WWE RAW PRIMER 2/25: Roman returns, Flair celebrates the big “Seven O,” The NXT wrestlers, What’s up with Ambrose, Challengers for Bayley & Sasha

By Frank Peteani, PWTorch Specialist

Roman Reigns (artist Travis Beaven © PWTorch)


FEBRUARY 25, 2019

 Announcers: Michael Cole, Corey Graves, and Renee Young

Arena and Items Advertised by WWE

Tonight, WWE Raw arrives in the city in which their former competition WCW was based until 2001, when WWE (then known as WWF) purchased their competitors of the Monday Night Wars.  Atlanta, GA.’s State Farm Arena will play host to an episode which will feature a returning Roman Reigns.  Reigns won his first WWE World Heavyweight Championship here back at Survivor Series in 2015 by defeating Dean Ambrose in the finals of a tournament to determine the vacated title, only to lose it moments later to a Money in the Bank cashing-in Sheamus.  Ironically that title was vacated by their Shield brother Seth Rollins, who had hurt his knee in a house show against Kane just a few weeks earlier.

We continue to get ready for Fastlane which will be the last PPV on the “road to WrestleMania.”  Here’s what is advertised by WWE.com subject to change as the day goes on:

  • The Big Dog is back
  • A birthday celebration worthy of The Nature Boy
  • NXT Superstars (Wrestlers) on the rise
  • There’s something about Dean Ambrose
  • Who will be The Boss ‘N’ Hug Connection’s first challengers

Thoughts on Raw Last Week and in General

Before we look at tonight’s show, let’s look at last week’s episode.  It was problematic in several ways, as has been well documented here at PWTorch both in writing and on podcasts.  When you promote four of your best talents from your developmental brand and make no mistake NXT is still a developmental brand, that’s something you want to do ahead of time and get your audience excited to the point that when they show up it’s a big deal.  It’s basic wrestling promoting 101 right?  Have I missed something in the last 33 years of watching this company and other promotions?  They spend a month and a half telling us about Lacey Evans, EC3, Heavy Machinery, Nikki Cross, and Lars Sullivan.  They’ve told us a million times about Ric Flair’s birthday celebration tonight.  Yet they turn around and hotshot Aleister Black, Ricochet, Johnny Gargano, and Tommaso Ciampa onto a show with out any buildup and introduce them by basically reading from index cards.  It sounded like Johnny Olsen on the Price is Right telling us about a kitchen set a contestant could win.  They put Gargano & Ciampa together in their old DIY tag team and it looked like they were getting along famously and showing no signs of friction.  WWE just flushed down their near two-year brilliant storyline down the toilet in one night.

The problem is a larger one, and it starts from the top.  Vince McMahon has spent the better part of last the 14 years sticking John Cena and Roman Reigns down our throats and doing everything he can to squash talent that gets over organically with the crowd.  He’s done everything to drive people away and whittled the audience down to basically a niche group.  I question how these people got FOX to fork over one billion dollars for Smackdown.

The active Raw roster is too thin for a three-hour show.  This is why you’re running Braun Strowman out there every week when he should be reserved as a special attraction.  Ronda Rousey is wrestling every week and giving a rematch to a challenger one night after plowing through her because, as you know, a champion MUST defend a title the night after defending on a PPV.  Champions don’t get an automatic rematch after losing a title, but an unsuccessful challenger does.  I got it.

The company is rich in talent overall, but it’s spread out over way too many shows.  The split roster is problematic.  There are five brands under the WWE umbrella producing eight hours of programming each week.  There are 17 championships.  It makes each program and winning a championship feel less important.

It is nearly noon on the east coast and not one match is announced for tonight’s show, the flagship brand of WWE.  Two matches and a contract signing are already announced for Smackdown.

The bottom line is you wonder about the way they are doing things overall.  The show doesn’t flow week to week.  There’s discontinuity in storylines.  Wrestlers get pushed for two weeks and then stopped (Apollo Crews, Mojo Rawley, etc.).  The Revival wins a championship in an unadvertised match and jobs a week later to Gargano & Ciampa for no reason.  They hotshot probably the best NXT onto the main roster in a secondary market like Lafayette, LA. (no disrespect to that city but it’s not as big as N.Y., Chicago, L.A., etc.).  It’s being reactive and not proactive.  I could go on and on.  It will be interesting to see how things are handled going forward especially with AEW looming, talent asking & being granted their releases, and the changes backstage I briefly touch on later.

Roman Reigns Talks About His Leukemia Battle

This past Thursday, Vince McMahon tweeted and WWE.com confirmed that Roman Reigns will return to Raw and update us on his battle with leukemia.  Here’s the tweet from Vince:

As we recall, on the October 22 episode of Raw last year, Reigns announced he had been battling leukemia for the past 11 years and it had returned.  He was forced to relinquish the Universal Championship and would be taking a leave from WWE to undergo treatment.  He was to defend the title in a triple threat against Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman in a triple threat match at the upcoming Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia at the time, but obviously could not take part in that match.  Lesnar would go on to win the championship when he defeated Strowman with the assistance of general manager (at the time) Baron Corbin.

