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The Pros and Cons of Monday Night Raw for April 11, 2016

Last week, I posted a long comment breaking down the pros and cons of Raw,  and Geno suggested I make it a regular front page post. I said if they gave me a reason to keep watching (WrestleMania really jaded me even more than normal) I'd do so, and well... did they ever.

The idea of pros and cons seems almost trite today, as it might as well be the pros and pros this week because the con section is going to be extremely short. At the very least, this was the best episode of Raw since The Shield was together and Bryan was healthy which is quite literally years ago.


Raw is NXT

There has been a lot written about how you can't just turn Raw into NXT. 'It's hardcore fan bait, not something that works on Monday Nights!' But that's a narrow-minded way to look at why NXT works to assume there's nothing about the NXT philosophy that could improve the quality of Raw. There's plenty of NXT that wouldn't work on Mondays, absolutely. But the underlying philosophy can work and has been desperately needed.

The biggest reason NXT is popular among its fans beyond anything else is that it's built around the philosophy of giving the fans what they want. It's about positive outcomes for the people they like. It's about fans feeling rewarded for spending their time watching the programming with faces getting to actually win and Special Events producing decisive outcomes. You can't have ice cream for every meal, so sometimes there's some shade mixed with the light, but more often than not, the good guys win on NXT.

On the other hand, pretty much non-stop since the fall of 2013, Raw was about a faction coming out and making you feel bad for watching the show every week. It was the heel authority figures almost literally telling the fans how pitiful and worthless they are for tuning in to this junk. Every victory was ephemeral, if it came at all. The reason it worked in 2013 and the first half of 2014 was because of one transcendent performer by the name of Daniel Bryan.

No matter what happened, no matter how much WWE de-emphasized him in opposition to fan interest, no matter how many times he failed to get that big win because he got screwed out of it, no matter how many insults the heels slung his way, the fans believed that somehow, some way, he was going to get his moment. The fans believed there was a light at the end of the tunnel. In the end, he was going to save us from their Reign of Terror.

And he did, for a moment. He beat The Game. He beat Batista. He beat Randy Orton. And after that, as The Authority was on the ropes. At the end of post-Mania Raw in 2014 we all thought we'd glanced at the final nail in the coffin. Three men who were the core of what made The Authority so effective at imposing their will on fan favorites and the WWE Universe, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins, The Hounds of Justice themselves, had finally turned and bit the hand of the masters. Their ultimate weapon seemed to become their undoing as that episode went off the air.

And then Daniel Bryan got hurt. And then The Authority broke apart The Shield. And that set in motion an almost 2 year long dirge of repeating one of the worst mistakes WCW ever made: Souled Out.

For those that don't know about Souled Out, it was an nWo produced pay-per-view (PPV) event. The nWo was extremely popular, so in Eric Bischoff's infinite wisdom, he figured a PPV promoted by them would be equally popular. But they weren't the heroes of the narrative no matter how much the fans bought their merchandise. They were the Visigoths at the Gates of WCW.

The PPV did terribly at the box office and was reviled by fans, because it was three hours straight of the fan favorites being buried on commentary and by the ring announcer, a crooked referee in every match... it was just depressing to watch. For 2 long years (with one brief Dolph Ziggler sized gap that was quickly undone), Raw was basically a permanent Souled Out.

Last week, WWE decided to switch things up. Shane McMahon was now in charge of Monday Night Raw.

He'd lost at Mania, sure, but for whatever reason Vince decided to give him a shot at the big job. Shane said he'd bring positive change, and that's exactly what he did.

Gone were insults for the fans who spent their time watching Raw. Stephanie's "All hope will be gone" line from Mania was strongly rebuffed. Shane McMahon decided instead to take a new tact to the show. Instead of insults, Shane focused on attempting to give the fans matches and performers they wanted to see.

No more screwjobs, no more depressing long-winded promos. In its place were performers getting to perform in great matches, a sense of fairness, and the villains were other wrestlers engaged in wrestling heeling rather than an overbearing authority figure.

WWE Souled Out has seemingly been canceled, and for the first time in almost 20 years, WWE turned itself face.

4 4 4 4 4 Life!

Well, that was certainly one heck of a debut. I know Geno is not confident that this is leading to something bigger than a new debuting tag team, but I'm less sure.

The specific tag team they targeted is a very interesting one, given their family history with AJ Styles' opponent in the main event of Payback. The way I took this segment was that it was designed to create a sense for Payback of the old Bobby Heenan question, "Who's side are they on?"

Personally, I'm hoping they go for the obvious choice of pairing them with Styles because the idea of The Shield vs. Bullet Club sounds batshit insane in the best possible way, but the idea of pairing them with Reigns with the idea that AJ was kicked out of Bullet Club, and Bullet Club doesn't forget isn't unappealing either. Payback would certainly be a fitting name.

And just in the confines of what happened, two dudes in street clothes coming out of the crowd and beating the holy hell out of The Usos is certainly a strong first impression. It's not Scott Hall on Nitro, but it's still pretty damned cool to see.

The use of #BulletClub by WWE talent on twitter is fascinating. New Japan maintains the registered trademark, so as far as we know, they don't have rights to the name, but maybe they made New Japan an offer they couldn't refuse. Ideally it was shipping them the League of Nations in a crate in exchange for the rights, because I'd love all three in the G1 Climax.

Wrestling Is Wrestling

One of the bigger things missing from Raw since The Shield split and Bryan got hurt was strong TV match quality.

Wrestling is about the stories more than the matches, but in a three hour long show, having guys that can put on entertaining TV matches makes the shows so much easier to watch. Adding guys like Cesaro back to the fold and Zayn and Styles to the roster plays a big part in repairing some of those issues.

