THE RAW REVIEW
RAW existed in that bland middle-ground of inoffensive but forgettable this week.
It wasn’t especially bad, but it wasn’t especially good.
Three hours chugged along, and only about thirty minutes of it seemed to matter while the rest of the show was…fine.
It was mostly Randy Orton’s show, and your investment in the episode hinged largely upon your willingness to get invested in Randy Orton’s psychology.
He returned with some fire and cut a pretty good promo at the start of the show that soon devolved into a bit of that same-old, same-old Authority devilry. That Orton fire soon extinguished as he agreed to join The Authority again. It was apparent, however, that he was agreeing to join them so as to more effectively hurt them with a betrayal at some point in the future. That obvious, relatable motivation was clouded later in the night when Orton became furious after Seth Rollins tagged himself in and ordered Orton out of the ring during their main event tag match against Roman & Daniel Bryan. The fact that Orton became so frustrated with Seth Rollins for tagging himself in, the fact that he became so frustrated with a loss against Bryan & Reigns signifies two possibilities: he re-joined The Authority sincerely earlier in the night (which wouldn't make sense) or his freak-out is just a piece of an ever-expanding psychological trap he's laying for Seth Rollins.
This can only be interesting if you’re a diehard Orton fan, and have the patience for watching more Authority-angles, and don't question whether or not this is the most effective way of "destroying" Seth Rollins.
If you’re someone who just wants to watch good, straightforward stories about athletes competing for the right to call themselves "the best" this just feels like unnecessarily convoluted storytelling that’s placing far too much faith in some theoretical Orton-pop in the future. Most people aren’t Machiavellian or, if they are calculated, they’re not this calculated because it's logistically impossible to be this calculated unless you're clairvoyant: I’m going to pretend to rejoin The Authority to give them a false sense of confidence. Seth Rollins just tagged me in! I’m going to act angry to mess with them, to get them all worried about The Voices in My Head! Now I’m going to pretend like I’m going to punt Seth Rollins to make them really worried. Now I’m going to RKO J&J, but I’m going to help Seth Rollins up and shake his hand. There! That will really mess with them!
People just punch each other. And that punch is much more interesting to me.
And while there are a lot of nefarious schemers and plotters roaming the landscapes of fiction, I’ve never found pro-wrestling plotters to be too interesting. Such feels like an adolescent’s idea of a story shoving itself where it doesn’t belong. Mysterious backstage attacks, infiltrating stables and the like are so rarely executed in a convincing, non-cheesy fashion by the WWE. Such plots are the reason pro-wrestling is so often referred to as “soap-opera for men”.
I read a lot of “it’s a slow-burn” and “it’s mind games”, and I think that’s all very accurate, but it’s the same kind of old-fashioned, unrealistic, bad storytelling I’ve been seeing since I was twelve. It’s the same kind of storytelling that results in me shrugging at the end of Monday Night Raw - a shrug intensified by the fact that I know I’m supposed to shrug. It’s time everybody grew up, and the WWE stopped trying to be something it isn’t.
Unless Orton becomes Iago-level awesome in his pursuit of destroying The Authority from within, I see only a way of filling time on The Road to WrestleMania for a match that doesn’t actually feel like the best possible use of Seth Rollins’ talents. I also have no faith in the fact that the WWE actually knows what they’re doing with Orton. I’m not convinced they’re actually thinking: he’s trying to destroy Seth Rollins. The WWE’s style of storytelling often feels less like a planned-narrative and more like a way of creating as many booking-outs as possible.
Following that opening Orton-segment, the first match of the night was a good bout between Wade Barrett and Dolph Ziggler, where Ziggler hit the Zig-Zag and went over clean. Ambrose then came out with the stolen IC strap and taunted IC Champ, Wade. Ambrose shoved Dolph as he exited the ring, possibly setting up an IC-angle for ‘Mania between the three.
