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The Smark Henry RAW Report (9/14/15): So Much For A Season Premiere

For a show that calls itself “the longest running weekly episodic television show,” it’s funny that RAW still makes a big deal out of its season premieres. The audience largely is unaware of it, or probably doesn’t even care. Hell, last week’s show wasn’t even treated like a season finale. 

While I understand that shows are divided into seasons for the sake of following a structure in the television industry, wrestling—mostly because of its cyclical nature—takes on this structure in a different format. For starters, we all know that wrestling doesn’t have an offseason, and that its storylines are continuously ongoing. The closest thing that we all have to a season finale would be WrestleMania, and even that isn’t a finale per se because it serves as a catalyst for the next storylines that begin as early as the following night.

WWE put an effort into hyping the season premiere with two huge title matches: the Tag Team Championship match and the Divas Championship match, which was an admirable move considering that Night of Champions was less than a week away, and both matches would have a direct effect on its final match card. On paper, both matches deserved the hype, especially since they were giving them away on free TV. 

Only the Tag Team Championship match delivered on RAW this week. The New Day and the Prime Time Players put on a show yet again, and it made me wish that they actually saved a match like this for a pay-per-view. I understand that in the bigger picture, the Dudley Boyz will challenge the New Day for the titles and eventually give Big E, Kofi, and Xavier a rub. But seeing how far the Prime Time Players have come, plus how well they work with the New Day makes me want to see this rivalry go on a little bit longer. Moving forward, I actually wouldn’t mind seeing all three teams feuding with one another for the championships.

As for the Divas Championship match, I was disappointed that they went through all that pomp and circumstance, including flying Ric Flair in to support Charlotte, only to have a quick sub-par match which ended in a Twin Magic attempt. Sure, it was a nice way to get even more heat for Team Bella, but in the greater scheme of things, it just didn’t work out as well as they planned. The Twin Magic attempt is a tired act.

I was a fan of the scenario that Peter Rosenberg brought up on last week’s Cheap Heat podcast, where Charlotte and Nikki wrestle for 15-20 minutes, only for Nikki to surpass AJ’s record in the middle of the match, but Charlotte ends up getting the title win. Looking back at the Bellatron, it appeared to count down to the 12:00:00 AM on September 15, 2015 (Eastern Time), but I would have forgiven WWE for tweaking that a bit so that the timer would run out in the middle of Charlotte vs. Nikki because it would have given us such a nuanced story in the process.

While it’s understandable that in this case, WWE really wanted to save Charlotte vs. Nikki for Night of Champions, this just puts more pressure on both women to actually deliver. I don’t doubt either woman’s ability to wrestle on a big stage. I just hope that the buildup to whatever moment they decide to write for the PPV is all worth it, especially given the backstage rumors that a major reason Nikki Bella even made it past AJ’s record is because a certain 15-time World Champion exerted his influence.

The Authority Isn't Always Right

For most of the show, it seemed like the Authority read what I wrote last week about picking a side because they stuck to playing the heel role. Seeing them get jiggy with the New Day at the top of the show was just golden.


Booking Sting in his first match ever on RAW against the Big Show was also a heel move, but only because of the implied connections I had to make as a viewer, and not necessarily because of any brilliant storytelling on the show. Show is still aligned with the Authority to an extent, even though he disappeared through Rollins’ feud with Brock Lesnar, and thus wasn’t obliterated when Lesnar was building steam towards Battleground. However, the idea was that Big Show is a large human being who plays on the Authority’s team and can therefore be used to sic on Sting six nights away from his match at Night of Champions against Rollins. So that holds merit. 

And then there was Trips and Steph’s interaction with Seth Rollins backstage, where they booked a match between John Cena and Sheamus, so that all three guys who have Seth in their crosshairs (including Sting) would be busy that night. There was also the matter of booking a tag team main event between Cena and Sting against Rollins and Big Show.

What I have an issue with was the way Stephanie came out and restored order during the chaos that followed the Divas Championship match’s finish.

Steph did the fair thing by disqualifying Nikki Bella and declaring Charlotte the winner via disqualification as a result of Brie putting her hands on Charlotte mid-match. Letting Charlotte have a rematch at Night of Champions was a neutral thing to do because (1) all championships have to be defended anyway and (2) as a promoter, she must have realized that the Charlotte-Nikki match needed a definitive conclusion.

