1/25 WWE MONDAY NIGHT RAW REPORT: Hazelwood’s alt-perspective on Asuka vs. Bliss for the title, gauntlet match, Flair vs. Baszler, McIntyre & Goldberg

BY BRUCE LEE HAZELWOOD, PWTORCH CONTRIBUTOR


SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...

WWE MONDAY NIGHT RAW TV REPORT
JANUARY 25, 2021
ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. AT TROPICANA FIELD (THE “THUNDERDOME”)
AIRED ON USA NETWORK
REPORT BY BRUCE LEE HAZELWOOD, PWTORCH CONTRIBUTOR

Commentators: Tom Phillips, Byron Saxton, Samoa Joe

Ring Announcer: Mike Rome

(Hazelwood’s Take: The big news today was the Peacock Network purchasing the WWE Network for a reported one billion dollars. This probably means nothing for Raw, but it’s still big news to pay attention to if you have the WWE Network.)

[HOUR ONE]

-They began the show with the intro package, followed by Tom Phillips welcoming us from the “award winning and critically acclaimed” Thunderdome as Drew McIntyre’s music hit. Samoa Joe said he couldn’t think of a better way to start the show, and Byron Saxton said it was great to see McIntyre healthy and live. Phillips reminded viewers of the face-to-face tonight with Goldberg before their WWE Championship match this Sunday at Royal Rumble. McIntyre said it feels good to be back. He thanked the “WWE Universe” for his get well wishes and the outpouring of support. He said he “got luck” with COVID as he only had a little bit of fatigue and that he’ll be one hundred percent this Sunday. He dedicated his match to anyone who’s suffered from COVID, and said they’ll overcome it together. He shifted to Goldberg and said he would be absolutely out of his mind to take his foe lightly. He said he grew up watching Goldberg, “an anomaly,” brought up his undefeated streak, and some of his notable victories. He said the last thing to go in a fighter is their power. He said McIntyre ends this current Goldberg streak of challenging and defeating WWE Champions. Suddenly, The Miz’s music hit and McIntyre said he wanted to start things right and this is not how you start things right.

The Miz (with John Morrison) said the match with Goldberg might be one for the ages, WWE’s version of Kong vs. Godzilla (seen the trailer?). He said when something so hellacious happens, there tends to be consequences. He said at the very least, one or both could end up injured. They do a whiny, “Oh no!” They said the winning wrestler will be a sitting duck and they’ll beat the living hell out of whoever’s WWE Champion. The Miz said he would then cash in and McIntyre would hear, “Your winner and NEW WWE Champion, The Miz!” Goldberg’s music hit as he finally made his entrance with McIntyre staring a hold through him. Goldberg did his whole sparkler entrance with punches and kicks. Phillips reminded viewers that Goldberg has won the WWE/Universal Championship every time he’s come back. Goldberg simply said, “You. Me. Sunday. You’re next.” The Miz & Morrison egged on both men, who glared at each other, then grabbed the two and threw them in the ring. Goldberg hit a spear on The Miz as McIntyre hit the Claymore on Morrison. They got in each other’s face as McIntyre raised the title and Goldberg laughed at him. They trash talked each other a bit before just glaring, with Goldberg pretentiously chewing his gum. The segment ended with Goldberg walking back up the entrance and McIntyre throwing the briefcase out of the ring. Phillips hyped the Women’s Championship between Asuka and Alexa Bliss and Saxton hyped Charlotte Flair vs. Shayna Baszler, which is next. They cut to break. [c]

(Hazelwood’s Take: I mean, it worked. It was just about as long as you would want with each act. Especially with Goldberg, giving him little to no lines always seems to work better than asking him to cut a promo. They built the match, hyped the participants, and laid the foundation for potential actions after the match. All in all, this is actually a good start for Raw.)

-They returned with Charly Caruso and Flair in Gorilla. She asked about Flair facing “The Queen of Spades for the very first time.” Flair said if there’s one thing she does well, it’s perform under pressure (you mean besides responding in petty ways to criticism?). She said she hopes Baszler brings her invisible crown because “it’s one thing to call yourself a Queen, but it’s one thing to be a Queen.” Caruso asked about the Lacey Evans situations. She said she will be defending the Tag Team Championship and entering the Rumble match on Sunday. Flair said she’s seen her dad in a lot of dark places, and this might be the darkest. She said it’s one thing to carry the weight of the last name Flair, but tonight she has Shayna Baszler. She made her entrance. They replayed last week’s issues between Evans and Flair (including Papa Ric) and her victory over Peyton Royce. Baszler made her entrance.

