By Graham "GSM" Matthews
WWE World Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns Confronted Stephanie McMahon
These face-to-face confrontations between Reigns and members of the McMahon family started to blend together after a while because they've all been so similar, but this wasn't a bad segment whatsoever. Rather, it set up the main event championship match effectively and the crowd responded favorably to Reigns. He seems to be getting more and more over by the week, so it seems WWE's experiment in putting the title on him when they did has worked out quite well. Promos aren't his strong suit, but he's better when his mic work is kept short and sweet as seen here.
Kevin Owens def. Neville
While I still don't approve of Owens losing as quickly and as decisively as he did last week, I will admit it was made a little more worth it with this match. This was the type of bout I was hoping we would see from them last week with both competitors going all out and producing a great wrestling match. Neville in particular shined here, but I wish the crowd was more receptive to him. I can't put the blame entirely on San Antonio because WWE hasn't given us many reasons to care about Nevillle in recent weeks (with the exception of everything that has happened since the Slammy Awards aside). At any rate, Dean Ambrose putting Owens through the commentary table in retaliation from last week was a cool spot.
Titus O'Neil def. Stardust
On a show filled with excellent in-ring action, this match stuck out like a sore thumb. It was fine for what it was, but without any context, build-up or follow-up, it was pretty random. Yes, I realize they've been "feuding" for the past month or so, but it's been WWE Superstars caliber, so having them face off on Raw came out of nowhere. I'd like to think this was an omen that 2016 will be a breakout year for O'Neil, but I suppose only time will tell.
Becky Lynch def. Divas Champion Charlotte (Non-title)
As much as I enjoyed Lynch vs. Sasha Banks from the final Raw of 2015, this bout was even better. I feared the crowd would sit on their hands for most of it because they had been fairly quiet up to this point in the show, and they were at points, but they came alive down the stretch and were into the nearfalls. The ladies received an ample amount of time to have the match they were capable of and I liked how there was never a dull moment. The crowd popped for Lynch's win and booed when Charlotte attacked her afterward, so it's great they're finally establishing characters for both women fans can identify with.
Big Show vs. Ryback Ended in a No Contest
I groaned at the first sight of this match after their pointless encounter from last week, but at the very least, it didn't last long and it's apparent they're just building toward the Royal Rumble match. That's why The Wyatt Family interfered and attacked Ryback and Show. I'm hoping it was solely hype for the Rumble (and showing that the Wyatts will have a distinct advantage) and not a sign that The Wyatt will be feuding with either of them going forward or Show will be turning face (again)
United States Champion Alberto Del Rio and Rusev def. The Usos
Neither team has much direction at the moment, but I can't say I'm surprised with the Royal Rumble right around the corner and all four men will likely be a part of it. I assumed John Cena would be rekindling his rivalry with Del Rio over the U.S. title, but I'm glad that doesn't appear to be the case (Cena wasn't even on the show!). Del Rio, Rusev and The Usos worked a very well-wrestled match with a nice pace and the right winners. I thought The Usos were headed into the WWE Tag Team Championship picture following their win over The New Day a few weeks back, but that might have been done to make New Day look weak going into their title defense that week against The Lucha Dragons.
Heath Slater def. Dolph Ziggler
I would say Ziggler was "buried" in losing to Slater, but I have zero interest in Ziggler's character that I'm actually happy Slater won. He, Bo Dallas, Adam Rose and Curtis Axel don't have any chemistry on paper, but consider me intrigued. At least they're finally doing something of note with these self-proclaimed "social outcasts," right? It might end up as 3MB 2.0 (4MB?), which was awful in my opinion, but getting them on TV is a start. Ziggler has no momentum at the moment and I expect him to be at this level through the end of his current contract.
Chris Jericho Returned and Interrupted WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day
Well, this was a great surprise! I didn't read or hear anything earlier in the day about Jericho returning, so I was genuinely shocked, and what a better time for him to return with the Rumble quickly approaching? He adds a ton of much-needed star power to the annual Battle Royal along with Brock Lesnar, who I'm thinking will announce his participation next week upon his return. The Jericho countdown was a sweet twist and his promo, albeit a rehash of some of his past promos, was enjoyable. I'm curious whether he'll be involved with New Day at all going into the Rumble or if they were just a backdrop for his return. I've speculated for months that he'll be going back after Ambrose on the road to WrestleMania, so we'll see if that is ultimately the case.
WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day def. Kalisto and The Dudley Boyz
This was basically the same match we saw last week on SmackDown, but hey, I'm not complaining! I don't usually like when WWE does rematches from each show, but this match was entertaining enough that I didn't mind it much. It was obviously a time killer before the main event, but they made the most of the time they were given and had a fun match. Similar to The Wyatt Family, The New Day won't likely be doing much until the Rumble match, so don't expect them to move into a new feud until after the event.
WWE World Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns def. Sheamus (Mr. McMahon Served as Special Guest Referee)
I've never been a fan of the chemistry (or lack thereof) Reigns and Sheamus have, but of course, McMahon (who is still in incredible shape at 70-years-old) made it interesting as the referee. There were a few logic gaps during the match (i.e. why wouldn't have Reigns gotten himself intentionally disqualified? It wouldn't have been heelish of him to do since he viciously attacked Vince afterward anyway), but putting that stuff aside, the match held my attention the entire time. Scott Armstrong making his return as The Authority's go-to referee was an excellent touch and they had me convinced Reigns was losing the belt when Sheamus hit the Brogue Kick. As for the post-match announcement that he will have to defend it in the Rumble match later this month, I absolutely love it. There will be those that call it predictable, but it's something we haven't seen in over two decades and it could make for a number of intriguing storylines en route to WrestleMania.
Was it just me or was this the greatest episode of Raw in 2016? All right, all kidding aside, this was a great show with a refreshing emphasis on wrestling. There were several quality matches, hype for the Royal Rumble and a few surprises thrown in. Plus, Lesnar will be back next week, so that's something to look forward to. I'm always excited for the Rumble, but with there being endless possibilities this year, I'm anticipating this upcoming installment more than have any other in past years. And don't even get me started on the rumors of AJ Styles and other New Japan Pro Wrestling stars coming to WWE!