This Week in WWE: Off on the road to WrestleMania!

Fastlane is in the books, and now the road to WrestleMania has OFFICIALLY begun! Rob and Chris break down this week’s episodes of Raw and SmackDown Live.

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Chris Novak: With Fastlane come and gone, we’re now officially on the road to WrestleMania. Sounds fun to say, right? Here come The SHIELD!

Robert O’Neill: This is apparently a “farewell address” for the Hounds of Justice. It seems like shenanigans are coming.

Or not. Roman says that Seth has other things to take care of and Dean’s future is up in the air. They do the triple fist bump and Roman and Dean depart and… Paul Heyman comes out. He says Brock is gonna win at Wrestlemania but Seth says Brock struggles with little guys, which is true! That’s good storytelling!

Chris Novak: Very much a fan of this. Heyman goes off on a bit of a tangent, and then turns to a video package. Hey, cool!

Robert O’Neill: The package doesn’t faze Rollins though, who doesn’t back down. Heyman says that Rollins thinks he knows Lesnar, but he doesn’t know Lesnar, and SHELTON BENJAMIN attacks Rollins from behind. Storytelling!

Chris Novak: That is some storytelling that I can REALLY APPRECIATE!

Seth eventually defeated Benjamin after what was a pretty fun match. Really liked that entire opening sequence, to be honest. Rollins won with the Stomp. Really dug this match. Benjamin using the Germans and the F-5 were a nice touch too, as was Paul E.’s commentary. Just a very well-produced segment here. That I’m sure most of WrestleTwitter will be annoyed with.

Finn Bálor is here now. He’s about to defend his IC Championship against Bob Lashley.

Robert O’Neill: That Rollins/Benjamin match was awesome! I hope this can be as good. Balor is obviously very good but I’m not a Lashley guy.

Chris Novak: Lashley wins the Intercontinental Championship for the second time! Lio Rush redeemed himself by distracting Finn, which allowed for Lashley to hit a Spear in mid-air. Like that booking a lot. Obviously, Finn will likely win the championship back, because the story is now that Finn

Robert O’Neill: So we had surprise mid-card title changes on both shows this week! That’s exciting. It makes things seem more important. Also, the mid-air spear was awesome.

Chris Novak: Ronda Rousey is next. Also, we’re apparently learning who the host of WrestleMania is on Moment of Bliss later tonight. I have this weird hunch I know who it’s going to be…

Anyways, Ronda’s here.

Robert O’Neill: She’s tired of all the “carny con artists” and she’s willing to make the Wrestlemania match a handicap match cause she’s so sure she’s going to win. Then Dana Brooke (???) comes out and says she’s tired of Ronda disrespecting the business, and Ronda beats the living hell out of her.

Chris Novak: That was so bad that it was so good, honestly

Aleister Black and, presumably, Ricochet are here now. They’ll be facing Bobby Roode and Chad Gable. I’m going to assume that this match is going to slap.

It turns out that it did. Black won the match for his team with Black Mass. I would guess that probably puts them in line for a future title shot against The Revival. Which, hey, that’s fine with me. Solid stuff overall here. Keeping these guys in the spotlight. They just don’t take losses.

Robert O’Neill: It seems like these are your three teams in the Raw Tag Titles match at Wrestlemania, which is perfectly fine with me.

Alexa Bliss is here for Moment of Bliss to reveal the Wrestlemania guest host.

Aaaaand… it’s HER! Fantastic.

Chris Novak: Ahahahaha, that was very well done. I am fired up about this. Being the host of Mania is a more prominent role for her than to be in that battle royal on the Kickoff Show, especially if they aren’t having her be in any program right now. This should provide some entertainment.

Robert O’Neill: Colin Jost and Michael Che bought Braun Strowman a car to try and make up for last week, but Braun destroyed it and said he was gonna go to SNL this week!

Chris Novak: Elias came out to hate on Pittsburgh and Antonio Brown. Now, here comes No Way Jose. In case you missed it, he changed up his hair, and it looks pretty ridiculous. Elias then went and attacked him on the outside. He’s also beating the crap out of all the conga line members.

