Cody Rhodes opened Raw in a way only Cody can: an overly long promo. Don’t get me wrong, it had its moments, but in the words of GZA, make it brief, son. Half short and twice strong. After telling the story of first coming to WWE and recapping his journey from then to now, he got to business. Positioning his WWE family legacy vs. Roman Reigns’ WWE family legacy represents a dope touch and plants some interesting seeds for their eventual clash. Notice I’m not mentioning this match happening at WrestleMania and that’s because of the Sami-shaped elephant in the room.
But I digress.
Cody’s talking brought out the Judgment Day because Finn Balor had quite the chip on his shoulder. According to Balor, Cody stole everything from him. The Bullet Club, the Too Sweet, the spot in the Rumble, and the overall prestige. All valid complaints from Finn as a character and as an actual human. Finn challenged Cody because even one victory against Cody might go a long way to restoring some of what Finn believes he lost.
And then came Edge, still hot for Judgment Day. He and Cody put the blows to Edge’s former crew, and Adam Pearce made the match between Cody and Finn official.
This was the first time these two met in a WWE ring but it didn’t feel like it. The very different ring styles and approaches to their storytelling made for a very exciting match. Finn targeted Cody’s pec, because duh, and Cody eventually did himself more harm than good with a delayed vertical suplex from the top rope.
Cody’s pec might serve as his main weakness the closer we get to his eventual date with Roman. There might be a story in Cody working himself back into ring shape and taking on different challengers for the next couple months while Roman does what Roman does between now and then.
But that’s getting way ahead of myself. For now, the pec didn’t hurt Cody much despite those early misgivings. He hit Finn with a Cody Cutter but Finn kicked out. Balor then surprised Cody with a sling blade and looked like he had at least some of the momentum. Cody countered what was surely a turnbuckle dropkick from Finn with a superkick. The two battled back and forth for a bit until Finn kicked Cody to the ring floor.
Judgment Day looked ready to pounce but I never believed in an actual attack because there’s no way they cost Finn this match. In fact, while I liked the match quite a bit, I think I like it more if Finn leaves the troops at home while goes dolo. He was that fired up about this match and a move like that would say tons about his character. But, of course, this match served multiple masters.
While the Judgment Day surrounded Cody, Edge made his way out of the stands. Damien Priest spotted him first, made a beeline, and the two fought in the crowd until it spilled over back across the barricade. That’s when all hell broke loose. Edge handled Finn, told Dom Dom night night, and looked great until Rhea sucker punched him. Beth Phoenix emerged, speared Rhea again, which bought Edge just enough time to recover and distract Finn at the exact moment the Prince had Cody in the drop zone for his finisher.
Finn missed on the coup de grace. Cody hit him with not one, not two, but three Cross Rhodes, and sent the people home happy.
I already said I liked this match a lot. Cody going over is the right call and there’s enough shenanigans for Finn to cry foul if WWE goes back to this well. Does Edge take on Priest, Dom, and Finn at once? Or does he mow through them one by one while Beth gets her shot at Rhea? The configuration is actually the most interesting thing for me here, but I wonder how they keep this going until the first weekend in April if that is indeed the plan.
Elimination Chamber Qualifier 1
Let’s get the disappointing news out the way: This year’s elimination chamber match is for the United States championship. While a part of me understands keeping the big belt off limits until WrestleMania, the other part of me says that’s wack and provides lesser stakes.
That said, this thing is only two weeks away so, hey, do what you gotta do.
Seth Rollins defeated Chad Gable in a surprisingly psychological match. Gable worked Seth’s knee early and often, resulting in Seth getting the W by the skin of his teeth. Adding some psychology to a qualifier match may seem like putting a hat on top of a hat, but the extra drama worked for me. Suffering a knee injury against someone like Gable normally spells doom. Giving Seth one more thing to overcome, especially after seeing his dreams shatter at Royal Rumble, makes a lot of sense. Seth used Gable’s momentum against him when the latter went for a pinning combo and Seth reversed it into a smooth looking Pedigree. Of course he landed directly on that hurt knee and barely got to a cover in time. Curious to see if Seth’s knee plays a part in his journey between now and Elimination Chamber.
Good victory for Rollins, very solid match between two pros, and a fun start for what might be a crazy two weeks. Post-match, Rollins bristled at hearing Logan Paul’s name and walked away from the interview. Paul is definitely his Mania opponent.
As an aside though...Maxim Models want a piece of Otis?? I smell problems for Alpha Academy.
Blame it on the Numbers
Candice LeRae and IYO SKY wrestled a good match with plenty of drama outside the ring. Candice wanted this match as a bit of revenge on Damge CTRL, but she didn’t come alone. Michin has her own beef with Bayley, Kai, & SKY, so watching Candice’s back made sense.
I really like watching these two in the ring together. There was one moment early on where they looked a little off but after that, everything flowed like a water stream. My absolute favorite moment came in the third act where LeRae reversed an Electric Chair into a Poison Rana. I saw it and have no idea how Candice pulled that out of her hat.
But the drama. Bayley and Dakota got involved during Candice’s pin attempt, distracting the ref and possibly robbing Candice of a victory. Michin saw enough and threw hands at both women. And right when it looked like Candice had IYO right where she wanted her, Bayley got involved again. The Role Model approached the ring and verbalized some not so nice things towards Candice. Mrs. Wrestling took her eyes off the prize, put her hands on Bayley, and found herself on the wrong end of a sunset flip for a three count.
