For all the talk of “eras” in professional wrestling, WWE has made claims many times of a new one being upon us in an attempt to garner interest in their product without really changing anything. Most recently this happened following WrestleMania 32 when a rush of NXT Superstars were called up to the main roster, creating the illusion that great things were to come when, in reality, not much was different.
Women’s wrestling certainly improved, but the female Superstars are still relegated to questionable spots on the show and receive only a few brief minutes on most three hour episodes of Monday Night Raw. New tag teams were brought into the mix, but the writing team seems to have forgotten to create anything truly special for them. And, of course, Roman Reigns is still being pushed as the star of tomorrow when he’s definitely not being welcomed by the WWE Universe with open arms.
But the company has finally taken a solid, concrete step toward change. Whether it is change for better or for worse is yet to be determined (and will take months to see), but WWE is due all the credit in the world for finally committing to spicing up a product that’s been the same flavor of stale for many years now by reintroducing the brand extension. With Raw and SmackDown now once again separate entities with unique rosters and storylines, Raw stands a real chance to reclaim its long-lost identity as a five-star wrestling show.
Here are 15 crazy (and maybe some not-so-crazy) ideas WWE’s Monday Night Raw might be interested in trying on for size in the era of the brand split.
15. Cut The Third Hour
It’s been said so many times that every member of the WWE Universe is practically blue in the face at this point, Raw is way too long. How many times must we continue to make the repeated request that we not be able to watch two full-length movies in the time it takes us to watch one weekly episode of Monday Night Raw?
In some ways, Raw being three hours might be less of an issue now that we know the brand will incorporate a Cruiserweight division. But by that same token, WWE already has a difficult time packing Monday nights with three hours of wrestling utilizing the entire collective roster without having to stuff in some unsalted filler. It would be virtually impossible for WWE to sign or bring from NXT enough wrestlers to bring Raw’s roster up to what it was before the brand split, and even then they’d have to sign more because, as we’re seeing today, it’s just not enough.
14. Drop the PG Rating
Another demand wrestling fans have been making for years is a mass exodus from the land of PG wrestling. To most fans, attempting to watch family friendly professional wrestling is akin to watching an episode the Power Rangers where the spandex suits are skimpier and there are no special effects. This is a formula that worked so well in the 1980s, which is what WWE seems to cling to, but we should remind ourselves that the 1980s is a decade notorious for being one big cheese factory.
The PG setting allows WWE to appeal to child viewers whose parents naturally buy more merchandise, so it’s certainly a lucrative business model in that sense. But children are fickle creatures and adult wrestling fans are nothing if not loyal. And besides that, most adult fans became engrossed in wrestling as children during the Attitude Era which was the raunchiest time in the history of wrestling.
13. Give Mick Foley A Larger Role
There are many people out there that will agree with me when I say that Stephanie McMahon is amazing. She’s got the same charisma of her father, her facial expressions are on point, and everyone has strong feelings about her so there will always be an audience reaction. Unfortunately, she’s been on television for so long that people have grown numb to her and any good work she might do on screen would likely be taken for granted by a jaded WWE Universe.
Stephanie’s going to be around for a long time, after all, she’s set to inherit the business. It would be a small miracle if most of the creative ideas involving her weren’t already spent. An obvious example of this is Vince McMahon, who hasn’t had a good storyline in many years. WWE has set up a golden opportunity to get around this issue with Mick Foley being Stephanie’s General Manager on Raw. Mick Foley’s successful Commissioner storyline in the Attitude era is proof that he can make magic happen in a leadership role, so it’s time to set him loose on a modern day Raw.
12. Keep Commentary Fresh
Much has been made of JBL’s trainwreck-style commentary. He shouts at everything, says something offensive about women, and undermines his fellow announcers at every turn. He’s unhinged and at times downright sexist, and luckily for Monday Night Raw, he was moved to the SmackDown announce team during the WWE draft and replaced with Corey Graves. Graves, who has developed a big following with his impressive commentary work in NXT now joins Michael Cole and Byron Saxton on Raw, but more can be done.
Michael Cole still does heavy play-by-play as he’s always done, but his voice has been tired and grating for so many years. Cole is really good at his job, but he’s no Jim Ross and people will not welcome him for nearly as long as they did J.R. In fact, they’ve never really welcomed him to begin with. It’s time to fully commit to a younger, fresher announce team and either train Graves or Saxton for play-by-play, or hire a new voice who can take over the role.
