The night after WrestleMania has become infamous in the WWE. With rabid fans in town from all over the world and a monumental show in the books, that night's Monday Night Raw has a completely different atmosphere and serves as the perfect launching pad for new stories, debuts and a crowd that tends to have a mind of its own.
Monday night's post-Survivor Series edition of Raw embodied a similar spirit, as Houston carried through its third straight night of raucous support and got rewarded for their efforts. Not only was there a spectacular main event Intercontinental title match between The Miz and Roman Reigns, which ended in a title change, there was also the long-awaited return of Paige that many feared would never come to be -- and she brought along two debuting superstars to shake up a women's division that could really use it.
There were highs and lows, which is to be expected as everything reset from a Raw versus SmackDown interlude, but as Raw began a stretch of more than two months without a pay-per-view, the seeds of stories that will have plenty of room to breathe and grow were planted, and a promising-looking road to the Royal Rumble began to form.
Roman Reigns becomes a Grand Slam champion
With The Miz scheduled to have Roman Reigns on Miz TV, no one quite knew what to expect, outside of it being almost certain to end poorly for Curtis Axel and Bo Dallas. Reigns has been one of the most frequent guests on Miz's talk show over the years, and every time he's appeared he's brought chaos, destruction and a smirk he just can't seem to shake from his face.
It's also tended to lead to matches, more often than not, and as Reigns antagonized Miz for the umpteenth time, and then entered with The Shield, it was clear that the interview wasn't going to happen on Miz's terms. Not that that ever stopped The Miz before, and he immediately went on the offensive by demanding a thank you for bringing The Shield back together. Miz even went so far as to request a cut of the merchandise sales for the new Shield T-shirt.
But after Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose went on about it being only a matter of time before they got their tag team titles back, Reigns didn't want to feel left out -- and from there, it didn't take much to connect the dots that the Intercontinental championship was back on his radar. After the challenge was made, The Shield attacked Miz's lackeys as Miz himself escaped, and it seemed as though we were only a week away from another Miz vsersus Reigns match. Only we wouldn't have to wait, as the match was quickly announced as Monday's main event.
There are a couple of things to note about Reigns versus Miz:
It has happened on six previous occasions on TV since August 2014
Reigns walked out with the victory all six times
The matches tended to be on the shorter side, and with the outcome fairly obvious each time out, the crowds tended not to be too supportive of either guy.
But something special was in the air in Houston on Monday.
Without their respective compatriots in tow, Miz and Reigns proceeded to have a far lengthier and well-received match than any of their previous contests -- well-suited to represent the history and prestige of a title Miz went a long way towards restoring during his seventh stretch holding it. Reigns' history of stepping up his game in big matches and against big moments is well-documented at this point, despite those fans who will never give him an ounce of support, but for the second straight night, Miz found himself on an entirely different level in the ring.
His movements were fluid, his strikes were sharp, and he so well embodied his bad-guy role that Reigns got loud, uninterrupted cheers outside of the shadow of The Shield for the first time in ages.
Cesaro and Sheamus got involved at the tail end, allowing Miz to hit a Skull Crushing Finale and seemingly walk away with his title, but Reigns kicked out despite it all. Rollins and Ambrose came out to balance the equation, and that was enough chaos to allow Reigns to hit the spear and win the match.
Reigns is the 21st WWE superstar to become a Grand Slam champion, defined as having at least one world title win, one win of each of the secondary singles titles and a tag team title reign. His previous run as United States champion made the belt secondary to the man, but with plenty of runway to the Royal Rumble (and WrestleMania beyond that), there should be plenty of chances for Reigns to defend his newly-won crown.
Miz continues to function as an effective antagonist that drives everything forward on Raw, and it's safe to assume his seventh run with the Intercontinental championship will not be his last.
Paige returns to claim 'her house' and brings an army with her
When Alexa Bliss dismissed Alicia Fox, Mickie James, Bayley and Sasha Banks as being unworthy of a chance at her Raw women's championship, it rang a little more true to the audience than it was likely meant to. After months of multi-way matches and filler rivalries, it felt as though the women's division was just biding its time until it was deemed Asuka was ready to step up and take over.
Sunday's women's Survivor Series match seemed to be a big step in that direction, as Asuka became the sole survivor and got tremendous reactions both post-match and in her entrance to a match against Dana Brooke earlier in the night, but it's not quite meant to be.
Instead, Kurt Angle came out to make another Fatal 4-Way number one contender's match, which felt all too familiar. But instead of setting up another domino to fall for Bliss, it was simply misdirection for a much-needed shock to the system. With the match underway, we heard a familiar screech and the arena fell under a pink glow, as Paige's music hit and she made her way out for a return almost a year-and-a-half in the making.
- WWE (@WWE) November 21, 2017
It was a joyful moment in the crowd, and even as Paige worked to get her legs back underneath her after such a long stretch off, this too was misdirection. Paige walked down the ramp promising she didn't come alone, leading to instant confusion and speculation, and held everyone's attention long enough for new NXT call-ups Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose to lay waste to all four women. Paige eventually joined in, and the trio's first effort together was a success. Bliss, herself ever-scheming, tried to buddy up backstage and received a severe beating of her own.
It was incredible to see Paige make her way back into the ring with a year from hell in her rearview mirror. Between injuries and surgery, wellness policy suspensions, very public domestic disputes and a nightmare release of personal photos and videos, it seemed as though her once-promising WWE career might have slipped away from her, but the hope has returned.
And with an infusion of new talent -- both of whom have a connection with Paige through their involvement with the 2015 season of "Tough Enough" -- and the former champion back in the mix, the Raw women's division finally seems to be moving back in the right direction.
The McMahon-Angle war has only just begun
The opening moments of Raw seemed to set the stage for something epic, as the fallout from Triple H's betrayal of Angle at Survivor Series still simmered. Stephanie McMahon brought out Triple H, who was immediately confronted by Angle as they went nose-to-nose. Jason Jordan then came out to defend his dad's honor, and after McMahon antagonized Jordan and said Triple H feared no man, Braun Strowman came out to test that theory. He went chin-to-nose with Triple H, who ultimately backed down one night after Strowman nearly choked him out before hitting a pair of powerslams.
The crowd was hot for Angle-Triple H, and nearly lost their minds at the prospect of a Jordan versus Triple H match, let alone Strowman versus Triple H. But when it transitioned into Jordan versus Strowman, the wind was out of the sails. It was not a moment or a night for naught, though. The tension between the McMahons and Angles is sure to continue, and the tease of Strowman and Triple H is interesting.
The match between Jordan and Strowman itself was brief, as Jordan's injured knee became a factor and he stumbled out of the ring just in time for Kane to sneak out from underneath the ring. Kane drove a steel chair into the steel steps while Strowman's head was inside, with his throat bearing the brunt of the impact. While that continued, Angle was distracted for the rest of the evening in tending to Jordan, leading him to ignore his duties as GM -- something else to watch over the coming weeks as well.
Hits and misses
- Miz versus Reigns was one of three lengthy matches on Raw. Finn Balor and Samoa Joe continued their war, and Sheamus and Dean Ambrose continued their hostilities on a night where in-ring action was king. Joe picked up the victory and flashed creative offense throughout, and while it seems as though Balor can't quite keep up much momentum without the body paint on, this match proved why Joe and Balor could do far worse than to work with each other for a while.
- Asuka picked up a dominant victory over Dana Brooke, and the Houston crowd continued to give her the kind of reaction she's been desperately seeking since joining Raw. She's getting more comfortable by the week, and it's only a matter of time before Asuka gets something else to sink her teeth into.
- Matt Hardy continued to float in the state of uncertainty he's been in since Jeff got hurt. He provided sage advice to Jordan, and got revenge against Elias, but boy, it's hard not to feel as though he's not being used to his full potential at the moment.
- The cruiserweight division is in the midst of a reset, or so it seems, after Kalisto lost to Enzo Amore at Survivor Series, so a turf war between Enzo's boys and everyone else led to a four-on-four match that served as an interlude to whomever is going to get the next shot at the title.