If you read the “dirtsheets” or any internet outlet where wrestling news and rumors are discussed, rapidly declining ratings for WWE Monday Night RAW has sent Vince McMahon into more of a tailspin, and he has taken over the show entirely, micromanaging every single thing on the show. (As an aside, this is probably not the case for SmackDown, because in order to be frustrated about ratings, even a modicum of effort would have to be put into making it a real show.) In an alternate universe—or just the ‘90s—that type of micromanagement might actually sound like a good thing, but Vince McMahon has arguably been out of touch for years; just listen to or read an interview or blog post from a former WWE Creative member or check out The Steve Austin Podcast episode with Vince McMahon. It could be a bit of my millennial or Willennial mindset speaking, but it’s ultimately a case of having a reasonable knowledge of competent storytelling. Unfortunately, competent storytelling is something that Monday Night RAW is sorely missing, especially this week.

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This week’s RAW comes straight to us from Chicago, a “smark”-heavy crowd, and you would think that WWE would play to that, like they typically do in these situations. Not counting the beginning of the non-stop Kane interludes, the show opens up with a Dean Ambrose promo that eventually turns into a New Day promo and then into Dean Ambrose/Randy Orton versus New Day. That’s nearly impossible to screw up, and in WWE’s defense, it doesn’t. But the next two and a half hours of RAW barely show that same type of awareness. In fact, the only argument there might be that WWE isn’t intentionally trying to mess with the live audience is that there isn’t a Sheamus or Big Show singles match (most likely against each other, since Randy Orton isn’t free). However, the show is very much one that makes Chicago—one of the most vocal wrestling cities—far too quiet, far too often. That is a feat, and it’s not a good one.

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There’s nothing to care about when all is said and done with this RAW, and that’s in a show that gives us Kevin Owens versus Kalisto and Neville/Cesaro (victims of The Great Name Removal Of Main Rosterdom) versus Sheamus/King Barrett. In fact, both of those matches are too short, especially the latter, all while heading toward later matches that absolutely no one in Chicago (or even in the viewing audience) asked for: Roman Reigns versus Braun Strowman and Seth Rollins versus Kane (in order to hype Seth Rollins versus…Kane, who Tombstones Seth and removes any intrigue from the pay-per-view match).

By the way, for those keeping track at home, the way, this week’s RAW marks Seth Rollins’ fifth Lumberjack match in his tenure in WWE (and in his entire career, actually); the last one was literally a month ago, against Ryback. Also, this RAW has more vignettes with Kane and the inane Triple H/Stephanie McMahon phone calls (which require you ignore the concept of WWE private planes) than it does anything with Seth Rollins or any other Superstar. In 2015. And Big Show is actually an integral part of the main event. Which includes Kane. In 2015. Then again, Kane and Big Show are two sides of the same coin that even a penny would shun.

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WWE loves its storylines about characters like Dean Ambrose and Randy Orton not “playing well with others,” but as New Day point out in their promo—and the commentary team and the match completely ignore—that’s absolutely not the case with these two guys. Dean Ambrose came from the most dominant team in recent WWE history with The Shield, and he still hangs around his “brother-in-arms,” Roman Reigns (the same can be said about “Big Dog” Roman in terms of Dean); Randy Orton, as New Day mentions, has been in Evolution, Legacy, and The Authority. And by the way, don’t forget about Rated RKO. For two guys who don’t play well with others, playing well with others sure defines a great portion of their careers, don’t you think?

Ambrose/Orton versus New Day is nowhere near as fun as last week’s opening six man tag, but then again, that match felt very much like the guys were putting on a house show match that just so happened to be on RAW. That’s not the case here, but Randy Orton has really good team chemistry with former Shield members, and you can’t go wrong with that. The blind tags are only a factor in the middle of the match, and the bump at the end is expected, but overall, the match is fun while it lasts. New Day will look especially strong when the Dudley Boyz (who take on the challenge of The Ascension this week) finally beat then.

