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The Smark Henry RAW Report (4/4/16): NXT TakeOver: Monday Night RAW


The RAW after WrestleMania has been quite the spectacle over the last few years, mostly because the crowd is composed of holdovers from the ‘Mania audience. The international flavor of the fans watching live adds to the creativity of the chants, but more importantly, serves as a microcosm that this is one of the, if not the most-watched episode of the show. That, plus the fact that WrestleMania serves as the reset button for WWE’s storylines, allows the episode to either introduce new characters or reintroduce those who are coming back from injury. That’s what makes #RAWAfterMania exciting, and that’s why it is must-see television.

And that’s exactly what we got yesterday, so much so that RAW ended up being more entertaining than WrestleMania itself, which begs the question: how could WWE let an episode of RAW steal the spotlight from its biggest show of the year?

The answer actually has multiple layers, so let’s break it down as simply as we can: (1) as I mentioned in my WrestleMania review, the lack of willingness to take risks on the Grandest Stage of Them All held ‘Mania back, but (2) it doesn’t matter because for the larger mainstream audience, they got more than enough to talk about through Shane McMahon’s 20-foot leap off the Cell, Shaquille O’Neal’s surprise appearance in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, John Cena’s surprise return, among many others.

If you’re the type to read reviews like this, then clearly those things I listed above—including the gratuitous segment featuring Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin—aren’t enough for you. And that’s okay because WrestleMania isn’t for fans like us anyway. #RAWAfterMania is. And that’s why everything happened the way it did on RAW. Does it make WWE right to do that? Not necessarily because they didn’t maximize the impact that WrestleMania could have had, but that ship has sailed so let’s just talk about RAW and why this episode mattered.


Shane-O-Mac’s the Boss



Shane McMahon interrupted Vince’s opening promo to say goodbye and thank you to the fans, only for his old man to throw him a bone and give Shane control of RAW for the night. He explained it later in a backstage segment by saying that he did it to prove to the world that Shane would fuck up in that position. That was a lazy way of explaining the fact that THIS TOTALLY NEGATED THE LAST TWO MONTHS OF FEUDING BETWEEN FATHER AND SON.

What was the point of putting us all through that emotional rollercoaster and that Hell In A Cell match if Shane would get control of RAW anyway, even if it was just for one night? I get that this was supposed to put Shane over as all of the things the smart fanbase wanted to happen—save for a Bullet Club debut—took place under Shane’s watch, but other than that, Creative just buried the entire Vince-Shane-Undertaker story right there.

A Phenomenal Number One Contender



AJ Styles is our new #1 contender after he defeated Chris Jericho, Kevin Owens, and the returning Cesaro in that masterful Fatal 4-Way main event. He finally got to pin a top-tier talent (Jericho) with the Styles Clash, which should make it up to everyone who cried foul over AJ losing at WrestleMania and that Jericho kicked out of the Styles Clash (again).




We got one hell of a main event featuring four smart fan favorites, and that’s honestly way more than we could ask for. Or if you’re taking the cynical point of view, consider it an apology from WWE for the repugnant booking decisions at WrestleMania. I absolutely enjoyed how they started off with a lot of energy, brought the pace down a bit, and then once they came back from break, they went on a steady and upbeat build towards that frantic finish. That was a master class on how to effectively control the momentum of a match right there.

Most importantly, we got this:

We also have to talk about Roman Reigns, who—to his credit—did his best not to buckle and look frazzled when he got mercilessly booed by the crowd in attendance. I’m beginning to wonder if there really has been a slow heel turn unfolding before our eyes, starting with his attack on Triple H as the latter was about to leave RAW a few weeks ago.



He followed that up this week by saying, “I’m not a bad guy. I’m not a good guy. I’m the guy,” which exudes confidence with a touch of arrogance. I know they’re still trying to go for the Austin antihero archetype, but the way Roman cut his promo made him even more unlikable than he already is. Here’s to hoping they’re actually going for that heel turn instead of still being dense and unaware of what’s going on.

As for those of you wondering about Sami Zayn’s status, the injury was just part of the storyline, so we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Honestly, I didn’t mind that Sami wasn’t part of that main event at all. Dude does deserve a breather after giving us two mindblowing matches within three days’ time.


The Call-Ups


Screencap from @impishadmirable on Twitter
Baron Corbin made his RAW debut this week as he was formally introduced as this year’s Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal winner, and I thought the way they built him up was actually pretty good. The announcers made sure to hype up the fact that he’d been making waves on Wednesday nights on NXT, and Corbin himself acknowledged that during his pre-match promo. I’m beginning to enjoy his heel work more and more because he gave off this vibe of, “If you know what I’ve been up to, then don’t be surprised. If you’re only hearing of me now, I don’t care."

While I was initially skeptical that Dolph Ziggler was just fed to Corbin on RAW, I thought the decision to have their match end via countout was a great move because it didn’t hurt either guy. It also allows the story to go further as both men try to get the win over each other. The brash, self-absorbed newcomer taking on the established, beloved veteran is a classic trope in pro wrestling, so this shouldn’t be hard to pull off. Plus, Corbin tried to destroy Ziggler by taking the fight to the outside, so that should light a fire under the Show Off’s rear end.



