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Raw recap & reactions (Mar. 20, 2023): The twilight of Roman’s reign

The Tribal Chief makes an appearance, Sami & KO issue a challenge, and Asuka finally makes her move on this week’s Raw.

Big Brother

Whew...where to start with this one? Raw laced its backbone with the Bloodline saga as it ran through the entire three hour program. The overarching idea is foreshadowing the Roman Empire’s fall. Raw did this subtly, with some ways more obvious than others never becoming obnoxious. And they all preyed on Roman Reigns’ insecurity, something evident since the Tribal Chief’s birth.

Since writing that opening I decided starting from the beginning works best, so walk with me for a bit.

Starting Raw with Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens made perfect sense and I’m glad we got it. The two built off their momentum from SmackDown and officially challenged The Usos to a match at WrestleMania. But before we even got there, Jey Uso sowed dissension seeds between the two, as he he noted their complicated history and Sami turning his back on his chosen family. Jey is still hurt by what he sees as Sami betraying their bond. Jimmy may feel pain as well, but it’s most evident with Jey. One gets the feeling if he had his way, he, Jimmy, and Sami would conquer WWE on their own as a new brotherhood.

That fact becomes even more obvious when three different people, including Roman, questioned Jey’s loyalty to Reigns. First Sami, to which Jey loudly protested, then Roman, to which Jey somewhat hesitantly affirmed his Bloodline status, and then Cody Rhodes when he predicted what happens to Roman on April 3. When WWE telegraphs something so much, it’s usually a matter of when not if.

Even the fact that Jey accepted the tag match after Jimmy turned it down says a lot. It not only showed Jimmy & Jey on different pages but also meant Jey made a big decision without Roman’s consent. In any mob family, the boss of all bosses makes the decisions, not the capos.

Jey stepping out and making a decision on his own about his team without consulting the Chief illustrates Roman’s waning power over his cousin. That’s one reason Roman questioned Jey’s loyalty, in similarly to how he questioned Sami’s many moons ago, and got the answer he sought. In another masterstroke of storytelling, Roman made the same face he made in January when Paul Heyman asked him that same question about Sami’s loyalty. Some might say Roman’s playing possum for the cameras but I’m not one of those people.

But it’s not just Jey who poses a problem for Roman. We all know Jimmy’s history during this whole story. I’m not a gambling man but I put high odds on him leaving Roman before anyone else. We saw some of that this week too as Jimmy got emotional about the past few weeks without Jey and who he blames. Sure, he said Sami’s name at the end, but everything he said fits Roman as well, and seemingly everyone in the room, including Roman, knew it.

Roman sent Jimmy & Jey home for the night but kept Solo Sikoa, effectively isolating the big brothers from their little brother and creating yet another rift in this supposed family. It’s almost a rerun of how he isolated Jey from Jimmy so many years ago, which brings this whole thing full circle.

But then Cody muddied the waters and tested Solo as well. Roman talked about Cody as a problem because he represents something from the past: a “professional wrestler.” Roman didn’t call himself a superstar but he called himself a fighter, which is how he became a megastar. LA Knight might take offense to that but hey, here we are. Anyway, Roman acknowledged—no pun—Cody’s tendency to run. He ran from WWE when things got tough, ran from AEW when he “couldn’t get over” and then his body quit on him in WWE right when he finally got over. I mention all this because the exchange perfectly encapsulates the Tribal Chief character.

He’s a fantastic frontrunner and an even better bully. But like any bully, he crumbles the minute you punch back. Cody threw haymakers aimed right at his fragile ego. Cody predicted the thing we all see coming: The second he loses those championships, everyone leaves him. Jey? Gone. Jimmy and Solo follow, while Heyman “becomes an advocate again.” Roman looked deflated, and the “Cody” chants he first laughed at now made him shake. It’s like Frieza whenever Goku hits yet another level of Super Saiyan that the prince didn’t think possible.

Cody baited Solo earlier saying the street champ might think he’s ready for someone like Cody, but he’s nowhere close. Well, as Roman dropped the microphone and left the ring dejected from Cody picking at his soul, Solo got in Cody’s face. Roman called him off multiple times and when he finally listened, Cody baited him again. Roman interjected himself before things got worse for Solo and promised him a match with Cody next week, but now even Solo flashes disobedience. And Roman already knows Heyman’s loyalty lies only with power and he who has that power.

We are in the end times and everyone involved gets a standing ovation for handling it beautifully.


Future Shock

Watching Austin Theory vs. Montez Ford inspired future visions in my mind. Hopefully, with fingers and toes crossed, these two represent WWE’s future. They click in the ring and both bring enough fire that they look like two people in constant competition with each other. I was wrong last week when I mentioned WWE protecting Montez. Even though he looked great in a loss, just like Angelo Dawkins last week, Austin beat him pretty cleanly. While I wish he cut at least one corner for the W, I understand the logic. John Cena waits in the WrestleMania wings, so making Theory look supremely up to par is paramount.

For Theory’s sake, and especially after he cut his very short promo post match about making Cena a believer in Hollywood, the man better walk out of Cali with his United States championship in his carry-on bag.

Omos Had Him

Omos squashed Mustafa Ali. Shock. Dolph Ziggler looked on from seemingly the only position wrestlers watch television—standing at a weird angle and by himself. Good for Omos! Still not digging Ali’s positivity gimmick although I think there’s a satirical element which I do appreciate. After toiling in WWE for years, pitching ideas, getting saddled with some very meh material, and seemingly hitting his ceiling, this meta gimmick of a guy who puts on a smile and takes the generic advice to “be positive” has a little merit.

