By Will Pruett
Full disclosure: To retain his sanity, Will Pruett watches the 90 minute edit of Raw on Hulu. He has no regrets.
The 2015 Royal Rumble could be looked back on as the worst night in the career of Roman Reigns. He won the Rumble match, stamping his ticket to WrestleMania’s main event, but he was also rejected strongly by the Philadelphia crowd. Despite being endorsed by The Rock and forced to overcome WWE’s two major monsters (plus Rusev), Roman’s win cast a dark cloud over his year. WWE made a ton of mistakes going into and coming out of the Rumble (including booking the worst Rumble match ever). Many of those mistakes were fixed in two nights through a much better presentation of Roman Reigns.
It seems almost counter productive to say almost 12 months of wrong could be fixed in two nights, but WWE found a way. They finally seemed to have stumbled upon the ideal presentation of the star they obviously want to build their next generation around.
It began by making Roman a true ass kicker. Please forgive the language, but there isn’t a better way to describe this. Roman Reigns kicked ass on Sunday and Monday nights. The crowd adored him for it. It stands to reason that fans didn’t really want to see Roman struggle. Since the Royal Rumble, Roman seemed to struggle with everyone. He was even with Kane, Big Show, Bray Wyatt, and many others he should have quickly beaten. Why? Roman is more compelling when he is kicking ass 90 percent of the time.
It followed by breaking out the big guns to give Reigns a formidable opponent. Go back and listen to the absolute lack of noise as Roman and Sheamus began fighting at TLC. No one cared. No one truly invested in Sheamus or Roman until the match was almost over. You can’t make a babyface without good heels. Sheamus, while he is technically a great performer, has not been presented as a quality heel. Enter Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, and Vince McMahon. Now, the protagonist (Roman) was going up against an antagonist bigger than himself. He was staring down insurmountable odds. Now, Roman needed fan support to overcome. The antagonist has to help the protagonist. The McMahon family helped Roman.
When it came down to it, all of the creative ideas got out of the way and Roman was put in a high stakes do-or-die situation. Fans seemed to know they weren’t going to get an inconclusive ending. They knew they wouldn’t see a cop out finish. They were going to see Roman win or get fired. This set Roman up for maximum fan support and success. The creative forces stopped using cute/witty/fun/clever ideas and let the good guy finally win. When Roman Reigns was able to do so, he was the most over man in Philly.
This isn’t to say everything was perfect or everything will be perfect. There are still major issues with the Roman Reigns character and he can’t punch old men every night to fix them. There are also major issues with the WWE creative process in general and they were evident all over this show. There’s even the issue of Vince and Stephanie dismantling Roman prior to his major moment. They aren’t presenting everyone perfectly. WWE still will have to work for years to fix all of their issues.
With all of this said, I feel so much better about WWE than I did a day ago or a week ago. They figured out who Roman Reigns is. They pulled the trigger and allowed their protagonist to succeed. This was necessary. This was the right time. Raw was one of the best wrestling shows I’ve watched this year.
And now for some random thoughts:
– What was the goal of The New Day, Lucha Dragons, and Usos segment? Was it to make me like New Day more? Was it to demonstrate how poor of sports the other tag teams are? Who was I supposed to like in this segment? It was weird. It was also long and not particularly compelling. Hopefully this division wasn’t ran off the rails by this odd series of moments.
– Speaking of a division off the rails (I told you there were creative issues all over this show outside of the main event scene), what is happening with WWE’s women? I get what they’re trying with Charlotte and Becky. It just isn’t working. Ric Flair is a great performer, but he seems like a cartoon character. If the division is supposed to be built around creating three dimensional female characters, they’re epically failing.
– I really liked the production of the promo with The Dudley Boys, Tommy Dreamer, and Rhyno. I’m not a stickler for wrestling being live. Working non-live pre-produced elements into the show is helpful.
– The actual hardcore match was inoffensive and kind of fun. I didn’t mind The Wyatt Family vs. Team ECW being a treat for the Philly crowd. It was a smoother brawl than the Tables Match the night before.
– Kevin Owens interfering in the Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler match was a delightful surprise. I was worried Owens would be out of the division, but they made their story more compelling by adding him in. Ambrose, Ziggler, and Owens could have a very compelling three person feud.
– Seriously folks, how good was Vince McMahon’s work on this show?
When wrestling is good, it’s really fun. This was a delightful show to watch and the 90 minute version never really slowed down. Hot shotting major decisions isn’t the right choice all the time, but this was the perfect moment for a hot shot. With how depressingly abysmal Raw has been on a weekly basis for the last month, this was a welcome change. WWE delivered a major moment. They needed to.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? If they aren’t super annoying thoughts, hit me up with them! Check the Twitter twitter.com/itswilltime or email me at email@example.com.