The Realest Guys in the Room also made their long-awaited main roster debut, and I thought they pulled it off really, really well. For starters, their self-introducing promo was more than enough to tell new fans who they were. It’s simple and effective. And then Enzo Amore got the chance to show off his mic skills, and in the process, he showed that he can go toe-to-toe with anyone on the main roster on the mic already.

I’m fine with the Dudley Boyz moving on from the Usos since that feud didn’t get the steam that it should have, and I would love to see them try to put Enzo and Cass in their place. This story is basically the inverse of Ziggler-Corbin as you have a bunch of old bullies trying to prevent the newcomers from making an impact on the main roster.



Apollo Crews’ debut was a surprise because I thought he would stick around on NXT much longer. Many had him pegged as the eventual #1 contender if Samoa Joe had won the NXT Championship at TakeOver: Dallas. It doesn’t help Crews that his character hadn’t been fully fleshed out other than “happy, smiling black dude,” as NXT reviewer Jocs Boncodin had once described him. What does work in Apollo’s favor is that he’s got the heavyweight built with the athleticism of Neville, so that should get him over really quickly. I just hope they’re able to give him a good story to build off the solid way they introduced him on RAW through the commentary and that pre-commercial video package. Sorry, Tyler Breeze.



In case you missed it, the Vaudevillains (Aiden English and Simon Gotch) are also debuting on the main roster! They’ll be part of this week’s episode of SmackDown and it’ll be interesting to see where they’ll fit in the tag team division now that it’s getting deeper and deeper. The only thing I fear is that the lack of pre-debut vignettes will ensure that at least one of these guys will eventually flop because casual fans won’t be as invested in them as the fans who follow NXT. At this point, if the Vaudevillains just appear without any sort of fanfare hyping their debut—not including the announcement on RAW—then their ceiling is Ascension 2.0, which is pretty much like stuffing them in the Cupboard Under the Stairs at #4 Privet Drive.


Woo Woo Woo, You Blew It



We all knew that Zack Ryder’s Intercontinental Championship reign wasn’t going to last very long, which is sad since his United States Championship run wasn’t that long either (only three weeks). So Zack served as the transitional champ to allow Miz to begin his IC title run, while also reintroducing Mrs. Mizanin, Maryse, back into WWE canon.

I honestly enjoyed the entire segment and the match itself because Creative made the most out of Zack Ryder being so beloved by involving his father, who was already a familiar character to much of Ryder’s fanbase in the first place. Plus, seeing Ryder get the Intercontinental title taken away from him after just 24 hours should make fans sympathetic towards him, especially after how they had built him up as an underdog who went through “a decade of futility,” according to either Cole or Saxton during WrestleMania itself.



Maryse’s return allows Miz to freshen up his A-lister gimmick. It becomes so much easier to boo a guy like the Miz who flaunts his status as a multi-platform superstar and his trophy model wife. The fact that Maryse being that hot reinforces the stereotypes of a woman like her, married to a guy like Miz, should make their characters even more interesting moving forward. I just hope that Miz and Zack Ryder get a decent story surrounding the title so that casual fans get behind both guys even more.

One last bit about everyone’s favorite Broski. He’s one WWE World Heavyweight Championship away from being a Grand Slam Champion. Let that sink in for a moment.


Quick Hitters




  • After seeing the Women’s Championship Triple Threat match steal the show at WrestleMania, we got treated to a bathroom break-style match between Sasha Banks and Summer Rae. Please stop toying with our emotions like this, WWE.


  • Despite that, you had an entire segment focused on highlighting the importance of the new WWE Women’s Championship belt. It was a great moment, one that hopefully allows Nattie to have a good story with Charlotte on the main roster. Props to Charlotte for really tapping in to her inner snarky heel, and adapting well to the post-WrestleMania crowd.


  • RIP Los Matadores. Primo and Epico have unmasked and are redebuting their new characters soon. Thankfully, they aren’t really playing up any Latino stereotypes. They just happen to be Puerto Ricans who are proud of where they live, and aren’t afraid to tell you that where they come from is better than where you are from. I’m in… for now.


  • This episode of RAW may also have been Wade Barrett's swan song. I really wish he had better injury luck and more backstage support. I can't wait to see him spread his wings and harness his potential somewhere else. Thank you, Wade Barrett.

*****

All in all, that was actually an excellent episode of RAW. I wonder if they explicitly did that to put Shane McMahon over as the babyface authority figure, or if they did that just to troll us smart fans. More importantly, this shows that WWE is very well capable of pulling off shows as great as this. So why can’t they do this more often? We all know the answer, of course, and it’s sad that a RAW as good as this is few and far between. This one gets an A.


Photos from WWE.
Title from Anthony Cuello.

*****

Stan Sy (@_StanSyis the Editor at Large of Smark Henry, and is also a radio DJ, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. 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.

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