– This week’s title is a +1’d comment from With Leather reader Gratliff. If you don’t follow our live threads, you’re missing out on a lot of good stuff. I can only fit 10 of the 2,000ish comments in here.
– Before you read about what happened on popular TV, make sure you check out our latest attempt to get independent wrestling over with the mainstream comedy sports blog crowd — Mayhem In Motor City: How I Set Out To Recap A Chikara Show, And Wrote An Invitation To Independent Wrestling Instead. It’s about CHIKARA and feelings.
– Share the column please and thank you. It helps me keep my “make jokes about the wrestling” job.
Please click through for the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for June 23, 2014.
Best: Bad Guys Being Bad Guys And The Art Of Instant Empathy
If you’re a regular reader of the column, you’ll know I almost always side with the bad guys. I don’t know when it started happening. When I was a kid, my teen cousins were fans of the Four Horsemen, and I’d get red in the face when they’d pretend Flair DIDN’T cheat to beat Magnum T.A. and DIDN’T have referee Tommy Young in his pocket. Pure, honest indignation. How dare they not see what’s right in front of them?
The problem is that WWE far too often associates things like intelligence, ambition and successful interpersonal relationships with “evil.” They look to appeal to the broadest possible viewing audience, so the guys carrying the banner for the company have to represent those people. Most people are dumb. They have no ambition. They hate their jobs and their lives and don’t get along with anybody. They hate women and think racist jokes are funny. If you vomit all over somebody it’s nothing but deep belly laughs. So sometimes the bad guy says “I’m rich and have friends and want to win the championship,” and the good guy says “lol you’re Mexican I’m gonna eat a burrito and shit in your car.” It’s easier to live vicariously through one than the other when you’ve long stopped believing you’re capable of being a functioning adult human being.
One of the major reasons I decide to side with the baddies and throw shade at the half-assed good guys is because WWE’s doing it on purpose. I see them doing it on purpose. I know they’re doing it on purpose because they occasionally flip the roles and do it right, and those are the truest and best moments they do. Those moments are worth playing along and justifying the failures.
Since the beginning of the year, The Authority have been my favorite characters on the show. They’re jerks, sure, but I understand them. I see where they’re coming from. They make selfish decisions and put people into positions they don’t deserve, but they also say a lot right. The WWE World Heavyweight Championship SHOULD be stripped if the champion is unable to compete. Brie Bella IS a moron for quitting and being a sassy-ass on TV when it accomplished nothing. The bad guys on the show should be the ones who don’t make sense, at least not from the perspective of decent folks. Your Dr. Doom types THINK they’re noble, but they are very obviously wrong and misguided. WWE bad guys are usually just cool, dynamic people that don’t like the crowd, and I don’t think “what do I think of 12,000 collected wrestling fan strangers” should be the only measurable difference between good and evil.
Last night, we got one of the good moments.
The show started off with Stephanie McMahon punishing Vickie Guerrero for doing the one thing she was told not to do and letting Roman Reigns into the Money in the Bank battle royal. Now, stepping outside of wrestling logic for a second, if they don’t want Roman in the ladder match they (as owners of the company and the voices that control the stockholders and board of directors) should be able to say “yeah, no, we said you couldn’t be in this so the battle royal victory doesn’t count.” But whatever, wrestling. Anyway, Stephanie pulls the Vince McMahon power trip and not only makes Vickie get on her knees and beg for her job, but crosses several very distinct lines of decency by calling her worthless and insulting the Guerrero name. I’d like to think bringing up Eddie in a negative light is instant NOPE heat from anyone with a heart. Steph can’t leave well enough alone and ends up challenging Vickie to a match to save her job, and Vickie, God bless her, plants her feet and fights back.
This is pro wrestling done right. The bad guy is being evil. The person they’re asking us to be sympathetic to isn’t perfect and might have a history of being bad, but is right, god dammit, and isn’t going to take it anymore. It’s not about thinking you’re the only important person in the world and doing whatever you want … it’s about being put into an unreasonable, unwinnable situation and doing the right thing. It’s not “I’m gonna fire you” followed by a slap and “shut up I quit, watch me do taunts.” It was thorough, unforgivable cruelty and the passionate response of someone who truly had their back against the wall.
