WWE Raw Results: Winners, Grades, Reaction and Highlights from December 16
On the heels of the final pay-per-view of the decade, TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs, WWE Raw hit the USA Network airwaves Monday with a show that paid little attention to the results from that event, instead opting to highlight the new partnership between Seth Rollins and AOP.
Rollins' show-opening promo gave way to a significant angle whose impact will be felt next week, but it was hardly the only effective segment.
Bobby Lashley proposed to Lana, Andrade sent a message loudly and clearly to Humberto Carrillo and Becky Lynch issued a challenge to a familiar foe.
Dive deeper into each happening with this recap of the December 16 broadcast.
Seth Rollins Kicks Off Raw
Seth Rollins kicked off Raw by introducing AOP to the fans. He discussed the fact that fans turned on him, questioning his status as a leader despite his willingness to do what was necessary rather than popular. He said Kevin Owens resisted and paid for it a week ago when he suffered a beatdown at the hands of the trio.
Rollins called himself a visionary and vowed to drag fans kicking and screaming into 2020. AOP would deal with anyone who withstood him. Rollins teased that there was one more thing he had to handle by the end of the night, and it would not be popular. He apologized to those affected, but he was doing what he had to do.
Rollins as the self-righteous, self-proclaimed leader of Raw is a great fit. For years, he referred to himself as The Architect and the future, so it makes sense that he continues to find labels he can use to mask his own insecurities.
Rollins' inability to see beyond himself makes him a misguided hero more than a villain, so it will be interesting to see how creative more firmly establishes him as a traditional heel.
Suggesting AOP will ensure the Raw roster's compliance with his vision was a great line and one that sets the tone for their partnership.
Non-Title Match: The Viking Raiders vs. Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows
Just 24 hours after their last encounter ended in an unsatisfying double count-out, The Viking Raiders defended the Raw Tag Team Championships against The O.C.'s Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows in the night's first match.
The champions started hot but gave up control of the bout heading into the commercial break. Anderson and Gallows controlled through the timeout, isolating Erik and working him over in hopes of putting down the seemingly unstoppable champions and taking their titles.
A hot tag to Ivar sparked the comeback and culminated with the babyfaces exploding through the ropes with a tope suicida that wiped out the competition on the floor ahead of yet another break.
After the commercial, as the action broke down, Ivar tried for a massive moonsault. Anderson rolled out of the way, and the heels deposited Erik to the arena floor. Back inside, The O.C. delivered the Magic Killer for the win.
The O.C. defeated The Viking Raiders
The match itself was probably the teams' best to date, but ill-timed commercial breaks still hampered it. The action was the typically solid in-ring content we have come to expect from Anderson and Gallows while also showcasing the raw athleticism of the champions. The outcome, though, remains problematic.
How many times have we seen a Superstar or team lose a title match, come back and win the non-title match, but by then, the lazy 50-50 booking has wrecked their credibility as potential champions?
If the goal was to put Anderson and Gallows over, it should have been for the titles and created a scenario where The Viking Raiders chase the gold rather than dominate everything and everyone in their path.
As it is, the feud continues, but only as fans realize the heels are really good at winning when it matters least.
Erick Rowan in Action
Erick Rowan and his mysterious cage hit the ring for yet another squash match between the red-bearded monster and an unnamed enhancement talent.
The unnamed competitor teased looking in the cage but quickly felt the wrath of Rowan, who delivered two straight Claw chokeslams for the uncontested win.
Rowan defeated the unknown competitor
All of this would mean so much more if it felt like it was going somewhere. Instead, it feels like a weekly excuse to keep Rowan on television, a not-so-subtle reminder that he is still on the roster.
There has been zero character development or storyline advancement for Rowan since his arrival on Raw. Instead, he appears regularly in uninteresting squash matches designed to buy creative time while it tries to figure out exactly what the hell the plan is with him.
Bobby Lashley Proposes to Lana
Bobby Lashley and Lana made their way to the ring for a post-TLC celebration. The Ravishing Russian bragged about her "hot, hot boyfriend" beating Rusev in the tables match at the PPV and said she wanted the world to know how much he loves her.
She asked Lashley to ask her to marry him, and The All Mighty did just that. Lana accepted the proposal, saying, "I will allow you to marry me." She said the ceremony would happen on Lana Day before the two embraced to end the segment.
There was a point where it seemed as though Lana simply was butchering lines and overacting because she was not good enough to be in the role she finds herself in. Since then, though, it has become more and more apparent that her act is just that: an attempt to garner heat by being as unbearable as possible.
It is working, as The Ravishing Russian was nearly booed out of the building as she condescendingly addressed her new fiance and let it slip that they had rehearsed his proposal earlier. It was a great representation of her heel work and a sign that the self-centered princess has the potential to become a genuine breakout star for Raw.
No. 1 Contender's Gauntlet Match
Five of the top stars on Raw battled in a Gauntlet match for the right to challenge Rey Mysterio for the United States Championship on Monday night, kicking off with 24/7 champion R-Truth versus former cruiserweight champion Akira Tozawa.
Truth missed a blind charge into the corner and crumbled to the arena floor. Tozawa capitalized, launching himself over the top rope and onto the 24/7 champion. Back inside the squared circle, Tozawa stunned Truth to pick up the first fall of the match. R-Truth eliminated.
Ricochet was out next, and the two high-flyers took to the skies after another commercial break. Tozawa controlled the early portion of the fall. The One and Only, though, turned the tide with a midair dropkick and a submission attempt that targeted the midsection of his opponent.
Back-and-forth action dominated the contest before a big kick from Ricochet led to a springboard clothesline. Tozawa caught Ricochet with a double knee on a Shooting Star Press attempt and nearly scored the win. Instead, the former U.S. champion recovered and delivered the Recoil for the win. Tozawa eliminated.
Matt Hardy arrived next, hoping to delete Ricochet and move on in the competition. Hardy nearly scored the win seconds into the fall, looking to make short work of the exhausted opposition. He grounded-and-pounded his way to several near-falls over Ricochet but was unable to keep his shoulders pinned to the mat for a count of three. Hardy delivered a Razor's Edge bomb for two, frustration mounting as he failed to put away his opponent.
Ricochet mounted a comeback, stringing together offense against his future Hall of Fame opponent. Hardy, though, caught him in midair with another Side Effect for yet another two. Ricochet dropped Hardy and followed with a standing Shooting Star Press for a near-fall of his own. The One and Only countered the Twist of Fate into a pinfall for the win. Hardy eliminated.
Humberto Carrillo arrived next, just in time for another break.
Carrillo soared through the air, wiping out Ricochet at ringside with a corkscrew press. He proceeded to show more aggression as he grounded Ricochet and worked over his left arm. Zelina Vega appeared prior to another commercial, scouting Andrade's prospective opponents.
Ricochet uncorked another standing Shooting Star Press to Carrillo but could not put him away. Later, Carrillo tried for a moonsault, but Ricochet rolled out of the way. The Superstars exchanged strikes before taking each other over the top rope and to the floor. Back in, they fought on the ropes until Ricochet brought his opponent to the mat with a superplex.
Neither Superstar earned complete control of the bout until a late running destroyer by Carrillo gave way to the moonsault for a pinfall win. Ricochet eliminated.
Andrade attacked from behind, capitalizing on the decoy that Vega provided. Andrade delivered consecutive running double knees and moved to the arena floor, where he exposed the concrete floor. El Idolo delivered a hammerlock DDT on the concrete, drawing out Rey Mysterio to make the save. Andrade exited the arena as officials checked on the young, unconscious competitor.
This was all kinds of great, beginning with a proper spotlight for the great Tozawa, continuing with Ricochet's gutsy performance and culminating with the angle that saw Andrade take out his frustrations on the cause of them.
The storylines throughout, coupled with the stellar fall between Ricochet and Carillo, helped make this hourlong bit of wrestling a huge success.
And, hey, Andrade finally looks like a star poised to enjoy a considerable push, so there's that, too.
The only negative? The lack of a definitive finish for a match of its quality.
Seth Rollins Leaves Rey Mysterio Lying
After the break, Rey Mysterio watched as Carrillo was stretchered out of the arena, only to have the arrival of Seth Rollins and AOP steal his focus. Rollins carried in his hand the pipe Mysterio had given to Kevin Owens.
