The Shield’s final match was as pure a feel-good moment as you’re ever likely to come across in WWE — Corey Graves doesn’t get choked up over just anything — but The Road to WrestleMania moves fast, and with Roman Reigns’ blessing, The Hounds of Justice's farewell address quickly morphed into business of a different kind. That would, of course, be the start of Seth Rollins’ fateful trudge to Suplex City, where Universal Champion Brock Lesnar lies in wait.
Never one to miss a chance to get ahead of the competition, Paul Heyman re-emerged for the first time in weeks to remind the would-be Beastslayer of what, exactly, it is he’s looking to slay: Not only did The Advocate cue up a highlight reel of Brock Lesnar in action, he even brought out Shelton Benjamin, a veteran of Lesnar’s collegiate wrestling room who was once described as the only man who could go toe-to-toe with The Conqueror in his youth. The Gold Standard ambushed Rollins from behind, dishing out a series of Lesnar-esque German suplexes to The Architect in a display that was half rude-awakening, and half-reminder that Rollins’ run through the glory days with The Shield might have come with a steep price. After all, Team Brock had that much longer to prepare, and Rollins is starting from behind.
In one sense, Seth Rollins' victory over Shelton Benjamin didn’t tell the WWE Universe anything they didn’t already know: The Royal Rumble Match winner can, theoretically, beat Brock Lesnar. The question is how he'll pull it off, and in that case, the first-time-ever bout provided some clues as to what we might see come bell time at MetLife in four weeks.
For one, as Rollins pointed out in Raw’s opening, Lesnar seems to have a problem against Superstars whose style is predicated on speed rather than power. And that quickness ended up making the difference on Raw when Benjamin — who adopted several of Lesnar’s maneuvers throughout the match — hoisted Rollins up for an F-5 and The Kingslayer writhed free, superkicked Benjamin in the belly and hit the Stomp to win. But this also might have come with a price: As Paul Heyman revealed on commentary, Lesnar will be in the house next week, and Rollins’ victory might have inadvertently fed The Beast some invaluable scouting. For all the momentum The Architect gained, it may yet be carrying him straight into The Conqueror’s clutches.
As thrilling as Finn Bálor’s ascension to Intercontinental Champion was, it may have been, in hindsight, on borrowed time. Yes, he won the title off Bobby Lashley in a Triple Threat, but Lio Rush took the pinfall, and Bálor’s only title defense — which was very close — was against The Man of the Hour. All of which seemed to suggest Finn’s grip on his title was perhaps less secure than he seemed to think, and his time finally ran out on Raw when Lashley finally got his one-on-one rematch, bestowed upon him off the strength of his pinfall victory in last week’s Six-Man tussle.
Even what would seem like a competitive edge on paper — Bálor, after all, did not get rolled by The Shield last night — seemed to be paying little dividends, as Lashley’s power turned this bout one-sided in a hurry. The Irishman fought back to set up Lashley up for the Coup de Grâce in what could only be described as a miraculous rally, at which point Rush made his presence known by clanging on the ring bell, distracting the titleholder from his perch atop the turnbuckle. Finn disposed of the interfering hype man on the ring apron, but Lashley made good on his recovery time with a massive Spear that knocked Bálor to the ring mid-springboard and put him down for the victory. So Lashley gets his gold. The once-disgraced Rush gets his groove back. And while there might be an asterisk to this victory, The All Mighty and Rush don’t seem likely to care. One wanted his title back. The other wanted his good standing back. They both walked away happy, and Finn Bálor barely walked out at all.
Becky Lynch is heading back to WrestleMania because Ronda Rousey sent her there by getting Charlotte Flair disqualified at Fastlane. But lest you think The Baddest Woman on the Planet suddenly found charity against her embattled rival, the Raw Women’s Champion threw cold water all over that idea by explaining she was out to “expose” Becky, Charlotte and WWE as a whole a bunch of “carny con-artists” on the biggest stage the industry affords. (She even went so far as to invite WWE to turn the bout into a Handicap Match, so she could beat both challengers at once).
