WrestleWatch: Raw Reunion
This past week, WWE held a special edition of Monday Night Raw, titled (as you might guess from the blog title) Raw Reunion. It featured WWE Superstars past and present for a one night only celebration, names such as Stone Cold, Hulk Hogan & Ric Flair alongside stars of today like Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns & AJ Styles.
In the lead-up to this show, I had something of an epiphany. I know of many girls who stay with their boyfriends even though the boyfriends treat them like shit, and I began to understand it a little. My relationship with WWE, especially when it comes to these "old school/legends" shows, follows a similar pattern. They've done wrong by me in the past, I know they're going to do wrong by me again, they're cheating and using every cheap excuse in the book- but I can't help myself, there's something sexy about them. Ahem.
The last time WWE held one of these shows, it was the 25th anniversary of Raw, appropriately titled Raw 25. All hands were on deck, and it was an awful show. But in the lead up to Raw Reunion, despite a clear memory of how bad it all was, I still found myself getting excited about it all. A wrestling boner, or wroner, if you will. No? No.
I don't typically review the weekly shows, my WrestleWatch series is generally for PPVs and shows of that magnitude, but I had to make an exception here. Let's. Do. This!
We kick the show off with the appearance of a 16 time world champion, but it's not the aforementioned Ric Flair. It's Mr. Hustle, Loyalty and Respect himself, it's JOHN CENA! This was extremely cool, as of the plethora of names advertised, Cena was not among them.
The crowd pop is pretty damn big, and Cena soaks it in for a moment before wryly asking, "This is all I had to do to get cheered, be on the Raw Reunion?" For anyone new to WWE, John Cena was the pioneer of the "mixed reaction" for the face of the company, long before Roman Reigns was a thing. Cena goes on to call WWE his home- eerily reminiscent of The Rock, who he infamously criticised for leaving WWE to go Hollywood... and of course, John Cena has spent the last couple of years less in the squared circle and more on movie sets.
The music of the Usos hits to interrupt Cena's homecoming. This sets a positive tone early. One of the biggest issues with Raw 25 is that they didn't use the legends in any tangible way. The majority of them just literally made an entrance, stood on stage and waved to the crowd and left. Personally- and I'm sure a lot of longtime fans feel the same way- I watch these reunion shows for two main reasons. One is simply to see the legends again, and get that warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia. The second is to see how the legends interact with the current talent. Still feels a little strange to consider Cena in that legends category, but he hasn't been a full time wrestler for a good 3 years now. Shit.
Anyway, the Usos are a left field choice to interact with John Cena, but a welcome one. I don't recall them interacting much in the past, and certainly not this version of The Usos characters. They say that the people wanted to see Cena to bust some rhymes- a callback to his Wrestlemania 35 cameo where he revived his old Doctor of Thuganomics rapper gimmick. Cena declines and goes to leave, but the Usos call him out, saying that he was "the cat that left us for the movie biz". Ouch.
Cena steps back in the ring and drops a couple of bars. "I'll never be bested/Y'all look just like your mug shots, how was it getting arrested?" Damn son. Referencing the real life legal troubles both Usos have had, but they take it in their stride, before introducing their father, Rikishi! Seeing Cena and Rikishi in the same ring is giving me flashbacks to Cena's rookie year on Smackdown in 2002, where he delivered the FU to the Kish in one of his first displays of his now trademark shows of strength.
We're about to get Cena, the Usos and Rikishi in a Too Cool-esque dance break- I think WWE are legally bound to have at least one dancing segment on every legends show- but they are interrupted by the Revival. The Revival are set for a match with the Usos... but since Jimmy and Jey will have Rikishi in their corner, Dash and Dawson bring out tag team legend, D'Von Dudley!
Thoughts: A lot to unpack there. Big time opening segment with Cena's star power, and I'm glad WWE, although they advertised a ton of legends, had a couple of surprises up their sleeve. Having the Usos and Rikishi interact with Cena would have been enough, but to tie it into the feud with the Revival and to bring in D'Von in a logical way... it's clear WWE put a lot more thought into how they would use the legends this time around.
Booker T makes his entrance to be a guest commentator. Yeah, that makes sense. Booker was a bad long term fit for the announce team, but he's fun in these small doses.
