The Big Takeaway: The first half of the show was a storyline where Kurt Angle fired Braun Strowman for destroying Brock Lesnar and Kane last week, claiming that Strowman created an unsafe working environment. This led to a series of backstage angles where Strowman destroyed various security guards, Curt Hawkins, Angle's TV and random furniture in his office, then going into the TV production truck. Strowman then turned a tractor-trailer over on its side, went back to the arena and went after Michael Cole.
Instead of criminal or assault charges being filed, Angle responded by calling Stephanie McMahon, who rehired Strowman and returned him to his spot in the Royal Rumble three-way against Lesnar and Kane for the Universal Championship. Strowman responded by throwing Cole off the stage into a group of bodyguards. Cole landed about as safely as one could land.
Among the new names lined up for the 25th anniversary of Raw next week: Chris Jericho, Eric Bischoff, Kelly Kelly,, Jacqueline Moore, Terri Runnels, Torrie Wilson, Michelle McCool and Maria Kanellis.
Strowman started the show to a babyface reaction. Strowman said he wanted to tell everyone a short story with a happy ending. A beast and a machine and a monster at the Royal Rumble and the last one standing is the monster among men, and he became the new Universal Champion.
Kurt Angle walked out with a group of security guards. Angle said he had a story too, but it doesn't have a happy ending. Angle said Strowman put lives in danger last week and cost the company thousands of dollars in damage. Angle said Strowman creates an unsafe working environment and he is in charge of every WWE superstar. Strowman said as far as he was concerned, he did his job last week. Angle said you settle things in the ring in the WWE. Strowman said he does what he wants, when he wants. If he wants through the door and kicks it to hell, that's what he'll do.
Angle said he was lucky Kane and Lesnar were well enough to compete at the Royal Rumble, but Strowman wasn't going to compete. Angle told Strowman he was fired. Fans were furious at Angle and chanted "you suck" at him. Strowman walked to the back with the guards surrounding him. Strowman was backstage. One of the guards told him he had to leave. Strowman stopped walking and turned to one of the guards and dared that guard to make him leave.
They aired a Classic Raw moment from 2011 where Hugh Jackman hosted the show. They showed him sucker punching Dolph Ziggler.
Strowman continued walking the lengthy backstage area. He got to the exit, when a security guard told him he had to leave. Strowman threw that guard into the wall, then beat up the other four guards, including tossing one acros a table and threw a table and another over a barricade. As bodies were scattered around him, Strowman screamed that he wasn't leaving until everybody gets these hands.
Apollo Crews and Titus O'Neil (with Dana Brooke) defeated Sheamus & Cesaro (10:49)
Titus O'Neil kicked out of a schoolboy cradle by Sheamus after Cesaro gave him an uppercut. Cesaro tagged in and attempted the Gotch Neutralizer, but O'Neil backdropped Cesaro over and tagged Apollo Crews. They set up Crews for the White Noise, but Jason Jordan walked out. That distracted Sheamus, allowing Crews to escape and pin Sheamus with a schoolboy cradle. Rollins came out and wondered why Jordan did that. Rollins, once again, looked annoyed at Jordan, who just smiled.
Backstage, Strowman kicked down the door of Angle's office. When Angle wasn't inside, Strowman destroyed the office, including a TV and leaving chairs in pieces.
Among the latest named announced for Raw 25th anniversary is Jacqueline, Terri Runnels, Kelly Kelly, Maria (isn't she still on the roster?), and Trish Stratus.
Sensuke Nakamura and Natalia face Finn Balor & Sasha Banks tomorow on the premere of the Mixed Match Challenge.
Strowman barged into catering, sending peopl running for cover and overturned tables, took Curt Hawkins and chokeslammed him through a table. He walked up to some guy, standing deathly still, just holding a chocolate cake. Strowman stopped his rage and grabbed a piece before leaving.
Enzo Amore and Tony Nese came out. Amore was limping on his bad right ankle. Corey Graves mentioned he was sad that Enzo wasn't in catering. Enzo said he was doing better than Hawkins and Strowman was a monster amongst men, but so was he. Amore said he may go to the ring stitched up and taped up like Frankenstein, but he was walking out of the ring Cruiserweight Champion. Amore said he may be Frankenstein, but Cedric Alexander was Dracula because he sucks.
Alexander came out to Goldust. Goldust said if Enzo was a film he would go straight to DVD. Goldust said Alexander was a box office smash and when Alexander defeats Enzo at the Royal Rumble, there will be only one word to describe him...champion. Alexander did the old "SAWFT" chant to almost no reaction.
Strowman continued to wreak havoc backstage, taking a dumpster and rolling it into a curtain, ignoring referee's pleas to stop.
