SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
Raw Underground debuted last week and it was almost universally panned by critics and fans. PWTorch editor Wade Keller wrote a column last week on why it might be hasty to hate the new concept so quickly, and by and large, I think he’s correct.
As Wade put it in the column, he’s “intrigued, with a healthy dose of concern.”
Given WWE’s history with starting and stopping gimmicks and pushes at the drop of a hat, the healthy dose of concern is surely warranted.
There’s a way that the Raw Underground concept can work. WWE didn’t necessarily show that in the first week of the idea. And, if they don’t change course soon (maybe as eraly as tonight on Raw) it could put the new concept in serious jeopardy.
What was the longest Raw Underground fight last week? A minute? Maybe? For the most part, these matches were ending in less than 60 seconds. They were a highlight reel of knockouts, which plays great on UFC’s YouTube page, but if you’re trying to push this idea as “real” fights, it’s a dangerous path.
People compared Raw Underground to the Brawl for All gimmick WWE utilized in the late-’90s, but I think it’s more comparable to GCW’s Bloodsport shows. Those cards were first presented by Matt Riddle, now a WWE wrestler, and then by Josh Barnett and had almost the same presentation as Raw Underground, even down to using the ropeless pro wrestling ring.
Those Bloodsport matches didn’t consist of 30-second knockouts. Barnett and Minoru Suzuki fought for nearly 30 minutes when they clashed.
At some point, and it almost has to be tonight, WWE is going to have to present longer Raw Underground matches for the concept to take hold and work effectively. While it’s certainly okay to have some fights end with 30-second knockouts or submissions, these matches should average anywhere from 7-10 minutes. UFC fights that go the distance, unless it’s a championship fight, last no more than 15 minutes and that’s with round breaks.
Several media outlets have tracked and studied UFC fight lengths in the past, and the average three-round fight features about 11 minutes of actual combat time, while the average five-round title fight features about 17 minutes of combat time.
Throwing in the fact that fighters get to break every five minutes, a 7-10 minute average match time for Raw Underground makes sense, where there are no round breaks for fighters to recoup energy and, potentially, get out of a precarious position when the horn sounds.
There’s an obvious risk associated with starting Raw Underground using short highlight-reel finishes. Once WWE is forced to make these matches longer, what is the audience going to think? If they are 8-10 minutes, and viewers are used to 30-second highlight reels, will they lose interest? And for the idea to work in the long term, especially if it’s going to take up an hour of Raw’s television time every week, the matches will absolutely have to be longer.
Here’s how I would have started Raw Underground.
The very first fight should have been between two wrestlers who you know can grapple and present a believable grappling match. Grappling can help extend the time, while still making the fight look real and very different from what we see on the rest of Raw.
Matt Riddle would have been my No. 1 choice, going up against either Dolph Ziggler, Shelton Benjamin, or Chad Gable. Riddle gets the win, as he’s the new talent on the main roster getting a push, and Riddle against any of those three opponents could have put on an 8-10 minute credible fight. Riddle even has experience in GCW’s Bloodsport matches.
Let’s say the first match was Riddle beating Ziggler. The second match can be Gable and Benjamin. Then in the main event, if WWE wanted to debut Dabba-Kato in a big way, have Shane McMahon bring him into the ring and debut him with a 30-second knockout over anybody. The powerful 30-second knockout, coming after the two 8-10 minute grappling matches, would have absolutely stood out and made his debut feel bigger than it was.
Plus, you don’t set the precedent that every Raw Underground match lasts a minute or less. Why is Dabba-Kato’s debut meaningful when someone who is in a tag team, one-half of the Viking Raiders, did the same thing in his fight?
The concept can work and I love that they’re trying something new, but like with most things in WWE, it felt rushed to television in response to dwindling viewership. And, it’s hard to invest in anything they’re doing when Vince McMahon can change his mind on a dime this afternoon, and perhaps we never see Raw Underground again.
(Mike McMahon hosts the PWTorch Dailycast’s Thursday program, “All Elite Aftershow,” with cohost Andrew Soucek. Search “pwtorch” on your podcast app to subscribe. Mike has been a PWTorch contributor for years, including covering Impact Wrestling on a weekly basis for many years. Follow Mike on Twitter @TorchMcMahon)