In the bizarre world known as the WWE Universe (or maybe it’s known as the Roman Empire or Ambrose Asylum—it’s all very unclear), the constant repetition of nonsense words is all that’s needed to make something a “thing.” Coincidentally, “WWE Universe” is the ultimate example of that, but right now, the phrase “New Era” is the one that keeps being repeated, begging to one day be “trending worldwide on Twitter.” Now, if this weren’t WWE, repeatedly calling something a “New Era” probably wouldn’t make it one. But it is, and the name will stay, regardless of actual newness—especially when it comes time to look back at the “New Era” during WWE Network specials and have the company remind people how inferior it was to the “Attitude Era.”

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But what makes this “New Era” actually live up to its name?

The obvious answer is the new wrestlers—the call-ups from NXT or even from other companies completely—in combination with an out with the old, in with the new mentality. The past couple of months have seen the debuts of Baron Corbin, Apollo Crews, Enzo and Big Cass, and The Vaudevillains. And tonight’s RAW marks the official main roster debut of Dana Brooke, another precious example of the Performance Center actually working. Next week’s RAW will see the re-debut of Primo and Epico as “The Shining Stars” (a gimmick that can now boast an SNL Weekend Update news item as another reason why this is the worst time to talk about how great Puerto Rico is), and Darren Young and Bob Backlund are now an actual pairing, for some confusing but maybe amazing reason. The main event feud at the moment is Roman Reigns versus AJ freaking Styles.

But then you have more McMahon drama closing out the show, even when we’re finally not spending 20 minutes of the show opening it. McMahon drama with acting that feels dangerously close to Mr. McMahon finally convincing Shane and Stephanie to go through with that incest storyline he supposedly always wanted. And when that’s not the case, Stephanie’s “new attitude” in this “New Era” is obviously a brief interlude in a storyline that says: “Hey, the boy child you like is back now to take over, even though the girl child you don’t like has been doing all the work in his absence.” That’s dumbing the plot down to its simplest parts, but too much of the storyline has been about male heirs and how Stephanie’s hard work means nothing—and yes, I acknowledge she and her husband, who appears to have ghosted on her, are “evil” characters—compared to the fact that Shane is Mr. McMahon’s son who doesn’t understand how blackmail works. Now it’s just about how Shane and Stephanie have a will-they-won’t-they relationship, I guess.

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Then there’s supposedly 50/50 booking (I’d rather call it zero sum booking) in Baron Corbin versus Dolph Ziggler, take (officially, I believe) three, with Corbin definitively winning against Ziggler this week. That’s the first match of the night, and it would certainly fit the bill of most contemporary WWE booking choice if not for the finishes to the majority of the other matches on this week’s card. It’s a perfectly acceptable match, but Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler aren’t necessarily two wrestlers whose work evokes an “I could watch the two of them wrestle each other forever” response. Think of it this way: Even Kofi Kingston versus Dolph Ziggler and AJ Styles versus Christopher Daniels got old by the 75th time, and the latter at least had the beauty of Claire Lynch to make it interesting again at one point. Dolph takes the Deep Six phenomenally, though.

During Payback, I tweeted about how the problem with Natalya is essentially the problem I pointed out about the underrated best of the “old guard” in my RAW review two weeks ago. After years of constantly being called the best in a sea of really bad wrestlers, Natalya hasn’t evolved in the ring, on the mic, or as a character when she needs to the most. As much as we joke about the Diva’s Revolution, Natalya definitely didn’t change with it, and that’s rather embarrassing to witness on occasion (like when she celebrates DQ wins in championship matches).

That hasn’t changed since Payback, and honestly, given how her guest commentary goes this week, it will probably never change. This is supposed to be a competitive feud with Charlotte, so of course Natalya spends commentary being more vague than intimidating, trying to be cute, and plugging her cat’s Instagram. The woman who went with a farting gimmick gives commentary about how Ric Flair’s cologne and breath smell bad. She also talks about how Charlotte is a “very insecure…scared little girl” who hides behind her father (while also “hid[ing] from the truth”?)… in the same breath as a comment about how she has her Uncle Bret on speed dial. It’s tone-deaf, and it’s as if Natalya is still in the land of the cast of Total Divas telling AJ Lee to “say it to our faces” after she’s just verbally eviscerated them to their faces. It then leads to another contrived ending for this feud, as Natalya makes it her responsibility to interfere in the Charlotte’s match with Paige, which causes a banned-from-ringside Ric Flair to come out, which causes Shane McMahon (complete with attention-grabbing music) to come out with every referee… just for a 67-year-old-man.

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With that, Paige wins what is actually a good back-and-forth match, but what exactly does it do? Paige’s default setting is “not doing anything”—even though she now has claim to number one contendership, based on WWE’s established “rules”—and the only reason Charlotte doesn’t win clean is because that’s the whole question of her Extreme Rules match with Natalya—even though that’s a submission match, and a pin of any kind against Paige wouldn’t have affected that.

