Hello and welcome to The Raw Spotlight, my weekly blog in which I discuss the three Raw segments that have left the biggest impression on me as a viewer. Some of these I will applaud, others I will hate with a passion, sometimes my reaction will have more to do with asking the right questions about a storyline rather than expressing an opinion. Major angles will undoubtedly make their way to the Spotlight, but my attention may also be grabbed by a small detail in a seemingly insignificant segment. Whatever the case, these are the three Raw moments that did not go unnoticed.
3. CURTIS AXEL: “THIS SITUATION IS BETTER THAN PERFECT.”
I am a big fan of Curtis Axel’s in-ring work and I think he can hang in there with the best of them. His match last night against CM Punk, for instance, was another solid performance, for which I praise him. When the guy has to talk, however, he often fails to find the right words. The backstage segment between Axel and his mentor Paul Heyman has earned this week’s No. 3 spot for awkwardness of speech. This may come across as nitpicking on my behalf, but I find Axel’s statement truly mind-boggling. Here is the exact quote from Raw:
“Paul, I got this. Even if the fans do vote you to get in the ring with Punk, he’s gonna have to brawl me. He’s gonna get himself counted out, even if he gets himself disqualified, he loses the match. He’s gonna have to outwrestle me, and he cannot outwrestle me. Listen, this situation is better than perfect! You believe me, right, Paul?”
For a statement which was supposed to be persuasive, as it was intended to make Heyman feel secure about the chances of facing CM Punk in the ring, it sure did not feature a lot of reasonable arguments. The first weird choice was the mention of a brawl, which in the world of wrestling, is different from a clean wrestling match. Commentators call a contest a brawl when it is ugly and respects no limitations, as it often takes place outside the ring and involves the use of weapons. Axel’s second sentence, however, emphasized that Punk could not afford to break the rules of a standard wrestling match, thus making it anything but a brawl as far as wrestling terminology goes. This situation is described seconds later as “better than perfect”, even though the aforementioned factors do not make the bout any different from a standard contest. Is Heyman supposed to be relieved by the fact that Punk does not want to lose a match? Surely considering the long career The Straight-Edge Superstar has had, he has won most of his matches without getting disqualified or counted out.
Axel’s main argument, however, revolved around CM Punk’s inability to “outwrestle him”, a claim which most of us viewers simply cannot buy, let alone someone like Paul Heyman, who has been such a major player in his career. If anything Curtis is the one who is expected to resolve to dirty tricks.
And what does “better than perfect” even mean? Non-sensical phrases like those bring Michael McGillicutty’s awful NXT promo back to mind.
2. CM PUNK GETS PUNISHED
Despite Axel and Heyman’s involvement in a rather awkward backstage segment last night, they were also two thirds of what made this one a very powerful watch. The last episode of Raw saw CM Punk getting destroyed in the most violent and merciless way the PG rating could allow. After The Straight-Edge Superstar earned the opportunity to face the Walrus in the ring, it was certain that Curtis Axel would interfere on his manager’s behalf. Punk ended up having to fight two men while handcuffed, and there was not much he could do when a steel chair and a kendo stick were brought into play. The beatdown that followed was painful to watch, not because it was visual, as we all know WWE no longer uses color. It was the combination of the viciousness in Heyman’s eyes, Punk’s utter helplessness as a result of being handcuffed and held by Axel, and the great selling by the former WWE Champion that turned this disturbing scene into an emotionally resonant and memorable moment.
The build-up to SummerSlam was centered around “The Best vs. The Beast”, and as Punk was about to face an athlete of Brock Lesnar’s status, the weeks leading up to the Pay-Per-View could not explore the rivalry between Punk and Heyman with all the depth and drama it deserved. After each fringeworthy kendo stick shot, Heyman yelled, “I cared about you!” and “I fathered you!”, reminding us of the long way their relationship had gone through to get to where it is today. The significance of it was even further enhanced later the same night when the ECW legend would tear up on-camera, revealing just how painful it was for him to be betrayed by someone he used to genuinely care for.
From Punk’s “Make it count” line as he was preparing for a kendo stick shot from his manager, to the energy in Heyman’s eyes and the way Punk held his head to the mat as he was trying to cope with the physical agony, the entire segment was a piece of storytelling beauty. At the same time, Punk still looked great delivering kicks to both rivals while unable to use his hands, and Axel’s character is expected to benefit in a huge way from participating in such a personal storyline.
Violence for the sake of being edgy has no place in this business, but when it is used to spark emotion, it can be an important tool in any kind of scripted programming.
1. WWE IS NOW A DICTATORSHIP
As Richard reported several days ago on WrestlingNewsWorld, the final segment of last week’s Raw received heavy criticism for presenting four heels with full control over the company, depriving the protagonists of any chance of success. The way I see it, these complaints are very similar to those made against dominant heel stables such as the nWo or, more recently, TNA’s Aces & Eights, where the faction eventually blends with the on-screen management. Overdoing the heels’ dominance is a very real risk when dealing with a rivalry of this scale, and if botched, it may result in a situation where viewers are appalled by the one-sided nature of the conflict. I agree the recent episodes of Raw do make it seem as if the alliance of COO Triple H, The Shield and WWE Champion Randy Orton is virtually invincible, but the reason the nWo got stale more than a decade ago was not their dominance, but the repetitiveness of their dominance. Despite the fact that last night’s show was another mighty step forward for Triple H’s dictatorship, the way the storyline was progressed ensured that at this stage, the audience’s attention would not be lost.
What we are currently seeing on WWE TV is not your regular war of stables. In fact, the only wrestler currently involved in direct altercations with Orton and The Shield is Daniel Bryan. The rest of the locker room does not act as an opposing force to Triple H’s regime, but we still get to observe how everyone, from the main-eventers to the jobbers, is affected by the recent events. The concept of oppression, as portrayed through superstars’ inability to speak their minds, has more to do with politics, and to a certain extent, psychology, which immediately makes this storyline more cerebral than your average rivalries between big stables. The segment in which Renee Young asks the WWE roster for their thoughts on the on-going Gauntlet Match tops this week’s Raw Spotlight for dealing with the idea of forced silence. It was striking to see Big Show, Dolph Ziggler and even the outspoken Miz refuse to comment on the matter since it evoked an emotion which even those who don’t care about wrestling can relate to as victims of oppression, at the workplace or as a result of national policies.
Nevertheless, we could have done without Renee Young saying “I guess you don’t want to get fired as well.” Subtlety in storytelling is your friend.