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Raw recap & reactions (Jan. 16, 2022): The calm before the XXX storm

Bobby Lashley emerges as Austin Theory’s newest challenger, Alexa Bliss and Bianca Belair set a date, while the Bloodline have big plans for next week.

Ladies and gents, we’re a couple weeks away from Royal Rumble and one week away from Raw is XXX. I’m excited for both but before we get to that, Raw emanates from Cincinnati this week, with a lot of prep necessary for the 30th anniversary show.

Claire has the explicit details while I’m just following her lead with some color commentary.

Let’s talk Raw!

My Friends Can be Your Friends

MVP showed up with Omos this week and I initially rolled my eyes. Besides the fact that Omos is fetch and they keep trying to make fetch happen, I found myself puzzled. Why would Bobby Lashley re-enter the Hurt Business with MVP if he still manages Omos? I mean, Omos and Lashley aren’t exactly friends. They’re not even associates. It felt like a haphazard story decision until Raw’s closing moments.

The Six Pack challenge between Lashley, Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, Baron Corbin, Dolph Ziggler, and Miz for a United States championship match with Austin Theory was a lot of fun. Matches like this are always charmingly chaotic, filled with big spots and some storytelling foreshadowing. This match in particular was just chaotic. Seth and Lashley always looked like the main challengers to Theory’s championship, made more obvious with Theory ringside and Seth throwing an incredible amount of disrespect in his direction.

Miz hit the showers first, followed by Dolph, then Finn, and finally, Corbin. Seth eliminated the first three, while Lashley told the “wrestling god” to go home.

But before Lashley eliminated Corbin, MVP and Omos walked to the ring. Lashley looked stunned and clearly voiced his displeasure with P. But Omos actually helped Lashley win this match, whether he likes it or not. Omos leveled Seth, caused more commotion, and allowed Bobby to take advantage by pinning Corbin. That commotion also allowed him to get the pin on Seth, ending the match and sending him to Raw is XXX with a championship match on his schedule.

MVP catching strays for Lashley, along with using his hired muscle to help The Almighty, is an interesting wrinkle. I’m not saying Lashley is going for, and I can see a big clash happening between Omos and Bobby as a result, but it forces this confrontation sooner rather than later. It’s also really relatable. MVP isn’t the first friend told to leave well enough alone but can’t help but stick his nose where it doesn’t belong all in the name of helping. MVP has good intentions.

Sure, the road to hell is paved with those types of things, but it’s easily understandable. It also makes sense why Lashley might flip because he told P not to do a thing and he did that thing. Made worse, Lashley wants to do things on his own, so anyone helping him even in the slightest just throws him off his axis.

Last week, I wrote that the more human WWE makes its wrestlers, the better for the stories. This Hurt Business thing might be finding its groove at the perfect time of year by making the components shockingly relatable.

Everyone Acknowledge!

The Bloodline kicked off Raw. Apparently, Adam Pearce has no real authority. They had words for KO but also announced ever generation of the Bloodline present at Raw is XXX (Yes, this is how I’m always writing it now because it’s fantastic) for an “Acknowledgement Ceremony.” Two guesses on who crashes that party.

The Judgment Day hit the ring and took offense with the idea that the Bloodline run Raw. This was the usual back and forth before a big title match but Dom, as usual, shined the brightest. Finn called him Ex-con Dom, which I love it. Dom took shots at Solo Sikota, which of course meant Rhea stepped to have her man’s back.

Rhea vs. Solo? Love it and want it right now.

While Rhea and Solo stood toe to toe for what felt like 5 minutes, Dom snuffed Solo with an elbow to the jaw. The Street Champ barely moved and a brawl ensued.

This was fun if only for the Bloodline news and, of course, Dom. Plus I really hope we get some payoff to Rhea and Solo, although the side of me that knows we can’t have nice things says it ain’t happening.


Why, Adam Pearce?

Mustafa Ali started this one on fire thanks to a well-time sneak attack. Solo found himself throwing fisticuffs with The Judgment Day, so Ali struck.

That was about the only time Ali had an advantage in this match. What makes Solo compelling in the ring is his pure physicality. This cat is pure violence and his matches bear that out. It helps when he has great dance partners, like Ali, who sell that violence better than most. At one moment, Solo caught Ali on the ring apron and launched him into the ring post. It made me hurt and I’m nowhere near this week’s Raw nor am I, ya know, wrestling.

But that’s not the story here (although Ali is, once again, an afterthought to someone else’s story) as this thing between KO and the Bloodline continued. Jimmy & Jey made their way back to the ring, which signaled KO. Owens didn’t want to help Ali but wanted vengeance for the last SmackDown episode.

He made a beeline towards the Usos and fought them off to Solo’s dismay. Ali tried taking advantage of a distracted Solo, again, but yeah, no dice. A Samoan Spike crushed Ali’s hope and ended the match. That gave KO the green light to go after the Street Champ. Owens went ballistic on Solo and truly lost his cool. WWE officials, along with Adam Pearce for some reason, hit the ring and separated all parties.

While advancing the KO beef is great, I really need more from the Pearce portion. Every week he reprimands the Bloodline and every week they say “nah.” He tells them to leave and they say nah. He tells them to cut out the madness and they say nah. That part of this story feels half-baked. That combined with the match being a wash overall made for a very average opening match.

Ali, apparently also upset about being cogs in other people’s stories, approached Dolph Ziggler later during Raw. While Ziggler got prepped for his Six Pack challenge match, Ali lamented the fact that Ziggler just gets handed opportunities. Clearly not over Dolph declining an invitation to last week’s tag team gauntlet match, Ali refused to back down even when Ziggler told him none of this was personal.

Ali attacked Ziggler, which I’m sure means a match between the two is coming and hopefully means Ali is going over. Hopefully.

