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The Smark Henry RAW Report (11/30/15): Everybody's Got A Dark Side




Before the Attitude Era blurred the lines between what was factual and what was fiction in the cartoon world of professional wrestling, the motif of good vs. evil was clear as day. Everybody knew who was good based on what they did when they were in the ring or in front of the camera. Characters like Hulk Hogan, Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat, and Bret Hart upheld the values that resonated with the crowd, making them the clear-cut babyfaces. Conversely, heels like the Iron Sheik, “the Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, and Bobby “the Brain” Heenan were those who took those values and spat at them, doing what they could to draw the ire of the crowd.

When “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Bret Hart executed the brilliant double-turn at WrestleMania 13, it was the culmination of a slow trend, which resulted in a change of attitude from wrestling’s audience. The kids who grew up in the Rock ‘N Wrestling Era had grown up and were drawn to whatever was edgy, because that’s what was cool. Gone were the days when a vanilla babyface would get cheered. To get the love of the crowd, you had to be a badass who gave no fucks.

While it was revolutionary at the time, we see almost two decades later that whatever boom wrestling experienced during the Attitude Era came at the expense of the storytelling aspect of the wrestling industry. The reason why wrestling works as a medium is because it supposedly mirrors society and its values. But because WWE has capitalized on its gains from a bygone era for the longest time, a lot of its old habits rear their ugly heads with regards to how its characters behave.

Let’s take Rusev and Lana as examples. Their current gimmick is basically two foreigners who immigrated to America to chase the American Dream and they happened to become lovers along the way. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Hell, audiences don’t boo Vito Corleone just for being an immigrant and trying to make a life for himself in the U.S., although what he does to get there is a different story altogether. 



But because this is wrestling and xenophobia is so easy to take advantage of, then let’s paint these guys as heels, and have Rusev strut around with the flag of his homeland to irk the crowd even more. How is this shit different from when “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan waves the American flag? Is it just because they’re situated in the U.S.? If so, that says a lot about how shallow people’s sensibilities can be. 

This week on RAW, Lana made her return on Miz TV and she and Rusev publicly put their real-life relationship on display for the world to see. After Lana’s Instagram post about her legitimate engagement with Rusev was broken to the news by TMZ, WWE decided to make lemonade out of lemons and turn it into a storyline. The problem was that Lana had previously been in an on-screen relationship with Dolph Ziggler. So the easy solution is to just bring Rusev and Lana back together and have them acknowledge that they had managed to mend their relationship off-screen. Fine. We’ll take it. Rusev and Lana even went so far as to tell the audience that their characters didn’t sleep with Summer Rae and Ziggler, respectively. Sure.

Enter Ryback, who tells the whole world that Lana did indeed “go all the way with the Zig Man.” 


There’s something seriously wrong when one of your most child-friendly babyfaces comes out and slut-shames a female—regardless of her alignment—on national TV. It’s upsetting that this shit is still tolerable in 2015. Aside from Rusev, who cares who Lana the character has slept with? Why is this an issue? Outside of what they do in real life, who a character bumps uglies with is none of our business. To make matters worse, the fact that Ziggler supposedly slept with Lana is painted as something to be celebrated, while it’s framed as a shameful act for Lana. The crowd didn’t help either by chanting, “YES, YOU DID!” as they took part in slut-shaming Lana. What is this, the Dark Ages?

This is the kind of bullshit that makes John Cena so hateable among smart fans. Cena himself isn’t above slut-shaming, as he’s done to several characters in the past, including Lana. He’s also guilty of not coming out to save his partners, even though they would get themselves beaten up in the process of saving him (See: build-up to Survivor Series 2014).

The Divas division isn’t spared from this bullshit either as we saw this week during Charlotte’s “friendly” match against Becky Lynch. The storyline heading into this was that Paige was trying to get into Becky’s head about Charlotte and their friendship. Becky got a chip on her shoulder and wanted to prove that (a) she wasn’t a pushover and (b) she could hang with the Divas Champion. So she requested Charlotte for a match, and convinced the champ to agree.

During their match, Ric Flair accompanied Baby Flair at ringside to cheer her on, only to end up assisting her daughter on the way to victory. Charlotte would feign an injury, leading to Ric distracting the referee, and then Charlotte would kip up and pin Becky, who seconds ago was just checking up on the champ’s supposed injury.



