Whenever I watch an episode of Monday Night RAW that takes place in the United Kingdom and/or is pre-recorded (even though John Cena tries to call it “live!”), it automatically enters my mind that is just doesn’t count. For once, that’s not in the nihilistic, “nothing WWE is doing matters” way—that’s in the “this is a freebie,” The Brady Bunch’s “Hawaii Bound” way. These types of RAW episodes can still have really great crowd reactions and moments (both in and out of the ring), but really, as soon as the telephone-box-and-taxi stage is set up, Monday Night RAW pretty much becomes a three hour SmackDown. There’s slightly more of an attempt to make these pre-recorded RAWs more watchable than SmackDown, but even a typical SmackDown feels more full of effort than a pre-recorded RAW.
So I of course watched this week’s RAW with my critical eye, but at the same time, I found myself more relaxed and lenient in my viewing. Spoilers were at my disposal, so I read them—not even with judgment in mind but to know what to expect on paper. It allowed me to know when the show wasn’t going to give me something at all—see the Orton/Cesaro match, which could have been gold, then the Orton/Cesaro & Kidd handicap, which was never going to be gold—so I could focus on something else, like ordering dinner. When RAW isn’t live, it can be considered the passable/acceptable version of filler episode in WWE. Typical, live filler tends to reek of gross negligence (at its worst) and a lackadaisical approach to the product, but it’s really hard to argue that WWE’s ever going to give away its best stuff (and this is actually a big problem for SmackDown) when it’s not live and “unexpected.”
None of this is excusing the fact that this Monday Night RAW is not very good and puts way too much focus on the mental and emotional states of Kane and Big Show, but it is an interesting way to look at these not-so-live editions of Monday Night RAW.
This week’s RAW features a lot of Vince McMahon’s secretly favorite thing in the world: wrestling for the sake of wrestling. The way battle royals were the way of 2011 WWE, open challenges just may be the way of 2015. The problem, however, is that there’s nothing there, and it really highlights the state of limbo a good portion of the roster is in. In fact, it really puts on display that WWE’s lower card is in a standstill, and anyone who is not in the mid-card title hunt for the moment is basically in hell (or the Fifth Dimension, if you’re Stardust).
Miz and Mizdow find themselves in the WWE feud logic pit of fighting each other to build up a pay-per-view match where they… fight each other. Perhaps with stairs. Ryback, who confusingly found himself in the main event last week, finds himself in a match against Luke Harper to build up a feud for Dean Ambrose. No, not to build up a Ryback feud with Dean Ambrose; Ryback is unimportant to every scenario. Stardust, who came up short against Cena for the United States Championship last week, faces Fandango, of all people. RAW actually hypes Dolph Ziggler versus Seth Rollins and Randy Orton versus Cesaro going into the show—two matches that could really blow the roof off the O2—and the former doesn’t happen, while the latter is a means to a “handicap” match. Dean Ambrose faces Adam Rose, in what one can assume is a match needed to remind people that Dean Ambrose can win matches, sometimes. Seth Rollins versus Kane is a sham of a match.
What’s funny about all of these match ups that actually happen (sans Kane/Rollins) is that they’re all matches with decent to great wrestlers, and yet they’re all nonsense.* Ziggler gets to wrestle Neville, and it’s fantastic (while also segueing into the Sheamus versus the vanilla midgets storyline), but it’s a shining diamond in a turd (not to be confused with Daniel Bryan or Dolph Ziggler’s alter ego, Turd Ferguson—no relation). Adam Rose and Fandango are sadly stuck in these cartoon gimmicks, but anyone who has seen them as Leo Kruger and Johnny “Dirty Curty” Curtis, respectively, know they are two wrestlers who really deserve more, especially if it means keeping these gimmicks. Watching an episode of RAW where everything is so hastily (at least, that’s the impression it gives off, even when pre-recorded) thrown together, it’s not just disappointing because the fans deserve more; it’s disappointing because the roster deserves more. More to show off why they are the best at what they do. More to show off why you should love or hate them. Wrestling’s a performance art, and just like any other art, when it’s just thrown together, you can tell. Just like you can also tell when talent is being hindered, and that’s one of the most frustrating things about WWE. You can always tell.
