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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

WWE and Monday Night Raw go all in on the Roman Empire

Illustration for article titled WWE and Monday Night Raw go all in on the Roman Empire
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After weeks and weeks of lazy, dull storytelling, WWE managed to do what seemed impossible last night and actually deliver a PPV that, for the most part, worked really well. Just about every match on last night’s TLC PPV was good-to-great, and while you could question a few booking decisions (when can’t you?), the night overall was a lot of fun. Undoubtedly, the ending had a lot to do with that. Near the end of a stellar Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match, Roman Reigns seemed to have the WWE World Heavyweight Championship won, only to have Alberto Del Rio and Rusev come out and stop his climb, beating him down and giving Sheamus time to recover and snag the title. Then, Reigns went on a rampage, taking out the League of Nations and then Triple H. It was electric and exciting, something WWE hadn’t been in ages. Thankfully, that energy carried over to tonight.

There’s obviously one BIG THING that we need to talk about, but let’s just start with the setup and the rest of the show, because really, this Monday Night Raw was solid throughout. Not perfect by any means, but definitely a show that felt important and consequential. Raw built on last night’s earned good will and momentum, picking up right where they left off by having Stephanie come out and smack the hell out of Reigns. She laments not being able to fire him though. But guess what? There’s one man who can and he’s on his way to the building: Vince McMahon. Any Vince appearance is a good Vince appearance, and his looming presence invigorates the show and continues to stack the odds against Roman.


While most of this review will be focused on the main event and everything tied to it, it should be noted that the urgency apparent at last night’s PPV and the start of Raw runs through most of the show. Ziggler and Ambrose have a great match, but the urgency comes in the form of a savage Kevin Owens beat down. He interrupts the match and absolutely destroys both men, then heads backstage and cuts a killer promo, saying that was just the beginning of what he’s going to do to Ambrose. Owens has been great ever since making his way to the main roster, but tonight’s performance was the closest he’s come to really capturing that magic he had in NXT, where he was a vicious competitor who would do anything to win a championship.

Even the “lesser” segments of the night have a sense of urgency to them. There’s the Bo Dallas and R-Truth match which is specifically booked to have Vince interrupt it. It’s a lot of fun watching the Boss come out and just kick guys out of his ring; especially those two guys. And then there’s what should amount to a terrible booking decision, with the Wyatt Family facing off against Team ECW in an Extreme Rules match. I groaned when WWE announced it was basically having last night’s match once again, but my cynicism eventually subsided as all eight superstars came out and put on one hell of a hardcore show and easily exceeded their match from the night before.

Really though, tonight’s episode is about the fallout of Sheamus vs. Roman Reigns at TLC, where Roman was once again screwed over. He chose to lash out this time though, causing Vince McMahon to step in. When Roman refuses to apologize to Vince in the first hour, Sheamus offers to beat an apology out of him. In fact, he’s so confident, he’s ready to put the title on the line tonight. After a bit of goading, Vince agrees, but with a typical McMahon stipulation: if Roman loses, he’s fired.

I’ll admit it: they got me. From the moment the match was announced I assumed WWE was going to roll out an angle that saw Roman get fired and removed from TV for awhile. That’s not what happened though. Instead, Reigns and Sheamus put on another hard-hitting match, and only one day removed from that brutal Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match. With Vince at ringside, the tension was there again, everyone anxiously waiting for something screwy to happen. Then it did. Just as Roman was about to get the win, Vince pulled the ref out of the ring and distracted him long enough to allow the League of Nations to once again come out and get a few shots in on Reigns. As always, he fought back—this is where some of you may have some complaints—and kicked out of a Brogue kick, a seriously great near-fall that had everyone fooled.


Then the unthinkable happens. The Philadelphia crowd, who booed Roman Reigns out of the building after the Royal Rumble last year, ecstatically starts a “YES” chant after the kickout. They’re behind him, like they’ve been all night long, and it’s glorious. Reigns gets up, delivers a Superman punch to McMahon, sending him off the apron, and then spears Sheamus for the win. The crowd goes wild—no, seriously, the Philly crowd exploded—and WWE has a new Heavyweight Champion in Roman Reigns. Now, there are things that I could nitpick at, like the match being a bit overbooked, but they seem rather pointless in the grand scheme of things because tonight’s main event, and most of the show, was electric. There was a purpose and energy to the whole night, and the pacing, which saw Reigns’ story spread out over the three hours, contributed to that feeling perfectly. I don’t know exactly where WWE goes from here—a match with Triple H must be in Reigns’ future—but for the first time in a long time, there’s something at stake. WWE has made a lot of people care about Roman Reigns, and that’s all we ever ask for; a little stakes, a coherent, compelling story, and a champion who’s infinitely more interesting than Sheamus. I’m in.

Stray observations

  • Results: Dolph Ziggler defeated Dean Ambrose via disqualification; Bo Dallas and R-Truth were sent back to Superstars by Vince McMahon; Rusev and Alberto Del Rio defeated Ryback and Jack Swagger; Neville defeated Tyler Breeze; The Wyatt Family defeated Team ECW (Extreme Rules match); Charlotte and Becky Lynch defeated Brie Bella and Alicia Fox; Roman Reigns defeated Sheamus for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
  • Other than one joke about balls, Roman Reigns looked great tonight. That opening promo with Steph was fantastic. When Roman just talks about kicking ass, or disrespects the McMahon family, it works.
  • Also: I love a title change on Raw.
  • Does anyone, including Adam Rose, even enjoy The Rosebush?
  • Look, I’m glad the Divas division is getting a little more interesting in terms of storytelling, but across a three hour show WWE could apparently only find time for a six-minute match and nothing else. That’s abysmal, and downright insulting to the wealth of talent in the division.
  • That was the first New Day segment in months that I didn’t really enjoy. It was too long-winded.
  • I’m still here for Miz doing his thing.
  • #SantaTitus

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