(1) CHARLOTTE FLAIR vs. SHAYNA BASZLER (w/Nia Jax)

-With the Elimination Chamber event not too far away, Phillips reminded viewers that Baszler won last year’s match as the only person to eliminate every other opponent. Flair took advantage early, including a baseball slide to Jax on the outside, but Baszler caught her in a Kirifuda Clutch attempt. Flair fought out, hit a big boot, and locked in the Figure Eight. Jax hit a leg drop for the DQ. Mandy Rose & Dana Brooke came to help, but Evans entered the fray to even the score as they cut to break (six-woman tag coming up).

WINNER: Charlotte Flair at 0:54 by DQ

(Hazelwood’s Take: Just when I thought it MIGHT be a good Raw, we get this crap.)

(2) CHARLOTTE FLAIR & MANDY ROSE & DANA BROOKE vs. SHAYNA BASZLER & NIA JAX & LACEY EVANS – Six-woman tag match

-They returned with Rose and Evans as Phillips didn’t indicate who made the match. Evans taunted Flair as Rose took control with an arm wrench, side headlock, takedown. Rose locked in a side headlock on their feet, then kicked Evans in the gut as the latter was on all fours trying to trip Rose. Brooke tagged in as they hit a double suplex. First pin attempt of the match resulted in a two for Brooke. She whipped Evans, shoulder tackled her, then flexed for a while before the second two-count of the match. She hit a hip toss, then performed an unnecessary cartwheel before kicking Evans in the face. Evans escaped and tagged in Baszler as Flair tagged in. Some miscommunication, but Baszler took over with strikes in the corner including a big leg kick. Flair dodged a kick and responded with several chops to the chest of Baszler and an exploder. She went after Evans, who quickly jumped to the floor. Flair tagged in Brooke, who tagged in Rose, and both did that dumb cartwheel into a kick thing for a one-count. Brooke tagged back in and hit some corner chops, then tagged in Flair. Flair hit some big forearms to the back, countered a whip, draped Baszler across the apron, kneed her, then just dropped her to the floor. Baszler rolled Flair in, but couldn’t beat the count. Weird (three pin attempts in the match). Baszler was incensed. They cut to break. [c]

WINNER: Charlotte Flair & Mandy Rose & Dana Brooke at 4:45 by countout

(Hazelwood’s Take: Well, that was rather clunky. It had potential, but the miscommunication early and the countout, which seemed unplanned, was just weird. It didn’t make Baszler look intelligent by rolling her foe into the ring and getting herself counted out. This was not a good way to build up any hype for any of these women before Sunday’s big event.)

(3) CHARLOTTE FLAIR & MANDY ROSE & DANA BROOKE vs. SHAYNA BASZLER & NIA JAX & LACEY EVANS – Six-woman tag match

-They returned with the match having restarted thanks to Adam Pearce. Brooke and Jax were in the ring, with BRooke taking advantage doing a handspring. Suddenly, Jax just blasted into Brooke for a two-count. She dragged Brooke over and tagged in Evans, who started trash talking and splashed Brooke for a one-count. Evans stomped at Brooke and has a rather aggressive nature to her strikes tonight. She tagged in Baszler, who gave a stiff kick to Brook in the back for a two-count. She stomped on Brooke’s left elbow and tagged in Jax, who put Brooke in a modified Cobra Clutch using that injured left arm. Brooke tried hitting a head scissors, then a sunset flip, but moved before Jax could splash her. Rose and Evans tagged in with Rose taking out everyone. She drove Evans into the corner and unloaded some forearms, then hit a huge pump knee for a two-count as it was broken up by Baszler. Flair speared Baszler, but was bowled over by Jax. She dragged Evans to their corner and tagged in. Evans dragged Flair to the floor, then ran away into the “crows.” Brooke tagged, avoided Jax who hit the post, then hit a rolling neckbreaker for a two-count. She climbed the top, but Jax intercepted her and gave her a biel off the the top. She hit a huge powerbomb/chokeslam combo, then a leg drop for a three (six pin attempts).

