WWE celebrated 25 years of Monday Night Raw with an ambitious two-venue episode featuring a cavalcade of notable names from the past. Coming in, many wondered how WWE would handle having to cram more than 30 announced returns into the Royal Rumble go-home show and, sure enough, it ended up feeling like a rushed mess with many of the guest appearances being unmemorable.
Some bullet point thoughts on the 25th Anniversary of Raw:
• WWE did a fantastic job recreating the original set of Raw at the Manhattan Center, right down to ICOPRO banners hanging off the balcony, along with the old school ring and stage setup. 90 minutes into the show, though, the fans in attendance there had only seen an Undertaker promo and watched the Barclays Center action on a big screen.
That left many in the crowd restless, leading to chants of “refund” and “bullshit.”
In hindsight, WWE probably should have either set up the old school ring and stage at Barclays Center or done the whole show at Manhattan Center instead of trying to do both. It was a nice idea, but the execution fell flat.
As for watching at home, it was great to see the vintage presentation without all the video boards and LED ringposts, although WWE still managed to hurt that presentation with its usual horrible camera work and too many cuts.
• The show opened incredibly hot with a Vince McMahon and Steve Austin face-off that led to Stone Cold Stunners to Vince and Shane McMahon. There was nowhere to go but down from there and WWE didn’t do itself any favors with the live crowd by transitioning from that to an 8-woman tag match that went through two commercial breaks and featured way too many headlocks and rest spots.
• The crowd came back very hot for the Roman Reigns vs. The Miz Intercontinental Championship match but there were serious lulls throughout the night.
The IC Title match was another solid outing from Reigns and Miz. The finish – Miz driving Reigns into the exposed turnbuckle of the second rope then hitting a Skullcrushing Finale – was very clever and subtle. WWE usually hits us viewers over the head with it when a turnbuckle pad has been removed but most of the audience didn’t realize what had happened until replays later showed Miz removing the pad during an outside skirmish with Reigns, Curtis Axel, and Bo Dallas.
• The cameos were certainly fun but left a lot to be desired if only because so many people felt like an afterthought.
MVP and Jeff Hardy were only seen sitting at the seemingly never-ending card game in the back with APA and many others. Huge figures that rarely return like Eric Bischoff and Trish Stratus were only given introductions among a group of others. Chris Jericho only had a quick – albeit really fun – backstage segment with Elias. As I mentioned earlier, squeezing so many names into the show wasn’t going to be easy and that turned out to be the case.
• In a lot of ways, this episode of Raw reminded me of the Yankees’ Old Timers Day game. Everyone gets introduced but they don’t all play and the fans at least get to see their old idols back home one more time.