Deciding Whether to Watch WWE Raw by Matt Corton

So, occasionally, I like to do things a little bit differently in these articles, and today’s one of those days.

I’m going to write this in two parts, part one on Monday, before I see any WWE programming this week, and part two on Thursday, after I’ve seen Raw.

Because this week, it’s Raw I want to talk about.

Part One – Monday, 28 November 2016

So what do I want to say about Raw? Well, I’m on the verge of ditching it in favour of only watching NXT and SmackDown. Not because I don’t like the performers on Raw, or because I don’t particularly like the show – but because a large part of me quite simply doesn’t want to carry on endorsing WWE doing so little with so much.

On Monday night, WWE, you have three hours of TV to fill.

Now, I think that statement might not be quite enough for you, so let me explain to you a few things that you are not. You are not Saturday Night live. You are not Sports Centre. You are not EastEnders. You are not Bad Neighbours or any other film and you are not Lucha Libre.

You are WWE. Do you know what, though? I don’t remember reading anywhere that being a media conglomerate, being PG or the having the very purpose of your being be now almost a side note in the vast empire built on the back of that purpose means you have to be…crap. Three hours of Raw should feel like a treat – instead, it feels like a chore a lot of the time. The two-hour SmackDown is a far easier show to watch. I can see why they wanted to give it more focus – it makes the longer-term fan, like me, who wants to see a wrestling show, happy.

They can then focus the three-hour Raw on the sponsors, competing for meaningless ratings spots and driving the highest price for the advertising.

Which is absolutely fine. Except I can’t be bothered with that.

I don’t care about your sponsors, your celebrity hosts, your notable people at ringside, your longer but unbelievably repeated matches, your by-the-numbers TV show.

I care about WWE putting on a great wrestling show every time it puts out any wrestling show. It’s not about the PPV buys any more, or even the (now fairly stagnant) network buys – it’s about maintaining what you’ve got, and having been in business for many years, I know that the only way to maintain what you have is to change what you’re giving because once someone has something and they’re used to it, they generally want something else. Anything else leads to depreciation and my interest in Raw, and I really want to make that distinction, because it’s not in WWE’s product generally, has certainly depreciated since the brand split.

WWE isn’t a utility. People aren’t going to come back to it no matter what, they’re going to come back to it because they want to. I don’t quite get why the powers that be are not more keen on making me want to tune in on a Monday.

How do you make me tune in more cheerfully? Well, there are a few things you can do which I’ll list really quickly, because I know they’re not going to happen. No more ad breaks during matches. Stop repeating matches so often and make when one wrestler faces another feel more special. Which means, in practice, that each roster needs to be about 15 wrestlers heavier.

When you cut the roster in half, you cut in half the numbers of feuds available to you. I don’t think there’s any coincidence that Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow and Wade Barrett left despite the brand split – they knew it wouldn’t lead to pushes for anyone lower down who wouldn’t otherwise have been pushed (and it hasn’t, beyond Balor, before his unfortunate injury).

I know they’re not going to change any of those things. So instead, here are three things I want them to do tonight, that I think they could legitimately do quickly, easily and without hurting any of their sponsorship or advertising commitments.

  1. Sow the seeds of a new stable

Something needs to rival New Day. If Sheamus and Cesaro take the titles from New Day then…what? What’s next after that? It’s not a long-term plan. They can win, sure, but they need another group to feud with after that, who has credibility, something they’ve taken away from The Club, the only other ‘big’ tag team. The genius of New Day is that all three guys can go in the ring, in different ways that complement each other. They’re not newcomers who are learning their trade and need to be cosseted. They’re not limited big men thrown together to hide those limitations. Each of them are legitimately talented singles wrestlers who are making the most of the spotlight being thrown on them as a result of being in the group they are in.

This is why the Wyatt Family originally worked before Rowan’s booking took his legs from under him. This is also why The Shield worked perfectly. People chanted in amazement the first time The Shield and Wyatts faced off in the ring – it was a great moment. You almost had that when the Dudleys returned to face off against New Day, but it never quite got there after that. I’m yearning for another group to come on and challenge New Day and be credible.

