SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Opening Segment – HIT: Raw got off to a good start with Cody Rhodes talking to Dominik Mystery and Rhea Ripley. Dom continues to get major heat. He and Ripley play off each other very well. They are clearly setting up the idea that he has no chance against Cody without help or cheap shots. So, the question becomes, how much help and how many cheap shots will he get in their match on Saturday? I suspect the match will be overbooked, possibly with a Brock Lesnar appearance.
Nakamura vs. Ricochet – HIT: I haven’t been a fan of the storyline involving Shinsuke Nakamura, Ricochet and Bronson Reed. But, I did like this match. I appreciated how they got the Bronson Reed portion of the match out of the way early, where he was ejected from ringside (and didn’t come back later, imagine that!) so we could get an actual clean finish which we haven’t seen in these matches the previous few weeks. Nakamura and Ricochet performed well and put on a good match against each other. It was fun from start to finish, and built well to Ricochet pinning Nakamura. Give WWE credit for picking a winner for a change.
Money in the Bank Video – HIT: WWE typically does very well with these types of videos. They’ve done it before for MITB and of course it is always a highlight of the build to the Royal Rumble every year. The video plays up the history and importance of MITB to help build anticipation for the match itself and for the aftermath of what will happen for the two winners.
Rousey vs. Rodriguez – MISS: If you want to build anticipation for a Women’s Tag Team Championship match between Raquel Rodriguez & Liv Morgan vs. Ronda Rousey & Shayna Baszler, you can’t have Rousey vs. Rodriguez only last 2 minutes. This did nothing for either team. Rousey isn’t going to feel as special as she did during her first run in WWE, but she should feel more important that she does now. That won’t change if she’s in short throwaway matches like this.
Finn Balor Video – HIT: WWE has done a very good job the last few weeks of actually building up Finn Balor to feel like a legit contender to defeat Seth Rollins for the World Title. I would not have guessed that they would be this successful at it when the program started. This video with Balor added to that feeling. This was very well done and made Balor feel more relevant than he has in a long time. The following segment with Rollins, Balor and Carmelo Hayes worked well enough, but wasn’t great.
Ciampa Interview – HIT: This was a good follow up to Tommaso Ciampa’s return last week. Ciampa was good on the mic, coming across like an alpha who wasn’t going to play second fiddle to The Miz any more. I just wish this had been the only appearance from Ciampa. It would be better if he moved on from Miz at this point. Instead, we got the disappointing continuation with Miz getting heat back by attacking Ciampa and beating him down. But, why did Miz need to get that heat back? I get that Ciampa will eventually end up coming out on top with another win over Miz, but having him move on to something fresh would be so much better than having him getting beaten down by a loser like Miz in his second week back.
MITB Summit – HIT: This was a pretty good segment with Corey Graves hosting all the women in the MITB match. Each one got some time to talk. Bayley, Zelina Vega, and Trish Stratus particularly stood out. I liked how Becky Lynch sort of let the others fight it out, to stand tall on top of the ladder in the end after the fighting broke out. Of course, that means she won’t be winning at the PLE.
Gunther vs. Zayn – HIT: The backstage encounter that set up this match was good, with Kevin Owens questioning why he and Sami Zayn were upset at Imperium, only to have Zayn have to remind him that they had attacked Matt Riddle earlier in the show. As soon as Giovani Vinci returned on the crutches, you knew with 100% certainty that a crutch would play into the finish of the match. I assumed Vinci would reveal that it was a fake injury, but he was still selling the injury despite helping Gunther get the win. The match was very good while it lasted, and KO added to the match with his guest commentary. So while the ending wasn’t great, the match was still good enough to get a Hit. The physicality afterwards was quite good with Riddle coming out to continue to build to the upcoming Intercontinental Championship match.
Balor vs. Hayes – MISS: The match quality of Balor vs. Hayes was certainly Hit worthy and this could be a Hit under other circumstances. Yes, once this match was booked, Balor had to win clean given that he’s the #1 contender for the World Title. But, I disagree with having Hayes lose his first match on Raw. You only get one chance to make that first impression, and while he had a nice showing, this wasn’t even that strong of a showing. He never seemed on the verge of a realistic win over Balor. This loss is planted in the fans’ brains now.
Rhodes vs. Priest – HIT: The main event was good with Rhodes getting the win after a strong match against Damian Priest. I wasn’t sure who would win this match. I thought it was possible that Dominik would cost Cody to give Priest a win going into his MITB appearance on Saturday. So, while I assumed Cody would win, it was far from a given which added to the quality of the match. I wonder if the ending will play into more of a rift between Priest and the rest of Judgement Day.
Jon Mezzera is PWTorch.com’s WWE Hits & Misses Specialist, providing his point of view for Raw and Smackdown each week. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.