By Will Pruett
Full disclosure: To retain his sanity, Will Pruett watches the 90 minute edit of Raw on Hulu. He has no regrets.
For the first time in a long time, there is genuine intrigue surrounding a WWE main event storyline. While WrestleMania season often seemed like a prolonged parade of Roman Reigns inevitability, the month after, and especially the main event of Raw last night, all feel fresh, new, exciting, and (more than anything else) intriguing.
Why is this? We have Roman Reigns and A.J. Styles at the center of things. Both of these men would traditionally be considered protagonists in wrestling. They’re both attempting to accomplish the goal of being WWE Champion, which means they’re attempting to make the other man fail. They’re trying to accomplish this goal in a mostly fair way. This is imperative. Neither man seems to want to cheat to accomplish their goal. This is where the chaotic introduction of Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson becomes fascinating. They’re injecting extra conflict into a story that would otherwise be two men shaking hands and having a traditional match.
The most intriguing thing on Raw last night had nothing to do with dueling authority figures. It was A.J. Styles holding a chair while Gallows and Anderson held up a damaged Roman Reigns. A.J. refused to use the chair even with Gallows and Anderson telling him to. Styles, in this one moment, told us everything about his character. Much like when Sami Zayn refused to use the NXT Championship belt to hit Neville in December 2014, Styles allowed the conscience of his character to shine through.
The conflict between Styles and Reigns is innately accompanied by conflict between The Usos and Gallows and Anderson. The end of Raw featured a series of inevitable misunderstandings, all of which added intensity to the Extreme Rules main event.
For the first time in a long time, I’m trying to predict next week’s developments in a story involving two wrestlers wrestling for a meaningful title. Even at the end of Seth Rollins’ WWE Championship reign, everything seemed to be a foregone conclusion. Now, with an interesting story behind it (including the potential debut of Finn Bálor at some point), the WWE Championship picture is delightfully exciting.
As a bonus, look at the match Reigns and Styles had at Payback and look at how fun this six man main event on Raw was. Imagine how good Styles vs. Reigns II can be. This feud is featuring some great character work from Roman Reigns and A.J. Styles, which was not the expectation going in.
So, what happens next week? I can’t believe I’m asking this after spending so much of this year dreading whatever was going to happen in the main event picture. Hopefully the next few chapters of this story continue to be as delightfully intriguing as the beginning of it has been.
And now for some random thoughts:
– For the first time in quite a while, I payed no attention at all to social media during Raw and I didn’t attempt to catch the beginning of the show on a less-than-legal stream. This felt refreshing. It’s not just that I was visiting Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry and enjoying a Butterbeer at the time. My life seemed to improve by not focusing on social media while watching wrestling. There’s a lesson in this somewhere, but I don’t know what it is.
– The Raw opening segment took a very long time to get to actual wresters being involved. I know the “new era” is more of a marketing term than anything else, but it would be an intelligent move on WWE’s part to make the “new era” feel different and keep dueling McMahons out of the opening slot.
– Stephanie McMahon’s nice human act is kind of fun. This show centered on her trying to be nice and trying to get along. I’m sure the idea is to build to an eventual break and (I suspect) a Shane vs. Triple H SummerSlam match. This was a fine first chapter of this dueling McMahons story.
– I’ve argued for WWE keeping Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens away from the Intercontinental Championship while their personal feud plays out, but this show may have changed my mind. The Owens vs. Cesaro match and the aftermath of Miz and Zayn getting involved in a brawl was very fun. All four men in the Intercontinental Championship scene are doing great work and they seem to be building towards a four-way clash at Extreme Rules. This could be a nice distraction from Owens and Zayn singles matches. It is also a nice way to reintroduce Cesaro and continue the great work Miz is doing. Everything about the Intercontinental Championship scene is clicking.
– While I’m going to enjoy almost anything with an exploding potted plant, I really didn’t enjoy Chris Jericho and Dean Ambrose’s interaction or the Stephanie McMahon promo leading to it. Maybe I am repeating myself too often here, but Ambrose and Jericho are two characters I don’t care much about. Putting them against each other is leading to me wanting to sleep through every one of their segments.
– Charlotte’s promo about her terrible match finish from Payback was awkward. It wasn’t just Charlotte’s wooden delivery, but it was the writing as well. WWE likes to tell us to forget the recent past, but then digs up a story from 1999 WCW to justify a bad story. Drunk Uncle Ric Flair and Little Naitch Charles Robinson is not something I want to see on my television.
– As much as I like watching Natalya wrestle, there is an issue every time she is asked to talk or even emote. Natalya is fantastic in the ring, but as an actress, she is lacking and has been for the entirety of her career.
– I still don’t understand how only one story is the focus of the women’s division and there is nothing for Sasha Banks to do on television right now. This is a very poor way of telling Sasha’s continuing story.
– The Battle Royal for a United States Championship shot felt awkward. Maybe this was just the commentary from Kalisto feeling as forced as possible, but this never truly clicked, even by low Battle Royal standards.
– Seriously though, how bad was Kalisto on commentary? Yikes.
– Rusev reuniting with Lana and going after the United States Championship is a wonderful idea. Rusev and Kalisto should have a great match together and could even have a great feud with Lana doing the majority of the heavy lifting on the mic.
– The tag team segment with New Day, Cass, The Vaudevillains, and The Dudleys was pretty awkward. I enjoyed seeing Cass get the win for his team (and I feel like fans needed this moment after worrying about Enzo the night before). It all seemed a little weird though. Hopefully it was a momentary bump in the road for an otherwise decently constructed division.
– One of my favorite things about the main event segment was the idea that babyfaces have friends.
Overall, this was a decently compelling episode of Raw with a super fun and dynamic main event and post-match. WWE is telling a very good story with Reigns and Styles and they’re using the characters around them well. Hopefully this continues into Extreme Rules, which doesn’t feel as out of place just three weeks away as it usually does. Yay for good shows and solid storytelling!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.