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Anyway, please click through to enjoy the Best and Worst of WWE Raw Normal School for January 13, 2014.
Worst: Damien Sandow Wrestling John Cena While On A ‘Downward Spiral’ Is Like Telling A Suicidal Man To Cheer Up And Get Over It
First Worst: the guy with the intelligence gimmick does a move called “the Edge-uactor” and calls it “the Royal Arch” instead of anything related to education.
Second Worst: I know that a guy can lose a match (or a series of matches) and come out looking better for it, but Damien Sandow’s Herculean trials of mediocrity aren’t really doing anything for me. His successful and enjoyable tag team breaks up so he can win Money in the Bank, look like a helpless victim for the entirety of his feud with his former partner, cashes in Money in the Bank against a guy who’s arm was literally detached and rotting under the ring and somehow still lost, got a shirt featuring online abbreviations that looks like it’s covered in cum stains, wrestles a series of gimmick matches against the only guy on the show with less momentum (Dolph Ziggler), wrestles a … what was that, a Best of Two against The Great Khali, and now he’s back to being outsmarted and overpowered by John Cena. They’ve turned Sandow from a guy with an entertaining gimmick into a guy with NO gimmick, because there’s nothing WWE likes more than losing streak angles and guys in black t-shirts.
It probably sounds like I’m complaining more than I am, but as a fan of Sandow’s work I’m really frustrated watching him devolve and lose. Some people are just born into these enhancement talent roles where they go out and make the other guy look good and that’s that, but the way WWE’s set up now you can never really tell who’s supposed to be enhancement and who’s supposed to be a thing, so you end up spending a decade wishing they’d JUST GIVE BILL AND RANDY MULKEY A CHANCE TO SHOW YOU HOW GOOD THEY ARE. It’s like WWE took the worst part of the “smart” opinion they hate and applied it to everything.
Best: The Match Was Pretty Good, Though
It was. It wasn’t as good as the announcers were trying to make it seem — they did something similar with their WHAT A MATCHes during Kofi Kingston vs. Randy Orton — but Cena’s oddly-expanding move repertoire is enjoyable and Sandow can really go when the other guy stops farting around and really lays into him. That’s why I liked the Sandow/Sheamus matches so much. They mostly had the same result (Sandow dying), but they beat the mess out of each other before it was done.
I want Cena to become the “moves” guy just to piss everybody off. Like, pin Sandow on Raw after an Omega Driver. Just Awful Waffle the shit out of him and get all up in the camera like, “BET YOU DIDN’T THINK YA BOY COULD DO THAT” or whatever. John Cena busting out a Canadian Destroyer would Canadian destroy the Internet. All you gotta do is put your dick on the back of a guy’s head and do a front flip. It’s not rocket science.
Best: JOHN CENA’S DAD SENIOR
John Cena’s Dad is in the front row at this show in Rhode Island, for some reason! I hope this doesn’t become important in act 3!
Note: One of my favorite things about Cena’s Dad showing up to Raws (besides the fact that he’s awesome and should be given a live mic whenever possible) is how hard they try not to say his name. He’s never “John Cena Sr.,” he’s Mr. Cena or Cena’s Dad. WWE does not believe its audience can understand two people with the same name. Like they’re gonna say “there’s John Cena’s dad, John Cena Sr.” and some kid watching at home’s gonna assume nothing but time travel paradoxes and have his head explode.
Worst: Foreshadowing Via Boxers
oh God, Hogan’s going to be at WrestleMania, isn’t he
Worst: The Real(ly Easy To Beat) Americans
“Stay down, Jack, you won’t have so far to fall!”
Jack Swagger’s offense in this match: 2 punches. This match was what, 40 seconds long? What does it accomplish, telling us that Big Show is big and strong? That they’re interested in making him look like a threat this month, so he has to beat everybody up easily even though he was dressed like a New Year’s baby two weeks ago? More importantly (most importantly), why is Antonio Cesaro running away and hiding in the crowd when Big Show confronts him? Wasn’t Cesaro giant swinging Brodus Clay not that long ago?
