WWE Raw Results: Winners, Grades, Reaction and Highlights from January 29
The January 29 episode of Raw was an explosive one that followed up on the promise of the Royal Rumble pay-per-view from 24 hours earlier, featured two first-time encounters and also set the stage for the upcoming Elimination Chamber event.
Qualifying matches for the men's chamber bout dominated the show, with John Cena, Elias and Braun Strowman all cashing their tickets to Las Vegas on February 25.
Asuka battled Sasha Banks in a legitimate main event-worthy match, while the Intercontinental Championship was up for grabs between Roman Reigns and The Miz.
Sprinkle in a tag team title match and a Last Man Standing bout, and you have the recipe for a superb USA Network broadcast.
Stephanie McMahon and Asuka Kick Off Raw
On the heels of the historic women's Royal Rumble, WWE chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon kicked off the show, introducing Asuka to a big pop. She congratulated The Empress of Tomorrow on her win but was quick to announce the first-ever women's Elimination Chamber match.
The match will be for Alexa Bliss' Raw Women's Championship.
Asuka, unwavering in her self-belief, once again exclaimed, "No one is ready for Asuka!"
Sasha Banks interrupted and, after halfheartedly congratulating her, challenged Asuka to a match on Monday night.
McMahon made the bout official as Asuka and Banks stared each other down.
The announcement of the Elimination Chamber match creates questions as to whether Bliss will actually escape February with her title. It creates more suspense around a division that is suddenly red hot.
Banks continued to showcase her heel side, showing more attitude and irreverence as she interrupted Asuka's first promo as the inaugural Royal Rumble victor.
The entire ordeal set up a legitimate dream match.
Last Man Standing Elimination Chamber Qualifier: Braun Strowman vs. Kane
The rivalry between Braun Strowman and Kane came to a head Monday night on Raw, as they met in a Last Man Standing bout that also served as a qualifying match for the upcoming Elimination Chamber event.
The Monster Among Men left another jaw-dropping impression on the WWE Universe when he fought Kane to the announce position and overturned the entire portion of the stage on his opponent.
When pressed by commentator Corey Graves, Strowman answered, "I did my job. Kurt Angle said 'Last Man Standing' and..." and raised his arms in victory.
Braun Strowman defeated Kane
That was about as emphatic a conclusion to a rivalry as there could be.
Strowman put an end to Kane in a way that was visually stunning and helped him recover from his Triple Threat match loss at Sunday night's Royal Rumble.
The Monser Among Men introduced a little chaos to the show, and the result was a rabid reaction that started the action portion of the night off the hottest way imaginable: with one of Raw's most popular babyfaces standing tall and dominant.
With a new logo and theme song, not to mention the return of Jonathan Coachman, perhaps the destruction of the announce position is to necessitate the return of the broadcast table to the ringside area.
Elimination Chamber Qualifying Match: Woken Matt Hardy vs. Elias
Just 24 hours after seeing his Royal Rumble dreams dashed by John Cena, Elias greeted the fans in Philadelphia with another single, declaring Monday his night. For that to be accurate, he would have to defeat Woken Matt Hardy in an Elimination Chamber Qualifying match.
Hardy fought out of a headlock early and answered with a neck cravate. Elias escaped and targeted the shoulder of his opponent, wrapping it around the ring post and seizing control of the bout heading into the commercial break.
Hardy rallied, smashing his opponent's head into the turnbuckles repeatedly. As he picked up momentum, the Bray Wyatt bumper aired, distracting Hardy and allowing Elias to catch him with a big boot to the face.
Drift Away finished Hardy off and cashed Elias' ticket to Elimination Chamber.
After the bell, Wyatt delivered another cryptic promo to further the program with Hardy.
Elias defeated Matt Hardy
This was not a particularly strong match. It was one-dimensional and, worse, did little to differentiate Woken Matt Hardy from regular Matt Hardy. Beyond chants of "Delete" and ridiculous laughing, that has been a major issue with this incarnation of Hardy's unstable persona.
Elias winning was the right choice, but he still needs that one in-ring performance to support what has been superb character work since his arrival on the main roster.
Intercontinental Championship Match: Roman Reigns vs. The Miz
Just one week after winning the Intercontinental Championship, The Miz was forced into a title defense against the man he defeated to win the gold, Roman Reigns.
A vengeful Reigns, frustrated following a loss in Sunday's Royal Rumble, pummeled and punished The Miz early in the bout. He chased Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel from ringside and teased blasting his opponent with a steel chair.
The momentary distraction by the official allowed Miz to send Reigns face-first into the ring post, earning the champion control of the match heading into the first break.
Miz controlled the bout but Reigns fought back, delivering a flurry of corner clotheslines. Miz caught The Big Dog coming in with a Superman Punch and clipped his knee, cutting off the challenger's onslaught. He applied the Figure-Four as the fans in Philly cheered for the villainous champion.
Reigns fended off a painful knee injury to deliver the Superman Punch but was unable to keep Miz's shoulders pinned to the mat for three.
Dallas and Axel reappeared, with the former pulling Miz out of the ring and to the floor. Reigns greeted Dallas with a hard right hand and bounced Axel off the commentary table. An alert Miz rolled him up and retained the title.
The Miz defeated Roman Reigns
The Philadelphia fans, long critical of Reigns, got lucky two nights in a row, as The Big Dog lost high-profile matches. Commentator Michael Cole spun a narrative of Reigns' recent disappointments and what it means for him on The Road to WrestleMania.
