Season premieres don’t mean a whole lot to a show that runs all year long, but that doesn’t stop WWE from hyping up tonight’s show as one of a kind. IT’S THE SEASON PREMIERE OF RAW we hear over and over again, whether in the opening promo from The Authority, out once again to deal with housekeeping matters like announcing matches, or throughout the night from the commentators. Having WWE continually harp on the idea of this being the season premiere, and therefore more meaningful than any other episode of Raw, is strangely appropriate though, but not in the way WWE intends. In fact, the running theme of the episode is boasts that in reality mean nothing. From “season premiere” to “history being made,” tonight’s Raw is filled with empty exaggerations.

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Admittedly, that’s something that WWE does a lot, but tonight’s exaggerations are particularly egregious because of how disappointing the follow through is. There’s some truth to the tag lines. For instance, it’s a huge deal that Sting is wrestling on Raw. He’s one of the stars of WCW, and a guy who didn’t jump ship when the Monday Night Wars were over and Vince McMahon reigned supreme. He came to WWE last year to (at least in kayfabe terms) mess with The Authority. He lost on the biggest stage but now he’s back again to once again mess with The Authority, this time taking on their golden boy, Seth Rollins. It’s exciting to have him wrestle on Raw, especially after watching a few moments from his career dating back to 1988. So, who does WWE choose to have Sting face off against for this momentous, historic occasion? WELLLL, IT’S THE BIG SHOW!!! That’s right; the main event, at least for a little while, is Sting versus a guy who’s been around for years as well and was a mainstay in WCW, along with Sting, for some time. That’s not even that bad of a match on paper if built properly, if the WCW reunion angle is emphasized, but that’s not what Raw does. Rather, they don’t even mention the connection until late into the show, and even then refuse to say more than a few words. I guess when you plan on turning your main event into a tag match only moments after the bell rings, there’s no need to fill in the very real backstory. The actual main event is alright, with Sting locking in the Scorpion Deathlock for the tap out win, but it’s not worthy of the build, or the actual history of the moment.

History is better served in the Divas match, which sees Nikki Bella defend her title and her longest reigning Divas Champion streak against Charlotte. Their match is one of the best of the night, with Nikki focusing her offense on the arm so that Charlotte can’t bridge her Figure 8, and Charlotte looking like a true charismatic babyface for the first time since she’s been on the main roster. Charlotte was allowed to seriously let loose, and the way the otherwise passive crowd got behind her is proof that when she does win the title, perhaps on Sunday, she’ll be able to run with it. The Dusty finish will certainly be controversial to some, but for my money everyone looks like a winner. It’s a smart way to break AJ Lee’s streak (which WWE was obviously going to do) while making Charlotte look amazing and allowing Nikki to keep her heat. The segregated (in more ways than one) teams have bogged down any potential storyline, but this Dusty finish works to partially remedy that. It doesn’t meant the #DivaRevolution is suddenly out of its rut, but it’s a start, moving towards building actual storylines. Now if WWE would just get rid of the team affiliations.

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Outside of those matches, tonight’s Raw is mostly a serviceable if underwhelming go-home show. Paige and Sasha Banks put on a great show, making it a great night for the Divas in terms of in-ring work. There’s an intensity to their match that signals a way forward for their feud and, more importantly, continues to cement Sasha Banks as the main roster talent to keep an eye on. Elsewhere, John Cena and Sheamus had a legitimately entertaining match. How much of that quality is due to it not being a match with Orton is up for debate, but for the most part the two slugged it out and paced the match well. And of course there was New Day, doing their thing once again and getting a win over the Prime Time Players.

The best and worst segments of the night were promos though. The worst of the bunch: Owens and Ryback. To be fair, the horrendous segment can’t be blamed on Owens. If anything, he did everything he could to carry Ryback through a series of silly, seemingly improvised jokes. Owens has gravitas and presence, whereas Ryback, despite having that title around his waist, seems uncomfortable in the spotlight. He stumbles over his words and shows no shred of personality. His promos sound like recitations, and it’s painful to watch. On the plus side, Intercontinental Champion Kevin Owens might be just around the corner, and that’s not a bad thing. On the flip side, the Wyatt Family and Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose use tonight’s Miz TV segment to move their feud closer to 2014 Elimination Chamber heights. This is the most threatening the Wyatts have been, and the most entertaining and legitimately babyface Reigns and Ambrose have been in months. It’s interesting that WWE chose to hold off on the reveal of Reigns and Ambrose’s partner for Sunday’s Night Of Champions PPV–I avoid spoilers, so I don’t even know who it’s supposed to be–but it works because the feud doesn’t need the reveal tonight. Instead, having them stand nose to nose and talk briefly about suffering and payback is enough.

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That kind of efficiency and simplicity is evident in the best parts of tonight’s show, from the Divas matches to the Miz TV segment. It’s just a shame that WWE spends most of its go-home Raw pushing meaningless rhetoric to the forefront while failing to follow through on that promise.

Stray observations

  • Results: New Day (c) defeated Prime Time Players (WWE Tag Team Championship); Sasha Banks defeated Paige; John Cena defeated Sheamus; Charlotte defeated Nikki Bella (c) via DQ (Divas Championship); Cesaro defeated Rusev; Sting and John Cena defeated Seth Rollins and Big Show.
  • I will never not pop for Kofi Kingston mocking Titus’ bark.
  • Speaking of New Day, I’m down with Xavier condescendingly yelling “what happened Darren?” after he distracts him and gets him thrown into the corner post.
  • Only downside of the Miz TV segment was Miz referring to Sunday’s PPV as Hell In A Cell. But, who can blame him? None of us know anymore.
  • I liked Sheamus selling the effects of Cena’s Beats of the Bodhrán when he tried to pound his chest in advance of the Brogue Kick.
  • What a waste of Neville/Lucha Dragons and Stardust/The Ascension, both tonight and at Night Of Champions.
  • Rusev and Cesaro had a fun match, but it mostly just made me want to see what they would do with more time.
  • Fun fact: before Cena and Rollins jumped in, the combined age of tonight’s main event was 99 years old.
  • I liked LaToya’s use of more photos in last week’s review, so I’m totally stealing the idea.

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