It’s Labor Day, let’s do this.

As the opening promo of this week’s RAW and the rest of the show reminds us, Seth Rollins’ new kick is being “the man” of WWE. He’s no longer the future but the present. Besides there being an overuse of “the man” in WWE conversations now—especially with no connection to Ric Flair—it’s actually an interesting concept. A wrestler can only be “the future” or “the next” so-and-so for so long before it’s time to put up or shut up. John Nitro/Morrison was the next Shawn Michaels for so, so long, only to end up being the Marty Jannetty, eventually living up to his potential in Lucha Underground as Johnny Mundo… just this past year. For someone who is considered the future to declare that the future is now and prove it regularly—as NXT does, also to great results—is one of the most refreshing, non-New Day (who are the best part of the three hours) aspects of this episode and WWE as a whole right now. Despite his move set, Seth Rollins is a natural heel. The extra “nyah” in his voice makes sure of that, as does every last exaggerated “ha ha ha.” He’s pissing everyone off, and in standard heel/face dynamics—despite WWE’s own shortcomings in the storytelling department—you just want to see his ass get kicked, especially since he’s so damn good in the ring in addition to being this big of a jerk. He’s the ultimate weasel.

Yes, his promos are too long. But everyone’s opening segment promos are too long tese days; that’s not the talent’s fault. The key is how the talent deals with that, and even the shorter promos can come out sounding like actual brain farts. (More on Ryback later.) In fact, his promo in this RAW is such a shit heel promo, explaining how truly great and “special” he is, that it’s a figurative record scratch when Sting interrupts it, and even more upsetting (and confusing) when Sheamus does (reminding us that Sheamus exists and is technically in the main event) as well.

The problem is the story the show is telling with regards to The Authority, what ever that title even means any more. Plenty has been written about Triple H and Stephanie within the context of kayfabe, but a lot of it boils down to them having to be the coolest, smartest, most important and popular people in any room, despite being heel (see: Stephanie McMahon Introduces The Divas Revolution) and despite being on the side of Seth Rollins (and creating this monster to begin with). If Seth is the hand-picked guy and the last people Triple H and Stephanie want to have titles in their company are Sting and (to a lesser extent, just because they can’t control him) John Cena, why exactly would they undermine and tease Seth at every single turn in his feud with these two unstoppable forces? Other than the fact that it serves as a reminder that Seth couldn’t possibly be better than Triple H and, as a result, Stephanie, relics of a long dead generation?

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If Seth is the hand-picked guy, then why aren’t The Authority making everything as easy as possible for Seth going into Night Of Champions? Why aren’t they bringing back J&J Security, or hiring new big guys to replace Kane and Big Show? Why does Seth have to exaggeratedly gulp every time he has a segment with Triple H and Stephanie? Him being the ultimate weasel doesn’t explain it in this context, because they’re supposed to be on his side.

Is it because he said he’s as good as Triple H or possibly better? Because it’s fun to see the young guy dance? Because something has to happen if WWE won’t pull the trigger on breaking Seth and Triple H/Stephanie up? Again (and again and again), this is their hand-picked guy—he’s not supposed to be the one dancing. These Authority characters can’t be genius, “always a plan B” heels if they’re the ones who destroy themselves this easily. Seth can’t all of a sudden forget he’s “the architect” just to so he can go to Triple H (and not Stephanie, who has had a weird. “Is it because I’m a girl?” contentious relationship with Seth for too long) for brainstorming. If it’s going to lead to a face turn for Triple H and Stephanie, it’s one thing, but it’s not. It’s never is.

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Even Sting and Cena are talking about how great Triple H is, despite neither—especially Sting—having a reason to do so. Then again, Sting is a 56 year old man who’s spent the better part of a decade wrestling in a t-shirt and learning who Heath Ledger was way too late, so he probably has no idea why he’s doing anything. That’s the only reason to explain his absolutely terrible plot of stealing (or “borrowing,” as grand theft is called when a WWE babyface does it) Seth’s statue and holding it hostage in Stardust’s black box on this week’s RAW. When WWE does “mind games,” it either ends up like the Uso/Naomi/Miz disaster or this, with Sting goading Seth to come get him because he knows where he is—despite no indication of where he actually is—then trashing Seth’s personal property because WWE most likely heard the word “vigilante” when Cody Rhodes was talking about Arrow backstage once.