WINNER: Shayna Baszler & Nia Jax & Lacey Evans at about 4:46 (Leg drop; give or take a few minutes due to commercial)

-After the match, Phillips shifted to the events from last week between Retribution and Xavier Woods, including a WWE Network Exclusive where Mustafa Ali said he wants to be The New Day’s reminder of reality. They showed another from earlier today where Ali said Kofi Kingston’s greatest moment happened at his expense. He detailed the history of the injury that led to KofiMania. Retribution made their way to the ring for Slapjack’s match against Woods as they cut to break. [c]

(Hazelwood’s Take: It seems clear now the finish to the six-woman tag was botched…or they just wanted another dumb reason to go to commercial. This is WWE, so don’t put it past them. The match was fine for what it was, and Evans’ more aggressive demeanor and actions serve this character well. Jax’s finisher was inventive, if not other words, so check it out.)

(4) SLAPJACK (w/Retribution) vs. XAVIER WOODS

-They returned with Slapjack stretching in the corner as Woods made his entrance, looking angry. As soon as the bell rung, he hit a shotgun dropkick to Slapjack into the corner, then chopped away at his chest. Big backbody drop from Woods. Slapjack responded with a knee, then a fancy slingshot bulldog as Woods was draped across the second rope for a two-count. He kicked Woods in the back, then the face, the back of the neck, and finally went to the second rope for a stomp that missed. Woods fought back with strikes, a bunch of chops, then a side Russian legsweep. He hit a leg lariat, but Slapjack hit a European uppercut. Woods countered with the Honor Roll for a two-count. Ali sent T-Bar to distract Woods, but Woods hit a Shining Wizard for the victory as he stared down Ali (three pin attempts). He escaped the ring, but T-Bar hit a big boot and threw him back in the ring. Mace and T-Bar hit a delayed double sitdown chokeslam combo. Ali told Slapjack to get a chair. He handed it to Ali as T-Bar and Mace held Woods. Ali yelled at Woods to look at him, acted like he was going to strike Woods on the head, held up, then slowly put the chair down and set it up so he could sit like the cool high school kid. He got the mic and said all this talk about wanting to be King of the Ring, but Woods sure looked like a peasant. He said he was going to show mercy so Woods will do exactly as he says: deliver a message to Kingston. Ali said he heard Kingston won’t be able to compete on Sunday, but a replacement has been found: Mustafa Ali. He laughed in Woods’ face as they just threw him to the ground and left the ring. They showed Riddle in the back as he approached R-Truth. Truth said he heard The Hurt Business was going to throw him a surprise party; he overheard them talking about a surprise for The V.I.P. Lounge (it was his birthday last week). They cut to break. [c]

WINNER: Xavier Woods at 2:43 (Shining Wizard)

(Hazelwood’s Take: A meh match, but having Woods makes more sense here as Slapjack has been established as lesser than Mace or T-Bar, who have been defined down as well. Still, I love the callbacks here to Ali’s injury and Kingston’s ascent. Will it lead to Ali winning the Rumble? Doubtful, but I like the attention to detail.)

-They returned with the announcement that Bad Bunny will perform “Booker T” at Sunday’s event. The Hurt Business made their entrance for The V.I.P. Lounge.

[HOUR TWO]

