The Post Royal Rumble RAW normally reinforces what happened, and what those wins, losses, and other story beats mean for the Road to WrestleMania. Plus it slots in some of the returns and surprises into regualar programming. It’s relevant, but doesn’t have the importance in plotting that the RAW after WrestleMania does.

This year, though, with reports that CM Punk was injured during the Men’s Royal Rumble Match, and the fact that Damage CTRL were still together, and women’s Royal Rumble Match winner Bayley was coming to challenge Women’s World Champion Rhea Ripley, what happens here could have way more importance going forward. We’ll soon find out.

On January 29, 2024, WWE RAW was in the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. Here are my thoughts:

  • We started with shots of the big names arriving at the arena, or at least I think we did. Watching on SportsNet Plus in Canada, the screen was frozen on a cityscape shot until midway through the promo package as Michael Cole narrated. It might have just been my internet connection, but I missed these new intros which I’m really liking.
  • So Pat McAfee and Cole will be the RAW commentary team going forward, or at least until WrestleMania, or the start of the next College Football season, I suspect. This is great news, as long as Wade Barrett makes his way back to Smackdown and joins Corey Graves, with Graves doing play-by-play.
  • CM Punk does have a tricep injury, which he sustained in the Rumble, possibly while taking a Future Shock DDT from Drew McIntyre. That’s terrible news for Punk, fans, and WWE’s Mania plans. It also made Punk’s performance at the end of the match where he was injured even more impressive.
  • We found out through a real, honest, and emotional babyface shoot promo. If you can call it a promo. I mean Punk was in the ring holding a microphone, but it just felt like he was talking to us. And when he brought up his friend living with cancer, and the struggles everyone go through, to put things in perspective, he succeeded. If there ever was a way to turn an unintentional negative into a positive, this was it.
CM Punk announces he will miss WrestleMania 40 on WWE RAW January 29 2024
  • Then Drew McIntyre came out, because of course he did. Drew has been making things about himself for weeks now, straddling the line between pseudo babyface (because he is correct in what he says), and whiny heel (because of how he says it, and who he says it to). Now, though, by taking joy in Punk’s injury, and trying to take credit for it, he is a full blown heel, and, dare I say, one of the best main event heels going.
  • I hoped Drew attacking Punk meant that this was a work, though I now realize it probably indicates that the tricep was damaged enough for them to safely work a small attack (I’m not a doctor, or have any knowledge of medicine, just going by what I hear). One thing that was certain is it took Drew’s heelishness to a whole new level.
  • Sami Zayn coming out to save Punk was a good call because it’s something Sami would do, and it brings back his feud with Drew. And it would set up a match between the two for the end of the show, which I thought would be a potential Mania encounter.
Sami Zayn and officials help CM Punk after Drew McIntyre attacked him on WWE RAW January 29 2024
  • It’s terrible that Punk isn’t available for Mania. Maybe if he had won the Rumble, he could have rehabbed it like World Heavyweight Champion Seth “Freakin” Rollins is doing, but his route needs, story-wise, to go through the Elimination Chamber, which seems a no-go.
  • Gunther is trying to get his Permanent Residency, so he can’t leave the US for another four months, meaning the Chamber is out of the question for him, too.
  • At this time in the show, I was thinking we might get a Rollins/Zayn/McIntyre triple-threat match. But we’ll see.
  • DIY versus Finn Bálor and Damian Priest for the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championships was a really good match that even got the crowd into it, and behind Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, which doesn’t always happen. There were false finishes, plenty of back-and-forth, a double submission attempt by DIY which Priest ended by slamming Gargano into Ciampa, a successful Meet in the Middle on Finn that Damian stopped by putting ‘Bálor’s foot on the ropes, and deserved “This is awesome!” chants from the crowd. It culminated with both a Razor’s Edge and Coup de Grâce hit on Ciampa.
DIY (Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa) attempt to submit Finn Bálor and Damian Priest of The Judgement Day during the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championship Match on WWE RAW January 29 2024
