With a fanfare of trumpets, a spark of static electricity from his lightning fist and Pantene-worthy head of hair whipping in the wind, John Cena returned to Raw to announce his plans for 2019. He's only got one right now ... but it's a biggie: Unwilling to be relegated to the sidelines again, the 16-time World Champion declared for the Men's Royal Rumble Match, setting up a path to WrestleMania that will (hopefully) be much less fraught than last year's tortured march to The Undertaker's boneyard.
Of course, it's never too early to begin the climb, which is why Drew McIntyre quickly made his presence known by confronting Mr. Free Agent and reminding Cena that there have been some changes to the pecking order since he last set foot on Monday nights. And with McIntyre sitting at or near the top after having broken The Shield, obliterated Dolph Ziggler and submitted Kurt Angle, The Scottish Psychopath was now set to make his name at the expense of the greatest of all time.
But before he could, Lio Rush appeared out of nowhere with frantic threats to sue Seth Rollins, who had beaten Bobby Lashley across the arena in a pre-show brawl before Cena made his entrance. Rush's shrieks summoned The Kingslayer from backstage; Dean Ambrose was quick to follow, and Rollins and Cena quickly found themselves swallowed up in the ensuing brawl ... until Finn Bálor sprinted down the ramp and singlehandedly evened the odds in a wild melee. Cena may have framed his absence to McIntyre as an act of charity, but he's finding there's no shortage of Superstars who stepped up to fill the void.
On any given Raw in 2018, you could count on Seth Rollins to routinely steal the show and take control of the conversation. 2019 is shaping up to be no different: While John Cena and Drew McIntyre had the first word of Raw's opening 20-odd minute Six-Man Tag Team Match by way of their confrontation at the top of the show, The Kingslayer wrestled the headline right out from under them by pinning Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose and setting himself up for another crack at The Lunatic Fringe's title.
In fact, Cena's role for most of the match was that of the underdog in peril, as his team's opponents — Drew McIntyre, Bobby Lashley and Ambrose — battered The Cenation Leader until Finn Bálor bailed him out in the nick of time. The Irishman effectively reset the terms of the match, and Seth Rollins swung the bout back in his squad's direction with a lengthy press against McIntyre. The Scottish Psychopath narrowly evaded what might have been the deciding Frog Splash from The Architect, setting up Ambrose to tag in and potentially pick the bones. But Rollins wriggled free of Dirty Deeds, administered the Stomp and scored the pin — a display Triple H agreed was close enough to the "old" Seth Rollins to give The Kingslayer an Intercontinental Title rematch later tonight in a Falls Count Anywhere Match. Not a bad showing for Seth Freakin’ Rollins, and there's a lot of freakin’ show left.
Of the many Superstars who crossed paths with the late “Mean” Gene Okerlund, few (if any) became more synonymous with the WWE Hall of Famer than Hulk Hogan, whose famous opening line — “Well let me TELL YOU something, MEAN GENE” — took on a life of its own. Hogan returned to Raw to offer a tribute to the man he called the best partner he ever had.
Accompanied by a 10-bell salute, Hogan's tribute was a subdued remembrance almost completely free of Hulkamania, as he removed his customary shades to honor Okerlund's commitment to entertaining, cued up a highlight reel of “Mean” Gene's greatest moments and offered a quiet “I love you, ‘Mean’ Gene; I miss you.” As a final tribute, Hogan gathered himself, slipped the shades back on and gave one last interview for the legendary announcer who may no longer be visible at his shoulder, but was clearly sharing the ring with him all the same.
When The Revival said they wanted to bring back the classic hallmarks of tag team wrestling, screwy losses were probably not what they had in mind. And yet, there Dash & Dawson were, once again falling short of Bobby Roode & Chad Gable’s Raw Tag Team Titles thanks to an officiating error that paired quite nicely with their loss a few weeks ago, when they were erroneously pinned by the wrong man.
In the ref’s defense, the end of the title match — contested under Lumberjack rules — was more than a little chaotic, as Scott Dawson and Chad Gable traded intricate rollups and backslides all the way across the ring until they found themselves on the edge of the ropes with Dawson in the cover. Roode, however, quickly made his move, flipping Gable into the advantage while the ref was occupied. Dawson’s foot landed squarely on the ropes, but the zebra didn’t notice and counted the 1-2-3 that kept the titles squarely in glorious hands. The Four Horsemen would be proud, though it’s fair to say Dash & Dawson probably saw themselves in the legendary swindlers’ shoes, and not the ones of the team they thwarted.
It feels like Baron Corbin and Elias have been fighting each other forever, but believe it or not, the two Superstars have never had a one-on-one match before Raw tonight. They're almost guaranteed to have a second one, though, because Corbin only defeated The Living Truth by way of some well-timed aggression and a ref who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time: Corbin went to throw Elias into the turnbuckle, and The Living Truth was forced to stop short rather than pancake the official. Elias’ moment of hesitation was enough for Corbin to rally from what was a fairly deep deficit and administer the End of Days. So the first time ever is in the books, but between the narrow win and both Superstars having declared for the Men's Royal Rumble Match, things might just be getting started.