He was protected heavily, the excuse obviously being the interference of The Miztourage and its impact on the finish.
Miz is still an extraordinary heel, and his work here—both as the struggling Superstar in desperate need of his cronies to preserve his title and the braggadocios bad guy who is certain to act like he alone should be credited with the victory—showed that.
Heath Slater and Rhyno vs. The Revival
Neither Heath Slater nor The Revival is likely to look back on Raw 25 fondly. They each had the opportunity to make up for their humbling roles in last week's historic show, as Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson battled Slater and Rhyno in tag team action Monday night.
The heels isolated Slater, but a neckbreaker out of a standing vertical suplex on Wilder allowed the lovable loser to make the hot tag to his Man Beast tag team partner.
Even Rhyno's furious comeback was not enough to secure the victory for the former SmackDown tag team champions, as Dash and Dawson delivered the Shatter Machine for the victory.
The Revival cut a promo after the match, criticizing fans for their inability to learn from the past rather than living in it.
The Revival defeated Heath Slater and Rhyno
This match was not in any way representative of what The Revival does so well. It was lethargic, did more to put Rhyno over in front of the former ECW faithful and featured a subpar promo from Wilder following the bell.
The Revival is an act that does not have to cut lengthy promos. It is a grizzled, hardened throwback to the take-no-prisoners teams of the past. Let it be that team rather than WWE-izing it for the masses.
The duo will get much more over as a throwback than a reflection of WWE's idea of what it should be in today's sports-entertainment landscape.
Asuka vs. Sasha Banks
Fans inside Wells Fargo Center were treated to a dream match of sorts as Asuka squared off with Sasha Banks for the first time in singles competition.
The Empress of Tomorrow took control early, targeting Banks' arm in preparation of utilizing the cross armbreaker to secure a win. The Bos turned the tables, though, and took control of the match heading into the break.
Showing flashes of arrogance that have been missing since her main roster babyface turn, Banks continued her attack on Asuka, trying to become the first woman in WWE history to beat the charismatic buzzsaw.
Asuka fought her way back into the match as the action intensified, including a scary suicide dive attempt by Banks that saw her land on her head and neck on the floor. OK and able to compete, the match continued.
The Boss unleashed everything she could, including nice double knees from the top rope.
Banks blocked the Asuka Lock and answered with the Bank Statement moments later. The Japanese eventually grabbed hold of her submission and forced the tapout from her opponent.
Asuka defeated Sasha Banks
The dive by Banks was a scary moment, and thankfully she was able to continue competing. It could have been a much different and more frightening moment had she not.
The match itself was a competitive, intense war for nothing more than bragging rights between two of the best, most accomplished and acclaimed professional wrestlers on the planet. They tore the house down with a level of intensity usually reserved for marquee bouts and grudge matches.
Banks looked like a worldbeater, but in the end, she simply could not do enough to beat the undefeated phenomenon.
Hopefully, this is just the first meeting between these two because the wealth of superb wrestling matches between them is exactly what fans of the Women's Revolution deserve.
Raw Tag Team Championship Match: Titus Worldwide vs. The Bar
After weeks of scoring upset victories over Sheamus and Cesaro in tag team action, Titus O'Neil and Apollo Crews challenged the new tag team champions just 24 hours after The Bar captured the gold from Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan.
Sheamus and Cesaro isolated O'Neil and beat him down. The big man exchanged stiff shots with Sheamus, but it took a hot tag to Crews to ignite the babyface comeback.
Crews unleashed on The Celtic Warrior and Swiss Superman, delivering a standing Shooting Star Press to Cesaro that served as a reminder of his raw athleticism.
Crews, a thorn in the side of the champions, scored several more near-falls before he was sent into the steel post. Stunned, he fell prey to the White Noise combination by Sheamus and Cesaro, who successfully retained their titles.
The Bar defeated Titus Worldwide
There were some haymakers thrown here, as O'Neil, Sheamus and Cesaro unloaded on each other with hard rights, lefts and clubbing forearms.
Crews shined here, getting the opportunity to showcase his athleticism against two of the more respected stars on the Raw brand.
The Bar ultimately retains in what was the right booking decision, but O'Neil and Crews flashed signs of a championship-worthy team.
John Cena vs. Finn Balor
For the first time in WWE history, Finn Balor and John Cena squared off in singles competition, with a date inside the Elimination Chamber at stake.
The hotly competitive bout saw each man seize control at different points in the match.
Late, the fans in Philadelphia shook off the ridiculous need to produce beach balls and invested in the bout.
As Balor climbed the ropes for the Coup de Grace, Cena rolled out of the way and the leader of Balor Club appeared to have tweaked his knee.
Cena trapped him in the STF, but Balor made it to the ropes. The Ireland-born fighter again had the opportunity to deliver his finisher, but The Champ capitalized on a slowed Balor and delivered the Attitude Adjustment from the top rope to put his opponent away for the count.
John Cena defeated Finn Balor
If ever there was a match that provided proof of Cena's lost step between the ropes, it was this one.
Since his return last summer, he has looked like a diminished version of the Superstar fans have known, loved and admired over the years. He has looked slow, almost sluggish even, and that was certainly the case Monday.
Despite a game opponent in Balor, Cena never really looked like the determined performer he was at the height of his career. That is not to say he cares less or is putting in less effort. He just looks...off.
The one interesting element of the match came late when a frustrated Cena looked into the crowd and said he was just trying to go to WrestleMania.
Perhaps frustration surrounding his recent lack of high-profile success will trigger an attitude adjustment (pun intended) in the coming weeks.