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RAW Comes to Columbus 12/19/2016 ---- Big Vin Vader

Editor's note: I sort of dropped the ball over the holidays and forgot to post this story. Who runs this place anyway? - Colin G.

Raw Comes to Columbus       follow@bigvinvader

    Just to get things out of the way: Roadblock: End of the Line was a pretty underwhelming show, peaking with the opening Tag Team Title match.  It was something of a surprise to see Sheamus and Cesaro win the Titles from the New Day after they broke Demolition’s record, but the whole thing was a quality, entertaining match.  The Iron (Wo)Man match between Sasha and Charlotte didn’t quite live up to expectations, although the image of Sasha finally tapping out with bloody nose made a lasting impression.  Not a great show, but that’s not what I’m here for today.
    I was finally able to make it in person and check out Raw from the Schottenstein Center Monday, December 19.  I’ve toyed with the idea of going in the past, but never followed through.  The last Raw in Columbus, the July 4th edition, was pretty abysmal, so I felt fine in skipping that.  This time around, I figured that the show would prove a little better, coming as it did on the heels of a PPV, and I wasn’t disappointed.  WWE delivered a pretty decent three-plus hours of wrestling, and started setting up some new feuds and angles for the coming year.  Bottom line, three hours for Raw doesn’t feel too bad when you’re there in person, and the energy and thrill of seeing the wrestlers up close makes the whole thing feel like less of a chore.  Here are a few things I took away from the Raw live experience.

Dark Matches

    There were two dark matches (taped for Main Event) before Raw went live, and while neither was particularly notable, they were fun.  First up was a pretty unremarkable affair between Goldust and Curtis Axel.  The match wasn’t memorable, but it was still cool to see Goldust in person.  Plus, the entertainment value went up a notch when you factor in R-Truth’s presence at ringside.
    Second was a Cruiserweight match between Tony Neese and Lince Dorado, my personal favorite in the division.  Turns out Columbus is not big on Tony Neese, and the crowd let him know several times.  They weren’t given much time, and the crowd really didn’t seem into the smaller competitors, but it was a fun match, with both men putting on a nice show.  Plus, it was pretty damn impressive to see Neese hit a 450 Splash live.
    One odd thing stood out about the pre-show matches though.  Floor seats were arranged in such a fashion that you had to stand for a good portion of the show to see what was happening.  The only time I was told by event staff to take my seat was during the Cruiserweight opener.  Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it almost felt like the company didn’t want people to seem too into the Cruiserweights with the main roster still to come.

Crowd Reactions

    I was looking forward to hearing the crowd reactions live and in person, and what resulted was actually pretty surprising.  As I mentioned earlier, the crowd was not very into the Cruiserweights, and that held true for the live match between Noam Dar and Cedric Alexander.  It was just like any of the last few PPVs: the crowd was muted, but gradually warmed up to the Cruiserweights as they invariably put on an impressive display.  Cedric actually got a warm reception, but beyond that it seems like most of the crowd had little interest in the division.
    The New Day got a huge reaction, as expected, and put in another great promo, even without the Tag Team Titles as props.  Sheamus and Cesaro perfectly played off their opposing reactions from the crowd.  The Irishman got a wave of boos while the Swiss Superman got one of the best reactions of the night.  Nothing surprising there, but the two really know how to play up their feuding odd couple gimmick.
    If the countless signs, shirts and huge crowd reaction is anything to go off, Columbus is a big time Roman Reigns town.  That’s fine with me, I really have nothing against Roman, although I sure as hell don’t want to see the Universal Title on him.  Regardless, I was so used to the massively divided reactions he gets on PPVs that I was surprised to hear such support in town.  Watching the show back on TV it honestly sounded like the jeers were louder than what I heard live, but I can’t explain that.  
Owens, on the other hand, was not too popular with the crowd, drawing legitimate heat.  Of course, this just makes me like KO that much more, and it was good to see him rile people up so much.

