THE RAW REVIEW
In order for The Raw Review to really work I need to be inspired.
This isn’t the kind of “summary review” that defines the majority of entertainment analysis in our world. I can’t just tell you what happened. That's the opposite of analysis. The best iterations of this weekly review often ignore about 60% of the show and focus on two or three worthwhile thematic elements. The best Raw Reviews tend to focus on the narratives and the symbolic significance of the characters. That’s what I really enjoy writing about.
Not bad booking. But the WWE isn't giving me much else to write about.
This review is not unlike a good promo in that I need to believe what I’m writing and I have to be working from a specific point of view.
For the past two weeks Monday Night Raw hasn’t given me that.
Last night’s show, much like last week’s, wasn’t particularly bad. In fact, despite the fact that it was far too promo-focused with very little in-ring action, there were some fun and exciting moments on the show.
Commentary seems to be taking things a little more seriously. The word “wrestler” and “wrestling” is being used again.
The Divas Championship match was an actual match that saw the pop-worthy return of AJ Lee following the #GiveDivasAChance trend that defined last week’s social media landscape. The match definitely should have been longer and more physical, so fans must remain vigilant and not settle for scraps. Regardless of whether or not a movement was truly answered, The Divas had a good night, and we all need to keep working towards better nights.
The Jon Stewart/Seth Rollins segment was harmless fun, Stewart showing the majority of the roster how speaking from a place of confidence, experience, and knowledge results in a good promo.
Paul Heyman cut a spectacular promo where he skirted the forth wall, speaking from a place of rage he hasn't tapped into in quite some time, incorporating the failure of several mics to great dramatic effect.
Roman Reigns, despite the fact that he continues to inspire cringes and groans with his stiff delivery and odd, bemused over-acting, keeps getting better.
It wasn't a bad show. But the WWE seems to have forgotten that WrestleMania is only a few weeks away. All sense of urgency has vanished from the show and we're left with the same neutered entertainment mush we've come to know and despise over the past decade.
So, for this review, I have to simply reach down and write from the gut, because the company isn't stimulating my mind.
Last night I saw a Roman Reigns who showed what he's always been physically and stylistically capable of - if only the company had let him show it a year ago.
Where has this Roman been...this Roman who can leap over the top rope?
Where has this Roman been who gives Superman Punches and Spears to anyone and everyone, this Roman who leaves The Authority stable in shambles?
Where has Roman Reigns been?
Especially when the company knew years ago that he was their next “Franchise Player”?
Last night (and at the Raw prior to Fastlane) Reigns showed elements of a character that should have been developed immediately following the 2014 Royal Rumble.
Last night confirmed, more than ever for me, that through no fault of his own, he’s being cannoned into the WrestleMania Main Event purely because he’s a beautiful person.
Vince McMahon saw a pretty face in Roman, a good face (literally) to represent the WWE, and that was all he saw. If he saw anything more then we would have seen something more, we would have seen a Roman Reigns who can fly over the top rope and decimate The Authority on a whim.
The company seems to have hidden away or ignored any other talent Roman possessed in an attempt to hone in on his most superficially marketable attributes. And he’s had to go along for the ride, performing under the most intense microscope in pro-wrestling history, his essence micromanaged by a corporation that refuses to trust him to fail or succeed on his own merit.
All because the guy is pretty and could move some tee-shirts as a result of being pretty?
Last night, when I heard that crowd go crazy for Daniel Bryan, it jogged something loose in my brain. I realized that it’s truly remarkable that Bryan isn’t in the 'Mania main event - let alone booked in a match yet at the “Show of Shows”.
The audience has consistently lit up for Daniel Bryan. He’s clearly The Guy. He is the WWE’s Top Guy right now, along with John Cena and Brock Lesnar. Seth Rollins is scratching at “Top Guy” status, and could be a top guy tomorrow if the WWE decided to really set that character loose, but the definitive non-John Cena-non-part-time top guy is Daniel Bryan. He's your face, WWE. He's your money-maker.
I’ve written at great length about how much I want to see Reigns versus Lesnar, how watching the WWE do the hard thing and sell that match would be fascinating in this time of strife. Really embracing the reality of Reigns vs Lesnar could result in a new kind of main event match defined by the increasingly blurred line between WWE and MMA. But the WWE isn't doing that. And I doubt they will.
And last night, when I saw that crowd Yes-chant with Daniel, when I thought about how common that sight has been in every arena since his return, it became clear to me that there’s no conceivable reason Bryan isn’t the one facing Lesnar.
