The recipe for Raw Underground currently looks a little bit like this:
- Take one Shane McMahon and put him in a basement.
- Take the ropes off a ring and toughen up the boards so the bumps look more painful.
- Make sure the set is dimly lit.
- Have people fight because: reasons.
Now while the result may give us a distracting and even entertaining alternative to the main Raw product in the short term, we’re going to need more than that to keep us invested in Raw Underground. With that in mind, here’s my humble suggestions for helping Underground really cause an earthquake in the world of sports entertainment. We’re talking seismic shifts. People will dig it. Talent wouldn’t get buried. OK, OK, puns done. Here’s 10 ways to make Raw Underground better.
1: Make it all about the money
Shane McMahon has always been about the “dollar dollar”. The Hurt Business literally have ‘business’ in their name. So rather than having the talent fight for a title (which doesn’t feel appropriate for what is essentially bare knuckle boxing meets MMA), have them fight for money instead. Sure, it’s a little old-school and could remind older fans of things like the $15,000 John Studd / Andre the Giant slam challenge, but what’s more mercenary than earning cold hard cash by sending people to the hospital? That’s extreme. Which brings us nicely to…
2: Elevate a little guy to an unlikely tough guy
Remember in the ECW days when the likes of Little Spike Dudley and Mikey Whipwreck became insanely popular because of their ability to take all sorts of kickings but keep on ticking? Cherry-pick the most unlikely tough guy on the roster and make him the Little Wrester That Could.
It could work for the likes of Boa, Mansoor, Drake Maverick or even Tyler Breeze. Take any guy who isn’t exactly flying high or recognised as an unstoppable bump machine and put him in an environment where he shouldn’t succeed but does – or simply gets over by always getting back up, no matter how hard he’s hit.
3: Use it as a place to settle scores the old-fashioned way
Tease a tag-team breakup like we’ve seen a million times before. Have some miscommunication between partners lead to losses. Have one cost the other a win because of an injury that stopped them from tagging back in. One is likely to turn heel or face, depending on the composition of the team. Go down the same old road we’ve seen so many times before… but then do something new with the well-tried and tested breakup formula.
Have one partner challenge the other to a fight on (or should that be in?) Raw Underground. They walk in there just on the cusp of breaking up, beat each other to a stalemate, shake hands at the end of it and then return to the tag team division with a new focus and tear through everyone on their way to the titles. Have the announcers showcase how that baptism of fire lead to a new level of respect and understanding between the partners, or that the experience really switched them up a gear and have been unstoppable since. And yes, Viking Historical Enactment Experience Raiders, I’m looking at you.
4: Tell us why we should care
Underground just appeared on our screens. Shane didn’t explain what it was, or why we were watching it. It was just… there. We sort of, kinda got welcomed to it, but there’s not enough context to explain why we should care about, invest in or even understand it.
Have Shane tell us he wanted to provide an alternative to the rules and regulations above ground. Have him explain that there’s legit tough guys who never get fully let off the leash, and this is the place for them to do it. Heck, even have him using it as a testing ground for a new McMahon family stable… anything – just give us a motivation and reason for it to exist. Then we will invest. In Raw Overground they fight for titles. What’s the point in Underground? Explain that, and unlike the first rule of Fight Club, we’ll actually talk about Underground. Speaking of Fight Club…
5: Explain the rules
Are there rules, or not? Does Shane and only Shane decide when the matches are over, or is that the refs call? We need answers, people, and we’ll rip through any enhancement talent you’ve got to find out. As long as they’re wearing street clothes. And only if those clothes are mostly black. Heck, even the Fight Club movie / novel had a bunch of rules. And sure, lots of people broke the first one and talked about Fight Club, but at least it gave us an understand of the limitations of what we’re watching.
6: Apply some media theory, dammit
Now this one is a bit academic and heavy, but bear with me: there’s a concept of juxtaposition used in media studies, whereby you create meaning by placing two contrasting elements side-by-side. By putting the grimy, dimly lit, fast edited and off-kilter camera angles of Underground on screen and then cutting straight back to three guys in suits sitting at a desk, you’re creating a message that one side of that coin is edgy and dangerous, while the latter is corporate, dull and controlled.
Much more so than we already thought they were.
Now while I get that WWE will want Underground to have that vibe, do they really want to make their main product feel so sanitised?
Viewers are going to find that contrast jarring. There’s a reason why (Insert Your Favourite Live Action TV Show Here) doesn’t switch to be a Japanese Anime for five minutes before switching back, with no explanation of what just happened. It would make no sense. The juxtaposition wouldn’t be enjoyable – it’d be flat out weird.
The only way to get around this is to give Underground a decent chunk of the show where it stops being Raw and becomes Underground, or – and there’s tonnes of audience reception theory on this that says so – viewers will be confused, get snapped out of their suspension of disbelief for one aspect of the show and then not be able to get back into it again. And yes, I am available for hire should the WWE need me.
7: Don’t. Produce. Merch.
“Hey kids, we’re a dangerous alternative to the way things have always been done. We’re changing things from the inside and you’re a part of it! Wanna buy a t-shirt?”
No. Just no. The shadiest, most dangerous underground fight clubs don’t have merch. Neither should you. We’ve already got n.W.o and Bullet Club shirts. We don’t need Raw Underground ones.
8: Have a tough female superstar destroy the stage dancers
Imagine if Shayna Baszler or Tamina (don’t mention the name Snuka) Snuka wander in and beat up the massively distracting stage dancing girls. It’s equal parts “this sort of thing won’t fly in 2020, we had a women’s Evolution to stop this kind of stuff, remember?” with a sprinkling of “I’m a legit monster and these women are embarrassing to my gender” move that could enhance either talent.
I should perhaps add that the cutaways to those dancing girls were so jarring, so badly timed, so… weird and, let’s be honest, in no way imaginable even remotely sexy that the only possible reason they could be there is for internet pranksters to edit them into tragic moments in history that had been caught on camera. Awful car crash? Cut to the dancing girls. Presidential assassination? Cut to the dancing girls. Shockmaster falls through a wall? Cut to the dancing girls. We’ve already had enough meme-able material from them now. Throw them to the Shayna or Tamina wolves.
Speaking of tough ladies…
9: Let Nia Jax go medieval on someone
Hear me out: Nia is, at the time of writing, suspended by WWE. What better way to distance Raw Underground from Raw by having a suspended talent walk in and cave in heads? It could also provide WWE with a way of once again testing the water for inter-gender matches. Just imagine Nia beating a much smaller, lighter and weaker male enhancement guy up. They could even all be bearded and ginger since her current angle has been a little… gingerist. And when she’s done, and acknowledges that it’s helped her get some of her aggressions out, she could pop over and have a drink with the guys that close out this list..
10: Bring back the APA
The grimy, happening-in-the-basement kind of vibe that Raw underground is going for could be the perfect backdrop for the APA to set up a gambling table. Imagine Ron Simmons and JBL, cigars in mouth, whiskey in one hand and poker chips in the other, taking side bets on how long it takes for the guys we don’t recognise to get beaten up by guys we do.
Ron could even bust out the odd “DAMN!” when the time is right.
They could even get physical once or twice. Bradshaw must still have the odd Clothesline from Hell in him, right? Hey, we could even find out once and for all who is the toughest…
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