On the Fastlane pre-show there was an excellent vignette about Ambrose pursuing The Intercontinental Championship. He talked about restoring prominence to the title, the history of the championship, and why it should be a stepping stone to bigger and better things. He basically said everything you would want someone who’s pursuing the IC championship to say. The promo didn’t play during the actual pay-per-view prior to his non-match with Barrett, and apart from commentary saying “Intercontinental Championship” a lot on RAW, there’s not been much follow-through with the latest IC title arc. It’s certainly interesting that Ambrose has stolen the belt from Wade and is parading it around on his shoulder. But the company’s schizophrenic nature is revealed in playing a significant vignette that establishes Ambrose’s story on a pre-show, and then doing nothing of the sort on the actual pay-per-view or on the WWE’s three-hour flagship show that majority of viewers watch. I've searched for the vignette I'm writing about, and can find it nowhere on the WWE's website or YouTube channel - only brief backstage WWE app interviews between Ambrose and Renee Young.
Someone cut that vignette together. Work went into creating a story for Ambrose. It’s a good video. It’s simple. In five minutes it achieves everything Ambrose and the IC belt needs. And yet it’s nowhere to be seen on the platforms where it could actually help anyone. And I can't even show it to you, because the company hasn't made it available in any form that I can easily find. Perhaps it exists on hidden away on their website or on the Network, but it shouldn't take more than two clicks to find.
The company constantly complains about how difficult it is to create that third hour of television while the audience complains about how difficult it is to watch that third hour of television, and yet, despite having a deep roster of talented individuals and a great team of mini-movie-makers behind the scenes, the WWE doesn’t do much with their third hour. It's truly shocking that one could sit down and watch a three-hour television show and feel like they haven't actually seen much of anything.
Ads for products and ads for reality television shows take precedence over the sale of stories and the sale of talent and the sale of titles.
If the company had played that very short, very simple Dean Ambrose IC title vignette on RAW the entire Intercontinental Championship scene would be transformed for the better.
Instead, the IC Championship scene continues to be mired in meaninglessness and awkwardness.
The experience of the WWE can be so grating sometimes because it feels like a puppet-master is very decisively negating progress or keeping progress tucked away on a pre-show where the least amount of people will see it - as if goodness and quality is antithetical to monetary success.
It’s an epidemic that the people are becoming increasingly frustrated with, embodied in #GiveDivasAChance, a social media reaction to the regrettably brief Divas match on RAW.
Even if “Vince McMahon is an out of touch, evil old man who’s actively spitting in our faces” is a ludicrous IWC (internet wrestling community) reaction to an infinitely more complex, nuanced reality…that is how it often feels when you watch RAW. The reality of one's experience is as follows: an angry old man doesn't like me for watching his show.
An atmosphere of negativity surrounds the product, and the fans, who want to hate, who seek out any reason to hate something, are certainly a part of the problem.
It’s an exhausting process where everyone is completely disconnected from the truth.
The relentless complaints, the constant, angry Tweets and the smarkish rage gets in the way of genuinely valuable criticism that might help transform the WWE for the better.
For example, I read countless comments tearing down Roman Reigns’ Fastlane performance.
“Reigns was stiff, he’s not ready!”
“Bryan carried the match, Reigns ain’t ready!”
“Reigns sucks. Nuff said."
"He’s Cena 2.0."
"Mania is going to be Goldberg vs Lesnar 2.0."
"He no-sold everything!"
"He was gassed halfway through!”
And I saw hundreds of people all write those exact same phrases over and over and over again, seemingly unaware that everything they were writing had already been written in the exact same way.
And it gets worse. Those are the nicer comments.
You read all of that enough and you start to feel something inside your soul die.
You start to feel disgusted with people who claim to love professional wrestling. You start to feel disgusted with the direction of the human race.
Is this the best we can do, ladies and gents? I ask you this in a very sincere fashion. Are you pleased with what we've done with the internet? Are we really just going to let things go down this way? Because one day the culture isn't going to be self-loathing. One day, the culture isn't going to know that "haters" are the heels, that leaving anonymous rage in comments sections is reprehensible, childish, and, very simply, stupid. We're moving toward a culture that just accepts that the internet is designed to be a hate-sponge where thought, kindness, and reality goes to die.
