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WWE Monday Night Raw: “August 24, 2015”

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Less than 24 hours after a seriously disappointing and overlong SummerSlam, WWE manages to right the ship a bit with tonight’s Raw. That’s not exactly surprising in the age where, if you believe certain schools of thought, “PPVs don’t matter.” Such a statement is obviously an exaggeration, but there’s a kernel of truth in there. With the rise of the WWE Network, and streaming services in general, WWE doesn’t need to pull out all the stops at its PPVs. It used to be that you’d offer your viewers/customers the most bang for their buck. Pull them in with the free network television and then pay it all off with a massive $70 PPV. That model doesn’t really exist anymore and, more often than not, PPVs are where the feuds go to die rather than get paid off. That means that, more and more often, WWE uses the following episode of Raw, especially one following a “major” PPV, to get the stories moving again.

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Just like the post-Wrestlemania XXXI episode of Raw, tonight’s show is a mixed bag, showing some promise, offering up a few surprises, but also falling into the same complacent booking patterns that made SummerSlam such a slog. Just like last night’s PPV, the wrestling isn’t bad at all, but just about everything surrounding it is underwhelming. That’s particularly true as the night goes on, with lengthy segments that don’t accomplish much in terms of narrative, topped off by a frustrating #DivaRevolution segment that embodies all the complacent, lazy tendencies of WWE in 2015.

The night starts off well enough, with Rollins basking in the glow of his SummerSlam victory and looking forward to the unveiling of his bronze statue. Not everyone is in a good mood though, and before long Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman are in the ring, and they’re pissed. Heyman cuts a solid promo, but it’s the aftermath that’s the most fun. When Lesnar challenges the Undertaker to a rematch, Bo Dallas comes out. He does his “BOLIEVE!” schtick and it’s perfect because we know the destruction that’s about to happen. The segment is all anticipation and payoff, and it’s wonderful, with Bo taking multiple suplexes and one F5, requested by Heyman, just because Lesnar can.

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As if that wasn’t enough fun, new Tag Team Champions New Day come out for a match, and Xavier Woods is playing the trombone while Kofi and Big E sing. They wrestle a solid match against the Lucha Dragons and pull out a win, letting the crowd once again delight in their post-match celebration. It’s then that WWE throws a bombshell into the tag division, as the goddamn Dudley Boyz make their return after a ten-year absence! They storm the ring and dispatch with all three New Day members, saving their 3D for loudmouth Xavier Woods. What’s great about the segment is that it’s not just nostalgia (though it is some of that); it’s the introduction of a team with history and backstory into an otherwise mediocre division. The fact that Bubba Ray and D-Von look great in the ring certainly helps too. I, along with every other WWE fan I assume, can’t wait to see where they go from here.

Two more segments define the good stuff WWE does tonight. Luke Harper and Bray Wyatt have a solid rematch against Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose. In a lot of ways it’s better than their match from last night, but on top of that, the Wyatt Family gets a new member, and boy is he huge. Google and Bray Wyatt tells me that his name is Braun Stowman, but for now, he’s the barrel-chested monster who destroys Reigns and Ambrose. Everyone was expecting Reigns or Ambrose to turn, but their bromance is too good to get rid of. This is a much better way to inject some life into a feud that has some serious potential. The other rewarding surprise of the night (sorry Sting!) is how good Jon Stewart is. He comes out to tell the WWE universe that he attacked John Cena because, as a wrestling fan, he couldn’t stand to see him tie Flair’s Championship record. It’s a great promo, one that sees Stewart booked as the embodiment of every single smark out there. What’s even better is that Stewart takes a bump. And not just any old bump; he takes an Attitude Adjustment from Cena. It’s a fun segment that also boasts a real story, one that’s understandable, complex, and built on real emotions.

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That kind of booking ends there though, as the rest of the show goes off the rails, so much so that not even the surprise reappearance of Sting during the night’s final segment can’t bring the show back to life. Part of this episode’s problem is that there are only four matches on the card, and they’re all pretty meaningless. Now, two of those matches serve to introduce (and re-introduce) talent, and that’s perfectly fine. The problem is that those matches aren’t complemented by anything else. As fun as an eight-man tag team match with some of the best workers in the company is, it’s a house show match at best.

Still, that match at least has some feuds built into it. The same can’t be said for the match that sees Team P.C.B. face off against Team Bella. Tonight’s #DivaRevolution segment finally reveals the hashtag for what it truly is: the co-option of genuine, revolutionary rhetoric by a giant corporation. When the Brooklyn crowd hijacks the otherwise great match tonight, they’re not doing it to protest women’s wrestling or to disrespect the performers involved (though, admittedly, the chants get out of hand). Rather, the audience is sick of being fed storylines with no motivation. This is the same crowd that lost their minds for Sasha Banks vs. Bayley at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn just two nights ago, and the crowd that cheers for Blue Pants and Sasha tonight. The #DivaRevolution should be more than just women getting more time on TV. It’s about building storylines that feel true to the people involved. Nothing that came out of the mouths of Paige, Sasha, and Charlotte felt real or inspired. For that matter, nothing coming from the Bellas did either. And you know what? That’s not the fault of the performers, all of whom are more than capable of tapping into their personalities to create compelling storylines. This poor excuse for a revolutionary segment is because of the booking. Fans are sick of being force fed the same contrived, dull, personality-less storylines for years on end, especially in terms of women’s wrestling. Tonight’s Raw was filled with surprises that showed what WWE can do when it’s at the top of its game. This segment though is anything but a surprise. Rather, it’s a harsh reality, exposing the WWE branded #DivaRevolution for the façade it is.

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Stray observations

  • Results: New Day defeated the Lucha Dragons; Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose defeated Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper (via DQ); Team Bella defeated Team P.C.B.; Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro, Randy Orton, and Ryback defeated Sheamus, Kevin Owens, Rusev, and Big Show.
  • Not going to lie: I felt really bad for Big Show tonight. Normally I don’t get mad about babyfaces attacking heels after the match, but tonight felt different.
  • Miz makes a pretty solid case for why he’s better than Ric Flair.
  • “Only in Brooklyn do you boo compassion.” Heyman, speaking the truth.
  • I’m really happy that the feud between Stardust and Neville is continuing. That has the potential to be a great midcard feud for weeks on end.
  • Look, the Lana and Summer stuff is fine, but can we have them do more than just stand around and then attack one another? Give them more to work with!
  • For a second after the eight-man tag match, I had a glorious vision of what a Rusev and Kevin Owens tag team would look like. Book them against the Dudleys in a year-long feud right now.
  • So, Sting is back to…mess with the Authority again, I guess?
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