Looking At The State Of Raw

This past week on Raw, the IC champion, Seth Rollins won a TLC match against GM Baron Corbin less than a week away from the TLC pay-per-view so essentially the gimmick of an entire gimmick event was given away on television. Yes, I know that WWE Network subscriptions are only $10 so it’s not that they are costing themselves revenue by putting the match on TV ahead of time, but rather overexposing an already overexposed stipulation. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, these gimmick-based shows do nothing but water down stipulations and take away from the aura of a gimmick match when a storyline actually calls for it. A stipulation match should be booked based on if it suits the feud, not the month on the calendar. Further illustrating that point were the near record-low ratings that Raw garnered this week. The Wrestling Observer’s Bryan Alvarez expressed his discontent with the status of the show, prompting Jimmy Jacobs, former member of the WWE writing team and current Impact producer, to respond that writing a three-hour show isn’t an easy process.

Obviously, Jacobs is a brilliant mind and he’s correct about the task of producing several hours of TV on the WWE schedule, but what exactly caused this slump for the company’s flagship show?

I wrote about it extensively throughout the past year, the Roman Reigns super push was essentially limiting the ability for others to achieve the next level of star power. There’s a certain time frame that a competitor has when they can organically be elevated further up the card to have their star power maximized. The opportunity cost of the forced Reigns push was that it created a glass ceiling for others on the roster, and regardless of how over they were with the audience, they were going to stay a level below Roman Reigns. For example, the peak for Braun Strowman to make the jump to the main event scene would’ve been around WM 34, but management was set on Roman so Braun won the tag titles with a kid from the crowd. Braun’s random heel turn a few months ago to try to solidify Reigns’ championship spot further diluted his reaction from the crowd. When Strowman was substituted for Reigns more recently, he wasn’t nearly as over as he was earlier this year. In theory, since Vince McMahon owns sports entertainment in the United States, management can position their choice in the top spot, but when you put as many chips on an athlete as WWE brass bet on Roman, there can be a substantial lack of depth in the main even picture if that competitor isn’t on the roster. Make no mistake about it, the talent is there, but how many currently on the Raw roster would be perceived as legitimate Wrestlemania main event stars?

Stellar athletes like Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Samoa Joe, and others were basically kept at mid-card status so that Roman could be presented as the top star. It’s no coincidence that Raw has lacked any type of solid direction since Roman stepped away to deal with health problems. The past few years, it didn’t matter how over a performer was with the audience, they were automatically kept at a level below Roman Reigns, which is why the show doesn’t have clear main event talent right now. The good news is, when Roman Reigns returns to the ring, and he will, it will undoubtedly make him a top-tier star for the rest of his career. The challenges that Joe Anoa’i will overcome in reality will be much more important than anything that is scripted for Roman Reigns. But, what’s the direction under Roman returns?

As mentioned, Braun as a substitute, especially after a lackluster heel turn just weeks before that, didn’t get over as much as an organic push would’ve with the audience. Braun’s elbow injury kept him off TV, which puts the brand into more of a slump because there’s not necessarily a main baby face on the show. It certainly doesn’t help the situation that Brock Lesnar, the current Universal Champion, is ice fishing or hunting for moose instead of appearing on WWE TV. You can’t blame Brock either, he was offered a great deal and he completely took advantage of it. That being said, the way that Brock disappears with the title and the lack of a champion on Raw in recent years is at an almost absurd level. There’s a difference between making championship appearances rare and devaluing the belt. As I wrote previously, I don’t think the WWE will get a return that justifies the hefty invest, both financially and a booking aspect, from the Lesnar experiment. On the other hand, you have to give Brock credit, he worked the UFC and WWE very well to maximize his payday. Perhaps, he had no intention of a return to the octagon, but he was smart enough to shove heavyweight champion, Daniel Cormier just before his WWE contract was set to expire.

With Braun on the shelf and no indication for Brock’s next match, the main angle on Raw is the Seth Rollins/Dean Ambrose feud. But they already worked an entire feud based on the destruction of the Shield a few years ago, and the only difference is a role reversal with basically the same premise to the angle. I could be wrong, but Rollins/Ambrose has a “been there, done that” atmosphere to it.

So, what’s the solution for Raw?

First of all, Jimmy Jacobs is correct, writing several hours of TV every week is a demanding process, and any “fans” that think they could do a better job than those that get paid to do it are extremely misguided. Most “fans” would script a stacked Raw for a week and then find themselves wondering what to do next. That being said, it’s very possible that the fundamental problem with Raw is that it might be unrealistic to produce a solid three-hour show every week. At the same time, the company gets paid exponentially more money for the third hour so at least for now, it’s a successful decision. If those lackluster segments affect the perception of the product or the numbers in the next few years remains to be seen. Another key aspect could be simply incorporating fresh talent into the program, similar to the way that Mustafa Ali was scheduled for a match with Daniel Bryan on Smackdown this week. Usually, the 205 Live roster has less exposure than someone in the witness protection program, but allowing Ali to work a competitive match against the WWE champion on SD presented him as a potential star to the main stream audience.

Regardless of any criticism of the WWE product, the time slot, or the booking, it’s a moot point because the WWE will make over $2.4 billion combined for the Raw and Smackdown shows during the next five years. The WWE is set to generate record-setting revenue and it be the most profitable in the history of the company so from a business prospective the company is already successful

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta