Sometimes, a few NXT Superstars popping up unannounced backstage is just a friendly visit of sorts ... and sometimes, their presence means exactly what you think it does. Raw proved to be a resounding case of the latter, as Triple H — or WWE Hall of Famer Triple H as he's about to be known — took the stage to announce four new imports from the black-and-gold stable he oversees down in Florida: Ricochet, Aleister Black, NXT North American Champion Johnny Gargano and NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa, all of whom were spotted behind the curtain just hours before the show began.
That's ... quite a bit of news, especially considering the dust has barely settled from the various title changes, beatings and miracle runs that took place just 24 hours ago. But even though we’re a few weeks away from getting into the Fastlane proper, this is clearly going to be a more breakneck Road to WrestleMania than usual. Among the other twists and turns in store? The follow-up announcement of Braun Strowman and Baron Corbin in a Tables Match, to begin immediately. And the no-business attitude of The Monster Among Men as he approached the ring told the story: Things were, as they say, about to get bumpy.
Baron Corbin can always be counted on for a good strategy, though without his friends at his side, his luck doesn't tend to match up. Facing a very angry Braun Strowman in a Tables Match, the former General Manager-Elect of Monday Night Raw relentlessly worked the battered ribs of his longtime foe, stayed on the attack after a strong opening and kept the action as far away from any stray tables as he could in the hopes of whittling Strowman down to claim the win the win. It didn't work, but it was enough to make things interesting.
That last tactic was especially wise: Slamming Corbin through a table would be light lifting for The Gift of Destruction, but The Lone Wolf's combination of a wisely-picked target and impressive ring awareness made sure Strowman had neither the strength nor proximity to make that happen. Even when Strowman began to rally, Corbin's fresher legs allowed him to keep the match at a quick pace — until he sprinted headlong into the Monster's clutches and found himself plowed through a table via Running Powerslam to end the match.
That result was hard-won vindication for Strowman, who was driven through two tables by Corbin, Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley at last night's pay-per-view, but the presence of Paul Heyman at the top of the ramp seemed to give him something of a second wind. Strowman ominously ensnared Brock Lesnar's notorious handler by the shirt collar, but he ultimately released The Advocate from his clutches; he'd had enough destruction for one night.
Finn Bálor's Intercontinental Title victory was a welcome return to championship status for the dynamic Irishman, who's labored for almost three years to claim a title since winning and vacating the Universal Championship in the span of a day. His current reign, though only one day old, is certainly looking to be an eventful one: He's already got a rival and a friend to his name, as well as a victory.
The rival is Bobby Lashley, the musclebound former champion who lost his title under Handicap Rules when Bálor pinned his second, Lio Rush. The friend is Ricochet, the NXT high-flyer who defies description — he's literally called The One and Only, which should give you an idea — and came to Bálor's rescue during a sneak attack from Lashley and Rush. The victory came in the following impromptu tag match, which showcased the skills and athleticism of everyone involved; with three speedsters and one powerhouse sharing the ring, it was, to borrow Rush's phrase from last night, plenty of sizzle with a big side of steak.
Rush and Ricochet provided a lot of the former, while Lashley seemed set on painfully reducing Bálor to a flash in the pan. Rush made the mistake of provoking Bálor instead of closing out, however, allowing the Irishman to rally and tag in his partner, who took the fight to Rush and — once Bálor had dispatched Lashley at ringside — put the match away with his astounding 630 maneuver.
The goose egg remains, though it cannot be denied that Curt Hawkins is slowly inching toward the victory he hopes will snap his now-legendary losing streak. It's not a matter of winning the big one so much as winning any one at all, which is perhaps why The Prince of Queens seemed somewhat frozen at the moment of truth during a tag team match that pitted him and Zack Ryder in a tag team match against Lince Dorado & Gran Metalik of The Lucha House Party. Hawkins rallied long enough from his brief hesitation to deck Metalik on the apron with a hard right, but The Golden Lynx was lying in wait with a hurricanrana that spiked Hawkins to the mat and proved enough to extend his streak by one.
The state of the tag team division has been something of a sticking point for The Revival over the last few weeks — too many fluke losses and Lucha House Rules for their taste — so their first night as Raw Tag Team Champions was right up their alley: A rematch of a 2016 contest against NXT Champion Tommaso Ciampa & NXT North American Champion Johnny Gargano that was named the match of the year. To be sure, the arrival of the onetime #DIY was a godsend for tag-team aficionados; the two teams put on an impromptu classic that seemed to foreshadow a new, ultracompetitive era for Raw's tandem division (former champs Bobby Roode & Chad Gable were pointedly wondering why they weren't involved in the action) and gave The Revival the kind of competition they crave. The result, however, left something to be desired for the self-proclaimed “Top Guys.”
