WWE Raw Recap: January 29, 2018
S2018 episode 1288 Aired on January 29, 2018

In a Raw main event for the ages, John Cena and Finn Bálor locked up in singles action for the first time ever, vying to enter the Elimination Chamber where a Universal Championship opportunity against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania will be on the line.

If not for Triple Threat rules, Braun Strowman may well have become Universal Champion at Royal Rumble. Now, he’s one step closer to getting another opportunity against Brock Lesnar. Facing Kane (who suffered the fateful pinfall in the pair's title match against Lesnar one night prior) in a Last Man Standing Match to determine which Superstar would enter the Men's Elimination Chamber Match, The Monster Among Men dispatched his infernal rival in horrific fashion, landing a coveted position in the match that will determine The Anomaly’s challenger at WrestleMania.

Strowman exploited the lawlessness of the Last Man Standing stipulation to its fullest extent, chasing The Big Red Machine through the audience before his pursuit finally landed the two at the foot of the commentary table. Michael Cole, Corey Graves and the returning Jonathan Coachman made themselves scarce and wisely so: The Gift of Destruction tipped the announce table onto Kane, entombing him so completely that the referee immediately called for the bell. That was enough to send Strowman to the Elimination Chamber and The Devil's Favorite Demon to a local medical facility. As for Lesnar? If Strowman makes it to WrestleMania, he may well send him somewhere even worse.

Make that two runner-up heartbreakers in a row for Roman Reigns, who was the last man eliminated by Shinsuke Nakamura in the Men’s Royal Rumble Match and fell short in his bid to regain the Intercontinental Championship from The Miz just 24 hours later.

That he did is an astounding reversal of fortune, as Reigns not only dominated Miz from the jump, but he also chased off The Miztourage with a steel chair he’d retrieved from ringside. The Big Dog was so incensed that he nearly got himself disqualified, and despite a rally from Miz, Reigns found a second wind and teed off on the champion with wild-eyed fury.

The A-Lister answered with some quick thinking, focusing his efforts on his challenger’s knee with chop blocks and a torturous Figure-Four Leglock. Reigns reversed the hold to hobble Miz and moved in to close the match, at which point The Miztourage returned to turn the tide. Reigns picked off Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel with pinpoint efficiency but took his eye off The Miz for just a second too long. After Reigns dropped Bo Dallas with a Spear, Miz pounced with a rollup and a handful of Reigns’ pants to retain the title.

Reigns was left to stew alone in the ring, and it’s easy to see why: His mantra has long been that he can, and he will. Which makes it all the more gutting that, for the second night, he almost did.

For 57:38 in the Men’s Royal Rumble Match, Finn Bálor fought in pursuit of a WrestleMania championship opportunity until John Cena eliminated him. Following that interaction, The Extraordinary Man and The Cenation Leader were paired in a win-and-you’re-in contest with an Elimination Chamber slot at stake. Bálor was as focused as ever, exuding enough confidence that he battled Cena without the backup of Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson.

For a long stretch, he appeared to have made the right call. Bálor frustrated Cena in the early goings of the first-time-ever match, even powering his way out of a test of strength. The Cenation Leader opted to Irish Whip Bálor into the ring posts with all the power he could muster, a brutish if effective strategy that nonetheless spurned Bálor to rally.

Bálor did achieve the extraordinary, kicking out of a thunderous Attitude Adjustment and breaking out of an STF, but Cena had just a little bit more in the tank, hoisting the first-ever Universal Champion to the second turnbuckle and executing an avalanche AA that sent him to Elimination Chamber. As for Bálor, after an hour-plus of all-time cumulative efforts over the course of two nights, it seems he’ll have to wait a little while longer.

In other action … Sasha Banks confronted Asuka … Elias def. "Woken" Matt Hardy to qualify for the Men's Elimination Chamber Match … The Revival def. Heath Slater & Rhyno … Asuka def. Sasha Banks … Raw Tag Team Champions Cesaro & Sheamus def. Titus Worldwide.