The RAW Reunion has come and gone. The show attracted over 3 million viewers to not only win the ratings night on cable television, lost only to ABC and NBC programs on the major networks, and was the most watched RAW since April 23, 2018. From a ratings standpoint, it was a huge victory. The battle was won last night (Monday July 22, 2019). My question goes to what about the war? Could this rating have been used to help build the ratings for the long term, not just for a single night?
Two questions need to be asked. What did the WWE do to help set up SummerSlam? What did they do to set up storylines for their wrestlers in advance of the launch of AEW on TNT in October? In the last few years, the cool thing to do is complain about Vince McMahon’s booking of the WWE. This article isn’t meant to be a pile-on directed at Vince. The purpose of this column is to discuss what could’ve been done from a strategic standpoint to maximize the ratings that were earned by the reputations of the men and women who helped build the WWE in years past.
The RAW Reunion was a fun watch. Fans didn’t bail on the show as they wanted to see the return of Hogan, Flair, Michaels and Austin. Throughout the show there were numerous cameos of past WWE stars from Pat Patterson to Torrie Wilson and just about anyone in between them in the WWE wrestling continuum. But, what did these appearances accomplish? Lets walk through some of the highlights.
The show opened with John Cena who got into a minor rhyme contest with the Usos. The Usos are one of the best tag teams in the world and they’re very popular with WWE fans. There’s not a lot of “rub” that Cena can give to such an established team. Sure, it was entertaining, but what is different today (July 23rd) for the Usos as this column is being typed? Not much.
The Usos then wrestled against the Revival, the current champions who were pumped up well by Booker as he announced the match. The comparisons to the old Brain Busters team of Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard were apt, and much better than them playing the role of a half-assed comedic relief tag team. Why not have Cena give the Revival some love? Cena’s message of keeping your head down and working hard to overcome obstacles would certainly be appropriate for the Revival. It wouldn’t be outside of Cena’s character to recognize that and even if they end up in their comfortable roles as heels, the Revival have endured through some horrific Vince McMahon booking.
Drew McIntyre and the Viking Raiders squashed their opponents, though Drew never started his match, he just beat up Cedric Alexander. Both Drew and the Viking Raiders could’ve had quick interactions with some of the legends in attendance. Personally, I think Drew’s size and imposing figure would be reinforced by some sort of meet up with a guy the size of Hogan or even Nash. That would establish him as a physical threat comparable to legends. Why not a ten second meeting in the bowels of the arena with a legend as he's on his way to the ring?
Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe was next. A match that probably wouldn’t need to be given away on this show – the returning legends alone would prove to be enough to keep fans watching. This should be a match that you see on a pay-per-view. The bright spot of the match came in the manifestation of Reigns looking like he was having fun when he won the match. It’s been a long time since Roman has ever broken from the “too cool to care” attitude that is either his natural personality or a bad choice by Vince in term of booking the character. Can we see a genuine smile a bit more often from Reigns? Time will tell.
On the bad side, Samoa Joe lost, again. Joe is one of the best on the mic – not only of his era, but possibly one of the top heels on the mic of all time. He is fantastic at the quiet and yet icily menacing delivery that breaks the mold of the yelling at the camera style that dominates professional wrestling. Joe has fantastic threats that coming from such a powerful and yet thoughtful paradox of a man can really make you believe he’s going to make them come true. As per usual though, Joe makes great threats and then loses. It seems clear that Vince loves Joe as a heel and sees him as almost being so good at being bad that Joe doesn’t need to win to have a successful feud. Sadly, this approach is one that forced Bray Wyatt to be retooled, that forced Kevin Owens to quit, and has been equally frustrating for Drew McIntyre fans. Drew is stuck in the same rut. Great promos, great threats, exciting matches and then the inevitable loss. I’d build the promotion around Drew McIntyre. He’s that good. Instead he’s just high-class cannon fodder. What a waste. Same with Joe.
Seth Rollins got a bit of a rub from the DX/Kliq appearance. The legends group including HHH, Michaels, Road Dogg, X-Pac, Hall and Nash help chase off the newly named OC faction (Styles, Gallows, and Anderson) when they attack Rollins. As the celebration at chasing off the heels occurred in the ring, Rollins looked like the 5th wheel on a 4-wheel drive. In the end, he did get a rub, though not much of one. If it counts as a rub, Rollins got to yell their catch phrase at the end of the segment. This was one time they used the old guys to build up the new guys, though the DX/Kliq group chasing off a bunch of heels was slightly disappointing – it was at least believable because they had a 7 to 3 advantage. Still not much of a way to build up the threat level of the OC.
The one clear cut elevation of a current roster member was Bray Wyatt’s attack on Mick Foley. There we had a legend clearly “job” to someone who can use that “win” (more of an attack victimizing Foley) in the future. While it’s not necessary to have an older wrestler take bumps, this was a good way to build up Wyatt without Foley really getting in harm’s way. Flair did a similar job prior to WrestleMania when he let Bautista “beat him up” to get HHH’s agreement to a match. Wasting such a job on a one-time match was a bit of a waste, but it did show some willingness to have an older generation help get a younger wrestler over. We all wish it was a full-time roster member in his late 20s or early 30s instead of a 50-year old part-time wrestler, but beggars can’t be choosers. This is why it was nice to see Wyatt get a bit of lift from Foley.
In the end, Austin gave a masterful promo that wasn’t pre-written and came from his heart. The ultimate loner talked about the fellowship of the wrestlers and crew on the road and the memories they created together. It should’ve demonstrated to Vince that by allowing wresters to find their characters and to discover the voice of those characters, the show enters a much higher level of entertainment. And you could’ve had Austin bump into Reigns, or Rollins, or Owens to give them a fist bump or a word of encouragement as he made his way to the ring. It would’ve meant a lot.
There were a lot of opportunities missed despite great ratings.
On tonight’s SmackDown two things of note happened. One was good, the other not so good.
Samoa Joe had another night of not winning. He was saved from a pin at Kofi's hands by interference from Randy Orton. And then, Orton RKO’ed him to boot. Following the pathetic pattern, Joe cut another fantastic promo only to be cannon fodder for a second night in a row. At nearly 40 years old, it seems clear he’s not going to get that one title run from Vince that almost everyone else believes Joe clearly has in him. Fans of the WWE are the real losers here. Joe as a champ would be a lot of fun and really set a tone that is much different from what the WWE has done in recent years.
On the positive side, we saw Roman Reigns crack a smile for a second time in two days. While at times, it appears he wrestles only because it’s in his family’s genes and it pays well, it’s nice to see Reigns let a sliver of enjoyment show on his face again while in the ring. To make things even better, Owens is pulling the best Austin impression of the last couple of decades. Owens can make this story his own, if he’s allowed. It’s clear he’s been re-energized and he’s embracing this role versus Shane McMahon with all his energy. Most importantly, the crowd is fully engaged to an extend we haven’t seen since WrestleMania (if even then). Between the Kofi and Orton feud and the Owens and McMahon feud, the SmackDown creative team seems to be a half a leg up on the RAW team.
Now, we get to see what Heyman and Bischoff will do to make things better. October is coming. They need to make course corrections sooner rather than later.