Going into the January 15, 2024 WWE RAW, we already knew that there would be a World Heavyweight Championship match, and plenty of setup for the Royal Rumble, and the subsequent Road to WrestleMania. The show was at the Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock, Arkansas, and the location, and the weather said location was experiencing would also play into tonight’s show.

Here are my thoughts:

  • I’m Canadian, so I don’t get Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Day off as a holiday. I am, though, quite aware of who MLK was, so that was a nice tribute at the top of the show.
  • Following that, we got a shot outside of the arena with snow. Little Rock has been hit with quite the winter storm…for them. I live in Montreal, and I suspect this was the type of weather we are equipped to handle, and do so many times every winter. But everything is relative. I have gleaned that driving conditions were horrible, and they even needed to construct a new set, as the arena didn’t allow them to hang anything from the ceiling. Paul HHH Levesque confirmed this the next day:
  • Back on Monday night, we started off with Drew McIntyre interrupting Cody Rhodes’ in-ring promo. It was nice to hear some of their shared history, quite a bit of it I didn’t know. I had stopped watching full-time just after the end of the Attitude Era, and only started up again a few years ago. So one of the things I missed was the fact that Drew and Cody were once in a tag team, and tag champs, no less. It was also nice that they mentioned things that happened in non-WWE promotions, though without mentioning those promotions by name. I guess that would be a bridge too far.
  • Drew made sense, to a point, as he has been doing recently. But then the bitter, heel-ish Drew, the one who still thinks Damian Priest cashed in (which he didn’t), took over, as usually happens. I think this version of Drew is probably the most interesting incarnation. Also, he didn’t wear the kilt in Piper Country last week, but he did in Arkansas in the middle of a snowstorm.
  • Of all the people Drew has encountered recently, Cody dealt with him the best, and clearly won the verbal exchange. He kept his measured tone, and accepted some of what Drew said at first, before tearing apart McIntyre’s arguments based on the motivations behind them. And list last line: “Who won?” was just perfect.
Cody Rhodes addresses Drew McIntyre in the ring on WWE RAW January 15 2024
  • I’m loving how they’re changing up who’s interacting with whom at the opening of RAW. It was Drew and Punk, then Cody and Drew, and next week (I’m guessing at the start of the show as well) we’re getting Punk and Cody. Not focusing on a specific feud, or feuds, is the perfect way to go when you’re promoting the Royal Rumble.
  • The R-Truth and Damian Priest backstage segment was a good continuation of Truth’s storyline with the Judgement Day, and the comedy inherent in it. But it was also a clever way to bring the real-world fact that modified Judgement Day t-shirs with R-Truth on them are the top merch seller for WWE presently, without actually admitting that they are available in the official store. Truth selling knockoff JD merch in the parking lot was a nice way to bring it in.
  • Truth’s work here is great as always, and so was Damian’s, though I think he almost broke character when Truth told him that he couldn’t find Tom Mysterio on Facebook.
  • At the start of the first match, Michael Cole said on commentary that they had a thinner crowd than normal due to the weather. Such admissions are rare for WWE, if they happen at all. Still, they had the kind of numbers other promotions rarely get, or can only dream of. So it was a bit of a flex. Also, as sparse as they may have been, this crowd more than made up for it by being a real loud and hot one.
  • Dominik Mysterio and JD McDonagh versus DIY was a more interesting match than I expected it to be. It looked like Dirty Dom and JD might win for a while, despite their current lot in life of losing to the team that will take on Bálor and Priest next (kind of like how Imperium was throughout most of 2023). They didn’t break the trend, but they did pull out some solid heel work by taking advantage of the unseen tag with a double team and yanking Tommaso Ciampa off the apron before he could get the now much needed tag from Johnny Gargano.
  • DIY were impressive, too, and really grabbed my attention this time. They won with Meet in the Middle, as they normally do, but it was the story up to that point that both teams excelled at telling on this particular outing.
Tommaso Ciampa double-clotheslines Dominik Mysterio and JD McDonagh on WWE RAW January 15 2024
  • Also, that mid-match headbutt looked, and sounded, rough.