Backstage, Charlotte would explain that she was just testing Becky’s mettle and proving that once you make it to the main roster, you have to step up your game—which apparently means it’s okay to resort to any means necessary in order to win. She also patronized Becky by telling her that the Lass Kicker was still “her girl.” Now, we all know that Paige is the reason for this pot-stirring, and that she’s ultimately the heel here. But this doesn’t excuse Charlotte from cheating and doesn’t paint your #1 female babyface in a good light either.

How is it okay for Charlotte to take a page out of Ric’s playbook when the Nature Boy is known for being the “Dirtiest Player in the Game”? The only reason I can see myself popping for a Flair dirty tactic is because Ric is old and those cheap tactics are a signature spot for the old-timer so it brings back memories for us fans. But for Charlotte, who’s in her prime, to have to cheat to one-up her friend shouldn’t make her a babyface.

We shouldn’t be cheering for shit like this, and the crowd in Pittsburgh is in the wrong for cheering Charlotte the way they did. This is another example of why the audience is the true heel here.

The thing is I’m afraid that this would eventually make Becky Lynch turn heel on Charlotte, but Becky shouldn’t be called the heel here, because Charlotte started it. All Becky wanted was a fair and friendly match and Charlotte screwed her out of it. I’ll be happy to be wrong on this prediction, but the way WWE books their stories has conditioned me to think this way, and I won’t be surprised if I wasn’t the only one.

When you have this kind of storytelling, it shouldn’t surprise the WWE higher-ups that ratings are at an all-time low, or that RAW isn’t all that enjoyable as a whole. Sure, there are great stories and arcs with potential, like the League of Nations—which we’ll get to in a bit, but as times change, people also get smarter. We’re becoming wise enough to tell that these warped values in the good vs. evil dichotomy aren’t going to cut it anymore. 

I’ve previously said in this space that we as consumers should have a right to demand better things from the product. Unfortunately, when you’re the largest game in town, having a bunch of keyboard warriors air their grievances over what we watch isn’t going to change the product. Hell, it’s Vince McMahon’s company, and whether or not what we say makes sense, he’ll still do whatever he pleases with his company. And the rest of us are either going to stop watching altogether, or love wrestling too much to even consider it. I’m among the latter, which is why I’ll most likely sit through all of this shit anyway in the hopes that one day, we’ll be able to tell grounded and compelling stories that make sense without having to compromise society’s values.

The League Of Nations Has Arrived

There’s value in throwing it back to a simpler era when baddies flocked together with fellow baddies to wreak havoc upon all their do-gooding enemies. It’s the reason why seeing comic book villains band together as a Gallery of Rogues or as a Sinister Six going up against the Justice League or the Avengers will always be a hit. It’s simple, and it makes sense. The bad guys see value in what their fellow bad guys do and believe they can accomplish more as a team. The good guys see this as something that must be stopped, so they join forces. 



Sheamus, Rusev, and King Barrett were already established as allies prior to Survivor Series, so it was great seeing them team up under the Authority banner. But having Alberto Del Rio join them—presumably as the Ambassador of MexAmerica—is actually a good thing because it gives ADR something more relevant to do besides spouting out against hate and about a fictitious nation that doesn’t even make sense. Besides, if you’re going to call yourselves the League of Nations, you might as well have a villainous Latino join you, right?

What I like about the League of Nations is that they aren’t heels because they’re foreigners. They’re heels because they’re assholes, and they just happen to be foreigners. While they’re at it, they might as well induct Kevin Owens into their pack so they can have all the singles champions in the group. The New Day is aligned with them, too, which gives them some more diversity, plus you have all the champs under one team, which makes for a great super-stable of villains. Now if only Hideo Itami weren’t injured anymore…

Another thing to like about the League of Nations is that it incorporates these different wrestlers into a larger feud while they all have their separate stories. It’s refreshing because no man is an island and none of us live in a vacuum where our actions don’t have repercussions on other people. I’m tired of watching wrestling stories be treated as isolated from other stories. It’s great that Roman Reigns’ beef with the League of Nations is able to tie several wrestlers and stories into one huge thread.



