Hello everyone, Brooks here! I'm filling in for Kendra this week. You may remember me from last month, when I covered the Raw in which Daniel Bryan was put to the test in a Gauntlet match. I sure hope I get to write about something new! Anyway, I got positive feedback for the high/low format I used last time, so I'll be sticking with that for now. The major segments will be thoroughly nitpicked, and the smaller segments will just be discussed on a more general level. Anyways, the blog:
RAW Is Blogged: Kayfabe Is Alive And Well
The Return of the Show-Opening 20-Minute Triple H Heel Promo
- Triple H Using His "King Of Kings" Theme - Not only is it more fitting as a heel theme, it plays into the narrative that WWE is going for with Triple H's character. Triple H is very aware of the reputation he has among many smart fans: an egomaniac intent on burying talent he sees as inferior. It's why he's playing up the "it's just business" angle.
- The Irony Of Corporate Hunter - Daniel Bryan pointed out the irony of the guy that led D-Generation X is now one of the most powerful men on the corporate side of WWE. Triple H's whole shtick has pretty much been based around rebellion, and now he's doing everything in his power to quell any rebellion. It's like if Steve Austin came back and joined the Straight Edge Society (I guess he could shave his goatee or something). It's definitely not poor writing on WWE's part. Outing Triple H as a hypocrite will always be a better way for a face to insult a heel than implying that Randy Orton is effeminate.
- Randy Orton, The Third Wheel - I don't really know what to make of it yet, but right now, it seems like Randy Orton is really just a side note to the feud between Bryan and Triple H. I would chalk this up to bad writing, but this is followed up on later, when Triple H says he considers the WWE Championship his property. Kudos to WWE for making this underdog story layered and interesting enough to discuss in detail. It seems like, even if Bryan wins the title at Night of Champions, he's not done yet. Orton is not Bryan's final boss, Triple H is. I'm not sure how I feel about that at this point, but it certainly has the potential to be a legendary, extensive story.
- Giving Bryan Another Gauntlet Match - Bryan is over, for the most part, because of his in-ring ability. Make no mistake, "YES" and the Team Hell No shenanigans helped. They were integral in turning him face and endearing his character to the fans. But Team Hell No were over at the level they were because of the great matches they put on. They, along with The Shield, gained a reputation for consistently putting on great matches. Bryan rode that wave of momentum all the way to the WWE Championship, and the fans love him more than ever. So it's important to make sure Bryan is getting enough time in the ring to remind the fans of his greatest asset. We don't need gauntlet matches every week, but regular, lengthy matches will keep Bryan popular long after the fans are tired of YESing. I'm also a fan of semi-aligning The Shield with this new corporation. The Shield have been so consistently entertaining in the ring that they were starting to get over as faces. While I'm not opposed to that, they'll have more success as a heel team for now. In fact, being positioned with the new regime is the best position a team can be in.
- WELL GEE I SURE HOPE NOTHING HAPPENS TO THIS VEHICLE THAT I JUST GOT - School's starting back up, so if you English majors are looking for an example of Chekhov's gun, look no further than Orton's Escalade. Introducing a vehicle in WWE is beginning to reach contract-signings-always-end-in-brawls-levels of obviousness. It is absolutely shocking that every single one of Alberto Del Rio's cars weren't immediately spray painted, filled with cement, or exploded every single week.
CM Punk vs. Curtis Axel Stipulation Vote
In case you missed it, YOU AT HOME got to decide the stipulation for Punk vs. Axel, and the choices were:
- A) Play A Friendly Game Of Paper Football In The Ring
- B) Call Off The Match And Go Get Yogurt Instead
- C) If Punk Wins, Paul Heyman Has To Personally Give $50 To Everyone Who Votes
C won, because C always wins in WWE.
Fandango vs. Cody Rhodes, Followed By The Miz & Rosa Mendes Dancing/Tagging
- At Least Rosa's Okay - She's been out dealing with personal issues, and I'm glad to see that they seem to be resolved enough for her to come back to work. She seemed to miss the boat on the whole Total Divas thing, and now that her former associates decided they'd rather fight bulls, I'm glad she decided to stick with managing, rather than get back into the ring.
- Brad Maddox Points Out The Obvious - On the same Raw where Orton is given a car that is totally gonna be unharmed by the end of the show right guys, I appreciated Maddox noting that everyone already knows the match he's going to make. When two faces and two heels end up brawling, a tag team match is always imminent. Everyone knows this, although Teddy Long made his living doing it for close to a decade.