11. Special Event Episodes
No one should be using TNA as a business model, but ever since the company dropped monthly pay-per-views it has become clear that the special edition episodes of Impact Wrestling make the weekly television not just more bearable, but more exciting. TNA has taken its former pay-per-views like Destination X and made them into occasional big event episodes of their weekly programming, and while the execution often leaves a lot to be desired, the principle feels very modern.
WWE will never give up its monthly pay-per-views, but the week to week monotony fans have become so indifferent toward could be broken up by the occasional themed episodes. Perhaps the company could bring back their old “In Your House” events for this purpose or do a King of the Ring tournament, or maybe even turn one of their more recent pay-per-views into a special Raw episode, like Night of Champions or Money in the Bank. The possibilities are endless, but the idea is simple. How can Raw be exciting if it’s the same thing each week?
10. Make It More Like A Legitimate Sport
Decades ago Vince McMahon started referring to WWE as “sports entertainment” and has railed hard against the use of the term “wrestling.” For a company that has spent so long fighting the connection to legitimate sports, it’s odd how WWE takes every opportunity to rub shoulders with UFC by bringing Ronda Rousey in for WrestleMania or endlessly touting Brock Lesnar’s accomplishments inside the octagon. But in the modern wrestling world, that’s exactly what they should be doing.
Perhaps in 2016 it’s time for WWE to embrace the idea that it will always be lumped in with more legitimate sports because it will always be referred to as “wrestling.” Most fans readily accept it as such, so why not produce a more wrestling-centric product with a more competitive presentation? Let’s have more tournaments and make it meaningful to actually win them. Treat the show like it’s a big deal, like the making or breaking of a career is at the end of every bell. In short: Monday Night Raw should spend more time learning from UFC. You just need to hope they can avoid things like the Daniel Puder/Kurt Angle incident!
9. Brand Competition
One of the biggest themes leading into the WWE brand extension was the notion of Stephanie McMahon and Shane McMahon, Commissioners of Raw and SmackDown, respectively, going at each other tooth and nail for rating supremacy. Vince McMahon did an excellent job laying the groundwork and providing motivation for his children to go for the throat, demanding they pull out all the stops because whoever impresses him the most might just inherit the keys to the kingdom.
Considering this is a predetermined sport with two “competing” brands under the same company umbrella, the only true way to measure competition is in brand loyalty among fans. Some of the greatest times on both Raw and SmackDown have come from the investment a fan feels when his or her favorite brand (usually whichever his or her favorite Superstars call home) is pitted against the other.
Following that logic, one way to incite brand loyalty is the return of the Bragging Rights pay-per-view. Both shows compete for, well, bragging rights, but perhaps also a greater prize, such as the main event slot at WrestleMania.
8. Longer Rivalries
Stephanie McMahon has stated in interviews that one of the goals of the modern WWE brand extension is to be able to produce more drawn-out storylines, something which was virtually impossible with the entire roster occupying the same shows. Now, with Raw and SmackDown having unique rosters, it’s time to really commit to that notion because meaningful, memorable rivalries have been one of the most glaring omissions from WWE television in recent years.
With the same Superstars on television so many times per week, the storylines were growing stale twice as fast as before the end of the first brand extension a few years back. At one point, Evolution dominated Raw for nearly two years. For a similar length of time in the late 2000s, a group known as La Familia consisting of Edge, Vickie Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero and more ran the main event scene and defined an entire era of SmackDown. These are the moments that need to be reclaimed for Monday Night Raw to find some of its former glory.
7. Less Talking, More Action
If there’s one pitfall to a three hour Monday Night Raw it is WWE’s tendency to want to fill the empty space with lots of chatter. Over the years, the backstage interviews and the meaningless, often silly, conversations among teammates, rivals and authority figures have been choking the life out of the show. WWE’s penchant for opening Raw and dousing the fire of excited viewers right off the bat with twenty minutes of talking is not productive to a night of memorable wrestling action.
Usually by the time the opening promo is over, everyone’s practically asleep, and then there are still two and a half more hours of “wrestling.” WWE needs to more often kick off the show with a huge match, keep the action flowing with small interviews staggered throughout, and then end with another huge match. Save all that talking for extra features on WWE.com.
6. Build The Undercard
One of the sad facts of life wrestling fans have just had to learn to accept over the course of the last twenty years is that the lower ranked Championships become less important as time moves on. For example, the Intercontinental Championship that used to be defended in show stealing matches by future WWE Hall of Famers like Bret Hart, Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels and Mr. Perfect has most recently been held by the likes of The Miz and Ryback.
