WWE RAW PRIMER 1/7: Hogan returns to honor Gene, Bliss’s talk show debut, Raw Tag Team Championship on the line, Strowman & Lesnar in the building, Cena returns, Elias vs. Corbin

By Frank Peteani, PWTorch Specialist

Alexa Bliss (art credit Travis Beaven © PWTorch)

JANUARY 7, 2019

 Announcers: Michael Cole, Corey Graves, Renee Young

Remembering “Mean” Gene Okerlund 

We’ve lost so many great personalities in the wrestling business recently, but the recent loss of “Mean” Gene Okerlund hurt in a way that can’t be described on paper.

“Mean” Gene began his career in Minnesota’s American Wrestling Association and interviewed some of the great personalities he would eventually interview in the World Wrestling Federation (now known of course as WWE).  He would move on to World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in the early nineties before returning to WWE following their purchase of WCW in 2001.  He would make sporadic appearances through the years and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006 by Hulk Hogan, who had been inducted the previous year.

While he was dubbed “Mean” Gene by Jesse “The Body” Ventura during his days in AWA, who could forget his years of interviewing Hulk Hogan.  No matter what you feel about Hogan these days, his “Well let me tell you something Mean Gene” is a staple for all of us who watched WWF in the 1980s-early 1990s.  His interview of Hogan following his joining the nWo alongside Scott Hall and Kevin Nash in 1996 went a long way to sell that story.  Let’s not also forget Ric Flair always saying “Mean….oh my god…wooo! Gene.”

“Mean” Gene is considered the standard bearer for the wrestling interviewer, at least in my eyes which have watched wrestling since 1986.  He asked the important questions and got you to connect with the various characters through the years.  Nothing was more important to Gene than getting into the heart and soul of wrestlers and their missions, an element lacking in today’s product.

Several wrestlers and personalities paid tribute, but these tweets brought tears to my eyes and they’re from WWE Hall of Famer Iron Sheik:

My word Gene, we will miss you.  There hasn’t been anyone quite “the likes” of you.  Thank you for the memories and for being you. 

Arena and Items Advertised by WWE

Tonight, we start to get back to regular business in terms of live programming as Raw returns to the Amway Center in Orlando, FL.  The arena, which opened for business in October of 2010, last hosted Raw famously the night after WrestleMania in 2017.  Who could forget that on that evening we got the famous “This is my yard now” one-line promo cut by Roman Reigns following his defeat of the Undertaker the night before in the main event of ‘Mania.  At lot has happened since then, especially in Reigns’ life, and we certainly hope he is doing well battling leukemia.

The holiday decorations may or may not be down, the gifts put away, returns & exchanges made, and diets & exercise programs have likely begun which means we start to get ready for the Royal Rumble & WrestleMania season.  Several names have entered the Rumble.  Seth Rollins & Finn Balor were just recently confirmed.  Drew McIntyre is in as well.  I’m certain we will learn of more entries tonight and tomorrow.  Potential winners are without question being discussed for both the men’s and women’s side of the ledger.

As far as Raw tonight, here’s what is advertised by WWE.com subject to change as the day goes on:

  • Hulk Hogan returns to celebrate the life of longtime friend “Mean” Gene Okerlund
  • The Beast and Monster under the same roof
  • John Cena is back
  • Elias vs. Baron Corbin
  • The Revival vie for the Raw Tag Team Titles in a lumberjack match
  • “A Moment of Bliss” debuts
  • Is the “old” Seth Rollins back

Hulk Hogan Returns to Celebrate “Mean” Gene

I talked about “Mean” Gene Okerlund at the opening of the primer.  You can’t talk about “Mean” Gene without talking about the chemistry he had with recently reinstated WWE Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan.

