Wrestling Night in America Reunion: PWTorch columnist Greg Parks is joined by former PWTorch columnist Pat McNeill for a full match-by-match preview of WrestleMania 36
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KELLER’S WWE RAW REPORT
FEBRUARY 18, 2019
AIRED ON USA NETWORK
Announcers: Michael Cole, Corey Graves, Renee Young
Tonight after WWE Raw, join me live with guest cohost Travis Bryant from the PWTorch East Coast Cast to break down the show with live callers, mailbag, and an on-site correspondent from Lafayette, La.
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-A memorial screen for Pedro Morales was shown at the start.
-After the WWE branding clip, they put “Cajundome” on the screen but not Layfayette, La. When Cole introduced the show, he said “Raw is live” but did not mention the city or state.
-Triple H made his ring entrance. He pointed at the WrestleMania sign and asked if the crowd can feel it. He talked about Sasha Banks & Bayley becoming the first Women’s Tag Team Champions and Finn Balor becoming Intercontinental Champion. When he then mentioned Kofi Kingston, saying he “captured the heart and imagination of the world” when he came so close to becoming WWE Champion last night, the crowd briefly chanted “Kofi!” He then talked about Becky Lynch, saying she showed the whole world that she won’t let a 60 day suspension or a knee injury stop her from getting to Charlotte Flair or Ronda Rousey. He said if she does what she does again, she will be arrested and prosecuted, but he added that personally he thought what she did was pretty damn cool.
He said speaking of “pretty cool,” ESPN reported that the first Hall of Fame entrants this year will be Degeneration X. He listed himself, Shawn Michaels, X-Pac, Billy Gunn, Road Dogg, and “The Ninth Wonder of the World” Chyna. He said he’s about to pour gas on the fire because he doesn’t just oversee Raw and Smackdown, but he also oversees NXT. He stumbled a bit and said, “Let me try that one more time. It is live, there are no screwups.” He said he oversees “WWE’s third global touring brand, NXT.” An NXT chant sort of started. He said it’s his pleasure to introduce some wrestlers who will be debuting tonight on Raw and will all be in action tonight.
He introduced Ricochet first. Cole gave a brief bio on him as they showed some dazzling high-flying clips. Triple H next introduced Aleister Black. Cole talked about his bio bullet points as clips aired of his strikes. Then he introduced Johnny Gargano. Cole ran down his bio as highlights aired. And finally Tomasso Ciampa. Cole called him “despicable, remorseless, and a malignant human being.” Triple H said the saying in NXT is “the future is now,” and tonight fans will see the future.
Triple H pointed at tables on the stage and he said all hell is about to break lose. He said a tables match is about to begin now featuring Baron Corbin and Braun Strowman. Strowman walked out first as Cole explained the rules. Then he commented on freeze-frames of the finish of the Corbin vs. Strowman match on the Elimination Chamber last night. During ring entrances, Graves said Corbin had his friends standing by in the back and it paid off. He called it “out-planning” Strowman. Cole said tonight will be one-on-one.
(Keller’s Analysis: Not sure what to make of four NXT wrestlers appearing on Raw. This seems like the most anticlimactic way to introduce new names to fans who aren’t watching NXT. Having Cole read a bunch of corporate-sounding biographical bullet points summarizing their “official personality traits” is awful. And why are they there? Why is Triple H bringing them? I assume to some degree those questions will be answered, but after how oddly WWE has handled the other NXT call-ups with the seeming limbo they’re in regarding which brand they’re assigned to, this just seems like they’re making it up as they go along to try to inject some new life into sagging ratings. This doesn’t really seem like the way to do it.) [c]
(1) BARON CORBIN vs. BRAUN STROWMAN – Tables Match
When Corbin whipped Strowman into the ringside barricade early, there was a kid around 7 or 8 years old who looked terrified and his mom had to comfort him. They fought their way up onto the stage where Corbin escaped a slam and shoved Strowman into the announce table and off the stage. [c]
(There was a #headstrong on the screen during a commercial and I figured it was for Rob Van Dam’s new documentary “Head Strong” that comes out this week. But it was actually a new hashtag for Head & Shoulders shampoo.)
