Tonight’s RAW promised more Royal Rumble setup, as this was the go-home show before the Big Four Premium Live Event. It also promised two things above all: the-in ring meeting of Cody Rhodes and CM Punk, and an update on World Heavyweight Champion Seth “Freakin” Rollins condition after being injured in his match with Jinder Mahal last week. We got both, and the Punk/Cody exchange turned out to be one of the most memorable things I have seen in WWE in a while.

WWE RAW was in the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana on January 22, 2024. These are my thoughts:

  • So Rollins has a Grade 2 tear of his MCL, and a partially torn medial meniscus. I am most definitely not a doctor, or a medical expert of any sort, but that really doesn’t sound that good. According to Seth himself, surgery would mean he’d be out until after WrestleMania. So instead he’s going to do his best to rehab it, defend the World Heavyweight Championship on the Grandest Stage of Them All, and get it fixed after.
  • While I clearly hope that Rollins can compete at Mania, his health is more important, and what he feels comfortable doing. So I’m happy we should still see him. I hope he can stick it out., and it looks like he is. While he was a bit slower making his way to the ring, that could have just been a character choice, and he even incorporated his knee brace into his style of the night.
World Heavyweight Champion Seth “Freakin” Rollins heads to the ring on WWE RAW January 22, 2024
  • I did not expect Gunther and Imperium to come out, but in retrospect, I’m glad that they did. It means, or at least I hope it means, that Seth saying he will work through the injury isn’t just a fakeout. If it was, Damian Priest, and some members of Judgement Day, would have come out instead to cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase.
  • The Ring General’s promo was classic Gunther, with the right level of dickishness and respect. I’d even be cool with him winning the Rumble, though we don’t need more double-champions.
  • I thought Rollins was going to mention that the Royal Rumble was on Saturday not Sunday. He didn’t have to catch Gunther’s mistake because the graphics department, and then Michael Cole were on it. Of course, Gunther had the best response later on social media: that it wasn’t a mistake at all (CET is Central European Time, in case you didn’t know):
  • They didn’t waste any time continuing the newly aggressive Imperium versus New Day storyline, with Kofi Kingston attacking Ludwig Kaiser and the freshly returned Giovanni Vinci (welcome back, glad to know you recovered) after the Gunther/Rollins promo ended. The following match was good, but, once again, not the main focus.
  • Once both teams were counted out by the referee, it was time to fight into the timekeeper area, and into the crowd. This culminated with both teams fighting on top of equipment cases, and then falling off them through some tables. I like this direction, giving more teams a more serious bent. I think soon they’ll need to have a hardcore match, or maybe a street fight.
  • I doubt Kaiser and Vinci will be in the Rumble, as that really is Gunther’s thing, but Kingston and Woods very likely will be, and maybe Imperium can take them out from the outside, and further set up their blowoff match.
The New Day (Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston) and Imperium (Ludwig Kaiser and Giovanni Vinci) after going through tables on WWE RAW January 23 2024
  • A Judgement Day backstage promo without R-Truth, or even the mention of him? This is an interesting turn. It looks like they’re going back to Damian Priest’s tension with the group, and with Rhea Ripley in particular. Interesting choice right before the Rumble. Also a good way to plug the WWE 2K24 video game, featuring Rhea (and Bianca Belair) on the cover of the Deluxe Edition. Not the only time they’ll do that tonight.
  • It’s nice to see Valhalla getting a proper singles match against some solid, albeit still developing, competition. Mixing it up with Maxxine Dupri outside of the ring, or being in a mixed-gender tag match is just not the same.
  • It was a short match but a good one. Valhalla cheated some cheating by putting her foot on the ropes while trying for the pin, but Dupri let the referee know. Then Nile quickly hit a Pitbull and won. Nile needs a few more victories, and a decent showing in the Rumble before she faces someone like Rhea again.
Ivy Nile hitting a Pitbull on Valhalla as Maxxine Dupri watches from ringside on WWE RAW January 22 2024
  • Now they’re not even acknowledging Nikki Cross wandering around aimlessly on commentary. I have no idea where they’re going with this.
  • I’m liking Jey Uso with The New Day, and hoping it leads to a match with him in Gunther. Yeet!
  • I also love noticing the people in the background of promos. It’s not always Cross. This time, as Jey, Kofi, and Xavier were talking, you could see all of Damage CTRL wandering around the RAW backstage.
  • Wow nobody likes Nia Jax. Of course Becky Lynch got cheers when challenging her in the ring, but Bayley did, too. And this was after she told a random kid in the audience to shut up, and didn’t even say it into the mic she was holding. I know she’s going to be a babyface again soon enough, but Bayley is such a great heel.
  • Of course the big takeaway was that Nia tossed Becky over the top rope, which is really what you got to watch out for in the Royal Rumble. So while she might have actually attacked Bailey she did way more psychological damage to Becky. Since the Man and the Damage CTRL leader are the favorites to win the Women’s Royal Rumble Match, this is interesting.
Bayley, Becky Lynch, and Nia Jax fighting on WWE RAW January 22 2024
  • I think R-Truth saying the “Don’t tag in” line to The Miz, was more about Truth realizing Priest was trying to save him from a beating last week than it was meant as a comedic statement to Miz.
  • Dirty Dom got a win on the Main Roster! That’s not something you see every day. Of course Dominik Mysterio had help from JD McDonagh and, as per Mami’s instructions, a very aggressive Finn Bálor, but it was still a bit of a surprise. I also think that’s the first time in recent memory that I’ve seen someone hit of 619 on the first attempt. It then took Dom just a top rope Frog Splash for the victory.