Cedric Alexander (with Goldust) defeated Tony Nese (with Enzo Amore) (5:46)
Nese did a gorilla press into a gutbuster. He tied Alexander to the tree of woe and did crunches for his abs while kicking Alexander in the midsection. Enzo mouthed off and Goldust got his face at ringside. Goldust tried to dance like him. Alexander hit Queen Anne's Revenge, followed by a flying clothesline off the top rope for a two count. Alexander went for the Lumbar Check, but Nese escaped with a back elbow, then flipped over for a cradle for two. Nese tried a pumphandle slam, but Alexander escaped and hit the Lumbar Check for the pin.
Angle walked back into his dressing room to survey the damage left behind by Strowman. He told a referee that he had no choice but to call the police and possibly a SWAT team. Another referee ran up and said Strowman was headed to the TV truck. Angle exclaimed they had $12 million worth of equipment in there.
Strowman found the TV truck. No sign of Kevin Dunn. Braun just screamed at people, threw a coat and a few papers. He screamed at everyone to get out. Strowman left the truck in a huff and the people who ran off returned to their seats thinking everything was OK. Then Strowman showed up behind the wheel of a big rig, where he tried to lift it and turn it over onto the production truck. Angle showed up and ordered him away. Strowman momentarly left after Angle told Strowman that he had called the cops. Angle got a call on his cell phone, and by the time he looked up, Strowman was back and his lifted the tractor trailer up and tipped it over. They switched between about ten camera angles in rapid fire fashion as Strowman pulled off this stunt.
Strowman, not even breathing hard, continued his rampage backstage and walked back to the arena. Strowman walked over to the commentator's table, grabbed Michael Cole by his belt and threatened to carry him backstage. Angle came back out with security and said Stephanie McMahon had called and said Strowman wasn't fired anymore. Not only that, but Strowman was back in the champioship match at the Royal Rumble. Strowman looked at peace for a moment, then looked back at Cole. He grabbed Cole and threw him off the ramp and onto about eight guards. The crowd sounded disappointed that Cole wasn't choke slammed as Strowman raised his arms in celebration.
Chris Jericho and Eric Bischoff are now advertised for next week's 25th Anniversary show.
When they returned to break, Graves and Booker T were back on commentary. There was an empty seat between them, but fortuantely Tom Phillips was backstage and handled the play-by-play for the rest of the night.
Asuka defeated Nia Jax via referee's stoppage (10:41)
Asuka used the Octopus, but Jax flipped her onto her feet. Booker called the Octopus "the spider move." Jax caught a backbreaker and a clothesline. Jax walked away, but Asuka recovered to put her in a triangle armbar. Jax picked Asuka up and gave her the buckle bomb. Asuka escaped a lengthy bearhug, escaped a sit-down splash, and gave Jax a running kick. Asuka hit three spinning backhands. Jax kicked out of a schoolgirl cradle for a two count. Jax gave Asuka a powerbomb. Jax went for the neck hanging tree slam, but Asuka grabbed a heel hook on Jax's left leg, but Jax got to the ropes. Jax threw Asuka out of the ring and threw Asuka's back into the apron. Jax started to climb back in the ring, but Asuka kicked Jax's left knee. Jax sold her leg huge and couldn't stand up. The referee simply stopped the match because Jax was unable to continue. Crowd was clearly behind Jax in the match.
They aired the annual Martin Luther King Jr. video, showing him shaking hands with John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Muhammad Ali and Jesse Jackson. They finished with Robert Kennedy's announcement of King's assassination edited with a ten-bell salute.
Bliss gave Jax an ice pack and said she thought Jax would destroy Asuka. Enzo showed up to check on Jax. Bliss tried to tell Enzo to back off, sayin she had this. Enzo told Bliss he had this too. Jax told Bliss that Enzo had this and Bliss walked off. Enzo told her he was sorry she got hurt.
The Revival defeated two jobbers who were never named (1:39)
Dash Wilder pinned someone after the Shatter Machine.
Charly Caruso interviewed Scott Dawson afterwards. Dawson said what everyone just witnessed was tag team excellence, something that people hadn't witnessed in a long time. Dawson said they were focused on mastering holds and winning matches. Caruso asked them who they were excited to meet next week at the 25th anniversary show, perhaps the New Age Outlaws, Steve Austin (biggest pop) or Shawn Michaels. Wilder said crotch chops and drinking beer wasn't who they are, that they weren't sports entertainers, they were professional wrestlers. Dawson said they weren't a creation of the WWE boardroom, then pointed backstage and said "they" didn't want us to succeed because they were wrestlers.
The next legendary Raw moment was the "Yes" movement takeover in 2014.
Elias was in the ring for another song. Elias sent out his best to Cole and sang a song about how he hopes John Cena comes his way. He said he has retribution for what Cena did to him on Christmas Day. He vowed to eliminate Cena and 29 more. Elias said he will prevail at the Royal Rumble, unlike the Spurs who are destined to fail. That got heat. Elias sang an introduction for the Miz and the MizTourage.