Back live, they were in the ring. Strowman almost shoved Corbin in a table leaning in the corner. Corbin stopped. Strowman bashed his chest with a forearm and dropped him hard. Corbin came back with a clothesline to take Strowman down. Corbin then hit Strowman in the ribs with a kendo stick. They showed the announcers sitting behind their destroyed announce table on the stage. Corbin leaped off the ring apron toward Strowman, but Strowman bashed him out of mid-air with the ringside steps. He hit him again and Corbin went down and struggled to stand. When he did, Strowman hit him again with the stairs. Strowman then powerslammed Corbin through the table in the corner to win. Renee called it “sweet, sweet revenge for Strowman.”
WINNER: Strowman in 14:00.
-Cole hyped that Gargano & Ciampa would reunite against The Revival tonight.
(Keller’s Analysis: This is so strange. All the build up to DIY reuniting and it happens tonight under these circumstances?) [c]
-The announcers hyped a special look at Brock Lesnar’s journey to the top of WWE. They went to Strowman on the stage where Paul Heyman was standing. Heyman told Braun “good match.” Strowman grabbed him by his throat. Heyman yelled that he was hurting him asked him to “please let go.” Strowman let go and walked to the back. Heyman stepped away and looked shaken and intimidated. He gathered himself, but then said he needed a minute. Cole said they’d be back with Heyman. He wondered what he was going to say. [c]
-Heyman was in the ring after the break. He said he’s not surprised by Braun’s actions. He said everyone should be intimidated by his client. He said at his own expense, he put something together to educate the fans on the history of Lesnar. A video aired where Heyman introduced “the story of a real life beast.” He talked about the harsh conditions on the farm where Lesnar grew up that honed his determination and ferocity. He said WWE recruited Lesnar and within six months, he smashed The Rock to become world champion. He said Lesnar ate his way through the WWE roster, so Lesnar moved on to UFC. “Lusting to satiate his appetite for true competition, Lesnar stepped into the cage against Randy Couture.” Heyman rewrote some history regarding Lesnar’s UFC success and characterized his leaving UFC because he “slaughtered all competition that was put in front of him” and “grew bored that no one could give him the challenge he needed,” and then he noticed new challenges awaited him in WWE. They showed a clip of Lesnar ending The Streak.
Back live in the ring, Heyman boasted the Lesnar conquered Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania. He said fans can boo that, but they can’t do anything about it, just as Seth Rollins can’t. He asked fans to applaud if they think Seth will emerge from WrestleMania as the Universal Champion. He said there’s not enough fire in Seth’s soul to burn down Suplex City. Heyman was interrupted by Finn Balor who walked onto the stage to his music. Cole talked about his IC Title win. He walked to the ring smiling the whole way. [c]
-A highlight package aired of Balor’s IC Title win.
-Balor stood in the ring as his music faded after the break. He said it’s been a while since he held one of the championships “and boy does it feel good.” He said he grew up watching greats like Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels, and Ric Flair, it’s been a dream of his to hold the championship. He said he’s proud to carry on the legacy as the latest IC Champion. He said he plans on defending the title, at which point he was interrupted by Lio Rush’s music. Renee said maybe he’s trying to make a new friend. He looked sullen as fans booed him. Lio said Balor doesn’t deserve to be the Intercontinental Champion. He said Lashley deserves it. Lashley attacked Balor from behind. Cole said it looks like Rush and Lashley made up since last night. Rush then leaped off the top rope and frog splashed Lashley. Renee said it looks like a kid trying to make a dad proud. Ricochet then came out and attacked both Rush and Lashley. Graves said, “Prepare to have your mind blown.” He said he’s the most exciting athlete on any brand of WWE programming. Balor and Ricochet stood back to back-in-the ring and made sure Lashley and Rush didn’t try to attack them again. [c]
(2) RICOCHET & FINN BALOR vs. LIO RUSH & BOBBY LASHLEY
Ricochet and Rush started against each other. Cole talked about Ricochet being in the Halftime Heat match. Renee said he told her that his idols are The Rock, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, A.J. Styles, and Evan Bourne, “the guys who display the precision that you see in his style a lot.” Fans chanted for “Ri-co-chet” after a flurry against Rush. Graves said Ricochet isn’t all sizzle and no steak. Ricochet battled Lashley next, and Lashley bailed out to ringside. He looked wide-eyed at Ricochet as Rush tried to give him a pep talk. Cole said Ricochet made a name for himself wrestling for various promotions around the world.
