I heard many good things about this week’s Raw before I saw it, so I went in with some pretty high expectations. And very soon into the show I realised that those expectations were justified, and I just had to talk about it. Because things, they are a-changin’. Just not in the way they usually do when June rolls around.
This felt like a post-Mania Raw, or one of those important post-PPV or special Raws where they hit the reset button and (in what is a pretty uncommon occurrence these days) actually show some…direction. If things go the way they should in the ensuing weeks and months, we can look back on this show as the start of the beginning of the genesis of all of it. For the last decade Vince has liked to have the big Summer Angle to draw interest in the post-Mania warmer months. This year, there hasn’t been anything like that, but instead we have a more understated and subtle company-wide shake up going on. Instead of a bomb being dropped, everything is just kind of gently falling into place.
And just as remarkable as that, is just how well all of the bits and pieces have been executed, especially in the last two days;
- The Alberto and Dolph double-turn is, in this day and age, frankly an astonishing act of WWE thinking on their feet and listening to the crowds in front of them. Dolph has always been over with a certain amount of hardcore fans as a babyface, and that percentage has been growing and growing. Now, the very real concussion he suffered has been seamlessly morphed into an on-screen angle to give him the sympathy he needed from the rest of the fanbase to finally make the leap to babyface.As for Alberto, I also felt a sense of natural progression for his character, which sounds odd on the surface given the forced, pandering nature of his face run. But in watching him reject the fans once again, it gave a sense of meaning to his entire last six months. He originally turned incidentally after having to save Ricardo from attacks by men who happened to be heels. After hearing the crowd cheer for him for the first time, he decides “Sure, what the hell! I’ll be your hero, I’ll be Smilin’ Al, kiss some babies, sell some t-shirts, wrestle with the crowd behind me.” But once the Show feud ends, it doesn’t really work out as planned. As he accurately points out, people weren’t cheering for him like they were supposed to. They cheered for Dolph. They cheered when he lost the title, when he got injured. They even cheered for a racist over him. So finally he stops pretending. He no longer has to worry about what people think, about being a nice guy. He pounces on Dolph and he does not give a damn that they are booing. He’s the World Champion again. There was always something very phony about the rich guy snob Alberto suddenly being a man of the people, and now it feels like his true self is on display once again.
- For all intents and purposes, the saga between Team Hell No and The Shield that began all the way back in 2012 has finally ended. Bryan’s momentum carried them all the way to beating them in a six-man on the go-home, but they still failed to win the Shield’s belts, and they seem to be realising that destroying the Shield is an impossible task. So Bryan and Kane are retiring their tag team (amicably, which is a remarkable thing in itself) and going back to work as singles wrestlers. The Shield will need new opponents, where will they come from? Kane has to start doing something else. Orton could possibly turn heel. And Daniel Bryan wants the WWE Title. He has seemed destined for such a push for weeks, and this was the first step in that direction, until…ouch, your head. Legit or not, the fact that WWE were quick enough on their feet (again) to incorporate it into storyline bodes well, and will probably only end up for the better as Bryan has another handicap to ferociously rail against as he climbs the ladder. Watch this space.
- But in the meantime, MARK. MOTHER. FREAKING. HENRY. Where to even begin. I knew the spoilers watching it and I was still in tears from his speech. And then in hysterics from the SWERVE~! ‘Greatest Man in the Entire World’ does not even begin to cover it. To me the most surreal part of it all was Mark Henry, long-time scourge of the internet workrate fetishists, getting a “One More Match” chant from a smark crowd. Between that, and the amount of “Wow, that guy can act!” that I’ve read today, I continue to be amazed at the way in which Henry, and the Big Show as well, have been working at such a high level in the last few years – in and out of the ring, so much so that they have forced the same internet workrate fetishists to completely re-evaluate their perception of super-heavyweights and their ability to work. It is one thing to be a smark darling when you’re Daniel Bryan or CM Punk. It is another thing entirely when you are the Big Show or Mark Henry. And even more importantly, he now gets a PPV main event spot with John Cena. Keep on charging for air Mark, you are doing some work. And God damn I love you so.
- Things are shaping up underneath the top as well. I mourned the loss of Babyface Alberto matches for about three seconds until BAM, Christian comes back to fill the babyface matches-shaped hole in my heart. Thank you Double Double E. RVD also returns as a pretty big name to bolster the babyface roster. Cesaro has a manager to get him some heat, leaving him free to keep having awesome strongman Cesaro matches with everyone in sight. AJ and Kaitlyn are having the first real women’s title feud in quite some time. Kofi is off TV and should return as Angry Kofi, or at least freshened up a little. The Ryback experiment seems over for now. The Wyatt Family is coming. And for the first time in a long time, all of the undercard belts are on guys (and AJ) that are actually being featured and pushed on television. I can’t remember the last time that WWE seemed to care about so many tiers of the card at one time.
- And to cap it all off, the end of Punk & Heyman and the return of The Beast Brock Lesnar. We were all expecting it, but maybe we didn’t expect it so soon, so suddenly. But BFF Brock don’t mess around. You diss Heyman, and you can set a stopwatch for how fast he comes to the rescue. So now we have Heyman the jilted lover, Brock Lesnar, and a newly-freshened up Punk, who’s best role in the ring is as an underdog babyface fighting a monster. Good times indeed.
I mean, the TV is so good at the moment – with so many interesting angles going on, so many great TV matches, so many Mark Henry title shots – that not even a MCMAHON FAMILY POWER STRUGGLE can bring me down. These three utter goofs are already, and will continue to be, all over TV, being as unbearably obnoxious and overbearing as ever, playing out the same tired family feud we have all seen a thousand times before, at the expense of any roster members they please (Hi ladies). And I honestly do not give the slightest damn. Do not feel a single ripple of righteous indignation. Well, not yet anyway. I think they’re hilarious. For so many, many reasons, but I think they are hilarious. They can have all the McMahon soap operas they want when the rest of the show delivers like it has been lately.
It is shaping up to be one interesting summer for WWE. I feel like I can’t afford to miss the shows anymore, which is honestly a feeling I have been missing for months and months. But as any wrestling lifer knows, just when you think you’re out…they book Henry and Cena on PPV. Touché, Double Double E. You always win in the end.