There’s been a lot of talk, maybe, maybe too much talk, about how absolutely awful WWE’s main roster shows have been lately. I’ve been critical, especially of that egregious RAW Reunion episode last week. My fellow writer, Richard Kirwin, is so frustrated with the product that he can’t watch it anymore. There’s definitely a lot to criticize, but you know what?
Enough. Time out. I’m throwing the X.
I do not think RAW and SmackDown Live are worth giving up on. In fact, even when the shows are amazingly bad, there are always aspects of them that I enjoy. There are things that keep me tuning in, even when I get that grotty feeling in the pit of my stomach that I have made a mistake.
Gods help me, I’m about to defend WWE.
Here are five elements of WWE’s main roster shows that make them appointment television for me.
Corey Graves – In a company that loves blandness and catchphrases from their announce teams, Corey Graves feels like a loose cannon. He’s unpredictable, loves a good double entendré, and best of all, he’s hilarious. His commentary work echoes the finest moments of Bobby Heenan and Jesse Ventura. Listening to Graves argue with Byron Saxton and Tom Phillips on SmackDown Live is often the brightest part of the show. Is he obnoxious? You bet, and that’s ten times better than being the corporate mouthpiece of the WWE marketing department. His voice may be like the buzzing of flies to you, but give Corey Graves a good listen. That man is sharp and, as far as the main roster goes, Graves is the best guy behind the desk.
Bray Wyatt – A lot of bad guys are boring. They’re big. They hate all the people in whatever town they happen to be in. Most of them have a tendency to wallop the good guys from behind with a chair. It’s cheap heat, and it’s all most of the heels have to fall back on. Not Bray Wyatt. From his incarnation as backwoods cult leader to his current character as Mr. Rogers from hell, Wyatt has never been anything but fascinating. Even during his short-lived stint as a good guy, teaming with Woken Matt Hardy, Wyatt commanded more attention by glowering at his opponent than Hardy did with his shock of white hair and expansively incorrect pronunciations. While we’ve seen plenty of characters who were supposed to be scary (I’m looking directly at you, Gangrel), Wyatt is the only in recent memory who is actually frightening. His agility in the ring is a bonus. Wyatt can actually wrestle, holding his own against more experienced opponents like Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan. What will he do next, and when will his alter-ego, The Fiend, show up with his appetite for destruction? I have no idea. Guess I had better watch the shows and find out.
The new guys – It is obvious that not all of the call-ups from NXT have done well on the main roster. EC3 is languishing somewhere in dark matches that might show up on Main Event. Robert Roode was glorious for about six weeks. After that, he went straight to the midcard. But that isn’t the case for everyone. The high-flying Ricochet has been in the title picture since the get-go. His former tag partner, Aleister Black, may be biding his time on SmackDown Live. But when Black actually gets into the ring, he is an imposing figure with a devastating finishing move. While it was obvious that the creative team didn’t know what to do with Nikki Cross at first, they’ve placed her with Alexa Bliss. This has been a great move for Cross, setting her up for programs with Bayley, Becky Lynch, and eventually, one hopes, Alexa Bliss herself. Sure, it’s cool to see Stone Cold Steve Austin back in the ring, slamming beers and getting that all-important ‘hell, yeah.’ But, when they are given the opportunity, the new blood on the main roster is doing a darned fine job. They can only get better with time.
Writing – I used to tell people that I watched wrestling because of the writing. I was impressed by how the creative team is able to carry storylines through week-to-week on live television. Knowing that they are often writing on the fly, or under the whims of Vince McMahon, their accomplishments are mighty. Then, over the last year, the WWE got lost. Stories started, then disappeared without a trace. Braun Strowman had more good guy/bad guy flips than The Big Show. Remember that whole Dean Ambrose wearing a respirator thing? Then, suddenly, The Shield was back! It was hard to keep up. Now, I watch it because there’s nothing more exhilarating than watching a show write itself out of a corner. It’s exciting. What are they going to try this week and, more importantly, will it work? And if it does work, will they continue it next week? It’s always a mystery. I can see how that might make a lot of fans angry, but I dig it.
Hope – Here’s the crux of it. I hope WWE gets better. I want it to. We all need it to. There was a time when WWE didn’t just set the bar. It was the bar, the golden standard for everything that went on inside the squared circle. Even when WCW was at its height, they were doing it with performers they yanked from WWE. AEW is coming after them with a vengeance. Heyman and Bischoff are in power positions now. WWE has to change. The question is, will it change for the better? I think it will. I hope it does. And I don’t want to be sitting with my arms crossed in a darkened room, refusing to watch WWE because everyone else says it sucks. I get to make my own decisions about what sucks and what doesn’t.
Look, I’m neither an idiot nor a masochist. I watch the NXT shows. I really dig New Japan. I can’t wait for AEW. Some people love football. I love wrestling. So, call me a mark. Everyone else does. But, when it comes to WWE, I’m a lifer. I will appreciate the good and, when the day comes that WWE reinvents itself and becomes something magical, I will be there. You are welcome to join me.