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Even if it weren’t a solid start to the show, not playing well with others at least is better than mental illness being their defining trait, which is officially Paige’s “character” at this point. This may be Chicago, but the role of “crazy” AJ Lee now belongs to Paige, who for all of her positives, is certainly nowhere near the mic level to overcome how bad all of this is. This episode of RAW is sponsored by Payday (the candy bar), and the three hours make sure everyone watching knows that. Did you know Paige is “unconventional” and “the anti-Diva?” Payday did. Did you know Xavier Woods like video games? Payday did. Did you even care? Payday did. That’s this week’s RAW. Maybe it thinks it can get away with this because of a supposed Columbus Day or Canadian Thanksgiving (which is why Kyle Fowle is not reviewing this week’s RAW) lull, but even that’s not a real excuse. Next week is the go-home show for Hell In A Cell, but until then, this episode of RAW doesn’t even pretend to care about trying. That may sound like a repetitive argument, but given WWE’s storytelling and decision-making, “repetitive” is merely the norm.

Such repetition rears its very ugly head in the case of the two matches from the Divas division/Revolution/setback. If there’s a doubt that Vince has completely taken over the creative reins, it should completely disappear with the way the Divas are treated and booked this week, especially in a post-NXT Iron Man match world. Even showing clips from that match and then moving forward with the rest of the night feels like an insult and an example of Vince showing everyone how it’s “really” done. Again, the existence of the Chicago crowd is ignored by there not being a Sasha Banks match, despite the “WE WANT SASHA” chants, but apparently that is now a storyline: We want Sasha, not Naomi, and certainly not Tamina, so Naomi and Tamina should feel bad about that. Take a second to realize that this is the exact storyline that Team PCB just had/has and also that Team Bella—which is two Bellas and Alicia Fox, who is not a Bella—remain united. How is that acceptable?

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The singles match between Naomi and Nikki Bella at least earns points for not being dedicated to incredibly reductive and insulting commentary, unlike what we get in the Charlotte/Becky Lynch versus Brie Bella/Alicia Fox “match.” Two minute matches may be over, but five minutes are totally acceptable, especially in a RAW where everything feels shorter in service or Roman/Strowman and Seth/Kane. Paige turned on her teammates. That should be the end of any concept of them being a team. They’re not her girls, and she has no claim to them. That’s logic. Yet the words “Team PCB” go on and on and on, and Paige talks about Natalya stepping in on her territory. I’ll wait for a logical explanation for any of this and not one that is an absolute slap in the face to the women in the division and the fans who actually care about them.

By the way, is there a woman in the WWE Creative room? This is a legitimate question. Are there any women writers making creative decisions? I ask this knowing that Vince McMahon ultimately vetoes all of Creative’s decisions and that Stephanie McMahon is there. But is there a non-McMahon woman in the room? A few years ago, I was at a Nerdist Writers Panel where an audience member (who was surprisingly not my very own Petrova doppelganger) was a woman of color who wanted to write for WWE. I can only assume she didn’t make it there, because what reason is there to believe that she did, based solely on WWE’s track record with anyone who fits her (and my) demographic? When former WWE writers speak, they tend to fit a similar box, and they’re none of the boxes that either she or I tick.

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“All women hate each other, all women are crazy, all women are jealous of each other. What is NXT, and why does everyone keep talking about it?” That could easily be the script for this week’s RAW, and… Oh, that’s right! Above all else, women in the company (besides maybe Stephanie) are not allowed to have actual characters. That’s not an overreaction or hyperbole—that’s honestly the case. It’s even more apparent when WWE pushes the “crazy” button overtime, hard (with the help of Payday). That’s a pre-Revolution mindset, and if Vince is the one taking complete control, then it’s not surprising to see it so clearly again. Some Divas Revolution, huh?

Thanks to TMZ (and WWE’s not-so-secret relationship with them), Rusev and Summer Rae finally have an out from one of the worst (which is actually kind of so bad it’s almost good-ish) mid-card storylines in recently memory, with Rusev proposing to his real life girlfriend, Lana. Sure, it happened a month ago, but news broke at this very moment, despite pictures of Lana with her engagement ring before this. In a moment that is the perfect example of WWE’s pattern of insulting its audience’s intelligence by calling out how stupid its own decisions are—instead of actually course-correcting—Michael Cole and the rest of the commentary team spend the entire match between Rusev and Ryback (in which Rusev loses, most likely because he knows nothing of The Secret or a “voracious” appetite that can’t be “satiated”) talking about the TMZ news and why Summer Rae is still coming out to the ring with him.

