Braun Strowman is out of the Universal Championship Match at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view.
The dramatic shift in The Monster Among Men's fortunes came after a tumultuous start to Raw that saw him go from promising victory against Brock Lesnar to chasing Baron Corbin throughout the backstage area when The Lone Wolf questioned Strowman's chances against The Beast. Strowman found his prey holed up in a limousine in the loading dock (Elias provided the key tip-off in song) and tore the door off the limo with his bare hands to smoke out The Lone Wolf, only to find himself face-to-face with the vehicle's intended passenger, and the only man who could possibly intimidate Strowman more than Lesnar: Mr. McMahon.
The Chairman was, obviously, less than pleased that The Gift of Destruction had decimated his ride. Furious, really, is a more apt description. So much so that he levied a $100,000 fine against Strowman. That might have been that, but when The Monster Among Men raised his voice, The Chairman upped the ante by calling off the Universal Title Match and walking away. Braun replied by flipping over Mr. McMahon's limo in frustration, an impressive display that doesn't hide the fact that Strowman let his long-awaited opportunity slipped right through These Hands. And with the most monstrous player off the board, the Universal Title field is wide open.
Good enemies make better allies, but nobody should get the idea that Ronda Rousey's team-up with her challenger Sasha Banks is anything but a partnership of convenience. As crisp as both were against Nia Jax & Tamina in the first match of this week's Raw, things went from civil to tense in a hurry during a post-match interview. Following the victory — via Bank Statement over Tamina — Rousey, in the process of praising her challenger, got a little ahead of herself by predicting a victory over The Boss will rank among her greatest accomplishments.
Sasha, obviously, took exception to being looked past, and Rousey's attempts to cool the situation down only led to a backstage confrontation between the two that Bayley and Natalya narrowly managed to defuse — though they quickly ended up at odds over which Superstar was the instigating party. The Riott Squad, who never met a button they didn't like to push, showed up to push some buttons and “take a bad situation and make it worse” by challenging Bayley and Natalya to a match later in the night ... provided they found a friend to join them.
Last week, The Revival were surrounded by a ring full of Lumberjacks, none of whom managed to alert the referee that Scott Dawson's foot was on the ropes during the fateful pinfall that cost them the Raw Tag Team Titles. So the “Top Guys” came to Raw in search of some retribution against three of those Lumberjacks in particular, and a team they have a good amount of unfinished business with as well: The Lucha House Party.
With the accursed Lucha House Rules no longer in play, The Revival found themselves on much more firm footing against the team who "turned their backs" on them the previous week. Despite the impressive combo of Kalisto & Gran Metalik to battle the two-time NXT Tag Team Champions, LHP fell to the "Top Guys" in almost poetic fashion, with Dash Wilder knocking Gran Metalik's boot off the ropes to nullify a pin break and allow the ref to complete the three-count. Clearly, teams turn their backs on The Revival at their own risk, whether they're in the match or not.
Braun Strowman is out as Brock Lesnar's next challenger. So, in the immortal words of a former Universal Champion: Who's next?
Mr. McMahon had no shortage of options when he attempted to address the situation, as The Chairman's office fielded a line of Superstars ranging from Apollo Crews to, surprisingly, EC3. When Mr. McMahon decided to make his decision publicly, four Superstars appeared to make their case for why they should get the nod that had been taken from Braun Strowman: John Cena (he had stuck with Mr. McMahon when the previous generation had all gone elsewhere and has plenty of ruthless aggression in the tank), Drew McIntyre (Cena's had his opportunities) Baron Corbin (he implied he would sue Mr. McMahon over Braun Strowman's threats earlier in the night) and Finn Bálor (he's a former Universal Champion himself).
Of the four competitors, the only one Mr. McMahon responded to was Bálor, to whom he gave a simple word of feedback: “I don’t know.” Bálor, admitting The Chairman had never believed in him the way the audience did, decided to show his bonafides by slugging Corbin, instigating a brawl that McIntyre got the better of by Claymoring both the Irishman and Cena. Seeing that the solution had presented itself, a giddy Mr. McMahon announced that the four Superstars would clash in a Fatal 4-Way, with the winner receiving the golden ticket to Suplex City.
But that wasn't all: As The Chairman made his exit, he ran afoul of Jinder Mahal, who made a last-ditch case for himself as a challenger for Lesnar that landed on sympathetic ears. Mr. McMahon agreed that, if The Maharaja defeated one of the competitors in the Fatal 4-Way, he would take that man's place. The former WWE Champion made his decision on the spot: He chose Finn Bálor.
Hello, Nikki Cross. For now, anyway. The Twisted Sister of NXT officially became the first member of the black-and-yellow brand's newest class to compete on Monday Night Raw, teaming with Bayley & Natalya in a winning effort against The Riott Squad. Whether Team Red is the she-demon's permanent home, however, is another matter entirely, as the six NXT veterans will be appearing on both shows until they are assigned to a specific brand.
For the sake of The Riott Squad, they better hope she leans toward SmackDown LIVE. Cross was a one-woman wrecking crew in the match, tagging in early and almost singlehandedly decimating the opposing trio in the early goings. When she wasn't tagged in, she disrupted the contest by way of her mere presence. And while Cross didn't earn the victory, she teed Bayley up for the fateful pinfall by dropping Liv Morgan with a hanging neckbreaker off the ropes. The Huggable One followed up with an elbow drop off the top turnbuckle, and that was that. Call it a successful debut for Nikki Cross, though whether it was just a cameo appearance or a taste of things to come is a question that has yet to be answered.
