By Will Pruett
Full disclosure: To retain his sanity, Will Pruett watches the 90 minute edit of Raw on Hulu. He has no regrets.
“I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night
He’s gotta be strong
And he’s gotta be fast
And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight
I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero ’til the morning light
He’s gotta be sure
And it’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life!” – Bonnie Tyler
On the first Raw after the brand split, WWE made the main roster debuting Finn Bálor into Raw’s top star. They had him beat Roman Reigns in his first Raw main event. Bálor has been a focus of Raw over the past month and, at SummerSlam on Sunday, Bálor won Raw’s top title, the WWE Universal Championship. Now, Finn Bálor is gone for six months and WWE has a rather serious problem on their hands.
The problem isn’t exactly a lack of wrestlers. The Raw roster is filled with wrestlers. It is especially filled with competent wrestlers who can carry matches and segments on their own. What Raw is missing is a hero.
We saw WWE try to combat this lack of a hero the same way they did when their roster thinned out significantly last fall: push Roman Reigns as the Superman-esque character with the odds against him. I get it. It’s WWE’s instinct to do this no matter what. WWE was working against type by placing Finn Bálor above Reigns in their hierarchy.
This doesn’t mean Roman Reigns is a great hero. Throughout his feud with Rusev, Reigns has been kind of an ass. Reigns has interrupted Rusev and Lana’s wedding celebration, attacked Rusev before a match could begin, and injured his opponent making said match not occur. In almost every way here, Roman has been a heel. I completely understand WWE falling back on the idea of Roman as their lead hero, but Roman isn’t a hero at all.
I’ve written the phrase “good people do good things” fairly often about John Cena over the past five years and I have to use it with Roman Reigns now. Roman Reigns, as a character, is a pretty deplorable person. He isn’t a hero.
This leaves a serious void on Raw. WWE needs a hero. WWE’s entire promotional model is built around having a hero. Since the 1980’s, WWE has been a hero-based organization (as opposed to the NWA, which was largely about major villains). Who can this true hero be?
For a split second last night, I thought it could be Sami Zayn. While Zayn isn’t WWE’s prototypical top guy, he is quite talented. Zayn is loved by most (if not all) of the fans. Zayn proved in his match with Seth Rollins that he can sell being in danger and/or pain rather well. Sami Zayn is a guy fans already want to rally behind. He also has yet to attempt to roofie someone’s drink on the air (like Roman Reigns once did).
Sami Zayn vs. Seth Rollins was a great example of a hero fighting from underneath to accomplish his goals. WWE would have been wise to devise their Universal Championship Series to conclude with a Rollins vs. Zayn singles match. It seems like the Sami ship has sailed though.
“Big” Cass is the other protagonist in the Universal Championship four-way match next week and he is far too inexperienced to fill this role. People seemed upset about Roman Reigns, after years on the roster, ascending to the role of top guy. Imagine how fans would respond to the obviously not ready Cass doing so. It would be ugly.
Another option for finding the hero they need would be looking at the NXT roster. Shinsuke Nakamura is a fantastic hero, but his story in NXT is unfinished. After all the NXT call-ups we’ve seen recently, it would be hard to imagine that show without Nakamura as its anchor. Who would enter as a hero from the NXT roster if not Nakamura? Samoa Joe is a far better antagonist. The NXT roster even seems to lack top babyface depth.
In a sense, the top hero on Raw right now is Bayley and the most important championship in WWE is the WWE Women’s Championship. This doesn’t bother me at all, but I know it isn’t how WWE wants to promote. This is not how they would purposefully structure their roster.
It’s not just Bonnie Tyler everyone, WWE needs a hero in a bad way right now.
Raw definitely seemed like a show being written on the fly last night. It’s hard to blame WWE for this. They didn’t mention Finn Bálor’s injury online until about an hour before Raw. One would assume this triggered a massive re-write of the show. I feel for WWE trying to throw together a live TV show on the fly, but I also don’t see this as a great excuse for shoddy work.
WWE knew, at least slightly earlier than the injury announcement, this was a possibility. They knew there was a chance Bálor would need surgery. Even with this knowledge, they failed to formulate a backup plan. Why not write two versions of the show and go with the one deemed necessary?
