Coming off of a strong performance last week, hope blossomed once more in the hearts of WWE fans everywhere. Could Raw keep putting on strong shows, even without John Cena and several other big stars making regular appearances? Has Roman Reigns’ time finally come, and will the fans go along with it this time? And just what the heck is Bray Wyatt up to? Well, we got answers to all those questions, plus a bunch of other things also happened, this week on Monday Night Raw!
10. Roman Reigns Talks…Just Enough
Admit it, a part of you cringed when Roman Reigns came out to start Raw, and his first act upon entering the ring was to grab a microphone. We’ve grown to tolerate and even accept Reigns despite his shortcomings over the last few months, and frankly, it doesn’t matter how we feel, because he’s probably going to be WWE World Heavyweight Champion in two weeks. But there’s good news, because while Roman did talk for a bit, he didn’t go into a long speech in a clumsy attempt at summarizing the long history of The Shield break-up. He kept his thoughts short, there were no attempts at being witty, he simply stated facts and closed with a promise to kick Seth Rollins’ ass. Then he turned the heavy lifting over to Rollins, who is clearly more comfortable in the promo department (ironically, the chief complaint against Rollins when he entered WWE was that he was bad on the mic, which should give Reigns fans something to hope for). While he can’t stay silent forever, especially as champion, it’s good to see WWE slowly learning that not everyone can cut a twenty-minute opening promo and adjusting accordingly.
9. When Sneak Attacks Fail
Well, Dolph Ziggler continues to be unreasonably distracted by the appearance of Tyler Breeze during his matches. Actually, it’s not completely unreasonable, Tyler is clearly gorgeous, but it is starting to cost him matches. And honestly, for a guy who seems to have more than his share of ring smarts, Dolph certainly isn’t using his head when going after Breeze. First of all, you should never turn your back on Kevin Owens while the match is still going on, which Dolph did twice last night. Kevin Owens becomes stronger when his opponent isn’t looking. And second of all, when you’re trying to attack Tyler Breeze from behind, perhaps it would be a good idea not to do it when Tyler is using his phone to take a selfie, which means he can see you sneaking up on him!. When you’re getting outsmarted by a guy whose gimmick is an homage to Zoolander, that’s definitely a sign that you’re doing something wrong.
8. All Is Right With The Universe
The best part of a Cesaro match, aside from the part where he wrestles and is pretty awesome at it, is seeing his opponent and having a reasonable expectation that Cesaro might actually win the match. Such was the case last night, when Cesaro faced The Miz. As much as everyone hates The Miz, you can’t argue that he has so much charisma that he could pretty much lose every match he’s ever in and it wouldn’t damage his character even a tiny bit. Mostly because his character is a guy who talks big and fails to back it up when challenged, but also because he really is a great heel who can get the crowd to hate him just by opening his mouth. The fact that he’s also not a bad wrestler makes him a perfect opponent for someone like Cesaro, who needs wins over credible opponents that can at least keep up with him in the ring. In addition, even though we can all see Cesaro’s next feud sitting in the crowd in the form of Stardust and The Ascension (who are apparently stealing even more blatantly from the Road Warrior’s closet), it didn’t factor into any sort of screwy finish. Cesaro won and looked great, which will give him positive momentum whenever Stardust finally attacks him to start their feud. Meanwhile, Miz lost and looked fine, because next show he’ll do a Miz TV segment and continue being an arrogant jerk that everyone hates.
7. Bray’s Been Thunderstruck
We talked after Hell in a Cell about how this angle between Bray Wyatt and the Brothers of Destruction could allow WWE to basically hide everyone’s weaknesses behind impressive pyrotechnics and a good dose of smoke and mirrors. Well, we got an excellent taste of that last night, as Bray Wyatt showed off his new magical powers by activating a fireworks display and creating lightning indoors, signifying that he had somehow absorbed the powers of The Undertaker and Kane, and re-establishing himself as a powerful mystical force in WWE. It was the kind of over-the-top segment that is both ridiculous and also perfect for the characters involved. It’s the sort of thing that only works in pro wrestling (and, possibly, in SyFy original movies), because wrestling fans know that the product they are watching is, at a certain level, supposed to be cheesy and feature the kinds of special effects also seen in bad “B” movies. As long as it’s in service of making things interesting, we’ll pretty much go along with anything that professional wrestling wants to throw at us. So, of course Bray Wyatt now has the power to summon lightning and shoot fire out of turnbuckles, just like The Undertaker is an undead zombie motorcycle enthusiast and Kane is a guy who might have split personalities. It’s pro wrestling. If it’s fun to watch, it doesn’t have to be logical.
6. Unexpected Continuity
It would have been so easy for WWE to forget about Jack Swagger and his partnership with Zeb Colter. Honestly, few people probably would have cared if Jack Swagger never showed up again. But wrestling is like one of those hoarders from that TV program, and they never throw something out if they think they might use it again at some point in the future. And given the ongoing confusion as to what the heck the partnership between Colter and Alberto Del Rio, and their concept of Mexamerica, is all about, it was kind of nice to see our concerns given physical form, even if it happened to be in the shape of Jack Swagger. Hey, maybe Swagger’s dogged search for the true purpose behind Mexamerica will lead to a new and interesting character change for him. Maybe this whole plot is a cover-up so that Colter and Del Rio can find and recover the Ark of the Covenant. Quick, somebody get Swagger a fedora and a whip!
Okay, you laughed at the absurdity of the idea, but admit it, you’d watch that, even if it did involve Jack Swagger.