Joe pretty much picked Lashley to win the Rumble match. The ring had nice black leather couches and black & gold balloons in each corner. M.V.P. said the biggest things are poppin, the littlest things are stoppin, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the view because The V.I.P. Lounge is for people like The Hurt Business, people “better than you.” He called Bobby Lashley “Roberto” and brought up tonight’s gauntlet match. He said Riddle’s a moron, but he can be crafty. He said let’s not forget to focus on the task at hand. “Cedric, let’s not forget to focus on the task at hand.” Lashley took the mic and said something about finding someone that has the confidence in you. He said with their championship, they believe, but they’ve only just begun. Shelton Benjamin began speaking, but Cedric Alexander interrupted and thanked M.V.P. (Benjamin’s shocked face was kind of funny). Lashley said they got together to get him something since they’re draped in gold, and they got him some gold of his own. It was a big old pendant in the style of his “305” one that said “THB.” M.V.P. looked moved and said he was at a loss of words. Alexander took credit for working with the designer. Benjamin interrupted, but Truth’s music hit. M.V.P. yelled out, “Why are you here? Cut this music!” Truth said he know it seems weird the Guest of Honor not on the list for his surprise party, but it happens. He said it’s rude to eavesdrop, but he heard them talking about his party even though his birthday was last week. Alexander said this isn’t about him. Truth said, “Really? THB? ‘Truth, Happy Birthday?'” He made a 24 gold carrots joke, then Lashley said he was so busy training he forgot it was his birthday and he did get him a gift, but it’s in the ring. All of the sudden, the 24/7 crew come out, but The Hurt Business take them all out again (Akira Tozawa, Tucker, Humberto Carrillo). Riddle entered the ring from behind and hit M.V.P. with the Final Flash knee and escaped the ring. His music played as his opponents glared at him from the ring. Phillips hyped the gauntlet match where Riddle has to face M.V.P., Benjamin, & Alexander; if he wins, he receives a United States Championship match. They cut to break after hyping Asuka-Bliss. [c]

(Hazelwood’s Take: Look, that was a fine segment to take up time, and at least it furthered the story of dissension within The Hurt Business through Alexander’s arrogance. I say “at least” because I think it’s far too early for any of this dissension, but since they started the story, at least they’re sticking to it. I’m saying “at least” a LOT tonight; that’s not good.)

-They returned with Edge’s return from last year’s Rumble match. Phillips said Edge will give an update tonight. They showed Pearce in the back as Truth imitated a Wade Boggs statue. He said he wanted to prove that he’s capable of entering the Money in the Bank ladder match. Pearce laughed as A.J. Styles & Omos approached correcting him. He turned to Omos, who called Styles benevolent, and said he’ll give Truth an opportunity. Truth said, “You’re benevolent? I’m a Capricorn!” Pearce said he’ll take it into advisement if Truth wins, so it looks like the match is official. He asked if Omos is a Taurus, then discussed a Ford Taurus he had back in the day that broke down on him and Road Dogg. Phillips shifted to recapping the opening segment, calling Goldberg “an icon” (shot at Sting, no?), and reminding viewers of the title match Sunday. Sheamus made his entrance as Phillips said Sheamus joined the Rumble match by way of social media as they cut to break. [c]

(5) SHEAMUS vs. JOHN MORRISON (w/The Miz)

-They returned with a graphic about the Peacock purchase of WWE Network; Phillips reminded us that includes WrestleMania. Sheamus was standing in the ring waiting as The Miz first made his entrance, followed by Morrison as they can’t adjust their entrance even for a singles match. That slomo can only happen with Morrison out there, after all. Phillips said the one “eternal truth” (is Elias speaking) of the Rumble is there are no friends, only foes. Morrison was selling his jaw from the Claymore earlier. The started with Sheamus gaining the advantage with his power, just mushing Morrison against the ropes. They reset and as they engaged in some technical holds and mat wrestling until Morrison hit two knees to the chest. Sheamus responded with a slam for a one-count. Hammerlock from Sheamus, adjusted his position to wrench some more, and rolled Morrison over for a headscissors/hammerlock combo. A half-pin attempt by Morrison, but Sheamus got out before the ref even hit the mat, then hit a shoulder tackle on the feet. Morrison rolled up Sheamus for a two-count, then Sheamus rolled up Morrison for a two-count. Morrison forced Sheamus into the corner, then hit some quick and stiff strikes to Sheamus. Whip attempted, countered, but Sheamus hit a backbody drop and a couple of kicks to Morrison’s back. He hit a European uppercut and a LOUD palm strike to the gut. he grounded Morrison with an arm wrench, but Morrison worked it back to the feet and hit a series of kicks, then mounted Sheamus for some strikes. He hit some capoeira moves and more kicks, then tried to whip Sheamus into the corner. Sheamus countered and beat on Morrison in the corner, then hit the Irish Curse for a two-count. Sheamus looked to climb to the top, fought off a distraction, but was hit by a dropkick to the knee as he leaped for the shoulder tackle.

