WWE was put in a tough spot when incumbent WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins went down with an injury that’ll sideline him for the better part of the next year. They didn’t exactly come out swinging though, with a tournament bracket to determine the next champ mostly void of surprises. That’s not to say we’re coming off of a bad show, per se, but it was somewhat lackluster given the circumstances.
We’re one week away from a historic edition Survivor Series, even outside of the second WWE Championship tournament in the event’s history: the PPV is being used to celebrate 25 years of The Undertaker, as the Deadman debuted at Survivor Series 1990. In what just may be his final Survivor Series as an active wrestler, Undertaker has reunited with his brother, the Demon Kane, to take on the equally eerie Wyatt Family (well, two members of said family anyway). The storyline has been handled somewhat questionably at points, but it’s undeniable that when you mix the Brothers of Destruction with the Wyatt Family, and all the paranormality in between, it’s going to create some cool moments even in spite of shoddy writing.
This go-home edition of Raw kicked off with a verbal jousting between these two evil entities, culminating in the Bray Wyatt summoning his own brand of knockoff druids to attack ‘Taker and Kane (to no avail), full of the spooky pagentry one would expect, which puts it in the same category most of Undertaker and Wyatt’s interactions have been: exciting and brimming with potential, but ultimately not quite living up to that potential. Both men suffer from the same issue that the overarching message of their promos are great, but the substance leaves a lot to be desired.
Still, much like most Undertaker feuds, buildup is almost irrelevant, and especially at the 25th anniversary, The Undertaker alone is the attraction. It’s unfortunate that they seem to have copped out on these grounds, but the match at Survivor Series should be a spectacle regardless.
Advance Owens Advance: The first quarterfinal matchup was a great one, as Owens and Neville have some great chemistry together and tell a good story in the ring effortlessly. Looking at this card on paper there was almost no way Raw was going to be particularly bad, as all of the quarterfinal matchups looked great. And this one delivered: Owens was huge usual self and Neville played off that with his deceptive strength and innovation (that reverse hurricanrana, though).
Apply directly to the lips: A week after losing a close one to Dean Ambrose in the first round of the WWE Championship tournament, Tyler Breeze is back on the ‘handily defeating jobbers’ circuit that most NXT call-ups go through. And hey, that’s just fine. Building some credibility with the large portion of the audience that doesn’t watch NXT and likely has no idea who Tyler Breeze is is a necessity. Breeze gets the win with a Beauty Shot, but the highlight of the match was easily Summer Rae re-applying some emergency lip gloss to Breeze mid-match.
Too damn good: Ziggler and Ambrose had a pretty good match themselves in the quarterfinals of the tournament, focusing on collegiate-style wrestling for a lot of it, which was a nice departure from the other quarterfinal matchups—each had their own unique style, which helped keep the tournament fresh even if the results were obvious from the get-go. Some nice touches included Ziggler scouting the rebound lariat (one of them, anyway), and the ending sequence.
Pssh: “25 years of Undertaker? I’m 29!” New Day’s pre-match antics were, as usual, the highlight of their segment, as once their opponents were revealed to be the Usos and Ryback attention was kind of lost. The Usos are in a strange spot where I like them, but I’m never really excited when they are on TV. This was all about the New Day, and that’s just fine.
Roman looks strong: Why is every Roman Reigns promo him matter-of-factly recapping the events of the past month? Lots of people do like him and a good amount of those who don’t want to like him, but these dry promos aren’t doing anyone any favors. It was at least short and we got straight into his matchup with Cesaro, which included some great chain wrestling back and forth including a cartwheel from the top rope ONTO the rope from Cesaro, who is unreal. Just very smart wrestling from Cesaro, including him dropkicking a kneeling Reigns into the ring post.
This match was beautiful. It was very reminiscient of Roman Reigns vs. Daniel Bryan earlier this year, in that they used an internet darling who is a way more competent wrestler to…sigh…make Roman look strong, and it worked. Reigns is the kind of guy who can keep up with a great wrestler, at the very least, and he didn’t look remotely out of place here going toe to toe with easily the most gifted wrestler on the active roster. As with all of the quarterfinals matchups tonight, the outcome was basically a given, but in pro wrestling it’s not what happens, it’s how we get there, and this was a hell of way to get there.