5. Learning Why We Should Care
One of the best parts of Raw last night was the number of segments they dedicated to character development in wrestlers who haven’t been in the spotlight recently. Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks got some deserved interview time, where Becky was allowed to show that she wasn’t just a sidekick and had her own unique skills that had gotten her to the main roster, and Sasha had an opportunity to be awesome without her teammates around to draw focus from The Boss. Meanwhile, WWE also ran a short vignette before the Lucha Dragons wrestled, showing why we should be paying attention to this tag team who are clearly being set up for at least a minor push in the near future. The segments took mere minutes, and gave all the performers involved just a little more depth and a reason for fans to care about them, which is how you build stars. It doesn’t always take twenty minute promos or five-star matches (although they help), sometimes it’s just being given small amounts of time to present your unique qualities to the audience. WWE needs to do more of this on a regular basis.
4. The Divas (Second Hour) Main Event
Maybe we’re trying to hard to find something that isn’t there, but it’s hard not so feel like giving the Divas the second hour main event spot (in the three-hour Raw era, the matches that occur at 9, 10, and 11 are all technically considered “main events” for the evening) is making a statement that WWE is actually trying to take them seriously. It won’t be remembered as any sort of classic Divas match and it probably won’t make highlight reels at the end of the year, but it was a very good match (even with Brie Bella involved) and it was given more than enough time. In fact, the final hour of Raw was given over to just two matches: the elimination match between Team Reigns and Team Rollins, and the Fatal Four-Way between Becky, Sasha, Paige, and Brie. When was the last time that WWE used a third of Raw for just two matches, much less one of them being a Divas match? By moving away from the “team” concept WWE had been leaning on since the Divas Revolution started, giving them a competitive, lengthy match that had an actual purpose, and letting everyone involved show off their individuality, WWE did more for the division last night than they have in the all the weeks since Charlotte, Becky, and Sasha made their Raw debuts combined.
3. Kevin Owens, Professional Bad Guy
By all accounts, Kevin Owens is actually a nice guy, a dedicated family man, and one hell of a professional wrestler. But it’s just so easy to hate him, and that’s because in an era where fans still cheer entertaining heels, he does the little things to ensure that he’ll be disliked, no matter how good of an in-ring competitor he happens to be. When it comes down to it, Kevin Owens always chooses the action that will get him booed rather than cheered. He doesn’t do flashy moves, he berates his opponent loudly during the match, and even worse, he wins because he’s actually the better wrestler. He even makes everything five times more difficult than it has to be for his supposed allies, as he did last night when he only agreed to team with Seth Rollins in exchange for the WWE Champion owing him a favor in the future. Then, if he doesn’t like how things are going, he walks away rather than accept defeat. Plus, he annoys everyone, so the fans are basically looking forward to him feuding with everybody he faces. After last night, we can now anticipate a feud with Dean Ambrose and, eventually, one with Roman Reigns. If nothing else, Owens is guaranteeing his position for a long time to come, simply because he’s willing to be the most hated man in WWE.
2. The Abbreviated History of Survivor Series
Imagine that you’re in charge of WWE, and you want to celebrate the history of Survivor Series, which is one of your longest-running Pay Per View concepts, even if it fell away from its original intent a long time ago. So you go with the tried-and-true formula, a series of laudatory vignettes of big Survivor Series moments in history. Now, here’s the problem: you can’t use the main events of most of the early years because you can’t promote Hulk Hogan right now, and he was all over those shows. You also can’t or probably won’t use anything involving Jimmy Snuka, Chris Benoit, Owen Hart, Kurt Angle, CM Punk, Jeff Hardy, Batista, or Rey Mysterio, for a variety of reasons ranging from the obvious PR complications to sheer pettiness. Promoting The Undertaker’s 25th anniversary of his debut, when you’re simultaneously running a story line where he’s been absorbed by Bray Wyatt, would either cause fans to assume he’ll be at Survivor Series when you might not have had plans that way, or basically give away his shocking return ahead of time. Also, you don’t like mentioning Brock when he’s not around. So, what are you left with? In this case, we got a mostly meaningless mid-card match from the first Survivor Series, a random Raw vs Smackdown match from the mid-2000’s, and last year’s main event, which WWE promoted in the video as changing things in a new direction, but which it didn’t actually do, because the results of that match were erased several weeks later. Not exactly a glorious montage, there.
1. Absence Makes The Heart Wish You’d Stay Away Longer
Look, John Cena is the straw that stirs the drink and he’s not leaving WWE for a good long time barring injury, and we’ve pretty much accepted that. With that said, did anyone really miss his presence on Raw last night? Or Randy Orton? Nikki Bella? How about Kane, Big Show, or The Dudleys, none of whom appeared on the show? It seemed like the show moved along quite well with new faces getting a chance to put on a show with some many of the established cornerstones away for various reasons. We’re not saying pack them in a box and never bring them back, but it’s been nice to have shows where half of the airtime isn’t given away to already established stars who don’t need the exposure, but who have to be on TV every week. Plus, you’ve freed up the mid card to find new feuds, without having to feed them to the Cena machine (or to a lesser extent, the Orton machine) on a weekly basis, and Seth Rollins, WWE Champion, is finally getting to be the most important person on the show again! We know WWE is already planning to have Cena return earlier than expected at the TLC PPV, but maybe they should consider letting him stay on vacation until the end of the year, just to see what happens. The ratings in December are never going to be good no matter who is on Raw, so maybe give the people working now a little more freedom to find their way without Cena around wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.
Nice Halloween costume, though.