”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: If Finn Balor or Seth Rollins beat Brock Lesnar to win the Universal Title, how would that effect your view of Monday Night Raw?
The Raw brand has absorbed a lot of heat in the past few weeks, with its creative decision to keep the Universal Championship on Brock Lesnar and its Superstar Shake-up haul widely panned (at least by comparison to its blue brand counterpart). A few things have stood about the last two episodes, however, that inspire hope that perhaps team red’s circumstances are not as dire as one might think.
First and foremost is the balance across the Monday night TV program in its two most recent editions. The bottom line is that the 2017/2018 Raw roster was bloated at the top, with about ten male wrestlers (including Brock) who could have conceivably been the main-event focal point at any given time – how very “this past decade” of WWE, right? At times, as a byproduct, there was not a particularly good top to bottom flow across three hours to start each wrestling week; having too many headliners is another form of strange roster positioning. With a few strategic redistributory moves to Smackdown combined with a few roster positional tweaks to some of its top holdovers, Raw suddenly has a better flow. Star power still shines at every key quarter hour, but there is a better dichotomy currently being established for top stars and mid-carders among both the male and female rosters. The general creative still is not very creative, but that is a separate big-picture issue.
Also of note is the care with which the Ronda Rousey transition from MMA fighter to full-time WWE star is being handled. In a day and age when so little is expected of WWE creative, especially when it comes to logically and carefully booking a star with the potential to become a huge success, it is refreshing to see “Rowdy” Ronda being integrated more like Ken Shamrock during the Attitude Era and less like Brock Lesnar. Since mid-April alone, WWE has established what could become her next long-term feud against Natalya as well as a short-term scrap against Mickie James, while also teasing big matches with Alexa Bliss and Raw Women’s Champion, Nia Jax. Generally speaking, the Raw women’s roster is full of intriguing possibilities, but the most intriguing revolve around Rousey and do not involve any part-timers. Again, refreshing…
On the surface, the “yeah but” of the Raw landscape is that Lesnar is still the absentee champion, running into the ground the lousy second season of the highly successful concept that he spearheaded from Summerslam ’14 to WrestleMania 31. That Roman Reigns did not expectantly claim the title at WrestleMania 34 or last week’s Greatest Royal Rumble event has sparked speculation, though, that someone new might be in the running to take the big red belt from Lesnar and, regardless of the immediate assumption that WWE would give that honor to Braun Strowman or even Bobby Lashley, do not for a second rule out that two holdovers from the ‘17/’18 Raw roster once expected to move to Smackdown could very well have been kept on Monday nights for the revised purpose of better telling the “Lesnar is a dirty part-timer who we should all hate” story, organically taking on the role of the protagonist in that on-going saga to eventually create a genuinely cathartic moment for the ages in the not too distant future; specifically, I’m talking about Seth Rollins and Finn Balor.
The opening segment of The Doc Says this week explores the topic vaguely, but The Architect has rather quietly had an outstanding 2018 and was coming off an underratedly outstanding 2017, during which time his momentum as a babyface was slowly but surely ramped up before escalating at a more rapid pace starting with his performance in the Gauntlet Match a few months ago. He has the audience engaged, the fruit of his labor in the post-knee-injury Triple H feud and subsequent match, the reunion with Dean Ambrose last summer, the full-on return to justice seeking with his fellow Hounds last fall, and his return to peak physical prowess best exemplified by his Ironman run in February; and, consequently, Monday Night Rollins feels like a legitimate “thing,” does it not? He outright addressed The Conqueror this week and, let’s face it, were he to further address Lesnar’s B.S. part-timer title reign again, especially if/when he next comes face-to-face with Brock, his words would speak several volumes louder and more authentic than Roman’s ever could due to their respective relationships with the audience; Rollins has gone through the necessary steps for his character to be a man of the people, unlike his kin from The Shield.
If anyone should conquer The Conqueror, it should be Rollins, but if someone else is to slay The Beast, let it be The Demon King. When you watch Raw these days, you get the sense that Finn Balor is going through his Daniel Bryan circa 2012-2013 period, losing most of his high profile matches and certainly not an outright headliner, but still getting a lot of quality television time and building a deeper connection with a wider scope of the fanbase through relatable defeat and actions that speak louder than words (like his support of undersupported communities). The losses have mounted, but when you consider that WWE has only sparingly utilized the most bankable side of his persona (just four appearances from The Demon on the main roster, the last of which came in October of last year), it begs the question as to whether or not this is all leading to the best excuse yet to bring out the paint and awesome intro and unleash his alter ego in front of the masses once more. Often on commentary, we are reminded that Balor was the first ever Universal Champion; within two months or less of bringing up that he never got his rematch after vacating the title and having him pick up some key victories, maybe sprinkling a few part-timer insults at Brock along the way, he would be good to challenge for the red and gold, or such is a case that echoes confidently in my mind. In counter to the frequent argument about his size not being “believable,” a reminder that this is pro wrestling and not mixed martial arts; if he can be portrayed as someone capable of beating Brock one out of one hundred times, then it will work, the crowd will go bananas, and Finn will be a made-man.
So long as Brock Lesnar is the number one guy on Raw, the red brand will suffer from the stagnant booking approach he commands and from the indifference by which the man behind The Beast has come to be characterized, but so long as WWE picks a more fitting end for his arc than the yawn-inducing albatross of a Roman win that held the product hostage for a year between WrestleManias and so long as Raw continues to put effort into the right places, namely its shiny new Rousey and its still deep roster of modern stars, it will be a brand with the potential to shine.