We’ve been there. And guess what? There’s not a single f*cking reason to back the bad guy.
Best: Fun Usos/Wyatts Singles Matches …
Worst: … That Are Over In About 90 Seconds
First, a huge supplemental Best to that zydeco version of ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.’ More wrestling themes should sound like Dancing Calbrena’s about to attack.
The singles matches between Luke Harper/Uso Player 1 and Erick Rowan/Uso Player 2 were fun while they lasted … the problem is that they each lasted about a minute. I know you need time for your Abraham Lincoln squash and your butterscotch pudding matches, but damn, we’ve got a tag team titles match coming up on Sunday. Are these guys really THAT helpless without their tag team partner? I guess I should be thankful that one didn’t win by distraction roll-up and the other didn’t end by purposeful count-out.
I’m hoping this isn’t an omen for Sunday’s match. There are only four matches announced as of this posting (the two Money in the Bank ladder matches, the tag titles match and Paige/Naomi for the Divas strap) so you’d think they’d give it a ton of time, but you know WWE and their love of shoehorning in six unannounced garbage matches to pad things out. Let’s not give an unannounced Rusev squash of Big E more time than the only two consistently operable teams in the tag team division, okay?
Best: Poor Baby Grandson Daniel Will Be At Money In The Bank!
NICE OF YOU TO SHOW UP.
I’m kidding. Fantasy booking: Kane wins the WWE World Heavyweight Championship ladder match, Seth Rollins wins the match for the briefcase. Daniel Bryan comes back around Battleground, challenges Kane for the championship at SummerSlam. After a hard-fart match, Bryan hits the running knee on Kane and pins him clean. Seth Rollins shows up out of nowhere, jumps Bryan from behind and drops him on his neck. Randy Orton shows up, Rollins hands Orton the briefcase and Orton cashes in, becoming the new champ. We then literally START OVER COMPLETELY and do a series of non-finish matches between Orton and Bryan culminating in a second title win in TWO ADDITIONAL MATCHES at WrestleMania 31. Confetti, happiness, etc. Christian can sub in for Connor The Crusher.
Best: AMERICA! WE ARE NOT IMPRESSED WITH YOUR ‘FBI’ SOUVENIR T-SHIRTS
I want to pitch a ‘Rusev And Lana In America’ road trip show for WWE Network where they just drive around to historical landmarks, stand in front of them in suits and condemn them for not being as good as the Russian equivalent. It always has to tie back to Vladimir Putin. “PEOPLE OF AMERICA, WE SEE YOUR SO-CALLED GRAND CANYON … IT IS AS LARGE AND EMPTY AS YOUR GOVERNMENT. YOUR WEAK AMERICAN LEADERS CANNOT EVEN FILL A GIANT HOLE. SPEAKING OF FILLING GIANT HOLES, VLADIMIR PUTIN.”
Okay, maybe that doesn’t work. Let me try it again.
“FOOLISH AMERICANS. RUSEV STANDS BEFORE YOUR CABAZON DINOSAURS WITH HIS BACK TO THEM. HE WON’T EVEN LOOK AT THEM. DINOSAURS DID NOT EXIST AND ARE JUST A MYTH PERPETRATED BY THE GREAT AMERICAN COWARD NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON. [pause for picture of Tyson projected on the side of a dinosaur] SHUT UP. RUSEV REMEMBERS YOUR WEAK AMERICAN FILM PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE AND WOULD CRUSH TYPICAL AMERICAN PEE-WEE HERMAN. YOU KNOW WHAT PEE-WEE WAS ARRESTED FOR? HE WASN’T MASTURBATING IN A THEATER TO DISAPPOINTING AMERICAN PORNOGRAPHY, HE WAS MASTURBATING IN A THEATER TO A STOCK PHOTO OF GREAT RUSSIAN LEADER VLADIMIR PUTIN!”
I’m still working on it.
