We’re just five days away from Hell in a Cell, and WWE pulled out all the stops on Raw, filling three-plus hours of TV with returning heroes and no shortage of promotional plugs (gotta pump those Network numbers), with the occasional wrestling match thrown in as an afterthought.
And while it was nice to have Stone Cold, Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair back in our lives, it was the people who weren’t on our screens last night that had most folks talking (anyone seen Randy Orton?), developments that threw what should have been a standard – albeit star-packed – go-home show into a tailspin. It was a weird night, to say the very least, one that didn’t necessarily make us any more excited about the upcoming payoff between the Undertaker and Brock Lesnar…or Seth Rollins vs. Corporate/Demon Kane, though the less said about that feud, the better. Oh, and it pointed out some rather glaring shortcomings on the current roster, too.
Anyway, like New Day, I’m focusing on the positive. Here’s the takeaway from the October 19 edition of Raw.
5. Missing in Action
So, uh, where was Randy Orton? Or Luke Harper? Their absences were glaring, to say the least, and while both were (kinda?) explained during the broadcast – Orton’s real-life shoulder injury was supposedly the fault of the Wyatt Family, and Harper…um, he just wasn’t there, OK? – it didn’t take long for the ol’ rasslin’ rumor mill to pick up steam, and before the night was over, fans were speculating about everything from Wellness Policy violations to backstage heat for kayfabe-shattering Instagram posts. Whatever the reason, having neither man appear on the Hell in a Cell go-home show forced WWE creative to scramble, with the end results being a hastily thrown-together six-man tag, a semi-Shield reunion, a dud of a return from Erick Rowan and a brand-new HiaC kickoff show match featuring six guys who should be answering John Cena’s U.S. Open Challenge on Sunday. All it takes are a few last-minute swerves to remind us just how perilously close this three-hour live bonanza routinely comes to running off the rails, and that’s essentially what we got last night.
4. Six Men, Zero Angles
Speaking of, WWE has plenty of potential saviors just middling in midcard purgatory, and we got all of them in one match last night. Dolph Ziggler, Neville and Cesaro faced off against Wade Barrett, Sheamus and Rusev in a match that should’ve been dubbed “The ‘Creative’s Got Nothing For You’ Classic.” Of course, it was way better than it had any business being, which is a testament to each man’s skills. All of them can go, and all of them deserve better – so why not give any of them a chance to pick up Cena’s U.S. title and run with it? The Face that Runs the Place is about to take a not-so-secret break from the business, and WWE needs a champ who can work to ensure the strap doesn’t return to irrelevance. Will one of them get the opportunity at Hell in a Cell? Here’s hoping.
3. The Shield…Sort Of
Oh, and about that Shield reunion. Ever since Seth Rollins sold out Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns last summer to scale the singles ranks, fans of the terrific trio have been hoping for a reunion. And don’t think WWE doesn’t know it. So when it was announced that the Architect would be teaming with Ambrose and Reigns against the Wyatts (you know, again), there was much rejoicing. So why did the Raw main event feel so flat? We could blame the way each man has been booked since the split – Rollins as the cowardly champ, Ambrose in eternal limbo, Reigns shunted up and down the card – or even cast dispersions on the Dallas crowd, but both seem to point to the same problem: WWE has struggled mightily to develop the next generation of stars. Case in point – Rollins bailed on his teammates mid-match, denying us all a payoff and putting a final, anticlimactic nail in the coffin. It’s almost as if Raw audiences expect to be disappointed.
2. New Day Rocks
Of course, there were some glimmers of hope: Love the way Kevin Owens has been booked since winning the Intercontinental Championship, and having him destroy inferior opponents is a smart (not to mention very NXT) way to have him generate heat…especially when he gets to Pop-Up Powerbomb Mark-freakin’-Henry during a match. Also, while her current storyline with Nattie isn’t great, it’s good to see Paige keep churning out these heelish promos, especially when they feel real (nice Alundra Blayze dig). With her continued development, plus the inevitable rise of Sasha Banks, WWE’s Divas Division may finally be picking up steam. Or at least getting actual characters to care about. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the New Day, who continue to be the best thing on this show. Last night they ran down Dallas and its fragile sports heroes, got the cheap heat and even coined a catchphase for the ages: “Everything is booty in Texas.” WWE seems to finally realize what they have in these three, and whether they drop the tag titles to the Dudley Boyz on Sunday or not, expect them to continue to rise.
1. The Glory Days are Gone
With a PPV looming, ratings cratering and rumors that Vince McMahon is in panic mode, it wasn’t a surprise to see WWE break out the big guns on last night’s go-home show (gotta sell Network subscriptions and hype the WrestleMania presale, after all). But what was jarring was how the cameos by Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair made me feel: Like today’s product just can’t match the past in terms of starpower or story. It was telling – not to mention troubling – that the first 20 minutes of Raw featured Stone Cold, Undertaker and the Dudleys, especially at a time when the company needs to be building a bridge to tomorrow. SportsCenter spots are nice and all, but without stars, WWE seems doomed. Of course, maybe I’m just salty that we didn’t get to see HBK Superkick Seth Rollins.