Morrison tied Sheamus up in the ropes and used the middle rope to wrench on the left knee. The Miz prowled, but Morrison followed to the outside and threw him back in the ring, immediately hitting a dragon screw for a two-count. He maintained hold of the leg on the kick out and hit an elbow with a knee wrench on the mat. He mounted Sheamus again, hit some strikes, then transitioned into a kneebar. Sheamus fought it off by punching Morrison a few times, but Morrison grabbed the leg again and hit a few elbows followed by cranking the leg. Sheamus fought out with kicks across the face and slowly made it to his feet. He hit a biel to Morrison, then went for a rolling senton. Morrison rolled out and hit a chop block, but as he went for a springboard, Sheamus hit a rolling side slam for a two-count. Sheamus stomped on the gut and looked for the Cloverleaf submission, and yes, he locked it in after some kicks. Morrison grabbed the rope to break the hold. Sheamus hit a pump knee to Morrison and a White Noise for the victory (seven pin attempts). After the match, The Miz demanded a handicap match, and Sheamus agreed. They cut to break. [c]

WINNER: Sheamus at 9:35 (White Noise)

(Hazelwood’s Take: A typical, sort of plodding Sheamus match, but good to see White Noise actually finish someone. However, why are faces or face-leaning wrestlers in WWE so dumb? Why accept the match?)

(6) SHEAMUS vs THE MIZ & JOHN MORRISON – Handicap match 

-They began with the commentators reminding us that Sheamus is too proud to turn down a challenge. He threw Morrison over the top, but as he was working The Miz, Morrison returned with a chop block for a two-count. Tornado rules employed here. The Miz & Morrison hit combo running knees followed by a standing Shooting Star Press from Morrison for a two-count. They stomped on Sheamus some more, and Morrison gave Sheamus a head kick when he fought back that sent him outside. The Miz hit his dropkick to the outside, then held Sheamus as Morrison hit a running splash over the top to the outside (they must have listened to Wade’s Dynamite post-show last week). Morrison threw Sheamus into the barricade, then hit a spin kick to a prone Sheamus. The Miz kicked said prone Sheamus in the face. Phillips said there are no countouts or DQ. The Miz climbed to the top as they reentered the ring and hit a double axe handle as Morrison held Sheamus. Sheamus fought back against The Miz, but Morrison right there to ground Sheamus with strikes again. Stomps in the corner to Sheamus as he looks fatigued and beaten. They trade strikes on Sheamus in the corner, but Sheamus sent Morrison over the top and hit The Miz with a big lariat. He struggled to his feet with a look of fury on his face, then hit a couple of Polish hammers to The Miz then a powerslam to Morrison. He hit a rolling senton on The Miz onto a prone Morrison. Sheamus with the Ten Beats of the Bodhran to The Miz and then to Morrison as he tried to interfere (those were some loud THUDS). Sheamus climbed the top and hit a double flying clothesline to both opponents on the the outside. He rolled The Miz back into the ring and setup for the Brogue Kick in the corner. Morrison grabbed his foot, which allowed The Miz to interfere. Sheamus hit the Brogue Kick on Morrison, but The Miz hit the Skull Crushing Finale for the victory.

WINNER: The Miz & John Morrison at 6:45 (Skull Crushing Finale)

-After the match they showed Evans and Papa Ric in the back going over how to break a rear waistlock depending on the grip. Flair entered the room looking surprised and perturbed. She asked Evans to leave, and she did hesitantly. Papa said just because she’s a big star now doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a spot in the locker room; he’s always going to be him. His daughter said, oh you mean the man who was spending money on everyone besides his family? She said she’s the only one protecting him as he goes from Legend to old man, and she doesn’t have any problem saying it to his face. She said she’s not the bad guy. She looked hurt for what she had to say, but as she backed away, Evans hit her with a huge Woman’s Right and a kick to her head against the wall. As Papa went to check on his daughter, Evans took his arm and they left. They cut to break. [c]

(Hazelwood’s Take: After all that, if Sheamus won then The Miz & Morrison would be even more comical as “legitimate” threats. Still, I guess it was a good way to fill time. Credit to Charlotte as I’ve actually thought she’s done well on the mic the past two weeks. She said just enough here, showed just enough emotion, and while it was difficult to hear what she said at the end, that played into the difficulty of having to be real with her father, regardless of her saying she had no problems saying it to his face. It also fits this “I’m right” character. I’m just not excited for a match between the two considering their recent outings.)

