Pruett's Pause: WWE Raw - Thoughts from inside Honda Center including John Cena's impending absence, Daniel Bryan's promotion to lead babyface, the new McMahon-Helmsley-Orton fact-gime, and more!
By Will Pruett
I was live at Honda Center last night for this show, which somehow gives me more insight about it. I'm not sure how it works, but let's all just go with it.
At the beginning of Raw, John Cena announced his injury and intention to get surgery. He will be out four to six months. This is a pretty big deal. WWE has made Cena the central focus of their television this year and, up until Sunday night, he has been WWE Champion for most of the year. John Cena is the biggest star in WWE.
John Cena has been the biggest star in WWE since 2005. In this time, he has been injured and forced to miss significant time twice. I thought it would be interesting to look at what WWE has done on those occasions as they waited for John Cena to recover.
His first major injury was in 2007, after holding the WWE Championship for over a year. John Cena looked to be about to miss around six months of action. In his absence, WWE decided to go all the way with Randy Orton as their lead antagonist and Triple H as the lead protagonist. On his first night away from the company, Orton was awarded the WWE Championship, lost it, and won it again.
The second major John Cena injury occurred after SummerSlam 2008. On this occasion, WWE had a feud to fall back on; Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels. Because Jericho vs. Michaels was so good, WWE was able to shift the focus of the show to it. They eventually moved the lead championship on the Raw brand into this feud as well.
WWE had opportunities on both of these occasions to make new stars, but they refused to do so. John Cena was hurt and out of action, why not try to make someone new? On both occasions, WWE produced strong antagonists to take some of the central focus of their potentially weaker protagonists. They didn't produce protagonists capable of rivaling the strong antagonists and eventually moved Cena into feuds with these antagonists right when he returned.
I don't believe WWE is doing the same thing with this John Cena injury. On this show, we saw Cena himself pass the torch and shift the focus from himself to Daniel Bryan. We also saw the McMahon family come out in full force as (very entertaining) condescending heels. This whole program seems designed to put Daniel Bryan over as the man capable of taking down the McMahon-Helmsley-Orton Fact-gime.
Not only was Daniel Bryan presented as the central protagonist in this program, he was presented, to the live crowd, as the central babyface in WWE. After SummerSlam, I believed this would be the case. Remember, Daniel Bryan did beat John Cena clean at SummerSlam. If WWE did not have big plans for him, why would this happen? Bryan was extremely over with the (usually) very traditional WWE crowd in Anaheim. It wasn't just the "Yes" chants or the beard, it was actual sympathy. WWE is making people feel for Daniel Bryan and believe he needs their support. This is how babyface stars are created.
This John Cena injury presents WWE with an opportunity. Cena doesn't have much time left before he moves from main event star to special attraction. It is time to start preparing for a Cena-less future (or at least a future with less Cena). This next four to six months (well, let's be realistic, Cena will be back in three) is very important for WWE. Can Daniel Bryan become WWE's lead protagonist and hold onto his role when Cena returns? He has a better shot than anyone has ever had.
And now for some random thoughts...
- Did you know they replay the end of the pay-per-view for the live crowd in the arena the night after? I did not. I was pleasantly surprised.
- One of my next pieces for the site will be a guide on how to act at live events. Some people absolutely stun me with how uncouth they can be in public settings.
- Raw's opening, at times, felt like one of the big TNA Impact transition shows they like to do after Bound for Glory. The segment flowed from one story (Daniel Bryan's quest for respect as a wrestler and champion) to another (Bryan's vengeance against the McMahon family) naturally the way those never ending Impact segments usually do. When a new story begins, a little more exposition is needed.
- Stephanie McMahon may have had one of her best promos ever in the opening segment. She was condescending and judgmental. Her justification was absolutely evil and her oblivious belief in it was great.
- Daniel Bryan's response to Stephanie McMahon bordered on misogynistic at times, but not too much. More than anything, he seemed confident and defiant. Bryan is not going to be "Stone Cold" and he isn't going to beat up security guards. Bryan will, however, fight when it is time to fight. This is a different tact than most WWE babyfaces take.
- Can we all just marvel at the match John Cena had with Daniel Bryan with a torn muscle and an injured elbow?
- Cody Rhodes vs. Damien Sandow really lost the interest of the crowd at the beginning. I know it was a SummerSlam rematch, but it didn't carry much weight.
- The finish of Sandow vs. Rhodes actually woke the crowd up. I suppose this was a nice quality finish.
- There's something interesting about the way WWE is allowing absolute evil to rule its product. The McMahon Family is performing evil actions in the name of "the business" and Brad Maddox is being as evil as possible to impress them. This whole structure could actually allow for a great build up for the heroes of WWE. Dolph Ziggler, Mark Henry, and Big Show all have a chance with the secondary babyface slot opening up as Bryan has moved up, Sheamus is injured, and Orton has turned.
- Paul Heyman's promo offering to welcome C.M. Punk back into his family after an apology was great. I love pretty much everything Heyman is doing right now. WWE seems to have given him the reigns for his programs and they are allowing him to do the best work of his career.