  • DIY came off looking strong, though Priest did most of the work in the match. The titles didn’t change hands, but I can now see a WrestleMania spot for Gargano and Ciampa. Maybe.
  • DIY also did the pat themselves on the back while sitting on the ring apron bit, which usually signals a commercial. As the first hour was commercial-free, it looked a bit out of place.
  • Of course this match was also to get most of Judgement Day in the ring victorious, ao they could call out R-Truth, and put an end to his attempts to be in the group (not join it, as he thinks he’s already in. Maybe some of them occasionally getting babyface reactions was why. And maybe they are pivoting to a feud between Bálor and Priest and Awesome Truth, as The Miz did come down to make the save. Or maybe they’ll find a way to prolong the comedy, and use it to drive a wedge between Priest and Rhea Ripley, though that may be harder now.
Dominik Mysterio, JD McDonagh, Finn Bálor, and Damian Priest celebrate after attacking R-Truth and The Miz on WWE RAW January 29 2024
  • Zoe Stark and Shayna Baszler got a quick victory over Chelsea Green and Piper Niven. It’s clear they’re trying to build Stark and Baszler as a monster team. I only hope they’re going for monster heel, because I think the official heels here, Green and Niven, are more over with the crowd, whereas Shayna and Zoey haven’t gotten over as babyfaces yet, and matches like this won’t do the trick.
  • Cody Rhodes got the massive pop, and a “You deserve it!” chant, because he did. He seemed elated when he got Ring Announcer Samantha Irvin to repeat the announcement of his victory, as was the crowd. At this point I was relieved that at least Cody’s path was clear. Well, about that…
  • I did not expect to hear World Heavyweight Champion Seth “Freakin” Rollins’ music, but when I did, I knew what he was going to say before the audience started singing his song. The first part, the “fight me instead” part, that is. Seth’s justification for it was really well said. He made a solid case, in storyline, and in relatable reality, as to why Rollins/Rhodes would make sense. In particular, Seth mentioned the two of them “making those towns”, and he was referring to house shows, like the Holiday Tour that I went to in Montreal. And yes, as Rollins said, Cody was there, but the World Heavyweight Championship was defended in the main event.
Cody Rhodes shakes World Heavyweight Champion Seth “Freakin” Rollins hand on WWE RAW January 29 2024
  • It’s also clear why Seth wants it. He is a fighting champion, and wants to carry his title not only into WrestleMania., but into the Main Event of Night One, at least. WWE wants to give that title more status. CM Punk fighting for it and/or holding it would accomplish both goals. Same with Cody Rhodes, the guy who is fast becoming the face of the company, and is already the face of the video game. Seth versus Drew might not get that result, even with Drew now poised to get nuclear heat, and we’ve had that match twice already. But I do think Seth and Gunther could.
  • Of course the elephant, or rather the brahman bull in the room, is that Seth versus Cody makes way for Roman versus Rock. I think WWE may be testing reactions to that, to see if their core audience will go for it, knowing full-well that casual fans would, no question. The Tampa crowd wasn’t having it, but they’ve posted polls, and even some in-character posts on social media like this one (which I responded to):
  • I may have more to say on this elsewhere, but long story short: We’ve seen Cody/Seth three times before (though not Champion Seth), there’s no animosity in that feud, like there would be with Cody/Roman, or Gunther/Seth.
  • I was still trying to process the previous segment when we got Jey Uso versus Bronson Reed. It was a hard-fought match, and I hope that Jey winning sets him up for a title shot at some point in the near future. Also, the Uso Splash looks great when done on a big guy like Bronson, and Tampa was really getting into dancing with Jey, and so was McAfee.
Jey Uso kicks Bronson Reed on WWE RAW January 29 2024
  • Andrade is going to RAW? Good to know, and glad they’re sorting this out quickly. Despite Nick Aldis having a phone call, I suspect Bron Breakker will be headed to the red brand, too. It would just seem to make more sense. If it’s not Gunther/Seth, maybe Gunther/Bron? going to Raw nice and I suspect breaker might be going there too
  • I’m also still loving the Aldis/Adam Pearce interactions.
  • Gunther is an expert at the total dick heel promo, the kind that has you thinking “You’re right, but you’re such an asshole!”.. His promo just sitting on the stairs (another cool new production choice) was a perfect example. Telling Kofi Kingston that no matter how much the match means to him as challenger, Gunther will simply forget about it. That’s got some real “Just another Monday for me” energy.