Match 1: The Usos (w/ Rikishi) def. The Revival (w/ D'Von Dudley) (at 7:50)
Thoughts: Booker referenced the Brainbusters, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, to put over the Revival. A common soundbite for them, but maybe not the best timing given that Tully has just been in the news for signing with AEW. The usual fluid action between these two teams, nice choice to start the wrestling portion of this entertainment program. D'Von and Rikishi did not play a physical role in the match, but they were verbal and seemed invested in the outcome, which did enhance the importance of it. Also, there was a commercial break without WWE finding a convoluted way to stop or restart the match. Maybe Vince has finally given up on that ridiculous idea. (**)
Divas reunion backstage as Alicia Fox is chatting to Dana Brooke and KAITLYN! Damn, I've missed Kaitlyn. I follow/stalk her on Instagram but it's not the same. Torrie Wilson came along to say hi and SANTINO showed up! Nice way to integrate several past stars in one segment. Interestingly, Alicia Fox was in the Raw Reunion advertising as if she was a returning legend, but she's just been out with an injury. The ladies ask about Santino's "little friend"- making a sly dick joke, yes begone PG Era you thot- before revealing his Cobra sock puppet. The fun is interrupted by a snarling Drew McIntyre, who shakes his head at them before heading to the ring for his match. That quick 20 second ending to the segment was all it took to change from silly pointless nostalgia to putting over Drew McIntyre as a threat, which everyone sold as a scary presence to change the mood.
Charly Caruso interviews 24/7 Champion R-Truth and Carmella backstage. They show footage of Truth, Maverick and The Hurricane tussling over the title at Comic Con. Drake Maverick's wife Renee shows up to scold Truth for ruining her wedding, honeymoon, and marriage, but it was a ruse! Drake rolls up Truth to win the 24/7 Title! They run off, and a bewildered Charly is joined by the Godfather! He tells the audience that it's time to come aboard the HO TRAIN (the crowd fill the last bit in, because we haven't fully escaped PG yet). I really enjoy the way WWE have integrated all these names into single segments where they're actually doing things. It makes WWE feel like a true universe, rather than the lifeless parade of names we got at Raw 25.
We were meant to have Drew McIntyre vs. Cedric Alexander- still some advancing of current storylines on this show, good good- but it never gets started as they brawl outside the ring. McIntyre hits the reverse Alabama Slam on the apron. It looks awesome. Feud advanced, and we don't take up too much time. Excellent pacing to the show so far.
Backstage again, with Drake Maverick. One thing I love about the 24/7 Title- irrelevant of this being a legends show- is that it's brought back backstage shenanigans. For such a long time, almost every bit of action has occurred in the arena. You don't want the live crowd watching a big screen for the whole show, but it's nice to have skits that last a minute or so here and there for variety. Anyway, Maverick's trying to gather his belongings so he can leave the building- but his suitcase is full of worms! The Boogeyman appears and delivers his catchphrase, spooking Drake. Pat Patterson appears, kicks Drake and pins him to become the new 24/7 Champion! Oh, this is such a fun way to use legends. I'm smiling as I write this. You go, Pat!
Christian jumps on guest commentary. Lillian Garcia is the guest ring announcer. Loving all these different roles for the legends/returning stars. Seriously, the difference between this and Raw 25 is night and day.
Match 2: The Viking Raiders (Erik & Ivar) def. Curt Hawkins & Zack Ryder (at 2:40)
Thoughts: Pretty standard squash by the Raiders, but they beat actual WWE Superstars this time. Ivar's agility was impressive, and The Viking Experience finisher is a great one- even if I would have retired that name completely to move away from that controversy. Christian seemed comfortable on commentary, although he did seem a little agitated when one of them asked, "Where's Edge?" Poor guy will always be the Jannetty. (*)
Backstage, the legends are having a little party. Mike Kanellis is talking to Eve Torres (she still looks amazing) and Eric Bischoff is there too, in a Smackdown blue suit. Maria comes along to bitch Mike out for not rubbing cream on her pregnant belly. Cue Ron Simmons, who borrows Jimmy Hart's megaphone to yell, "DAMN!"
