If you’re a fan of re-runs, especially in weekly episodic sports entertainment, then this week’s episode of RAW is the one for you. A lot of main roster WWE is a re-run, so that must sound redundant, but this is also a RAW in which Roman Reigns has a match every single hour, so there’s even more repetition within a re-run. Sure, Roman Reigns finally gets to wrestle outside of the Authority sphere this week, but each match is a case of diminishing returns, and no, that’s not because of Roman selling the deteriorating effects of each of the matches. Two of the matches are probably shot-for-shot remakes of ones from a Best Of WWE 2011 DVD. The Bellas are identical twins again for anyone without eyes (WWE officials, of course). Oh, the Authority started the show, and they’re still not half as smart as they’re supposed to be. And Cena shrugs off a loss and passionate promo from Owens with the same old “I’m here every week” and sick kid rhetoric.* There’s also the joke of a commentary team, who find new ways to be inept each and every week.

My notes for this episode of RAW literally begin with “Surprise! The Authority is starting the show. *EYE ROLL*” To write “EYE ROLL” in notes—in the first note of the night—immediately tells you everything you need to know about any episode of television that evokes such a response. Elimination Chamber last night was mostly a mess (outside of Owens/Cena and Ambrose/Rollins), which is to be expected from a house show turned into a WWE Network special last minute, but not every piece of WWE programming has the same excuse.

As he continues to be Dean Ambrose’s Best Friend, Roman Reigns continue to win the WWE Universe over (again) with his actual personality, and from the looks of his promo with the Authority and brief moments throughout the show, it really seems like WWE is finally done trying to pretend he’s a Big Dog Samoan Randy Orton. He even gets to wrestle new people, which makes it appear at first as though the heavens have opened up on WWE finally.

The first one, Reigns versus Barrett, is actually a good match. However, most of what I saw were complaints about it, because it makes Reigns look bad for Barrett being such a struggle. This shouldn’t be the case, because Barrett shouldn’t be such a kayfabe loser with all of the accomplishments he’s had. But it is, and that somehow becomes the conversation. That is, until the Mark Henry match, which ends in count-out. Then there’s the Bray Wyatt match, and the crowd is restless, chanting “We Want Ambrose.” These matches all have varying levels of quality, but they’re all hard-hitting matches that JBL no doubt loves to watch. They’re also all situations where it’s no question who will win. Not even a little. Again, the first match is again Wade Barrett. In theory (and just general), if The Authority wants to keep Roman Reigns from the Money In The Bank ladder match, why wouldn’t they put him against John Cena? Why wouldn’t they put him against Kevin Owens? Why wouldn’t they put him against a returning, reinstated Brock Lesnar? The answers are because he has to win, which is definitely a problem if he’s going up against the latter two. So how about something simpler? Why don’t they put Roman Reigns in a gauntlet match, instead of giving him time to breathe and get medical attention?

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The actual answer for the last question is no doubt one of stamina, but that’s not supposed to factor into a storyline.

And why doesn’t the show actually do the unexpected and have Reigns—who can’t ever win the big one—fall short again and lose the opportunity to be in the Money In The Bank ladder match? This isn’t a fantasy booking situation: This is a legitimate question of the logic and creative direction of a medium that is supposedly all about compelling storytelling. Where is the good story in what WWE presents here? If anything can happen in WWE, then why not subvert expectations? Elimination Chamber happened just a night before this RAW, and it proved that subverting expectations works. That’s what happened in Owens/Cena. Dusty finish or not, that’s what happened in Ambrose/Rollins. Standard and generic concepts have constantly shown themselves to fail miserably for Roman Reigns, and yet, that’s the underlying concept of his “plot” for this RAW. Why?

