In the past 20 years, there have been some great go-home episodes of Raw going into WrestleMania, many of them centered around the epic clashes between The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. There have also been some terrible final notes leading into WrestleMania, like the literal tug-of-war over the title belt between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar two years ago.
Monday's Raw was nowhere near either of those poles, and instead fell somewhere smack dab in the middle -- not a good show, not a bad show, just a show. It had a lot of things in common with Reigns, in fact; it was a bit too heavily derided by fans at home, and it wasn't all the show's fault, but it also felt as forced as the persistent low annoying hum of the beaten-to-death catchphrase "the ultimate thrill ride."
WrestleMania 33 is seemingly surrounded by uncertainty in many of the 13 matches on the card, and while Monday's show wasn't the kind of barn burner you might have hoped for, it overachieved in enough ways that it's worth getting excited for Sunday, no matter how many warts the card may have on paper.
No matter how things play out on Sunday, a much-needed turning of the page should breathe new life the next day on Raw. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Seth Rollins signs on the dotted line, fights to a draw as a one-legged man
The biggest moment of the night was the confirmation of the "unsanctioned" match between Triple H and Seth Rollins, long one of the biggest question marks on the WrestleMania card because of Rollins' reinjury of his knee during a scuffle with Samoa Joe. After Triple H played the angry, disappointed dad to a T, warning Rollins that he was making the biggest mistake of his life, he closed by telling his presumptive opponent that the best-case scenario would be a return to the wrestling world outside the WWE.
Rollins remained steadfast and unwavering in his commitment to finding redemption, and he admitted that if it all came crashing down on Sunday, he'd be fine making that sacrifice.
"I liked myself before I met you. I was proud of myself," said Rollins. "I didn't really mind wrestling for a hotdog and a handshake at the Philadelphia National Guard Armory. It didn't bother me, because I love this business and that made me happy."
- WWE (@WWE) March 28, 2017
The moment Rollins signed the "hold-harmless" agreement, Triple H predictably ambushed him. Despite multiple blows to that injured knee, with much of the audience holding their collective breaths, Rollins was somehow able to hold his own on one knee. The uncertainty as to just how well Rollins can really move at this point is still one of Sunday's greatest mysteries; while we now know for sure this match will happen, the potential outcomes vary wildly, and depend entirely on what this pair is capable of in what could ultimately be a very fun match.
For now, each can rest easily knowing they executed to the best of their abilities Monday night.
Paul Heyman yet again spins yarn into gold, but will it be enough?
With just a few minutes left in the broadcast, the final moments of Raw before WrestleMania 33 were dedicated to the presumptive main event. As the Philadelphia faithful showered Paul Heyman with "ECW" chants, the most gifted hype man in the wrestling world did what he does best. As is his habit of killing adversaries with kindness, before his beast Lesnar kills them physically, Heyman laid it on thick.
Like so many before him, Heyman built up Goldberg by complimenting all of his past accomplishments in WCW and elsewhere, fully admitting that Goldberg was the man. Lesnar, being the beast, would thus be victorious in such an imbalanced conflict; Heyman guaranteed he'd right all the wrongs of the past few months in the process and walk away with the Universal championship.
But as has happened on every occasion outside one small blip in the radar, Goldberg dispensed with niceties and hit an abrupt spear to hobble Lesnar and send Raw off the air. The great unknown -- if Goldberg and Lesnar can carry on for more than a couple of minutes -- might be rendered moot by taking the story full-circle and giving Lesnar the quick victory. If the match goes on last and ends in a similar way to Survivor Series in the main event slot to end the show, the fan reaction will be fascinating; either the moment will be worth it, if done creatively, or it'll leave some fans feeling as though this entire rivalry was a bigger smokescreen than Mayweather-McGregor.
Women's title contenders fall flat on the mic, but redeem themselves in the ring
After falling all over the three hour block of Raw over the past couple of months, it was nice to see the four women involved with the Raw women's championship at WrestleMania getting a chance to open the show. They were all seemingly a bit rusty, as Bayley, Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair all received significant crowd reactions but fell a bit flat in the interactions. It was much of the same thing we've heard from all three of them since Bayley joined the main roster and ultimately won the title, and as things dragged on a bit Nia Jax's entrance proved a welcome respite.
