Last night’s Raw came to us after a string of disappointing episodes, capped off by another landmark edition of the best WWE-produced show going today, NXT Takeover: Respect. The dichotomy between the quality in WWE’s so-called ‘developmental’ system and what it puts out as its mainstream product is startling. Where NXT values simple beginning-middle-and-end storytelling, the bulk of which happens in the ring in quality matchups the crowd is salivating for, over on the main roster the worst of wrestling tropes, haphazard start-stop booking and constant reminders of how much better the good old days were seem to take top priority.
And just to get it out of the way: this episode was no respite from this unfortunate trend. In fact, quite the opposite: this was easily the most boring, nonsensical, disappointing and overall worst episode of Raw I’ve seen in some time.
Seriously, almost every angle going on right now either had no showing on Raw or took a turn for the worse. Let’s just get through this:
When I think of entertaining pro wrestling, many different things come to mind. Displays of technical in-ring prowess. Badass promos. Dramatic storylines. What I don’t think of is a dozen segments depicting three executives fumbling through a conference call with bad reception resulting in some groan-worthy “who’s on first” type confusion. These segments were the main thread throughout the episode, including cold-opening the show. The point of these segments was that Triple H specifically told Kane not to put himself in a match with Seth Rollins tonight, but he went ahead and did just that anyway. After about 15 minutes of accumulative time spent showing Triple H asking Kane to repeat what he just said, Haitch finally gets the picture and tells Kane to find a different opponent.
But AHA! You said Corporate Kane couldn’t fight Seth, but you didn’t say anything about DEMON Kane! That’s right, in a swerve a ten year old would have found condescending, Rollins’ opponent ended up being masked Kane, presumably leaving Triple H and Stephanie with nothing to say besides “aww, shucks! You sure out-thunk us this time, Kane! We said you couldn’t fight Rollins tonight, but we never said anything about you with a leotard and mask on!”
So we got the match we’re supposed to be excited for at Hell in a Cell last night, with an added, more exciting stipulation than we’re thus far expecting at the PPV. This would have been baffling enough booking, but as the cherry on top of it all, Kane wins! It isn’t hard to book a heel world champion, it really isn’t. He should garner wins through a variety of means; cleanly dominating, hook-or-by-crook cheating, it doesn’t matter, as long as he wins. But I’m having a hard time remembering the last time Rollins won any match since he rolled up a nearly-paralyzed Sting at Night of Champions last month. Why are we going to pay to see him get his comeuppance at Hell in a Cell, when he’s humiliated and emasculated on a weekly basis? Everything about the way Seth has been handled has been myopic and idiotic; he’s a once in a lifetime in-ring performer, and his promo skills have bloomed into being more than proficient, but his booking consistently makes him look like one of the biggest morons on the roster, who’s somehow fumbled his way through his championship reign.
The only entertaining part of this entire arc last night came from a group completely uninvolved in this particular story: The New Day. The way they adore Rollins is just hilarious—thrashing along with Rollins’ theme song as he came down the aisle was sadly, probably the highlight of the match for me. I also quite enjoyed New Day leading the beatdown on Kane toward the end of the lumberjack match, but unfortunately it was basically only there for Kane to rally against and clean house.
Sidebar: how many times have we heard JBL say “Seth Rollins has awakened a sleeping giant.” in the exact same cadence he did last night? The snippets of commentary they repeat ad nauseum really makes watching Raw feel more like playing WWE 2k15. At least no one was putting their educated feet to good use.
New Day rocks, but even they couldn’t save this segment. This was a chore to watch.
Anything But This
WWE has actually been doing a pretty good job of rebuilding Roman Reigns’ character since the plan to strap a rocket to his back a couple months before WrestleMania this year blew up in their face. He’s gone back to basics as a stoic asskicker rather than the Cena-lite wisecracker they tried to make him out to be a few months ago.
Last night may have undone quite a bit of that progress.
