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– Select Raw screencaps via Jay.
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Please click on through for the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for February 17, 2014.
Worst: Six-Mic Raw Openings
You should never be overwhelmed by inevitability in the middle of a wrestling promo.
Yet, where we are, doing another one of those Raw opens where more than four guys are feuding so they all wander out one at a time to tell you about it. One guy starts, he gets interrupted by a second, and when the third comes out he’s carrying a big, flashing sign over his head reading THE OTHER THREE ARE BEHIND ME, SETTLE IN FOR A LONG WINTER’S PROMO. Six-mic Raw openings are the worst, especially when the guys don’t really have a beef with one another beyond “we’re all in the same match and want the same thing.” WWE characters aren’t allowed to have a lot of depth anyway, but when you take away the personal issues and have them simply competing they fall the hell apart. They just start naming their signature moves. Last night’s opening promo was something like this:
Cena: SOME A Y’ALL BOO ME SOME A Y’ALL CHEER ME YOU BOUGHT YOUR TICKET YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Cesaro: Shut up! I will Neutralizer you and win the match!
Cena: NOT UNLESS I DO AN ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT AND WIN THE MATCH FIRST
Sheamus: Neither of you will win! I will use the Brogue Kick and win the match! Also, pints!
Randy Orton: I am going to explain to you why I will win at Elimination Chamber, and that reason will be, RKO
Bryan: yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
Christian: I bet I’m gonna win!
Everybody else: LOOOOL
If Cena wants to do that snarky know-it-all thing he likes to pull sometimes, he should wait until the first guy interrupts him, say “hey production team, there are four other guys back there waiting to interrupt, right, just play the Raw theme and trot them out here.” It’d save us a lot of time. But hey, thank God we got confirmation from the Elimination Chamber participants that they think they’re gonna win the Elimination Chamber.Subscribe to UPROXX
Best: “Weak Victories” Are The Reason I Love Daniel Bryan
This is probably a difficult thing to explain in a paragraph in the middle of a show report, but the finish is the most important part of a wrestling match. If your finish is great, people are gonna forget most of what led up to it. If your finish sucks, it’s the last thing people are going to remember, and that’s going to take precedent even if the rest of your match was great. Knowing that, what you do in the match should have something to do with the finish. If you spend the entire opening working the arm, the arm should have something to do with how the match ends. If you work the arm for ten minutes and then start doing flipping piledrivers, why the shit did you work the arm? Did you need their left shoulder at 20% to put their head in your crotch and make them backflip?
There’s a wide spectrum there, of course, and that’s why you have to observe each match as its own thing, holding it to no greater standard than basic storytelling logic. That’s a wrestler’s job. Tell a story in the ring. WWE’s barked that at us for decades. They aren’t wrestling, they’re “making movies.” Knowing that, a movie needs to make sense, and the shit they do at the beginning should have SOMETHING to do with how it ends.
That’s what’s so frustrating about a lot of John Cena matches … or Hulk Hogan matches, or Rock matches, or basically matches from any tip-top WWE guy, because they fit a sort of “indestructible” mold to appeal to the widest possible group of people. Cena will bump and sell his ass off for 25 minutes, and the finish of the match is just him popping up out of nowhere, hitting the Attitude Adjustment and winning the match. When he’s done, he’s totally fine. It’s less about him “no selling” and more about how he negates his own spectacular selling, simply finishing the match as the predetermined animation of a John Cena Victory demands, story and logic be damned. It works for a lot of people, but it’s disappointing to me because I’ve started not being able to take most matches like that seriously. The only thing that matters is the final minute. It’s like watching an NBA game.
What I love about Bryan and his big WWE run going on right now is that while he isn’t exactly breaking new grounds in realism, he seems like he’s fighting hard to win matches. They don’t always end with an animation. He doesn’t just pop up from whatever he’s been doing, do his YES taunt in the corner and running knee a guy. He doesn’t just automatically get them in the YES Lock for some reason. The finish usually has something to do with the match that’s just been wrestled, and in an environment where guys are made to resemble WWE 2K14 and not the other way around, it almost feels revolutionary.
The match with Christian was a great example. Christian worked the shoulder for most of the match, knowing that Bryan uses a lot of submission holds and needs a working arm for those. Because of this, when Bryan gets a big burst of offense and goes for the YES Lock, he can’t get it locked in. That allows Christian to capitalize, come back, and almost win the match … he only loses because of a last-ditch desperation rolling clutch pin. There’s no huge WrestleMania 13 thing with Bryan gushing blood from his shoulder and screaming melodramatically, it’s just a guy getting hurt during his job (which is to hurt and be hurt) and reacting to it realistically. At least, as realistically as you’re gonna get.
