Letting go of Monday Night RAW
I have, in this very column, gone on at various lengths about how much I dislike WWE’s main roster programming right now. However, like the creature of habit/mark that I am. I have still kept up with the longest-running whatever RAW is in history because it has been part of my life for so long now. Sure, I’ve taken breaks from watching over the years, but I still kept tabs on the stories and characters because, well, I just had to know. The WWE had me hooked on a product that, over the years, I became more and more disconnected from. The stars that I followed and believed in moved on. Eras changed, pyro went away, and there I still was. I sat through mystery GM’s, G-TV, “live sex celebrations”, HLA, and more Hornswoggle than I ever want to think about. With the WWE Network in my life, I even started watching every PPV, something my 20-year-old self would have killed for or, at least, taken a spinebuster through a table for, anyway.
But now… I’m done.
Last week, I tuned in to the RAW Reunion show for a cheap shot to the nostalgias. I wanted to see the performers I loved return to get a payday and get recognition for their contributions to the WWE empire. Instead, I saw an endless run of characters reduced to single lines or comic beats with no logic or reasoning. I saw a parade of goobers pinning each other for the 24/7 title. I saw the inexplicable grouping of RVD, Sergeant Slaughter, Kurt Angle, and The Hurricane. I saw hot new heel faction, The OC (a name I will get back to in a moment), back down from a group of guys in their 50’s and 60’s that are, by and large, unable to wrestle a match. And I saw all this crap with the auditory backdrop of the dumpster fire that is the commentary team. At one point, human coolness extinguisher Michael Cole called John Cena “the greatest of all time.” It was in that moment I knew: I hate Monday Night RAW.
What was once something I looked forward to and eagerly consumed, I was now skipping through with only a morbid curiosity to see just how dumb the next thing that happened was going to be. A woman kicking an 80-year-old guy in the nuts to win a belt? Sure. People dancing at a party WITH NO MUSIC? Okay. Naming a new heel faction after a FOX teen melodrama? Sweet Christmas, come on! With all that staff, someone must have pointed out that The OC was already a thing. (California, here we come….)
But it’s not just the one-off crap from the reunion show or the endless, inexplicable push of Baron Corbin that have finally pushed me over the edge.
It’s Renee Young not knowing a wrist lock from a wristwatch. It’s contender matches filled with guys that always lose. It’s top guy Seth Rollins being blander than a plain bagel with nothing on it. It’s “The Big Dog!” “Boss Time!” “The Scottish Psychopath!” and every other catchphrase that Michael Cole has burnt out. It’s all this and so much more.
It’s a central storyline involving what is, unless you can explain it differently, a verbally abusive relationship between a woman and her husband. What is the payoff to Mike and Maria Kanellis? Does he finally rise up and turn on his pregnant wife? Does another woman make the save and beat up his pregnant wife? How do you book a character out of this mess? And, more to the point, if this storyline worked in reverse, wouldn’t we all be calling foul? If this is the return to edgy, Attitude Era wrestling everyone keeps going on about, you can count me out. It’s in bad taste, poorly written, and has zero chance of ever drawing a single dime in terms of ticket sales or PPV buys.
I would also like to take a moment to be that guy and say it: The 24/7 Championship stuff is pointless. In this ongoing story, we see competitors that we are supposed to believe can win fights against other humans get beaten by schoolboy roll-ups without ever taking a bump. R-Truth can’t kick out from 140-pounder Drake Maverick but he could hold his own in a 10-20 minute match with beasts like Drew McIntyre or Braun Strowman? The title reminds me, the one paying money to watch this stuff, that it’s all fake. It’s all fun and games. It’s just entertainment with actors playing parts. Which, maybe is what some people want from their sports entertainment. But not me.
Look, I know when I watch Avengers: Endgame that Thanos is actually Josh Brolin in a spandex suit with blinky lights all over it. I know that Chris Hemsworth still has awesome abs and that he is wearing a fat suit. I know that Rocket is a computer effect and not a talking raccoon. However, the Avengers movies don’t spend their time reminding me that this is the case. I am invited to enter their world, to believe, which is what I want from wrestling. I want to believe that two or more individuals have entered into a contest over a championship or personal conflict that can only be decided by one of these individuals beating the other one in a fight. Yes, I want the drama, the characters, the theme music, and the outfits. I want catchphrases and promos. I want heels and faces. I want wrestling with all the trimmings but, I guess, that’s the thing: I want wrestling, not sports entertainment.
