After a string of merely decent-to-good episodes, WWE hit a home run with last night’s Raw, filled with debuts, returns, and destruction. And on a night like that, the most interesting part was the Divas segment!
It’s hard to put into words how well this segment was put together, especially when you consider that it was a Divas segment that usually barely gets any thought put behind it. But here we are, with a new crop of female wrestlers introduced to the main roster by Stephanie McMahon herself. It was sort of weird to have Stephanie, one of the biggest heels in the company, against Team Bella, but The Authority’s schtick has always been “what’s best for business” and sometimes that just so happens to align with what the fans want, I guess.
It’s been long rumored that the “can Paige find anyone to help her stop Team Bella?” story would culminate in something like this, and it didn’t disappoint. Steph introduced Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair (good call to have Charlotte debut in Flair country) to ally with Paige, and after Naomi and Tamina got involved, The Boss of NXT Sasha Banks came to their aid, instantly creating three interesting factions in the Divas division.
This is exactly the shot in the arm the Divas division needed. Sasha, Becky and Charlotte can go, and are no strangers to having the most compelling match on the card. The fresh matchups that will come out of this are tantalizing—I’ve been salivating at the thought of a champion vs. champion Nikki Bella/Sasha Banks matchup for a while now, and Paige vs. any of the NXT women will almost guaranteed be a great match. Alicia Fox can work as well, and one has to think Brie and Naomi will be elevated at least somewhat by being in the ring with great workers such as Shasha, Becky and Charlotte. Lots of excitement surrounding the division all around—Cole even referred to it as “women’s wrestling!” Somebody pinch me!
As far as how it was executed, I can’t help but feel the introduction was a little anticlimactic, and a run-in, action first, “who the hell is that?!” kind of surprise debut would have been more exciting. But I totally understand why they did it the way they did. Not everybody watches NXT (shame!), so you need to explain to the crowd who they are (though, for what it’s worth, the crowd in Atlanta seemed to know exactly who they were. And when’s the last time a women’s segment not involving a bikini contest or a bra and panties match got an arena-wide “this is awesome” chant?). The whole trio of trios setup is certainly intriguing and can set up stories for months to come if they decide to run with it.
Here’s the part in the article where I confess my undying love for Sasha Banks, and explain how much I marked out at seeing her debut last night. I have been watching NXT since before the Network (::itches neckbeard, wipes Cheeto dust off lips to take a swig of Mountain Dew::), and thus have been following Sasha for a couple years now, and ever since she debtued the whole Boss gimmick, she has been one of the most compelling wrestlers on the NXT roster, Diva or otherwise. She pulls off the gimmick perfectly, and looks and moves so comfortably in the ring. She has a quality few wrestlers possess, and even fewer female wrestlers; that “it factor.” Plus, she’s beautiful and she’s from Boston just like me and likes anime and we’re gonna get married okay?!?
Not to take anything away from Becky and Charlotte, who are excellent wrestlers in their own right. Charlotte truly has the genetics to revitalize the division, as for someone who has actually only been wrestling for a few years, she is a total natural. And Becky has been around the block in the indie world many times, and brings a smoothness in the ring and energy like few can.
And the crowd was so into it! Half the fun of pro wrestling is feeling the energy of the crowd, and seeing the wrestlers feed off of it, which is a large reason why Divas matches don’t usually even get out of the starting gates. But these women excited a historically non-smarky crowd more than just about any other segment tonight. I’m just really, really excited about this, is what I’m trying to say. It was pulled off tremendously, and the last image of Charlotte locking in the Figure Eight, Becky with the armbar and Sasha with the Banks Statement in the middle of the ring to the Divas of yesteryear is a very encouraging symbol of things to come.
Again, hard to overstate how tremendous this was. WWE might finally have the right combination of talent and attitude to create possibly the greatest women’s division in its history. Bravo.
Can we just take a moment to appreciate the fact that the most interesting segments on Raw was the Diva segment and the United States Championship angle? I know we’ve been spoiled with excellent US Championship stories for a while now, but it’s important to appreciate it after years of the championship meaning next to nothing. The story has been pretty simple here for a while, but it has resulted in some excellent wrestling, and this was no exception.
They way they’ve incorporated Cesaro into this Owens/Cena beef is smart, because it keeps the audience from forgetting about him after Tyson Kidd’s injury, and it is providing a platform for him to prove that what he says is true: he doesn’t connect, he delivers. And at this point I don’t even think Vince McMahon could deny that. This time it was Cesaro facing off against Rusev, who originally answered the open challenge, and Owens, who once again stuck his nose in Cena’s business. It was a little surprising to see Cena forgo his usual 15 minute speech about how proud he is to be American and how much the United States Championship means to him, but I’m all for that decision. It gave a lot more time to the two stellar matches that came out of this setup: Rusev vs. Owens vs. Cesaro, then Rusev vs. Cena as a result of that triple threat.
