January 3’s Monday Night Raw broadcast from the Bon Secours Wellness Arena in Greenville, South Carolina followed in the wake of January 1’s inaugural Day 1 pay-per-view. The highly anticipated event changed the complexion of two of World Wrestling Entertainment’s most important championship races, those for the Universal and WWE Championships, respectively. With the fallout of Day 1’s shocking wins and losses still swirling, the stage was set on January 3’s Monday Night Raw for 2022’s Royal Rumble. The event, and its consequences further afield for WrestleMania 38, loomed large over the night’s events.
Monday Night Raw – The Road Toward Royal Rumble
Edge and Beth Phoenix vs Miz and Maryse
When Beth Phoenix departed the commentary team of NXT 2.0, speculation began that she was doing so to return to Raw, to participate in the nascent feud then beginning to spark between husband Edge and The Miz and Maryse. This was confirmed at Day 1, when Phoenix emerged in aid of Edge to menace Maryse. Edge claimed the victory on January 1, and he and Miz had another war of words on January 3. While both Edge and Miz are giving it their level best, and are two of WWE’s finest on the mic, this feud is a bloodless, heatless affair. However, the interjection of Maryse and Phoenix changes the story’s complexion, somewhat. Maryse’s visible fear of Phoenix is palpable and effectively comedic. With far fewer words than their significant others but to greater effect, Maryse and Phoenix are able to create palpable tension. The “It” couple and the “Grit” couples faced off in the ring at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on Raw, making their Royal Rumble intergender tag match official.
Becky Lynch, Bianca Belair, Liv Morgan, and Doudrop
“Art makes you feel,” Becky Lynch declared to the South Carolina crowd, chalking the hatred shown her by the masses to the effect of great art upon the psyche, and dubbing herself an artist: “Vincent Van G.O.A.T.” Liv Morgan, perhaps triggered by this pithy new catchphrase, strode to the ring to interrupt Lynch’s paean to herself. Lynch narrowly managed to retain her Raw Women’s Championship against a Morgan who, with every appearance, seems to be reaching the height of her powers. In-ring, she’s confident and passionate, and she has the love of the crowd in any given venue. Morgan and Lynch traded barbs but were then interrupted by a revitalized Bianca Belair.
2021 was the year of the “EST of WWE”: she won the women’s Royal Rumble, challenged Sasha Banks for the Friday Night SmackDown women’s title, and claimed it at WrestleMania 37 in an Espy-winning bout. However, by year’s end, she had lost the title to Lynch and was sidelined to a mid-card feud with Doudrop. Belair reasserted her aims on January 3, that she was most assuredly coming for Lynch and the Raw women’s championship. A fray ensued, in which Morgan and Belair briefly aligned, but both fell to Lynch.
A Royal Rumble triple threat match between Lynch and the two women who have been her bete noires since returning from parental leave in summer 2021 would be intriguing enough, but a fourth player in the race emerged: Doudrop. After accosting Adam Pearce and Sonya Deville for a shot at Lynch, she was granted a triple threat between herself, Morgan, and Belair to determine Lynch’s opponent for the Rumble.
Doudrop enjoyed a breakout debut as Eva Marie’s protégé and a well-performed program against Belair in 2021. Her character has a gutsy and organically charismatic appeal that transcends the confines of ‘heel’ or ‘babyface’: ironically, much like Lynch herself before 2021. In the form of Lynch, Belair, and Doudrop, the next wave of WWE’s women’s evolution is swarming Lynch’s heels, ready for a shot at “Bigtime Becks.”
Big E, Bobby Lashley, Seth Rollins, and Kevin Owens
Brock Lesnar and his “advocate” Paul Heyman opened the broadcast basking in “The Beast’s” triumph. Upon Roman Reigns’s COVID-19 diagnosis, his and Lesnar’s main event match for the Universal Championship was canceled, and Lesnar was inserted into the multi-man match for Big E’s WWE Championship. Lesnar was victorious and made his return to Raw on January 3. With the title picture now drastically altered, Seth Rollins, Big E, Kevin Owens, and Bobby Lashley participated in a fatal four-way to determine who would face Lesnar for the WWE championship at Royal Rumble.
Lashley was the victor of this encounter. Despite the further injustice to Big E, the WWE Universe can’t help but eagerly await the forthcoming encounter between “The All Mighty” and “The Beast Incarnate.”
With Reigns absent, Lashley is one of the few men in WWE who can meet Lesnar on an even playing field, delivering a brutal clash of titans. They share similar physiques, skill sets, and feral personas, and real-life similarities such as a shared background in amateur wrestling and mixed martial arts. This is a promising feud. Stoking anticipation for the Lashley v. Lesnar bout will be a test in how well WWE can build momentum for a pay-per-view without Reigns in the picture, as he has consistently been since his Universal Championship reign began.