Tonight, Reigns returns and tells us what’s going on with him. 

Frank’s Analysis:  I could imagine there being some negativity about this, with the thinking that Vince is using a man speaking about his illness as a way to boost ratings.  I certainly wouldn’t put it past WWE.  The thing is though Reigns may actually want to get out and talk about what’s happening, especially if things are going well.  For Reigns and his family’s sake I hope that is the case, as that is all we should care about at this point.  You don’t have to, but I’ll give WWE the benefit of the doubt on this. 

Ric Flair’s 70th Birthday Celebration

For the last several weeks, WWE has promoted that they will be celebrating “Nature Boy” Ric Flair’s 70th birthday on tonight’s episode.

While completely unnecessary from a wrestling standpoint, it is appropriate they have this celebration in Atlanta.  Flair was a staple of Jim Crockett Promotions and of WCW until they closed their doors in 2001.  While in Jim Crockett Promotions he won the NWA title on numerous occasions and was also the WWF Champion and WCW Champion multiple times.  He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2008, the night before he lost a retirement match to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania.  He would also be inducted as a member of the Four Horsemen in 2012, while being an active member of the TNA roster at the time.

As we all know, his daughter Charlotte Flair will be challenging Ronda Rousey at WrestleMania for the Raw Women’s Championship.  Vince McMahon replaced the original challenger, Charlotte’s best friend Becky Lynch, two weeks ago on Raw.

It’s not known if any legends will be in attendance, but one of them won’t be Flair’s long-time friend Arn Anderson.  It was reported this past Friday that Anderson was let go by WWE, as they continue to modify their roster of producers.

Frank’s Analysis:  Now we don’t think Becky Lynch will somehow get involved in this do we?  No, not at all.  This has NOTHING to do with just being another chain in the storyline leading to WrestleMania involving Charlotte and Becky, not one thing, right?  The lengths to which this company will go to put on a show are comical.  Either way, let’s wish a happy one and many more to “The Nature Boy.”  Above all else we hope he is doing well considering his recent health scare and overall way he’s lived his life.

NXT Wrestlers and What’s Next

I talked earlier about Aleister Black, Ricochet, Johnny Gargano, and NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa making their Raw debuts last week.  Ricochet teamed with new Intercontinental Champion Finn Balor and defeated Bobby Lashley & Lio Rush.  Lashley & Rush appeared to have split up at Elimination Chamber, but as Michael Cole pointed out they worked out their differences and were paired up again.

Gargano & Ciampa teamed up to defeat new Raw Tag Team Champions The Revival, seemingly renewing their NXT feud when Gargano & Ciampa were DIY.  As I said also, they seemingly flushed Gargano & Ciampa’s near-two year down the drain by having them appear to get along without issue.  Here’s a tweet from Ciampa:

Aleister Black defeated Elias after interrupting another song.  Poor Elias just can’t seem to finish a tune these days.

All four men appeared on Smackdown as well.  Gargano & Ciampa defeated The Bar (Sheamus & Cesaro).  Ricochet defeated Eric Young of Sanity (remember them?).  Black defeated former rival Andrade, ironically in the same building in which Black took the NXT Championship from Andrade at last year’s Takeover during WrestleMania weekend.

It looks like all men will be on tonight’s show according to WWE.com, but their opponents or whatever they may be doing is not known as of this writing.  On Smackdown tomorrow night, Black teams with Ricochet to take on Rusev & Shinsuke Nakamura while Johnny Gargano goes up against Cesaro.

Here’s a tweet from WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross to Black:

Frank’s Analysis:  This was discussed earlier.  I’ll add that I hope for the ardent fans that watch NXT, they tie the storyline between Gargano & Ciampa in an effective way on the main roster.  Disregarding everything they’ve done over the past year and a half and what they’ve done recently is unacceptable.  Black selling more than he should have against Elias with a commercial break in between may not have been the right move.  Ricochet’s debut was mostly fine, but a one-on-one against an opponent that didn’t have to sell might have worked better.  This is where you need those jobbers that can work these matches and allow the new talent to show what they can do in order to be established to the fanbase. 

Dean Ambrose

Last week, Dean Ambrose fell to Drew McIntyre in about two minutes.  This followed a week where he defeated EC3, one of the talents they talked about for over a month and a half when the McMahons promised a fresh start.

Later on, when Seth Rollins was being interviewed about his upcoming WrestleMania match with Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, Ambrose interrupted.  He questioned Rollins as to why he wasn’t out there, to which Rollins asked, “have you completely lost your mind?”  Ambrose shrugged his shoulders and walked away.

Who knows, but we’ll see what unfolds tonight.

Frank’s Analysis:  You could tell they don’t think much of EC3 otherwise he wouldn’t be jobbing to a departing Ambrose, who ends up getting crushed by someone else the following week.  Where this goes is anybody’s guess, but it could be a way to get another match in between Ambrose and Rollins on the way to WrestleMania.  Perhaps Ambrose is trying to throw off Rollins thinking he wants to be friends until he betrays him again.  That’s a lot to pull off in a few weeks, but if anybody can microwave something as cockamamie as that it’s WWE. 

