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– BONUS THING: I just added a live show report to the end, so be sure to click back through and check that out.
Please click through to enjoy the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for July 15, 2013.
Best: Fandango Wrestles the Perfect Randy Orton Match (And Loses)
Last night’s opening match was my favorite of the show, because it took two characters who are almost always moving in the wrong direction and righted them a little.
Believe it or not, on top of all the dancing and finger pointing, Fandango is a pretty good wrestler. Poor Johnny Curtis hasn’t had a chance to do much since showing up, mostly being relegated to dance contests with The Great Khali or “showcase” matches against a swamp-assin’-it Chris Jericho. The difference between a goofy character in WWE and a goofy character that WORKS is the wrestling … so seeing Fandango getting in legitimate offense, wrestling a smart match and hanging with a top-level WWE Guy is incredibly important. It’s what makes him a Million Dollar Man, and not a Duke The Dumpster. Here, Fandango looked like a star because he figured out the best way to go the distance with Randy Orton: stop him every time he starts trying to chain signature moves together.
And THAT’s what made Randy Orton so good here. Orton’s a perfectly cromulent wrestler, but he only ever seems to care about hitting his signature moves, shoehorning them into places they don’t logically go. When Jerry Lawler is ragging on you for going to the “hanging DDT” well one too many times, you know you have a problem. It’s just corny backbreaker, powerslam, hanging DDT, a bunch of clotheslines, a dropkick to counter somebody jumping and an RKO. Because of that, his matches tend to be extremely formulaic, and because we aren’t one stop on a tour and see almost every WWE match on television, formulaic equals boring. Orton was great here, though, because he was TRYING to shoehorn in his signatures, and Fandango knew that and kept countering. So Orton had to switch it up, hitting the hanging DDT from the corner instead of the middle of the ropes and, most importantly, hitting a straight-up RKO in the middle of the ring instead of flopping around for five minutes and giving Dirty Curty a chance to counter.
On top of that, the crowd was super hot and hadn’t gotten its head entire up its own ass yet. Wrestling is pretty easy when you’ve got talented wrestlers taking a fresh approach to the wrestling they always do, in front of a molten crowd. Orton looked good, Fandango got to look good in defeat, and I got to enjoy 12 minutes of pro graps at the top of my wrestling program. Please and thank you.
Worst: I See What You’re Doing, Summer Rae
My only Worst for this match is how Summer Rae is clearly aware of whether or not the camera is on her. Watch her when the camera jumps out to get her reaction, she’s standing still and waiting to see that little red light in her peripheral vision. So it’s just “wait for it … wait for it … COME ON FANDANGO YEAH DO IT BUDDY” etc.
Always be in character, Summer Rae. Let the camera come to you. If you’re good at your job, you’ll get on screen a bunch. Notice how Rosa Mendes gets one shot per Epico match, but the camera lingers on Paul Heyman for 8 of 9 Curtis Axel minutes.
Best: Welp, At Least We Got Through That Without Any Slut-Shaming Or Maria Faces
In last week’s column I joked about how the impending Dolph Ziggler/AJ Lee breakup was going to be exactly like the one he had with Maria, complete with that wacky face Maria makes to express “sadness” that looks like she just stumbled upon a guy getting head from a furry at the Overlook Hotel. The breakup officially happened on Raw last night, and, sure enough, it was the Dolph/Maria split, almost shot-for-shot.
The good news is twofold:
1. Dolph just broke up with her, and didn’t yell at her about how she’s a whore for having more than one boyfriend ever, which is what 90% of the roster would do
2. AJ is a better actor than Maria
Plus, it led to some fun stuff later in the show.
Best: I Am So F**king Ready For A Mark Henry/The Shield Feud
What do you do once you’ve had Mark Henry lose to John Cena like a chump, but everyone in the crowd seems to like him and want to get behind him? Move on from the Cena match quickly, and put Henry up against a bunch of guys the crowd loves to hate.
As the boldface suggests, I am so unbelievably f**king down with a Mark Henry/The Shield feud. The Shield wants to take Henry down because he’s a “disappointment” — they, like WWE Legends, judge a wrestler’s success or failure based on how often and thoroughly they beat John Cena — and because he’s an “old dog” taking up spots that belong to the young guys. So they jumped Mark and triple powerbombed him (!!), and now he’s got the clearest beef ever. I’d love to see Henry bring a bunch of his old tag team partners out of the mothballs. How awesome would a The Shield vs. Mark Henry/D’Lo Brown/MVP Raw main-event six-man be?
Worst: Brad Maddox Is Already Getting The John Laurinaitis Treatment
If you weren’t a regular reader of the column back in late 2011/early 2012, Executive Vice President Of Talent Relations And General Manager Of Both Raw And Smackdown Mr. John Laurinaitis is my all-time favorite WWE TV NPC. If you need proof of that, look at my face and “oooh don’t ruin this brandon” body language in this photo I took with him outside of Full Sail last week. I loved him, and I was always bothered by the fact that he seemed to be trying hard to be entertaining and put on shows, but he wasn’t “cool” so the crowds hated him and the Cool Wrestlers were always being shitheads to him for no reason. Sure, at the end they made him a bit of a super villain, but for the longest time the worst thing he did was follow orders from corporate and have a weird voice.