But when Steph added the stipulation that the Divas Championship would change hands even via DQ or count-out at Night of Champions, I thought that she was still holding on—just a bit—to the anti-Bella stance she took at the very beginning of the #DivaRevolution. In a vacuum, I wouldn’t have a problem with an authority figure doing this, but again, the Authority needs to be heels, and adding that stipulation (1) evened the odds in Charlotte’s favor and (2) gave Nikki something to get worried about at the PPV. Not exactly things heel GMs should do.


Paige in a Rage

This little rivalry between Paige and Sasha Banks has become quite interesting. For those keeping score, Sasha has defeated Paige in four straight matches. For every episode that Paige and Sasha are booked against each other, I’m anticipating the part where Paige gets pissed off and snaps, which might actually happen, but only after she hits a “rock bottom” phase where she feels like she just can’t beat Sasha Banks.


Sasha - 4, Paige - 0
Photo from WWE.com
What’s great about this story is that it gives both Paige and Sasha something to do while neither of them are going after the Divas Championship. It’s also allowed Team B.A.D. to fully break away from the tweener role everybody assumed they’d get when the #DivaRevolution began a couple of months ago. 

Whether or not Charlotte wins the Divas Championship, it will be interesting to see how Paige and Becky Lynch bounce back from being taken down by Naomi, Tamina, and Sasha. They could either call Charlotte out for being self-centered and not coming to their aid just because she had a title match. Or this could make Charlotte refocus her attention towards defending Paige and Becky. Either way, the potential to further sow seeds of dissent within Team PCB is there, and that’s a good thing. The only thing I want to add to this would be to see more of Tamina, Naomi, and Becky Lynch in the ring as active wrestlers, and not just managers.


The Third Man

The speculation continues as Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose confronted the Wyatt Family on MizTV on their own. Interestingly, both the Wyatts and the Shield 2.0 implied that Randy Orton was someone that Reigns and Ambrose looked at as a partner, but that the Wyatts took care of him. While the possibility of Jimmy Uso being the third man wasn’t really played up, Bray explained that he took care of him nonetheless because he got involved.

Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose confidently told the Wyatt Family this week that they’ve already found themselves a third man. Now, with all of the rumors surrounding the identity of the mystery partner, we’ve heard names like Baron Corbin and Erick Rowan being thrown around since they’re the most obvious picks given the supposed leaks we’ve seen online.

But because WWE’s holding out until Night of Champions itself, then the mystery partner should be a bigger name than Baron Corbin or Erick Rowan. The guy should be someone whose mere presence is a big deal, like Samoa Joe or Finn Balor, or else all the waiting and the buildup will be for naught. Like Peter Rosenberg and David Shoemaker said on last week’s Cheap Heat podcast, they need a big name to get people to care about this story. I mean, imagine how much the crowd will crap on Erick Rowan if he is indeed the white sheep to Braun Strowman’s black sheep. All that buildup for Erick Rowan? Really?


Hard pass
Photo from WWE
Hell, if it were Randy Orton, I wouldn’t take him either because as I mentioned last week, if he really was the mystery partner, then Reigns and Ambrose would have looked like such assholes for not coming to his aid when the Wyatts ambushed him. But I’m pessimistic about this since there has been a precedent for WWE building up to something that just ends up disappointing us. Creative’s written itself into a corner, and there are only two ways out of it. Let’s hope they pick the doors that say “SAMOA JOE” or “FINN BALOR.”


Mr. Wrestling vs. The Silverback

Kevin Owens is officially the number one contender for Ryback’s Intercontinental Championship, and it’s about damn time it actually happened. I have a couple of issues with the way it all went down, though.

The first one is with how Ryback had to be the one to tell Kevin Owens that the latter would face him at Night of Champions for the title. If KO told Ryback that the Authority told him to tell Ryback about the match, that would have given him more heat because KO could say that he asked the Authority to grant him that match, or that he sucked up to get that match. Having Ryback tell Kevin Owens about the match itself was weird because Ryback himself didn’t choose Owens as his opponent.

The second issue, which is bigger, is with the fact that we spent several weeks during the buildup to Night of Champions, and we only got a couple of weeks of a buildup for an Intercontinental Championship match. Yes, it’s only a third-tier title now, since the U.S. Championship has eclipsed on the totem pole. But for a PPV where all the championships are supposedly on the line, you already had an instant reason to make a big deal out of this feud. 


