With more than half of the WrestleMania 33 card seemingly set into stone, it would've been easy to think that there were only one or two more surprises to come on Monday Night Raw's "Road to WrestleMania" in the final three weeks.
Even those who did suspect a surprising return was in order and anticipated an appearance from Finn Balor were rebuffed long before the broadcast's final moments. But after the early stages of the broadcast followed a familiar (though mostly effective) pattern, the second half of the show created the perfect kind of chaotic energy that should be abundant with just two weeks to go before WrestleMania as Seth Rollins seemingly showed he's ready for another shot in the "Showcase of the Immortals."
Seth Rollins returns, Mick Foley screwed Mick Foley, and The Game stands tall
From the moment that Stephanie McMahon told Mick Foley that he'd have to fire someone by the close of Monday Night Raw, it was clear that their long-simmering conflict was going to explode. But few could have predicted how things would play out in the final moments after Triple H got involved and Foley finally snapped.
Most thought that Foley would simply fire himself and relieve himself of the stress of the situation, or attempt to fire someone that McMahon would object to so wholeheartedly that he'd risk his job in another way. What happened instead -- Foley symbolically firing McMahon for being a poison to the brand -- led to a nice call-back and a far more dire situation for Foley than he ever could have imagined.
Foley brought up McMahon's flat denial of any involvement in Triple H's coronation of Kevin Owens last August, and he repeated a phrase from then. After losing his last shreds of belief, Foley came to the conclusion he had hoped he was wrong about at the very beginning: that McMahon was a good liar and a bad person. With personal attacks flying back and forth, Triple H injected himself into the situation and laid Foley to waste verbally. Even as Foley tried to fight back with familiar platitudes and being comfortable with who he is, Triple H played the trump card of Foley's two kids, one currently employed by the WWE and another hoping to be in the near future.
Kudos are in order for the production and camera work in this moment, as Foley seemingly slunk away with a waking nightmare of a future ahead. Eventually the shot pulled far enough back that we could see Foley psyching himself in the corner at the same time Triple H did, and in a moment, Foley finally tapped into one of his characters of old and assumed a familiar aggression by applying Mr. Socko. With all of the other familiar elements in place, it was only fitting that an Attitude-era throwback segment ended with McMahon hitting a low blow and incapacitating Foley.
- WWE (@WWE) March 14, 2017
With The Authority seemingly reformed in the light, rather than the shadows where it's lurked , it was the perfect time for Rollins to show up. Despite hobbling out to the ring with a crutch, Rollins pulled a Willy Wonka and cast aside his crutch to attack Triple H. A few brief moments of catharsis aside, Triple H eventually used that crutch and a modified figure-four leglock to immediately go after Rollins' injured knee to great effect. Any signs of cheers had subsided, and the palpable energy behind a Rollins return permeated throughout the crowd.
Despite taking the short end of the stick, with just under three weeks to go before showtime in Orlando, Rollins seems poised to assume his rightful position opposite Triple H at WrestleMania. At various points since Rollins' injury at the hands of Samoa Joe, it looked bleak for such a thing to happen -- but after the conclusion to Raw and despite the targeting of the injury within the storyline, it appears Rollins has added another much-needed heavy hitter of a match to the WrestleMania 33 card, and not a moment too soon.
Roman Reigns lets his ego get in the way of sage advice from HBK, and pays for it
The other big surprise of the night came after Roman Reigns nearly blew a match against Jinder Mahal, when a single gong of The Undertaker's music and a flicker of the lights drew all of Reigns' attention. He'd eventually set himself right and finish the job, but immediately after the conclusion of his match he called out his newly minted WrestleMania opponent going into a commercial break. Reigns was still pacing when Raw returned from commercial, but instead of going face-to-face with Taker for the second straight week, Shawn Michaels' music hit.
"Mr. WrestleMania" gave Reigns all of the advice he wished he'd had in a pair of WrestleMania matches with The Undertaker, the latter of which ended his in-ring career, and pointed out just how distracted Reigns is at the moment. But Reigns replied with an overconfidence and ego that's often been sorely lacking from his presentation of late. WWE appeared to be steering into the hate and the polarizing elements of Reigns' presentation by pushing him more towards a cockiness and swagger, even allowing him to proclaim that he'd do to The Undertaker what Taker did to Michaels, and retire him.
