When I’d read that Vince Russo had written an open letter to Vince McMahon regarding the booking of this past Monday’s Raw, I braced myself.
For as much I tire of Michael Cole’s portrayal of RoboShill, the lifeless entity that invariably says whatever Vince McMahon is thinking at that moment, as well as the begging for Network pledges (we don’t even get a tote bag?) and rehashed matches, I sense it could be worse with Russo holding the pen. For instance, the Big Show-Mark Henry insta-feud could end with a miscarriage.
[adinserter block=”1″]To be clear, Russo isn’t the worst booker that ever lived. Whatever hand he had in cultivating WWE in 1997-98, when guided by a steady hand, it worked well. His 1999 run with the company, while successful financially and still wildly popular, started drowning in its own excess (Higher Power, poorly booked Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, and King of the Ring, et al). The bloom was off the rose in WCW, without the reining of his superiors, and it showed.
Still, if Russo is nothing else, he does seem like a man that just honestly wants to help. Granted, if I were a choking victim, his idea of the Heimlich might be to bury an ax into my chest, but still, he had the best intentions. That, to me, sums Russo up: he’s not perfect, but he puts his best foot forward, however fractured it is.
In his well-intentioned missive to McMahon (which I’m sure will be taken under the same amount of consideration as fan cries for a Zack Ryder push), Russo highlighted which segments of the show he felt were successful, and which weren’t. In the positive column, Russo listed two matches, both of which involved Seth Rollins: the Intercontinental Title match with a suddenly-appropriately-used Dolph Ziggler, and the blow-off-some-steam match with Randy Orton.
I do agree, both Rollins matches were enjoyable, as much as they are an extension of the man involved. Ziggler’s tremendous and Orton can have a great match with a capable opponent, but Rollins never has a bad bout, does he? His natural sliminess (he’s a surprising conductor of heel heat in spite of his Ring of Honor heritage) and world-class in-ring acumen could make him this generation’s Eddie Guerrero if his promos weren’t so cue-card-clipped.
But I digress; Russo heaped love on the two Rollins matches, along with the opening bit where Vince McMahon upped the ante for Survivor Series, as well as Ziggler’s repartee with The Authority, and Damien Sandow’s antics. He did, however, levy one nitpicking criticism of the Rollins matches, which many would disagree with. He said, summing up his positive picks:
“Now, even though I don’t believe in any match going more than one segment (that’s just my opinion), I would consider these seven segments in the POSITIVE COLUMN.”
Go figure that the man who popularized the two-minute match with seven or eight guys running interference would take umbrage with matches running more than ten minutes on his TV show. Russo probably wondered where the ref bump and blood bath were when Ryback was squashing Titus O’Neil.
In this case, playing Devil’s Advocate on Russo’s behalf isn’t that hard for me, because he’s actually making a point that I’ve believed for quite some time: Raw has too many long matches.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a lengthier match, but in certain contexts. A PPV bout that’s been built well could sustain me for 15 or more minutes. A battle of the icons at WrestleMania with a million false finishes is great. An indy match with two fine mat technicians busting their ass for a half hour can be highly engaging. In those contexts, I appreciate the longer match. Even the once-in-a-blue-moon Raw classic (Cena vs. Punk, February 2013, for one) is welcome.
But on Raw every week? A three hour show with lots of company back-patting, Smackdown rematches, and enough filler to stuff a school cafeteria hot dog really doesn’t have the platform to give us 15 minute matches, especially when they rarely solve anything.
I’ll read reviews of Raw episodes in which the writer insists (probably correctly) that Ziggler and the Usos had a ***1/2 match with Cesaro and the Brothers Dust, because it went 15 minutes and was enjoyable throughout. That’s great and all, but why wasn’t it on PPV? One of the biggest reasons the PPV market diminished so much before the Network’s advent was that the events rarely offered anything new, other than the odd Brock Lesnar or Undertaker match that you can’t get on free TV.
The Usos and Brothers Dust faced off on Raw; why spend $54.95 on it? No wonder the announcers basically call their viewers dumbasses if they actually ordered the PPV from their cable provider: for (say it with me) nine-ninety-nine, you get the match PLUS every single WrestleMania ever.
Besides, there’s so few fresh match-ups involving wrestlers that they’re willing to allot 15 minutes for that Raw itself becomes stale. Orton, Ziggler, Rollins, Cena, Cesaro, and so forth, they’ve all faced each other countless times. There’s rarely a story that gets paid off because they want you to order the PPV/subscribe to the Network, and free TV is merely a red herring to satisfaction. Oh yes, the workrate is great, but where’s the payoff?
[adinserter block=”2″]Repeat Match Hell aside, it detracts from the story element of Raw, where characters and arcs are shaped. At three hours, there should be better defined players than what’s there. Credit where it’s due, the likes of Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Rusev, Bray Wyatt, and even The Miz and Damien Sandow either have a well-defined role or straightforward consistency. Most others are either stale or playing a one-note act (Rusev is fine until he’s beaten). With 180 minutes plus overtime to ‘tell stories’, you have more space to fill in the blanks, but also so much time that you run out of ideas. Then you get guys like Cena, Orton, and the like who are stretched so thin, you can slide them under a door.
We’re not getting a two-hour show anytime soon, but Raw needs to manage its three hours better. Russo gets this one right, indirectly: longer matches on Raw are only watering down the potency of the stars.
You know what they say about broken clocks.
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