When Reigns first came out, I was actually thinking about how we can officially put the “Reigns sucks” chapter behind us because he seems to get positive reactions from every crowd from Corpus Christi to Chicago. But then…Roman opened his mouth. His promo wasn’t the most exciting thing in the world, but I also didn’t necessarily see anything wrong with it at first. He was getting that “What?” chants from the beginning, which he handled decently by calling them out, but while that usually diffuses them, it only exacerbated the problem here. Then as he continued to go on about his beef with Bray Wyatt, he got a deafening “Boring” chant, which is enough to throw off even the most comfortable stick men, let alone someone still trying to find their promo footing like Reigns. The promo completely went off the rails from there into cringey territory as Roman frequently took pauses, ostensibly to remember his lines, and trying to think of any way to get the crowd back on his side.
It didn’t help that his opponent was Braun Strowman, who hasn’t proven he can work at all and has participated in maybe 15 matches in his entire wrestling career. This was a plodding match where basically nothing noteworthy happened; it sure as hell didn’t get me excited for the planned match at Hell in a Cell.
Probably the most offensive thing in this match though came at the end, where the Chicago crowd was so bored by this segment they resorted to even insulting Bray Wyatt, reverting to the gauche “Husky Harris” chants from a few years ago. Seriously guys? Husky Harris chants in 2015? This is a large reason why even when something cool comes along, it never sticks. We get it, you’ve watched wrestling for a long time and read about it on the internet. Stop trying to make that the show.
I feel bad for Roman; I really do. He has unlimited potential and could be a great asset for WWE down the line—possibly even the face of the post-Cena era like they envision. The problem is that he’s in the exact situation his cousin The Rock was in in 1996-1997: he’s talented, sure, but he hasn’t earned a damn thing and therefore has no connection with the audience. The best thing for Roman at this point would be a heel turn. He could even turn back face in time for WrestleMania, but any kind of wrinkle in his character would go along way.
I’m not averse to the Wyatt/Reigns feud; actually, I’ve said a few times in these reviews that I think it’s a great way to rebuild both of them, but it’s simply been going on too long with too few developments to keep it interesting. Hopefully their match at Hell in a Cell is truly the end of the rivalry as they’re claiming.
The Downside of the Reality Era
Over the weekend, TMZ reported that Rusev and Lana were getting engaged IRL. I definitely didn’t think anything of it, as it’s pretty widely known among hardcore fans that Rusev and Lana are an item outside of kayfabe, but somehow it found its way into the never-ending love rectangle that’s been playing out on WWE television for the past few months.
There are two possible explanations I can think of for what’s going on here: 1) The TMZ story was a work, and it was planned to give some new life to the storyline, or 2) It caught WWE by surprise, and for some reason they panicked, thinking it would ruin the angle they had going on and shoehorned it in as a last-ditch effort to make kayfabe align with reality. For whatever reason. Again, nearly everyone knows Lana and Rusev are a real-life item, rendering this point moot, but I’m leaning toward this being what actually happened. It seems so strange that they’d bring it up at all, let alone in the quickly slapped together way they did. Here’s how each player in this storyline reacted to the news:
Ziggler seemingly did not care at all. He said via a Facebook video before Raw went on the air that the fling they had was fun (for her), but now it was just time to move on. I guess that’s one way to tie a bow around this saga that’s been taking up all of Ziggler’s on-screen time for the past four months: complete apathy, much like most people who sat through this angle.
We don’t know why, in kayfabe, Lana had such a sudden change of heart after all the bitterness and anger displayed between she and Rusev, but she blogged something about them both being survivors and them both being better off together. Doesn’t seem like much of a storyline explanation.
Summer lost her mind, but only after coming out with Rusev for his match last night and appearing completely oblivious to the entire ordeal, until after the match was over. She then plastered the TMZ article on the TitanTron and lambasted Rusev for sneaking around with Lana, and that was that.
Rusev, for his part, just kinda took the abuse from Summer.
