SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
BRAUN TURNS HEEL…
Recap: The show began with Roman Reigns. The announcers showed an earlier tweet from Braun Strowman challenging Roman to face him alone in the ring. Roman entered the ring, took the mic, referenced Braun’s challenge, and called him out to the ring.
Braun came to the ring. Roman told him to cash in the MITB contract. Braun said he wouldn’t cash in tonight, because the Shield would come to save Roman again. He said he would cash in at Hell in a Cell, where the Shield wouldn’t be able to help. Roman agreed and the two shook hands.
Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntire then came to the ramp. Dolph said that while he was waiting to invoke his rematch clause for the Intercontinental Title, he needed a new challenge. He proposed that he and Drew take on Roman and Braun. He said that Braun and Roman were at the top of the mountain, and therefore had nowhere to go but down.
Baron Corbin then came to the stage. He said that Braun’s cash in for Hell in a Cell was official. He also set a tag match for Braun and Roman to face Dolph and Drew in the main event. He paradoxically referred to it as a main event that no one could’ve predicted, despite Dolph having proposed it seconds earlier. Braun said that he would win the title in three weeks, but in the meantime he’d take out Dolph and Drew.
Later backstage, Braun told Roman that while the only people going down tonight were Dolph and Drew, after the match Roman should be thinking about losing his title. Roman indicated that Braun wouldn’t get the job done at HIAC.
During the match, Roman and Braun started out on the same page, as Braun agreed to let Roman start the match. Things changed when Braun got the hot tag. Instead of entering the ring, Braun stood on the apron and allowed the heels to double team Roman. Braun then entered the ring and triple teamed Roman with the heels. Dean Ambrose ran to the ring to save Roman, but was himself triple teamed as Roman was incapacitated. Seth Rollins then ran in, however due to his injured arm from his earlier match, he was also triple teamed.
Evaluation: This was a successful fakeout. The entire show made it seem like the storyline was being written for Roman and Braun to show mutual respect to one another. I assumed the point of having them team up was to try to preserve at least some cheers for Roman in a “face vs face” matchup at SummerSlam. Clearly WWE went in another direction.
It was really bizarre that Baron Corbin emphasized the unpredictability of his setting the main event despite Dolph essentially proposing it seconds earlier. The announcers didn’t negatively comment, so I wonder if it wasn’t a mistake rather than a heel maneuver on Corbin’s part.
Forecast: People cheered Braun when he was a heel in his first feud with Roman. They in fact forced a face turn. I can’t see how this situation will be any different.
KEVIN OWENS QUITS…
Recap: At the top of the second hour, Seth Rollins approached the ring and issued an Intercontinental Title Open Challenge. It was accepted by Kevin Owens.
Before the match, Owens related how his return to Raw has been a living hell. He claimed he would’ve defeated Braun at SummerSlam if Sami Zayn had been there. The Canadian fans cheered him until he turned the cheers to boos by stating he’d rather be fighting in Montreal than Toronto.
In one of the better television matches of the year, Rollins retained his title. The match ended when Owens missed a springboard twisting moonsault, allowing Seth to follow up with a curb stomp for the pin.
After a post-match commercial, Owens was still sitting in the ring. He announced simply, “I quit,” and left the ring.
Evaluation: On a show like this where WWE isn’t advancing more than one storyline, I am glad to see the time filled with a solid, long match instead of other nonsense.
Forecast: I have no idea where they are going with the quitting storyline. Owens has been horribly damaged on Raw, so it wouldn’t be terrible for him to take some time off, and if the timing lined up, return with Sami Zayn.
BAD SITCOM TROPES…
Recap: Elias came to the ring for his typical guitar strumming and insulting of the host city. He was interrupted by Toronto-native Trish Stratus, to a huge pop.
Trish told Elias to shut his mouth with regard to insulting Toronto. Elias reminded her that a lot had changed since she retired. She responded by agreeing, offering the Evolution PPV as proof. She hyped her match with Alexa Bliss at Evolution. Elias asked if the match was a pillow fight. Trish laughed, to which Elias responded by saying it was obvious that she wanted to “walk with Elias,” but that he wasn’t interested in women in their 60s. This led to Trish slapping him.
Natalya and Ronda Rousey then came to the ring as Elias left. They stood in the ring with Trish. Alexa Bliss then came to the ramp with Alicia Fox. She insulted the three faces in the ring, and introduced Trish’s longtime rival, Mickie James.
Natalya then defeated Alicia Fox in a match.
After the match, the three faces ran into the Bellas backstage. The Bellas announced that they would be wrestling on Raw next week. All five women then posed for a happy “selfie” together.
Evaluation: For the past 25-ish years, a common narrative on most sitcoms has been to portray men as bumbling overconfident buffoons while portraying women more or less as superheroes that have it all. This takes various forms: the buffoonish dad screws up only to be saved by supermom, the female employee outduels the unqualified male boss that is mean to her, etc. Sitcoms frequently use this narrative because women are far more valuable to advertisers than men.
I’m sure the idea behind WWE adopting this strategy was the thought of increased female viewership. As was especially evident during the 2013 television contract negotiations, WWE’s audience is considered less valuable to advertisers than other audiences its size due to two factors: it being heavily working class, and also heavily male. Advertisers want an audience of optimates rather than populares, and also want strong female numbers. Women of the patrician classes are big spenders.
So on one level, I understand the desire to attract bourgeois female viewers. Ultimately, however, this level of pandering may be folly. Professional wrestling has historically always had working class men as its core audience. When a show deviates too far from its core audience, it loses what makes it special. It then not only loses part of its core, but in no longer being special, loses its audience members that are outside the core group as well.
This isn’t meant to in any way defend the Divas Era. The key here is to treat the women as athletes without resorting to bad sitcom tropes. Eliminating lingerie matches is good, and letting the most talented women have good matches is good, but too much adoption of sitcom stuff is bad.
SmackDown seems to hit this note much better than Raw. Becky Lynch is the most over woman on either show (despite being misclassified as a heel). She got there by having good matches and connecting with fans without resorting to the saccharine speeches about empowerment more common on Raw. The audience will be happy to see the women succeed; they don’t need to be hit over the head with these silly narratives.
The angle was certainly fine tonight, as obviously Trish would be cheered as the hometown hero defending her city. But in terms of the at-home audience, WWE may be towing a somewhat dangerous line if they continue this trope in the long term.
Forecast: Unfortunately, modern WWE is written by Hollywood writers rather than wrestling people (to the detriment of the show in far more ways than just this angle), so I would expect these Hollywood tactics to continue unless for some reason Vince McMahon eventually deems them counterproductive. WWE viewership declines over the past 15 years have left behind mostly a hardened core of fans that will watch no matter what, so it’s possible that none of this may affect to viewership at all.
Everyone seems to hate the Bellas, so I expect them to be booed next week.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: TOP 3 DEVELOPMENTS – RAW 8/20: The Shield Returns, A Terrible Women’s Segment, Triple H Prepares for Undertaker