- Why Should The Crowd Like Cody Rhodes? - I'm not one of those guys that thinks that every under-appreciated guy should be immediately pushed to the top of the company. But Rhodes is a guy that should be presented better. He's a face, and he can play a face well, but he hasn't really done much to make the crowd want to cheer for him, and it shows. I mean, the modus operandi for WWE faces these days is to bully the heels and ambush them after matches, but Rhodes needs more than that to get over. There's nothing to him right now, and that's a shame. He's just "guy without the briefcase" in a feud with "smart guy with the briefcase." Getting a roll-up win and helping Miz hit his finisher isn't going to get the guy over to the level he should be.
- UGGGGGGGH STOP DANCING - I want to like The Miz. I liked him during from his Money in the Bank win to his WWE Title run. He is no longer that person. I know there's a certain level of pandering you have to do in order to get the kids to like you, but there is no excuse for a legitimate face to try to get over with "lol I'm dancing" on the same show where CM Punk & Daniel Bryan are receiving thought-out, legitimate face builds. It's understandable if The Miz is going to be staying in the midcard, but I doubt that's where WWE wants him to stay long-term, and I doubt that's where he wants to stay. C'mon, creative. Do better.
Los Matadores Are Coming
I don't understand the hate that Los Matadores are already getting. Is it not already abundantly clear that these guys are not meant to be taken seriously? And even if it were, fans are always clamoring for fresh gimmicks. Before, Primo and Epico had absolutely zero gimmick, and a matador duo gimmick is something. But in any case, judging from the lame-looking attire and absurdity of the gimmick itself, I'm not expecting Los Matadores to be much more credible than 3MB. We've quietly gained a few fairly legitimate tag teams in the past few months, so it's not as if the division is dead or going to be killed by some former jobbers jobbing in new costumes. After a few weeks, they'll just be doing the matador thing where they sidestep a charging Superstar, moments before eating a finisher. In any case, don't kill the gimmick before you see it play out. It's how we get "Husky Harris" chants.
Christian Interview, Interrupted By Randy Orton
I had a small problem with how the main event played out, with all the non-Bryan faces remaining silent in the presence of Triple H. It's understandable, and I'll get to it in more detail later on, but I appreciated that Christian actually spoke out, however briefly, about the new regime. On another note, Orton is so much more comfortable speaking as a heel, and it shows. He says what he needs to say, says it confidently, and that's it. That's all he needs to do as a heel. I'm also a fan of any and all continuity nods, so Christian mentioning the McMahon-Helmsley Era, as well as a nod toward Christian and Orton's previous issues, were definite pluses.
Paul Heyman & Curtis Axel Talk Backstage & CM Punk vs. Curtis Axel
- Paul Heyman's Believability - Before the match, when Heyman was talking about the stipulation, which Axel told him not to worry about. Axel was not nearly as bad as he was around the time of the Genesis of McGillicutty, but it still sounded like he was reciting lines. He's similar to Alberto Del Rio in the sense that he's at least passable in every major department: he's solid in the ring, looks vaguely like a wrestler, and can go without any major screwups on the mic, but nothing either of them say ever really seems genuine. Nothing connects the way it should when they speak. Paul Heyman, on the other hand, stole the segment with a single line. Axel went on and on with talk of being "better than perfect" before asking Heyman if he trusted him. Heyman paused and said "Like my life depends on it." Now, I could transcribe everything Axel said in the segment, and you could read it and get the gist. With Heyman, you have to actually listen to how he says his lines. He puts real, believable emotion behind his words, enough to where it makes you wonder what he means by what he's saying. It's incredibly impressive how consistently Heyman delivers on the mic.
- The McGillicutter Has Been Reduced To A Signature Move - That running one-handed "neck breaker" Axel used was his finisher for the majority of his WWE career, and I'm so glad it's no longer the case. Axel's new finisher isn't great, but it isn't the worst thing ever anymore. If the face has a finisher that involves dropping you from a height while simultaneously driving his knee into your face, the heel's finisher can't be "watch me spin around and fall and kinda make the other guy spin around and fall."
- Is Axel Delusional? - Backstage, Axel was saying that he would have no problem defeating Punk, because Punk would have to brawl him, and that Axel has the clear upper hand there. Which he absolutely does not, especially in the world of kayfabe. It would be a neat angle if Axel were actually built as a formidable in-ring worker, but in WWE, Axel's only notable wins were a result of shenanigans and loopholes. If that's the kind of character you're trying to build, then by all means, give him a million cheap wins. But if you want to make a guy seem like a threat to Punk in the ring, make him a threat.
