By Will Pruett
No disclaimer needed this week, because I watched the entire episode of Raw. I never really wanted to tune out, which says a lot.
For the past 19 years, WWE has relied on one formula. There is one ingredient common in all of WWE’s stories told over this time period. It’s a tired concept. It’s a completely illogical fallacy wrestling somehow became dependent on. We’ve seen multiple organizations copy it, with middling-to-awful effects (shoutout to TNA). We’ve seen wrestling storytelling decline over the years as this central focus has made everything absurd. Friends, I’m talking about heel authority figures and, for the first time in a long time, Raw didn’t have one. It made everything better.
We can all sit down around our campfire story circles and discuss the lack of logic inherent in Shane McMahon running Raw. It makes no sense. Social media support? It’s not a real thing. With this said, a completely illogical move with Shane McMahon brought about the most logical episode of Raw we’ve seen in years. With “The Authority” absent and Vince McMahon off supervising the animators drawing Ric Flair f—ing a rock, Shane McMahon ran the show with a sense of fairness.
Let’s start with a quick primer on why authority figures as lead antagonists is a poor concept. Wrestling, at its heart, is a simulated sport. We are supposed to believe the best wrestlers win and the not-so-best wrestlers lose. This is what we see in the NFL every autumn. The simulated sport is part of the joy of wrestling. Those of us who know it is simulated know eventually, we will see the heroes overcome. We don’t get this guarantee in actual sports. Sometimes, the Packers lose in overtime in the post-season. Our heroes don’t always get what they deserve. Wrestling, due to its scripted nature, changes this.
When fans are lead to believe the system is rigged against the heroes, it throws the entire notion of believability away. While it worked once in a period of time where poor decisions were en vogue, it cannot work all of the time. WWE has spent 17 years telling us the system is rigged so the heroes always lose. The villains have always been the rich and powerful executives, not the cheaters. It’s an interesting social experiment (and it surely has lead to many wrestling fans supporting Bernie Sanders), but it isn’t a good story.
Enter Shane McMahon last night. He was the ultimate fair authority figure. When he saw a wrong done to Sami Zayn last week, he came up with a way to fix it this week. When he saw the potential for Kevin Owens to interfere, he evened the playing field by throwing Owens out. He established a set of rules for everyone and expected everyone to abide by them.
Why does this make more sense? Well, when the cheaters cheat, it’s called wrong and punished. This makes cheating an obvious evil and it cues fans into the consequences of it. Isn’t this better than cheating being necessary in every situation? It also tells fans they aren’t likely to see a screwy ending and, if they happen to do so, a fair way to repair it will be enacted.
Shane McMahon, the man who personifies illogical wrestling tropes (and I love him for it), has brought more logic to Monday Night Raw than I have seen in 19 years.
I have no idea how long it will last. I have no idea if Shane will be in charge next week. I have no idea if everything just reverts back to the depressing status quo soon. For now, I’m going to enjoy the logic WWE presented us with. Thank you, Shane McMahon, for all the logic you have brought.
And now for some random thoughts:
– It’s no coincidence that Shane’s strategy of bringing logic to Raw is the same way logic has been established on NXT. There’s something interesting between the son and the son-in-law there. I’m sure this is worth noting.
– The one time I decide not to drive up to Los Angeles for Raw, I miss out on Sami Zayn vs. A.J. Styles live. Never again. (Okay, well probably again. I’m live wrestling exhausted, so I may have been miserable there anyways).
– Sami vs. A.J. was definitely a treat. I don’t think this is the best match the two of them could have, but it was very good. It was also a great way to get Sami’s personality over to the crowd. More than just repetitively saying “underdog from the underground”, Sami needs to show the heart and passion he possesses in loss. When he finally wins the big one and gets his moment of glory, the losses make it sweeter. The post-match moments between Sami, A.J., and Shane established why the match mattered and added to the gravity of it.
– Styles’ Phenomenal Forearm is a much better finisher than the Styles Clash.
– How often is it we get something as good and new as Zayn vs. Styles on Raw?
– Cesaro defeating Kevin Owens was a nice opening contest. Cesaro being slated into an Intercontinental Championship slot feels like more of the pre-injury same for him. Cesaro has an upper-mid-card role with the ability to move into the main event occasionally. This is definitely not a bad thing, but I think we all dream of more for Cesaro.