There is nothing more confusing and disappointing than Big Show in the aftermath of a big angle, when he’s built up enough to lose to somebody important, but still too important himself to make anybody look good.
Worst: Okay, Here’s Where You Use Your ‘Be A Star’ Jokes
Big Show has a match against Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble. He easily wins a match with Jack Swagger, then tries to attack Swagger’s partner. When that doesn’t work, he decides to goose and knock out their 64-year old manager, a guy who for all intents and purposes is a jerk who deserves comeuppance but hadn’t really done anything bad to Show besides making and showing him a condescending sign. He didn’t just knock him out, either. He held him in place and made him beg for a long time. The begging felt longer than the match.
I know wrestling can be kinda morally iffy and that in fans’ eyes bad guys deserve punching for the bad they’ve done a lot longer than what seems reasonable, but man, if you’re making a person half your size and 25 years older than you beg you to not hurt them for almost a full minute before hurting them, you’re inching into Devil’s Rejects territory and have BECOME the bad guy.
Best: Zeb Colter Is Unconscious (And Having Flashbacks) But Can Still Recognize Renee
Backstage Fallout this week starts with two horrible things:
1. The New Age Outlaws
2. Big Show nonchalantly explaining how he wasn’t sending Brock Lesnar a message, he was just ENTERTAININ’ THE FANS
… but it was all salvaged by the final segment, wherein The Real Americans and Renee Young attempt to revive Zeb Colter from unconsciousness as he has war flashbacks. He doesn’t know how many fingers Swagger’s holding up but he recognizes Renee, because … well, he’s only human, right? I would actually be really into Renee joining The Real Americans, because the 50/50 ratio of Americans to non-Americans in the team has always kept it from going in one direction or the other, and also because I want Renee to have a monogrammed track jacket.
(It can say “Nay Nay.”)
Best: Even Sting Is Shaking His Head At You Right Now, Punk
From last week’s column, in response to the New Age Outlaws being CM Punk’s enforcers against The Shield:
Anyway, I’m not too hung up on the New Age Outlaws helping Piper, but I’m a little bothered by them being announced as CM Punk’s “equalizers” against The Shield. These are guys who are answers #1 and #2 when you ask, “who are Triple H and Shawn Michaels’ friends?” You’d probably say the f*cking Road Dogg before Stephanie McMahon. They are A and B classic butt-lickers, and here they are showing up to help the Voice of the Voiceless, the guy who just a few weeks ago throwing hands at the Authority? The guy who EXISTS to defy authority? Road Dogg was just on a show alongside Josh Mathews where they retcon old WCW clips as “embarrassing” because WWE won and said they have to be. They are THE WORST.
Of course, if this turns out to be a plot point, I’ll forgive it. I’m afraid it’s just an example of WWE going “fans like this guy, fans like these guys, they’re on a team together!” without any considerations made toward characterization or history or story significance. Punk was shaking hands with Rey Mysterio and doing fist-bumpies with John Cena, maybe the big reveal is that Punk’s a colossal f*cking sell-out.
This week, it becomes a plot point. As promised, all is forgiven.
I go back and forth on whether or not CM Punk is a face or a heel, but oh boy, nothing screams “face” louder than putting yourself into a situation that is obviously a trap and cheerily hoping for the best. CM Punk seriously thought, “how should I overcome this 3-on-1 disadvantage against The Shield? Oh, how about teaming up with the BEST FRIENDS OF THE GUY I SAY I HATE ALL THE TIME.” A lot of people are wondering why the Outlaws would team with Punk or help him out just to ditch him, and to that I say fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly and evil wrestling dudes have got to do evil for the sake of doing it.
I think this may’ve been the only time I’ve ever yelled F*CKING THANK YOU at my television screen over a heel turn. Maybe I AM the Internet.
