Pruett's Pause: WWE Raw - Daniel Bryan makes the unbeliever believe, John Cena is a nice guy again, C.M. Punk vs. Brock Lesnar becomes The Best vs. The Beast, Total Divas preview, and more!
By Will Pruett
Sometimes, I think we all feel like WWE is playing with our emotions. I don't mean this in the obvious "invest in this story and receive emotional catharsis" way. WWE does provide catharsis and they do tell great stories (sometimes) to make us feel it. This emotional toying is on a more meta level. WWE seems to be intentionally trying to convince meta-fans (credit to Grantland's Masked Man for the title) they're going to bury someone they have no intention of burying. The results cause old-school investment in a character and a story from a normally withdrawn sect of the audience.
This is happening right now with Daniel Bryan. As Bryan's "Yes"ed his way to the ring to sign his contract with John Cena, I tensed up. Cena never takes a challenge seriously, even when it is a monster like Ryback. How will he treat Bryan? What will he say to belittle him? Shockingly, the opening segment just seemed to put Bryan over. Cena explained his choice last week by simply stating Bryan is the best. Cena even took him seriously by saying it will take better than the best to take the WWE Championship. Bryan was suddenly an opponent on Cena's level, which is always a challenging thing to be.
Brad Maddox (my favorite WWE authority figure of the last five years) then told fans Bryan would have multiple matches on this show. Again, I was convinced Bryan would suddenly be buried. After Cena dropped a Great Khali reference earlier in the night, I pictured a tired and battle-worn Bryan dropping to the ground after a Khali chop. This didn't happen at all, but the image was still in my mind.
Instead of a Khali squash chop, Bryan had a decent match with Jack Swagger and a very good match with Antonio Cesaro. These two efforts showed how good Bryan can be and (quite possibly) provided a breakout moment for Cesaro, who helped light the crowd on fire. When Bryan eventually disposed of Cesaro, Ryback's music hit and I once again feared a squash. After all, Ryback is a monster and Bryan is everyone's little bearded buddy. This scenario couldn't have been further from happening. Bryan fought hard against Ryback, who grew frustrated because Bryan couldn't be put away. This lead Ryback to use a table and be disqualified.
Daniel Bryan wrestled for almost 40 minutes on Monday Night Raw against game opponents and did not lose. Were all my fears for nothing?
WWE knows how meta-fans see Bryan. They know he is smaller than most. They know many meta-fans love him for his ability and fear his eventual burial. WWE also knows how to play on those fears. Wrestling is turning even their most jaded fans into children who believe again. They're causing you and I, the ones who know the stories, guess the outcomes, and enjoy the athleticism, to forget we're watching a story and get emotionally invested.
It takes a great story to make me buy in on this level. The last time I did so was Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI with Shawn's career on the line. WWE has found a way to make me invest again. They're using my online wrestling fan sensibilities against me and telling a story made for the 21st century. What we're witnessing is something new in wrestling and it's pretty cool.
And now for some random thoughts...
- I'm fine with every Raw opening with a Brad Maddox drum roll.
- I'm enjoying the new, vicious Alberto Del Rio. His attacks on the weak spots of his opponents keep him from seeming like an honorable person. He isn't cheating, but he is also not doing things the right way. I don't even miss Ricardo Rodriguez right now. His absence may be helping Del Rio's act.
- Sheamus is a trooper for fighting with his leg in such poor shape. Perhaps the bruise looks worse than it is, but he is gutsy nonetheless.
- Booker T and Teddy Long dislike each other. I like Booker T's long hair. What am I supposed to be talking about?
- Christian on a winning streak is a fun mid-card story. It doesn't exactly light the world on fire, but it is a fun way to establish Christian again. He can definitely mean something for WWE and help younger talent with a little bit of work.
- Ryback is on his third character in three months. I wish him the best of luck as he attempts to make it four for four with Doink facepaint next month.