In a flash of sense though, this week’s RAW points out how little sense it makes for Sami Zayn to automatically be in the Intercontinental Championship match at Extreme Rules, so he’s given an opportunity to fight The Miz for a spot in the match. It’s a good match, because it’s a match between two men who are very good at their jobs, but it’s also a match where the champion loses a non-title match, again. Really, shouldn’t that settle it? Sami pinned Miz clean and with no shenanigans. So he should be number one contender, with no exceptions; he did what neither Cesaro nor Kevin Owens could do. The end. Of course, that wouldn’t be enough for Extreme Rules, but that’s the point: In building to a pay-per-view that should organically come together based on the feuds, this week’s RAW sacrifices basic logic and the established rules of the universe to make things “work.” Kevin Owens versus Zack Ryder also has the same stipulations, and while that match never gets to reach a second gear, a win by either competitor wouldn’t require mental gymnastics to accommodate the storyline.

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By the way, based on the way other matches on the card go, The Dudley Boyz should also be the new number one contenders for the Tag Team Championship, and Kalisto versus Rusev should be a Triple Threat with Sin Cara. The Dudley Boyz and Sin Cara beat the champs and number one contenders in their respective divisions this week, and unless this is all one big rib on Ryback about who wins and who loses, it makes less sense than the legitimate belief that The Shining Stars will be the Primo/Epico gimmick that finally gets over this time.

Speaking of Kalisto, he apparently has no problem cheating for his sidekick now, simply because Sin Cara is getting manhandled by, well, a mandhandler. Kalisto’s entire United States title run has been pretty terrible in terms of actual booking and storytelling—he’s short, you see—but no one should deny that he’s very capable in the ring. Rusev is now number one contender, and he’s also very capable in the ring. In fact, “capable” doesn’t even begin to describe how good they both are in the ring. On the other hand, “capable” is pretty much the highest compliment I can give Sin Cara on his ring-work, and I’m even including his work as Hunico (when he was honestly much more technical than high-flying).

When Sin Cara is announced as the one wrestling instead of Kalisto, you can practically feel the disappointment from the crowd. Sure, Sin Cara is colorful and kind of flips, but Kalisto is even more colorful, definitely flips, and is a winner. Plus, Kalisto at least has the agility to make a match-up against Rusev seem more equal. Sin Cara literally just has Kalisto, and that’s actually 100% the case in his win here. The moment the Rusev/Sin Cara match begins, it has the makings of a massacre, and every bit of offense Sin Cara hits feels more like a mistake that he’s going to regret once Rusev destroys him.

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Instead, Kalisto cheats to help his friend who’s losing fair and square win.

I can’t even really break that down, because nothing about it even makes sense.

Anyway, hopefully Chris Jericho and Dean Ambrose’s feud leads to a Light-Up Jacket/Potted Plant On A Pole match. That’s not sarcasm, not even a little bit. Of all the things that make very little sense on this RAW, Jericho and Ambrose’s blood feud over material possessions and their poorly-funded WWE talk shows is honestly the shining star of the show. Having this week’s RAW open with Jericho going on about how Dean Ambrose suffers from “blunt force trauma, vertigo…whiplash…a bulging disc” because of him is beautiful, but it’s also basically a smokescreen considering how the rest of the night goes with its storytelling. Still, it really does kick the show off right.

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And in all this talk of a “New Era,” Big Cass’ interruption is a moment I’d say really feels like that. It’s his “RUTHLESS. AGGRESSION.” moment, and while he and Enzo are both very different on the mic—my biggest criticism of Cass’ mic skills are how deliberate his line-readings are—he’s just as capable of commanding a crowd as his partner. He’s got “it,” as the people say, and that’s supposedly currency in this business. It is kind of disappointing that the main event of Jericho versus Big Cass doesn’t actually happen (at least not tonight), but I’d be lying if I said Dean Ambrose’s “surprise” appearance didn’t nail it. It’s all ridiculous—he jumps a man and then steals and destroys a jacket—but I’d swear it’s the coolest thing that this version of Dean Ambrose has ever done. Yeah, sorry wagon of weapons he was never going to use. It’s so ridiculous, but it’s also the type of thing a kid’s going to remember when they grow up, whether they remain a wrestling fan or not. Trust me.

That all means that, somehow, the six-man elimination tag match isn’t the main event of this week’s RAW. The Family (Roman, Usos) and The Club (AJ, Gallows, Anderson) is a rematch of last RAW’s main event, which of course already had a rematch on last week’s SmackDown (where The Family won), and it’s a good match. Yes, I know that says so little, but at this point, good matches are kind of the norm. Also at this point: Most of my personal thoughts about The Family boil down to how annoying The Usos are (they seem to think they have to explain that “bloodline” and “family” are the same thing?) and how Roman shouldn’t mumble when he’s on a TV show, but I won’t deny that this is also a good main event storyline. (As far as the individual tag team storyline, Gallows/Anderson have already beaten The Usos in an embarrassing fashion, you know?) Roman and AJ really do have excellent chemistry. Of course, this match ends with a DQ, with Gallows and Anderson attacking Roman with the chair, so it’s ultimately the same as nearly every other match on the card, but at least it makes sense for this actual storyline; it’s just a victim of the rest of the night’s ridiculous booking.

