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The Smark Henry RAW Report (11/16/15): How To Turn A Paige


It’s only been a year since Stephanie McMahon and Brie Bella closed an episode of RAW, but it feels like it was so long ago. Hell, it felt like it had been years. Eleven years.

That’s how long it’s been since a Divas match last closed an episode of RAW. In the years since then, Trish Stratus and Lita—who competed in that main event in 2004—already retired. The Women’s Championship has also been retired and replaced with the Divas Championship. More and more female wrestlers are finding their way to the WWE to take the place of the models-cum-wrestlers we had gotten accustomed to seeing in the Attitude and Ruthless Aggression Eras. Oh, and Ric Flair’s daughter is now the Divas Champion.

Eleven years after Trish and Lita main evented RAW in a Women’s Championship match, we find ourselves amidst a #DivasRevolution, one that the WWE Universe has been clamoring for and one that took off with an unlikely face in Ronda Rousey—the badass who changed the UFC and MMA landscape and represented women on the sports stage like no one before her. Piggybacking on Rousey’s success, and that of the Williams Sisters, the WWE gave us a half-hearted attempt at raising the level of women’s wrestling on the main roster through the #DivasRevolution.

And yet, NXT had already been doing that all this time. From having four-star matches featuring its Four Horsewomen to having Sasha Banks and Bayley main event NXT TakeOver: Respect, NXT had been walking the walk while the main roster had just been all bark, no bite. For all of the WWE’s dialogue about elevating women’s wrestling, boxing the Divas in with silly storylines involving the squabbles of their respective cliques and having matches that made no sense was counter-intuitive to the entire movement.

And then WWE realized something it should have long ago. If we wrote a meaningful story around two rivals and raise the stakes by involving the championship, we can have something people can get behind. Slowly, Paige turned on Charlotte and Becky Lynch, leading to the implosion of Team PCB and Paige’s eventual status as the #1 Contender to the Divas Championship. But watching this feud play out, it didn’t have anything going for it that implied that WWE was setting this apart from all the other Divas feuds of the past. 

Throughout today’s episode of RAW, we had been getting recaps of Paige’s feud with Charlotte, from the moment Stephanie McMahon introduced Charlotte and Becky Lynch to the main roster, to Charlotte’s Divas Championship victory, to Paige finally turning on Becky and Charlotte. They had been hyping up the contract signing for the Divas Championship match, which isn’t really anything new. 

But as the quarterfinal round of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship Tournament unfolded on RAW, I began to notice that the contract signing wasn’t happening in the second hour. And when it hadn’t happened yet about halfway through hour number three, I was beginning to consider the possibility that the contract signing would main event RAW, which would have been great, except I wasn’t so confident that seeing Charlotte and Paige close the go-home RAW before Survivor Series would get me hyped up, no less invested in their feud.

All that changed when Charlotte took the mic and addressed her rivalry with Paige. The moment she got emotional and mentioned her brother Reid Flair’s untimely passing, I had a feeling that we were going to witness something special. You see, the problem with Charlotte’s run as a babyface was that she had nothing going for her other than “I’m more than Ric Flair’s daughter.” At this point the “genetically superior” gimmick just won’t gather enough babyface steam; plus, Charlotte isn’t the most charismatic Diva around. 

But when she teared up and bared her heart on her sleeve on RAW, we all saw just how powerful that moment was, and how Charlotte achieved sympathy for herself by telling us all who and what she’s fighting for. There are smarks among us who know Ashley Fleihr’s true story—that she only decided to take up wrestling after Reid had passed away, to finish what he started and to honor him. For Ashley Fleihr and WWE Creative to finally bring that into Charlotte’s web of canon allowed the Charlotte character to finally have some layers to her.


Throughout the segment, Paige continued harping on about her resentment towards Charlotte for having to hang onto Ric Flair’s coattails. And then when Charlotte mentioned how she was a champion because she would continue to fight like her father and her brother did, Paige rebutted by saying that Reid didn’t put up much of a fight. And this is where a lot of us are divided about Paige.

