Monday Night Raw was last in the pool, as it were. AEW Dynamite has run two shows in front of live crowds, and really had been operating in front of a crowd since they started letting fans fill the seats at Daily’s Place in Jacksonville, Fla. WWE returned to its normal arena show last Friday on SmackDown, the go-home show to their first PPV in front of fans, Money In the Bank, on Sunday. So the luster of seeing a real wrestling crowd had lost most of its sheen by the time the “red brand” got its turn.
Still, the hope was that the holding pattern/purgatory/dumpster that Monday Night Raw has been for months would at least be temporarily alleviated by actually having to be in front of people, and having their reactions on television. It’s been clear for some time that Raw is now the B-show, with SmackDown on network television, netting the company more money and attention. But still, even with that status it doesn’t mean Raw has to mail it in. And with the show’s three-hour length, mailing it in simply becomes a torturous experience. Surely for this first one back in front of fans, WWE would try to make something of it this time.
Here’s the list of matches we got last night on Raw’s big return to live crowds:
- The Viking Raiders and Riddle vs. A.J. Styles, Omos, and John Morrison: Basically the tag match we had seen the night before at Money In the Bank, plus Riddle and Morrison. It was also the fourth-straight week we had seen some combination of these guys wrestling each other.
- Jaxson Ryker and Elias: It was the third time in four weeks these two were in the ring together, and literally no one could give a flying fuck about either of them, except for that one dude who wore horns to the Capitol Riot. Though I guess last night’s Raw was in Texas, so...
- Tamina and Natalya vs. Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax: This was the tag match at last month’s PPV. It involves Baszler, who used to be one of the scariest women on the planet when she was on NXT, and is now the personification of ennui, surrounded by three women who are about as entertaining to watch as playing, “What did that guy just throw up on the bus?”
- Sheamus and Humberto Carillo: Four of the last five times Sheamus has been on television, he’s been wrestling Carillo. And five of the last eight. The other three were against Ricochet. This is considered a Vegas-buffet level of variety by WWE.
- Rhea Ripley and Charlotte: This was a rematch of the match we had just seen the night before, and the culmination (for now, we can only hope) of a program they’d been running for months. It was their fourth match in some form against each other in a month. And it didn’t have a finish.
WWE had some “surprises.” Those consisted of John Cena opening the show being very John Cena and hugging Riddle.
Then it looked like they might actually try something new and different, located the key to whatever closet they had locked Keith Lee in, and brought him out to face Bobby Lashley. This should have been a match that had people talking the next day. Lashley had been reheated thanks to his squash of Kofi Kingston the night before, had been on a tear, and Lee is just about the most unique performer they have in that he can go with anyone, from hulking monsters like Lashley to high-flyers like Ricochet. He’s that versatile. He’s an untapped treasure by WWE.
Lee’s match lasted all of seven minutes that basically showcased him eating offense from Lashley before he could cede the stage to motherfucking Goldberg. Goldberg. The guy who nearly killed Undertaker because he can’t move or do anything anymore, and that’s before he concusses himself on a goddamn door. Watching Goldberg hump around a ring these days is the best advertisement for knee, hip, and shoulder replacements the pharmaceutical industry could have ever hoped for. Even Lashley knows:
(The only salvation we will find is if this is some end around for Big E to cash in his Money In the Bank briefcase on Goldberg after he beats Lashley, thus bringing closure to this, the greatest video of all time. Also, it is my personal quest to find out what the real joke is here between the members of New Day, because there’s definitely something under the surface going on)
Then they pulled out Karrion Kross from NXT to make his main roster debut. Now, I’m not the biggest Kross fan. In fact, I think he’s just about as boring as watching someone else take an eye test. But he is the NXT champion, and he seems to fit the main roster even better, and that status would make anyone think that the company thinks pretty highly of him.
He then walked out and lost to Jeff Hardy. You couldn’t define the term “nerf” better than this.
The final “surprise” was the Charlotte-Ripley match ending in a DQ, which provided the platform for Nikki A.S.H. to cash in the briefcase she won Sunday night to become Raw Women’s champion. And Nikki Cross is awesome and great and maybe they could actually use the title to build her character into something, a maneuver they haven’t tried since... fuck, I don’t even know when. 1994? But Nikki’s new gimmick has only been around a couple weeks, so the audience hasn’t had enough time to get really attached and feel the seismic shift of her taking the title off Charlotte (also, we’ve seen Charlotte get cashed in on three times in five years). It was just a thing that happened, and most everyone who didn’t at least know and love the Nikki Cross character, which was mostly in NXT and away from the main roster, just kind of had a, “uh, ok” reaction. And then they immediately went off the air. It was like it was jammed in at the end like they were trying to avoid having to check a bag.
This has been the complaint about Raw certainly since SmackDown went to Fox, and off and on for years. There are just large swaths of time when they’re not even trying. It just splats onto the screen like phlegm, with about as much care. There’s been talk that USA Network has been unhappy with the dismal ratings drawn by Raw of late, but it doesn’t seem that urgency has gotten to WWE offices. With three hours, there’s so much they could do, and so many performers to showcase. Instead, we get Goldberg and barf. I’ll let you decide which is worse.