Last week, things were looking type bleek for the WWE. They kicked off their official "New Era" with their second ever brand split, drafting Superstars to each of their two shows (the Monday night flagship show, Raw, and Smackdown, which is now airing live on Tuesday nights). When the smoke cleared, the end result wasn't much to write home about. Sure, they'd brought up fan favorites like Finn Balor from their NXT federation, but the way the live crowd reacted to some of the Superstars was underwhelming, and even with the WWE's Battleground event going down this past Sunday, there was a skepticism in the air so thick that you could cut it with one of Ric Flair's signature chops.
After last night's edition of Raw, though?
It feels like most of the haters were silenced, as the WWE proved they could properly utilize their three-hour Monday night time slot (which can feel like a marathon on some nights) to not only make stars, but give fans the
sports entertainment professional wrestling show they've been looking for. It wasn't a total reboot, but with a new intro, new look, and some new Superstars, Vince McMahon and crew are attempting to deliver on the "New Era" talk they've been trying to make a thing since they brought back Shane-O Mac.
From the very beginning, Raw looked new. They got their 13th theme song change ("Enemies" by Shinedown, for those who just need that dose of high energy rock in their diet), the first such theme chance since July of 2012 (actually the song "The Night" was replaced by a remix in 2014, but it was still damn near the same track). There was also a new set that featured the announcers sitting near the entrance (similar to the old WCW Monday Nitro set) instead of having them ringside.
Raw was successful without company men like John Cena ... They finally just let the talent they've cultivated over the last few years shine.
For a company that's employed an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality to certain aspects of their booking and production, these are huge steps to establishing this "New Era" they're really trying to get over.
After Sunday night's Battleground main event, Dean Ambrose retained the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, meaning that that heavyweight title will stay on the Smackdown brand. In a move that many saw coming, Raw will have its own championship title, the WWE Universal Championship. No surprises here, seeing as with live WWE touring, you have to have some kind of big deal championship on the line.
It's interesting to note that this is a take on the "WWE Universe," aka the title that the federation has given their fanbase. We've not seen the design of the belt, but we might've seen the person who'll be the new champion.
If you haven't noticed, Roman Reigns—who recently came off of a Wellness Policy suspension—has been on a telling losing streak, losing in the main events at the last two pay-per-view events. He lost again last night in the tournament to see who would face Seth Rollins at SummerSlam to crown the first ever WWE Universal Champion. His opponent? Finn Balor, the former NXT Champion who made his official main roster debut in beautiful fashion. Vince and company proved that, when they want, they can still make stars that matter. It helps that the fans have been itching for Balor to get called to the main roster for the better part of 2016, but last night, during the official kick off of this "New Era," was the right time.
While some members of the WWE Universe might have felt it was too soon, the WWE knew it was high time to do what we've all been waiting for and that's let Sasha Banks be great. Last night, she helped kick off the "New Era" by defeating Ric Flair's daughter Charlotte for the WWE Women's Championship. Based on how they normally build storylines, many were expecting Sasha to win the title at SummerSlam this August in Brooklyn (where she coincidentally lost the NXT Women's Championship to Bayley a year prior).
Did they hotshot the storyline? It's possible. Could the win have been more grandiose at the second largest WWE event of the year? Definitely. But if we're making statements, and truly trying to get this "New Era" going, you need to be bold and unafraid of doing big things on a new stage.
A smaller change, but one that's another step in the right direction, happened on Raw. Last night, an NXT competitor by the name of Nia Jax made her official main roster debut and instead of being immediately thrust into a match against an established woman on the roster, she was fed a "local competitor" (Britt Baker) to properly demolish. It was reminiscent of how the WWE used to build stars on television throughout the '80s and pre-Attitude Era; feeding enhancement talent (aka "jobbers") to these new stars so we can figure out their moveset and get to know if they are a babyface or heel. It's smart, it doesn't burn out angles (especially in the women's division, which is much smaller than the men's), and helps turn these new personalities into real life threats before they are incorporated into proper storylines.
With all of these changes, it's easy to get ahead of ourselves. This is just one program, and it's hard to produce a three-hour live show each week, let alone after adding in the two hours of Smackdown to go along with the smaller programs like Superstars and the weekly NXT program. As we adjust our yes to this "New Era," though, the changes seem like a flying forearm in the right direction. Raw was successful without company men like John Cena, and while Brock Lesnar is set to appear next week, the WWE did all of this without the need of monster-sized wrestlers. They finally just let the talent they've cultivated over the last few years shine. Hopefully they can build on the momentum they've created, ride some solid angles into SummerSlam, and continue to be the change pro wrestling needs.