Two Worsts, though:
Worst 1: “The Fox”
Michael Cole was working overtime trying to give The Shield nicknames last night. Roman Reigns was “the powerhouse” of the Shield, which is fine because he IS, and because they’ve been saying that for a while. Seth Rollins was “the architect,” which doesn’t make a lot of sense but I’ll let it slide, because “the smart one” never ends well. The one that bugged me, though, was Dean Ambrose. He is THE FOX. Because he’s UNPREDICTABLE, you see, like a FOX. Also because girls like him?
Stop trying to make The Fox happen. Immediately. I want this to be the “Dolph Ziggler with brown hair” of nicknames. We think it happened one week, but we just imagined it.
Worst 2: “You Can’t Wrestle”
The crowd chanted “you can’t wrestle” at Seth Rollins. What are they, new?
Best Ever: #EMMAtaining
If you’re a regular reader of the Best and Worst of NXT (and you should be, because it’s the happiest regular column I’m ever gonna write), you’re aware of my undying love for EMMA. If you know of Emma, you don’t need a paragraph explaining how hard I popped when I saw her in the crowd with a big #EMMATAINING sign, wearing that t-shirt they refuse to sell me.
If you don’t know Emma, here’s everything you need to know: she’s a beautiful Australian lady who is really good at submission-style wrestling but also has less rhythm than anyone ever born, so much so that when she dances (poorly) (extremely poorly) it warms the hearts of those who see it. People try to make fun of her for it all the time but have too much coordination to do it properly. Anyway, there’s this big ritual before each of her matches where she walks through/attacks a wall of bubbles with her dancing arms (seriously) and then tries to “skin the cat” to get into the ring, which used to work less frequently than it does now. She’s so oblivious and vain it borders on stupidity, and she is the greatest.
I am 100% excited for her to show up on Raw, but only if she gets to finish her NXT beef with Paige while she does it. I’m not looking forward to the announcers burying the shit out of her instead of letting us develop a natural love for her ridiculousness, but whatever, Emma rules and I will hashtag anything she asks me to.
Best: AJ Lee vs. Naomi
The actual match was kinda bad for a variety of reasons — the announcers refusing to let the “you’re jealous of ‘Tole’ Divas” talking point go, Cameron’s wrestling not being the bomb.com, Naomi’s lipstick that made her look like she’d been caught frenching Goldust — but the prospect of an AJ Lee vs. Naomi Divas Championship program is exciting.
Firstly, it’s new. Secondly, it’s a change of pace from the “AJ vs. larger, stronger Diva” story they’ve done with Kaitlyn (a few times), Tamina, Natalya and so on. Thirdly, Naomi is ridiculously athletic and deserves a chance to work hard and earn something more meaningful than “dancing girl #2” in her wrestling career. If you want to prove that the women of Total Divas are legit, the best way to do it is to take one of the ones nobody thinks IS and show that they’re something special. The Bellas are a hard sell thanks to their half a dozen years in WWE as starf*cking girlfriends (this is kayfabe, mind you, I’m not calling them out in real life) and people who like wrestling already think Natalya’s good, so this is the story to go for.
Also, gimme some of that NXT season 3 love. Oh, and before I move on, I have one additional complaint: Aksana did not show up and Ryback anybody. How am I supposed to keep my Aksana fires burning if she’s not around?
Worst: Orton Could’ve Opened Fire With A Machine Gun And Killed The Crowd Less
I think Randy Orton’s been great in the ring for most of the last year. I think Kofi was getting better before he jumped jump-first into a best of a billion series against the Miz. I am starting the paragraph this way because holy shit was this 70-minute Kofi/Orton match brutal, and I’m not sure the crowd could’ve been any deader. I haven’t seen a Rhode Island crowd this dead since Great White came through.
For whatever reason, WWE decided that they needed to make Randy Orton (the guy holding both the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships as the undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Champion, less than a month out from beating John Cena in a TLC match) an “underdog” or something and have him lose a non-title match to Kofi Kingston, a guy who lately has not shown the ability to believably beat Mike from The Real World. It was a shock, I guess, but not one that we can count on to last or go anywhere. It was sorta the opposite of how you felt when Shelton Benjamin got a surprise win on Triple H, even though it was fundamentally the same thing. Kofi’s not gonna change next week or build any momentum because he DOESN’T EVER. Orton continues being Orton, win or lose, and is still holding two belts. He still has to face John Cena, a guy who has lost two clean “regular” matches in the last five years. I don’t know.
