Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: WWE Presents Cars happened, and … well, not a lot changed. Kalisto’s still the United States Champion, Kevin Owens is still the Intercontinental Champion, nobody debuted, nobody got hurt, and Roman Reigns is going to WrestleMania to face Triple H like you expected. The excitement is palpable!
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for Feb. 22, 2016.
Best: Brock Lesnar Goes Worldstar On Dean Ambrose
All I really ask for in my Brock Lesnar is that he be a Lovecraftian portal through which pro-wrestling violence is delivered to our world. It’s a simple request. I don’t want Brock cutting promos during contract signings, or getting tossed out of Royal Rumbles by guys who can’t beat Ryback, or showing up to Raws just to stand around and leave. Brock calls his finish the F-5 for a reason. You’ve got to treat Brock Lesnar like a f*cking tornado. He arrives, destroys everything and moves on. Also, he spins guys.
But anyway, yeah, Raw started at like 3 in the afternoon on Monday with Lesnar going all “REEARRGHH!” alien yell on Dean Ambrose in the parking lot of Joe Louis Arena. If you remember Fastlane, it was revealed that Dean Ambrose knows Brock’s two observable weaknesses: steel things, and shots to the balls. If you combine those with big power moves, you can beat him. It’s what Triple H did. The Undertaker did it, too. Both involved steel, nutshots, or both. Reigns can do all the jumping splits punches he wants, but Ambrose micromanaged that big f*cker with folding chairs to the back and uppercuts to the dick.
This is how messing with Lesnar’s forward momentum and coming to work with him the next day should look, always. I love it when WWE puts a little effort into convincing us that these absurd people are real human beings who exist in our world, and there’s no reason why people would or should wait until they’re on live TV to air all their grievances. Sometimes you want to “address the WWE Universe” or whatever, but sometimes you just want to hurt a dude, and “we’re working in the same building tonight” is all the explanation you need. Instead of doing those safe, boring backstage interviews all the time, give us more stuff like this. Give us more moments like the post-show Fallout videos, where the performers are just kinda living in their characters and not being interchangeable cogs in a boring-ass machine.
If your world is real, chances are we’re gonna want to pay a lot of money to be a part of it. It’s one reason why NXT tickets for Dallas cost a thousand bucks on Stubhub. It’s why Lucha Underground is so fun. It feels like you’re part of the show, part of a “universe,” and not just standing behind protective glass watching monkeys pick ticks and hurl piles of sh*t at each other.
Best: Here Comes Back The Money
Yes, younger Brandon. Yes he is.
Shane By God O’ Mac made his return to WWE TV after a six-year absence, and if you aren’t familiar with the guy, listen to the crowd go nuts trying to chant “holy sh*t” and “this is awesome” at the same time.
Just to say it, it’s … a lot to take in. In one segment we got the return of a long-absent NPC (who sometimes gets added to your party for big boss fights), we got a Dario Cueto-esque clandestine business deal mentioned and not totally explained, we got the Shane vs. Stephanie character rivalry back, we addressed WWE’s real-life concerns like bored crowds and sagging ratings, and we set up a new General Manager Power Grab. And Shane McMahon is wrestling the Undertaker at WrestleMania in a Hell in a Cell match for control of Raw. Like, look how much information is in that one sentence. That is SO MUCH.
There’s a lot of stuff we have to figure out over the next few weeks, and some of it could go very badly. Think about it. It’s a 50-year-old wrestler vs. a 46-year-old non-wrestler in a marquee match at WrestleMania. It’s a hugely over-returning babyface trying to do something noble by beating a beloved fan-favorite who wins 95 percent of his WrestleMania matches. A beloved fan-favorite who, whether it still seems important or not, still kinda has to win at WrestleMania. It’s still a thing. There’s the truth that the only way it’s gonna be good is with blood and high-spots, and even then you’ve got it on the same show as Ambrose vs. Lesnar and Triple H vs. Reigns, which will need some combination of bloody violence or spectacle to get them over. It’s a weird choice, seemingly out of nowhere, and the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. If Shane has Vince over a barrel enough to manipulate him, why’s Vince able to put him in the hardest match ever as some sort of prerequisite for business? How does that even work? Why is Shane okay with that? Why would the Undertaker be okay with it? Wouldn’t the Undertaker want to lose to Shane so he can have a boss who isn’t trying to megalomaniacally destroy his well-meaning employees? Does Shane just want Raw? Is it a setup for a brand split? Do we want that? Are there enough healthy people to DO that?
But at the end of the day, this is one of those segments I’m choosing to enjoy at face value and be happy exists. Shane O’ Mac is back, there’s at least a 50 percent chance the motherf*cking Mean Street Posse is going to cameo at WrestleMania in 2016, and he did his little dance.
