Welcome to Wrestling Wrecap, a column focused on discussing and dissecting the week in pro wrestling.
This past Monday’s Raw was a slog. Let me rephrase, because the honest truth is that most episodes of Raw, especially since the show moved to three hours in 2012, are a slog. Three hours is too long for a wrestling TV show. This isn’t a new stance, in fact, if you’ve been a fan of WWE for the past six years you’ve probably found yourself thinking that same thought during an episode of Raw. As a show that airs on “free TV,” Raw’s main purpose remains setting up for the next big WWE event. This usually means that nothing important is going to happen on a standard episode. It’s the equivalent of watching all of “The Godfather,” but the plot stops at someone asking Don Corleone for a favor.
So, what makes this week’s episode of Raw stand out among the constant mediocrity as a particularly painful edition? Well, cards on the table first, I did not subject myself to all of this. With the fast forwarding afforded to me by DVR, I only watched about an hour in total. Based off that hour, I want to tip my hat to anyone who stomached the entirety, because what I saw was more than enough.
A large portion of my problems with this week’s Raw can be found in the opening segment. Baron Corbin, the rare example of a man who looks bad both with and without hair, stood in the ring with his co-conspirators in the destruction of Braun Strowman’s arm, Bobby Lashley and Drew McIntrye. Corbin, whose in-ring work can be accurately described as “never good,” has found a role for himself as a swarmy-asshole authority figure. The problem there is that we’ve had over twenty years of that type of character dominating shows and it is never as good as when Vince McMahon did it. Corbin tries and while he is good at antagonizing the crowd, he is bad when it comes to actually making us care about what he is saying. That’s usually not a big deal, but it becomes one when you focus a large portion of your show on him and his antics.
Once Corbin is done taunting Braun (who has a pre-taped promo that draws more of a reaction from the crowd than anything Corbin does), he lets his pals speak. This is where my next problem lies. I almost fell asleep listening to Lashley talk, but thankfully Drew came in and reminded me that there are people on the Raw roster who are actually fun to listen to. So, why focus so much on Corbin?
WWE, especially for Raw, is fixated on the idea of having a storyline that can run through the entire episode that week. Think about last week and Seth Rollin’s hunt for Ambrose. It wasn’t exactly great, but it was at least serviceable, why? Because we care about Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. The same can’t be said for Corbin. In fact, I find myself at a loss to explain anything more about Corbin’s character than, “He wants to be the GM.” I can’t even accurately explain why he wants to be GM, other than to overtly abuse his powers in front of a paying crowd.
As for my final problem, three hours is long. It is even longer when you have a show that is dominated by bad guys doing bad things and not even having the common decency to make it fun. Corbin fails as an evil authority figure not just because of his lack of character or ability to engage a crowd. He fails because he is the most banal form of evil. The kind that just does it because, why not? For their own faults, Drew and Lashley at least have reasons for being dicks, Corbin just is because that is what has been written. He’s an authority figure abusing his power because that is what they need in order to fill three hours of Raw. That’s a shame for him and, more importantly, for the crowd in attendance and all of us attempting to sit through it at home.
Drip Drip Drip
If, like me, you’ve been watching WWE programming for a long time, you eventually start to notice that there are few things funnier to Vince McMahon than piss and shit. So, when Drake Maverick was accosted by Big Show at Survivor Series and peed his pants in response, I had it on good authority that this was going to become a story of some sort. A piss-soaked tale of love, betrayal and revenge. Just kidding, it was an excuse to make a bunch of pee jokes at the expense of the GM of 205 Live.
This week, however, to solidify that Raw was going to try its damnedest to put on a bad show. They had Drake piss. on camera, to a live audience that, one assumes, either found this incredibly funny or incredibly arousing. Because I decidedly fall into the “neither” camp on this particular fetish, I wasn’t very entertained by this piss spectacle. Nevertheless, I do feel I have a duty to explain, for those fortunate enough to miss the segment, exactly what went down.
Raw Tag Team champions, Authors of Pain, were scheduled to defend their belts against the team of Bobby Roode and Chad Gable. Roode’s whole character is that he wears a nice robe and has a great entrance theme. As you might imagine, the match itself is not very important. Roode and Gable mocked Drake last week for peeing his pants, because sometimes wrestlers must act like grade school children to get what they want.
So, this week, Drake took Roode’s robe and pranced around in it. As a distraction technique, this is pretty solid. Drake was not content to leave it there though. Wearing Roode’s robe, Drake went backstage, apparently luring a cameraman with him. He then popped up inside a restroom on the Titantron, because the folks in the production truck also hate Bobby Roode. Bobby, instead of focusing on his match, which again is for the titles, can’t help but watch as Drake wonders aloud how much of a shame it would be if something happened to the robe. Drake casts his gaze over to the toilet as his brilliant plan unfolds. He gently drapes the robe over the toilet before announcing, “here we go,” preparing anyone unaware with how male urination works for what is to come. Drake turns his back to the camera, because some modesty is needed even when you’re peeing for an audience of millions, and does his deed.
An absurdly loud zipping sound (seriously, was his crotch mic’ed up?), announces the arrival of his unit. Although the little crinkle sound when he puts it away kind of ruins the mystique of him shoot pissing. We get another, way too loud, zipping noise followed by an even louder flush that manages to capture everyone’s thoughts as they watched this.
