Just in time for The Force Awakens, WWE’s Roman Empire has risen to its predestined seat of power.
Like it or not, Roman Reigns is your new World Heavyweight Champion, the culmination of a volatile year-long arc and, ultimately, a Monday night dedicated to putting him over at all costs. And it basically worked. But does that mean the weekly broadcast and creative direction in total are back on track? Let’s just call that a work in progress, given that most of TLC‘s limping feuds have carried over and key talent are still injured or on personal level – plus, it’s not as if Vince is gonna get Super McMahon Punched 52 times a year.
So before Braun Strowman threatens to bonk me with an aluminum garbage-can lid, I better fast forward to the five key things (in addition to the usual accompaniment of Twitter-friendly sidebar fodder) I took away from the December 14, 2015 edition of Raw.
5. At the Playground, Ya Know
In my column awarding Wrestler(s) of the Year to New Day, I’d referenced the trio turning WWE into their own personal playground. Though last night, they and Roman Reigns both manifested that metaphor a bit too literally. During Reigns opening segment, his retort to Stephanie McMahon belittling him as “a disgrace” was, unimaginatively, “No, you are a disgrace.” Which, in wrestling-promo speak, is tantamount to taunting someone with, “I’m rubber/you’re glue.” Later, New Day called Lucha Dragons and the Usos down to humbly offer their respect and a handshake, only to mock them with booty shakes and sore-winner shenanigans as their adversaries headed back up the ramp. Even for the perpetual pranksters, it was a tad childish – a bait and switch that called to mind Spaceballs‘ classic “oldest trick in the book.” Though if we’re being honest, Xavier Woods, Big E and Kofi Kingston collectively are no Dark Helmet.
4. Angry Kevin Owens Is Best for Business
Some (i.e. me) hoped KO would lick his wounds after losing his IC title to Dean Ambrose at TLC and move on to bigger and better things (i.e. the main event). Alas, that wasn’t in the game plan, and it certainly makes sense that he’d want a chance to redeem himself and reclaim his gold. Fortunately, Owens pumped new life into the fledgling feud when he interrupted Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler’s bout by powerbombing them both straight to hell. (Although, since Raw was in Philadelphia, they were arguably already there.) But KO really dialed up the heat in his backstage interview with JoJo, when he reminded everyone what “Fight Owens Fight” was all about – battling for everything you’ve earned without showing the slightest iota of concern for what your foe stands to lose. The real question is whether Ziggler figures into this as part of a future triple-threat scenario, though all due respect to Dolph, Owens and Ambrose can probably carry this one on their own.
3. Seriously, Where is Wade Barrett?
On an island somewhere listening to the Manic Street Preachers? Caught up in a vortex of delivering bad news to good citizens of the world while performing monarchial duties in service of his native United Kingdom? Has he been ousted from the League of Nations, under the pretense that England’s not so much a nation as a once-great conquering empire reduced to the rubble of tabloid journalism and Ed Sheeran records? I may be the only person worried, but someone needs to put out an APB – All Points Barrett, naturally – on King Wade ASAP, because I’m running out of acronyms that start with “A.” And patience for being given no explanation as to his MIA (close enough) non-showing at both TLC and last night’s Raw. Perhaps I should be asking Bo Dallas and R-Truth. I bet they’d know. UPDATE: I guess he’s injured?
2. Vince Is the Best
Even though he’s teetering on Ric Flair levels of elder eccentricity. (What, again, was the point behind him parking it in a commentary chair for the length of a commercial break? Or did they just butt up against one unexpectedly?) And despite the fact that, by all accounts, he’s a mercenary boss. And even overlooking that he’s close personal friends with World’s Worst Human, Donald Trump. Now that the Chairman only pops up on Raw sporadically, it means business when he arrives, and business was brought last night. We got the ass cheek-clenching strut; the enraged ultimatums; the tearing off of jacket and tie; a couple of mild epithets; a vicious kick to Reigns’ groin; and as the coup de grace, a willingness to absorb Roman’s Superman Punch and, for good measure, climactically collapse onto the ringside mat in a heap of humility. Good stuff from a great showman, so much so that you almost forget Triple H wasn’t around to kick off his beef with Reigns in earnest. Not sure weeks of substandard product is a worthy tradeoff for Vince’s cameo and some ballsy main-event booking, but for one night, some vintage Raw energy was turned back on.
1. When You’re Over, You’re Over
In the wake of Triple H’s public acknowledgement of Raw‘s creative stagnation, you knew the status quo would get rocked soon enough. And after months of letting Roman Reigns’ trajectory take its course, as Seth Rollins and others ably held down the top spot in his stead, the Samoan Superman’s ascent was at last fast-tracked over the span of three-plus hours. Dissing the McMahon clan, busting himself open with a vicious head butt in his title match against Sheamus and, finally, knocking Vince’s lights out moments before spearing his way to what’s technically a second go-round with the World Heavyweight Championship had Philly in a tizzy. It was like watching a carefully engineered, hyper-condensed version of what took Dolph Ziggler years to painstakingly engender leading up to his surprise World Championship victory the day after WrestleMania XXIX. Really, it was genius. Though after benefitting from that extra assist, and it is, as Michael Cole nearly had a cardiac declaring, “the Roman Reigns era,” WWE’s new top dog would be wise to heed Del the Funkee Homosapien’s sage advice that, sometimes, “You try to get over/You’re gonna go under.”
Below the Belt:
- Are prunes the new tater tots? Discuss.
- Hard times when even Team B.A.D. can’t get comped.
- Miz vs. Neville…discuss.
- I have literally no idea what the hell becomes of Sheamus and his upstart League at this point.
- Though, to be clear, I’d much prefer them square up against the Wyatts than Team Extreme.
- Tyler Breeze must have done something to piss someone off.
- New Day needs a real threat. And God, do they out-charisma their competition.
- Was that Team Extreme promo a scared-straight PSA?
- And, as always, settle down, Michael Cole.
- Move of the Night: How do you top Big E and Xavier Woods’ upside-down tandem jumping jack? You could have Vince roll out of the ring like a corpse being rolled into the ocean. That works too.
- Sign of the Night: Sure, why not a little signage for “Savio Vega”?
- In Case You Fast-Forwarded Through Commercials: JTP! (Shoutout to my fellow Goldbergs fans ) Also, the Flaming Lips and Kmart will always make a weird match, but particularly when the latter’s paired up with peak eccentric-period Flaming Lips.
- Noticeable In Their Absence: None are as glaring as Barrett (Triple H notwithstanding), but the Cosmic Wasteland was nowhere to be found, and where are Big Show and Kane at these days? I like to think a cabin in the woods.