This is the same show where Ryback gives the worst promo he’s given in a long time, if not in his entire onscreen career. Remember that time “Big Dog” “One Versus All” Roman said “deglare” instead of “declare”? Ryback’s promo is actually worse, with him also correcting himself a beat after making a mistake, but including pantomime to add insult to so much injury. It’s not helped by Kevin Owens’s arrival—eating an apple because, well, you know—and a terrible “biting off more than you can chew” comment on his part. It’s a terrible segment in a feud that just spawned from Kevin Owens cutting an honest promo on SmackDown (unless you count the stiff Owens/Ryback shots from last week’s RAW) about how people have judged him for his looks his entire career, and yet he’s the heel.

As is the case for most of the matches this week, Ryback’s match against Seth Rollins is a chore to get through, and by the end of it, a select few members of the crowd are chanting “ONE MORE TIME” every time Rollins attacks Ryback on the outside of the ring. But given WWE logic, this match will happen again because of Ryback’s win over the champ, all thanks to the power of the distraction finish. Ryback beating Seth Rollins with a small package just feels bizarre, because as much as Ryback screams “FEED ME MORE” and even with that belt around his waist, there’s nothing believable about him winning against main eventers, even with a distraction. It’s not just because his time in the main event was met with him never winning the big one. It’s because he’s a meathead joke at the very least and because years of time in developmental and even fewer years on the main shows don’t come across in any of his work. He can’t play with the big boys, no matter his size, no matter how many times he’s actually a part of those main event tag matches. Why should Rollins be afraid of him in the first place, other than the fact that he’s jacked? Almost everyone on the damn card is jacked—it’s wrestling.

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By the way, the main event tag match is the most fun part of the evening, but it’s easy to zone out until the Titus hot tag, because it’s all about a Cena beat down. New Day remains the single best thing about every WWE main roster show, but this RAW—perhaps because of how dead the Maryland crowd is—is also a case for WWE possibly going with too much of a good thing with them. At a certain point, Xavier and his trombone are the most important part of the match. That’s why it’s so easy to zone out.

Compare Ryback to Cesaro or Miz, and it’s even more obvious that he doesn’t have “it” the way they do. Cesaro versus Miz starts off as something that could be a very entertaining beginning to a very entertaining feud. To those still calling Cesaro out on a lack of charisma or being “too Swiss,” what better way to shake the whole foundation up by having him feud with a man who is all charisma and is just too much of everything. You have Cesaro’s in-ring ability, Miz’s entertainment ability, and you just let it go where it wants to go. The brief bit of the “earlier tonight” segment is the type of thing that makes the loss of the WWE App (aka the best place to watch the Alicia Fox/Tom Phillips love story unfold) and YouTube shows like The JBL and Renee Show hurt even more. Despite three hours of RAW, two hours of SmackDown, and every other supplemental show, there’s still barely any time given (there’s plenty of time all available, but this is not the time to wax poetic about brand split world or just treating every show like an important piece of the puzzle) to show the personalities and characters of these wrestlers. The “earlier tonight” segment is a quick, fun bit that can do a lot more than a standard backstage interview in a way; that’s something the “good old days” of wrestling were very much aware of.

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Instead, a double count-out and the Big Show inserting himself into another unecessary three-way feud is the course taken. What could be a fun match on a show where the crowd just doesn’t care immediately becomes one more reason for the crowd not to care. Honestly, until the closing moments of “vintage Orton” in Orton/Sheamus and the main event tag match, the only time the crowd cares is to try to constantly start “BORING” chants (which stopped being common occurrences about 10 years ago) and surprisingly chanting “THIS IS AWESOME” once the disappointing Sasha Banks/Paige match gets into the final sequences. This crowd gives as good as it gets, and the same can be said for this particular RAW. (It gives and gets nothing.)

Speaking of the Divas Revolution, this RAW confirms that Charlotte’s petition for her title match against Nikki Bella to be moved to next RAW has been passed. That Monday at least has Nikki tie with AJ Lee for longest reign, and that’s an excuse enough for WWE not to mention AJ at all after that. As the script said, wins and losses don’t matter, and really, it’s hard not to think that during this so-called Divas Revolution. It’s easier and more fun to think more about the behind-the-scenes reasons behind certain choices than to think about how WWE’s has failed these women creatively. That’s actually also a big part of this episode as a whole.

