Committing three-plus hours of Christmas Day for a live Monday Night Raw was an unprecedented ask from WWE, for audience and roster alike. There were big, splashy efforts to try to bring in as big an audience as possible while announcing very little else of what was to come over those three hours, with an hour of commercial-free programming and a returning John Cena to kick it all off in Chicago, that went sideways once the in-ring action began.
Those who did tune in, however, and waded through that rocky first hour were rewarded with a six-woman tag team match that re-energized a mercurial audience and a pair of exciting title matches. While the Intercontinental championship match between Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe had a dissatisfying ending in the ring, only to make up for it in the moments that followed, the Raw tag team title change that closed out the final Raw of the year rewarded the die-hard fans who stayed until the end and left plenty of questions to be answered as the calendar turns to 2018.
Jason Jordan and Seth Rollins resurrect 'odd couple' concept with shock win
Kurt Angle was in a giving mood for the holidays, but just like any parent who knows their kid is going to get way more out of three pairs of socks than a pound of chocolate, he kept both Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan away from Samoa Joe for the time being. That didn't mean the nepotism he's shown in recent months took a rest, though, as he created an unlikely pairing between the two tepid rivals and immediately thrust them into a Raw tag team title match.
What became the main event of the evening was equal parts agonizing and intriguing on the surface. It was yet another week in the unending saga between The Bar and Seth Rollins, for one. There's also the fact that Jordan continues to be one of the most universally booed superstars on the roster, despite a freakishly athletic and entertaining in-ring style, and Rollins just lost his tag team partner Dean Ambrose for what looks to be nine months.
While it would've been easy to have Jordan simply continue to lose close calls against all of the top talent on Raw, only to brag that he gave them a tough fight, disrupting his whiny descent into jealousy and rage with a title victory could do far more to serve Jordan in both the short- and long-term than any losing streak. Raw has a history of pairing up antagonistic or mismatched partners and turning it into gold, though you'd have to go back to the original pairing of Sheamus & Cesaro themselves, or even Team Hell No, to find a pairing so mismatched. As Jordan's ego grows -- his claim that he'll be a better teammate than Ambrose was a nice first step -- this saga will only get better.
The match itself told a dynamic story, and the constantly evolving offensive arsenal of Sheamus & Cesaro helped carry a lengthy one-sided stretch until Jordan and Rollins scrambled to victory. Jordan's seemingly inevitable slide towards the dark side is now deeply tied to Rollins and The Shield, and with titles in the mix, the potential for in-fighting and betrayal is high. This team and rivalry could be the perfect bridge to new and fresh tag team champions down the road -- The Revival comes to mind -- and the exact path to disaster is as wide open as can be.
Samoa Joe pushes Roman Reigns over the edge
If we're handing out gold stars for performances on Monday night, Samoa Joe earned himself a handful at the very least. His intense and uncomfortable interview he did backstage with Renee Young helped take last week's destruction of Ambrose and carry it over towards more fire in his growing rivalry with Reigns.
An Intercontinental championship match seemed a bit premature at the outset, but the intensity between Joe and Reigns was undeniable in the moments before the bell rang. Joe physically dominated the bulk of the contest, once again showing off all the attributes that made him one of the best title contenders of 2017. His physicality and creativity peaked in a moment to remember, when he altered his Coquina Clutch choke mid-stream to temporarily prevent Reigns from reaching the ropes.
- WWE (@WWE) December 26, 2017
There's still miles yet to go in this rivalry, so an inconclusive finish was all but inevitable from the start, but Reigns earned every bit of the DQ. Left with just one undamaged arm, Reigns pummeled Joe in the corner until the referee was forced to throw the result out the window -- but that was just the beginning. Reigns tossed Samoa Joe from pillar to post, used the ring steps as a weapon multiple times, and only just missed with a full wind up with a steel chair that ultimately hit the ring post. After Joe carried the early stages of this feud with intensity and passion, Reigns held up his end of the bargain and made this the singular conflict to watch on Monday nights.
Women's Rumble picks up steam
Paige answered a lot of questions about where her in-ring work stood in her one-on-one match against Sasha Banks, but other than coordinated attacks outside the scope of their own matches, we hadn't seen much of what Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose could do into the ring prior to Monday night.
After stops and starts on several occasions over the past few weeks, a six-woman tag team match between Paige's Absolution trio and Bayley, Mickie James & Banks finally went off without a hitch. The crowd that had been shockingly quiet for the better part of an hour bought into this match almost immediately, and though there were rough spots for both Rose and Deville at times, each also showed flashes of potential and started to define their own styles and characters. Deville's moment to shine came on the outside of the ring with a brutal-looking clothesline on Banks, who continues to bump around like a maniac at will to make her opponents look better.
Bayley ultimately took the loss at Paige's hands after a well-paced contest, and all six women look poised to make waves in the upcoming women's Royal Rumble.
- WWE (@WWE) December 26, 2017
Hits and misses
What started with some entertaining shtick between John Cena and Elias quickly devolved into the kind of slow, plodding match that Cena had seemingly left behind at the start of 2017. Though Elias and Cena expertly navigated their way through Chicago's inane "CM Punk" chants as best they could and showed real chemistry on the microphone, the in-ring result that followed simply didn't live up to that hype.
After weeks of pre-taped promos, Bray Wyatt got a big reaction from the crowd when he revealed he'd be walking out for a match instead. His creepy entrance was cut short, though, as Matt Hardy emerged from the darkness and attacked him wildly before Wyatt escaped intact. Getting out-weirded is a new experience for Wyatt, but "The Great War" to come could do him a lot of good.
The budding modern romance between Enzo Amore and Nia Jax was poised to finally be realized beneath mistletoe, only for Bliss to barge in at the last possible second. Perhaps next week will bring better luck, or maybe it will stretch into the WWE's new "Mixed Max Challenge" show in the new year.
Amore's match, a six-man street fight that inexplicably still required tags into and out of the ring, was a typical cruiserweight showcase that ultimately allowed Cedric Alexander a little extra time in the spotlight. Amore's Santa Claus with Ariya Daivari and Drew Gulak elves was eye-catching, but dulled in comparison to Alexander's picture-perfect lumbar check. That was the second of two cruiserweight matches on the night, following Hideo Itami's drubbing of Brian Kendrick and a wicked Go 2 Sleep that got little more than a murmur out of the Chicago crowd.
The Miztourage caroling and pining for the return of their boss, The Miz, was the perfect occasional interlude for the show. But their destruction at the hands of Braun Strowman (who showed a little Christmas spirit in his own right this week) was inevitable.