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A jam-packed episode of Raw saw the first-ever Fist Fight, the latest chapter in the rivalry between Rusev and Bobby Lashley and the third showdown between Aleister Black and Buddy Murphy.
An unadvertised Triple Threat match between three Royal Rumble favorites kicked off the show, while WWE champion Brock Lesnar returned, just one week after the monumental announcement that he would be entering this year’s Rumble match.
What else went down on the January 13 episode and how might it shape the brand going forward?
Find out with this recap of the broadcast.
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Randy Orton kicked off this week’s show, addressing AJ Styles and the match announced for this evening’s broadcast. Styles interrupted and said Orton’s claims that he will win the Royal Rumble are false. The Phenomenal One will win, and on top of that, his RKO is more phenomenal than The Viper’s.
Drew McIntyre interrupted the back-and-forth and polled the crowd on a prospective match before a Triple Threat got underway.
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson attempted to interfere on behalf of their O.C. teammate and ate a Claymore and RKO, respectively, as the show headed to break.
Back from the commercial, McIntyre pulled himself up on the ropes and German-suplexed Styles and Orton from the top. The Scottish Psychopath tried for the Claymore, but Orton caught him with a dropkick.
With McIntyre grounded at ringside, Orton and Styles paired off. The latter teased an RKO, but Orton avoided it. The Viper tried for the Styles Clash, but his opponent escaped. Moments later, Orton delivered the RKO to his rival, only for McIntyre to launch himself across the ring with the Claymore for the hard-fought victory.
McIntyre defeated Orton and Styles
McIntyre is garnering some hellish reactions from fans, who are really buying into his polling. More importantly, the personality WWE is finally allowing him to showcase is proving to be the missing ingredient in his recipe for success.
The action here was nonstop, the in-ring chemistry was fantastic and Orton and Styles can continue their program based on the finish.
With the national championship college football game over on ESPN, this was exactly the way the show needed to start, with three exceptional talents waging war in a relatively fresh match.
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Ricochet squared off with Mojo Rawley in a match absolutely no one asked for.
The One and Only downed Rawley early with a big dropkick and dumped him over the top rope in a nice tease for the Royal Rumble match. He soared over the top rope and wiped out the former Arizona Sun Devil at ringside.
Back inside, Rawley finally seized control, working Ricochet over with his strength advantage. He delivered a big corner splash and set him up for an Alabama Slam, but the former United States champion escaped.
Moments later, the 630 earned Ricochet the win.
Ricochet defeated Rawley
If nothing else, this put Ricochet over as a threat in the Royal Rumble. With that said, the dynamic competitor has fallen off so significantly from a booking perspective that it is nearly impossible to fathom him emerging from the 30-man battle with a guaranteed title shot.
The momentum he had over the summer, when he was headlining Raw against AJ Styles and The O.C., is nonexistent at this point. Hopefully, he can rekindle some of it ahead of WrestleMania season because a worker as explosive as him is meant for a significant moment during the most important stretch of the year.
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A week after a wild and chaotic brawl between Charlotte Flair and Sarah Logan, the women’s Royal Rumble entrants squared off, each seeking to set themselves up for a momentous night in Houston.
Another brawl broke out on the floor as the competitors teased a double count-out. Instead, the fight returned to the ring, where Flair dropped Logan and applied the Figure-Eight.
Logan tapped out, the pain too much to bear, and Flair picked up another win as she built momentum ahead of the January 26 pay-per-view extravaganza.
After the match, Flair put her robe back on and tossed Logan over the top rope, another sign of her dominance.
Flair defeated Logan
So what was the purpose of spending last week building up Logan if she was going to lose so definitively in her one shot at Flair?
Sure, there was a brawl reminiscent of last week’s, but never once did Logan appear to be the equal of the 10-time women’s champion. Flair quickly dispatched of her, and to add insult to injury, Logan was tossed over the ropes like the afterthought she is almost certain to be come Rumble time.
The creative team had the opportunity to build up Logan ahead of the match and add one more name to potential dark-horse contenders, and instead it went the predictable route of booking Flair superior to another competitor.
4 of 10
WWE champion Brock Lesnar returned to Raw, a week after an announcement that shook the Royal Rumble to its core.
The crowd’s lack of excitement to see him, complete with chants of “you suck,” caused The Beast to exit the squared circle in a huff. “Ladies and gentlemen…my client…does not suck!” his advocate Paul Heyman exclaimed.