- Mark Henry rolling into Texas and turning babyface is a happy coincidence. I'm happy to see him retaining a lot of what made him work as a heel. I don't need to see the red-singlet-wearing Henry smiling. I want to see a bad ass I look forward to cheering for.
- The Shield did their job really well on this show. I'm happy to see this program with The Uso's continuing and Henry getting involved. A six-man tag at SummerSlam would be very fun.
- Dolph Ziggler's matches against mid-card heels could definitely be more squash-like. He gives a lot of offense to the likes of Darren Young. I'm not saying Young is bad, but Ziggler is a babyface attempting to get over and You g challenging him doesn't help.
- Big E Langston vs. Dolph Ziggler should be a fun program.
- The preview for Total Divas did not give me a ton of confidence in the show. It feels very scripted and poorly acted. Let's all hope the show is entertaining in its campiness and not just altogether terrible.
- Eva Marie cut a promo I would describe as slightly worse than cardboard.
- If you were one of the many people freaking out about seeing a woman's nipple for less than a second on Raw, I feel sad for you. Let's all resolve as wrestling fans to class it up and be better than that.
- Brad Maddox is in the middle of McMahon family drama. I know this is supposed to have a big payoff, but right now it is undercard comedy. Until these segments get better (or more important) I'm not going to pay much attention to them.
- The only involvement from The Wyatt Family this week was a video package. I was surprised by this, but it makes sense. WWE doesn't want viewers to get used to see the unique attacks from The Wyatt's. A week off from their appearances will make the next one seem much more important.
- I forgot about Fandango vs. Cody Rhodes until I read a report about it happening. This could be due to wrestling overload, or the marathon of Game of Thrones my wife and I watched last night. You're all lucky this entire article isn't about The Red Wedding.
- C.M. Punk is the perfect babyface for this moment in time. He was beaten. He was hurt. He is in pain, but he is not afraid. I'm seriously impressed with his intensity and anger in promos as he confronts Paul Heyman. This week was merely a shadow of what Heyman and Punk did last week, but it was still very good.
- I'm glad someone finally questioned the validity of the "via satellite" confrontations on Raw.
- "The Beast vs. The Best" will be another match I have no choice but to emotionally invest in at SummerSlam. Darn you, WWE, for convincing me to scream my head off in Los Angeles in a few weeks.
- As I said on Twitter earlier this week (and as my above essay and points show), I am a mark. You're a mark. We're all marks. Let's enjoy wrestling!
- Rob Van Dam's matches seem to only matter if his opponent gets hurt. Humorously enough, he is very over with crowds. I saw a little too much of the illogical taunting RVD from TNA during his match with Wade Barrett.
- I'm amazed by the amount of time Daniel Bryan and his three matches received on this show. When the commentators referred to this as the main event with about 45 minutes left to go, I was shocked. They followed through and we saw something pretty special.
- Bryan vs. Cesaro is a match WWE could use in the future. They tore it down in their encounter here and indie wrestling fans have to know they're capable of much more.
- John Cena and Ryback have perfected their Tables Match on the road for about three months. They did some fun stuff with the stipulation at Payback. I'm actually looking forward to their Raw match next week.
- Some said they saw a little Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania IX in Cena at the end of this show, but once again, I saw a good guy doing the right thing. It would be nice if this was the constant and not the exception.
- Was Kane brainwashed by The Wyatt Family? Will The Wyatt's be involved in Kane vs. Bryan next week?
- Where was Randy Orton on this show? I'm beginning to wonder if the injury he suffered on Smackdown was a fun mask for him to be uninvolved on WWE TV until SummerSlam, making a cash-in a little more of a story.
- Also, where was Big Show? I'm not going to complain about not seeing him, but it does surprise me.
This show was a maintenance show used to reinforce the awesomeness of last week's episode. This is not a bad thing. WWE needed to slow down before they burnt out of the road to SummerSlam. I expect more of the same next week and a great final couple of episodes before the biggest show of the Summer.
So, what did you think of the show? Agree? Disagree? Either way, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or to follow me and interact on twitter at twitter.com/itswilltime.
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