So when do Candice & Michin get their title shots?
HERE COMES A NEW CHALLENGER
Rhea Ripley cut a short, sweet, and strong promo making it very clear who she chooses for her WrestleMania championship match. After telling the story of seeing Charlotte Flair on top for way too long and how she hates the natural order of things and fancies herself a disruptor (shoutout to Glass Onion), she uttered the words said by no Pokemon trainer ever:
“Charlotte Flair, I choose you.”
These two tangled set the house on fire the last time they tangoed at Mania, so sign me up. And Rhea is hotter than ever, so pencil in my prediction now that the Nightmare takes the title and brings gold to the Judgment Day.
HERE COMES A NEW CHALLENGER PART II
Adam Pearce, the world’s worst boss, announced a women’s elimination chamber match for a shot at Bianca Belair’s Raw women’s championship. The first four entrants are the four runner ups from the women’s Rumble: Raquel Rodriguez, Asuka, Liv Morgan, and Nikki Cross. We’ll find out who gets the fifth spot next week when Candice LeRae, Michin, Piper Niven, and a returning Carmella compete in a Fatal 4-Way. My money is on Piper but I’m very happy for Mella.
You know who isn’t happy for her? Asuka. The Empress of tomorrow showed up during Mella’s welcome back interview, said nothing, but smiled as blue goo dripped from her mouth. Yeah, that’s scary, no thank you.
As an aside, it looks like Carmella is back to her Princess of Staten Island persona, which is my favorite version of her and really feels like a Triple H touch. Good call, Haitch.
Elimination Chamber Qualifier 2
Johnny Wrestling is going to Montreal. Maybe it’s because of all the prior stuff with Dexter on Raw, but I just couldn’t get into this match. Oh, and the fact nothing about Baron Corbin excites me and this Modern Wrestling god thing just isn’t clicking. The match’s weirdest moment? Dexter pulling an axe out of his pants when JBL looked like he might interfere. Dexter also put said axe into the commentary table. This worked better for me in NXT than it does on the main roster where I find myself agreeing with Corey Graves way too often.
But hey, the headline is still the headline: Johnny punched his ticket to the Elimination Chamber.
Austin Theory paid a rather meandering visit to the MVP Lounge. He and MVP seemed out of rhythm and Theory repeated most of what he always does: He’s the past, everyone is old, and everyone needs to respect him. As I said before, hitting this character really needs to hit the next gear because all of his promos hit the same notes. Business picked up when he and MVP talked about Bobby Lashley.
Speak of the devil and he shall appear.
The All Mighty hit the ring, assaults Theory, and sizes him up for a spear. Theory pulled MVP in the way at the last second, so Bobby speared the wrong man! The only question I have is what does this do for Bobby, MVP, and their ongoing story? Does Bobby play close to P now knowing he hurt him? Does a reluctant partnership turn to something he wants?
Welcome Back, Boogs!
Miz stepped in the ring, complained about his Rumble performance, and found himself getting manhandled by Raw’s newest member, Rick Boogs. No real match to speak of, just a man in a double-breasted suit getting tossed around like a child for a few minutes. Just happy Boogs is back after suffering a very nasty injury almost a year ago.
Steel Cage Redux
After a disappointing grand opening/grand closing to their cage match at Raw XXX, Bayley Becky Lynch made it official for next week. Yes, next week, an honest to God cage match between the two. The only weird thing about the promo was Bayley putting Seth’s name in her mouth. Saying the only reason he married Becky is because he knocked her up was a weird shot. That’s not the tenor or tone of the beef so far, so throwing that in as the last minute move just for heat feels extra cheap. Didn’t offend me at all, just threw me for a loop.
I did like the touch of Becky threatening Dakota as a means of convincing Bayley to say yes to the match. That’s perfectly in line with The Man character and it also shows Bayley truly does care about her girls. Fun segment overall.
Well, Excuse Me
Bronson Reed qualifies for the fourth spot in the men’s Elimination Chamber. But whew, he did it in dominating fashion against Dolph Ziggler. I didn’t expect a beatdown so thorough. Yes, Ziggler got his stuff in, but Reed kicked out of a Zig Zag and basically threw Dolph around like a child or a rubber ball.
I really expected an appearance from Mustafa Ali. They cut to a backstage interview earlier in the day where Ali interrupted Byron Saxton and asked Dolph how it feels to have yet another opportunity handed to him. I’m not sure what’s happening between these two because, if memory serves, Ali got pretty violent with Dolph not that long ago. And yet, no match, Ali isn’t interfering in big moments for Dolph like this week, and he seemingly does more talking than action. Which never ingratiates anyone to the crowd ever. I love Ali, so I’m always interested in what he does, but we gotta make some moves here.
My only true knock on this show is the lack of follow-up on Sami Zayn and the Bloodline. I know, I know, they’re saving it for Friday and this was clearly Cody’s night, but if I’m keeping it real, that’s the one thing I cared about the most heading into this week’s Raw. Oh well, Geno will have all the fun later this week.
This show moved, set up a lot in three hours, established some potential matches, and got us ready for Elimination Chamber. Crazy that’s only two weeks away.
That’s my grade and I’m sticking to it. Your turn.