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EXPLORING THE ART OF PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING

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THE RAW REVIEW (10/27/14)


Without Seth Rollins, Randy Orton, and John Cena, this particular RAW REVIEW simply wouldn't exist.

Before the final thirty minutes, I thought, "What am I going to write about?" Fortunately, the excellence of the main event inspired me. And while I don't cover the match in great detail, I'm grateful to Cena and Rollins for motivating me to keep THE RAW REVIEW streak alive.

It was an episode that felt like a 2012 RAW - very unnatural transitions from concluded angles into new angles, bombarding viewers with corporate information and terribly grating commentary and buffoonish henchman. And there were also people chanting, "Feed me more!"

It dragged me back to a dark time, where the only guiding light was CM Punk and Paul Heyman. I do not want to go back there again, regardless of my love for Punk & Heyman (in fact it was precisely because I admire those two so much that it was so hard to watch Punk feud with guys like Ryback, and remain trapped in the midcard despite being the most significant performer in the company in the past decade other than Cena).


Following the polarizing conclusion of Hell in a Cell (and seemingly the conclusion of all major feuds save Cena/Lesnar), the WWE pushed the creative reset button with this episode of RAW.

While this is understandable considering the writers, creators, and performers never want to stagnate, always pushing forward to the next best possible angle, reset RAWs like this completely ignore an audience's need to absorb the previous night's pay-per-view as well as the fact that viewers invested half their year in these stories. The attention-deficit nature of the show feels disrespectful.

You're encouraged to become emotionally invested in Cesaro for months, you watch him lose in quite possibly the best match at Hell in a Cell, and then the next night you're basically told he's only worth getting stabbed in the head fifty times with a microphone and then carted off. It's just one night, but it's still a shock to the system.


You're encouraged to become emotionally invested in Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose, and then it feels somewhat brushed aside, and results in a fairly awkward segment between Dean and Bray.

Seth offered decent enough closure with his promo early on, but Dean suddenly has amnesia and just wants to fight Bray (I'm aware he can always contextualize everything in a promo and will likely go back to Seth in the future, but that doesn't change this stilted, sudden shift). And Bray, who needs to work on being actually audible, is talking to us from a screen in protracted, pretty-sounding riddles when what we needed most from him after that ghost debacle was simplicity and clarity. Not, "I am you. Run". I understand that the feud is being built. And I understand why people are excited. I'm excited too. But I also remember how excited people were for Wyatt versus Jericho, and while I enjoyed their final two matches and while I'm happy that feud existed, it was never clear at any time why Bray Wyatt attacked Jericho. That feud did not expand upon either character in the least. They were just themselves, being cool. And they did indeed entertain and for that I am grateful, but the lack of clarity created a lack of psychology.

Notice that commentary said nothing of "The Ghost". Lawler was about to mention it at one point but was immediately cut off. The WWE does these things that clearly don't resonate with audiences and then pack-peddles, not even standing behind their own creations or figuring out a creative way to make it work.

Bray's a character that talks as though he has a mission statement and yet he's not articulating his mission statement. He can be as cryptic as he wants to be, but there has to be a discernible motivation beyond, "I'm crazy", when he's built a cult-leader personae. "I'm crazy" is not a motivation. "The world makes me sick so I'm going to destroy it" is as close to a motivation as Bray has, but it's an immature one. Characters that look at the world and don't like what they see are very interesting and relatable, but a disembodied message, an incoherent philosophy resultant from that worldview is not relatable.

People aren't really motivated by grandiose principles or far-reaching philosophies. You might be proud of your country, but that stems from a very personal feeling of home - comfort, security, which your parents (hopefully) provided. People are motivated by something tangible and personal. Bray seems to have that in Abigail...but who's Abigail? If that's his actual motivating factor we need to know about her. Without that motivation, without a real reason that we can understand, then those lights in that audience are just cell phones. They are a cool effect without substance. Having heard some substance from Bray in the past (the "Teacher Lady" promo comes to mind), I'm hoping it shall make a return, otherwise we're just going to get two fan-favorites "being unstable" because everyone just wants to see them be "unstable".


The viewing experience of a RAW like this is almost surreal, where I feel as though six months of my life is being snatched away from me.

Seth Rollins and Randy Orton transitioned perfectly into a rivalry (Orton cut an excellent, irate promo, and then hit Seth with a RKO) Big Show and Mark Henry make sense as rivals, Paige and Alicia Fox were already headed into a feud, but the tone of the night was ignorant of the past few months (even Sunday night).

Just as suddenly as John Cena sets his sights on Brock Lesnar again (the most consistent story in years), Stephanie McMahon comes out and tries to seduce John Cena to The Authority?

Why would the Stephanie character do this? And I'm not asking for the simple, "To get John Cena under her thumb" answer. Why would the character actually think to do this? What purpose does it serve in her world, especially when, even in their fictional world, John Cena is The Authority? Even he now calls himself "the guy who runs the place".

I realize that the actual WWF organization was supporting Stone Cold while, in the WWF fiction, Vince was at war with Stone Cold.

But, within that fiction, Stone Cold wasn't represented as "The Company Man", the guy that the entire company revolves around.

John Cena is John Cena both in and outside the WWE's reality.


So why does The Authority want to fight Cena? Why? Because they want Lesnar to stay Champion? Because they want Seth Rollins to be Champion?

Why does The Authority want a champion who will just do what they tell them to do (that's their seeming motivation anyway)? If The Authority characters are all about doing "what's best for business" and making the WWE "better" then why do they care about having a placid stooge as a champion? Wouldn't they just want someone who makes them money? If their motivation is to make money then it makes sense to support Lesnar, but it would also make sense to support Cena. Meanwhile it's never been expressly stated exactly why they support Lesnar as champ.