Lesnar returned to the ring, where he held the title high overhead. Heyman attempted to address the crowd again but was met with a chorus of boos. He finally cut through the jeers and recapped his monumental announcement from a week ago, saying Lesnar will dominate the Rumble and win.
That, he claimed, is a spoiler.
WWE 24/7 champion R-Truth interrupted Heyman’s long-winded promo.
Truth comically declared for the Rumble, claiming he would throw Heyman over the top rope. When he found out the advocate was not entering but, rather, Lesnar, Truth undeclared for the match.
“I don’t want Brock Lesnar to take me to Sioux Falls City!”
Truth led the crowd in his “What’s Up?” rap before Lesnar bowled over him and dropped him with an F-5 to close out the segment. “That’s what’s up,” Lesnar put an exclamation point on things.
Mojo Rawley made the most of the situation, pinning Truth to win the title after the break.
Truth is a national treasure.
His comedic work here was brilliant and helped elevate the tired old Lesnar/Heyman promo segment. Equally as excellent was Heyman, who played to the crowd (and off Truth) superbly.
There are a lot of times Lesnar comes back, Heyman cuts a promo, and nothing is achieved. While there was little that came from this segment, it was at least highly entertaining and featured more phenomenal work from one of the most underrated performers of the last decade.
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Vowing to avenge the humiliation they suffered two weeks ago during their grand wedding, Bobby Lashley and Lana hit the ring for a showdown with Rusev.
The Bulgarian Brute took the fight to Lashley early, dropping him with a spinning heel kick. The All Mighty recovered and worked over his opponent as neither man gained a sustainable upper hand. Rusev dropped Lashley with a big clothesline and tossed him with a suplex. Another suplex followed as concern painted the face of Lana.
Lashley mounted a comeback, sent Rusev to the floor and blasted him with a massive running spear heading into the break.
Back from the commercial, Lashley attacked the knee of his opponent while Lana watched on approvingly. He continued to control the pace until a blind charge left Lashley crashing into the ring post. Rusev mounted his comeback, dropped the heel with a Samoan Drop and delivered a corner splash. An overhead suplex followed.
Rusev teased the Accolade, but Lana hopped up on the ring apron, providing a distraction that Lashley capitalized on. A double clothesline left both men on their backs.
Liv Morgan arrived, marching to ringside and coming face-to-face with Lana, who grabbed a drink from ringside and threw it in Morgan’s face. She sent her former love interest into the guardrail. Back inside the ring, Lashley delivered a spear for the win.
After the commercial break, Lana issued a challenge to Rusev and Liv Morgan for a Mixed Tag Team match on next week’s show.
Lashley defeated Rusev
The match itself was a decent battle of the big men, with hard-hitting action and some quality suplexes. Lashley winning allows for the program to continue, which, like it or not, seems to be the course WWE is taking.
The biggest revelation in the entire segment was the pop Morgan received upon her entrance. The former Riott Squad member has not been part of many major storylines and was primarily the weak link of that group. That she is receiving that sort of reaction this early in her singles run is a testament to the effect this program is having on all of the performers involved.
Love it or hate it, everyone involved is more over as a result, and that makes it a considerable success.
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Raw tag team champions The Viking Raiders hit the ring and issued an open challenge to anyone who wanted to cross them this week. Sunil and Samir Singh answered the challenge, much to the enjoyment of the commentary team.
Erik and Ivar hoisted the competition up and threw them like lawn darts at each other.
Inside the squared circle, the champions obliterated the Singhs and put them away with the Viking Experience.
The Viking Raiders defeated The Singh Brothers
This is a thing that happened.
Another squash match for the champions that did nothing to enhance the tag division. If anything, this hurt it, as the Singh Brothers’ answering of the challenge demonstrates the lack of depth in that area of the roster.
Here’s hoping the creative team can come up with something fresh for the Viking Raiders soon because the alternative is the overexposure of the same matches over and over again.
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The rivalry between Becky Lynch and Asuka will culminate at Royal Rumble when The Man defends her Raw women’s title against The Empress of Tomorrow, but first, those two women signed the contract for their colossal encounter.
Kairi Sane joined Asuka, looking to intimidate Lynch with her umbrella, to which the champion responded by grabbing it and forcing The Pirate Princess from the ring.
Both women signed the contract before Asuka suddenly and unexpectedly spit her green mist in the eyes of her Rumble opponent. The Kabuki Warriors left, overjoyed by their own actions, while medical personnel attended to Lynch.
