– Comments, shares, likes, what-have-you are greatly appreciated. I’m like [ ] this close to expanding the Best And Worst brand™ into a regular second column (be it Smackdown, Impact or The Best And Worst Of Dragon Gate Infinity, which only I would read), so if you can help me take a few more steps forward in popularity, I’ll pay you back in jokes. Or Akira Tozawa matches. One or the other.
– Thanks as always to Casey/THESTINGER of Hammerlock Dialectic for GIFs.
– We’ve got an exclusive interview with EVE TORRES going up tomorrow on With Leather (no joke), so if you read this column, make sure you check back for it on Wednesday. It’s going to be real.
– My trip to WrestleMania XXIX is officially being planned, so if you’re anywhere near the New York/New Jersey area and want to be Wrestling Bros In The Snow with me next April, start scheduling it now.
Anyway, please click through to enjoy the Best And Worst Of WWE Raw for October 15, 2012.
Best: Daniel Bryan Is The Best
You know how I know that Daniel Bryan is my favorite wrestler? I love him unconditionally.
I’ve never been able to just be HAPPY for wrestlers before. My favorite wrestler for the longest time (the longest, longest time) was Chris Benoit, and that was roughly a decade spent holding my head in my hands, wondering why he’s losing to Scott Hall or whoever in two minutes on Nitro. I loved Chris Jericho, but only as a heel … babyface Chris Jericho was the worst. Same with The Rock. Nation Rock and Guitar Rock make my heart swell, but good guy track-pants-and-kung-pao-bitching Rock is worse than any wrestler I consistently hate. I preached the gospel of CM Punk for years, then pulled back when he started calling people ugly dorks for WWE Universe Face Pops.
I don’t do that with Daniel Bryan. He was great as a plucky 11-year old (or whatever) in Memphis. He was great as an ROH founding father, wrestling in tighty-whities. He was great as a becloaked hobo, getting stabbed in the face with a fork by Homicide. He was THE BEST IN THE WORLD as ROH Champion. When the braintrust behind season 1 of NXT decided his WWE gimmick should be “loses constantly, is not a wrestler,” I watched him wrestle with a smile on my face, because even a 30 second loss to David Otunga was a Bryan Danielson match on television. He was great feuding with the Miz. He was great as a ladies man, randomly. He was great as a guy trying to be noble about the Money In The Bank briefcase, then progressively greater and greater as a guy who had to have the World Heavyweight Championship and had to celebrate about it.
He was great in inspiring 70,000 people to chant “YES” in support of him after 18 seconds of WrestleMania. He was great running with that, turning it into whatever, doing wacky romance angles and backstage therapy skits that SHOULD have been total shit, but weren’t, because DANIEL BRYAN. He’s great as The Tag Team Champions. He’s so great, a guy I didn’t like for 14 years (Kane) is suddenly one of my favorite people on the show. And here, he’s great filling out an important NPC role in The Big Show’s championship story, getting all fired up and making a largely complacent Raw crowd freak the hell out over his comebacks. He’ll be great at the next thing he does, too.
Some kid got his dad to pay like 10 bucks for a paper cutout of a goat’s face on a popsicle stick so he could have nationally-televised fun with the same guy I watched stretch Kenny King in an armory in Cleveland. Daniel Bryan is the Best with a capital B, because without him, I wouldn’t know what to compare everyone else to.
Extra Best goes to Big Show here for his hilarious dismissals of Sheamus throughout the show. From his “I’M GONNA KNOCK HIM OUT AND KILL HIM SO WHAT BIG WHOOP WANNA FIGHT ABOUT IT” opening speech to his “HE FELL OVER! HE FELL OVER, HE’S CLUMSY!” after screwing up the Sheamus/Wade Barrett match, Show was on point all night. I really hope he takes the strap at Hell In A Cell, because Sheamus can have these good television matches without having to carry around the belt.
Also Extra Best: Kane sticking up for his friend. ^__^
Worst: AJ Isn’t Generally Managing, She’s Just Agreeing To Shit
The set-up for this match made sense (Big Show needed revenge against a guy who’d previously humiliated him, and D-Bry is a tag team guy now, so he can take a singles loss right now without looking bad) and was funny (getting into Little Jimmy’s face, because it’s been proven that Daniel Bryan is the only other person who can see him), but General Manager AJ continues to be the worst person on the show.
