THE RAW REVIEW
Last night’s Monday Night Raw was pure, unadulterated fun.
It was a night where the positives overshadowed the negatives, and fans were permitted to partake in some straightforward pro-wrestling storytelling.
And, at long last, the finest pro-wrestling storyteller of this generation arrived on Monday Night Raw.
Sami Zayn made his main roster debut, showing The Raw viewer what the NXT viewer (and the indy-wrestling fan) has enjoyed for a long time. And while the in-ring excellence Sami displayed in his match with John Cena is exactly the kind of performance he always turns in on the WWE’s best show every Wednesday night at 8pm, the spectacle and the grandiosity of Monday Night Raw showed exactly how powerful Sami Zayn really is.
Partial as that crowd may have been, I dare any human being on this planet to sit on their hands when Sami Zayn goes to work. This match between the best performer in the WWE and the biggest name in the WWE represents what happens when the sincerity and intensity of the NXT brand unites with the significance of the flagship show. This match represents the future of professional wrestling - a dramatic, theatrical display grounded in emotional, athletic realism.
Sami’s arrival was handled with the care and consideration it deserved. All those fears about Zayn being transformed into a dancing Rosebud were quelled. He was Sami Zayn. The Underdog From The Underground. The athlete with immeasurable heart and immeasurable talent.
This match put Sami Zayn over as thoroughly as he should have been put over in his debut, and I am reassured that the powers that be seem to comprehend exactly what they have on their hands with Sami Zayn; a performer to build a company around.
If you’re not familiar with Zayn and you don’t watch NXT then that claim “a performer to build a company around” might seem a bit bold.
Perhaps even hyperbolic.
You will be treated to the truth, a showcase of one man’s passion on constant display, a passion that propels him to tell the kind of pro-wrestling story you’ve desperately craved since you traded the magic of childhood for the cynicism of adulthood.
Sami Zayn will teach you to believe again, and he’ll do it without the aid of any special effect.
Normally, I’d be heartbroken by the shoulder-injury Sami suffered when he pumped up the crowd during his ring-entrance. If you go back and re-watch it, you can see his immediate recognition that something has gone incredibly wrong. It is an unsettling, deeply painful moment. He has finally arrived and then, in expressing his joy, he suffers an injury. It's a soul-crushing irony that's eerily in keeping with the story of his ascent.
It wasn’t until I went back and re-watched the beginning of the match that I finally believed it wasn’t kayfabe. Sami has sold injuries so well in the past, and NXT so often emphasizes realism, that I thought the doctor’s interruption in the match was a work (staged). Sami’s dejection at the end of the match (after having turned in the best performance of the night despite this injury) was visible - shouting profanities as he exited the ring (understandably so). It’s in that transparency of emotion that his success exists.
There's never anything between you and Sami's joy or Sami's sadness.
You feel what he feels.
And that means sometimes you will cry tears of sadness and sometimes you will cry tears of joy.
The reason I’m not heartbroken by this unfortunate turn of events is that everything that transpired last night will simply contribute to Sami Zayn’s legend.
Sami’s also scheduled to headline the next NXT pay-per-view with Kevin Owens so this main roster debut seems like it wasn't indicative of an immediate, permanent promotion. While it's unclear what's going to happen with Sami at the time of this writing it would seem that time is on his side.
His draw is undeniable.
The WWE, thus far, has demonstrated an acute awareness of this, and so it would make sense that they’d proceed with care and do everything they can to help Zayn.
Because, rest assured, regardless of whether or not the WWE puts the proverbial rocket on Sami Zayn, he will be over with any crowd that's treated to his work.
The WWE fans will not allow Sami to be anything but a top guy. That is an unavoidable fact and the WWE will inevitably embrace it if they want to keep making gobs of money.
While I’m nothing by empathetic for Sami’s frustration, the fact that the world is talking about his performance and the fact that the WWE properly pushed him leaves me reassured and hopeful for the future of not just Zayn, but for the art of professional wrestling.
Being that the future is in good hands, let’s discuss the right now!