Rollins taunted Mysterio, handing over the pipe and then watching as Akam and Rezar obliterated the U.S. champion.
The Architect claimed he would spare Mysterio this one time, but he owed him one.
As Rollins went to leave, he stopped and delivered one last Stomp to The Master of the 619.
After the break, Rollins issued a formal challenge to Mysterio for a match next week.
Rollins, again, was at his heel best as he mockingly addressed Mysterio, almost daring him to try to fight against the imposing and dominating AOP. He continued a very strong night on the mic, and his challenge to Mysterio for a match next week sets up a huge main event for a typically low-rated holiday episode of Raw.
On a night when he most needed to, Rollins came through with some outstanding work.
Asuka vs. Deonna Purrazzo
Prior to the bell, NXT's Deonna Purrazzo delivered a wicked pump kick to Asuka, dropping her heading into the break. After the commercial, she felt the wrath of a focused and vengeful Asuka.
The Empress of Tomorrow stretched her opponent, transitioning from one submission to the other in hopes of forcing a tapout from Purrazzo. The Virtuosa created separation with a much-needed back elbow and a flatliner, but Asuka managed to kick out at two.
An overconfident Purrazzo talked trash and ate a flurry of strikes for her trouble. Asuka trapped her in the Asuka Lock for the submission win.
Asuka defeated Purrazzo
It was interesting to see an NXT star like Purrazzo debut on Raw before she ever appeared on that brand's show, but The Virtuosa turned in a strong performance in her first opportunity to impress the WWE Universe.
More important than that, though, was Asuka's relative dominance and what appears to be the start of a singles push toward the Raw Women's Championship and a date with Becky Lynch. As a reminder of her badassery, this was more than effective.
Becky Lynch Interview
Charly Caruso sat down with Raw women's champion Becky Lynch for a special interview.
The Man said she realized that she was not taken out of singles competition and put into tag team action to bury her or hold her down; she was put there to protect her because she's the golden goose now, and they don't want that to change.
She talked about Asuka beating her, though, and the fact that The Empress of Tomorrow has had her number every time they have competed against each other. Lynch then begged, implored, Asuka to fight her so she can prove that she is the best.
This was a great, short promo by Lynch.
After a year in which everything went her way, including capturing gold and headlining pay-per-views, Lynch finds herself confronted by a familiar foe who has beaten her at every turn. Desperate to claim that one win that has eluded her, the confident Lynch now finds herself needing a match with Asuka to almost vindicate her many accomplishments.
That is an easy-to-follow storyline that will do more to build anticipation for that match than any overbooked angle ever could.
Randy Orton vs. AJ Styles
Randy Orton sought the RKO quickly in his main event match with AJ Styles but soon found himself on the defensive as The Phenomenal One targeted his left knee, chop-blocking him on the arena floor heading into the break.
After several minutes of action dominated by Styles, The Viper fought back into the bout, unloading on his opponent with hard rights and a nasty uppercut. Styles, though, kicked the knee out from underneath Orton. An explosive snap powerslam allowed Orton to prevent any further damage at the hands of Styles.
Orton attempted a superplex, but Styles was able to escape and pull his opponent back to the mat. Another chop block left the third-generation star writhing in pain. Styles capitalized with a moonsault for a near-fall.
Orton recovered and delivered the draping DDT. Orton called for the RKO, but Styles countered. He tried for the Calf Crusher, but Orton again escaped. Styles set up for the Phenomenal Forearm, but Orton caught him in midair with the RKO for the win.
After the match, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows hit the ring and beat down Orton. The Viking Raiders made the save, but The O.C. still gained the upper hand and stood tall to close out the show.
Orton defeated Styles
Orton is such a fantastic in-ring psychologist. He sold the hell out of his knee and let it play into the finish. His fake-out in the closing seconds, leading to the RKO, was excellent and added a nice exclamation point to the match.
What came after may be more important to the long-term health of the upper midcard on Raw, though.
The O.C. standing tall after downing Orton and The Viking Raiders is absolutely key to Anderson and Gallows' success. They need to rebuild credibility and momentum anytime they possibly can. Otherwise, they are yet another heel act that is set up to be knocked down every week by the babyfaces management considers more valuable.