By Will Pruett
Will Pruett was in the building for the Raw after WrestleMania and he’s writing about it!
The Raw after WrestleMania is one of the more exciting annual shows WWE puts together. Because WrestleMania season is three-to-four months of the same talents hanging out on the roster, there is a serious need for some fresh blood. This Raw usually includes a very excited crowd (more on this later) often begging for something new. Raw was a show full of main roster debuts with middling amounts of success.
The best debut of the evening was Enzo and Big Cass’ long-awaited arrival on the main roster. These two have been on NXT TV for a very long time. They did just about everything there was to do in developmental. Enzo is a gifted talker with a well-rehearsed routine. This was the perfect night to debut him with the hardcore crowd hanging on and repeating his every word. He was greeted like a true superstar. Big Cass isn’t the talked Enzo is (no one in WWE is the talker Enzo is, actually), but he is good at what he’s asked to do. Enzo and Cass’ insult-style promo with The Dudley Boys (I’m still not okay with the letter Z) was delightful.
Apollo Crews was shown in a short fist bump with Shane McMahon prior to having a match in the ring. His match was impressive, but not amazing. Apollo is a spectacular athlete, but I didn’t know who he was as a person when he entered and when he left. WWE always says they’re about characters, but they didn’t introduce Apollo as a character. WWE has a ton of footage featuring Apollo from Breaking Ground. Why not play a quick two or three minute video showing just who Apollo is? Give fans a reason to cheer for him, not just in the arena, but at home. His match with Tyler Breeze wasn’t back and I am happy to see Apollo make the WWE main roster.
Baron Corbin’s Raw debut was poorly handled and the crowd did not appreciate one bit. Pairing Corbin with Dolph Ziggler a night after he won The ‘Dre isn’t a bad idea. Having Corbin deliver a slow, plodding promo where he looked unsure of himself was a bad idea. Baron isn’t a live promo guy and WWE knows this. Why not play some of the footage WWE has in their library of Baron being a massive jerkface? Instead of a bad introductory promo, WWE could have created a video tell me who the Baron Corbin character is. WWE could have told Corbin’s story.
If Corbin is supposed to be a major star for WWE (and he has the potential to be) a bad promo followed by a so-so match isn’t the way to start him off. Baron has worked hard and improved in a major way, but he hasn’t improved past occasionally disappointing.
It’s always great to see new acts on Raw, but WWE could do far more to introduce wrestlers in a compelling way. If WWE is going to tell the stories of these wrestlers coming up to the main roster, actually tell them. Let me get to know them. Let me see who they are. I’m not asking for a hokey vignette like Primo and Epico received, but possibly a short documentary. Suit the introductory method to the character. The reason Enzo and Cass’ debut worked so well was because it was suited to them. It played to their strengths and hid their weaknesses. Where is this kind of treatment for Corbin? Why not attach the “nice guy” personality to Apollo Crews right away?
WWE has had issues when introducing NXT talent to the Raw audience for a few years now. Having a televised and nationally promoted “developmental” product means more fans know who these guys are. It doesn’t mean every fan does. When WWE introduced Sami Zayn to the main roster last month, they didn’t tell his story. When Emma was brought to the main roster the first time, they didn’t tell her story. With Emma now on the main roster for a second time, it’s still true. Emma has evolved in NXT, but her Raw character just went away and suddenly changed. It took a long time for Charlotte, Sasha Banks, and Becky Lynch to have their stories told and WWE is still working on getting it right.
WWE needs to tell the stories of the wrestlers they are featuring. Let fans get to know characters through more than matches. NXT has began doing a decent job of this and Breaking Ground helped immensely. Why not air some of these segments on Raw? Let me get to know and learn to love the wrestlers I’m watching. Tell their stories.
And now for some random thoughts:
– On top of the debuting wrestlers, Cesaro returned to the ring on this show. This was a perfect crowd to bring Cesaro out for. They greeted Cesaro with love and adoration. Cesaro seemed touched and quite happy with this. He returned to the upper-mid-card territory he left behind. He was in contention to be the number one contender for the WWE Championship. Cesaro could easily main event a non-major pay-per-view with Roman Reigns this year. Doing so would probably be smart, given how good Cesaro vs. Reigns was in the WWE Championship tournament.
– Speaking of wrestlers feeling feelings and being emotionally touched, A.J. Styles seemed legitimately take aback by the reaction he received when he won the main event. He was allowed to soak in the moment after Raw went off the air. A.J. was greeted with “You deserve it” chants from the crowd as he climbed all four corners of the ring and raised his arms. A.J. then dropped to his knees and kissed the mat. He went to the WWE announcers and production people at ringside, who embraced an emotional Styles. He then went around the ring, into the crowd a little, and up the ramp. This was a great moment to see live. A.J. is one of the best in the world and he truly deserves this.