  • I’m glad Piper Niven and Chelsea Green are sticking together even without the titles, or at least that it looks that way for now.
  • I’m also glad we’re seeing Candice LeRae and Indi Hartwell face a team other than Natalya and Tegan Nox, or in singles competition against Rhea Ripley (?!?).
  • This was a short, but decent match that served its purpose of getting Hartwell and LeRae a title shot. Neutralizing Piper and then turning Chelsea’s failed Unpretty Her into an Assisted Lionsault for the victory was a good way to do it.
Candice LeRae hits an Assisted Lionsault on Chelsea Green with the help of Indi Hartwell on WWE RAW January 15 2024
  • Gunther back. Appearing right at 9pm, and with the Ludwig Kaiser introduction usually reserved for Premium Live Event appearances, he is clearly being presented as the top star that he is. He was in fine form, and I was really hoping someone would interrupt him and challenge him for the Intercontinental Championship. Jey Uso ideally, or maybe even Brock Lesnar, though I can’t see Brock appearing on a random show in Arkansas during a snowstorm. Instead he informed us that, once again, he will be in the Royal Rumble.
  • The Ring General’s performance last year was nothing short of stellar. Starting at number one, and being the last eliminated, it only makes sense he would want to repeat and do better. While he is in the running as a potential winner for most oddsmakers and fans who like to guess, holding one title while going after another can create a whole new problem. Maybe we’ll figure out his WrestleMania IC Title Challenger in the Rumble match itself, with a staredown, or even an elimination.
  • This promo, though, was only partially about what Gunther is doing, and mainly about his pleasure with Kaiser’s new mean streak. That would cause an interruption from Xavier Woods, looking to take his “pound of flesh” from Kaiser for what he did to his New Day partner Kofi Kingston last week. While i would have liked more from Gunter, I was intrigued by where this may lead.
Intercontinental Champion Gunther, accompanied by Ludwig Kaiser, returns to WWE RAW January 15 2024
  • It led, of course, to a match between Kaiser and Woods, where Kaiser’s mean streak would continue, and Woods would develop a viciousness of his own. In both cases, it was a matter of revenge for their injured partners (Giovanni Vinci by accident, and Kofi Kingson in kayfabe), so there was definite storytelling here, and valid reasons for how both acted, which is good to see.
  • The match was physical and aggressive from the start, with plenty of chops and punches, and even some Stomping a Mudhole. It only intensified after Woods got disqualified for hitting Kaiser with the same office-type chair Ludwig had just thrown at him and missed. It’s not common for a babyface to blatantly get disqualified like this, but it made sense here.
Ludwig Kaiser throws a chair at Xavier Woods on WWE RAW January 15 2024
  • I think giving these two a new attitude is interesting, and I’m glad to see WWE is changing things up.
  • I’m also glad Jey Uso got mixed in with it at the end backstage. Could this mean we’ll get Jey versus Gunther at some point soon? Looks like it!
  • I’m pretty sure big Bronson Reed was talking about the world heavyweight title and not the Intercontinental title. Maybe at Elimination Chamber in his home country of Australia? Could be an interesting match, and a solid push for Reed.
  • Why are they doing Tozawa versus Ivar again? Oh, so Tozawa can get a fluke victory with distraction from Maxxine Dupri, that’s why! Unexpected, but interesting, and of course it’s to set up for Ivar versus Chad Gable (welcome back) and Ivy Nile versus Valhalla next week, to avenge the post-loss beatdown. The only problem I have with all of this is that Otis had to lose to Ivar last week to set this rematch with Tozawa up.
  • Rhea Ripley versus Becky Lynch at WrestleMania? Becky wants it, now we know Rhea wants it, and I want it too. Nia Jax versus home continent hero Rhea at the Elimination Chamber, and Rhea for once being the heel in a a match for her title at Mania. Becky as an opponent will make that happen. Becky’s promo set the perfect tone, with her not sure if she can beat Mami, and needing to prove that she can. Rhea’s response was quick and great, too. Mami versus The Man at Mania, let’s do it!