Heyman & Axel Attack Punk
- Facial Expressions - Punk and Heyman sold the segment with their faces. Immediately after winning, Punk gets this look that's somewhere between rage and joy, completely directed at Heyman. Later on in the segment, during Punk's beatdown, Heyman looks absolutely evil.
- Hope Spots - What kept the segment from dragging on too long were the moments where it seemed like Punk was getting the upper hand. When a handcuffed Punk kicked Axel and turned his attention to Heyman, it got the crowd back into it enough to carry on another few minutes of merciless heel beatdown. Heyman still has the leverage in the feud, which is important when a wrestler is feuding with a non-wrestler.
- Keeping The Feud Between Punk & Heyman - After SummerSlam, I expected the focus to switch from Punk vs. Heyman to Punk vs. Lesnar. This was not the case, and although I wouldn't mind an extensive Punk/Lesnar feud (which we may still get eventually), it's best to keep Punk focused on Heyman. That's where the real issue lies, and that's where the real quality TV is coming from.
- The Beatdown - Great stuff. I didn't mind the bits of melodrama that Heyman injected, as usual in these segments. The "I loved you!" and whatnot may have come off as a bit cheesy, but it added a level of depth that wouldn't have been there with a silent beatdown. Punk's "make it count" before the kendo stick strikes was another great moment.
- Curtis Axel - I completely understand the need for Curtis Axel in this feud. Brock Lesnar won't be around every week, and Paul Heyman needs muscle to protect him and do his bidding. Punk can't give Heyman his comeuppance right away, or else the feud is over. It needs to be dragged out, with Punk overcoming everyone at Heyman's disposal before finally getting his hands on Heyman. Axel provides all of that. But while I understand the idea of Axel taking part in the feud, his actual presence has been pretty bad. It would be passable work in any midcard feud, but he's third-wheeling it in a segment with two of the best storytellers in the company. He sticks out in the worst way, and I can't imagine that helping his legitimacy.
AJ 3:16 Says I Just Buried Your Show
- Pipebombshell - There was a Divas match that happened prior to AJ's promo, and it was what it was. The Bella Twins screwed Natalya out of a win, but that's not what was important. AJ came out and cut a star-making promo, making the Divas division one of the focuses of the show (for this week, anyways). Plenty of people got sick of AJ during the beginning of her "crazy" run. She delivered her promos slowly, and even the gimmick of being crazy couldn't stop the promos from being boring. One year later, she passionately delivers a promo that is so good, it's making some fans think that it was a shoot (it wasn't). And that's good! Wrestling is more fun when you're not completely sure if something's real or not.
- "You Will Never Be Able To Lace Up My Chuck Taylors" - That line stuck with me. I'm not saying it's something on the level of Austin 3:16 or Punk's "Best in the World," but when WWE puts together a package of the best mic work, and that line shows up, you'll remember exactly where it came from. Also, that "I'm not here because I SUCKED...up to the right people" was not subtle at all. Awesome all the same, but not as subtle as I was expecting for a PG audience.
- Heel or Face? - Was AJ's promo another heel promo, with the Total Divas as the faces, or did she effectively just turn face? I'm not entirely sure. If you were to poll the fans, they would definitely think she turned face. She aired many of the same grievances many fans have had about the Divas division for years. Fans don't seem to want models that can kinda do headlocks. They'll tell you that they want wrestling. WWE isn't really presenting the Total Divas as exclusively face or heel, and AJ's promo gave plenty of reasons to cheer for her, while still having enough braggadocio to be considered a heel promo. We got touches of face and heel work from both John Cena and Daniel Bryan during their feud, as WWE largely left it up to the audience who they wanted to cheer for. It seems as if this is the direction they may be taking this angle. And with so many differing opinions on how to fix the Divas division, it may be the smartest way to go about it.
- Allowing Total Divas To Be Ridiculed - I'm still surprised WWE allowed Total Divas to be mocked so thoroughly on Raw. I know looking down on reality TV is in right now, but it still seems out of character for WWE to let a successful new venture be thrown under the bus the way it was. Clearly it's not the end of the angle, but it was a risky move by WWE standards, and I'd be thrilled if WWE continued to take similar small risks.
- The Bella Twins Constantly Screeching - The only bad part about rewatching AJ's promo was having to listen to The Bellas constantly being terrible at everything. In addition to challenging AJ to "say it to their faces" while AJ was literally doing that, their constant "whatevers" and "you're just jealouses" were incredibly annoying. Natalya sold the promo by looking angry. The Bellas, on the other hand, seem to think the only way to be a heel is to be so annoying that no one invests in the storyline and changes the channel instead. There's being a heel, and there's being detrimental to the product. The Bellas are the latter.