He did that dance in sneakers and skinny jeans looking like Matt LeBlanc and was instantly the coolest guy on the show.
I also wanted to take a minute to let the crowd reaction to Shane’s return soak in. We’re so used to people just silently sitting through Wyatt Family matches and not reacting unless there’s a “what” chant to be made that we forget how crucial to the process an organic, excited crowd response is. It wasn’t just Shane, the entire segment was laid out for maximum effect. Listen to the crowd when they realize Vince is just giving the award to Stephanie. That’s “Eva Marie forgot to kick out at Full Sail” boos. That’s, “why the f*ck did we buy tickets to this” boos. And then here comes the money, and the reaction is not only happiness and surprise, but relief, and the immediate association of Shane McMahon with saving WWE.
Shane’s emotional reaction during the commercial break makes me so happy. I don’t think he realized that people would give this much of a sh*t about him. We do, man. For better or worse. We’ve seen you and Kane get into a feud over who can shock the other’s balls with a car battery and we’ve seen you beat up the Legacy with terrible, fake, little-brother punches, but we’ve also seen you jump off a Titantron and get suplexed into and through glass walls by Kurt Angle. You’re the sweet spot between Vince McMahon and Triple H for us. We know you care about wrestling and have the power to make it better, but we don’t have to worry about you taking it too far. We’ve seen you step away, and now we’ve seen you come back.
I hope this stays happy. I hope we get to WrestleMania and everything after and still feel like this.
Best: Can We Please Get Neville And Kalisto As A Permanent Tag Team
It’s gonna take me a while to adjust to this uncomfortable “we’re sorta babyfaces now and our jokes aren’t as funny but we haven’t completely sh*t the bed yet” New Day, but if they get to have exciting matches with folks like Neville and Sin Cara that aren’t just trombone stomping and sh*tty finishes, I’m into it. I want to like them, and I want to keep liking them, I’ve just … I don’t know how to say it. WWE sorta treats diehard fans like shelter dogs. Our love doesn’t get returned so we get real scared and shaky and sit in the corner with our heads down, but if you crouch down and hold out your hand and promise us love, we’re gonna wag our tails. We might not come running right away, but we want you to pet us and give us a forever home, god dammit. New Day’s got me shelter dogging right now, but I am ready to wag. Yes, that’s the easiest way I could’ve said that.
Longtime readers (and especially readers of the Best and Worst of NXT) know that I’m a Neville fanboy. I never really liked PAC, but Neville is my jam. I keep waiting for his trial period to be over on the main roster so he can start having stories and actually doing things besides “sorta being a super hero” and “flipping for 2-3 minutes before Wade Barrett does something to him.” I don’t know if he’ll ever be more than the talented little guy on Raw and Smackdown, but I’d be totally okay with it if he got matches like this every week and go to do dope sh*t like 450s off the apron to the floor and using his back as a springboard for Kalisto to do his OWN 450 to the floor. Sin Cara’s in the ring doing real slow springboard flying nothings, and God bless him for getting through it without breaking both of his legs, but, well …
Worst: Sin Cara Though, For Real
My favorite part of the entire match is when Neville’s trying to make the hot tag. Sin Cara’s standing there holding the tag rope making “come on, tag me” hands, and Neville gets very close … and Sin Cara doesn’t move. He just stays in that one spot doing that one gesture. Kofi runs over and knocks Kalisto off the apron, and Sin Cara’s still just standing there with his hand out. The referee actually walks over and grabs him by the arm to like, bring him back to life. I’m wondering if Hunico just straight up fell asleep standing on the apron.
Best: Crazy Dean Ambrose Is Crazy
Getting back to that Lovecraftian Brock Lesnar thing, I can’t overstate how much I’m digging this Dean Ambrose feud. It’s a perfect use of both guys.
We’ve talked about it before, but here’s the list of all of Brock Lesnar’s weak spots:
1. his groin
2. his entire body, if you attack him with metal
3. his stomach, if you’re strong and fighting for real
4. his ego
Brock Lesnar doesn’t give a sh*t about anybody but Brock Lesnar. He only likes Paul Heyman because Paul won’t stop singing his praises. He uses Heyman as a way to speak to the rest of the world, I think. Otherwise it’s just Brock in a room getting increasingly angry, talking about how he’s gonna make you piss down your leg.
