Watching Raw the past few weeks has been an interesting exercise. It hasn’t been particularly amazing television, but it’s easy to tell they’re making an effort to shake things up a little bit. In the face of record-low ratings and outside competition the likes of which they haven’t seen in 20 years, Vince McMahon’s back is clearly against the wall and something has to change.
Weeks prior have felt haphazard and like throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks, but with news of Paul Heyman and Eric Bischoff being brought in to the newly-minted roles of Executive Director of Raw and SmackDown respectively, it appears that McMahon sees the need for some fresh perspectives. Lo and behold, the first Raw to take place since this news broke clearly had Paul Heyman’s fingerprints all over it.
The show was grittier than usual, including a bombastic start as Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley crashed through the tron by the top of the entrance ramp, setting off a series of explosions and eliciting a “holy sh*t!” from commentator Corey Graves.
If this is truly the start of the Paul Heyman era on Monday nights, this was a great way to kick it off. No 20 minute promo by a heel authority figure to start the show, just two brutes inflicting over-the-top violence on one another, presented in the signature realistic Heyman way. After Graves’ explicit reaction, all commentary ceased as a single crane camera surveyed the aftermath of the carnage from above, the crowd in stunned silence. It was different, it was fresh, and it made you want to keep watching more Raw, a feeling we haven’t had in quite some time. Its effects were also felt throughout the rest of the show, as there was a giant hole in the entrance tron, and the ramp trons were seemingly de-commissioned for the night, adding to the sense that something different was in the air that night.
Much of the rest of the show was equally refreshing, if a bit head-scratching. Mike Kanellis made his Raw debut alongside his wife Maria, who competed in her first match on Monday nights in a decade. Unfortunately for the purported First Couple of WWE, however, it was a quick debut, cut short when Becky Lynch made Mike Kanellis tap out to the Disarm-Her (I’d be remiss not to mention that this was against the rules of a mixed tag match and shouldn’t have been a legal maneuver, but I digress). From there, Maria declared she was pregnant and ran down Mike for being a sorry excuse of a man. It was borderline silly, out of nowhere, soap-opera-esque and a little uncomfortable. In other words, if you’ve been pining for the Attitude Era to return, this segment was it.
The night capped off with an AJ Styles heel turn that was a long time coming, accompanied by his Club brethren Gallows and Anderson. It’s inexplicably bizarre that it’s taken WWE this long to truly go all-in with The Club again, but better late than never. What was remarkable about this angle was, despite Heyman reportedly only taking over creative this week, how much of a slow-burn it was. Gallows and Anderson have been interacting with AJ for weeks, goading one another into bringing out the former badasses all three were in Japan. It culminated in AJ buying into what the Good Brothers had to say, delivering a super Styles Clash from the second rope to Ricochet in response. The (don’t say “Bullet”) Club is open for business once again, and just like that, AJ Styles’ character is completely reinvigorated, with a great sympathetic babyface in Ricochet to torment.
Sure, the show wasn’t perfect. This “no wrestling during commercial breaks” edict is still resulting in wacky gimmick after wacky gimmick to get around. We had yet another 2 out of 3 falls match, a Dusty finish, and a tag match that turned into a six man tag match. The writers have pretty much already exhausted every possible way to get around it without resorting to what’s probably the simplest solution: time limits on TV matches. And after all this bending backwards, for some reason, Elias and The Miz still wrestled during the commercial break. Hopefully this is one of those quirky things Vince McMahon became fixated on and will forget about just as quickly in the weeks to come, because it’s not helping anything.
It’s unknown whether or not this show was entirely a Paul Heyman production, but it’s clear that he had heavy influence on it. And it’s a step in the right direction — for the first time in what felt like forever, Raw was unpredictable, fresh, and most importantly, a lot of fun. It’s hard to remember the last time I was begging for more by the time Raw went off the air, but last night’s three hour show flew by.
Nice work, Heyman. Your turn, Bischoff.
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