Last week’s Raw instilled some cautious optimism after a series of extremely discouraging misses. I didn’t get to review it, but we’re back for the October 2nd edition as we march toward Survivor Series.
The most standard opening promo ever cut: Roman kicks the show off and he’s very happy to be here in Denver! ::pause for polite applause:: Seth interrupts the bare-bones babyface promo to express that he feels as though he’s better than him. But wait—the Authority interrupts Seth and Roman’s grandstanding to take pleasure in announcing that this match will take place, but not here tonight–at Survivor Series! Triple H also makes a “how high are you people” double entendre, which I guess means The Authority is heel this week.
There’s always been this strange dichotomy in the post-kayfabe world where heels can revel in someone’s misery one segment then be interviewed about the virtues of helping sick children smile in the next, but the Authority take it to another level—they seem to flip flop from heel to face week to week, and sometimes hour to hour.
Anyway, they’re bad guys this week and deprive the crowd of the match precisely zero able-minded adults thought they were actually going to get, postponing it to Survivor Series. This was a painfully by the numbers segment, but at least it got us where we needed to go quickly enough and into an actual wrestling exhibition 15 minutes into a wrestling program.
Ziggler vs. Owens gets gorgeous: Kevin Owens and Dolph Ziggler are two very capable wrestlers who have a very capable wrestling match. The actual value in this otherwise pointless (yet entertaining—not every match has to have an explicit point so long as it’s good, so this one actually checks off two boxes while far too many can’t even manage one) match is Tyler Breeze continuing the MIND GAMES and GETTING INTO ZIGGLER’S HEAD by sitting ringside sipping top-shelf margs with Summer Rae. Ziggler can’t overcome the MIND GAMES, giving KO the win, and Breeze does his “taking a selfie with passed out wrestlers” or, as Michael Cole so eloquently put it, “a hunter posing with his game”
Cesaro Section in the Cosmic Wasteland: The Cesaro Section is unwavering and in full force in Denver, god bless ’em. About the only thing that’s going to get Cesaro to break through the glass ceiling he’s currently smushed up against is a Daniel Bryan-esque flat-out refusal by the fans to accept his current ranking within the company, so it’s encouraging to see the support continue, even if it is mostly just one fan xeroxing 500 copies of a Cesaro Section sheet of paper and handing it to a bunch of like-minded-to-apathetic fellow spectators. Whatever works.
He has an opponent tonight in The Miz, who seems to almost be a victim of his talents lately, as he’s been relegated to interviewer and brand ambassador rather than wrestler as of late. This match does little to alleviate those concerns though, as much like the Ziggler vs. Owens match earlier this match serves mostly as a backdrop to progress a fledgling Cesaro vs. Stardust program, which has the potential to be a lot of fun if done right and given enough time. Spoiler alert: it probably won’t. I hate to be overtly negative about a feud that hasn’t even started yet, especially featuring two guys I really like, but WWE’s track record with both of these guys in recent months has been less than stellar.
The match itself was fun for the time it was given, including a ridiculously long Cesaro Swing into a Sharpshooter for the win. One of these times either Cesaro or his opponent is just straight up gonna blow chunks after that move. Cesaro even looked like he needed a minute to calibrate his equilibrium after that one.
Soul harvest: Bray feels like they’ve turned a corner with this Undertaker feud, finally shedding the never-ending and aimless beef with Roman Reigns in sights of something far more up his alley. He is an interesting character in that he seems almost awkward lusting after titles of status within the company. And there are absolutely no better characters for him to do battle with than the only other successful paranormal wrestling characters in history, The Undertaker and Kane.
This segment was, in a phrase, the fucking raddest shit ever. Rotting carcass of the Undertaker and the scorched body of Kane? Harvesting the souls of the Brothers of Destruction? Wyatt controlling Undertaker’s lightning and Kane’s fire in the same instant!? At first it seemed like Wyatt may have just been bluffing in his claims that he harvested their souls, but using their super powers seems like a pretty clear indication that for once, he actually accomplished what he claimed he would. Add this to Wyatt possessing and showing off the hat and mask of ‘Taker and Kane respectively on SmackDown, and finally Bray Wyatt is the true supernatural threat he always should have been.
