Best: The First 10 Minutes Of Raw
Raw is about “moments” or whatever, but I think they’d be onto something if they ditched that mission statement in favor of creating moods, or atmospheres. That’s what was important about the Monday Night Wars. Nitro had an atmosphere, and so did those 1997/98 Raws they’re always trying to recreate. ECW was ALL atmosphere. ECW’s best moments were almost always stupid or backyard dangerous — a guy f**king two girls because he’s “hardcore,” holes magically appearing in the ring or ramp, people doing run-ins via light switch — but it all seemed GREAT because they’d created an atmosphere that ECW was the place to be if you were a cool wrestling fan, and everyone bought it. Independent promotions today don’t do what ECW did, because they’re pretending to share in an atmosphere that no longer exists.
WWE is great at creating an atmosphere, and I’m not sure they know it. Remember Brad Maddox versus Ryback? The “moment” was terrible, but that pre-match thing with Maddox wandering out to his death and an ambulance back into the arena was great. They do it at WrestleMania every year, turning forgettable Bad Blood main-events (Triple H vs. Undertaker Hell In A Cell, I’m looking in your direction) into these big epic things we’re destined to remember forever. The first 10 minutes of Raw were about the vibe, with Team Hell No having finally made it over their friendship hump to stand up to these weird swat team guys with shifty motives and try to win a match at the same time. You didn’t know what The Shield was going to do, and the announcers being preoccupied with where each guy was (especially when all three of them were off-screen) made it seem dangerous, and alive. That’s what Raw should be: not necessarily unpredictable, but buzzing, constantly moving, never willing to fulfill or deny our expectations out of obligation.
If we could keep that atmosphere going for an entire show, we could feel engaged in watching how the entire thing ties together, instead of sitting on our hands waiting for the guys we like to show up. How do you do that for a weekly, three-hour show, you ask? By spending longer than a Monday afternoon writing it, and taking away one guy’s power to say NOPE SORRY at the last minute and write DO WHAT WE ALWAYS DO in your margins.
Worst: ‘Moo Kitty Kitty Moo Kitty Kitty,’ We Hardly Knew Ye
Rest in peace, Hip-Hop Track #15. You were too beautiful for this world.
Worst: Roman Reigns Delivering The Worst Headbutts In The History Of Wrestling
I don’t want to just load up the first page with videos, but seriously, jump to the 3:03 mark of this clip and watch Roman Reigns try to headbutt Daniel Bryan.
Holy shit, dude. I don’t want to automatically assume Reigns is the worst guy in The Shield because he didn’t spend five years slumming it in Turner’s Hall, but mother of God, what’s he headbutting? Was he trying to attack Bryan Kabuki Quantum Fighter style and just forgot to take his hair out of the ponytail? He needed the Sassy Gay Friend to pop up in the background. WHAT ARE YOU DOING, WHAT WHAT WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
New plan: Draw some patterns on Kassius Ohno’s arm with a sharpie and let him play Roman Reigns until dude learns how to wrestle on television.
Best: AJ Lee, Pro Wrestler Of Interest
Did you hear the crowd chanting “Let’s Go AJ” during this match? That’s because WWE gave her a character and let her participate in stories that were not “I’M IN THE DIVAS DERVISION,” so people respond to her positively and want to see her win and do things. I’m not going to say it’s “proof” of anything, but it’s a good indication that I have not spent the last two years of this column being full of shit, and that if WWE would invest a little effort into letting their female characters being human beings instead of vaginas on stilts we could have a pretty sweet division.
This is why I’ve been pushing the Chickbusters on you guys for so long. Yeah, they’re pretty, but they’re also ready-made moneymakers. When allowed to play to her strengths, AJ is a competent, scrappy wrestler who you want to cheer for because she’s cute and little and TRYING SO HARD. When allowed to play to her strengths, Kaitlyn is a beefy monster who is also a shoot dork, so she’s gonna mess up a lot, but you’re rooting for her not to. They’re like the world’s sexiest Jesse and Festus, and if you read “sexy Jesse and Festus” and don’t want to cheer for it, you’re doing it wrong.
Tamina versus AJ is a step in the right direction. Tamina was totally dominant, but overconfident, and that cost her. AJ clearly can’t hang with Tamina in the ring, but she’s got more heart, and she’s watched a few tapes so she knows that roll-ups are Super Effective against Diva types. I’ll even give AJ a +1 for stealing Dash Chisako’s offense, because that “jump into your lap and elbow you in the face a bunch because I’m the Compsognathus of lady wrestlers” thing is great.
My only problem was, of course,
Worst: WWE’s Idea Of Building PPV Matches By Having The Same Match Over And Over With Different Finishes
I think the idea of wrestling fans complaining that they’re given too many marquee matches too quickly for free on television instead of having to pay $50 to see them a month later is one of the most confusing things about BEING a wrestling fan.
On one hand, you’re being stupid. You’re getting good, free matches on television, and a desire for delayed gratification shouldn’t mean WWE can only run Zack Ryder versus Damien Sandow on loop for a cycle because you value a hypothetical Cena/Ziggler more than the one happening in front of you. If you don’t run the company, and your paycheck doesn’t rely on that company’s success, why not want the best they can give you all the time? Screw proper PPV builds, just let me see characters I like doing interesting things and yelling at each other about how they should GET IN THE RING or whatever. Right?
On the other, it’s not so much about delayed gratification as it is wanting to be gratified. If Tamina versus AJ happens on free television three weeks into the angle, and they wrestle again the next week, and they wrestle again at the pay-per-view, you haven’t had time to care about the characters in relation to one another and there are no consequences. The matches aren’t telling a story. One doesn’t build on the other. It’s just a series of decided match finishes, executed soullessly and without gravity for the instant call and response of the crowd. It’s a piece of gum when you’re looking for dinner. “Dinner,” as it were, is a match that EARNS the call and response by showing its work in the cycle. It’s rewarding. It rewards you for having watched the show, for giving a shit about it happening. That doesn’t have to be a ridiculously complex Chikara backstory of webbed-together continuities or anything, it can just be having something to talk about with your friends while the match is happening. Like a real sport. Imagine how boring football would be if the only thing you could say is “my team beat your team last week, so your team will probably win this week”. That SUCKS. You want to talk about players and coaches and motivations and histories and backups and blown calls and CUTENESS OF UNIFORMS and whatever else.
So do I want to see Tamina versus AJ? Yes. Do I want to see Cena and Ziggler? Sure. Do I want to see AJ roll up Tamina in two minutes to build to another AJ versus Tamina match? No. I just want one really f**king good AJ versus Tamina match, built on something that matters. Do I want to see Cena beat Ziggler clean two weeks in a row, to build to him beating Ziggler again at TLC? God, no. I want things to matter so I can be EXCITED when these matches happen. I don’t want you to numb my brain until I can only be excited when you tell me to be.