ONE YEAR LATER - THE RAW REVIEW
WRITER'S NOTE: This is a RAW REVIEW from July 7th, 2014. Originally published on THE GOOD WORKER (the precursor to The Work of Wrestling) I'm sharing it again here to show how both the WWE and my style of analysis have evolved in the past year. This is a fun trip down wrestling's memory lane and, with the benefit of hindsight, some of the writing (particularly about Roman Reigns) reads more prophetic than I could have anticipated. Enjoy!
The WWE flagship delivered another solid episode in Montreal, Canada this week.
This should be the benchmark for a "standard" or "normal" Monday Night RAW - several good matches, a potentially awesome main event, and some good promos sprinkled-in.
Nothing particularly groundbreaking happened, but the show wasn't stagnant either. Momentum continued for all the significant stories, and there were several entertaining moments.
The night began with Roman Reigns making his typically awesome entrance through the crowd. He gave a few kids the "fist-bump" before jumping over the barricade. Seeing him do this in such a casual manner, as if it was improvised and not necessarily typical fan service, but instead a "Nod from the Gods", made it both sincere and badass. He certainly shouldn't start fist-bumping everyone, but one or two here or there is good, and in keeping with the symbolism of The Shield.
Roman needs to be The Achilles or the Coriolanus of the WWE, a general the people admire, love, and rely upon to fight for them, but who is also not actually a man of the people. He is above everyone else, and yet he is still beloved because he is so powerful.
He should be more directly represented as the latest and greatest warrior whose confidence is backed-up with pure strength and charisma.
He does more to build this kind of epic mythos in that quick fist-bump, in his graceful athleticism, and in his facial expressions than he ever does with the catchphrase "assess and attack".
But the WWE seems to want Roman to be the multi-talented star of the future, a guy who can get the audience jazzed up through his mic-work as well as his in-ring antics. The WWE always wants another Stone Cold or The Rock, their gauge for success and quality completely skewed by what has worked in the past.
Putting a mic in Roman's hands and saddling him with tough-guy catchphrases is not a recipe for his success, however.
Roman will be "successful" no matter what, because he will mostly likely always have the brass on his side by the mere nature of his existence. But "success" as in the best, most successful use of his strengths as a character is almost certainly not guaranteed if the WWE continues to misunderstand Roman. They might continue to give him that mic and give him an inordinate amount of catchphrases and he might never drop from the top simply because he's been chosen, but this could lead to a situation not unlike the one John Cena finds himself in today.
People like Roman right now because he actually is cool and he is good, but if he's forced into a place of prominence without displaying the particular skillset we're supposed to believe he possesses, the people will turn on him.
And that doesn't have to happen.
The WWE, Roman, and the fans will benefit from WWE-creative playing to this character's strengths and not trying to turn him into something that he isn't. I don't suggest he never speak, I merely suggest he speak only when absolutely necessary. He's not an orator, and it's a character that doesn't need to be.
His language is visual.
Roman's RAW promo wasn't particularly memorable as anything good or bad, which could be seen as an improvement. He seems to be trying to try less hard.
Hopefully, one day, he'll tap into something within himself, something honest that exists beneath the WWE's script. Once he stopped talking and started fighting with Kane around the ring, and into the crowd, "business picked up".
Perhaps it's simply because I'm excited to be seeing new wrestlers in new feuds, but it seems as though WWE's broadcasts of late have returned to the more familiar, entertaining format I remember from my childhood and adolescence - big opening segment, tag match, backstage interviews, singles matches, more backstage interviews, promo/comedy segment, backstage dialogue/preparation scene between two rivals, divas match, main event.
Even if Roman isn't the best talker, there was an atmosphere of significance to his screen-time, and his battle with Kane. The involvement of officials trying to break the two up, and bother performers knocking the officials down so that they could attack each other was a great, energized way to kick of the show.
The Usos and The Wyatts put on another excellent tag match. Toward the end of the match I became overly critical, thinking, "as enjoyable as this is, this is literally the same match I've seen them have before, and I know exactly what's going to happen", and right after I had that thought the match took a turn and veered into new territory, one of the best spots being a massive power bomb from Luke Harper.
