WWE Raw Recap: December 31, 2018
S27 episode 1 Aired on December 31, 2018

In a massive New Year’s Eve main event, Raw Women’s Champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey teamed up with Natalya to stand up to Nia Jax & Tamina. Also on the final Raw of 2018, Dolph Ziggler battled Drew McIntyre in a brutal Steel Cage Match, Apollo Crews earned an Intercontinental Championship opportunity against Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins brought the fight to “The All Mighty” Bobby Lashley.

Dolph Ziggler’s decision to bring Drew McIntyre back to WWE brought him two championships, a revitalized sense of purpose and one of the most successful years of his career. But that friendship fell out, and on New Year’s Eve, The Showoff reaped what he sowed, as the man Ziggler took with him to Raw in the Superstar Shake-up snuffed out The Showoff’s best efforts and left him laying in more ways than one at the end of Steel Cage Match.

Ziggler looked excellent in defeat, leading to a far more dignified New Year’s Eve than his infamously messy 2012 finale, but that’s cold comfort for a Superstar who went into the match with a solid, impressively executed game plan that even came with a crucial contingency: After attempting to out-brawl The Scottish Psychopath in grueling and unsuccessful fashion, Ziggler switched tactics and went for the escape. But that landed him a superplex off the cage, and despite Ziggler executing a quick-strike Zig Zag that served as a last best shot, McIntyre dropped his former partner with a lights-out Claymore that bulldozed The Showoff clean off his feet.

The Scottish Psychopath refused to cover his opponent for three until after he’d administered a second Claymore more or less for fun, but he saved the true demonstration for after the match when Ziggler goaded his former partner into a heinous post-match assault that ended in a chair-assisted kick to The Showoff’s head. (Ziggler later made it back to his feet one more time and received a third Claymore for his efforts).

The story of Drew McIntyre in 2018 was one of reintroduction to an audience and a locker room who forgot who he is or perhaps never had the chance to learn in the first place. He even reminded the audience on the mic for good measure after the match. But with a Men’s Royal Rumble berth secured and a potential Universal Title Match on his mind, 2019 is looking to be a very different story: Everyone knows who he is now. The question at this point is if anyone can stop him.

ean Ambrose is still the Intercontinental Champion, but just barely. Faced with a house-on-fire effort from Apollo Crews, The Lunatic Fringe did not so much win as survive against a Superstar who seemed hellbent on smashing through the glass ceiling at any cost.

Crews came out swinging — or rather kicking, blasting Dean with the double boots straight out of the bell and forcing the champion to go slightly dirty by throwing his foe into the steel steps. With Crews still smarting from the effects of the Battle Royal earlier in the night, that was enough to slow his momentum, but Ambrose couldn’t close, and the challenger slowly but surely crawled back to the advantage.

Now closing in on the title, Crews emptied his arsenal in lightning-quick fashion, from superkicks to suplexes to an astounding standing shooting star press. Ambrose narrowly escaped defeat by reaching the ropes following a standing sit-out powerbomb, but Crews continued to press until he made his only mistake of the match, whiffing on a frog splash when Ambrose rolled out of the way. The champion quickly pounced with Dirty Deeds to retain his title, and while this likely wasn’t the fresh start Apollo Crews wanted, he may well look back on this night as something just as valuable: a first step.

Next week, Ronda Rousey will be part of a historic event when she’s the inaugural guest on the first-ever talk show hosted by a female Superstar, Alexa Bliss’ “A Moment of Bliss.” But that’s business for 2019. And Rousey’s final WWE appearance of 2018 was, much like the entire year that preceded it, a rousing success.

It was also a continuation of the recent hot streak by Natalya, who challenged Rousey for the title last week and teamed with her this week against Nia Jax & Tamina — the same duo that ambushed The Queen of Harts earlier in the night after she had declared for the Women’s Royal Rumble Match. Rousey came into the match determined to make them pay, blistering both her opponents so thoroughly that the match was looking like a one-woman rout.

Nia & Tamina had much better luck with Natalya, isolating her from The Baddest Woman on the Planet and even maintaining control when Rousey tagged in, thanks to a timely leg drop by Jax. Tamina made a move to close, ascending the top rope for a splash attempt. But Rousey got her feet up to block the maneuver and quickly locked in the Armbar to submit The Sultress of Savagery, capping 2018 with a notch in her win column. It’s anyone’s guess where Rousey goes in 2019, but given the trend of the past 365 days, it’s safe to assume the upward trajectory won’t be leveling off anytime soon.

In other action … Triple H confronted Seth Rollins … Elias confronted Baron Corbin … Sasha Banks, Bayley & Ember Moon def. The Riott Squad … Bobby Lashley def. Seth Rollins via Disqualification … Jinder Mahal & The Singh Brothers def. Heath Slater & Rhyno (3-on-2 Handicap Match) … Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose def. Apollo Crews.

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