By Will Pruett
Full disclosure: To retain his sanity, Will Pruett watches the 90 minute edit of Raw on Hulu. He has no regrets. Also, he just signed up for commercial free Hulu. His life is wonderful.
The return of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to dominate 30-ish minutes of Raw is probably the leading topic coming out of the show last night. There is always a strange disconnect for me when The Rock is dropped into modern wrestling. The Rock is a character from another time. When The Rock was wrestling, women were regularly insulted with insinuations being made about their sexuality, calling a man a woman was still an insult, and “penis” jokes tended to get laughs from the majority of the audience. The year 2,000 was very different.
It’s 2016 and The Rock came out on Raw peddling his old act. He delivered a couple humorous exchanges, first with The Miz, then with Big Show. After these, he started down a depressing greatest hits list, which served to remind me of most things I dislike about late-90’s wrestling.
Let’s discuss the Lana insults first. Why did The Rock need to insinuate participation in sexual gratification with Lana? Who’s character does this help? What purpose did it serve? Lana looking visibly uncomfortable the entire time and seeming to resent the requirement to participate in this segment didn’t help things. This was bad storytelling, bad television, and a really depressing reminder of what it is to be a woman in modern WWE.
From the awkward Lana exchange, we move on to Rock’s “I woke up early today” speech, which was mildly compelling in 2011, but serves little purpose now.
Rock then had a confrontation with The New Day. Of all the acts in WWE, nothing demonstrates an understanding of modern humor and modern pop culture like Xavier Woods, Big E, and Kofi Kingston. They aren’t just fun, they are a bridge to modernity WWE should cross. They are self referential and delightful. They aren’t a perfect act, but they are completely necessary.
When it came time for Rock and New Day to meet up, I thought we may see something delightful and fun. Instead, we saw Rock refer to Big E as “Big Mama” and mock their very popular merchandise as “Llama penises”. This is par for the course with Rock. He managed to insult women, men, anyone in between, and get a dick joke in there. The Rock checked everything off of his list.
I know it’s unpopular to criticize The Rock. He is charismatic and occasionally delightful. He is a mega-star, not just in wrestling, but in life. When he shows up, it is a big deal. Here’s the crux of my argument: Rock was hilarious prior to breaking out the sexism and dick jokes. He didn’t need to resort to these tactics to be entertaining. Rock is better than this and wrestling fans should be better than this. The entire wrestling industry should be better than this.
The Rock seemed to encapsulate everything the world describes as being “a bro”. He drives a lifted truck. He mocks those different than him. He is intolerant of women or effeminate men. Honestly, Rock didn’t remind me of a superhero here. He reminded me of people who bullied me in high school (only a version of them where they’ve done a ton of cocaine before bullying me).
It is what it is. I doubt wrestling fans will stop worship Rock’s simple-minded humor. I doubt WWE will stop begging Rock to grace them with his presence. I doubt I’ll stop writing about wrestling despite the absolute flood of idiocy about to rain down on me on my Twitter, email, and in the comments on this article (luckily, we get to approve comments, so you’ll likely not see the dumbest ones).
And now for some random thoughts:
– Triple H’s victory speech about wrestling being his religion on Raw sounded more like a protagonist Drew Galloway promo from TNA. He was once again presented as a protagonist forwarding his own story, not as an arrogant undeserving man fixing the system to operate in his favor. The Triple H character has yet to be a bad guy.
– Vince McMahon and Stephanie McMahon were pretty entertaining gloating together.
– Correct me if I’m wrong, but the last three months of WWE television have been about the McMahon family not wanting Roman Reigns in the WWE Championship picture. Why exactly did they give Roman another shot at a title match as this show closed? What purpose did this serve? This is another example of the “unfair” authority figure story not fitting in. It doesn’t work and it automatically breaks the WWE storytelling universe.
– Kevin Owens getting a hard-fought win over Dolph Ziggler while selling his injuries from Last Man Standing and the Rumble match was a surprise. I don’t mind Owens winning at all. It does make him seem like a tough guy.
– I can’t believe the Flo Rida segment made the Hulu version of the show. How depressing for me.
– A.J. Styles vs. Chris Jericho was a decent introduction to Styles through a competitive match. It could have been crisper and it could have not included Jericho loudly calling spots, but it was okay. In a way, it reminded me of the Jericho vs. Bryan match from the 2010 debut of the original NXT. It outperformed Jericho vs. Bryan though.
– The WWE women’s division is once again confusing. WWE had a good thing going with protagonist Becky Lynch and antagonist Charlotte. They managed to bring us all a character we loved and a character we wanted to see lose. Then, on Sunday, they introduced Sasha Banks into this mix. Sasha was closer to being an antagonist when last seen. Crowds are cheering for her. She isn’t exactly acting in an honorable way. Is Becky the lone hero fighting against two villains? Is the whole idea seeing Charlotte and Sasha, two villains, fighting each other? WWE is veering off course quickly.
– Just as Becky Lynch was catching on, she seems to be the odd woman out. Strange.
– Bray Wyatt and Kane sure did have a match.
– Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose defeated Rusev and Sheamus. After doing so, they decided to continue with an unprovoked attack on Rusev, putting him through a table in a violent manner. Why? What did this accomplish? Roman Reigns continuously refuses to act in an honorable way. It’s hard to feel bad for a protagonist I am convinced (by his onscreen actions) is a jerk.
– The Fastlane main event of Reigns vs. Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar feels like a way to make people dislike Roman even more. Sure, he is the likely winner of it, but he will also be the third most popular wrestler in the match. Roman doesn’t have the aura of Lesnar or the fan support of Ambrose. This has “mistake” written all over it and continues the weird trend of Roman not being positioned well at all.
This was not a fun episode of Raw to watch and it felt like a major letdown after a very good Royal Rumble. WWE has a lot of time to let WrestleMania stories simmer and boil over. Hopefully they are setting the correct pieces in place.
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 @itswilltime or email me at email@example.com.