My final rhetorical question: is anyone in the WWE thinking about these characters in this way?

Because it seems like the thinking is only, "These characters are bad so they do bad things, and these characters are good so they do good things".

And that's why people aren't watching or subscribing. That's the old-fashioned, unrealistic black hat, white hat gimmick that became passé long ago, only today it's not supported by captivating wrestlers like Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper, and Hulk Hogan.

Today we've got a bunch of characters that seem like they want to be deeper and easily could be deeper, but they're really just not. Or, when these characters do start to get over because they're deeper, their depth is scaled back into something palatable and marketable. You know, something that looks good on a tee-shirt or a hoody...


And motivation gets reduced to, "Well...because..."

John Cena said "No!" to joining Stephanie and The Authority, of course, and then boom! Survivor Series main event: Team Cena vs Team Authority. And what for? What is the fight for? Sure Triple H said some things about "The Future". So it's all to teach John a lesson? That's it?

If Triple H more directly explained that he's tired of Cena just like the rest of us and that he wants to get behind The Future of the business in Seth Rollins, then it would work. It might seem like he did that this Monday, but he didn't really do that. If he did, or if there was just a basic, recognizable reason for it all that was founded on being champion, then it's grounded in competition between Rollins and Cena (at the end of the review I offer another, better explanation for how an Authority rivalry with Cena could work). As it stands, it's simply a pit stop on a way to Lesnar, an aside meant to sell another pay-per-view that has very little to do with anything when it could easily have a lot to do with everything.


Part of the reason I take issue with this particular angle (specifically its treatment) is certainly that we weren't permitted adequate time to process Hell in a Cell. Before RAW was even over we had next month's pay-per-view main event set.

This constant jumping from one pay-per-view to the next, one angle to the next, one commercial to the next, makes every pay-per-view, even every moment, occasionally feel insignificant and terribly contrived (falling off a cell into a table is no longer falling off a cell into a table...it's a segment for Countdown on the WWE Network that you can see for nine-ninety-nine).

There's no time permitted to process what you've seen and heard in the moment, only the bombardment of new information meant to convince you to become a paying customer.

When you're already a paying customer, especially a paying customer who uses the Network primarily for the pay-per-views, you just feel like your caught in an infinite advertising loop where you're constantly being punished for giving them the thing that they're asking you to give them, all the while you're not allowed to absorb the stories and characters you love.


The WWE, and our culture, has become something of an Orwellian nightmare, happily chanting a price tag we hate, where the only way out is to "buy in", but then, when you "buy in", you're punished for "buying in" because the company is going after those who haven't "bought in". So all you hear is "keep buying, keep buying, keep buying" and you're there thinking, "What more can I possibly give you to make this go away?"

And this is from someone who genuinely likes the WWE and thinks it's the best it's been since 2001!

Yup...that's the pain and the frustration...

Finally, after all the corporate information was out of the way John Cena and Seth Rollins got to put on a match that was better than either match they had at Hell in a Cell.

Both came out looking strong regardless of the DQ finish, and the night ended with a massive brawl, setting up Survivor Series.

Despite my criticisms of the way the Team Cena vs Team Authority match was set, it actually is something that interests me, in theory. And I'm incredibly excited for the potential reveal of Orton being on Team Cena.

If Orton is on Team Cena then it must not be revealed in a backstage segment. It must be revealed in the arena, with Orton coming down to the ring to help Cena, or revealed at the pay-per-view itself.

It's simply a shame that the Cena/Authority rivalry exists independently of Lesnar (and logic).

Cena's motivation for taking on The Authority could very easily be that he hates how The Authority permits Lesnar to hold the title hostage.

That's it. That's all. It's staring creative right in the face.


Such an angle would also make Cena a more active participant in the story. People are always going to Cena. They're always interrupting his promos to challenge him to a fight or to try to seduce him to the dark side. And then the drama is, "What's Cena gonna do?"

Cena's rarely, if ever, active, the actual impetus of a story. He's not interrupting other people and challenging them to a fight or asserting himself in an urgent way, he's not starting stories. When he does interrupt people, it's usually to drop a few jokes and get some cheap pops from the crowd before settling into an overly serious rebuttal.

If Cena must face The Authority before Lesnar then I want to see an active Cena, a Cena on a mission, a Cena who has a point to make. Not a Cena who has to scramble around in the locker room begging jobbers to help him out - he's too good for that.

The basic set up for this Survivor Series match could have been so powerful (and still can be) and about so much more than what it's currently about. Cena challenges The Authority for protecting and supporting Lesnar, The Authority doesn't like being challenged by anyone (even a cash cow like Cena), and so you have your Survivor Series match.

Team Cena vs Team Authority, with Team Cena fighting to prove that the WWE World Heavyweight Championship should belong to a full-time wrestler and Team Authority defending their decisions, hoping to bury everyone else.


Simple. Makes sense. Keeps it connected to the larger Cena/Lesnar fiction, gives everyone a recognizable motivation, and some stipulations for the winner could be thrown into the mix that would effect the rematch between Lesnar and Cena.

But I don't have an entire writing staff and a company-full of egos to contend with. I'm a backseat booker with a blog.

And it's the best blog in the world.


Thank you for reading. Hopefully next week will be a bit deeper. Feel free to comment with your own backseat books and thoughts! Help The Good Worker get over by following/subscribing on the gimmicks!

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All unsourced photos via WWE.