Last week’s RAW was great and, most of all, it was very much needed. For WWE, for the fans, and honestly, for yours truly. It was certainly an anomaly—which is a different problem for another review and time—but it was great.

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But while it was such a great show, with great wrestling, it was also the lowest rated episode (without the excuse of a holiday or football, though the NBA Playoffs were in swing) of RAW since 1997. This is a live, weekly episode of television, so facts and figures like that—no matter how antiquated the Nielsen ratings systems is—matter. Any form of “course correction” is going to be put in place, even if, on a qualitative level, the course was just fine.

This week’s RAW isn’t as good as last week’s, but it’s decent, and it’s certainly better than a lot of efforts WWE has been putting out the past few months. At this point, go-home shows aren’t really even about wrestling, which is why two out of three of this week’s main event-related matches (Dean Ambrose versus J&J Security, Roman Reigns versus Kane, and Seth Rollins versus Randy Orton) are barely matches, the self-proclaimed Showoff is no longer stealing the show, and all the Divas who deserve a chance have been sent away in favor of a dull Brie Bella/Tamina (since the return of Tamina also means the return of Tamina, in-ring competitor) match. But the matches that stick out really stick out, for good reason.

The matches of the night are the John Cena United States Open Invitational For The Future Of The United States (By Kevin Nash) and the latest variation of the New Day and Kidd/Cesaro singles match. John Cena’s matches are not just a highlight of the show now—their default states are as the highlight of the show. It’s a high bar to clear, which is honestly fantastic for the show. To make the obligatory brass ring joke, the goal of all the shows—in theory, at least—should be to put on a performance that bests the best of the company, the face that runs the place. WWE doesn’t spend a lot of its time with storylines that are just “I’m a better wrestler than you,” despite the fact that it’s a simple and effective way to build a story.

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So it’s also a pleasure to hear that the New Day and Kidd/Cesaro will be having a two-out-of-three falls match at Payback (not on the pre-show!), because that is one of the last true “I’m a better wrestler than you” matches WWE has left. The pleasure continues as the go-home match for that ends up being Big E versus Cesaro, which just edges out to Cena and Neville as the match of the night. To keep RAW (and SmackDown) truly from being a wasteland of sports entertainment despair, there should always be at least one match that deserves to be rewatched as soon as possible, and Big E/Cesaro is the one this week. It’s the dream (or a dream): two talented, agile, legitimately strong, big men stealing the show and pulling out moves you don’t see each week and are not going to see from whatever Kane/Big Show versus Roman Reigns (who is no longer really the problem at this point—his weekly opponents are) Infinity brings. Big E’s Uranage to a charging Cesaro and Cesaro’s springboard European Uppercut to Big E are two things we don’t see on weekly basis, and that’s one of the best things about Kidd/Cesaro and New Day right now.* They’re constantly doing new and different things in the ring and in promos. It’s the same thing that made Miz and Mizdow great before WWE realized that Miz and Mizdow were great.

As for Neville/Cena, it’s a good match, and it was impossible for it to be anything but a good match. To be perfectly honest, I’m still on a high from last week’s Sami Zayn/John Cena match. I’ve considered Sami to be the best wrestler in the world for at least two or three years before he signed with WWE (tied with his retired buddy, El Generico), and even though I wasn’t watching last week’s RAW live, as soon as I realized Sami would be the challenger to Cena, I stopped what I was doing to watch the match. My brother and I literally shouted—not sang, shouted—Sami’s theme as he made his way to the ring. Seeing him give Cena the Blue Thunder Bomb nearly brought me to tears. It broke my heart to watch him lose, in that youthful innocent way these things do. At that moment, wrestling was still real to me, dammit! Fast forward to this week’s RAW, and that same emotion wasn’t there, but that doesn’t negate the excitement. In fact, it made me realize that there had to be someone who possibly had the same reaction to Neville challenging Cena as I did to Sami last week.

And for anyone who wants to say Neville is being “buried,” they’ll probably have to just ignore this match, as he was as protected as he possibly could be against the unlikeliest of opponents in John Cena. Having Neville hit the full Red Arrow on Cena and having the match in the bag only for it to be taken away by a Rusev interference is in no way the definition of a burial.

