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Naturally a lot of people are going to blame the talent; wrestling has always been a business based on the drawing power of stars and right now it feels like WWE is lacking that. I agree; but I find it hard to truly fault the talent for the poor ratings. If you watch RAW, you'll notice that the talent that is on the show is working really hard. The episodes from week-to-week might not be highly anticipated, but an episode like Monday night, which had two really good matches on it, are worth watching even if they don't have a lot of hype.
The problem for me is that from a storyline perspective, RAW just doesn't feel like it is must-see. With the exception of the build to WrestleMania, the shows seem to follow the same formula throughout the entire year. There is a PPV and on the Monday after the PPV they show their hand and announce the matches for the next PPV, either directly or indirectly.
For the most part, that is all you need to really see. The next three weeks or so are almost always a combination of talking segments, tag team matches and 50/50 booking; if you watch enough WWE you'll be able to predict roughly what happens and thus you don't really need to watch. You can simply read the results online to plug in the details and tune in for the PPV; then watch the RAW the next night to see what the matches for the next PPV are going to be. The RAW viewership numbers reflect this, the shows following a PPV usually get a bit of a bump; only to slide back down as they try and build the PPV throughout the following weeks.
When was the last time you skipped RAW and then read about something that you really regret not watching live? Outside of the Braun Strowman ambulance spot, I can't think of anything since WrestleMania that really jumped out at me. I think a big part of that is that the Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar, isn't at RAW and the fans know that he isn't going to be on RAW. When there is no world championship on RAW it's definitely going to make the show feel less important. I think another big reason is that there just doesn't feel like creative is putting in a big effort to make fans excited about watching RAW every week.
On paper, even without Lesnar and Strowman on the shelf, RAW has a pretty strong roster. The top seven male singles wrestlers are Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, The Miz, Samoa Joe and Finn Balor. That is a good array of diverse talents and most of them have some heel/face flexibility. The matches they have been having on RAW for the most part have been entertaining and the guys are clearly working hard; but the effort on the creative side is keeping them from gaining a lot of traction.
Case in point: Is there anything lazier than the five-way match at Extreme Rules? Instead of crafting 2 or 3 separate storylines that could fill out the card with deeply anticipated matches, WWE just threw five guys into the main event and has built-up up the PPV over recent weeks by mixing together different multi-man matches. These matches have been largely good and take up time on the show, but it doesn't require a ton of creative effort to present them and since these are matches with 50/50 booking and nothing is at stake, there is a limit to how successful they can be even if technically they are good matches.
You know what it feels like? When you are at work and multiple people are out that week on vacation so whatever you accomplish that week is kind of pieced together and isn't A-level quality because hey, people are on vacation. For WWE, if it isn't WrestleMania or SummerSlam and Brock and other part-time talent are not around, WWE just kind of pieces things together and stays on cruise control with their creative ideas. Meanwhile, the guys who are around every week and are the real backbone of the company are left to flounder around and make the best of the weak creative direction.
The five way match will probably end up being really good and it does have the bonus of being somewhat unpredictable. Since WWE wants to keep Reigns away from Lesnar until WrestleMania next year, I think you can rule him out of winning the match Sunday since the winner will face Lesnar at the next PPV. Anyone of Joe, Rollins, Wyatt and Balor could win the match; although it looks like the feud between Joe and Rollins is still in play so they could take each other out. Of course, since Reigns will need an opponent to feud with that isn't Lesnar, you could have Rollins win and then do a Joe/Reigns program. Balor I think is the favorite and if he wins they could a lot with him. He had a good segment with Paul Heyman last week and if he wins I think he could have a match where he fights Lesnar really hard but can't quite knock him out. It will help sell him to fans and you won't have to put the title on him or bear Lesnar.
The InterContinental Championship is also going to be defended as The Miz and Dean Ambrose have carried over their program from SmackDown. The "extreme" stipulation is that the title can change hands on disqualification; with the idea being that The Miz could have Maryse attack him and get Dean disqualified so he wins the title. Since that is clearly being presented as something that could happen; WWE will likely swerve the finish with Dean preventing Maryse from attacking The Miz or something like that. On paper this match sounds kind of stupid, but The Miz has a knack for making these kind of matches entertaining so it could end up being very good.
The Women's Championship is on the line with Alexa Bliss defending against Bayley. This is coming on the heels of the ghastly "This is Your Life" segment which was one of the worst segments in recent memory. WWE could have taken Bayley out to the desert and literally bury her like the NWO did to Ric Flair and it would have been a better segment.
In addition to the terrible dialogue and bizarre love triangle that developed, the segment managed to both: A) Imply that Bayley didn't have any friends because she was a immature weirdo who liked wrestling. She lost her boyfriend because she couldn't be away from her father and she lost her best friend because she didn't want to hang out with her because she always was watching RAW and of course nobody who watches wrestling has any friends and it is an incredibly uncool thing to do. Somebody actually wrote a segment for WWE that talked about how only losers watch WWE! It also B) Ended with Bayley getting beaten down by Bliss and looking like a total loser right after all of her former friends talked about what a big loser she was. The match will probably be bad because the "on-a-pole" matches are never any good and Bayley is probably going to win because Bliss has been the champion for more than two weeks and nobody can hold the championship for that long.
Rounding out the card is the tag team title match between The Hardys and Sheamus and Cesaro. The status of the "Broken" gimmick remaining a question mark makes it difficult to determine what is going to happen with the Hardys. A cage match seems to favor a bruising team like Sheamus and Cesaro and Jeff can fall off the cage and hurt himself, so I'd guess Sheamus and Cesaro win but who knows. The Cruiserweight Championship match will be possibly the last Neville vs Austin Aries match and will be a submissions match. Both guys have known submission moves so it makes sense; but at the same time one of the calling cards of a cruiserweight match is the speed these guys have and quick roll-ups and near falls and a submissions match kind of takes away from that a bit. The last match will be a mixed tag team match between Rich Swann and Sasha Banks against Noam Dar and Alicia Fox, which could be good if given time but will likely be put in the death slot right before the main event and generate little reaction.
As a whole I think that someone could watch Extreme Rules and find it really enjoyable and a good show. However, the limited amount of creativity on RAW in hyping up the event restricts the potential of how good the show can be. I think if Balor wins the main event and the match is really good, Balor will look like a real top level star and ultimately the show could end up being very important in the development of Balor as one of the top guys in the company.