Nightmares Become Dreams

Cody Rhodes made his intentions clear. His latest video package ended with Cody announcing he’s back at the Royal Rumble and commentary clarified that he’s entering the Rumble match.

The weird part to all of this is the inconsistency with Rumble entrants. Commentary tells us nine other men declared their Rumble entries. Cool. But right after Cody’s announcement, we got Byron Saxton telling us that everyone is in and out of Pearce’s office making their case for a spot in the Royal Rumble.

Now, as someone who covers this thing, I completely get the very real fact that cats like Bobby Lashley and Cody Rhodes need to tell the world they’re in the Rumble. They’re big names and we want the big names. But as a television show that’s supposed to run on some type of internal logic—even if it’s internal logic which I disagree—I need a narrative reason why some just declare they’re in and they get a spot while others go to Adam Pearce with hat in hand doing their best Keith Sweat impression.

For those who don’t speak 1990s R&B, that means begging.

No Business

Shelton Benjamin & Cedric Alexander took on the Street Profits in a crisp, smooth, if only a tad too short tag match. But, like the first match tonight, the match itself wasn’t the story. MVP walked to the ring during the match and made his presence known. He pulled Cedric out of harms way just a tad late during Angelo Dawkins’ patented turnbuckle attack, but distracted the ref long enough for Shelton & Cedric to hit a very dope tandem move. Cedric, still the legal man, went for the pin but Dawkins reversed it and got the win.

The Profits celebrated while Cedric & Shelton had several words with their former manager. For those keeping score at home, MVP’s efforts in reinstating the Hurt Business clearly isn’t going well. And I like that. Like I said last week, this shouldn't be easy on a count of all the bad history between these four men. Make them all work for the reunion and show that they all truly need it.

Raw is XXX in a Cage

Get your heads out of the gutter. Becky Lynch and Bayley went blow for blow on the microphone this week. They finally got to Bayley’s true beef with Becky: She believes Becky took her spot all those years ago when three of the four horsewomen graduated to the main roster while Bayley stayed behind in NXT. Becky remembers it differently, bringing up the fact Bayley wanted more time in NXT to help the people behind her and lead that locker room. Becky asked if all that was true or is Bayley full of crap like she always thought.

That served as part of her goading Bayley into a cage match at next week’s Raw is XXX. That might be the cherry on top of a very stacked sundae.

Word? Still?

MVP wants to bring back the Hurt Business. But he’s also still managing Omos. Apparently, this is all part of MVP’s plan, as Omos showed his value. But, if you’re reading this far, you already know how.

Speaking of that man, he destroyed Elias in a match that did nothing for me. It only served as prep for Omos’ Royal Rumble performance as MVP formerly threw the big man’s very large hat into the ring. Meh.

Ex-Con Dom

Alpha Academy wanted a little payback for that L they took at the hands of The Judgment Day last week. I love these two teams together, whether it’s Finn Balor or Dominik at Damian Priest’s side. They give Chad Gable & Otis great foils and push their goofy sides out to play. That positions them as good guys during the match, which is where Otis shines.

Plus, it lets Judgment Day lean fully into Dom’s schtick right now, which is the stuff of legend.

Gable hit an incredible diving headbutt from the other side of the ring, which might be the move of the night for sheer athleticism. It also created momentum for the Alpha boys. Otis hit the caterpillar, Chad hit Chaos Theory on Priest, Dom found himself on the wrong end of an ankle lock, and yet, Judgment Day still won!

Priest snuck up behind Gable, hit the South of Heaven, and Dom got the pin fall for his team and represented his cell block with pride.

This was the right call. Judgment Day needed the W heading into their tag team championship match, and of course they did it nefariously.

I’m curious how they use the numbers game against the Usos at Raw is XXX and how Rhea inserts herself. Clearly, she wants smoke with Solo, but does that affect the tag match with all the gold on the line?

Ate the Feet

I really want longer women’s matches. Michin defeated IYO SKY in a match that felt like it barely started. We’re getting a lot of setup tonight and this felt like that. Why? Because Candice LeRae had Michin’s back this week. LeRae fought Dakota Kai, Michin got the W, and Candice saved Michin from the traditional post match beatdown. A big tag title match at the Rumble sound appetizing.

Say Uncle

Bianca Belair returned tonight and called out Alexa Bliss. Alexa, with new theme music, hit the ring. The long and short of their back and forth? Bianca vs. Alexa for the Raw Women’s championship at Royal Rumble. Dope! Let’s do it. Of course, Bianca wanted static now rather than waiting until they get to San Antonio.

The two women brawled on the floor and into the crowd, which led to Alexa slapping a DDT on Bianca on the floor, with Uncle Howdy standing in the smokey shadows of a doorway.

I really hope this comes to a close at the Rumble because this rubber band doesn’t have much elasticity left for me. Alexa and Bianca brawling in the crowd? Great. Howdy appearing one more time with still no answers? Boring.

So, About that Rumble Spot...

Akira Tozazwa wants a spot in the Rumble. Adam Pearce gave him a match with said spot on the line. Well, yeah, Bronson Reed showed up at his opponent and you can guess how this went.

I can do without three matches like this on the same show. Ones where the dominant big man overpowers the smaller guy and dominates without even one sweat bead dropping. Kinda shocking they did three of these in one night but hey, here we are.

A lot happened during this show in terms of setting up matches for Raw is XXX. But it still felt like a very unexciting show. Perhaps they’re saving everything for next week, which I completely understand, even if I don’t like it. Before Raw is XXX, Raw is merely fine. Some questionable matches and one true moment that didn’t move me at all, but a fine show nonetheless.

Grade: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

That’s my grade and I’m sticking to it. Your turn.

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