Gene interviewed Hogan prior to many of his big matches on regular television, Saturday Night’s Main Event specials, and PPVs.  He did so both when Hogan was a babyface and a heel during their WCW days in the 1990s.  As I said earlier, Gene went a long way to sell Hogan’s heel turn at the infamous Bash at the Beach which saw Hogan join now-WWE Hall of Famers Scott Hall & Kevin Nash.  Here’s that legendary moment:

Gene was also Hogan’s tag team partner once in a match to face the late WWE Hall of Famers Mr. Fuji & George “The Animal” Steele.  Here’s WWE’s compilation of their memorable training session:

I could find clips all days of legendary moments between Gene and Hogan.  No matter what you think of Hogan these days, their chemistry and history is legendary.

Hogan has not been on Raw since before he was fired (not suspended) by WWE and removed from the Hall of Fame in 2015.  He was re-hired in 2018 and re-instated to the HOF last year and made a brief appearance at Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia just before the holidays.  Tonight, he returns to celebrate the life of his long-time friend.

Frank’s Analysis:  This return is not going to met without pushback and backlash considering the reason Hogan was initially fired by WWE and his half-hearted empty apology upon his return.  WWE can say they’re doing this for Gene’s sake, but this strikes me as an excuse to bring Hogan back.  It’s anyone’s guess as to what the reaction will be like.  I see it as a test.  Legends are always used for special appearances and to “pop” ratings, and with a move to Smackdown on FOX this coming fall I’m sure they want to have the ability to utilize Hogan to get that program off and running.

I’m overall fine with Hogan coming back for this, but don’t ask me to defend it to people who don’t share the same sentiment.

Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman

“The Beast” Brock Lesnar will defend his Universal Championship against the “Monster Among Men” Braun Strowman at the Royal Rumble Sunday, January 27.  It will be Strowman’s fourth televised attempt at dethroning Lesnar since SummerSlam 2017, where Strowman was part of a fatal four-way match.

Strowman appeared on Raw on the Christmas Eve episode where he interrupted Lesnar’s advocate Paul Heyman’s really bad, but interesting rendition of Silent Night.  He went on to put a red nose on him along with antlers and told him that Lesnar was going to …. you guessed it … “get these hands.”

Lesnar, the current reigning Universal Champion in his second reign, has not graced us with his charming presence since his match with WWE Champion at Survivor Series in November.  Tonight, he and Strowman will be in the building to no doubt get ready for their match at the Royal Rumble.

Frank’s Analysis:  I couldn’t help throwing in the sarcasm, but it’s getting old having a Universal Champion appear on a sporadic basis.  There are mixed reports out as to whether or not Lesnar will be at WrestleMania.  One has to wonder what kind of damage would be done to Strowman if he loses his third televised singles championship match to Lesnar which leads us to wonder if a title change is in the offing.  We’ll get a better idea in the coming weeks what to expect as we head into WrestleMania season.  One thing is for sure, and that WWE has a lot of flexibility with its Universal Championship match at WrestleMania if Ronda Rousey vs. Becky and/or Charlotte will be the main event.

John Cena

John Cena returns to Raw for the first time since before WrestleMania last year when he was calling out the Undertaker.  As part of Vince McMahon’s “gifts” to the WWE fans on Christmas Eve, he told us Cena was “back on Raw and back on Smackdown.”  His appearance tonight was made official on last week’s Raw episode.

On last week’s Smackdown, Cena returned and teamed with “The Man” Becky Lynch and defeated Andrade “Cien” Almas and his business manager Zelina Vega, minus her accent.

Cena was drafted to Smackdown during the second iteration of the roster split, however he’s been known as a “free agent” since the summer of 2017.

Frank’s Analysis:  Like him or not John Cena is arguably still their top star and I could understand wanting him to be a free agent.  It gives them the flexibility to put him where they need him.  They have avoided slinging wrestlers between shows the way they did during the first version of the split and deeming him a free agent delineates him from the rest of the roster.  It’s hard to know what he’ll be doing but involvement in either championship picture or another program with the Undertaker aren’t far-fetched as we get ready for WrestleMania season.

Elias vs. Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin participated in the “fresh start” battle royal last week to attempt to earn a shot at Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship later in the evening.  He came up short, and later came out to complain.