After Balor tagged in, Lashley was able to ground him with a chinlock. When Balor made a comeback, Rush clipped his knee from behind. Balor dropped to the floor. Lashley went after him at ringside, throwing him into the ringside barricade. Lashley grounded Balor again mid-ring. He slammed Balor and scored a two count. They cut to a break. [c]
Back from the break, Balor was still grounded. Rush tagged in and slapped Balor, then trash-talked him. Balor made a comeback and almost hot-tagged Ricochet until Rush cut him off. Rush gator rolled Balor into his corner and tagged Lashley back in. Balor leaped over Lashley to avoid a powerbomb and tagged in Ricochet. He rallied against Rush with a flurry of offense and then dropkicked Ricochet off the ring apron. Ricochet then flip dove onto Rush at ringside. Lashley approached him and Ricochet ran away, but then flipped over him off the ring barricade. Balor then surprised Lashley with a dropkick. Back in the ring, Ricochet went after Rush and landed his 630 senton for the win.
WINNERS: Ricochet & Balor in 18:00.
(Keller’s Analysis: Ricochet looked impressive. He’s right around Balor’s size, maybe slightly shorter but slightly thicker, which puts him barely into the category of someone Vince McMahon would seriously push in the main heavyweight division. This match was really long, though, and consisted of a long stretch of Balor selling for Lashley and Rush without a ton of action.)
-Backstage Natalya was chatting with Triple H when Drew McIntyre walked up behind Hunter and coughed. Drew talked about Triple H rolling out the red carpet for the NXT Superstars. He said he told him he would do whatever it takes to prove himself. He said he wants Seth Rollins because he wants to main event WrestleMania. “Let me prove it to you!” he said. In walked Dean Ambrose. “I’m not doing anything tonight,” he said.”What about me?” He slapped Drew and left. Triple H asked if he wants Seth or Dean? Drew said, “Change the damn match.” [c]
-A long video recap aired of the Vince McMahon announcement about Becky Lynch last week and then the events since then on Smackdown and at Elimination Chamber.
(3) ZACK RYDER & CURT HAWKINS vs. LINCE DORADO & GRAN METALIK (w/Kalisto)
Cole description of Lucha House Party when he says they “love to have fun” sounds so corporate and unnatural and uninspired. Graves asked if anyone doesn’t like to have fun. Cole said some people and almost seemed ready to say he doesn’t.
WINNERS: Dorado & Metalik when Dorado rolled up Hawkins in 3:00.
(Keller’s Analysis: This match, perhaps more than anything else, is an example of how lost Vince McMahon’s booking is right now in most areas. No heat. No emotion investment by fans. No tangible backstory anyone cares about. An odd match-up of sympathetic underdogs and flashy masked wrestlers. A criminally casual tone to the announcing, more a reflection of the material they had to work with than their own lackadaisical demeanor.)
-Charly Caruso interviewed Heavy Machinery on the stage. Tucker Knight said rehearsed-sounding lines about being “known to get the job done” and loving to get a nice sweat in the gym and a massive plate of red meat. Otis said, “Steaks and weights, turkey! Steaks and weights!” Tucker said they’re ready for anyone. Otis said he’s got his brother’s back. Lacey Evans sauntered out and waved at the fans and showed off her classy outfit. She walked down to ringside and then back to the stage where she walked up behind Heavy Machinery. They made their ring entrance. They made it to ringside, but then returned to the stage and did the Bushwacker arms the whole way. They cut to a break. [c]
-Backstage they showed Ciampa and Gargano talking about showing the world what NXT is all about. Bobby Roode and Chad Gable walked up to them. Roode asked why they have a match with The Revival. Gable said he loves seeing fresh talent in the tag division and they’re great, but he won’t bring up that he beat them in NXT. He said on Raw, you start from the bottom and work your way up. He asked “respectfully” why they get this match. Gargano said they’ve been leading the hottest brand for two years “and we’re here to take over.” In walked The Revival with their Raw Tag Team Titles. Gargano said they had some pretty wild matches back in the day. Ciampa said they’re there to make an impression at their expense. Dawson said they don’t need luck and then The Revival headed out to the ring.
