WWE Raw Results: Winners, Grades, Reaction and Highlights from January 23
WWE's flagship brand, Raw, had one last opportunity to leave fans excited and anticipating Sunday's Royal Rumble pay-per-view, and it succeeded.
Not only did the January 23 broadcast put the appropriate amount of hype on the WWE Universal Championship match between Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens, but it also brought out the heavy hitters in the form of Goldberg, Undertaker and Brock Lesnar, all of whom came face-to-face to close out the show.
With increased star power and a sense of urgency from WWE Creative, the show hit all the right notes and was as flawless a go-home episode of the weekly broadcast as Raw has produced in months.
How did each match and segment grade out?
Take a look for yourself with this exclusive recap.
Roman Reigns Promo
Roman Reigns kicked off this week's show, cutting a promo about Sunday's Universal Championship match against Kevin Owens. Before he could discuss the match in-depth, Owens and United States champion Chris Jericho interrupted.
Owens bragged about putting Reigns through a table last week, suggesting he is the only Superstar to ever single-handedly accomplish such a thing. Jericho called Reigns a "stupid idiot" before the No. 1 contender issued a challenge for a one-on-one rematch for the title he lost just two weeks ago.
Owens accepted the match on Jericho's behalf, something Y2J was not at all happy about.
Reigns vowed to win the title at Royal Rumble, where the match will be one-on-one thanks to Jericho being suspended above the ring in a shark tank. He ended by saying he would be "the guy" come Sunday.
The only newsworthy item to come out of this was Jericho being shoved into a championship defense at the hand of his friend Owens. The dissension that was teased months ago appears to be an element of the story once more, perhaps suggesting the two will wage war at some point in the near future.
Perhaps at WrestleMania 33.
The setup of Reigns vs. Jericho was fine, but those two have battled in so many matches over the last few months that boredom and a desire for something fresh, new and exciting is difficult to ignore.
Cesaro vs. Luke Gallows
A week ago, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson came within one screwy referee decision from wearing tag team gold. This week, Gallows attempted to avenge that controversial decision by beating Cesaro ahead of their match this Sunday on the Royal Rumble Kickoff Show.
Sheamus chased an interfering Anderson to the back, preventing him from affecting the match's outcome.
Or so he thought.
Late, as Cesaro was mounting a comeback, Anderson reappeared and wiped out Sheamus. The distraction caused The Swiss Superman to release the Sharpshooter and Gallows to score the win off an inverted flapjack.
Luke Gallows defeated Cesaro.
This was a fine enough prelude to Sunday's title bout in that it showcased the chicanery the heels are willing to tap into in order to secure the win.
Unfortunately, it still does not feel like the heels are legitimate threats to the champions, and as a result, getting the challengers legitimate crowd heat will prove difficult.
Seth Rollins vs. Sami Zayn
For Sami Zayn, the path to the Royal Rumble ran through Seth Rollins Monday night. With a victory over his opponent, he would not only earn a spot in the gigantic match, but he would also take The Architect's spot.
Rollins and Zayn worked a babyface vs. babyface match that reached its climax when Rollins blasted the Underdog From The Underground with a kick to the face and then planted him with a Pedigree.
As The Architect was about to score the pinfall victory and eliminate Zayn from Rumble contention, Triple H's music played, and the fans erupted. There was no COO to be found, though. Instead, a distracted Rollins fell prey to an inside cradle from Zayn, who picked up the seemingly improbable victory.
Sami Zayn defeated Seth Rollins.
This was a strong match, and the outcome was the right one, but at what point does Creative stop coming up with new and crappier ways to devalue Zayn's credibility.
Sure, he just beat a former WWE champion one-on-one, but the audience is not stupid. It knows it came via the cheapest manner imaginable. At some point, Zayn is going to have to be allowed to win a high-profile match on his own to effectively pay off the underdog tale.
Cheap wins and participation awards will not get it done.
Rollins losing his Rumble spot as a result of Triple H's mind games does, though, make that rivalry that much more intensely personal, something that will make it even more enjoyable to watch play out over the next two months.
Cruiserweight Six-Man Tag Team Match
Mustafa Ali, Jack Gallagher and TJ Perkins united to battle Drew Gulak, Tony Nese and Ariya Daivari in Six-Man Tag Team action.
The match featured the same solid, if a bit unspectacular, in-ring product fans have come to expect from the cruiserweights. What it was, though, was a showcase for newcomer Ali, who erupted late in the match and pinned the vastly underrated Gulak off a reverse 450 Splash for the win.
Mustafa Ali, TJ Perkins and Jack Gallagher defeated Drew Gulak, Tony Nese and Ariya Daivari.
Imagine that: a short, meaningless tag match that did nothing to help the cruiserweight division get over with fans.
On the bright side, this did at least introduce the talented and fun Ali to fans. Now, if only Creative could be bothered to draft characters for these Superstars, things may be much better for the 205-pound weight class.
Enzo Amore and Big Cass Interrupt The New Day
The New Day hit the ring to discuss Sunday's Royal Rumble match. "As we were saying last week, before we were rudely interrupted," he began, before being...rudely interrupted.
Enzo Amore and Big Cass entered the arena to a thunderous ovation. The latter declared his intention to enter the Rumble.
Moments later, Rusev and Jinder Mahal arrived on the scene. The Bulgarian Brute also announced his entry in the match.
Titus O'Neil interrupted, to the dismay of The New Day, and revealed an Eight-Man Tag Team match had been booked. The heels' partner?
The massive Braun Strowman.
