– Be sure you’ve read The Best And Worst Of WWE SummerSlam 2014.
– Your shares, likes, comments and other Internet Things are appreciated. Encouraged, even!
– Important Real Life Stuff: If you live in the Chicago area, want to see Meet Me There (the movie I made with Goldust) and want an excuse to bump into Bruce Campbell, the film’s screening at this weekend’s Wizard World Chicago event as part of the Bruce Campbell Horror Film Festival. I’ll be there, so if you come to this and say hi, we’re friends for life.
If you live in Austin and can’t make it to Chicago, you can come say hi and earn my friendship for a very long time by hitting up the next Inspire Pro Wrestling event on August 31.
Click on through for the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for August 18, 2014.
Best: Wow, Daniel Bryan’s Suddenly A Foot Taller
I’ll admit it, I fell for it.
Sunday’s SummerSlam event was so legitimately unpredictable that I came into Raw with the feeling that anything could happen. The WWE.com five-point preview was just THIS PERSON HAD A MATCH AT SUMMERSLAM, WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR THIS PERSON. It was so vague, and SummerSlam was SO full of John Cena getting f*cked up like he was the Dirt Bike Kid that yeah, sure, maybe they’re gonna surprise us. Then the music played for one second too long and my (and I’m assuming your) brain went, “oh, right, it’s gonna be Stephanie.”
The good news is that “it’s gonna be Stephanie” isn’t the death sentence it used to be. Girl comes side-galloping out in a Daniel Bryan parody shirt and incredible mom jeans to remind us that she has power-walked past Vickie Guerrero as the greatest heel of a generation.Subscribe to UPROXX
Best: Stephanie McMahon Rubbernecking This Horribly-Acted Modelfight
That leads to Nikki Bella explaining why she turned on Her Sister Brie at SummerSlam, which should’ve just been “I don’t like her and she’s gotten me beaten up for a couple of months” but was ten-or-so minutes of Nikki and Steph having an awkward conversation and side-eyeing an empty ramp while Brie slowly got dressed, slowly hit her cue and slowly walked to the ring. Once she’s there, they launch into a chilling, emotionally-driving scene that reminded me of Meryl Streep and Viola Davis in Doubt. You know, if they’d both had lobotomies.
You know how bad this is, I don’t need to tell you. Imagine if Brie Bella was doing her I’ll see you … IN COURT act but to ANOTHER BRIE BELLA. It’s like watching a cat vomit in front of a mirror. I’m giving it a Best, though, because Stephanie is AMAZING in the background. These sisters are slapping and sobbing and tearing their family apart, and this horrible woman in heels and a t-shirt with her pants pulled up to her boobs is gawking in the background all OH SHIT THESE MODELS ARE ABOUT TO FLIP OUT. It’s like she’s in a mall watching teenagers get thrown out. All she needed was a toddler on a leash.
The Bella Twins angle becomes really hilarious and fun if you pretend Stephanie and Daniel Bryan are battling them against each other like Pokémon.
Brie Bella used ACT.
It’s not every effective.
Best: HOSSFEST ’14
Continuing the “torn from Brandon’s brain” vibe of Cena vs. Lesnar, Raw’s opening match was the hossiest collection of hosses that ever hossed, pairing up Mark Henry and The Big Show against The Wyatt Family. They’re still having the Wyatts lose at every opportunity and did the exact same finish as the match they had on Friday’s Smackdown, but it was four spectacularly large, terrifying human beings clubbing each other in the back and kicking each other in the face. Am I supposed to hate that?
Wins and losses and “where is it going” aside, putting guys like Harper and Rowan in the ring with guys like Henry and Show is a great idea. The Wyatts are great characters who’ve lost focus, but they’ve become spectacular workers. Show and Henry are the KINGS of having their underrated in-ring skills buried beneath miles and miles of worthless character bullshit, so you’re basically giving four guys who can go a chance to do so against people who understand where they’re at and want to make something good. It’s sorta the opposite of those heatless midcard feuds guys like Kingston and Ziggler get stuck in … those guys get stuck and go through the motions. Henry and Show are the kings of magically becoming unstuck, shaking off (sh-shaking off) the dead weight of WWE character development to become instantly relevant again. They’re just born and built to be people you’d pay to see wrestle. They’re f*cking giant.
