– Oh, hey, I’m back.
Before I start with the last Best And Worst Of WWE Raw column of the calendar year, I want to let Bill Hanstock and Justin O’Connor know how much I appreciate them filling in on the Best And Worst Of WWE TLC ’11 and Best And Worst Of WWE Raw 12/19 reports respectively. You guys are hilarious and I’m lucky to call you my friends. I could outsource this column every week and nobody would notice or care.
– P.S. please care. Leave us a comment if you watched the show and/or read this report. When you’ve done that (or possibly before), click that “like” button over the banner image and/or share it along. I’d really appreciate it, and if you do it enough times I can give you a sappy blurb about FRIENDSHIP~ in the pre-show notes.
– I’d also like to formally congratulate Twitter users @Methusael86 and @ImGoingCrazy. You’re the two randomly selected winners of our WWE Vengeance “retweet this and win 50 bucks” contest. You retweeted and won 50 bucks. Shoot me a message on Twitter and I’ll get you a check in the mail, because I’m old school and want you to see my racist-ass Cleveland Indians Chief Wahoo checks. If we can get this back up to 150 comments I’ll give you guys another shot at cash. Yes, I’m bribing you.
Well hell, let’s get to it. The last Best and Worst of the year starts after the jump.
Best: Mr. Excitement Is The Best In The World
Five great things about John Laurinaitis in last night’s opening segment:
1. John Laurinaitis doing CM Punk’s entrance perfectly, including shouting “IT’S CLOBBERIN’ TIME!” so somebody who posts on a wrestling message board but doesn’t really pay attention can remember that from comic books and post “lol did he say it’s clobberin’ time? like the thing?” and having people respond with I THINK SO even though it happens on every episode.
2. WWE book-ending their time away from Chicago with the most and least serious uses of “Cult of Personality” ever.
3. Laurinaitis having to adjust his “Best In The World” shirt after miming Punk’s entrance because he’s wearing it over his suit like he’s f**king Goldust trying to sneak up on Booker T at a 7-11.
4. Laurinaitis avoiding all heel posturing and launching directly into his “my name is John Laurinaitis” thing without hesitation, lending credence to his suggestion that he’s making an homage and not trying to be insulting. In fact, this gets a double best because of the time Punk did the very same thing to Jeff Hardy, only Punk’s was laced with vitriol and followed immediately by a speech about how everybody who like Jeff Hardy sucks.
5. …and that’s one of the very best things about Johnny Ace. He is an absolutely revolutionary character for wrestling television in 2011 because he’s a heel clearly doing heel things for heel purposes but not trying to make it obvious. It’s amazing that a little character tuning like that could seem revolutionary, but after a solid 15 years (at least … we could probably push it to 20) of every wrestling bad guy screaming YOU PEOPLE or EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU or IT WAS ME AUSTIN IT WAS ME ALL ALONG it’s nice to have a guy who’s an asshole but doesn’t revel in you knowing it. It’s on the surface enough for a WWE crowd to pick up on it and it’s forthright enough for CM Punk to get pissed about it, but it’s also hidden enough for a guy like me to type “CM Punk is being a jerk, he should respect his boss, John Laurinaitis is doing what he thinks is best for the WWE Universe” and have it be total heel homering but still A COMPLETELY LEGITIMATE STATEMENT. It’s like when the Horsemen nailed limos full of women and bitched out Ricky Morton for only appealing to girls in training bras — they’re being total pieces of shit about it,but they’re right.
I love being able to see Laurinaitis play a character like this, because it justifies years of wondering how a wrestler that bad could have a wrestling job this good.
Best: All Japan Tapes
I’m not jaded enough to hear “All Japan” on WWE television and not mark out a little for it, but if Punk isn’t careful those references are going to backfire on him. Laurinaitis has started to turn some of Punk’s internet faithful into Ace-holes (© TNA Wrestling), and if Punk really wants real talk back for his insults he’s going to run out of room to smirk. Examples include:
My friend Urs:
If Johnny L ever needs a training video for a match with Punk, I hope WWE shells out the dough for some 90s AJPW clips. “Hey Punk, I know you like to namedrop stuff from Japan, here’s a little video package of me pinning a bunch of people you may have heard of.” Do it on the day Misawa died for extra points.
