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    Wednesday, May 11, 2016

    The Smark Henry RAW Report (5/9/16): Change Is Coming

    We’re entering the dawn of a new era in Philippine society, much like we’re in the midst of a new era in WWE. Last week, I argued that there isn’t much that differs from what we see today than how things were pre-WrestleMania Star. But that’s because I judged this new era on the as yet unresolved problem of how to properly manage seven hours of weekly television programming, especially with a three-hour flagship show.

    Much as I am very much open and willing to be proven wrong by the incoming administration, I’m also open to being proven wrong about this new era.

    This week’s RAW was successful in painting the picture that the new status quo does have defining characteristics, both in kayfabe and on the meta level. On screen, we see all these young guns from NXT jockeying for position in order to make as big an impact as they can. Sami Zayn has set his sights on the Intercontinental Championship, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows are important players in the world title picture, and the Vaudevillains are going after the New Day’s Tag Team Championships.

    But when you turn to the product as a critic, you’ll notice that the reason this is all so refreshing is because the WWE is willing to tell better stories now. Notice that none of the stories heading into Extreme Rules feel rushed nor forced. They don’t feel convoluted because for the most part, it makes sense why this guy is going after that guy. Even a shallow story like Goldust and R-Truth’s will-they-or-won’t-they dance—which has already stretched out over four months and has involved matching rebound partners—still makes sense.

    The older and more established names don’t find themselves lost in the shuffle either, at least those who have a storyline going on. Characters like Natalya have been rejuvenated in this new era through solid and credible booking. Someone like Chris Jericho, who has been with the WWE since 1999, is still relevant as a member of the old guard who is actively standing his ground despite the changing times. Even Bob Backlund has found a place for himself in this new era as Darren Young’s life coach.

    These are stories that aren’t Nolan levels of mind-blowing, but they don’t have to be. They just really have to make sense. I get that Baron Corbin doesn’t care about whatever era we’re in because all he cares about is himself, or that Zack Ryder has become a scrappy underdog who just needs a lucky break to get back in the midcard title picture, or that Emma and Dana Brooke are just bullies who want to keep messing with Becky Lynch.

    Most importantly, what this new era gets right is that it’s given us a breather from a central storyline that revolves around a heel authority figure. While I agree that some of the most compelling stories have flourished thanks to a despicable boss like Mr. McMahon or Triple H, there is nothing wrong with taking a break from it right now, because they’ve pretty much ran as much as they could with the Authority. They’ve more than made up for it with the nuanced storytelling of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship storyline featuring Roman Reigns, the Usos, AJ Styles, and Gallows & Anderson.

    I’m not saying this is perfect because there are some stories that seem to be running in place like Ziggler vs. Corbin, or characters who don’t have anything going for them right now like Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio. But it’s definitely a step in the right direction. They’ve been beating us over the head with this “new era” branding so much; it’s about time they made it clear what it is exactly we’re getting out of it.

    Quick Hitters

    • Ambrose vs. Jericho has gotten personal because of inanimate objects, and I’m not sure if I find this incredibly hilarious or incredibly stupid. Now that they’ve fucked with Mitch the Potted Plant and Jericho’s light-up jacket, can we go back to having these guys beating each other up?

    • On a related note, who’d have imagined Big Cass main-eventing RAW a month into being on the main roster? Granted, he didn’t actually get to wrestle. But he played his part well, and his mic work at the top of the program has shown that he is willing and able to step out of the comfort zone that Enzo Amore and their standard spiels have built for them.

    • I thought the eliminations during the six-man elimination tag match between the Anoa’i Family and the Club were too sudden and not at all impactful. Karl Anderson is eliminated on a simple roll up, while it took just one Superman Punch to knock Gallows out for the three-count. I’m not sure if they rushed it due to lack of time, but the match could have breathed a little bit more. That being said, I was satisfied that they let it end in a schmozz where you could still clearly see the battle lines. AJ Styles is still the definite babyface, while they’re carefully navigating Roman’s tweener status just fine by having him play the raging hothead next to AJ’s rational good guy.

    • I don’t understand how the Lucha Dragons can justify cheating so Sin Cara can beat Rusev. While I understand the David vs. Goliath storyline they’re trying to tell, “lie, cheat, and steal” is not in Kalisto’s DNA in the first place, so he shouldn’t be cheered for resorting to heel tactics to help his teammate win.

    • Ziggler vs. Corbin is going on for far too long. I’m guessing they’ll have their rubber match at Extreme Rules, and I hope it ends there. This is one story Creative never really made an effort to expound on other than, “these two guys really hate each other.”

    • I absolutely enjoy Charlotte’s work as the spoiled and petulant brat. Watching her pout and whine after losing to Paige—in a really good TV match, mind you—was just an absolute treat. I’m glad they got to advance the storyline with Nattie while reestablishing Paige as a credible threat in the Women’s Division.

    • Something tells me Creative themselves has realized that they do have a gem in Zack Ryder after all. They know he’s not just a lovable loser, and I’m sure they’ve realized that he always finds a way to win the crowd. I hope that his losses as of late are just part of the larger fabric that makes his eventual contendership to any title cathartic.

    • Stephanie McMahon can play a convincing babyface authority figure if she really wants to be, and I appreciate her work as a character even more because I believe her when she tries to be a good mom in the locker room. But based on the nonverbal cues, you know she’s just biding her time to stab Shane in the back. Never change, Steph.

    Pick of the Week

    I’m introducing a new segment to my weekly RAW review, which is lifted off our practice on the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast where we pick the most must-see match of the week. Now that we’ve been getting better episodes of RAW week after week, it’s becoming more important to highlight what really stands out from the show.

    My RAW Pick of the Week is Sami Zayn vs. The Miz because it was the best way to incorporate Zayn into the Intercontinental Championship picture without awkwardly forcing him into the program just because Kevin Owens is in there, too. KO and Cesaro already have legitimate claims to the #1 Contendership, and Zayn made his case by challenging the Miz to a non-title singles match. The stipulation was simple and logical: if Sami were to beat the Miz, the IC title match at Extreme Rules would include him.

    Zayn and Miz had a great 10-minute affair that started out with some good chain wrestling, and then steadily increased the pace. Miz looked like the grade-A heel champ that we’ve come to appreciate, and I especially loved when he continued to go after Sami Zayn’s left leg even after Miz was forced to break the Figure Four. Mizanin finally figured it out, and it certainly helps that Sami is such a good storyteller in the ring.

    Towards the end of the match, you could see the crowd getting hot for both guys. Imagine that: a RAW crowd was going bonkers over a Sami Zayn and Miz match. Sounds like POTW-material to me.


    It’s funny how the absurdity of the McMahon siblings’ power struggle storyline has given birth to this new status quo, in which characters are getting fleshed out and better stories are being told. Now that I think about it, that’s a price I’ve become willing to pay for this change that we’re seeing unfold right before our eyes. I just hope it stays this way for good. Don’t drop the ball on this now, WWE. This week’s episode gets an A-.

    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 (5/9/16): Change Is Coming Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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