For much of the world, Mondays aren’t generally times people look forward to, as they spoil the chance to extend a weekend. Around the second half of the Sunday night NFL game, many start to realize the party is over, with the grind set to begin all over again in less than 12 hours.
But, in professional wrestling circles, there’s always that little bonus of RAW. It’s different than Monday Night Football, because we’ve waited a week to see the next piece of the never ending, dramatic, sometimes comedic saga we’ve loved for so many years. RAW should be celebratory, and while we would be champagne corks would be popping across the world for a two-hour show, we still do our best to let WWE entertain us for as long as the promotion is capable of providing solid content.
Two WWE Superstars, one now classified as “former” and another on the verge of the same, have been in the news for seemingly all the wrong reasons as of late, and as I began thinking about their individual and collective situations, one thing jumped out to me and begged to be brought to the surface.
It was Monday night, November 16, 2015. The WWE Women’s Championship was set to be defended six evenings later in Atlanta, Georgia at Survivor Series. The participants were two popular performers, both talented, and neither had even reached their prime. While the Divas Revolution’s inception was artificial and rather lame, Charlotte seemed ready for the moment. Miscast as a babyface, she and her Team PCB sisterhood were destined for a rapid breakup, and it’s what would happen. The veteran of the trio was Paige, a young woman who participated in the first-ever NXT Women’s Championship match.
She won it.
As a matter of fact, on her first night on the main roster in 2014, this very same British dynamo debuted on RAW and defeated AJ Lee for the Divas Championship. Everything was coming up goth. Paige grew up in a wrestling household, watching her mother and others perfect the art of being a heel. This business was in her blood, and she was bound and determined to become a superstar. She had the look. She was unique. Her music was among the best themes on the roster. And, she could work.
Also, she wasn’t a WWE Diva, despite her striking appearance. She was one of the ladies that demanded to be taken seriously, and her effort and will were helping to change the perception of what women in wrestling could and should be. Her matches? None stood out as a classic, but few were poor. Her dance partners were often limited, lacking in confidence, with a stilted sense of purpose or relevance to the show. The girls were still there to look pretty, and they did a fine job of it, but most advances were baby steps at best, walking in quicksand at worst.
On that Monday in November, Paige went to work in Greenville, South Carolina, arriving to the building and eventually finding out she and Charlotte would be closing the show with an in-ring contract signing segment. These two women would send the RAW go-home show to its final abode. They would be on that final pedestal. It was a big moment.
Dependent upon which version of events you subscribe to, Paige was asked to invoke the death of Charlotte’s late brother, Reid Flair, to draw sympathy to her opponent and solidify her heel role, which to that point was inconsistent, with multiple stops and restarts. The segment didn’t generate much reaction in the building, and after the show went off the air, everyone from Dave Meltzer to Wade Keller to Mike Johnson to Geno Mrosko to Jason Martin all had thoughts, virtually all of them extremely negative. Ric Flair talked to Conrad Thompson the next night on his podcast and told the story of watching that segment, which left him and his family in tears. He had not been told ahead of time, he said.
Paige did nothing wrong. She followed instructions. She did what she was asked, as the young professional she was. Six days later, after ESPN treated the segment with kid gloves and was called on the carpet for it, Charlotte and Paige squared off at Survivor Series. It was a strange night, and I was in attendance along with my radio cohosts. That Saturday, ISIS had released a list of possible targets, and Philips Arena was named. Security was tight, men in combat gear carried heavy weaponry outside the building. And, the show stunk.
Paige and Charlotte tried, but the match didn’t click. It dragged, it followed a subpar lead-in, and everyone was just tired and ready to see who would win the vacated WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the main event. There was still some ugliness in the air from the Reid Flair promo, and while much of it focused on Vince McMahon, Paige was the one in the ring that actually said the words. Thus, she was the face of the embarrassment, the patsy of the atrocity.
While on the subject of Survivor Series, another individual had an interesting November 22, 2015. Alberto Del Rio had returned to WWE after a well-publicized exit the year before, and on his first night back, he pinned John Cena at Hell in a Cell, becoming the new United States Champion in the process. WWE paired him with Zeb Colter, which was an enormous miscalculation, casting him as a heel when the fans wanted to cheer for him.