The post-match interactions between Roman and AJ are also very good at making the two of them look evenly-matched (plus, the actual match has “LET’S GO AJ” “LET’S GO ROMAN” chants), even though, come on. We all know Roman’s going to win. He’s The Guy.

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Stray observations

  • RESULTS: Baron Corbin defeated Dolph Ziggler; R-Truth (with Tyler Breeze) defeated Fandango (with Goldust); Paige defeated Charlotte; Sami Zayn defeated The Miz (with Maryse); Sin Cara defeated Rusev (with Lana); The Family (Roman Reigns, Jimmy Uso, Jey Uso) defeated The Club (AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows) via DQ; Kevin Owens defeated Zack Ryder; The Dudley Boyz defeated The New Day (Kofi Kingston and Big E); Big Cass and Chris Jericho did not happen, thanks to jacket problems
  • No one expects a Claire Lynch reference or gif in the year 2016, but I like to keep people on their toes.
  • I know this is definitely pessimistic or “smarky,” but I just want to be honest with you guys: I’d rather have more terrible, completely ill-timed Puerto Rico tourism ads than another re-debut of Primo and Epico. The most I’ve ever been entertained by them was: 1. When Rosa Mendes, who is not fluent in Spanish, had to speak Spanish as their valet (“Por favor!”). 2. Primo’s unnecessary love story with AJ Lee in original recipe NXT, season three. So, I’ve basically never been entertained by them. El Torito was dope though. “Chiquita baby!”
  • How do I feel about the Darren Young/Bob Backlund gimmick? Well, I’m a woman who has rewatched every season of the original version of NXT, to the point where regularly seeing Darren Young carry Titus O’Neil to passable singles matches at the time made me a fan of his for life. (Plus, he “got reservations at McDonald’s!”) I’m also a woman who has to make sure that everything in life is “Bob Backlund-authorized,” so I think that answers the question. I was the vignettes would be exclusive to SmackDown for now, though, since Cole and company’s terrible reactions to it (“Well, anyway.”) have already started the dreaded countdown to failure. Again, pessimism may be a problem, but after years of WWE and studying how the company ticks, if you can’t see the signs on certain things, you’re just not paying enough attention.
  • Speaking of, you can of course talk releases in the comments.
  • Jericho eventually gets a “Mitch” chant out of the crowd that misses their first obvious cue to get a “Mitch” chant going. He knows what he’s doing out there.
  • Based on the commercial, WWE is now selling that obvious, softball Shane McMahon interview-that-shows-Vince-doesn’t-know-what-a-podcast-is hosted by Mick Foley as a serious, “tell-all podcast,” huh? Cute.
  • Cole sounded so pleased with himself when he called Sami’s Michinoku Driver correctly. He’s not going to make that “Blue Thunder Bomb!” mistake twice, I guess.
  • Last week’s Gorgeous Golden TruthDango segment on SmackDown was one of my favorite best parts, so this week, their entire segment (an R-Truth versus Fandango match) is pretty much already under way by the time the show comes back from commercial. For some reason, Michael Cole mentions “Carpool Karaoke,” and for a moment, I realize I’d rather hear whatever racist or homophobic thing Jerry Lawler would have to say about this on SmackDown instead. (He’d save the calling a move a “sushi roll” for an AJ match, of course. That’s happened. More than once.)
  • By the way, Fandango has also secretly been tearing it up on the C-shows in the past year, with one of his most impressive matches having him severely out-wrestle Ryback a week or so before The Big Guy’s WrestleMania match against Kalisto.
  • Honestly, how fascinating would it be if Ryder did actually beat Kevin Owens in their match match? It’s actually interesting to watch just how much Ryder has Owens’ number throughout the match, only for Owens to eventually change up his powerbomb strategy at the end because of it.
  • Two New Day highlights, before I forget: the “Vaude-Villians” discrepancy and, of course, “people like us.” These two teams are kind of the perfect foils, and surprisingly, the main roster is giving the Vaudevillains exactly what they need to get over: mic time.
  • Apropos of nothing: Despite me rarely knowing which one is actually which most of the time, we’re all in agreement that Jey is a better wrestler than Jimmy right? It’s a conversation I had with my mother during the six-man tag, and she actually brought it up, despite the same usual confusion. Remember: When Jey was out on injury, Jimmy didn’t really wrestle. He instead went to do commentary, where he tried to claim “superkick party” and disappeared every time his wife had a match.

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