Becky Lynch confronts Rhea Ripley in the ring on WWE RAW January 15 2024
  • Seeing World Heavyweight Champion Seth “Freakin” Rollins’ breath in his backstage promo segment reinforced that it was cold, and the actual environment the show was taking place in. This had me wondering if they left a door open on purpose to get that effect. I wasn’t wondering why interviewer Jackie Redmond brought up the fact Rollins had asked for the match. It was clearly to quell any “Jinder does not deserve this shot” talk online.
  • The Undisputed WWE Tag Team Champions Finn Bálor and Damian Priest versus The Miz and R-Truth wasn’t a title match, nor was it really about Miz and Truth getting one by winning. It also wasn’t about a reunited Awesome Truth, as Miz would like it to be. It was all about continuing, and progressing, the ongoing R-Truth/Judgement Day story.
  • Before the match, there was comedy. Truth came out with The Judgement Day, in fact following them, instead of with his partner. And then there was the bit inside the ring where he gave Finn and Dom their “cut of the merch sales” (big stacks of cash, which he dropped in the ring, then tried to pick up). Of course JD didn’t get any, because he’s not on the shirt. But as the match progressed, that wouldn’t be the case.
R-Truth gives Finn Bálor his “cut” of the merch sales with Damian Priest as Damian Priest watches on WWE RAW January 15 2024
  • It was physical, but all about consistent character drama: Truth punching Bálor, and then apologizing, confusing Miz. Truth knocking JD off the apron with force, and not batting an eyelash. Priest delivering the South of Heaven Chokeslam on Truth for the win, but doing so reluctantly, and seemingly feeling bad about it after his victory. That last one really brought the episode full-circle. Priest didn’t tell Truth not to tag in to give Judgement Day an advantage in the match. It was so he wouldn’t have to beat him up, which he knew he would to win.
  • As others have noted, this is seeming a bit similar to Sami Zayn in The Bloodline. We had the comedy, and now we’re getting a bit of character drama, too. I think this may be a catalyst for Priest leaving the group with a face turn.
  • Though there really wasn’t much story behind Shayna Baszler and Zoey Stark versus Tegan Nox and Natalya, it was still a decent, though short, match. There was a hot tag to Natalya, a German and other suplexes, but soon enough Baszler applied the Kirifuda Clutch for the win. Maybe a proper feud between Baszler and Stark versus Carter and Chance could be good, but we’re not there yet. Plus Shayna and Zoey aren’t exactly heels (though not babyfaces either).
  • I have to admit, the Main Event really had me expecting a title change, either with a surprise Jinder Mahal victory, or a successful Damian Priest cash-in, or both. Yes, such a thing wouldn’t make sense, storyline-wise, especially in the leadup to WrestleMania. But knowledge that Jinder won the WWE Championship just under seven years ago in a similar, returning out of nowhere, fashion, along with talk online, had me thinking that an upset followed by a quick recapturing of the title by Rollins might be in the cards.
  • The layout of the match only reinforced such thinking. Indus Sher was at ringside, Priest was, too. Drew showed up and prevented the cash-in, but the Money in the Bank briefcase stayed at ringside, for Indus Sher to use. The stage was now set. I figured Seth would kick out after Sanger punched him with the referee distracted, and Mahal hit a Gutbuster, and he did. But then when Veer hit Rollins with the MITB Briefcase during another distraction, and Jinder delivered his Khallas finisher, I thought Seth was done for. 1…2…and no! Kickout! Indus Sher is ejected from ringside, Rollins hits a Stomp and wins. The most likely outcome happened, and I was genuinely surprised.
World Heavyweight Champion Seth “Freakin” Rollins stomps challenger Jinder Mahal on WWE RAW January 15 2024
  • Yes, the “Jinder’s foot is on the ropes” spot, when they clearly weren’t when the referee looked up, was a botch, but it didn’t take me out of the match, Overall, a very exciting title defense for Seth.

By bringing in more real world elements, like past histories, merch sales, and the local weather, into the show, this RAW felt alive, and continued to build excitement for the Royal Rumble. A job well done.

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