So here’s where I continue on from last week with my thoughts on Daniel Bryan retiring. Fair warning, there’s not a lot of Daniel Bryan mentioned. But there’s some important stuff before we actually get to this Monday night’s show, so please give it a read.

Recently friend of the Raw Review @the_mosayat watched Donnie Darko for the first time, and went on Twitter to figure out what all the fuss was about. I tried to put the movie in the context of the first time I had seen it way back when. And that pulled me down the rabbit hole (pun possibly intended).

There are times in a life when things matter in a way they never mattered before and will almost certainly never matter again. These times usually coincide, at least in my experience, with being single and rootless. For me, it was the years between 2001-2006. During those years of my mid to late 20s I spent a good chunk of time living in my old bedroom in my family’s house in the burbs, sleeping on the floor because I didn’t want to waste the money to buy a bed. Then I moved up to living in the city in an apartment with a rotating cast of roommates and furniture with long-forgotten owners.

In that stretch of time what sticks out was not just how important things were to me, but how important they were to my peers, the people in that same situation, looking for things to bring meaning to lives that weren’t getting it in the usual ways. That emptiness, along with being among the first groups to really start to use the internet to trade information, ideas, and stories, imbued already present interests with urgency.

I was already a Tori Amos fan, but suddenly now I was one who would road trip around the region to watch her night after night, often sharing the journey with people I had just met, all excited to scream out our newfound truths the minute the show was over and we could get back to having a 56K modem connection. There were people who agreed that waiting outside at 3am in the November cold was a great idea, since it meant being sure to get to meet Tori that afternoon at a Borders. You were as good as bloodkin if you shared that love, and that each other was the only bulwark against an ignorant world.

So much music felt that way. Being at the Abbey Pub, surrounded by people who had just gotten out of jail from the Iraq War protest that shut down Lake Shore Drive the day before and listening to Godspeed You Black Emperor playing what sounded like, in that moment, the soundtrack to the destruction of the world we knew, the party anthems for the end of time.  When I, along with thousands of others, read a review for an album by a band with the weird name of Arcade Fire and instantly ran out to record stores so we could mainline the sound right into our earholes. Then a few years later they win an Album of the Year Grammy and people ask Who is Arcade Fire and I’m righteously indignant that someone could ask that.  Why? Because they were mine. How dare you not recognize that which I recognize as great?

You may know that I am a Chicago White Sox fan. I can say without hesitation that 2005 was the best year of my life. Partially because I started dating the woman who became Mrs. Spiffie, but just as much because I was at about 75% of the Sox home games that year. I would fall into depression or rage when they lost. When they won I could not envision life being any better. The month of October is still a blur to me. And when this happened, said future Mrs. Spiffie had to come to grips with the fact our wedding day would forever be tied, at best, for the honor of “Best Day of My Life.”

One day, when a piece of software comes out that can somehow reach into my brain and pull all the scattered ideas I have into a single cohesive thesis, I will expand upon why I believe that the 2002-2006 era would be best remembered as the New Sincerity era. Look at a movie like Garden State and the moment when Natalie Portman tells Dr. Dorian that this song will change his life. To be horribly lazy about it, the post-9/11 and Iraq war area seemed to take irony and render it toothless. The world had gone to shit, the boom of the 90s was over, and we suddenly had the ability to bitch about it with other like-minded people. Why be detached when there was an opportunity to change your life with a Shins song? Or with a slow piano version of an old Tears for Fears song, in a movie with a giant bunny that somehow spoke to me seemingly everyone else I knew about alienation and fear of a world that fails to make any damn sense. A world where even if you see the path you are going to take, you still cannot understand where you’re going. 

As a wrestling fan, this era had a similar feel of discovery and opportunity. Yes, there were always tape traders and super smart fans and Herb Kunzes who had seen every match ever. But for the first time the regional heroes were coming together, letting names only heard of or seen on 5th gen VHS tapes appear on crisp DVDs, working against each other like they were at a Pro Wrestling All-Star Game. That first batch of ROH main eventers felt like gods. Danielson, Lo-Ki, Daniels, continuing on into Joe, Punk, Styles and so on. After the collapses of WCW and ECW, followed by the horribly botched Invasion, this seemed like the new way forward. These were going to be the guys I would tell someone else’s grandkids about. They would conquer the world.

Flash forward a decade or so, and they kind of did. To an extent. CM Punk was a main eventer for WWE. AJ Styles dominated TNA, then NJPW, and at last has just made it to WWE. Samoa Joe had some great runs in TNA, and is now part of NXT. And Bryan Danielson main evented WrestleMania. And won. Twice. In one night! He was so over that he derailed WrestleMania plans two straight years just because the crowds loved him that much. I’ve said before, and I stand by it, that the only face who was more intensely loved by the crowd in the last 25 years was Steve Austin. The short guy who liked to use small package finishes, who randomly grabbed the microphone after an ROH match in Chicago and announced “Hey, I’m going to the Gay Pride Parade tomorrow! Whoo!”, this guy was the cornerstone of WWE in many ways.

