Doctor’s Orders: RAW…IS…Promo Class – How Monday Night Changed the Tone of WrestleMania Season

”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE’s top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a worldwide 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.

Monday Night Raw Review

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Can John Cena and Undertaker still deliver the legendary match we once assumed that they could have together on the grandest stage?

Monday Night Raw this week had the unenviable task of trying to ratchet up fan passion for The Show of Shows after Elimination Chamber left many feeling one of the worst emotions that enthusiasts of any sport or entertainment avenue can feel: resignation. Thanks particularly to a handful of spirited promo segments, it may well have accomplished its goal.

There will not be a tougher job these next six weeks than attempting to sell people who have little to no interest in seeing Roman Reigns compete in a fourth straight WrestleMania main-event on a supposedly mega-showdown with Brock Lesnar. Notoriously unable to cut the caliber of promo necessary to sell anyone on anything, The Big Dog was not expected to have a snow ball’s chance in hell of conjuring intrigue for the rematch through his own efforts; it was going to take masterful scripting and Paul Heyman magic at the very, very least. However, in what was comfortably the best (lengthier) monologue of his entire career, Reigns delivered a speech that will undoubtedly resonate with more than a few. Unlike during his forced retorts directed at John Cena last year, Roman’s worked-shoot style barbs last night felt like they were coming from a man who believed what he was saying with complete conviction. It worked for me.

It was always going to take something novel to get naysayers on board even a little bit with Reigns-Lesnar II. If you guessed that the novelty would come in the form of a really good babyface Roman promo or that WWE would play up the fact that he is well-liked by his peers while Lesnar generally is not, then good for you; message me and lets do some gambling together.

That Alexa Bliss is money on the microphone is certainly not a novel statement. She has been really good for a very long time (I stated after the Superstar Shake-Up last year, for instance, that not only would Smackdown have to replace its best talker in The Miz, but it would also have to replace its second best talker, Little Miss Bliss). Calling her the female Miz would not be a stretch actually; not only is she perhaps the most fully fleshed out character in women’s wrestling, but she has the range to be able to seamlessly transition from sincere to completely unlikeable in a matter of seconds. Based on the rumor mill, there is still an expectation that Asuka will ultimately challenge Charlotte Flair instead of Alexa, so I hope that the combination of hubris, cowardice, and outright heel perfection on display in the Raw Women’s Champion’s recent interviews yields her a spotlight role on the ‘Mania card. Of all of the prominent spots to be filled, the women’s matches are the least clear.

The Miz came into the post-Elimination Chamber Raw, like many of the red brand’s roster members, without an obvious direction for WrestleMania 34, but he exited Monday night with a pretty obvious one – a triple threat match for the Intercontinental Title against Seth Rollins and Finn Balor. Miz’s promo was characteristically fantastic, and I got the sense from it that he believes what many of us believe: that to be one of the driving forces of a show all year long only to be relegated to a lesser position come the biggest event on the calendar is just a crap hand to be dealt. Nevertheless, we are talking about a triple threat with some meat on its bones featuring three wrestlers with all sorts of history to draw from and develop further. If Balor and Rollins can echo in the coming weeks the genuine emotion that Miz utilized so well in his promo this week, then there is almost no doubt in my mind that the IC Title bout will be, to a huge portion of the diehard fanbase, the most anticipated match at WrestleMania this year.

John Cena, in all but confirming that he will wrestle Undertaker in New Orleans, was certainly on his game too. It remains to be seen if this angle that has found him consistently losing when it mattered most over the past several months will translate to a memorable build-up with The Deadman for their dream match (that some consider to be coming several years too late), but Cena’s promo last night was simple and effective in pushing the right emotional buttons; and the manner in which the live attendees responded spoke to an underlying theme that has bubbled beneath the surface of all the speculation surrounding Taker’s retirement and all of the frankly honest desire to no longer watch him fade further from “The Streak within The Streak,” that being that there is still a part of many of us that wants to see Cena vs. Taker, even if it would have been grander years ago. Like it or not, the Golden Boy was right: Cena vs. Taker is WrestleMania, certainly in the form that we have come to expect of it this decade.

Even Ronda Rousey, who seemed perhaps too excitable on Sunday, settled in with verbiage that was delivered 50% better on night two than on night one of her WWE promo career; while that match will not interest me from an aesthetic point of view, I am certainly more than willing to be entertained by its presentation from now through ‘Mania if the cast continues to play their parts well.

The kindest compliment that I can pay Monday Night Raw this week is that the dialogue from its featured performers made it feel like the Road to WrestleMania had taken an important step in the right direction. There is a difference between saying something and having something to say, and I felt like the Raw roster said loudly and clearly, “It’s all going to work out,” a much needed statement after a lackluster pay-per-view on Sunday. We’ll see whether or not that turns out to be true…

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