You just had to know where to look for them. Here's a hint: they weren't in the Nikki Bella and Alicia Fox v Naomi and Sasha Banks match, or the throwaway Bad News Barrett, Sheamus and Rusev versus Dolph Ziggler, Cesaro and Adrian Neville six man. Nor were they in Kevin Owens versus ark Henry. Although, for the record all three good for what they were. Nikki over as the serious title contender she should be considering her tenure and status as longest reigning Divas champ ever. The six man was a fun match which got some over lads on the show and gave them time to do their thing. And Owens v Henry featured Owens hitting his pop-up power bomb on 'The World's Strongest Man', establishing that he's strong enough to hit Ryback (his HIAC opponent) with it should the opportunity arise.
But, as I say, these things weren't anything noteworthy. The big segments from this week's RAW were the Undertaker and Lesnar confrontation, a dressing down of WWE champ Seth Rollins by Shawn Michaels, and an impromptu Shield reunion and match opposite their old foes the Wyatt Family.
|This was fun to see but what an unbelievable waste.|
The Shield reunion wasn't. It was Rollins agreeing to team up with Ambrose and Reigns to demonstrate to Shawn Michaels that he could "stop the show" then turning on them at the end of the match. Because the whole point of Rollins' character is that he's a dick who deserves a slap. In theory this worked but in practice it was incredibly wasteful. The first teaming of 'The Hounds of Justice' since their split in the summer of last year should have been a huge deal.
Instead it was a transparent attempt to increase ratings and it didn't even get that right. The least WWE should have done if this was their plan was to announce the match a week in advance and plug it non-stop to get people watching next week. Okay, that may have made some people think it was a full-time reunion but the answer to that would have been simple: have Rollins give a promo about not needing Ambrose and Reigns and Ambrose and Reigns say they don't trust Rollins but need him for this one match. It would have made time for word to spread and people to get excited about the match, increasing the chance of a larger viewing figure.
But it was more than that. The Shield shouldn't be something tossed out as a ratings grab. It will devalue their inevitable full-time (until the equally inevitable second split at least) reunion whenever it comes. The three men, though particularly Rollins and Reigns, are all clearly going to be big parts of the WWE landscape for years. They should be protected. And that means planning things like a reunion far in advance, working towards it and getting it right when it happens, not giving it away on free TV with only an hour's build-up.
On top of that things just felt off. Erick Rowan returning to the fold is fine. It actually helps get across Wyatt's cult leader deal because he slotted in with new lad Braun Strowman beautifuly. But Luke Harper not being involved was wrong. He and Wyatt are more over than Rowan and Strowman by a significant margin. He clearly should have been in the match yet he wasn't even at ringside. Rowan and 'The Black Sheep' are both very good in their roles but they can't hold a candle to Harper's ring skills and compelling weirdness.
|Strong mic work from HBShizzle here.|
HBK dressing down Rollins worked. The gist of Michaels' argument was that 'The Future' is content with the accolade of being the new Shawn Michaels when he should be concentrating on making his own name mean more and creating a legacy for himself. Which is hard to argue against (although it's worth noting that comparisons between Rollins and Michaels haven't been as frequent as this segment would suggest). Not to say that Rollins' doesn't have name value of his own, he clearly does, but he seems content to accept mediocre booking in exchange for getting to be world champ. Stories of 'The Heartbreak Kid' from the 90s make it hard to imagine him standing for this sort of booking.
Of course WWE now is different to the WWF then. And, perhaps more importantly, Vince McMahon has some bizarre attitudes towards the "millennials" that make up the bulk of his roster. That he was about as close to a Michaels mark as he could be in the 90s is a factor here too. Vince was less inclined to knock 'The Heartbreak Kid' than he is his current stars. But these political undertones, Michaels acting as Vince's mouthpiece, just added another layer of enjoyment to the situation.
It worked on the intended level of a respected veteran returning and condemning the current champion and as an insight into the backstage manoeuvrings of the promotion. Michaels and Rollins were both excellent. Particularly 'The Showstopper'. The only bad thing about it is that it made people (by which I mean me) want a Rollins v Michaels match that will never happen.
The showdown between Undertaker and Brock Lesnar was good because of how everything was slotted together. Despite having basically become a guy obsessed with avenging the loss of his WrestleMania Streak and being willing to make cheap shots to do it 'The Dead Man' was presented as the face here. The reason for that is that he was introduced by 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin (hey, he was there anyway, I've been saying since the podcast specials started that I think it makes sense to put him on RAW) and they were in Texas. Despite being announced from Death Valley he's a Texan and this audience was not going to boo him.
|In Your House: Mind Games.|
'Taker was basically there to remind anyone who's forgotten what is motivation is and to react to Brock Lesnar's advocate Paul Heyman. He gave 'The Last Outlaw' plenty to react to, explaining the story of the rivalry one final time, making clear what both men stand to gain from a win, and, of course, hammering home that his client, Brock Lesnar, conquered The Streak. 'Taker tried goading Lesnar into leaving the ramp and getting into the ring to fight. Hothead Lesnar was ready to accept this challenge before being convinced to hold off by Heyman. This framed 'The Beast' as a coward to the live crowd but the wider point was that Heyman knew 'Taker was trying to get inside Lesnar's head to gain an advantage going into their match, another cheap move by 'The Phenom' (although not one out of character, to be fair). The segment worked as a hype job for the Hell in a Cell main event and left the two men ready to take their correct roles: Lesnar the monster face and 'Taker the subtle heel desired desperate to win at any cost.
It wasn't the most exciting episode of RAW ever. But it was memorable and significant because of and for these segments. With such a clear unwillingness from WWE to formulate a long term creative plan, alter the way they present their performers, or do something different to what they've been doing for the last fifteen years, that's the most that we can realistically hope for on a Monday night.