With Christmas behind us and only a few days to go in the year, I had considered doing some year in review column but since so many people are doing those, something a bit more topical seemed to be the right idea. This week we saw one of the most lopsided pair of WWE TV shows in recent memory with an absolutely dreadful “Monday Night Raw” and one of the best episodes of “Smackdown Live” in many years. Today we’re going to look at why one worked and one didn’t while comparing a few common themes.
Over on “Smackdown Live”, John Cena made his return to WWE by hyping up three title matches later on the card, getting the crowd to stop the Punk chants by getting them to talk about baseball, and issued a challenge for a World Title match at the upcoming Royal Rumble. Cena then left the ring with a near mic drop and the first match was ready to go.
Now what did we have here? Above all else, including the matches being announced and mocking the fans (fair enough as McMahon is a heel), it felt like something important on the blue show. I know that not everything can be a big important moment but McMahon’s promo really felt like something we’ve seen a bunch of times even in recent months. She insults the fans, sets up a match that wasn’t much of a surprise (Seth Rollins vs. Braun Strowman) and just gets the show off on a bad foot in general.
Whether you like him or not, Cena is someone who is going to get the crowd’s attention every single time. Setting up a World Title match at a major pay per view is a bit better use of time than making McMahon look evil and smarter than the Chicago crowd. It’s all about getting the fans ready for the show and a fired up Cena is going to be a lot better at accomplishing that than a laughing, evil McMahon.
Both shows actually followed up with the Tag Team Titles being defended next and again, “Smackdown Live” just did it better. This is a bit better performance from “Monday Night Raw” though as it made sense to have Cesaro and Sheamus retain the Raw Tag Team Titles over New Day, thereby allowing them both to move on to something else. The match was good enough for what it was, though the ending wasn’t in doubt.
Over on “Smackdown Live”, American Alpha won the Smackdown Tag Team Titles in a big surprise by winning a four team elimination tag. To top it off, Randy Orton was pinned instead of Luke Harper, meaning the potential Wyatt Family split was furthered while also giving us new champions. The match was more entertaining as well, with some good storytelling and the surprise pin.
Again, this one isn’t so much anti-”Monday Night Raw” but rather pro-”Smackdown Live”. You don’t want to hot potato the titles back to New Day and set them up for another loss, but American Alpha winning the titles made the show feel important. Something actually happened here and that makes for a more entertaining show almost by definition. More on that later though.
Both shows also featured the women this week and much like the tag division, this is a closer comparison with the edge going to the blue show. “Monday Night Raw” featured two matches: a Nia Jax squash and a match with shenanigans that saw Charlotte defeat Bayley. Over on “Smackdown Live”, we saw the Women’s Title on the line as Becky Lynch received her big rematch against Alexa Bliss. The latter of these matches included an interfering masked woman and what looked to be a horribly dislocated elbow (which seems to have been intentional and not painful).
This is a good example of why I like “Smackdown Live” more than its counterpart: something was wrapped up on Tuesday while Monday was all about waiting on the next big show. Charlotte vs. Bayley is pretty clearly going to happen for the title but we’ve now seen the match twice in two weeks. Now I’m supposed to want to see the same match again for the title down the line?
On the other hand, Bliss got the pinfall on Lynch, who can now feud with La Luchadora (whoever that may be, which offers another reason to come back to this story) before getting her hands on Bliss down the line. In other words, there are other ways to set up a match than by having the match air over and over again with different gimmicks to keep it from being the same thing (again, more on that later).
We’ll skip the filler segments (guess which I’ll take of setting up an Intercontinental Title match and building towards a secondary women’s feud vs. a squash being set up by ripping off a Bayley Bear’s head) and move on to the biggest problem of the night for “Monday Night Raw” and most of its weeks in general: the main event/World Title picture.
Where do you even begin here? How about with the fact that it’s the same issue as Bayley vs. Charlotte: I’m supposed to be interested in watching Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns with limited interference so I can watch Owens vs. Reigns with Chris Jericho locked in a shark cage and likely causing limited interference? This is eight days after watching Owens vs. Reigns when Jericho interfered? Keep in mind that this feud started on November 28 when Reigns beat Owens clean.
These three matches have combined for about 55 minutes and are supposed to make me want to watch what is likely a twenty minute match at “Royal Rumble 2017”. At least Bayley vs. Charlotte has only combined for about twenty minutes and has had a pair of screwy finishes. That’s not exactly great but it’s smarter than having two guys fight for about an hour and then wondering why there’s little interest left.
There’s a bonus on top of that as well: the match was for Reigns’ United States Title instead of the Raw World Title. Yeah, in addition to having the same match over and over, the one big idea is to have Reigns be the one at risk, meaning the match in January will have the same stipulations no matter what happens here. The solution of course is to have the World Champion get pinned though, because that’s worked so well in the past.
Over on “Smackdown Live”, AJ Styles defended the Smackdown World Title against Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin with Corbin having a star making performance in the process. This sets up Styles vs. Cena III which will take place over the course of about seven months rather than four weeks.
If you wanted to sum up the problem for “Monday Night Raw” in one word, it’s boring. We’ve seen these same matches (multiple times this month in some cases) and hear the same promos time after time. This is all of course a way to set up the same matches again down the line. How is that supposed to make me care about a show that is already as long as most pay per views?
I know “Smackdown Live” doesn’t have a lot of the issues that “Monday Night Raw” has to deal with (McMahon, three hours, McMahon, higher expectations, McMahon, hyping up the cruiserweights, McMahon and of course, McMahon) but there’s little excuse for a lot of what is thrown at us. “Smackdown Live” sets up goals and stories but then pays them off in short order. Why one show can get it so right while the other seems to go out of its way to get it wrong is fascinating in a way, but it’s really more depressing than anything else.
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