Let’s unravel why this was a disappointing run-up to WrestleMania.
The Universal Title
Brock Lesnar came to Raw again this week to bounce about while Paul Heyman sung his praises. We’re at the point where even Heyman is getting boring, so it was a welcome relief to see Roman Reigns come through the crowd to meet the Universal Champion for a fight. Heyman shut up, Lesnar stopped bouncing, and chaos ensued.
“The Beast Incarnate” slid out of the ring to whack Reigns with a clothesline, but “The Big Dog” fought back and clocked Lesnar with a steel chair. It didn’t take long for the champ to regain control, and the former Shield heavy got wrecked by the ring steps, a chair, and Lesnar’s bare hands. Brock finished the fight by planting his WrestleMania opponent with an F-5 to the steel stairs. Roman could only clutch his ribs in pain as Lesnar smiled, pointing at the Mania sign to end the segment.
Creativity hasn’t been a high priority for this feud. We’ve seen the same old thing from Lesnar and Heyman, and Roman taking a beating before a big match is nothing new. Fans still aren’t cheering for Reigns no matter how many times Vince McMahon tries to make his “Big Dog” look like an underdog. With only one Raw left until WrestleMania, it’s too late to come up with a better build. All the evidence is pointing to the two having a hard-hitting match, but does anyone over the age of nine care? Probably not.
The Intercontinental Title
The Miz made some time this week to have a chat with Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel. He wasn’t happy at being left flat on his back for two straight weeks, and The Miztourage had to know it.
The Intercontinental Champion laid into Dallas & Axel, saying he elevated their careers. Smelling blood in the water, Seth Rollins and Finn Bálor came out to stick up for The Miztourage. After hearing enough from Miz, Dallas & Axel looked ready to kick the champ’s arse. And then The Miz proved why he’s the smartest superstar in the locker room.
Bo & Curtis dropped “The Architect” and “The Demon” like a couple of bad habits. It was all a ruse to get Miz’s WrestleMania opponents close enough to take a beating. Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows popped up to chase The Miztourage off, leaving Bálor and Rollins to deal with the champ. The Miz rolled out of the ring to avoid a curb stomp, and Finn took out Seth to end the segment standing tall.
It’s not often WWE manage to fool the fans, but everyone thought the break up of The Miztourage was happening. The whole sequence was enjoyable and added something different to the feud. Even more importantly, Bálor ended up on top. Will we see “The Demon” holding the IC strap at Mania? It’s looking very likely.
The Raw Women’s Title
Looking for retribution, Nia Jax went one-on-one this week against Mickie James. In Mickie’s corner stood the Raw Women’s Champion, Alexa Bliss.
There wasn’t much to this match at all. Nia squashed Mickie with a big Samoan drop and got the pin. Afterwards, Bliss got in the ring, hit her Mania opponent once, and then scampered off.
As far as development goes, WWE really rushed through the Raw Women’s Title this week. The championship match has been built brilliantly for the past month, and this is what we get a fortnight away from WrestleMania. With next week being the final Raw before The Show of Shows, WWE need to give these ladies a big spot if they want the fans to have any interest in this match.
The Raw Tag Team Titles
To round off the laziness we saw on Raw, WWE pitted Sheamus against Braun Strowman in a copy and paste segment from last week’s episode, just with “The Celtic Warrior” replacing Cesaro.
Things started with a promo; The Bar wanted to know who Strowman’s WrestleMania partner is, but “The Monster Among Men” wasn’t telling. From there, the match started. It was a good match, so credit where it’s due, but nothing set it apart from the Strowman/Cesaro match from the last show. The challenger beat Sheamus with a powerslam for the 1, 2, 3. WWE are trying to build up The Bar by having Coach say ‘at least they can hang with Strowman,’ but champions should do a lot more than just hang.
This whole segment was hard to watch. All three men can do so much more, but their roles this week were flat. What’s more, the champions should be doing a lot more to Strowman. They’ve lost two matches, which isn’t great, but even worse is that they haven’t tried to beat “The Monster” down post-match. The tag title holders are looking weak; they need to do something momentous to keep our attention next week.
The Cruiserweight Title
Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali teamed up to beat TJP and Drew Gulak on Raw, but Ali pulled a fast one on his friend to make sure he was the guy to pick up the win. They met again on 205 Live to discuss their upcoming Mania match.
Both men showed a lot of respect towards each other, saying how their paths to WWE were so similar, but Ali pointed out that his story differs because he doesn’t squander his opportunities for the title like Cedric does. Mustafa made a compelling argument, but still offered his hand to his Mania opponent in good faith. Cedric took Ali’s respect to end the segment.
This has been the first week since Triple H took over 205 Live where the build-up to the Cruiserweight Title match fell flat. A standard Raw match and an adequate promo didn’t do much to elevate the contenders. There are cracks in their friendship, and Ali and Cedric did fine with the little time they had, but they should have had a match each on 205 Live to show the crowd what to expect at WrestleMania. This wasn’t great, but it was still better than most title match build-ups this week.
The WWE Title
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, for all the crap on WWE TV this week, Shinsuke Nakamura shined like a star. The build to the WWE Championship match at WrestleMania has been hit-and-miss, but this week was incredible.
Styles is still limiting his actions due to a minor injury, but Nakamura asked the champion to be in his corner for his match against Shelton Benjamin. Styles agreed, wanting to make sure Nakamura didn’t get jumped before Mania.
The match between Benjamin and “The King of Strong Style” was superb. I was expecting a glorified squash match, but Shelton got in some great offence and had Nakamura reeling more than once. In the end, a Kinshasa put Chad Gable’s partner flat on his back, and Shinsuke picked up the win.
After the match, Nakamura thanked AJ for being in his corner. But he didn’t need the champion’s help; he wanted Styles to see exactly how he’d become WWE Champion at WrestleMania. Styles got mad, and Shinsuke said that’s why he’ll win: AJ is too emotional.
“The King of Strong Style” made his way up the ramp, but seeing Styles get jumped by Gable & Benjamin forced him to return to the ring. Nakamura cleared the house, and we all thought he’d take out AJ with a Kinshasa too! But no. The challenger stopped an inch from Styles’ face, and patted him on the head instead.
This has been the build we all wanted. Not only are Shinsuke’s mind games brilliant, but his promos this week were excellent. It’s great to see that he’s not just focusing on his wrestling ability, but his English and mic skills too. The challenger is in AJ’s head, and I can’t wait to see how the champion will respond next week.
The US Title
The United States Champion, Randy Orton, teamed up with Bobby Roode to take on Jinder Mahal and a mystery partner. Mahal swapped his noble tiger, Sunil Singh, for a lion, Rusev!
All four men put on an entertaining bout. Orton and Roode were doomed from the start, so it was good to see WWE go all in by having Randy spike Bobby with an RKO. What’s more interesting is that Rusev nearly decapitated the US Champ with a Machka kick for the victory. Rusev has been the punching bag for Styles and Nakamura for weeks, so seeing him score a big win was a shocker.
After the match, Mahal praised his partner and offered to buy Rusev tickets to see Mania as a thank-you. “The Bulgarian Brute” politely declined, and told “The Modern Day Maharaja” that he’d be chasing the US Title too. What’s more, WWE have officially put Rusev in the championship match. Happy Rusev Day, everybody!
I like what WWE have done here. The US Championship match was drawing a lot of comparisons to the IC bout, and The Miz’s title was definitely outshining Randy’s. Adding Rusev not only changes the triple threat into a fatal four-way, it also includes one of the most popular superstars in WWE right now. There’s more of a reason to care about this match, so good on Vince & Co. for doing something right.
The SmackDown Women’s Title
Okay, this is going to be a hard one to write. Charlotte Flair was off SmackDown this week to have minor dental surgery, and Asuka wasn’t on the show either. Instead, we got a video package.
It was a nice little video, but it didn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. That’s all I’ve got. Sorry about that.
The SmackDown Women’s Title scene was disastrously handled this week. Flair can’t help needing treatment, but the fact that WWE didn’t send Asuka to SmackDown to cut a promo or squash another competitor is unacceptable. This was just bad, that’s all I can say.
The SmackDown Tag Team Titles
Still seeking a Road to WrestleMania, The New Day set out to rid the tag team scene of The Bludgeon Brothers for good.
Big E & Xavier Woods put on a fair match against Harper & Rowan, but neither team was putting on a clinic. Towards the end of the bout, The Bludgeon Brothers started hitting everyone and Rowan picked up the mallets. The tag champs, Jimmy & Jey, made the save and the match was thrown out. Whilst The New Day and The Usos were arguing, Harper & Rowan recuperated, and chased the five men off with the swing of a mallet.
Considering the talent involved, there was no reason why the SmackDown Tag Team Title bout should feel like an afterthought, but it did this week. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was expecting The Bludgeon Brothers to at least take out the one New Day member who won’t be in the match at WrestleMania. There was nothing that stood out.
And that’s that. WWE put on a bad week, but the WWE, IC, and US Title scenes are at least keeping us hooked.