WWE Raw Results: Winners, Grades, Reaction and Highlights from December 31

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistJanuary 1, 2019

WWE Raw Results: Winners, Grades, Reaction and Highlights from December 31

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The final Raw of 2018 brought an end to one of the most intensely personal rivalries of the last month and focused its attention on the new year.

    Once tag team championship-winning partners, Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler settled their increasingly hostile issues Monday inside a steel cage, kicking off an episode that may very well prove to set the tone for the road to Royal Rumble.

    Ronda Rousey and Natalya proved their friendship was as solid as ever as they battled Nia Jax and Tamina Snuka in a tag team main event, bookending a broadcast that also saw the Intercontinental Championship defended by Dean Ambrose.

Steel Cage Match: Dolph Ziggler vs. Drew McIntyre

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    Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre were once one of the unstoppable forces on Monday nights.

    After McIntyre revealed the entire partnership to be a catapult for himself to greater things on Raw, the once-strong team disbanded and engaged in a rivalry that saw The Show Off repeatedly frustrate and cost The Scottish Psychopath victories.

    One week after losing a Triple Threat match to Balor, McIntyre and Ziggler took out their frustrations on each other inside a steel cage.

    Ziggler overcame an early onslaught to take the fight to McIntyre, sending him into the cage and using his speed and agility to frustrate his larger opponent. 

    Despite a crowd in Detroit in favor of Ziggler, it was McIntyre who scored the victory, delivering two consecutive Claymore Kicks for the pinfall victory.

    After the match, McIntyre delivered another Claymore, this one with Ziggler's head sandwiched between the cage and a steel chair he introduced into the fracas, all after his opponent egged him on. Determined to put an exclamation point on his victory over his former partner, McIntyre re-entered the ring one last time for a fourth Claymore that left Ziggler lying in a heap.

       

    Result

    McIntyre defeated Ziggler

       

    Grade

    A

       

    Analysis

    McIntyre and Ziggler ended their rivalry in grand fashion to kick this show off, something that freed the former up to move onto whatever bigger, better things management has in store for him.

    Both men brought the proper intensity and the match benefited from it. The result was a foregone conclusion given just how readily apparent it is that management has big plans for McIntyre as the new year arrives.

    The finish and post-match beatdown made McIntyre look like a dangerous force, a vile and ruthless villain that everyone on the Raw roster should be absolutely concerned with heading into the Royal Rumble. That is likely exactly what the company hoped for and thus, the match and angle did exactly what it intended. 

    A great start to the show.

Triple H and Vince McMahon Interrupt Seth Rollins

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    Former intercontinental champion Seth Rollins hit the ring for a promo and immediately talked new starts before...going back to his program with Dean Ambrose and demanding his rematch against The Lunatic Fringe.

    Triple H interrupted his WrestleMania 24 opponent. The COO of WWE revealed that going forward, there will be no automatic anything in WWE, including Rollins' rematch. 

    The Game relived the complicated history between them, reminded Rollins how he always believed him and when the time came at two years ago on the biggest stage, he made him believe again. Rollins claimed he was delivering classics while Brock Lesnar was in Canada and he wants to earn everything going forward.

    A match between him and "The Almighty" Bobby Lashley was announced for the show.

    "I'll take down your whole damn family if you get in my way," Rollins exclaimed.

    Shane McMahon appeared and announced a Fresh Start Battle Royal with the winner to challenge Ambrose for the title tonight.

          

    Grade

    A

       

    Analysis

    What may seem like a throwaway promo segment essentially set Rollins up as the face of Raw, as its hero of sorts. He called out Lesnar more than once. He reminded everyone that he was there busting his ass, carrying the brand from an in-ring standpoint. Most importantly, he received the seal of approval from Triple H, who recapped their history before admitting he still believes in The Architect.

    It was a phenomenal use of promo time and, four months from now it may be looked upon as the moment Rollins became the face of the brand his friend Roman Reigns once championed.

No. 1 Contender's Battle Royal to Determine Next Challenger to Dean Ambrose

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    Superstars such as Finn Balor, Baron Corbin, Lucha House Party, the returning Titus O'Neil, Apollo Crews and lovable loser Curt Hawkins battled in a Fresh Start Battle Royal to determine who would challenge Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship later in the night.

    Crews impressed early, eliminating both No Way Jose and The Ascension's Viktor with military presses.

    Back from the break, Balor eliminated Lucha House Part's Gran Metalik, Kalisto and Lince Dorado. He soon found himself on the receiving end of an attack by Corbin. A blind charge into the corner, though, halted Corbin's onslaught.

