After crowning a new champion and celebrating a quarter-century of the Undertaker at Sunday’s Survivor Series, WWE rolled into Nashville last night, giving us a Raw that was heavy on Sheamus and Heath Slater – smell the ratings! – and light on pretty much everything else.
Yes, the new World Heavyweight Champ kicked off his reign by running from Roman and reuniting with his old mates (Slater was just there to get squashed), though there’s no rest for the weary: Sheamus and Reigns will meet in the main event of next month’s Tables, Ladders and Chairs PPV, so the Celtic Warrior shouldn’t get too comfortable atop the company. We also got continued development in the burgeoning beefs between Kevin Owens and Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler and Tyler Breeze, a series of new (old) feuds in the tag division and a Divas Championship rematch between Paige and Charlotte.
But mostly we got commercials for disgusting burgers and lots of cheap heat involving Country music (it’s Music City, after all). So while I shake off my Survivor Series hangover, here’s my five-point takeaway from the November 23 editing of Raw.
5. All Filler, No Killer
After a rash of injuries, last-minute re-bookings, a tournament and a recent U.K. tour, you can’t blame WWE creative for needing a break – that doesn’t mean you have to like it, though. Last night’s Raw was full of the kind of filler that usually signifies the great wrestling machine sliding into auto-pilot for a moment: New Day’s “Country Music Jamboree & WWE Tag Team Championship Open Challenge,” go-nowhere squashes involving Heath Slater, tepid matches between Mark Henry and Neville, whatever the fuck that commercial for Tex Mex Bacon Thickburgers was. A necessity? I guess. Good TV? Not even close. Hope you enjoyed the break, guys…needless to say, you’ve got plenty of work to do.
4. Letting the Women Work
Hey, a show with so much open real estate gave the women a chance to show off their skills, and both of their matches last night delivered to varying degrees. No one was going to confuse Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch’s match with their classic at TakeOver: Unstoppable, but both women worked tough and showed why fans have been clamoring to see more of them in the ring – I just wish this one didn’t end with Banks rolling up a distracted Lynch for the win, but hey, any progress is good progress. Meanwhile, Paige claimed she was cheated in her Divas Championship match against Charlotte at Survivor Series, which triggered a rematch last night. And unlike Sunday, they actually seemed to remember all the bad blood that had been interjected into this feud – which meant we finally got to see both women get nasty. Not surprisingly, this one was much better than their battle at Survivor Series, and while the double count-out finish (and Paige’s dumb PTO-on-the-table spot) didn’t resolve anything, I could get into a Fatal 4-Way with Banks and Becks at TLC. Let’s make that happen, OK?
3. Silver Linings Midcard
Look, if we’re going to get through these next few months, perhaps it’s best to forget about the main event scene and focus instead on the undercard…because that’s where the action’s at. In the weeks leading up to Survivor Series, we saw the beginnings of programs with plenty of potential – Kevin Owens/Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler/Tyler Breeze – and after last night’s tag match that paired all four men, it looks like we’ll be getting more of each feud in the coming weeks. And that’s really going to help. Throw in more development in the Divas division and the tag team ranks (looks like we’re finally getting that Wyatts/Dudleys feud), and even the drama surrounding Alberto Del Rio’s U.S. Championship – which reached its jingoistic, Jack Swagger peak (or nadir) last night – and those are five angles that I could actually find myself invested in. Especially given the talent of all men and women involved. It’s all about the Power of Positivity.
2. The Sheamus Era Begins
I understand the thinking behind having Sheamus cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase at the conclusion of last night’s main event – and, sure, on some level, I reveled in the schadenfreude of watching Roman Reigns cry in the ring. But, boy, are these next few months going to be a drag. Nothing against the Celtic Warrior, who is a capable hand in the ring and was great in last night’s opening segment (truth be told, so were Triple H, Steph and Roman), but no one thinks he’s more than a transitional champion, someone for Reigns to chase. And if you’re hoping that pursuit is ending any time soon, well, get ready to be disappointed. Nothing against TLC, but Roman’s coronation most certainly isn’t going to happen at a third-tier PPV, which means he’ll be snapping at Sheamus’ heels (and overcoming all adversity, don’t forget that) until January’s Royal Rumble. By then, some of WWE’s injured stars might be back, at which point things will get interesting once again. Until then though, it’s going to be a slog.
1. The Euro Remains Strong
If there’s one positive to Sheamus’ reign as WWE champ, it’s this: At least it gives Wade Barrett and Rusev something to do. These three were just starting to click as the “European Ultras” stable before a torn bicep felled the Bulgarian Brute, and as last night’s Raw proved, WWE seems intent on getting the band back together – which is fine by me. The returning Rusev laid out Roman Reigns in the opening segment, then took him on in the main event, which cleared the way for Barrett to insert himself into the shenanigans while the Celtic Warrior sat ringside. Of course, it didn’t help their heel credibility when Roman destroyed all three men with a folding chair, but if WWE spends the lead-up to Tables, Ladders and Chairs building the team as a formidable force (and not J&J Security 2.0), it’ll be best for business…and prove the validity of the old “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” adage, too. And hey, it’s not like the erstwhile King of the Ring – or Summer Rae’s former fling – were doing anything better.