It’s sad when someone makes you miss Teddy Long. Teddy was a horrible GM and deserves every tag team match/da Undatakah/Randeh Or’n/Celtic Warriah Sheamus joke you wanna give him, but at least he had the mild prestige of being around wrestling for the last 25 years. AJ’s just a lady who was right on the edge of losing her wrestling and valeting jobs completely due to poor performance/mental instability until Vince swooped in and made her one of WWE’s Several Bosses, so she has no job experience or know-how. She doesn’t seem to plan ANYTHING, she just waits for wrestlers to be mad at each other and swoops in with the easiest solution. It’s piss-poor. Every GM should have a modus operandi. Mike Adamle had Adamle Originals, Eric Bischoff had the Raw Roulette wheel, John Laurinaitis (God bless him) had People Power … what does AJ have? “Waiting until someone says the word crazy”?
Worst: Punk Had A Picture Of Samoa Joe Under That Sheet, Didn’t He
Here are the major problems I had with this segment:
1. I don’t like it when WWE main-eventers are clearly just stalling to take up television time. If you have something to say, go ahead and say it. If you need to set up a match, do so. But there was no reason for Punk to have a thing to reveal (he was making a decision, not an announcement), nothing for Punk to say other than “I choose _____” and nothing for us to react to but a decision that never came. Instead of doing this 15 minute segment, why not just have a graphic at the top of the show with Punk looking scared and an angry-face Vince reading PUNK DIDN’T MAKE A DECISION SO VINCE IS GONNA MAKE IT FOR HIM LATER TONIGHT? I know I’ve got a hard-on for communicating things through infographic, but come on.
2. What was the purpose of the thing under the sheet, exactly? He had to pick Ryback or John Cena. Did he go to Kinkos and print out a big poster-sized glossy of John Cena for the reveal?
3. As a quick reminder, they still haven’t explained how Vince got his day-to-day decision making operations job back yet after doing a big angle about him getting fired and replaced by Triple H. He just showed up acting confident a la George Costanza and nobody could call him on it.
4. Vince is mad that Punk was taking too long to pull a sheet off of a poster, so he revoked Punk’s ability to choose at all, then ALSO DID NOT MAKE THE DECISION HIMSELF and decided to TAKE TWO AND A HALF EXTRA HOURS TO TALK TO EVERYONE AND FIGURE OUT IT. Hey Vince, just powerwalk down to the ring and pull that sheet about a foot to the left. Problem solved.
Best: Ricardo Rodriguez Showing Ass To The Funkadactyls
The Alberto Del Rio vs. Brodus Clay match wasn’t anything special (besides ADR dismantling a big fat guy like a boss, and WrestleMania Pals exploding), but I love love loved Ricardo doing his Del Rio victory speech in front of the Funkadactyls and rubbing it in their faces. Shade thrown. They tried to get back on him, but he just smirked and wandered away. Best.
Ricardo makes Alberto Del Rio so much better. I like Del Rio a lot and think he’s got a greater in-ring value than WWE’s really taken advantage of, especially with a legitimate family dynasty backing him up, but Ricardo sorta completes him … turns him into a multi-faceted character, allows him to be more of a human being than a “rich guy” gimmick normally would. Let them stay friends forever, WWE. Don’t Virgil him.
Worst: Raw’s Weird Crowd Heat
Yeah, one of the worst parts of last night was the crowd, and I can’t decide whether it’s their fault or WWE’s.
They seemed pretty hot for short, pointless matches, then sat on their hands for the much better, slightly longer ones. It’s not like we’re talking 60-minute broadways here, they were dead for 8 minute tag matches. I dunno, I’ve been to the live shows before and understand how drained and spent you are after 2 1/2 hours of total darkness commercial breaks, but man, it makes for a terrible show.
WWE should put a John Cena Applause-O-Meter on the TitanTron throughout the show, and say that if audiences aren’t loud and fired up for the first two hours, the meter won’t fill up and John Cena’s music won’t start.
Best: The Three Megabytes
Truth #1: I hope that Zack Ryder and Santino Marella calling their team “CoBro” is just an excuse for an awesome comedy segment circa Royal Rumble where the Rock shows up as his guy from G.I. Joe and explodes them with lasers. Also, jeeps.
