While watching WWE Monday Night Raw's first episode of the year, it became clear that despite still considering myself a wrestling fan that there is a reason I only watch an episode a few times a year and when I do, I make heavy use of the fast forward button on my trusty PVR. It was a decent show, but it couldn't escape the feel of staleness or that its wheels are spinning in thick mud.
The set has had some alterations, there are new wrestlers, and the matches are much longer but the format and feel of the show is still stuck in how Raw was presented during the late 90s. Mick Foley is always a treat to see, and the team of Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho is immensely entertaining together, but the 20 minute opening talkfest between them had no reason other than it is what they've done for the last (almost) 20 years to set up the matches for the show. In this case it set matches up that we've seen in some combinations for months upon months, so as good as Kevin Owens is against Seth Rollins it is hard to get too excited when it feel like match number 98 in a thousand match series.
Chris Jericho challenging Roman Reigns for the United States title had a bit more drama with the stip that the title could change even by disqualification or count out, and there was some fun sequences to play up on that like Jericho trying to trick the ref into thinking Roman hit him with the belt. But Jericho tomfoolery can only take you so far when you know the rocket is strapped to Roman and WWE is obsessed with him being the future of the company, so there was no way he was losing tonight.
The other problem is that almost nobody on the show really feels like superstars. This is why when wrestlers from the hottest period in the industry's history (but also one that is 20 years ago) return to ovations that drown any of the current stars that they always feel like they're in their very own league. Goldberg was one of the biggest stars in the last 90s but the fact he is without a doubt the hottest current act on the show, proves WWE has struggled at the star making formula.
I am not really sure how hot the Goldberg comet will remain anyway if he doesn't really start doing anything other than coming out for an interview segment and occasionally spearing a heel. The current story is Goldberg wants one more run as World champion and needs to win the Rumble for that shot, I am pretty sure my 20 month old daughter who has never watched wrestling has even figured out that the Rumble is just a set-up for a Goldberg and Brock Lesnar rematch. This makes all his appearances just feel like placeholder until we get to the Rumble and can start the real build towards the big WrestleMania match. Goldberg needs to eventually actually do something or be involved in an intriguing story for his appearances to mean something. I am sure at some point in March will finally get Goldberg and Lesnar scuffling on Raw again.
Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho are a hot act, and I like them as top heels, but it seems pretty likely they will be split for a WrestleMania match and Owens' title run will be done at the Rumble. Seth Rollins is really talented but as is the new WWE way, their booking of him over this year has taken him from a guy who returned as a super-hot babyface to now being really cooled off. Roman Reigns is the guys shoved down the throats, seems set for his latest coronation at the Rumble, but the fans are still not buying as a top star. The guy does work hard and had the best match of the night, but I see another championship flop in his future.
Speaking of cooling off, Bayley and Sami Zayn both debuted as way hotter acts then they are now after appearing on TV each week due to how they're been mishandled. New Day was set to be the next Edge and Christian, but not only have they started to become irritating, they're now stuck in pointless time filler stuff like rejecting Titus O'Neill from becoming a new member. O'Neill may have charisma but you never want to see him in the ring and being paired with him is like being strapped to an anchor.
I still am a really big fan of Bayley and Zayn, and both are extremely talented. Zayn put on a one man show last night where he flew himself all over the arena making Braun Strowman appear to be an unbeatable monster in their last man standing match. Sadly, I get the feeling Zayn is now getting relegated to the midcard now and we can look forward to an endless series of matches between him and Bo Dallas. It is pretty clear Zayn was the guy fans wanted to see in major matches but WWE is stuck in the 1980s with the idea they need a massive monster heel to challenge their top babyface. Even though Zayn made Strowman look good last night, Strowman really isn't ready for the main event and in 2016 fans care more about wrestling quality than appearance. Strowman seems destined to be the next Great Khali rather than Andre the Giant.
This show seems to give credence to rumours of Reigns vs. Strowman being a WrestleMania title match, which means we are set for the two to stumble around to a dead silent stadium crowd. They have time to change their mind, but they've been on the Reigns train for over two years now and spent the last year building up Strowman to quiet crowds. They've been dodging the memo this long and are too stubborn to try something else. I get their thinking here that Strowman is hated so Reigns will finally get cheered, but they are ignoring fans ability to leave to buy nachos.
Speaking of dead silence, WWE's cruiserweight division has been a flop at this point with crowds just not caring. Part of the problem is they have selected cruiserweights that do the same stuff that the heavyweights do and the other part is just not enough time has been given for fans to know their personalities. This is why the heel Adrian Neville is their top babyface in the eyes of the fans. I do appreciate they haven't given up on the division and I want it to work. I do like that they keep the guys away from the heavyweights, and they try to convey that this is an entirely separate division in the company (different ring ropes, mandatory handshake before match). They just need to allow the personalities to shine and get some compelling storylines. There are apparently some hot international stars that are yet to debut, and so hopefully they can add a spark to the division.
The WWE's women division is the opposite of the cruiserweights with every wrestler having a distinct personality and the division has gained a lot of legitimacy and soared past the days of bra and panties matches. Bayley and Charlotte is a big title match that fans want to see, and often the women's matches are the highlights of the show. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks is easily the best series of matches I've seen last year and despite wrestling several times, I never got tired of them. Though tonight the division got dragged down by WWE's shoddy booking where they are currently obsessed with "protecting" people by having distraction finishes in almost every match. The Bayley and Nia Jax match was a great littler fighter needing to overcome the monster story, but Sasha Banks coming out to distract Jax just made it yet another tired WWE match. Distraction finishes are fine if they aren't used several times on the same show and become something we expect to see every week. On tonight's show, five matches used the distraction finish. In the case of the women's match, it also did not really help Bayley as a top challenger if she can't win on her own.
The over-use of distraction finishes is one of the many issues that have caused wins to not matter, and without wins meaning something, the matches don't have much purpose or reason for fans to care. The other big issue is the WWE obsession with trading wins where a wrestlers wins one week and then takes the loss the next week. It is why Zayn or Cesaro aren't superstars when they should be, they never escape fifty fifty booking.
Speaking of Cesaro, he had a really good match with Karl Anderson and was given a lot of time. I am glad he is one half of the World Tag Team champions, and hope this may mean they are finally going to try to elevate him this year. WWE needs fresh guys on top and Cesaro gets cheers despite being misused for years and now that he is a champ again. It is the time to start working on making him a star again.
Next week has Shawn Michaels and Undertake appearing, and which again shows WWE's problem, Current stars aren't draws so they have to keep on trotting out past ones. It probably will work and I'll give WWE another shot next week. It may be too much to hope that either guy actually has something to do and will have an actual interesting storyline. Though there is talks of Undertaker vs. John Cena at WrestleMania, so we may get some hints there next week. Michaels likely will be stuck in "hilarious" skits.
Seth Rollins beat Kevin Owens by DQ when Owens hit Rollins with the ring bell
Karl Anderson defeated Cesaro with a top tope leaping neckbreaker
Braun Strowman beat Sami Zayn in a last man standing match when Zayn couldn't answer the count of ten
Xavier Woods pinned Titus O'Neil with a sunset flip
Drew Gulak pinned Cedric Alexander with a roll-up
Roman Reigns defended the United States title by pinning Chris Jericho with a spear
TJ Perkins beat The Brian Kendrick by submission with a knee bar
Rusev and Jinder Mahal defeated Big Cass when Rusev pinned him after a thrust kick
Bayley pinned Nia Jax after a top tope Bayley to Belly