Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: ‘The Monster Among Men’ Braun Strowman made a compelling case for sainthood by not only beating up Roman Reigns backstage, but (1) rolling him off a ledge while he was attached to a stretcher and (2) flipping the ambulance that was trying to take him to the hospital. Sadly, this week’s show does not begin with a burning hospital and Braun powerslamming a doctor.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for April 17, 2017.
Best: Roman Reigns Waits Two Weeks Before Showing Up And Superman Punching Strowman Five Times Like Nothing Happened
WWE.com reported that Roman Reigns has cracked ribs and a separated shoulder following Strowman’s attack, and I am legitimately surprised that Reigns didn’t sprint to the ring during the first five minutes of Raw and spear him. If he’d held his shoulder after doing it, I would’ve given him a Best for effort.
The good news is that Reigns will (presumably) miss the next two weeks of Raw due to injury, or at least this Raw and most of next week’s. Strowman starts off this week’s Raw bragging about the attack, which brings out Kurt Angle to tell him he’s got the night off for flipping over a “frickin’ ambu-lance.”
The bad news is that Roman Reigns returns to face Strowman at Payback in two weeks. A separated shoulder should take about six weeks to recover, and that’s not taking into consideration the cracked ribs that’d take four by themselves. Angle (who is still doing great as GM, just to type that out-loud) covers for this by calling Roman’s injuries “so-called,” which is also pretty bad news. I mean, shouldn’t the match at Payback be Roman heroically getting in the ring to fight with half his body covered in tape, only for Strowman to just plow through him and hurt him again? That’s the only story that makes sense. If you have Roman show up fine and dandy, you’ve effectively nerfed the coolest beatdown in a decade.
The downside to pro wrestling storytelling is that it’s supposed to be happening in real time, guys. If you “injure” a guy, he’s gotta be injured. You don’t have to stick to the medically recommended recovery times or whatever, but don’t be like, “Roman Reigns was disemboweled on Raw and we still haven’t recovered his decapitated head” if you’re bringing him back in two weeks.
Strowman reacts to the news that he’s got the night off by beating up Golden Truth backstage and, in a moment of brilliant symbolism, welcoming Kalisto to Raw by literally throwing him in the garbage.
Cool to see Kalisto introduced to the cruiserweight division that quickly. I seriously hope that next week we find out that nobody got Kalisto out of the garbage, and then we hard cut to him trying to flip his way out of a trash compactor. Congratulations on make, making a making a uh uh a good, good lucha, lucha thing, Kalisto. Look for your promos while you’re in there.
Eventually those undercard beatdowns bring out the Big Show, like when you have to kill a bunch of orcs to draw out the War-Chief in Shadows of Mordor. Show tells Strow to “pick on somebody his own size,” and that sets up a rematch of their shockingly classic February 20 barn-burner. Yes, please.
Best: Feuds That Make Sense
Corny “Payback … is a bitch!” line aside, I love the Seth Rollins and Samoa Joe feud. Joe gets a submission victory over history’s least selfish performer, Chris Jericho, and lays out his motivations clearly for everyone to understand: he enjoyed injuring Rollins during his debut on Raw, but it was a business transaction for Triple H. But after what happened to Triple H and Stephanie McMahon at WrestleMania, Joe’s going to enjoy injuring Rollins again for personal reasons. It gives Joe a little more motivation than, “I’m ALSO a heel in this story,” and lets him play with that corrupted rationale that Stephanie was (or has ever been) an innocent bystander, and that Rollins like, Falcon Arrowed her through a table.
To his credit, Rollins keeps the retort brief and to-the-point. On commentary, he explains that his knee is still injured but getting better, and that he knows Joe will come for it like Triple H did, so he has a gameplan. Because he is architecturally sound, or whatever. To Joe, he declares that he’s gonna kick Joe’s ass for almost ending his career, and that he’s going to do it like a WWE babyface should: in the ring, one-on-one. Boom. Instant, easy pro wrestling storytelling.
And, as a bonus, two former Ring of Honor Champions presumably stealing the show at Payback. Which, if you missed it, is easily likened to a bitch.