As she did in the tag team match that followed, Jax made her presence felt and truly made herself the kind of wild card that should infuse the well-visited history of Bayley, Banks and Flair with some new energy. The match that came after the first commercial break of the night was a much cleaner effort and showcased some of what we can look forward to in what's now a Fatal 4-Way elimination match. Having Jax take out all three of her opponents and holding the title aloft was a great visual to sign off on.
Yards, gravestones and the Undertaker passing the torch
Throughout the first two hours of the show, ominous snippets of graveyards and the Undertaker digging a hole were scattered at the front and back of a number of segments. After Reigns proclaimed he wasn't scared, he walked to the ring and watched along as we saw the end of the clip -- a headstone with Reigns' name on it. Undertaker pulled his disappearing act and went from the graveyard to the ring, but it was only to impose an ominous, if silent, message to his WrestleMania opponent. All in all it worked well, save for one moment that completely took a big chunk of the audience out of the moment.
Once WWE comes up with a tagline, especially for a WrestleMania, they will beat it to death in the most merciless way possible. Each commentator will say it multiple times during a match, each superstar will try to "organically" insert it into their promo, and every ad break features the same phrase again. It's become a blind spot and a joke, at this point, but there are certain lines that shouldn't be crossed, and taking a character as serious as the Undertaker and hearing the phrase "ultimate thrill ride" come out of his mouth as he stood holding a shovel in a cemetery was one of the most jarring moments of shattering disbelief in recent memory.
Props are in order to Reigns, who steered head-on into the controversy and hate, in assuring the crowd he would end the Undertaker. It hasn't been the cleanest build, but this is another match that should be fascinating to watch as they try to pull it off on Friday.
Speaking of suspension of disbelief taking a beating, why does Sami Zayn have to be the only one who actually has to earn his way into matches that everyone else just says they're in? I get having one conflict where an authority figure puts him in the line of fire unreasonably, but when it happens time and time again it starts to lose its meaning and, even worse, calls the process of what's going on off-camera in this fictional world into question.
As per usual, with his career put on the line in a no-DQ match against Kevin Owens, the pair did anything and everything they wanted and expected the same back from their opponent. As fun as it is to see these two battle on a regular basis, this conflict needs (and has needed) a serious breather to accommodate what should be a worthwhile conflict fitting the efforts of both Zayn and Owens.
Shenanigans were abound, as Samoa Joe made his lone appearance of the night to interfere and got attacked from behind by Chris Jericho. Zayn got the roll-up to save his career and earn a spot in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal and, after some more chaos, Owens finally met his fate as Jericho put him atop his newly reconstructed "list."
Hits and misses
There's somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 superstars who are either committed to the WrestleMania battle royal or don't yet have a match. It's disappointing to see the likes of Zayn and Braun Strowman in there, and we're likely to get Samoa Joe and a few other heavy hitters in there. Here's to hoping against hope that something other than a big gold trophy is at stake.
Despite no official announcement, the Raw tag team title match participants introduced a ladder multiple times over the course of the evening (and Sheamus got the worst of it) -- building hope that that match would become a ladder match on Sunday. That would be a much-needed shot in the arm for this particular match and the show in general.
It's certainly disappointing that the cruiserweight championship match got shunted off to the kick-off show. It's not unexpected, but a match with the potential of Neville and Austin Aries deserves better. Both Aries (against Noam Dar) and Neville (against Jack Gallagher) had great matches.
Quote of the night
"You're worried that some people don't like you in the locker room? Hell, if you're not making enemies, you ain't making money. If everybody doesn't hate you, then you are not living up to your full potential. Everybody here wants to say, 'Well, at least you'll sleep well at night.' Sleep? Who has time for sleep?... I would rather... live the good life...You get one shot at life... "When you go to the 'Ultimate Thrill Ride' I guess the ride won't be so thrilling, that ride is right back to Birmingham. Maybe [Dr. Jeffrey] Dugas can patch your knee back up, maybe it'll be enough that you can go back to working in front of a couple of hundred people at the armory somewhere..." -- Triple H
Move of the night
There were several potential winners, but for the visual and the potential of a major improvement to their WrestleMania match, let's give it to Cesaro and Sheamus' attack with a ladder.
- WWE Universe (@WWEUniverse) March 28, 2017