As I write this, we are but 13 days from the occasion all wrestling fans are anxiously awaiting: National Math Storytelling Day. Though as it happens, that same evening, WWE is staging its first Raw-only PPV of the New Era: Clash of the Champions. Should that multiply your enthusiasm for Sunday the 25th, there is good news: The CoC card is taking shape, and at least two matches – Sasha Banks v. Charlotte and Seth Rollins vs. Kevin Owens – should be genuine barn burners. Then again, neither the Shining Stars vs. Enzo nor Nia Jax vs. Alicia Fox will be stealing eyeballs from compelling counter programming. Anyhow, and in the interest of booking a Puerto Rican timeshare through Primo and Epico before they're spoken for, here are the five key insights (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) I took away from the September 12, 2016 edition of Raw.
5. Jinder App
Cause, ya know, it's like we got a small taste of what's to come with Mr. Mahal. And I, for one (unless you know something about my duality that I don't), am glad the guy got a win, and appreciate the balls of booking him to beat Mr. All-American Jack Swagger. Raw's got real jobbers again, so there's little excuse for bringing a talent like Mahal back only to limit him to enhancement duty. His Man That Comes In Peace gimmick isn't exactly gold, though it certainly would line him up for a natural feud with The Man That Gravity Forgot, Neville, perhaps with rights to being billed as "The Man That…" in perpetuity. In any event, seeing hard-luck mid-carders like Mahal, or his old running mate Heath Slater over on SmackDown, succeed is what this brand split should be all about. So why not let Jinder get a piece?
4. Are 7 Up?
That's just a clever (I think) way of saying, "Wake me when Sheamus and Cesaro’s playoff series is over." If the winner winds up being awarded a Universal Championship shot, wonderful. That, and the very curious choice to have Sheamus get out in front 3-0, would both tilt the odds toward Cesaro coming out on top, and there's little not to like about the Swiss Superman trying to neutralize Kevin Owens or somebody else at the top. Though let's face it: Several more weeks of drama might have stoked more than a passing interest in how these two bruising tacticians' ongoing tussle pays off. A worthy experiment, but maybe one whose participants could have been afforded more time to incubate ill will.
3. Y2J = Wreslter of Y2K16?
No idea if that's the right out way to alpha-numericize 2016 in this context. Or if numericize is a word. But in the spirit of the blurb below, let's throw caution to the wind and get wild. Like Chris Jericho saying, "Fuck it. I'm a 45-year-old part-timer with numerous other responsibilities outside of the ring, but I'm just gonna lace up my boots for more or less an entire calendar year and be more than a token get-me-over workhorse during this milestone moment in WWE history." Anyone who looks at the archives of these recaps can rightly point out that I'd been down on the Ayatollah's shtick several months ago, but his resuscitated heel run all summer and into this fall has been a remarkable reinvention. He's like Bartolo Colon, defying age by becoming canny and utile. That's led to substantive wins, losses, rivalries and camaraderie. And of late, it's been funny as hell. Jericho and Jericho alone managed to jolt life into what could have been a rote rehashing between he and Sami Zayn. In one Highlight Reel, he animated a story, elevated the stakes and stoked some genuine competitive ire. It's what he's been doing his whole career, now with an emphasis on the "it."
2. The New Monday Night Wars
Ya know what? Screw the NFL. I say WWE should be less concerned about tiptoeing its way around Monday Night Football and take the fight straight at 'em, Halftime Heat-style. The triple-threat showdown between Bayley, Sasha Banks and Dana Brooke for a shot at Charlotte come Clash of The Champions had main-event appeal, only to be squandered on a relatively abbreviated kickoff bout (filling the suddenly requisite, "And that match starts right now!" semi-cold open) that barely had time to warm up. By the end of hour one, I was fuzzy on why I should stick around from 10:50-11:10-ish (time to start wrapping up promptly on the hour), as opposed to tuning in for the conclusion of Steelers-Skins. But after a solid promo from all the aforementioned ladies set the tone, a couple more backstage run-ins would have sealed the deal and kept me locked to USA. I mean, I was anyway, out of workmanlike diligence if nothing else, but I worry about the next few months of Raw being dictated by what's going on over at ESPN. Too bad fictional GM Mick Foley's not able to restore law and order to that genuine conundrum.
1. Honeymoon's Over
We weren't the only ones to anticipate Rusev's return, and subsequent interference in Roman Reign's title-contention match against Kevin Owens, heading into this week. Now that his overseas wedding ceremony with bride Lana's in the rear view, he and Reigns' tension could properly boil over. The prospects for a skillful contest between these two heavyweights aren't stellar, but the basis for a great and lengthy hostility is, and it will be a tonic to each man, as they were both desperate to re-burnish their reputations. Meanwhile, we got a great war of wills from KO and Roman that opened a lane for Seth Rollins to run in and nearly spoil Owens' night, concretizing their conflict. It might have been nice for the women to take us out, but with tonight's strong bookends, Raw is arguably outpacing its Tuesday-night peer as drawing loyal viewers in.
Below the Belt:
- Might be time for a moratorium on the triple superplex.
- Still don't care much about Charlotte and Dana Brookets beef.
- But… Sofia Vergara's not Puerto Rican.
- Lord, no, not Little Jimmy.
- OK, audience, I'm enjoying the, "Let's go jobber" chants.
- Tom Phillips is kind of playing the Michael Cole circa 1997 role.
- Nia Jax shoulda foregone the formalities of her entrance and rolled on Alicia Fox.
- Ladies and gents, that's why Alicia wears fake hair.
- Gallows and Anderson needed that win. But better win on the 25th.
- Man, oh man, is Enzo in trouble when Cass goes solo.
- I'm on team Shining Stars, but man this is real momentum-killer for Enzo and Cass.
- Holy, GM Foley's a real buzzkill.
- Settle down, guy in red and white tee in front row.
- Oh, hey Finlay.
- I miss J&J Security.
- Move of the Night: Not even a question: Jax's spear on Fox. An early signature moment for Nia, and gamesmanship from Alicia.
- Line of the Night: "Entertainment is not our thing. Do not touch our thing." Well done, Xavier Woods.
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: Gold Bond for women – what won't they think of next? Ahem, Elizabeth Banks, but you are no Jeff Goldblum. And Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life definitely would not have been a comedy had I written it.
- Noticeable In Their Absence: Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, Braun Strowman, Neville, Titus O'Neil, Darren Young