My thoughts on the end of Heat and the current Raw midcard

Lack of ‘Heat’ in the Raw midcard
By Shaun Best

Where do we go from here? That is a question that I’m sure a lot of the guys in the Raw midcard are currently asking themselves. Another question is, how are these midcard wrestlers, in particular newcomers to the Raw brand, supposed to get over, when they can’t get exposure on TV? With the main eventers and Vince McMahon’s stupid ‘Million Dollar Mania’ currently taking up all the precious airtime, the cancelling of Heat is a baffling decision.

While I’m sure there are many out there who scoffed at Heat and its existence, the show served a purpose. Despite being under the radar of the top-tier talent, for years it gave a bunch of guys not on Raw, valuable TV/webtime (depending where you’re based) each and every week, keeping them fresh with the audiences. Raven’s personal Heat playground was a welcome distraction from the Katie Vick angle on Raw and Stevie Night Heat had a far more competent GM in Steven Richards, than Raw did in the bland Eric Bischoff, at the time. Heat gave the Divas time to have good matches and featured many a tag team, when there was no time to put them on Raw. All this along with countless midcard workhorses, who had good solid matches week in/week out. With Heat no longer around, and Raw having the biggest of the three brands, there’s currently a bunch of talent being very underutilised, or not even used at all.

I don’t hold much optimism for the upcoming draft, as the majority of the movers and shakers are likely to be top guys, divas or announcers. The latter being used as a curveball for the fans. Unless WWE holds another supplemental draft, then a lot of the underutilised guys will stay trapped on Raw. Who are these guys that I’m talking about? Allow me to jog your memory.

First up there’s Paul London & Brian Kendrick. They were Heat regulars who could tear it up and put on exciting matches with anyone. It’s been weeks since they’ve been seen or heard from on Raw, as there’s simply no room for them. They do dark matches each and every week. The chances are, the viewers will get to see them once in a blue moon on TV, like when a makeshift duo need putting over. What a waste of their talent.

Then there’s other solid workers such as Val Venis, Charlie Haas, Lance Cade and D.H. Smith to name a few. These are all guys who could benefit from regular exposure. In Cade’s case, while it was a nice shock to see him involved at the end of Raw this week, how are the audience going to take to him as a threat? Since his recent singles run, he’s had one squash victory on the final Heat and a quick blowoff match against Trevor Murdoch on Raw a few weeks later. That’s not much to get carried away with. If Heat was still around, Cade could have racked up a few more weeks of victories to get his new character, moveset over etc with the fans. More importantly he would have built up some good momentum, emotion from the viewers and stayed fresh in everyone’s minds. As a result, he would be better equipped for his push to the ‘next level’ so to speak. Don’t even get me started on the others. I can’t even remember when I last saw Val Venis on TV and I want to see Charlie Haas wrestle. I don’t care for his pointless segments with the Divas. Haas has had great encounters with London, Kendrick, Super Crazy etc over the past few months on Heat and he and Val would be perfect to work with some of the new talent, to help them develop. They could all help revitalise the ‘inactive’ Intercontinental title, which has taken a back seat on its current holder Chris Jericho and its predecessor Jeff Hardy.

Despite constantly switching from face/heel, D.H. Smith was beginning to find himself, by way of a regular Heat slot. With him rumoured to be Ted DiBiase Jr’s mystery partner at Night of Champions, I ask when will he/they get the time to showcase their skills on TV. A quick two minute match now and again on Raw isn’t really sufficient. It won’t help either man in getting over. New signees Ron Killings and D’Lo Brown must be hoping they don’t end up on Raw, as they’ll never get any match time.

Back in the day, when Superstars of Wrestling and Wrestling Challenge were around, guys had plenty of squash matches in order to get over with the crowd and stay hot. Now I’m not saying we can go back to that era, because you can’t. The Monday Night wars and the battle for ratings put paid to that. But, by having just one show on the Raw side, this has eliminated the last few remnants of the art of the squash match. Heat portrayed this theory nicely by showing one/two of these matches each week.