This is how you use three hours of Raw correctly. Longer, more complex storylines punctuated by excellent matches with a lot of time to build to a good finish. If they did this kind of thing every week rather than resorting to RAW is RECAPS and commercials, I would never complain about the move to three hours again.
The triple threat was excellent, as you’d expect. All three guys involved are big guys who can wrestle their asses off. Cesaro is just so incredibly smooth in the ring…his springboard spinning uppercut looked like it was straight out of a video game. He’s so good that Cole actually referred to his match with Cena last week as a “match of the year contender,” which I thought was a banned phrase according to that leaked commentator memo. Anyway, Cesaro especially thrives in a triple threat environment, because his sheer brute strength is showcased in all sorts of three-way combos. He even busted out some new-ish moves, like the corkscrew over the top rope to the outside, to which Lawler claimed Cesaro was reinventing himself. I think how the commentators react is a big indicator as to where they’re going with people, and they seemed to be putting Cesaro over huge last night.
In the end, Rusev gets the victory with a superkick about 10 minutes after Owens bailed on the fight, which caused some conflicting feelings. On one hand, I love that a high-ish profile match ended with a normal move instead of a finisher. It helps things on so many levels: It puts over how exhausted both men were by the end of the contest, and adds to the feeling that anything can happen and the match can end at any time. On the other hand, since it almost never happens, I can’t help but feel it doesn’t look great for Cesaro. But I’ll keep an open mind about it, because if it’s a sign of things to come, that’s amazing.
My only complaint with these open challenge fights is that you know how they’re going to end. It would have been a shame to have Rusev eat a pin, and you knew Cena wasn’t gonna lose just six days before his title defense Sunday at Battleground, so a shmozz finish is about the only thing that could have happened. And of course Owens was going to be involved in that. But predictability isn’t the worst thing, especially when the easily predicted outcome is the best outcome.
Razing Suplex City All Alone
We were treated to another Brock Lesnar appearance, which of course means we were treated to another godlike Paul Heyman promo. It’s been said a million times, but the man could sell snow to an eskimo. A ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves. A…thing to a person who ostensibly has no use for that thing. He turned the fact that Lesnar is the challenger, not the champion, into a huge spectacle to behold and something not to be missed by reminding us just what happens when Lesnar is a challenger: he wins. He takes championships. He breaks streaks. He beats people up. And that’s what’s going to happen at Battleground. There hasn’t been anyone in the history of the business better at straight up selling a match than Paul Heyman.
Rollins has evolved to the point where he can hold his own, though (barring a small trip over his words, which he recovered well from. Not as well as Owens on NXT a few weeks ago, but satisfactorily). I loved when he pointed out that while Lesnar seems to be using the destroyed Cadillac as a symbol of what he’s going to do to Rollins, Rollins only needs one symbol: the WWE Championship. The symbol of excellence. To which, Brock uttered his first live-mic words in months: “I’ll take you to Suplex City now, bitch!” which was pretty funny. I wonder how Brock feels about a small piece of trash talk perfectly caught by the cameras at WrestleMania becoming the biggest catchphrase in WWE this side of “Yes!”. And to people hating on WWE for going overboard with it and making shirts and references to it: please. In 1996 I doubt you were like “Man, the WWF will milk anything. They even have Austin 3:16 shirts now!” Wouldn’t you rather something that organically got over rather than something force fed?
It was also hilarious when Lesnar just emasculated Kane by laughing at the thought of getting into a fight with the Undertaker’s “baby brother” when he’s the one who ended the goddamn streak. How’s that for long-term continuity?!
Anyway. This all led up to a contract signing main event, which is possibly the most overused trope in professional wrestling, but whatever. It means more Heyman, Lesnar and Rollins, so it could be a dance-off and it’d be appointment television. All night Rollins and Kane were seen conspiring for some master plan to keep Lesnar at bay, which turned out to be…taping the handle of an axe to the bottom of the table. Great idea, geniuses! That’s the best the Architect of The Shield and the sadistic Demon could come up with?! Kane probably happily dreams of more violent things in his sleep. I am actually really into the dichotomy of Rollins being a ruthless, asshole heel, while at the same time being one of the biggest idiots on the roster, though. He trusted Randy Orton before Mania even though Orton pretty much said “I’m going to turn on you and hurt you.” Then he thinks an axe handle (a literal axe handle, not the wrestling move) would be enough to temper The Beast, even though it failed miserably last week, and that was when he had more backup!