Rob Van Dam vs. Alberto Del Rio
- Rob Van Dam Hasn't Slowed Down - I'm impressed with Rob Van Dam wrestling on just about every Raw and Smackdown since returning. I absolutely thought he would be taking it easy in his part-time role, but once I thought about it, I realized that RVD's appeal was usually in the ring, not in segments. So while a guy like Chris Jericho could get away with doing Highlight Reels or wacky backstage skits once in a while instead of wrestling, RVD has to keep putting on solid matches to stay relevant. And he's doing it.
- They're Gonna Have Ricardo Screw RVD At Night Of Champions, Aren't They? - As you've noticed, RVD's pairing with Ricardo makes no sense. They gave a limp excuse for it on commentary, but there's really no solid justification for it. And since RVD has no gimmick besides "remember me I used to jump and kick and now I am going to do that again," the story of this feud has to focus on Ricardo. As much as I'd like Ricardo to go out on his own and have Del Rio drop the title until he figures out how to be interesting, you should expect to see Del Rio retain at Night of Champions with a shocking assist from Ricardo. It doesn't make sense, but it's okay because heels.
Ryback Is Still A Bully
Here's to hoping these segments get a good payoff, and soon. Ryback's character has flashes of brilliance, like when he justified his actions at the beginning of his feud with John Cena, but it's usually boring, plodding segments like this one, where Ryback does the thing he's been doing to smaller guys for the last several weeks. I won't mind if, two weeks from now, Ryback picks on a little guy who is actually Sami Zayn, leading to a match where Zayn takes Ryback to the limit, but if this is one of those Natalya fart storylines that leads to nothing, I'll be disappointed.
Randy Orton vs. Christian
- Chemistry - Randy Orton and Christian are one of those combinations that just work. They click, and they can always put on good matches. This match didn't really have anything new, but the crowd was still into it. 3-hour Raws can be awful if they're filled with recaps and pointless segments, but lately, we've been getting lengthy, fun matches like this that make up for all the Touts and WWE App plugs.
- Orton's Supposed To Be A Heel - I can't believe I'm complaining about Orton not being boring, but this match seemed to show that he is still in the process of remembering how to work as a heel. He was great at the methodical (read: boring) style prior to his face turn, even if it was less fun to watch. But if a casual viewer were to tune in during this match, they would have no idea that Orton was the heel until the very end when Orton thumbed Christian's eye. Orton still did the face thing where he looked around at the crowd to the delight of the screaming fans, readying himself for the go-home sequence. It makes good TV in the short-term, so I really shouldn't complain, but it's something he's got to work on if he wants the heel turn to stick. Hopefully he can find a balance between "not pandering to the crowd" and "being Nyquil."
- Orton Should Really Just Paint His Cars Orange At This Point - In what will probably be #1 on WWE's upcoming 100 Most Shocking Moments DVD, Daniel Bryan vandalized Orton's new Escalade. Kofi covered Orton's sports car in orange paint, Christian vandalized Orton's buss with orange spray-paint, and now Bryan turned Orton's Escalade into an orange Yescalade. It was a great small victory for Bryan, although I've seen people complain that he should've done more to the Escalade. I understand that the Attitude Era had plenty of cement-filled cars and explosions, but we're not trying to recreate the Attitude Era. We're trying to create Daniel Bryan, the star. Although spray-painting Orton's car is not the most original idea in the world, it's better than recreating an already-well-known moment from WWE's past. There are times to use nostalgia, but there are also times when stars need to have moments that are completely their own.
- Who's Really On Top? - I mentioned this earlier. Triple H said that the WWE Championship is his property. Orton is just carrying it for him. That's a big deal. That means that the core issue is between Triple H and Bryan. Winning the WWE Championship is not the end of Daniel Bryan's story, it's just the next step. Orton is the Curtis Axel to Triple H's Heyman. After Bryan wins the title, he'll still have to silence the man in charge, Triple H. The guy that got a pin on super-hot 2011 CM Punk. When that match happens, the stakes will be high enough that marks and smarks alike will be invested, for reasons both in and out of kayfabe.
Titus O'Neil vs. Jack Swagger
- Handling Darren Young Correctly - The Prime Time Players are being pushed as a unit. Darren Young is not "being pushed for being gay," as some people are asserting. Obviously, his coming out was the catalyst for the team's face turn, but the idea of "everyone should come out so they get a push!" is ridiculous. WWE was getting positive mainstream attention, and plenty of new eyes were on them. Why would they make the mistake of not featuring Young on the show, or featuring him as a heel? The Prime Time Players have no business being heel anyway. Their segments on WWE's social media sites are always entertaining, and they have enough charisma to where it makes no sense for them to remain heels.