Worst: A Good Match I Couldn’t Watch Because Of Cameron Commentary
Naomi vs. Alicia Fox might’ve been a good match. I wouldn’t know. I spent the entire time trying to force a shovel into my brain through my earhole to avoid another second of Cameron on color commentary. Holy shit. Remember when the Bella Twins would join commentary and just bury everything? Cole would be like “AJ goes for the cover” and the Bellas would respond with “BOTH OF THESE WOMEN ARE LOSERS HEY MICHAEL DO YOU WANT TO HAVE SEX WITH US I BET YOU DO, STOP PAYING ATTENTION TO THIS HORRIBLE WRESTLING, THIS SHOW IS STUPID, WE ARE SEXY?” Imagine that on repeat for four minutes.
That was the worst part: she didn’t have anything to say. Her points were “actually I’m gonna actually win the Divas title” and “actually you know what actually I have friends” and “actually how bout I do that how bout I do that.” Pure agony. The paper cutout of Summer Rae’s head on a stick has more thoughts and personality than Cameron. WWE, if you’re reading this, please differentiate “she’s being an effective heel” and “we are embarrassed for her and she sincerely should not be doing this.”
Worst: ‘SHE’S TOO OLD FOR YA, KING!’ Shouldn’t Be A Joke, It Should Be Evidence
Somebody get this guy another Mountain Dew and 10 more Dolph Ziggler elbow drops to the chest.
Best: Bo Dallas Is Figuring Out The Raw Crowd
A gimmick change isn’t what turned Bo Dallas from NXT’s least popular performer into a cult hero, it was his ability to understand his audience and tweak the way he said and did things to hit them in the right spots. For example, the NXT crowd was originally bothered by how bland Bo was. He was a … what was he, a cowboy? He had one leather glove and did a bunch of bulldogs. He was getting opportunities to be in the Royal Rumble while people like Kassius Ohno, Adrian Neville and Leo Kruger sat on their asses. Instead of pulling a CJ Parker and being all WHOOPS, NOW I’M A HIPPIE or whatever, Bo kept the exact same character and just started amping up the obliviousness. He went from being a guy who was booed because he was pointless and boring to being cheered for being a guy who was pointless and boring ON PURPOSE. The crowd got it. Bo continued to tweak it as he went, going from oblivious to oblivious and secretly evil, to being an outright scumbag who thinks his obliviousness still works.
He’s doing something similar on the main roster. When he first showed up, all he had in the tank was a bad smile, some thumbs up and a victory lap. He listened to the crowd response, which … wasn’t much. So he started hugging guys and telling them they’ll do better next time. Now he’s doing that but he’s cranked it up to 11, blaming himself when guys knock the microphone out of his hand and delivering legitimately funny material before the matches to clue people in on his gag. He’s letting them know and see that this is a purposeful decision, and not just a guy who sucks at stuff. The crowd’s LAUGHING, too. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a WWE crowd to laugh along with a guy they haven’t already liked for years?
Bo will never be the wrestler a guy like Sami Zayn is, and he may never have the character acting ability of his brother, but what he’s as good at as anyone is listening, learning and adapting. That’s going to take him a long way.
Worst: Triple H Still Doesn’t Know What Bad News Barrett Says
From last week’s column:
Triple H needs to know that “bad news” is the end of the statement. It’s not “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for ya!” It’s “[explain what the people are expecting, but] I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news!” “Bad news” has to be at the end. THIS IS A SCIENCE.
This week, Triple H is announcing five more wrestlers for the Money in the Bank briefcase match and when he gets to Barrett, he goes, “I’VE GOT SOME BAD NEWS FOR YA ROIGHT, HERE, ROIGHT HERE, HERE, ROIGHT ROIGHT YEAH.” If he’s not doing that on purpose to spite me directly I will eat my shoes. END THE BAD NEWS WITH ‘BAD NEWS,’ HIS NAME IS NOT ROIGHT HERE ROIGHT ROIGHT BARRETT.
Best: Rob Van Dam And Seth Rollins Had A Promo Argument And It Wasn’t The Worst Thing Ever
So here’s something surprising.