Miz said last week, he returned to Raw after a six-week absence and the fans welcomed him back with a "welcome back" chant and that felt awesome. Miz said the spark that was missing from Monday Night Raw wasn't Cena, it wasn't Brock Lesnar, it was him. Miz said it felt awesome to have Angle grant him an Intercontinental Championship rematch against Reigns and to lay out Reigns and Rollins last week. Unforgettable moments are what he's all about, which is why the USA Network asked him and Maryse to deliver their own unscripted series "Miz and Mrs." Miz said the Intercontinental Championship will be his next week in Brooklyn, which will feel awesome.
Roman Reigns defeated Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas (with the Miz) in a handicap match (8:12)
Reigns came out to cheers. Reigns threatened to suplex Bo Dallas out of the ring, but Curtis Axel pushed his partner down. Dallas delivered a DDT. Reigns made his comeback with several rights, but Axel tagged in.Reigns threw Dallas into Axel. Miz pulled Dallas out of the ring. Reigns went to give Miz a Superman punch off the ring steps, but Miz pushed Dallas into the path of the punch. Reigns chased Miz into the ring and got Miz's coat. Axel tried to pin Reigns with a schoolboy cradle, but Reigns kicked out and pinned Axel with a spear.
Add the Boogeyman to the list of people returning next week.
Sonya DeVille (with Paige and Mandy Rose) defeated Sasha Banks (with Bayley and Mickie James) (2:24)
Tom Phillips mentioned that because of a neck situation, Paige will not compete at the women's Royal Rumble. The word retirement was never spoken. Sonya DeVille got the pin out of nowhere when Banks jumped off the second rope, but DeVille kicked her in the chest.
Rollins and Jordan met backstage. Rollins told Jordan about stepping outside of himself and speaking on his behalf. Jordan said he knew that Rollins was upset about last week with Balor. Rollins told Jordan that he wasn't upset with what Jordan did tonight, he was upset with how Jordan did it.
Matt Hardy defeated Heath Slater (with Rhyno) (3:37)
Matt Hardy did a spot where he got Heath Slater in the corner and just smiled at him. Hardy leaned in and Slater leaned back so far in fear that he fell out of the ring. Rhyno gave Slater a pep talk, leading to a brief amount of Slater offense. Hardy gave Slater the side effect for a two count, a neckbreaker and the Twist of Fate for the three count.
Tom Phillips gave ESPN credit for the announcement that Goldberg wll be the first inductee in the Class of 2018 WWE Hall of Fame. They showed Goldberg's first win in the streak against Hugh Morris and the legendary match vs. Hulk Hogan from July 1998.
Balor did an inset promo about the last time he faced Rollins, when he won the Universal Championship, which he called the greatest moment of his career. He admitted that accidents happen, referring to the shoulder injury he suffered in the match. Tonight, with Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows in his corner, things will be "too sweet." Balor is now smiling during his ring entrance and interviews like he's an Irish Bob Backlund.
Seth Rollins (with Jordan) defeated Finn Balor (with Anderson & Gallows) (15:21)
Rollins sold his left knee after he hit a blockbuster. He followed with a tope, which only made his knee worse. Balor made his comeback with a series of forearms and a double stomp. Balor hit the Final Cut for a two count. Rollins blocked an attempt by Balor for the sling blade, then Rollins hit his own sling blade for a near fall. Rollins hit two running clotheslines, but Balor blocked a third with the sling blade. Balor ran into a Rollins' superkick for two in a good spot. Some fans started chanting "too sweet." Rollins went for the Rainmaker knee, but Balor gave him a forearm. Rollins came back with an enzuigiri. Rollins went to the top rope but Balor got out of the way of the Phoenix splash and hit the Woo dropkick. Balor went for the Coup de Grace, but Rollins climbed the top rope for a superplex, then hit a rolling Falcoln Arrow for a great near fall. Rollins went back to the top rope, but Balor got the knees up and rolled Rollins up. There was mass confusion at this point. The referee counted three, then immediately corrected himself and said it was only two. They showed a replay and the referee clearly botched the count.
Sheamus and Cesaro came out to brawl with Jordan after what happened earlier. Anderson & Gallows started fighting with Sheamus and Cesaro. Balor gave everyone a tope outside the ring. Balor got back to the top rope and attempted the Coup de Grace, but missed. Balor bounced off the ropes, but Jordan tripped him, which Rollins didn't see. Rollins brought back the old curb stomp finish to a huge pop and the pin.
Postmatch was weird. Balor stayed in the ring with Gallows and Anderson selling the curb stomp forever, long after Rollins' music had stopped playing. They stayed on the scene for so long, I thought Balor was going heel on Gallows and Anderson, but they finally ended the show without that.