It wasn’t that the match was bad, it was just ridiculously boring. Orton went into his old “stand near you for several minutes, stomp you once and then go for a slow pinfall” mode, which is terrible. Watch him when Kofi gets knocked to the outside. He follows him out, then does a complete walking lap around him before touching him. What’re you doing, Randy, trying to back out of a driveway? Just stomp him.
(Note: shut up, you don’t care about Great White.)
Worst: Reruns (But It’s Fine, We Can’t Remember Anything)
1. Was Dad Cena sitting beside Gallagher? Followup question, when did Gallagher get fat?
2. Was that one of Orton’s fake on-screen wives screaming about Dad Cena getting attacked? She was the worst. WHEEEEEEE! WHEEEEEE! WHEEEEE! She sounded like a baby pig. It was the second worst scream of the night, right behind Rey Mysterio sounding like E.T. in Alberto Del Rio’s armbar.
Anyway, remember this?
At least that one involved brutal head-kicking. And no Gallagher.
Best: Ryback, Keyboard Warrior
I can’t explain how much I love the reboot of Ryback as a guy who is not a bully or a bully on the Internet, but a bully TO the Internet. A guy who is so bothered by what strangers have typed about him in 140 characters or less that it consumes him, and he spends his days tweeting and deleting whatever he can think of to “work” us. He can’t even wrestle without thinking about the Internet. He’s in there making little “typing” gestures.
I’d go all the way with it. Have him show up at Harry Knowles’ house and push him down a flight of stairs, right into his gigantic pile of free review blu-ray boxed sets. Appear out of nowhere and Meathook guys at SXSW Interactive. Maybe show up at the house of a guy who blogs about wrestling and … I don’t know, sit around and watch GLOW DVDs with him. I’M ON YOUR SIDE, BIG GUY.
The only flaw so far is that Curtis Axel doesn’t have a gimmick to match him. Can we make Axel a really successful Redditor or something and do a new Steen/Generico thing with Rybaxel? Have Axel reveal that he’s actually run a really successful ice fishing blog for the past several years and have Ryback get SUPER MAD AT HIM for critiquing his ice fishing behind his back. Something. Worst case, give Axel a shirt that says INTERNET and one of those beanie caps with the propellor on them.
Best/Worst: Actual Warrior
The Best goes to Warrior for getting into the Hall of Fame. In a world where Koko B. Ware made it in, it’s pretty ridiculous not to have Warrior in there.
The Worst goes to … engh, this is the part of the column where you’re gonna get mad and disagree with me, but I really don’t like the Warrior. Remember that time you found out I hate Demolition and got SO MAD about it? (This could be happening RIGHT NOW.) It’s the same thing. I grew up an NWA/WCW kid, and WWF would occasionally come out with these new wrestlers who were supposed to be cool and revolutionary, but they were just shittier versions of guys I liked. Demolition were the ersatz Road Warriors, no matter how much you like them. Similarly, The Ultimate Warrior was just a worse Sting, with the good wrestling turned down and the insane rambling turned way, way, way up. As an adult I’ve been able to go back and enjoy the Warrior as a weird novelty thing, and sure, I have done my fair share of saying “Ho Kogan” and looking at my hands in disbelief, but I think Iron Sheik said it best when he said “f*ck the Ultimate Warrior.” Remember when he said queering don’t make the world work? “I remember your funny wrestling” is not always an excuse to be cool with that.
I know I’m not alone. The same company putting him into the Hall of Fame put out a feature-length documentary DVD about how Warrior was a ridiculous asshole who sucked at everything and had his head up his butt. He’s being nice to them now and they can make money off of him and that’s fine, but give me Randy f*cking Savage or give me death.