The reality is that the Reigns/Bryan match at Fastlane was superb, and the reality is that Roman Reigns did a good job in that match. That is the inconvenient truth, and it goes beyond anyone's opinion. To quote the increasingly impressive Tyson Kidd, it is, very simply, "Fact!"
We're all a little too afraid of honestly, frankly recognizing that there are objective realities or, at the very least, aspects of existence and qualities in art that come as close to being objective realities as possible. We're afraid to just acknowledge, in this world of false-experts, that a particular work of art is good and that there's no disputing the truth of its goodness regardless of one's enjoyment of that art. We're all just accepting that a hateful person has some abstract "right" to their hate. We do damage to ourselves in that acceptance.
We're all hiding away behind, "everyone is entitled to their opinion" and the result of that ridiculous statement is a lot of negativity and stupidity is permitted to thrive. This far-too-friendly ideology also results in the tarnishing of something that is, very simply, good. And, sadly, those misinformed or misguided emotional reactions that pervade the internet actually can affect future-art and future artists, corrupting processes that once originated in the human soul and now exist as outsourced, crowd-funded social media campaigns.
The result of such an environ is that people don't actually know what qualifies as an opinion anymore, and people especially have no idea what qualifies as an actual, objective-as-possible, worthwhile criticism.
Even now as I write this, because the IWC and your average internet commentator is so predictable, I can feel the gears turning in their brains searching for a reason to call me a hypocrite in the comments section.
Instead of doing that, even if I am a hypocrite, create your own website and your own podcast. Research how to do that, and then create a convincing platform for yourself that makes me question my steadfastness. Don't leave a comment. Don't be easy. Do the hard work of proving me wrong and write a convincing essay.
Run for office. Make a movie. Write a book. Write a poem. Talk to a friend. Channel that energy and contribute. That's the human way. When a human being feels strongly about something we create something.
Now, in today's world, all those people who would have otherwise never contributed anything to society, people who would have just turned within their little worlds of self-hate, are permitted to share space with the positive and the proactive and undermine everyone else's efforts. We're devolving into robots who regurgitate poorly written, predictable quips.
Create something as a result of your disagreement with me or with others. Stand proudly behind your creation, bravely asserting this is who I am and this is what I believe, instead of randomly lashing out anonymously and negatively affecting someone's day and contributing to an environment that disregards reality.
Reigns vs Bryan was a good match.
Reigns vs Lesnar can be a good match.
We have no idea what's going to happen at WrestleMania.
These are, very simply, truths.
And it's okay that they're truths. You can dislike these truths. You can articulate your problems with these truths...but they're unavoidable truths and I will make no concessions about this for anyone who has or will ever exist on this or any other planet.
The truth...reality...is a beautiful thing, and we all know what it is. It stares us in the face, but we fear accepting it, because we're afraid of everyone's opinion. But from the truth we learn new things about ourselves and others.
The reality is that a properly booked Reigns vs Lesnar could be a transformative moment for the company where we see the influence of MMA and reality in a positive, fresh way.
Reigns vs Lesnar could come to epitomize everything that’s great about The Reality Era.
Beloved pro-wrestlers, masters of the craft like Steve Austin and Mick Foley praised Reigns vs Lesnar at Fastlane and consistently make good arguments (informed by their decades of knowledge and actual experience) on how to make Reigns vs Lesnar a good ‘Mania Main Event.
And yet we now live in a world where, thanks to a high-speed internet connection and access to a time-honored pro-wrestling language, everyone is an expert disregarding the words of actual experts. The internet is either a cesspool of complacency or an enlightened movement.
There’s very little room for straightforward, simple intelligence and simple compassion and good criticism.
It’s either one extreme or the other.