Lynch, still reeling, grabbed the microphone and vowed that if she goes down on January 26, she’s going down swinging.
If the point of this was to remind fans not only that Kairi Sane is a very real threat to a fair, one-on-one match at Royal Rumble but also that Asuka can spit her green mist from out of nowhere, it worked.
Otherwise, it was another wrestling contract signing that did nothing to really further the rivalry in any measurable way.
Lynch’s promo afterward was strong and felt like the old Becky peeking her head out from behind the more watered-down Man persona that has occasionally taken hold in recent months.
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The third in a series of spectacular matches between Aleister Black and Buddy Murphy took place this week, each man seeking to not only establish superiority and bragging rights but also build momentum ahead of the Royal Rumble.
An aggressive Black, looking for revenge after a brutal sneak attack on last week’s broadcast, fought Murphy from the ring, around ringside and up the ramp early in the bout. Murphy sent him into the guardrail, though, and seized control. He delivered a big suplex from the ramp onto the barrier heading into the break.
The action continued over the course of the back-and-forth match, neither man gaining sustainable control. The fans greeted the action with chants of “this is awesome,” appreciating the efforts the competitors put in.
Murphy finally hit Murphy’s Law, but an alert Black got his foot on the rope. Murphy tried to deliver another, but Black, clearly out of it, became dead weight and nearly impossible for him to move.
An arrogant Best Kept Secret taunted a seemingly out-of-it Black and set him up for his own finisher. Black ducked and blasted Murphy with Black Mass for a very close two-count. From there, he put Murphy down with another Black Mass for the hard-fought victory.
Black defeated Murphy
Black and Murphy have wrestled three televised matches over the last month, and every one of them has been different. Their chemistry is off the charts, their ability to captivate the audience with new sequences, callbacks to previous spots and their raw athleticism is awe-inspiring.
Black has more upside as a genuine main event competitor, so it made sense that he went over. Plus, given the post-match events that saw a dejected Murphy sitting up against the guardrail, it made sense for the Aussie to suffer another soul-crushing defeat to set that up.
Throw in a match that was, from a quality standpoint, every bit as good as its predecessors, and you have a hugely successful segment that inched closer to establishing Black and Murphy as genuine top-tier talent on the flagship.
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Erick Rowan made his way to the squared circle for another squash match against an unnamed opponent. On his way there, he stopped to stare down Buddy Murphy, who was still propped up against the guardrail in disbelief that he was unable to down Aleister Black.
Rowan demolished the poor opponent, but not before teasing that he would reveal the creature in his cage. Instead, it bit him, and Rowan took out his frustrations by laying waste to his opponent with the Iron Claw.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
The Rowan story at least wrote a new chapter with his tease of exposing the caged animal to the masses, but this whole thing still feels like it is moving at the speed of molasses. WWE Creative really needs to hurry up and advance this thing because at this point, by the time it finally does, no one will care.
10 of 10
The first Fist Fight in the history of Raw headlined this week’s show and wasted little time getting underway.
Seth Rollins and AOP jumped Big Show prior to the bell, drawing Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe out from the back. The six competitors brawled around the arena, including onto the stage, where KO ran and wiped out Akam and Rezar.
At ringside, Rollins found himself at the mercy of The World’s Largest Athlete. He stopped and begged Murphy, still sitting in disbelief, for assistance. Back inside the squared circle, Big Show threatened to put The Monday Night Messiah through a table, only to have Murphy interfere and deliver a low blow.
Working with Rollins, Murphy put the giant through the table. The heels beat the big man down and finished with a Stomp from Rollins.
Declared the victors, Rollins and AOP embraced. From there, the lead heel on Monday nights hugged Murphy, signifying the latest disciple in the Messiah’s following.
Rollins and AOP defeated Joe, Owens and Big Show via referee decision
This was a wild, show-closing brawl disguised as an actual match. More than that, it was a great angle that introduced the latest member of the heel faction while also proving Rollins is one step ahead of his rivals.
Advertising a Fist Fight was a silly decision because the company could have easily presented this as an all-out war of attrition in the main event spot and still accomplished the same thing without getting so cutesy with its marketing. It was good enough and featured the big angle at the end to warrant its inclusion on the show without a gimmicky premise.
The sooner WWE realizes that simple is better, the more coherent the show will become.
As it is, Murphy is the perfect addition to Rollins’ growing stable and a Superstar who can benefit exponentially from standing alongside one of the most polarizing stars in the industry.