This entire match was great. How often do you see a match where Luke Harper is the smallest guy in it? I think if WWE wants to put on truly memorable, effective shows, they need to embrace every aspect of what makes wrestling great and do them all at once instead of picking and choosing. Raw was a great example of this working. You had a fast-paced, high-action six-man tag. You had a main event with guys going through tables and piles of chairs and cinderblocks. You had dumb melodrama, and you had unrealistic, absurd giants you’d never meet in real life fighting each other. Do it all. All of it’s good. Even the parts I hate. Everybody watching should have something to remember.
Worst: Ric Flair Has Totally Forgotten The Miz
speaking of having something to remember
“Hey Ric, long time no see!”
“hi I’m ric flair tha nay-cha boy woo”
“Yeah man I know, I’m the Miz”
“The Miz. Your former protégé?”
“No, The Miz. I do the figure four now because of you?”
“never heard of it. are you an anime?”
“Am I a what now?”
“your jacket. are you one of the polyphonic spree, fat boy?”
“No, I’m The Miz. You want to escort me to ringside again tonight?”
“can’t you see I’m trying to have a conversation with billy gunn”
Ziggler should’ve held up his phone, hit play on YouTube video of Wade Barrett’s entrance theme and just rolled up Miz while he stared off into the distance.
Best: Seth Rollins Accepts The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
And now, a rare bird: WWE being timely and funny.
I know, I can’t believe it either.
If you missed it, Dean Ambrose interrupts a Seth Rollins promo (thanks, btw) by dumping a bucket of ice water on him. WWE does the Zack Ryder Memorial Pan To The Right to reveal Ambrose, who says “what? It’s for charity” and throws the bucket in his face. It’s wonderful, and it’s legitimately funny. On top of that, it’s WWE taking an aspect of popular web culture and doing it WELL at the height of that thing’s popularity. Have they ever done that before? These are the guys who keep bringing back Jared from Subway and shitcanned Paul Burchill for being a Johnny Depp pirate instead of an “avast ye scalawags” Blackbeard. I’ll pop so hard if Big Show starts playing the Knockout Game.
Supplementary Best: now we have a kayfabe explanation for why these wrestlers are always so wet.
Worst: Natalya’s Ring Gear
What happened to Natalya? She’s had perfectly cromulent ring gear for a decade, and now suddenly she’s wrestling in an NFL cheerleader top and underoos. It’s like Nikki Bella pulled her aside and was like, “Nattie, if you’re ever gonna make it in this business you NEED to invest in a sexy Halloween costume.” Stephanie should’ve wrestled Brie in knee-high socks and a tube top dress that looked like Spongebob.
Worst: finally, a fresh finish
Natalya faces new Divas Champion Paige. Paige has been champion for less than a day. Natalya hasn’t gotten a win on Raw since 1991. QUICK, GUESS THE FINISH.
Yep, straight from the snarkiest comment you could make up for a set of hypothetical match predictions, it’s AJ Lee’s music suddenly playing, Paige being paralyzed by it and Natalya rolling her up for a non-title victory. And, of course, the post-match stuff is built around AJ and Paige having another pay-per-view match while the lady who just PINNED THE DIVAS CHAMPION sprints backstage so nobody notices her existing. WWE builds, everybody. I want someone in NXT to get in good with the GM and only get booked in handicap matches and non-title matches against champions en route to a 174-0 win streak.
Moments like this are especially out of place on good Raws, because even when they feel fresh and new, WWE has to fill three hours and only has so many ideas. If Raw got cut to two hours and Smackdown got that third hour’s bad ideas with an extra day to improve upon them, we’d seriously be living in a golden age of TV wrestling.
Worst: The Illusion Of Choice
There are only two kinds of polls that exist in WWE.
1. The one with one great example and two terrible ones, so you’ll pick the good one.
Example: Who should be the special guest referee in tonight’s main event?
A. a ball of yarn
B. a homeless man we found outside
C. STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN
2. The one where all three options are exactly the same, because they already planned out the match but want to trick stupid people into thinking they’ve helped.