Braun Strowman came to Raw expecting a face-to-face with Universal Champion Brock Lesnar. And technically he got one — The Beast and The Monster Among Men did, indeed, lock eyes, albeit with three ropes and 20 feet of distance between them. Truth be told, Strowman was lucky to even get that, as Paul Heyman pulled an old promoter trick — “Card subject to change” — to conduct the face-to-face from the safety of the backstage area while Strowman stewed in the ring.
The Gift of Destruction eventually goaded Lesnar as far as the outside of the ring, but The Anomaly was more curious than anything and didn't seem all that motivated to cross the ropes and throw hands. It was a canny move by Team Brock to keep Braun's emotions running high, though all their efforts to control the narrative might not mean anything if bell time comes at the Royal Rumble and The Beast suddenly finds himself woefully unprepared.
In hindsight, Jinder Mahal & Alicia Fox's unsuccessful attempts to get the Orlando crowd to meditate with them were, perhaps, an omen of things to come. In a rematch of the Mixed Match Challenge Semifinals, Mahal & Fox once again squared up with Apollo Crews & Ember Moon and found the result reversed thanks to a fast, house-on-fire effort from their opponents. Mahal and Crews found themselves more or less equally matched, but The War Goddess quickly sealed the deal upon tagging in by forcing Alicia into the corner and swooping down with the Eclipse.
Oh, you thought it was going to be a literal moment of bliss? Not even close. The debut of Alexa Bliss’ talk show — the first ever hosted by a female Superstar — quickly turned into a game of bragging rights among the Women's division and a question of who would next face her guest, Ronda Rousey, for the Raw Women's Title. Rousey's preferred opponent was Sasha Banks, much to the dismay of Bliss and, more importantly, Nia Jax, who stormed onto the ramp and attempted to bully The Boss to the back of the line. Sasha flipped the script almost immediately with the one-liner of this very young year: “B----, what line? There’s a ring right here, and I will face you right now. Winner faces Ronda.”
Not much else to say after that, is there?
A while ago, Ronda Rousey gave a podcast interview where she named Sasha Banks as a dream opponent, but cautioned she wasn't sure she was ready to have the match just yet. Well, it's sink-or-swim time — or, more aptly, it's Boss Time, because Banks is officially Rousey's next challenger for the Raw Women's Title, thanks to a big-ticket victory over Nia Jax on Raw.
She earned the win despite every effort by The Irresistible Force to get the victory by less-than-chivalrous means: Tamina was lurking at ringside — Bayley played backup for The Boss — and Jax attempted to wrangle a count-out victory when she press-slammed Banks on top of a production crate positioned in the audience. The Boss took Jax's great equalizer out of the equation when she dodged the #Facebreaker and Jax pummeled the mat by mistake, but the power advantage proved almost too much to overcome, especially when Jax dropped her opponent sternum-first across the top turnbuckle.
Sasha still stuck around, leading to an attempted interference from Tamina that Bayley quickly snuffed out. With Nia reeling and Tamina out of the equation, The Boss rolled her foe into the Bank Statement, cranked back, and forced Nia to tap. Ready or not, here she comes.
In his efforts to channel the old Seth Rollins, The Kingslayer forgot the very important, hard-earned lesson from a few years back that helped spark his change of heart in the first place: What goes around, comes around.
Yes, for all The Architect's furious, man-on-fire efforts against Dean Ambrose in an Intercontinental Championship Falls Count Anywhere Match, his best-laid plans were blown up by Bobby Lashley, who was humiliated by Rollins at the top of the show and apparently spent the whole night plotting his payback. The All Mighty reared his head at the exact perfect moment, blowing up a performance from Rollins that included a brawl through the curtain, a body slam on top of the announce table and, in a maneuver as effective as it was rudimentary, a straight right square to the nose of The Lunatic Fringe.
Ambrose was similarly eager to exploit the anything-goes scenario of the match, but thanks to a pre-match ambush by The Kingslayer, Ambrose never quite managed to find his footing and found himself flattened with a Stomp. That's when Lashley struck, hauling Rollins out of the ring and tearing him apart so viciously all Ambrose had to do was crawl over and make the cover.
He did, slowly and painfully, and it was enough to retain his title. But The All Mighty wasn't done, as he plowed The Kingslayer through a table with a one-handed spinebuster that well and truly left Rollins in ruins — proof if there ever was that Seth Rollins, new, old, or otherwise, might have his work cut out for him with Bobby Lashley. It's not out of the realm of possibility that he'll make it to the level Triple H wants him at, of course ... but he might do well to think of a Plan B.
- Numbers in parentheses indicate the length of the match.
- (c) refers to the champion(s) heading into the match.
- John Cena, Finn Bálor & Seth Rollins defeated Dean Ambrose, Drew McIntyre & Bobby Lashley (w/ Lio Rush) (21:30)
- Bobby Roode & Chad Gable (c) defeated The Revival (Scott Dawson & Dash Wilder) in a Lumberjack match to retain the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship (10:15)
- Baron Corbin defeated Elias (9:25)
- Apollo Crews & Ember Moon defeated Alicia Fox & Jinder Mahal (w/ Samir & Sunil Singh) (1:50)
- Sasha Banks (w/ Bayley) defeated Nia Jax (w/ Tamina) by submission to be the #1 Contender for the WWE Raw Women's Championship (13:15)
- Dean Ambrose (c) defeated Seth Rollins in a Falls Count Anywhere match to retain the WWE Intercontinental Championship (14:55)
Other on-screen talent