ORLANDO, Florida -- The Monday Night Raw after WrestleMania once again delivered on its promise of high energy, chaotic reactions and memorable moments packaged in the most polarizing of ways. There was jubilation at the returns of Finn Balor and Kurt Angle, the latter being named the new Raw general manager, as well as the continued excitement over new tag team champions The Hardy Boyz and their WrestleMania surprise. The Revival made a big impact as the lone debut of the night and Emma finally came back as she was pre-injury, with hopes of shaking off the weirdness of the abandoned Emmalina mishap. And then there was Vince McMahon who announced a much-needed roster shuffle coming next week,
But the most iconic moment, the opening segment, perfectly portrayed the post-Mania Raw crowd for everything it can be, good and bad. In a showing of sheer reverence, the crowd chanted "Under-taker" in tribute to the freshly retired mega-star for the first three minutes of the live television broadcast as the camera panned around the arena. That immediately transitioned into an act of utter defiance and "Roman sucks" chants directed at the man who dispatched the "dead man."
Once Roman Reigns' music hit and he walked out to the ramp, the Amway Center crowd became utterly unglued -- creating another, opposite memory that will be shown on WWE programming in perpetuity. For the next nine-plus minutes, as Reigns slowly sauntered to the ring and paused several times along the way, and then climbed into the ring, the boos were deafening and persistent. Chants transitioned from The Hardys' "delete" to a number of non-PG phrases and eventually "go away" as Reigns tried to wait out the crowd.
Each and every time he lifted the microphone to his mouth to try to speak, the boos would rise to the same level and thwart his efforts. Finally, as the clock hit 8:13 with the only words heard coming from The Undertaker's video tribute package and the virulent crowd, Reigns made the most defiant statement of all.
"This is my yard now," Reigns reiterated.
In five words, he was done. He dropped the mic, walked to the back as his music played, and the man supposedly being groomed to be the face of the next generation was serenaded with more white-hot heat and anger than any of the biggest "bad guys" currently on the roster could ever dream of.
We won't know the long-term impact for months, or maybe more, but kudos to the WWE, which steered headfirst into what it certainly knew was coming, and to Reigns for weathering the storm. Dispatching The Undertaker was never going to be a popular role, but it may become the turning point in the most chaotic moment of Reigns' career.
Finn Balor back at last
It was seemingly the worst secret in the world, with Balor having appeared on multiple live events over the last few weeks, but that took little or nothing away from the moment the heartbeat pulse echoed through the Amway Center. More than seven months after coming to Raw like a man on fire and winning the Universal championship in his first pay-per-view, only to be injured and forced to give it up the following night, Balor made his triumphant return as the backup to the man who injured him, Seth Rollins.
While it ultimately runs into the same sort of suspension of disbelief problems that the Rollins-Reigns partnership did over the last few months (which could be solved with a few words or context of them rehabbing injuries together in Alabama), that's not what this night or this moment was about. The tag team contest against Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe (a mind-boggling omission from WrestleMania, by the way) was a tremendously fun match featuring four former NXT champions squaring off in the main event.
The finishing sequence that went from Coquina Clutch to flying knee to superkick to Balor's finishing combo was picture perfect, and Balor appears not to have lost a single step. Long-term plans may not be clear until after next week's "roster shakeup" but the low dropkick to the turnbuckle into the coup de grace on Owens to end the match is seemingly a nice place for Balor to start against an old rival.
Kurt Angle is the new Raw general manager. It's true. It's damn true.
While the debuts and returns of active competitors is often the highlight of the post-Mania Raw, Vince McMahon's annual appearance for this unusual event made for a somewhat different, but equally appreciated surprise.
After dropping the bombshell of the instant post-WrestleMania shake-up in store, McMahon's announcement of the new general manager was handled immaculately. The moment he revealed they were a 2017 Hall of Fame inductee, Teddy Long's music hit and the crowd was immediately thrown off balance as the former SmackDown GM channeled his inner R-Truth. "My bad," he said as McMahon chastised him and sent him away.