Instead of watching a seasoned veteran represent the company at the most important moment of that company’s year, we’re watching a pretty face try his hardest to prove that he’s more than a pretty face.
That hurts the story. It hurst the story because it creates a distracting environment where everyone is on edge, everyone is overly analytical, and there’s very little room for freedom of expression.
It hurts the story because Roman is simply an underdeveloped talent. He’s just not comfortable on that mic because the company hasn't developed him on that mic despite his presence in the company for several years. His awkward delivery, his discomfort, his anxiety any time he has to act and not just fly around the ring makes the WrestleMania main event seem less prestigious.
I’m not a painter. I’m just not.
If you gave me a paintbrush and said, “Earth is going to blow up tomorrow. We’ve chosen you to be the artist who recreates all the great works of history for the new, secret colony we’ve built on Mars. You, using your talents, will preserve the human legacy. Get in this spaceship immediately! Your first project the moment you land is to recreate The Mona Lisa” you would get something like this:
Reigns is not a talker.
He’s not an actor.
And so he consistently gives facial expressions like this:
Those hiccups in performance, those awkward pauses, that uncertainty, that anxiety should have been worked on long before WrestleMania. Did Vince & Co. actually think Roman could be the star they wanted him to be on the mic and in the ring without actually giving him a chance to develop on the mic and in the ring?
WrestleMania’s main event should represent the absolute best the company has to offer.
Or, if we’re talking strictly money, does Roman currently draw more than Daniel? If he does...by all means. But I can't see how that's possible.
And so the WWE’s insanity is revealed, twisting pro-wrestling language, traditions, business, and corporate edicts into a nefarious stew of “whatever suits our purposes at this moment”.
The high-minded, hopeful, art-focused person looks at the WrestleMania main event and says, “This should represent the best talent the WWE has to offer” and the business-focused person looks at the 'Mania main and says, “This match should feature the two biggest draws of the year.”
Does the WWE actually have either of those things this year?
Forget satisfying the fans, consider satisfying the story or satisfying the business. The fact that an underdeveloped talent (who hasn’t had any kind of significant push to catapult him into the merch-moving stratosphere of a Cena or a Punk) is in the ‘Mania main crystalizes the notion that Vince McMahon gets what Vince McMahon wants, logic be damned.
The WWE seemed to be hoping that the guy’s look and history with The Shield was enough to establish him as a viable character in a believable narrative.
What makes this all the more frustrating is that Roman actually is more than a pretty face.
So this situation was entirely avoidable. We could all be basking in the glory of a good story.
Roman’s strengths could have been developed ever since last year’s Royal Rumble when the crowd was firmly behind him. He might never have become the well-rounded in-ring technician or spectacular talker the WWE is searching for, but it certainly could have been more believable within the fiction that this guy would be the guy in the Mania Main, and it certainly could have been more profitable if his athletic ability wasn’t tucked away over the course of several months, hidden behind bad promos and an inexplicable television absence during his injury recovery.
I’m pouring over these details because despite how much I enjoy Roman and want him to succeed, I care about the ‘Mania Main Event. I care about WrestleMania.
It’s an important event from a narrative perspective. It’s the climax. The alpha and the omega. The beginning and the end.
It represents that point on the storytelling map that all storytellers push toward, and it’s essential to the success of that story.
Imagine paying to see a movie titled Batman. Then, in the third act, Batman disappears and you watch Robin take on the villain in the final battle. Even if the actor playing Robin exceeded your expectations and did shockingly well with the ridiculous script he’d been given, you paid to see Batman. It only works if it's about Batman. Conversely, if you paid to see a movie titled Batman and Batman didn't show up until the third act, you're going to be frustrated and you're not going to be as invested in Batman's victory as you could've been.
WrestleMania has come to epitomize a sickness in the WWE’s soul - an inability and complete unwillingness to connect with reality.
Reality dictates that if you know you want to put a particular performer in an incredibly important spotlight at an incredibly important time of the year that you then develop that talent over a longer period of time. Reality dictates that if your plans do not actually work out, but then a golden opportunity to course correct, a golden opportunity to potentially save a man’s career, a golden opportunity to save the significance of WrestleMania and make a ton of money in the process presents itself, you take it.
The WWE seems to be trying to make the best of a bad situation that never needed to exist, and they continue to go about fixing it in perplexing ways.
