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 narrative of the Shane McMahon-ran Raw from the night after WrestleMania to today has been a new era beginning. Even the advertisements for WWE Payback are calling it the first special event of the new era. On Raw, we saw an odd combination of the new era and old, proving WWE is truly in transition.
This transition was on full display with The Usos taking on Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson in the latter team’s debut match. It was like watching the old era actually collide with the new. The Usos aren’t necessarily old, but they aren’t part of the new swath of exciting acts WWE is determined to feature. They aren’t a worn out act, but they are the opposite of exciting now. Combine this with The Usos basically playing a lesser version of their old selves. Anderson and Gallows feel fresh in WWE.
Sheamus vs. A.J. Styles provided another example of this interesting moment. It’s not Sheamus being old, but tired as a character. A.J. isn’t tired at all and has been positioned as an interesting main event player. Sheamus is coming off of a depressing recent attempt at relevancy and hasn’t been positioned well. The two of them had a very enjoyable match leaving me wishing for more, but wondering how to justify it when Sheamus’ character is so beaten down. Has his era of relevancy already ended?
Baron Corbin (who was not featured on 90 minute Raw) came to the ring for a match against a highlight of the old era; Damien Sandow. He was attacked by another more-relevant-in-2012 wrestler, Dolph Ziggler. Corbin is the man Sandow and Ziggler are here to help. Here, the old era is building up the new.
The same goes for Apollo Crews and Stardust (who were also missing from 90 minute Raw). Stardust feels like a lost character, simply around to occasionally lose and do little else. Apollo’s character basically says “I’m respectful and I do flips” and then he shows both. While Crews needs more character development time, Stardust is over developed and should be on his way out immediately.
Look at Alberto Del Rio, who was 2011’s favorite son, losing to Roman Reigns in the main event. We may not love the anointed leader of this new generation of talent entering WWE, but he is an existing human. Reigns is in WWE’s most interesting story with Anderson and Gallows attempting to attack him and Styles standing in the middle. Payback’s main event has some interesting things happening around it, especially with Finn Bálor no longer being NXT Champion.
Interestingly, the new era and the old seem like they will collide at Payback with Vince McMahon literally picking between the authority figures from 2013 and the more exciting current one. While McMahon family drama seems to be the purpose of this segment, I enjoyed both the announcement of it and the entire idea of it. Shane McMahon running the show makes no sense, but it has allowed WWE to fix some seriously broken portions of their universe. Stephanie McMahon and Triple H reached their logical conclusion before WrestleMania and seemed to be creatively operating on fumes. Hopefully, Vince’s choice continues to lack logic and Shane can remain in control.
Old and new is a common theme in wrestling, but having the old be as new as it is surprises me. We aren’t talking about wrestlers from ten years ago being the “old era”. We are talking about wrestlers from 2012. Does this say something about WWE cycling through modern talent faster than anytime in history? Is it simply overexposure of the modern era due to the three hour Raw? I’m honestly curious about how WWE can prevent talent from overexposure in the future. This should be a fascinating few months to watch.
And now for some random thoughts:
– WWE has done a very poor job with the newly rebranded Women’s Division in the last month. It’s not the formerly usual sexist storylines, but it is the lack of storylines in general. We have one feud in this division. There are more than two women on the WWE roster. Where are the feuds for the wrestlers not fighting for the Women’s Championship?
– I’ve heard it said WWE is saving Sasha Banks and keeping her off television until the build up to SummerSlam. Why not have Sasha in a personal feud she gets to win for the next two months? WWE could use this time to develop Sasha and a character and create a dynamic connection between Sasha and the audience. If Sasha is supposed to co-main event SummerSlam, shouldn’t WWE tell her story?
– Anderson and Gallows’ debut match on Raw was fine. I would have enjoyed them squashing a team, but for a longterm feud for the former Bullet Club, I get why The Usos work, and thus why this match was long and competitive.
– The Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens video package on Raw was fantastic. WWE finally took the time to tell the story of the feud they’ve been showing us on the main roster since January. They didn’t just say “these guys aren’t friends”, but they showed the friendship and how it ended. This made Zayn and Owens feel more important. This made their feud feel more important. This enhanced both acts.
– I am tremendously happy Zayn and Owens aren’t fighting for the Intercontinental Championship. Zayn should not be truly fighting for a title during his first feud in WWE. Establishing him and Owens as separate from a championship will make it mean more when Zayn finally chases a title. Why burn a title chase story along with a personal feud?
– Speaking of the Intercontinental Championship, The Miz is brilliant these days. Adding Maryse and a championship to the act has really revitalized him. Miz rarely gets enough credit for being as good as he is.
– Sami Zayn vs. Rusev was fun. Once Rusev has been rebuilt, it could be a great full-blown feud.
– WWE still announced Rusev, Del Rio, and Sheamus as members of the League of Nations, but we saw no indications of the group still existing beyond this. Lana was back with Rusev (which is a great choice). Everyone was wearing their own merchandise and had their own music play. It’s time to give up on the multi-national dream.
– Nothing about the Dean Ambrose and Chris Jericho promo really spoke to me. Jericho is doing fine work, but Ambrose is far too wacky for me to handle. Dean doesn’t connect the way he used to. A wall went up at some point and it seems like both the fans and Dean recognize it is between them.
– The New Day, who seem to bridge to gap between the new and old eras I mentioned above, were fine setting up a confrontation between The Vaudevillains and Enzo and Cass. Enzo and Cass shine in any moment where Enzo has a mic and this was no exception. Seeing New Day react to Enzo made me want to see a full feud between those two teams.
– It was quite classy of WWE to feature a Chyna video package. Her impact on the Attitude Era is massive and should not be ignored. This is a sad wrestling story, but celebrating her career brings some joy to it.
This was quite a good episode of Raw. Everything seemed to build up to WWE Payback in a delightful way. WWE has done a better job with Payback than they did with WrestleMania. Granted, WWE was able to plan for Payback for months while they built the injury-plagued cursed WrestleMania show. Hopefully we are able to continue this optimistic roll after Payback on Sunday night.
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