My friend Brian:
“Of the two of us, only one was a playable character in Virtual Pro Wrestling 2. Who was that, again?”
Bill Simmons a different guy who writes for Grantland:
Best, Maybe: Is It Still Beginning
Next week we find out if the cryptic IT BEGINS videos are for the return of Chris Jericho, The Undertaker, sea monster Batista, Kharma, Kevin Thorn, Mordecai, Phantasio, Seven, Festus Kane or any number of other supernatural or Blair Witch-related pro wrestling entities. Wrestling has taught me that the Millennium Countdown sometimes ends with a big JERICHO on the TitanTron, but that the mysterious laughing sometimes ends with Chucky challenging Rick Steiner to see his new movie Bride Of Chucky. It could be good or bad, but at least it will finally be something.
Unless John Laurinaitis decides to hold off on The Beginning so the little kid in the blazer can be “even more angry”.
And yes, typing “kid in the blazer” made me wish it was Owen Hart returning from a worked death, too. That’d be worth it to see Bret do an I’M OLDDDD Jennifer from Back To The Future II paradox faint.
Best AND Worst: What Is This, WCW?
I don’t have a lot to say about Booker T vs. Cody Rhodes, so I’m going to divide it into sub-categories.
Best: Almost all of it. Booker T hasn’t lost a lot and Cody is great, and it made me happy to tune into Raw and see a wrestling match happening without a lot of badgering. They have a very basic personal issue, and sorta-long matches on TV like this are the perfect place to play them out. I liked that it had a clean finish. I liked Jerry Lawler having a stroke mid-sentence trying to explain how wrestling isn’t a team sport, like baseball, where you have nine guys and nickels have bumblebees on them and you say “gimme five bees for a quarter”.
Worst: I’m not 100% on why retired announcer Booker T needed to get a clean win over the Intercontinental Champion (on the same night when a guy who just lost the United States Championship beat the WWE Champion to get a shot at the WWE Championship, blergh), but I guess in the WWE Universe championship belts zap your strength and you’re just stronger without them.
But yeah, a good, long match that ends with an old guy beating a young guy and dancing on his grave reminded me way too much of WCW.
Worst: Zack Ryder, You Are The Greatest Man I’ve Ever Known
This segment makes me feel weird. Like, I think a good indicator that a segment has veered into the uncanny valley of human interaction is when I stop paying attention and start saying KICK HIS ASS, CENA, COME ON out loud to no one in particular despite there being a 0% chance of it happening. It happened sometime around “what about KANE BRO”, which (if I’m remembering correctly) happened about 14 minutes into the 90 minute segment. I feel like maybe WWE should experiment with letting characters approach each other and speak to each other like humans and avoid any situation where Zack Ryder purses his lips and nods his head as John Cena walks away. Because, uh, that doesn’t scream “friendship built on respect” to me and plays closer to a predatory sexual situation than anything involving Ryder and Eve.
Also I feel like fewer people should be telling Zack Ryder how wonderful he is. I mean, not that his accomplishments don’t have merit, he’s just a skateboard dunk away from being the Original Dog From Hell.
Best: Oh, Hey, The Hart Dynasty
If you look at the preview pic without clicking play, it looks like Eve has been possessed by Zuul.
But hey, how much did I temporarily mark for Tyson Kidd showing up as Natalya’s mixed tag team partner last night? A little! Kidd has been working his ass off in the Earth-2 that is NXT (an Earth-2 you should really be watching … more on that later), and it’d be nice from time to time to see him or Yoshi Tatsu or Derrick Bateman
or Titus O’Neil or Darren Young or… Eli Cottonwood? Who the hell else is on that show show up to take a loss to Punk or Cena instead of Jack Swagger. The Hart Dynasty were a dangerously untapped thing that never got to grow outside of “we’re holding Bret Hart’s arms so he doesn’t stroke on the ramp and roll down to the ring”, and outside of Harry Smith refusing to stop pumping himself up with Nickelodeon Gak or whatever they had a bright future.