Also at Elimination Chamber, Ryback won the Intercontinental Championship in a pretty terrible match, which is the perfectly modern WWE way to win a belt historically known for being the in-ring workhorse title. He is now feuding with Big Show, because bigness is Big Show’s only storyline. WWE probably also realizes the Intercontinental Championship is cursed, so they’ve given up on potential prestige; the United States and NXT Championships are doing good enough jobs anyway. If you want to know a recent reaction to such a match, you can read one here. It will most likely all result in a stairs match, as months of Roman Reigns matches have confirmed that Big Show and Kane are interchangeable.

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Dolph Ziggler versus Kofi Kingston—the first of two 2011 flashback matches of the night, the other being Randy Orton versus Sheamus—becomes a magical six-man tag over a commercial break, with the Prime Time Players on Ziggler’s side. And the talking point of the match is Titus O’Neil, as he has a house of fire spot to end the match, the perfect spot for him. Titus has improved a lot since his days in game show NXT. A lot. You could say he’s made it a win. But that doesn’t mean he’s a really good wrestler yet, and there’s a reason Darren Young does most of the work in this and every match. Just watch the tag Elimination Chamber match. Just watch him. Really watch O’Neil and the way he moves in the ring. Watch the way he runs. The way Randy Orton moves smoother than any other wrestler, Titus O’Neil moves more awkwardly. It might just take a miracle for him to be a truly good or great wrestler, especially singles, as he’s still lost when it comes to that. He’s good for ragdolling people, because that’s a concept that’s just as awkward as he is. He’s not in a bad position, and he definitely isn’t being screwed out of a main event spot. He’s not bad anymore, he’s just drawn that way.

By the way, Kidd and Cesaro have disappeared, because multiple tag team storylines don’t exist, only a singular storyline with multiple tag teams do.

Again, Kevin Owens is the highlight of the show, and he cuts a crushing promo about how Cena is his son’s hero. My words won’t do it any justice, so seek it out if you haven’t seen it. Then, if you’re brave, watch Cena completely ignore everything Owens just said and cut a patronizing John Cena promo.

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Before anyone says “Oh, you must be new to the John Cena character,” first of all, find a new way to react to people’s frustration with John Cena other than pretending as though they’re unfamiliar with the character who has had a stranglehold on WWE for over a decade. Second of all, acknowledging the fact the John Cena the character is an immature monster who is touted as the ultimate babyface is a necessary evil. It’s the ultimate example of WWE staleness, and at its most basic level, calling it out is a criticism of a terribly written character. Why bring it up if it’s not going to change? Silence changes nothing, but this is also a criticism of a television show, a cast of characters, a piece of performance art. What needs to be said about Cena and his jokey, brush off reaction to every actual challenge is actually something Paul Heyman says on the Steve Austin podcast after RAW: “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

John can talk, but he regurgitates so much bile—in a dynamic voice (see: the Star Wars promo)—that it means absolutely nothing for the story and instead makes those who hate him hate him even more. It’s the thing that drags down the good will garnered from his open challenges. He tells Kevin Owens that he talks to much, because he’s the least self-aware character in the world. He says Kevin Owens isn’t a real man for calling out his merchandise and look and the fact that he’s a real life superhero who has the corporate suits behind him (which he is and was confirmed during the B+ player Daniel Bryan storyline, the origin of “The Face That Runs The Place,” I believe), because he’s learned nothing from his feud with The Rock that supposedly ended in respect. He brings up being there every week, because he’s a child who doesn’t understand how jobs work. He insults Adam Rose among legitimate WWE (Vince McMahon) failures, The Funkasaurus and XFL, because even when he puts someone over clean on the WWE Network for just $9.99 (or free), he needs to find a way to take them down a peg or two and then also tear down a few others to look strong. He talks forever to basically say Owens hasn’t really beaten John Cena until he beats John Cena, because the CM Punk Principle is alive and well.

He calls Kevin Owens “homes” at one point.

The only logical reason Owens should even take the match is because he saw what happened to the now broken Rusev—who once again proves why he was called the biggest true babyface in WWE—when he originally declined John “Attempted Murderer” Cena’s demand for a United States Championship match at WrestleMania. Seriously, look at where Rusev is right now, re-read what I said would happen, and see if you think things will be different this time. It’s nice to think that, and it might even happen. If anyone can do it, it’s Kevin Owens, but WWE switches so quickly from competent storytelling to incompetent that there’s no telling what they’ll do. Except for the fact that they’ll let Cena win.