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The Rusev attack all happens to a chorus “WE WANT LANA!” from the Cincinnati crowd, which is a short break from the night’s “WE WANT AMBROSE!” chants. There’s no need to be a broken record on the entire Cena/Rusev/Lana saga, but it is important to quickly address the fact that the Lana they want is not the Lana they’re going to get once she turns face and possibly loses her Russian accent. Though it is pretty funny that WWE supposedly thinks the best way to give the people what they want with Lana is to change everything about her. Unless everyone in the crowd really only wants Lana because she’s hot; but then I’m really confused the sexual orientations of everyone in the WWE Universe.

Outside of the highlights of the night, this week’s RAW isn’t necessarily back to the old, going through the motions status of previous episodes, but it’s not setting the world ablaze with its quality. The return of Triple H brings back at least one important cog in the Authority machine, but at this point, the entire goal of the Authority (and their mission statement of being “best for business”) is officially too muddled. No longer does the Authority care to ruin everyone in the face category’s lives, as it remains an insular affair with whoever is in the main event.

The Dean Ambrose/J&J Security match that kicks of the night’s matches is actually better than it has any right to be. It’s unfortunately not a really legitimate match, but it instantly does better than most WWE handicap matches by making Dean develop a game plan for fighting both guys early on, and it’s got a lot more back and forth than J&J would usually get. Plus, Jamie Noble sells Dirty Deeds beautifully. It’s the only one of that trio of matches that doesn’t fall into WWE’s trap of having the same people wrestling over and over again. Even matches outside of that storyline fall into that trap, with Ziggler/Barrett (with Sheamus on commentary), a match that can only be so good, so many times.

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It’s really the stagnant, sameness of the wrestling match-ups that gets WWE into its ruts. For example, if you missed the announcement about Roman Reigns versus Kane again on SmackDown, you also missed out on the immediate release of your own exaggerated and exasperated sigh. Remember the time that Alberto Del Rio and Sheamus kept having consecutive pay-per-view matches for the World Heavyweight Championship for at least half or year? Or Kofi Kingston versus Dolph Ziggler for about a thousand or so matches? It’s like that, only without the match quality or interest.

Also, Kane and Rollins—which is actually a storyline, despite the amount of Kane/Reigns matches—is actually compelling storyline in a way. Consider this my admission that Kane is captivating in this storyline (to those people who are open to being captivated by Kane). He’s definitely doing the best mic work he’s done in ages. But the problem isn’t really even the fact that Kane is heading toward a main event face turn in 2015 so much as it is Kane is the one thing stopping Seth Rollins from being the ultimate shit heel that he can be. Everything Seth Rollins is doing at this point has made him one of the—if not the—most despicable wrestler on the roster, except for when he calls out Kane.

When he says things like “Kane was there too!” or he calls him out for being an irrelevant relic of a bygone era, he says it all in the most condescending ways of a heel, but he’s also not wrong. He’s at least saying what plenty of fans have been saying for years. It’s become the norm to say that WWE heels are often the most honest members of the roster and the true good guys, but every thing Rollins has done at this point has made him one of the only true heels in WWE… except for this. Everyone hates Rollins at this point, even “daddy” himself, Triple H. There shouldn’t be a single thing to like about him. Him versus Kane is only going to hold him back as the one true heel.

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But now for something to possibly like: After weeks of wondering why WWE thinks Curtis Axel is still a heel and having Damien Sandow regress to a seven-year-old, the new situation is a Mega Powers situation of face Axelmania and The Macho Mandow versus The Ascension. This would typically be the place where I rant about everything, and my initial reaction to the segment definitely leaned in that direction. My first two notes about the segment were literally “Has Jay Lethal responded to this Macho Mandow farce?” and “Can a Poffo do anything about this?” But as soon as the The Ascension came out, a new feeling entered my mind: optimism.

The Macho Mandow situation is one that can go any direction, honestly. Some bad, some good. The cynic WWE fan says bad, of course. To anyone who was rooting for Damien Sandow as a possibly SuperSTAR in a post-Miz and Mizdow world, the second half of his “I’m Damien Sandow again” promo a few weeks back absolutely killed that. The dream is just dead, and it’s important to acknowledge that in order to accept the current state of his career.