That’s exactly what we got with Roman Reigns’ championship match against Sheamus this week. I’m a fan of Beat the Clock challenges, so the task of defeating Sheamus in 5:15 was already exciting enough as is. It was even better when the Authority told Roman that his actions don’t just affect him, but also the opportunities of his friends and family, because for the most part, that shit is actually true. Whether or not you’re a public figure, when you mess with powerful people, your actions will affect you and your loved ones. And it was awesome to write in Ambrose and the Usos’ respective championship aspirations into what will be at stake in Roman’s match against Sheamus. That’s something they should keep on doing.



My one qualm with seeing Team Roman Reigns go up against the League of Nations is that this would have been perfect for Survivor Series last month. I could have lived with a 4-on-4 featuring the LoN against Roman, Dean, and the Usos. Instead, the babyfaces will all be off getting into their separate title feuds, while chipping in to help Roman in his time of need. Now if WWE logic is to be followed, you can expect Dean and the Usos to routinely have their asses handed to them with no Roman Reigns in sight. And you can believe that.

We Are Family, I've Got All My Brothers With Me

The Dudley Boyz are bringing the fight to the Wyatt Family, and they did it in style this week by bringing out four tables with the names of the Wyatts plastered on them to mark their supposed resting places. I loved how Braun Strowman’s table was ostensibly larger than that of Wyatt’s, Rowan’s and Harper’s. 



I was satisfied with Bubba Ray and D-Von’s promo, particularly when they brought out the tried and tested line, “But you didn’t finish the job.” These days, we hear that more and more from veteran babyfaces who stand up against the brash, upstart heels who tried to put them away. And that’s not a bad reason to build a feud. Then again, this feud is unpredictable for the wrong reasons because we know the Dudley Boyz are just here to put new talent over, while the Wyatts haven’t won a meaningful feud since they defeated the Shield in early 2014.



When the Wyatts came out to confront the Dudleyz, Bubba and D-Von told them that they “brought family.” And while Tommy Dreamer’s return is something I won’t entirely frown upon, I won’t lie when I say I’m pretty disappointed it wasn’t Spike Dudley. Sure, Spike’s a runt and a total jabroni next to the Wyatt Family. But if it’s going to be family warfare, bringing Spike back would result in a HUGE pop. Then again, better to have Tommy Dreamer back than Snot Dudley or Big Dick Dudley 2.0.

Quick Hitters

  • I still do not understand what Brie Mode means. And I do not get how or why she and Foxy are babyfaces all of a sudden. Is it just because they’re up against Team B.A.D. who’s got one more member than they do? If the point of the Sasha vs. Brie match was to establish Team B.A.D.’s #unity schtick—which I love, especially their #unity call—surely they could have just trotted out Nattie, right? At least we got a solid Sasha Banks match. Thank you, Lord, for Sasha Banks.
  • Now that Dolph Ziggler has gotten his win back over Tyler Breeze, can we please have them both move on?
  • It’s nice to see Jack Swagger being somewhat relevant again, but now that Del Rio has aligned himself with the League of Nations, I don’t think anyone will notice if he faded into obscurity. I could say the same about Zeb Colter and MexAmerica because fuck MexAmerica. Besides, we all know that once El Patron dispatches Swagger, he’ll move on to a rematch against a returning John Cena.
  • Goldust returned eight days ago and had an undefeated week, and this week’s, he’s back to his role as a jobber to the stars. Welcome back, Goldie.
  • Even though their booking is so unpredictable, it’s nice to see the New Day still do what they do. They’re the biggest blessing to the world of wrestling right now, and are just bringing their A-game week after week. Seeing them piss off both the Usos and the Lucha Dragons brings me so much joy, and I can’t wait for their triple threat tag team match for the Tag Team Championships at TLC.

*****

As we always see with WWE, whenever we take two steps forward, something always makes us take one step back, and we saw that again this week. For every good story that they start to tell, they end up bringing us back to some dark times with the slut-shaming and the #ScumbagJearn motif they love so much. That being said, this week’s episode gets a B-.

What did you think of this week’s RAW? Hell, are you even still watching the entire program? Let us know 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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