THE RAW REVIEW
Watching Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns drive Seth Rollins insane is fun.
Good, old-fashioned, satisfying fun.
“Fun” is the perfect word to describe the WWE World Heavyweight Championship story now that Kane’s moral dilemma is no longer the focus, and the more sense-making, ever-entertaining Shield-fallout has taken centerstage. The main event match and the conclusion of Elimination Chamber was pitch-perfect, an unpredictable explosion of logical events that gave the WWE’s A-story the focus and the emotional hook it desperately needed.
Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Roman Reigns work incredibly well together.
They understand each other.
That understanding consistently produces good television.
They are fresh and passionate and deeply tuned-in to the youth-culture that regularly pays homage to their slightest of lovable gestures and expressions.
Dean, Roman, and Seth understand today’s pro-wrestling audience: a blend of meme and gif-obsessed tweens and twenty-somethings, IWC-complainers who’ll never be satisfied, disgruntled WWE fans who are pro-wrestling traditionalist who simply want to see the company return to its roots and present the pro-wrestling fiction as a shoot-sport, and an easier-to-please audience who just wants to watch Good overcome Evil in entertaining ways.
Freed from a script that often misunderstands today’s WWE-viewer, Dean, Roman, and Seth satisfy every single sect of the pro-wrestling audience. Each performer is rooted in a recognizable tradition, tropes that draw comparisons to the likes of Steve Austin, The Ultimate Warrior, and Shawn Michaels. Each has slowly but surely carved out a personae in the pantheon of the WWE that exceeds the grasp of comparison, and it’s within the freedom to express that uniqueness where a vibrant, exciting, and fun new era exists. They are, obviously, WWE fans. In that way, the audience is inherently bonded to them for we've all grown up loving the same thing. The viewer gets to live vicariously through Dean, Roman, and Seth.
Their magic is not a magic that the script can recreate.
In fact, all those moments where the script dictates Roman & Dean bro-out and talk about beers feel uncomfortable (such happened during a stilted backstage segment at Elimination Chamber).
But when Roman & Dean naturally clink thumb and pinky fingers together and throw back a mimed-beer after taking out The Authority, or when they say things like “Loser buys the beers” of their own accord, we witness the kind of brotherly love and storytelling magic that helped make so many Attitude Era matches and segments so much fun.
The Attitude Era wasn't entertaining because it was crude, trash-TV. In fact those were the most unsuccessful aspects of that era.
The Attitude Era was entertaining because viewers were treated to the work of good improvisational performers like The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Mick Foley, all of whom had honed their craft throughout years of training, and entire lifetimes immersed in the business. When it came time for them to deliver, their foundation, their lengthy careers, was all the script they needed.
For example, Kevin Owens (who has only made three appearances on RAW) cut one of the most fascinating, entertaining promos we've seen in years last night. He went toe to toe with John Cena and he maintained composure and told a powerful story, all the while selling Money in the Bank. And that's because his career on the indy scene, his years of hard work, combined with the freedom of expression, results in good television. If a writer handed Owens a script that attempted to approximate Owens' sense of self, that promo would fail. You can't get over trying to be someone else's idea of who you are. That is a truly stifling process that hurts the performers and the viewers. And it's seemed, for far too long, that the wrestlers have been blamed for not making a scripted promo work when the idea of a scripted promo is, itself, inherently flawed.
When Roman isn’t talking about beanstalks, and he’s instead telling Seth Rollins to listen to his “Mommy and Daddy”, the crowd pops. They believe what he’s saying and they enjoy what he has to say. The reason they enjoy it, and the reason it seems real, is because what he's saying is informed by his actual experience on the road when he ran with Seth Rollins as a fellow member of The Shield. The audience understands that, and the audiences feels rewarded for their commitment to the WWE when they feel as though the relationships they're already invested in evolve naturally before their eyes.
When Seth Rollins rages on the microphone, fed up with everyone’s perception of him as a “Justin Bieber sellout Authority-lackey”, we witness an inviting, powerful truth; Rollins, free from the script and free from The Authority, is one of, if not the absolute best performer on the main roster today.
Rollins has flirted with leaving The Authority before, but it wasn’t until his latest, passionate opening promo, playing against the poking and prodding Reigns, that a believable WWE World Heavyweight Champion emerged.
