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Please click through to enjoy the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for July 29, 2013. Live, on tape!
Worst: Let’s Play The Mailed-In Pre-Taped Raw Checklist Game
Last night’s episode of Raw was pre-taped so the Superstars and Not Superstars (or “Divas,” as they’re called) could travel overseas and still put on a 3-hour primetime domestic wrestling show in a timely fashion. Therefore, the spirit and creativity of the last few weeks has been tossed right the hell out of the window, and the famous WWE Creative Dry Erase Board has been brought out to do its dirty work.
To make it fun, I’ll make a quick list of the worst things Raw does on a regular basis. Print this out and play along at home by checking off each number as it happens. First one to 10 gets a horrible experience!
1. heels taking purposeful count-out losses
2. non-title match losses for champions
3. multiple non-title match losses for champions on the same show
4. wrestlers losing matches because they’re momentarily distracted by music/someone not in their match
5. things that’ve already happened being done again for emphasis, or because they happened on the B-show
6. lengthy “previews” or recaps of movies or TV shows barely related to wrestling
7. corporate synergy
9. rushing through matches to get to the post-match stuff
10. Triple H and/or a McMahon talking to a perfectly fine performer like an asshole and getting cheered for it
Best: I Wish These Guys Would Wrestle On Their Own Histories Or Merits, But F**k It, Raw Just Started With Daniel Bryan And Vince McMahon
First things first, how delightfully absurd would it be to go back in time 10 years and tell wrestling fans that white-panties American Dragon from Ring of Honor would be commanding an arena full of people while Vince McMahon tried to shut him down? They’d call you “mark” so hard it’d tear their windpipes.
I wrote a lot in last week’s column about the insincerity of Daniel Bryan’s push, and how years of being a wrestling fan had conditioned me to expect the worst. A lot of you took that as “Brandon isn’t happy with anything,” so I’m gonna skip the capacity for abstract thought here and say how happy I am that Vince McMahon created a fully-formed, ignorant point of view and expressed it from the perspective of the world’s most obvious, wrong, bad guy.
There’s no room for error here. Vince’s points, be they expressed from his mouth or the mouth of Brad Maddox in Puppet Form, are that Bryan can’t beat Cena, is undersized, looks like a weirdo and would be an embarrassment to WWE as its champion. If you ever wanted confirmation that the World Heavyweight Championship is the new IC title, Vince not giving a shit that the same crazy goat-faced nerd held the WHC and calling a company-wide mission statement shift to keep him away from the WWE belt speaks volumes. One of those belts is Flair’s, the other is The Rock’s. One of those things is important to WWE, and we pretend the other one is too, but it spent too much time in TNA to call itself “important.”
Anyway, I’m on board with this now, even if Triple H and Stephanie use their garbage Wonder Twin powers to try to ruin it somewhere near the end of the show.
Best: Wait, We’re Doing This Now?
Last week I got excited at the prospect of a Mark Henry/The Usos vs. The Shield six man tag match, one of those cool title-free undercard pay-per-view feuds they don’t do enough anymore. It’s a great way to get a lot of guys on the show and have a fun match, and … well, shit, we’re doing it now? Uh, all right!
And hey, I’m not going to complain about that. Whether it happens here or on a show I legally paid for, I got an entertaining, mildly-long Trios match between six people I like. Mark Henry continues to secretly be one of the most popular guys on the show (at least on the Internet) (okay, at least on MY corner of the Internet) (he’s popular in my house) (I don’t think Destiny likes him that much). The Usos get time on Raw, which they need, especially if they’re gonna get their 90s action figure aesthetic over with the audience. The Shield does the two things they do best, which are (1) put on baller six-man tags, and (2) win via THE DAMNED NUMBERS GAME. Last night, that number was 1, and was just Dean Ambrose headlock-drivering the brains out of Jimmy Uso. What a damned numbers game!