And now he’s gone.

I haven’t read Pitchfork in a long time. I haven’t bought ten albums this decade. When I go to a movie I look for ones that either live in a different world, or are just making fun of this one. I have been to two White Sox games in the last two years. I almost passed on Tori Amos tickets the last time she toured because it was late on a weeknight. I try to find time to squeeze in wrestling, but there’s not anywhere close to as much time as I would like, and I honestly don’t work very hard to make more time. The guys I loved, the ones I felt were mine, are all much closer to their final match than their first one.

For over a year I have been trying to find something in WWE that would give me that hook. Trying to overlook all of the terrible things. And I found things I love. The New Day does rock. Kevin Owens is a true joy to watch. Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Neville, etc. They have all been great entertainment. But I remember back to June 30th, 2008. I had just been dropped off at home by a fellow wrestling fan after going to a White Sox game. I knew he didn’t have cable at that time, which is why I called him 20 minutes later and told him to get his ass back to my place because he absolutely had to see what happened on Raw. That night CM Punk cashed in Money in the Bank on Edge. I popped like mad watching it for the second time that night. We hugged like it was 2005 and the Sox had just won the World Series. It was a victory for us somehow. When he won, we won. And we felt like goddamn winners. 

The last time I felt like that with WWE was at WrestleMania 30. They can make me happy, but they can’t make me ecstatic. They can annoy me, but they can’t infuriate me. Maybe nothing can at this point in my life. Next week it will be 14 years since The Era of Honor Begins happened. I was 24 when that show took place. I’m now 38 years old. I still enjoy watching WWE for fun. I probably will always get some entertainment from it. But the time where I can invest enough of myself into the show to create the kind of work I am able to be proud of?

It would be reductive to say that Daniel Bryan calling it quits inspired me to do so. It would also just be kind of dickish to tie the two things together. So let’s just say that his decision was the catalyst that made me act on things I’d been feeling for a while. Though maybe we both feared for our brains if we continued our involvement with Monday Night Raw.

But before going gently into that good night, there’s one more Raw to watch. Let’s get cracking.

Dean Ambrose – A Man Full of Terrible Ideas

They really just love putting Roman Reigns in situations where people will boo him, don’t they? Is Bryan the last universally beloved face we will ever see again?

Dean’s reaction to Stephanie McMahon’s music certainly speaks for most of us. And really, I think all of us were expecting you Stephanie. It’s the opening segment.

I’d like to point out one last time, that this is seriously the worst evil scheme possible. I know there are people trying to justify this three-way match as somehow being a plausible scheme where HHH gets all of his enemies to destroy each other. But why? What’s the point of putting the Mania title match on the line? Just put the three of them in a match and let them do what inevitably will happen. Make the match for the Mania title shot between Heath Slater, Bo Dallas, and Tyler Breeze.

Fatal Five Way

Speaking of Tyler Breeze, he’s looking a bit haggard tonight. The main roster has not been kind to him so far, in results or in looks.

Wow. This group is not exactly awe-inspiring. Two geeks, a guy just barely hanging on to a shred of credibility, and two reasonably legit guys. Breeze, Ziggler, and Stardust should be combined into one. In order to win Owens or Ambrose would have to defeat all three of them.

The highlight of the night is definitely Owens bounding over the top rope like it was nothing. Lucha Owens! Lucha Owens!

The ending stretch was the kind of chaos that this whole match should have been.

Can’t help but feel like Mania is going to be a match between Owens and all the people who hate him.

For a crazy person Dean sure does get over losing a title within a matter of moments. Winner: Kevin Owens

Mark Henry vs. Big E

The evolution of New Day from when I started this until now is just incredible. It seems like they may be the only people on the roster who have changed at all.

It’s a good thing some of the members understand the importance of respecting trademarks.

JBL dropping that La Liga reference like everyone doesn’t know about the Barca Big Three.

I’m not really sure that was how the match was supposed to end. Big E seemed quite concerned for Henry, the way he kept glancing back. Hope the big guy is okay. With the height Big E gets on those splashes he can break some ribs without even trying real hard. Winner: Big E

Brie Bella Bryan

Brie is trying to be convincing when talking about her husband. It’s not going that well.

Wrestling is a circle. One person’s tragedy is another person’s chance to get heat.

That is some quality heel work there by Charlotte. Quite the rare thing for her, but she did it. Ric’s shit-eating grin the whole time made it that much better. #GoatFacedVeganBaby

The Miz vs. AJ Styles

Chris Jericho is a better commentator than anyone at the table with him.

