Overview: A minor swerve and a good in-ring main event save RAW from being the worst show of the year.

3 Things to Watch if You DVR:

  • 1) Cesaro/Ambrose/Zayn vs. Owens/Jericho/Del Rio
  • 2) John Cena/AJ Styles segment
  • 3) Everything else ranged from bad to terrible, run away.

We are live from Green Bay, Wisconsin.

As a person who has performed live for the better part of 25 years, there is a potential problem when it comes to performance in giving it your all every night of pre-consciously developing an attitude towards that night based on the number of people in the crowd or “importance” of the night. It’s the reason I don’t check the house if at all possible, among other reasons, one of which being I don’t believe you mingle pre-show, you get your mind right and give off the aura of being not only skilled and professional, but important. I’ve watched comedians and improvisers make a conscious choice to half-ass a performance because there weren’t that many people in the audience. I’ve been guilty of not trying as hard myself. I kind of have an issue with wrestlers hawking merchandise pre-show for similar reasons, especially heels. The mystique of it all is no longer there.

A conundrum that is then created is the people who are watching when no one else bothered are perhaps more important and require more attention. These are the people who could also look around, figure you aren’t good enough to draw a house and leave but they don’t. They are going to support you no matter what, and while the laughs may not loud, they will be genuine. The old football truism of “you play how you practice” is true as is “character is what you do when no one is watching” and no matter of the size of the house, you give it the same treatment because you never know who is watching or how much bad publicity a half assed show will get through word of mouth.

This week, WWE—in the laziest way possible—filled a three hour show with something that contained wrestling-like substance, cynically looking over their shoulder at the NBA and NHL in plotting and planning the night. But on the night of what could be a business changing announcement, not only turned said announcement into a farce but 90 percent of the creative instincts on this show alone helped to validate every cynical impulse I have towards said brand extension, unless of course said it has no McMahons involved.

The New Day def. The Vaudevillains by DQ

The facts: Our trademark 20 minute opening talking segment starts with bickering McMahons, over talking and pandering for pops. They announce SmackDown is going live. Screenshots of all the press release coverage are shown. The New Day comes out and asks about the brand extension. Kofi wants to know where The New Day is going. They mock the prospect of breaking up. They want to know who’s going to run Smackdown. They propose a dance challenge. Shane “dances” and when it’s time for Stephanie, the Vaudevillains interrupt for a match.

It’s a standard New Day match until Gallows and Anderson come from the stands and take out Kofi and Xavier whilst the Vaudevillains double team Big E. The Vaudevillains leave Big E for Gallows and Anderson who hit the Magic Killer.

Backstage, Renee asks “What was that all about?” The Club responds that they can inflict as much damage without AJ Styles. They’re going to wreak havoc on the division and tease more carnage to come.

Opinion: Everything up to the match was absolute death. Stephanie comes off as not only petulant, but an unprofessional performer every time she has to cut someone off to get her two cents in, and while I get I’m “supposed” to hate her, I’m supposed at least want to watch her in segments. I don’t, and I’ll get into that later when I discuss the Charlotte interaction. It’s like if you’re doing a comedic scene, someone gets a laugh, and another performer tries to cynically draft laughs by “one upping” a joke and literally turning an audience into wanting that second performer off the stage.

If you could plan a segment that would make me not excited for a brand split and to lose hope, this would be it. Why? Probably because I can’t put it past the WWE to decide control of a show with a dance contest. This is what they think will get us excited? Screenshots of news stories, corporate approved doublespeak and McMahons? They not only gave us no further information, but undermined the information we already had. In the banter, they completely undercut faith by saying they don’t know who’s going to run the new show or how things are going to be determined regarding talent. Why would you even tease that you have no plan on the air? It’s too cute by half, again assuming everyone has heard about this news because everyone who watches Raw lives in the WWE bubble.

There was nothing to the match, which took two segments and was all distraction to set up The Club’s attack.

The Big Show and Apollo Crews talk about Sheamus, mostly through poor exposition and bad self deprecating humor on Big Show’s part. Big Show ends the segment challenging Crews on whether he’s going to back down from Sheamus’ attacks. Big Show is totally going to turn within the week, isn’t he?

Usos def. Breezango

The facts: Golden Truth are on commentary. Fandango gets rolled up for a three by Jimmy after trying to attack Jey. Golden Truth and Breezango get in a fight after the match.

Opinion: Golden Truth does bad comedy, JBL buries Golden Truth as losers. Breezango then loses. This is a feud worthy of time? Two teams that can’t win? What is the hook to keep me interested in that I recognize these as people on my television, therefore I should be interested? This isn’t building anyone, this is making all four look bad, and it’s a waste of time for its own sake. It would be one thing if Fandango or Tyler Breeze were getting “born again” out of it, destroying these two midcard comedy faces, but they have no real credibility and are bickering about lack of focus in distraction finishes.

Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins “Interact”

The facts: Roman comes down, calls himself “The Guy” and challenges Seth Rollins. Seth comes out and spends the next five minutes faking out that he’s going to come into the ring or cut a promo, and does neither.

Opinion: This is literally wasting time and calling it a build. Commentary sells it as Rollins playing mind games. Mind games would be the music hitting and not coming out. Mind games would be doing something to actually trick Reigns.

It would be one thing if the Seth Rollins heel build was credible, but people wanted to cheer Rollins upon his return. The WWE even doubled down, plugging a babyface documentary about Rollins’ rehab for after RAW on their network. But he’s presented on television as the same character as before the injury: a craven coward against Reigns again. Yes, the people are going to be angry that the coward they want to like, that the company wants you to ironically boo because he only plays a bad guy on television but wants you to secretly cheer through his rehab, this bad guy is going to get over as a heel by not talking and not fighting the babyface that most of the crowd wants to boo.

It’s pretzel logic at its worst.

Given the events to come, it confirms that for WWE, building up babyface megastars requires blinders rather than open eyes, open ears and an open mind. I’m not talking about guys who are merely over, but guys who draw eyeballs to the brand rather than the other way.

Rusev def. Zack Ryder

The facts: Zack Ryder gets an inset promo working the underdog gimmick. Short match, shorter hope spot for Ryder. Rusev is now rolling back with flexible opponents to accentuate the Accolade.

Rusev cuts a promos on Americans, Titus responds with patriotism and a punch. Rusev chooses to fight another day.

Opinion: Zack, we’ll always have WrestleMania and that one moment in time.

For the segment, I understand the intent and Vince McMahon’s somewhat over the top need to say he’s a patriotic American and he’s a fighter was to be expected here, naturally projecting that onto talent. It’s one thing to do a jingoism angle on Memorial Day, especially if you attempt to get cheap heat by laughing at dead soldiers. That would be the worst case scenario. The second worst is a rah-rah patriotism angle on a day of mourning, which may be biased due to my upbringing in a heavily militarized area of the country, I’ve always felt Memorial Day to be a solemn occasion. You don’t wish someone a “happy” Memorial Day, especially with a chance their husband or son or father was killed in battle, which was always a danger where I grew up given we had a base for each of the four branches of service within 30 minutes of my house. Nor do you “celebrate” Memorial Day for the very same reasons. It’s a day of quiet reflection, and if you gather, it’s to be amongst friends to remember colleagues who have fallen.

But I understand the “secularization” of Memorial Day and how it’s devolved into barbecues, pool parties and mattress sales

It is an interesting position for Titus O’Neil given the last six months of his career, but I expect this is just a big guy for Rusev to beat and give him monster credibility. It’s very one dimensional thinking in that Titus isn’t over and isn’t seen as a threat to win in anyone else’s mind but a guy who thinks in terms of size.

Charlotte and Stephanie

The Facts: For the actions of last week in which Charlotte insulted and disowned her father, Stephanie dresses down Charlotte as a spoiled brat and a disgrace as champ. Charlotte tries to call Stephanie a hypocrite and gets shouted down. A video package featuring midcard talking heads supplemented the segment.

Opinion: Alright, this is absolute garbage. If you want to get Charlotte over as a heel here, have Charlotte do what any normal bad person who does bad things do: punch Stephanie in the throat. If Charlotte is as heartless and cruel as we are led to believe, why have qualms over doing something to a McMahon? Charlotte is supposed to be the alpha heel female of a newly rechristened division and you get someone who will never have a match (God willing) making her look bad. It wasn’t just that Stephanie was big timing the star of the division, the lack of a strong indifferent or violent reaction made Charlotte lose her aura as someone carrying this division. The creative of RAW revolving around office politics where the McMahons never truly get comeuppance and remain a constant presence instead of a means to transition gives me little hope if the story of RAW vs. Smackdown becomes about McMahons trying to put on better shows to spite one another.

I quit on watching the show live at this point. This is the worst first half of a RAW all year, perhaps in the last few years. All it really needed was a Darren Young/Bob Backlund segment to seal the deal. I was so crestfallen over the poor quality of this show, I drafted my resignation to Voices of Wrestling concerning reviews. Perhaps I should stop regardless, seeing as I’m already coming into RAW with jaundiced eyes not being a complete fan of the McMahon’s vision of “Sports Entertainment.” Do I not talk about this enough on Shake Them Ropes?

Talk me off this ledge or encourage me to just do audio, either way I’m fine with an outside opinion on this. My life is truly too short to waste time on 3 hours of bad television in a single night.

[As he has an existential crisis, Jeff turns the channel to the basketball, then gets a good night sleep….he returns the next morning to finish watching]

Enzo and Cass def. The Dudley Boyz

The facts: Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady cut a promo listing cheeses and cheese related dishes. Two segment match, the first being babyface shine, the second being heat and comeback. A big boot from Cass on D-Von leads to a Rocket Launcher from Enzo.

Opinion: Only Enzo and Cass could get cheeses over. They really say nothing but it’s still entertaining. The Dudleyz have served their purpose, it’s time to move Enzo and Cass to something else.

Wacky comedy ensues with the Dean Ambrose, Cesaro and Sami Zayn talking the countries of origin amongst the Money in the Bank contenders. I don’t find this a compelling bid for being a #1 contender to “The Guy.”

John Cena Returns

The Facts: Cena cuts a promo against the New Era. AJ Styles comes out. Both stare at the crowd as the crowd decides what to chant for the better part of 8 minutes. AJ puts over Cena’s accomplishments. This is the main event build “I respect you promo.” AJ’s here to welcome Cena back and as they shake hands, the Club interrupts. They call him out for sucking up to Cena. They’re not here to kiss ass they’re here to kick it, including AJ’s. The tag team fight is teased, but AJ blindsides Cena and a 3 on 1 beatdown ensues.AJ and the Club are in cahoots.

Opinion: I think it’s a mistake to position Cena as anti-New Era. He’s a babyface and a company guy, and the New Era is the company line. Embrace the new people. Embrace the change. Embrace the chance to freshen things up. Instead he comes off similar to Sheamus, upset someone’s going to take his place. That was a heel promo dressed up in the usual John Cena speak, and while it gets “happy go lucky” Cena into “fighting creible top guy” Cena, it does a bit of a disservice to the carefully crafted, some would say cynically so, language that WWE is going in a new direction.

The “turn” I thought was fine, but let’s take a look at why in the macro, it lacks logic. The crux of the AJ Styles-Chris Jericho feud was that Jericho thought AJ Styles was a phony, and he was going to expose that to the WWE Universe who were cheering AJ over Jericho. AJ then proved himself to be sincere about being a stand up guy, despite losing the inexplicably booked WrestleMania match. The next feud was the build to the Roman Reigns match at Extreme Rules we just saw, in which the addition of Anderson and Gallows asked the question: “Is AJ Styles a stand up guy or will he use underhanded methods to win the title?” The answer was fairly straightforward and clear: AJ Styles is a hard fighting competitor who is a stand up guy that doesn’t want shortcuts.

Now, John Cena returns, the company gets the organic “dueling chants” they seem to crave with two hot babyfaces and they turn AJ Styles. Presumably this is for AJ to then lose to John Cena who will be the “star” of Smackdown, marking AJ as 0-3 in his feuds since debuting. Perhaps they fix the credibility gap with carefully crafted promo by AJ next week about being sick of losing the big ones by doing the right thing. My question is whether great matches without winning a “big one” can keep AJ Styles’ popularity maintained.

I can only hope we get Y2AJ shirts back in stock once those two team in a random match post-Money in the Bank.

Dana Brooke def. Natalya

The Facts: Charlotte distracts Natalya, Dana Brooke hits a Michinoku Driver for the easy pin. The two taunt and attack Natalya post-match until Becky Lynch makes the save.

Opinion: You’re telling me they have a clear direction for this division? Charlotte beat Natalya and Becky Lynch a few times rather convincingly, and now we’re getting tag team matches amongst them. The only endgame I see here is to build Dana Brooke and thrust her into a possible singles program with Charlotte. While she’s willing, there’s nothing in the ringwork that says she’s able to have a more compelling match than either of the two most poorly booked babyfaces on the roster, male or female. Given the family pedigree of a wrestling family like the Harts, why hasn’t one Hart told Natalya what a dumb babyface she is when it comes to distractions?

Baron Corbin def. Dolph Ziggler by DQ

The Facts: Dolph Ziggler gives an overview of his life, and starts to list the 1,005 moves he knows an homage to a Dean Malenko/ Chris Jericho program on Nitro you can watch on the Network. Dolph puts on wrestling headgear and a mouthpiece, then kicks Corbin in the balls. Dolph announces himself as disqualified, but Corbin is still the loser.

Opinion: Um,.oooookay. This angle, despite two definitive wins by Corbin, must continue.

Miz is shooting a movie. He does a promo via Facebook.

Cesaro/Dean Ambrose/Sami Zayn def. Chris Jericho/Kevin Owens/Alberto Del Rio

The Facts: Before the match, the heels squabble amongst themselves whilst trying to get on the same page for the match, each putting himself out as the guy who should lead the team. The match devolves into everyone hitting moves. Kevin Owens tries to hit a pop up powerbomb on Zayn but Zayn leapfrogs it, distracting Owens long enough for Ambrose to hit Dirty Deeds for a pin.

Opinion: If Stephanie wants to know how to improvise away from the script and help a scene, she should watch the interplay betwixt Jericho and Owens. Owens was so good both Jericho and Del Rio had to compose themselves to not break. The match itself was fine, and given the competitors you wouldn’t expect any less. It was formulaic and plays into the formula we get every year with this match: all six announced competitors in various combinations with each other until the actual match.

Final Thoughts:

The last half hour is enough to make me not absolutely hate the show, but just watch that and the Cena/Styles interplay.