WWE should turn them heel, give Santino a new black mamba hand-puppet and design a Cloverfield-esque shirt for Ryder where the Statue Of Li-BRO-ty is missing its head.
Truth #2: Heath Slater’s posse has found the sweet spot between Three Count and 3 Live Kru, dressed up like they just left Guns N’ Roses Fantasy Camp and gave themselves a Horseman-like hand gesture. This is all amazing. Do not underestimate the power of a signature hand gesture. Wrestling doesn’t have enough of them these days. Cena kids are doing the “okay” hands and have no idea why.
As you might’ve guessed, my favorite part of last night’s show was 3MB invading/usurping a local bar to stand on stage and repeatedly count themselves in without playing (or even attempting to play) music. The guy who tries to bro-shake Jinder Mahal and turns it into a point a la Buck Showalter was also pretty outstanding. WWE needs to come back to Austin immediately and let 3MB run wild on 6th street. They are legitimately as musically talented as most of the people performing on 6th street already.
If WWE doesn’t have a 3MB shirt that looks like the 3M logo by this time next week, I am disappoint.
Worst: AJ Makes The Most Predictable Match Of All Time, But At Least Her Outfit Is Cute
I’m so mad about AJ’s character most of the time that I forget she’s hot fire, so allow me to take a moment to commend her on her Hot Topic chic (which I love, I’m not gonna front) before deriding her aggressively in 13 straight paragraphs for making a David Otunga-centric handicap match.
I was a little under the weather during last night’s show, and we’d gotten bored enough that Destiny was doing French homework during the Ryback match set-up. When Otunga walked out talking about Ryback, I leaned over without looking up from my phone and had the following conversation:
“You want to know what’s about to happen?”
“Ryback versus Ziggler and Otunga handicap match. Ziggler walks out in the middle of it, leaves Otunga to lose to Ryback.”
I’d love to brag about my psychic vegan powers and everything, but seriously, if you didn’t process this thought the second Otunga walked out, you haven’t watched enough wrestling. AJ made the most obvious thing in the entire world happen because that’s what she does, and WWE has such a clearly-defined hierarchy that Otunga’s entrance video could’ve been a flashing arrow pointing at him with TAKING THE PINFALL over it.
I would honestly prefer it if they didn’t set matches like this up. That’s why I love the Ryback jobber squashes so much. They’re telegraphed in a fun way, not in that terrible Raw way where you know the next five minutes are going to be terrible.
Best: Antonio Cesaro, King Of The 5-Minute Raw Match
For information on how to PROPERLY use five minutes of Raw, please consult United States Champion Antonio Cesaro. Cesaro is absolutely KILLING it with these semi-defenses against guys like Tyson Kidd and Justin Gabriel, making use of his TV time by constructing something memorable without it seeming forced or ridiculous.
Wrestling fans are like that, sometimes. Promotions focus on “big moments” and storyline swerves, but they’re rarely the parts you remember fondly. For example, when I met Stone Cold Steve Austin back in August, I didn’t say anything to him about shoving Mike Tyson and winning the title at WrestleMania XIV, driving a beer truck into the arena or Stone Coldly Stunnering Brock Lesnar and Goldberg at Madison Square Garden. I told him about the time during a random match in WCW where he clotheslined Dustin Rhodes so hard (and so many times) that my dad stood up, laughed and cheered. Little stuff like that. It stays with you.
That’s what Cesaro’s doing. I find myself vaguely following main-event storylines (mostly out of necessity, because I’ve got to write about them here), but when I think of Cesaro deadlifting Brodus Clay or catching Justin Gabriel out of a springboard with Swiss Death (or hell, rolling to the side to block the 450 splash by driving his shoulder into Gabriel’s stomach), I smile. He’s building a foundation. He’s not just dancing and making us clap our hands. When he faces guys like Daniel Bryan or Punk, it’ll be something, because we’ll be excited to see what he does next.
Also, do not ever let Antonio Cesaro stop recording pre-match speeches and vignettes.
Worst: God Forbid Matt Striker Attempt To Be Civil
Here’s a loosely paraphrased transcript of the conversation between AJ and Matt Striker.
