Previously on the Best and Worst of Raw: Braun Strowman belly-to-bellied a Christmas tree. In other developments, Chris Jericho’s going up in a shark cage at the Royal Rumble to prevent him from interfering in the Universal Championship match, Belly pinned the Raw Women’s Champion (kind of), and Enzo Amore went to slash learned nothing from sensitivity training.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for December 26, 2016.
Worst: The General Unhappiness Of Everyone And Everything
So, I know this doesn’t open the show, but I wanted to touch on a couple of points I feel define the episode, and kinda sorta define where Raw is as a show right now. Where WWE is as an entertainment company, I guess. As I mentioned previously, I honestly think Raw’s getting better. It’s still hitting the same plot points too hard and far too often, but it’s at least attempting to pick up the pace a little, dot the landscape with good matches from time to time and attempt some kind of forward momentum. There are a few core stories — Kevin Owens doesn’t deserve to be champion, Seth Rollins wants to fight Triple H, Goldberg and Lesnar are going to kill each other at the Royal Rumble — and I know it sounds pessimistic for me to type, but “there are a few core stories” isn’t something Raw’s always had, especially in recent years. I can’t count vague strokes like, “can __ overcome the odds” as an actual story. Whether I like the stories or how they’re told or not is a different … uh, story.
Anyway, here’s the high point and the low point of the episode. Bayley finds the Golden Truth backstage and gives Goldust the gift of a Dusty Rhodes variant Bayley Bear, because without his guidance in NXT she wouldn’t be where she is today. They hug and exchange a “Merry Christmas.” Bayley saying “I loved him very much,” and Goldust saying, “he loved you, too,” is maybe the most honest bit of dialogue of the year. It sounds like actual humans talking to each other. It’s a palpable emotional thing stuck in the middle of a wrestling show that hasn’t even attempted real emotions since what, WrestleMania 30?
Bayley leaves, and before we can even absorb the moment or move forward, The Club shows up and rips the bear’s head off.
I am not Dusty’s son or Dusty’s daughter and can’t claim any actual working knowledge of how the show is put together and especially why, and you can buffer it with the “they cleared it with Dustin” or “it’s heels getting wrestling heat” stuff you want. It just sucked. It emotionally sucked the air out of a moment before we could even have it. It instantly negated the segment before they even cut away, and went straight for unearned heel heat without doing the work. Goldust got a sweet present, somebody tore it up before he’d been holding it for a damn minute. It’s like when people get race cars at the beginning of episodes and somebody throws paint on it at the end, and they blow a gasket because they got this special present you’ve never seen them want or ask for or even react to, except it is a gesture representing a man’s dead father. So without all the know-it-all preachy shit or even the blogger nitpicking about how wrestling shows should or shouldn’t work, it just felt shitty. Cheap. And it really reinforced the idea that nobody on the show can be truly happy for even a minute, even the people watching at home.
Raw really has become Nitro, huh?
That’s followed on the same episode by a tag team match to blow off the segment, which really should’ve just been Goldust charging Karl Anderson and punching the dogshit out of him a la Ralphie V Scut Farkus. Instead, they like … do wrestling moves to each other. The good news is that Goldust at least gets to do well for a few seconds, beating up both Club members until he’s [deepest possible sigh] distracted and rolled up for the loss. So dude doesn’t even get to avenge the terrible bit from before, and The Club has some disrespectful stuffed animal maintenance heat, which doesn’t really rehabilitate them from the thousand tag title match losses we’ve seen, AND they just get away with it and everybody moves on. They might do another match next week, but what, is The Club going to lose? If they wanted any of this to matter, couldn’t they have paced it out over a couple of shows? Even Dean Ambrose’s fucking plant friend Mitch got a few appearances before he got destroyed.