The Ambrose feud works because Ambrose isn’t really a threat to Brock, but he understands him and his weaknesses. He’s like a kid playing Punch-Out. You know you’ve got to hit King Hippo in the navel and do left right left right left right against Don Flamenco, but you’re a kid and you suck at video games, so sometimes you f*ck it up. Ambrose knows how to beat Brock probably better than anyone at this point and isn’t afraid of him, but he’s physically way, way, way out of his league. It’s an interesting dynamic. Brock hates him and wants him to die because he’s an arrogant bully who wants everyone to be afraid of him, so he’s like 50 percent on the warpath and 50 percent nonchalant. He thinks Ambrose should be an easy kill, but he isn’t.
I like that Ambrose did the wacky thing and drove the ambulance back, but wasn’t superman about it. He got back to the arena to stand up to Brock, but he can’t even STAND UP. Brock walks over him and leaves him to die, and Ambrose just keeps pushing his buttons until Brock has to come back and throw him at the f*cking ground. I can’t WAIT for the payoff to this, and I hope it involves some kind of movie magic where Ambrose gets the win but like, loses an arm.
Best: The Dudley Boyz As Know-Better Veterans
Worst: The Ascension, The Least Dominant Team In Raw History
I like the realism that’s going into this Dudley Boyz heel turn. They’re the most decorated tag team in history, and the only thing people want from them is table spots. That’s gotta be disheartening, you know? It’s Woody Allen in Stardust Memories. People just want your earlier, funny stuff. I like that they’re acknowledging what a sh*t show that nostalgia run turned out to be, and are turning it around on teams like the Usos who are pretty much nostalgia runs for themselves in their prime. Throwing shade at Rikishi for “buying thongs” instead of being a good dad was pretty amazing, and on point.
Sadly, the end of this segment is having to watch an Usos vs. The Ascension match. That makes me do one of those New Day ooooh noooos. Tuning in to Raw and seeing the Usos vs. The Ascension is like buying tickets to a Major League Baseball game and finding out the only people playing are the grounds crew and the mascot. At least it was over quickly.
My favorite moment of this interaction is when Adam Rose names the Chris Jericho/AJ Styles team “Y2-AJ.” Jericho sorta looks at Styles and mouths, “that was clever,” and Styles nods. You know he’s done that nod SO MANY TIMES. “Hey AJ, you good with this angle about how you might be having an affair with your boss and impregnated a drug addict, and then she turns heel on you and you have to have a match to determine whether or not you’re her baby’s father?” Nod, nod, yes that’s fine.
Of course I love the Social Outcasts (and precious, precious Bo), but I honestly really enjoyed Jericho and Styles as a tag team. It makes sense. They work as sort of a 2010s, aging Rock n’ Roll Express, if Robert Gibson was one of the best workers in the world and Ricky Morton couldn’t grow out the back of his mullet. The springboard to the outside at the end was great, and if we’ve only got so much space on the WrestleMania card, I wouldn’t mind seeing A2J — the better name — stay together for a while.
Worst: R-Truth Is An A-Hole
WWE babyfaces are horrible people. Were you aware?
Goldust feels badly about how his attempts at being R-Truth’s tag team partners have gone, so he bakes him a cake — yellow cake with chocolate frosting, just like them — with “I’M SORRY” on it. Now, Goldust has been following Truth around and mildly f*cking up his day, but this is a nice gesture, especially coming from a character like Goldust who we’ve seen morph from a sexual predator into a well-meaning Sith Cowboy over the past 20 years. Truth’s response is to not only make Goldust feel as badly as possible, but to acknowledge how he could hit Goldie in the face with his apology cake, pretend he’s not going to do it, then do it. You are smashing an APOLOGY CAKE in a guy’s face. An apology cake. AN APOLOGY CAKE.
F*ck R-Truth. Nothing Goldust has done has been worse than “mild embarrassment” and “trying to help you fight off four guys and not being able to do it by himself.” When he’s out here haplessly, affably acknowledging his mistakes, how are you gonna use THAT as the opportunity to hurt him? WWE babyfaces aren’t just bad people, they’re pointlessly and specifically cruel. I hate it. I hope Goldust beats his ass.
Worst: I Would Rather Flush A Toilet And Watch My Sh*t Swirl Down A Drain Than Ever Watch These Guys Wrestle Again
Kane loses a match because Ryback stops standing on the apron, even though he was winning when Ryback bailed. The Wyatt Family get a win that means nothing, and only after they got a 3-on-2 advantage. Hey, remember when they beat The Shield? No? Yeah, me either.
Anybody looking forward to Ryback vs. Kane at WrestleMania? Or Ryback vs. WWE World Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns at Payback?
Best: Let’s Not Sleep On How Much Sense These Divas Storylines Are Making
When Becky Lynch started feuding with Charlotte, I wrote a lot about how even if it wasn’t the best or most exciting feud ever, it was light-years beyond most Divas (or WWE) stories because it was at least attempting to make sense. The story went from point A to point B to point C, and even if they stuttered or took a side-step every week or two, they were always moving toward a match and a goal. Brie Bella showed up and that got wonky for a minute, but I’m happy to say we’re back.
