Welcome to The Nerd Hub’s weekly breakdown of Monday Night RAW with quick takeaways from the first night of The Superstar Shake-Up at Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, from the April 15 episode. Ready, set, let’s rant.
Headline News – RAW Gets Phenomenal
Undoubtedly, the biggest acquisition for Monday Night RAW during the Superstar Shake-Up is The Phenomenal One AJ Styles. His reveal was saved for the main event match. He teamed with Universal Champion Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns to defeat the dastardly heel team of Baron Corbin, Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley with Lio Rush. Styles hit a Phenomenal Forearm on Lashley to get the 1-2-3.
This move makes a lot of sense for both Styles and RAW. The Phenomenal One worked almost exclusively on Tuesdays since the brand split in 2016. He had only a short period on RAW after his debut at the 2016 Royal Rumble until the brand extension draft in July of that year. As he made SmackDown “The House that AJ Styles Built,” he worked with the entire roster. As a result, he didn’t have much fresh blood with which to work. On Mondays, Styles can take aim at several fresh faces. Ultimately, this must lead to a showdown with Rollins for the Universal Championship at some point.
Best of the Rest: RAW Acquires Several Other Big Names
Right off the bat, Monday Night RAW went A-List for the Superstar Shake-Up. The Miz re-introduced himself to Mondays with an ambush of Shane McMahon during the opening segment. Since Fox will pick up broadcasts of SmackDown in October, The Miz needed to go to RAW to stay on The USA network, which is also home to Miz’s reality show Miz and Mrs. Miz will revitalize the mid-card and possibly jump into the Universal Championship title picture at some point.
The other household names acquired by RAW include Rey Mysterio, The Usos, Naomi and rising Superstar Andrade with his manager Zelina Vega. Other notable singles competitors included Lacey Evans, EC3 and former Cruiserweight Champion Cedric Alexander. In a sign Sanity will likely split, Eric Young will head to RAW by himself.
RAW continued to bolster its tag team division by announcing that Aleister Black and Ricochet will now make Mondays their permanent home. In a puzzling move, WWE renamed the War Raiders as The Viking Experience in promoting the NXT Tag Team Champions. Raymond Rowe was renamed Erik and Hanson became Ivar. Fans on social media have already begun roasting WWE with derogatory tweets over the name change.
Big Winner: Tag Team Division
Try as they might, The Revival’s Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson couldn’t drag Monday Night RAW’s tag team division up from the depths of the abyss from which it had fallen by themselves. If you think that’s an exaggeration, remember we’re celebrating the one-year anniversary of Braun Strowman pulling a kid named Nicholas out of the crowd and winning the tag belts at WrestleMania 34.
Jimmy and Jey Uso are possibly the greatest tag team in the WWE today. By bringing them over from SmackDown, RAW signaled it’s serious about spotlighting tag team wrestling in 2019. The Usos dominated the Blue Brand since the brand extension split, earning a record 4 Smackdown Tag Team title reigns. Jimmy and Jey have the uncanny ability of elevating the performance level of whomever they are up against.
RAW didn’t stop there. The brand doubled and then tripled down reinforcements for the tag team division with the acquisitions of Aleister Black and Ricochet and The War Raiders/The Viking Experience. To steal a line from Paul Heyman, it’s not a prediction, it’s a spoiler: Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins will not be champions for long.
Big Loser: Women’s Division
RAW did gain a former two-time SmackDown Women’s Champ in Naomi, Lacey Evans and Zelina Vega. Yet, none of those names stand to rival the ones the brand will inevitably lose.
This essentially tells you Vince McMahon will go all in with Becky Lynch and Lacey Evans as the stars of the division in 2019. There’s no risk with The Man. We know nobody in the wrestling world can rival her popularity right now. The risk lies with Evans. WWE fans joke all the time that Vince likes his leggy, blondes. This push for Evans only reinforces those beliefs. For her part, Evans puts up a wildly entertaining social media presence on Twitter (@LaceyEvansWWE). Talk only takes you so far, though. She has a lot to prove when it comes to working in the ring. WWE can possibly hedge an Evans flop with a veteran. However, it looks like the initial plan is to vault her into stardom.
1. Lacey Evans – The Lady of WWE claimed the biggest prize of the night. She knocked off Natalya, a former SmackDown Women’s Champion, to become the top contender for the RAW title. As mentioned above, RAW put all of its money on Evans to rise to the occasion and give Becky Lynch a meaningful feud. “The New Charlotte” as Becky dubbed her on Twitter certainly did her namesake proud by gaining a title opportunity with one match. Let’s see if Vince knows what he has in Evans or if she fails to prove she’s in the same “class” as the champ champ.
2. AJ Styles – The face that runs the place grabbed all the headlines and secured a victory in the main event. You could say it was a pretty big night for The Phenomenal One. It’s fair to wonder if SmackDown will answer the loss of one of its tent pole performers with an equally big acquisition. Even if Brock Lesnar gets announced for that brand, we know he’s a part-time player. The rumors Roman Reigns may leave Mondays might be true after a move like this one. Either way, Styles will only add to his impressive resume with the next chapter of his WWE career.
