Thursday, May 21, 2009

What does Raw need?

I've been racking my brain for days trying to write this blog and I'm having a hard time figuring out what to write without sounding like an armchair booker. Of course, that's the beauty of the internet, especially when it comes to wrestling fans, everyone thinks they're an expert. Go around to any website with editorials or any wrestling message board, all the smarks think they know better than the people actually in the business; they're even more annoying than Monday morning quarterbacks. I'm not going to pretend to have the answers, this is simply a collection of ideas that I would personally enjoy seeing on Monday nights. Whether you agree or disagree (especially disagree), I'd love to hear from you, but do not take this as an authoritative cure-all for Monday Night Raw.

In the lead up to the Draft, the general assumption was that Smackdown was going to be gutted in favor of stacking Raw with top talent, and while Raw definitely has the bigger names - John Cena, Triple H, Randy Orton, Batista and Shawn Michaels - it's just not translating to interesting television. The problem with flooding Raw with all the A-listers is that these guys are all established and we've seen them all in the main event scene for years. Shawn Michaels has been headlining shows since 1995, Triple H has been a top guy since 1999, Randy Orton since 2004, Cena & Batista since 2005... it's hard to come up with fresh matches with these guys when we've just been shuffling them around against each other for the last five years. The whole purpose of the roster split was to be able to keep guys apart and keep things feeling fresh while creating new stars, but when all the biggest names are on one show, it's overkill.

By contrast, Smackdown only has one certifiable wrestling icon, The Undertaker, and he's been off TV since before the Draft even went into effect, yet the show is infinitely more entertaining. While guys like Chris Jericho and Edge are big, they're not Triple H and John Cena big, yet the show feels way more fresh and exciting, why? Look at the feuds: Jericho and Mysterio, as far as I can remember, have never feuded in WWE; CM Punk and Umaga have never feuded; and while Jeff Hardy and Edge have had numerous encounters over the years, they've never been allowed to carry a major top-level feud between just the two of them over the World Championship. While all this is going on, a guy like John Morrison is taking his spot as a future main eventer while the aforementioned CM Punk is only one memorable moment away from becoming the next big thing.

That excitement and anticipation is missing from Raw, MVP burst onto the scene on the red brand, but instead of getting a major feud with a guy like Randy Orton, he's just... there. When you look at Smackdown, there's no mystery why The Miz is the most entertaining part of Raw every week, because he's the only guy doing something new and never seen before - a former midcard talent immediately making a splash by calling out the biggest name in the company. It's like what the Jericho/Goldberg feud could've been had WCW not unceremoniously scrapped it before even giving it a chance.

But outside of The Miz, what else on Raw is really something we've never seen before? And this is nothing against the guys involved, Cena, Big Show, Orton and Batista all definitely deserve their spots, but their feuds feel stale. I feel like I've been watching Orton vs. Evolution for six months now - he feuded with Batista in December, Batista got hurt, Triple H stepped in, Triple H goes down, then Batista's back again. And of course there's the whole issue that this entire battle stems from a storyline that took place five years ago. As for the Cena/Big Show feud, the match didn't exactly set the world on fire and I'm one of the biggest Cena marks alive and there's only so many times I can see him "overcome the odds." He's the strongest, most resilient and greatest performer in WWE today, so him playing any kind of underdog role is pretty ridiculous.

WWE needs to take the gamble on Raw that they did with Smackdown - new stars, fresh feuds, and interwoven storylines. Orton vs. MVP, Cena vs. Miz, Batista vs. Matt Hardy, are a few ideas that I think would make for interesting television. Then a fresh upper midcard featuring guys like Kofi Kingston, William Regal, The Brian Kendrick, and maybe even a guy like Santino, who could all be inserted into a big feud at any time. And of course, Raw still has the biggest source of untapped potential in the business today - Mr. Kennedy. The guy is a walking goldmine and the only thing that's kept him from achieving superstardom is a series of unfortunate events.
If Kennedy can stay healthy and perform at his early 2007 level, there's nothing stopping him from becoming a huge star within the industry.

The absence of Triple H and Shawn Michaels hasn't helped matters on Raw, whether you love them or hate them, there's no one on the brand that can outperform them in a big match situation. It's been an interesting experiment to see how Raw does without the two of them, but WWE is simply a better place with one or both of them around. The sooner they're back, the sooner Raw will improve and I'm hopeful these rumors about HBK being out until 2010 are untrue. That said, his health and happiness are priority number one, but a WWE ring isn't the same without The Heartbreak Kid.

Raw has all the tools to be the premiere brand in sports entertainment, but I get the impression that WWE is afraid of taking a risk on the flagship show. Obviously business is shaky and this economy is terrifying, but you're not going to get out of the ditch if you keep the car in neutral. To continue the metaphor, the wheels are spinning just fine, but Raw's just not moving forward while Smackdown cruises right on by. This isn't a George Clooney Ocean's movie, you can't just throw out a bunch of big names and expect people to watch.

5 comments:

  1. I think another thing that Smackdown is doing right at the moment is they are throwing the talent together into minifeuds so there is a lot of activity between a lot of wrestlers and not just a bunch of continuing feuds.

    I mean, look at everything that is going around just Chris Jericho... on any given week, there is a good reason now for him to wrestle Rey Mysterio, John Morrison, Jeff Hardy, Edge, CM Punk... and this is just after a few weeks.

    So your use of the word interwoven is highly appropriate.

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  2. Yeah, that's what I love best about Smackdown right now, the show just flows naturally. The guys you listed, any combination of them could go at it one week and it makes perfect sense. Then there are other stars like Ziggler, R-Truth, Shelton and Ortiz who round out the undercard and can be mixed and matched as well.

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  3. I feel the biggest problem is the writers in the back. While everything supposedly has that "Vince filter" to it, it is obvious when the writing team feels totally stale and I blame that on some of the figureheads, namely Brian Gewirtz. I think you adjust that, get a few men that are smart to the business on the team (which they tried with the hiring of Court Bauer in 2005), and the supposed staleness goes away.

    For example, the first part of the Triple H/Orton feud made everyone forget that these two people fought a million times. I think you get a team of guys that don't crack under the pressure of creating TV on a weekly basis (easier said than done) and that know their pro wrestling and are given room to run with great ideas, the show is a hell of a lot better as a consequence.

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