So that brings us to the second thing about the episode:
Worst: What Are We Doing
So to recap without all the extra stuff, part of what I didn’t like about the Golden Truth/Club bits is how quickly they hustled through it and more or less ended it without an actual ending. The ending is “general unhappiness,” which seems like it should be the last thing you shoot for when you make a wrestling show. I think one of the big hiccups on Raw is that all the undercard stories tend to go like this. An issue arises, they have a match later that they already had scheduled (in a real motivational “chicken or the egg” scenario) and everybody moves on. “This match came about due to an issue Sin Cara and Titus O’Neil had on the pre-show!” And then Braun shows up and beats them up, and I guess nobody has an issue anymore? Stuff like that. Everybody cares a lot in an instant, then never cares or remembers again.
In contrast, a lot of the bigger stories are built around padding an instantaneous moment into several weeks (or months) of programming. Not to rag on Bayley too much, but a great example of that is Bayley becoming number one contender to Charlotte Flair’s Raw Women’s Championship. Bayley shows up and is like, “I beat Charlotte three times in a row, that probably means I’m number one contender!” Nobody really argues it or confirms it. Charlotte shows up and shows a replay of last week’s backslide with her shoulder up, and says she talked to management and got the match thrown out. Now Bayley has to defeat her with Dana Brooke as the special guest referee if she wants to be number one contender. At no point is Bayley like, “was your shoulder up the other two times I beat you, that I just referenced?” Also at no point is Bayley like, “I’m number one contender because I’m literally the only available contender. This is what happens when you book a division around six women, three of whom are treated as important, and one of those three is always injured.”
Anyway, they have the match and Bayley suplexes Dana. Dana is the referee and could just say, “ring the bell, the match is over, she attacked the referee,” but doesn’t, and the announce team is like, “well she’s not REALLY a referee, she’s Charlotte’s protege!” So the announce team is confirming that all of this is bullshit. Dana, who is not a referee, is replaced by a second referee, who is one. And when Bayley’s about to pin Charlotte for the fourth time, Dana attacks that referee, replaces him and fast-counts Bayley. So I guess that means Bayley isn’t number one contender now? In spite of all of that? But like, the shoulder being up negated three previous matches, because “lawyers?”
The larger point I’m trying to make is that Raw really needs to find a middle ground on how it tells these stories. There are undercard bits based on actual emotional situations that get nuked in the microwave and thrown in the garbage within the same quarter hour that could maybe (maybe) form compelling stories with these thrown away guys to keep us interested in more than one part of the three-hour show every week. At the same time, the “important” stories have almost no meat on the bones, and are based around the presentation and re-presentation and RE-presentation of the same bit that should constitute a quarter-hour. See what I’m saying? You could make people actually give a shit about what’s happening, which would be nice, because these people are physically destroying themselves to say nothing. Nothing beyond, “we are WWE Superstars, look!”
Shorter version: Raw is not for me. I’m sorry it’s the “A-show” and the only thing anybody wants to read about on the wrestling Internet.
Let’s talk positives.
Best: Stephanie McMahon Ethers CM Punk
Best: Jack Gallagher Demands Satisfaction
Ariya Daivari loses a throwaway match to Rich Swann, but that’s not important. The Cruiserweight Division: That’s Not What’s Important.
Backstage, Daivari goes full “haha, what,” by blaming his loss on the “possible interference” of Jack Gallagher. I could get into existential realist Ariya Daivari. He should lose and then blame the Mandela Effect by saying he remembers winning, he swears he remembers winning, some of his friends remember it, too! It has to be alternate realities! So yeah, he calls Gallagher a scoundrel, which brings in Gala-Her himself straight-up looking like that ginger incarnation of The Doctor people keep asking for. Gallagher gives Daivari a chance to retract his “baseless schlahnder,” and when he doesn’t, Gallagher challenges him to a duel. Like, a for-real gloveslap to the face duel challenge.
If you don’t love Jack Gallagher, seriously, you’re doing it wrong. I hope Daivari shows up to 205 Live expecting a wrestling match and Gallagher walks in with pistols.
Best: Battle Power Times Ten!! Vegeta’s Great Metamorphosis
The fact that Neville vs. TJ Perkins didn’t end with his little fallen Saiyan-ass kicking Perk in the face once and killing him has ruined my suspension of disbelief. The match was pretty fun, but put together by someone who clearly doesn’t understand what made the Cruiserweight Classic great. Hope you like bouncing before dropkicks! The match ends with Neville reversing a knee-bar attempt into a pin and holding the tights, plus an extraneous five or so seconds while the referee readjusts to make sure the shoulders are down. Charlotte’s lawyers are on the case!