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As for what some may consider the even darker recesses of the Divas Revolution, everyone in the Ziggler/Lana/Rusev/Summer storyline deserves so much more. The TMZ voice over guy in the video packages for their feud is actually rock bottom, even though everything about this storyline is quite sad. It’s not that there’s anything really wrong with WWE trying new things with its video packages. In fact, Stardust versus Amell going the comic book route in its video packages is something WWE could stand to try with a lot more of its feuds; wrestling is a live-action superhero and villains story in the first place. But leaning into the soap opera, trashy (no offense to soap operas or trash) nature of this storyline specifically (even if Miz makes fun Days Of Our Lives jokes about it) is doing nothing but pointing out how much of a mess it all is. The only good thing is that Summer’s horribly covered up black eye from SmackDown didn’t become a part of the story. Everything about this storyline is upsetting to watch, yet it appears to have no end in sight.

That’s also a perfect segue, since this week’s RAW has Randy Orton versus Sheamus, take 200. The match is a competently wrestled, extremely boring match, just like the first 199 matches between the two men. This is literally the match:

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Some of the images from this match have captions, and they all feature the word slow(s)” or “down(s).”

At this risk of sound hyperbolic: There is no version of this match where it will ever be anything other than boring, unless it’s in a death match setting. When these two get together, it’s two slow, methodical wrestlers vying for the spot of slowest and most methodical. That’s not automatically a bad thing, but it’s the case with so many of WWE’s problems: Doing it over and over again makes it nothing special and absolutely boring. Plus, despite how many times they feud and wrestle, there is never any point in one of these Orton/Sheamus matches where it comes across as though either man wants to beat the shit out of each other. You would think that would be inherent in a lot of wrestling matches, but in modern day WWE, that is a rarity. Orton and Sheamus are two characters who loving beating the shit out of their opponents, except for when it comes to each other. And if the argument is that not every wrestling match has to be a blood feud, that’s 100 per cent true too. But to take from another pairing that used to wrestle each other non-stop, Dolph Ziggler versus Kofi Kingston was all about athleticism and wrestling oneupmanship. So that’s another thing that could come out of Orton/Sheamus and another thing that Orton/Sheamus completely lacks.

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Maryland got at least one thing right: There is no reason to care, and “no reason to care” Orton is only enjoyable when he’s flipping off the crowd. (Coincidentally, that took place at a Night Of Champions.)

Stray Observations

  • RESULTS: Sasha Banks defeated Paige; Dean Ambrose and Dean Ambrose’s friend, Roman Reigns, defeated The Ascension; Ryback defeated Seth Rollins; Randy Orton defeated Sheamus; The Dudley Boyz defeated Los Matadores; The Miz and Cesaro ended in a double count-out and Big Show attack on both; Cena/Prime Time Players defeated Seth Rollins/New Day
  • I also watched Stone Cold’s podcast with Edge and Christian afterward, and I recommend it, despite it mostly being a reason for the three to goof around. Edge and Christian were my favorite tag team growing up, and it disappoints me that they can’t have a re-return like the Dudley Boyz (who, in the case of full disclosure, were my least favorite of the TLC trio). As far as actual content goes, Edge brought up the great point of how Dudleys can teach the current tag teams (which are actually “real” tag teams) a lot of things. He also sang Luke Harper’s praises and called out how old school NXT’s Wilder and Dawson are (in a good way).
  • SmackDown introduced the Ascension as Stardust’s new lackeys. That’s over now, I guess.
  • Los Matadores turned heel (they weren’t heel already?) by attacking El Torito. I believe the rumor is another rebrand for the two, because…?
  • Prime Time Players should be afraid. Cena might make them call Seth Rollins “poopy.”
  • I missed it, but apparently another idiot fan jumped the barricade, this time during Rollins’ entrance for the main event. It really was not a great crowd.
  • Michael Ian Black watched some wrestling tonight. I’m sorry, Michael Ian Black.
  • The Wyatt family attacked Randy because he might be in cahoots with the Dean and Roman (who WWE is calling the “brothers in arms,” over and over again) come Night Of Champions. Personally, I think the third man should be an NXT call-up, and before the Big Show interference with Miz/Cesaro, I feared it would be him. If it’s Randy, it’s too easy and, well, boring.
  • Speaking of Big Show, who thought a 2003 SmackDown main event was the best idea for the Brock Lesnar MSG special? Whoever it is, they should be fired, especially if they call for the ring collapse spot.

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