(Keller’s Analysis: While this doesn’t contradict the NXT storyline that Gargano and Ciampa have been sharing space peacefully lately, it leapfrogs a big NXT moment when they agreed to reunite as DIY and presents it as a mid-card tag team moment on Raw. The DIY reunion was being built up for a long time and this seems to steal a moment from the NXT narrative and rush into it without the requisite fanfare here on Raw.)
(4) THE REVIVAL (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder) vs. DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tomasso Ciampa)
Revival isolated Gargano at the start. Gargano made a comeback a couple minutes in and dove onto Dawson at ringside. Gargano and Ciampa worked together to fend off Dash. They cut to a break. [c]
Back live Dash took over on Gargano again. Gargano hot-tagged Ciampa. Given the descriptions Cole read of Gargano and Ciampa early in the show, people unfamiliar with them must’ve been confused that they were teaming together and certainly didn’t know who to cheer for when Ciampa was wrestling Revival. The live crowd wasn’t reacting to anything all night, and this was no exception. DIY finished Dawson with a superkick/running knee combo.
WINNERS: DIY in 12:00.
(Keller’s Analysis: Gargano and Ciampa teaming together and beating the Raw Tag Champs should have meant more. I don’t even know what to say about the presentation of this show. I feel like I’m going to wake up and tell people about this really strange dream I had about Raw that made no sense.)
-Caruso interviewed Balor and Ricochet. Balor said last night was his night, but tonight is about Ricochet. Balor walked away. Ricochet said no matter how many scenarios you play out in your head, your dreams coming true never happen as planned. He said it feels better than anything he ever imagined. He said he could go on for days, but he’d say this is just the beginning and there’s one and only one Ricochet.
-They showed Ronda Rousey warming up backstage. Cole said it’s become a tradition for Rousey to defend her title the night after a PPV. They cut to the Riott Squad as Ruby was getting warmed up for another chance.
(Keller’s Analysis: A strange Raw just gets more strange. They get around just now to letting everyone know, nearly two hours into the show, that RONDA ROUSEY IS WRESTLING AND DEFENDING HER TITLE LIVE ON RAW. Even if at this point you think Rousey has become “just another Superstar” on the WWE roster and the novelty of seeing her wrestle is mostly gone, WWE has to treat this as a big deal. Meanwhile, what in the hell did Ruby do to deserve a rematch after losing so decisively last night? I just don’t know how to react to everything going on in this episode other than to say nothing at all is well done or impressive booking-wise. Everything feels so random and sort of alarmingly out of nowhere.) [c]
-A Kevin Owens video where he said it’s time for another update. He nearly dropped his phone as he took selfie video. He said he’s still rehabbing and training and enjoying as much time as he can with his family. He said he watches Raw and Smackdown every week and he’s never been more focused or hungrier. His son brought him some popcorn. He asked for his change. His son said there is none. Owens said he gave him a twenty for popcorn and a soda. He said during his time off he’s put things in perspective and has realized again why he wanted to fight in the first place. He said he’s ready to fight again. He then went back to asking his son if there really is no change. His son smiled and said there is none.
(Keller’s Analysis: They’re reframing KO as a regular guy living a regular life as a regular dad.)