And Roman, perhaps the most criticized wrestler in history, is slowly but surely rising to the occasion each and every week despite all of this nonsense. And it’s the WWE’s fault, not the detractors (bad as smarks might be), for making it so hard for Roman to get over.
Last night, in the main event with Seth Rollins, when Roman was flying around the ring, really going to work with his suit of abilities, doing everything he could to keep his moves fresh and exciting, displaying his grace of motion and intensity of spirit, even the most steadfast Roman-haters in that audience had a hard time sitting on their hands.
You could feel that hateful audience squirm uneasily because they were enjoying Roman when they wanted to hate him.
And the WWE has created that unnecessarily awkward environment by not showcasing the kid’s strengths throughout the entirety of 2014.
We could all be incredibly excited for WrestleMania right now.
Consider the reality of the situation this year; for the first time in a long time the WrestleMania main event will feature a young, promising talent who we’ve all grown up with.
For the first time in a long time the WrestleMania main event (had it actually been booked well) is a high-stakes fight between two powerful athletes for the greatest prize in the company. And it's a fight that actually makes sense.
It makes sense that Roman Reigns would want to be the champion and it makes sense that Brock Lesnar, arguably the most dominant pro-wrestling character in history, would headline ‘Mania.
It makes sense that a young, hopeful Samoan warrior with a deep pro-wrestling lineage would take on one of the most decorated, freakishly powerful athletes on the face of the earth.
It’s a great story.
Throughout 2014 the fans hated Brock Lesnar.
“Part-time champ!” they cried.
“Disgracing the title!” they moaned.
“We hate Cena! We Want something new!” they’ve begged for years.
And yet here we are going into WrestleMania 31 hating Roman Reigns, smarks positively gleeful at the slightest whiff of his failure, and resoundingly cheering Brock Lesnar every time he sets foot in the ring.
Every single week of 2014 pro-wrestling fans handed the WWE an amazing story on a silver platter - Brock Lesnar is a mercenary holding the title hostage, and we need a guy to stand up and fight for us, a guy to bring our title home and defend it full-time!
Every night for several years that has been a gift-wrapped narrative staring the WWE in the face and it was the way to get Reigns over.
But they weren't listening.
They didn't see it.
They saw only their mutated fantasy.
This is the kind of creative misstep that happens when you’re not tuned-in to reality, let alone your audience.
The “family business” that runs the WWE is so sequestered in their little world, so steadfast in their ways, so emboldened to believe their own nonsense that they likely won’t even fully realize the disservice they’ve done to Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, and the WrestleMania Main Event that could've been.
There was so much history to draw from, so much foreknowledge related to Reigns and Lesnar to use in building this match a solid year in advance. And by “year in advance” I do not mean planting any noticeable seeds of Reigns vs Lesnar at last year’s ‘Mania. I mean working from a place of knowing you want Roman Reigns to be a top guy, giving him meaningful matches and meaningful feuds along the way, and perhaps an intercontinental championship reign at any point in the year.
I harp on these storytelling points because the WWE needs to learn from the incredibly obvious mistakes they’ve made in 2014 & 2015. They need to correct their mistakes, fundamentally change their booking philosophy post-WrestleMania 31.
These are the same mistakes that have defined the past several WrestleMania main events, but I choose to focus solely on the mistakes they’ve made with Reigns because they’re immediately apparent, accessible, easy to understand, easy to identify, and, therefore, easier to fix. There's no jilted genius or disgruntled employee or conflict of money-making interest with Reigns - just blatantly bad booking with the guy they actually want to succeed.
I implore the WWE to make efforts (for their own profit as much as my satisfaction as a fan) to think about a logical, possible WrestleMania Main Event for WrestleMania 32 immediately.
Do not let “well we don’t know what’s going to happen…people could get injured…people might not get over” to permit laziness and schizophrenia.
Listen to the crowd, but, if you know you want someone in particular to get over, do the intelligent work of giving them a platform to do so.
Otherwise you will prove every single obnoxious smark right.
You will dig your own grave and, as a wise man you despise once said, you’ll only make money despite yourself.
Reality is beautiful thing. It’s the great equalizer. It brings humility and intelligence and awareness where it is most needed.
Fantasy permitted you to create the unnecessary narrative nightmare and the toxic environment that defines your company in 2015.
It will save you.
What do you think about all of this? Share you voice...and not in the corporate #WWEShareYourVoice-I'm giving you the illusion of significance kind of sharing.
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