I know there's probably some concern about blowing through a potential PPV match like Styles/Zayn on Raw, but with the network model rather than PPV and Raw's sagging ratings, that really can't be the primary concern in the way it was previously, and it's not like Styles/Zayn is Hogan/Goldberg in terms of big titanic clashes. As for the matches, both were excellent. Cesaro was a selling God in the opener and Zayn & Styles tore it up later in the show.

What I loved with Styles/Zayn was that it was an exercise in restraint. They didn't blow through a hundred giant spots but instead really paced the match well and built to the climax. They saved something for their matches down the road, especially since if they do face off on a PPV, one of them (probably Styles, realistically) will be working heel rather than both working face, but still managed to deliver a compelling match. Little disappointed that AJ isn't officially back to the Clash as his finish, because the crowd still buys that as a finish more than the forearm, but I'll still take a strong clean win for a guy they're pushing in a heartbeat.

With Cesaro and Owens, the result was very interesting. Cesaro winning clean is a pretty big deal. Obviously it sucks to see Owens lose, but one big thing WWE needs to do after devaluing their roster so much is to really pick a few guys and actually push them. Styles getting back to back strong and clean TV wins is the kind of thing that gets a guy more over. Same thing with Cesaro picking up the win here.

And Cesaro's win dovetails nicely with...

Blue M&Ms and Domestic Water

I was already excited the second I figured out what was going to happen last week based on putting things together from the rumor mill spinning and redditor Falcon's teases before the show, and they have repaid my confidence even more than I'd hoped.

This act is tremendous. Everything about it works. The characters on the page, their respective performances, all of it. Maryse is so incredibly good in this role. Her accent alone is perfect for the character, but she's got such a charisma and natural snootiness about her as well. I believe she called Miz her husband about 20 times in two minutes, but I lost count. This is why managers and valets being a lost art is so depressing, because they can make someone so much better than the sum of their parts. Miz was a very good heel act before this, but Miz and Maryse is a great one now. You just want to see all the bad things in life happen to them and no one but them.

Babyface Eater of Worlds

I have long been negative on the Wyatts relative to the consensus on cSs, because I'd grown extremely tired of their heel act and at a certain point was happy about them getting buried, but I always had hope for a face run after the flashes we saw at the end of their time in NXT, and what a reinvention turning the family face has been just two weeks in. He was awesome here with a dynamite hot tag and seemed engaged in a way he hasn't in a while. And they even had him actually get a pin which was a nice change of pace.

Tag Tournament... Sponsored by Booty-Os

A tournament? In WWE? What a time to be alive. New Day had pretty much cleaned out the tag team division, so this was a good time for a tournament gimmick. It gives a team three wins and thus some strong credibility going into the PPV which any team challenging New Day could use, and does a good job biding time for Gallows & Anderson to likely take the straps after we see what their role is at Payback.

You Can't Teach That!

Enzo & Cass are already crazy over with the audience. I had high hopes for them, but even I didn't anticipate they'd take off this quickly. I don't believe we posted the Raw YouTube ratings this past week, but from a glance, their debut was fourth highest on the entire show with 2 million views in a single week, and now yet another live crowd was going along with all their schtick. Enzo is the best talker in the company, and feuding with another talker like Bubba is a great start for the Realest Guys in the Room. These should be some of the most entertaining promo battles on the show as long as this feud lasts.

Apollo Nation

Nothing major here, just another quick victory. I like what they're doing with Apollo a lot. Hopefully he develops his character over time, but for now, just building him up with consistently strong wins making clear that he's a guy we should care about is a good start.

I'm sure there are even more pros, but this is getting long, and suffice it to say, this episode was great.



For all the talk, this wasn't a ringing endorsement of the "Rebirth of the Women's Division" that WWE used to gain so much positive publicity in the wake of WrestleMania.

It's 2016, we have a Women's Championship, but Ric Flair remains the focal point of the women's division. How many matches in a row has Ric won for Charlotte at this point? At least this time it wasn't due to foolishness by the babyface I suppose. But it was really bad positioning with the referee staring right at Charlotte tapping and calling for the DQ.

And in the aftermath, Charlotte proved once again she's the worst post-match seller in wrestling history by popping up and running away after being in the Sharpshooter for ages. I'm sure that's hyperbole, but I can't think of anyone worse.

The General is on point about Charlotte's reaction though. That was money. Mannerisms and physical acting are without a doubt her biggest strength. She's had a lot of really great moments like that, such as her feigned injury a few months back and tonight was no different.

And more important, there were only two women featured on the entire show (the same amount of men featured prominently in those segments).

In a three hour show, they couldn't have found 2 minutes for Becky to beat a jobber to prepare for her feud with Emma (or vice versa with Emma) or even a quick backstage segment furthering their issues? I know the argument is going to be that the show was great, and they can do this next week, but I don't think it's fair to the women to let WWE off the hook like that after all the positive attention they've received for what as of now remain at least somewhat cosmetic changes.

There are plenty of positives, like the change from Divas to Superstars, the match they were able to have at Mania, and the way Becky wasn't hidden from TV because she had a shiner, and it was actually used to emphasize her toughness on SmackDown and to sell the battle she had at Mania, but this episode felt like a bit of a step back for the women.

Are they building a Women's Division, or are they just building Charlotte?

At least the fallout promo was great, which honestly makes it even more annoying that they couldn't have found a minute for it on Raw.

$750 Dollar Scarves

I liked when it seemed like we were moving away from Wacky Dean in the run-up to WrestleMania, but it seems like he's back to his old tricks. I do genuinely believe Chris Jericho would spend 750 dollars on a scarf, though.

That's it for this week. It was truly a tremendous episode with only a couple fixable weak spots, and one was more about what didn't happen than what did.

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