Five Stars From WWE Raw (1/1/18): Finn Balor, Asuka, Braun Strowman & More!
Happy new year, wrestling fans! 2017 was a great year for professional wrestling and 2018 kicked off with Raw live from Miami, Florida. Last night’s show featured the return of Universal champ Brock Lesnar and a pleasantly surprising amount of wrestling. Asuka and Braun Strowman dominated, Bray Wyatt looked competent again and Finn Balor reunited with old friends. Here are the five stars from the 1/1/18 episode of WWE Raw.
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5. Bray Wyatt
On the November 27th Raw, Bray Wyatt took on Matt Hardy. Wyatt won and Hardy had a post match break down which lead to his new ‘Woken’ character. The ‘Woken’ Matt Hardy is a take on his Broken Brilliance character that was one of the more popular acts in wrestling in 2016-17. Hardy vs. Wyatt has been a dream match up ever since Hardy’s ‘Broken’ character took off, and it looked like we were finally going to see these two do battle. Since the 11/27 Raw, the build has been mainly dueling backstage promos and extended laugh offs. Needless to say, it hasn’t been the best thing in the world. While last night’s Wyatt/Crews match isn’t going to end up any best of lists, it was a step in the right direction.
Wyatt and Crews had a good, competitive match that attempted to restore how tough and dangerous Wyatt can be. I loved that he hit the Sister Abigail as a reversal to Crews, as that move is always more effective without a drawn out setup. The post match Hardy promo was more of the same, but at least we got to see Wyatt in action. Moving forward I’d like to see Hardy and Wyatt stay away from each other inside the ring and add some creativity to the mind games.
4. No One Is Ready For Asuka
Similar to the Wyatt/Crews match, Asuka/Bliss was a good showcase for how skilled and dangerous Asuka can be. While the match started out slow, it had a good pace once the action started. This was also a rare example of a ‘challenger beating the champion’ story actually being a good thing. Asuka is the most dominant wrestler on the roster and is an obvious pick to win the first ever women’s royal rumble. If she does win, she’ll get to challenge the women’s champion, who in all likely hood will be Alexa Bliss. While it goes without saying that Asuka can destroy Bliss, it’s always nice to see it played out in a match.
I like the addition of Nia Jax being too preoccupied with Enzo to help Alexa too, as that eliminates Bliss’s ultimate backup plan. Asuka could probably beat Alexa with Nia in her corner, but when you take Nia out of the equation, Bliss is running for her life. Asuka continues her undefeated streak by beating the champion clean, and Bliss’s title reign is now in the most jeopardy it’s ever been in.
3. Braun Strowman
The best news from this week’s Raw is that Braun Strowman is back to being the resident bad ass. He was scheduled to take on Rhyno, but after Heath Slater annoyed him at ringside, he took it upon himself to make it a handicap match. A few power slams later and he was victorious, but that was only the beginning. The crowd wanted more power slams after the match and Strowman was happy to oblige. I don’t understand why Strowman doesn’t do something like this every week, because the crowd obviously loves it. I highly doubt he wins the title at the Rumble, but I’m glad he’s back to being the biggest ass kicker on Raw again.
2. Samoa Joe vs. Roman Reigns
Samoa Joe took on Roman Reigns for the IC title last night, and it was easily the match of the year. All joking aside, Reigns and Joe have incredible chemistry, and the best part of the late 2017 and now early 2018 Raw’s are Reigns defending the IC title in good to great matches. Last week’s match was ended prematurely due to a dumb DQ, but this match was better by a mile. Joe has the best diving forearm through the ropes on the roster, and Reigns always excels at taking a beating. Reigns won, because obviously of course he did, but the more of these matches he pulls off the more shocking it will be when someone does beat him. There are no shortage of guys who could take the IC belt off of Reigns and Samoa Joe should be at the top of that list.
1. Finn Balor
When Gallows and Anderson signed with WWE and Finn Balor was bumped up to Raw, the obvious move should have been to put them together. They were wildly popular as part of the Bullet Club in Japan, so it would make sense for WWE to capitalize on that and make them a dominant faction. Instead, Gallows and Anderson have been a dud and Finn Balor has been answering Curt Hawkins’ open challenges. While last night could have been a one off, I’m hoping it leads to a permanent reunion between the three with the charismatic Balor as their leader. Finn is too talented to be anywhere but the upper mid card, and I’m hoping this feud with continues when the Miz returns next week. Miz/Balor with the Miz-Tourage and Gallows/Anderson could be entertaining and feature some good in ring work.