Seth ‘Trinity’ Rollins shows up to discuss the Money in the Bank participants and gets into a verbal altercation with Rob Van Dam. That should be the worst thing in the world, right? It … wasn’t. It wasn’t GOOD, necessarily, but they touched on everything they needed to touch on, which was
1. They’re both in the Money in the Bank match
2. Rob Van Dam hasn’t been good or relevant in years
3. Van Dam USED to be pretty good, so people still like him, and he was influential to flippy crashy burny guys like Rollins
4. Van Dam once won a Money in the Bank ladder match, so he’s worth considering as a winner in this one
5. Van Dam once f*cked up and almost killed Triple H by landing shin-first on his windpipe, so we might as well turn that into a cool thing he did on purpose
It’s everything I complain about, addressed. They have a reason to be arguing, they reference history, and they set up their character motivations for the match they’re about to have AND the Money in the Bank ladder match. No complaints. MAGIC!
Best: Ol’ Leatherpants Is On Fire
I’m sort of in love with The Shield breakup. I know, that’s even more absurd of me to type than “Rob Van Dam’s promo wasn’t horrible,” but here we are. Jean Ambrose is suddenly an uncontrollable madman now that he’s lost the thing that shackled him to his friends, Roman Reigns is easing comfortably into #2 Ethnic Babyface behind John Cena and is turning Sheamus into Jack Lemmon in Glengarry Glen Ross. Rollins is back to anchoring matches against babies that need an anchor, and he’s doing a killer job of it. He’s the glue, right? I guess he’s the glue for most things.
I like the rotating group of talented workers who are beating Van Dam in these Farewell Tour matches, and this match was as good as any of them. I do want to point out one gripe, though … a lot’s gonna be made of Van Dam’s sell of the Curb Stomp, which looked like this:
That’s all well and good, but scroll back up to the video and watch him get into position for it. 1:35. Rollins tosses him into the buckle with a powerbomb. What Van Dam needs to do here is ricochet down onto all fours to get into position for the stomp. Instead, he does the only sell Rob Van Dam does — holding his lower back with the back of his hand and wrist — and does this exaggerated Fred Sanford heart attack walk to the middle of the ring. Then he just falls down onto all fours for no reason. Terrible.
Two additional things:
1. People love a head spike bump, but they don’t work. They’re dangerous, sure, but they also don’t make any noise. If you take a move headfirst, you lose the sound of your body hitting the canvas, so unless the crowd immediately fills the dead air with OOOOHHHHH, it doesn’t play as well. You gotta go flat on DDT and snapmare driver bumps. Why do you think the RKO works like it does? If he was actually snapping guys down on their face they’d have their necks snapped with all that awkward body weight and it’d look like a total kill. Instead, guys magically hop in place and fall straight down with their legs out. Why? Because of the noise. That WHOOOM when you hit the canvas is what the crowd is gonna emulate.
2. I have such trouble calling Rollins’ finish the “curb stomp.” That’s not a curb stomp. This is a curb stomp.
Best: Is Dean Ambrose The Next Guy We Will Prematurely Compare To Stone Cold Steve Austin? (Yes)
I’m the king of hyperbole and instantly being in love with whatever stupid thing they throw at me so it might seem like I’m an asshole for saying this, but we should relax on the “is ____ the next whoever” jazz. People have been calling folks the Next Shawn Michaels and the Next Stone Cold Steve Austin for way too long. Jeff Hardy was the next Shawn Michaels. Randy Orton was the next Stone Cold Steve Austin, believe it or not. Everybody’s been the Next Somebody, but the value is in being the First Them. It means more to say Dean Ambrose is great at what he’s doing and bound for stardom than it is to say “will he be exactly as famous as this other famous guy?” The answer is no, of course not.
Austin wasn’t the next Hulk Hogan. He was completely different. Hogan wasn’t the next Bruno Sammartino. The Rock wasn’t the next anybody. Nobody was a rapping, child-loving Marine before John Cena. Any attempts to make one guy like the other have been terrible. See any time Cena’s tried to vandalize an authority figure’s car.
Besides, if Ambrose is the next anything, he’s the next Pillman. Hopefully only the good parts.