We are schizophrenic. Our schizophrenia contributes to the erratic hit & missness of RAW.
There are problems with the WWE.
There are problems with Roman Reigns, with the booking, with Vince McMahon.
But we need to discuss those problems intelligently, and we need to focus on the actual reality of these situations.
If we just hate everything, if we can’t give Roman anything and we have to keep saying things like “he was carried” or “he was gassed” or “he ain’t ready” then we’re trapped in a self-absorbed, self-hating loop that has no interest in affecting positive change. That voice that hates will remain what the WWE hears, and the company will either rigidly adhere to their plan and seem deaf and dumb or they’ll make some radical concession to a deaf and dumb audience.
The IWC, the entire internet generation, has willingly brainwashed itself into having the same thought at the same time all the time.
The reality of the Roman Reigns situation is that the company has obviously listened to the qualified critics - critics who cited more than Roman’s move-set or personality or some vague understanding of the word “booking” as support for their arguments.
Roman cut a decent promo last night, one that seemed much less scripted and much more sincere. Jack and his beanstalk was nowhere in sight. No odd soliloquies. No baby-talk. No nonsense.
Daniel Bryan put Roman over with a realistic post-fight handshake, and then Paul Heyman went to work selling Brock vs Roman. He raised Roman up verbally only to cut Roman down verbally.
Roman then stood up for himself, reminding the sniveling Heyman who he was in the ring with, and promised to win the championship at Mania.
That’s the reality of that scene. That’s the reality of where we actually stand with Roman Reigns within the WWE fiction.
Simple. Good. On the right path.
It’s obvious there have been mistakes. It’s obvious the WWE needs to learn from the mistakes they’ve made with Roman, and start allowing top-guys to come about more organically in the years to come.
But it’s also obvious that they should go to work selling this match right now, that they should put the effort into making Roman a viable main-event player in the time remaining, and that they should make this WrestleMania match as interesting as possible by embracing reality. It’s obvious that there are ways to do that, but those ways don’t start with refusing to accept this match’s existence.
The reality is that the company, thus far, has done a better job booking Roman since The Royal Rumble. And, if they continue to book Roman well, if they use training montages, if they limit Roman’s exposure, if they give Roman lengthy main-event matches with good workers, if they give Roman & Brock a couple pull-away brawls, and if Paul Heyman does what Paul Heyman does in the next 34 days then there’s no reason WrestleMania 31 can’t have one of the best main events we’ve seen in a very long time.
When is the last time we’ve had a WrestleMania main event that wasn’t stitched together last-minute or wasn’t a monster of the week episode or wasn't, very simply, lame?
That’s not to write it will be an amazing, technical wrestling match - the only kind of match the IWC seems content with nowadays.
That’s to write that there's a possibility it will be good.
If the WWE hides Roman & Brock’s weaknesses and emphasizes their strengths and lets Paul Heyman tell a good story about two athletes fighting for the prize, then it will be good. That’s reality, regardless of whatever the WWE has done terribly wrong and continues to do terribly wrong and regardless of whatever legitimacy there might be in the IWC’s complaints.
I’m as frustrated with people who leave comments like, “Stop complaining, just enjoy it” as much I’m frustrated with the other end of the spectrum.
Mindlessness is a terrible thing, whether its masquerading as constructive criticism or positivity.
Mindlessness, not actually thinking and instead instantly reacting to stimuli is the terrifying reality we’re moving closer and closer towards.
We’re moving into a world that puts a premium on curt, immediate, emotional reactions informed by the curt, immediate, emotional reactions of others.
We’re moving into a world that disregards discussion, consideration, and intelligence and champions rigidity, judgment, and thoughtlessness.
We’re on the road to a very sad, angry, boring place.
And in my own way, I’m going to do what I can to stop it.
Thank you very much for reading. Remember to subscribe to The Work of Wrestling podcast in iTunes if you wish. Share this article with a friend to help raise awareness for the preservation of the art of professional wrestling, and hopefully get people thinking and talking.
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