Due to a last-minute offer of (excellent) tickets, I was able to catch Monday Night RAW in person at the Richmond Coliseum this week. Here, in no particular order, are some observations and live impressions that I’ll jot down before loading up the television version from my DVR.
1. First and foremost—the crowd was excellent. Richmond has been a hotbed for big wrestling shows for decades, and the audience was a great mix of young and old. There was definitely a “multi-generation” feel. Most importantly, Richmond crowds strike the perfect balance for wrestling. The crowds here are very “hot” (loud and enthusiastic), unlike a typical crowd in, say, Phoenix. However, they also don’t try to make themselves the show, like a crowd in certain major East Coast cities. Richmond finds that sweet spot: An East Coast intensity with an old-school willingness not to be too-cool-for-school, contrarian dicks. We cheer for faces and boo heels, here. We enjoy wrestling unironically. Imagine that! (But see also #8 and #9 below)
2. It’s been almost three years since I last attended a live WWE event. The operation has been silky-smooth for years, but, incredibly, it’s even more impressive now. Changes to the ring or set happen instantly as a phalanx of black-clad employees scurry to and fro during commercial breaks or backstage vignettes. The amount of “moving parts” is staggering, but everyone seems to know exactly where to be and what to be doing at all times. That’s even true when things don’t go as planned due to, say, an injury.
3. We were in a suite, the best part of which (aside from having our own bathroom) was the incredible sightline. Even when I’ve had good or great seats in the past, the sightlines haven’t been as clean as Monday night’s. The view of both the stage and the ring were completely unobstructed. As a bonus, Roman Reigns entered through the crowd about 25 feet to our left.
4. The only negative—which wasn’t in any way WWE’s fault—is that the Coliseum has a pretty crummy sound system. Our humble venue has been due for a
renovation demolition for a while now, and it really shows its age in certain respects. It was tough to discern what some of the performers were saying, especially Bray Wyatt, Roman Reigns, and just about everyone during the Rusev / Swagger confrontation. On the other hand, seasoned talent like John Cena, Ric Flair, Chris Jericho, and The Miz were easy to understand.
5. Speaking of Rusev / Swagger, the crowd was especially raucous throughout that segment. As I mentioned in #1, Richmond is a great wrestling town. After the Cold-War-esque verbal jousting was over, I turned to one of my friends and said, “That entire script could have been taken—verbatim—from 1985. And the crowd would have reacted exactly the same way.” I can’t wait to watch the TV version of that part of the show.
6. The WWE apparently thinks “detente” means “debate.”
7. The Richmond crowd’s reaction to the picture of Barack Obama was fairly similar to the Richmond crowd’s reaction to John Cena.
8. All kidding aside, the most interesting thing I noticed all night had to do with Cena. When the cameras weren’t rolling, the crowd was 80%+ behind Cena. When the show would come back from break, that level of support dropped to about 55%. I found that fascinating, and my theory as to why this happens leads me to my next point . . .
9. John Cena is really, really good at his job. What people may not realize if they just see him on TV is how hard he works at all times to interact with the crowd—especially when the cameras aren’t on him (or aren’t on at all). Even the Cena-haters seem to acknowledge and respect the effort he puts forth to try to “reach” as many people as possible in the audience. Don’t misunderstand—the people who boo Cena genuinely don’t like his character. But I also think they begrudgingly understand that there are some aspects of being a professional wrestler at which he’s better than anyone on the roster. The anti-Cena portion of the audience may not be willing to admit it when the red light comes on, but they’ll applaud when he’s speaking to them directly during a break, or interacting off-mic from the ring apron during a tag match. You have to see Cena in person to appreciate fully just how good he actually is at promoting the company and the business.
10. The injury to Seth Rollins during the main event looked legitimate from the start. The doctor sprinted over as soon as it happened and was quickly joined by another trainer and a couple of officials. Rollins, limping badly, was helped up the ramp and out of the arena before the match had even concluded. Perhaps most tellingly, he left without his Money in the Bank briefcase, which remained near the timekeeper’s area until after the show was over, before being picked up and moved by a nameless WWE crew member.
11. It was also fairly obvious that the finish to the final match was improvised. The flow of the main event shifted abruptly after the Rollins injury, and the DQ ending seemed awkward and out-of-place from a storytelling perspective. I think the original plan was probably for Ambrose to run in and take out Rollins, to bring the opening segment full-circle. After Rollins actually got hurt, they scrapped Ambrose and went with a DQ. I’m intrigued to see how chaotic this all appeared to be when it played out on television.
12. The biggest pop of the night might have been for the Sting video promoting the forthcoming WWE video game.
13. That said, Ambrose, Chris Jericho, and Ric Flair received great ovations, but Roman Reigns was almost certainly the most “over” face there. Rusev (actually Lana) got great heel heat. The Miz’s new character direction is also working well. The Goldust and Stardust segment got a nice response. Bo Dallas gets booed appropriately even though it’s obvious the crowd is entertained by him (again, see #1 at the top). Cena, of course, always gets a huge reaction, but a healthy portion of it is negative.
14. The crowd only showed genuine displeasure (as opposed to “I enjoy booing you”) twice all night: One was when it became clear that Sting wasn’t in the building, which happened during a commercial and wasn’t seen by the home viewers. The other, curiously enough, was toward the end of Bray Wyatt’s promo, when a bona fide “BORING” chant started up. It might be time to freshen up that character a bit, or at least give his feud with Chris Jericho the same specificity his conflicts with Cena and Bryan had. Right now, I get where Jericho is coming from, but Wyatt’s motivation for targeting Y2J is not clear—and that’s a problem. For the first time in the year-plus that Wyatt has been in the company, it seems like he’s just going through the motions, with Jericho as a fill-in-the-blanks feud. He’s so talented, though, that I’m sure he’ll right the ship pretty quickly.
15. This was probably the best RAW I’ve seen in person. The matches were generally very good, and the in-ring work of the current roster is so consistently solid that it’s perhaps taken for granted sometimes. Little things come across well live that may not show up on TV. Two quick examples that come to mind are just how brutal the most impactful moments of the Cesaro / Big E match sounded in person, and, secondly, how entertaining The Miz / Sheamus match was—Miz scurrying around the ring and basically running from Sheamus for ten minutes may not be as fun with commercial interruptions, a million camera angle changes, and commentary devoted to pushing the WWE Network or Sonic chili dogs. I’ll see for myself when I watch the USA Network version.
I’m looking forward to Battleground this Sunday. I couldn’t help but notice that WWE has started promoting CM Punk’s Best in the World documentary on the Network, leaving me to wonder if Paul Heyman’s “Plan C” is actually “Plan C . . . M Punk.”
Probably not, but those kinds of thoughts are what keep viewers like me tuning in week after week, showing just how effective WWE is at presenting this unique form of entertainment. I can’t wait until they return to Richmond on December 29th.
Especially if I find myself in a suite.
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