We are two weeks from Survivor Series, and without warning, WWE finds itself without a World champion. There’s no time to mourn Seth Rollins and his incredibly injured knee, however, because we’ve got a tournament to start! Yes, 16 Superstars will be competing to see who will emerge from Survivor Series as the new Champion (hint: it’s probably going to be Roman Reigns). But that’s not all, because Bray Wyatt got into the pyrotechnic control panels and now he’s drunk with power, so you never know exactly what could happen on this week’s episode of Raw!
10. Not Exactly Live From England!
As is traditional when WWE runs through the United Kingdom, this week’s Raw took place from the British Isles (in this case, Manchester, England). Of course, since there’s a huge time difference between England and the United States, the show was actually taped sometime during the afternoon, Eastern time. All of this meant two things to WWE fans: First, the brackets for the WWE World Heavyweight Title tournament were leaked well ahead of the show airing, because this is the Internet, where spoilers lurk around every corner. Secondly, it meant that it was time for the return of the “United Kingdom” Raw set, by which we mean, the same set as any other show, except for the presence of a classic British automobile and a red phone booth on the stage. Because those things are the epitome of the United Kingdom, according to WWE, which is why they trot them out every time they swing through. Why does the UK rate even a token attempt at making the set unique, while even Pay Per Views all have the same layout these days? Who knows! How about, instead of a phone booth (which absolutely nobody under a certain age is even going to recognize), they have a blue Police box sitting there? At least then they’d earn points for being clever and somewhat culturally relevant!
9. The Easy Way Or The Hard Way
Last night’s Raw saw the greatest Roman Reigns promo ever delivered. It was a masterpiece in delivering a speech that got the crowd invested in both the WWE World Heavyweight Title tournament, and Reigns as a character, and it also effectively sold the choice available to him: align with The Authority and be handed the title, or work your way through a grueling tournament for nothing more than an opportunity to try and win it. Which is why Triple H did all the talking, and Roman Reigns stood there and listened, only occasionally speaking in short, terse sentences all centered around kicking someone’s ass. It appears that WWE may have finally figured out that Roman Reigns is never, ever going to be the guy who delivers the twenty minute promo that opens Raw, and have adjusted accordingly. As for the actual content of the promo, well, basically, they’ve already set up the outcome of this entire tournament already. Either Roman realizes that his best (and possibly only) chance at winning the title after failing so many times is to align with Triple H, or Roman finds out that even if he turns them down, there’s always somebody else willing to take The Authority up on their offer, and the only question is, who’s it going to be? Frankly, we’re hoping for Kevin Owens, because greatness like his weekly Raw Fallout promo, where he berates anyone who dares try and interview him after a match, deserves to be recognized.
Here’s the thing about The Big Show. You can’t have a tournament for the vacant WWE World Heavyweight Championship without him. He’s the biggest athlete on the planet, and he’s been a fixture in the main event for years, so it would be odd if he wasn’t involved somehow. With that said, he’s been around for a long time, his act is incredibly stale no matter what alignment he chooses that particular morning, and any match with him is not going to be very good. However, the use of Big Show in this tournament was acceptable, as he was a speed bump for Roman Reigns in an early round, and not, say, the final challenge in the main event of the Pay Per View, having squashed three promising young wrestlers to get to that point. The match was bad, as we knew it would be, but at least it was a short and only moderately painful one on Raw, and even after all these years, there is still some amount of credibility to be gained by convincingly beating The Big Show, as Reigns did last night. And now that he’s beaten a giant to prove his ability to overcome strength, now he must defeat Cesaro in the next round to show that he can hang with one of WWE’s best technical wrestlers. We can’t tell you how upset we are that Cesaro isn’t Spanish so we couldn’t fully make this a reference to The Princess Bride and theorize about Reigns having a battle of wits in the third round, but we’ll get over it.
7. Bracket Busting
We knew heading into this tournament that with a whole bunch of WWE’s top talent either injured, on vacation, or having their souls eaten by the Wyatt Family, it might be a bit difficult to fill an entire 16-wrestler bracket. However, it’s not like anyone beyond the top 8 (or, frankly, the final four) need to have the credibility necessary to believably win the WWE World Heavyweight title, so it’s mostly fine if some of the entrants have only the most tenuous reason to be part of the tournament. However, you really have to question the inclusion of wrestlers that are clearly just fodder, such as Titus O’Neil and Kalisto. Seriously, nobody is going to buy either of those low-card tag team specialists giving anyone a hard time, especially when they’re matched up against Kevin Owens and Ryback, respectively. Come on WWE, would it be too much to at least book plausibly competitive matches? Was it really necessary to have The New Day in a meaningless six-man tag match at the end of the show instead of entering a couple of them in the brackets? At least people might believe they could sneak out a victory through sheer force of numbers (and unicorn magic). And poor Tyler Breeze, whose first match on Raw ends up like his last three NXT Specials, with him on the losing end against someone he never really had a chance to beat.
6. Didn’t Really Think That Through
All right, so we’ve got Becky Lynch, looking for revenge against Paige, both for pinning her last week to become #1 contender and also the whole repeated betrayal thing. And if you’re going to have an Irish lass fight a girl from Norwich, doing it in England at least guarantees a decent crowd reaction (see also: Sheamus fighting Cesaro with Wade Barrett in his corner and Wayne Rooney getting involved in the finish). And hey, Becky even got the win, which is nice, but ultimately irrelevant (other than the usual “why is she pinning the #1 contender just before the Pay Per View” argument), because Paige beats her up post-match and applies her submission finisher on top of the announce table. We’re not sure how that made it more dastardly or painful, but it looked impressive and it caused Charlotte to run out to try and save Becky, so at least it served its purpose. Except for one problem: Paige is still kind of cool, and she was in her home country, so the heroic Charlotte was met with a sizable chorus of boos that even WWE’s audio team couldn’t drown out entirely.
