WWE dragged what’s left of their roster following Hell in a Cell – the guys and girls not on hiatus, hurt or healing – to San Diego on Monday night, for a Raw that felt like the beginning of something new.
In many ways, that was due to the absence of stars like John Cena, Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton, all of whom are gone for varying lengths of time, none of which could be described as “short.” If ever there was a time for WWE to not only draw on its talented depths, but give a few underappreciated workers some shine – this would be it. The margin of error was, admittedly, pretty slim, but somehow, they managed to pull it off, giving us three hours of TV that was heavy on wrestling (for real) and mercifully light on the microphone.
Hey, maybe it really is a New Day. But before everything goes back to the way it was, let’s get to my five-point takeaway from (the genuinely really good) October 26 edition of Raw.
5. Meet ‘The MexAmericans’
What do you get when you pair a Mexican wrestling star (and current titleholder in one of the country’s biggest promotions) with Vince McMahon’s version of your kinda-racist, Rascal-riding Uncle? I guess we’re calling them “The MexAmericans.” From the moment Zeb Colter rolled his electric scooter down the ramp at Hell in a Cell and reintroduced us to Alberto Del Rio, you couldn’t be blamed for wondering how WWE would manage to screw it up (the xenophobic possibilities are endless!) And though they toed the line last night – new U.S. Champ Del Rio went out of his way to refer to his opponent, Neville, as “an immigrant” – they never fell into Fox News territory, and really, Colter’s whole, “We need to forget the talk of walls and borders and fences,” is kind of inspiring (Dude even quoted “Imagine.”) In short, this was more stupid than serious. More troubling? The crowd flatlining when Colter asked them to “Imagine if the United States and Mexico, they weren’t two countries, they were one.”
4. Six Men, No Angles, Part II
This week’s combatants in the “Creative’s Got Nothing For You” Classic? Veterans of the midcard process Wade Barrett, Sheamus and Rusev versus former Intercontinental Champ Ryback and the suddenly rudderless Dudley Boyz. To be fair, the fact that all six of these men lost last night at Hell in a Cell lessened the sting some (and – gasp! – actually made sense), and this one did manage to pick up steam, testament once again to the talents in the ring (sure, let’s include D-Von Dudley in that statement). Of course, the camera nearly missed Barrett rolling-up Bubba Ray for the win, which would’ve been the final indignity, until you realized none of these guys really have a direction at the moment. That’s par for the course for some (poor King Bad News), but for the likes of Ryback and the Dudleys, who up until last night were locked in feuds of varying prestige, these new confines don’t exactly bode well. Better start looking for Survivor Series partners, fellas.
3. Breeze Up In the VIP!
I’ll be the first to admit that I was worried how Tyler Breeze’s character would play on the main roster – hard to sell selfie sticks and “#MMMGorgeous” to the masses – but after watching Prince Pretty interject himself into the Dolph Ziggler/Summer Rae storyline on SmackDown, then stroll down to his personal ringside VIP section (complete with security guard and velvet rope) on Raw, I’m not worried anymore. Sure, it’s still early, but seeing Breeze paired with Summer Rae – who’s been great in her largely thankless role – and playing his character to the hilt gives me hope that WWE’s going to let him run with this (and do it his way), and it’ll get over with the crowds one way or the other. What are the chances I stumble on this paragraph six months from now, read it, then sigh and take another pull from the bottle? Pretty good, actually.
2. The Dissolution of the Divas
Sure, Paige turning on her (I think) friends Charlotte and Becky Lynch at the conclusion of their tag match against Team Bella was the least-surprising swerve in history, but if it means we’re finally kicking the tires on a full-blown Paige heel run, then I’m all for it. One by one, the loyalties in Teams PCB and B.A.D. – loyalties that never really made much sense to begin with – are beginning to fray, and that means we’re one step closer to seeing Lynch and Sasha Banks released into the WWE world (we may have even seen a Lynch/Nikki Bella feud begin last night). Oh, and when Charlotte brought up the mysterious assault of Natalya, and Paige’s supposed involvement in it? Yeah, that’s called continuity. It’s nice to see it finally show up in the Divas division. Solid work all around.
1. The Professional Wrestling Show
Speaking of solid work: Give it up for every man and woman who set foot in the ring last night, because they all brought it. Funny what happens when the stakes are raised, as they were on Raw. I know tournaments are verboten (apparently Vince doesn’t like them), but that’s what we had last night, as eight men – all of whom won their matches at Hell in a Cell, BTW – vied to become the Number One contender to Seth Rollins’ World title. Roman Reigns battled Kofi Kingston in the opening match, Kevin Owens and Cesaro put on a clinic (imagine that) immediately after, then, later in the show, Del Rio took on Neville and Big E drew Dolph Ziggler. All the matches felt big, and they all led to the main event, a white-hot Fatal 4-Way between Reigns, Owens, Del Rio and Ziggler (pretty solid last group). In the end, Reigns emerged victorious – and made Owens look good while doing it – and finally, it felt like had actually earned the opportunity. Because he had, defeating all comers and surviving a gauntlet to reach the top.
In fact, aside from all the shilling of WWE 2K16 – Stone Cold even made a cameo – the night’s only down moments seemed to happen when someone had a mic in their hand. Or at least Bray Wyatt, who delivered another meandering promo about eating the Undertaker or something. But hey, even that segment ended with the Wyatt Family beating down the Demon Kane and dragging him off into a freezer…so let’s call it a win. On the first show without Brock Lesnar, John Cena or Randy Orton, WWE certainly let their roster shine, and that’s encouraging indeed. More wrestling, less talking. What a novel concept.