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The Road to WrestleMania is ramping up, and the March 23 edition of Monday Night Raw was one of the final opportunities to build to the big show.
Randy Orton was expected to respond to Edge’s challenge for a Last Man Standing match at The Show of Shows after weeks of hurting everyone in his way, including The Rated-R Superstar’s wife Beth Phoenix.
Another big response was expected from Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman. Drew McIntyre had shown that The Beast Incarnate could be scared, but The Advocate would not allow The Scottish Psychopath to feel confident before ‘Mania.
Week after week, WWE has focused on recapping matches rather than putting them on, but there was no way WWE Superstars would avoid getting physical all the way to The Grandest Stage of Them All.
This night needed to be huge, but WWE was still in the process of learning how to put on a show in an empty, closed arena.
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After a video package about Brock Lesnar vs. Drew McIntyre, Paul Heyman cut a promo with The Beast Incarnate standing in front of him. The Advocate made clear McIntyre had no chance to dethrone Lesnar at ‘Mania.
A replay was shown of the WWE Royal Rumble 2015 where The Beast Incarnate overcame two of the top competitors of his career in a Triple Threat to retain with an F-5 to Seth Rollins.
Lesnar def. John Cena and Rollins by pinfall to retain the WWE Championship.
The promo segment that led in to this recapped match was fine. It was standard Heyman banter. He keeps telling the same story, which is no longer all that interesting, but it worked here purely to keep pushing the narrative that The Advocate is afraid of what McIntyre can do to Lesnar.
Now that replay matches have become the norm, this was a good match to replay. It wasn’t one everyone had seen recently, and it was a great clash. It also showed how dominant The Beast Incarnate can be.
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AJ Styles made fun of The Undertaker for a video he and Michelle McCool did about saving tigers. He said McCool had stolen The Deadman’s soul, and The Phenomenal One would bring him back. He challenged Taker to a boneyard match.
Styles’ promos have been the same every week with Taker. This did not land as more than the same-old story. The Phenomenal One will taunt Taker for letting his wife define his life until The Deadman makes him pay.
Adding a “boneyard” stipulation to the match is likely to lead to more of a ridiculous atmosphere for this clash. It could work to hide that Taker is not in ring shape anymore, but it could also just be hard to follow if not done right.
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The Street Profits watched as Andrade and Angel Garza showed their chemistry as a team. Cedric Alexander pushed them to their limit after his hot tag, but the No. 1 contenders to the Raw Tag Team Championships would not be denied. El Idolo knocked Alexander out cold with a back elbow to win.
A brawl broke out after the match between The Street Profits and Andrade and Garza that sent the heels running up the ramp.
Andrade and Garza def. Ricochet and Alexander by pinfall.
It was nice to get some actual wrestling on a wrestling show. This was a complete tag team match between four of the most exciting performers in WWE. Beyond an awkward finish, the contest used all of its time fully.
Garza and Andrade are an odd tag team to challenge for the Raw Tag Team Championships so suddenly, but WWE is just trying to fill the card right now. It should be fun to watch the champions and challengers clash even without a real story.
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The Street Profits looked to show their mettle as a tag team. While the NXT stars Shayne Thorne and Brendan Vink gave them some trouble, Angelo Dawkins hit a high spinebuster into a Montez Ford frog splash to take the win.
Street Profits def. Thorne and Vink by pinfall.
The Street Profits are tag team champions. They should be able to fight better competition than a broke Thorne and a barely used Vink. This would have been the time to show off Raw’s tag team division. Perhaps they were the only two men around for this segment.
Ford and Dawkins have been noticeably underutilized since the move to the Performance Center. These two could have been on every show in some capacity given what they were doing before they won the titles. Don’t forget the tag team champions.
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Charley Caruso tried to conduct an interview with Shayna Baszler, but The Queen of Spades was not looking to answer simple questions. She said she wanted to destroy Becky Lynch’s world by taking her Raw Women’s Championship.
Out of the darkness, The Man struck Baszler with a steel chair, and she smacked her in the back with a few more shots before confidently walking out.
This whole segment was short, sweet and effective. Baszler spoke as she needed to, explaining that her motivation to not to be champion as much as make sure that Lynch is not champion. Then Lynch made her own statement.
No feud has held up better in this confined WWE experience better than Lynch vs. Baszler. This still feels as heated as it ever has. The two could fight tomorrow, and it would be a must-see match.
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Aleister Black was not impressed by Leon Ruff. He sat in front of him then stood up and quickly took out the local competitor with Black Mass.
Black def. local competitor by pinfall.
Squashing local competitors feels unnecessary at this point with Black especially in a time where WWE is adverse to wrestling. The Dutch Destroyer made quick work of a random local competitor, who probably would have preferred to stay home.
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Kevin Owens called out Seth Rollins to respond to his WrestleMania challenge. Seth Rollins taunted KO for possibly thinking that The Grandest Stage of Them All is his “homefield advantage”. He made clear that he was at his best at ‘Mania and would easily defeat a “failure” like Owens.
This was an excellent promo from Rollins, one of the best he has cut in a long time. His new persona has brought out his most focused promos, and it has led to great moments like this where The Messiah broke down KO with just words.
While Rollins vs. KO has been going on forever, it is great that they are getting this spotlight now. They have told the most complete story of any match at ‘Mania even if that story has gone too long.
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In a flashback to one of Charlotte Flair’s most impressive wins, The Queen took on the then-undefeated Asuka. The Empress of Tomorrow fought valiantly against Charlotte, but the SmackDown women’s champion had her number. She made Asuka tap out to the Figure-Eight.
Charley Caruso interviewed The Queen, who promised that was just one chapter in her dominant ‘Mania legacy that would include defeating Rhea Ripley.
Charlotte def. Asuka by submission to retain the SmackDown Women’s Championship.
Charlotte and Asuka are among the best in the business, and this was a solid match at the time. It was also a mishandled contest. The Empress should have won, and everything that came after indicates the wrong woman won.
As a showcase of Charlotte’s WrestleMania dominance though, it was a good choice to replay. She ran through the undefeated Asuka. This sends a decisive message to Ripley.
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Answering Edge’s Last Man Standing match challenge, Randy Orton made clear he had far more grit than The Rated-R Superstar, and he was done acting out of love for his friend. The Viper accepted the match and promised to end Edge’s story.
This was a strong promo from Orton again. Edge has pulled the best out of him, and it has made for an exciting build to WrestleMania. While the match may not deliver like the build has, it certainly has potential to be great.
At this point, the stage is set. These two could fight tomorrow. It is a shame this match will not happen in front of a crowd as it would benefit from the energy, watching The Rated-R Superstar compete one on one for the first time in years.