Monday Night Raw recap: Seth Rollins puts on a pay-per-view worthy performance

Seth Rollins didn't win on Monday night but did take out both Roman Reigns, right, and John Cena. Courtesy of the WWE

Soon after Seth Rollins had finished off his second straight blue-chip opponent Monday, the 140-character superlatives rained down at a rapid pace, clogging Twitter feeds.

One person had no words, only an old photo of Joey from "Friends" with his mouth agape and eyes equally as wide in astonishment. Another user wrote he was signing up for Crossfit classes immediately. In the span of one hour and five minutes, Rollins had beaten Roman Reigns and John Cena consecutively in the first two matches of a seven-man Gauntlet elimination battle. It was in no uncertain terms an incredible effort that immediately thrust the former WWE champion back into the center of main-event conversation on Monday Night Raw.

It's not as though Rollins had completely vanished from the inner sanctum, but his prominence since coming back from a series of knee injuries that began in late 2015 had been buried behind a number of his contemporaries -- including each of the other six competitors in Monday's match.

In recent weeks, though, Rollins had re-ignited his aspirations to discover whatever it was that made him tick for so long as a singles performer. Not so long ago, a much more vindictive Rollins held the WWE Championship for 220 consecutive days, a reign that, dating back the past three-plus years, has been topped only by Brock Lesnar's current run.

So impressive was Rollins on Monday that you could be forgiven for forgetting this was a go-home show (which historically have few storyline advancements) ahead of what should be a fascinating Elimination Chamber pay-per-view coming up this Sunday. The crowd roared in appreciation of Rollins, especially after first overcoming a physical affair with his Shield brother in arms, Reigns, then multiple AA bombs from Cena. In a sweet act of revenge against the latter, Rollins impossibly power-cleaned the 16-time WWE champ onto the back of his shoulders and delivered an AA bomb of his own.

An exhausted Rollins eventually fell to Elias in the third match, but it felt like anything but a setback or an upset.

As one of the first two competitors in the match, Rollins not only had to hold off some of the top superstars on the show, but as the battles wore on, he also had to fight his own war of attrition. As Rollins lumbered back to the locker room in defeat, Finn Balor, who was making his way to the ring, gave him a well-deserved round of applause.

Some WWE aficionados likened Rollins' feat to that of Chris Jericho's sweep of Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock on the same night of Vengeance 2001, which left Y2J as the WWE undisputed champ.

"I pinned two of the best in the world," Rollins said later in the backstage area. "I can hang my hat on that, but it means nothing if I don't win the Elimination Chamber."

The stakes weren't as high Monday, but the effort would have suggested otherwise. Ultimately, Braun Strowman, the last performer in the match, prevailed, establishing himself as the odds-on favorite to win the pay-per-view.

Rollins, like five other men who will be in the main event Sunday, is going to have an arduous time against Strowman, the only person who never found himself in much trouble during the series of six matches Monday.

Perhaps it was announcer Corey Graves who summed it up best when asked what The Miz should do right before taking on Strowman in the final match of the competition.

"Run, tap out, get yourself counted out, throw The Miztourage in front of you, pray, call the cops, I don't know!" he said.

Strowman prevailed easily and, even after the final three-count, continued to decimate The Miz and his cronies some more, an act of violence that was not just a warning to Sunday's six-pack of foes, but also to the Universal Champion Lesnar, whom Strowman would take on at WrestleMania if he leaves Elimination Chamber with a win.

As for Rollins, while it certainly feels as though his performance will be a precursor of what to expect down the road, it's probably too soon to fully leverage his renaissance, at least in one-on-one competition. So perhaps the main event at WrestleMania will have to wait, but come SummerSlam, or a couple of months later at Survivor Series, Rollins is going to be the featured attraction.

For now that waits, but no matter what happens Sunday and beyond, Rollins earned his way back into the spotlight with an ironman effort that wowed the WWE universe and probably proved to Rollins himself -- assuming he had any doubts -- that he is worthy of hanging with the big dogs.


Whoever prevails for the women Sunday is anyone's guess

While the fallout for the women Monday was more typical of a go-home show, the reality is that anyone could win Elimination Chamber in a few days, and we wouldn't be terribly surprised.

Alexa Bliss hardly looked dominant in a six-woman tag-team match, as she ultimately tapped out to Sasha Banks. But isn't that the price the eventual pay-per-view victor usually pays in the final weekly performance leading up to that event?

Outside of Banks, none of the six women really stood out, but to their defense, they had an impossible act to follow from the high-energy body of work from the men earlier in the night.

Despite all that, the various machinations are intriguing. What alliances will be formed? Oddly enough, Bliss and Mickie James, who were on opposite sides of the ring Monday, seem to have conspired on some sort of plan.

Will the growing tension between Banks and Bayley finally reach its boiling point, setting up a WrestleMania showdown?

And let's not forget Ronda Rousey will be part of the show Sunday. Will she clean house during or after the Elimination Chamber match in an effort to establish herself as a force?

So many questions, so few answers, but what we can safely say is that 2018 looks like it's going to be a phenomenal year for the women. It has all the potential to surpass the revolution from two years ago when Charlotte Flair and Banks elevated themselves as regular main-event performers, which included headlining Hell in a Cell.

And of course, the showdown between Asuka and Nia Jax, who attacked the undefeated babyface from behind Monday during an interview, might possibly end up as the top match of Elimination Chamber. Maybe Rousey makes an impromptu appearance here? Hmmm.

Jax was ruthless, and more than that, she finally seems like someone who has earned the respect of her peers and fans as a future champ.

Whatever happens Sunday, it's going to be fun.

Hits & misses

• Is Titus Worldwide really a thing? Titus O'Neil and Apollo Crews beat the tag-team champs, The Bar, in a non-title match and perhaps established themselves as legit contenders. Seems a little hard to believe, but for Crews in particular, he deserves much more than he has been handed so far in the WWE. He has top-notch in-ring skills and good charisma. But it feels as though he would be better-suited to ditch Titus and challenge The Miz for the Intercontinental title in the near future.

• Oh, Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy. Your irreverence is starting to devolve into awkward silliness. Enough of the same old pre-taped promos. How about a stellar performance Sunday? Seems like a stretch, but we can only ask.

• OK, quick prediction time: Balor and Bliss walk away from their Elimination Chamber matches as the winners. Imagine Balor vs. Brock, this century's David vs. Goliath, at WrestleMania. A victorious Balor then goes on to feud with Rollins, a showdown between two guys who fought for the first Universal Championship nearly two years ago at SummerSlam. Or perhaps Balor first re-establishes as old rivalry with Samoa Joe when he returns.

As for Bliss, she has her final victorious moment, because come WrestleMania, either Jax or Asuka will be walk away with the title.