A supplementary Best goes to Chris Jericho’s post-match interview as well, which starts to lose it when babyface Jericho starts in with his terrible nicknames for The Drifter, but recovers nicely thanks to his complete inability to tell average white dudes apart. Please remember that modern face Jericho should just be modern heel Jericho with heel rivals, and not classic face Jericho with a clipboard.
Worst: This Song Was WWE’s Last Resort
We want to thank Papa Roach for their hit song ‘Completely Forgotten,’ the official theme song for Payback. It’s available on Fifteen Years Ago Records.
Note: I don’t mean to make fun of them, I know they just wanna be, wanna be luh-huh-hoved.
Worst: When The Superstar Shake-Up™ Keeps Things Exactly The Same, Part One
Dash Wilder has a broken jaw and is out until July, Heath Slater and Rhyno are stuck backstage eating cheese and crackers and the New Day has been sent to Smackdown, so the Raw tag team division has defaulted to Enzo and Big Cass versus The Club. If you liked it the first 14,000 times they did it, you’ll love 14,001.
The good news, I guess, is that The Club shows some resourcefulness and beats them clean. At home, we get to continue noticing that the directionless Club and Finn Bálor with CLUB written on his back are on the same show and going, “now?”
Worst: When The Superstar Shake-Up™ Keeps Things Exactly The Same, Part Two
For some reason, WWE brought Dean Ambrose and The Miz over from Smackdown and decided to feud them against each other instead of integrating them into Raw. This week, Ambrose is a guest on Miz TV and is sort of aloofly ambivalent about everything and Miz incites him. This is a lot like that time on Main Event when Ambrose was a guest on Miz TV and was aloofly ambivalent about everything until Miz incited him. The only difference is that this time, Ambrose attempts Dirty Deeds, but doesn’t hit it. It’s also a lot like that time on Smackdown when Ambrose was a guest on Miz TV and was aloofly ambivalent about everything until Miz incited him. That one featured a distraction from Maryse. So does this one, but it worked better the first time. It’s like these guys are playing chess on a board with four squares.
Shout-out to Dean Ambrose for not caring about branding and saying he “doesn’t even know what that means,” as the guy who once put his logo on the side of a wagon he was using to collect plunder for a hardcore match.
Best: Maryse’s Terrible Microphone Strike
Like Kylo Ren slashing Finn.
Look, if we take the segment as its own free-standing thing and don’t compare it to the several versions of itself that came before, it’s pretty good. Miz has been doing the best work of his career over the past several months, and if anyone can contextualize Dean Ambrose and make him seem fresh and engaging again, it’s Miz. It feels very by-the-numbers, especially when Ambrose starts talking about how he does this because he loves it, but it would be very, very nice to see this feud give Ambrose a little urgency and make his character seem as alive as Miz’s. As of now, Ambrose might as well be a Brawling Buddy. You squeeze him and he says some asinine shit and his moves feel like you’re being hit with a pillow.
I did really enjoy Ambrose politely asking Maryse to hold his microphone so he could take everything out of his pockets before fighting, and her taking forever to figure out what’s going on and not wanting to interrupt Miz. If this eventually involves Miz and Maryse dressed as Ambrose and Renee in a bunch of Talking Smack parodies, I’m all-in.
Worst: Of Course They Immediately Put Apollo Crews With Titus O’Neil
I hope they call their tag team, “If We Did The Fusion Dance, We’d Be Bobby Lashley.”
Best: Finnegan’s Wake
Here’s more good news: Jinder Mahal did not (severely) injure Finn Bálor with that forearm to the dome last week, so he’s able to return and at least chain a few moves together to squash Curt Hawkins. Hawkins is about as fun to watch as a colonoscopy, but it’s nice to see Bálor work his way up through the Minor Circuit on his way back to the top. Let’s just try not to like, shoot headbutt him at any point over the next few months, okay?
