While there were some tremendous matches Sunday night at the Royal Rumble and a handful of big moments in the titular match, there was an element of disappointment surrounding said match simply because of the lack of surprise.
One night later, Monday Night Raw delivered where some thought the Rumble lacked with several shockers that will go a long way in shaping WrestleMania 33 -- none moreso than the main roster debut of Samoa Joe.
It all started with another surprise -- the long-awaited Raw on-screen return of Triple H. After Stephanie McMahon promised Seth Rollins that her husband was on his way to the building midway through the show and then delivered on that promise, fans were left to wonder a few things: Would there actually be physical contact in this return? Why was this the moment? How else could it end?
Triple H opened the final segment of Raw by cutting a scathing promo that ran down Rollins, point by point. He claimed that he plucked Rollins from obscurity, and then he became the first NXT champion. After Rollins had rocked the world with The Shield, Triple H offered Rollins the world to turn on his brothers, and standing by his side, Seth Rollins became the man, and became the world heavyweight champion.
But by allowing it all to fall apart in one moment -- allowing himself to get injured when he was at the very top (and there's certainly a bit of irony there, considering some of Triple H's devastating injuries) -- Rollins became a massive failure. "I gave you the world, Seth Rollins, and you spit in my face."
The main point of his promo was the internal struggle of his two personas -- and in that, Triple H succeeded, and especially so in his final point.
"I am trying so hard not to be that guy anymore," Triple H said, as he massaged his temples. "I am trying so hard not to be that guy that ends careers and crushes dreams and injures people and doesn't give a crap about anybody or what anybody thinks. I am trying so hard not to be that guy anymore -- to be something more. Every day, I put on this suit. Every day, I tie this stupid tie and I go to the office. And every day, I try to put that behind me, and I try to be a creator. I try to create something more for everybody here. And then a guy like Seth Rollins decides he wants to come to NXT.
"Seth Rollins wants to come where I am trying to create -- where, quite honestly, I'm trying to create the next Seth freaking Rollins. So I am done trying. I am so. Done. Trying."
As Triple H removed his jacket and loosened his tie, Rollins, who waited to hear everything Triple H had to say, stood at the ramp and stared down the opportunity he'd waited so long for. After tossing aside his shirt, he ran toward the ring with a purpose -- only to get blindsided by a blur coming out of the crowd. In a moment, everything became clear -- after Rollins interrupted Triple H's show at NXT TakeOver: San Antonio, he'd tasked a two-time NXT champion in Samoa Joe to take Rollins out.
Triple H casually returned his jacket to his shoulders and got himself settled as Joe flung Rollins around the ringside area like a rag doll. All three men eventually ended up at the foot of the ramp, with Rollins left to stare at the feet of Triple H, slowly look up, and then futilely claw toward his intended target as Joe tossed him back into the ring. Triple H made his exit, Samoa Joe made a tremendous debut and more than made up for any absence in the Rumble match (many times over), while Rollins was given the perfect roadblock between him and Triple H at WrestleMania 33.
The 'Beast Incarnate' makes a statement
The closing moments of Monday Night Raw only somewhat overshadowed what could have been the biggest moment of any other Raw on the road to WrestleMania, with an unannounced appearance from Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman.
After getting embarrassed for the second time by Goldberg, with a swift elimination from Sunday's Royal Rumble match, Lesnar, as per usual, let the masterful Heyman dictate his thoughts, feelings and ultimately, a final challenge for his adversary. Heyman unleashed an instant classic of a promo, all based around a simple two-word phrase.
"Every all-time great has that one opponent that has his number," Heyman started. "Every legend has that one asterisk. Everything [where you can argue that] 'This is the best thing ever' has that one argument that counters it that says 'Yeah, but.'"
As fans sporadically chanted Goldberg throughout the speech, Heyman kept uttering the phrase "Yeah, but" over and over again with more and more furor.
"It's the worst thing you can say to a being who lives for his or her accomplishments," continued Heyman. "'Yeah, but' tarnishes your legacy. 'Yeah, but' takes away from all you've accomplished. 'Yeah but' is the argument against Brock Lesnar."
