Raw airs tonight (Jan. 16) with a live show from Heritage Bank Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. This is the eighth episode of Raw during the nine week build towards Royal Rumble, which takes place on Jan. 28.
Splitting up the tag team titles is the right thing to do
The last week of WWE programming has indicated that creative is finally open to the idea of splitting up the unified tag team titles.
The Judgment Day won a tag team turmoil / gauntlet match to specifically earn a shot at the Raw tag team titles, which are currently held by the Usos. Meanwhile, the Banger Bros have entered a tournament that will determine new number one contenders for the SmackDown tag team titles, which are also currently held by the Usos.
This is the first time that Jimmy and Jey will defend each brand’s titles separately ever since they become double champions last May. This booking decision could have much bigger implications down the line if it also opens the door for WWE to split up the unified titles currently held by Roman Reigns.
After so many months of the Usos and Roman defending their double titles as one entity, it was very easy to miss the fact that Adam Pearce specified that these upcoming matches will each just be one for set of tag team belts. WWE should make sure to reiterate this point tonight, just to make sure that everyone watching the show knows what’s going on.
Are we going to receive a storyline explanation for the sudden change regarding why the Usos have to now defend the titles separately? For example, is Adam Pearce trying to punish them for attempting to hijack Raw in recent weeks?
The way this concept of defending the titles separately was introduced out of nowhere isn’t great, but splitting up the belts is the right thing to do. There are plenty of tag teams that have nowhere to go in terms of climbing the ladder in WWE, because it’s well established at this point that The Usos aren’t dropping the belts. The Viking Raiders and Legado del Fantasma are two teams lost in the shuffle on SmackDown, for example, as heel teams that have almost no chance to win championship gold due to the Usos being the top pushed heel team in WWE.
As far as Raw is concerned, feuds between teams like The Judgment Day, the Street Profits, and The O.C. can be easily enhanced if there are championship stakes. This kind of high stakes urgency is exactly what the recent feud between The Judgment Day and The O.C. was missing, and it hurt their rivalry as a result.
Will Damian Priest, Finn Balor, Rhea Ripley, and hardened criminal Dominik Mysterio be able to do what nobody has up to this point and actually beat The Bloodline for championship gold? If their upcoming championship match was for both sets of tag team titles, the answer would almost certainly be “no.” But with only the Raw tag titles up for grabs, a title change is very much in play.
The rest of the title scene
Raw Women’s Champion Bianca Belair wasn’t around last week after she was brutally attacked by Alexa Bliss the week before. Bliss claims that she is the face of evil and is not afraid of Uncle Howdy or Bray Wyatt. Bianca should be back tonight to address a potential championship rematch with Bliss and all the Wyatt-related spooks surrounding her.
United States Champion Austin Theory used his mic time last week to enter the Royal Rumble match and brag about his recent victory over Seth Rollins. It looks like their feud with stretch into the Royal Rumble match, where Seth says his knee should be 100% healthy.
WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns laid a trap for Kevin Owens on SmackDown, resulting in a beatdown from The Bloodline on KO. Solo Sikoa took the lead role in that attack, so perhaps Owens will demand a match against him tonight. Will we hear from Sami Zayn after The Bloodline took away his chance to defeat Owens last week?
WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions IYO SKY and Dakota Kai don’t have any viable contenders at the moment, so they are spending their time assisting Bayley in her fights against Becky Lynch and Mia Yim.
Other stuff to keep an eye on
- Bobby Lashley is back on Raw after what he described as a suspension. He tossed Austin Theory over the top rope before asserting that nobody will be able to stop him from winning the Royal Rumble match. Brock Lesnar has a bone to pick with this guy, so he might have to show up in the Rumble match to eliminate Bob. Will the eventual return of Lesnar be enough to convince Lashley that he needs to accept MVP’s plan for reforming the Hurt Business?
- The latest rumor indicates that Edge will return to WWE at the Royal Rumble event, rather than appearing beforehand to set up a separate match for the PPV. It’s possible that the limited dates on Edge’s contract have made it difficult to follow up on last October’s angle where The Judgment Day forced him to watch them injure Beth Phoenix.
- WWE is making a very big deal about Cody Rhodes’ return from injury; it feels like his official entry into the Royal Rumble match will be announced any minute.
- The Miz thinks Bronson Reed is his buddy, but Bronson made it clear that he’s only helping The Miz for the money. Their relationship clearly doesn’t have the strongest foundation, especially after Miz’s frugal ways were already exposed in his prior story with Dexter Lumis and Johnny Gargano.
- Is Asuka waiting for the Royal Rumble match itself before she returns from Japan, possibly with a gimmick change?
- Baron Corbin hasn’t won a televised match in two months. Will WWE give him a babyface like Elias to beat on before the Royal Rumble?
- Mustafa Ali isn’t happy with Dolph Ziggler after the showoff prioritized his losing singles career over a chance to enter tag team turmoil with Ali last week.
- Matt Riddle was injured six weeks ago on Raw. WWE said he would be out of action for six weeks. Does that mean he’ll return on tonight’s broadcast?
- Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, where the opening of Raw typically includes a related video with a Vince McMahon voice-over. Will it be business as usual on that front now that McMahon is once again the Executive Chairman of WWE, or will Vince’s audio not be included this time?
- Speaking of Vince’s return to WWE, there are zero matches currently announced for tonight’s show, so maybe McMahon is back running creative after all.
What will you be looking for on Raw?