Thoughts: The "DAMN" segment is a staple of these legends shows, but normally it's just interrupting some stupid dance spot with the other legends. This time, they integrated into the Mike and Maria storyline. Little things, but they're creative moves that I really appreciate.
Backstage, AJ Styles, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson are talking about Styles' match with Seth Rollins later in the show. They're all wearing new shirts, calling themselves The OC. Styles is fired up and they throw up the Too Sweet. Welcome to The OC, bitch!
Pat Patterson is shown lying on the ground. Gerald Brisco is standing over him as the new 24/7 Champion. They call each other stooges, and Brisco takes off. He runs into Kelly Kelly, who gives him a hug- and a knee in the balls. Referee, cover (lucky bastard), Kelly Kelly is your new 24/7 Champion!
Samoa Joe makes his entrance. He cuts a promo trashing the Raw Reunion concept, saying he could be out here doing what he does best, but instead the fans want to see the Usos & Rikishi do a dance break. Don't think the fans had a say in the matter, but okay. This prompts the entrance of Roman Reigns, who takes issue with Joe taking shots at his family. He challenges Joe to a match, and it's on!
Match 3: Roman Reigns def. Samoa Joe (at 5:35)
Thoughts: Pretty standard fare with Joe dominating early and Reigns coming back with the Spear. Credit for the timing though, as Reigns hit the move perfectly right as Joe stood up in the ring, really cool "outta nowhere" visual. (**)
Miz TV with Seth Rollins. Rollins mocks Lesnar a little before putting him over as a threat, but then calling him a Seth Rollins wannabe. Paul Heyman interrupts from the gorilla position backstage. They re-cap history, with Lesnar's MITB cash-in on Rollins, with Seth pointing out that it took Brock 4 years to get payback for his own Wrestlemania 31 cash-in. Hence, the wannabe thing. Heyman has the brass balls to walk out face to face with the Beast Slayer, but is soon intimidated into scurrying backstage again. Rollins promised to beat Lesnar at Summerslam, beat AJ Styles tonight, and "burn it down".
Thoughts: Rollins was good on the mic. Confident and passionate, selling the personal issue and the history between himself and Lesnar, and also working in hype for tonight's match.
Sami Zayn interrupts Charly Caruso backstage at the legends party. He bitches about them being there and says they should go home. Rey Mysterio interrupts and tells Zayn to show some respect. Kurt Angle interrupts and recalls his time as Raw GM, saying they settled things in the ring. Zayn and Mysterio agree to face each other in a match. This should be a good one. Don't think they've ever wrestled each other?
More Divas backstage as Kelly Kelly brags about being 24/7 Champion to Candice Michelle, Melina and Naomi. Melina reveals that she's become a referee and Candice pins Kelly to become the new 24/7 Champion! Alundra Blayze chokes Candice out to win the 24/7 title for herself, but says she won't be champion long.
Thoughts: This 24/7 craziness is an awesome way to get everyone involved on the show. Also, most of the past Divas are still hotter than today's lot! Not Alundra though. Ooft.
Match 4: Rey Mysterio def. Sami Zayn (at 5:00)
Thoughts: Short and sweet match to get more legends involved. Mysterio bamboozles Zayn early, and he looks to bail on the match... but is stopped by Rob Van Dam, Sgt. Slaughter, Hurricane and Kurt Angle! Rey hits a Frog Splash to tribute RVD and get the win. RVD was another big surprise, bigger than Cena in some ways, as he's currently contracted to Impact Wrestling. It seemed WWE struck a deal with them to do a cameo appearance. (**)
Backstage with Montez Ford of the Street Profits. He finds his partner, Angelo Dawkins, putting eye drops in and coughing. Dawkins says he was "chilling with Rob Van Dam". Sly weed reference, niiiiiice. Fuck PG.
Alundra Blayze walks out on stage with the 24/7 Title. She's going to put it in the trash, a callback to her doing the same thing to the WWF Women's Championship on WCW Nitro... but she's interrupted by the music of the Million Dollar Man! He walks out and buys the championship off Blayze- like he did with the WWF Championship in the 80s. Everyone's got a price, hahahaha. Ted Dibiase is the new 24/7 Champion.