Angle's entrance and the obligatory "you suck" chants that followed predictably drew one of the loudest reactions of the evening. His first appearance on Raw in over 11 years was a welcome sight, and if his first few backstage segments are any indication, he's going to fit in quite nicely and help to a shifting landscape on Monday nights.
Expedition of gold fulfilled, tag team wrestling 'revived'
In a matter of two nights the Raw tag team division has gone from something of an afterthought to a significant source of strength. The return of the Hardy Boyz and an action-packed ladder match was the first charge, and a strong performance in their title defense against Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson only reiterated that sentiment. It's truly surreal to see Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy back inside a WWE ring, even if a certain portion of the audience is disappointed to not see the full-on "Broken Matt" character. That WWE hasn't completely shied away from certain lines and mannerisms should be indicative of some creative possibilities in the future.
There's credit to be given to the debuting Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson as well. The Revival certainly spent enough time polishing up their presentation and in-ring work at NXT, and their match with The New Day was indicative of everything that separates them from the rest of the division. An attention to detail while working over a body part and isolating their opponent were all nods back to their old-school, no-nonsense approach. Hitting the shatter machine on Xavier Woods to pick up a big win over the former tag champs was a serious seal of approval, and taking out Kofi Kingston's leg after the match was the cherry on top of their debut sundae.
Add in Sheamus and Cesaro, who became the unlikely stars of the night as the source of the loudest soccer-style chants, becoming No. 1 contenders with a win over Enzo Amore and Big Cass in the process, and it couldn't have been any better for tag team wrestling. It'll be interesting to see where the shake-up leaves things, though.
Hits and misses
- Did we see the end of Chris Jericho? Is that sinking in, man? His backstage interview alluded to a rematch at the Payback pay-per-view, but the backstage attack by Owens and Samoa Joe might have put him down for the count. Only time will tell.
- After taking the submission loss at the hands of Sasha Banks in a six-woman tag team match, Charlotte Flair turned on teammates Nia Jax and Emma, and earned an attack from both in the process. It's the first post-WrestleMania wrinkle in the women's division, and certainly merits more attention.
- Brock Lesnar's return as the conquering champion was great, and Paul Heyman retelling the story of "Goldberg the superhero" as a children's tale was perfect. Calling out Reigns and using the Undertaker's two losses to justify it was not a popular decision. Braun Strowman coming out instead of Reigns was different and compelling, but having him back down from physicality yet again is just as puzzling as ever.
Speaking of Goldberg, his post-show speech was a heartfelt moment. That he was able to diffuse some of the most ardent, self-interested fans in the crowd in the process was a nice touch.
- Say what you want about the post-Mania crowd, but there were only two big knocks on their behavior. The second, and more debatable, was initiating 'the wave' during the main event, but that's another issue for another day. The match between Mustafa Ali and Neville, which was another masterful performance, was overshadowed by the return of "beachball-mania" as dozens of inflatable balls reigned down from the upper-deck. The distracted audience missed quite a performance, and the finish, which saw Neville set up for the Red Arrow only to hop down from the top rope in disgust to instead lock in the Rings of Saturn was a fitting act of defiance towards a distracted crowd.
- Jinder Mahal continued his unlikely journey back to relevance with a backstage segment featuring Angle and Sami Zayn. One night after tangling with Rob Gronkowski during the Andre the Giant battle royal at WrestleMania, Mahal featured prominently once again on Monday Night Raw.
Quote of the night
"That's not how you spell soft..." - Angle, playing the straight man to Enzo and Big Cass' bombastic and occasionally hard to understand manner of communicating. As he continues to establish himself as a befuddled "fish out of water" and then gets his bearings, Angle as general manager should be great fun.
Move of the night
- WWE (@WWE) April 4, 2017
It wasn't his prettiest of all time, but devastating as ever. Welcome back, Finn.