On first pass, the new “Raw Underground” that debuted on the August 3 edition of Raw was odd, to put it nicely.
Shane McMahon’s well-advertised return to WWE programming featured him showing up in a basement-looking area with odd lighting inside a ring without ropes. A ton of no-names surrounded the ring yelling, and there were women dancing in the background. What ensued was fake (faker?) fighting in a street-fight sense, not wrestling.
But like so much with WWE these days, the Underground has the potential to be something really special.
If it’s done well.
Underground was a major departure from normal WWE programming, and for that, it was met with plenty of skepticism. The different presentation was cool, but it felt like a half-measure because this gritty basement-style place still had what felt like 10 different camera angles available—and a million different camera cuts, just like the normal product.
There can’t be any half-measures if WWE wants something like this to succeed. Heck, do a top-down bird’s eye view of the current fight without any cuts for all fans would care—just make it feel even more different.
And look, fans have every right to be skittish when it comes to fake/real fights. The wounds of that Brock Lesnar-Cain Velasquez match where two of the most dangerous fighters on the planet merely pretended to fight are still fresh.
But the Superstars involved in the inaugural edition made it work. The fighting looked, at least for the most part, good enough. Sprinkle in some weapons and traditional wrestling moves—push it toward a video game match kids would set up backstage—and it can work.
Most important is the Superstars factor, of course. To WWE’s credit, it took one of the fastest-rising stables in the company and let them dominate the proceedings. Hurt Business, consisting of MVP, Bobby Lashley and Shelton Benjamin, looked amazing in taking over the Underground and ruining anyone who dared step up to them.
Those three are a good example of the type of talent WWE can push in these segments. MVP recently returned and was (as expected) so good he’s back full time. Lashley was stuck in midcard purgatory but has main-event stuff. Benjamin has been criminally underused but came out looking the best, from his looks to the sheer impact of his moves.
Keep in mind WWE also let a relative unknown by the name of Dabba-Kato have some spotlight during the Underground segments. The majority of fans probably had no idea who he was before last Monday—they sure do now.
The Superstars in a unique environment will be what makes Underground work, should WWE fine-tune the process and get creative. Let a Superstar like Benjamin go wild down there long enough, and his suddenly surfacing to, say, challenge Drew McIntyre for Raw’s top title, would feel like a big deal. Otherwise, his coming out from behind the curtain to challenge McIntyre would just feel silly and like filler content.
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There may not be ANY stopping Dabba-Kato in #RawUnderground. #WWERaw https://t.co/LNLly9VfQo
And in the case of Dabba-Kato, the Underground is a great place to build up new monsters, too. For example, his going on a massive tear down there instead of over on NXT could make his eventual Raw “debut” an important moment. He’s been firmly established as a monster who squashed folks in street fights, not sanctioned traditional matches.
If fans really want to go off the fantasy-booking deep end, imagine if main-roster Superstars went down for a piece of the action, too. Imagine if a little-used talent like Cesaro went off the deep end by tearing through the Underground. Imagine (and just stretch the imagination for just a moment) if the Underground is how fans finally get Lashley vs. Brock Lesnar because the Beast Incarnate likes the idea and shows up in the crowd as a challenger.
Maybe that’s a little outlandish. But if the Underground is more like Undertaker’s cinematic match than the silliness of the 24/7 title territory, WWE could do some really special things with it. And to be blunt, part of the reason Raw continues to suffer this year is merely because of the exhausting three-hour format. Continually shifting the tone and presentation of the programming multiple times each episode to the Underground could really spice things up.
The blueprint isn’t hard. Do a better job via presentation of making the Underground feel different. Nix the odd dancing girls. Use it creatively to prop up different Superstars and weave in the main roster smartly while supplementing the normal Raw broadcast weekly.
Generally speaking, when WWE’s back is against the wall, it responds well. Things are dire now, but the Underground partially stuck a landing, and with some organic fine-tuning, it could be viewed in hindsight as a leap of faith that brought some fans back and revived some Superstar’s careers in the process.