Sadly the tertiary Worst here is that Natalya’s present is “lose to whoever as quickly as possible” and the Rough Rider might as well be the goddamn Steiner Screwdriver so this was over pretty quickly. Still, though, good to see a fresh face on Raw.
Worst: Watching Eve Torres With My Parents
My parents flew into Austin to spend the week of Christmas with me. They’re both wrestling fans from childhood and gave up watching regularly sometime around the death of WCW, but getting them to watch wrestling with me is an easy sell. Thankfully this wasn’t one of those weeks where Mark Henry gets into the Hot Tub Time Machine or Big Dick Johnson lubes up and tries to Surprise Buttsex somebody, but Eve’s Coochie-Popping Moonsault was an interesting thing to explain.
As Eve entered I said outloud, “oh great, Eve” (I do this when I’m by myself, mind you) and went into a lengthy explanation on how she moonsaults onto her hands with her body at a 45-degree angle and so on and so forth, but I left out the thing about how she basically stinkfaces you by wafting her butt around before the standing moonsault and the room got really quiet when she busted it out. I wanted to connect the move to what does or doesn’t constitute “13” on a TV-PG program and explain how contextually it’s a step up from Kelly Kelly’s puckered-asshole bootscrapes, but all I could muster was “that’s a stupid thing she does”.
Best: Watching Zack Ryder With My Parents
They also watched Smackdown with me, which was their introduction to Zack Ryder.
My dad has cheered for Dusty Rhodes for something close to 40 years, so I got to explain how great Cody had gotten and how he looked like his mom but lisped like his dad. That led to a fun “whatever happened to Dustin, is he still wrestling” conversation, and we spent most of the Rhodes/Ryder match talking about Dusty calling Big Bossman “bubber” and the Benoit/Sullivan Falls Count Anywhere match where Big Dust is so great on commentary and “he got a bicycle!”. Somewhere near the end, my Dad looks at the screen and asks, “so he’s just wrestling a chump, right” and looks back at me with a smile.
I love my dad.
Best: Those Wonderful Days Before We Said Jobber
Here’s a question for the comments section: before you knew a bunch of wrestling jargon, what’d you call jobbers? This tends to vary by region. We always called them chumps.
Worst: I Have Seen The Dudebusters And You Sir Are No Dudebuster
(I feel like I’m on Tumblr.)
Worst: Big Show And Kelly Kelly, Or “The Mouse Would Explode”
The five best parts of this segment:
1. Kelly Kelly randomly showing Big Show a website about beauty tips on her (?) iPad comes very close to CM Punk and Ted DiBiase discussing tattoos on the “two wrestlers have to be talking amongst themselves to set up this segment” scale of horrible improv. They should start a segment next week where Kelly’s pointing to the iPad and going, “ummm and here they eat the poop, and then they take turns vomiting into each others’ mouths” and the camera pans back and Teddy Long is just standing there with his eyes bugged out.
2. Big Show wearing a WWE jacket like the one your grandpa might pick out from the WWE Hall Of Fame gift shop.
3. Kelly Kelly wearing a WEST COAST CHOPPERS CORSET, which is a thing that exists, apparently. Maybe she showed up wearing a WWE jacket and the producer was all SHIT THAT’S WHAT SHOW’S WEARING, DOES ANYBODY HAVE ANY CLOTHES and Stephanie McMahon fished that out of her gym bag.
4. WWE organizing a segment around Scott Armstrong going NAW ‘SIMPORTANT YOU GOTTA GO just to get Kelly Kelly on screen for 30 seconds.
5. Big Show and Kelly Kelly flirting, which reminds me way too much of Rose Nylund standing on a wharf with a megaphone talking about how the brown bear and the field mouse can share their lives and live in harmony, but they can’t mate because the mouse would explode.
[insert joke about Kelly Kelly here]
Worst: Don’t Worry Brodus, You’re Already Booked For Royal Rumble 2017, Pinkie Swearz
And the three best things about the follow-up segment:
1. David Otunga looking up beauty tips on his iPad, that he bought with money he made from being a lawyer, because college.
