Despite once again arguably the biggest WWE story this week happening off-screen (bye Enzo!), this week saw Raw25 take place, as well as the final build-up to NXT’s TakeOver: Philadelphia and, of course, the Royal Rumble on Sunday. So what went down? I’ve collated the main happenings from the week, and put them all together in one, easy to manage round-up.
A New Intercontinental Champion? Awesome…
We knew going in to Raw25 that Roman Reigns would be defending the Intercontinental Championship, and really if you’ve been reading online reports at any time in the last 10 months you probably had a fair idea that Roman Reigns would be losing the title on Monday night. And he did. And it was relatively clean too! Sure Miz used an exposed turnbuckle, which was brilliantly set up so subtly earlier in the match, but the Miztourage never got involved. Though, perhaps more accurately, they were never allowed to, as Reigns always struck first. Still, it will be interesting to see if there is a rematch, and how clean the finish will be should it turn out that way. If not, the awesome reign of the most must see champion in WWE history looks like it might be here to stay.
WWE had been promoting various legends’ appearances for the last couple of weeks, and some were used better than others. There felt like a lot of filler, segments designed purely to get people on screen for a few seconds since they had been advertised without any consequence. Having said that, Stone Cold Steve Austin stunning Shane and Vince McMahon for old time’s sake was a lot of fun, DX meeting the NWO meeting the Balor Club was Too Sweet, and Chris Jericho’s interaction with Elias was really well done. Speaking of Y2J, based on the reaction he got (despite only appearing in a backstage segment) tells me that he’s a far bigger star as a result of his New Japan run that he was when he left. And seeing as he was already one of the top guys, and one of the most respected and loved figures, that’s saying something.
Return of the Deadman
I’m separating The Undertaker from the rest of the legends, because his was expected to be the most newsworthy segment on the show, and we don’t know whether he really has retired or not. In fact, that question was supposed to be addressed, but instead Undertaker’s promo left most with more questions than answers. I suppose his cryptic words would imply he’s not done yet. But out of everything, this segment felt confusing and underwhelming. If he’s going to wrestle again, why not set something up in front of Raw’s largest audience in years? I get that there’s still plenty of time until Wrestlemania, but last year WWE set up Undertaker’s Wrestlemania match at the Royal Rumble – does one week really make that much of a difference?
Out of Nowhere
It was a night full of good in-ring action on SmackDown, with six matches on the two hour show. But the one thing that was lacking for me – as has been the case for the last month too – was a lack of build for the men’s Royal Rumble match. The closest we got in terms of action was the match between Shinsuke Nakamura and Baron Corbin. Those two put on a far better match than what they were producing last summer, but it ended when Nakamura was setting up for his trademark Kinshasa, and was hit with an RKO by Randy Orton. It really did come out of nowhere, and it genuinely took me by surprise. Orton then put Corbin down with an RKO too, but planting Nakamura shows that there are no friends when it comes to the Royal Rumble match.
AJ Styles runs the gauntlet
On Sunday AJ Styles defends his WWE Championship against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a handicap match, but this past Tuesday he took on Owens and Zayn in consecutive matches. It was a mixture of storytelling and real quality, as Styles made Owens tap out quickly after KO appeared to injure his leg, and then Styles and Zayn put on one of the better TV matches you are likely to see in 2018. Because of Owens’ injury he was still at ringside being tended to by officials, and Styles kept going back over to inflict more damage, with the idea he was potentially taking KO out of the Rumble match and giving himself a better chance. That led to his downfall though, as he got caught re-entering the ring by a Helluva Kick and a Blue Thunder Bomb that put him down for the 1-2-3. Based on Tuesday, I’d guess Styles making Owens tap on Sunday is the likely finish, with KO using the excuse of being hurt going in. I’ll admit to not having a clue what’s next for Owens and Zayn, but the way they’ve been booked since being put together gives me no worries going forward.
The Number One Contender is…
Velveteen Dream vs Johnny Gargano. Tell me that I would be excited for this match a year ago, and watch me ask what the hell a Velveteen Dream is. But Dream has superstar written all over him, and I can’t remember Gargano putting on a bad match. This story stemmed back to the tournament to crown Andrade “Cien” Almas’ challenger for this Saturday’s TakeOver: Dream was supposed to be a part of it, but was suffering from injuries after TakeOver: WarGames, so Gargano took his place and won the title shot. Dream claimed Johnny Wrestling was a fraud and it should be Dream challenging for the NXT Title on Saturday night, and here were are. These two created a TakeOver quality match, which the night after SmackDown’s solid show built the momentum to this weekend very nicely indeed.
And there we have it! Be prepared for a bumper edition of this article next week if I decide to include TakeOver and Royal Rumble in it on top of the usual shows. I’ll be back in the next few days to preview the big matches coming our way this weekend, so be on the lookout for them!