It’s a big show from Hotlanta tonight.
It’s not clear last Monday’s surprise announcement that NXT’s Aleister Black, Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano & Ricochet would now be used on the main roster shows was the reason ratings went up and fans seemed more excited about Raw than they have been in months. But it didn’t hurt.
That’s certainly the reason WWE is making a point to hype them for tonight’s show, even with some other very, VERY big things to promote. And while I know even bringing this up will cause some fans to cry “CAN’T YOU EVEN BE HAPPY FOR ONE MINUTE!?!?” – I still have to ask…
Why are they here? And I don’t mean from the company’s perspective, but from the characters’. What do they want to accomplish? To what lengths are they willing to go to make those things happen?
WWE gave them some “sports-like” scouting report graphics and Michael Cole was ready with a one-line summary of each of their gimmicks. They were allowed to show off in the ring, and they all picked up big wins. They’re really good wrestlers and it’s been established they can hang with the best the red and blue brands have to offer.
But that’s only part of what most of us tune in for. NXT fans don’t only love or hate Black, Ciampa, Gargano and Ricochet for their in-ring abilities. Okay, maybe we only love Ricochet for his in-ring abilities. But the other three have personas we identify with, or revere, or which disgust us. They’re involved in stories where we’re pulling for them to reach a goal, or hoping someone stops them before they can.
And sure, we can take what we’ve seen on WWE Network and apply it to what’s happening on Raw and SmackDown – and god love ‘em, they all tried to not contradict their NXT angles while delivering the standard “dream come true” post-debut interviews last week – but history tells us that what happens in NXT only counts at the next level sometimes.
Talented athletes try to make an impression is a story, I guess. But it’s not an original one, and it’s not terribly compelling when 99% of the audience know there are people backstage deciding not only who wins and loses, but who gets the better opportunities to make those impressions.
WWE likes to say they make movies. If movies drop characters in the middle of a story for a “wow” moment, they usually quickly double-back to answer questions like who they are, how they got there, and whose side they’re on.
Black, Ciampa, Gargano & Ricochet made us say “wow” last week. Now we need more information before they become just four more toys in a box full of them.
The title scene
Universal champion Brock Lesnar was advertised by State Farm Arena at one point, but he’s not currently. Will he be back for the first time since he F5-ed WrestleMania opponent Seth Rollins a lot last month? As my man Cain A. Knight pointed out this weekend, their feud needs something to thaw it out. I’d start by dropping the “Brock’s never here” schtick that already tired last year. Maybe old Lesnar foes and Seth teammates Dean “I may really be crazy now” Ambrose and Roman “hopefully I’m back to tell y’all how well my recovery is going” Reigns will provide the flame?
New Intercontinental titleholder Finn Bálor teamed with Ricochet to pick up another win over Bobby Lashley & Lio Rush, who were suddenly chummy after the All Mighty attacked his hype man following losing the strap to Finn at last Sunday’s PPV. Yeah, we don’t know where any of that leaves things either.
If any of the NXT 4 have a clear direction on the main roster, you’d think it’s #DIY. Ciampa & Gargano did beat Raw Tag Team champs The Revival last Monday. And while they aren’t even teaming with each other again (yet?) in current black-and-yellow brand continuity, here on the main roster, beating the champs usually means a title shot.
After going 2 – 0 over Ruby Riott last week, you have to think Ronda Rousey will turn her focus to defending her Raw Women’s championship at WrestleMania. If she needs a reminder, her scheduled opponent Charlotte Flair is probably going to be on-hand to celebrate her dad Ric Flair’s birthday. Will a certain redhead crash that party? It’s not like a Vince McMahon-issued 60 day suspension kept Becky Lynch away from Elimination Chamber…
The Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection say they’re looking all over for the first challengers for their Women’s Tag Team titles, and it looked the Tamina & Nia Jax were interested… but maybe only if they can get favorable terms. Will a Raw squad get first shot at Sasha Banks & Bayley?
Other stuff to keep an eye on
– Mentioned above, but the Big Dog will be here for the first time since announcing the return of his leukemia last October. Most of us believe this is good news, so let’s just really hope most of us are right.
– Also mentioned above, Ric Flair is having another 70th birthday party tonight. Most of us believe this will probably be crashed by The Man to move us closer to a match with Charlotte at the next PPV and/or a Triple Threat at ‘Mania. Not sure there’s a consensus hope for this one, so we’ll just have to tune in and see if we’re right.
– Kevin Owens is just a regular guy who will be back soon-ish. Lacey Evans is a capital-L Lady, and she’ll probably wander down the ramp for no reason.
– Braun Strowman can beat Baron Corbin when Corbin’s friends aren’t around. We’re not sure how Lashley & Drew McIntyre decide when to be around and when not to be around, though.
– It hasn’t happened yet, but Zack Ryder won’t let Curt Hawkins give up until they’ve picked up a win.
Two weeks until Fastlane!
What will you be looking for on Raw tonight?