With just one more episode of Monday Night Raw to go before WrestleMania 34, almost everything that had to fall into place has done so. Sure, there are a few loose ends to tie up, like Braun Strowman's partner for his Raw tag team championship challenge, and the rest of the field for the two battle royals to come, but almost every Raw superstar has a good idea of what their fate will be in New Orleans.
Everyone, that is, except for John Cena.
After failing in three different attempts to qualify for a WrestleMania match, his desperate search honed in on The Undertaker a few weeks ago and hasn't stopped since. The entirely one-sided build to this match has seen Cena slip further and further into the depths of madness and desperation, and yet even in defeating Undertaker's brother Kane to close out Raw on Monday night it seems as though Cena's insults, pleas and rants have achieved absolutely nothing.
There is a fine line in dragging an issue out to increase suspense and excitement versus taking too long to pay off a tease, and Cena's challenge is dancing all over that line. The no-disqualification match against Kane was simply a theatrical moment that allowed Cena to take a couple of nasty bumps (a suplex through a guardrail and a fall through a table) and come back doing Undertaker pantomime. From his trademark sit-up in the middle of the ring, to a couple of throat slashes with his thumb while rolling his eyes back into his head. Cena even nailed a sloppy chokeslam to try to taunt Undertaker out of hiding.
The Attitude Adjustment that drove Kane through a table and the subsequent three-count were all but an afterthought. It allowed for just enough time for Cena to make one final plea for The Undertaker to return, and like last week, there were several times during his promo during which it seemed as though there was a perfect opening for a gong to hit and the lights to go out. But once again, it wasn't meant to be this week, as Cena was left begging for his WrestleMania moment.
- WWE (@WWE) March 27, 2018
"Because now, you only have one week left. One week that sums up your entire career. You can do something -- or you can do nothing," Cena said. "And if you do nothing, you let me down, you sure as hell let Kane down, but most importantly, you've made it crystal clear to every single person who has ever believed in The Undertaker that you do not care about them. You care only about yourself."
Ronda Rousey gets a tuneup ahead of WrestleMania
With her live appearances on TV reduced in recent weeks, most of what we've seen of Ronda Rousey has come in slick, preproduced video packages. Last week's clip of her training at the Performance Center and pouring her heart out in front of Kurt Angle was particularly effective in showing the duality of the character the WWE is trying to portray with Ronda. Her MMA background and training style were unsurprising, but Rousey's openness about previous struggles and happiness to be in the WWE did more to make her a well-rounded character than all of her previous moments in front of live crowds.
This week, we saw the counter to the promo with a training montage and interview with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, also from the Performance Center in Orlando. Over the last few years, their tireless training regimen has become infamous on social media, and that element was folded into the video effortlessly. Triple H and Stephanie have become masters at folding just enough of the real world (or the way that fans perceive the real world) into their scripted promos, and this video was no different. They played the arrogant, impatient authority figures to perfection, and even folded in some archival footage of the long, storied past between themselves and Kurt Angle that dates back two decades.
McMahon wrapped it all up in a nice bow with a line tailor-made to push all of the right buttons.
"At WrestleMania, we will humble Ronda Rousey the same way we have humbled every other superstar in WWE."
As for Rousey, Angle brought her out to pronounce her ready for WrestleMania. Angle started to dig into how this wouldn't be an easy fight, when Absolution's music hit and Paige led her two compatriots out to the ring with her. Attempts to sweet-talk Rousey and recruit her as the fourth member of Absolution failed, leading to Rousey's first on-air physical interaction with women from the Raw roster. As they attacked, Rousey clotheslined Sonya Deville and suplexed Mandy Rose onto her fallen partner. A second attempt at an attack allowed Rousey to flash her most impressive in-ring moment to date -- a seamless hip-toss directly into her legendary arm bar.
Next week, we'll likely get one last face to face -- and after the last two weeks, it feels as though there's a lot more to look forward to.
Brock Lesnar leaves Roman Reigns lying once again
No one lays it on quite as thick as Paul Heyman does when he has something he can brag about. In the opening moments of Raw, Heyman gleefully recalled all of the suplexes and hits that Roman Reigns had suffered at the hands of Brock Lesnar in a scenario that the pair had masterminded to perfection. The visualization of the attack was beyond the words of even an orator as great as himself, Heyman opined, and Reigns had fallen for it all.
So thorough was Heyman's verbal tirade, during which he questioned Reigns' manhood and threw Reigns' own words back at him, that Heyman was able to casually slip into the middle of his promo that the so-called U.S. Marshalls sent in to apprehend and handcuff Reigns were actually plants from a local MMA academy sent in by Lesnar and Heyman. That explained why Reigns wasn't in jail, and the attacks from last week seemed to cover why Reigns wasn't in Cleveland to respond, only Reigns didn't get that memo.
Reigns once again walked in through the crowd, and though he got a few good chair shots in, a picture-perfect overhead belly-to-belly suplex at ringside turned the tide in Lesnar's favor. Lesnar returned the favor with chair shots, and a couple of ring stair shots to the head followed. After teasing that he'd walk away, Lesnar returned to deliver an F-5 onto the ring steps positioned in the middle of the ring, and stood on those stairs looming over Reigns' body.
If that's the last we get of Reigns and Lesnar together before WrestleMania, you couldn't find a more effective visual to go out on.
Hits and misses
- After months of passive-aggressive shots back and forth, Bayley and Sasha Banks finally came to blows backstage. While there is certainly some disappointment that a one-on-one match doesn't seem to be in the cards for WrestleMania, there's a silver lining in getting Bayley versus Sasha in a featured match on a pay-per-view to come where it can receive a proper amount of the spotlight.
- WWE (@WWE) March 27, 2018
- The Miz zinged his hometown of Cleveland a couple of times, but the story of the evening was the tease of the breakup of The Miztourage on Miz TV. In order to try to get the jump on Finn Balor and Seth Rollins, who were once again guests on the show, Miz tried to pick up a few tips from the Alexa Bliss school of subterfuge. Bo Dallas called him a "phony A-lister who can't fight" and Curtis Axel chafed at Miz calling himself a better Intercontinental champion than Mr. Perfect. They briefly got the upper hand, but Miz still ended up eating a few shots while having to watch Balor and Rollins fight over the title belt in the ring. Rollins versus Balor next week should be a good appetizer for the WrestleMania match to come. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson later added insult to injury with a one-sided win over the Miztourage.
- Nia Jax beat Mickie James, but James gave us the blueprint for what Alexa Bliss will likely try to accomplish in her Raw women's championship defense. James effectively went after Jax's left knee and hung around for a while until Jax plucked her off the top rope into a press slam, which transitioned into a Samoan Drop and the pinfall. Bliss got exactly one punch post-match before fleeing in terror, saving Jax's revenge for a more fortuitous and satisfying moment in the future.
- Braun Strowman promised to reveal his partner if Sheamus could beat him. Spoiler alert: Sheamus didn't beat him.
- Asuka beat a first-time wrestler in Jamie Frost in a matter of seconds, just to remind everyone how viciously effective she can be.
- After a long hiatus, the cruiserweights returned to Raw with a tag team match. Mustafa Ali and Cedric Alexander picked up the win, and teased a little friendly competition with an acrobatic hot tag and Ali "stealing" the pinfall win over TJP and Drew Gulak.
- Other than a brief appearance to enter himself in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, we didn't get much of an update from Matt Hardy following last week's "Ultimate Deletion."