When WWE turned out a profoundly dull Monday Night Raw last week, they admittedly had a pretty good excuse. In fact, they had two: it was only a few days before the holidays, and the show was largely dedicated to the Slammys. Those excuses don’t exempt the show from criticism, but it’s at least some context for why WWE maybe phoned it in for a week. So, with that said, what’s the company’s excuse this week? This week’s Raw is, in many ways, worse than last weeks Slammy Awards; at least that show had a structure, no matter how contrived or silly. This week though, nearly the entire three-hour show flails in the wind, everything meaningless, boring, and inconsequential.

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There’s a few minutes at the top of the show where things look promising. Vince McMahon’s music hits and, after taking last week off, he’s back to confront Roman Reigns. Things start off well enough, with Vince nailing his lines like he’s still a relatively young man, and Roman getting his smug on. Then things go straight off the rails and the show never recovers. Not only does Vince go full racist heel and remind Roman that he’s only one generation removed from “having a bone through your nose,” he then goes on to get arrested, putting over the NYPD. Now, wrestling is a different beast than a lot of other forms of art. Heels should have the room to really be heels, but Vince’s “bone” remark here is just too out of touch to really resonate or get any heat. It’s just plain stupid. The other part of the segment, that sees the cops get over, isn’t necessarily a misstep by creative, but the fact that an arena full of people are cheering on cops while Stephanie McMahon screams “police brutality” on the same day that the officers that murdered Tamir Rice weren’t indicted is, to say the least, off-putting.

Once the show gets past the outright cringe-worthy though, it devolves into some of the dullest booking and most atrocious pacing of the year. Raw spends its first 20 minutes getting Vince McMahon arrested, then spends about 12 seconds (not an exaggeration) on a match between Neville and Kevin Owens. Part of me is reluctant to critique the quick pinfall because it sets up Crazy-Eyed and Vengeful Kevin Owens, which is the best version of Kevin Owens, but there’s something to be said for how that booking decision is representative of the larger show. After all, Raw is in Brooklyn for the night, where the crowd is notoriously rowdy. So, teasing a showdown between two former NXT Champions and crowd favorites just seems like a bad idea. Owens’ post-match beat down of Neville, and later powerbombing of Ambrose through the announce table, doesn’t really make up for the lack of a solid match.

That non-match is just the start of the strange pacing this week. Tonight’s Raw jumps from one segment to the next with little or no sense of purpose, and just about everything that happens feels completely forced. On paper, this Raw doesn’t seem that bad, what with a Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch match, Vince getting arrested, Neville vs. Owens, Kalisto vs. Kofi Kingston, and the return of John Cena. Yet, somehow, the execution is all off. New Day manage to get the crowd going by offering to fight children, but that’s about it in terms of excitement for the night. For instance, Sasha and Becky have a good match and get 16 minutes of time, the longest match of the night, but there’s no response from the crowd. Part of that is the crowd just being ridiculous and not appreciating what’s in front of them, but a larger part is the fact that Becky and Sasha had to follow the 30-minute mess that opened the show and left the crowd cold. It’s hard to bring back any crowd from that.

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The night does delve into a little fun when it starts to set up the Royal Rumble. The Miz comes out to recap his year in MizTV, only to have a number of low-to-mid card Superstars interrupt him. It’s a fun segment, with R-Truth once again playing up his clueless gimmick and Zack Ryder getting a huge Brooklyn pop. It’s so good in comparison to the rest of the night that the fact it ends with Big Show having a match with Ryback, and Big Show just walking away and accepting a countout, doesn’t totally ruin it.

It’s hard not to see most of tonight’s Raw as purposely disposable so as to make the return of John Cena all the more exciting. And to be fair, two-and-a-half hours of uninspired, complacent booking made me long for Cena’s music to hit. Say what you will about the guy, but at least he gets a reaction, and at least he’s out there working his ass off. Sure, the main event largely devolved into Super Cena and Super Reigns getting a one-up on the League of Nations, but for awhile it was just the solid return of Cena, the guy who gave us some of the best matches of the year with his United States Open Challenge. He baited Alberto Del Rio into making their match for the United States Championship, and the two worked the mic to really get the crowd into it. That makes it all the more baffling that WWE then decided to roll out their tribute to Lemmy at that exact moment, ruining the momentum the two workers had just spent a whole segment building.

That kind of pacing and poor decision-making is par for the course in terms of Raw the last two weeks though. There’s still four more weeks until the Royal Rumble, and maybe that’s the problem. The time between TLC and Royal Rumble is longer than usual, which could account for WWE stalling right now. More likely though is that WWE knew it had to put the WWE Heavyweight Championship on Roman Reigns, they found a way to do it compellingly, but seem to have little idea of where to go now.

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Stray observations

  • Results: Neville defeated Kevin Owens; Sasha Banks defeated Becky Lynch; Kalisto defeated Kofi Kingston; Big E defeated Sin Cara; Ryback defeated Big show via Countout; Sheamus, Rusev, and Barrett defeated Dean Amrbose and the Usos; John Cena defeated Alberto Del Rio via DQ (United States Championship match).
  • That whole arrest storyline was to set up Reigns vs. Sheamus with Vince as the special guest referee on Raw next week. You decide if it was worth it.
  • Xavier Woods is out here referencing Rocky IV, y’all.
  • I’m down for Sasha getting that Patriots heat, but doing it the day after a loss to the New York Jets is inexcusable.
  • Move of the night: Rusev hiptossing an Uso into the turnbuckle with pure Bulgarian force.
  • Hey, that’s the end of Raw reviews for 2015! Thanks for sticking through the tough times with me. Real talk: I think you folks are maybe the best comments section in the game. I love reading your thoughts week in and week out and hope to engage with you all a lot more in 2016. Cheers.

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