RAW DEAL: Treading water until WrestleMania 32

Joe 'the Grappler' Marsalis
RAW DEAL: Treading water until WrestleMania 32
With RAW still an aimless 3 hour variety show, Smackdown and NXT have become the best shows to watch

BIRMINGHAM, AL—It’s been almost two weeks after a monumental Royal Rumble, and although the status quo’s supposed to have shaken up, it feels like we’re all treading water until WrestleMania 32 comes around.

There’s a lot of wrestling to go through in a single week—God bless you if you’re able to watch all of them—so let’s go through them one by one:

RAW is still an aimless 3 hours

The Monday night behemoth has all the talent and all the time they have to maximize those talents, but it’s still a largely aimless 3 hours every week. It’s more of a variety show than a self-contained story from top to bottom, and that’s hurting everyone.

We’re all headed for a huge malfunction at the junction at Fastlane, when Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose meet to decide the new #1 contender for Triple H’s championship, but a lot of the hype just gets lost in 3 long hours of nothing much.

RAW would be a lot better if everyone mattered in the giant tapestry, but the shortsighted Creative team headed by the equally shortsighted Vince McMahon keep believing it’s better off to divide the roster into clear social classes. It’s not like in NXT (which we’ll get to later) where anyone can mix it up with everyone, and that equality makes the entire roster look competent and competitive.

Meanwhile, they’re back to where they once were with Roman Reigns. He’s not the cheered badass he was when he won the World Heavyweight Championship from Sheamus on a random December episode of RAW; instead, he’s merely a second- or even third-tier member of an ensemble cast, and his perception suffers as a result.

It’s coming from a reluctance to shove him down the audience’s throat—while there’s a wise lesson to be learned from John Cena’s run in the mid-2000s to the early 2010s, the real lesson is you can take a risk and push a guy to the moon as long as he embodies everything the crowd wants to see. And what they want is a guy who can kick ass without question. I mean, do you see the awe Brock Lesnar elicits from the crowd whenever he comes out and does his thing? 

SmackDown is the show to watch

Thanks to the brand split no longer being a thing for the past 5 or so years, SmackDown still gets most of the big stars and puts them in no-nonsense action because they only have two hours to fill. Granted, there’s still room for improvement, but the blue brand is upping their presentation week after week.

It’s lowkey been the place for PPV undercard-quality matchups for those who take the time out to watch it, but people choose to skip it because WWE neglected to give the show any gravity.

That’s all changing in 2016.

Watch the end of that clip. AJ Styles and Chris Jericho, two of the biggest names in the wrestling world right now, made a match for next week on SmackDown. That’s a really simple move that’ll encourage you to be excited and tune in next week. RAW doesn’t even do that anymore. They hardly give out anything to look forward to; anything that’s scheduled to happen is scheduled on the Internet during the weekend, so how will the WWE Universe get hyped?

And I don’t even need to tell you how Mauro Ranallo, a legitimate combat sports broadcaster, makes the action on the show sound even more… urgent. And urgency = drama.

NXT is about to blow up, so hop onboard if you haven’t already

I’ve been telling you about all these indy/Japan stars Triple H has been signing for the yellow brand. Adding Austin Aries and Shinsuke Nakamura to a core of Finn Balor, Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe, Hideo Itami, and Apollo Crews (on top of all the other great homegrown wrestlers getting time) is pretty much strapping a rocket to NXT’s back.

And the amazing part is that everyone down at Full Sail gets some time to shine. Not only when they work in squash matches, but also when they get to play within some pretty logical rules and boundaries and flourish in an actual system. There’s a status quo down in NXT, but it’s a meritocracy, not an oligarchy like it is on RAW. That allows the system space to be a little loose—people can have good exhibition matches that eventually mean something in the bigger picture, and players outside of the title picture can mix it up competitively with champions without necessarily meaning they’re in line for a title shot.

It’s wonderful, what a little commitment to meaning can do for your stories and your show. Watch NXT. You’ll be glad you did. 

The temple is in full swing

Lucha Underground is back!

Here’s another show that you need to be getting behind, if you haven’t yet. Much like NXT, almost everything inside the Lucha Underground temple means something, but on steroids. (No, I don’t mean the wrestlers are all super-jacked.) Lucha Underground is highly committed to maintaining an Aztec fantasy mythos, and if you’re into a little suspension of disbelief, this show is for you.

And if you’re missing Rey Mysterio, you can find him right here.

For the believers who have been following since the monumental first season, (SPOILER ALERT) a lot of things have changed. Dario Cueto is no longer in control of the original temple, which now belongs to Lucha Underground Champion Mil Muertes and his valet/avatar/possible love interest, Catrina. Almost all the fighters have been called to return to whet their bloodlust, along with more new faces comprised of familiar wrestlers who definitely belong in a high-flying, lucha libre setting. The second season is starting out slow, but it’ll eventually pick up as we roll along.

Here, I’ll even throw in a full match for you, because you should be watching this show if you’re a wrestling fan.

Do you listen to podcasts? Would you want to listen to a local podcast about pro wrestling? If the answers to those questions – especially that last one – are yes, then you should check out the cleverly-named Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, featuring Mellow 94.7 DJ and PWR General Manager Stan Sy, wrestling writer Romeo Moran, and all-around multimedia person and former voice of PWR Raf Camus! On their latest episode, they talk about the latest PWR Live, Bret Hart’s cancer diagnosis, Lucha Underground, and what’s new with the WWE right now! Listen to it here! – Rappler.com

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