Best: Bad News Barrett Vs. Dolph Ziggler, Good Grief
This was SICK. One of the very best matches on free TV this year.
If you want to talk about guys being “used right,” this is guys being used right. I feel like I’ve explained it too many times, but here we go again: the difference Wade Barrett being an okay wrestler and Wade Barrett being an ace is the impact and severity of his offense. If he goes in there and does his awkward Rainmaker Bullhammer where he has to step across the guy’s body and hit them in the hair with part of his forearm, he’s lame. If he does the Wasteland and the guy just drops there and makes a sad face, he’s lame. If he does Winds of Change and his opponent doesn’t rush into it full force and really go all the way around, it’s nothing. The reason a lot of the matches with Orton weren’t great is because Orton isn’t the best when it comes to committing and really eating his opponent’s moves. Ziggler is PERFECT for that, because ALL HE DOES is eat moves.
People are gonna tell you that Ziggler’s not being “pushed” or whatever, but this is the A+ position for him. Ziggler is just a more publicly acceptable, region non-specific Heath Slater. His role is to leap into things and lean into strikes and spin all the way around when it’s time to be spun. It’s to scream and jump and die. It has nothing to do with being in the doghouse or how many concussions he’s had and when, it’s a wrestling promotion noticing that he’s way, way better at getting hit in the face with an elbow than he is walking down the ramp delivering a crowd pleasing promo, so here he is getting hit in the face with an elbow.
I loved this, because I have eyeballs. Listen to them on the mat at 1:19. “We’re hot, brother!” YEAH YOU ARE.
Best: ba ba ba ba ba ba ba ba baAAAOOOMMMMMMM
When Wade became Bad News they fixed the Bullhammer Elbow. Before, as I mentioned, it had a convoluted setup that never paid itself off. Now he just picks his spot and OBLITERATES dudes. ENDS them. Take, for example, Dolph Ziggler Stinger Splashes face-first into a bow and losing his gum in the process:
THAT is how you Dog Boner somebody. Beautifully done. Standing ovation all around, from the match opening YOUR LOCAL SPORTS TEAM IS RACIST declaration to the KO. Brother.
Best: Let’s Ask The WWE Universe What They Thought Of Dolph Ziggler’s Performance
What: Are Santino And Emma Getting Married Back There? Is Sin Cara The Priest?
On her way to the ring, Vickie passes Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston having a conversation. Woods is dressed like the Brawny paper towel guy and Kofi’s wearing headphones because he doesn’t want to talk to Xavier Woods. Vickie gets dragged into a backstage interview and interrupted by Randy Orton, but the important thing is the weird shit happening in the background: Santino Marella is wearing a suit, Emma is wearing a dress and Sin Cara is wearing HIS FULL ENTRANCE GEAR. Full-on sparkly Dracula cape and all. What could they possibly be talking about? Are they going to a wedding? Is that what Sin Cara wears to relax? Is he getting an estimate on a BRAZO DE SERPIENTE?
Worst: Let Jack Swagger’s Face Tell You How Much I Enjoyed This Kofi Kingston Match
If Kofi gets Ziggler Kicked at Money in the Bank, it’s his fault.
Best: Stardust Is The Greatest Thing In The Entire World
He’s got his own mood lighting, is singing Disney songs in a David Bowie voice and appropriate the Alexa Bliss glitter spray.
HOW IS THIS BETTER THIS WEEK?
Best: Rusev’s Continued Dominance Of Anybody Who Gets In His Face About The United States
At NXT Takeover, Mojo Rawley came out waving an American flag and threatening to shove it up Rusev’s ‘Putin.’ Rusev quickly dispatched him. On last week’s Raw, Heath Slater showed up as the ‘American Rockstar’ and told Rusev to go back to Russia, baybayyyy! Rusev quickly dispatched him. Last night, Damien Sandow showed up dressed as Abraham Lincoln and lost quickly to Big E. Suddenly Big E became a character from Coming To America, delivering a sermon about how great the USA is. Rusev showed up and quickly dispatched him.
Here’s an idea: stop acting so stupid about the United States. Maybe you’ll do better in your matches.