In order to restore Lesnar's legacy, Heyman laid down the challenge to Goldberg for one final showdown at WrestleMania 33. With the man in question set to appear on next week's edition of Raw, we seem to be well on our way to the first confirmed match for April 2.
Braun Strowman uses his head, gets his comeuppance
The scope of those two aforementioned moments is truly driven home by the fact that both overshadowed an impromptu Universal championship match featuring Braun Strowman. Yeah, that happened too.
Strowman, who helped Owens hold onto the Universal championship by taking out Roman Reigns, came out to cash in on the title opportunity Owens promised him a few weeks ago, when the three men teamed together in a 6-man tag team match. Owens instantly denied the giant, but Strowman, who to this point had been portrayed as a monstrous brute, cued up footage of the moment, only for Owens to completely deny him again.
General manager Mick Foley came out, and despite Owens' protestations, made the Universal championship match official.
Despite spending most of the show trying to get out of the match, Owens was forced to compete. While he appeared ready to once again have Jericho interfere on his behalf, Strowman once again showed the depth to his approach by immediately attacking Jericho, who was seated at the commentary desk. A choke slam through the table guaranteed it'd be a one-on-one contest for the Universal championship, or so we thought.
Strowman dominated early, but Owens took control outside of the ring and hit a bunch of moves, only for a successful frog splash to re-aggravate an injury he suffered when he dove off the top rope through Reigns and a table during their match Sunday night. As Strowman took control and looked poised to finish things, Reigns came out for his revenge. But despite multiple Superman punches -- the first of which caused a DQ -- Strowman was back up and fuming.
With that, another piece of the puzzle in clarifying the road to WrestleMania was placed, as Reigns and Strowman laid down the groundwork for a contentious future showdown.
Hits and misses
Jericho and Sami Zayn had a strong opening match, and Zayn eventually hit his Helluva kick to score another the big pinfall victory -- this time over the United States champion. It's been a good few weeks for the "Underdog from the Underground."
We got a bit of a strange 6-person tag team match Monday as Cesaro, Sheamus and Bayley took on Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson and Charlotte Flair, but it was nice to see them do at least a little bit of logical story-building beforehand with a backstage segment. It was good to see Bayley back to incorporating (sometimes uncomfortable) hugs into her repertoire, and her pinfall victory over Flair seems likely to keep her in the Raw women's title match.
On a side note, Cesaro getting completely into Bayley's entrance, down to borrowing her arm tassles, worked perfectly opposite Sheamus' severe apprehension.
The Rollins-McMahon face-to-face served as a great tease for the shocking ending of Raw. While I would love watching a series of videos following Rollins as he pursued Triple H at WWE HQ, board rooms and the Levesque family home, Rollins talking about walking up to their front porch and having one of the kids answer the door was a little bit uncomfortable.
Nia Jax continued her absolute destruction of Sasha Banks, with the bell ringing as Jax put Banks in a submission move that was torquing on her injured knee. Bayley came out for the save and helped walk Banks to the back and the training room -- potentially laying the groundwork for the intertwining of the two women's rivalries in the future.
I'm hopeful that this is truly the blowoff to what's been a real frustrating head-scratcher of a rivalry between Enzo and Cass and Rusev (and, even more head-scratchingly, Jinder Mahal, because he just so happened to be in an anger management course). Inexplicably, Rusev took the fall. Almost everyone comes out of this rivalry looking worse than they came in, and it's time for everyone involved to move on to bigger and better things.
Move of the night
With only one cruiserweight match on the evening, and no death-defying stunts, the winner this week is Samoa Joe's Coquina clutch. After taking out Rollins, the two-time world champion, and parading him in front of Triple H, Joe landed several cannonball splashes on Rollins and then sent Raw off the air by leaving Rollins completely unresponsive in the middle of the ring. What a statement.
Quote of the night
"Tony, pretty good showing here tonight. You've been building up momentum with your impressive matches, showing why you are the 'Premier Athlete.' But I have to ask you: What do you say to your critics who [say] that, while you are a 'Premier Athlete,' you've got clearance rack charisma?" -- Austin Aries, in a postmatch interview with Tony Nese.