So after all that. After months of this storyline that was equal parts agonizing and intriguing, it just suddenly ends. No real character development for anyone involved; Ziggler is still the too-cool-for-school girlfriend stealer who never really got his comeuppance, Summer was made to look like an idiot, and Rusev and Lana are apparently exactly back where they started before this whole mess began. I was a big proponent of this angle because at least it was something—for a show that constantly touts itself as being the ‘longest running episodic television program in history,’ there is rarely a whole lot of episodic television being shown. So I welcomed some classic rasslin’ week-to-week melodrama, the real aspect of the Attitude Era that kept it more interesting than any other era. But as things are wont to do these days, the whole thing just petered out with little explanation.
I hope I’m jumping the gun and something else happens next week, but I won’t be at all surprised if I’m not.
The Rest of the Card
- Yet again, by far the best part of the show (or in this episode’s case, the only redeeming segment whatsoever) was John Cena’s United States Championship Open Challenge. Ziggler answered the call this week after attempting to last week only to be taken out by the New Day. They had an excellent back and forth 15 minute match, including Ziggler tuning up the band for a superkick! It’ll be interesting to know where Ziggler goes now that the Rusev/Lana/Summer love rectangle has abruptly ended. He’s too talented to be used as marginally as he has been lately.
- The show opened with a remarkably boring promo from Ambrose and Orton, two fan favorites, that really set the pace for the rest of the show. The typically rowdy Chicago crowd just kinda died after this segment that also featured the New Day. It’s a testament to WWE’s ability to royally fuck everything up when a segment involving Orton, Ambrose and the New Day falls as flat at this did. New Day was absolutely hilarious in their pre-match promo, though. There’s always that.
- “Relive the 13 year rivalry between the Undertaker and Brock Lesnar! Chapter 1: 2014” Anyone else find that extremely strange?
- Dudley Boyz put a quick hurtin’ on the Ascension in a match that gave little to talk about. But sometimes these kinds of matchups are nice to prime the bigger stars for their PPV outings, and that’s exactly the purpose this match served.
- I actually thought the booking of Nikki Bella vs. Naomi was kinda clever, in that they knew the “we want Sasha” chants were coming, and even went so far to help spark them by showing footage from the excellent Ironman match from NXT Takeover: Respect between Sasha Banks and Bayley. This match was obviously only there to further push Sasha as the future breakout star of Team B.A.D., who will likely become increasingly jealous from Sasha’s increasingly positive reaction. Of course, in typical WWE fashion they killed the chants dead with Brie’s screeching on the mic, but I think it accomplished what they set out to do. The match itself, on the other hand, was definitely nothing to write home about.
- No complaints about the Owens/Kalisto match. Much like Dudley Boyz vs. Ascension, it was predictable, but served a purpose. The near complete lack of interaction between Ryback and Owens though, when they have an Intercontinental Championship match coming up at HIAC, is strange to say the least.
- I must admit, when I saw Neville come out I figured we were just going to get yet another configuration involving Neville, Lucha Dragons, Ascension and Stardust, but I was pleasantly surprised by the two makeshift teams created last night. So much so that I actually wouldn’t mind if they became fixtures of the tag division—it’s not like Neville, Cesaro, Sheamus and Barrett are doing anything else. It says a lot about Cesaro that his ability and connection with the crowd turned this filler into one of the more intriguing parts of the show.
- I’ve completely lost track of what Paige’s motivation is at this point. Is she just being a contradictory bitch for the sake of being a bitch? Divas revolution, right guys?! At least Nattie is getting some screen time now. That’s about the best thing I can say about this match (Alicia Fox and Brie Bella vs. Becky Lynch and Charlotte), and neither Paige nor Natalya were even in the match. So much for elevating the Divas title.
I can’t emphasize enough how bad of a show this was. We all know WWE traditionally hits a lull between Summerslam and Royal Rumble, but this isn’t a lull, it’s a fucking coma.