While Seth Rollins continues to devolve into a coward-heel-character that does his excellence a disservice and results in the same convoluted main event booking and shaky characterizations we’ve all come to know and disdain (one minute Seth is saying how unfair it is that he has to defend his title against three other people and the next he’s saying how it works to his advantage and one minute Kane is booking Seth into a corner and the next Kane is ganging up on the babyfaces along with Seth), the addition of Dean Ambrose in the Payback pay-per-view main event is nothing but glorious.
Dean’s lack of seeming awareness of Seth Rollins’ very existence ever since his feud with Bray Wyatt derailed his journey to the main-event has been an egregious oversight these past several months. Dean & Seth's promo exchanges, parking lot brawls, and matches, along with Brock Lesnar’s dominant reign, helped define 2014 as one of the best year’s in WWE’s recent history. While it makes sense to keep talents separate for a time so as to not oversaturate the fans, Dean languishing in obscurity is, very clearly, not "best for business".
He’s always been a fascinating character and a brilliant performer, but he needs a focus. After the dissolution of The Shield his focus was incredibly clear and that focus resulted in the most entertaining television that WWE has created since The Attitude Era. Dean’s ties to Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns should never be ignored for it is in that bond that great storytelling exists. These three elevate one another. They elevate the entire company, making the absence of Brock Lesnar a second thought.
WWE fans know The Shield.
The fans know each of these incredibly unique characters intimately and the fans want to see their relationships twist and turn over the course of a long-form narrative. Their success serves as an answer to the WWE viewer's outcry for change, youth, and wrestling.
And now that Ambrose and Reigns are focused on Rollins, great things can finally start to happen on a more consistent basis in the main event with young, full-time talent.
Roman, Seth, and Dean’s relationship has been sequestered on SmackDown for far too long, saved for brief, entertaining exchanges.
To witness this chemistry reignited on Monday Night Raw, where it belongs, is rewarding to all those fans who’ve been cheering these three ever since they arrived in the company.
I’ve been singing Dean’s praises ever since he cut his first on-screen WWE promo, so watching him wander aimlessly from one mid-card match to the next, one pay-per-view loss to the next, one nonsensical gimmick-match to the next has been confounding, especially considering the way John Cena, “The face that runs the place”, put Dean over in such a transparent way on Monday Night Raw several months back leading into Hell in a Cell.
Vince McMahon himself shook Dean’s hand on-screen (never should have happened as it doesn’t fit Dean’s character, but a symbolic gesture of future success nonetheless). In Dean exists a pro-wrestling superstar that could transcend if only he’s permitted to explore a character that thrives beyond the realm of a tee-shirt slogan like “Lunatic Fringe”. He’s clearly happier (and therefore more entertaining) when he’s working against Seth Rollins.
He does the little things a great performer needs to do to get over and flesh out his character, creating an entire world with the simplest of gestures.
For example, after beating Seth down into the mat in an overly aggressive way, drawing the concern of the referee, Dean stopped kicking Seth, reassured the referee that he understood the rules, and then ironically shook the referee’s hand the way one might greet their grandmother. Montreal erupted in laughter.
At another spot where Dean had Seth down, he held up his leg against Seth and tried to judge the distance between Seth’s back and his boot. He was measuring how far he’d need to stand in order to kick Seth properly in the spine.
Again, after he finally kicked Seth, laughter from the audience.
This laughter transformed into “Holy shit!” chants and gasps and groans and “Let’s go Ambrose” chants, and, finally, uproarious, joyous applause when Dean finally scored the roll up pin.
While there are great talents who can elicit strong emotions from the audience, I’m not sure anyone on the main roster can elicit the array of strong emotions that Dean Ambrose can.
The crowd has been letting the WWE know loudly and clearly for a very long time that they absolutely adore Dean Ambrose, but it’s only when Dean’s going up against a worthy foil in a talent like Seth Rollins that his excellence is fully realized.