Some people might think it’s a weak victory for Bryan because he didn’t go over crazy decisively, but that’s ridiculous to me. Christian looked great and was a second away from beating the most popular guy in the company (“a second” or “several minutes” depending on your understanding of the Killswitch), and Bryan got to beat a guy who was portrayed to be on his level. Beating your peers means a lot more than beating nobodies, especially when you’ve had such a grand hand in making sure everyone you wrestle is a somebody.
Worst: Hard Fart Victories
Those sound like the worst kind of victories.
Best: Vince Is Living Out Some Serious Abusive Father vs. Hippie Son Fantasies
1. Kane is jacked. JAKKED, even. Whatever he’s doing is working.
2. The next time somebody asks you why you think Daniel Bryan is great, explain that not only does he wrestle his own feuds, he wrestles CM Punk’s, too. He didn’t just get demoted into a story with Kane … he’s competing for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the Elimination Chamber and feuding with Kane, and he’s having multiple matches on Raw to accomplish both. Have fun at home browsing Nerdist and reading comics, Punk.
3. I’m not the only person here who seems a raging, early-1960s father being abusive to his hippie son, am I? Kane makes Bryan look child-sized, and between Bryan’s hair and attitude and Kane’s evil A-shirt and slacks the whole thing plays out like a period drama. Kane beats Bryan with his belt but he’s only doing it because HIS daddy did it to HIM, and he doesn’t know how to express emotion! If this storyline ends with Daniel Bryan going to Vietnam in an act of defiance, I quit.
Best: Such Sign. Wow.
If WWE wants to shorten Big E Langston’s name more, they should start calling him Bige. “Wow. So five. Much need.”
Best: Dean Ambrose Just Pulled His Head Out Of A Rhino’s Vagina
Firstly, Dean Ambrose seriously looks like he was just squeezed out of something’s birth canal.
Secondly, I’m gonna believe in The Shield. The break-up everybody’s predicting keeps moving on and on, slower and slower, and it’s actually starting to become a dynamic aspect of their personalities. Now instead of just being a swat team from the crowd, they’re people we know and can identify with … while still totally being a swat team from the crowd. These are guys who can screw with each other and have problems and issues, but ultimately they’re on the same page, and will do what’s right for the good of the group. Roman constantly trolling Ambrose about being the weak link has stopped seeming like a point of contention, and now just seems like a mentally unstable guy being micromanaged by his team’s handsome superprince. Eventually that’ll drive Ambrose insane, but I say keep them together as long as you can before that happens. I want to see them have a go at each other as friends first, because shit, if I was on a team with a guy who held his belt buckle with both hands and made violent sex eyes at everybody I’d secretly hate his guts, too.
Worst: Wrestler’s Girlfriend
I wanted to like the “Emma on NXT” highlight video. I really did. In theory, it’s exactly what they should be doing. In practice, they showed Emma bridging back for the Emma Lock doing her dance, but didn’t actually show her hurting anybody with it. That’s WWE’s problem with women in a nutshell.
Their problem with women in a 50-pound bag of broke-as-balls nuts is last night’s Santino vs. Fandango match, which ended when Emma gave Summer Rae an airplane spin, causing Santino to fall in love with her and try to kiss her. That distracted him so much that he lost the match, prompting JBL to launch into a shouty tirade about how he needs to DUMP HER, RIGHT NOW, ON THE SPOT, ON LIVE TELEVISION. You know, even though they aren’t dating, and Santino’s the one who got all stupid-eyed at her over an airplane spin. Also, should SANTINO be getting pissed off at people because he lost? He always loses.
This is the larger problem: Emma isn’t Emma anymore. She’s not a character. She has no personality or motivations. She is simply WRESTLER’S GIRLFRIEND, the woman who shows up and causes horrible problems in the male wrestler’s life because in WWE, being in a personal relationship with anybody makes you a dumb gay failure. Santino has a documented history of being horrible to women … remember his relationship with Maria? What about his relationship with Beth Phoenix? Or Tamina? Literally all Emma has done since debuting on Raw is move her arms back and forth and throw an airplane spin, but the second a problem arises you’ve got someone screaming about how she deserves to be berated, blamed and humiliated. She’s to blame, because she put Santino into this situation.
On top of that, you want to know why Santino’s had so many on-screen girlfriends? The same reason The Great Khali has made out with so many people on television. If you’re sexually active or in a relationship with a woman, you are a joke. You deserve to be laughed at. WWE hates you for being a virgin nerd in your parents’ basement, but they sure as hell love to cater to you and condition you to be that way forever.
To put it more succinctly:
Also, she’s a fucking wrestler.
Best: You’re Awesome, Mark Henry, But You Should Probably Stay Away From Perfect Form Roman Reigns For A While
Anyway, back to things on the show that make me happy. Here’s Roman Reigns making Mark Henry look like Norv Fernum.