    Crews continued his impressive run, dumping The B Team to the floor.

    Zack Ryder got hot but found himself grounded by Corbin, who also eliminated Balor. Hawkins stared down Corbin and took the fight to The Lone Wolf. His flurry was short-lived, though, as Corbin knocked him to the floor.

    The fight down to Crews and the former Raw GM, Apollo flipped out of the chokeslam and eliminated Corbin for the win.

       

    Result

    Crews won the battle royal

       

    Grade

    C-

       

    Analysis

    The lack of legitimate contenders to win this thing really hurt its overall quality, as did the fact that most battle royals just are not very good.

    Crews' performance, which saw him eliminate eight Superstars, was impressive but it also calls into question whether WWE Creative is getting ready to shove him down the collective throat of the WWE Universe. If he finds himself on the receiving end of a massive push, at the expense of guys like Balor and Elias who are more popular with fans, it could spell failure and leave Crews in a worse position than he was in before.

    And that was a really, really unfavorable position.

Elias Plays Off Baron Corbin

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    Back from break, Corbin ran down the WWE Universe and complained about the perils he faced as the Raw general manager. He declared that he deserved a reward and was answered by Elias.

    The Drifter said he didn't want to invite losers to his party so Corbin had to go. "You're a loser" chants filled the arena before Elias revealed it was Corbin's plan not to bring Raw to Detroit.

    Elias played a new song that knocked Corbin before a brawl broke out.

    The fight spilled into the stands with Elias gaining the upper hand until the former constable and GM escaped.

        

    Grade

    B

       

    Analysis

    Elias turned babyface by bashing Corbin with a guitar but no program between them was ever really followed up on. That changed Monday, with the ignition of a promo that will likely settle nicely into a crowded midcard.

    It keeps Corbin busy after the failed GM experiment and gives Elias the opportunity to enjoy his greatest popularity to date.

    All things considered, there are far worse things either man could be doing.

Bayley, Sasha Banks and Ember Moon vs. The Riott Squad

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    Bayley, Sasha Banks and Ember Moon sought revenge one week after being laid out by The Riott Squad, battling Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan in a Six-Woman Tag Team match. 

    The heels isolated Moon heading into the break, keeping her far away from Banks and Bayley in an attempt to wear her down and score a victory. 

    Banks tagged in after the break was in the midst of a double knee but Logan moved Morgan and The Boss landed knee-first on the mat. The heels double-teamed their way to an advantage over the babyfaces. Like they did with Moon, the Riott Squad isolated Banks, taking cheap shots at her partners in the process.

    Moon wiped Riott and Morgan out on the floor, Bayley tagged in and delivered the top rope elbow drop for the win.

       

    Result

    Banks, Bayley and Moon defeated The Riott Squad

       

    Grade

    B-

       

    Analysis

    The commentary team spent the entire match putting over The Riott Squad, going so far as to claim they could be wearing all the gold come the night after WrestleMania, so it makes absolute sense that the trio would go ahead and lose the damn match.

    At least it does in the minds of those in charge.

    Riott, Morgan and Logan actually have been the best, most unified group in WWE. They have excellent in-ring chemistry and look the part of a legitimate team. Yet, they lose to women thrown together for the sake of a feud. The result? Diminishing returns in terms of credibility.

    It will hurt them in the long term and everyone will wonder why or blame the talent when, in reality, it was creative's inability to book them effectively.

Seth Rollins vs. Bobby Lashley

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    Prior to Seth Rollins' match with Bobby Lashley, Lio Rush talked "The Almighty" up, urging him to dominate.

    Lashley overwhelmed Rollins early, wearing him down with his power-based offense. Back from the break, it was more of the same until Lashley hoisted him overhead for his delayed vertical suplex. Rollins kneed his way out of it and began his comeback, which included a Sling Blade.

    Rush was distraught at ringside as Rollins built momentum and interjected himself in the match, providing just enough of a distraction for Lashley to obliterate The Architect with a spinebuster.

    On the outside, Rollins took the fight to Rush. When Lashley attacked from behind, The Architect answered with a chair shot to the back. Incensed and enraged, Rollins repeatedly blasted both Lashley and Rush with the weapon before finishing the mouthpiece off with the Stomp.

       

    Result

    Lashley defeated Rollins via disqualification

       

    Grade

    A

       

    Analysis

    The match was fine enough for what it was but the grade here is more reflective of the angrier, more frustrated Rollins.