Example: Pick the match type for tonight’s main event!
A. SUBMISSION MATCH
B. GIVE-UPS ONLY MATCH
C. TAPOUT MATCH
Second Example: this poll.
Seriously, the finish of Ambrose vs. Rollins was Rollins curbstomping Ambrose through a pile of cinderblocks. No falls happened. So yeah, congratulations on choosing “Falls Count Anywhere,” everybody.
Best/Worst: The Class Ring WWE World Heavyweight Championship Is Official And Not An Improvement
The good news is that we’ve finally got a new, single title belt to represent the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. We managed to live through that weird eight months of title unifications and ladder matches where literally every person’s prediction was “one person gets ONE belt, the other person gets the OTHER belt.” If the titles are unified, they should have one belt. Doy.
The bad news is that WWE’s idea of WWE Championship + World Heavyweight Championship is just “WWE Championship.” It always has been, I guess. They just took The Rock’s terrible Jostens class ring championship for people who are embarrassed to be wrestlers, shrunk the words and edited-in the new logo. Seriously, I didn’t even think the belt had words on it until I saw the replica on Shopzone. I prefer the smaller “World Heavyweight Champion” along the bottom to the gaudy, Cena-eseque CHAMPION on the WWE Championship, but that’s really all I can say for it. It looks like a helmet in a Guillermo Del Toro movie. It looks like it was designed to be held by people who’re embarrassed to hold a wrestling belt. YOU’LL NEVER WIN THE 15 POUNDS OF PENTAGONAL LEATHER, DUSTY RHODES.
Best: A Promo As Good As The Match It’s About
This I can’t praise enough. WWE Fan Nation really should’ve uploaded the entire thing.
Short version: Paul Heyman is better at making John Cena sound cool and important than anyone in wrestling history, including John Cena. Cena stands around in t-shirts and jean shorts and throwable hats and says things like I LOVE THIS BUSINESS and I WORK HARD. He’s a Brawlin’ Buddy. You punch him in the stomach and he says MY TIME IS NOW. He’s an action figure in a Toy Story movie, acting all macho and trying to kill aliens because he doesn’t understand he’s a toy. When Heyman talks about Cena, he gives the man a context the shirts and boasts never could. He HATES Cena, so he’s great at explaining why people who also hate Cena can and should respect him. The “never give up” slogan became a story about how he refused to stay down when Brock Lesnar was giving him the beating of his life. The “I love this business” wank became an image of Cena as a man who has repeatedly proven himself and stood atop the WWE longer than any of the people we consider the greatest ever. Longer than the Rock. Longer than Austin. Heyman doesn’t just say Cena does these things … he follows them up with irrefutable evidence, phrased in a compelling way that lets you understand the importance and gravity of the man without asking you to change your mind about him. It’s brilliant.
And once that’s out of the way, we get to the identifiers that ensure we’ll remember this promo forever. SUPLEX, REPEAT. SUPLEX, REPEAT. SUPLEX, REPEAT. He says it sixteen times, because accuracy is important, and Paul Heyman understands the little things. He knows that Lesnar could say “I beat Cena and Cena sucks,” and that that would be 1% as valuable and effective as saying “I beat Cena and Cena’s the best wrestler ever.” It’s applying “my client conquered The Streak” to situations that are not as historically important as that and making them SEEM so by DOING so.
I write a lot in these columns about how Paul Heyman’s the best talker in WWE (and quite possibly the history of professional wrestling), but agree or disagree, I hope you’re listening. The content this man is giving us is inimitable and timeless, and the kind of thing we’re gonna smile and laugh about when we remember it 30 years down the line. SUPLEX REPEAT is the new FIRE ME I’M ALREADY FIRED. It’s the new WITH A TEAR IN MY EYE. It’s the new THE KENNEDYS WERE BLOOD, THE EARPS WERE BLOOD, THE RHODES ARE BLOOD. It’s a man who understands wrestling more than any of us, taking an opportunity to make a throwaway “nah nah we won” promo last forever.