My suggestion? Cesaro, Neville and Zayn. You could call them The Overlooked. Three guys who can all go legitimately as singles guys, who are being held back on the main roster and (in this reality era) know it. They have never held the top singles title so they are hungry. You might not get the amazed chants when the two teams faced off, but if they came in and ended the New Day’s title run just before they broke the record? That’s how you debut a new strong team.

  1. Stop giving me stop-start feuds

Where was Bo Dallas last week? His development has been one of the best stories you put on TV in recent weeks and I’ve really enjoyed watching Bo’s new attitude play out. Should his attitude have developed even more and been furthered in storylines? Yes, but they were making a start on that with Curtis Axel. So where was he? Put him on the damn show. Funnily enough, it’s by being on the show you make new stars.

  1. Learn from Goldberg

You know why so many people didn’t hate Goldberg’s return despite a lot of people seeming to want them to? Because he took it seriously.

When Goldberg comes out, he means business. It’s not always great to watch, sure, but he looks like he means it. Brock Lesnar is exactly the same – for all the jokes Heyman makes for him and for all the times Lesnar can’t help himself but laugh when he’s supposed to look mean, you know it’s hidden behind a veil of you really don’t want to get in the ring with Brock. Therefore, however trivial and stupid their match at Survivor Series actually was, it comes off as serious.

If everything is funny, then nothing matters because it’s all a joke. And trust me WWE, there are funnier things on TV than your skits. I don’t want to watch a variety show, I want to watch wrestling.

So that’s what I want to see. I’m aware that some people love the comedy stuff and I’ll admit – when they do it right, they do it well, but so much of it is comedy now that Raw feels more like a light entertainment vehicle than it should, in a way that SmackDown doesn’t.

Am I expecting any of these things to happen? I’m not sure. The thing is, I’m always hopeful because every time I get down on the wrestling business, they give me something to keep me invested and it’s something that literally no other form of entertainment can give me. It’s been Charlotte and Sasha recently, and I’ve been on record saying I loved Goldberg being back. I just want something new, now, on Raw, to do the same thing.

It’s go time, WWE; am I going to give up on Raw or not?

Part Two, Thursday 1 December 2016

We’re back for Part Two! And this will be shorter than what I wrote on Monday because I was ready to hate Raw this week – and I didn’t. It was a show of consequence, development and wrestling, which is what it should be every week.

Lots of people have written more eloquently than me on that, though – so let’s get to the burning questions – how did I get on with the three things I wanted from this week?

  1. Sow the seeds of a new stable.

This didn’t happen, but then I think it was a bit fanciful thinking it might. What they did do, though, was properly further the Sheamus and Cesaro story with a good old fashioned badly acted and badly produced bar brawl. I’m more than willing to forgive the lack of a stable created out of nowhere, as I seemed to want, in favour of the creation of a powerful, dominant tag team to threaten New Day. This is what The Club should have been from the beginning, before their flush was busted. I’m really excited about what they can do with Sheamus (who I actually like – when he takes things seriously) and Cesaro because they fit one of the things I wanted to see perfectly – strong singles guys who can go in the ring in different ways, but ways that complement each other. I think this could actually be great.

  1. Stop giving me stop-start feuds

This is just poor. They had something promising with Bo Dallas and it’s just gone off my TV for no reason. I can’t think of any defence for this, it’s just completely poor.

  1. Learn from Goldberg

Whilst I’m sure they didn’t exactly learn from Goldberg per se, they did start taking a few things seriously this week. The women’s title match as well as Sami Zayn’s growing frustration with Mick Foley and Braun Strowman were both treated perfectly. Zayn should have been angry, he should have felt cheated – and he did. He should have been angry enough to do something about it and he was. The things that happened to him should have heralded consequences and they did. That’s storytelling.

It makes it all the more perplexing that they have just shoved Bo Dallas to the backs of our minds, and in just a few short weeks have left us with precious little to look forward to besides the Royal Rumble, which is two months away.

That said, what I really wanted to see was whether something, anything would change or progress to make me watch Raw in the coming weeks.

It did. Congratulations Raw – I’ll be with you next week.