It was good to see The Wyatts pick up the win, as they've been starved for a victory.
While I'm generally not a fan of backstage segments, everything I saw on my HuluPlus version was well-handled, contributing to the matches that followed.
Kane let slip that he's starting to hate Randy Orton, planting the seed for the Big Red Machine's dissention from The Authority. I would find a Kane face-turn fairly rewarding, as not only am I tired of watching him do The Authority's bidding, I still fondly remember his days as a member of Team Hell No, and would appreciate any brief callback to that.
Rusev defeated RVD in a relatively short match. RVD got some kicks in, though, which was nice, but was ultimately fed to Rusev so as to maintain the Russian Bull's aura. The Rusev segments need to start injecting a bit of variety into the proceedings.
They always start with Lana going on about Putin. RVD interrupted this time, so that was nice, but there's no reason they can't have Lana occasionally talk after the match. I'm not a Rusev fan in the slightest, but I can't necessarily criticize his very existence. I can appreciate his place, I just wish they would change it up just a bit each week.
Next came an excellent match between Dean Ambrose and Randy Orton.
Orton took the brunt of the punishment, with Ambrose relentlessly slapping, punching, kicking and scratching throughout. Orton really had to fend for himself, because Ambrose, in keeping with his character, does actually become quite unhinged when he's in the ring. He doesn't seem unprofessional, he just simply seems like a guy you have to "be ready for".
Surprisingly, Orton went over clean. A fantastic RKO hit Dean after his usual rebound off the second rope, and he went down for the count.
While I'm a Dean fan and, in the heat of the moment, I want to see him win, it's good Orton went over. Not only does it give Orton some steam going into Battleground, it's a reminder that such a situation (a clean match with a clean victory, even for a heel) can still exist in a high-profile match.
Orton also reacted nicely to a Dean-botch off the top rope. There was either some miscommunication or Dean lost his balance and had to jump early, but he awkwardly landed at Orton's back, and then Orton quickly snapped up into the air and delivered a drop kick.
It was an all-around excellent bout that didn't negatively effect Dean's momentum too much, because Orton isn't even Dean's goal, and he made a victorious run-in later in the night.
Lawler introduced Bret Hart to the Montreal crowd (stealing a bit of The Hitman's thunder), and then The Excellence of Execution made his way to the ring.
It's always nice to see Bret, and while I enjoyed the segment itself, it felt like a squash of both he and Sandow.
Sandow came down the ring impersonating Bret this week, cutting an insulting promo on the "Montreal Screwjob and such".
Sandow's comment, "Talking wasn't your strong suit," was the last straw and Bret punched Sandow out of the ring, and responded, "No, punching was."
It wasn't terrible, but you could almost see a longing for more in Bret's eyes, as he clutched the mic despite the fact that his music was playing him off. It just seems like a waste of Bret's significance in an incredibly significant place.
Have Cesaro come out with Paul Heyman and get some heat, have Bret be at ringside for Jericho or Cena...anything else would have been better.
Hopefully this is not the last we've seen of The Hitman in the WWE.
Jericho showed that "he still go it" in his match against The Miz. He didn't look rusty (to me), and the two had a pretty solid match that transitioned into a good back and forth between Y2J and Bray.
Visually, it was the most impressive Wyatt segment I've seen yet due to the sheer amount of lights in the crowd and the composition of the camera.
Wyatt, sitting in his rocking chair, started to peel back a layer of this feud, insinuating that the people now belonged to him and that they had forsaken Jericho. The only criticism I have is that the "actions speak louder than words" line has been used far too often at all levels of the card. Bray twisted it in an interesting way, but hearing Jericho say what his actions were going to be, instead of just acting, wasn't as exciting as it could have been. I'd love to see wrestlers actually allow their actions to speak for them, and just drop the microphone mid-sentence and charge.