2. The fact that John Laurinaitis and Otunga have literally spent the last what, six months talking amongst themselves about Brodus Clay’s debut on Raw, and how weird it is that they’re never going to actually do it.
3. Otunga derisively shutting his coffee thermos in anger when Big Show mentions he could beat him with one arm tied behind his back.
Of course, no number of good aspects can earn a “one arm tied behind my back” mention a Best, as it is the Birthday Cake of things you should never say under any circumstances in a pro wrestling arena. In fact, has it ever been said as a boast without someone going WAIT A MINUTE with a cartoon light bulb over their head? It worked for Laurinaitis’ thing of doing the most boring, expected thing and assuming it’s a creative masterstroke, but lord, I don’t want to see Big Show wrestling with two functioning arms, much less wearing some bastard equivalent to the blindfold match on his wrist.
Worst: John Cena Is Still Not Getting To The Point
I don’t ever want to hear John Cena mention that there are SOME PEOPLE OUT THERE who don’t like him. Guess what? The fact that you won’t stop being passive-aggressive about it and STF somebody’s throat out over it has turned ME into one of those people out there who don’t like you. You are saying nothing and doing nothing and it is excruciating.
Worst: John Cena Vs. Miz Is So Boring You May Forget Wrestling Is Happening At All
I think my brain left my head and traveled to f**king Narnia during this part. It was the wrestling equivalent of Cena’s promo, only eight times shorter.
Best: A Good R-Truth
Okay, I don’t think a babyface R-Truth is going to work either, but I’m happy to have a character who’d punch Miz in the face while yelling THE WORSE PART A CHRISTMAS IS WHEN YOU OPEN PRESENTS AND THEN THEY AIN’T NONE or whatever. If Truth is a man of his word and beats up Miz for 52 straight weeks it will be glorious. They can start with him interrupting segments and matches, and when Miz figures out a way to avoid that (suggestion: Ray Rowe as a fake security guard to stand between them) Truth can resort to Jung Dragons-style sneak attacks. Then he starts jumping Miz in the parking lot, and eventually he’s burning down Miz’s house and cooking his pets and shit. It would be amazing.
Unfortunately I think they’re going to do what everyone expects (Truth will try to beat Miz up next week and they’ll just get separated and somebody will make a match for Royal Rumble). I just hope the LOL TRUTH pipe bomb video package from the Slammy’s and his pseudo-babyface beatdown of Miz here doesn’t lead to him going Full Santino and yelling USED TO IS A ROOSTER FROM BREWSTER to a pop and doing splits and hip tosses with a smile on his face.
Worst: None Of This Made Sense
It didn’t. Everything it set out to accomplish either backfired or was ignored.
Cena came to the ring to call out Kane. They even had pre-commercial graphics about how we couldn’t miss it. Then he didn’t call out Kane at all and spent five minutes talking at length about how the magical people of Chicago are salty to him. His words, not mine. He’s interrupted by The Miz, who speaks confidently about how he’s a great wrestler who should be Cena’s focus, then does a complete 180 and blows off the match he invited himself into after AN IRISH WHIP to walk around the ring to reiterate the stuff he’d already said on the stage. Then R-Truth interrupts and attacks Miz, and Cena just sorta dissipates into the f**king ether and forgets about the whole “Kane tried to choke me to death with my own blood” deal. The segment ends with Miz picking his nose.
Best: David Otunga, Master Of Tropes
Otunga’s last month of televised wrestling matches saw him get pelted in the head with Christmas presents by Randy Orton and be outfoxed™ by a one-armed giant. He’s like the most esoteric death match worker ever, except instead of “let’s build a log cabin out of light tubes” his bosses say “lift weights for a year so we can have someone choke you briefly with a wreath”.
I don’t understand it, but he should only compete in sketchy stipulation matches he assumes he can win. Like, put him in a scaffold match against Hornswoggle and you assume he’s just gonna walk up and use his giant body to shove Swoggle’s little Perry the Platypus-shaped ass to his death but OH NO KING LOOK SHEAMUS HAS SOMEHOW GOTTEN ON TOP OF THE SCAFFOLD and then boom Brogue Kick and a coffee and shredded tweed stain on the ring.