The Matches

    The matches were a mixed bag, and only a few really stood out as that notable.  The Cruiserweight dark match was definitely worth seeing live, although the actual match between Alexander and Dar was too brief to really make an impact.  Big Cass vs. Rusev, and Sasha vs. Nia Jax were both less than a minute, and I can’t remember much about them, although it is refreshing to see Sasha going in a new direction creatively.  Titus O’Neil vs. Sin Cara was also under sixty seconds, but in all honesty I took that match’s announcement as a chance to run to the bathroom and hit the concession stand.  Long story short, Strowman ran out and squashed them both, then battled the Christmas set.
    That leaves the three major matches, and they were all pretty sound in quality, as well as more entertaining than most Raw fare.  The eight-man tag match (The New Day & Sheamus & Cesaro vs. The Shining Stars & Gallows & Anderson) was very enjoyable, with some nice action from the former Club members, as well as Cesaro, who picked up the win with a Sharpshooter.  The Charlotte-Bayley match was pretty impressive as well, going over fifteen minutes and delivering some crisp back-and-forth action while setting up the newest feud for current Women’s Champion, Charlotte.  Again, it’s nice to see the company actually moving on from the established feuds we’ve grown used to.  Also worth noting was how awesome it was to see Charlotte hit a picture-perfect moonsault live.
    The main event was a rematch of sorts from Roadblock, pitting Owens and Jericho against Reigns and Rollins in a tag team match.  It was nothing spectacular, but all four wrestlers put on a very solid show, with no one looking any weaker than the others.  The ending left a bit to be desired, as Strowman ran out once more and beat down Rollins and Reigns.  After the show went off air, the challengers ran out to lock Owens and Jericho in a shark cage, sending them into the rafters as the crowd streamed out.  It was entertaining, and set things up nicely for the future (Jericho will be suspended in the cage during Owens and Reigns’ Royal Rumble match), even giving Strowman more of a direction than he’s had recently.
The Look

    Probably the biggest surprise of the night, beyond even the crowd reactions, was just how good everything looked in person.  The Christmas set was a nice touch, adding some color and festivity to the event, and played into Strowman’s later rampages.  At the same time though, the Schott really felt smaller than other venues seen being used for Raw.  That just added to the overall feel of the show though, and the smaller crowd made the place look packed, which we all know WWE is big on.
    One of the bigger shocks was how good the belts looked under the live lighting.  Even the much-maligned Universal Championship belt looked great, shining like a true top prize on Owens’ shoulder.  The same goes for the women’s belt, but there are no complaints there anyway.  Of course, there was the unnecessary revelation of the new red-strapped Tag Team Titles, but that was just one minor moment. 
    Seeing the talent in person was also pretty impressive, and you really got a sense of just how imposing Strowman, Gallows, and Nia Jax are.  In the case of the latter, seeing her face to face with Sasha, and ultimately beating down the wounded former champion, was a nice touch as far as her monster heel status.  In a non-competition sense, Mick Foley is looking pretty damn good these days.  Still limping and haggard from all the years of hardcore matches and his own unique style, Mick looked slim and capable, which was really good after knowing of his health struggles in the past.
    One more thing of note, for any of you who may be curious, is just how hard the wrestler strike in the ring.  Those loud slapping noises from each kick, chop and forearm are the real deal, no dubbing in post.  It was impressive, and pretty damn cringeworthy, to hear the impacts and see the performers keep going with their match.

Overall

    Seeing Raw live was absolutely worth it, and I plan to be there in April with another update.  The show went by far more smoothly than it usually does on TV, and seeing the wrestlers live was more than worth it.  Even without much in the way of notable appearances and big moments, WWE treated Columbus to a handful of decent matches and entertaining segments in between.  As expected, the company is building some new feuds for the coming year, and I was glad to be there in person for the change in direction.  Even if we can’t expect much from a Big Cass-Rusev or Sahsa Banks-Nia Jax feud, at least the company is giving so many people something new to do.  One of the night’s best surprises was the return of Neville, following his heel turn at Roadblock.  Finally part of the Cruiserweight division, he cut a fantastic promo digging into the audience while voicing what must have been the very real frustrations that he and countless other underutilized wrestlers have experienced.  I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with his new ruthless role.
    So not only was the show pretty consistently entertaining, but the crowd was far less annoying than most in recent times.  There were fewer stupid chants and shout outs, and what seemed to be an actual interest in the wrestling itself.  Now I know that I, too, can own a replica title belt for the low price of $425, and the show was so consistent that I’m willing to not even complain about the $10 beers.