Striker: “Hey AJ, I tried to interview two of the wrestlers you’re partially in charge of because that’s my job, and they took turns beating the shit out of me. I know Josh Mathews got weird about being assaulted on the job, and I don’t want to be an asshole, I just think you should probably get them to apologize because in literally any other job this would get them fired and sent to jail.”
AJ: “DID YOU CALL ME CRAZY”
AJ: “MATCH WITH KANE, BYE”
I feel like Striker should have done something other than get a “heh, we don’t respect you” response from his bosses before getting repeatedly beaten on their two major televised wrestling shows. If this was “building to something,” then sure, go for it, but it isn’t. Are Josh and Striker going to become a tag team? Why are the most popular wrestlers the ones who have gotten in best with management? That’s the most bizarre thing ever, especially in a company where “you wish you could punch your boss, too!” was the tagline for 12 years.
Best: It’s Gotta Be Kane
I didn’t enjoy the segment (or the match, really), but Kane deserves a best for being some magical new kind of Kane I love. I hope Kane sat down with WWE creative earlier this year and was all, “so hey, I’ve been this super boring murderer fire guy for a while and you really wrote me into some dog shit with this Cena/Eve/Zack Ryder stuff, so if it’s okay with y’all I’m gonna hang out with the best wrestler on the show and just f**k around and have fun and be good at wrestling until I’m ready to retire. Anyone who has a problem with this can talk to my FIRE HAND,” and then he did his arms up and down and everyone caught on fire.
It’s really interesting that Michael Cole and JR took the “Matt Striker should watch this when he wakes up, he might LEARN SOMETHING” instead of the more reasonable, “why are the wrestlers beating us up indiscriminately, somebody should stop this”.
Best/Worst: Sheamus Vs. Wade Barrett Got Pretty Good For A Minute, But It Was Never As Good As Last Week, And Also DQ Finishes Can Suck It
This is what I was talking about with the crowd heat. The match wasn’t as good as the one last week, which was tighter and snugger and all those words, but two things really hurt it:
1. Sheamus not really being “over” as much as “a guy we clap politely for, because he’s one of the guys we’re supposed to like”. Don’t get me wrong, the guy has been ACES in the ring for a long time and is having arguably the best pro wrestling matches on television in the world right now, but he’s the most Popular By Proxy guy they’ve ever consistently pushed. People like Sheamus, sure, but they don’t CARE about him.
2. Wade Barrett missing three major things:
2a) pro wrestling accomplishments besides an NXT season win and a muted IC title run for like two months last year
2b) decisive wins or losses ever
2c) a point
It seems harsh to say Wade Barrett doesn’t have a point, but from his comeback hype videos we were supposed to accept him as a guy who’d lost touch with his bare-knuckle fighting roots (by having a skybox, wearing a rose in his jacket, doing wrestling moves instead of punching, etc.) and reclaimed them by taking off his shirt and punching dudes as much as possible in the sewers of London. Right? That was the idea, wasn’t it?
Well, Wade’s pretty much exactly the same guy he was when he left, only with 50% less muscle mass and 50% more beard. And HE’S STILL NOT PUNCHING PEOPLE. He’s not even trying to do his dumb elbow to Sheamus, he’s trying to hit him with Wasteland. He should wander out on Raw next week in a Corre shirt and be all, “oh, right, sorry”.
So yeah. This is a match that could be really great with the right build and the right booking (and was already pretty good last week), so instead of running it on loop with screwy finishes, use this as a strong base for Barrett as Sheamus’ next challenger, or at least for something where he gets to punch a lot without anything on his hands.
Worst: Vince Being All Gulpy And Best-Friendy Over John Cena
Here’s the thing I like least about Vince McMahon: When he’s in the ring with CM Punk or backstage with Daniel Bryan, he’s all “lol you don’t look like wrestlers, why do I even employ you, you’re worthless, here, let me growl and hit you with canes”. He’s brash, threatening. “Mr. McMahon”. Then, when John Cena shows up, he is the clammiest, most terrified dude of all time.
That’s the part of the story they’re too afraid to tell, I think. They almost got there during the Summer Of Punk stuff last year, when Punk outed Cena as the Corporate Champion, a WWE dynasty Vince was afraid to anger or lose. Here we are a year later and Vince ends his phone call by looking up nervously, hanging up and greeting John one pissed pair of pants away from total servitude.
