My Two Centsss - Has Raw Become Unwatchable on Purpose? + Some Thoughts on Okada vs. Omega
By Super Chrisss
Jan 10, 2017 - 5:41:22 PM
Tom Jenner rocks!
Happy 2017, and welcome to my first – and hopefully not last – column of 2017! I know, I know – I promised you a 2017 predictions column last time we spoke. Unfortunately, I got busy with work, graduating college for a second time (since apparently that’s a big deal) and applying to become a teacher in a different city five hours away from me. So that column shall be delayed until sometime this weekend, but I promise it’s on the way!
Today, I wanted to take a moment to talk shit about the current state of Monday Night Raw. There’s no point spending 1000 words explaining why Raw <<< SmackDown because let’s be honest: everyone knows why. SmackDown is two hours instead of three, authority figures don’t dominate storylines, every championship matters, fresh and compelling match-ups, no Roman Reigns, etc. It’s beating a dead horse at this point so instead I want to focus on a related issue:
Is WWE intentionally reducing the quality of Raw for the benefit of SmackDown?
I’ve seen this question be tossed around quite a bit on social media since late 2016, and my gut reaction was to always call bullshit on that theory. Raw and SmackDown may have different rosters and storylines but both fall under the WWE umbrella. It’s not like Sony competing with Microsoft or the NFL competing with the NHL: both Raw and SmackDown are operated by the same people and any competition between them is kayfabe-only. Keep in mind, USA Network put pressure on WWE to improve SmackDown’s ratings, which helped prompt the brand split last summer. What sense would it make to sacrifice Raw’s viewership just to give SmackDown a slight boost? Wouldn’t you want BOTH your shows to score high ratings?
But last night, as I attempted to watch Raw, something occurred to me. What if WWE isn’t purposely making Raw a chore to get through because they want fans to tune into SmackDown instead? What if they’re half-assing (and that’s being kind) the show to improve live attendance for the Monday night live SmackDown event every week instead?
Think about it for a second. How often did we ask ourselves, “Why the hell would WWE run a house show at the same time that Raw is on the air? Who in their right mind would want to go see a live event instead of staying home and watching Raw instead?”. For a long time – up until the first few weeks of the brand split, actually – this rhetoric remained true. It was often reported that Monday-night house shows drew poor gates.
Those days, for the large part, are gone now. Since I’m bored on Monday nights with no Gotham on, I tend to kill time browsing social media. Several months ago, I got into the habit of checking out the hashtag for whatever city SmackDown was running in versus Raw. The advantage of doing such an odd task on a weekly basis allowed me to pseudo-analyze the growth in attendance for Monday night SmackDown house shows, as fans would constantly tweet/upload to Twitter pictures of the event. All the different camera angles allow me to assess the attendance for the live event, and let me tell you, the blue brand has been drawing well for months now. While the ratings may not reflect it, attendance for SmackDown live events – at least on Mondays – appears to be way up compared to what they were back in July/early August. Hell, it was only two weeks ago that SmackDown came close to selling out a Monday night house show at Madison Square Garden. Considering how it was the day after Christmas AND going head-to-head with Raw, I’d consider that a major accomplishment.
Thus, it brings me back to my earlier question of whether WWE is (again, being kind here) holding back on Monday nights. While I consider the show unwatchable, the majority of fans seem to disagree, as Raw’s ratings continue to hold around the three-million mark. That being said, I think it’s fair to say that the old-school mind-set of “Why go to a live event when you can watch Raw instead” no longer holds weight. Personally, I wouldn’t think twice about going to see SmackDown live on a Monday night if they came to my town (but then again, it’s not like I would watch Raw, anyway). But with Raw not creating a must-see vibe since Triple H helped Kevin Owens win the Universal title last September, I can’t help but wonder if WWE is subconsciously telling fans that it’s okay to attend SmackDown if they’re in your city instead – you won’t miss anything on Raw that you can’t watch on DVR or YouTube the next day.
I know it’s an absurd theory, but the pictures don’t lie: a lot more people are attending SmackDown live events on Mondays than they once were. Whether WWE is degrading Raw’s weekly quality on purpose or not is a question no one really knows the answer to. But it seems odd that SmackDown can generate interest and excitement among fans just by announcing two-three matches or segments a week in advance while Raw must rely on past legends (Goldberg, HBK, Undertaker, and next week Lesnar) to give fans an incentive to tune in. Maybe that’s why none of these part-timers show up as surprises anymore: WWE doesn’t want their fans to attend SmackDown live on Monday and miss a surprise appearance from The Undertaker at the end of the show. At least this way, people know well in advance that ‘Taker & co. will be appearing and can set their DVRs accordingly. Meanwhile, they can enjoy a night of great action at SmackDown.
Feel free to call me crazy, but there’s no way Vince and his cronies can be proud of the Raw product they put out every week. They just can’t. I’ve seen them produce quality episodes of Raw since the split went into effect so we all know they are capable of putting together a solid, three-hour show whenever they want to. But for some reason or another, they apparently don’t want to, and I think I might have discovered one of those reasons.
THE QUICK FIX…
Since my Twitter timeline wouldn’t shut up about it, I finally gave in and watched the main-event of NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 11 – Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada – on YouTube. Believe it or not, this was my first time watching ANY NJPW match EVER. I don’t neglect non-WWE companies on purpose, by the way – I’m just not a fan of a) watching matches on YouTube (I prefer my 32-inch HD TV, thank you very much) and b) don’t have time to watch extra wrestling content. If I ever have spare time and I’m in the mood to watch additional wrestling, the WWE Network has me covered. Hey, I’m paying for it, so I might as well take advantage of it!
Nevertheless, I was blown away by that match. I really liked how both guys not only told a story for the first three-quarters of the match, but then proceeded to wrestle a “WWE epic-style” match, similar to Cena vs. Styles at SummerSlam, where both men hit each other with one big move after another but couldn’t put away his opponent. Some of the bumps they took were outright NASTY and I don’t blame Okada at all when he revealed in a post-match interview that he thought his life would end on multiple occasions that night. While both men gave it their all inside and outside the ring, the commentary team deserves props as well. I had no idea who either guy was, how they got to the main-event of NJPW’s WrestleMania, but the commentary team did an A+ job covering every possible base. So kudos to those guys as well.
While I don’t think Omega vs. Okada was a six-star match (come on, now), it was most definitely a five-star match and a very strong and early contender for Match of the Year. After watching them battle, I was very tempted to look for other NPJW matches featuring talent I know (Styles vs. Nakamura from WK10 is at the top of that list, but I’m welcome to further suggestions). You won’t see me following NJPW on a weekly basis for the rest of 2017 – because of the earlier-stated reasons – but after watching Omega vs. Okada, I am far more open to watching non-WWE matches if the hype is strong enough. Just not TNA, though – fuck that company.
The moral of the story? Watch Omega vs. Okada while it’s still up on YouTube. If you already have, watch it again. It’s that damn good.
YOUR Two Centsss: Do you still watch Raw every week? Or have you given up?
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