THE RAW REVIEW (12/22/14)

Christmas RAW was supposed to be fun, and it was fun.

As much as I’d like to arrive at some deeper meaning behind Dean Ambrose chucking Bray Wyatt into a Christmas tree, there isn’t any deeper meaning. And that’s perfectly fine. As fans critical of the product, it’s best to pick battles wisely, and after two


in a row where I outlined the various ways the company might improve the quality of their show, I think it’s best to not waste time bemoaning the fact that Dean didn’t win his “Miracle on 34th Street Fight” or the fact that the entire feud has yet to deliver.

What more can be written or said about these two and how they're strangely not benefitting from one another?

It was certainly an awkward note to end on:

watch these two guys kill each other, watch the villain succeed, watch them both crash through a table…Merry Christmas!

But I counted ten wrestling matches (correct me if I’m wrong), no backstage segments, and two of those wrestling matches were superb. The three hours, though still gruesome around two hours and thirty minutes in, moved along at a much better pace than usual thanks to the focus on in-ring action.

There were brief glimmers of hope for change peppered throughout this episode.

The WWE has been criticized, resoundingly, by fans, wrestling legends, and people within the company, for padding RAW’s three hours with lengthy, aimless segments, far too little wrestling, and far too scripted promos.

This episode seemed to address some of those concerns by not only keeping segments brief and action-oriented, but by providing two performers, in particular, with a chance to shine on the mic.

Seth Rollins started the night off in a nice exchange with John Cena. Although Rollins reiterated many of his standby heel points about The Authority and being “the living breathing future of the WWE”, he spoke with a confidence and an intensity that lent sincerity to his words. He has settled into his role in spectacular fashion, and even when it’s obvious he’s reciting lines, it’s clear he knows his character incredibly well, and he’s one of the few performers able to elicit a consistent response from the WWE Universe.

He then followed up his excellent promo with yet another spectacular match against John Cena.

Cena came away the definitive victor, but Rollins has done more than enough in the past several months to maintain his strength despite the loss. Every time he performs on the mic or in the ring he becomes stronger and, seemingly, more comfortable. His bravado, unlike many of his peers, is actually convincing, and the unexpectedly welcome coupling of J&J Security helps him earn heat while simultaneously injecting a bit of legitimate humor into the proceedings.

The other performer who had a good night on the mic and in the ring was Dolph Ziggler.

Ziggler cut a backstage promo that was one of, if not the best promo he’s ever cut. While it didn’t necessarily have the emotional weight of his pre-Money in the Bank main event promo, it was the most sincere he’s ever been.

He spoke with maturity, honesty, and intensity, his confidence finally convincing and not grating.

Even the way he said, “Merry Christmas” to Todd Phillips to bring the interview to a close was leaps and bounds better than anything he's done in the past.

This is the Ziggler the gimmick has needed all along, and it's rewarding to watch him find his way.

What Harper and Ziggler’s matches lack in story, they make up for in acrobatics and emotional power. Ziggler elicits genuine sympathy as he suffers throughout his matches, and his performances are some of the most convincing in the WWE, but it would be nice, someday, to see him do battle from a place of strength. Even his offensive moves feel like defensive moves or like accidents, and although there isn’t anyone on the roster currently better than giving a “come from behind” performance, Ziggler’s next slight improvement could be in appearing stronger in the ring.

But it is coming together for him, and his post-match interview with Jerry Lawler in the middle of the ring was similarly convincing and endearing.

Until now the Ziggler character has lacked a certain degree of realism and humanity. A slightly more humble Ziggler and grounded Ziggler is a more believable Ziggler, and one who could convincingly hold the WWE World Heavyweight Championship someday.

So long as he continues to drop the facade of “I’m this uber-confident show-stealing hot guy that all the chicks dig” and settles into, “I’m an athlete, I’m the champ, and I’m too good” then there’s a chance Dolph, and his fans, might finally get their wish.

There is a shortage of babyface characters who can convincingly unseat Brock Lesnar. The WWE desperately needs that babyface, and they need the WWE Universe to like that babyface.

Roman Reigns, very clearly, is not ready and the fans will most likely not embrace him in time for The Royal Rumble let alone 'Mania. The result could be potentially dismal should they thrust Reigns into the ‘Mania Main Event.

Unless the WWE has something unexpected in store, it’s hard to choose a legitimate contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship following John Cena.

No one has been adequately built toward that ‘Mania Main Event (at least not that we fans can see), which means the company is going to have to go into overdrive following The Rumble and maybe even the month leading into ‘Mania.

One might argue that the anxiety such a situation produces is purely the concern of smarks and “Internet Fans”, but the reality is that live audiences aren’t happy with Roman Reigns as the obvious pick to eventually unseat Lesnar at ‘Mania, and, even for the non “smart” fan, there is no benefit to a lack of narrative foresight. Everyone, diehard to casual viewer, will find it hard to rally behind someone who could convincingly defeat Lesnar at ‘Mania. And we need to be able to rally behind someone who could defeat Lesnar, and, it would seem, it’s best for the longevity of the company if that honor would go to a reliably entertaining, charismatic, powerful company face - one of the WWE’s younger stars who hasn’t yet been put over in such a big way. If, say, Daniel Bryan returned in time, that victory would feel somewhat hollow as Bryan's moving victory was last year, and the time has come for a new star to rise.

The Money in the Bank briefcase looms large, an albatross that keeps Rollins from chasing a fitting title like The Intercontinental Championship, all the while other potential top guys like Wyatt, Ambrose, and Cesaro are either trapped in a bad feud, sacrificing their bodies for little return, or off television altogether. So there’s no obvious rival for Lesnar other than Cena. But Lesnar will likely defeat Cena once again at The Rumble.

So the question is, what does the WWE do?

What is WrestleMania going to be? And that’s an important question and one that should be answered, for the company at least, as soon as possible.

As I wrote at the start, this episode was mostly about fun and it succeeded. There were only two matches worth writing about.

I wish I could write more for you, dear reader, but try as I might, I can’t adequately pull much more out of this episode without just summarizing what happened and that's not the kind of writer I am and I hope that's never the kind of writer I am. I enjoy putting a lot of effort into these reviews each and every week, but, for better or worse, this week’s RAW didn’t demand much more than what I’ve written.

(If you're interested in reading a holiday-themed and weightier analysis, then check out my review of I Am Santa Claus)

Fans were treated to a decent, fun episode that addressed a variety of consistent RAW problems, and that’s a positive takeaway for this week.

Thank you for reading. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Comment below with your own thoughts and follow on the gimmicks!

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