3. The Miz – Don’t let the buzz around Styles fool you. The A-Lister will likely fight neck and neck with The Usos for the honor of the best RAW addition this year. The heels on RAW last year – Baron Corbin, Bobby Lashley, Drew McIntyre – lack the charisma and theatrics of The Miz. He’s arguably the best mic man in the business and can sell any feud with his fiery monologues. In addition, he just proved he’s over with crowds as a babyface in his feud with Shane McMahon. Throw in a little payback against Shane-O-Mac to open the show, and Miz provided a great start to the Superstar Shake-Up.
4. Andrade – El Tranquilo never received a big push on Tuesdays. However, it’s not hard to project some incredible wrestling displays with Rollins for the Universal Championship belt on Mondays. Andrade drew first blood with a non-title victory over Intercontinental Champ Finn Balor in his RAW debut. Throw out the fact that he lets Zelina Vega do the talking for him. In the ring, few performers can pull off the type of magic Andrade can at his size. Weeks ago, online speculation said WWE might consider a power Latino faction. With Mysterio, Andrade and Lucha House Party on the same brand, might we expect a rise to power from the big man and the luchadores?
5. Sami Zayn – The best segment of the night featured Montreal’s own denouncing his hometown. Zayn played the energetic crowd in the palm of his hands. As a result, he got them to adore him right up to the point he got them to hate him. Things started well with the fans chanting and singing along with Zayn’s theme music. He seemed to genuinely appreciate the moment. However, he dropped some volcanic level heat once he picked up the mic on “A Moment of Bliss.” Few wrestlers can twist a crowd’s emotions like this and it was a masterful effort.
1. EC3 – It’s fair to wonder what exactly EC3 did to get buried so swiftly in his WWE career. Since reports surfaced weeks ago he had backstage heat, EC3 has gotten demolished in every appearance. He’s even lost to established laughingstocks like No Way Jose and Jinder Mahal on house shows and on WWE Main Event. This week, EC3 got to celebrate being announced as a member of the RAW roster by being chokeslammed through the entrance ramp by Braun Strowman. You could say EC3 isn’t one of Vince’s favorites.
2. War Raiders/The Viking Experience – WWE sabotaged all the excitement of promoting the NXT Tag Team Champions by giving them goofy names. Ivar (Hanson) and Erik (Raymond Rowe) rose to stardom in indies shows as the War Raiders, so I guess Vince refused to allow them to use the same name. In fact, fans despised the name change so much that War Raiders and Viking Experience spent most of Monday trending on Twitter. Don’t be surprised if it changes again by next week.
3. Riott Squad – Ruby Riott, Sarah Logan and Liv Morgan continue to be used as cannon fodder for the reigning RAW Women’s Champion. Just substitute Lynch for Rousey in doling out the beating on Riott this time. I’m a huge fan of Lynch’s and even I don’t think she should’ve squashed Riott and crew this badly. Several fans on social media want to embrace any positives for this group, but WWE just keeps booking them like garbage. How are we supposed to take them seriously if the WWE creative team doesn’t?
4. The IIconics – Billy Kay and Peyton Royce just won the women’s tag team belts. So, the logical first step is 50-50 booking in two straight squash matches? The IIconics’ first appearance on RAW as champions ended with them eating a loss. Furthermore, they took it on the chin to opponents – Bayley and Naomi – working their first match together. This comes after their first title defense against independent enhancement talent dubbed The Brooklyn Belles on SmackDown last week. Please, someone fire up the Triple H “Who booked this crap” GIF.
5. The Death of Sanity – It certainly looks like Rest In Peace for the faction that never got a chance on SmackDown. Fans expected big things when WWE promoted Eric Young, Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe at the 2018 Superstar Shake-Up. Instead, the popular NXT faction got banished to the main roster’s version of The Phantom Zone in catering. In fact, they only appeared on a total of 7 SmackDown episodes over the course of the past year. As a result, WWE unceremoniously pulled the plug Monday by announcing Young to RAW by himself.
1. Name Change, Part II – WWE announced on Monday that former indie star Punishment Martinez will continue his career in NXT under the new name, Damien Priest. He’s undergoing an overhaul to an even darker character with new outfits, a new entrance and repackaged look.
2. The Chairman On SmackDown – WWE teased an appearance by Vince McMahon to announce “The Biggest Acquisition in SmackDown History on tonight’s (Tuesday) show in Montreal. Early guesses include Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman or Drew McIntyre.
3. He’s Staying – Shinsuke Nakamura has either re-signed or will agree to a new deal soon, according to Dave Meltzer.
4. Impregnation Vacation – ESPN says they have a source confirming what Ronda Rousey is hinting on an Instagram post – she’s taking a break from WWE to start a family.
5. Sickness caused Samoa Joe to miss an intended appearance on RAW in Montreal. Wrestling News reported that he was supposed to work a segment with Braun Strowman, but was out with the flu.