- The Funkadactyls are the most unlikable people in WWE. Watch Total Divas and you'll know why.
- Dolph Ziggler kept his three-on-one effort against The Shield interesting, but it was odd to see The Shield seriously threatened not once, but twice, in three-on-one situations. WWE has something special with this act, but they positioned them poorly in this regard.
- On the other side of positioning, I like The Shield being used as obstacles between The McMahon family, Orton, and the rest of the roster. The Shield are an actual threat, so using them this way isn't just turning them into a three-headed Big Boss Man. It is using a heel force to protect a potentially vulnerable champion.
- Alberto Del Rio had a pretty easy night of work because Sin Cara can't help but injure himself. I was surprised at how alive the live crowd was for Sin Cara. Maybe there is something to his act, but I'm not sure.
- Holy random pairings, Batman! Ricardo Rodriguez is now best friends with Rob Van Dam? Do they have the same supplier or something? What do they have in common? This is a weird one. I know RVD can't cut a decent promo to save his life, but is Ricardo going to enhance his act enough?
- Zeb Colter's act can still get some pretty heated heat, especially in Southern California.
- The Primetime Players are babyfaces now. I wonder if WWE felt uncomfortable having fans boo their first openly gay superstar in Darren Young or if this was planned long ago. Either way, it was confusing for a moments then pretty good. The fans got behind the Players and the Players fill a nice hole as a babyface tag team set to challenge The Wyatt Family and The Shield.
- The Big Show looks to be in amazing shape. He's had his ups and downs on the scale and this is the best he's looked in years. I hope the road doesn't add too much weight to his frame, as I expect some great things out of the smaller Big Show.
- I hope I never have to shower with the Bully Ray ripoff version of Ryback.
- The Shield needed luck to beat one guy again with Big Show. There is merit to pushing babyfaces, but The Shield and the numbers game they play should mean a little more.
- C.M. Punk's promo surprised me. His sudden vigor and passion when yelling at the heckling fan in the front row was crazy. It ignited the crowd in Anaheim and was interesting. Yes, I know it goes against the "Be A Star" principle to some, but it was a great way to deal with a heckler while firing up the crowd. Punk can bring passion like none other and, while it's more effective when used against another wrestler, it was great here.
- No one expected Punk to return to Paul Heyman's side, but the tease was nice. Punk reasserted his goals in this feud nicely, especially after a major loss to Brock Leanar. Paul Heyman needs more obstacles between himself and Punk, but this was a nice set up for their continuing feud.
- The fight between Punk and Curtis Axel was also pretty surprising. I was confused at first by the lack of referee, but the fight environment worked for me. I have to wonder why Axel was in his fear if he had no match on this show. Am I to assume Curtis Axel doesn't own pants?
- Who is the next opponent for Punk? He has beat up Axel multiple times and Lesnar is absent. If the plan is to continue the Heyman program, Heyman is going to need more warriors to fight for him. I believe Matt Morgan would be a great opponent for Punk, but is he too much of an upgraded version of Axel?
- Why do they continue to use the LED lantern for Bray Wyatt? I promise you, WWE, there are better prop artisans who can make you a nice lantern with more realistic looking fire. Embrace the true prop artists in this country!
- I'm enjoying the trend of clapping along with the Wyatt's theme. Try it when it comes to your town, folks!
- Will someone please explain to R-Truth that this is not the time when we crank it up. That time was 2001. Now, I would like to crank it down.
- Los Matadores might be the most hilarious thing we see in WWE this year.
- The Uso's vs. 3MB was a pretty sleepy match. Maybe I approached wrestling burn out at this point.
- Speaking of burn out, The Miz doesn't exactly make me want to watch more wrestling. His never-ending feud with Wade Barrett is not exciting for anyone. Even they look bored with each other.
- The Fandango and Miz segments on SummerSlam made me chuckle. The future feud between them excites me less.
- Why was the entire roster gathered on the stage for the Orton coronation? Was this explained better on commentary? If anything, I believe this hurt the segment as no one helping Daniel Bryan proved to be pretty confusing with everyone hanging out watching him get beat up. Where were his friends?
- Triple H's explanation of his turn and reluctant embracing of Randy Orton was fantastic. The heat he garnered with his promo worked perfectly. The crowd was legitimately angry at him by the time he passed the microphone to Orton. Triple H was able to assure Orton would get a heel pop, which was important.
- The closing segment makes Daniel Bryan look brave, determined, and dumb. These seem to be essential qualities for most babyfaces in wrestling. He wanted to get his hands on Orton and Triple H so much he was willing to take a beating jut to try. It's not the best story, but it is a good one.
I am actually very excited about the direction WWE is going in right now. They have a new number one babyface being established. They have a strong heel force for him to work against. They have the crowd ignited in support of this babyface. This is their time to try something new and they are actually doing so. This feels different and more exciting than anything we've seen in the last few years.
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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