Why WWE Fans Are Calling Yesterday's Monday Night Raw One Of The Best In Decades

 The Rock addresses the camera after fighting Cody Rhodes in the parking lot.
The Rock addresses the camera after fighting Cody Rhodes in the parking lot.

I loved this week’s Monday Night Raw. I watched it alone on my couch without looking at social media once and was glued to the television during the entire runtime. I was so stoked when it was over that I jumped on social media to brag about it and discovered everyone else felt the exact same way I did. Pretty much every wrestling fan and content creator I follow on social called it the best Raw episode of the year, and I saw quite a few who called it one of the best episodes in decades.

Much of the discussion around last night’s episode is related to The Rock and Cody Rhodes’ bloody parking lot fight in the rain. The hyper-real segment closed the show and felt like a throwback from The Attitude Era. It deserves all the praise it’s getting, but it alone is not the reason why Monday Night Raw was so fantastic. A bunch of great performances and other variables all marinated together perfectly to remind all of us how good professional wrestling can be. So, let’s break down the individual elements that worked so well…

The Promo Segment Between Drew McIntyre, CM Punk And Seth Rollins Was An A+

The WrestleMania 40 A plot featuring Cody Rhodes, Seth Rollins, The Rock and Roman Reigns has been getting the lion’s share of the attention for the last two months and understandably so. It features the most star power and the biggest stakes for the future of WWE as it could attract the most new fans and bring back the most lapsed ones, but Drew McIntyre has been putting in the best work of his career in trying to build the other men’s world title match. He’s turned himself into a great social media troll heel, and last night, we finally got the pushback from the other players we were looking for.

CM Punk reminded everyone why he’s an all-time mic guy in his promo, dropping a bunch of great lines, and McIntyre oozed confidence as he fired back and proved he belongs at that highest level. Whether it’s true or not, these two dudes really feel like they hate each other in real life, and that was all the more obvious when Seth Rollins came out and made it clear he can’t stand the two of them either.

Some wrestling fans think the best promos are unscripted. I disagree. I think the best promos are loosely scripted. If everyone involved knows where things are headed, it’s much easier to craft a compelling back and forth that makes logical points, but historically, many WWE promos have felt too scripted, which has caused them to lose some realism. This promo found the perfect balance, which allowed for some lines that felt off the cuff and even a reference to Vince McMahon that WWE may not have loved but still told a coherent story and made everyone look strong.

The Crowd Was Really Hot

The success of a show is always going to be measured by what the actual performers do. A hot crowd trying to get themselves over while reacting to mediocrity isn’t good television, but when there’s worthwhile stuff going on in the ring (or in the parking lot), a very vocal and invested audience can really elevate the material. Hulk Hogan vs The Rock at WrestleMania 18 is the classic example of that, but the history of wrestling is filled with thousands of moments that felt bigger and more meaningful because the crowd really cared what was happening, as well as thousands of moments that felt smaller and less impactful because the crowd didn’t.

We all could have guessed the Chicago crowd would have gotten the most out of Chicago native CM Punk’s segment, but they delivered and helped elevate everything else too. They were white hot for all the Cody and Rock stuff but also were extremely invested in Rhea Ripley, Becky Lynch and Dominik Mysterio’s war of words, as well as midcard acts like R-Truth, Ricochet, Andrade and everything else on the show, which brings me to my next point.

There Are A Ton Of People Over Right Now

When people reminisce about The Attitude Era, they often talk about how many great characters there were. The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin were, of course, a huge part of that and will be remembered among the biggest stars the business has ever produced, but in my opinion, what really set that era apart were how many other guys were over with the crowd too. The Undertaker, Kane, Triple H, Mankind, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Big Show, The New Age Outlawz, The Dudleys, The APA, Edge And Christian, The Hardys, Chyna, Eddie Guerrero, Vader, Goldust, The Godfather, Val Venis and so many more.

