With a massive blizzard making it impossible to get the wrestlers and fans in Hartford’s XL Center, WWE scrambled to maintain its “longest running weekly episodic television show” moniker with a three-hour studio show. They achieved that goal- if only technically- with a long series of interviews and match previews. The only wrestling on the show was a replay of the two main events from the previous night’s Royal Rumble. Under the circumstances, it was a fairly entertaining Raw. It didn’t need to be three hours long, but I enjoyed many of the slower-paced interviews and thought the showdown between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns was the first redeeming moment for the Reigns character in several months.
Michael Cole, JBL, and Booker T held down the fort in WWE’s corporate headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut. They conducted a series of interviews with virtually all of the main event wrestlers in WWE, including double duty for Reigns and Lesnar. Before them, it was Seth Rollins who explained that his loss in the WWE Title match actually validated him as a main eventer. Rollins didn’t lose anything in his outstanding performance, but the strong interview only reinforced his status.
Dean Ambrose and Daniel Bryan also took turns on the mic. Ambrose crashed Titan Towers after he hitchhiked through the blizzard from Philadelphia. He wanted to show up at Raw to show everyone that nothing will stop him on the Road to Wrestlemania. It was not much of an endorsement of his main event status, but at least Ambrose remains important enough to feature on this episode.
Bryan gave the most compelling interview of the night when he sat down with Renee Young. Bryan said that he is glad to be back in WWE, but showed real passion when he said that he felt like he let down all of his fans when he lost in the Royal Rumble. His vow to win the WWE Title once again showed that he has not become an also-ran and remains in the main event picture, even if it is not at Wrestlemania this year.
All of those interviews were part of a promo undercard for the main event showdown between Reigns and Lesnar. Before Lesnar sat down next to him, Reigns was able to tone down his over-the-top promos and speak more naturally and genuinely. He was far from perfect, but I vastly prefer the stoic, resolute Reigns to the muscle-bound goofball.
When he and Lesnar first met, Paul Heyman took over the interview. Heyman is so good on the mic that he makes everyone around him seem better by association. He warned Reigns that his toughness and potential would be no match for Lesnar at Wrestlemania. Reigns showed no intimidation. Lesnar took it a step further and said that he does not even respect Reigns.
The whole episode had an old school feel. The episode was thrown together at the last minute without the finely tuned Raw routine. There were shoddy sets and cameramen walking through the shot. It felt a bit like an interview segment from WCCW or AWA in the 80s. After the disappointment of the Royal Rumble, it was good for WWE to take a step back and simplify things. A regular episode of Raw would not have been received well. This bizarre Raw was by no means a classic, but it helped set the table and worked well in a pinch.
-WWE announced Arnold Schwarzenegger as its first celebrity induction in the 2015 Hall of Fame class. Arnold has had a few moments in WWE, including a friendship with Andre the Giant. If nothing else, he will enhance the star power at the ceremony, so mission accomplished.
-WWE announced John Cena vs. Rusev at next month’s Fast Lane PPV. Most viewers, myself included, assumed that their match would come at Wrestlemania. This showdown obviously does not preclude that result and might even enhance it. Pencil in a dusty win or a brutal DQ for Rusev to set up a more personal rivalry on the big stage.