Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Before Extreme Rules, Raw emphasizes the “entertainment” in sports entertainment

Image for article titled Before Extreme Rules, Raw emphasizes the “entertainment” in sports entertainment

If you came into WWE’s go-home Raw hoping for compelling wrestling matches, you’d be sorely disappointed by what you saw. Across the first two hours of the show there’s technically four matches, but only one of them is given any time and the other three run the gamut from squash to quick roll-up finish. That first hour kind of defines most of the night, which isn’t too interested in delivering the fresh matchups that supposedly define the “new era” of WWE. To write off the whole show would be misguided though. While this week’s Raw is certainly light on great wrestling, it’s heavy on solid sports entertainment. Mixed in with a few good matches are fun comedy segments, good in-ring promos, and multiple interactions that contain layers and depth. For the first time in I don’t know how long, there’s a lot to love in the little details of Monday Night Raw.

Now that’s not to say there’s not some good wrestling on the show. I mean, we kick off with a teased Zayn vs. Cesaro match only to get a reluctant tag team partners match, with Cesaro and Miz teaming up against Owens and Zayn (!) as per the instructions of Stephanie McMahon. What makes the match stand out isn’t just the superb wrestling on display, but the layers to the feud evident in the ring. There’s Owens first getting upset when he’s paired with Miz (“he’s the worst one!” he shouts), only to then have to team with Zayn, his bitter rival. Then there’s all the small moments during the match, like Cesaro stealing Miz’s moves, or Owens getting pummelled by Cesaro before Zayn sarcastically tells him “good job, buddy.” It’s all so good, and built on legitimate character work. Everyone is in this feud for a reason, or even multiple reasons, and that makes every single interaction feel purposeful. Plus, we get just a little tease of what it’s going to be like if Zayn and Owens ever become friends again and I can’t wait.

On top of that, The Usos have a decent match with Gallows and Anderson, though it’s yet another iteration of The Family (The Bloodline?) facing off against The Club and we’re all tired of it by now. That said, the match is solid and the tension and hatred between everyone involved feels palpable. Plus, the match itself is secondary to the post-match brawl, where Reigns finally goes too far when provoking Styles. Styles picks up a chair, the one we’ve all been waiting for him to grab for weeks now, and goes to town on Roman before executing a Styles Clash ON THE CHAIR. It’s a big moment and it feels like it. This feud is hot, despite WWE’s persistent match booking trying to drag it down. After that it’s Big Cass vs. D-Von in a match that deserves some serious credit because there’s no shady business. No distractions, no DQs, just Big Cass putting the boot to Bubba before squashing D-Von. It’s so simple and it’s beautiful; this is how you make new talent matter. Cass looks life a force right now, and he needs that with Enzo gone. It’s best for both of them. Before you ask: yes, I’m giving WWE credit for doing the most basic part of their job. If I didn’t, we’d have almost nothing to talk about.

So, those matches are solid but, somewhat surprisingly, the best parts of the night come in the form of promos and segments. First, there’s Golden Truth getting the rom-com video package and it’s delightful even if it ignores some of the worst bits of the build. Then they get to dance their way to the ring and wrestle Fandango and Tyler Breeze (billed as Breezedango instead of FaBreeze for some reason), and all I want is for these two teams to run a months-long program. There’s chemistry and potential there, and if WWE can avoid the obvious, reductive “gay” jokes (they probably can’t), there’s a chance these four performers could put something solid together.

Not every promo/backstage segment is good. For instance, Primo and Epico’s debut as The Shining Stars is dead in the waters of the Caribbean (needs more Carlito), the Backlund/Young stuff isn’t quite there yet, and the horror movie music during Ambrose’s “Asylum” promo was the worst kind of cheesy. Outside of those misfires though, tonight’s go-home Raw does a great job bringing the “entertainment” in sports entertainment while also amping up the tension in the feuds. Charlotte and Nattie closing out the show is not only great to see in terms of solidifying the legitimacy of the Women’s division, but it’s also the best Charlotte has been on the mic. She’s loose, angry and dismissive here, perhaps because of a little sauce borrowed from Ric. It feels like we’re slowly (okay, very slowly) moving away from having Ric define who Charlotte is and play a part in all of her feuds, so let’s hope that trend continues.

Image for article titled Before Extreme Rules, Raw emphasizes the “entertainment” in sports entertainment

The highlight of the night though is New Day. They come out with the purpose of understanding why The Vaudevillains love the “bygone era” so much. With that purpose in mind, Xavier Woods reveals his time machine, much to Big E’s chagrin—“are we doing this?” he says—and the three travel back in time to see what all the fuss is about. I’ll try not to write the rest of this in ALL CAPS because that wouldn’t be the most reader-friendly thing, but what follows deserves the enthusiasm. There’s a brief stop in 2009 as Kofi’s old music hits and he emerges from the time machine with a Jamaican accent and a cry of “leave me here! 2009 was my best year!” before they arrive in the bygone era, their box of Booty-Os now “Derriere Squares.” It’s hard to even describe why this works so well, but if you love wrestling you just know why. It’s three guys clearly relishing in the gimmick they’ve managed to get over, and it’s glorious, which means that when the Vaudevillains lay them out there’s legitimate heat.

Tonight’s Raw is certainly unbalanced, as there’s not enough good wrestling and a few segments fall flat, but despite the lack of great matches Raw does a good job of paving the way for Extreme Rules on Sunday. Looking at the card it’s easy to see why these people are fighting each other. We can track all the steps, the motivations are clear, and there’s intensity behind even the funniest segments of the night. That’s all part of crafting an engaging three-hour sports entertainment program, and that’s what WWE, for the most part, does this week.


Stray observations

  • Results: Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens defeated Cesaro and The Miz; The Shining Stars defeated Local Jobbers (Corey Hollis and John Skyler, I believe); Dana Brooke defeated Becky Lynch; FaBreeze defeated Golden Truth; The Usos defeated Gallows and Anderson; Big Cass defeated D-Von Dudley; Alberto Del Rio defeated Kalisto.
  • Kalisto selling that backstabber was a thing of beauty.
  • I was hoping the injury to Emma wasn’t going to derail the whole feud with Becky, but boy does Dana look SUPER green in the ring still. That was a rough match.
  • “The Steve Urkel of the squared circle.”
  • We don’t appreciate Rusev enough. The guy’s been handed nothing time and time again, and he’s still killing it.
  • “The decor here is awful.” Speak the truth, Shane!
  • I have no idea what to expect from the Asylum match on Sunday. Sadly, as with so many Dean Ambrose matches lately, it could go either way.
  • Jericho’s big heel move of the night is mansplaining the Smithsonian to Renee.
  • A nice touch on commentary: Owens speaking French to Maryse. That’s how you heel it up.
  • Pretty sure The Shining Stars shouldn’t name their finisher “The Shining Star.”
  • Cole on the announcement of the Usos vs. Gallows and Anderson match: “there’s a bit of a twist here tonight though.” No. No there’s not, Cole.