For example, two of the most creative and game for anything guys in WWE, by my estimation, are The Miz and Damien Mizdow. The Miz/Damien Mizdow is a storyline that becomes more and more a case of diminishing returns, especially as WWE Creative takes over what was so clearly a labor of love between the two competitors early on. Now, Mizdow is the stereotypical WWE face—who loves to have fun, which is why kissing a woman against her will makes them boyfriend/girlfriend… most likely until he remembers faces can’t have girlfriends—with his added bully behavior being in the form of stealing another man’s gimmick and being unable to move on and forward.
In the argument of “he isn’t over, [such and such] is over,” Mizdow is very much in that boat.
This has been brought up before, but the longer that WWE draws out Mizdow cribbing off Miz’s gimmick and life, the more apparent it becomes that they themselves don’t have faith in Sandow’s ability to swim (he can’t swim, remember?) after he moves past Miz. Both Sandow’s history and The Miz’s history actually back that up. In fact, it’s fascinating to think about how, in all of his tag team efforts, Miz always ends up being the Shawn Michaels to his partner’s Marty Jannetty. What is Damien Sandow without this character, other than a joke again? He can’t be the intellectual savior of the masses, because WWE babyfaces think intelligence is for losers. If he goes back to the gimmick of the week, he’s back-tracking. He can’t be The Miz, because The Miz is literally Mike Mizanin, and there is Real World evidence to back it up. No one’s asking a pre-recorded Monday Night RAW in England to answer these questions, but the direction in which it takes the storyline can’t help but continue to lead to them.
The problem with having a true filler RAW and also trying to advance or change things up (especially with a pay-per-view in two weeks) is that it all comes across as a matter of WWE settling on trying to figure out where to go next once they get back home and get back to their regularly scheduled, live chaos. While Naomi’s heel turn in this RAW is surprisingly effective (though questioning the logistics of a heel turn being based on finally taking your job seriously are for another time), that’s not the only turn in this episode. Fandango has officially gone from vaguely joke heel jobber to… completely joke heel babyface. Here’s the thing you may not realize about Fandango: Fandango is not a good dancer. All he does is gyrate, and that still feels like a Dirty Curty thing. But he commits enough to the bit that it’s fine, albeit uncomfortable. Having his face turn make him do the stupid finger point dance of Fandangoing (a concept which was born in the UK and is not inherently awful, but that finger point is, well, stupid) betrays the very idea of him being a “good” dancer. He also dumps his girlfriend, because the first rule of becoming a face is to drop any friends or love interest. This simply opens Fandango up to even more matches against Adam Rose, which he’s already been doing on Main Event and Superstars (as face and with Rosa) for months. It’s a turn for turn’s sake, which is even worse than wrestling for wrestling’s sake. It’s nonsense.
Somewhere in the middle of the nonsense spectrum of this episode of RAW is the John Cena stuff. Cena actually opens RAW with a title match, and the more solid work he puts in with these challenges—while the main event is a mess of “Best For Business” banter—the more it almost feels like a punishment (instead of a reward) for Cena being out of the main event. Yes, that’s more of a conspiracy theory situation and not really serious conjecture, but think about it for a second when you get the chance.
To no one’s surprise, Bad News Barrett versus Cena is a solid, hard-fought match for both men, and the London crowd is absolutely hot for Barrett. Honestly, if you didn’t know any better, you would think Barrett is a legitimate superhero in England. I’ve gone on the record saying this many times, but I have absolutely no idea what WWE sees when they look at Wade “Bad News” Barrett. Because in my eyes, he ticks off every box in the checklist of what it means to be the top WWE Superstar, from looks, to “the look,” to speaking ability, to wrestling ability, to connection with the Universe. The fact that he’s never once held even the now defunct World Heavyweight Championship absolutely baffles me. Having him go against Cena only brought back my Nexus-related PTSD (which comes in waves), as Cena infamously went out of his way to basically kill that group and Wade’s heat in the first place. That’s perhaps the biggest problem with Cena’s character and one that could possibly end up being a problem in these open challenges: Legitimately being put over by him is rare, so once you lose to him (especially again and again), you’re basically done.