    For so long, he has been the quiet consistency of Raw. He has provided the in-ring content and did some...ok...promo work when called for it. A Rollins fed up with the crap and focused on himself and getting what he wants is a refreshing change of pace for a character that always seemed far too happy with just being there and delivering "classics."

    Tear it up. Burn it down. Raise some hell and take out anyone in your path. That is the Rollins that has been missing and if WWE Creative and the performer himself can keep it from becoming a caricature, this could be the character that finally carries The Kingslayer to the top of the card as a babyface and keeps him there.

3-on-2 Handicap Match: Heath Slater and Rhyno vs. Jinder Mahal and The Singhs

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    Credit: WWE.com

    A week after Rhyno returned dressed as Santa Claus and laid waste to Jinder Mahal, Sunil and Samir Singh with Gores, The Man Beast teamed with Heath Slatter to battle The Modern Day Maharaja and his loyal seconds in a 3-on-2 Handicap match.

    As Rhyno tried for the Gore late, one of the Sing Brothers distracted the official while the other grabbed hold of The Man Beast's ankle. Mahal took advantage and delivered The Khallas for the pinfall victory.

       

    Result

    Mahal and The Singhs defeated Rhyno and Slater

       

    Grade

    D

    Analysis

    Why, in a match where the heels' numbers advantage is perfectly legal, would the Singh Brothers have to distract the referee in order to set up that finish? At the very most, the official admonishes the interfering competitor and Mahal still wins with his finisher.

    It was an unnecessary dirty finish that did nothing to add any heat to the bout or make fans care any more (less?) than they already do about this C-level feud.

    The bright spot? More television time for Slater.

Intercontinental Championship Match: Apollo Crews vs. Dean Ambrose

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Just an hour or so after winning the Fresh Start Battle Royal, Apollo Crews sought to end 2018 in monumental fashion as he challenged Dean Ambrose for the Intercontinental Championship in what equated to his most significant match of the year.

    Ambrose controlled early, grounding Crews and working his head and neck in a very slow match.

    Crews fought back and scored a near-fall off a roll-up. A standing shooting star press earned him another two. A belly-to-belly overhead followed and Crews set him up for a gorilla press. Ambrose raked him in the eyes but could not escape a sit-out powerbomb.

    The challenger wiped the champion out at ringside, but back inside the squared circle, Ambrose dropped him with Dirty Deeds and successfully retained his title.

        

    Result

    Ambrose defeated Crews

       

    Grade

    C

       

    Analysis

    This took what felt like an eternity to get moving. When it did, Crews brought great energy but...the match just was not very good. At all.

    Since returning to the squared circle, Ambrose has struggled to get into a groove. When he was working tag team matches with Seth Rollins or Roman Reigns, his ring rust was masked. Since breaking out on his own and altering his in-ring style to fit his heel persona, he has failed to deliver a performance that leaves fans excited about his work.

    We saw it at TLC and we witnessed it, on a much smaller scale, here.

    The only thing that popped the crowd was Dirty Deeds, which is hardly a positive for a guy with a good portion of the show built around him at this point.

Ronda Rousey and Natalya vs. Tamina and Nia Jax

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Enraged following an attack by Nia Jax and Tamina on Natalya earlier in the night, The Queen of Harts and Raw women's champion Ronda Rousey hit the ring, taking the fight to the heels from the get-go.

    Rousey tried for an armbar on Jax, dodged a rolling senton and wound up wiping both heels out with a dive from the top rope heading into the final break of the show.

    The heels cut the ring off, isolating Natalya from her partner and wearing her down with their punishing style. 

    A hot tag to Rousey brought about the babyface comeback, courtesy of a jumping knee from the champion that stunned Jax. A jumping elbow earned her a count of two.

    Tamina scored a blind tag from Jax and laid Rousey out, the champion unaware she was the legal competitor. A headbutt felled the champion once but Rousey countered another with the armbar. A leg drop from Jax broke up the hold.

    Natalya fought Jax to the floor, Rousey countered a Superfly Splash and Rousey tapped the second-generation star out with her submission finish.

       

    Result

    Rousey and Natalya defeated Tamina and Jax

       

    Grade

    B

      

    Analysis

    A throwaway tag team match for the most part, this was still an excellent showcase for Rousey, who the Raw brand is obviously very interested in promoting as the face of the brand.

    She continued to improve with every passing week and this was no exception.

    The UFC Hall of Famer carries a star presence with her in every arena and it shows through. That the company recognizes it and puts her in the main events of shows, both televised and on pay-per-view, only proves how much faith and trust they have in her to carry the show.

    A solid, if unspectacular, conclusion to the show.