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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.
Bestish?: That Was A Tag Team Match
The Real Americans vs. The Usos was a great little tag team match, but I barely remember it happening.
If I was a little kid, I would be SO into the Usos. They’ve got the coolest entrance in wrestling, they’ve got colorful shorts, they’re exciting in the ring and they’re wearing facepaint. It’s like 1988 Sting in tag team form. As a jaded grown-up, I obviously am into the Real Americans, because Jack Swagger has become the unofficial Best and Worst of Raw cult hero and Antonio Cesaro is the most woefully underrated guy on the WWE roster. If the Usos/Real Americans feud leaks into the Summerslam tag team championship match AND Mark Henry gets involved somehow, we’re going to have the coolest gathering of wrestlers Brandon is into since … uh, the Smackdown Money in the Bank ladder match.
Regardless, it’s time to push the Usos as a thing and get the tag team division back on its feet. Team Hell No is off doing better things, The Shield is good enough to anchor a batch of tag team matches for as long as you’d need, the Usos are finally starting to catch peoples’ eyes and Rey Mysterio and Tyson Kidd can’t be injured forever, right?
Worst: Michael McGillucutty Pins Mr. Money In The Bank
WWE: Where Champions Are The Worst Guys!
I’d complain more about Damien Sandow losing his first match after winning the Money in the Bank briefcase as an example of WWE’s obsession with giving guys championships and immediately emasculating them, but I guess Sandow was ALREADY losing every match, so this is just par for the course. Watching Christian wrestle is getting increasingly worrisome, because he is basically George Jetson*. Look at him. Look at how he moves and runs. He should yell JANE, STOP THIS CRAZY THING when he sets up the Killswitch.
*(Thank you to Crew Spence for bringing this to my attention.)
Best: Cody Rhodes, Superface
On the upside, Cody Rhodes jumped Sandow after the match and got a HUGE reaction, complete with “Cody” chants, which are 1000% more positive for his career trajectory than “Cody’s mustache.” I don’t like WWE faces attacking WWE heels — especially when the heel won the match fairly, even if it was personally disappointing to their friendship — but Cody’s technically still a bad guy I guess, so I’ll allow it. Plus, sometimes you’re just super pissed. I can understand that. If Cody KEEPS attacking him for the next three weeks instead of just calling him out for a match for the briefcase at SummerSlam, I’ll have a problem with it.
Cody and Damien were the best as best friends, but they’re also super compatible as enemies. If you turn Sandow’s sliminess up a notch and stop making him say funny things, you’ve got a top level heel. If you shave Cody’s stupid novelty facial hair and let him have great matches and moments instead of instantly losing to Brodus Clay or whatever, you’ve got a top level face. It’s win-win.
Also, wedge Goldust into this somehow, WWE, I’m f**king begging you.
Best With A Hint Of Worst: Naomi Is A Better Kofi Kingston Than Kofi Kingston
Okay, maybe not, but she’s very good at jumping.
In fact, she might be TOO good at jumping. She’s clearly got a better vertical than the rest of the Divas locker room combined, so whenever she does something she JUMPS HER ASS OFF. She does a complete front somersault in the air and lands on her feet doing the Undertaker clothesline, she almost jumps out of Brie Bellas hands during a hairmare and jumps way, way too high on a sunset flip attempt. Jump purposefully, not for show. She was also borderline twerking after she hit the Flying Asshole, which is concerning. Also, HOOK THE LEG WHEN YOU ARE GOING FOR PINS.
But no, I like Naomi, so I’m gonna give her a Best for dragging a competent wrestling match out of the Bellas instead of leaving them to ruin everything at the announce table. The Bellas aren’t as bad in the ring as they seem, but while I’m mentioning them, whoever taught Brie Bella that chinlock where you grab your own wrist needs to unteach it. That move bothers me so much.
Worst: Are We Seriously Still Doing 1-800-FELLA
Didn’t Daniel Bryan end this joke with his “if I call 1-800-FELLA can I hire you to Brogue Kick yourself in the face” comment? Why are we still doing 1-800-FELLA commercials? There’s a reason every crowd that isn’t made up of 5-year old rural Iowans boos the shit out of Sheamus.
Best: The Best Segment In The World
I’m not even sure I can explain how good this segment was.
People like to call CM Punk the best talker in WWE, but it isn’t true. Paul Heyman is the best talker in WWE. Here, Paul Heyman delivers a speech that explains absolutely everything we need to know for a Punk/Lesnar feud — an explanation of Heyman’s perceived symbiotic relationship with Punk, his constant assurance that the “Best In The World” moniker belonged to two people working in tandem, references to past promos (“am I lying,” Paul Heyman’s children), the very very true idea that CM Punk cannot possibly defeat Brock Lesnar, Punk’s straight-edgedness (always welcomed), Punk’s absence from WWE after the Taker match changing him and so much more — and he does it without losing a word. He plays to the crowd’s boos. He doesn’t get any “what” chants, because his words command respect. He’s telling the truth, even when he’s lying. He is the undisputed king, in my mind, of people talking on wrestling television.
