Venue: Wells Fargo Arena (Des Moines, IA)
The show began with a video recap of Seth Rollins and AOP’s backstage attack on Kevin Owens and Seth’s subsequent promo in which he called out the WWE fan base for their negativity. Rollins started this week’s show with another message for the audience. With AOP flanking him, he told the fans that being a leader is “not about being cool and making popular decisions. It’s about making decisions for the sake of progress.” Rollins then described himself as a leader and a visionary who was going to lead the brand into the next decade and beyond. He said that he will impose his will and that Akam and Rezar will enforce it. Seth ended the promo with a cryptic declaration, saying that he has a score to settle and that the fans weren’t going to be happy, ending his promo simply with “I’m sorry.”
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson came down to confront the Viking Raiders in a rematch from the previous night’s TLC show, a bout that ended with a universally loathed double count out finish. The two teams went back and forth for a while before Ivar attempted the first big crowd-popping move of the night: a moonsault from the top rope. Fortunately for Anderson, Gallows was able to pull him out of the way just in time as Ivar slammed down onto the canvas with a loud thud. Anderson then kicked Eric off the apron. The two then double-teamed a woozy Ivar, hitting him with a Magic Killer to get the win. Samoa Joe exclaimed, “New Champs!” before realizing this was a non-title match.
Backstage, an excited AJ Styles met with Gallows and Anderson and talked about how he was going to end Randy Orton’s career and meet his brothers in the winner’s circle.
In this week’s edition of Eric Rowan beats up a local jobber, Rowan made short work of Dante Leon, who started off the match by running under the ring before popping out the other side and nearly uncovering Rowan’s pet cage. After enraging Rowan by messing with his pet, Leon stumbled as the big man gave chase. He was soon caught and thrown back in the ring, where he ended up on the receiving end of two claw chokeslams.
Backstage, Charly Caruso interviewed Andrade and Zelina Vega. Neither seemed to be in a particular good mood following Andrade’s loss the night before to Humberto Carrillo.
Lana and Bobby Lashley celebrated Bobby’s win over Rusev at TLC with an in-ring promo. As Lana showered Lashley with compliments, the crowd chanted Rusev Day, We Want Rusev, and Bobby Sucks. Lana then whipped out a ring and told Bobby she wanted him to ask her to marry him. Bobby responded by saying “he doesn’t like when anyone tells him what to do, except you.” He then got down on one knee and obliged with the request. Lana responded with a number of enthusiastic yeses. She said the wedding would be the most ravishing in the world and that it would happen on Lana Day.
Next up was a gauntlet match to determine who will earn a shot at US Champion Rey Mysterio. 24/7 Champion R-Truth came down to the ring and talked about being inspired by his childhood hero John Cena’s US Open challenge. Truth then promised that he was going to win tonight’s gauntlet match and go into Wrestlemania as a double champion. Truth’s first challenger was Akira Tozawa. Akira picked up the advantage following a missile dropkick off the top rope before rolling up Truth to get the win. Eric Young, Titus O’Neil, Zack Ryder, Curt Hawkins and No Way Jose all came running out of the back and chased Truth out of the arena.
Ricochet was next up, starting the match off with a quick flurry of offense and an impressive display of quickness and athleticism. But his attack was short lived, as Tozawa caught him and threw him outside of the ring. Akira went for a missile dropkick but Ricochet met him with a dropkick of his own to regain the advantage. Instead of going with his usual quick-paced offense, Ricochet changed up his style a bit and broke out a few unique looking submission moves to wear down Tozawa. Akira showed off his conditioning, fighting back valiantly before being eliminated following a recoil knee.
Matt Hardy was the next to enter the fray. Hardy started the match off by hitting Ricochet with a side effect which got a two count on a pin attempt. Hardy then slammed Ricochet’s head into multiple turnbuckles and proceeded to hit him with a suplex, a back body drop and a series of strikes. Ricochet hit an enziguri in the corner to stun a charging Hardy to buy some time to recover. Ricochet went on the offensive but he was caught going for a clothesline off the ropes and hit with a side effect. Matt went for broke with a moonsault from the top rope but he whiffed. Ricochet missed on a top rope move of his own but luckily he was able to surprise Hardy with a roll up pin to get the win.