Rollins is back up against the corner now, and it’s a lot more interesting to see how Rollins gets out of this without the Authority than it is to see how Lesnar gets past all of the Authority, the side of this story they’ve been running some variant of for the better part of two years. J&J were taken out of commission last week, and this week Lesnar broke Kane’s ankle, leaving Rollins to best Lesnar all alone (Triple H and Stephanie have apparently washed their hands of the situation, eager to see if Rollins will sink or swim). It’s pretty awesome that Lesnar eliminated the threat of the Authority by just hurting all of them to the point where they can’t or won’t keep coming back.
Which brings forth this question: Is the Authority gone for good? I certainly hope so, as I think it’s served its purpose by now. Rollins has become a legit big-time star out of it, and I think he can move on from here without them. Time will tell, though, if it’s gone for good, or just for this match to put additional pressure on Rollins to find a way to succeed. Either way, Rollins/Lesnar at Battleground should be a doozy.
Embrace the Strange
Sometimes I struggle to find two main points to expand in my reviews, but tonight I easily have four and probably could have done more. This was a small segment, but a significant one. Cody Rhodes/Stardust has been missing from WWE television since the passing of his father, the legendary Dusty Rhodes. He returned last night with a backstage promo worthy of any Marvel or DC supervillain. Seriously, I think this might be the best promo Cody has cut as Stardust (loved the reference to the line from his daddy, too). They are doubling down on the gimmick instead of abandoning it, and I think that’s the right call&madsh;the character still has a lot to offer, especially since they are evolving it from a Goldust offshoot into its own megalomaniac, space-based supervillain vibe.
I saw a lot of folks upset that they didn’t revert to Cody Rhodes after the passing of his father. Why? Why scrap months of character development and the rumored Summerslam angle with Stephen Amell just to play the tired, sympathetic face angle? Stardust as a character has a lot more to offer than that if they make it a bit more DC villain and a bit less comedy jobber. And has anyone stopped to think that maybe Cody likes this gimmick, and he’s not being shackled by it against his will? Cody loves comic books and video games, realms where Stardust would be a perfect fit. And at the same time, it’s a nod to both his brother (in name and appearance) and his father (in name; Dusty was nicknamed Stardust early in his career). And for anyone saying the Stardust gimmick is too silly in light of Dusty’s passing, well, lord knows Dusty wasn’t an eccentric character!
Also, kudos to WWE for basically just going with the whole “Mighty Mouse” gimmick everyone was dreading without anyone really even realizing it. He was never going to literally have Mickey Mouse ears attached to his head, but his gimmick is for all intents and purposes a superhero, and it works. If they decide to turn Neville/Stardust into a full-fledged feud, it could do wonders for both guys’ characters.
Well done promo by Stardust, and a nice little match that provides room for a story to grow. Keep your eye on this one.
The Rest of the Card
- It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows on Raw, though, as we had to sit through the IWC nightmare match of Ryback and Randy Orton vs. Sheamus and Big Show. The best thing I can say about this match is that at least it got all four of these guys out of the way in one segment. The Miz, once again, saved this from being a complete trainwreck with his hilarious commentary.
- At first I was left wholly underwhelmed by the Reigns/Wyatt/Ambrose segment, but upon further reflection I think it was the right call. Reigns got the better of Wyatt by attacking him during his entrance because despite trying to call him out to fight like a man for weeks, Wyatt has not answered the call. So Reigns took matters into his own hands. Simple, but to the point. Still looking forward to their match at Battleground despite the somewhat one dimensional booking of the story.
- New Day seems to have lost a bit of their steam since losing the Tag Team Championships, which is a shame. I like New Day, and I like Prime Time Players, but they aren’t exactly giving us much to sink our teeth into here. I also question the booking of this match: In a segment that one would think exists to get the tag feud over, you have Mark Henry score a pin on the challengers? Riiiiight… New Day did re-enact the “ohhhhhh” rap battle gif though, so that was hilarious.
- King Barrett vs. R-Truth: Two talented guys who given the right storyline I can really get behind. A bottom of the barrel jobber feud over a Burger King crown and a plunger scepter is not one such storyline.
- Tough Enough is a terrible show this season and this introduction was weeks late anyway, but I’ll never complain about seeing Lita, who still looks gorgeous these days.
Now this is how you book a three hour Raw. This was one of the best episodes I’ve seen in a while, and it was booked solidly from beginning to end. The women stole the show and kicked off a revolution, and they were surrounded by excellent wrestling and good storytelling on either side. There are some programs that seem to have stalled or never were interesting (New Day/PTP, King Barrett/R-Truth), but outside of those this show couldn’t have gotten much better.