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You know, some people say Summer Rae actually started the Divas Revolution, and… If we’re being honest with ourselves and not mocking Michael Cole’s weekly nonsense, there’s actually an argument for that. She very much deserves to be a part of that discussion and in an actual wrestling role, especially when neither Sasha Banks nor Charlotte would be exactly where they are character-wise without her. Summer’s break-up with Rusev is a good thing if only for the idea that she might now be babyface because of it (if you can remember the one week she was face on Main Event or whatever), but it’s also a break-up that serves as a reminder of Summer’s terrible taste in men and WWE’s lack of long-term planning. Now what for Rusev?

So Vince learned about the WWE website, huh?

By the way, kayfabe being “dead” is apparently the best thing for WWE Creative, as it’s the only out they had to this storyline without putting more than five minutes of thought into it, a feud that only worked—whenever it worked—because of the talent involved.

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Roman Reigns’ promo before his match is a reminder that WWE still really wants him to be Samoan John Cena, no matter how much that can’t possibly work. He’s given the unenviable task of having to summarize his entire feud, the ultimate Cena move, and even Cena (who is at least 10 times the talker Roman is) has trouble doing that. Roman tries to bring his acting lessons to good use with the amount of conviction he has in it the promo, and it all just crashes and burns, almost like an earnest Ryback promo. Think of it like this: Surprisingly, the Chicago crowd is very much pro-Roman here… until he speaks. Earlier in the night is the Susan G. Komen pre-recorded video with Roman, and it’s difficult not to watch it without having conflicting thoughts about wanting to do something to fight breast cancer, hating all things Komen foundation, and very much realizing that there’s no need to worry about Roman ever leaving WWE for acting. He can’t even sound convincing when trying to sell the fight against breast cancer—that’s kind of a problem.

As for his promo, the best parts are when he goes off script and addresses the crowd, both with the “WHAT” and “BORING” chants. But the problem is, he honestly deserves them in these instance, simply because the material is bad and his promo is boring, to the point where his interruptions don’t just shut up the crowd: They actually silence the crowd. It’s Roman’s problem: He starts off cool for the summer, then the crowd progressively becomes more and more antagonistic, until it all ends up just being quiet. Just let the guy fight. No one needs an oral history of any Shield member versus The Wyatt Family, especially when said history doesn’t even include the whole part where Bray Wyatt spent a good portion of the early feud teasing a kidnapping of Roman’s daughter. That happened, you know.

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Plus, having Roman Reigns focus on the “anyone but you” aspect of it all just reads like baiting a Chicago (or any smark-heavy) crowd, and they don’t even go for that. That’s how boring it all is, even before the match. Then with the match… If Roman Reigns was still pretty green in the context of singles wrestling when he came back from his injury, then Braun Strowman is quite possibly greener than goose shit in comparison. Roman Reigns as the veteran wrestler and ring general is very much a stretch, yet that is exactly what the dead Chicago crowd and viewing audience gets. Plus, if there was a belief that WWE was protecting Strowman, which they kind of should be for now, that ends up being removed in this very show, even with the count-out. Roman gets him down. He gets him so down that he’s counted out. Where’s the tension? Where’s the suspense? Isn’t Strowman supposed to be a behemoth? Not anymore. He doesn’t lose conventionally, but he still goes down hard, and it turns out those tag team matches weren’t at all necessary.

The best match of the night is, unsurprisingly, the one that comes from the US Championship Open Challenge, with John Cena and Dolph Ziggler. Consider it a rescheduled match after last week’s “debacle.”

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Anyone who was watching WWE in 2012 might remember a glorious time when Dolph Ziggler, AJ Lee, and Big E were a team of friendship and joy (so, they were heels), with Ziggler around the peak of his Show-Off character and finally getting the chance to show that he could also really talk on the mic. The brief feud with John Cena came during this time, and while the matches were technically good, they tended to end the same way: with Dolph, Big E, and even AJ all hitting every single one of their finishers on Cena (and with Dolph, that’s like four) and Cena winning with just one Attitude Adjustment. That’s essentially what happens here, even though the first successful AA of the night leads to a roll-out of the ring. It’s such a good match too—even when Dolph has to sell Cena’s terrible STF, which is getting worse—and it doesn’t have Cena attempting any moves he just shouldn’t.

