by Frank Lucci
This week I had the pleasure (for the most part) of watching Monday Night Raw live at the Keybank Center in Buffalo, New York.
Having never attended Raw before (I saw the very first Battleground in all of its mediocre glory in the same building as well as some live shows in Rochester and two NXT Albany events), I was excited to see how the television product is produced. Instead of giving a big blow-by-blow of the event, I’ll give some of my impressions from the show.
The crowd was pretty mixed, with heels such as Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho getting about 50/50 cheers and boos. The only person to get universal boos was of course, Roman Reigns, although some heels such as Paul Heyman were able to get their heat back once the initial “SOMEBODY ACTUALLY CAME TO BUFFALO!” cheers died down. I made a “Roman Reigns eats at Weenie Hut Jr.’s” sign and a “Rusev is the hero this city deserves” sign, so I was disappointed Rusev did not make an appearance.
The opening promo was bland, but I saw a nice moment between Mick Foley and Stephanie McMahon at the end. After Mick flubbed his whole speech and the segment was over Mick was hanging his head, but Steph gave him an affectionate rub on the back (makes me think their relationship is as strong in real life as Mick says it is on camera).
Owens is impossible not to like, and him trolling Reigns won over many of the crowd who had initially cheered Reigns. Reigns, meanwhile, was a big black hole of charisma. Even Sheamus was more entertaining than he was (although the cannon blast for his entrance scared the hell out of me). Everyone in that tag match added something unique except Reigns, who seemed to hit the same four moves over and over again as the crowd waited for Owens or Cesaro to come in. That being said, this was easily the best match of the night.
The opening tag match established the dynamic of most of the matches on the show, with the thrown-together teams trolling or arguing while heels refused to let the good guys do their signature mannerisms/moves (I get it, but it’s kind of frustrating considering we don’t get to see the show live often and they didn’t have many faces do their signature anythings in general).
My group honestly thought Bo Dallas was Brian Kendrick in the video package. Zayn got a decent pop, but the crowd was not into his match or post-match promo. I blame WWE for focusing more on the SmackDown! side of the Intercontinental Championship match and Dallas receiving no reaction from the crowd for doing anything.
Braun Strowman has…it. During his match where he teamed with Rollins and Jericho against The New Day he stole the show. He is just a stupidly big human and he outshone everyone else live. I enjoyed yelling “Eat more protein” at him. The crowd loved him in the backstage skit and whenever he got into the ring, the atmosphere changed from fun to “Oh God, please don’t kill anyone.” I think Strowman could be a big star if booked right, and considering he has the most to prove on Team Raw he seemed to put in the most work during the broadcast. I’m all in on a Strowman push. As for everyone else in the match, Woods and Rollins had a fun sequence but the rest was pretty bland. I was also disappointed The New Day promo was basically just them hawking their merch.
The crowd popped big for Lesnar initially, but it died pretty quick. Goldberg was super over, easily getting the loudest and most sustained crowd reaction (which seems muted when I watched the replay). Sort of goofy, but seeing Goldberg hurry to his pyro (which looked lame in person, like a couple of sparklers covering a small portion of a massive stage) from the sideways entrance to the stage to the top of the ramp was hilarious.
Heyman initially had some of the crowd behind him, but repeating his speech over and over got the crowd booing. They were eventually flipping out once security guards started getting tossed, and the entire arena was desperate to see them get pulled apart in a brawl. Having The Jimmy John’s Monster back away made sure the crowd booed him, and WWE gets to tease out their match without giving away too much. Good stuff – especially live, and props to Heyman for manipulating the crowd the way only he can (random side note: I never realized how much of a good ole boy Goldberg sounds like until hearing him talk live. My buddy also thought Goldberg sounded like he wanted to make love to Brock with some of his lines, especially with him wanting to “get it on” with The Beast).
The best part of the Cruiserweight match was watching the army of roadies/interns duct tape the ropes purple and replace the ring apron during commercial. Speaking of commercials, I was super annoyed WWE ran honest-to-God ads during the commercial breaks. Live shows I’ve attended have had people playing clips or promos for upcoming events, but seeing Kay Jewelers commercials at a live wrestling event had me peeved. Sin Cara and Kendrick did not draw the crowd in, and they seemed to put in zero effort. Personally, I’m ready for the lads to move to SmackDown Live and get some decent writing as the whole division has been booked into the ground already.
The crowd also did not care at all about the women’s match, even though the ladies themselves got decent reactions. I got the sense people wanted something more, but all we got was a basic tag match. Buffalo also wanted more from the eight man tag match, but besides Enzo and Cass, no one could get the crowd invested. This became worse when The Club ignored tagging in Enzo, and at this point the WWE Universe was pretty done. Putting Goldberg and Brock in the middle of the show killed the crowd, as for the next hour and change, everyone just sat on their hands during matches. In general, the crowd was hot for the first half of the show then died right until the end.
After killing the crowd Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan got the crowd going a little bit. DB continues to be more over than 80% of the roster. However, once the authority figures started arguing the crowd went back to sleep. Honestly, I thought we would just have a typical McMahon argument segment to close the show, which had me ready to leave early to beat traffic.
That being said, this was a COMPLETE 180 from myself and the crowd once the SmackDown crew showed up. Stephanie and some internet people may have mocked the crowd for cheering for SmackDown while at Raw, but unexpectedly seeing some of your favorites will get the crowd to pop big (plus, in all honesty, given the choice to see either show, who is honestly picking Raw? It’s not our fault this was the only choice in town mates).
During the closing segment, my buddy became a Jericholic. Both pf us started watching around 2013, so we have limited classic Jericho exposure. The crowd flew off the handle for The List, and he was converted pretty quick.
The only negatives from the closing confrontation/brawl: myself and crowd wanted James Ellsworth to get involved (preferably against Strowman) and Reigns had the crowd booing again when he was the last man standing in the ring initially. We all knew immediately that it was another BS add-on to make Reigns look strong when we wanted literally any of the other dozen or so men involved to look strong as it would be much more of a surprise (boo/hiss WWE, boo/hiss indeed).
Overall, I had fun at the show, and recommend seeing WWE live in general. It’s always a blast to see the wrestlers perform, and even though this episode of Raw was not great, it was ten times better experiencing it live than watching the three hour broadcast. It didn’t get me more hyped for Survivor Series, but I had fun nonetheless. It was definitely not as good as NXT live shows, but was however, on par with main-roster house shows I’ve been to.