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    Wednesday, April 20, 2016

    The Smark Henry RAW Report (4/18/16): Welcome To The Club

    In just one week, WWE already answered the internet’s collective question over whether we will actually see AJ Styles reunite with the debuting Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows on-screen. To be honest, it was great that they dealt with it early on instead of dragging it out through a “will they or won’t they” cat-and-mouse game. Commentators referenced their time together as a group in New Japan and continued their recent trend of acknowledging their superstars’ histories outside their own canon.

    This is something that should have happened long ago, but we all know why the company refused to do it until now. The machine prefers to create its own stars, and to outright mention even the promotions that these guys once worked for was once considered blasphemous. The fact that they seem to be changing what used to be a rigid set of rules and is now open to keeping an established superstar’s ring name and recognizing his pre-WWE backstories is a step in the right direction. It empowers the fans who have been following these wrestlers before they made it to WWE because by saying, “This is Karl Anderson. He’s a big deal from his time in New Japan,” they no longer talk down to the smart fans by retconning a superstar’s history.

    What’s especially nice about it is that it makes for instant stories between superstars with a shared thread like Styles, Anderson, and Gallows, or the more universally-recognized Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, whose 15-year rivalry has been seamlessly incorporated into the WWE mythos. Sure, it takes some work off WWE’s hands in establishing backstories for these new characters, but Creative has never been the paragon of effort, so it’s not like it’s a big loss for them.

    Plus, this encourages new or casual fans to dive deeper into the histories of these wrestlers if they were to ever get invested in their current WWE arcs. Imagine how mindblown a casual fan, who only watches RAW regularly, would be if he were to google the Ladder Wars between Kevin Steen and El Generico in Ring of Honor.

    The entry of Gallows and Anderson into AJ’s current storyline with WWE World Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns could not have come at a better time. Styles is one of the most popular superstars on the roster today, and he’s someone virtually everyone can get behind as we all boo the living hell out of Reigns.

    But having Gallows and Anderson attack Roman Reigns makes you (and Roman) question AJ’s intentions. Everybody knows that just four months ago, they were tearing it up in Japan as a unit, and that Gallows and Anderson were AJ’s enforcers. And yet, Styles got to WWE, received a hero’s welcome, and worked his way to a WWE title opportunity while Gallows and Anderson bided their time and waited patiently.

    This gives AJ Styles a different layer to both his personality—which has honestly been one-dimensional prior to this week—while also giving Roman Reigns a reason to take his feud with Styles personally. It was amusing seeing AJ asking Roman to trust him, while the champ brushed it off and even dared Styles to bring all his guns to the table for a “One Versus All” affair. In an ideal world, that’s a compelling babyface vs. babyface storyline right there.

    Whether or not AJ Styles is actually in cahoots with Gallows and Anderson is irrelevant at this point. All these characters matter so much now, and their actions will have huge consequences on where they each end up moving forward. The better move is to have AJ resist his friends’ temptations to get the band back together because this opens up new feuds within the three of them, while giving AJ some nuance to his character. All of a sudden, this Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles feud is the program we never knew we needed.

    Quick Hitters

    • I get the argument that Vince McMahon never explicitly said that Shane McMahon had to win at WrestleMania to get control of RAW. But it certainly felt like Shane had to win in order to get to that position thanks to how Vince acted and how the commentary team hyped up the Shane-Undertaker storyline. Apparently nobody from Creative seemed to care enough because seeing Shane as the authority figure week in and week out has dumped all over that WrestleMania storyline now.

    • Something about the order in which Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, and Chris Jericho all came out during the Ambrose Asylum felt off. I know the point was to build off the lingering tension between all four men stemming from the events of SmackDown. But to have Owens go after Ambrose and Jericho to go after Zayn directly just seemed forced so they would have a reason to face each other this week. That being said, both the main event (Ambrose vs. Owens) and Zayn vs. Jericho were great, must-see TV matches.

    • The women’s division took a step back this week in character development now that both Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch have blended effortlessly among “everyone else” now that their time as Charlotte’s foils is up. You would think that they’d put as much effort into building their stories further after all the acclaim the Women’s Championship match got at ‘Mania. Nope. Sure, they built Nattie up well as a legitimate #1 contender, but it came at the expense of the other girls, as Creative is wont to do.

    • I like the decision to put the Tag Team Tournament Finals match on Payback because it places a premium on the tournament and the subsequent crowning of the New Day’s next challengers. Now we just have to wait for the New Day out of this limbo state where they’re just used as stopgap fillers in multi-man matches.

    • Creative pulled off a nice little backstory behind Apollo Crews’ match against Heath Slater. A no-frills backstage segment on the RAW pre-show immediately gave their match some meaning as Apollo wagered that if he were to lose to Slater, then he would join the #SocialOutcasts, but if he were to win, then the Outcasts would have to lay off him forever. Simple, but effective. I was actually rooting for Slater to pull off an upset just to see how that story would go down.

    • I’m all in on the tag team formerly known as Los Matadores Primo and Epico. I just wish I knew more about them than, “My hometown is way better than yours.”

    • I’m glad they didn’t go overboard with MizTV this week. A lot of that has to do with Cesaro and the type of performer he is, which is short and sweet—the type who you can easily tell is already forcing something unnatural. It was great that they played to Miz, Maryse, and Cesaro’s collective strengths in that segment to keep it from dragging way too long.

    • Dolph Ziggler has become the spiritual successor of one Chris Jericho. His new job description is to make all these new guys look like a million bucks.

    This week’s episode wasn’t as wonderful as last week’s, but it’s still in the generally good area of the spectrum of RAW quality. If you had to pick just a few segments and matches to watch, I’d highlight the segments featuring AJ, Roman, and Gallows & Anderson, Miz TV, Zayn vs. Jericho, and Owens vs. Ambrose. All in all, this week’s episode gets a very solid B+.

    Photos from WWE.


    Stan Sy (@_StanSyis the Editor at Large of Smark Henry, and is also a radio DJ, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He enjoys watching WWE, NXT, Lucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. Every now and then, he dresses up in fancy suits to book matches as PWR's longest-tenured General Manager to date.
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    Item Reviewed: The Smark Henry RAW Report (4/18/16): Welcome To The Club Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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