I thought it was brilliant because that was Paige referencing a real-life death and treating it with utmost irreverence, an act so despicable and even irredeemable, to an extent. And that’s okay because Paige is supposed to be a heel. This is a moment in which Paige actually upped her heel game and showed just why she exists on a different level than a lot of her counterparts on the main roster. Here’s the thing: heels are supposed to be doing bad things. They’re supposed to make you do things you can’t stomach, things you can never see yourself supporting in real life. Their actions are supposed to go against the morals you hold dear. That’s why you boo them. You don’t boo a guy just because he’s facing John Cena, the Superman of WWE. You boo someone because their actions are reprehensible.

WWE storylines and television are works of fiction, largely influenced by real life. Most of us know this, and you wouldn’t be reading this column if you didn’t. But the question a lot of us have to ask is where do we draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable heel actions? Simple. We draw the line at whether or not the speaker actually meant what she said. And since neither I nor you know Saraya-Jade Bevis, there’s no way for us to tell if she did mean what she said about Reid in real life. So we have to give her the benefit of the doubt because we have to assume that all that we see on WWE TV is a work.

What she said as Paige in that closing segment was done to achieve heel heat. She was doing her job and telling a story to evoke emotions she otherwise wouldn’t be able to. In fact, it was no different from Randy Orton’s infamous promos from February 2006, when he told Rey Mysterio that Eddie Guerrero was in hell. Like Paige, Orton was trying to draw heel heat, and since Mysterio’s raison d’etre as a championship contender was to honor Eddie’s memory, the Orton character had to cut a wound that deep. He had to go that low to make Mysterio detest him. He had to say something so foul that the fans would have no excuse to cheer him. After all, to cheer Randy Orton for saying what he did in 2006 should make you question your own moral compass.

We live in an era where it becomes harder and harder to get fans to suspend their disbelief, much less react to characters the way the storytellers want us to react to them. How many babyfaces end up getting booed throughout their run even when they haven’t explicitly turned heel? And how many heels do we see get cheered on a nightly basis just because they’re cooler or because it’s the cool thing to do? Paige did what she had to do to draw heel heat, and guess what—it worked. 

In hindsight, both Charlotte and Paige delivered on an amazing closing segment on RAW, no less. For all of the crap we’ve been giving the #DivasRevolution, it looks like they finally got their chance this week, and they did not disappoint one bit. To deliver in the main event spot on a go-home RAW is a formidable task, and I’m very pleased that the ladies did not disappoint one bit. They deserved the shot they got, and I hope this isn’t the last time we see the Divas in such a prominent spot on the card. Let’s get to the rest of the show!

The Elite Four

The quarterfinals of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship Tournament gave us four highly anticipated matches, producing the four semifinalists that most, if not all of us predicted.


12271484_10153376733156785_584728532_o.jpg

I was expecting a lot out of Alberto Del Rio vs. Kalisto because I thought they’d give us a match of epic lucha libre standards. Instead, all we got was a quick match, where Kalisto briefly got out of the Tree of Woe, only to be sucked right back in and fall victim to a Double Foot Stomp from El Patron. Thanks for coming, Kalisto.


Kevin Owens vs. Neville was a solid match, and while we’ve seen this matchup before, it doesn’t mean the former NXT Champions were going to mail it in. In fact, they still managed to produce a match that would stand out for the episode, if only the next two matches would have taken place on a different show. Then again, that’s not really a bad thing because it means that there was a lot of good wrestling on RAW this week. One last bit about Owens vs. Neville that I liked was that Neville didn’t have to successfully attempt the Red Arrow to look like he had a shot at winning. That’s good because it protects the move, but also makes Neville believable as someone who can defeat an opponent without having to resort to his finisher.

Kevin Owens squashes Neville's title aspirations.
Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler was a clinic based on that chain wrestling sequence alone. It’s not the type of start you’d expect from a match involving Dean Ambrose in WWE, but it was refreshing, especially since most of his matches as of late have had a particular formula. At this stage of the game, it’s pretty annoying that Ziggler only got as far as the quarterfinals, but that’s the problem when guys are randomly placed in a bracket without rhyme or reason. At least we got a great match from Ambrose and Ziggler, with the latter reminding everyone just why he always comes out to steal the show. 