Jerry "The King Lawler is introduced to be guest commentator for the Rollins vs. Styles match.
Match 5: Seth Rollins def. AJ Styles (via DQ)
Thoughts: This was a nice dose of quality fast-paced wrestling action, but they didn't go all-out like at MITB, where Seth and AJ had what's probably the WWE MOTY to this point. That's because the wrestling action is secondary to the segments and legend appearances tonight. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it is what it is. The OC were trying to take cheap shots at Rollins, and to help even up the odds, DX/nWo/the Kliq! No Billy Gunn though. He's busy working for a "pissant company". Styles and friends scatter, Rollins gets to drop the "we've got two words for ya" line. (**1/2)
Ted Dibiase gets in a limo backstage. There's a scuffle inside (unseen) and Drake Maverick emerges as the new 24/7 Champion! Guessing there were medical issues preventing Dibiase from getting legitimately physical, creative way to get around that.
Mick Foley is standing in the ring, waxing poetic about all his great memories over the past 24 years on Raw. Fuck, I'm old. He throws to a video of him winning the WWE Championship on Raw from The Rock, but the screen distorts and the lights go out- the Fiend has arrived! Bray Wyatt emerges from the shadows and hits Foley with the Mandible Claw! We know Foley can't take actual bumps, so this is an even more impressive work-around than the Dibiase thing. And they've used a legend to put over a current star. Top marks.
It's A Moment Of Bliss with Becky Lynch. Alexa shares the hosting duties with Nikki Cross, who introduces the Raw Women's Champion. Natalya swiftly interrupts the interview and brawls with Becky. Basic, but good stuff to hype the Becky/Natalya Summerslam match.
Drake Maverick and his wife look to escape the arena with the 24/7 Championship in tow. Renee gets in a limo, but before Maverick can join her, R-Truth rolls him up to win back the 24/7 Championship! He jumps in the limo and tells the driver to step on it. Drake's lost his championship and his wife- but he seems far more upset about the former. Side note, Drake Maverick is PUNCHING with his wife (they're married IRL). She is a fucking goddess.
Match 6: Braun Strowman def. Randy Rowe (in 0:41)
Thoughts: Braun smash. The jobber did a good job flying around the ring selling Braun's shit. Might as well get the Monster Among Men doing what he does best on a show like this. And hey, technically Randy Rowe can always say he main evented Raw. (*)
Time for the final segment, a Toast To Raw! The legends are gathered on the stage, with Ric Flair and Tampa's own Hulk Hogan getting separate entrances. Hogan steals Foley's cheap pop and does his usual catchphrases. Meh.
Then, the Texas Rattlesnake, the toughest SOB in WWE, the Bionic Redneck, Stone Cold Steve Austin makes his entrance. OH HELL YEAH! Did I mention I'm a child of the Attitude Era? The crowd goes banana (TM Pat Patterson) for Austin. He gets on the mic and basically riffs, telling stories about partying with Ron Simmons, Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan. He's waffling about nothing really, but it's compelling. He then switches gears to talk about being part of the WWE Family, along with everyone in the arena and everyone watching at home. I'm a big Austin fan, but this felt a little jarring. Like WWE sent Austin out there to do a propaganda piece on how great the company was. All the legends get in the ring and we have a beer bash. Stone Cold starts to tell a story about Gerald Brisco doing something illegal in South Africa- and TV time runs out.
I thought WWE knocked it out of the park on this show. I couldn't help but compare it throughout to Raw 25, where they brought in a ton of past Superstars... to do nothing. I was really impressed this time around that every name had a purpose, whether it was to do a backstage skit, a promo, commentary, managing, announcing... and all the 24/7 Championship shenanigans, which was a really fun thread running through the whole show. Ultimately, Raw Reunion was a cheap ploy to increase WWE's low TV ratings... but as far as cheap ploys go, this one was extremely fun and entertaining, never a dull moment. And as wrestling fans, that's all we really want from the product. Here's hoping they can maintain this sense of excitement in the following weeks, when the Attitude Era legends go home and we build towards Summerslam.
Overall Score: 8.5/10
Until next time, take care,