Football season. The most trying time of year for both WWE and its fans alike, as Raw, as if the ratings weren’t stagnant enough, has to go up against Monday Night Football for the next sixteen weeks. You’d think that this would force the writers to pull out all the stops and really go for broke during this four month stretch, but it’s also universally recognized as the creative nadir of WWE’s calendar year. With no big show (weeeeeelllllll…) to build up to until Royal Rumble in January, which in itself is really the kickoff to the buildup to April’s WrestleMania, WWE storylines tend to be aimless and repetitive in the fall.
September is also apparently Pediatric Cancer Month, which WWE must have just realized about halfway through the month, but nevertheless they adorned the entrance ramp with the Connor’s Cure insignia and used a golden middle rope reminiscent of WrestleMania IX. Philanthropy has been one of WWE’s larger focuses as of late, and while it’s easy to knock them for doing it mostly for themselves, the fact is that awareness and money are being raised for good causes and countless children are living out their dreams thanks to WWE, so regardless of the motive it’s hard to be too negative about it.
Last night was arbitrarily denoted the “season premiere” of Raw, despite never being taken off the air for any amount of time or having any semblance of a closing arc, ostensibly to provide easy, artificial hype to go up against the NFL. They had some other tricks up their sleeves, but as is far too often the case, it wasn’t the pieces but the execution where WWE faltered. To sum it up perfectly, look no further than this historic announcement: The Icon of WCW, Sting, was to compete in his first-ever match in the 22 year history of Raw, ……against the Big Show.
Time is a Flat Circle
Yes, serving as the main event was Sting vs. Big Show, a match as unappealing in 2015 as it was on Nitro in the 1990s (for the record, the last time these two had a one on one match was on the June 8, 1998 edition of WCW Monday Nitro). In some added nostalgia, Lillian announced Sting as “This is Sting!” ala Dave Penzer, which I thought was a nice touch. Clearly there had to be some shenanigans to get us through this match, as the workrate of a 7 foot, 400 pounder and a 56 year old was not going to wow on its own. Shenanigans did in fact come in the form of a Teddy Longian impromptu tag match (playa!) as both Seth Rollins and John Cena interfered in the match. Sting gets some rest, Rollins gets his comeuppance by both his opponents on Sunday, Scorpion Death Lock, everyone goes home happy.
This was about as standard a go-home main event can be, which is…fine, but considering the hype of it being Sting’s first-ever match on Raw, it’s hard to look at it as anything but a disappointment. The way they positioned it was strange, too—Cole said something along the lines of “look how far we’ve come in sports entertainment, when two Nitro staples are main eventing Raw in 2015.” That is basically the exact opposite of coming a long way. That is the definition of not making progress. “Look how far we’ve come, running a main event that wouldn’t have been out of place in 1996!” Out of curiosity though, are Sting and Big Show the only two active members of the roster who competed on Nitro? We have Booker T as an analyst/commentator, Ric Flair shows up once in a while (including last night), and Jushin “Thunder” Liger now apparently has a working relationship with the company, but as far as the active roster, I believe they are the only two left. Interesting little tidbit of information.
It’s still very cool to see Sting, but the booking surrounding him as been very scattershot and not in any way cohesive. Which I guess is fitting. Welcome to WWE!
Possibly the best part of putting all the focus on Sting was that it gave us respite from The Seth Rollins Show. Don’t get me wrong, Rollins is one of the best things going today, but in the past few weeks they’ve relied almost entirely on him, grossly overexposing him and boring viewers. Raw was well played in that respect, spending a large amount of time building up Sting for the younger members of the audience who may not know just how important to the business he really is, and letting the current “man” take a break from being in front of the camera for a bit.
There are rumors that Cena vs. Rollins for the United States Championship will be the main event of Night of Champions, while Sting vs. Rollins for the World Heavyweight Championship may actually open the show. This could easily be put into the story, so it would be a little bit easier to swallow: The Authority doesn’t want Sting to win the World Heavyweight Championship, so they ensure Rollins is fresh and 100% to fight him. But of course, this will likely happen without explanation, and the viewers will be left scratching their heads as to why a secondary title is being defended over the richest prize in professional wrestling history.
I have to hand it to WWE for treating last night’s Divas Championship match like a big deal. There was a good promo package where Nikki boasted about her year as Divas Champion—hilariously overwrought and filled with stock footage of the everyman enjoying their past year, but it was a good package nonetheless, and the fact that there was a package at all for the Divas Championship shows you how far we’ve come. They hyped it multiple times throughout the show, it was the hour 2 main event, and Charlotte’s dad Ric Flair was even there, adding to the importance of the matchup.
