The April 7 RAW featured significant changes to the lead feuds in the company and got WWE’s ever tricky late-spring-early summer season off to a good start. The ratings going down don’t mean they’ve failed or that people aren’t interested in The Shield taking on Evolution or Daniel Bryan’s championship reign. It just means that the people who were watching over WrestleMania Season have had their fill of wrestling for now. Many will be back for SummerSlam. The rest will be back for WrestleMania XXXI.
The reason I bring this up is that a lot seems to be getting made of RAW’s ratings drifting down and it’s not really a concern. It’s to be expected. WrestleMania always sees a peak in ratings. As long as the ratings don’t fall drastically (which they haven’t) there’s no cause for concern. The core audience is still there.
The business as usual approach WWE have gotten back to can best be described as workmanlike. They know the matches they’re building to both in the short term and long term and each was allocated what was deemed an acceptable amount of time on RAW.
The opening segment was the clearest example of this. It saw Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella celebrating their recent wedding in the ring, the first time the pair have been shown together on RAW since the 2011 storyline which saw Brie and Nikki competing for D-Bry’s affections (they ended up losing out to Gail Kim). Their unfettered happiness wasn’t allowed to grace screens for long as Stephanie McMahon rocked up to announce Bryan would be defending his title against Kane at Extreme Rules. She referred to this as a wedding gift. She needs to work on her gift selection.
|This table would prove surprisingly sturdy.|
It didn’t end there. Kane, now back in his wrestling garb, mask and wig, ran in through the crowd and got the better of the Bryan as the champ tried to protect his wife. Bryan took three tombstone piledrivers: one on ringside mats, one on a set of steel steps, and one on (but not through) the announce table. Bryan did a stretcher job to sell the effects of the beating and Steph called ‘The Big Red Monster’ a bastard.
The delivery of the line indicated Stephanie was genuinely displeased with Kane’s antics. If so this would mark a return of her playing both face and heel in the same segment, something which characterised her time as SmackDown GM many years ago.
There were two reasons this sequence took place. The first was that Daniel Bryan’s father had unexpectedly passed away and he needed to be written off of TV for a bit (WWE were reportedly happy to simply excuse Bryan but he insisted on appearing as advertised). The second was to reheat Kane as an unstoppable, merciless monster who poses a real threat to the Daniel Bryan’s title reign.
This was needed partially because he’s spent the last six months or more playing a suit-clad executive. But there’s more to it than that. The Kane character, as has been noted on this blog before, goes through periodic phases. He’ll play a monster heel for a while, then become a heroic, misunderstood face, gradually segue into being a comedic babyface, before doing something completely unexpected like joining DX, entering therapy or accepting an office job and wrestling in a vest. It’s become the norm and the character has proven malleable enough to be able to withstand these revamps. But it does necessitate scenes like the one on RAW every now and then, just so that he can be taken seriously for a little while.
Less than an hour later the rivalry between Evolution and The Shield received some attention. Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista strolled to the ring for a promo talking themselves up. This was just as necessary as the rehabilitation of Kane, but for different reasons. Evolution was not a group that went through wildly different phases. It was presented as the elite of wrestling. But the last time the faction was a regular fixture on our screens was in early 2005. This segment was needed to remind people of the group’s former standing, to stop it being three guys with shaved heads getting together because of shared enemies. The promos helped there, but what was of most benefit was the video package that aired showing the group’s past. It was a nice piece of work.
|Randy looks happy, doesn't he? Meanwhile Triple H looks|
like he's going for the Horatio Nelson look.
Naturally The Shield put in an appearance here. They didn’t need building up, but they did need to be placed in the vicinity of Evolution in order to avoid being overshadowed or perceived as second rate. Had they not walked to the ring to speak out it would have looked peculiar. It was also handy as a way of highlighting the difference between the two factions: Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns are united while ‘The Game’, ‘The Viper’ and ‘The Animal’ are individuals currently banded together by a common cause who have a history as a team.
By the way, anyone worried that the reformation of Evolution would bring an end to the sartorial elegance of Dave Batista should have been relieved here. He did himself proud. Part of the Evolution gimmick was a love of suits. While Orton’s favoured option of dressing in trunks and a T-shirt was closed to him Batista simply exchanged his ridiculous skinny jeans and trainers for a ridiculous suit. He opted for a waistcoat, his beloved shirt with a collar a different colour to the torso, and shades. This is part of the reason I don’t object to Batista being on TV. He finds ways to make his character work no matter the situation he’s placed in. He knows that he needs to look absurd, so he makes sure that he does.
The show ended with some work being done on the Cena versus Wyatt Family feud. That doesn’t have the far reaching effects of Bryan’s title reign or the Shield v Evolution series but it’s still the promotion’s number three feud and will probably be looked back on as a key aspect of Bray Wyatt’s early career.
The main event had been the subject of a vote throughout the night. Viewers had been given the power to decide whether ‘The CeNation Leader’ faced one, two or all three members of The Wyatt Family. Perhaps unsurprisingly they went for all three. This could be used as fuel for Bray to argue that he’s succeeded in convincing the audience’s view of Cena (which seems to be his goal) or as a reason for Cena being “off his game” at Extreme Rules. The likelihood is that it won’t be turned into anything significant but the possibilities are there. Even if that’s the case it was a way of highlighting the dispute and reminding everyone that WWE’s shows are currently so packed that they have three feuds that can go into the main event and not feel out of place.
It was not the most thrilling episode of RAW ever. It wasn’t intended to be. It was designed to accomplish a number of things and it accomplished them. It got us closer to Extreme Rules without giving away too much or boring us by not doing enough. That, in WWE, is a good result.