Elias appeared to serenade the crowd and have a few words for Corbin.  Elias did his usual schtick and trolled the local Detroit crowd, but blamed that on Corbin and had praise for the city.  They eventually went at it with Corbin retreating at the end.

Tonight, they go at it one-on-one.

Frank’s Analysis:  There’s not much here other than a television feud.  I noticed while Elias was trash talking Corbin, not once did Corbin interrupt or try and stop Elias from talking.  I really wish WWE would get away from “your turn you speak, ok your turn now you speak.”  Let there be some real conflict and dialogue between the wrestlers.  It makes it feel real and could even make a lower-end feud such as this feel more special.  The other thing is that Elias’ schtick is getting old.  How much more can we hear “WWE stands for Walk with Elias,” “silence your cell phones & hold your applause,” and “who wants to walk with Elias?” 

Raw Tag Team Championship Lumberjack Match: Bobby Roode & Chad Gable (champs) vs. the Revival

Three weeks ago, on the night the McMahon’s “took back Raw and Smackdown,” the Revival won a fatal four-way tag team match to earn a title opportunity at Raw Tag Team Champions Bobby Roode & Chad Gable.  On the following week’s Christmas Eve episode, they cashed in that opportunity but came up short in a highly competitive match.

On last week’s episode, it was announced the Revival would get another opportunity tonight.  This did not sit well with Drake Maverick, the manager of former champions AOP.  Here he is on Twitter going at it with Scott Dawson of the Revival expressing his frustration:

As the week went on, it was announced this would be a lumberjack match.

Frank’s Analysis: Now that it’s a lumberjack match it’s certain AOP will get involved and likely affect the outcome of the match.  As far as the Revival they’ve been in and out of the title picture and even were involved with Roman Reigns and Bobby Lashley over the past year.  How WWE truly feels about them has been a point of discussion for a while.  Now that they’ve stayed off the injured list for a while, perhaps 2019 will bring good things for them.  The lack of reaction for them can’t be favorable, but you wonder if it’s because people don’t want to get behind a team that won’t get pushed anyway. 

A Moment of Bliss with Guest Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey

When the McMahon’s took back Raw and Smackdown, Alexa Bliss was quietly relieved of her duties overseeing the women’s division.  She had been delegated the position several weeks ago by then-GM Baron Corbin.

Last week, she claimed she made “history” during her tenure (not sure how, but I’ll play along).  She was now going to make history again by having the first female talk show in WWE, and it would be called “A Moment of Bliss.”  Her first guess would be none other than Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey.

As we all recall, Ronda took the title from Alexa at last year’s SummerSlam and has held it ever since.  Alexa said while she understands Ronda was a huge fan of the late WWE Hall of Famer “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, she better dress appropriately as she won’t be slumming it in some “pit” (an obvious dig at Roddy’s legendary show Piper’s Pit, which is arguably the standard bearer for wrestling talk shows).

Frank’s Analysis:  One thing about WWE is they find things to do for their injured wrestlers.  With Alexa having suffered a concussion recently, it’s wise to not have her wrestle and utilize her personality in an effective way.  Having a talk show is certainly a smart way to utilize her talents.  In the modern-day WWE environment, we see wrestlers on a weekly basis, and they can become stale very quickly.  This keeps Alexa out of the ring and her return feel more special, if in fact she is to be medically cleared.  This could also be a path for her to turn babyface if a future heel guest, whomever that may be, turns on her during the program assuming this has lasting power.

Seth Rollins

As we are well aware, the McMahon’s have done away with the automatic rematch clause for former champions wanting to get their titles back.  This certainly has affected Seth Rollins following his loss of the Intercontinental Championship at TLC to Dean Ambrose.