Okay, so if there was any critique of this segment, it would be that this is the kind of thing that comes off as amazing to wrestling fans who have been conditioned for years or even decades to suspend their disbelief for things like this, and the goddamn corniest, hokiest garbage that sports entertainment naysayers point to when they laugh over the lame, fake shit us wrestling fans spend so much time on. But hey, screw you guys. I’m sure you marked out when Daenerys’ dragon razed everyone at Daznak’s pit, so I don’t see how this is any different.
One bit of administrative housekeeping: In the opening promo HHH made it clear the concept of the traditional Survivor Series match is 5 on 5 this year (it seems to flip flop between 4v4 and 5v5), so who joins the Wyatts if they are indeed building toward an elimination tag at the upcoming Survivor Series PPV? Or will it simply be a “non-traditional” Survivor Series match?
Tag team division shows signs of life: Lucha Dragons got a brief promo package, so it seems like they’re moving forward with trying to quickly build them as a credible contender to the New Day. Remind me again why WWE brought back the Dudley Boy? It’s fine—good even—that they didn’t take the titles off the New Day, but they seem to be stuck in the Rob Van Dam gear where they’re only used in “remember these guys? Haha, I love it Maggle!” nostalgia ploys. Hell, they’re first ballot Hall of Famers, objectively the most successful tag team in recorded wrestling history in terms of championships won and easily one of the most popular teams ever, and they weren’t even booked for Raw tonight!
In any event, Lucha Dragons face off against Wade Bad News King Barrett and King Mr. Money in the Bank Sheamus, who seem to officially be “a thing” now, so good for them. I wonder when they’re gonna make it Facebook official. I like the Barrett/Sheamus pairing in the sense that it’s two perennial underachievers who seem like they should be doing bigger and better things so they may as well at least use whatever clout they still have to bolster a tag team division that while it isn’t exactly on life support anymore, still hasn’t completely found its footing. I’ve also basically completely given up on the idea of Barrett being anything significant in WWE after so many start-stop pushes and unfortunately timed injuries, so this is as good a spot as any I guess.
They’re pretty good heat-seekers, though, so it’s a smart pairing to try to get Lucha Dragons some easy babyface momentum. Sheamus cutting off the crowd counting along with the Ten Beats of the Whatever was a nice touch. The Dragons get a clean win after Kalisto hits the Salida Del Sol (or, as Cole called it: “Whoa, look at this!” Who says he isn’t a modern day JR?) in a surprising, but very welcome ending to the match. Possibly the best part? There wasn’t another tag team on commentary as the only means to push a story, which has seemed to be the case in this division for months. An aspect of a story was told in the ring, and it was a good one.
Viva MexAmerica: It isn’t often I mark out upon seeing Jack Swagger on my screen, but this was one of those times. Which brings the grand total to one. I’m a sucker for continuity in a show that seems to have the memory of a fruit fly, so seeing Swagger grill Zeb Colter over his newfound infatuation with our neighbors to the south was very welcome. “I’d even ask Canadians to join us if they weren’t so simple minded” #REKT!
First they let me down by not having del Rio debut a customized MexAmerican Championship title, then just when they had me thoroughly enjoying a segment involving Jack Swagger and Alberto del Rio, they go and put the latter in a match with R-Truth. Can’t win ’em all, I guess. The match was what it was…alright, I confess, I honestly wrote that line before the match even started, but let’s be honest, any one of us could put this match together in our sleep.
I like del Rio having an impact finisher rather than relying solely on the Cross Armbreaker, as most babyfaces in WWE simply never tap out, but his double foot stomp is a move that seems like it’d be easily countered by…not…sitting up? It seems like it’d be pretty strenuous to basically do an upside down crunch in that position and I’m not sure why anyone would involuntarily do that to begin with, let alone when your opponent is above you on the top rope. Maybe they’re just trying to get a better view.
Fatal four way: Hi, my name is Patrick, I’ve been a wrestling fan for 20 years and my favorite part of Raw right now are the Divas segments. This is in no small part due to my unfettered love for Sasha Banks, but about 60% of the division is solid to great right now, which is more than we’ve been able to say possibly ever. It’s truly unchartered territory to have a match to determine the #1 contender for the Divas Championship main event the second hour, and actually earn genuine, palpable excitement from the crowd.