He began using a new finish, which most maligned, and as he walked into Atlanta, the interest level was already beginning to diminish. For his part, he and Roman Reigns had an exceptional match, one he lost as Reigns was booked to win the Championship in the main event, only to lose it a few minutes later as Sheamus cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase. But, it was a good night for ADR. He worked hard, the match was solid on a bad show, and he looked important.
It would be the last night he would feel important.
The next night on RAW, live from Nashville, I sat in floor seats watching the fallout from previous night’s Pay Per View event. During the course of that show, Alberto Del Rio did a “State of MexAmerica” address that drew crickets from the audience, and seven days later he would find himself placed into one of the worst factions in recent memory, especially in WWE. The League of Nations flopped from its first second on screen, because its leader was a Champion no one bought in the role, and more damningly didn’t care about in any capacity. Sheamus was ice cold, and the fans didn’t have interest in Roman Reigns chasing this mediocre character.
Also on that show, Paige worked Charlotte in a rematch for the Divas Championship. It was an average match with a countout finish, and the building was dead for much of it. In fact, this was a putrid RAW show, with a Rusev vs. Roman Reigns main event that ended with League of Nations interference, including Alberto Del Rio’s first moment with the group.
Seven days, two consecutive Mondays, and it was the last time I remember caring about either Paige or Alberto Del Rio. But, here’s the kicker.
It wasn’t their fault, and I knew it.
When I worked on the Indy scene, I traveled many roads and sat in many locker rooms. Some of my best friends in the wrestling business were guys I never knew at all, and we didn’t bond over a love of comic books, college football, or coffee. We grew close because, in a similar way to how any subordinates attempt to subvert the hierarchy through various means, we did a whole lot of bitching, even more complaining, and we became one in our discussions over how we could have done it better than those signing the checks...or handing out the gas money.
I have no idea when Alberto Del Rio and Paige became romantic, and wasn’t there for their first date or their initial kiss. But, I have a vision in my head of two people who see their own talent being wasted, coming together at a time when both had to be displeased with their current standing. How much pillow talk was about WWE’s perceived incompetence? Perhaps none, but it’s at least interesting that these two people had really bad things take place in their careers on back-to-back November Mondays, and then ended up together.
When I look at the suspensions and the news reports and all the talk over the last several months, I see two people who started letting some of the details fall through the cracks. There’s something infinitely freeing, but simultaneously dangerous about a detached, laissez-faire attitude. When a human being stops caring, because he or she feels cast off and left in a desert, the little things get missed.
The Paige that lived and died for pro wrestling would have ensured her prescriptions came from the right place, that she wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Alberto Del Rio would likely have done the same. But, when both were unhappy and struggling to give a damn on a week-to-week basis, they may have become their own worst enemy. At that time, each needed a partner to push them away from the darkness, rather than further towards it. Again, only they know their own lives, but it’s undeniable they had become malcontents, with injuries and other concerns only complicating those issues.
For each, it was all about timing. Paige wasn’t a Diva, but her call-up came before WWE committed to a lasting change and a new Women’s Championship. By the time Lita unveiled that title at Wrestlemania, she had been on Total Divas and was part of that old guard. Alberto Del Rio came in red hot from a good Indy run, but within two months of his return, Sheamus was the Champion and he happened to also be from another country, so it was the perfect imperfect fit. Having fun with Kalisto on a few PPV pre-shows did very little to fix it.
Through all of this, Paige and Alberto Del Rio found one another, but in the process of escalating personal passion, that desire to be a cog in the WWE machine dissipated. He’s gone, and she says she has to come back. We all want to see Paige in the mix. The shows are better with her on that roster, strutting to that ring, and kicking ass between those ropes.
Three straight Mondays in November. The day of the week very few look forward to, except those of us in the wrestling business, or those that cover or follow it as an obsession. During the time of year known most for giving thanks, a few superstars were looking for a reason to feel gratitude. Despite being in a place so many would kill to work, from their vantage point, the grass beneath their feet seemed awfully brown.
And on these nights in particular, perhaps Paige and Alberto Del Rio wish they had just been watching Monday Night Football together instead.