I probably shouldn’t like Mark Henry getting treated like a goober and pinned in two minutes, but Roman shoving him the hell across the ring with his feet and going straight into the Superman Punch Neo-to-shotgun-fist taunt makes me a happy wrestling fan. Roman Reigns could seriously show up on Raw wearing a Robin Thicke Halloween costume with a big inflatable Miley Cyrus on his dick and get into a twerking contest with Henry and I’d probably find a way to love it. As long as he keeps hitting people hard and continues being tough instead of repeatedly saying it over and over, I’ll clap my hands and have confusing feelings and enjoy the wrestling.
Worst: Let’s Ask The WWE Universe What They Think About Roman Reigns
Best: Dean Ambrose, Dickhole
Roman spears Henry and pins him clean, so Dean Ambrose shuffles in and starts attacking for no reason, drawing another amazing “the hell you doing brah” look from Roman. Ambrose being a vulture is so much better than him being the “MAD JESTER OF THE SHIELD” or whatever they’re trying to call him this week. He adds the greatest heel coloring to a team that is increasingly easy to cheer for, and if anything drives a man to madness in 2014 it’s an inferiority complex.
But hey, no time for the team to collapse in on itself because they’ve got CULTIST HILLBILLIES TO CONFRONT.
Best: This Feud Forever
Bray Wyatt interrupts the crew by singing ‘I’ve Got the Joy Joy Joy Joy,’ which could’ve only been better if Erick Rowan had jumped in with “WHERE?” between lines a la Rod and Todd Flanders. If you thought jokes about pro wrestling were in my wheelhouse, wait until you hear how familiar I am with the whitest-ass church songs in human history!
I want to know if Bray has ever shot the artillery, and whether or not that qualifies him to be in The Lord’s Army. I want to know if there is power, power, wonder-working power in the blood of Erick Rowan. Most importantly, I want to know why I just realized all the songs from my childhood are about bleeding and killing folks for Christ.
But yeah, I can’t say enough nice things about this feud, which is amazing because they’re basically just standing near each other and making backhanded “YEAH I will!” threats. It’s amazing how far and to what wondrous places your imagination will take you when guys aren’t being mega-thrown through ambulance roofs or whatever.
Best: Also, Bad News Barrett Forever
I am so mad that WWE Fan Nation hasn’t put up a video of this.
If you missed it, Cody Rhodes is backstage playing with “WWE Stackdown” toys and Goldust shows up to be weird to him about it. This by itself would be great, because Cody explains how all the Rhodes men were born to occupy certain jobs except for Dustin, who spent his childhood mutilating animals because he didn’t understand how animals worked. Then BAD NEWS BARRETT shows up and you think he’s gonna tell them he’s got BAD NEWS about them being grownups who play with toys, or about how they’re in the Elimination Chamber kickoff match while the Usos compete for the tag titles, but NOPE, he just KICKS THEIR TOYS OFF THE TABLE AND BACKS AWAY LAUGHING. LEGEND.
If Raw was just Bad News Barrett interactions, I’d spend the six days between shows watching Raw on loop.
Worst: Kofi Kingston Classic
If you’re new to the Best and Worst of WWE Raw column, you may be familiar with my feelings on Kofi Kingston. Here’s a quick recap: I don’t think he’s a great wrestler, but I don’t have any really strong feelings about him. I give him grief a lot because I used to hate John Morrison, and when Morrison got fired I transferred it into Kofi. Most of it’s jokes. Some of it is him having the least believable offense since Shawn Michaels’ knife-edge chops.
The worst part about Kofi now is that he can’t seem to sustain any momentum, so every time he starts to do something cool or new he just stops, and reverts back to Kofi Kingston Classic. You know, the guy who can’t even get his leg behind his opponent’s when he does the SOS. The guy who takes like, 0.8 Killswitch to set up anything he does. The guy who bounces off the ropes to get a little velocity going, then stops and dances instead of using any of it. The guy who is way too easy to hate, regardless of how easily his athleticism could make him a fantastic wrestler. He’s the IDEA of a good wrestler because he jumps a lot. But he’s so almost there, and has been for what, five years now? Loving Kofi Kingston is like loving the Chicago Cubs. It’s just not happening, guys, I don’t care how much sense it makes in your head.
The Kofi/Swagger match was the same one we’ve seen a billion times, but it led to something pretty great:
Best: Zeb Colter, Rebel Rouser
Two great things, actually. The first was Drew McIntyre returning to Raw IN TRUNKS! All we need to do now is bring back his calligraphy entrance video, melodramatic song and (wishful thinking) ECW general manager Tiffany and we’re back on track. Drew Mac booting Big E in the face like a boss makes me want the McIntyre/Sheamus feud we should’ve been having for the last several years.