– Roman Reigns responded to the hostile crowd in Dallas in the best way possible. Looking at Roman’s promo and combining it with Styles winning a WWE Championship shot I assume will happen in Chicago, it seems Reigns will get to be more of an antagonist. This is not a “heel turn” because WWE rarely does true turns anymore. This is a great direction for him. Roman’s “I’m not a good guy. I’m not a bad guy. I am the guy” line felt like a character mission statement. Roman not begging for approval will garner him approval.
– How illogical and weird was the segment to set up the four way main event?
– Speaking of illogical and weird, Vince McMahon is apparently crazy. He had The Undertaker slaughter his son inside Hell in a Cell to keep Shane out of power in WWE, then gave him the power to run Raw. The Vince McMahon character makes a lot of strange decisions and this Shane McMahon one was one of the strangest.
– What effect did Shane running the show have? Was the idea that new wrestlers wouldn’t have debuted without Shane? How did they know Shane was going to set this up for them? Shane ran a show remarkably similar to how Vince would, how Stephanie and Triple H would, and how anyone else would. This was not a true change of anything, which is a bummer. Raw seems to be venturing into a 19th year with the same format they had in 1997.
– The “Raw after WrestleMania” crowd has become quite the thing in WWE. This year, it was a disappointing crowd and a bit of a boring show. WWE knows they have hardcore fans in the audience, but this audience seemed focused on looking hardcore more than being it. Within thirty minutes of the show starting, they had chanted most of their chants, said “We are awesome” (which is the worst of the chants), and done the wave. Nothing was even boring yet. This was a weird crowd. I’m not a big fan of most of their antics.
– The worst of the crowd antics was a jerkface breaking out a beach ball and tossing it around. It was rude and disrespectful. Why pay for tickets to a show if you’re going to treat it like this? Portions of the crowd loved the beach ball and began using WWE chant rhythms to cheer for this. It was a ridiculous distraction. Don’t be a jerk. Don’t bring a beach ball. Don’t encourage beach balls at wrestling shows.
– Wade Barrett’s farewell match included him doing a summersault and posing for fans as they sang the customary “goodbye” song. Good on Wade.
– Bray Wyatt and family seem to be moving to the protagonist column of the roster, which is a fun place for them. Fans have wanted to greet The Wyatt Family as their weird backwoods heroes for a couple years and this is a good opportunity to do so. Hopefully Wyatt can win some matches and feuds while on this portion of the roster.
– Cuddly babyface Braun Strowman should be fun.
– The New Day could have lead a party to sing along with Big E’s hips. I would have attended this party with a plus one.
– Sasha Banks participating in a squash match on Raw was a good idea. Tell Sasha’s story.
– The Intercontinental Championship change from Zack Ryder to The Miz was okay. I wish Ryder had a longer reign, but his WrestleMania moment will be remembered for a long time. It’s great to see Maryse back in WWE. Mis and Maryse should be a fun power couple to watch.
– I cannot thank WWE enough for not bring Bayley to Raw. I know a ton of fans wanted it. I know a ton of fans hoped Charlotte’s win at WrestleMania was intended to set it up. Here’s the thing: Bayley could be the most popular and universally loved female wrestler of all time. She has amazing potential. Why bring her into a division still trying to find its identity. As great and important as WrestleMania was for WWE women, there is still a long way to go when it comes to getting this division in a good spot. Plus, WWE needs to tell the stories of Sasha and Becky, who are still super new to the main roster. It is not the time for Bayley and Bayley instantly coming in for a Women’s Championship program would be a big mistake.
– Remember, Bayley’s character took years to get to the place it’s currently at in NXT. Raw viewers aren’t watching NXT. You have to introduce Bayley and tell her story from the beginning for it to be effective. Many current fans of Bayley in NXT are going to lack patience during this time. NXT Takeover Brooklyn and the amazing moment Bayley had didn’t just appear in a day. It took years.
– I’ve never been so bored during a Tables Match. Well, I probably have, but not in a long while.
– Raw’s four-way main event with A.J. Styles defeating Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, and Cesaro was quite fun. This may be the first time Cesaro and Styles have shared a ring. These four produced a fun and wild four way to pump up a crowd recently woken up by the dulcet tones of Enzo Amore.
This wasn’t the great of the Raw’s after WrestleMania, but it wasn’t terrible. The big moment for A.J. Styles warmed my heart (especially the in-arena aftermath of it). The debuts all showed some focus on the future. Roman Reigns was well used a night after winning the WWE Championship. Styles vs. Reigns will be interesting to watch develop over the next month.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? If they aren’t super annoying thoughts (and please don’t ignore this and post super annoying thoughts), hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email me at email@example.com.