The entire first hour felt thrown together. The opening segment, with seemingly random wrestlers doing their entrance and saying nothing, felt like a chaotic swirl of silliness. The structure of the Universal Championship Series seemed undefined, even during the first match in the series. Michael Cole mentioned match graphics that I’m guessing weren’t made yet and never appeared. It was a mess. WWE should be better than this.
Given some recent insults tossed my way (I do love the prowrestling.net comment section), I debated about whether or not to write about Bayley coming up to the main roster. In the past, I haven’t hidden from the fact that Bayley can draw emotion out of me in a way few wrestlers ever have. I have a similar connection to Daniel Bryan and Sami Zayn. There is something about this type of underdog character that resonates deeply with me. Because of this, I obviously cried my way through Bayley’s Raw debut.
I wouldn’t call this debut perfect. WWE has a number of issues with their storytelling structure and the idea of “free agents” coming out of NXT. How is it Bayley was not eligible to be drafted? How did Mick Foley swoop in and sign Bayley? Was Daniel Bryan behind the ball getting Bayley under contract? If we are going to have authority figures and a brand split structure like we do, WWE needs to answer these questions.
I also do not love Bayley immediately going for the WWE Women’s Championship. Part of the magic of the Bayley character is her resilience. In NXT, she was built by losing until she finally dug deep, improved, and won. This story worked perfectly for Bayley. I worry about her on the main roster not getting this kind of story. I worry about the happy ending for Bayley happening a month into her run and Bayley lacking a story going forward.
When WWE called up Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks all on the same day, I worried about WWE not telling their individual stories. It seemed like WWE expected all of their viewers to know these women from NXT and not every Raw viewer watches NXT. I fear the same happening for Bayley. I worry about WWE, like they just did with Sasha Banks, not fully telling her story.
Now, onto the reason I sat on my couch trying to quickly wipe tears away from my eyes before anyone could see them: Bayley finally got called up to the main roster and the fans greeted her like a true hero.
Bayley looked like a total star, was confident during her promo, and had Dana Brooke’s best main roster match yet. Bayley proved so much about herself as a performer in one night. Fans have spent about a year clamoring for Bayley to be called up. This was a glorious reward for them. This was a great moment.
Bayley vs. Charlotte is a program WWE could run with for a long time. It’s a more natural program than Charlotte vs. a babyface Sasha Banks, who never fit the babyface role. Bayley is at her best when she’s facing an insurmountable challenge and is forced to overcome it. Charlotte, as the centerpiece of the Women’s Division, would do well as Bayley’s insurmountable challenge.
Dana Brooke did well in the ring against Bayley as well. It might have been Dana’s best match to date.
And now for some random thoughts:
– Finn Bálor giving up the WWE Universal Championship makes me truly sad. Hopefully he is able to come back healthy and WWE will still have the amazing faith they were placing in him pre-injury.
– Sami Zayn vs. Seth Rollins was really good. Fans, at one point, seemed to believe Zayn could shock the world.
– Neville and Kevin Owens always have fun matches together. I could watch them wrestle for days on end. Could Neville be the hero WWE needs?
– I actually watched a fair amount of this show live and then realized why I usually don’t watch Raw live. Titus O’Neil delivered a terrible promo (in writing, execution, and delivery). This was followed up by an uncomfortable sequence with Bob Backlund being attacked and Titus taking out Darren Young. I’ll happily return to Hulu Raw where this stuff is edited away.
– Rusev cared so much about the top title on Raw that he walked away from his match in the “series” for it. That was disappointing.
– I was surprisingly entertained by Bubba Ray and D-Von Dudley’s farewell speech. I liked the touch of them hitting almost all of their signature spots, then getting attacked by Gallows and Anderson. If it was truly the end of The Dudley Boys (I still refuse to use the Z), it was a classy send off.
– Chris Jericho vs. Roman Reigns made me sad. I don’t think this was the goal of the match.
Got thoughts on this show or my review of it? Hit me up with them! Check the Twitter @itswilltime, leave a comment, or email me at email@example.com.