Last week, Triple H came out to confront Seth Rollins and re-emphasized the recent change.  He also said he once believed in him (referencing Rollins’ days with “The Authority) and felt he had lost it, but had his doubts erased during their match at WrestleMania two years ago.  He thought Rollins may be losing it again.  Rollins’ replied by asking if he “wanted the guy that would do anything to win,” to which Triple H emphatically replied yes.  He would want to see that later on in match with “The All Mighty” Bobby Lashley.  Shane McMahon would come out and announce a “fresh start” battle royal, the winner to gain an Intercontinental Championship match with Ambrose later in the evening.  Rollins was not to partake in that match.

Rollins would go on to lose the match via DQ when he started using a chair on both Lashley and his manager Lio Rush.

One has to wonder if the “old” Seth Rollins is back, referring to the Rollins from 2014-2016 back by “The Authority” of Triple H & Stephanie McMahon.  As I said earlier, Rollins is confirmed for this year’s Royal Rumble.

Frank’s Analysis:  We haven’t seen Rollins interact with Triple H much at all since their match at WrestleMania in 2017, so it certainly brought back some memories (good and bad).  It’s hard to say if Rollins’ actions are a preamble of things to come, but one thing I’ll say is it’ll be interesting to see the landscape if they decide to go with with him as a heel.  Given the lackluster match Rollins had with Ambrose at TLC, the rumors of him facing Lesnar at this year’s WrestleMania, his overall push in 2018, and how they have focused on Drew McIntyre as a top heel, I can’t imagine Rollins going in that direction.  Stranger things have happened historically and thus I steal a line from my regular job and say sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.  Rollins is certainly on the short list as a potential Royal Rumble winner, and challenger for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania.

Other Items from Last Week:

  • Drew McIntyre defeated Dolph Ziggler in a steel cage match.  McIntyre further attacked Ziggler after the match with his signature Claymore kick.
  • Ronda Rousey and Natalya defeated Nia Jax and Tamina in the main event.
  • Apollo Crews won the “fresh start” battle royal to earn a match with Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship.  Crews came up short in a competitive match with Ambrose later on in the evening.
  • Bayley & Sasha Banks & Ember Moon defeated the Riott Squad (Ruby Riott & Liv Morgan & Sarah Logan.
  • Jinder Mahal & The Singh Brothers defeated Heath Slater & Rhyno.

NXT Callups

As we have been made well aware since the McMahons “took back Raw and Smackdown,” five NXT acts are on their way to the main roster. They include “The Freak” Lars Sullivan, ECIII, Heavy Machinery (Otis Dozovic and Tucker Knight), “The Lady of NXT” Lacey Evans, and Nikki Cross. According to Tom Stoup’s recent Full Sail NXT tapings report, just about all of them bid their farewells to the faithful crowd in one way or another.

With this week’s Raw emanating from Orlando and tomorrow’s Smackdown a few hours up the road in Jacksonville, and also these shows being the first to air live in 2019, it would make sense for everyone to make their debuts this week. It’s anybody’s guess as to on which show each act will appear. I’ll take some shots and say ECIII, Heavy Machinery, and Lacey Evans arrive on Raw while Lars Sullivan and Nikki Cross go to Smackdown. ECIII, if brought up as he is right now which is a babyface, could boost that side of the ledger on Raw. Heavy Machinery can add to a weak Raw tag team division, and Lacey Evans would add a different element to Raw while providing a legitimate heel besides Ruby Riott. The heel side on Smackdown is weak after Samoa Joe and Shinsuke Nakamura, and thus Sullivan can help there. Nikki Cross can re-align with Sanity.

We’ll stay tuned to learn where everyone actually arrives if in fact they all show up this week.

Start Time & Matches Advertised on the Arena Website

The Amway Center is advertising a start time of 7:30 p.m. with doors opening at 6:00 p.m. local time.  They show the following matches:

  • Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose (obviously not updated as Ambrose is now champion)
  • John Cena & Finn Balor & Elias vs. Drew McIntyre & Baron Corbin & “The All Mighty” Bobby Lashley

Follow me on Twitter @FrankPeteani or e-mail me at fpeteani@gmail.com.  Questions and discussion are welcome.  Thank you for reading!

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