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Seth Rollins cares too much. Like an emotionally abusive partner cares too much. Yes, this poor man is burdened by his affection for Monday Night Raw, the fans, and WWE. It’s an affliction, really. An illness. Folks, he’s sick.
WWE has successfully leaned into the fans’ perception of the man (not “The Man”) as a shameless company shill who would do or say anything to maintain his spot on top. Whether that’s true of the real Colby Lopez is beside the point. That’s like wondering if Daniel Craig shares a love of justifiable homicide with James Bond, or if the guy sticking his hand up Kermit’s ass is actually a frog. The primary job of pro wrestling is to make you suspend your disbelief long enough to invest in scripted fights between people in their underwear. If that means leaning into conventional wisdom and conjecture, so be it. That’s all part of the work.
Great heels often say one thing, while doing the exact opposite. Ric Flair said he was the best wrestler in the world, but he routinely cheated to win matches. Mr. McMahon claimed moral superiority over Stone Cold Steve Austin while performing various unholy acts as cheating on his wife, forcibly wedding his daughter to the Undertaker, and employing Viscera. Hypocrisy is the heel’s bread and butter. The audience knows he’s full of shit, and it makes a babyface truth teller like Kevin Owens all the more beloved for calling attention to his lies. Assuming this pays off the way it should, with Rollins going full bastard with the help of AOP, WWE has a perfect main event feud while Brock Lesnar eats a bunch of raw meat or something, and maybe (just maybe) a date with CM Punk in Tampa. Curious that Punk isn’t going to be on WWE Backstage tonight when Rollins is on. Very, very curious.
I’ve said in previous weeks that I hate arrest angles. They’re faker than Sasha Banks’s extensions. How can I suspend my aforementioned disbelief when the actual procedures of law enforcement are barely adhered to, and this is the mugshot they give us? It’s cheap heat, but like a wedding, a pregnancy, or insulting a town’s sports team, it always works. So, I can only shake my nerdy fist at the TV for so long before I come to accept that this is wrestling, and wrestling writers are always going to come back to what works. Vince McMahon has gotten his wish and turned Rusev from a smiling goofball with a silly catchphrase into a hardened badass with absolutely no regard for authority. Where have we heard that one before? Again, if it works, keep doing it. I pray to God we actually get a wrestling match out of this one day.
Last week, I speculated that Charlotte Flair would get a tag team partner to help her thwart the Kabuki Warriors. Could it be Natalya? Naomi? Liv Morgan? This was me trying to avoid the obvious. It was my foolhardy effort to cobble together a plot development that didn’t strain credulity or damage some of WWE’s most important characters. If I was aiming for accuracy rather than wishful thinking, I would have just said “It’s gonna be Becky Lynch, even though we already saw this match two weeks ago.”
It’s gonna be Becky Lynch, conspicuously off of Raw for the week and cutting digital exclusive promos about collecting debts. Trust me when I say that it takes a lot to convince VKM to leave a big star off TV (who isn’t named Brock Lesnar). “Goddamn, we don’t have a segment for Becky! Not even a promo? What the fuck?”
The TLC pay-per-view is a week from Sunday, which leaves WWE only one week to set up this match. That’s irrelevant, though, since we A) saw this match two weeks ago and B) Becky and Asuka do have unfinished business from last year’s Royal Rumble, where Asuka gave Becky a rare clean loss in a singles match. The match already makes sense from that perspective, but I can’t stand Becky and Charlotte as a tag team. They’re probably going to win, too. WWE can sell those “Becky Two Belts” shirts again! They can do another mismatched tag team champions angle (again, one of those cliches that always works)! Maybe we get Charlotte against Becky again at Royal Rumble? Even if this program is heading in the obvious direction, there’s still enough uncertainty as to where we’re going for Mania that I remain mildly intrigued. Just give me Becky vs Asuka one-on-one before this is all over.
What I’m less intrigued by is the big logjam in the upper midcard. All of these guys (Randy Orton, Drew McIntyre, Ricochet, AJ Styles, Rey Mysterio, Humberto Carillo) are mad at each other for variations on the same reason. They want the U.S. Title, they have been beaten up by someone, etc. Besides Randy Orton’s typical tweenery chicanery, it’s all pretty straightforward. I assume we’ll get some combination of these guys at TLC, probably with that U.S. Title hanging above a ladder. At least we’ll get a good car crash match out of it.
The rest of the show was a variety of squash matches, varying in length. Eric Young, Tony Nese, and Akira Tozawa all got the jabroni treatment, which is still better than going over on the salmon fillets at catering. The Viking Raiders also beat some local talent, reminding us that Monday Night Raw has three viable tag teams and they’re all heels. I’m happy to see WWE making use of undercard guys like this, after a period of time where Vince simply wouldn’t even let them show their faces on TV. Matches like these are important, as they condition the audience to know that certain talent matters. I wish they had better defined characters or that there was any obvious challenger for Viking Raiders, but with WWE, you simply can’t have it all.
It’s more important for WWE to build a couple top level stories than to have long, competitive matches every week. People don’t tune in to Raw for long matches. They tune in for good stories; for drama, emotion, humor, and a few cliffhangers. The wrestling is the culmination of those stories, or in some cases a chance for plot development. A long match like a gauntlet works because of the story behind it, be it Seth Rollins or Kofi Kingston. Hotshotting pay-per-view-quality attractions or letting Ricochet go 20 minutes against Rey Mysterio or whatever doesn’t move the needle unless there’s stakes and feeling behind it.
Rollins and Owens is a good story. For all my complaining, Rusev and Lashley is an effective story within the parameters of pro wrestling. When those matches happen down the line, they’ll matter, because WWE has given us a reason to care.
Final Grade: B
Back Thursday morning for the Wednesday Night War.