After last week's closing segment and one final act of defiance, Mick Foley finally saw the ax that was hanging over his head drop as Stephanie McMahon channeled her father's most famous two-word phrase: "You're fired."
It was the perfect impetus for a show that didn't have much planned ahead of time; we got an opening segment and prominent role for Sami Zayn, which led to an awesome opening match between Zayn and Samoa Joe (neither of whom have anything solid set for WrestleMania, to this point). McMahon sought revenge upon any other Foley sympathizers too, and it produced the kind of frenetic energy that should have helped push Monday Night Raw over the finish line heading into the final pre-WrestleMania 33 show next week in Philadelphia.
But what should have been a night filled with excitement, anticipation and yeah, maybe even a little disappointment, instead became the second serious black mark against a Barclays Center crowd in Brooklyn that insisted the attention be squarely on them throughout the night, the in-ring product be damned.
It had already been an embarrassing week for wrestling fans, as the leaks of X-rated material involving Paige, Xavier Woods and Brad Maddox brought out the absolute dregs of wrestling fandom who shamelessly shared it throughout the internet and on social media. Then, throughout the night there were numerous "We want Paige" chants in the arena, including during a match between Charlotte Flair and Dana Brooke.
While that was the worst that Brooklyn had to dish out (along with an "a--h---" chant), it was far from the only moment of absolute disrespect conveyed to the in-ring performers. There were the standard "CM Punk" chants at both McMahon and Triple H, "We want Asuka" during an intense match between Bayley and Nia Jax with WrestleMania implications, a continuous "wave" rolling through the crowd and, to top it all off, they had the gall to chant, "We are awesome" at the end of it all.
There are deep-seated issues that fuel the Punk chants and other audience foibles, but Monday showed the worst examples of fan entitlement all rolled up into one deplorable ball at a highly visible moment in the year for wrestling. I do not deny that any fan who pays the price of admission to a WWE event has every right to do what they want and react how they want, within basic reason, but there's only so much of this behavior that can be blamed on a "boring" product or unpopular superstars.
After the Brooklyn crowd so thoroughly embarrassed itself during the entirety of the main event match of SummerSlam by drowning out a strong performance by Seth Rollins and Finn Balor because of the appearance of a new title belt, I and many others hoped that vocal minority of the crowd would at least scale back their nonsense or get drowned out by others. Monday proved that was anything but the case and that, despite the great infrastructure of the building, the typical crowd for WWE shows in that venue is thoroughly undeserving of such a high-profile moment.
Hits and misses
Bringing in the actual Dr. Kevin Wilk to update Seth Rollins' progress was a stroke of genius. Claims that Rollins was both "making miraculous progress," but that no doctor in the world would clear him for WrestleMania, was the perfect setup for what Triple H delivered later in the night. After dropping a couple "have a nice day" quotes, Triple H turned it all around on the crowd and almost immediately had them eating out of his hand. He kept repeating, "It's all your fault" that Foley did what he did, and the same goes for Rollins' actions last week. We finally got the clearest indication (and the device) for the Triple H-Seth Rollins showdown at WrestleMania; all Rollins has to do is sign a "hold harmless" waiver, and a non-sanctioned fight is his.
Chris Jericho delivered in his special addition of "The Highlight Reel" and was one of only three people to truly command the unruly crowd's attention on this night. He revealed the "true" Kevin Owens by showing a picture of a 16-year-old Owens wearing a Y2J T-shirt and posing in front of a Jericho poster, insisting that it would be impossible for Owens to measure up to his hero. Owens, with an assist from Samoa Joe, got a solid beating in on Jericho and then posed over him, adding another layer to their well-manicured saga.
For as much as WWE isn't to blame for much of the maladies that befell them Monday night, the final moments of the main event were a bit tough to swallow. If there were any doubts as to how WWE views Braun Strowman, they were wiped out in that time frame; despite a fun and competitive match for most of the way, Strowman clearly became the third wheel and a plot device the moment the lights went out and The Undertaker appeared. After running away two weeks ago, Strowman got choke-slammed so as to distract Taker, allowing Roman Reigns to hit a spear on the dead man. While most are worried about the match and the potential results for their WrestleMania clash, I'm left sitting here and scratching my head, wondering what Strowman could possibly do after doing everything in his power to earn a meaty reward in the spotlight. It's not looking great.
- WWE (@WWE) March 21, 2017
Foley tearing up the note cards and giving his fiery goodbye was a good exit for him, and I'll never tire of hearing a McMahon proclaiming "You're fired" on air. His run was inconsistent at times, but the backstage segment featuring Zayn, Cesaro & Sheamus, the cruiserweight division and Bayley giving hugs was a reminder of some of the successes. Chaos will better suit Monday Night Raw in the final week before WrestleMania and the aftermath, and here's to hoping everything goes well with his hip surgery and recovery.
Speaking of all the aforementioned huggers, Bayley and Cesaro & Sheamus, in separate matches, were forced into action by McMahon with serious potential WrestleMania consequences in play. Cesaro & Sheamus' 2-on-4 handicap was basically pointless, as Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson continued to beat down on our suspension of disbelief and shunned their teammates to their own detriment, allowing the under-manned team to win and retain their spots in the triple threat Raw tag team title match.
Bayley wasn't quite so lucky. She was thrown into a no-DQ match against Nia Jax, with Jax set to join the match if she could beat the champion in their second non-title match in as many weeks. As much as it seemed tailor-made to allow Sasha Banks to interfere on Bayley's behalf once again, no one else was to be found and Jax won her way into the title match that also features Charlotte Flair. While it's pretty late in the game to be altering one of the "big four" title matches, Jax has been involved enough with the other competitors to make it make sense. She'll have a tremendous opportunity to either sink or swim under the bright lights on April 2.
Brian Kendrick beat TJ Perkins and then bragged about how he taught Akira Tozawa another lesson by stealing his passport. I guess felonies are cool now, after Randy Orton got away with arson on SmackDown. The cruiserweights were well-represented later in the night as well, in another good match between Austin Aries and Tony Nese and then a verbal sparring session between Aries and Neville. The cruiserweight champion and his challenger have great chemistry all around, and this match is shaping up to be an attention grabber in Orlando.
Quote of the night
"When the music hits and you hear 'Break the Walls Down' your heart's gonna beat a little faster, you're gonna breathe a little harder, you're going to get faint, a little dizzy. You're going to want to pass out, because you're going to realize what you got yourself into, and who you're facing --me. Your hero, your idol, the Ayatollah of Rock-N-Rolla. The best in the world at what I do, the GOAT, Chris Jericho."
Move of the night
- WWE (@WWE) March 21, 2017
Samoa Joe's agility, despite his size and the mileage on his body, is staggering.
After a pair of solid video packages for Goldberg and Brock Lesnar to tide us over this week, we'll have one last stare-down between the Universal champion and No. 1 contender next Monday. There will also be the Rollins-Triple H contract signing, and a high likelihood of other shenanigans.