Nothing like having a good dance partner.
My only problem with this match was that the commentary team made an effort to remind us of Ziggler’s issues with Tyler Breeze, and yet Prince Pretty was nowhere to be found save for a match where R-Truth jobbed to him. Couldn’t Breezy at least have cost Ziggler the match to give their feud more layers? In fact, it pisses me off that nobody’s cost another guy a victory so far in the tournament. This is the stuff feuds are made of, people!

I believe there's a universe where the match ended right here with Roman tapping out.
Roman Reigns vs. Cesaro was the match of the night. I’m one of the last people to jump on the Roman hype train and I’ve been open about it, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t make a believer out of me on RAW. They told a brilliant story and were able to maintain a pace that worked throughout an amazing 20+ minute match. I daresay this is our match of the week, and we haven’t even gone through NXT and SmackDown yet! Cesaro is limitless.

Survivor Series should be a lot of fun with two guys are pulling double duty as a result of the semifinals and finals taking place on the same night. With the way they’re saddling Alberto Del Rio with this MexAmerica bullshit, it’s much easier to say that Roman’s punching his ticket to the finals via a Superman Punch to ADR’s mug. As for Kevin Owens, the idea of a match against Dean Ambrose excites me, but I’m pretty sure they’re not letting KO advance to the finals. This is it for the Prizefighter since he has a prize of his own on his shoulder anyway. Plus he has a certain Teenage Witch on to keep him busy anyway. It’s Dean vs. Roman in the finals, with Roman taking the championship home to close the show.



Much Ado About Nothing

I wasn’t particularly a big fan of the Taker-Wyatt segment that opened RAW after the moment of silence for the Paris terrorist attacks. For one, it surprised me that it started the show, but the contract signing was able to explain that booking decision. One thing that’s begun to bother me was an observation from the Cheap Heat podcast about what happened when the Wyatt Family carried Taker and Kane out of the arena. Was that just a creative way to carry them to the back? Storyline-wise, they weren’t even shown being in captivity. How could Bray Wyatt claim to take their powers when the Brothers of Destruction so easily got them back in two weeks? 


So which one's Baa-Baa?
This feud has lost its steam, especially since they just threw away the go-home week. Seeing the Undertaker’s druids turn against him and Kane was a nice touch, but nothing beats seeing the children’s choir with sheep masks on from Wyatt’s feud with Cena last year. I still don’t like how Taker and Kane get to face two Wyatt Family members of Bray’s choosing. That’s so lazy because Taker and Kane would have been better off giving a rub to two guys who could have used it—two guys who could have helped them form a legitimate Survivor Series team. Now that the PPV is just days away, WWE has announced that there will be a traditional Survivor Series elimination tag team match taking place on Sunday, but that will surely be a throwaway match with no storyline whatsoever.


Tag Team Turmoil

The bad kind of turmoil is taking place in the tag team division since the New Day is stuck in random 6-man tag team matches against Ryback and the Usos, while the Dudley Boyz are stuck squashing the Ascension again. This is what happens when you book one-half of your #1 Contenders in the world championship tournament for no reason whatsoever. Couldn’t Sin Cara have been given a match against any member of the New Day? And let’s get the Dudley Boyz something relevant to do before we piss them off. 



*****

Based on wrestling alone, this week’s episode of RAW was stellar, but there will always be some loopholes here and there, and that’s to be expected. I mean, that’s what we have our eyes and brains for, right? Nonetheless, it gets an A- for making the most out of the quarterfinal matches and getting superb outings from Ziggler, Ambrose, Reigns, and Cesaro, along with a closing segment between Paige and Charlotte that is totally worth talking about and debating over.

But what did you think of this week’s RAW? Did Paige go too far? Did the right people advance in the tournament? Who do you think should the Dudley Boyz go after? Hit us up in the comments section below!


Photos from WWE.

*****


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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