-Bayley and Sasha Banks made their ring entrance with their tag team titles. Graves said he is admitting he was wrong about them because they did work well as a team. They celebrated with fans at ringside, slapping hands and accepting congratulations before entering the ring. Cole said he saw Sasha and Bayley after the PPV last night and they seemed to be in shock. Fans chanted “You deserve it!” It wasn’t thunderous or anything, and kind of faded out quickly in a sad way. Bayley said it was an emotional night for them last night. She said she cannot believe they are there right now holding the belts. “We are your first-ever WWE Tag Team Champions.” Some fans began chanting “Yes!” Sasha said this feels like a dream, but it’s not a dream, it’s reality. “We did this,” she said. Bayley and Sasha agreed they did it together, including taking a path where they hated each other and then loved each other. Sasha said they were brought together by the same vision and goal. Sasha said she couldn’t imagine doing it with anyone else. Bayley said it took them going to war with each other to finally realize that together they are changing the world. Bayley said to trust them that they plan on being champs for a very long time. Sasha said they put their heart and soul into the Women’s Division and they will defend the titles against everyone, past, present, and future, here on Raw, or on Smackdown or NXT. Bayley said they respect how special those titles are for the entire Women’s Evolution. Bayley said there is no stronger connection than the Boss & Hug Connection. “You can bank on that,” Sasha said.
(Keller’s Analysis: That felt like a half speed dry run of a promo. It just lingered and meandered. All the right things were said and they seemed to mean it, but it just wasn’t at the right energy level or pace.)
Nia Jax and Tamina walked out. Nia told them to please just stop. She said they’re cute with their matching outfits. (Their outfits were noting alike.) Nia said everyone knows that Sasha only cares about Sasha, and anytime she wins a title, she loses it on her very first defense. Tamina said they got lucky last night, but tonight that luck is about to run out. They began to enter the ring, but Sasha and Bayley kicked them off the ring apron. When they tried to enter again, Sasha put Nia in a Bank Statement. Tamina quickly pulled her to safety. Bayley’s music played.
-Cole threw to a video on DX. [c]
(5) DEAN AMBROSE vs. DREW MCINTYRE
Renee said Drew “hauled ass to the ring with purpose.” Dean attacked Drew at the bell. Fans weren’t sure how to feel about Dean, understandably so. Drew fended off Dean’s attack. Graves said Drew feels he let everyone down when he didn’t win the Rumble to earn a match against Lesnar at WrestleMania and he’s taking it out on everyone else. Dean ducked a charging Drew and Drew tumbled to the floor, taking part of the ring apron cover with him. Back in the ring Dean hit a neckbreaker, but Drew came back with a sudden Claymore Kick. Drew moved to the corner and waited for Dean to stand. He delivered another Claymore and scored a three count.
WINNER: McIntyre in 2:00.
(Keller’s Analysis: Well, fans who haven’t heard Dean is leaving the company have to wonder what’s going on with him. They sacrificed EC3’s mystique last week by having him lose to Dean, only to define Dean down to virtual jobber status this week.)
-The second part of the Lesnar video package narrated by Heyman aired ending with a focus on Seth. Heyman said WrestleMania is the end of the Seth story. Cole said Seth has an alternate ending in mind.
-Caruso interviewed Seth backstage and asked if he has any regrets about choosing to face Lesnar at WrestleMania. Seth said you can call Heyman a lot of things, but a liar is not one of them. (Spit Take.) Seth said everything Heyman said about Lesnar is the truth. He said he’s not walking into WM with a death wish, but rather an acceptance of his fate. He said Lesnar needs to accept his fate, too, which is that WrestleMania is the end of his reign of terror. He said as for his fate, whether he leaves on his own two feet or gets carried out on a stretcher, he will leave as Universal Champion. Dean walked in and was adjusting his neck. Seth asked if he can help him with something. Dean asked where he was out there. Seth said, “Have you completely, completely lost your mind.” Dean froze in place and shrugged and then walked away. Fans laughed. Seth shook his head. [c]
-Elias sat mid-ring and said he’s the most hygienic of anyone to roll through this dumpy backwoods swampland of Lafayette. Boos. “And yet I am constantly disrespected and interrupted,” he said. “I am a musical genius and you are blessed to be in the presence of Elias.” He said he’s sure they’re excited about the new Superstars. He listed the four NXT wrestlers. He said it won’t change the living truth. “I make magic with these fingers every night,” he said. He said this song isn’t for the fans. He said it’s for himself. He said he hopes he can slip into a deep consciousness where he can forget any of them exist. He said in order to do so, he needs them to silence their cell phones and hold their applause and shut their mouths. He was interrupted by Aleister Black’s theme song. Cole ruined Black forever by saying, “Oh yeah!” Black was raised up from the stage and then walked onto the stage. Cole called him, “dark, moody, intimidating.” Renee said, “For the love of God, Elias, get out of there.” Cole ran down Black’s bio. Graves said he spent his life never quite fitting in and feeling comfortable in society. Graves said he fights for the 9-to-5ers and blue collar fans who never felt they fit in. Cole said he’s a “dark destroyer.” Black entered the ring and said if silence and deep sleep is what Elias seeks, “allow me to help you.” He said he will fade him to black.