Jinder Mahal, challenge Brock Lesnar? It's been a while since The Maharaja sniffed a World Title, but as he pointed out to Mr. McMahon, he's as deserving as anyone of an opportunity. After all, he is a former WWE Champion, and he was about a minute away from facing The Beast at Survivor Series 2017 before AJ Styles swooped in and stole his glory. The Chairman, convinced to a point, gave Mahal an ultimatum: Defeat one of the Fatal 4-Way participants, and he's in the match. If not, he gets back in line.
Long story short, he's going back in line, though not for lack of trying against Finn Bálor. Mahal took no chances in the make-or-break opportunity, ambushing Finn during his entrance after Samir Singh distracted The Extraordinary Man and forcing the Irishman into an early pit he had to claw his way out of. To the surprise of no one, except perhaps Mahal, he did: Bálor slowly but surely rallied, disposing of Singh with a dropkick and putting Mahal away with a picture-perfect Coup de Grâce. The Irishman remains in the race, but with Mahal having visibly weakened him, at what cost?
Bobby Lashley made a point of marking the amount of time since he'd held WWE gold on Twitter over the weekend. The All Mighty can stop the clock now. Following a power play on last week's Raw that thrust him into the Intercontinental Title picture, Lashley finally broke his championship drought by winning a Triple Threat Match against Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins to win the ivory title for the first time in his career.
He did so more or less by force of will, as Seth Rollins opted for a blaze-of-glory game plan and fought everything that moved, while Dean Ambrose selected a canny, enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend strategy, forging and fracturing alliances seemingly by the minute. The most effective of those team-ups was with Rollins, a tentative union that nonetheless took Lashley out of the running and set up a one-on-one battle between the two former brothers-in-arms.
Thanks to Lio Rush, however, The All Mighty was able to stay in the hunt. The Man of the Hour interfered at two crucial moments, breaking up a Rollins pinfall and high-lowing The Kingslayer over the top rope right when he appeared to be closing in on the victory. Lashley capitalized immediately, hurling himself into a Spear that de-cleated The Lunatic Fringe and handed the Intercontinental Championship to The All Mighty.
If nothing else, “A Moment of Bliss” is certainly becoming the place to go when you want to make a statement. Following Sasha Banks’ mic-drop on Nia Jax last week, Alexa Bliss’ talk show played host to a major reveal, a top-flight guest in Paul Heyman, and a truly bizarre appearance.
Indeed, The Goddess began by unveiling the WWE Women's Tag Team Championships, even going so far as to disclose when and how they would be awarded: At the WWE Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, with three teams from Raw and three teams from SmackDown LIVE vying for the new titles inside the Chamber itself.
Heyman's interview went a little less smoothly: The Advocate was running through the list of potential challengers for Brock Lesnar when Otis Dozovic of Heavy Machinery wandered out — presumably in search of a steak and/or weight — and began to yell excited nonsense in the presence of The Goddess, derailing the interview until Tucker Knight showed up to restrain him. Where Heavy Machinery ends up is, of course, still up for question. But at least one-half of the blue-collar solid tag team seems to have found his bliss.
Even by his standards, Finn Bálor has had an extraordinary last few days: The Irishman started the weekend as a guest of honor at the opening of the UK Performance Center, ended up fighting his student Jordan Devlin at NXT UK TakeOver, and in the course of one Raw, went from long-shot title hopeful to winning two matches and becoming the next man up for Universal Champion Brock Lesnar.
Not bad for a guy who Mr. McMahon supposedly didn't believe in, especially considering he defeated John Cena (the man The Chairman has called the greatest of all time), Drew McIntyre (the onetime “Chosen One”) and Baron Corbin (who Mr. McMahon once trusted to run his show). The Irishman played the match perfectly, weathering the perfect storm of conflicting agendas until he finally picked his moment to strike: Big Match John had the big match moves, but was a hair too slow to close. McIntyre was a marvel, but seemed more focused on making a statement than winning the match, and Corbin's desire to slowly dismantle everyone with a steel chair left him vulnerable to a retaliatory strike from The Cenation Leader that set up the conclusion.
After the 16-time World Champion downed The Lone Wolf with an Attitude Adjustment, McIntyre blew him off his feet with a Claymore Kick, and Bálor pounced, disposing of the Scotsman and drilling Cena with a Coup de Grâce to seal the match. Despite suffering the deciding pinfall, Cena still got to his feet to deliver proper respect to the victor, declaring that Bálor had made a believer out of him. If The Extraordinary Man walks out of the Royal Rumble with the Universal Title, there won't be a person in the world who doesn't agree, from the kids on the floor to the man in the office.
- Numbers in parentheses indicate the length of the match.
- (c) refers to the champion(s) heading into the match.
- The Revival (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder) defeated The Lucha House Party (Kalisto & Gran Metalik) (w/ Lince Dorado) (4:10)
- Bayley, Natalya & Nikki Cross defeated The Riott Squad (Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan & Sarah Logan) (11:55)
- Bobby Lashley (w/ Lio Rush) defeated Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose (c) in a Triple Threat to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship (13:10)
- Finn Bálor defeated John Cena, Drew McIntyre and Baron Corbin in a Fatal Four-Way to be the #1 Contender for the WWE Universal Championship (18:45)
Other on-screen talent