It was a mere 17 years ago that I had front-row seats for an episode of Raw emanating from Albany, New York. It was the day after WrestleMania XIV. Stone Cold was introduced as the new champ, and Triple H announced X-Pac as the newest member of DX, among other highlights. It was a good Raw. Last night's broadcast from New York's capital city? Not as good. But, hey, at least we got Heath Slater.
So without further delay, lest Randy Orton come from outta nowhere and RKO me through a catering table, here are the five key things I took away (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) from the April 20 edition of Raw.
5. WWE Superstars Make Too Many Movies
You can only spread your talent so thin before it comes at the expense of your core brand. It's great that Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, the Miz, Paige et al can use Raw as their platform to branch out into other areas of performance, notably WWE Studios' made-for-TV family films and straight-to-video action fare. But in Ambrose and Orton's cases in particular, being written off television to accommodate roles in Lockdown and The Condemned 2, respectively, stalled their storyline momentum and unsuccessfully demanded viewers to utterly disregard disbelief. Neither man's cause nor character has been very convincing since coming back. Miz, of course, is accustomed to this call of duty (and we to it), and it's been effectively worked into his in-ring gimmick to avoid confusion. But taking Paige away from the Divas division when she's their most promising main-roster misfit, all for a part in Santa's Little Helper that will broaden her appeal but diminish her uniqueness, is a real buzzkill.
4. I Bolieve!
I really do. I know there's a portion of the audience that finds Bray Wyatt's baby bro to be irksome and shrill. And I'm aware that, like his sibling, street clothes might complement his physique more flatteringly than a pair of glorified tighty-whities. But I enjoy Bo Dallas' gimmick. I'm tickled by his petulant fits and delusional self-belief. I laugh at his victory laps and look up alertly at my TV when his faux-inspirational theme plays over the PA. Sure, he was thanklessly fed to Roman Reigns last night, and most of his matches have been relegated to Main Event. Still, I have faith in Bo, and if Raw is going to overcome this current post-'Mania lull, it needs to find that sweet spot where broad entertainment meets believable ability, and I truly feel Mr. Dallas deserves more than just mouthing off and jobbing out.
3. I'm Really Into This New Sheamus...
As has been observed by the IWC, he's filling the vacuum of unequivocal heels and doing it with relish. The initial shock of his dingleberry beard and Mad Max Mohawk has softened into an appreciation for all of Sheamus 2.0's truly disagreeable quirks. Ryback should be taking notes on how to really pull off the locker-room bully (or just taking notes, period), and it's terrific how they've essentially positioned him as the big, bad villain of the midcard ranks, kind of like a video game superboss. Mostly, I'm just relieved to have said so long to corny good-guy Sheamus, who was devolving into a caricature of some benevolently mischievous Irishman. So yeah, I'm on board, and only see room for this version of the Great White to move up the ladder if and when the WWE Championship lands back in a babyface's hands. Now, all that being said…
2. What the Fuck is With the 'Kiss Me Arse' Match?
Isn't that a stipulation the aforementioned, benignly devilish iteration of Sheamus might have dreamt up to punish some hubristic giant like the Big Show? Is this merely a bone being thrown to the ladies (and gents) who'd lust over the notion of Dolph Ziggler exposing a bit of thigh and claiming his reward? Then again, who among the show-stopper's stalkers wants to see Sheamus brush his dingleberry beard against Dolph's bare glute? What Sheamus vs. Ziggler really needed was more time to develop into a real feud, separate from whatever was happening with Daniel Bryan, Wade Barrett and others in the Intercontinental title picture. Not sure how much a "Kiss Me Arse" condition does to compensate for little else being at stake (why not No. 1-contender status for Bryan's belt?), but it virtually guarantees that I'll be waiting for its conclusion to take my bathroom break.
1. When the Main Draw is a Russian Chain Match…
You know you need to conjure another headline with cautiously optimistic ellipses before elaborating. I'm avowedly indifferent to anything happening in John Cena land right now. The Cena brought out by Rusev is like a Voltron configuration of all his least-likeable qualities: earnestly patriotic, unbeatably resilient (gee, who didn't see him ducking out of that Tombstone and beating Kane with an AA?) and full of PG-13 bluster. And what has Rusev acquired throughout this rivalry but a notch in the "L" column and clear certainty that fans would rather cheer Lana than boo the big, bad Bulgarian? Nonetheless, it's hard to argue that their Russian Chain Match at Extreme Rules is the PPV's only contest that has some real heat and history, and whose outcome is pretty hard to telegraph (though I get the sense that Bray Wyatt might get involved). Assuming you're not hyped up for whatever Authority shenanigans will conspire to cost Randy Orton his shot at Seth Rollins' championship inside the steel cage. You're not hyped up for that, are you?
Below the Belt:
- The most unpredictable story WWE has going is what Damien Sandow does next.
- Fandango's gotta tone down that shit-eating grin.
- Randy was basically his own meme come to life last night.
- That was a nasty bump Brie Bella took on the floor.
- Ambrose vs. Luke Harper: Where's the beef?
- I am definitely not Tough Enough.
- Move of the Night: Sweet RKO to end the night, but more interesting is Rollins' new finisher in lieu of a reported Curb-Stomp banning (was it kind of a reverse Dirty Deeds? Are we running out of finishers?)
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: The night in fast food and big soda: Pepsi always timely with the Fight Club references; I'm not sure McDonald's knows what artisan means; And c'mon, KFC, at least prep the food in your ads to look less like what's left over after eating it.
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Daniel Bryan, Wade Barrett, Stardust, Big Show, Neville