Worst: OH NO KING NOT ANOTHER BRIEF DISTRACTION
WWE’s penchant for ending everything with a distraction reached critical mass here as now wrestlers are using it as a defense against itself — Mark Henry interrupted Show and Otunga’s Dreamslam classic to help Otunga get the win, but then Daniel Bryan showed up with his own musical interlude to distract HENRY, allowing Big Show to chokeslam Otunga (?). I don’t want to keep griping about this every goddamn week, but guys, as much worth as a distraction or a count-out or a disqualification finish has, you kill it by doing it non-stop, over and over in nearly every match on nearly every show. Nobody cares when it happens now because it always happens. If wrestling was nothing but snakes biting guys on the arm nobody would give a shit about that time Jake the Snake attacked Macho Man. Make me think “wow, that’s not something he should be doing” instead of “why are they still being distracted, this happens all the f**king time”.
In fact, just last week on NXT I assumed we’d seen the meta end to the trope. Kaitlyn (who never had her heel turn aired and showed up slappin’ handz like nothing happened, so I guess we’re still Busting Chicks) wrestled Maxine, and without explaining the Scrooge McDuck’s Family Tree that is NXT romance, Derrick Bateman showed up to sing The Righteous Brothers to Maxine and inadvertently cost her the match. And he made this face.
That’s the end of it, right? Sorta like how Bateman perfected and killed off the backstage date segment with the Bella Twins. He crossed “interrupt the match for a stupid reason and cause someone to lose” off the list and now it’s too ridiculously self-aware for anyone to use with sincerity. WHY IS IT STILL SHOWING UP. WATCH YOUR SHOWS, WWE.
Anyway, here’s that full segment in case you want to see what I’m talking about/stare at Kaitlyn’s quads.
Best?: Speaking Of NXT, Whatever Happened To Daniel Bryan And A.J.
I guess the upside of taped programming (and the downside of leaked spoilers) is that you can sorta rewrite history, so if Kaitlyn never turned on A.J. to join Pin-Up Strong, does that mean the A.J./Daniel Bryan nerdmance has been retroactively erased from WWE history
like in Back to the Future? Not that I want Daniel Bryan stealing my sassy dream bride, but still, bottom-of-the-totem-pole characters were having on-screen stories told and I’d rather see her standing around for 30-40 seconds of television and going “nah you did great!” than nothing.
Worst: Speaking Of NXT, Whatever Happened To Kaval
Best: Alberto Del Rio In A Wheelchair And Everything That Comes With It
If you read this column you knew this Best was coming, and in spite of the racist commenters who won’t agree, gimpy Alberto Del Rio grimacing at a crowd who doesn’t respect his torn groin while Ricardo Rodriguez wears a neckbrace and pushes him around in a gold leopard-print wheelchair is the greatest thing. I don’t care if you think Del Rio is “overpushed” or whatever, if you can’t laugh at an aristocrat lowered to holding his dick for the enjoyment of a gaggle of trashy assholes I don’t know what to tell you. Even Lawler got in an amazing burn, listing off the specs of Del Rio’s chair like it was one of his luxury cars.
It was character-driven comedy on a pro wrestling show. That’s awesome. I’m surprised they didn’t bring out Mae Young and have her go ALBERTAAA and accidentally sit on his lap.
Best: Punk In Chicago
I adore the relationship between CM Punk and Chicago, and wish more wrestlers were allowed to have that sort of connection. It’s part of what I love about independent wrestling — when I’m watching a show in Austin, a lot of people on the show are FROM Austin, and there’s a feeling of community that sorta bubbles up and fuels the shows … so when a guy like Robert Evans finds his way to CHIKARA or Ring Of Honor, he feels like one of “our” guys, even though he’s from Canada. It’s why I donated $25 to Beyond Wrestling to get ACH to the East Coast. Not because I think it’s cool to like wrestlers nobody’s ever heard of or make references you don’t get, it’s because I love what I get to see here and I want to show it to the world.
