Cody Rhodes and CM Punk electric face off and three more WWE Raw highlights ahead of Royal Rumble

WWE began Royle Rumble week in entertaining fashion with the last episode of Monday Night Raw before Saturday’s eagerly anticipated premium live event.

Though much of the action in the ring was subpar, there was one fantastic match as well as some fantastic brawling. Additionally, the big segments advertised for the show certainly gave people plenty to talk about afterwards.

Here are the biggest and best moments from Monday’s show.

The long-awaited stand off

The face-to-face everyone had been waiting for since hell froze over and CM Punk returned to WWE at Survivor Series finally came to pass as on Raw, with Cody Rhodes joining him in the ring.

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It was an electric segment, as expected. Given near 15 minutes, both stars – and boy did they feel like stars – were able to build their promos, and the start of their inevitable feud, with pathos and sincerity. This was a slow burn promo in which both men paid respect to the other and focussed on winning Saturday’s Rumble before the tension slowly crept to the forefront.

Then things got spicy as Punk claimed to be more like Rhodes’ blue collar father, the late, great Dusty Rhodes, than Cody himself. A bigger ‘American dream.’ That’s when Rhodes hit back with a retort years in the making, shoving the pipe bomb back where it came from and proclaiming he was more ‘punk’ than CM Punk for actually succeeding in changing the wrestling landscape for the better.

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There was also the added dimension of Punk bringing up the anxiety of Rhodes potentially losing out on the Mania main event against Roman Reigns due to a returning mega star just after being put on the cover of the 2k video game.

Punk pointed to himself as said star but the rumours of the The Rock – the same man who took Punk’s main event away from him just after he was also put on the cover – returning was the obvious elephant in the room.

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The magic was palpable as the pair came nose-to-nose to see out the segment. It was a thrilling conclusion to cap-off a captivating segment that laid the seeds for a mega feud down the line and a pule-raising stand-off in the Rumble itself.

Yet, it feels like they can do even better. At times, especially with the set up for the ‘more CM Punk than you’ line, it felt more of a fabricated collaboration, a written script, than a heated, real argument. The promo equivalent of a match that’s more of a dance than a fight, which slightly undermined the conflict.

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It was obviously an objective success given the molten hot reactions both men received and with what has been set up for the immediate and long-term future. But when those two are on the microphone you expect fireworks and we got merely sparklers.

Rollins makes a promise

Seth Rollins kicked off the show with the expected announcement that he did indeed suffer a serious knee injury in his victory over Jinder Mahal last week. One that, if he underwent surgery to fix, would put him on the shelf for three-four months.

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Such a time frame on the shelf would rule him out for Wrestlemania 40, a show he could very well main event the first night of. The World Heavyweight Champion refused to accept such a fate as he galvanised the crowd with a stirring speech of defiance.

Rollins doesn’t ‘give a damn’ what the doctors say and promised the fans, as well as the antagonistic Gunther, that he would do all he could to make it to Mania. It was a promo of great fire and emotion, one made even better by Gunther’s honourable heel stance.

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The Intercontinental Champion didn’t take a cheap shot but instead told Rollins he would win the Rumble, challenge him at Mania and target his damaged knee to get the win. An elegant segment that not only set Rollin’s journey in motion but also made Gunther yet another legitimate contender to win the Rumble alongside Punk, Rhodes and Drew McIntyre.

Gable and Ivar steal the show

On a night where many of the matches were mired by sloppy work or whacky antics, you can trust in Chad Gable to deliver a fantastic match.

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It will come to no surprise to anyone who remembers the thrilling Viking Rules match between Alpha Academy and Viking Raiders last year, but Gable and Ivar enjoy excellent chemistry, with the latter showing out, too.

The match combined big, hard-hitting moves with delicious counter wrestling as Gable looked to turn the behemoth’s offence to his advantage. Gable’s immaculate German suplex from the top rope was a particular draw-dropping highlight.

It was Ivar who picked up the win, though, after a distraction from Valhalla allowed the viking to drop Gable on his head and hit a massive ‘Doomsault’ for the 1-2-3.

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Glorious chaos

The fun New Day and Imperium tag team encounter ended with a double count-out but this was far from the disappointing conclusion that finish usually entails. The action did not end with the bell, in fact it got even more chaotic and dangerous.

The two teams continued to brawl as they made their way into the crowd with frantic intensity. A returning Giovanni Vicci stepped up the violence with a chair shot to Kofi Kingston and only a last gasp save from Xavier Woods prevented what would have been a knockout shot from Ludwig Kaiser.

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The fight made its way to an elevated platform which eventually saw all four men tumble through tables in a thrilling spot. With Kingston to face Gunther next week, this feud continues to build steam.

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