It's hard to distill all of the elements that made the WWE's "Attitude Era" such a transformative and entertaining experience. But at its core, it was always about a frenetic energy, a willingness to take big swings without a fear of failing and, when all else failed, leaning on what they did best.
The "TV-14" era is long gone, and with it most of the colorful language and wanton objectification of women (which is for the best), but for at least one night, Monday Night Raw caught a little of that lightning in a bottle. The first night of the "Superstar Shakeup" was an action-packed three hours that felt fun, fresh and memorable, laying the groundwork for some potentially great things to come.
Unlike previous drafts or talent shifts, the audience was given almost no idea of the format of the "Superstar Shakeup" beforehand. Few could imagined that by the end of the night a whopping 11 SmackDown superstars (along with NXT's Elias Samson) would make their way to Raw; two of the five post-brand split WWE champions (Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt), their longest-reigning Intercontinental champion (The Miz), a two-time SmackDown women's champion (Alexa Bliss) and the inaugural SmackDown tag team champions (Heath Slater and Rhyno), and that's just for starters.
But as much as these changes, and the ones that follow on Tuesday night, will shape the next year in countless ways, the moment that will undoubtedly be remembered above all others from Monday night had nothing to do with the shakeup. The beatdown that Braun Strowman laid upon Roman Reigns backstage, which carried on for more than five minutes and included a pair of encores, a stretcher pushed off of a loading dock and an ambulance getting pushed on its side was a kind of "Attitude Era" zaniness that somehow channeled both that bygone era and the energetic vibe of the rest of the night.
While we won't know how Raw will ultimately look post-"Superstar Shakeup" until the end of the night on SmackDown, the stars are seemingly aligning for both shows to feel fresh in its wake. With any luck, Monday was just the start of something bigger.
Leaving the past in the past
It was nice to see that, by and large, that the superstars who moved from SmackDown to Raw represented a nice cross-section of the various stories and rivalries from the last few months. Even in cases where there was some history and crossover, like in the case of The Miz, Maryse and Dean Ambrose (or Bliss and Mickie James), that the lingering animosity was addressed and almost immediately left in the past.
Giving Miz and Maryse the last word (for now) against John Cena and Nikki Bella was also a nice touch, especially considering how one-sided the last few weeks of that encounter had been. Ambrose feigning ignorance and taking the wind out of their sails with backhanded compliments directed at Cena and Bella was the perfect way for Miz and Maryse to (literally) cast aside a fun gimmick at the peak of its execution and start anew on Monday nights.
Upsetting the balance
It's clear that there are some big moves to come on Tuesday night, but at this particular moment, the sheer imbalance between Raw and SmackDown is comical. One need only look at the graphic flashed on the screen late Monday night to see how things will be evened out.
Both Ambrose's Intercontinental and Kevin Owens' United States championship are unlikely to remain on the same show, unless it's an unlikely short-term fix for an extended absence for Universal champion Brock Lesnar. After Monday's main event, which saw Ambrose beat Owens clean as a whistle in the middle of the ring, Owens' departure seems all the more certain (though he will get one more shot at Chris Jericho, who made a codebreaker cameo in the final moments of Raw).
The tag team division on Raw has an embarrassment of riches after The Hardy Boyz's return and The Revival's debut, and with the additional grab of Slater and Rhyno, it seems likely that at least one of Raw's heavy hitters should be heading back in the other direction. Whether that's The New Day, as has been strongly rumored, Sheamus and Cesaro, who can still wrap up their business with the Hardys, or Enzo and Big Cass, who have seemingly fallen by the wayside, SmackDown will get a valuable piece to the puzzle.
Finally, there's a storm brewing with the women as well. With Bliss and James moving over, what remains of the SmackDown women's division is Naomi, Bella, Becky Lynch, Natalya and Carmella. After losing to Nia Jax in a sometimes sloppy, but perpetually violent match, Charlotte Flair seems like a likely candidate to bolster their ranks. Jax herself could find plenty of reps and fresh matchups, and Sasha Banks could equally find success (though it seems like a Bayley battle is inevitable). To go out on a limb, though, with Dana Brooke spurning Emma's advances of a reunion Monday night, a move to Tuesday's for Emma could allow for a pair of NXT call-ups -- Peyton Royce and Billie Kay -- that would have strength in numbers and create a rare female stable that would have strength in numbers and plenty of creative opportunities.
Tales of the supernatural
Wyatt's debut on Raw was arguably the most shocking of all, considering his current entanglement and upcoming 'House of Horrors' match against Randy Orton for the WWE championship. In a world where The Undertaker has seemingly hung it up for good, it was tremendous to see that some subtle supernatural elements could be brought into play when Wyatt confronted Finn Balor without projecting random insects onto the ring.
Between Balor's "demon" persona and Wyatt's "abilities" there is a lot to work with, and the visuals alone will be stunning throughout the conflict. While Wyatt seems to be headed towards another conflict he can't possibly win, one need only look at Balor surrounded by Wyatt's "fireflies" in the crowd Monday night to see how much fun the journey will be along the way.
- WWE (@WWE) April 11, 2017
Hits and misses
Seth Rollins seemed like a popular pick to head to SmackDown, but his speech and interaction with Kurt Angle all but assures him of a continued role on Raw. He certainly isn't going to be employee of the month, and scraps with Samoa Joe and eventually The Authority, once they return, are inevitable, but his justification of not wanting to take the easy way out again rang pretty true.
The New Day trying to get along without Kofi Kingston was a success in Week 1, with Xavier Woods slowly pedaling the ice cream cart and Big E carrying out "Blow-fi" Kingston to fill the void. The Revival and New Day put on another show, and back-to-back wins for The Revival over the longest-reigning tag team champs is one hell of a statement. Their custom shirts, harkening back to Greg Valentine and Owen Hart's braggadocio of inflicting injuries, was a lovely touch.
Sami Zayn vs. The Miz was a fun match, and Zayn getting a roll-up win despite all of Maryse's shenanigans is an interesting wrinkle. Let's see how that looks in the light of day once the dust of the 'Superstar Shakeup' has settled.
"The Drifter" making his first appearance with a subtle stroll through the crowd during the Flair-Jax match was cool, but Samson strutting right past the commentary desk before the 8-man tag team match was a little too on the nose. Giving Corey Graves one of his favorite targets is certainly a plus.
TJ Perkins' turn to the dark side is a welcome change, and beating up on No. 1 contender Austin Aries is a heck of a way to do it. It's a much-needed injection of personality, and it could be interesting to see Perkins become something of a trusted ally to Neville.
I'm not sure what to make of the swap of Byron Saxton and David Otunga between the Raw and SmackDown commentary teams. On paper, Saxton, JBL and Tom Phillips doesn't really move the needle, and the last thing that SmackDown needs at this particular moment is JBL perpetually ragging on Saxton, who seems to be a punching bag on commentary no matter where he goes.
Move of the night
Quote of the night
"I'm not finished with you!" - Braun Strowman
- WWE (@WWE) April 11, 2017
To say that Strowman needed an injection of confidence and momentum coming off of a disastrous few weeks with Reigns and The Undertaker was an understatement. A typical backstage beatdown might have been enough, but going back for seconds and thirds, with all of the requisite over-the-top visuals, gave Strowman a signature moment -- one fans won't soon forget.