By Will Pruett
Full disclosure: To retain his sanity, Will Pruett watches the 90 minute edit of Raw on Hulu. He has no regrets.
Three weeks ago, I wrote about the right time and place to hot shot. I argued for putting the WWE Championship on Roman Reigns in the exact moment and exact way WWE did. I believe it worked really well. Looking at the major development of Roman defending the championship in the Royal Rumble match, it seems like WWE is embracing this strategy. For me, it still works.
WWE seemed to be in a corner. They needed a big match for Roman Reigns at the Rumble. While usually the title match at the Rumble doesn’t need to be too impressive, this Rumble is up against the NFC Championship game. This is major. For me, it makes my annual Rumble party a football party as well. WWE has serious competition instead of being welcome relief from drudgery of the Pro Bowl. The problem? There are only two opponents for Roman Reigns big enough to help with this. Both of them are possible WrestleMania opponents; Brock Lesnar and Triple H.
It always felt wrong to do Reigns vs. Triple H at the Rumble. It’s obviously the big match WWE seems to be building towards, but the Royal Rumble show seemed a little soon. Reigns vs. Lesnar should be a WrestleMania main event, not a Rumble main event. While compelling, neither of these options worked. What about Sheamus? Well, he’s Sheamus.
Putting the title on the line in a 30 man match helps the Rumble itself seem more important. For the last two years, the Rumble has been the site of fan rebellion, not celebration. This has hurt the Rumble’s reputation. It’s seen as the night WWE forces someone on their audience, not the night someone wins a major accomplishment. The WWE Championship changes this and makes the match feel much more important.
Narratively, this also makes sense. WWE is going for broke with Roman Reigns vs. The McMahons in a short amount of time. They badly want to make this work. They are taking the meta-fan perception of Roman Reigns as the chosen one and flipping it around. What could be more challenging for Roman? Now he can lose his title to anyone. This opens up the Rumble for more high profile entrants as well.
More than anything, I’m more excited about the Royal Rumble now than I was months ago. This is big. This should be fun.
And now for some random thoughts:
– I’m enjoying the trend of shorter Raw opening segments. It seems like WWE is aware of the formulaic issues they were having. If you combine this with their centerpiece star, Roman Reigns’ issues delivering long promos, it’s a very positive move. Six minutes talking is preferable to 20 minutes any day.
– One big difference between Roman Reigns and other lead babyfaces to stand up to the McMahons; Roman consistently gets the better of them. This matters.
– Vince McMahon’s referee outfit was just absurd. I know he sees himself as an overblown character, but this was maximum overblow. McMahon is a 70 year old man. He should not have dancing pecs on Raw. It’s ridiculous.
– I enjoy the current program between Charlotte and Becky. WWE needed to put Charlotte in a position to seem like the lead heel in the division. The feud with Paige didn’t do this. Feuding with Becky Lynch works. It would be more compelling if character development for Becky would have occurred in the last six months, but we can’t expect perfection.
– Speaking of Charlotte, she already seems more comfortable playing a heel. I wish she was presented as more than “Ric Flair’s daughter”, but it’s far more functional.
– The turn on Becky Lynch after the match was especially compelling.
– Kevin Owens’ match with Neville was very good. Owens and Neville tend to be great together. The mini feud between Owens and Neville over the last couple weeks has been fun to watch.
– Dean Ambrose had time to talk and develop his character on commentary. I found it a little distracting, but it worked.
– An odd moment: WWE included The Dudley’s and Kalisto vs. The New Day on the Hulu edit instead of The League of Nations vs. The Usos. The match was longer than I would have preferred, but fine. Why not use this moment to make Kalisto a singles star instead of just a third wheel?
– Big Show and Ryback being beat down by The Wyatt Family was well done. The standoff between Strowman and Show was particularly compelling. The live crowd seemed to be into it as well. This worked.
– Chris Jericho’s return was disappointing. From a fashion sense, Jericho looked awful. His hair is always absurd. The vest under the light up jacket echoed his failed run at the end of 2007. The jeans were just silly. The whole package was bad. Add into it a “play the hits” style promo and the constantly tired character left me feeling “meh”.
– The New Day’s new graphics were delightful. The New Day’s promo tonight was not.
– A five minute video package about Vince McMahon and Roman Reigns will never be necessary.
This was a pretty good episode of Raw. It was newsworthy, fun, and mostly inoffensive. WWE is hell bent on making Roman Reigns into a major star. It’ll be interesting to see where he is going into WrestleMania with all of this effort behind him.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Powell and Jake Barnett co-host the Dot Net Weekly and Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast combo show and discuss Raw Underground and other WWE concepts, The Rock's group buying the XFL, the Marty Jannetty story, AEW Dynamite and NXT TV, and more...