(7) R-TRUTH vs. A.J. STYLES (w/Omos) – If R-Truth wins, Adam Pearce will “take into consideration” R-Truth entering the Royal Rumble match

-They returned with Truth dancing in the ring as he prepared for his match with Styles. Styles & Omos made their entrance next. Styles kicked Truth as the latter was adjusting his kneepads, then whipped him hard into the corner. Phillips said Styles is 12-2 since being drafted to Raw (a W-L record?!). Styles hit a backbreaker, then said he was going to toss out 29 other men in the match only to be countered as Truth sent him over the top. Back in the ring, Styles knocked Truth to the mat close to the apron. Truth slowly looked up to see Omos glaring at him, then fearfully retreated. Styles missed the Phenomenal 4-Arm and hit John Cena’s Protoplex and Five-Kunckle Shuffle. He missed the scissors kick, attempted an Attitude Adjustment, but Styles rolled through for the Calf Crusher victory (no pin attempts). They showed Asuka warming up in the back as they cut to break. [c]

WINNER: A.J. Styles at 2:33 by submission (Calf Crusher)

-They returned with thunder sounds and lighting graphics in the Thunderdome for some reason as Phillips once again welcomed viewers. Phillips shifted to a package recapping Orton’s show-opening promo in that mask from last week, again, another good way to fill time.

[HOUR THREE]

They then shifted to Bliss in the “Playground” set as she said it was so fun playing with Orton and replayed the fireball to the the face. She laughed and clapped as she sat on the swing, reacting to an unseen discussion with the empty swing next to her. She said she just wanted to have fun with Asuka, but Asuka didn’t want to play nice. They showed last week’s events. She then said, “Neither did I,” as they showed her hitting Sister Abigail on Asuka for the victory in their match last week and her subsequent transformation. She asked if we liked her tricks and that she learned them from him and had more to learn. She said tonight she can get a shiny new toy. She said like last week, she doesn’t feel like playing nice, then sang “Ring Around the Rosies” as the segment ended with her saying, “Let me in” in The Fiend’s voice. Riddle then made his entrance for the gauntlet match as they cut to break. [c]

(Hazelwood’s Take: Bliss plays her character well, and that was creepy enough. She didn’t overact, and her facial expressions worked well here. I wrote last week the only plausible move at this point is for Bliss to win the title, so let’s see if that is indeed the case.)

(8) RIDDLE vs. SHELTON BENJAMIN & CEDRIC ALEXANDER & M.V.P. – Gauntlet match where if Riddle wins, he receives a United States Championship match against Bobby Lashley

-They returned with a package recapping the events from earlier in the night between the match participants as Riddle bounced around the ring. The Hurt Business (sans Lashley) made their entrance. They started as Riddle looked for the Final Flash right away. Benjamin dodged, but Riddle stayed on him strikes. Benjamin went for a German suplex, but Riddle flipped onto his feet and planted Benjamin. Benjamin countered Riddle with a big spinbuster for a two-count, then placed Riddle across the top turnbuckle as he hit a running knee to the gut. Riddle slid to the outside, then reentered only to eat a bodyslam for a two-count. Benjamin locked in a rest hold, but Riddle fought out with strikes, but was hit with a kitchen sink knee by Benjamin for a one-count. He mounted Riddle and reigned in blows, then paced around and kicked Riddle in the gut. He looked for a snap suplex, but Riddle fought out only to be hit some knee strikes for another two-count. Rear chinlock, then waistlock applied by Benjamin. Riddle elbowed the hands to break the grip, then attempted a standing arm-in guillotine, then transitioned to the other side, but Benjamin powered him up for a suplex. Riddle hit a knee to fight out, but was distracted by Alexander. Alexander distracted the ref as Benjamin had Riddle pinned (six pin attempts). They reacted angrily to him as Riddle hit a victory roll to eliminate Benjamin.