At the moment, Smackdown has no such problems-to an extent. With a smaller roster and the emphasis more on wrestling rather than skits, anyone not featured generally makes an appearance on ECW, with a few exceptions (Steven Richards, Elijah Burke). With both rosters forged together, the superstars on the blue brand get more time to showcase their skills. Recent history also shows that Smackdown/ECW often uses the one squash match a week format to re-establish a talent or get a new one over. Recent cases include Chuck Palumbo, Big Show, Kofi Kingston and Vladimir Kozlov. Love him or hate him, WWE are doing all they can to currently get Kozlov over by way of a weekly squash, combined with Mick Foley’s effective commentary. When it comes time for him to face Batista or The Undertaker we’ll know all about him as a result.

Rumour is, from August, ECW will switch from being taped/alligned with Smackdown to Raw. Even if this happens, then the chances are that Smackdown superstars may start to feel the pinch like Raw does now. You could argue that Heat was Raw’s equivalent of ECW, as it spread the net a bit further, allowing more superstars to get some ring time. In terms of house shows, this new arrangement would see the ECW crew also switch to Raw shows. House shows bring up another interesting point. For instance, say Charlie Haas is involved in a House show match and nobody’s seen him on TV in a while. Nobody will care about him or the match. This will not only hurt Haas, but his opponent as well. At least on Heat, Haas was regularly featured and people could react and get familiar to his current character. When WWE last toured the UK, portions of fans I know complained that they were coming back from house shows having seen people who haven’t been on TV for a while. They wanted to see ‘stars.’ Back then, WWE could tell those fans to watch Heat but what’s their excuse now. ‘We can’t put him on TV but we’ll throw him on the house show circuit and expect a reaction.’ That doesn’t work.

Heat’s cancellation means the bar has just been raised even higher for a Raw newcomer. Say Ron Killings debuted on Raw next week. The chances are that he wouldn’t feature every week thereafter, so when it comes to future shows/house shows, the interest levels wouldn’t be as high as they could be. Killings would be in limbo and lost in the shuffle. Paul Burchill and Katie Lea are good examples of the point I’m trying to make. After debuting, the two were featured on Raw for a few weeks. When there was no room for them, they were featured on Heat during the missing weeks. They refined and improved their work and now they’re back on Raw, they have built up some good crowd heat and are making steady progress. Unfortunately, people like Lance Cade, who could benefit from more TV time, no longer have that opportunity (unless he’s drafted next Monday).

I’m not really knocking Raw. But at the end of the day, it’s a two hour show and when you factor in promos, adverts, Main Event PPV builds and Divas, then that doesn’t leave lots of time for more than one/two midcard and maybe one good Tag Team match. The Million Dollar Mania makes things even worse. Last time I checked, I watch WWE for wrestling and not for fricking gameshows. The chances of the Heat alumni appearing on PPV were hard enough as it was, due to every PPV being tri-branded and the amount of titles that need defending. Heat was a way to guarantee the London and Kendricks, the Val Venises, Charlie Haases, Super Crazies and even the Snitsky and Highlander Robbies, weekly exposure to help build the midcard and hone their personas. Now they’re lucky if they appear on TV once a month which for fans like me is a sad case. I’m a massive London and Kendrick fan so it looks as if I’ll have to settle on seeing them maybe once a month on TV, or the two times a year WWE tapes TV in the UK, where I can see their dark match. Either that or pop a tape in from a previous show. Sad but true. The few times we’re likely to see Ted DiBiase Jr and D.H. Smith wrestle on Raw will also stop the fans from completely getting behind them. These two could be stars of the future if they’re given some attention. This negligence of the Raw midcard will only harm WWE in the future, as I’m sure I’m not the only one getting bored of seeing the same guys on PPV having the same matches for seven straight PPVs. Some new faces and stars in the Raw midcard would shake things up a bit and would probably garner some more PPV buys, once they were in the PPV mix.

In the UK, Heat has been replaced by ‘Vintage Collection’ which is a great trip down memory lane. However, with WWE cutting the opportunities to see a portion of its talent wrestle, they are denying the chance of a plethora of vintage footage for the next generation of fans. Where does the Raw midcard go from here? Hopefully, WWE gives its young and midcard talent the chance to shine on the big stage. I doubt that Heat will be brought back, but showing these dark matches on as exclusives would be a good start. Either that or make ECW its own show, with a mixture of underutilised Raw and Smackdown midcarders along with the young rookies. That would maximise everybody’s potential. The Heat is on. Over to you WWE.

See you Sunday for the Vintage Collection report. The results from the 2008 Heat awards have been posted in the columns section. Shaun.

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