(6) ELIAS vs. ALEISTER BLACK
Black sat mid-ring after Elias bailed out. They cut to a very early break.
(Keller’s Analysis: Just terrible timing for a commercial. They build up Black’s debut, and then cut away ten seconds in. Their robotic placement of early match commercials undercuts the sense that in ring action is important.) [c]
Back from the break Elias got in most of the offense, but Black surprised him with his signature Black Mass kick for the win.
WINNER: Black in 7:00.
(Keller’s Analysis: There is no credible argument that Black wouldn’t have been off winning a squash match here to show off his personality and show off his signature moves without the boring middle of the match where he had to sell for a guy he’d then soundly beat a few minutes later. They could have avoided the commercial break and just focused on Black and let him show everyone who he is rather than have the announce team read off corporate approval descriptions of what fans are supposed to think he’s all about.) [c]
-They hyped Ric Flair Appreciation Night next week.
(7) RONDA ROUSEY vs. RUBY RIOTT (w/Liv Morgan, Sarah Logan) – Raw Title match
No formal ring intros. They just did ring entrances and went right to it with the bell. Rousey went right at Riott with judo throws and a punch. She ducked Ruby punches. The ref backed her away from the corner. Ruby bailed out at ringside to regroup with her Riott Squad cohorts. Graves said Rousey proved she could keep her focus on the challenge in front of her and not be distracted by the Charlotte and Becky Lynch situation. Rousey went for a triangle, but Riott escaped and rolled to ringside again. They cut to another damn break mid-match. [c]
Riott had Rousey in an armbar after the match. Cole said the Riott Squad have been helping Ruby. Rousey tossed Ruby off of her. Ruby rolled to the floor again. Rousey chased her down and threw her into the ring. Ruby surprised Rousey with a urinage. She settled into a chinlock immediately. Cole said Ruby has a lot more confidence tonight and is taking the fight to the champion. Rousey fired up and played to the fans. She judo threw Ruby three times and then landed a jumping elbow in the corner. Ruby sidestepped the next Rousey charge and threw her head-first into the turnbuckle. Cole said Ruby has been a step ahead of Ronda all night. Ruby landed a senton splash off the middle rope for a two count. Riott then hit the Riott Kick for a two count. Ruby settled into a chinlock, but Rousey made a comeback and climbed to the second rope. Morgan and Logan knocked her off balance. Riott landed another Riott Kick for a near fall. Cole said the entire complexion of WrestleMania almost changed. Graves said this shows what having all three members of Riott Squad together means. Riott leaped off the top rope with another senton attempt, but Rousey moved and then went for an armbar. Riott escaped to the floor near her partners. Rousey leaped off the top rope onto all three. Back in the ring Rousey lifted Riott off the top rope and then catapulted her into the top turnbuckle. She followed with the armbar and got a tapout win. Cole said Ruby was “very game.” Graves said Riott didn’t make the same mistakes.
WINNER: Rousey in 13:00.
-All three Riott Squad members went after Rousey after the match. but Rousey easily cleared the ring of them. Graves said Rousey is ready for WrestleMania.
(Keller’s Analysis: That was it. Just a straight finish to a regular match they did an awful job hyping ahead of time with their top star. One of the strangest editions of Raw ever. Hard to figure out what was going on with that show.)