The match does, however, confirm that turning heel is probably the best option for Ziggler. He’s a dope who’s not as cool as he thinks he is as a face, and the entire Rusev storyline (which he luckily found his way out of a week or so ago) only highlighted that. He’s the rare wrestler whose move-set is apparently expanded with a heel turn, and it’s a way to motivate him. Despite the city and crowd, Dolph gets to play the heel this week, even bringing back the consecutive elbows and really showing off, just like the nickname says. Then it all ends with just one AA, even with Dolph being the best he’s gotten to be in a long, long time. How does he react to losing? Well, we don’t know, because the camera cut right back to Kane and his phone issues. It’s the one moment where anything can happen in this RAW, and it’s not even allowed to happen.

As for the main event, the only real saving grace is all things New Day. After all, they have to be there for their best friend, Seth Rollins. Every week, New Day kills it, and even when they’re not the focus, that’s still the case. No matter the frustration of the rest of the night, no one can take away New Day rocking out to Seth Rollins’ theme or them stomping a mudhole in Kane and leading the charge (untill Kane decides to turn the match into the Royal Rumble go-home show) in attacking him in the ring. It’s one of the few things in the match that makes sense, especially since, as much as Seth Rollins is an entitled jerk, he probably hasn’t tortured any of these face mid-carders as much as Kane has. Then again, this entire feud relies on kayfabe smart person Seth Rollins and everyone around him being absolutely braindead, so no one can really expect common sense.

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Speaking of New Day, at least this RAW has Kofi finally getting revenge on Randy Orton for that whole “STUPID!” thing. That’s a big win when you really think about it. But other than that: There are 10 matches on this card and it certainly feels like that, in the worst way possible. On the bright side, this is not the go-home show. That’s about it when it comes to bright sides.

Stray Observations

  • RESULTS: New Day defeated Dean Ambrose & Randy Orton; Nikki Bella defeated Naomi; John Cena (c) defeated Dolph Ziggler (United States Championship match); Sheamus & King Barrett defeated Neville & Cesaro; Roman Reigns defeated Braun Strowman; Ryback defeated Rusev; Kevin Owens defeated Kalisto; Brie Bella & Alicia Fox defeated Charlotte & Becky Lynch; Demon Kane defeated Seth Rollins (Lumberjack match)
  • In other news, here’s a happy place.
  • The Payday product placement (and I don’t even think that’s the right word) is almost laughable, especially when the candy is not actually promoted during commercials and Milky Way is. It’s mostly terrible though.
  • I am obviously not a fan of the Kane storyline, but my mother, who has recently laughed at Chrisley Knows Best commercials and a clip from Two And A Half Men, cracked up multiple times during it. It’s no Joseph Park storyline, that’s for sure. I’m just happy I properly called “a Kane segment” as the time Chicago would finally chant for CM Punk.
  • I’m actually going to be at Hell In A Cell, so that should be fun. I might need help writing some Jimmy Shive-Overly style heckles for the Dudley Boyz though. Speaking of:
  • Have we been talking about how the Dudley Boyz coming back to WWE is actually not great for anyone who likes to see something different from what they saw (and didn’t like) 15 years ago? Because if I have to choose between Bully Ray and Bubba Ray, I’ll choose Bully Ray every time. As for Devon, I’ll choose his Caprice Coleman-looking sons, I guess. This RAW turned me back to TNA, I guess.
  • Literally the only time I have heard anyone call John Cena “Big Match John,” it was JBL saying it. Enough is enough.
  • Cesaro no-selling Sheamus’ European Uppercuts and then just “Hey!”-ing him around the ring would have made this whole show worth it if it had just ended there. His shrug after his tandem move with Neville (which ends up with Neville getting the knees to the torso) is also pretty great for guy who can’t connect with the crowd or whatever his problem is.
  • Despite all of this, no one really had time for a full entrance this week. That’s never a good sign.
  • I’ll be back next week—Kyle Fowle has decided a honeymoon is more important than this.

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