So, while I’ll still keep up with my rigorous podcast schedule, three hours of Monday Night RAW is just not something I’m going to put myself through anymore.
Like the header says: It’s not me, RAW. It’s you.
The part where I say nice things about wrestling I like
The flip side of the WWE coin is that they also provide me with my two favorite wrestling products: NXT and its European cousin, NXT UK.
With NXT, I get what I want: characters feuding over pride, personal issues, or championships, competing in dramatic athletic contests. In one packed hour of NXT, I get more of what I want than all five hours of main roster programming. I get fresh faces, new match-ups, and the godly commentary of Mauro Ranallo and his worthy cohorts, Nigel McGuinness and the ever-improving Beth Phoenix. Phoenix is the most legit, decorated commentator working in the entire company at the moment.
Over in the UK, I get guys and gals that look like they can fight. Yes, they do have their share of indie sized workers like Mark Andrews, but they are contrasted by beasts like the Scottish lads in Gallus and UK champion WALTER.
The UK also has the benefit of some of the hottest crowds anywhere. They chant, sing, and cheer with enough spirit to elevate almost anything on the show to a higher level.
They also have Trent Seven, a performer that takes heat in the ring from his opponents, brings fire to a hot tag, and cuts sincere promos better than almost any other babyface across the WWE Universe. Want to hear a real babyface pop again? Tune in to NXT UK and wait for that Mustache Mountain theme to blast out of the speakers.
NXT is what I am a fan of. It’s why I keep my Network subscription. It’s a simple, realism based wrestling product that always leaves me wanting more.
With TakeOvers from both NXT brands coming up in August, I have plenty to look forward to. I’m also willing to bet that both TakeOvers, run back to back, will still have a shorter run time than SummerSlam. That, in and of, itself is ridiculous.
The other fish in the sea
AEW – It’s almost time for AEW to arrive on TNT, but what are they bringing with them? There is a lot to love about the AEW roster and the company’s philosophy/approach to pro wrestling. However, watching their recent Fight for the Fallen event also highlights some of their weaknesses.
Roster depth, lack of main event stars, and the work of Alex Marvez on commentary are all issues going forward. So is match length and, in my opinion, the large number of really undersized talents that AEW has working for them. I never want to see Marko Stunt, the guy who makes Spike Dudley look like the Great Khali, take a bump from anyone. I’m not against the move toward smaller, workrate guys in top spots over the monsters of yesterday, but you have to be at least a certain height to ride at some point.
That all said, these pilot shows by AEW are just that: pilots. Two hours a week is a lot of TV time to fill. Better they try things out and see what works now and have a tight, clear vision for their show based on lessons learned than go live to TNT with silly business like the Casino Battle Royale.
NJPW – The folks that love New Japan, love New Japan. I really want to love it, too, but after years of WWE production values, it’s hard to backslide even if the matches give Dave Meltzer wrestling wood. I have promised myself that I will watch at least one full G1 match this year and now that I have figured out how to stream from my phone to my TV, that promise is closer than ever to being fulfilled…. probably.
Impact – It’s on my channel flip every Friday while I wait for Real Time with Bill Maher. I catch bits and pieces, but nothing grabs me. The last time I tuned in, RVD and Sabu were tagging in the main event, which is at least 20 years past its prime. The company has also gone all in with intergender wrestling, which on principle I tend to avoid. Watching 200+ pound men punch women in the face is just not okay.
ROH – As I said earlier, production values matter to me and ROH doesn’t have any. The commentary is weak, many of the perfomers that I have seen look like they haven’t been near a gym or a hot meal in months, and shows taped in front of an empty house just don’t pop. The recent business with the NWA piqued my interest a bit, but not enough to keep my finger off the channel switch.
The point of this last bit here is that I have choices, and the promotions listed here don’t even scratch the surface of how many there are. I can get a wrestling fix without putting myself through the face-palm inducing drivel that is Monday Night RAW. I know this, other fans know this, and the WWE better figure this out. Based on recent numbers, I’m not the only one saying goodbye to an old friend.
That’s it for me. So, until Mark Henry starts paying child support to that rubber hand, I’ll see you marks around the loop.