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A Good Change Of Pace From WWE by Matt Corton

I’m not eating my negative words from last week just yet.

But I will admit that WWE have nicely opened my mind this week. The best thing about that though is it’s not the first time they’ve opened my mind this year.

I mentioned last week that I thought I was a step behind some of you as to where I would like WWE to go and how I want to see it develop and I’ve been thinking a lot about that as I’ve been reading other articles and listening to podcasts in the last week since the draft and since Battleground. I think what I mean by that is I haven’t really been that down on the product in the past few months and it’s because my mind has been opened and WWE has leapt inside to fiddle around with my brain.

I’d hate to suggest at this point that WWE is a skilled surgeon when it comes to brain manipulation. Rather than the calm, delicate finessed hands of the King of the Operating Theatre, we more often than not get the sledgehammer of the King of Kings, but that’s not always a bad thing.

The opening blow was made by the fact they hired some guys I was really, truly excited about and I think you have to give Trips (let’s use him as a figurehead for the management team) some credit for that. AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura and Austin Aries came into WWE with much fanfare this year and I was among those blowing their trumpets. Now, Nakamura and Aries are obviously still in NXT and not on the main roster, but the way Styles has stormed WWE since he’s been there has been something I never thought I’d see happen. They got my attention at a time I thought the product was sleepwalking toward being so predictable I barely had to watch in between PPVs.

Having a former TNA champ as SmackDown champ is still something I wonder about whether WWE will do or not, but the fact is, I’m wondering, I’m not certain they won’t.

This really was a heavyweight first blow aimed at opening my head up and it did the trick. Then the surgeon wrestlers got to work and started fiddling around in the post-Wrestlemania season. They did their fiddling by setting up a series of match ups I was truly excited to see. My current favourite for match of the year is still the fatal fourway at Extreme Rules – I thought it had everything. Add to that Styles challenging for the title, then going after Cena and a New Day vs. Wyatts feud that I’ve really, really loved because it had a different feel to it than other things on the card for once, and I think they’ve spaced out the big moments this year really well, culminating in the triple threat Shield match we’ve all wanted for a long time. I haven’t even mentioned the ladder match for the IC title or Ambrose cashing in to become champ.

The last thing WWE has done is get their plastic surgeon writers to come in and plant seeds in me after Trips and the wrestlers opened my mind right up.

This week’s Raw was absolutely excellent. Well-thought-out matches involving the right people at the right times and it was the first Raw in a very long time for me that didn’t feel like a long show – because they finally realised if you pace the show properly then three hours won’t feel too long.

Other people have written at greater length and more engagingly about what was great about Raw this week, but in brief, the three things I loved were the new announce team, the interview segments after the match (I think that’s a great idea – wrestlers’ reactions to matches being non-existent has been a huge gripe of mine over the past few years) and how the pacing of the show had slowed down because they weren’t trying to fit everything in.

Now, I know a lot of you will say “see, Matt – they could only do that by slimming down the rosters and making sure everyone gets TV time” but I don’t agree – wrestlers don’t need to be on TV every single week. In the best long-running episodic TV series you don’t see every single one of the characters every week, you see the ones that advance the stories, so there are other ways of doing it – by treating the WWE roster as more of an ensemble, but perhaps that is after all too far down the road of storytelling for what is essentially a way to get to a match card.

Debates can be had on that and they are for another day. What’s important today is if WWE continues in the coming weeks to realise that what they did this Monday night was awesome and that’s what they should stick with, then we’ve got some great programming to look forward to in between what has, frankly, been a stellar set of PPVs this year with or without a brand split.

So the WWE’s change of pace has been really refreshing to me – but it’s been a change of pace for me, too because for the second week in a row, I watched SmackDown. I don’t normally do that and I think I might carry on watching, which is, of course, exactly what WWE want me to do. Without them having opened up my mind with all the other things they’ve done to open up my mind to be ready for that, though, I don’t think I would have done.

Instead, I find myself their willing puppet, goggle-eyed at the screen at just the times they want me to be. Or rather the next day, on record, so I can fast-forward through slow bits and the adverts.

This brings me in a neat little circle back to why I think I might be step behind some of you.

I don’t watch any WWE show live, only on playback, because I’m in the UK and it’s on really late. I do fast-forward through bits of WWE shows I’m not that bothered about and until this past few weeks I only watched Raw and NXT, never SmackDown. I didn’t get the repetition you guys got because I didn’t watch the Thursday night show which had some of the same matches. More than the repetition of matches, I loathed the repetition of feuds (and still do, and am still worried about it with smaller rosters) but I was happy with watching only the three-hour flagship with at least two, sometimes three matches I was really into on each show. More than anything though, I was happy with the prospect of a huge roster, each having the chance to face off against each other giving me new and different things for years to come.

I still think I’m going to get new and different things, only now my mind is open to the fact that those different things don’t always have to be different wrestlers feuding. They can be different ways of telling stories to make feuds stand out, like with the Wyatts and New Day. They can be different ways of presenting and scheduling the show, as with Raw this Monday, so the feuds get time to shine. Or, they can hire experienced and exciting wrestlers like AJ, Samoa Joe, Nakamura, Austin Aries and, frankly, Zayn and Owens and let them do what they’re good at in their own way to drive heat through a feud with their personalities.

Because there’s one thing I’ll stick to – without a decent feud, or story, I’m not bothered about just watching two guys who are great in the ring go at it – it needs to matter, to me.

Could I have seen this all before? Probably, but frankly, I was quite happy with just my one show a week and focusing on all the different match ups. Well – that’s gone, so now last week’s rant is out of my system I can go forward with what is actually some real optimism that they won’t let the feuds get repetitive so they go stale, that they’ll add to the rosters where and when they need to and that actually, if they space, plan and run the shows at this better change of pace, slowing everything down just a touch, then maybe we’ll all get the better product we’ve been asking for. I know – I’m always late to the party!

But there’s a reason for that, because frankly? I didn’t think they had a show like last Mondays’ Raw in them.

What about you guys? Were you surprised by how good Raw was this Monday? Did you like the pacing of the show better?