Humberto Carrillo was the next challenger. Carrillo offered a show of sportsmanship handshake at the start of the match but Ricochet took the opportunity to surprise him with a roll up pin for a near fall. Humberto employed his usual high-flying attack, barely holding on to Ricochet with an arm drag off the ropes. After hitting Ricochet with a flip over the rope to the outside, Humberto slowed the pace down and worked over his opponent’s left arm. Carrillo controlled a tired Ricochet for a while before Zelina Vega made her way out onto the stage. Humberto missed on a moonsault off the top and Ricochet answered with an enziguri. The two then collided with each other near the ropes and both fell to the ground. After both were nearly counted out, the two traded blows before they ended up face to face on the top rope. Ricochet sent Humberto crashing down to the mat with a superplex. Ricochet hit multiple suplexes before heading back to the top rope. Carrillo met him up there, though, and attempted a reverse rana but Ricochet rolled through. Humberto managed to subdue Ricochet and keep him down for long enough to go up top and hit a moonsault to finally finish him off.
Andrade’s music hit and Zelina posed at the top of the ramp as if she was waiting for him. As Carrillo looked at Vega, Andrade came charging him from behind with a sneak attack. Andrade beat on Carrillo before tossing him to the outside. He ripped up one of the mats, exposing the concrete. Andrade dropped Humberto head first onto the floor with a Hammerlock DDT. Rey Mysterio came out to check on Carrillo as Andrade and Vega fled from the ringside area.
As Carrillo was stretchered to the back, Seth Rollin’s music hit. Wielding the same pipe that Mysterio gave to Owens, Seth and AOP attacked and laid out the US Champion in the middle of the ring before taunting him. Rollins initially made it seem like he was going to show mercy on Mysterio before heading back into the ring and finishing off Rey with a stomp.
Backstage, Charly asked Seth why he attacked Mysterio. Rollins said he was a leader and that he was going to lead by example.. He also said that he was challenging Rey for his US Title next week on Raw.
In her main roster debut, Deonnna Purrazzo had the tough task of facing Asuka. Purrazzo surprised one half of the women’s tag champs with a pump kick before the bell rang. That only served to anger Asuka who locked Deonna in a number of ankle and arm submissions. The NXT superstar showed her toughness and resilience by countering Asuka and slamming her face first into the canvas. However, that was the last offense she was able to get in. Asuka was soon able to clasp Purrazzo in an Asuka Lock and tap her out for the win.
In an interview with Charly Caruso, Becky Lynch talked about not being herself in recent months. She talked about being the golden goose that the powers at be were trying to protect. She then delivered a message to Asuka. Lynch said she needed to face Asuka to prove something to herself.
In the locker room, Rey Mysterio answered the challenge laid down by Seth Rollins, telling his attacker, “instead of settling a score, all he did was start a fight.”
In the main event of the evening, Randy Orton and AJ Styles looked to settle a score of their own. Randy tried to hit an early RKO but Styles was able to roll out of the ring and survive the early threat. AJ answered by locking Orton in a calf crusher but Randy was able to crawl to the ropes to break the hold. As The Viper hobbled around on the outside, Styles came charging in from behind to take out his injured left leg. A wobbly Orton was able to keep Styles at bay for a bit before hitting AJ with a powerslam and an inverted backbreaker. Randy got a bit too overconfident, heading to the top rope to try a superplex, but Styles was able to slide under and then once again chop Randy’s leg out from under him. AJ attempted a Styles Clash but Orton flipped him over the ropes and hit him with one of his vintage DDTs. Orton then went for another RKO but Styles countered into a calf crusher, which Randy managed to escape. After faking a phenomenal forearm attempt, Styles actually went for it a second later, a move which he instantly regretted, as Orton was able to catch him in midair and finish him off with an RKO.