I’m not saying the current roster is the same as The Attitude Era, but we are trending in that direction. There are a ton of characters fans care about, and last night was great evidence of that. Cody Rhodes, The Rock, CM Punk, Drew McIntyre, Seth Freakin’ Rollins, Rhea Ripley, Becky Lynch and Gunther are all presented and feel like main event stars. Midcard acts like R-Truth, Dominik Mysterio, Sami Zayn, Jey Uso, The Miz, Liv Morgan, Damian Priest and Finn Bálor all have devoted fans and their own storylines going on. Once you throw in the SmackDown roster, as well as other high potential guys, it's easy to invasion a scenario in which everyone is invested in everything on TV.

It Was A Real Variety Show That Went For Different Tones

I like my wrestling to be a variety of different things. Sometimes I want goofiness. Sometimes I want bitchiness. Sometimes I want ruthless aggression. Wrestling is a lot of things to a lot of different people, and I want to see all of it, just all of it done at least pretty well. And that’s what we got last night. Over the course of three hours, it felt like we got to see so many different appeal elements of wrestling.

We had the aforementioned mic battle between CM Punk, Drew McIntyre and Seth Rollins that blurred the lines between work and shoot. We got a promo battle between Rhea Ripley and Becky Lynch that got very emotional and touched on Becky’s daughter. We got The Rock and Cody Rhodes engaging in a mean-spirited parking lot fight in the rain, filled with non-stop taunting. We got R Truth on commentary hilariously trying to prematurely send the show to commercial break to avoid taking a beating. We got Ricochet and JD McDonagh giving us a fast-paced, hyper-athletic match filled with moves we’d normally see in AEW. We got a Bronson Reed and Sami Zayn match that was way more about developing character than showing off move sets. We got Candace LeRae developing a mid-card story about disappointing her friends. I could go on and on.

Blood And Swearing Were Incorporated In Impactful Ways

There are few things wrestling fans like arguing about more than swearing and blood. WWE has traditionally shied away from both of those elements, as they’re trying to cater to a family friendly audience. I’m somewhere in the middle. I don’t want to see blood every week, nor do I want to see wrestlers swear non-stop. I think it’s important that we keep the show semi-appropriate for younger viewers, and to be honest, I’m not really interested in constantly seeing people blade themselves. Bleeding for the sake of bleeding is kind of gross and barbaric, and sometimes it can go way too far.

That being said, a bit of unexpected blood or a surprise swear can really add something when used right, and WWE used both of those elements right last night. Both The Rock and CM Punk dropped words WWE doesn’t normally say on television, to the shocked reaction of the crowd, and Cody Rhodes got a little bit of color during his parking lot brawl with The Rock, which The People’s Champ then wiped his belt with.

Maybe this will represent a larger change in philosophy. I hope not. Instead, what I hope it represents is a loosening of the hard and fast rules. I don’t want to hear swearing every episode or see people bleeding in every match. It lessens the impact. Instead, what I want to see are the occasional well-placed moments where it’s used correctly, and that’s exactly what we got last night.

The Parking Lot Brawl Was One Of The Best Produced Segments We’ve Gotten In A Long Time

This is the moment everyone is talking about and with good reason. The Rock interrupted Cody Rhodes’ promo early in the night and whispered something to him. Because of the way it was shot, it wasn’t entirely clear what he said, which WWE made a plot point throughout the episode. They asked The Rock and later Cody Rhodes, neither of whom would comment on what happened. Then, at the end of the episode, The Rock blindsided Cody Rhodes and beat the American Nightmare out of him in the parking lot while it was raining.

We’ve seen plenty of backstage brawls in wrestling before, but this one just felt different. Maybe it was because of The Rock’s non-stop taunting. Maybe it was because it was raining. Maybe it was because it featured trash can shots to the head and later blood, but it just felt like a vicious grudge match featuring two of the characters fans care about the most. With less than two weeks to go before WrestleMania, it found a way to get fans even more fired up for the big showdown in Philly (even dropping some fun hints), and it showed, with no rules, new camera angles and new ideas, what’s possible in this new version of WWE.