Worst: Dolph Ziggler Is Too Good And Too Over To Be Circle-jerking Like This
Things I liked about this match:
– Miz’s entrance jacket. I didn’t get into this like I should’ve in the SummerSlam report, but I’m not gonna lie, Miz’s jacket cracks me up. I love it. Dude’s coming to the ring in sunglasses and a Snuggie. He looks like Pitbull and Vincent Valentine had a baby.
Things I didn’t like about this match:
– It’s time to put the “rematch clause” to bed. Former champions can get a rematch without having to include it in the fine print of their contracts. It’s become a hacky way to repeat a pay-per-view match on free TV because they don’t have time to work out something new. Seriously, if Miz loses the Intercontinental Championship to Dolph Ziggler, is anybody gonna freak out about how he doesn’t deserve it? Nobody deserves title shots anymore. Ever. The only times people deserve title shots are in Royal Rumbles and Monies in the Bank. That’s probably why “Royal Rumble” and “Money in the Bank” are the only two title shots people talk about and get excited for.
– It’s just another IC title circle-jerk. Miz wins the belt in a battle royal, loses a bunch of non-title matches to build an opponent, then loses the title match. He gets a rematch and loses. The champion gets “hurt” trying to add drama to a three minute match we’ve seen 15 times in a row to justify him maybe losing, loses without losing the title, then IMMEDIATELY gets his heat back after the match. Now that the previous challenger has been dispatched without really “losing” anything, it’s time to pick a new challenger and start having the champ lose to A DIFFERENT GUY in non-title affairs. When that’s not happening, the champ should lose to people who’ll NEVER challenge for the belt BECAUSE of the challenger. NOBODY IN THE WORLD IS TIRED OF THIS.
– JBL. I could just type “JBL” and you’d know what I mean, but he was especially bad here. What he’s trying to say is that Ziggler’s a liar who is faking an injury to get the sympathy of the crowd, but he’s got no subtlety, so it sounds like he’s saying I DON’T THINK ZIGGLER’S REALLY HURT, MAGGLE, HE’S JUST GREAT AT SELLING. For real, JBL’s just straight-up saying Ziggler is good at pretending to be hurt. It’s kind of a meta version of Cena’s “you don’t even OWN these cars” promo on Alberto Del Rio. Don’t point it out, man, what do you think we’re trying to do here?
Worst: Nothing Draws Quite Like A Jack Swagger Losing Streak Angle
Speaking of “JBL is horrible” and “what do you think we’re trying to do here,” Jack Swagger loses a short match to Cesaro while JBL goes HE’S A TRAITOR MAGGLE HE LOST A MATCH AND I’M BARELY PAYING ATTENTION BUT HE DESTROYED OUR NATION. It ends with Bo Dallas showing up and not even really being funny, just saying “hey Jack Swagger, you lost. Did everyone hear that? Jack Swagger loses matches. Bye! P.S. bo-lieve.”
So yeah, I guess we’re back on the Jack Swagger Losing Streak angle. If you remember the last time that happened, it ended with Swagger taking an extended leave of absence from the company, returning as a guy who hates Mexican people, and me filling in the gap with a few months of sorta-popular space-faring Jack Swagger fan fiction. Here is my solemn promise: if this leads to Swagger taking another break, I’ll pick back up with the story. Secondary promise: Sorry, everybody.
Worst: Soooo … Bray Wyatt’s Still Not Accomplishing Anything? All Right.
See what I mean about Raw needing to be two hours? If they’d pushed together hours one and three like Squeeze Play on ‘The Price Is Right’ and spent an extra 24 hours going “okay, what do we do with Jack Swagger? Who’s challenging for the IC title next? How do we show how Chris Jericho’s been changed by Bray Wyatt?” we’d be in a good place.