They then show a video package for Harlem Heat, who are going into the HOF this year. To which I say, HELL YES! An incredible tag team, and one of my early faves as a youngster. I’m still not going to the ceremony, but this is dope as hell.

Lacey Evans came out to do her cameo bit. Then, Nia Jax came out with Tamina. A brief stare down happened. Nia is facing Natalya. I don’t know who that’s for, but it’s happening regardless.

Okay, the match didn’t last very long at all. Beth came in and intervened and went after Nia and Tamina. That served a purpose to put Beth over, obviously. They then cut to the back and Bayley and Sasha Banks were ambushing Nia and Tamina! A pull apart in Gorilla! Hell yeah.

Robert O’Neill: Time for Batista and Triple H to meet face-to-face!

After back and forth and back and forth, Batista gets Triple H to agree to a match at Wrestlemania. BUT, Triple H adds it will be a no holds barred match! Things are going to get chaotic.

Chris Novak: Here’s Kurt Angle. Angle announces that he’s going to compete in his final match ever at WrestleMania. But tonight, he’s going to compete for the last time in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Against… Apollo Crews. I’m not ready for this, man.

Robert O’Neill: Wrestlemania is gonna be EMOTIONAL.

Chris Novak: Kurt won, as expected. Match was totally fine. Angle and Crews had a nice moment at the end of the match, as did Angle after Crews gave him the ring. This was all very well done.

Roman Reigns vs. Baron Corbin is supposed to be next. However, Drew Mac issues quite the beatdown on Reigns instead. Lord.Seth comes out eventually and helps him to the back along with the officials.

After Dean and Seth lead him to the trainer’s room, Ambrose is irate. He goes up to Triple H and says he wants Drew Mac in a Falls Count Anywhere Match. And it’s going down, so this is our main event.

And good LORD this was a brutal match. Mac turned it all the way up to 11 in this one, just brutalizing Ambrose. He hit a Claymore Kick for the win after jamming Ambrose’s head in a steel railing. Which, naturally, broke off its moorings after he landed that kick. Fun ass brawl to end what was a pretty fun Raw.

Robert O’Neill: I enjoy when Falls Count Anywhere matches actually go around the arena and not just around ringside so this was great. It made McIntyre look like a big deal again too after making him look like kind of a dork for the past few months.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Robert O’Neill: I’m in a weird spot right now. I liked and was entertained by everything on this Raw and felt everything had a purpose, but it won’t go down as an all-time great show. This is where giving out letter grades really becomes tough every week. A-

Chris Novak: There were quality matches and quality progressions in storylines. When you’re on the RTWM, that’s about all you can ask for. A- for me. Really dug this episode.

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Robert O’Neill: Shane McMahon is opening the show, likely to address why he committed such atrocities against Miz and George Mizanin. He’s also insisting that Greg Hamilton refer to him as “The Best In The World” again.

Chris Novak: That’s REAL HEAT for Shane McMahon! It’s like the year 2000 all over again!

Robert O’Neill: Shane mentions that no one appreciates what he does behind the scenes and he’s the Best in the World because he was born that way, and he’s going to face Miz at Wrestlemania. And it’s not a request, because Shane is Miz’s boss.

Chris Novak: That was an excellent villainous promo from Shane. I didn’t realize how much I missed heel Shane until now. That was tremendous work.

Anyways. Eight-man tag match coming. Aleister Black, Ricochet and The Hardy Boyz are about to face The Bar, Rusev and Shinsuke Nakamura. Have a feeling this is going to be very good.

Robert O’Neill: It was a lot of fun, and then The New Day came out and beat up all eight guys! This is brilliant. New Day is mad as hell and not gonna take this anymore. Love it.

Chris Novak: Here comes Randy Orton

Robert O’Neill: Oh man. He compared where he was in 2002 (making his WWE debut) to where AJ Styles was in 2002 (wrestling in a high school gym for $10) and 2004, and 2005, when Orton was facing The Undertaker and Styles was “down in Florida, getting a tan with Dixie Carter.”