Unfortunately, the Divas Revolution still has a long way to go. It’s clear they are trying to take what works in NXT and port it to the main roster, but they are missing the key point of what made the NXT women’s division so special: show, don’t tell. On NXT we were never told that the women were going to start being important, and how special they are. They just simply went out there with relatable, interesting gimmicks, and put on quality matches, which is really all you need to do to get something over. In usual WWE fashion they are overthinking it.
Last night was a step in the right direction though. The match had a big-fight feel, and there were actual consequences: either Charlotte continues the Flair legacy by dethroning Team Bella, or Nikki Bella etches her name in the record books as the longest reigning Divas Champion of all time. The match itself was solid—nothing mind-blowing, but a good match that easily held my attention.
Then there was the ending: The Bellas attempted their tried-and-true twin magic routine to get Nikki out of a sticky situation, but it backfired when Charlotte pinned Brie to win the title. Stephanie McMahon came out and declared Charlotte the winner via disqualification, and set up a rematch at Night of Champions where if Nikki loses for any reason, including count-out or DQ, she will lose the Divas Championship.
For the record, I loved the idea of twin magic actually backfiring for once. I can’t off the top of my head think of any time that’s ever happened, and in a lot of ways it’s the perfect way for Nikki to get her comeuppance. But rules only matter as plot devices, and ignoring the fact that Nikki has won dozens of matches over the years using twin magic and no official has said so much as a word about it, the one time it ends up going in the other direction, the decision is immediately reversed. But hey, then again, I was actually pretty stoked when Charlotte “won,” only to feel angry and disappointed when the decision was reversed, which is the entire point of the Dusty Finish, so I guess good job WWE. You got me.
Overall, the Divas Revolution isn’t perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than where we were six months ago.
The Rest of the Card
- Continuing with the ladies, Sasha Banks and Paige wrestled for the third time in as many shows, but I’ll be damned if I’m ever going to complain about that. Another really fun match between the two with—gasp!—a definitive, non-rollup finish! Paige has undergone something of a losing streak as of late, and commentators have made mention that she must be feeling a little forgotten in the midst of the revolution she helped kickstart, so here’s hoping we get heel, lone wolf Paige soon, because that’s where she’s at her best.
- Oh my dear lord, that Ryback promo was one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to endure. I’ve talked multiple times already today about WWE missing the point, but this is a shining example. Ryback actually started getting himself over with the whole crazy meathead bully schtick in the Rybaxel days both on Twitter and in segments on the show, so when he’s finally in a prominent position on the show they…have him talk about how some borderline paranormal self-help book changed his life? Ryback is stuck in an identity crisis right now, teetering between “feed me more” and “hand me a Kleenex because I’m about to get emotional.” These are two inherently incompatible character traits for a pro wrestler. Stick with what made Ryback a fan favorite: being a meathead who beats the crap out of people.
- Kevin Owens was hilarious here, though. Actually bringing The Secret out to tear it down both metaphorically and literally was a nice touch. Methinks if Owens becomes Intercontinental Champion on Sunday, the stock in that division will immediately rise far past where it is now with The Big Guy. Win Owens Win!
- The Rusev/Ziggler/Summer/Lana love rectangle has hit some roadblocks along the way, the latest being Lana’s real-life injury preventing her from getting physical. It’s a tough break for a story that is a hard sell to a lot of people to begin with—and treading water like it had to last night doesn’t do it any favors. To their credit, though, they are marching along with advancing the story, and actually offering some layered storytelling here. Is Ziggler trying to get into Summer’s head to help himself triumph over the Bulgarian Brute? Or is he just an out and out scumbag trying to court her while Lana’s on the shelf? Cheesy or not, it’s a storyline, which is often in short supply these days.
- Miz TV was something of a disaster, but the juxtaposition of the supernatural Wyatts in one of the most “wrestling” segments I can think of—a in-show talk show—was an interesting one. I do dig that they are keeping the surprise for who the ‘third man’ is gonna be with Ambreigns, but it better be a good one. For my money, Samoa Joe would be ideal, but as long as it’s not someone inconsequential like Kane or Mark Henry, I’ll be happy.
- What else is there to say about the New Day? These guys are being themselves and having a ton of fun in front of the camera, which is the easiest way for an audience to connect with wrestlers. It’s simply a blast to watch them, and New Day vs. the Dudley Boyz is easily the most intriguing tag team feud of the past five years. As an aside: if you haven’t watched the “Table for 3” special with the New Day that aired after Raw yet, watch it now. I didn’t think it was even possible, but it made me like New Day that much more.
A disappointingly weak Raw considering it was the so-called “season premiere” and was the first week of the year it went up against serious competition in the NFL. Nothing was particularly terrible, though (outside of Ryback impersonating Elvis in Memphis…groan), and there were some bright spots.