It is striking how low impact so much of Miz’s offense is. He is really the last vestige of 80’s WWF style. And it makes sense for his character. He’s never going to be as talented as most of his opponents, so he has to survive on guile and picking his spots. AJ can fly around and outstrike Miz all day. Miz only has the resourcefulness to try and catch AJ off guard.

You could almost hear someone yelling “PITBULL” in Jericho’s headset.

Miz had his single chance, and he capitalized on it, but it still wasn’t enough to beat AJ. Once his moment was lost, Miz was just waiting for his final defeat.

Nice to have AJ take initiative, and Jericho letting some of the inner heel inside him out for a while. Winner: AJ Styles

Dudleyz Don’t Like Tables

That was a damn solid promo. They addressed the fact everyone thought of them as nostalgia acts and made clear that was not what they saw themselves as. They gave a reasonable explanation for getting rid of the tables beyond just “screw you people who like tables.” They’re the most decorated team in WWE history, but all people want is them to use a table. These are two vets who don’t need to concern themselves with pleasing the fans. Everything made sense, everything served a purpose. This sort of rock solid promo work would go a long way if a lot of other people followed their example.

Paige vs. Summer Rae

Where the hell have these two been?

This whole match was disjointed. Paige has devolved significantly as a worker since joining the main roster.

That said, the idea of pushing Summer Rae as a wrestler is just not a good idea. It might be the worst idea. Winner: Summer Rae

Paul Heyman Has Work to Do

Calling out Roman Reigns right off the bat. Paul Heyman is very polite and very respectful. Such a rare thing in wrestling.

Paul is doing a better job of sowing discord in 5 minutes than Stephanie/HHH have done in months.

That might be the first time Reigns acted like a normal human being. Good to see that happen from time to time. No insulting Heyman, no jumping him for daring to think Roman will lose. I would not be opposed to Roman’s new gimmick becoming “guy who doesn’t need to get worked up over every little thing.”

Surprised enough checks cleared that the Dudleyz would be willing to do anything that helps Paul Heyman.

The crowd was really happy to see Dean Ambrose trying to DDT Roman Reigns.

Heath Slater vs. Zack Ryder

Adam Rose claiming to be the Robert Shapiro of the Dream Team earned an honest LOL from me. The victory lap may have earned another one.

Why is Zack Ryder not part of this group? This seems like the sort of thing that should be forced to happen through an act of Congress or something.

Heath’s going to end up getting a big head and cause the group to break up, isn’t he? Winner: Heath Slater

Goldust was actually on In Your House cards. He’s old.

Lucha Elves vs. Legionnaires

WWE needs a six-man title to give some heft to the constant matches of this sort.

Alberto Del Rio seems to have borrowed Carlos Boozer’s spray-on hair

This was a fun match to watch. Lots of flying around and chaos and some random hossery. All capped off with Del Rio murdering Sin Cara. RIP Sin Cara. Winners: Legionnaires

These three hour show are really just the most horrible death. Between the announcing that drags down the show every time any of them open their mouths, and the fact it is 3+ hours on a Monday night, it becomes like a death march by this point.

Becky Lynch vs. Naomi

To have Becky Lynch be taken down by Naomi basically Riverdancing just seems culturally insensitive.

It was a brief match, but smoother than a lot of the Raw matches.

Sasha Banks may not be the least helpful friend to have in wrestling when you’re taking a beatdown (that honor will forever go to Sandman) but she sure isn’t in a hurry to get down to and in the ring. Winner: Becky Lynch

So Vince is going to award himself the Vincent J McMahon Legacy of Excellence honor, right?

Big Show vs. Braun Strowman

Really? This is how we’re closing this out? Go home Raw, you’re drunk.

The options of wake up or run seem to be tough to perform independently. Or maybe not? If I was asleep when I ran maybe I would be faster. I wouldn’t know I’m running and how much I hate it. I would just keep going and going and find out that I won the Olympic Marathon trials and the publicity is awkward because I don’t wear much to bed at night. Then I would have to get all doped up on sleeping pills before the Olympics because I certainly couldn’t duplicate my performance once I woke up. I’d miss my big Olympic moment and be snoring as they slipped a gold medal around my somnambulist neck. And oops the match is over.

The last image of Raw that I see is Kane and Big Show standing tall. My God what have I done with these last 16 months? Winner: Me. I don’t have to write about Kane or Big Show any more.

Final Thought: For all the times I’ve complained about the show, it has been fun to write about it, and to interact with everyone who has read the review each week. I’m hoping to stay around the site, if they’ll have me. Not sure exactly what I would do, though I know SHIMMER has events scheduled for this year, so I’ll have at least one or two things on the agenda. And I’ll probably have things to say about WWE from time to time. Thanks for reading everyone.