Last week, we assumed that a heel turn would be the thing TJ Perkins needed to invigorate his character and make him a worthwhile presence on Raw and, if anybody’s still watching, 205 Live. Instead of using the turn to change literally anything about himself, Perkins shows up this week with (1) the same music, (2) the same entrance pose with dabbing, (3) all the same moves, (4) the same lazy in-ring storytelling where a shrug is the most intense connection he’s trying to make, and (5) no seriously the same everything. Nothing is different. Even when he stops wrestling Jack Gallagher to throw Gallagher’s umbrella on the ground, he does it with a, “c’mon, man, we’re just havin’ FUN!” smile. Cole and Corey Graves go on and on about the “interesting change of persona for TJ Perkins,” but the only thing he does differently the ENTIRE match is kick the rope into Gallagher’s face before he hits the Detonation Kick. Which, come on, that totally could’ve happened in the Cruiserweight Classic and been portrayed as a “clever maneuver.”
The match is also a background for the continuation of the Neville vs. Austin Aries feud. Neville and Aries show up before the match for basically no reason, then get in each other’s faces and cause a distraction at the end. It’s like they crammed everything together whether it made sense or not so they wouldn’t have to do two cruiserweight segments.
Worst: Watch Out, Randy, Bray Is Going To Make The Ring Look Like A Jack O’ Lantern And It’s Going To Be SO SPOOKY
Best: Five Feet Of Fury
Tony Nese is so mad that nickname’s already taken.
A major match on this week’s episode is a one-fall to a finish number one contenders fatal four-way pitting Sasha Banks and her stunted heel turn against Nia Jax, Alexa Bliss and Mickie James. Like the WrestleMania match, a lot of it’s built around Nia Jax brutalizing everyone in sight — accidentally or on purpose, it’s hard to tell these days — and everyone having to unofficially band together to stop her. Like any good-hearted person hoped, Alexa Bliss capitalizes on Nia laying out Sasha, dropkicks her out of the ring and steals the pin to become number one contender. I don’t know how they’re gonna do it, but I’m hoping beyond hope that Bliss vs. Nia Jax becomes WWE’s non-union equivalent of Gail Kim vs. Awesome Kong.
The best part is that this feels like a real, competitive match. That’s been missing from too many parts of the women’s revolution. Basically any of the one-on-one matches involving Charlotte have been good-to-great — last week’s SNAPMARE DANGEROUS affair with Nia notwithstanding — but far too often everyone just gets piled into a six-woman tag or a five-woman scramble for title shots. Usually those scrambles come and go without a lot of fanfare. This one felt like it could’ve been on a pay-per-view somewhere; not because it was particularly “great,” but because it felt competitive enough to make it feel consequential. That’s crucial.
Plus, Bliss got a big win in her hometown, which is more or less unheard of in WWE these days. Good for them. And see? The crowd seemed to enjoy themselves, and had someone to root for. Don’t systematically destroy the hopes of everyone you visit and you’ll have happier crowds, probably!
Worst: Emma Should Be Number One Contender Because She’s Emma, And Not Doing This
In the other women’s segment of the night, Emma “torments” Dana Brooke by making Alicia Fox think Dana made jokes about her, and Fox torments Dana by making her watch clips from 205 Live.
I’m not sure if I love or hate Alicia Fox and Dana Brooke having scenes together. Watching them act opposite one another’s like watching Andy Serkis as Gollum without the CGI doing a scene with Lisa from The Room.
Best: Raw Guest Stars
Worst: … Psych
Speaking of Alicia Fox, her blood rival (and former Raw guest star) Dulé Hill returns without his former Psych co-star. This is the biggest betrayal by a Roday on Raw since Jesse James turned on Jeff Jarrett.
Best/Worst: A “Nostalgia Act”
That’s what Booker T calls Jeff Hardy during this. Is … that really the kind of thing you want your announcers saying about these guys? It’s clear from this one-on-one match with Cesaro that Jeff Hardy is no LONGAH, a SPREENG CHEEKEN, and can’t go like he used to. The old version of Jeff Hardy “going” was him quickly getting in and out of spots to be destroyed (or destroy himself) and pulling himself out of the wreckage, so subtracting that and asking him to carry matches as a dynamic babyface against CESARO, an unbelievable natural athlete in the prime of his physical career (or at least close to it) is pretty unfair.