Bray Wyatt got a clean, decisive victory over Chris Jericho at SummerSlam, and that’s great. The problem with Bray, though, isn’t his wins and losses … it’s in the fact that 100% of his motivation is the promise of a change that never comes. He jumps and attacks guys like R-Truth, Kofi Kingston and The Miz, but they show up a week or two later like nothing’s happened. It’s just “we got beat up.” He crushes Kane’s head between the ring steps and carries him away, and you think Kane’s gonna show up as his new follower … but nope, Kane just returns as Kane and they never mention it. He feuds with Daniel Bryan and you THINK it’s going somewhere, but Bryan just puts on a mechanic jumpsuit for a few weeks, beats up the Wyatts and moves forward unchanged. Wyatt gets into a feud with Cena and Cena’s all I HAVE TO DO WHATEVER I CAN TO WIN THIS CAGE MATCH AND STOP BRAY WYATT’S MESSAGE. Cena loses the cage match and what happens? Nothing. There are more cell phones lit up during Bray’s entrance? Is that the message? That ring entrances are fun?
The hook of Jericho’s match at SummerSlam appeared to be Jericho realizing Wyatt’s “dead” and unstoppable. He had the match under control, but Bray kinda sprang up and yelled cryptic shit in his face and shook him. So he shows up on Raw and people are like, “hey Chris, what happened last night?” and his response is NOTHING RENEE, IT’S TOTALLY FINE, I LOVE MY FANS AND WHATEVER SHUT UP. That’s it. Jericho’s not changed. Wyatt follows it up with a promo about how he’s the new “face of salvation,” but who gives a shit? He’s not doing anything. He’s not even adding cronies to his team. He’s just winning and losing wrestling matches. His message is about as strong and influential and life changing as Curtis Axel’s, he’s just better at saying it.
Best: The Return Of The Epic WWE Six-Man Tag
God, there’s so much to like about this match. First and foremost, it’s WWE going “oh shit, we can still have six-man tags?” Six-mans were the best part of the show for like a year and a half, but when they broke up The Shield they just stopped doing them. Now they’re back, and they’re doing wonderful things for the product like “putting people like Rybaxel in fresh situations so they can be entertaining” and “getting Roman Reigns out of 15 minute singles matches and back into the thing that made him our favorite wrestler.” Roman is probably the best six-man hot tag ever, and watching him just come in and do his shit was GREAT. He had a fire, an energy. We didn’t have to watch him pretend like his back was hurt for a quarter-hour. He just ROMAN REIGNED everything. Are you serious with that leaping spear over Rob Van Dam? That’s one of the coolest spears I’ve ever seen. It’s like the motion detection kicked in at the very last second.
Also, HOMETOWN RYBACK. If WWE’d embrace every wrestler’s hometown, they’d have a Superstar in basically every town they stopped in. If Punk can be Jesus in Chicago, why NOT have Ryback be the king of Las Vegas? Let Seth Rollins be Iowa’s favorite wrestler.
I know it’s one of those “never gonna happen” deals, but I’d love to see WWE introduce six-man tag team titles. Maybe medals or a trophy or something. Just give these three-person squads something to fight for on top of their personal feuds. Hell, abandon the tag team titles if you think tag team wrestling’s too “southern” or whatever. You know the six-mans work, right? When was the last time WWE had a six-man tag and you were like, “ugh, that was a stinker.” Has that EVER happened?
Best: Everybody Has Forgotten Everybody, I Guess
“hey randy it’s the nay-cha boy ric flair woo”
“WHO ARE YOU OLD MAN”
“you ever seen the ending to last crusade, when the guy picks the wrong grail?”
“GET OUT OF HERE BEFORE I SHOW YOU WHY THEY USED TO CALL ME THE LEGEND KILLER”
“YOU, AND OUR FRIENDS I GUESS”
“YOU USING THAT DUFFEL BAG?”
I’m really intrigued by this segment, even though it’s probably all in my head. Randy Orton’s been officially thrown in the garbage by The Authority, hasn’t he? They told him he had to eliminate Roman Reigns or he’d never be free to get another title shot. He lost to Roman, and now suddenly The Authority’s championing Brock Lesnar. Orton’s been trying to take out Cena for 10+ years and Lesnar just shows up and German suplexes Cena to death like it’s nothing. Now Randy’s teaming with RYBAXEL and they’re LOSING. What’s he supposed to do now?