  • The match, for the Intercontinental Championship, was high energy, physical, and exciting. Kofi got three prominent near falls, one of which followed him escaping a Boston Crab by turning it into a small package. Kofi was impressive, as always, and Gunther’s matches almost always have everyone thinking he may lose, even though we all know, going in, that he won’t. That’s a performance skill that is equal parts physical psychological.
  • Gunther rolled out of the ring, at one point, to avoid being pinned, and finished Kingston off with a Power Bomb. These are two things he is known for winning matches with, but they always feel fresh when The Ring General does it. And this was the second match of the night that deservedly got “This is awesome!” chants from the crowd.
Gunther hits a Powerbomb on Kofi Kingston during the Intercontinental Championship Match on WWE RAW January 29 2024
  • We got back into the New Day/Imperium feud after the match, when Ludwig Kaiser and Giovanni Vinci attacked Kingson, to Gunther’s approval, and Xavier Woods came in for the save. Gunther stayed out of the fray, as he always does with these matters, but I was hoping Jey Uso would show up, and he didn’t. Maybe Big E is healed, and poised for a comeback, as some suspect, and many hope.
  • Great fiery backstage promo from Zayn, and nice recap package. I’m also really loving these new moving match card graphics. Reminiscent of pro sports. WWE’s new Head of Media and Production Lee Fitting is really showing what he can do.
  • Nice to see The Kabuki Warriors on RAW. I didn’t have much hope for there opponents Natalya and Tegan Nox going into the match, but figured we’d see.
  • It turned out to be a decent match, with Natalya and Asuka looking strong, Tegan not so much. And Kairi Sane was was perfectly sneaky. The reverse DDT from Asuka into the Insane Elbow from Kairi was a nice way to finish it.
Asuka applies a reverse DDT on Natalya as Kairi Sane comes in with an Insane Elbow on WWE RAW January 29 2024
  • I remember thinking that if Damage CTRL is going to turn on Bailey this would be the time to do it
  • The split didn’t happen but it was definitely teased. I didn’t expect Nia Jax to interfere at this point, but it made sense as I’m convinced it’s her versus Women’s World Champion Rhea Ripley at Elimination Chamber, and her attack on Ripley did cause the Kabuki Warriors, Dakota Kai, and WWE Women’s Champion Iyo Sky to slink away, leaving Bayley alone in the ring.
  • I think most people are ready for Bayley to challenge Iyo at Mania instead of Rhea, but if she makes that choice without Damage CTRL turning on her first, and because of what Jax said, it will make her potential face turn an interesting prospect.
Nia Jax attacks Women’s World Heavyweight Champion Rhea Ripley as Damage CTRL (l-r Dakota Kai, Kairi Sane, Asuka, Bayley, and WWE Women’s Champion Iyo Sky) stand back and watch on WWE RAW January 29 2024
  • I guess we’ll have to wait to Smackdown to get confirmation on both Mania main events. That’s a new one.
  • I was hoping they’d do Sami versus Drew at WrestleMania, maybe in a steel cage, instead of on a RAW a couple of months before. But my fellow Montrealer is once again in the Main Event, so let’s go!
  • This match had almost everything you’d want: Sami got a couple of near falls off a nice Sunset Flip Powerbomb, and a solid Tornado DDT. He also dodged a Claymore, and turned it into a Blue Thunder Bomb, and that Superplex off the top rope was something else. There was some great work from Drew as well, and most of it was psychological, like telling Sami he isn’t on his level, and not up to this spot. The trash talk pissed Sami off, and motivated him. That led to the missed Helluva Kick, and the (possibly accidental) low blow, that set Drew up for the Claymore and the win.
  • Pat McAfee causing a distraction to help out Sami near the beginning was a fun touch, too.
Sami Zayn hits a Sunset Flip Powerbomb on Drew McIntyre off the top rope on Drew McIntyre on WWE RAW January 29 2024
  • If this loss inspires a Mania match where Sami will finally defeat Drew, then good. If not, well, it was still a very exciting match to watch, and was the third one on this show to deservedly get “This Is Awesome!” chants from the crowd.

The RAW after the Royal Rumble left more questions than it answered, and some pretty big questions at that. Plus there were three great matches, and a couple of decent ones. And let’s not forget the two heartfelt promos, and what can only be one of the most effective solidifications of a heel turn in recent memory. Perhaps due to circumstance, WWE is really cooking.

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