The other great thing was Zeb Colter practically willing a hot crowd reaction out of a WWE audience during a 3MB handicap match. He spent the entire time on the microphone running down Big E, and while that should’ve been a horrible thing, it was Dirty Dutch taking modern pro wrestling talkers to school. It’s phenomenal that they turned “racist uncle” into such a dynamic character, but I guess you’ve gotta be what you are cranked up to 11.
Also, a big Charles Foster Kane clap to WWE for giving us an actual Intercontinental Championship feud. The IC title, tag titles and Divas titles all need to become SUPER IMPORTANT in February and March so they can get on the pay-per-view of note in April. Also, all four of them need to go to Big E Langston.
(I’m sorry guys, I naturally type “Big E Langston,” it’s going to take a while for me to transition into the version for babies.)
Worst: Just To Make A Formal Statement On It, The Shortened Names Blow, But Whatever
Yeah, just to type it out-loud, it sucks that WWE turned Big E Langston into “Big E” and Antonio Cesaro into “Cesaro.” It wouldn’t be a big deal if it was a Bill Goldberg/Dave Batista thing where we’re just calling them that and still occasionally acknowledge their full names … they’ve just dropped them completely, because Antonio was too wimpy a name or whatever and you couldn’t have decided that back when you gave it to him in the first place. You should set these guys up for success from the day you sign them, WWE, not saddle them with something you hate and not worry about it again until they’ve worked through your shit and stuck around.
Best: Cesaro Vs. John By God Cena
Remember when Cesaro debuted, and Cena immediately told everybody he had huge nipples? Thank God that didn’t catch on.
WWE is kicking my ass with these TV matches lately, to the point that I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said “this is the best match you’re gonna see on TV all year.” If there’s a TV match better than Cena vs. Cesaro coming up, I can’t wait to see it. This was BOSS AS SHIT, and even the truncated YouTube version communicates that. Every second of it is great. It starts with Cena countering the giant swing with a Rocky-style sit-up and a DDT. That leads to Cena climbing the ropes and Cesaro sending him FLYING to the floor with a European uppercut, which I believe was the moment I went from “wow, this is good” to “I AM GOING TO STOP MULTITASKING AND WATCH THIS TO DEATH.”
THAT leads to the awesome Michael Elgin-borrowed deadlift vertical superplex from the ring apron, which I refuse to let stop impressing me. Cena gets an STF, and most wrestling brains go “oh okay here we go, Cena wins,” but nope, Cesaro gets so close to the ropes that Cena breaks the hold and tries to drag him back to the center of the ring by his leg and his HAND. How often do you see that? It felt like a weird little realistic touch, and amazingly it was there to give Cesaro leverage to counter up into the giant swing. Whoever put this match together knows what they’re doing, and I’m gonna be adult enough to say it was Cena having fun with Cesaro’s ridiculous strength and athleticism … the announcers put way too much effort into talking about how Cena and Cesaro are “cut from the same cloth,” and while they ended up contradicting themselves because they’re horrible at speaking and human thought, they’re right. These are the two most impossibly fit, impossibly strong guys in pro wrestling, period. They can do things human beings shouldn’t be able to do. That doesn’t translate itself into flips or dives or hyper-speed, but they know how to do anything they want to do, and could lift you and throw you into the sun without a damn fraction of effort.
And we haven’t even started talking about the goddamn LARIAT SEQUENCE. Cesaro goes for a Neutralizer, allowing Cena’s Attitude Adjustment From Out Of Nowhere to actually make sense for once, and not just be Cena hopping to his feet and hitting it like a super hero. Cesaro’s finish puts Cena in place to hit his. Perfect chemistry. But NOOOOPE, Cesaro ain’t going out like that, so he flips out of it, lands on his feet — maybe it DOES translate to flipping — and MURDERS Cena with a boot to the face. ANY of this could’ve been the finish.
Then, my favorite moment: Cesaro hits that boot and keeps running, so Cena muscles up and LARIATS him, which is not a Cena thing to do. If John Cena can adapt his style as he ages and borrow Japan’s “old bastard” gimmick, he will be my favorite wrestler in the world. Stop doing the jumping leg drop and the five-knuckle shuffle and just start facewashing and clotheslining dudes because you are a cagey veteran who HATES THEIR YOUTH.
Cena’s roll into the Attitude Adjustment wasn’t totally smooth in execution, but it was smooth in style, and this is so the John Cena that needs to exist on a weekly basis. This guy has always had the capacity to be one of the best wrestlers in the world — not just the most popular or successful, the best at WRESTLING — he is just a victim of his own character, popularity and in-ring sloth. He does what he does because it works. There’s rarely any art to it. But when there IS art to it, who the hell is better at art than Cena? It’s dangerous. When the guy puts in a sincere effort, he is top-effing-shelf.
Best match. Thank you for this.