Last night's edition of Monday Night Raw was one of the best in a long time, packed with a number of very good to great matches. The show peaked with Cesaro vs. John Cena in an early Match of the Year candidate and was overall a very wrestling-centric show, with the storyline progression kept simple without overly long talking segments.
Meanwhile, Steve Austin's interview with John Cena on The Steve Austin Show went up this morning. Marc Middleton has a quick recap up at WrestlingInc.com. One of the topics that comes up is WWE's recent focus on in-ring action over promos:
Our product is moving towards more action and less talk. I think it's good in respect for the international market, because the promos, if you're in Japan, if you're in China, if you're in Mexico, if you're in India, they don't necessarily speak the language. If we don't have a good translation team over there...if I turn WWE on with no volume, and I see two guys in the ring going at it, I understand it, no matter where I'm at. Sometimes, the talking stuff, from a global standpoint, isn't where it needs to be. Plus, I think more action give more guys who can actually work more opportunities.
You're not talking to Lou Thesz, man. I like the talking, I like the entertainment. I like the character building. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for that. But you know the deal. [...] It's the wave the business is riding right now. You either adapt or you get out.
Cena makes a great point: While it helps for him to try to learn Mandarin for when the Chinese market really opens up (seriously, he actually does this in his spare time), in the long run, WWE is better off selling a product that works in any language. If that means shows like last night's Raw, I think it's well-prepared.
The current WWE roster is probably, top to bottom, the most talented crop of wrestlers it has ever had. The matches on TV are rarely outright bad except when the worst of the women (like Aksana) are involved. More than ever, wrestlers who were suspect in developmental (like Roman Reigns and Erick Rowan) are rapidly improving and thriving on the main roster.
To me, one of the most interesting changes is that standouts from the independent scene are even better working their own twist on the WWE style. Claudio Castagnoli was a great wrestler in Ring of Honor, Combat Zone Wrestling and other indies, but nobody was saying he was a top-five wrestler in the world. People do now based on his performances in WWE as Cesaro.
Cena's also right that this could help guys who aren't great talkers. Cesaro is one of them, and he benefits from having a great, experienced talker in Zeb Colter (the former Dutch Mantell) as his manager, too. If Evan Bourne ever returns, he's another one. Some guys, like Tyson Kidd, still risk being a little too dry, but it's a lot easier to develop more of a personality in the ring than it is to learn how to cut promos.
Like Cena, I love the talky part of wrestling and the angles, too, but WWE-style talking can be too much at times. The endless evil-authority-figure angles are tiresome, too. Raw featured none of that last night, so when you throw in a lot of great wrestling, you get a home run of a show.
There were also some noticeable tweaks that felt like moves in the right direction: Daniel Bryan, for example, was treated completely seriously, with none of the usual goat references that undermine him.
Next week's show should be heavier on talking, as it's one of the most important Raws ever. In addition to starting the road to WrestleMania 30 after Elimination Chamber, it's the night of the WWE Network launch. We'll probably see the returns of a number of big names and some angles to set up both WrestleMania and the live post-Raw show on WWE Network. Most likely, it'll be a lot different from this week, but that's fine as long as it's actually good.
David Bixenspan has been Bleacher Report's WWE Team Leader since 2011 and also writes for Figure 4 Weekly, available to F4WOnline.com subscribers along with other content, including the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and a variety of audio shows. His article about the beginning of WWE's national expansion in 1984 is in issue No. 102 of Fighting Spirit Magazine, available online internationally and at newsagents in the UK.