WWE’s attempted to rectify the problem with huge stars like Dean Ambrose and Kevin Owens occasionally holding that title, but the company’s inconsistency may be doing more harm than good. It’s time to start treating the Intercontinental and United States Championship as the respected titles we all know they are, or even replace them with new ones to get a fresh start. If the undercard is presented as something that creates future Hall of Famers, naturally the main event scene and the WWE Championship especially will become even more prestigious.
5. Meaningful Main Events
One of the greatest plagues on the modern experience of watching Monday Night Raw is the six-man tag team main event. It’s a bad habit WWE developed years ago; when the writers are at a loss for a decent main event, they’ll combine two to three rivalries into one giant mess of a match with absolutely nothing at stake. And it’s not just the six-man tags that are the problem; two guys wrestling one another with absolutely nothing to gain is not a main event. It’s barely an opener.
Even worse are the frequent contract signings or other non-wrestling skits that so often take the main event spot. If that’s going to happen, there had better be a monumental bombshell to be dropped. The bottom line is that main events need to mean something, and if they’re going to consist of two random Superstars competing against one another the win needs to carry some weight beyond the post-match celebration.
4. Major Focus On The Women’s Division
Long and uncomfortable is the debate over women’s wrestling. Some of its harsher critics argue that the best women will biologically never be able to wrestle as good a match as the best men, while the staunchest of its supporters will say women have never been given the chance to flourish in wrestling. Regardless of your opinions, there’s no denying the future is awaiting women’s wrestling with open arms.
The women’s wrestling movement has now taken hold firmly on WWE’s main roster, but the status quo is a far cry from the girls being equal to the boys. As time progresses, demand for good women’s wrestling surges and if WWE really wants to create a modern, groundbreaking Monday Night Raw they’ll need to have a strong foothold in the women’s wrestling era. The Women’s Championship should be elevated to the status of a World Championship, because that’s exactly what it is for female performers. When this happens and WWE’s female Superstars are respected on a main event level, everyone from the top to the bottom of the card will benefit from the extra eyes on the product.
3. Less Predictability
There was a time deep in wrestling’s past when surprises were actually a thing. A Superstar might return from a lengthy absence or even be appearing with WWE for the first time, or perhaps a huge upset would see a new WWE Champion crowned, and no one would see it coming. The element of surprise is the single most important aspect to making professional wrestling a can’t-miss television program.
What exactly is there to miss in 2016? Matches with little weight, and even if there’s something at stake then at worst we’ve missed a title change that would likely have been seen coming from a mile away anyway. Unpredictability needs to be reclaimed for Monday Night Raw, but that doesn’t necessarily mean surprise faces or title changes. Predictability also lies in the format of the show; we know we’re getting promos, interviews, and “talk shows” with too little wrestling and a main event that is almost always weightless.
2. No Mid-Match Commercial Breaks
The art of a wrestling match is a gorgeous thing to behold. One of the things pro wrestling fans admire so much about our favorite Superstars is their ability to tell a story with their matches through various highs and lows, but the flow is far too delicate to withstand a jarring commercial break thrown right in the middle.
We’re trained to not get too invested in the first half of a TV wrestling match because we know we’re just going to have to suffer an advertisement break, so we don’t. We mostly ignore the opening of said match and wait out the next commercial break so we can catch the end. It’s not as if we’re getting to watch the entire match anyway, so what’s the point of watching anything but the finish? Commercial breaks make enjoying a wrestling match impossible, so it’s time for WWE to cut the nonsense; if that means longer commercial breaks before and after matches to make up the difference, then that’s just a necessary evil.
1. Fully Commit To The Cruiserweight Division
By now the entire WWE Universe is aware that the WWE brand extension has brought Monday Night Raw its own Cruiserweight division. This is something wrestling fans have been clamoring for and stands to become one of the highlights of the modern brand split, as it was during the original when it became a staple and highlight of the SmackDown brand.
WWE knows the appeal of the Cruiserweight division, as is obvious by the Cruiserweight Classic tournament on the WWE Network, but will they fully commit to such a fan favorite brand of wrestling? The company has historically been hesitant to make big stars out of Cruiserweights, but this could be the most important decision WWE has made for Monday Night Raw in many years.
TNA has seen setback after setback but the one thing that always sets them apart as their most unique feature is their X Division. While not strictly a lightweight class, TNA’s X Division captures a similar spirit and if it can do so much good for a company which has seen so much bad, imagine the heights to which Monday Night Raw could soar if the Cruiserweight division takes center stage and even occasionally gets the main event.