This is the most I’ve cared about/enjoyed Randy Orton in years!

Chris Novak: Orton and Styles spent the next few minutes trading barbs with one another. Styles made mention of how many “babysitters” Orton’s had and how Orton’s surrounded by all of his “indie” pals. A couple of other fun mentions were dropped here. Orton told Styles that if he wants to keep renting a room, “rent’s due you son of a bitch,” which led to Styles saying that he needs to come take it, and said so while pointing up to the WM sign.

I am HERE for all of this. What a great segment.

Asuka is next! She’s facing Sonya Deville, which should be a lot of fun.

Robert O’Neill: It WAS fun! Asuka got the win when Many accidentally tripped Sonya, leading to the Asuka Lock, which was awfully similar to what happened at Fastlane…

Chris Novak: Sure is interesting…

The IIconics cut a promo on SASHER AND BAYLEY (writing it out like that, don’t care) and appear to want them to come to SmackDown Live. I mean, so do I! Who among us doesn’t?

Becky Lynch is next!

Robert O’Neill: The Man has come around! The crutches are gone and she’s ready to be in the main event of WrestleMania. But now Charlotte is here, and she’s been working hard while Becky’s been out of commission and she deserves to be there regardless of how she got there.

Chris Novak: Becky wraps things up by talking about how Charlotte’s had the division by the throat for four years, did nothing with it, while Becky in a few short months has them in the main event. The division doesn’t need a queen in her minds, it needs The Man.

Backstage, Daniel Bryan and Rowan were leaving Mr. McMahon’s office. Kayla Braxton got word from Bryan, who said they were talking about Kofi Kingston, and also added that they’ll be in a tag match against Kevin Owens and Mustafa Ali later tonight.

Speaking of tag team matches, we’ve got one next. Rey Mysterio teams with R-Truth against Andrade and the United States Champion, Samoa Joe.

Rey gets the pin fall victory here on the US Champion. So, you can probably expect that he’s going to get a shot at the US Championship very soon. Perhaps even next week! We shall see. Joe is not very happy afterwards. He attacked R-Truth AND Andrade afterwards. Solid and effective stuff here.

Robert O’Neill: These guys are all so good. It’s like the 2002 Smackdown midcard.

Chris Novak: On to what SHOULD be the last match of the night. Kevin Owens teams with Mustafa Ali against Daniel Bryan and Rowan.

Robert O’Neill: Bryan busted out a “I HAVE TILL FIVE” on a submission, which was a great throwback. Aside from that, the match was fun. It was short, but that’s fine! Rowan beat Mustafa with the clawslam.

Chris Novak: That was a fun match, albeit a bit abbreviated.

Here comes Vince, who’s granting Kofi a “WrestleMania opportunity.” Whatever it is that’s supposed to mean.

Robert O’Neill: New Day is here and they’re not putting up with this anymore. They go to India, they go everywhere, they never complain, they never said they’re going to leave and they’re STILL treated like garbage, especially Kofi!

But Vince says no one deserves anything, including Vince himself! And if Kofi was main event material, it would have happened a long time ago. And Vince said Daniel Bryan told him that Kofi is a “B-Plus player” because we’ve officially come full circle. Kofi says he has never complained despite missing so much time with his family, because he loves his job. He just needs to know what he has to do to get an opportunity, because the fans believe in him. And now Randy Orton is here! And Kofi just has to beat him. And beat Samoa Joe. And beat The Bar. And beat Rowan. All in a gauntlet match next week.

Chris Novak: Kofi knocked it out of the freaking PARK. Oh my Lord. Next week is teed up to be one for the books, man. What a promo.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Robert O’Neill: Much like Raw, I liked everything on Smackdown. I have no complaints here. But it also doesn’t feel like an all-time great show, so I think Smackdown is also an A-

Chris Novak: A- show for me, as well. Everything hit right with me here. Cannot wait for next week.