However, Ali isn’t a Brock Lesnar equivalent. In fact, no one is his equivalent. Therein lies the problem, or at least some of it. How do you make Omos look like a serious threat beating up on people so much smaller than him and when he still can’t wrestle a complete match? I’m sure that last part perfectly suits Brock, who probably wants out of SoFi Stadium as soon as the check clears.

All in all? Not impressed and the build just isn’t working for me.

Let Them Fight

Shoutout to Ken Watanabe. While he didn’t have Seth Rollins and Logan Paul in mind when he said that in 2014, it still applies. At least as far as St. Louis feels.

Paul’s segment entertained for the most part. His initial remarks about him loving WWE but the fans not loving him? Less of that. A whole lot less. But him trolling Seth and adding commentary to Seth’s theme music while the former WWE champ hit the ring? More of that.

Everything hit a fever pitch when Seth attacked Logan. People love booing Logan and the more he leans into that side, the better for everyone. Loved this break apart brawl and underlining the point that all it takes is one punch from Logan and the game entirely changes.

Dirty Dom

I really liked Dom vs. Johnny Gargano. In fact, this is my favorite Dom singles match. Previously on NXT, Grayson Waller injured Gargano’s ribs something serious. We saw a vicious and even intimidating Dom as he went in on Johnny’s ribs. The man even ripped off the injury tape. Somewhere, DDP wept.

Beating up on a someone so beloved works perfectly for Dom. The crowd deplores him and that hate increases weekly. The fact he beat up on an injured Gargano only made the boos louder.

Johnny fought back because that’s what he does. But there’s only but so much a barely breathing person can do or withstand. But that works both ways as Dom looks hungry and focused as he awaits his father in Cali, while reinforcing Johnny’s heart and garnering even more sympathy for a man who paid the price for protecting his family. It’s simple storytelling but it’s human. And humanity goes a long way with me.

What’s Your Damage?

Before we walked into Bayley vs. Rhea Ripley, Rhea took the microphone and got some things off her chest. And I liked her making this match against Charlotte more than just a championship. It’s not just about beating Charlotte for her spot but defeating someone who, in her words, never respected her and represents terrible leadership for anyone coming behind her. Bottomline? Rhea thinks Charlotte fakes a lot of the funk and wants her position.

How did Bayley and Damage CTRL get involved? They came ringside as Bayley took offense at Rhea not mention her leadership or even asking for advice from someone who owns a WrestleMania victory over Charlotte. Of course, the real reason led back to the Women’s tag champs and Trish Stratus. Lita, Becky Lynch, and Trish walked ringside and had Rhea’s back when it looked like the numbers game might work against her.

After Rhea picked up the W—and after a little chaos broke out—Rhea acknowledged the three women who held her down and showed some respect. I found that interesting for one, a heel, and two the Judgment Day version of Rhea. But not in a bad way either. It shows character depth while also emphasizing what she meant in her promo about leadership and someone looking out for her. She never felt that from Charlotte, Bayley just disrespected on her and tried shutting her up, while the other Horsewoman lent her some support. Even if only a little help, that clearly meant a lot.

Short match but still did the job.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Edge’s promo creeped me out. Which means it worked. Just look at it. While I’m still leery on the Demon returning after that Extreme Rules debacle in 2021—remember the heartbeat?!—I have faith Edge and current creative know what they’re doing.

Poor Master Gable

Chad Gable and Otis still aren’t in the same book, much less the same page. Gable caught Otis getting a manicure and enjoying the good life while he prepped for a match against Ricochet. Gable wanted the Number One Guy in his corner, which made sense until Maxxine Duper enticed the big man with hand modeling tales and big promises. Dupri tried dragging him one direction while Gable tried dragging him to the ring. While Otis chose Gable at first, all that changed as the match wound down.

Maxxine snatching Otis away from the ring played perfectly. I love her character as a whole but I really like how she goes for what she wants and holds back nothing. How can you not like Maxxine? Well, Gable probably doesn’t and I wonder how the affects their WrestleMania 4-Way tag match. Ricochet is certainly ready as he got the W after putting on a hell of a match with Gable. Even though they tore down the house, the drama outside the ring just got me more.

They Did Not Coexist

We finally found out how Asuka and Bianca Belair faired as a tag team. They got the W, sure, but while Bianca celebrated, Asuka ended that partnership just as quickly as it started when she attacked Bianca from behind. I’m curious if this means Asuka works the heel role at Mania or just something for this week and ignored next. St. Louis booed her for the sneak attack and she reveled in the moment. While I don’t see a heel turn in Asuka’s future, I do like the fact they finally added some heat to this feud.

However, I think the move means more if it stops their team from getting the W. Piper Niven replaced Carmella as Chelsea Green’s partner, and giving even one of them a cheap victory over the champ thanks to her partner’s betrayal kinda writes itself. Right? This reeks of having your cake and eating it too. But like I said, I’m happy someone finally lit the dynamite stick between these two even if it’s not in the method which I prefer.

Raw rocked my world tonight. From beginning to end, I enjoyed mostly everything. Everything with the Bloodline killed and making that the bulk of the show certainly worked in everyone’s favor.

Grade: A

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

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