It's the school bully vs. the jock.
Photo from WWE.com
The one good thing has been the subtle buildup of the story from Owens first declaring his intentions on SmackDown! several weeks ago, to KO costing Ryback the Lumberjack Match against Rollins on last week’s episode of SmackDown!

In any case, we’re here now, and the idea of Kevin Owens challenging for the Intercontinental Championship is exciting because it’s fresh and because I don’t have to sit through Ryback vs. Big Show vs. Miz anymore. Here’s to hoping that Kevin Owens wins this Sunday and keeps the title for a good, long run.


Rue the Day You Turn on RuRu

Just when I thought I no longer felt sorry for RuRu, I find myself doing it again. At first, it seemed like everyone he tagged with would just end up turning on him. Strangely, nothing really happened with that. And then he started being a dick again by berating Lana in a misogynist fashion and crushing Dolph Ziggler’s throat.


Your move, Summer.
Photo from WWE.com
Now, it seems like we’re headed towards a slow sympathetic turn for Rusev. Dolph tempted Summer Rae with a small (gift-wrapped) package on RAW this week, which Summer initially refused, but furtively kept for herself while attending to a fallen Rusev after his match with Cesaro. It’s clear that Summer Rae’s the truly duplicitous one and that she’s playing her RuRu just because she thinks she can. Great heel move actually, because she comes across as someone who thinks she’s all that. I don’t buy it though, because I think she’s more like the girl Chito Miranda sings about in Silvertoes.

Quick side note on Cesaro: he put on another crazy and energetic performance despite the limited minutes tonight. It’s sad that this week, he got relegated to 2011 Kevin Love status, meaning he’s crazy good, and everyone knows it, but he just isn’t given the time to shine. Let me borrow this idea that was seen in a Facebook group discussion about Reigns and Ambrose’s mystery partner: let it be Cesaro. He’s idle anyway, and if we’re not pushing him for a singles title run right now, we might as well involve him in this big story. Plus, Cesaro is a name that might actually get people to be more invested in Reigns and Ambrose’s fates.


NXT-Adjace

I hate to say it, but I’m actually glad that Creative found a way to use the Lucha Dragons and the Ascension without bringing them up to the Tag Team Championship picture. When used right and given adequate time, both teams can actually put on a good show in the ring. We know this from the feud they had down in NXT over the NXT Tag Team Championships.

At this point, they’re not yet ready for the penny belts, plus having the New Day, the Dudley Boyz, and maybe the PTP at the top of the tag team hierarchy is actually enough right now. So while it’s annoying to see both the Ascension and the Lucha Dragons at the bottom of the ladder (and in a kickoff match), I’ll take it because at least they have a story to be part of. 


"May resbak na ako!" —Neville
Photo from WWE.com
Stardust vs. Neville is never going to be for a championship, and I doubt it was even supposed to go on post-SummerSlam, but I’m still holding out hope that the Cosmic Wasteland stable becomes popular enough to get Stardust his heat back, plus elevate the Ascension. It also obviously gives Neville something to do. It’s weird that in the process of giving them a relevant storyline, both Stardust and Neville ended up being the central figures in an NXT-within-the-main-roster storyline.

Yes, this is how low my expectations are for Creative. Something mediocre becomes acceptable just because it allows very capable talents to at least have some TV time. I hope they tear the house down during the kickoff. For their sake, I’ll make it a point to wake up at 7 a.m. on Monday.


*****

As a whole, this week’s RAW felt like a mediocre affair, which is the sad state of normal for WWE programming. But I expect more out of them when it comes to their go-home shows, and this one, sadly did not deliver. Outside of the Tag Team Championship match and the Cena vs. Sheamus match, there wasn’t really much in-ring action to enjoy because most of the segments were used for promos to fill in holes that should have been filled weeks earlier. For calling it in on a go-home week, I’m giving this week’s episode a C+.

What did you think of this week’s RAW? What do you feel about Nikki Bella beating AJ Lee’s record? Do you want to see more of Cosmic Wasteland, Neville, and the Lucha Dragons? Who should be Ambrose and Reigns’ mystery partner? Sound off in the comments section!


*****

Stan Sy is a radio DJ, an events host, a freelance writer, one of the hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, and Smark Henry's official PPV reviewer. He enjoys watching WWE, NXT, Lucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. Every now and then, he dresses up in fancy suits to book matches as PWR's longest-tenured General Manager to date. Follow him on Twitter: @_stansy

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