The best part is the post-match promo from Neville, where he drops a bomb promo about how American fans only talk about him when they’re criticizing his accent, his looks and his personality. I always thought Neville’s character and promo work in NXT was super underrated, so I’m happy to see him not only get to be a part of the show again, but really blossom as a fully-formed personality. You can’t really have much “personality” when your entire character is “from space?” and “points up a lot.” Age Nev rules. He always has.
After Swann’s match with Daivari, Swann is like, “I LOVE TO SMILE! I LOVE TO WIN!” until Neville hustles out and fucks him up. He runs Swann down to the ring and throws him like, guts-first into the LED board, then tosses him into the ring and Red Arrows his back. I love Rich Swann and I want him to be the Rey Mysterio of this new Cruiserweight Division, but that also requires Neville to be its Ultimo Dragon, and I don’t know if you actually remember any of those matches but Dragon beat that fool to death. Dragon got pinned sometimes, but he always put Mysterio through the ringer. If Neville doesn’t just murk Swann and win the belt, Swann better look like he’s lucky to get out alive.
Best: Frankly, Scarlett, Nia Jax Doesn’t Give A Damn
Between Barrister R.D. Evans showing up backstage and Hoopla Hottie Scarlett Bordeaux getting squashed by Nia Jax, it was a big night for Ring of Honor NPCs.
Bordeaux is just “Scarlett” here, not even getting a placeholder “somebody in the office” last name, and gets her character is a lady who was inspired to step into the ring by Sasha Banks. So she’s wearing a Sasha Banks t-shirt, and getting mauled by the lady who attacked an already-injured Sasha Banks. I wish they’d had her be inspired by Bayley, so she could do Cristin Milioti’s character from 30 Rock. “I’m a very sexy Bayley!”
Scarlett’s great here taking a beating, and the best Nia squashes are the ones where she just stomps around and is like, “here’s my ASS, I’m gonna drag you around by the hair, here’s the side of my ass AGAIN, I’m gonna pick you up and THROW YOU AT THE DAMN GROUND.” The pre-match interviews with these jobbers are still so weird though. “Do you think it was wise to have your first match against Nia Jax?” I don’t know, did she get to pick? Is that how matches work?
I hope Emmalina’s gimmick is that she hands out finished copies of Half-Life 3.
Best: RIP Xavier Woods
1. I love that suddenly right here at the end of the year, after being a trombone holder for like two years, Xavier Woods finally looks and feels and wrestles like part of the New Day. He feels like an actually useful third man instead of just the guy they sub in when Kofi or Big E are tired or injured. He’s been busting his ass all month, and it shows. He’s been the last season MVP.
2. I also love that Cesaro and Sheamus are finally on the same page and winning matches. Not only that, they’re winning them creatively. We had the tag fakeout that won them the Tag Team Championship, and here we have Sheamus tagging himself in to counter an Honor Roll with a Brogue Kick to save Cesaro. Not only that, but Cesaro reacts to the blind tag as a positive, and stays in the ring to make sure the distraction of Woods is complete. So, you know, they’re working together as a team. Which I guess means The Revival finally taught WWE proper how cool that can be.
Now that the New Day has failed to regain the titles, does The Club get another shot? Is there even another option?
I didn’t really recap it in here, but the show opens with Stephanie McMahon, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and a discussion about Triple H that leads to Rollins vs. Strowman, and Reigns vs. an opponent of Stephanie’s choosing. There’s nobody on the roster allowed to fight Reigns right now besides Jericho and Kevin Owens, so you know it’s one of those two.
I thought Rollins vs. Strowman was a hell of a lot of fun while it lasted. It honestly might’ve not been that good of an idea to put on the match because it felt SO fun, and because Rollins is quicker than the current heavier version of Sami Zayn and seems to understand the “stick and move” a lot better. Sami’s version is backing into the corner and getting hit so hard he makes puffy face and collapses. Rollins was actually out here moving quick, going for big moves and getting thrown around.
