“We, in the WWF, think that you, the audience, are quite frankly, tired of having your intelligence insulted.” If there were words spoken by Vince McMahon in the 1990s that bear more relevance to the current product than those spoken at the beginning of the December 15th, 1997 episode of Monday Night Raw, then please send them my way. There has been no episode of RAW over the past two years which has further exemplified the failure of the “New Era” quite like the one that aired on the 26th November 2018.
The 25th of July 2016 edition of Monday Night Raw was the one that kick-started what was supposed to be the “New Era”; the fresh start that would move the WWE further away from the “Super Cena” era and into a more modernised product closely resembling the grittier, realistic and successful NXT. This was the era which began with Finn Balor – fresh from his record-setting run in NXT – overcoming the likes of Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns to become the inaugural WWE Universal Champion. It felt fresh, it felt cool and, most importantly, it felt different – it was a much-needed, much-appreciated, energising change of pace which should have been the starting point for change. So what happened? You can check out The Fall of Samoa Joe and Finn Balor to find out where it all went wrong for Finn Balor, but the shortened version is: since Balor’s injury, things quickly went downhill. There have been five WWE Universal Championship reigns since Balor’s one-day stint with the championship: Kevin Owens, Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns and then Brock Lesnar, again, have all held the title since its introduction two years ago. The Universal Championship is the title of the flagship, A show – and after the Survivor Series results, there’s no doubt that, to this company, RAW is the undisputed A show, FOX deal or not. This makes the Universal Championship the most important title in the company. Despite the importance of the Universal Championship, it is almost never around. Goldberg was a part-time champion, and Brock Lesnar is a multiple part-time champion – and he’s now well into his second reign with the championship.
The problem is that Brock Lesnar has defeated everybody. He has beaten everybody to the point that it is no longer plausible or believable that anybody could beat him. Braun Strowman, the extremely popular, man-mountain of a monster who should have been a believable opponent capable of contesting Lesnar, has now been beaten by him multiple times – beaten by a single F-5 multiple times. The only superstar booked to be capable of kicking out of the F-5 and beating Brock Lesnar was Roman Reigns. The writing staff spent so much time making it clear to we the audience that Roman Reigns was the golden boy that, when Roman Reigns made that tragic announcement last month, the roster was left with no one believably capable of defeating Lesnar. Earlier in the year, Seth Rollins was far-and-away the most entertaining, most popular (with the crowds) star on the roster and he was becoming a credible opponent for Lesnar. Then when Dean Ambrose made his return, he and Seth Rollins rejoined Roman Reigns in The Shield – acting as lackeys to the then Universal Champion and stripping away much of the momentum that Rollins had built for himself. The writing staff spent so much time making Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar the most believable stars that – now Roman is no longer around – Brock Lesnar is simply head-and-shoulders above everyone else. They’ve worked so hard at making the full-time roster look bad that when legends such as The Undertaker and Triple H show up, they look like Gods in comparison. Then there’s the problem of comedy.
The Authors of Pain are two big, mean and nasty dudes capable of bulldozing their way through the tag-team division. Just looking at them, you can see that there’s no other way to book them than as near-unstoppable monsters. So how can they take away from that? By adding Drake Maverick – formerly Rockstar Spud – to the group as their manager and giving him an incontinence gimmick. This shouldn’t be so surprising because just a few short years ago, they gave Natalya a flatulence gimmick. Dean Ambrose, a guy who should be a vindictive, psychotic heel capable of causing all kinds of mayhem, is cutting promos on how the WWE Universe “smells” so bad that he needs injections to combat it. Bobby Lashley, a legitimate ex-army, MMA tough-guy who should have been a believable opponent for Brock Lesnar, is bending over in the ring to show off his “favourite pose”. It’s just unfathomable and makes for awful, awkward and unwatchable television. If you watch this show with family, you have to feel embarrassed. The most unbelievable thing is that this is the same company behind NXT – a truly great wrestling show that feels light-years ahead of RAW. Even Smackdown Live, for all its faults, feels largely better than Monday Night Raw. Smackdown has Becky Lynch – far-and-away the hottest thing in the company right now – on its roster; it has a nastier, more interesting Charlotte Flair; it has a freshly turned, evil Daniel Bryan and it has the best babyface in the company, AJ Styles. Despite the occasionally bad booking, it still has the means to produce a solid two hours of TV every week, whereas the Monday Night Raw team has a lot of work to do.
The fact is, the New Era has failed because it was never allowed to succeed. Instead of the cool, new product we were promised, we have been given an era so bad that we are having our intelligence insulted on a weekly basis.