Ciampa & Gargano did, indeed, give them a hell of a fight — more, perhaps, than they were ready for, as Dash & Dawson found themselves quickly put on their heels by Gargano's speed and The Blackheart's cruel ingenuity. Any strategy the champions had quickly went out the window, and the match quickly careened into a sequence of rapid-fire pin attempts. Dawson found himself on the wrong end of a slingshot spear from Gargano, which set up a fateful tag from Ciampa and the duo's rattling finisher of a running knee and superkick to either side of the head that they call Meeting in the Middle.
The good news for the champs is that they could try to write it off as a fluke, as Ciampa and Gargano have unfinished business at Full Sail with various challengers and, perhaps, each other. This may be a one-off reunion, and it might be better for The Revival's reign if it was. Because for one night at least, they got exactly what they wanted, and they weren't ready for it.
And just like that, we have a Women's Tag Team division. With The Boss ‘N’ Hug Connection's historic victory in the Elimination Chamber last night, a whole new frontier of the Women's Evolution has opened up, and Sasha Banks & Bayley gave us the first glimpse of what that might look like.
For starters, the matter of the title's home brand: To put it simply, it's all of them. The champions announced that they would not hoard the titles to their home base on Team Red and planned to defend them across Raw, SmackDown LIVE and even NXT, against any challenger, past or present, who wanted an opportunity. And they might already have rivals, as Nia Jax & Tamina reared their heads to try to sow some old seeds of doubt and dissention (namely, that Sasha puts herself first and always loses her titles on her first defense). But Sasha & Bayley may prove to be a tougher chase together than they are apart, as they quickly knocked Jax & Tamina from the apron. Jax & Tamina may be the first prospective challengers, but if things continue this way, they certainly won't be the last.
What's Dean Ambrose thinking? It's a question better asked than answered, as The Lunatic Fringe's motivations seem to change at a moment's notice. This week, he provoked a furious Drew McIntyre with a slap to the face, moments after The Scottish Psychopath petitioned Triple H for a match against Seth Rollins in hopes he might earn a victory that could send him to WrestleMania in The Kingslayer's place.
It proved to be an unwise strategy, as McIntyre made relatively quick work of the former WWE Champion with a pair of Claymores. Somewhat surprised he'd been left to twist in the wind, The Lunatic Fringe tracked Rollins down and demanded to know where The Architect was in his hour of need. Rollins, understandably, wasn't going to let one friendly moment undo months of torment, and he exasperatedly asked Ambrose if he'd completely lost his mind. A long, wide-eyed pause later, and The Lunatic Fringe shrugged and made his exit. What's Dean Ambrose thinking? We may never know.
Elias came to Louisiana not so much to play a song as bring himself to such a state of peace that he drifted off to unconsciousness, so Aleister Black arrived to give the man precisely what he desired. The former NXT Champion was the last and potentially most fearsome of Full Sail's new arrivals to make his presence known on Raw, and Elias had luckily seen enough of what came before to be ready for The Dutch Destroyer.
Or, at least, as ready as he could be. The Living Truth fought dirty and fought smart, grounding Black to take away his striking ability. But Aleister fought tougher, blistering Elias with every body part he had available to him, lastly and most greatly with his foot in the form of his wicked Black Mass kick. Good night, sweet prince.
Ruby Riott, long considered a contender-in-waiting, was more or less routed by Ronda Rousey at WWE Elimination Chamber, and even though she fell short of The Rowdy One's title once again on Raw, Riott turned in a gritty performance and at least made it a fight.
She may owe a little bit to Becky Lynch. The Man's attack the night before left Rousey as bruised as it did irritated, and Ruby capitalized accordingly. (Related note: Lynch will be arrested and charged with criminal trespassing, disorderly conduct, and menacing if she violates her suspension again, though Triple H admitted he thought it was cool). The rest of The Riott Squad also paid dividends, handing Rousey a 3-on-1 disadvantage where needed, but Ruby couldn't close out. Rousey kicked out of not one but two Riott Kicks, took out the Squad with a crossbody to the outside, and sealed the deal with an Alabama Slam into the turnbuckles and the piece de resistance, the Armbar, for a near-instant submission.
The Baddest Woman on the Planet wasn't quite done there, either; she quickly dispatched the rest of The Riott Squad when they rushed the ring to send her challenger and her cronies scurrying in a display of dominance that surely caught the eye of Charlotte Flair, to say nothing of you-know-who as well.
- Numbers in parentheses indicate the length of the match.
- (c) refers to the champion(s) heading into the match.
- Braun Strowman defeated Baron Corbin in a Tables match (13:45)
- Finn Bálor & Ricochet defeated Lio Rush & Bobby Lashley (18:05)
- The Lucha House Party (Lince Dorado & Gran Metalik) (w/ Kalisto) defeated Curt Hawkins & Zack Ryder (3:10)
- DIY (Johnny Gargano & Tommaso Ciampa) defeated The Revival (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder) (11:25)
- Drew McIntyre defeated Dean Ambrose (1:56)
- Aleister Black defeated Elias (8:02)
- Ronda Rousey (c) defeated Ruby Riott (w/ Liv Morgan & Sarah Logan) by submission to retain the WWE Raw Women's Championship (11:45)
Other on-screen talent