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Raw Underground, We Hardly Knew Ye | How WWE’s latest MMA knock off missed the mark

Dearly beloved, we’re gathered here today to remember the life and times of Raw Underground, the show within the show of Monday Night Raw which was cancelled following a roughly seven week run during the 10 o’clock hour of RAW over the late summer. The show, hosted by relative unknown Shane McMahon, was WWE’s attempt to appeal to mixed martial arts fans, people who have seen the movie Fight Club, or anyone who thought Dolph Ziggler should be tapping people out instead of tagging with Bobby Roode on a weekly basis. 

The premise was relatively simple: A ropeless-ring would be set up in what looked like the WWE Performance Center basement to stage grittier, more realistic fight scenes. Yes, these were not actual shoot fights ala 1998’s Brawl for All, but rather sports-entertainment taking place in a dingy basement. It was less a shoot fight and more of a bad action movie scene generator. At least, if WWE had learned only one thing from their disaster of a tournament in 1998, it was that having untrained wrestlers actually fight one another on camera is an incredibly poor and unsafe idea. This isn’t to imply Raw Underground was any good either, but at least no one seemed to get hurt this time. 

You may be asking yourself, well how did Shane McMahon factor into all this? Shane was presented as the creator, host, referee, carnival barker, and I guess, general manager for Raw Underground. He appeared from out of nowhere, having not been on television since his incredibly insufferable run as “The Best in the World” came to an end last fall. He was as just sweaty and red faced as you remember him during the August 3, 2020 episode of Raw when he introduced the concept to a rowdy batch of Performance Center trainees and a confused television audience alike. 

Shane McMahon’s Personal Entertainment Hour

The way Shane McMahon introduced the very first Raw Underground segment should have been a red flag from the get-go, which he did with all the enthusiasm of a gym teacher announcing JV basketball rosters:

“Welcome to Raw Underground, where there are very little rules, lots of excitement, carnage, chaos, and quite frankly, lots of things I would personally like to see.”

Right off the bat, they at least admit that this was for Shane McMahon’s entertainment alone. The show wastes no time debuting what would amount to be the main character of Raw Underground (non-Shane McMahon division) which would be the seven foot tall Dabba-Kato. Kato, formerly known as Babatunde on WWE television, is the seven footer you may remember best from The Greatest Royal Rumble back in 2018. He proceeded to slap at an unnamed opponent before the match was called thirty seconds later.

Kato would serve as the resident monster for the show, squashing nameless foes and easily dispatching both Kevin Owens and Aleister Black during their match on Raw Underground, who continued their feud after leaving the performance center basement. If nothing else, it looked like Raw Underground might have been a long, winding way to both introduce Dabba-Kato as a legit threat to audiences after being unknown. 

This theory would make a lot of sense if the show’s ersatz finale had ended any differently. You see, another wrestler WWE seems to cut off at the knees any time he gains some momentum, Brawn Strowman, just so happened to make his way to Raw Underground and find himself in a confrontation with the equally large Dabba-Kato. The scene was set, the match was on. 

So of course, Strowman literally punched Dabba-Kato out, won the match and was the last thing we saw from Raw Underground until it’s cancellation. 

A lot of online discussion about the segments led to a bit of “wait and see” optimism for what the show could be. They were trying something new, after all—during a global pandemic, no less. I don’t think a lot of people had down “vehicle to get the guy who won the Universal Title at Wrestlemania from Bill Goldberg this year a little more shine, as a treat” for where they believed the show could go. 

Lots of other things happened on Raw Underground, but absolutely no one involved with Monday Night Raw is any better for its existence. Shayna Baszler was already a total badass, so watching her rip through opponents wasn’t really all that interesting. Riddick Moss, who debuted on Raw earlier this year as Mojo Rawley’s bodyguard, was suddenly knocking or choking opponents out with ease as if he was prime Kurt Angle. 

Dolph Ziggler also had a few standout appearances on the show, and while I’m certainly not advocating for another sustained push for Ziggler, he went right back to the mid-card heel mash up tag team with Bobby Roode thing he was doing beforehand. This was after choking out promising newcomer Arturo Ruas during the final weeks of the show. 

Just in case you thought it was all carny scripted shoot fights, we also had a good bit of bad character work in Raw Underground! The IIconics, who lost a match stipulating their team must disband, showed up after this so Peyton Royce could establish her heel persona by pushing Billie Kay into the ring to be beaten up by Jessamyn Duke and Marina Shafir. This was followed up by being completely ignored on Raw going forward, where Kay and Royce continued to not tag together, but remained friends on-screen. 

A lot of the time, the 10:15 to 10:45 hour of Raw is when you’re going to see projects, new gimmicks, squashes, and other things that fill out those three hours every Monday night. The contents of Raw Underground largely reflect that. Nia Jax showed up. Erik from the Viking Raiders would lose his match. All the while Shane McMahon would shout “OH!” into a live microphone instead of any commentary. 

With that, we bid farewell to Raw Underground. The best thing you can say is that they tried something new. In that classic McMahon-flavored way, they made sure none of it matters in the slightest going forward. WWE’s latest attempt to present a more realistic product showed only one thing: Some things never change.

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