The universal era


The first Raw following the WWE draft certainly set the wheels in motion toward an actual “new era” and the format of the show could be a refreshing change in direction for the product. Granted, with a weekly year-round TV show, not every program is going to be a home run, but if the ideology that was used here is followed, it can create much more intriguing television.

First, the name of the “WWE Universal title” is a little tacky and sounds like something from a Star Trek convention, but you can see their logic since the audience was branded the “WWE universe.” More importantly, the title needs to be established as something credible and prestigious, and the booking on Raw did that. Finn Balor and Roman Reigns each had to win a fatal four-way match just to advance to the main event number one contender match, and the journey to the title adds the legitimate aspect to the eventual champion. The structure of the matches themselves were designed to give Raw something different than what was seen in previous months on the show, the matches were given time to develop over the course of 2-3 TV segments. Instead of a 20-minute promo to open the program that is unnecessarily long, the initial four-way match went almost 30 minutes and essentially gave the viewing audiences a reason not to channel surface between commercials because the result of the bout had a specific importance. Obviously, wrestlers can be successful without championships and there are certain performers that didn’t need a title to get over, (Roddy Piper, Tommy Dreamer, etc.) but in theory, every wrestler on the roster wants to win matches and championships because of the rewards of success.

There are many possible variables when angles are booked for TV, but the bottom line is, wrestling is still on the marquee, even if it’s branded as sports entertainment. For the audience to make an emotional investment, something has to be at stake, and championships are basically the foundation for most feuds. Furthermore, that’s also why it’s key that the crowd makes an emotional investment into the characters, they want to see their favorite performers win because that translates to success for those particular competitors. Again, in theory, the WWE product is presented as competition and if a title is important, it can add drama to the matches because something is on the line. If a belt isn’t considered prestigious, does the result of a title match really matter? Perhaps the best example of this in recent years is the Daniel Bryan saga that unfolded during 2014 and the payoff created one of the most memorable WM moments in WWE history. The audience identified with Bryan’s passion and recognized that he appreciated their support as much as they appreciated his efforts in the ring so the crowd wanted to see him reach main event status. The main event of Wrestlemania and winning the WWE championship are a symbol of success, which is a prime example as to why it’s important to establish the importance of the WWE Universal title. As far as this particular episode of Raw, the story of determining a number one contender unfolded throughout the show, which gave the viewing audience another reason not to channel surface. Too often, Raw used the same formula every week, you could watch the opening promo and then tune into the main event segment without missing any information critical to the storyline.

Aside from the number one contender scenario, there were a few squash matches featured, something that hasn’t really been used on the show since the original Ryback push. Nia Jax, a cousin of The Rock, was drafted to Raw last week and it’s somewhat of a surprising move, considering her time in NXT was relatively brief. Another aspect to be taken into accountant is her inexperience level since she only started training to become a professional wrestler in 2014 and squash matches might help her get seasoned on the main roster. At 32, her jump to the main roster might be a way to maximize the potential prime of her career, but rushing her to main stream TV is risky. As mentioned, squash matches can be effective because they can showcase a move set and establish a character, but at some point, there must be progress up the card so it’s more of a process than just defeating jobbers. Nia won a squash match and for now, that’s all she has to do on TV. Braun Strowman smashed a jobber that looked like he should work at a comic book store and it was a brutal display, but it got Strowman noticed more so than anything he did during his initial push that flopped. If Strowman makes anything of this renewed push remains to be seen, but it seems like there’s at least a chance it will be more successful than the previous attempt earlier this year.

Sasha Banks won the WWE Women’s title and while some on social media said it should’ve taken place at Summer Slam, it was  a good move to do the title switch on TV, as it gives the “anything can happen” atmosphere to the show.

Finn Balor winning the number one contender spot to challenge Seth Rollins for the WWE Universal title determines two main directions for the program. After two years of pushing Roman Reigns as the next top star, WWE brass might’ve finally realized that he’s not going to be the next John Cena. That’s not to say that Roman will flounder for the rest of his career, but it’s clear that he will need a drastic and fresh restart at some point if he’s going to become a credible main event star. Despite the booking that offered no help in the past, it seems like the WWE abandoned his mega push after the wellness policy violation and Reigns has nobody to blame but himself if unwise decisions led to the violation. The other aspect to this scenario is that the WWE is going in a new direction and put Balor in the title picture on the same show that he made his debut. Obviously, Finn worked NXT for two years, but main stream WWE TV is a different demographic than the NXT audience so it’s still somewhat of a gamble to book a relatively new star in the main event scene directly after their debut. That being said, Finn Balor, who worked for years around the world as Prince Devitt has the skills to be a main event star for any promotion in the world so as long as he’s booked well on TV, the WWE could have a new main event star for the Raw brand. The Seth Rollins/Balor match at Summer Slam should be incredible and speaks to the point discussed earlier, wrestling is still on the marquee, and it could be a refreshing change to see an emphasis on the in ring product. Again, if the titles are perceived as important, it builds more drama for the matches and thus more of an emotional investment from the fans. That emotional investment is the element that draws money and considering that the brand extension will be a work in progress, it’s possible that management might actually start listening to the audience to determine the competitors that become main event stars.

Until next week

-Jim LaMotta

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