– Speaking of the Intercontinental Championship, I am already a major fan of The Miz and Maryse as a combo act. They rule.
– Did you know there are over 10 tag teams in WWE on the main roster? This is insane to me.
– Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows (former Bullet Club members) made their debut on this show. They were positioned as outlaws running through the crowd to attack The Usos and I found it pretty interesting. The did not have Finn Bálor with them. They made an impact tonight, but I wonder what happens in the weeks to come. Without a leader (Bálor), I don’t see them going very far. With Bálor, I could see them doing huge things.
– Before you all email me about A.J. Styles leading Anderson and Gallows, I should address it. A.J. was a passable heel in NJPW, but not a great one. He’s a more natural babyface and WWE fans are taking to him better than any of us could expect. Don’t ruin this with a misguided heel turn. Let A.J. keep being A.J..
– Hopefully Kalisto is okay.
– Enzo Amore continues to be the greatest. His “I exist because my mom and dad got it on… How you doin’?” line was amazing. I’m convinced Enzo could make any material great. He connects with crowds. He might be the best thing NXT has produced to move to the main roster.
– Credit should also go to Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley for reacting perfectly to Enzo and Cass in these first two weeks. Their reactions tell you Enzo and Cass are stars. This is how to get young talent over. Way to go, Dudleys.
– Roman Reigns’ “the guy” line should be his character’s mission statement in 2016. I don’t mind repeating it. I don’t mind him playing with crowds while using it.
– The drama between Roman and Bray Wyatt throughout the show in the same arena they clashed in Hell in a Cell in was fun. Wyatt as someone the crowd loves feels pretty natural already. Roman showing distrust in Wyatt, but ultimately having to trust him was built well. All they needed were more compelling opponents to face.
– Has any stable ever meant so much less than the sum of its parts than League of Nations? Separately, Sheamus, Rusev, and Alberto Del Rio are all main event quality talents with a ton of ability. The three of them are awesome. When you put the League of Nations together, they become one sub-main event group. They don’t even fit in the upper-mid-card. It’s really sad. WWE lacks main event antagonists (since they have spent 19 years making the boss the main antagonist) and they are trying to make up for it by making three potential top guys mean less than they should.
– Charlotte vs. Natalya for the WWE Women’s Championship was a good match with a fine ending for where WWE is going. I wish the execution of the ending had been better, as the referee turned and clearly saw Charlotte tapping out. Alas, sometimes things don’t go as well as they should.
– Where was the followup for Sasha, Becky Lynch, Emma, or any other women on this show? If WWE is truly going to invest in and promote equality for women on their roster, it’s time to have more than one Women’s segment on every show.
– Dr. Phil did not upset me.
– Chris Jericho and Dean Ambrose featuring the wacky prop comedy stylings of Ambrose didn’t do much for me.
– We were over two hours into Raw before we heard anything about Apollo Crews and Baron Corbin. I actually wondered if they had been left off of this show for some reason. WWE has injected a lot of new talent into the show and into the crowded mid-card mix. The battle now is to make certain talent stand out and make stars. Wrestling shows will always need mid-card guys, but making stars can and should be a priority.
– Apollo Crews wrestling in short squash matches is fine. Apollo Crews showing a little personality would be better.
– Speaking of personality, the video highlighting Baron Corbin was excellently done. This meant more than a squash match or a boring ten-plus minute match with Dolph Ziggler would.
This was one of the best Raw episodes in recent memory. There was an actual sense of fairness throughout the show. There were antagonists to hate and protagonists to cheer. WWE did a good job putting this together, especially with the in-ring portion of the show. I’m curious to see how they follow this up or if they keep finding convenient ways for Shane McMahon to run things. I’m also curious to see if Shane running things is a way to setup an eventual Shane vs. Triple H match.
WWE is also telling stories with their current young talent, which is huge. It would have been nice for this to start with WrestleMania and not the night after, but they aren’t relying on Undertaker, Mick Foley, Triple H, The Rock, Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, or anyone else who was popular in 1999. They are relying on their actual roster. This is a positive sign to me and something I hope continues.
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.
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