That’s what Punk gets to do with Chicago. He wears the flag on his underpants, for Christ’s sakes. Instead of being humiliated or having Vince pull props out of his ass in a skit every time they roll through, Punk gets treated top shelf, and even when he was a dastardly heel (which I still sorta think he is, secretly) he didn’t pull a bunch of I’M ASHAMED TO SAY I’M FROM CHICAGO shit like most guys. WWE employs so many people from so many places, imagine if they let every wrestler show his pride like that? They could have fan engagement as strong as the one in Chicago or Rey Mysterio in San Diego across the country. Let Heath Slater be huge in West Virginia because he’s the only guy FROM there and Jamie Noble sucks. Let Miz LOVE Cleveland, not feel like he has to insult it.
(edit: actually that is a pretty realistic Clevelander)
Worst: The Easily-Felled Jack Swagger
I’ve expressed it before, but one of my least favorite things about wrestling is when guys get put into gauntlet or Royal Rumble or elimination matches of whatever kind and suddenly can’t take more than a move and a half without collapsing and dying. Punk’s kick to the head DOES have a legitimacy to it (in that kicks can unexpectedly knock you out, not that Punk’s kicks look good) (because they really don’t) (just saying), but it’s a shame to see Jack Swagger go down to the match’s first solid blow.
I was hoping that we’d continue the “Punk is a ring general” thing from TLC and have him advance through the guys in the gauntlet using his brain, not just thigh-kicking them over and over until he can hit Go To Sleep. I wanted him to, I don’t know, wait for Swagger to choke him in the ropes 20 seconds into the match and then hold Jack’s arms and make a bunch of gagging noises and convince the ref that he didn’t break at 5. Something like that, I don’t know, I don’t want to get my fantasy booking all over you, I just more readily buy that the stringy 200-ish pound world champ of no great power or submission prowess could get over on these guys with his mind more realistically than with his kickpads.
Best: Dolph Ziggler’s Catapult Of Doom
It happens at the 8:40 mark in the video. Ziggler, man #2 in CM Punk’s gauntlet match, goes for a dropkick. Punk counters it into a catapult into the corner, historically one of the worst moves in wrestling. It’s that thing where you grab the guy like you’re gonna Boston Crab him but put your knees in his ass like a fulcrum. You fall back, and your opponent stands up slowly and awkwardly hops headfirst into the turnbuckles. It looks terrible 95-ish percent of the time.
Last night, Dolph Ziggler redefined the catapult by springing up and colliding with the top buckle like he’d been shot out of a f**king cannon. It was magic. I know a lot of independent wrestlers who make sure to comment about how Ziggler is a terrible wrestler who doesn’t know what he’s doing, but Jesus, I just don’t see it. He paints wrestling in broad strokes, and while I could see his selling eventually becoming the Matt Striker On Commentary of wrestling pratfalls, I don’t know, I feel like I need my strokes to be broad. Maybe that’s why I like joshi.
Ziggler is awesome, and I’ve yet to be thoroughly convinced otherwise. He does wrestling well the way I’d like to see wrestling be done well. He deserved that victory lap around the ring with the WWE Championship and a Money In The Bank-style blown kiss to a sour-faced CM Punk whether he only gets that aborted sorta-reign with the World Heavyweight Championship on his resume or not. I don’t want to see him do anything stupid like beating Punk for the strap next week, but I hope Ziggler gets three things in the remainder of his career:
1. A name change, because Christ, still?
2. A run on top, and to not get stuck in that Hennig/DiBiase role of having to make the Hogans and Bossesman look like wrestlers.
3. A chance to admit he’s from Cleveland
Best: Accidental Heeling
Like I mentioned on page 2, John Laurinaitis excels as the evil heel who will pretend like he’s doing the right thing until he’s dead in the ground. His ejection of Swagger and Guerrero for their interference, a babyface act, completely ruining Punk’s chances of winning the gauntlet and getting a match with him, as heel as the day is long, was masterful. He knows what he’s doing, and hopefully he won’t have to change it up when everyone comes around to knowing it too.