He screamed in Roman’s face and Triple H’s face about how he didn’t need The Authority and how he would face Dean Ambrose for the title in a ladder match. He was still a heel, but he wasn’t beholden to the unfortunate, cowardly-heel character he’s had to play ever since winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. The problem with the WWE’s modern version of a cowardly heel is that it’s a passive character who doesn’t want to do anything and rarely does anything well. Happenstance and luck define the modern coward-heel. The soul of the character is afraid, not vicious in the way Edge or Ric Flair’s souls were vicious. The result is a story that lacks urgency and is defined by passivity and randomness. That genuinely frightened coward-heel also hurts the babyfaces because it’s hard to root for a hero who keeps failing as a result of purposefully convoluted booking and blind luck. It’s easy to root for a babyface when they’re on the receiving end of purposeful, calculated villainy.
The script hasn’t trusted Rollins to work a confident heel since winning the title, saddling him with a characterization and a Kane-focused subplot that got in the way of showcasing his unmatched excellence. A cowardly-Rollins who avoids a fight is fundamentally at odds with who the performer is and entirely at odds with the Seth Rollins the WWE Universe grew to know and love hating on his way into Mania.
He was conniving, to be sure, but not a coward who creates convoluted booking situations like we saw at Extreme Rules.
The Seth Rollins who got in Brock Lesnar’s face before The Royal Rumble, The Seth Rollins who flew through the air and drove his elbow through Brock Lesnar’s heart, the active and arrogant Seth Rollins who stole the WWE World Heavyweight Championship is the delightfully devious, entertaining Seth Rollins.
That’s a champion. That’s the man who gets over as a heel and creates must-see TV.
And that’s who came out in the opening RAW promo. He cut through all voices like a fist through a wall, and asserted himself as a dominant character.
Later in the evening, he was still accompanied to the ring by The Authority to attack Roman Reigns. This creates something of a narrative inconsistency where his earlier comments appear ineffectual. The audience isn't permitted to commit to perceiving the character one way or the other, because the character becomes inconsistent. I understand that we needed to see The Authority come down to the ring and fight Reigns and Ambrose to close the show, but it also just doesn’t make too much sense that Kane would be willing to help a guy who called him a “seven-foot piece of crap” earlier in the night.
I’m not arguing that this should be cleared up, or that I need to know anything (anymore) about Kane. I'm not on my podium preaching narrative-consistency here.
I’m simply arguing that a liberated Seth Rollins (both behind the scenes and on-screen) is best for business. I’m arguing that the disbanding of The Authority in its current form is, unquestionably, best for business.
A Seth Rollins with just J&J or a Seth Rollins with just Triple H in his corner, who regularly cuts promos about his own excellence, and never backs down from a fight because he knows that he can beat all comers (because he’s prepared for every situation thanks to the aid of J&J or Triple H and his cunning, devious, active mind) is the Seth Rollins that Seth Rollins clearly wants to be.
The same is true of Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns.
Dean is not just a whacky dude to be branded “Lunatic Fringe” and then remain within that tee-shirt selling box. He’s an energetic performance-powerhouse whose psychological depths and deep connection with the millennial generation's consciousness have yet be fully comprehended (by the company and the viewer alike).
Roman isn’t just the “Belee Dat!” guy who throws superman punches and spears. He’s an excellent storyteller who understands, better than most on the roster, how to sell pain and earn genuine sympathy while simultaneously energizing the audience with his comic-book inspired poses and athletic flourishes. He is one of the few performers who tells a believable fight-story, his expressiveness in a match, his heavy-breaths and winces, and his occasional, incredulous grin creating a convincing, human character.
Moving forward, I would encourage the WWE to pull back a bit when it comes to scripting these three. Give them the creative freedom Kevin Owens and John Cena had last night. That doesn't mean handing them a microphone and offering no direction and no semblance of structure. That means cultivating, intelligently, what's best in each of these superb talents.
They are a garden of pro-wrestling perfection that only needs a bit of water every now and again. They will flourish when they are provided a general narrative framework that encourages improvisational freedom from one segment to the next.
These three former members of The Shield are where the money is.
These three former members of The Shield are where the story is.
These three former members of The Shield are where the fun is.
And fun is what we need on Monday Night Raw.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment below with your thoughts. What would you like to see happen next with Ambrose, Rollins, and Reigns?