WWE Monday Night Raw from Pittsburgh, PA tonight was one of the best wrestling television shows of all time, and the best in Raw’s history. Here’s why.
Watch last week’s show. Now watch this week’s episode. What went from a lackadaisical old format of “what’s old is new again” transformed into a hip production that is up in your face, SHOWING, not telling you that this is a new era. Before I’ve watched this show, I truly thought that WCW Monday Nitro was the best start-to-finish produced television show. The camera shots were terrific, the announce table was in a place of prominence, and it simply felt cool to watch. To be able to, after years, say this is hip and cool is a huge plus for the WWE. From the Shinedown “Enemies” intro (with Sasha Banks standing tall at the end) to the new logo, which does get a lot of flak, but is trendy and slick looking, you know this is an overhauled product. The nameplate is stone-hedged with fire underneath, once again, it’s edgy and hip. All of this is such a fun refreshing watch. The entrance shots are wild. When you watch the crew follow Kevin Owens through the curtain, you get the sense that they are saying that this is the flagship. Screw SmackDown, try to follow that! Even during the matches, the swivel around the ring proved that the big fights were big fights. It’s a big time feel for the pay-per-view length flagship show. The camera work felt more steady a lot of the time and straight forward. I didn’t find myself complaining as much as before. What comes last in this formula is the commentary. I have no clue if the backstage feeding of lines loosened up, or if it’s also the absence of JBL, but this was a great trios combo. Cole is the flagship man, who’s better than ever. He listed off all the international accolades for Finn Balor before he stepped foot in a main roster ring for his permanent tenure. The perfect audio put over of the next big thing. Byron is the ideal right hand man, he’s gotten more comfortable with adding things in. The debut of Corey Graves was great, balancing out the trio and adding tons of his hilarious NXT-esque heel commentary. I look forward to hearing these guys calling the action a helluva lot more than SmackDown on paper. You put all this together and you get a killer production formula. Braun Strowman’s new theme puts it over the top. Raw has found its identity from a production standpoint.
Handling of Talent
We’ve gone from a questionable handling of the entire roster to a picture-perfect usage of a bit more than half of the entire WWE roster. Only 10 draft picks (sans Brock Lesnar) out of Raw’s 33 were not put to use on tonight’s show. When you factor in the C-show Superstars, that is not bad at all. They could all have made it on that show instead. The debuts were undeniably tremendous. Nia Jax didn’t get dragged into some ridiculously long and bloated match where her talents weren’t put to the best use. She squashed a local talent, Britt Baker, in less than a minute. It was perfect. She’s a monster and is being handled that way. Finn Balor immediately shot up the rankings, turning into the most pushed man on the entire roster. It was the best handled and booked main roster debut of all time. He went into the fatal four way with a chip on his shoulder, only to pin the United States Champion. He then main events the first Raw of the new era, which so happens to be his first Raw in the company vs. Roman Reigns. He pins Roman Reigns, a multiple time world champion in the past, clean with Coup de Gras. This is something you only see on forums or booking games. It happened in real life this time. Now the match is set. Finn Balor is co-main eventing SummerSlam for the Universal Championship. One night in the company. Every booking decision was great tonight. All the handling of enhancement talent puts me over the moon. We KNOW their names. They don’t go unnoticed. We get a sense of identity before they are fed to the machine. Stuff like that is what puts the product over the top. We have an idea of everybody’s characters. We have an idea of their motivation and goals. Some are left mysterious only for us to find out in the future. There is not one complaint I have in terms of handling of talent after tonight’s show.
This is arguably the most surprising aspect of Raw. But, to be fair, I was indeed pushing for it. When you chop the roster in two and you factor in the motivation of talents and push to be a good show every week, you know wrestling is finally going to get back in the straddle to become the key focus of WWE television. That is why we got multiple 20 minute plus matches tonight. That would have been UNTHINKABLE even a few weeks back. They put good-fantastic workers in good environments for good matches that ended up being (wait for it) AMAZING. What a formula. Only if this happened BEFORE! The most extreme take could be 4 ****+ matches on this show, and I’d see that as acceptable. You had the two fatal four ways which were perfectly booked with the eight talents utilized. You had the ultra-heel/workhorse match with Cesaro, Kevin Owens, Rusev and the debuting Balor. You had the veteran/big name/workhorse other match with Sami Zayn, Chris Jericho, Roman Reigns and Sheamus. We then got the Women’s Championship match which is probably the best women’s match on TV ever. Charlotte and Sasha Banks told the old school story of the face finally winning the title chase. Through Eddie Guerrero tactics, Dana Brooke being a casualty, as well as the definitive finish with Charlotte saying “you will never beat me” only to be beaten…it was picture perfect. Another feather on the cap of Raw, the fan favorite finally realizing her dream in a TV MOTYC. The main event obviously capped off the show and it was fun. Roman laid waste to Finn, only for Finn to eventually comeback and gain yet another upset victory. Coup de Gras, 1-2-3, a heartbroken pissed off Roman. Absolutely tremendous. There is something in the brand split water, because the performers are more motivated than ever about what they do for a living.
The Final Equation
You add all of these elements together and you’ve got captivating television. Every important part of the roster feels important. Even if Roman Reigns has taken three pinfall loses in a row in his big matches, and yes, that’s blatant punishment; he’s still a captivating, polarizing character within the WWE. We all know he can be champion again someday, but he’s been overtaken via a debuting talent, something we didn’t know was even possible at this stage of the WWE’s existence. The brand split has already done more good for the company than it has in years. My social media timeline was buzzing with 99% positivity. I’ve never seen everybody so happy watching a show together online since WrestleMania 30. All of the right buttons are being pushed, both figuratively and literally. Production is top notch, we love the guys on top, the matches are breaking down barriers and are being extended time-wise because of the split. Raw was front loaded and is paying off. SmackDown Live crew has to be motivated in this case. Can they even come close to the show quality put on tonight? Time will tell, and in 24 hours, I’ll be back to report such as I’m on SmackDown Live review duties from now on for the site. I love wrestling, and tonight was a perfect case in hand as to why I do. It trumps everything in the world when even done right. This was done perfectly. Hence why it is an all time great Raw as well as a wrestling television show.