The subtleties of Dean’s performance, his affinity for fun and the character’s madness certainly contributes to his ability to get over, but it’s the core of the Dean Ambrose character that sets him apart and will continue to elicit incredibly strong responses. There is a singular quality to Dean, an aspect of his character that makes him the perfect Millennial-Generation-Hero.
Dean is motivated by love.
And this love makes him do crazy, stupid things.
That description epitomizes the millennial generation.
Love is the core of Dean Ambrose, the force that compels him to do everything that he does. This is the fascinating truth of the character that gets lost when he devolves into nothing more than a “crazy guy” against opponents like Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper.
A love of Roman Reigns and a love of Seth Rollins (yes, Dean still loves Seth Rollins) is what defines Dean and what makes Dean relatable and compelling.
Love will get Dean over. Not “crazy”.
The story of these three is entertaining because apart from their displays of athletic brilliance, the narrative is grounded in something relatable and real.
Love can be an incredibly powerful foundation for a story, especially when that love transforms into hatred and then transforms back into love.
Dean tells this story when he kisses Seth Rollins on the forehead before he Curb Stomps him, when he presses his head against Roman Reigns’ head at the end of The Royal Rumble, and when he hits Randy Orton with Dirty Deeds because Orton gave Roman the RKO.
Dean’s love for Roman and Seth makes any future rivalry or reunion between any of these three so much more fascinating than any rivalry built on anything else.
Love transforms Seth Rollins into a tragic character, a man who has forsaken his brothers so as to achieve a misguided, corporate ideal (not a coward who can't make up his mind about anything).
Love makes Roman Reigns a gallant warrior protecting his family (not a pretty face getting an undeserving push).
Love makes Dean a human being fighting for something we all fight for; acceptance.
These three performers understand their ability to elevate one another. They're aware of their significance in the company and they know they can tell this story - their familiarity will yield excellent results. The WWE would be wise to let them tell this story and to let them tell it on a liberated microphone and on a liberated canvas. The second Michael Cole starts saying "Dean Ambrose is fighting for love!" is the second this story gets sapped of life. So while I'm making an argument for forging ahead with these three, I'm not arguing that the script dictate what happens. Let the characters breathe. Let the workers work. The WWE fans will be grateful.
Each former Shield member has their appeal. Each continues to grow stronger with every new match and every new promo. But their bond must always be acknowledged by the WWE fiction, for it is a bond that acknowledges the dedication and the love of the WWE viewer.
Every time Roman and Dean bump fists, every time Dean Ambrose mocks Rollins, and every time Rollins is forced to pay for his betrayal, the viewer feels as though their dedication to the WWE is rewarded. The viewers’ knowledge of The Shield's history is respected, manipulated, and exalted.
It’s in the aftermath of The Shield’s destruction that an incredibly entertaining, purifying fire burns.
Add fuel to that fire, WWE.
Let it burn.
(Writer’s note: The one fault of the entire night was once again the way the female performers in the WWE were underutilized. I’m adding this note here because, in writing this review, an adequate transition did not present itself. I also covered everything that’s wrong with the way the women of the WWE are used in THIS ARTICLE. While the return of Tamina and the revitalization of Naomi could spell good things for the women’s division - yes, the women’s division - the fact that the female wrestlers can’t get more than three minutes despite the company’s acknowledgement of #GiveDivasAChance and the fan’s demand for change is reprehensible. I spent the entirety of RAW trying to get #WomensWrestling to trend for I believe #WomensWrestling to be a more effective, empowered phrase than #GiveDivasAChance. At the start of the show, it actually did reach the top ten trends.
The purpose in getting #WomensWrestling to trend is to make the WWE aware of what it is the fans really want; the kind of women's division we see on NXT. More organization is required, however, and if you believe in #WomensWrestling then join me in adding #WomensWrestling to you live Tweets during the WWE’s various shows. I might write a post or create a video later in the week that spells out some guidelines for using social media to our advantage. It’s important that we not bombard pro-wrestlers, and instead galvanize pro-wrestling fans who want to see the WWE start treating women with respect.)
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