Not to discount Sami, though. Sami is Sami. He shows up unfortunately early in the match and causes a disqualification, helping set up next week’s Last Man Standing match between the two. I guess the only booking decision there is, “Sami Zayn dies question mark question mark,” but they also pushed that Goldberg appearance pretty hard, so maybe Goldberg’s going to give Sami the Eddie Guerrero No Way Out memorial assist? I’d be pretty into Goldberg pissing off Strowman heading into the Rumble, just for a Goldberg/Lesnar/Strowman showdown. Make them three of the final four if you want, as long as the fourth is Jack Gallagher.
Best: That John Cena Video Package
All I’ve ever wanted is the Old Man Logan version of John Cena, and the commercial for his Smackdown return hit that note. Man, I love this. They should put the people who make the video packages in charge of creative. They’re actually creative, and seem to understand the general idea of why people might want to see shit on wrestling shows. And they do it better in 66 seconds than Raw does it in 10,800.
Best: The Guy Who Catches Enzo Amore’s Wig
Enzo Amore shows up in a wheelchair to cut a “good promo” where he just rhymes a bunch of words and hopes you think it makes sense. ENZO AMORE’S LIKE A BIRD! AND BIRD IS THE WORD, HAVEN’T YOU HEARD, BECAUSE BIRDS BELT NESTS, AND THIS NEST AIN’T EMPTY! WEARIN’ PARK OVERALLS! AND I AIN’T OUT HERE FOR YOUR DAVID OR YOUR LEISURE, CAPICHE, I’M A TOUGH GUY AND I SEE YOU WITH MY TOUGH EYE, and so on. It’s fine. They can’t all be gold.
The best part is the guy in the crowd behind him in the scarf and the light-up Chris Jericho jacket. At the 1:15 mark, Enzo rips off his wig and throws it into the crowd, and it lands in that guy’s hands. Dude elaborately shrugs, puts it on and does Scott Hall taunt hands. Thank you for everything.
Best, But Like, What: Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns, Again
The main event ends up being Kevin Owens vs. Roman Reigns for the United States Championship, and it’s exactly the same kind of good it always is. It’s got no soul and you know it’s going to make you mad, but it’s perfectly fine wrestling.
The thing I don’t get, though, is that Owens vs. Reigns is your title match for the Royal Rumble, right? You did it a couple of weeks ago at Roadblock and had it end with Chris Jericho interference, setting up the stipulation that Jericho would have to be suspended above the ring in a WWE Crash Cage playset so Roman could have a chance. This week, you do Owens vs. Reigns and Jericho interferes, and Roman wins. So, like, is the cage necessary? Roman seems fine. And you’ve showed us every version of how this could play out. Why ask people to pay extra to see it again?
I don’t know. I never know. 2017 ALREADY PLEASE.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
The Real Birdman
I for one welcome our new gravity-less overlord
Baron Von Raschke
Neville is Uber-Aggressive? Does that work during surge pricing?
As someone who grew up on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, I never thought I’d see the day when I want to skip past the purple tape.
Full Nelson Reilly
Between the Miz’s participation awards and now sensitivity training certificates, I think Vince found his old PrintShop program from 1987. He was probably looking for Leisure Suit Larry.
The key to summoning Strowman appears to be having lowcard talent face each other.
‘I’m not saying your little friend isn’t a threat, but I’ve picked JINDER MAHAL as my partner.’
I’m hoping Enzo will still run his mouth after Rusev puts him in an iron lung
A Wheelchair on RAW? I know how THAT ends. Big Cass and Cena make out.
…And You Will Know Him By The Trail of Dead Cruiserweights
Wicked Clothesline – Check
All I need now for Bingo is for Cole to say that Roman has injured his ribs.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, everybody, and thanks for closing my fifth year — holy shit — of doing this column. Here’s hoping 2017 is a good one, and that Emmalina debuts before 2018.