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One of the things that wrestling has on other sources of entertainment—and that makes it an ultimate form of performance and pop cultural tortue—is the visceral reaction it can have to just completely break a fan’s spirit. To make them lose their smile, as it were. The old saying about pro wrestling usually goes a little something like this: When it’s great, it’s great. When it’s bad, it’s… Well, think of any pejoratives and there you have it. WWE will never be perfect. WWE never was perfect. Ignorance is bliss, but the fact of the matter is the only way to really achieve that is to be a child. WWE has even called this the Reality Era, which implies they don’t expect ignorance from others. Regardless, it needs the audience to care so there can be reactions, even if they want specific reactions. To quit and not care about what’s happening in WWE isn’t just the result of a lack of caring; it’s a result of caring so much that the constant disappointment becomes all-consuming, and it’s difficult to see the good in all the bad.

To truly be a wrestling fan, especially WWE, you can’t just cut it out of your system or life. Even if you’re not watching, you’re listening and reading things about the thing you supposedly gave up on. You’re keeping up with it. And if you’re not, the second something triggers that sense again, it opens up the flood gates. I’ve quit WWE at least four times—once right before I even started these reviews—and in the case of the first three instances, it was that trigger and opening of the flood gates.** It’s unhealthy, and no amount of “You know wrestling’s fake, right?” can change that. I supposed that’s just what happens when you’ve grown attached to a “sport” that was created as a grift. Insanity is repeating the same things over and over again expecting different results. It’s also the definition of being a WWE fan.

Stray Observations:

  • RESULTS: Roman Reigns defeated King Barrett; Ryback (c) versus Miz (Intercontinental Championship; probably a No Contest, but should have been a DQ win for Miz, thanks to Big Show); Dolph Ziggler defeated Kofi Kingston; Ziggler & the Prime Time Players defeated New Day; Roman Reigns defeated Mark Henry; Nikki Bella (c) defeated Paige (Divas Championship); Randy Orton defeated Sheamus (DQ); Neville defeated Bo Dallas; Roman Reigns defeated Bray Wyatt
  • * I understand that this was the kid’s dream, which was great, but that doesn’t change the sameness of what the promo was.
  • ** Reasons for returning, I believe were SmackDown Six, Edge/Cena (well, Edge in that era, mostly), and CM Punk’s promo (you know the one).
  • What does my brother think of [insert RAW thing here]? This week, what does my brother think of the ending to Orton/Sheamus? “Well. That was a big waste of time.”
  • As usual, everyone is dumb. A ladder match doesn’t guarantee the Authority will not get involved; in fact, it assures it. Remember how Seth Rollins won the Money In The Bank match in the first place? Of course not—it’s allowed to be mentioned in the weeks leading up to WrestleMania, but since that was a over a month ago, it’s to be forgotten.
  • For years I’ve joked about Kofi losing Money In The Bank ladder matches. This year, I need him to win so New Day can Freebird Rule the briefcase (and then the belt).
  • WWE at one time saw Bo Dallas as a future top face for the company. Remember that.
  • The only things I have to say about the Divas’ situation on this RAW: 1. Nikki Bella says Byron like “Bye, Wren.” 2. The Xavier/Kofi switch at Payback worked. Twin Magic working in 2015 does not. It stopped working even before Nikki got the breast implants, to be perfectly honest.
  • Michael Cole: “No smiles for Bo. He is all business.” This was said two seconds after a big Bo Dallas smile.
  • Michael Cole: “You like this Bo Dallas, John?” To quote Childrens Hospital: “Are you stupid for a living?”
  • Booker T: “Is Bray out here per the Authority?” How does this happen on live television?
  • Another preemptive response: If I don’t like it, then why do I watch? I think I already answered that with this review.

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