If Rusev surprisingly wins the belt back at Extreme Rules, it reinforces the thought that Cena will only put someone over when it doesn’t matter and no one is watching. But it also eliminates the open challenges, which are one of the best parts of the program at this point. So logic dictates Cena retaining at Extreme Rules to keep the open challenges going, but a loss for Rusev again brings the question of where does he go from here. Where does a monster heel who’s no longer a monster go? Will even Jack Swagger finally be able to beat him? Is his reign of terror over? This is the worry I brought up during WrestleMania and its planning (or lack thereof) for the future of the company,** and it’s the worry that will probably follow Cena in his feuds for the rest of his career, even if he’s out of the main event.
But at least he is out of the main event, which is now dedicated to Kane’s internal struggle and lamely titled end-of-the-night segments.
- Thanks to Kyle Fowle for covering last week’s RAW for me. I completely forgot everything that happened last week going into watching this week’s RAW, so it’s probably for the best I didn’t cover it.
- *Writing this up, I legitimately forgot about the Lucha Dragons/Ascension match. Considering the London crowd sat on their hands for it, except for when it came to the brief “NXT” chant, I can believe they did too.
- **By the way, raise your hand if you truly care who Bray Wyatt is trying to call out. He’s calling himself “The New Face Of Fear” when he lost the match, and people are bringing back the “WHAT?” chants to his promos. It’s slightly embarrassing.***
- ***Speaking of, Roman Reigns talking about how he almost beat Brock Lesnar is actually the equivalent of the Triple H “almost beat Undertaker” segment of Max Landis’ Wrestling Isn’t Wrestling. This RAW was honestly the most comfortable he’s come across on the mic since he called Renee Young “baby girl,” but oh Roman. “Almost won” isn’t the same as winning. At least he’s not calling himself The Beast.
- I don’t follow the ratings, but I imagine that if they get really bad, the dirt sheets will talk about how management is upset with Rollins for not being able to carry the product, despite the albatrosses he has to work with in the Authority.
- The one thing I sort of like about the Kane/Authority storyline is the idea that Kane legitimately became Corporate Kane because he believed in the ideology of “Best For Business.” He didn’t sign up to babysit Draco Malfoy. The other little touch I enjoyed this week was John Cena’s shiner being called out as part of the wear and tear of this open challenge business. I want this to wear him down until someone finally takes the belt from him. I also want that someone to be Finn Balor.
- I do apologize to all of you Brits who watch these episodes of RAW and wonder if WWE knows that you guys eat more than fish and chips. Just remember: JBL fought Godzilla when WWE was in Japan. It could be a lot worse.
- JBL is supposedly the heel commentator, but the amount of vitriol he spews at Bad News Barrett for being a hometown hero just makes him come across as the most unpleasant person on an already unpleasant commentary team (which sadly was back together this week). When he gets like that, it actually reminds me of heel Michael Cole…
- At the time, I vaguely remember praising Michael Cole’s role as heel, but if you’re brave enough rewatch anything from that time period, do it. He dumps on everything and is awful. It’s at its worst in original NXT season three (though he’s bad in each season), the Divas season. Naomi actually mentions that season on this RAW. You’ll see a lot of praise for his commentary on that mess of a season—and considering the amount of “Not Ready For Primetime” Divas on that season, it is a mess—but his commentary was so dismissive and misogynist, even toward someone as obviously talented as AJ. The rare exception was his call of The Octopus, in a match which was so good he couldn’t keep in character.
- Booker T’s surprise over Barrett kicking out of the AA doesn’t really work when people have been kicking out of the AA for a month now.
- I made this joke on Twitter, but I’m not ashamed to make it again: Why would Rusev want a Russian chain match? Cena—as part of his doctorate—studied chains intensively. He named his gang after them.