Oh, Roode then got pinned and AOP retained. If you somehow cared about that.
When The Man Comes Around
This week’s Smackdown was, thankfully, a piss-free affair. Featuring a rabid promo from Samoa Joe, a great match between The Usos and The Bar, and a random face turn for Big Show (hey, it can’t all be good.) But the thing that was most exciting was the return of WWE’s current hottest star, Becky Lynch.
After turning on Charlotte in August, Becky won the Smackdown Women’s title and quickly skyrocketed to being the most talked about thing in all of wrestling. Watching her return promo it’s easy to see why. Lynch exudes the air of someone who knows that they are the best and isn’t going to let anyone stop them. How could we ever have been expected to boo someone who fights so hard, and so readily, for what they want? Especially when their main rival is someone who gets handed opportunities.
Shockingly, this actually goes from subtext to text once Charlotte comes out to confront Becky. Becky is, rightly, angry at Charlotte because she is aping The Man’s style, the style that helped her become the champion and star she is. Charlotte claims Becky is delusional, but she ends up sounding desperate herself. After all, she has lost decisively to Becky twice now. Something that clearly doesn’t sit well with The Queen.
Paige grants Charlotte another shot at Becky, because of her fire, and things get even more interesting from there. The rest of the Smackdown women’s roster comes out. First, the heels led by Mandy Rose, who calls out Paige for giving Charlotte numerous opportunities and overlooking the other ladies. The faces come out next with Naomi claiming they want a shot too. Paige, showing a basic competence that most authority figures in WWE lack, Decides to make a triple threat match at TLC with the winner of a battle royal being added, along with Charlotte and Becky.
The Smackdown women’s roster is one of the most competently booked divisions in WWE currently and adding more of the ladies into the mix is welcome. The battle royal was the main event of the show and it didn’t even feel out of place. Sure, it wasn’t anything to write home about, but the first step to making people care about your divisions is giving time to them. Asuka won that battle royal and the prospect of the three best women’s wrestlers on the main roster battling seems like Christmas come early. Here’s hoping Asuka gets to look like a threat again. After all, kicking Charlotte’s ass is what helped make The Man.
Takeover: It’s More Than a Name
For the last few years, one of the hottest places for independent wrestling has been the United Kingdom. Promotions like Revolution Pro, Insane Championship Wrestling and Progress consistently put on some of the most entertaining shows you’ll find, primarily consisting of the home-grown talents of the UK. Folks like Zach Sabre Jr, Will Ospreay, Marty Scurll, and NXT UK stalwarts Pete Dunne, Tyler Bate and Toni Storm have helped to showcase that the UK hosts some of the best talents in wrestling today. Naturally, it was only a matter of time before WWE came knocking.
NXT UK was pitched by Triple H, under his serious businessman persona, Paul Levesque, as a way to showcase these talents to a wider audience. A nice gesture, but one with a barely hidden ulterior motive. At the time NXT UK was first in development, Britain’s ITV announced its plan to bring back World of Sport, the long defunct program that showcased the best in English wrestling to fans. ITV is one of the 4 biggest channels in the United Kingdom and a wrestling program airing on the network could potentially attract more eyes than WWE. As you might expect, the possibility of potential competition caused WWE to create NXT UK, although the actual hour-long program for the brand didn’t debut until last month.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say I enjoy NXT UK. It has taken some time to establish the lesser-known folks on the roster and the structure of four matches an episode is a bit much, but it has become a fun companion to original flavor NXT. So, imagine my excitement when the first UK-centric Takeover was announced last week. That excitement has been tempered somewhat by news this week that WWE has signed its UK roster to exclusive contracts, striking a major blow to companies in the UK scene who aren’t partners with WWE.
On one hand, I’m happy for the men and women on the roster who can now make a living for themselves on the biggest platform imaginable. On the other hand, I will never feel okay with a huge corporation attempting to take even more of the pie than they already own. (Ask me about the Disney streaming service sometime if you really want to hear me rant.) WWE isn’t content to just be the biggest wrestling company on the planet, they want to control the vast majority of it. NXT UK was probably bound to happen even without World of Sport coming along and it probably won’t be long before NXT Japan happens. But I don’t want to sound too pessimistic here. I believe that WWE is inadvertently creating its own competition by being so obvious with its talent acquisitions and goals. Maybe we’ll get a British version of The Elite. I hear there’s this Neville guy who would be perfect to lead it.
Performer of the Week: Pete Dunne
Now time for my new weekly closing segment: Performer of the Week, where I honor the wrestler who impressed me the most this past week.
At this point, Pete Dunne has solidified himself as one of the best performers in all of WWE. This week, he proved why once again, by having the best match in NXT UK’s young life against Irish star, Jordan Devlin. Devlin was no slouch himself, but Dunne remains a standout with his fluid movements. The match moved between hard strikes, mat wrestling and submission work at a pace that is rare to see in WWE. Add in some impressive high-flying maneuvers from Devlin and you have a terrific match. Dunne remained the UK Champion, continuing his impressive reign with the title and earning his place as the week’s top performer.
If you made it down here, thanks for reading! Tell me what you thought about this week’s events in wrestling in the comments and, as always, any feedback is appreciated. Cheers!