It has been more than two years since WWE’s Monday night “Raw” came to Austin to record a taping of its flagship show.
“Raw,” which started in 1993, is the longest-running weekly episodic program on television, and on Monday, the three-hour live show came to the Frank Erwin Center.
Wrestling fans (and American-Statesman staffers) Maribel Molina and Addie Broyles were in the crowd, which also included Austinites Mark Henry, Matthew McConaughey and Lance Armstrong, to watch Bobby Lashley take on Braun Strowman in an arm-wrestling match and a surprise return from The Undertaker. Brock Lesnar also wrestled Seth Rollins for what didn’t turn out to be a title match.
Here's the she said-she said commentary of two first-time “Raw” attendees.
Maribel: I’ve never been to "Raw" before, but I’ve been a fan since I was a little kid, like 5 and 6 years old, so this has been a long time coming to actually finally be at a taping for once. Everything feels so shiny and cool, and I feel like I’m on a set.
Addie: It looks like the Erwin Center but the lighting is really cool, and the set is so huge. A circle of lights drops from the ceiling above the ring, which is miked more than I thought it would be. But I mean, this is a show. This is a production. There’s a reason why they are called performers and not athletes.
Maribel: Walking into the arena and seeing the ring with my own eyes for the first time felt surreal. The fans who showed up early enough for the pre-show kept yelling “woo” like my favorite current wrestler Charlotte Flair (the daughter of legendary Rick Flair).
Addie: Charlotte has been one of my favorites for awhile, and I was hoping to see some of her high-flying moves, but she didn’t get a great opponent.
Maribel: Look, as a huge Charlotte Flair fan, I will never be mad at my girl getting screen time. But it’s safe to say I, and the rest of the crowd on Monday night, are just not feeling anything for Lacey Evans and the forced beef between her and Becky Lynch. Charlotte’s talent is wasted on a star billed as the “sexy Southern belle.” Never good when the crowd cheers “This is boring” and “We want Becky.”
Addie: Speaking of the women’s evolution, watching Becky Lynch strut her stuff with a belt on her shoulder was pretty great, but I wished she and Charlotte would have wrestled instead of Lacey Evans. I still don’t understand how some wrestlers can seem to shoot to the top as a fan favorite so quickly, but I guess that’s part of the magic. I always thought she was dynamic when she had her steampunk gimmick, but I saw more “The Man” shirts than anything else at the arena.
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Maribel: The opening match of Drew McIntyre and the Revival (with Shane McMahon ringside) vs. Roman Reigns and The Usos kicked the show off with so much energy, the crowd roared. A great way to hype up the audience. On TV, McIntyre obviously appears huge, and his 6 foot, 5 inch frame looks wild in real life.
Addie: I’m so impressed with Shane McMahon as a wrestler, and you can tell all those bumps have really worn on him over the years, but he’s in great shape. I also can’t believe Roman Reigns announced his leukemia diagnosis in October and he’s already back, looking like he didn’t miss a day. The Usos had so much energy, even more than Roman, and I could get behind them as a sort of new incarnation of The Shield now that Dean Ambrose is gone.
Maribel: Watching Randy Orton and Triple H in the ring trash talking each other later felt special. Orton is almost 40, Triple H almost 50. It’s good to cherish any interaction the two have in the ring.
Addie: I briefly met Triple H during South by Southwest, and he was very kind. I have a lot of respect for the businessman he seems to have become as Mr. Stephanie McMahon, but I’m also disappointed that they continue to pursue these pay-per-views in Saudi Arabia, where women aren’t allowed to wrestle. For all the talk about women’s evolution, that feels off brand.
Maribel: WWE is in the middle of a ratings slump, so we got to see a few tactics they use to get people to tune in. A bad example: booking a match for Brock Lesnar on Raw only for him to let the crowd down and save his fight with Seth Rollins for this weekend’s pay-per-view show in Saudi Arabia.
Addie: I’ll admit, even without the title on the line, it was awesome to see Brock. He’s a formidable UFC fighter who has a great manager, Paul Heyman, who was uncharacteristically quiet.
Maribel: Ricochet and Cesaro’s match was easily the best of the night. A great mix of acrobatics and strength, we saw Cesaro swing Ricochet nearly 10 times by the legs, and Ricochet flew through the air and across Cesaro’s body as if they were swing dancing.
Addie: I couldn’t believe this match with all the flips and interaction between the two wrestlers. I was more interested in this bout than the Braun/Bobby muscle fest.
Maribel: One good example of getting the audience to tune in: The Undertaker cut a promo for his upcoming fight against Goldberg. Hearing his music while the lights dimmed and watching him walk through the fog to the ring made me feel like an absolute kid again.
Addie: I was totally swept up in Takermania when he walked in. I’m still enough of a newbie to believe the retirement matches are really a signal that a wrestler is retiring, so I didn’t think seeing him was in the cards. He stole the show from Lesnar in terms of star power.
Maribel: After the official show was over, Bobby Lashley fought Braun Strowman. Lashley dropped Strowman into the barrier right in front of McConaughey and his group, and Lashley even high-fived him.
Addie: I didn’t last quite as long as the McConaughey family. After nearly four hours, I had stimulation overload, but I was so excited to have experienced that sense of walking into my television to be part of a show that in many ways still felt a lot like the “Raw” I watched in high school.
Maribel: My final thoughts: If you attend a taping of "Raw," there are pre-show matches, the live show and a post-show match. WWE does a decent job at keeping the fans entertained during the commercial breaks with some fan games and all the video promotions you can imagine: games, movies, the WWE Network.
Addie: Yeah, be prepared for a long night, but it’s definitely a spectacle worth experiencing. You can get a sense of that energy on a smaller scale at the local indie promotions, but the WWE has always been the Big Show — even without the 7-foot Show on the day-to-day roster anymore — so it’s like catching a MLB or NFL game, even if you don’t follow the specific team closely.