So I like Flair showing up and being all, “hey man, if you need to talk, I’m here.” How cool would it be if Flair picked up the pieces of the disenfranchised members of Evolution and brought them back as babyfaces? Imagine Daniel Bryan showing up at the Royal Rumble and Triple H trying to lord some kind of power over him, only for Orton and Batista to show up and wreck him and clear the way for Bryan? I’d lose my mind. It’d be perfect, circular storytelling. Throw Roman in the group with them and do it right. Then you’d have a past (Batista), a present (Orton) and a future (Roman). The most recent version felt like three pasts.
Best: It’s Goldust And Stardust! AND THEY’RE DOING THINGS!
YEAH, TIME FOR ME TO GET ENTHUSIASTIC AND EXCITED BECAUSE MY FAVORITE GUYS ARE … oh no what are they doing
Worst: Seriously Though, Enough With These Consequence-free Losses For Champions
After being locked in a room for a month, Goldust and Stardust are getting surprise rollups on the tag team champions and pinning them to set up a match that has nothing to do with cosmic keys or feuds or allegiances or ANYTHING. It’s just “and now, the tag teams we remember.” I’m down for a Dust Brusters (f*ck you, JBL) and Usos beef, especially if it leads to one of the teams going rogue and, I don’t know, developing a story, but is this the way to do it? Especially on a show where Paige already lost a non-title match to a distraction roll-up and the new Intercontinental Champion lost by count-out.
Can we do something with these guys’ CHARACTERS? I know I’m the Internet’s head cheerleader for F*CK THE CHARACTERS, WRESTLE THE MATCHES, but man, you’ve got two gold guys who spent a month doing math problems and pondering outer space. The Usos are trying to get “Usos crazy” over. Why are they trading waistlocks and rollups? Go nuts, guys.
Best: Rusev Is Still Selling The Ankle
Rusev’s dedication to telling a story in the ring is making him one of my favorite wrestlers. I mean, he was already one of my favorite wrestlers because he’s wearing a gold star given to him by Vladimir Putin and putting people in camel clutches because his foxy girlfriend ordered it via hand gesture, but this is REAL. The guy is still hobbling around and not at 100% because even though he beat Jack Swagger, he still wrestled him, and the wrestling you wrestled should still exist when you’re done. Beautiful.
Best: Mark Henry, Gentleman Wig-Splitter
Also beautiful: MARK HENRY, SEGMENT TWO.
This is how you do it. This is how you stand up for the United States against a cartoon super villain and deal vengeful babyface damage without looking like an asshole. Henry shows up and explains that he’s tired of hearing Rusev and Lana run down America … he’s competed in two Olympic games on behalf of the country and LOVES it. It’s not a thing he’s saying, it’s the truth. The guy goes to Olympic training camps and takes happy mark photos with the athletes. He’s posing with THEM, not the other way around. And yeah, there’s still a bunch of “I was SICK TO MY STOMACH to see you have your flag raised IN MY COUNTRY per the rules of the match you won fairly” jingoistic stuff, but it’s largely based on Rusev’s heelishness and not Henry arbitrarily going around bodyslamming foreigners.
When Lana won’t stop yammering and trying to interrupt him, he points at her and yells I’M NOT TALKING TO YOUUUU. She shuts the hell up. That’s how you do it. You don’t call her a bitch and give her a dramatic soap opera slap, you tell her to shut up because she’s talking over you. She’s actively being the confrontational and annoying one. Henry challenges Rusev, and Rusev doesn’t just throw the first punch … the first punch is a SUCKERPUNCH, which gives Henry the babyface right to unload on him. How does Henry get the advantage? Blocking a kick by hitting Rusev’s bum ankle. Do you see how hot and logical and wonderful this stuff can be when you pay attention and do it right?
The best part is the very end. Henry doesn’t try to intimidate Lana or threaten her. He doesn’t grab her by the hair or kiss her or anything stupid … he makes a gentlemanly “move out of the way” gesture and moves her out of the way so he can splash Rusev. It’s perfect. He knows Lana isn’t going to do anything to him. He’s Mark Henry, and her only weapon is on the ground with a split wig.
If WWE’s smart, they’ll give Henry the first pinfall victory over Rusev instead of putting Rusev over, because the “hi, I’m John Cena, have we met” ending doesn’t help anybody.
Worst: Let’s Ask The WWE Universe What They Thought About This Angle