The Postgame Analysis: Monday Night Raw, 8-26-13

What’s My Motivation Here?

I don’t remember who it was that told him this. Probably Terry Funk. I don’t even remember which of his books it was in. Probably his first. But I distinctly remember a point made by Mick Foley that’s stuck out with me more than anything else I’ve ever learned about the psychology of professional wrestling (and we’re obviously paraphrasing here): it doesn’t matter if the heel is right. It doesn’t matter if his motivation makes sense. It just matters that THEY think it makes sense.
That seemed to be a running theme tonight: establishing motivation, albeit to greatly different extents.

In some cases, it’s OK if the heel has a pretty good point, because…they’re a fucking heel. I don’t care if you have a good point, I still want to see your head get kicked off your goddamn shoulders. Yes, Triple H makes a valid point: Daniel Bryan did insult him personally. And Bryan did insult his wife. A lot. And his father-in-law. But while the fist shot fired- Triple H stealing the title from Bryan- might be “just business” to Triple H, but it’s extremely personal to Daniel Bryan. And it should be. That’s why the heel is still an asshole, even though he makes a technically valid point: he started it. 
Triple H, in one quick line, also reminded us of The Shield’s motivation: in setting up the handicap match between Bryan and The Shield, Hunter told Bryan, “I’m gonna give you the gift of justice.” Let’s not forget that The Shield’s ethos has always been twisted. All that matters if that THEY think it makes sense, remember? Who’s to say their idea of justice doesn’t align with who Triple H wants to be champion? Besides, they’ve had their personal issues with Bryan many times already. This is working for me. They strayed from having a motivation for too long. This has refocused them, as well as reinvigorated their push.
Meanwhile, we didn’t really learn anything new about the motivations for CM Punk and Paul Heyman in their blood feud. But it was still somehow furthered: Heyman’s screams at a shackled Punk as he savaged him with the kendo stick bordered on the homoerotic (no, I don’t mean that as a bad thing; given their backstories a part of Heyman feeling like a jilted lover makes some sense): “I loved you!” “I murdered myself for you!” In another instance of the heel having a valid point, Heyman did everything for Punk, only to be put on the sideline. Punk gives no fucks, he just wants as much of Heyman’s blood as he can get. 
And that’s why we love him.

Avatar 3

In a weird twist, nominally the top three storylines right now all (nominally, I say, because there’s really a top two and then everything else, but the third one is for the World Heavyweight title, so that’s…something) feature the wrestler on one side acting as an avatar for whom the feud is really with.
Orton as HHH’s avatar makes a lot of sense: Orton fits the profile of what a WWE champion is supposed to look like, both in storyline and in that weird amalgam of backstage realities and our (often very wrong) perceptions of them. I’m sure many are thinking this is yet another way for Hunter to get himself over and on top, and really, do yourself a favor and lose that thought. Triple H is perfect in this role because he represents the face of the corporate structure that Daniel Bryan’s star-making fight is truly against. Orton is perfect in this role because he’s just vapid enough to represent the in-ring realization of that corporate imagery. 
Curtis Axel is an odd, shoe-horned fit into the Punk/Heyman feud. Lesnar worked perfectly in that role because despite his one-time desire to star in “Raw: The Brock Lesnar Show,” his ego has nothing to do with having the spotlight on him, in and of itself. As long the spotlight is on him slaughtering someone, he doesn’t care if it’s on Heyman’s behalf. But in the understatement of the summer, Curtis Axel is not Brock Lesnar. He’s just kind of…..there. Axel is, however, improving if nothing else than by virtue of spending so much time around CM Punk. 
The most nonsensical of these, however, is Rob Van Dam as the wrestling representation of Ricardo in his feud against Alberto Del Rio. As I said last week, I like it. It’s goofy, it makes no sense, and sometimes that’s fine. It’s just interesting in how it gives us yet another example at the same time of a high-profile wrestler (though Axel is a stretch to be considered as such) merely representing a non-wrestling person of interest.

Reality TV, Meet “Reality Era”

So, is AJ on the long list of divas that Punk has banged? If so, has any research been done on whether or not the ability to cut scathing, grievance-airing promos an STD? Because AJ basically just cut the Diva division version of the “pipe bomb” promo. In a show in which the main storyline features the real-life corporate power structure keeping the little indy darling from being the top guy, somehow the storyline most borrowing from reality/”reality” this week was AJ hijacking the weekly Total Divas commercial/segment to tell them, and all of us, what we already know: what a load of shit this is. 
Too bad the Bellas completely ruined it by acting like obnoxious cunts through the entire thing (yes….”acting”….sure). Seriously, one of you- no, I don’t care enough to remember which one- is dating John Cena, who was the in-ring target of the “pipe bomb” promo. He sold it like a champ. By doing the same, the Bellas could have taken a brainless reality show that’s shockingly getting respectable ratings could have actually led to something. But they no-sold it because they’re awful, and it’s dead on arrival.

Back to Basics

Last but not least, this week’s Raw featured a return to what’s been one of the bright spots of the three-hour Raw: multiple good, long matches, now paired with a handful of shorter matches that were pointless in and of themselves, but at least are giving midcarders some direction even if it’s silly. By my count, we got about 45 minutes of aired wrestling tonight, a marked departure from last week’s episode that was very light on in-ring action. 
Cody Rhodes and Miz v. Damien Sandow and Fandango was a pointless, nothing match that at least continued Fandango’s now-correct direction as a vapid, Zoolander-meets-Dancing with the Stars direction. Same with Titus O’Neil v. Swagger: they’re continuing to give us a reason to cheer the PTPers and thus allow them to capitalize on the mainstream attention surrounding Darren Young (what little there may still be after those first few days) without being obnoxiously obvious about it, by giving us a reason to cheer them. 
Though the trend of giving away World Heavyweight title PPV matches on free TV in the preceding weeks is obnoxious, it’s not like anyone’s buying the show to see that title defended, anyway. I’m torn between hating the horribly overused “distraction leads to heel getting rolled up” finish and liking that RVD and Del Rio gave us a solid match without really giving the match away seeing as how it lacked a conclusive finish.
As discussed earlier, Axel is improving just by virtue of proximity to Punk. Their match was a little dry, but it was about 8 aired minutes of solid, with a clean finish before the appropriate post-match screwiness. 
We also saw two pairings that rarely, if ever don’t produce. Randy Orton and Christian is pretty much an automatic three stars, and this was no exception. I’m not much of a match rater, but I’d put the 13 minutes we saw of roughly 16 minutes at about ***1/2. The face/heel roles reversing did nothing to negatively affect their excellent in-ring chemistry.

 Orton has improved as a worker; I enjoyed the way he worked his babyface moveset into his heel style in a way that downplayed his weaknesses. He’s always been technically and athletically proficient, but concerns about his boring in-ring heel work can wait another week after a good match with Christian in which, yes, he slowed down from his fast-paced, fired-up babyface style but didn’t keep going to the headlocks after the first couple minutes. 

Finally, I’m not crazy about three straight episodes (Smackdown included) ending with Orton getting the upper hand on Bryan with an RKO, but the preceding Bryan/Rollins…well, essentially singles affair before the immediate beatdown by itself warranted a near 4-star rating, highlighted by a fucking absurd top-rope release German suplex. 
See you next week for the Postgame Analysis.