- Zeb Colter Gets Actually Racist - As of late, Zeb Colter has been resorting to cheap heat and vague, far-right talking points in his promos, so a lot of the buzz around him and those he manages has faded. But this week, Colter didn't say anything about Young's orientation, but instead had some major implications about The Prime Time Players' skin color, with the whole "welfare queen" myth and all that. Don't worry, I won't get political on here (that's what Facebook is for), but there are absolutely some racist undertones to just happening to talk about welfare abuse to two African-Americans. And don't misunderstand, I am completely for despicable, racist, sexist, or homophobic characters in wrestling. I'm glad Zeb is getting to push the PG limits a bit. It's just important that those despicable characters are clearly shown to be heels that get comeuppance. It's okay that Ryback's a bully as long as it ends with him getting a wedgie.
- The Crowd Actually Saying "We The People" Along With Zeb - Y'all a bunch of puppets.
The Wyatt Family Vignette
More impressive work from Bray Wyatt. I've said it before, but it doesn't matter how cryptic Bray's words are, because what matters is how he's saying them. His delivery is spot-on, and the vignette's editing is great as well. I understand that it may be hard to rationalize The Wyatt Family in the Reality Era, when we know that Wyatt used to be Husky Harris and we've seen Luke Harper on the independent scene. However, I know that if these guys came on the scene in the 80s, before wrestling's predetermined nature was common knowledge, and I was a Little Jimmy, I would be terrified of these guys. To little kids, The Wyatt Family is going to be nightmare fuel.
Daniel Bryan vs. The Shield - Gauntlet Match
- That Top-Rope German Suplex - Woooooooooow. It'll be a travesty if Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins never go one-on-one at WrestleMania. They seem to be one of those duos that really blend well with each other, and I'd be willing to watch these guys go in an Ironman match some years down the road.
- Not Going For The Early Payoff - I'm glad to see that Bryan didn't get the upper hand this week. This should continue to have a slow build. This new regime needs time to solidify itself and assert its dominance, and that can't happen if Bryan knees everyone into oblivion 8 days into it. Bryan should be on the losing end most of the time during this feud. There should be moments where he gets some revenge, e.g. the Yescalade, but he should never really be in control until it's time for the feud to come to a close. This is a huge, huge push, and I'm so glad that they're not ruining it with usual 50/50 WWE booking. How long has it been since we've legitimately had a dominant top heel on Raw? Ideally, there should be more dominant heels than dominant faces, with popular faces making the chase. This is a good step in that direction.
- The Camera Missing Daniel Bryan's New Finisher - I'm still waiting to see what WWE is going to name Daniel Bryan's running knee finisher. I really doubt I'll ever hear Michael Cole call it a Buzaiku Knee, so I'm worried about what WWE is going to come up with. In any case, you don't miss the finisher in your main event, cameraman. That is not a thing that you do.
- No One Is Good But Daniel Bryan - I can't believe I'm saying this, because Daniel Bryan is far and away my favorite wrestler ever. But I don't like the idea that every face in WWE is a coward, completely helpless in front of Triple H, except for Daniel Bryan. It's great that they have so much faith in Bryan, but I would be upset if Bryan was in Big Show's position, looking weak while The Great Khali was made to be the only one with enough courage to stand up to the oppressive regime (what happened to Big Show's ironclad contract, anyway?). For this story, it's necessary to highlight the idea that Bryan is on his own against the odds, but I can't help but think that there has to be a way to do the angle while not making every other face on the roster look like garbage.
This was a great show. AJ, Bryan, Punk, and Heyman all delivered, and there was plenty of solid in-ring action. I couldn't really ask for much more. The most important thing to take away from this week's show, however, is that kayfabe is still alive and well. People are unsure as to whether AJ just delivered a shoot promo on the rest of the Divas division. WWE's Facebook page, which is usually filled with "WWE sucks TNA rulz #wewantryder bring back stonecol," is instead filled with people complaining about Daniel Bryan being "buried." WWE is doing a masterful job of blending kayfabe and reality, and it should be embraced. There's no need to go ridicule people for being worked. I would rather be worked and entertained, and I'm thrilled when I see people hating heels and cheering for faces. "Mark" isn't a dirty word. WWE has really picked up in recent weeks. It's going to be a fun ride, and I hope everyone does their best to let themselves enjoy it. At the end of the day, hopefully you watch wrestling to be entertained, and this week, they did a good job of that.
Kendra should be back next week, so until next time, thanks for reading, and let me know what you thought about the show in the comments below.