They seem to have gotten the memo that the crowd does, in fact, want Sasha, and starting on SmackDown there has seemingly been an effort to exploit that. It was evident that they wanted Sasha to look like the leader of Team B.A.D., calling the shots and even coming out to her GOAT theme music instead of Naomi’s.
A usual critique of triple threat and fatal four way matches in WWE is that it usually breaks down into a series of one on one matches; at least normally the competitors who are “nursing injuries” or “wisely letting the other competitors go at it” are off screen so you kinda forget that’s what’s going on for a minute, but Brie kneeling in the corner like a glitched out video game character clutching her nose for a solid three minutes did no favors for the suspension of disbelief. When she’s going up against Sasha Banks, Paige and Becky Lynch though, it’s no surprise Brie is simply outclassed.
Has nobody really told Brie yet that as a heel she shouldn’t try to milk out Daniel Bryan “Yes!” chants yet? Should…should I tell her?
Bitching about Brie aside, this was a very good match even if the outcome couldn’t have been more predictable. They’ve obviously been building toward a Paige/Charlotte showdown and that’s what we’re gonna get. Predictable outcomes aren’t inherently bad. If the story’s a good one, reaching the logical conclusion can be just as or more satisfying than an out-of-left-field swerve. Just look at the main event of WrestleMania XXX.
A Divas match on Raw got a “this is awesome” chant and an in-ring Divas promo actually got heat, and this old cynic’s heart grew three times that day.
Show of horns: Rollins did some recruiting throughout the night: he bribed Kevin Owens by teasing a WrestleMania champion vs. champion match, and then he bumped into the New Day—a full strength New Day no less, as Xavier Woods is back!—who were happy to join his cause. The buddy comedy-esque side story of New Day loving Rollins and even getting him to reluctantly take part in some of their shenanigans is one of the best parts of Raw currently.
The day the New Day breaks up will be a bleak day for humanity. Them rocking out to Owens and Rollins’ themes got genuine, non-ironic belly laughs out of me, which is rare from Raw.
Rollins did his homework and found himself some partners, but Reigns was nowhere to be found after the promo that opened the show, making the lead-in for the main event “who’s gonna help Roman?”
Out first is…the Usos! I’m far from the world’s biggest Usos fan, but I really liked this, most of all the worried reaction it elicited from the heel team. As I mentioned earlier, anything to bring the tag division out of the doldrums is cool with me. What I didn’t like was the commentary team acting like they’d just seen a ghost five seconds before shilling the fact that the Usos were going to be on Sportscenter tomorrow night, graphic and all. “OH MY GOD IT’S THE USOS I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY’RE BACK IN THE COMPANY and be sure to catch them tomorrow night on ESPN!”
The team is rounded out unsurprisingly by Ryback (blah) and Ambrose (cool). JBL refers to Big E stomps in the corner as the “Unicorn Stampede” and instantly I forgive him for the countless insanely out of date references he’s made all night that no one in their target demographic understands. And for Cole’s part, the Uso return wouldn’t be complete without his legally obligated “shades of daddy Rikishi!” reference.
Being an elimination tag match the accelerated finisher generation and greatly lowered stamina rules are definitely in play as we have finishers and eliminations happening left and right (MAGGLE!). Xavier’s glorious in-ring return lasts all of ten seconds as he’s promptly eliminated by Uso #1.
We get to the point where it’s Rollins and Owens vs. the AmBros and suddenly I find myself wondering how I made it this far in life without a Rollins/Owens tag team. Owens battering Ambrose while Rollins yells “WHY WON’T YOU DIE, DEAN?” is just good TV any way you slice it.
Eventually, poetically, it comes down to The Shield. It’s been something they’ve been revisiting with interesting frequency lately, first in the impromptu “reunion” a couple weeks ago, then Reigns becoming the #1 contender and now this. Reigns hit his apron dropkick on Rollins but while Seth was on the announce table, which was pretty neat. Cole referred to it as a “drive by”—is that what we’re officially calling that now? I’m cool with it, just asking. In the end though, Rollins causes an unsatisfying ending by getting himself disqualified, which is the right way to make us want the upcoming showdown at Survivor Series that much more.
Final thoughts: This was an excellent show from top to bottom. Instead of relying on old-timers, wacky gimmicks or celebrity guests to save the ratings, WWE has seemingly gone back to basics and written compelling stories for its stars. I’m surprised, but pleasantly so.