D-Von, get the filler: Clamoring for the Attitude Era has become a meme at this point, but it’s not the blood, or the excessive T&A, or more swearing that made the Attitude Era special—it was the fact that every character on the show top to bottom, from Stone Cold Steve Austin to D’Lo Brown, had a clear goal and an obstacle blocking them from that goal that they had to overcome. Every character had some kind of storyline, ridiculous or not; everyone was working toward something.
That’s the largest difference between the Attitude Era and today. A five minute throwaway match between the Dudley Boyz and the Ascension that accomplished nothing for either team exemplifies just how much of Raw these days is thoughtless filler.
Lucha Draggin’: This match was surprisingly a dud; one would think that they had Kalisto get the win over Ryback so he and Alberto Del Rio could have a great match in the quarterfinals. But for whatever reason, they just were not clicking. At one cringey point, Del Rio totally removed Kalisto’s mask in one fell swoop while trying to make it look like he was trying to remove the mask without actually doing it…then spent a solid 10-20 seconds awkwardly putting the mask back on while trying to somehow make it look like he was still trying to rip it off…oof. That one spot told the story of the match, really: two good performers who just weren’t in sync for whatever reason. Very disappointing considering what it could have been, but that could almost be said about Del Rio’s WWE career in general: comparing what’s on paper to what we actually end up seeing, he should be way better than he is.
Paige gets personal: Unbelievably, a Divas contract signing—not even a match—main evented an episode of Raw that featured the quarterfinals of a tournement for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and The Undertaker. Perhaps most surprising, though, is the fact that this wasn’t harped on by the commentary team or made a huge deal; it wasn’t two women in the main event spot for the sake of having women in the main event spot, it just made the most sense that way. That’s progress from a company who loves to brand and gleefully take credit for just about everything.
The importance of this segment was also highlighted throughout the night with flashbacks of various stages of the Divas Revolution: Paige’s win over AJ Lee on her first night as a member of the main roster to win the Divas Championship, the call-ups of Charlotte along with Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks, all the way to the most recent beef between these two second generation Divas.
The strangest part of how importantly this was treated was that prior to last night, the feud between Paige and Charlotte seemed to be going through the motions. So last night felt largely like a “crap, we need to spice up this angle, and fast” sort of situation, and…spice it up they did. How well they executed it is certainly up for debate, but there’s no denying that the feud went from 0-100 real quick.
The major talking point coming out of it was, of course, Paige joking about Charlotte’s little brother Reid Flair, who passed away two years ago as a result of a heroin overdose. Personally, I’m of the mind that bringing up intensely personal things in a wrestling promo is fine as long as all parties are fine with it. I have no inside scoop into how this segment was conceptualized or cleared, but I’d have to assume both Ric and Charlotte signed off on it. It was deeply unsettling and made Paige look like a huge bitch, but ultimately that was the point, and it added some fuel to the fire of a feud that previously just wasn’t that interesting.
The rest of the segment was kind of disjointed and executed poorly, as Charlotte simply is not great on the mic. Paige did her best to carry the segment along, and while it wasn’t terrible it was just sort of there. The Reid comment alone makes it noteworthy though, and instantly turned this from a usual “girls who once were friends and now someone’s jealous” to a straight up blood feud in a matter of minutes. It can certainly be argued that it was tasteless and unnecessary, but the greatest stories in pro wrestling are ones rooted in reality. The biggest concern is if it was too little too late.
This edition of Raw was kind of all over the place, and had an odd pacing, capped off with an awkward Divas segment that main evented over some excellent quarterfinal tournament matches and The Undertaker. Most of it was okay to good, with some greatness, but somehow the sum of its parts did not add up to a satisfying whole. The tournament matches, spare a disappointing Del Rio/Kalisto matchup, were excellent in terms of technical quality, but it’s disappointing that such a huge opportunity to effectively hit the reset button and do something truly fresh seems to have been squandered. Add this to a Brothers of Destruction/Wyatt Family promo that was incredibly paint-by-numbers and did little to re-establish the Wyatts as a credible threat after getting wrecked last week, and you end up with a tepid sell for the historic Survivor Series.