A supplemental Worst goes out to Jerry Lawler for STILL not picking up on the “Jey is the one with a tattoo on his chest” talking point Cole’s brought up in literally every Usos match ever and thinking he’s just “really good at telling the twins apart.” Cole should start saying “Nikki Bella’s the one with the grosser spray tan and the boobs out of nowhere” and see if Lawler can differentiate her from Brie before 2016.
Best: The Ryback/Ricky Starks Feud Continues
I like the “Ryback intimidates strangers for no reason” backstage segment from a “Ryback inadvertently fills a dude’s ear with potato salad and puts him through a table” perspective, but I LOVED it as a Texas wrestling fan.
For those of you who don’t know, the guy Ryback picked on and catering-table’d was “Absolute” Ricky Starks, one of the best young wrestlers in Texas. This is him. I get to see him kill it in the ring all the time in Austin, and even had the chance to work with him (uh, as a ring announcer at least) at the first Inspire Pro Wrestling show. He’s awesome and you should like him before he starts showing up on Raw every week.
What’s funny is that this isn’t his first WWE TV appearance, and not the first one to involve Ryback. Remember when Ryback was feuding with Jinder Mahal (no, seriously) and Jinder wanted to prove that he could do whatever Ryback did, so he beat up two jobbers on Smackdown?
Yep, one of those jobbers was Ricky Starks. Jinder beat them, so Ryback wandered out and Shellshocked them, because RYBACK. Fast forward a year and who should Ryback run into in catering? One of those jobbers. I wonder if he remembered him, and that’s why he picked on him? It would explain why Starks was so terrified. Every Starks WWE appearance should tangentially involve Ryback until WrestleMania 33 or whatever when they have a match, and have a 5 year history video package to make it important.
Worst: Nobody Is Going To Say “Wow, I Wish Someone Would Pin Fandango” No Matter How Many Count-Out Losses You Have Him Take
☑ 1. heels taking purposeful count-out losses
The Rob Van Dam “Coming Out Of Our Shells” nostalgia tour continues as he gets in all of his greatest hits — jumping kicks, running kicks, kicks while standing still — and Fandango gets to do the one thing he’s done consistently since debuting — roll out of the ring and take a count-out loss.
I understand having him occasionally take the easy way out to build suspense for his comeuppance, like when the Honky Tonk Man held the Intercontinental Championship in shady fashion for three decades or however long it was before Warrior warrior-trotted along and press-slammed him to death. But are there any kids out there going “AW MAN DAD I CAIN’T WAIT TO SEE FANDANGO GET PINNED?” Seriously? He’s not in a position of power. He’s not holding a title and keeping it under scummy circumstances. He’s just a guy with no faith in his wrestling game who doesn’t know when to hit his catchphrase and can’t stop losing on purpose.
I don’t do this a lot, but I’ll give Van Dam a supplemental Best for just being like, “sure, I’ll take it. ROB! VAN! DAM!” instead of being upset.
Worst: And Here Come The Non-Title Losses
☑ 2. non-title match losses for champions
Here’s how the WWE Divas Division used to work: they had seven Divas. One person would hold the belt, and every few months they’d rotate the six other girls into the position of “challenger,” usually through a #1 Contenders Battle Royal. When I say “usually” I mean always.
Here’s how the WWE Divas Division works now: they have seven Divas. Five of them are off filming a reality show about how sad and mad they are and who they date, leaving one Diva to be champion and one to be challenger. Poor Kaitlyn can’t rotate out, so she gets an endless string of title shots with decreasing levels of interest and reason that started at “we were best friends for three years,” devolved into “you’re fat/you’re a whore” and now rests comfortably at the bottom, aka “non-title losses leading to pay-per-view wins.” In my field we call this Wade Barretting.
I wish we could see more of the understated, unique AJ “crazy” character that got her shoved into the spotlight and less of the “I sure am crazy, huh guys” thing she’s been doing since she got made GM. I’ve seen AJ enough to know that she’s got more varied speeds than “angry stare” and “screaming tantrum.” Before, she seemed unhinged because she was pulling the strings of everyone around her and manipulating everyone’s emotions. Now she’s just saying random shit because “crazy.” Going from happy to mad and back suddenly doesn’t make you dark or complex, it makes you a cartoon character. You are Doink. Doink in jorts.