WINNER: Riddle at 5:38 (Victory Roll)

As M.V.P. was trying to stop the fighting between Benjamin & Alexander, their match started and Riddle locked in a heel hook for the immediate tap. They cut to break as Alexander entered the ring. [c]

WINNER: Riddle at 0:10 (heel hook)

They returned with Alexander in control and his fellow stable members looking angry. Pin attempt from Alexander, but Riddle kicked out. Alexander hit a knee to the gut followed by a gutbuster for another two-count. He drove his knee into the small of Riddle’s back and cranked back on the right arm. Riddle fought out, hit a running forearm, but was hit by a fantastic push dropkick by Alexander for a two-count. M.V.P. reiterated focusing on the task at hand as Alexander locked in an abdominal stretch. Riddle reached the ropes to break the hold. Alexander drove his knee into Riddle’s neck against the ropes and scored a two-count, then another two-count. He immediately cinched in a waistlock, but Riddle fought out with back elbows to the head. Riddle went for a fireman’s carry, but Alexander countered in a rough looking DDT for a two-count. M.V.P. said to finish this. Alexander locked in a modified rear chinlock, but Riddle fought back to the feet with palm strikes, then an overhead kick, corner forearms, exploder, missed a PK and moonsault, and hit Alexander’s knees as he went for the Broton. Alexander with strikes, but Riddle hit a deadlift German suplex. he went for a suplex, but Alexander hit a huge brainbuster for a two-count! That brainbuster was nasty. M.V.P. yelled out in frustration as Alexander repeatedly punched and kicked a prone Riddle. He went to the top, rolled through, but Riddle rolled into a flying triangle choke. Alexander hit a powerbomb, but Riddle didn’t break the hold. Went for another powerbomb, and after a series of counters, Riddle rolls up Alexander for the victory (eight pin attempts). Riddle went up the ramp after the match only to be attacked by Lashley, who cinched in The Hurt Lock and just ragdolled Riddle until throwing him to the ground. They hyped Edge’s return, this time with highlights of “The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever,” as they cut to break. [c]

WINNER: Riddle at 9:56 (rollup; total match time about 15 minutes).

(Hazelwood’s Take: I was kind of hoping Alexander would win because that would further the whole arrogant Alexander story. I’m also not thrilled to see Riddle being elevated, but if it’s just for Lashley to have an opponent, then so be it…unless they have Riddle win and don’t have a WWE Championship path set for Lashley. The overall gauntlet match itself was adequate, though the pace in the Alexander match was a bit plodding.)

-They returned with the news of WWE Network being sold to Peacock again, with more than 17,000 hours on demand and all PPVs beginning in March. They then recapped the opening segment between McIntyre and Goldberg again. They showed a graphic for the men’s and women’s Rumble matches, with 16 men and 12 women. They then shifted to Edge sitting in a ring corner somewhere. He said if 2020 has taught him, taught us anything, it’s that you can’t sleep on tomorrow. He said you have to get up and fight for it everyday. He said you have to pick yourself up and walk forward, always forward. He said bear with him as he reminicsed about being World Heavyweight Champion after WrestleMania 27 and having to forfeit that and his career a week later. He said he’ll never forget when he told his mom he was going to be a wrestler and she said to just go do it. Those simple words were the jet fuel that lit the fire in his gut that made him fight for nine years to get his career, his dream back. He said at Backlash, Randy Orton tore his triceps and it was just another reminder that things can be taken away just like that. He said you can’t live in that space and you have to fight. He said his mom would say, “Adam, you just gotta go do it.” He entered to Royal Rumble match. He said he needs to enter the match and main event WrestleMania to take back what’s his, what he never lost. He said he’s going to fight with every fiber of his body to make this maybe farfetched dream come true. He said if you’ve been with him on the ride since The Brood until now then you know he has to try because the world without dreamers is a less beautiful space. He quoted Henry Ford, “If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” He said he thinks he can and see you at the Rumble as he walked off. They showed Asuka making her way toward the ring for the main event as they cut to break. [c]

(Hazelwood’s Take: Aside from being anti-climatic, that’s what you expect from Edge: passion, desire, a connection that makes it feel like what he’s saying is honest. He put his emphasis and raised his voice at the right moments. The promos tonight actually haven’t been that bad for the most part.)