5. What The Heck Is MexAmerica?
It’s becoming more and more clear that MexAmerica is a confusing mess, a waste of both Zeb Colter and Alberto Del Rio (who certainly doesn’t need someone to do the talking for him), and has buried the United States title back in the much that John Cena briefly raised it out of. Even worse, it could be leading to more Jack Swagger appearances. Granted, part of that isn’t entirely WWE’s fault, because when the WWE Title gets vacated suddenly and you’re running a big tournament over it, everything else pretty much takes a back seat. However, the entire act is more than a little ridiculous, as Colter and Del Rio take racism to a new level by talking about being so tolerant that nobody else on the planet could possibly measure up to their shining example, under the banner of the perfect utopia that is MexAmerica, a country of two whole people. The whole thing is xenophobia taken to an extreme, but in a way that doesn’t come out and just admit “we’re bad people who are racist and you should boo us”, possibly because someone backstage still wants to court the Republican half of the country, in case Donald Trump decides he wants to make a campaign stop on Raw, we suppose. As a result, the whole thing is falling flat, and Del Rio has pretty much lost most of the momentum he might have had coming off his surprise return at Hell in a Cell.
4. No, Seriously, We Want Sasha
Much like the desire to see Itchy and Scratchy make it to the fireworks factory, WWE fans have been salivating for weeks at the prospect of Sasha Banks finally getting her chance to shine on the main roster. And in recognition of that fact, she…still didn’t wrestle a match this week. However, she did attack Natalya and lock her in the Bank Statement after Natalya finished beating her Team B.A.D. stablemate Naomi, so at the very least, she’s being set up as the final and biggest challenge of the three-member group. And hey, some kudos should probably go to WWE for not turning Team B.A.D. into another group of women who fight with each other the minute a question of leadership comes up, and instead continuing to work together as a strong group. As much as this era of every important woman in a group needs to end (and, thankfully, seems to be), at least there’s a women’s story line on the main roster that doesn’t involve “women are always crazy jealous of each other”. At least, not yet.
3. Roll It Up
Hey, far be it from us to chastise WWE for having Raw matches end with clean finishes, but would it have killed them to let people get the win with actual finishers this week? Let’s run down the list: Cesaro defeated Sheamus with roll-up. Ambrose pinned Tyler Breeze with a roll-up. Both women’s matches ended with a roll-up pin. The New Day beat The Usos and Neville when Xavier Woods rolled up Neville, but at least he went through the effort of putting his feet on the ropes. These people all have finishing moves, and if they’re going to win cleanly anyway (on a positive note, no distractions leading to a finish this week, which has actually been a trend for a few weeks), wouldn’t it make sense to have them hit them? It’s not like losing to a finisher is any more damaging to the loser than a flash pin. You’re supposed to lose to a finisher, that’s the whole point of them. Roll-ups can be helpful in making it seem like matches could end at any moment, but five-minute-long Raw matches don’t exactly have time to do enough false finishes that you can believe a surprise roll-up out of nowhere got the pin. That sort of thing works in big Pay Per View matches between technically savvy competitors and in multi-fall matches, but not so much in your run-of-the-mill weekly Raw showcases. Especially not enough to have the majority of your matches on a single show end that way.
2. The Opposite Of A New Direction
So, one week after revealing that he had absorbed the powers of both The Undertaker and Kane, Bray Wyatt steps out in front of the crowd one more time to gloat, only to have The Undertaker and Kane appear and destroy Wyatt and his entire Family without breaking a sweat. This entire story line has been moving at a breakneck pace when it probably needed some time to stretch things out and let Wyatt wallow in his new-found destructive powers, but hey, we’ve got the 25th anniversary of The Undertaker’s debut at Survivor Series, and we can’t not have him on the show, right? We barely had time to get used to the idea of a WWE without the Brothers of Destruction, and not only are they already back and apparently not missing any powers, they already preemptively got their revenge on Wyatt for kidnapping them! How does this make anyone want to see a match at Survivor Series, when Undertaker and Kane alone are clearly enough to completely manhandle all four members of the Wyatt Family? Is this yet another example of WWE putting over older, part-time talent nearing the end of their useful life over younger, fresher talent that could still have a long future in this business? We don’t know, but we’re becoming concerned that this may not end up being the coming out party for Bray Wyatt that we initially thought (and hoped) it might be.
1. We Don’t Have Time To Explain Why We Don’t Have Time To Explain
We have one more Raw until Survivor Series, and with it looking like that episode will include the quarterfinal matches in the tournament (although nothing has actually been confirmed either way, WWE hasn’t done a full tournament in a single Pay Per View in years, and it would be odd to take a week off from tournament matches), would you care to guess how many matches are currently announced for the Pay Per View? Well, there are three matches that will make up the tournament semifinals and finals, and the Divas title match between Charlotte and Paige. That’s it. The two secondary singles title holders are still currently in the tournament (and seem likely to at least make the semifinals), and the tag team champions don’t currently have an active feud. We’ll go ahead and assume some sort match involving The Wyatt Family and The Brothers of Destruction will be forthcoming, but there’s still half a card worth of matches and only one show to generate them. And don’t forget, because of the tournament matches, you don’t actually have the full show available for any meaningful build. Certainly, WWE will come up with something to fill time (a Lucha Dragons-New Day match seems likely), and we’d expect at least one quarterfinal match next week to end with interference, setting up a match for Survivor Series (our money is on Breeze costing Ziggler), but that is not a lot of lead time no matter how you slice it.
Also, this guy really needs to have a match at the Pay Per View.
Yes, that last sentence was literally our only justification for including that. We’re comfortable with our decision.