There was no bigger moment from the Jan. 11 WWE Raw than the announcement of Drew McIntyre testing positive for COVID, but for what happened in-show, it was the show-closing fireball angle.
Just before 2 EST, WWE announced Drew McIntyre had tested positive for COVID-19 and was in quarantine. Not only is WWE losing their WWE Champion for at least two weeks (if not more), they’re also losing the anchor of Raw, someone who started and ended the broadcast, with plenty of mid-show appearances in-between. That’s a lot to replace, even if only for a few weeks.
The only positive is McIntyre, in a pre-recorded promo that aired on Raw, indicated he is asymptomatic. Hopefully, he stays asymptomatic and can return after the standard quarantine period. WWE seems to think he will, as he accepted Goldberg’s challenge and their match for the WWE Championship is official for Royal Rumble.
Also, in a shocking turn of events, McIntyre actually said the words “COVID-19” on WWE TV. My mind was blown. Not only that, he also strongly encouraged everyone to wear masks and socially distance. As much as he lost last week for doing that promo with Ter…Hulk Hogan, in my eyes, he gained that back and much more for his promo on COVID.
With that being said, let’s move to the actual in-show moment that needs to be discussed.
MOMENT: Alexa Bliss throws a fireball right into Randy Orton’s face
If you haven’t seen it yet, well here it is in all its glory.
Earlier in the night, as Triple H attempted to announce something regarding McIntyre and the WWE Championship, Orton interrupted and challenged Triple H to a “fight” (not a match). The latter eventually accepted and the two faced off in the main event.
Toward the end of the match, Triple H grabbed a sledgehammer (which needs to be retired as a weapon already) and entered the ring. All of the sudden, the lights started playing tricks, as though The Fiend was going to appear. As Triple H raised his weapon, it was on fire; the lights then completely went out.
An eerie purple light tinged the ring with Triple H no longer in sight. Orton rose to his feet, looked around, and saw Bliss standing behind him. She surveyed him, then proceeded a few steps toward Orton. Suddenly, her demeanor changed. She placed her left hand under her chin and used her right to throw a fireball into Orton’s face.
Orton writhed around the ring for an unusually long time as the commentators discussed what just happened and if Orton was possibly blinded by the attack. I’m guessing no one in WWE will know until next week’s show even though, you know, they work with Orton (but have to maintain kayfabe, pal!).
With McIntyre out until at least Royal Rumble and his mini-feud with Orton having to be shelved, it appears WWE decided to shift to the storyline of The Fiend returning a little earlier than anticipated (I thought it was leading to another “Firefly Fun House” match at WrestleMania). There are positives and negatives to this approach.
First, the biggest negative is that this was a perfect chance to elevate someone to the main event scene, even if only for two or three weeks. Keith Lee would have been the ideal candidate considering his proximity to both McIntyre and main event matches the past few weeks. He even offered to take Triple H’s place against Orton, a match I originally hoped to see tonight before it was announced Triple H would appear.
Beyond Lee, Lashley would have been a great choice. They could have held off on Riddle’s title shot or had Adam Pearce (the best seller of superkicks this side of Shelton Benjamin against Shawn Michaels) tell Riddle he needed a definitive victory over Lashley or someone in The Hurt Business to gain said title shot. That would have freed up Lashley for the main event.
Still, there are positives. Orton and The Fiend/Bray Wyatt have a longstanding history, including recent matches and, um, an immolation, that should have kept the feud in the minds of fans long enough without seeming too recent. There’s also more footage and story to fall back on with these two (and Bliss) than, say, Orton and either Lee or Lashley.
Further, while I was hesitant at first, Bliss has really blossomed in this “Alexa’s Playground” character. Her ability to quickly change demeanor through facial expressions (and the character changes that come with it) have been a sight to behold. You knew she was up to something tonight, but I don’t think even the most intrepid of viewers could have predicted a literal fireball.
I guess it’s a bit of “turnabout is fair play” considering what Orton did to The Fiend, but at least Orton surviving here is much more plausible than The Fiend’s survival. Also, I’m curious to see how they play up the potential eye injury/injuries to Orton, as it was heavily implied he might be blinded.
The final positive is if they really pull their “Firefly Fun House” match to Royal Rumble, then it gives plenty of leeway for WWE to work in Orton’s condition, including using the powers of the “Fun House” for Orton to “see.” I was a fan of last year’s match as I felt it was a great bit of storytelling (but don’t begrudge you if you didn’t like it; it was hit or miss), so I’m optimistic about what can happen between these two in such a setting. Orton’s history is just as expansive as John Cena’s, but filled with a bit more edge and controversy.
With about three weeks left until Royal Rumble, it will be interesting to see how WWE builds on these lackluster Raw episodes. The fireball angle wasn’t for everyone (including me), but I’ll at least hold out too much thought until I see where the journey ends.