(9) ASUKA(c) vs. ALEXA BLISS – Women’s Championship match

-They returned hyping Raw Talk with Elias & Jaxson Ryker, Charlotte Flair, and Lashley & M.V.P. Asuka made her entrance first, followed by Bliss to the “Firefly Fun House” music. That 8K entrance camera is really dope, by the way. Bliss was in her “Alexa’s Playground” getup and not what she suddenly transformed into last week. Mike Rome gave formal ring introductions. They began with Bliss smiling and faking lockups or darting for Asuka’s hand. Bliss with a waistlock, but Asuka with a stiff kick to the gut and multiple biels, then corner kicks as she talks trash in Japanese. She takes Bliss to the wring with an arm wrench as Phillips made note of Bliss continuing to smile. Asuka stomped on her a bit while maintaining the hold, but Bliss fought back with strikes of her own. Asuka countered an Irish whip by climbing to the second rope and hitting a dropkick. She went for a hip attack, but got caught in the ropes as Bliss kicked her outside. Suddenly, creepy music plays as Bliss is in the ring on that rocking horse from last week. They cut to break. [c]

(Hazelwood’s Take: Here come the shenanigans. Also, cutting to break RIGHT when climatic things happen just deadens the momentum and erases any anticipation.)

They returned with Asuka kicking Bliss in the corner (no rocking horse or attire change for Bliss). Asuka went for another missile dropkick, but Bliss moved and hit a dropkick of her own for a two-count. She drove her boot into Asuka’s face in the corner a couple of times, then locked in the Randy Orton Special mid-ring mid-match rear chinlock. Asuka tried to fight out, but Bliss just mushed her to the mat for another two-count, then locked in the rear chinlock again. Asuka fought to her feet, kicked Bliss in the head, and both women collapsed to the mat. Bliss continuted to smile, but Asuka took control with a shoulder tackle and her lifting knee, then a hip attack and kick in the corner followed by a release German suplex and running kick for a two-count. Asuka, frustrated, took Bliss into the corner and yelled. Bliss’ old music hit, and Bliss was in the ring in her old gear, “The Goddess” gear, crying like she didn’t know what was happening. Asuka looked shocked and scared. Bliss looked around, Asuka charged, Bliss sidestepped, then looked around still confused. She went to the opposite corner, set herself, then the lights and glitches started, going black. “Rock-a-bye-baby” played eerily as the gothic, clad-in-black Bliss from last week was in the corner doing Wyatt’s pose. Asuka charged, but Bliss, like last week, only moved to block. She got hit a with a knee that didn’t faze her. Asuka tried for the Asuka Lock, but Bliss fought it off by “overpowering” Asuka and locked in the Mandible Claw. Orton, maskless, appeared behind her faced reddened from the burns, and hit Bliss with an RKO as the show went off the air.

WINNER: No Contest at 12:32

(Hazelwood’s Take: I really could have done without the shenanigans, but then again, this is the “Fun House/Playground” Bliss. The journey between her different characters is intriguing, but they HAVE to build on it in the coming weeks: is “Goddess” Bliss trying to fight her way out? Is “Playground” Bliss her response to the trauma of The Fiend? Is her The Fiend-esque transformation her means to cope? There’s lots they can do here to explore multiple personalities, but this being WWE, I doubt it will be done with tact. Bliss SHOULD have won here, and they teased it, but Orton’s interference leaves the potential for some kind of “Fun House” match between Orton and Bliss, possibly to resurrect The Fiend. Also, no-selling Asuka only to sell Orton reeks of benevolent misogyny.)

FINAL THOUGHTS: So…was that actually a decent enough Raw, which in comparison to everything else, is still subpar? I feel like the promos, for the most part, didn’t overstay their welcome; they were pretty direct and with much less filler. Some of the booking decisions (like the gauntlet match) were questionable, but they always are. Edge’s announcement, while anti-climatic, probably did more to drive up interest in Sunday’s event than anything else on the night, including the McIntyre-Goldberg segment. After Sunday, we should have a much more clear direction of the booking, so let’s meet again next week to see if WWE can build from this and Sunday…or not.

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