The argument is often that anything can happen and anyone can change their stars in WWE, but if you’re going to say that and use the Rocky Maivia/Rock or Jean-Paul Levesque/Triple H excuse, remember how early those were in those men’s WWF careers. We may watch the E-60 documentary on NXT and want nothing but the best for Adam Rose now, but as long as he’s in the WWE comedy gimmick, that’s what he’s stuck with, and he’s not getting anything better. He’s not even on this week’s RAW, despite the assumption WWE would want to capitalize on such a lovely profile. (Surely, heel Adam Rose could’ve been tweaked to be a party monster cult leader ages ago, but for what ever reason, it’s not.) Sandow literally cut a promo about finally being himself, only to stop being himself in the same breath.

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Yes, it sounds depressing to have to give up on certain dreams for someone in order to embrace them for what they actually are and can be, and yet that is just a fact of WWE life. The optimism comes from what can possibly happens if WWE commits to this and just goes full ‘80s throwback with this entire situation. The Ascension is never going to be what it was in NXT or FCW, but since the main roster version is nothing but a rip-off of the Road Warriors—though the shoulder pads are gone now—they might as well lean into it. This is now going to be the kickoff show match for Payback, so we’ll see how it goes from there. It’s funny to think this RAW actually stealthily added more viable teams to the tag team division.

Plus, at least Axelmania is finally running wild as a face.

Stray Observations:

  • RESULTS: Ambrose defeated J&J Security; Barrett defeated Ziggler (with Sheamus interference); Rowan (with Harper) defeated Fandango; Cena versus Neville went No Contest (courtesy of Rusev interference); Reigns vs. Kane never started, but they brawled; Tamina defeated BRIE MODE; Macho Mandow and Axelmania was another No Contest; Daniel Bryan made us cry as he relinquished the Intercontinental Championship and stated he didn’t know if he’d ever be able to wrestle again; Cesaro defeated Big E; Randy Orton defeated Seth Rollins via DQ (courtesy of J&J interference)
  • Thanks again to Kyle Fowle for covering for me on RAW last week. Sorry you’re all still stuck with me on these reviews. You’ll also be stuck with me come next Wednesday, when I officially start NXT coverage. Hold for applause.
  • Now it’s time for a new recurring feature: What does my brother think of [insert RAW thing here]? This week, what does my brother think of Bray Wyatt? “I don’t care. You were after Cena. Then you were after the Undertaker. And now you’re after Ryback. Like, come on—at least go after Brock Lesnar. … Is Ryback going to beat him too?”
  • Thanks, Michael Cole! I would watch a WWE pay-per-view called Paperback, but only as long as its WWE take on the “Take On Me” music video.
  • May 31, the Elimination Chamber is back… after they just got rid of it. It’s specially a “WWE Network Exclusive,” on this free month of the WWE Network. I assume it’s to crown a new Intercontinental Championship and/or to have Seth Rollins ask why Kane keeps adding more people to his title matches. Is it too much to ask for new contenders in these matches? Yes? Okay.
  • Booker T thinks Lipsync Battle is The Rock’s show.
  • One of my favorite things about these Tough Enough videos is to play Spot The Indy Wrestler. This RAW had Scarlett Bordeaux and The Big O, while last week’s SmackDown had (the awesome) John Silver of The Beaver Boys.
  • It speaks volumes about WWE’s handling of its Superstars that I legitimately thought the newly crowned King of the Ring, Bad News Barrett, was going to lose to Dolph Ziggler immediately with a superkick.
  • For what ever reason, WWE or Vince McMahon (alright, definitely Vince McMahon) finds embarrassing unprofessionalism hilarious, and that’s what we get as the commentary team places bets on how short Fandango versus Erick Rowan (now officially back with Luke Harper, but not Bray Wyatt) will be. I take back what I said about Fandango’s face turn: It’s actually really great they had the foresight to change his alliance so he could have some new and original matches as talent enhancement. On the plus side, most of the commentary from JBL and Booker T is unintelligible at this point, which does a world of wonder for preventing them from decreasing the value of other matches and the product at times.
  • * I love both Big E and Cesaro, obviously, but if you ever meet me and want to get brownie points, just ask me to tell you all the reasons I’ve loved Cesaro since he was coming to the ring with a briefcase and a dollar sign suit. As for Big E, he’s been absolutely amazing in the ring lately, and I continue to wish nothing but the best for everyone involved with these teams. Quick idea: Imagine Big E as King of the Ring as New Day takes over all of WWE. Imagine Xavier Woods shouting “ALL HAIL KING BIG E!”

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