The match isn’t bad — it’s certainly nice to see Cesaro getting a one-on-one spotlight again and a little time to work — but I really don’t think Cesaro should be taking clean losses to one-half of an aging nostalgia team, especially in the middle of their “hey, remember us” run. Especially when the entirety of your tag team division is better suited to take Hardy losses than Cesaro or Sheamus. We’re talking past and presumably future World Champions there. Not like you’re Swanton Bombing Rhyno.
I like the show of sportsmanship at the end, although I wish it’d been the Hardys doing the handshake request instead of the other way around. Sheamus giving them an uneasy handshake and them feeling sketchy about it probably does a lot less in the eyes of fans than, say, Jeff barely squeaking out a victory over Cesaro and giving him respect for it.
Best: HOSSPOCALYPSE II: THE HOSSENING
As I mentioned in the open, this week’s main event is Big Show vs. Braun Strowman in a rematch of their surprisingly baller February 20 main, IN TRIBUTE TO THE MEMORY OF KALISTO may God rest his precious little soul. His precious, precious little, little uh, soul thing. God damn, woo!
What’s great about the rematch is that it proves that the first confrontation wasn’t a fluke. Show and Strowman aren’t necessarily “flying around the ring like cruiserweights” like Michael Cole insists, but they ARE wrestling their asses off, and doing stuff with each other they can’t do apart. Show has reached an impressive level of physical prowess and athleticism for his age, and while he’s visibly gassed as balls from time to time, he’s hitting his spots and making shit happen. Strowman gets to show off his impossible strength, which sometimes seems less impressive than his speed because he’s so much bigger than everyone else. I like that they followed up Strowman flipping an ambulance by having him be able to throw Big Show around. That just makes sense, doesn’t it?
We get the standard big money rematch moments with each guy kicking out of the other’s finisher, with Strowman kicking out of both a chokeslam AND the knockout punch. They tease going up to the top rope twice — something they also teased in the original match — and this time, they pay it off.
Strowman hits a superplex on Show, and the ring collapses. Keep your eye on referee John Cone, who makes the moment by taking the most man-sized bump of the night:
Longtime viewers know this is one of Show’s favorite OMG Moments, as he and Brock Lesnar broke the ring the same way back in 2003, and he and Mark Henry recreated the spot in 2011. The difference this time — and it’s an important one — is that Braun Strowman GETS UP. He breaks the ring by throwing Big Show into it, and is then okay enough to not only stand and leave under his own power, but POSE and taunt on the ramp and stage. They played his music, too, so I guess he won by knockout?
I’m so in awe of this era of Braun Strowman. It really feels like WWE’s sitting on the next big thing, and aside from a few ill-advised back-downs, they’ve done it right. I hope they get it, and truly understand it, and turn a Rosebud and a swampbilly extra into the biggest star of his generation. Because why the hell not?
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Kurt: (watching in the back) “huh…well that was pretty cra-…wait a minute…I GAVE HIM THE NIGHT OFF!”
And here I thought Nikki Bella would be the only one presented with a phony ring this month.
“We have never seen a ring collapse like that before on WWE television! This is unprecedented! An enormous accomplishment.” -Sean Spicer
Lock up that iPad foxy! Evil Emma hasn’t taken her eyes off it.
It’s appropriate that Bray cribbed a line from Pennywise, since they turned him into a clown.
Bray Wyatt is trying to scare Randy with imagery that Randy literally has tattooed on his own body.
We’d like to thank Papa Roach for contributing their song Born for Greatness off their new album Irony
They should very slowly tilt the hard cam over the course of an hour, then cut to Braun trying to flip the arena.
The Real Birdman
*Duck shuckying intensifies*
Purple mane and a tail? Spyro Banks in the house.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, as always, and be sure to
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- join us next week, when Strowman will hopefully have ditched his Shawn Michaels ladies tank top in favor of the Sagat-stye chest scar