Challengers for Bayley & Sasha Banks

As we know, The Boss ‘N’ Hug Connection (Bayley & Sasha Banks) are the WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions after winning the Elimination Chamber match last Sunday to crown the inaugural champions.  The original WWF Women’s Tag Team Championship was retired in 1989 but will be not connected to the lineage of these titles.

Bayley & Sasha came out to discuss their happiness with becoming the champs, similar to their interview following the match last Sunday.  They said they would defend the titles on Raw, Smackdown, or even NXT.  They were interrupted by Nia Jax & Tamina, whom also partook in the match.  As they went to attack, Sasha put Nia in the Bank Statement.  Tamina pulled Nia to safety and they retreated.

Bayley & Sasha did not appear on Smackdown but did appear at an NXT taping this past Wednesday.  We’ll find out whom or how they will they will determine their next challengers.

Frank’s Analysis:  You do have to be happy for Bayley & Sasha, mostly from the standpoint of them being poorly booked in recent times.  In their tweets they look genuinely happy and are getting endorsed by WWE Hall of Famers Trish Stratus and Alundra Blayze (let’s just hope they don’t throw the titles in the garbage if they ever go to AEW.  Sorry, couldn’t help it).  This promo did feel long and laborious and mostly unnecessary.  File this under the category of being short-handed on Raw and doing what they need to do to fill time.  A sit-down interview or a video package would have done just fine, where they could have said “next week, Bayley & Sasha will learn who they’re next challengers will be.” 

This title being a floating title is interesting, as I maintain it could be a test to see if they want to do it with others.  Who knows but perhaps down the line they could unify the men’s and women’s titles and have them float as well.  That’s not me knowing anything but rather hazarding a guess. 

Other Possible Items for Tonight

  • At Elimination Chamber, Bobbly Lashley and Drew McIntyre assisted Baron Corbin in defeating Braun Strowman.  Last week, Braun defeated Corbin in the opening of Raw in a tables match they likely advertised an hour or two before Raw on their Twitter account.  Lashley and McIntyre came nowhere near this match.  Who knows where they go with this on again/off again alliance. 
  • Two weeks ago, Elias was interrupted multiple times last week doing his performance, with one of times being by Lucha House Party (Kalisto, Lince Durado, and Gran Metalik).  When he offered to do a duet with Kalisto, he attacked him from behind with a guitar.  Thankfully, there was no follow up on that as Elias took on Aleister Black.  They could go back to it tonight, unless they decided Black needs to sell for Elias some more. 
  • Speaking of Lucha House Party they defeated the Lovable Losers (just thought of that name) Curt Hawkins & Zack Ryder.  How anyone thought this made any sense is beyond my ability to reason.  Let’s see to whom Hawkins & Ryder hang an “L” on their record tonight.
  • Paul Heyman played a two-part video package discussing Brock Lesnar’s history as he gets ready to put the Universal Championship on the line against Seth Rollins at WrestleMania.  They probably take a break from Heyman doing anything tonight, although it was interesting to see Braun Strowman choking him on the way up the ramp after he finished his match with Corbin.  With Seth Rollins still not medically cleared to wrestle, you wonder if they are hedging in the event they need another opponent for Lesnar and want to have them wrestle another three-six minute uneventful match.

Bruce Prichard Return to WWE Creative

As has been reported and covered here at PWTorch, Bruce Prichard is returning to WWE to a “high level” position on the creative team.  Prichard is famous for his Brother Love character from the late-’80s to the early-’90s and was the initial manager of the Undertaker.  He was fired after a controversial segment in 1991 but returned a year later.  He reprised the Brother Love role throughout the years, but his primary duties were to be Vince McMahon’s right-hand man.  He served in that role until 2008 when he was fired by Stephanie McMahon.

He spent some time in TNA/Impact Wrestling and also became known for his “Something to Wrestle” podcast with Conrad Thompson.  A video version of the show was on the WWE Network in 2018.

It will be interesting to see how things unfold in the near future with this move and the other changes behind the scenes recently (hirings of Jeff Jarrett, Sonjay Dutt, Shane Helms, Joseph Park as producers) as well as letting go of Arn Anderson last week.  Prichard was with WWE during their successful days winning the Monday Night War, but also some darker times in the years that followed.  Your mileage will vary but one can’t imagine history being too kind to the Ruthless Aggression and initial John Cena years, which ran from 2002 until past the time Prichard was let go.

Start Time & Matches Advertised on the Arena Website

The State Farm Arena’s website does not specify a start time.  They show the same “double main event” several websites have shown recently:

  • Braun Strowman vs. Baron Corbin
  • Finn Balor vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Bobby Lashley for the Intercontinental Championship.

They do correctly show Roman Reigns returning and Ric Flair’s 70th birthday celebration.  They also show Ronda Rousey, Elias, Dean Ambrose, Nia Jax, The Revival, Bobby Roode & Chad Gable, Natalya, and Bayley & Sasha Banks appearing.

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

RELATED: HEYDORN’S WWE RAW REPORT 2/18: Alt Perspective coverage of the live show including Elimination Chamber fallout, Balor’s IC title reign begins, Corbin vs. Strowman, and more

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