Following the match, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson ran down to beat on Randy but the Viking Raiders came out to his defense to even the score. Ultimately, though, it was The O.C. who stood tall as the show went off the air.
Given the nature of tonight’s two episodes in one taping structure, it’s a bit hard to judge the success of this Raw without seeing how next week’s episode turned out. This was clearly the set up episode, while next week’s pretaped edition will likely be the payoff.
It appears as if the Seth Rollins/Kevin Owens feud is going to play out until the Royal Rumble, so it makes sense for Rollins to have an in between feud with someone like Mysterio for the time being. Asuka/Becky Lynch also appears to be a feud that will culminate at the Rumble, which is apropos considering Asuka beat Lynch for the Smackdown Women’s Title back in January at the Rumble in Phoenix.
As for the match quality tonight, The Viking Raiders and The O.C. got more than twice the amount of time tonight than they did at last night’s TLC show. Though the match was much longer, it wasn’t much better, but at least it did have a decisive ending.
Hopefully, the Eric Rowan’s secret pet cage has a payoff sooner than later, because the storyline is really starting to feel stale. His opponents keep resorting to the same tactic week after week and all of his squash matches seem to follow the same formula.
The gauntlet match had some good high points, especially the Ricochet/Akira Tozawa and Ricochet/Humberto Carrillo interactions. Still, it never felt like the crowd was all that invested in the match. It certainly didn’t help that the match simply ended due to a stoppage and didn’t feature a proper finish or an actual winner.
Though she only had a few offensive maneuvers, the debuting Deonna Purrazzo showed she could handle herself in a main roster ring. It will be interesting to see if Purrazzo stays in a Raw women’s division that could use an infusion of new blood or heads back down to NXT’s crowded women’s scene where it’ll be hard to stick out.
AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton felt a bit plodding since it was mostly just Orton hobbling and crawling around on an injured leg. The phenomenal forearm into an RKO will never not be an impressive looking spot. It was a move that got arguably the biggest reaction of the night. Judging by the post-match action, it looks as if next week’s episode will probably feature a six-man match of The O.C. against Orton and The Viking Raiders.
Kevin Owens’ absence was felt tonight but it made sense to keep him off screen this week to sell the beating he took from Rollins and AOP. There’s a good chance he reemerges to save Mysterio from a beat down following Rey’s US Title match with Rollins.
It was good to see Kairi Sane make an appearance, considering how out of it she looked in the last half of the women’s tag team championship match at TLC.
There was no reference to Aleister Black’s win over Buddy Murphy at TLC but that might be because it was saved for the taped episode.
Overall, it was a decent show that started some new key storylines (Seth/Rey and Becky/Asuka) and kept a few other feuds (Orton/Styles, Viking Raiders/The O.C., Andrade/Humberto) going.
The Viking Raiders vs. The O.C.
Bell Times: 8:19:34 – 8:39:03
Result: Gallows pinned Ivar following a Magic Killer (19:29)
Eric Rowan vs. Dante Leon
Bell Times: 8:47:35 – 8:49:29
Result: Rowan pinned Leon following a claw chokeslam (1:54)
R-Truth vs. Akira Tozawa
Bell Times: 9:15:32 – 9:17:44
Result: Tozawa pinned R-Truth with a roll up (2:12),
Akira Tozawa vs. Ricochet
Bell Times: 9:22:29 – 9:28:34
Result: Ricochet pinned Tozawa following a recoil knee (6:05)
Ricochet vs. Matt Hardy
Bell Times: 9:32:45 – 9:39:15
Result: Ricochet pinned Hardy with a roll up (6:30)
Humberto Carrillo vs. Ricochet
Bell Times: 9:44:16 – 10:02:14
Result: Carrillo pinned Ricochet following a moonsault (17:58)
Asuka vs. Deonna Purrazzo
Bell Times: 10:29:17 – 10:33:30
Result: Asuka submitted Purrazzo with an Asuka Lock (4:13)
AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton
Bell Times: 10:45:18 – 11:01:36
Result: Orton pinned Styles following an RKO (16:24)