It’s like that at the end of the show, too. Vince is clearly just going to make it Cena vs. Punk, because that’s the only thing that would make John happy. Cena himself has to say “no Vince, it’s okay, I don’t have to have the match, let Ryback have it”. Only then can Vince be okay choosing Ryback. It’s weird, and if they were doing it on purpose it’d be pretty great. But Punk’s the bad guy now for the same shit he was a hero for last summer, so whatever.
Worst: Oh My God, Stop Telling Me About Layla’s Mom :(
I’m not giving this a worst because of the content of the ad, I’m giving it a worst because Jesus Christ, I was expecting Angus T. Jones and Alex Riley on a white background saying CANCER’S BAD, IT AFFECTS PEOPLE, not deep, sorrowful tears.
I don’t want to editorialize on this too much, but I think this (followed by the Divas match) was a good example of how WWE could really find deeper value in its performers by allowing them to be real, compelling people. How many of you watched Layla cry about her mom having breast cancer and felt something REAL for her for the first time? Something other than “she’s funny” or “she’s hot”? She was vulnerable and sincere, and if you want to make jokes about it that’s your prerogative, but I’d like to give her a hug and try to help ladies not have breast cancer.
Worst case scenario, it’s a better way to go about fundraising than “John Cena wears a pink hat he’s secretly ashamed of for two months”.
Best: Everything About The Divas Match (Except For The Finish)
I’m starting to get into Kane territory with Eve Torres. Not sure I’m prepared for that to happen yet, but here we go.
One of the most important things I hope you take away from however long you spend reading my goofy wrestling columns is that to be a good wrestling fan, you have to be able to watch the stuff you don’t expect to like, and not be afraid to change your mind. I speak in declarative sentences about wrestlers I like or hate, but the truth is that it changes with time, wrestlers become better or worse, and very few remain “liked” or “hated” in the same way forever.
Kane’s the biggest, most recent example of this. I legitimately hated Kane for like 11 years. He was right behind Rob Van Dam (a guy I used to really like, for the record) on my list of least favorite wrestlers. I occasionally gave him a pass for some of his more ambitious work (like his original, de-masked towel-on-head psycho run before Shane McMahon showed up and neutered it), but I was almost always ready to ignore him and write him off as a terrible, hossy part of the show. Something started to click with him this year, and if I was the wrestling fan a lot of people think I am, I would’ve ignored that and kept wanking dismissively whenever anyone told me he was getting better. But he is, and I can see that, and I need to say it.
As I said, I’m starting to get there with Eve. Her in-ring work is improving quickly now that she’s abandoned the WWE Face Diva moveset of one-footed dropkicks and shitty moonsaults, she’s done a lot of backstage stuff that rises above the crowd, and … I don’t know. She’s almost there. If she freshens up the gear, maybe changes her music (which is still lightyears better than Layla’s I NEED TO FIND A BOY subservience anthem) and keeps having okay-to-good TV matches like this one, I won’t be able to Worst her for much longer.
It’s the truth. The truth changes.
Worst: The Finish
But yeah, full-on barf at the FOOTROPES finish. It’s another in a long, long, long, long line of much-written about referee-centric finish choices, and I don’t understand it. Layla gets her foot on the ropes (awkwardly), Eve pushes it away before the three. The referee pretty clearly sees it, then sees it again on the big gigantic screen in front of him, but does nothing. Layla looks sad on the outside of the ring BECAUSE SHE LET DOWN HER MOTHER WHO DIED FROM BREAST CANCER OH MY GOD but nothing happens.
That’s just it. Nothing happens. FOOTROPES don’t accomplish anything. In the long long ago, they were to give bad guys cheap victories. If Eve had pushed Layla’s foot off the ropes before the three in 1985 it would’ve worked, but when you are literally WRESTLING IN FRONT OF A GIANT SCREEN THAT SHOWS EVERYBODY EVERYTHING, it’s stupid of the referee not to go “oh, shit, sorry, restart the match”. They have that power. We’ve seen them have that power. As is, the finish just makes everyone look like they’re in on some grand, stupid scheme to control wins and losses.
WWE Creative, I’mma let you finish, but “IT HAPPENED BECAUSE WE WROTE IT TO HAPPEN” is the worst excuse of all time. OF ALL TIME.