Dominik Mysterio hits a top rope Frog Splash on The Miz on WWE RAW January 22 2024
  • DIY coming in for the save makes sense storyline wise, as Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa are fighting Damian and Finn for the titles soon, but I was kind of expecting Truth to get involved. And so was the crowd. It would have made more sense here than when his interference actually happened.
  • Truth did show up during Priest’s backstage interview, but he wasn’t the focus here, and let himself out so Damian could get serious and really set up believable reasons behind the Drew McIntyre match in the night’s main event.
  • Chad Gable versus Ivar was a really competitive match, as long as you forget that Ivar lost to Akira Tozawa last week. Gable catching a spin kick and turning it into an ankle lock looked great, and almost won him the match, if it wasn’t for the rope break. From there, the Alpha Academy coach got increasingly more impressive: a double suplex, a German suplex, and then finally slipping through Ivar to hit another German suplex off the ropes. This is why Gable is one of the best working today.
  • I thought Valhalla was out of the match, having lost earlier, but she showed up again to distract Gable just by looking at him. Seeing her pop up out of nowhere in full Viking getup probably would distract me, too. And seeing as Ivar lost to Tozawa after Maxxine disracted him, this is fair play.
Valhalla distracts Chad Gable during his match with Ivar on WWE RAW January 22 2024
  • Ivar is 2 and 1 with the alpha Academy in singles competition, and the one is one loss is to Tozawa. They’ve got to fix that.
  • You know those matches that are so good you just have to watch them again. The “If you see one match from this show, make it this one!”-type? Well, that’s how I feel about the Cody Rhodes/CM Punk back-and-forth promo. Not only is it clearly the best of these Royal Rumble setup promo exchanges they’ve been doing on RAW for the past few weeks (with the same cast of characters), it is one of the best promo exchanges in WWE that I’ve seen since I started watching again a couple of years ago. And judging from what I’ve heard and read elsewhere online, it may be one of the best back-and-forth promos of the last decade.
  • They both pulled from their own stories, and referenced Cody’s father, the late, great Dusty Rhodes. But this time it didn’t feel like they were going to the well too much. Dusty was part of the connective tissue between the two of them. Both men started off civil, but built the tension beautifully, so when they got to the bitter jabs, and they were some great lines, the attitude change felt earned.
  • The physicality was limited to a shrug, a grab, and a stare down, but it was so well executed, that was all that was needed. You could really feel the anger.
  • Seriously, go watch this promo, or if you have, watch it again!
Cody Rhodes and CM Punk stare at each other after their promo battle on WWE RAW January 22 2024
  • I know it wouldn’t work storyline-wise but I kind of now want to see Punk versus Cody at WrestleMania. Maybe the Rumble ends in a tie, and the two of them fight on Night One in a dual main event, with Roman Reigns versus The Rock as the other part. Then the winners face off on Night Two for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. Just an idea.
  • After this we got a Hulk Hogan promo. And maybe he has one more Rumble in him. Wait, what? He does live in Florida, and pretty close to Tropicana Field, so I can see him showing up. But in the Rumble? Um, no. But I could be wrong.
  • Candice LeRae and Indi Hartwell versus Shayna Baszler and Zoey Stark was a decent match, though a real short one. LeRae was impressive Walking the Tightrope to send Stark onto the floor, then into Baszler. Later, she was pleased with herself for having evaded Baszler’s Kirifuda Clutch, but not not realizing Stark had tagged in, got hit with the Z-360 and lost.
Candice LeRae launches Zoey Stark off the ring onto Shayna Baszler on WWE RAW January 22 2024
  • Undisputed WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions Kayden Carter and Katana Chance were at ringside, so they of course confronted their possible future challengers after the match, only to be taken out in a surprise attack by their next challengers The Kabuki Warriors. Having spotted Asuka, Kairi Sane, and Dakota Kai backstage earlier, I knew they were there, so this didn’t come as a surprise, nor would it be a surprise of Asuka and Sane take their titles on Smackdown this Friday. What is interesting is that with the rest of Damage CTRL being at RAW, they didn’t come out to help Bayley when she was getting beaten down by Jax. Hmmmm…
  • Drew McIntyre’s backstage promo was short to the point and continue the setup for the Main Event which, at this point, I was quite interested in interested in. Also, we found out tonight that Priest was going to be in the Rumble as well, along with Drew, which we knew weeks ago. So this match, then, could be more Royal Rumble setup. Given that this is the Go-Home RAW, it would make sense.
  • While the match was quite physical, and well-executed, it looked more like setup for the comedic middle (or early) portion of the Men’s Royal Rumble Match. R-Truth showed up, trying to pay off Priest his latest merch sales cut, and, long story short, money flew everywhere, and the referee was distracted and didn’t count after Priest hit McIntyre with a South of Heaven Chokeslam and had him pinned for more than three. One Claymore later, and Truth had accidentally cost Priest the match.
Damian Priest hits Drew McIntyre with a South of Heaven chokeslam on WWE RAW January 22 2024
  • I’m a huge fan of the Truth/Judgement Day angle, and think it could get to serious levels, and maybe even main event levels, but we’re not anywhere near the stage in this story that the Sami in The Bloodline story was last year at this time. So ending a Go-Home show with this angle was an odd choice.

Regardless of the end, this Go-Home RAW did an excellent job of setting up for both Royal Rumble matches. And that is principally due to one of the best promo exchanges I’ve heard in a long time.

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