Hulk Hogan’s gonna get into the Hall of Fame five different times before they put in Savage. He’s gonna go in as Mr. America. If Warrior’s at Mania getting inducted and Hogan’s there wrestling (as Cena’s briefs have foretold), the crowd’s gonna start in with that ONE MORE MATCH shit as if Hogan/Warrior II at Halloween Havoc wasn’t the worst match in history.
Worst: Finally, A Fresh Match-Up
Alberto Del Rio took on Rey Mysterio, because in 20 years when they induct Alberto Del Rio into the Hall of Fame his intro video’s gonna be nothing but him beating Mysterio and Sin Cara, losing to John Cena and holding on to the armbar too long. That’s it. WWE’s reaching “ROH to black people” levels of ridiculousness putting the hispanic guys on their roster against one another every week.
In an unexpected turn of events, Del Rio beat Mysterio and held on to the armbar for too long, making him scream like a weirdo and (I’m assuming) putting him on the shelf for another 9-54 months with an injury. He then threatened that PERRO~ Batista, who has been fighting one of those weird online Twitter wars wrestlers fight where they say something in character, read your in-character tweet back to them and then condescend on you for not being able to tell they were in character. This is bad enough when you’re a fan, imagine how stupid it seems when both of you are fictional characters. Now imagine how stupid it is that WWE is using this to hype the return of a guy who’s in one of next summer’s Marvel movies.
Worst: Rey Mysterio’s Zombie Finger
PUT YOUR GLOVE BACK ON
Best: The Point Of A Wrestling Match Is Not Always ‘Have A Good Match’
Your opinion matters. Everybody’s does. I’ve long been a believer that you don’t need a journalism degree to be a good writer or an expert at physically doing something to be an expert at understanding it. I think a fresh set of eyes and a new approach could help out a lot of things, including the wrestling industry.
At the same time, I’ve sorta wedged myself into the wrestling business enough to know that if you ever truly want to know what you’re talking about or understand how wrestling works and why, you have to be a part of making it exist in real life. I am currently the least important person in the history of wrestling. I did a little training and got a position as the ring announcer for Inspire Pro wrestling in Austin. I tossed a few creative ideas their way that they liked, so they let me put together some stuff for the shows. I’ve been watching wrestling since birth and the training gave me a better understanding of how things happen, but it wasn’t until I was actually helping put events together and plan out matches that I really understood the why.
A lot of wrestling fans think the measure of a match’s success is whether or not it was good. I’ve always thought that. If I liked it for whatever reason, it was good. If I didn’t, it was bad. That’s the basis of this entire column, right? How I think something did or didn’t work. The hook though is that that’s part of the illusion … sometimes a match exists as a cog in something greater, even when it’s not obvious. Something designed to make you feel a certain way about a wrestler, something that presents or refreshens an idea you need to know for later. Something that requires deeper connected thought than whether or not you liked it. I guess that’s not a super rare thing for people to know, but I didn’t get the severity of it. Art is a lie, right? Even the bad art.
The opening match of the show was less about putting on a good match and more about setting the stage for later. Watching it live, I didn’t get why the Usos were able to so thoroughly whomp the shit out of the “new Undertaker” and a guy who was kneeing John Cena to death six months ago. I didn’t understand why Bryan’s story of joining the Wyatts was continuing to get him nothing but these undercard tag matches when the announced point of him joining was that he had to defeat a system that refused to let him win. He was going backwards, right? The Wyatts lose the match, and Bray hits Bryan with another Sister Abigail. It felt stunted and short and kinda like they were treading water. I didn’t like it.
Backstage, Kane and Brad Maddox decided (somewhat randomly) to make a rematch for the same night with not only a steel cage stipulation, but a “chain the door shut” gimmick. My brain goes, “why are they doing that?” because that’s what my brain is SUPPOSED to be doing when I watch the show.
You know where this goes, but I wanted to give a specific Best to the show putting together an purposeful, intentional story built from its own history and character motivations and not only sticking to it, but executing it beautifully. More on that on the next page.