They're just teasing us now, however, barely scratching the surface, and that's a good thing, setting up what will hopefully be a lengthy, exciting feud.
AJ Lee and Paige teamed up to have a good tag match against Naomi and Cameron.
It's strange the way Paige is behaving, completely unclear if her idolatry of AJ is sincere or ironic.
The reason this aspect of her performance is unclear is because of the way the WWE has inconsistently handled her character, and the inconsistent way in which she's played the character.
Also, AJ not seeming suspicious of this behavior is equally perplexing.
I think it's best if the clapping and the cheering of AJ is actually sincere on Paige's part. It's simply more interesting than seeing the same old heel-turn and rivalry.
Instead, let's have AJ Lee and Paige team up and run the Divas Division as The Anti-Divas!
I just made you a million dollars, WWE. Where are my ice cream bars?
Before we get to the main event between John Cena and Seth Rollins, let's celebrate the high point of Bo Dallas' career thus far.
This was actually cut from my HuluPlus version (a terrible edit), and I had to watch it on WWE.com. While the entire segment itself was a little disconcerting, hinting that Bo may be on the path to gimmick oblivion, I'm not sure I've burst out laughing whilst watching wrestling quite as hard as when he knocked El Torito on his face.
And it's not because El Torito is a little person.
It's because Bo Dallas is a delightfully terrible person.
Also cut from Hulu was an excellent match (the last 3 minutes I saw anyway), between Alberto Del Rio and Dolph Ziggler for the No.1 Contendership for the U.S. Title. Del Rio picked won, which hopefully means he'll nab that cartoonish belt away from Sheamus, and then eventually unite it with the I.C. title.
Kofi vs. Cesaro was also cut. Watching this segment, I find myself discouraged with almost every wrestler involved, as much as I want to like them. The upside is that an actual feud is anchoring the likes of Cesaro, Big E, and Kofi. It's perhaps unfortunate for this trio of superstars that Rusev is locked in a feud with Jack Swagger, otherwise a Cesaro/Rusev tag team would make formidable, logical opponents.
The main event match between Rollins and Cena was decent, and started off wonderfully, but I found myself distracted by how blatant Cena's calls were. Seeing, and sometimes even hearing him call the next spot, pulled back the veil of the performance, tainting my experience of it. I watched the last few minutes of the match not as a match, not as a story, but as a succession of individual, contrived events.
This is not to write that it was bad, it's simply that I felt some of the flow, and realism of a fight, vanish. Perhaps all matches are like this, and I've simply had an awakening and will forever watch wrestling in a different way. But I suspect that is not the case. My expectations were also rather high as I found it be an exciting, unexpected main event prospect, but the two weren't allowed to go as far as they possibly could.
In the end it devolved into Kane's interference, another cash-in attempt, another Rollins run-in, and another Roman Reigns spear, which is all better than Cena going over Rollins cleanly.
And the back and forth between Reigns and Cena, each sarcastically raising the other's arm, reacting to the crowd's response, was a nice way to close the show and hint at what's to come.
When Rollins went to cash in his Money in the Bank contract on Cena, I was struck with a vision:
Dean Ambrose coming down the ramp in a referee jersey.
I doubt this will happen, but imagine, within the next couple months, Rollins cashes in, and when he calls for a referee, Dean comes running down the ramp, as a ref, and, much to Seth's shock, counts one, two, three.
Rollins wins, but his win is tainted by the fact that Dean permitted it. And, naturally, after counting one, two, three Dean would beat the life out of Rollins, spoiling a celebration.
Later, Dean would explain that he did this so that he could more effectively crush Seth's dreams and be the man to take the WWE World Heavyweight Championship from him. And, if the WWE wanted to get really semantic about it, his turn as an official could be explained as the actions of a new, unpredictable RAW General Manager (Santino perhaps), granting Dean such power.
Feel free to comment below with your own backseat books and thoughts.
Next week, let's hope the WWE continues in this straightforward, action-oriented way, and perhaps permits some variety amidst feuds we've come to know and love.
In Punk's name we pray.