Just when Reigns thought he was in the clear and out of sight for the evening, Braun Strowman blindsided him so thoroughly and violently that it reverberated throughout the internet, in GIF form. It's good to have Strowman stepping right back into the fire, but as he steps into a bit of a precarious position in potentially becoming a two-time loser to Reigns next week on Raw, to say nothing of his retreat from Undertaker last week, it's critical for the long term in Strowman's career that he doesn't get swept to the side and dropped into the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
Hits and misses
It's not often that you see a peak WrestleMania season Paul Heyman promo fall this far down the pecking order, but alas -- the story of Brock Lesnar and Goldberg is already written, except for a few final flourishes. Check out the entire promo below, and bask in the artistry and command of Heyman's delivery.
It was good to see the spotlight shown upon Kevin Owens again, both literally and figuratively. Owens is perhaps a bit too good at justifying his actions, and pointing out Chris Jericho's hypocrisy, but "Tears of Jericho -- cry it out, man" was another sharp moment. Jericho and Sami Zayn tagged with Owens and Samoa Joe in a tag match that was abruptly ended as Joe and Owens put the boots to both of their opponents and ultimately put Jericho down with a pop-up powerbomb. Not to be outdone, Jericho announced he will have a special edition of "The Highlight Reel" next week with "The Real" Owens.
In addition to The Undertaker vs. Reigns match, a long-suspected triple-threat match for the Raw tag team titles was confirmed Monday. After Gallows & Anderson elected to take out their frustrations on both Enzo & Cass and Sheamus & Cesaro simultaneously, the process of finding a No. 1 contender was rendered obsolete. It's a great way to get a few more people on the card, and a chance for half of the participants in the match to get their first WrestleMania moment.
The Big Show was interrupted while promoting his starring role in a new WWE/Jetsons cartoon on "New Day Talks," and ultimately made Titus his punching bag to the tune of three chokeslams. Big Show also announced he'll be a part of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, theoretically putting the last nail in the coffin of a potential Shaq vs. Big Show match.
A quick match between Sasha Banks and Dana Brooke ended in a roll-up win for Banks. The long-awaited breakup of Brooke and Charlotte Flair got a surprisingly loud pop from the Detroit crowd as Brooke landed forearm shots to Flair's face. This also keeps this match at WrestleMania as a triple threat with no outside shenanigans (at least theoretically), which was the only real issue with last year's 'Mania women's match. Good move all around, and hopefully this isn't a face turn and rather an opportunity to re-pair Brooke with Emma upon the latter's actual return, even if it's still several months away.
A non-title match between Nia Jax and Bayley, with how it was set up as a consolation prize for Jax not being a part of things at WrestleMania, felt like a cop-out. The DQ finish and Jax beating on Bayley softened the blow, but could we have gotten something as simple as, "I'm not happy, but I'll destroy your champion, and then what'll you do?" One line is all you need to make her motivation make sense and not make her seem foolish for accepting a non-equal solution to her demands.
The cruiserweights impressed both times out on Raw, and the (The) Brian Kendrick and Tony Nese vs. TJ Perkins and Akira Tozawa match was notably lengthy and enjoyable. Now that the coffers are fully stocked (minus Cedric Alexander who, according to Pro Wrestling Sheet, is going to be on the shelf for a while), let's hope that they can start building more complex stories with the cruiserweights. For all of their great output in the ring, there needs to be more stakes to go along with more than a handful of the stars of 205 Live.
Similarly, Austin Aries' Raw in-ring debut was fun, and a good showing from Daivari to boot. He went after Aries' previously injured eye, and the story-telling of the match all makes sense. Aries has a truly one-of-a-kind moveset and in-ring charisma, but even he is struggling to connect consistently with the audience. I hope there is a simple solution to the lack of enthusiasm from most of these Raw (and SmackDown, for 205 Live) crowds, but I'm just not getting why the apathy is so strong.
Move of the night
- WWE (@WWE) March 14, 2017
The award has to go to Strowman's devastating clothesline. Instantly memorable and well-executed by all involved.
Quote of the night
"Not only can I see the future, but that vision has been bestowed upon each and every one of you, courtesy of the Goldberg-eating carnivore, Brock Lesnar." -- Paul Heyman
As per usual, if you haven't seen it (or simply want to see it again), do yourself a favor and watch Heyman do what he does best.