Pruett’s Pause: WWE Raw – The anatomy of the big match build featuring Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins and John Cena vs. A.J. Styles, plus WWE’s failing Women’s Division!

Logo_Raw_dnBy Will Pruett

Full disclosure: To retain his sanity, Will Pruett watches the 90 minute edit of Raw on Hulu. He has no regrets.

When I step back to look at the card for Money in the Bank, I see something unexpected. Rather than a show built around a single ladder match where men will risk their lives for the most inconvenient carry on in wrestling history, Money in the Bank presents us with two matches bigger than anything we’ve seen all year, even at WrestleMania. Seth Rollins returning from injury to claim the WWE Championship from Roman Reigns and A.J. Styles’ dream match encounter with John Cena could have both been main events at AT&T Stadium in April (if Rollins and Cena could have been healthy). Now, we see WWE with two major matches and two distinct builds.

With Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns, it’s the case of WWE building to a pay-per-view encounter between them for the third time. Rollins and Reigns were scheduled to face off for the first time at Night of Champions 2014. This match never happened as Reigns had surgery the day before. So much changed between these two men as we approached their next pay-per-view singles encounter: Survivor Series 2015. This was supposed to be the coronation of Reigns. Seth Rollins was hurt at the beginning of November and WWE was forced to pivot to a series of stories, each more disappointing than the next, to get through WrestleMania.

Now, Rollins and Reigns are facing off and it feels like one of the biggest WWE Championship matches possible. With this build, WWE is going with a very simple strategy: relying on the work they’ve already done. Between their intricate shared history in The Shield, the feuds they started but weren’t able to finish, and the WrestleMania main event Rollins crashed, Seth and Roman don’t need to say much. The story is already there.

Last week, we saw a distinctly non-verbal encounter between the two. This week, we saw video packages presenting the story of each man. WWE did a wonderful job with the Seth Rollins video making sure his entitlement stood out. They kept his story from becoming a babyface triumphing (even when many fans want to force this narrative on them). For Roman Reigns, his video showed how hard he has worked to overcome anything in his path. Both videos had shreds of truth, as both men have truth in their stories (side note: heels should rarely be complete liars).

WWE is letting history do the talking for Rollins and Reigns and the result is a delightful big match build a few weeks in.

On the other side of this stacked lineup is John Cena vs. A.J. Styles. These two men have no shared history, despite both having an amazing history in wrestling. As I wrote last week, the story between Cena and Styles writes itself. Styles has been proving himself everywhere in the world. Cena has been the consistent standard bearer in WWE. It’s essentially the story John Cena will tell for the rest of his career.

WWE isn’t shying away from either man talking. WWE is allowing Styles to do some good antagonistic talking (more than he has done in WWE to this date). John Cena is in full John Cena hype man mode (possibly the best mode he has). With this build, Cena and Styles are playing to their strengths and proving their points rather well.

These are two distinctly different builds for two major matches. This is a testament to the variety of storytelling devices the genre of professional wrestling provides. The four men involved do not feel stale. They do not feel tired. Everything about both of these feuds seems motivated and fresh. Hopefully WWE can keep the electricity flowing in both of these programs.

I’ve continuously sung the praises of WWE’s product since the night after WrestleMania, but now with Rollins and Cena both back, they’re firing on all cylinders.

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Remember when WrestleMania happened and WWE went all in with their revamped vision of a Women’s Division? They introduced a new belt, dropped sexist names, and presented the women’s match on WrestleMania as if it were a main event. It was an amazing moment fans were quite excited by. Somehow, all goodwill gained from this awesome display of revolutionary equality in wrestling is being thrown away.

We currently have just one women’s segment being shown weekly on Raw. These segments tend to focus more on retired drunk uncle Ric Flair than they do on any woman on the roster. This week, Natalya showed up to inject some Bret Hart into this Flair-fest once again. Why can’t the Charlotte character stand on her own and move on? Why can’t WWE present the women they have on the roster in multiple feuds at once?

On the televised sidelines currently are Summer Rae and Sasha Banks, two immensely talented women. Why aren’t they in a serious feud with each other? There has been a ton of speculation about Sasha having a major moment at SummerSlam, but WWE is neglecting to tell her complete story right now. WWE is failing at actually producing a quality women’s division and it kills me.

How can they get everything right on one night and then instantly get it all so wrong?

And now for some random thoughts:

– The main event match between The New Day and The Club was delightful. Styles has shown how great he can be on multiple occasions against New Day members. Anderson and Gallows looked as dangerous as they should. A.J. even got to show a little bit of his mean streak with the Styles Clash on the outside.

– The opening promo featuring six men hanging out on ladders was a delightful trope of Money in the Bank season. I don’t love this approach. I often find it pretty silly. At the same time, characters like Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose help to freshen up tried tropes. In pointing out the absurdity of the segment and how it would end, WWE made their own over reliance on tropes okay.

– What was the point of Stephanie McMahon and Teddy Long’s segments? I feel sad for senile Teddy Long still trying to make specialty matches. It didn’t really resonate the first time and the second time was just awkward. This is not a good way to use old authority figure humor.

– I expect to see Vickie Guerrero and “Big” John Laurinaitis on shows in the next few weeks. WWE is going to throw all of the old authority figures out there before naming a crowd-pleasing favorite for Smackdown.

– Dean Ambrose having a decent match with Kevin Owens is proof of Chris Jericho lacking in the ring this year. Owens and Ambrose seem to have fun working together and I didn’t mind Ambrose getting a win. Most guys will play the 50/50 game going into Money in the Bank.

– Alberto Del Rio defeating Sami Zayn was the right move. Even though Zayn means more to fans right now, he means the most when he is fighting from underneath. “The Underdog from the Underground” cannot win all of his matches. In fact, he shouldn’t win most of them.

– Cesaro vs. Chris Jericho was decent, but not inspiring.

This was a delightful episode of Raw highlighted by the two big feuds WWE is promoting and including a sprinkling of Money in the Bank fun. My only true concern with the show right now is the absolute disaster the women’s division has crumbled into. Hopefully WWE can get things on the right track prior to the roster split.

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 itswilltime@gmail.com.



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