Worst: How Are You Making Dolph Ziggler Vs. Big E Langston NOT Exciting
Before I get into what’s going on with Big E, here’s your regular reminder that Face Dolph Ziggler is everything bad about Face Chris Jericho times a thousand, and every time he starts talking on the microphone it should shock him like a joy buzzer.
But no, Big E Langston reminds me of Shawn Michaels, and I know that sounds like the most ridiculous way to start a sentence ever, but bear with me. Remember when Shawn had just started the Heartbreak Kid character and was using the “tear drop suplex,” and it sucked shit so they gave him a superkick? And you know how eventually Sweet Chin Music became one of the most iconic and memorable finishes in wrestling history? Well, when Shawn first started using it he didn’t “tune up the band” or whatever, he just kicked guys. So there’d be these long, awkward pauses while he waited for guys to get up where the crowd would die and then be expected to get up for a kick. Shawn would sorta wander around or stand in a corner like he knew he was supposed to do SOMETHING, but he wasn’t sure what. Then one day he started stomping his foot all big and everything came together.
Big E Langston is Sweet Chin Music without a stomp right now. What he does works and he knows how to do it, he just spends most of his matches standing around like he knows there’s something more. In NXT, where he’s treated like a thundering God, he’s got his whole FIVE FIVE FIVE act, the ONE MORE TIME chants, the straps coming down, the stomping around the ring with his hand open. He’s got an entire thing happening. On Raw, he hasn’t yet taught the crowd when to do what (or been given the chance to, because his character is “be huge and stand still”), so his matches aren’t as dynamic and exciting as they should be. He’ll figure it out one day.
Until then, we’re stuck with Big E as a walking Tear Drop Suplex aimlessly clubbering a neutered-as-f**k Dolph Ziggler until a cardboard cutout of AJ randomly causes a DQ. Why the hell did you break these guys up again?
Best: Christian Vs. Alberto Del Rio For The WHC Would Be A Great PPV Match (If We Hadn’t Already Watched It Just Now) (And Won’t Watch It Again Several Times Before SummerSlam)
☑ 3. multiple non-title match losses for champions on the same show
Typing “this shouldn’t be on Raw, this should be a PAY-PER-VIEW MATCH” makes me feel like the worst fan, because I value a rewarding narrative arc over instant gratification and that means I’m doing it wrong. Wrestling is, more than anything else in the world (besides porn, I guess), about instant gratification. Having problems with your boss? WATCH SOMEBODY PUNCH THEIR BOSS, NOW YOU’RE BETTER.
But yeah, lots of “why is this on free TV” stuff happened this week. The biggest example for me is Christian pinning Alberto Del Rio to set up … Christian not pinning Alberto Del Rio at SummerSlam. Regular readers of the column know I’m a fan of Del Rio’s, more than most people, but one of his biggest and most legitimate Worsts is that he wrestles the same guys over and over, so every ADR match feels stale as balls. Think about it. Do you want to see Del Rio vs. Cena again? What about Del Rio vs. Sheamus? Del Rio vs. Jack Swagger? Even Del Rio vs. Ziggler, which is always great. No, probably not, because you’ve seen them 60 times each.
So when Del Rio gets a relatively fresh opponent, why are we building to their match by having them wrestle every week? By the time SummerSlam actually happens, Del Rio/Christian will be just as stale as Del Rio/Sheamus. Why not, for the sake of stimulus response if nothing else, build a beef between them that has nothing to do with OH NO YOU DIDN’T non-title roll-up losses and let us see them wrestle for the “first” time at the big show? I’m all for the instant gratification of seeing two wrestlers I like wrestle each other, but damn, I’d rather see them wrestle once when it’s important instead of 8 times when it isn’t.