Typically speaking, there are four or five episodes of Raw between each PPV. Sometimes there’s three and occasionally there’s six, and that can make all the difference. Those varying numbers should mean that WWE often engages in different types of storytelling. It should mean that those rare six-week stretches give WWE more room to expand upon its storylines and that those three-week builds contain and undeniable energy to them. Too often though WWE falls into a similar storytelling pattern no matter the length of time between PPVS, hitting the same beats each and every time and robbing the show of any sense of spontaneity.

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That’s not exactly the case this time around. While there’s still two more weeks until Survivor Series, which is plenty of time for WWE to drop the ball, the first two weeks of this build have been surprisingly fun. Each episode has had some sort of loose structure, but rather than vehemently stick to a formula and hit the same beats over and over again, sometimes within the same episode, Raw is running through a series of fresh matches and really only hinting at the feuds. That’s to say that most of the Survivor Series matches are predictable at this point, but Raw is largely avoiding putting them front and center each Monday night. Too many of the PPV builds just roll out iterations of the same match to build to a feud, but so far this build feels different. It’s more relaxed and less contrived, and that means that many of the matches and the performers are freed from trying to constantly put over a feud and instead can wrestle and cut promos in a more organic manner.

That doesn’t mean that Raw isn’t taking the time to build its Survivor Series feuds, but rather that those feuds aren’t being pushed down the throats of the audience every single minute of a three-hour show. Take the first match of the night, for instance. Kevin Owens faces off against Dolph Ziggler and, predictably, Tyler Breeze comes out to watch the match from his VIP section—fashionably late of course because when you’re the King of Cuteville you can show up whenever the hell you want. The relevant feud here is between Ziggler and Breeze, but it’s building outside of one-on-one or tag matches, meaning that the actual fight can be saved for the future. It’s great booking, not only allowing Owens to look good in a win, but also making sure Breeze looks like an absolute force. I can’t say enough good things about how WWE has booked Breeze so far on the main roster; it’s the opposite of how they’ve treated so many other callups. The commentary team is putting him over and his occasional offense looks calculated and deadly. This is how you invest in the future, how you make sure even your dastardly heels look like legit talents.

For the most part, the Survivor Series feuds are being built around promos, and that’s a nice change of pace considering that WWE almost always finds a way to spoil a PPV match before it’s even happened. Del Rio is handily dispatching of R-Truth in this week’s Official SmackDown Rematch while confronting a returning, very sad Jack Swagger backstage. Charlotte isn’t interrupting Paige’s match or anything; rather, she’s backstage talking about how she doesn’t think Paige has what it takes to beat her for the title. Bray is channeling the powers of Kane and the Undertaker after he’s consumed their souls, and while he’s no Mil Muertes, it’s so cheesy that I couldn’t help but crack a smile. Hell, even Kevin Owens is talking about a potential future feud, telling Rollins he’ll team with him but that he “owes him one” and wouldn’t mind seeing a Wrestlemania match with him, continuing to build his character as a guy who only fight for himself and for a title. Little things like that make a difference, even if there’s not an immediate payoff.

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Now, there are still some throwaway matches in the middle of the show, an all too common occurrence in the era of three-hour Raws. Cesaro deals with the Miz fairly easily, but the short match is worth it for the shot of Stardust, sitting in his “Stardust Section,” reacting with astonishment to the Cesaro Swing. The Lucha Dragons have a fun match with Sheamus and King Barrett, and I’ll never argue with a Kalisto hot tag, but it’s ultimately lengthy filler, and, as mentioned above, Del Rio takes care of R-Truth rather swiftly. These are mostly meaningless matches, but that’s okay every now and then. Like I said above, WWE can be too focused on making sure it’s building its PPV feuds that by the time we actually get to the PPV, we’re tired of the storyline. Having these types of matches peppered throughout your show eases that burden and makes for a more enjoyable, well-paced three hours.

Ultimately, this week’s Raw is building to two big matches. The first is the best Raw Divas match in quite some time. It’s a Fatal Fourway for the chance to meet Charlotte for the Divas Championship at Survivor Series and features Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Brie Bella, and Paige. The outcome isn’t a surprise by any means, with Paige stealing the win, but the 12-minute match is the best of the night. Everybody comes away looking strong—even Brie, relatively speaking—and there’s the promise that WWE is finally moving towards a conclusion for this tired “separate teams” storyline. Then there’s the main event, a traditional Survivor Series five-on-five elimination tag match, with Team Rollins facing off against Team Reigns. It’s a bit of a shame that Rollins and Reigns get their hands on each other here, but it’s not overkill considering it’s in the context of a huge tag match.

What’s nice though is that everyone else gets some time to shine. The Usos are back and get all of their stuff in; Ryback continues to look better than ever because he’s not talking or being forced into a big spot; New Day get to do their consistently reliable New Day thing; Kevin Owens gets a stellar sneaky tag spot where he hits a thunderous Pop-Up Powerbomb; and we’re treated to a final four that includes all three former Shield members and Kevin Owens. To reiterate: the night ends with Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Kevin Owens fighting each other. No Kane, no Big Show, no Authority, and no pointless, frustrating distractions or other nonsense. Just a cheap chair shot after a lengthy, fun match. Hard to argue with that.

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Stray observations

  • Results: Kevin Owens defeated Dolph Ziggler; Cesaro defeated The Miz; The Lucha Dragons defeated Sheamus and King Barrett; Alberto Del Rio defeated R-Truth; Paige defeated Sasha Banks, Brie Bella, and Becky Lynch (Fatal Fourway); Team Reigns (Roman Reigns, The Usos, Dean Amrbose, Ryback) defeated Team Rollins (Seth Rollins, New Day, Kevin Owens) via DQ.
  • So, who else was happy that they didn’t have Reigns cut a long promo to start the show? Keep that dude’s stuff simple!
  • Is Dolph Ziggler more prone to distraction than any other wrestler on the roster?
  • Becky Lynch promos are so dorky and I love them.
  • Man, Brie Bella cannot get heel heat to save her life. It’s a problem with the Bellas in general (though not their fault) because they have such a huge presence outside the ring and young fans love them regardless of their in-ring behavior.
  • On a simlar note, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: heel Brie Bella should not be doing the Daniel Bryan “YES!” kicks.
  • Why did WWE just straight up cut Sting out of that 2014 Survivor Series video package? So strange.
  • Sheamus and Barrett are just a huge pile of nothing right now, huh?
  • Did Zeb just call me simpleminded? Leave it to the commenters, old man.

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