It wasn’t surprising her insults would bring forth a defender of the Women’s division, but the individual who answered the call was somewhat surprising: Dana Brooke, who has gone through a series of trials and tribulations to make her name, decided to take on a kamikaze mission against The Baddest Woman on the Planet by accepting her traditional, post-pay-per-view open challenge. Unfortunately, the days of Rousey welcoming competition have come and gone, and the champion savaged her would-be challenger in short order, even striking a ref with a slap to the face in the course of the attack. She stopped short of locking in an Armbar, however, shouting that the audience would have to fork over the pay-per-view fee to see that. The blurring of business and personal has often been dangerous ground to tread for even the most talented Superstars, but for Rousey, it’s simply one more tradition for her to flaunt. It’ll be on Becky or Charlotte to restore the balance, but against this Ronda Rousey, that might be too tall an order even for them.
A series of victories for Aleister Black & Ricochet have thrust the new NXT signees into the thick of the Raw Tag Team Title hunt, much to the consternation of former champions Bobby Roode & Chad Gable. The deposed titleholders had to pitch a fit to keep themselves in the title picture, and their strategy failed to pan out at Fastlane when Gable suffered the decisive pinfall. It was more of the same on Raw, as the glorious duo was outmatched by the newcomers and defeated when Black dropped Roode with a vicious Black Mass to the jaw. All of which isn’t to say it’ll be smooth sailing from here on out. The victors were laid out by the Raw Tag Team Champions, The Revival, in a bit of turnabout from Fastlane and a pointed reminder for the would-be usurpers: They don’t mind if a team jumps the line, as long as they don’t forget who sits at the front of it.
When Alexa Bliss announced she would be holding a special edition of “A Moment of Bliss” dedicated solely to revealing this year’s WrestleMania host, buzz abounded as to who the lucky selection would be. But The Goddess may have inadvertently tipped her skeleton-gloved hand when she promised the host would be bigger than Kim Kardashian, more electrifying than The Rock and possessing more Power of Positivity than The New Day. Such a Superstar does not exist except in Bliss’ own mind, which is why The Goddess’ reaction to the “surprise” of being named as host was about exactly what you should have expected: “You’re welcome.” All of which isn't to say the selection is a poor one. Bliss is a certified star if there ever was one, and this arrangement certainly has the potential to pay off: In 27 days, this vanity exercise may well have proven to be a sign of great things to come.
“SNL” mainstay Colin Jost put his foot in his mouth when he ran afoul of Braun Strowman last week, and the comedian’s attempt at a peace offering doesn’t seem to have done him any favors either. Jost’s gift of a brand-new car seemed to touch a nerve with The Monster Among Men, specifically the accompanying note that seemed to make light of Strowman’s recent misfortunes. So, The Gift of Destruction decided to put the ride through an impromptu stress test, tearing the vehicle apart piece by piece before giving the backstage official who presented it to him a piece to send back to Jost and Michael Che. He even had a message of his own: “Next time I see them, it’s gonna be Live from New York, and they’re gonna Get These Hands.”
What was looking like an ascension of sorts for Nia Jax & Tamina has turned into a bit of a two-day reality check, both at the hands of the reigning WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions and a veteran duo on the apparent cusp of a reunion. The Irresistible Force’s planned match with Natalya ended in a quick disqualification when Beth Phoenix, who took a beating from Jax at Fastlane and accompanied Natalya to ringside, stormed the match and threw hands with the former Raw Women’s Champion, sending her and Tamina into retreat. But if they thought the high ground was preferable to mixing it up with the “Divas of Doom,” the formidable pair found trouble waiting for them behind the curtain in the form of The Boss ‘N’ Hug Connection, who ambushed their rivals the second they stepped into the locker room area with such ferocity they had to be separated by a score of WWE officials.
