”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.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: Where would you rank the performance by Seth Rollins last night among the top moments in Monday Night Raw history?
As wrestling fans asked by WWE in this day and age to consume so much weekly content, it is rare that we see something that we have not witnessed before. Instead, our fandom becomes an exercise in hoping to view something we have already seen be executed better than we had ever previously seen it done. However, those moments when something we are expecting to be conventional turns out to be extraordinary do still happen; and we saw one of those moments last night.
Talk about “marking out,” ladies and gentlemen, I was losing my mind when, on the first episode of Raw that I have watched live in several months, Seth Rollins (one of my two favorite wrestlers right now) wrapped up nearly an hour of time in the Gauntlet Match by pinning John Cena clean with the Blackout/Stomp. That his victory came about a half hour after he had somewhat surprisingly advanced past Roman Reigns to open the show is borderline chill-inducing. One-hour and six-minutes was the total amount of time that Rollins worked last night, an historic accomplishment unique to all of his peers in the 25 year history of WWE’s flagship program, but right alongside that achievement is the statement that the quality of his performance made about his current level of motivation to back up his on-screen words last week about regaining his top form.
For about 18 months from 2014 to 2015, The Architect’s claims of being “The Man” rang anything but hollow because he routinely carried the product, week-in and week-out, with an HBK-esque swagger, stealing the show often enough to the point that he eventually became the show’s can’t-miss attraction. TV Match of the Year candidates galore, striking presentations of character evolution, and tear-down-the-house pay-per-view classics that often redefined the traditions of long-established match-types saw Rollins breathing down the neck of all-time-level peers at a rapid pace. 2017 was mostly a year of transition for him, by comparison. Like Bret Hart often did during The New Generation, Rollins dropped down the card post-WrestleMania 33 and provided a slew of memorable happenings (mostly of the team-oriented variety), the reaction to which were simply muted by the position on which they took place in the WWE pecking order. What we saw last night was the physical embodiment of last week’s “Monday Night Rollins,” return to glory promo script, and I cannot personally recall a performance from recent memory any better at setting the stage for what could be viewed in hindsight as a launching pad back to the main-event.
Seth Rollins was utterly marvelous this week, and I very much appreciated – as someone whose investment in his success grows with each month spent rededicating myself to finding that youthful exuberance for wrestling – that the audience responded to The Kingslayer’s efforts with gusto; the enthusiasm on display from the crowd only amplified the viewing experience at home.
It was not just Rollins who made the Gauntlet Match a success, it must be pointed out. The deployment of each talent was very well handled; Reigns continued to be downplayed, which will potentially make his victory on Sunday less jarring to the Road to WrestleMania 34; Cena hinted again at a sustainable change in his attitude while furthering the doubts his persona has echoed repeatedly about his place in the hierarchy; Elias got to be the man who ended Seth’s Ironman run; Finn Balor built a bit of momentum by defeating Elias and possibly ignited a story for WrestleMania Season with The Miz that a lot of fans are chomping at the bit to see manifest in an IC Title match on the grandest stage; The Miz was given the opportunity to set himself up as the primary antagonist in Sunday’s Chamber Match; and Braun Strowman kept his impressive run of dominance going, at least giving the appearance that he is the odds-on favorite to emerge as the #1 contender to Lesnar.
Top-to-bottom, the two-hour bout featuring Sunday’s men’s Elimination Chamber participants was a glorious experiment, no hyperbole. Perhaps most importantly, the format of the show deviated well-wide of rather mundane expectations. It was the kind of risk that I hope to see Raw take more often; please, by all means WWE, put your creative efforts into tweaking the manner in which your five hours of weekly television is presented to us instead of allowing the creative juices to flow to (I’ll be nice) awkward usage of graphics during promo segments.
Somewhere along the line, WWE stopped telling one-night stories that felt consequential. WWE Raw will continue to lose viewers like me to highlight clip-watching if it continues to throw together what feel like largely inconsequential episodes that do little to, in compelling fashion, further the narratives leading into payoff matches. However, on a night when Rollins gave one of the star-making performances of his career, two hours of the show were occupied by a saga that will segue into a more epic saga this PPV weekend, and the commentary and split-screen to backstage interviews with the combatants all coalesced into something worth paying attention to LIVE, hope was offered that maybe WWE does indeed have a desire after all to engage its fans back into their old Monday night viewing habits. If The Architect keeps up his 2014/2015 form of the past two weeks, then that will certainly help…