from Oklahoma City. Following on from last week’s solid outing, what exactly can fans expect this evening from WWE’s flagship TV presentation?
We were treated to a significant change last Monday, in terms of both personnel placement and Raw’s overall presentation. The story of Braun Strowman being removed from the Universal Championship match against Brock Lesnar started in the opening segment, and progressed smoothly through to Finn Balor claiming the shot at the end. There are conflicting reports and rumours regarding Strowman’s status; there’s a chance he’s still not been cleared to return to the ring, but there’s also a chance the office has deemed him to not be ready. The official preview for tonight asks the burning question, “What’s next for Strowman,” and it’s a good one. If he’s hurt, why is he any kind of focal point? If he’s not, why was he pulled from the planned bout? Don’t expect any clarity on this tonight, unless of course the Monster Among Men declares himself entered in the Rumble. It certainly seems like there’s some reticence to make Strowman ‘the man’, but they also don’t seem ready to cast him off. It should at least be interesting to see where they go with him tonight.
Only one match is scheduled for the show so far – the #ChangeMovement hasn’t done much to adjust advance booking, apparently. Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey will team with her BFF Natalya to take on her Royal Rumble title challenger Sasha Banks and her BFF Bayley. They’ve managed to establish that the pair no longer like and respect one another, but haven’t done much to make Banks look like she’s capable of taking the title. Expect tonight’s tag match to be about making The Boss look good, probably taking the win via tapout at the expense of Nattie. Still no way Rousey loses the belt next Sunday.
We can also expect to see more wind blown into the sails of Balor headed into his huge match versus Lesnar. The plucky Irishman ate through a lot of beef last Monday (can anyone un-hear Vince McMahon talking about ‘beef’ like that?) to steal Strowman’s spot. Master orator Paul Heyman, and his champion charge, are advertised to appear tonight to hype up the title bout, so we can expect to see Balor respond to that in some fashion. We should also expect someone to be fed to him to push his stock even higher. Baron Corbin seems like the popular choice at the moment, but after pinning John Cena last week, Corbin would be a step down for Balor. Maybe Seth Rollins is willing to do Balor another favour? He could eat a loss to Balor tonight, and it wouldn’t hurt his perception as an ironman workhorse going into the Rumble.
The official preview speaks of “new superstars making their presence felt,” which it can only be hoped means they’ll do more this week than appear in backstage interviews airing during an unrelated match. Last week’s segment with the new blood did nothing to help promote the impending in-ring debuts of the next wave of NXT call-ups, and nothing for The Revival or Lucha House Party, who were trying to put on a match. Let’s hope for something more this week. With the vast majority of the male roster seemingly at the ends of their respective programs with one another, it’s a fantastic opportunity to showcase some fresh talent in pairings fans haven’t seen before. Expect to see new rivalries at least teased tonight between established Raw guys like Elias and the new faces like EC3, with seeds planted for the Rumble and beyond.
What to expect tonight from the tag team division? It all depends on how Creative would like to undermine and under-utilize the aforementioned Revival this evening. A more positive, optimistic person might say the pair have enjoyed more in-ring and on-screen spotlight in the last few months, regardless of results. Others will agree, it looks like the duo have better options to prove how Elite they can be elsewhere. Expect to see tag champs Bobby Rooooooo and Chad Gable tonight, to set them up with a title match against The Revival for Sunday’s kickoff show. Fingers crossed, these are just more bumps at the start of a long, successful road for Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson rebuilding and rebranding the tag division.
Aside from all of this, expect a giant shmozzle in the ring to end the night, as various wrestlers try to toss each other out in a precursor to this Sunday’s festivities. We’ll hear from most of the roster at some point through the show as they all explain why they consider themselves favourites to win the Royal Rumble. And with any luck, we’ll get another enjoyable, entertaining three hours of Raw to get everyone excited for Sunday. On a scale of one to five, with five being, “CM Punk Returned As a Surprise Rumble Entrant!” and one being, “The Fifth Guy In Was Drew Carey,” expect tonight’s Raw to rate a three.
Discussion, comments and thoughts are welcomed below. Follow Holden on Twitter, @Shocked_n_Awed.