This was a brief, generic promo segment that filled out the Rumble field a bit more and set up a big tag match.
No harm, no foul, though one cannot help but feel as though Strowman is wasted in this match.
Eight-Man Tag Team Match
Amore, Cass and The New Day battled Rusev, Mahal, O'Neil and Strowman.
The hot tag was made midway through the four-minute match to Cass, who exploded with a flurry of big- man offense. As the action broke down, every Superstar involved hit a signature maneuver, leaving poor Amore with the much, much larger Strowman.
The Certified G showed guts in fighting out of his opponent's grasp, but in the end, he fell prey to the running powerslam as the monster continued his winning ways.
After the match, Strowman stood tall before Big Show's music played and a slimmer, trimmer World's Largest Athlete made his way to the ring.
The behemoths came face-to-face before Strowman backed down.
Strowman, O'Neil, Rusev and Mahal defeated Amore, Cass and The New Day.
The match itself was a rushed mess that served only to set up high spots late and a Strowman win.
What the segment did accomplish, though, was plant the seeds for the inevitable showdown between Strowman and Show inside the Royal Rumble.
The giant looked fantastic, clearly in the best shape since his 1995 WCW run. If he is motivated, him and Strowman could potentially have a series of quality heavyweight battles that remind fans of Big Show's work ethic and Strowman's growth as a performer.
United States Championship Match: Roman Reigns vs. Chris Jericho
Roman Reigns not only sought to regain the United States Championship from Chris Jericho Monday night, but he also looked to eliminate Y2J from the equation, meaning he could truly challenge Kevin Owens in a one-on-one match for the Universal Championship without distraction.
With KO on commentary, Jericho took a beating early but fought back into the match and seized control.
Reigns mounted a comeback late, complete with a sitout powerbomb that netted him a near-fall.
As he set up for the spear, Jericho was able to execute a leapfrog. He could not, however, dodge the Superman Punch.
Owens ran in for the disqualification, preserving his best friend's title reign.
Hijinx occurred after the bout as Reigns locked Owens in the shark cage, only to have Jericho grab onto the structure and dangle in the air as it raised above the ring. Another Superman Punch left Y2J lying in the ring to close the segment.
Roman Reigns defeated Chris Jericho by disqualification.
This was a clunky match that did not live up to the previous encounters between Reigns and Jericho.
Add to it the fact every fan knew Owens was getting involved, thus drawing the disqualification, and you have a largely inconsequential match and segment that did nothing to add any more heat to the Reigns vs. Owens match Sunday night than the opening promo did.
While Jericho dangling from the cage was a funny bit, "cute" and "funny" should not be used to describe a program involving the industry's top prize.
Nia Jax vs. Ray Lyn
Moments after footage of Nia Jax attacking Sasha Banks at a medical exam aired, a nervous Ray Lyn watched as Nia Jax made her way to the ring.
It would be the last thing she saw before the complete and utter obliteration that followed.
Jax pinned her opponent in just 30 seconds.
After the match, Sasha Banks limped to the ring with her crutch. She would blast Jax with it and then beat her repeatedly with it. From there, she delivered her double knee press and stood tall as the show headed to break.
Nia Jax defeated Ray Lyn.
This was a nice little segment to promote a feud that should be hotter than it is.
Still, Banks is still wildly over, but Jax has not stricken a chord with fans to this point, through very little fault of her own. Their in-ring chemistry will go a long way in determining this program's overall success.
Rich Swann vs. Noam Dar
Rich Swann had to resist the urge to look forward to this Sunday's Cruiserweight Championship defense against Neville as he battled Noam Dar in non-title action Monday.
Alicia Fox's presence, now aligned with Dar, proved problematic for Swann at one point as it allowed his opponent to take control as a result of a distraction.
Swann fought back, though, and blasted Dar with a kick to secure the victory.
After the match, the titleholder called Neville out. When The Man That Gravity Forgot answered, and then backed off, Swann soared through the air and wiped his Rumble opponent out at ringside. He added in a few rights and lefts before the top contender bailed.
Rich Swann defeated Noam Dar.
This segment established that Fox is now firmly aligned with Dar, provided Swann another convincing win and added final hype to Sunday's championship clash.
To do all that in one four-minute stretch of television is impressive.
At a time where the cruiserweights elsewhere are floundering, Swann, Dar and Neville have proved solid additions to a division full of talent and looking for an opportunity to shine to its full potential.
Goldberg Returns to Raw
Goldberg returned to Raw to wrap up the show, drawing an enormous pop after his trademark entrance.
Bleeding from the forehead and overwhelmed by the response, he flubbed his lines in embarrassing fashion, then recovered nicely and provided some final hype for Sunday's Royal Rumble match.
Paul Heyman interrupted, teasing fans with the idea Goldberg could find himself across the ring from someone like Undertaker or, even, Brock Lesnar.
In an unexpected twist, The Beast Incarnate appeared and stalked toward the squared circle. Before they could clash, Undertaker's music played and The Dead Man appeared in the center of the ring as the lights came back on.
The stunning imagery of the three iconic figures standing across from each other closed out the broadcast.
If you did not already know you wanted to see Sunday's Royal Rumble, what better selling point than Brock Lesnar, Goldberg and Undertaker in the same ring, staring each other down.
None of the three had to say a word to get over the enormity of the moment, the intensity with which they approached the freaking staredown was enough to sell the pay-per-view.
Argue, if you will, that all three are part-time competitors, but this was an extraordinary moment that makes diehards and casual fans alike want to tune into this year's 30-man match to see if they will actually come to blows inside the Alamodome.