For all Triple H’s gravitas and larger-than-life mystique, the 14-time World Champion found himself at an odd crossroads during his face-to-face with Batista — their first encounter since The Animal savaged Ric Flair two weeks ago — as none of his usual taunts seemed to faze his former running mate. Commands to “be a man” and fight him? Nope. Threats to Big Dave’s security detail? Nothing. Even an insult to Batista’s fashion sense didn’t find purchase; against all odds, Batista seemed to have done what he promised and actually bent the situation to his will by refusing to leave until The Game gave him what he wanted.
What he wanted, as it turned out, was a match at WrestleMania against the man he said continuously underestimated and undervalued him throughout his career. That’s why he ambushed “The Nature Boy,” and that’s all he’s been asking for: A chance to end both his career, and The Game’s, on his own terms. If The King of Kings was somewhat outplayed by his rival, however, he still got the last word by declaring the match would be No Holds Barred. The stipulation is fitting: Whatever line there was in this rivalry has long since been crossed. Might as well make it official.
All good things must come to an end. And while Kurt Angle held off Father Time longer than most, The Olympic Gold Medalist announced on Raw that he would be competing in his farewell match at this year’s WrestleMania. Who his opponent is remains to be seen, of course, but Angle kicked off his farewell tour on a positive note with a win over Apollo Crews — his last match, he noted, in his hometown of Pittsburgh.
Youth and speed were certainly on Crews’ side, but the intangibles that made Angle a natural in the ring have not faded one bit. The Olympic Hero dodged what likely would have been a match-ending frog splash from Crews, sprang up and torqued in the Ankle Lock for a final hometown victory. Crews was, understandably, more than happy to raise Angle’s hand in victory: It’s not every day you share the ring with this particular legend, and the days in which you can say you have are officially numbered.
For months, Drew McIntyre has been claiming that he singlehandedly broke The Shield. As we saw at Fastlane, that was far from the truth, but if The Scottish Psychopath couldn’t singlehandedly send The Hounds of Justice packing as a collective, he made quite the statement at the expense of two of them on Raw.
First, the former NXT Champion ruined Roman Reigns’ planned return to singles action against Baron Corbin by blasting The Big Dog with a pair of Claymores — the second of which sent Reigns careening face-first into the ringpost. And when Dean Ambrose took up his brother’s honor by demanding (and receiving) an anything-goes, Falls Count Anywhere Match with McIntyre from Triple H, the Scot handed Ambrose a grueling defeat in an environment that was seemingly tailor-made for The Lunatic Fringe.
The Scotsman’s stated mission, as he growled in Ambrose’s ear, was to tear The Shield apart one by one, and he certainly did his part here. What began as merely a madcap contest — they fought into the concourse, destroying the concession stand and the merch table — quickly turned grizzly when the fight took its fateful path to the commentary table, where McIntyre drilled a pencil into his opponent’s temple and lawn-darted The Lunatic Fringe into the LED board. The finishing touch was threading Ambrose’s torso through the guardrail of a staircase, where he was easy pickings for a baseball-slide Claymore that ripped the railing from its foundation and put Ambrose down for a three-count on the arena floor.
The Lunatic Fringe made it back to the stage even as McIntyre basked in his victory, but it was a poorly thought, if bold, decision: The Scot drilled Ambrose with a final Claymore to send Raw off the air, leaving his opponent in a heap. If there was one takeaway from tonight, it’s that The Shield might not be as certain of their way forward as they thought. Drew McIntyre, on the other hand, certainly is.
- Numbers in parentheses indicate the length of the match.
- (c) refers to the champion(s) heading into the match.
- Seth Rollins defeated Shelton Benjamin
- Bobby Lashley defeated Finn Bálor (c) to win the WWE Intercontinental Championship
- Ricochet & Aleister Black defeated Bobby Roode & Chad Gable
- Nia Jax (w/ Tamina) defeated Natalya (w/ Beth Phoenix) by disqualification
- Kurt Angle defeated Apollo Crews
- Roman Reigns vs. Baron Corbin match never got started
- Drew McIntyre attacked Reigns before the match
- Drew McIntyre defeated Dean Ambrose in a No Holds Barred match
Other on-screen talent