Tuesday, August 2, 2016

RAW Is... Growth

A welcome sight to open RAW
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Welcome to a new feature on TWB, an honest-to-God RAW review. It's been weird not having thoughts on WWE's flagship program for so long since the Instant Feedback has gone away, but now that RAW is good once again, the time has come to put some respeck on it, or at least some analysis. Last week's show was incredibly bonkers, what the launch of a new era ought to look like. WWE set its expectations high for yesterday's show, and while it didn't have the same heights as the first week, it kept the growth pattern going, even if not in leaps and bounds.

The fact that the show opened with Sasha Banks, Charlotte, and Enzo Amore, three people who've rarely if ever opened a RAW (along with Chris Jericho) is enough to show that WWE is at least trying new things, as if the insertion of Dolph Ziggler and Finn Bálor into the two title matches at the second biggest show on the calendar year didn't hammer that home already. In fact, I'm going to list the ways the opening segment and match showed some growth from the past status quo:
  • A woman not named Stephanie McMahon opened RAW.
  • Jericho threw some respect at Charlotte at the denigration of her father, something that would not have ever happened for a woman in the past.
  • Enzo Amore came out and did his own thing independent of Big Cass.
  • WWE booked a unique tag match that combined feuds (one existing, one that wasn't revealed until after the match's conclusion).
None of the above, outside of Amore's emancipation, showed anything independent of the WWE's longstanding MOs worth getting excited for, but it felt fresh in the moment. To explain further, it might not lead to intergender wrestling in WWE or plant seeds for a women's match to headline SummerSlam (although that moment is probably coming sooner than one might thing). However, it felt fresh, and WWE, RAW especially, needs fresh at the moment.

Aside number one, Amore's solo act here felt like as much of a test run for solo viability as Cass' run while Amore was hurt. If betting on pro wrestling wasn't such a fool's errand, I'd be looking to put a few shekels on the Smack Talker Skywalker to be the first ever WWE Cruiserweight Champion in the current incarnation, dot dot dot.

The next moment may seem like a demotion for one of the participants, but it showed that WWE is willing to take chances with fringe midcard talent by mixing them with main event dudes. I got a bit of a chuckle out of Roman Reigns coming out to defend the honor of the US, the Olympics, or more likely drugs, because it was a clear sign that WWE wasn't going to ride him like neo-John Cena like most people feared. However, a few things jumped off the screen. One, the company seems to want the United States Championship's elevation to be a permanent thing. Two, it gives Rusev someone with whom he can work that doesn't feel below him. The only other person on RAW who currently doesn't have a dance partner for SummerSlam that wouldn't feel like a demotion at this point for Rusev is Sami Zayn. I'm still baffled as to why Zayn doesn't have clear direction, but whatever.

The third, and the biggest thing to take away is that WWE is moving towards building a patchwork main event scene, one that won't rely on one single dude to carry the load, but one that has people playing roles. Reigns is not going away, nor should he. He will be around the main event and the WWE Universal or World Heavyweight Championship scenes, depending on what show he's on, for years to come. But the crowd doesn't accept him anywhere he goes as The Man. Far be it from me to suggest the mouthy hardcores whose voices amplify themselves the loudest and most assertively to drive booking, but at the same time, those chants influence others. So the best way to use him is as an aggressive dickhead who still stands up for the right thing from time to time. What better opponent for that character to go up against than Rusev?

Aside number two, Mark Henry, Rusev's opponent last night, has been the subject of several indignities as a WWE employee, from the protagonist in a transphobic love tryst to siring a hand to being given a highly racist nickname. However, all of that pales in comparison to being sent as WWE's ambassador to the Olympics. That shitshow in Rio de Janeiro has horrors that will make his employment with WWE seem idyllic in comparison.

Finally, both Bálor and Seth Rollins did the unlikely and had a good talking segment to promote their SummerSlam tilt for the Universal Championship. Talking isn't either guy's strong suit; long Rollins interview segments often make me long for the sweet embrace of death or TNA, which are traditionally the same thing (can't speak for right now, cuz I don't watch Impact, although I hear it is quite good at present). But his spiel was kept short, and Bálor actually illuminated what his character might be or become. He became popular like wildfire in NXT for several reasons: a cool look, mega-handsome appearance, decent-to-good matches depending on whom one asks. But along the way, he never really got a character outside of "dude what paints himself for live Network specials."

HE still doesn't have a concrete character outside of "dude who wrestles," but finally, the audience knows some of his motivations and his feelings. For all the faults of RAW, and it has many, one cannot pin "not trying to give important people stories" upon it. NXT showrunners can get lazy sometimes with character motives and plots, as seen with the spate of TNA guys having debuted this year with the same "HE'S THE HOTTEST FREE AGENT IN WRESTLING, TOM" label.

Again, nothing really blew me away as a viewer last night like it did last week, but at the same time, not every episode of RAW is going to be a blockbuster by the nature of its "new episode every week" frequency. As long as things move forward, wrestlers grow, and the narrative doesn't regress into the same boring or reductive shit that has been the calling card between The Shield breaking up and two weeks ago, then it'll continue to be a success.