And to Punk’s credit, he’s good enough to hang with Heyman. Punk’s rage here is a little melodramatic, but Punk’s a melodramatic guy. Heyman’s betrayal hit him personally because not only was Paul his best friend, he was stupid enough to ignore the obvious and trust Paul anyway. He saw the world collapsing around him with Lesnar’s return and the rise of Curtis Axel, but he assumed that the same disreputable businessman who brought in The Shield and paid them to beat people up was gonna back him up without a misstep. It was a foolish decision, because sometimes good guys make foolish decisions. It’s what makes them more like us. How many times did Sting trust his tag team partners only to get shat on in return?
I’m not sure whether or not Punk was straight-up threatening to murder Paul Heyman on live television (the stuff about “leaving him alive” was a little much), but Heyman DESERVES to get his ass kicked for what he’s done, and he’s the most impossible guy to get to … because standing between Wolverine and his prey is the Incredible f**king Hulk.
Best: Brock Lesnar Is Summoned, Destroys Everything (Like Brock Lesnar Should)
As regular readers know, there are few things I enjoy more in pro wrestling than Brock Lesnar showing up to absolutely wreck everything in sight.
There should never be a moment where Brock Lesnar acts or reacts like a human being. No contract signings where he talks about his feels. No weird jock kisses with Kurt Angle. Just a massive, brutal beast appearing with screeching music and a sleeveless sandwich shop t-shirt who is going to KILL YOU for no particular reason besides the fact that he was born, bred and instructed to KILL YOU DEAD.
The fight between Punk and Lesnar was pitch-perfect. Lesnar did not have to try very hard to decimate Punk, dragging him around by his hoodie and launching him over the announce table twice. At the same time, Punk didn’t just lie around selling the beating … he took the fight to Lesnar, a guy with whom he has no hope of survival, because he’s relentless and consumed by a confidence that has carried him over OTHER guys with the same slim chances. He looked like a guy pissed beyond belief and ready to brawl. Lesnar looked like he barely cared, but is genetically impossible to overcome, even in apathy.
It’s perfect. The good guy is fighting a fight he can’t win. The bad guy knows the good guy can’t win, and that lack of respect is exactly what’ll catch him in the end. It’s a beautiful end to one of the best Raw segments of the year, and the official start of a match I can’t wait to see.
Best/Worst: Accepting When A Match Is Not Intended For Me
speaking of matches I can or cannot wait to see
Okay, so here’s the truth. If you ask 9 out of 10 people what they thought of the 20-or-so minutes of Rob Van Dam and Chris Jericho in Raw’s main event, they’ll tell you they loved it. I, as much as I want to just tell you I loved it so you won’t call me names on the Internet, am the 10th guy.
I get it, though. It’s two guys the crowd loves having a lengthy, easy-to-understand match the crowd can get behind. It’s full of signature spots and moves people love to recognize. “I remember that” or “I recognize that” motivates most wrestling crowds into hysteria. They want to see what they know and are comfortable with. That’s fine. It works. It worked last night. The wrestlers seemed to love the match, the crowd loved it more, and the announcers would not stop talking about how great it was. Every moment of silence or inaction in the match was filled with Lawler, Cole and JBL saying “wow, this is so great” on loop until the next thing happened. The tweets at the bottom of the screen were engineered to say THIS MATCH IS GREAT, HASHTAG RAW.
Sometimes I am not the target audience of a wrestling match. That is also fine. Last night’s show featured a ton of young talent. Fandango got a big match at the top of the show, the Wyatt Family continued to be wonderful, the Usos got a win, Punk and Lesnar got into it all crazy and the show ended with everybody in the building losing their mind over Daniel Bryan. If I complain about THAT show, I am a Top Asshole.
If you want my honest opinion, I’m not big on wrestling nostalgia when it’s at the top of the card. If the Barbarian is at my local armory or whatever, then hell yeah, let’s go see the Barbarian. But when The Rock is main-eventing WrestleMania? Not so much. When Rob Van Dam and Chris Jericho are main-eventing Raw? With Van Dam doing not even a single thing he didn’t do back in 2000? With babyface Cool Dad Chris Jericho? It’s more or less everything I dislike about wrestling, packaged into a match that should represent everything I LIKE about wrestling. It’s hard to explain. I know you guys come here (inexplicably) for objective wrestling opinions, but sometimes I just don’t like the wrestlers in the match.
So the best decision I can make is to give the match a Worst from my perspective, because it’s my least favorite wrestler wrestling my least favorite wrestling character, and also give it a Best, because everybody in the world enjoyed it. Wrestling cannot always cater to my needs, and I’m fine with that. At least they were wrestling, and not making photoshop jokes and weed puns at each other.