That’s what’s happening to Brad Maddox now. He’s trying hard to put on a good show, having been thrust into a position of power without any prep time. He’s SUCCEEDED, too, because his first night on Raw was, as of now, the best Raw of the year. Good matches, good pacing, a few surprises and a SummerSlam decision that had people hashtagging about WWE for three hours. The show ended with everybody in the audience screaming their heads off and doing YES hands. So what’s the problem? Why is Chris Jericho backstage making fun of Brad’s clothes? Why are Triple H and Stephanie showing up to act rude to him, disrespect him to his face and try to make him worried about a job at which he’s suddenly excellent? Because we “don’t like him?” Maybe we’d like him if we were allowed to judge him on his own merits, instead of having Poochie show up and declare him “not radical.”
What’s the worst thing he’s done? Be Vickie Guerrero’s servant? He made fun of her on the PPV last night. Screw Ryback out of a WWE Championship against CM Punk? You don’t like Ryback anymore, and everybody loves CM Punk. He’s part of the equation that brought The Shield into WWE, he was funny enough to make Matt Striker interesting for the first time since ECW and he looks like Express For Men Jon Snow. Corn Beef is the man. I don’t know what your problem is.
Best: Dolph Ziggler vs. Alberto Del Rio Is Always Good
All we get to see of it in the WWE Fan Nation video is a shoulderblock dodge and a second-rope Ace Crusher II (its proper name, thank you very much), but, as always, Alberto Del Rio vs. Dolph Ziggler was good. Very good. My biggest problem with Dolph Ziggler is that he can only wrestle one guy at a time and wrestles them over and over until the next guy shows up (Kofi Kingston, Daniel Bryan, John Cena), but the matches are solid, so I’ll best them the first 25 or so times they happen.
Here’s the good news:
Best: James Should’ve Never Turned His Back On Jessie And Meowth
As sad as I am to see Team Rocket finally, officially split, I loved the post-match stuff here. AJ gets to be as crazy as they bill her by sneaking into the match in a hoodie (ultimate pro wrestling incognito) and ringing the bell, Dolph gets to look like an actual babyface by not kicking her in the crotch and Zig Zagging her when she starts screaming and slapping him, and Big E Langston gets to show his true colors with a f**king bulldozer monster attack on Ziggler. Big E is great, and I’m happy to see him get a meaningful program with somebody instead of just being a large, violent prop.
One of the most interesting things about Dolph Ziggler is how the “show off” aspect of his character keeps creating more and more problems for him. He got a concussion he isn’t totally over, but keeps coming back from it because he craves attention and doesn’t want to lose his spot. He calls a woman trash and she falls for him, and she’s hot so he throws in with her and keeps her around, but now the negatives her called her on before they were together have come back around to haunt him. He brings in a giant guy to be his enforcer, but the giant guy likes AJ more than he likes Dolph, so now he’s got to feud with his ex-girlfriend AND her monster lapdog. He’s taken a shortcut or Zig-Zagged pretty much everybody on the roster and got his spot in the first place by hooking up with Vickie Guerrero, so nobody wants to help him or save him from attacks. Even his brother got fired. He’s an accidental loner, and if he ever starts to realize that he’s the cause of all his problems, he’ll be the most easy-to-identify-with guy in pro wrestling.
Worst: Suddenly, R-Truth Is 1000 Years Old
Holy shit, what’s wrong with Truth? Did he choose the wrong grail? Motherf**ker looks like Frederick Douglass.
Best: The Wyatt Family Attacks This Crazy Homeless Guy
BROOK LYN NEW YAWK *cue redneck brutality*
On the Internet, people have high expectations and a need for instant gratification, so if you show up and don’t immediately put on the greatest match of all time and defeat the WWE Champion clean, they think you’re “underwhelming.” I think The Shield are the only guys who’ve ever debuted like that, and even they spent like two months attacking people randomly before they got put into a match. What I’m getting at is that as one of the leading THE WYATT FAMILY IS THE GREATEST THING EVER types on the Internet, I’m getting a lot of “meehhhh” messages about them.
My answer to that is this: in week one, they debuted with a cool entrance and handily dispatched a popular WWE veteran. In week two, they attacked a guy WWE crowds are familiar with and like (even if he’s barely around anymore), debuted Wyatt’s finisher on WWE TV (f**k yeah, Sister Abigail) and let Bray talk for the first time. In that speech, Wyatt proved how comfortable he is in the character, how great he is at doing the gimmick live (take notes, Sean O’Haire from 10 years ago) and how adept he is at changing his cadence and defeating “What” chance as they happen. The opinion that the Wyatts are great is not formed from these two weeks — it’s been formed from watching him be the undisputed kingshit of NXT for the last year — but if it had been, it’d be the same. This is the freshest, most expertly-performed character we’ve gotten from WWE creative in years, and we need to love and appreciate it while it happens. We should try not to be Internet Guys about it. No Husky Harris chants, no Whats, no Meh Underwhelmings. Give it time, get into it and remember that real life is not an iPad, and sometimes things take more than two weeks to be the most awesome they’ll ever be. Bray’s gonna keep getting better. Trust me.
And honestly, just think about it. You know how I mentioned The Shield getting the best modern WWE debut ever? Are The Shield even characters? They just say “justice” a lot. They are justice dogs. Bray Wyatt is already more developed a character than “justice dogs.”
Best/Worst: The Brooklyn Crowd Vs. Itself
A Worst goes out to the people in the Brooklyn crowd who tried to derail Wyatt’s FIRST PROMO ON RAW EVER with “what” and “Husky Harris” chants, but an equally valid Best goes out to those in the crowd who STOPPED these chants. The “Husky Harris” was especially drowned out, reportedly with “shut the f**k up” responses, which is proper wrestling etiquette re: assholes in your section trying to get themselves over. Keep fighting the good fight, wrestling fans, and maybe we’ll get to keep our good characters.