The past few weeks of Divas stories have led to two realizations:
1. Charlotte is a dominant Divas Champion and her self-esteem’s getting a little unbearable, and
2. Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch don’t really get along, but they’re a great team, and probably the two best female athletes on the show.
What would Charlotte do in this situation? Nikki Bella’s injured, so she’s not going to be at WrestleMania. Brie just lost her title match. Paige lost via rollup to Summer Rae last week so she’s a non-factor. Naomi and Tamina lost most of their recent matches, including Naomi’s singles match against Sasha on Raw. Charlotte knows she’s either gonna face Becky or Sasha at Mania — two women she knows very well — and she knows they’re not super-friendly. What should she do? She should spend the next few weeks f*cking with them, getting them at each other’s throats and maximizing the chance that one will take the other out or they’ll destroy each other before Mania. It’s beautiful.
That’s what the post-match stuff is this week. It’s Charlotte showing up and very dramatically, very obviously saying FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT. The delivery isn’t great, but the point is, and I’m excited to see how we get to the obvious conclusion of Charlotte having to face both of them.
Best/Worst: SHUT IT DOWN
Finally we have … wait, what is this?
Roman Reigns wrestles Sheamus. Finally, a fresh match-up! It ends when Triple H shows up and just brutally beats the ever-loving sh*t out of Roman Reigns, smashing his face into everything at ringside and leaving him a bloody f*cking mess. The crowd boos Roman and cheers H, and they chant “yes” in tune with H slamming Roman’s bloody face into a table. When Roman is basically dead, Triple H does a sarcastic fist cocking and a CROTCH CHOP with BLOOD-SOAKED HANDS. It’s … the greatest, most bad-ass babyface thing that’s happened in ages. This entitled, unpopular guy who would beat up his own brother for a title opportunity he’s already gotten THREE of since November gets shut down by that legendary guy who spends his free time signing all your favorite indie stars to WWE deals, promoting women’s wrestling, treating Asian stars like stars instead of “Asians” and making sure WWE buzzworthy, cool and true to the sport heading into a very different kind of future. It’s like NXT Triple H and WWE Triple H finally became the same guy, and we did a double-turn without really doing anything.
I should be really upset about it, you know? I should be pissed that Triple H is so bad at being a heel that he’s slamming faux-John Cena’s face into a table in time with crowd chants, and that we’re heading into a WrestleMania main event so built around a possible, catastrophic fans vs. promotion failure that you can only describe it with exaggerated Yano shrugs. Instead, I just kinda loved Triple H beating the sh*t out of this guy I don’t like. Maybe it was the blood, I don’t know. Maybe I’m so used to WWE beatdowns that feel safe and practiced that H just murdering a motherf*cker and leaving him on death’s door in a bloody heap made me feel like a kid again. That’s psychotic to say, right? I grew up watching wrestling in the 80s, and bloody violence is almost nostalgic to me now. It makes me feel like I’m in the NWA again, and not watching Mattel presents WWE, The Show For Families. It feels like the kind of wrestling Triple H might actually like. I remember being a kid and walking into convenience stores, and seeing wrestling magazines COVERED in bloody faces. I’m not begging for people to bleed or for the rise of garbage wrestling or whatever, but man, there are few things that add urgency and realism to a feud like blood. If you pedigree a dude into steel steps, his face should be destroyed. Everything’s so safe that the controlled unsafe feels like a revelation. It’s like, “there’s still pro wrestling under here, we swear.”
So that’s where I’m at. Next week I’m sure I’ll be like, “wah, The Authority doesn’t make sense, Roman sucks at promos, Triple H wants to be cheered and booed at the same time and it’s dumb.” But for this week? BLOODY COCKED FIST, BLOODY CROTCH CHOP, EAT SH*T MERC MERO.
Wrestling turns me into Beavis sometimes. I’ll figure it out.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
“They love me. Holy sh*t, they finally love me. All I had to do was sign all their darlings, create a uptopian sub-brand, and create a totally unlikable goober for me to kill for them, but they finally f*cking ACCEPT ME.” – Triple H’s internal monologue.
Triple H: I felt like destroying something beautiful..
Hot to Tot
HHH just saved Roman’s career with that throat shot
Ryback: *abandons partners in match*
*Kane and Big Show both shed a single tear of pride*
Chair ’em up
I hope Ryback was trying to cap off his CM Punk imitation there by walking out on the company.
The Wyatts are in worse shape than Detroit is.
Aj:I’m a little bit country.
Y2J:And I’m a little bit rock n roll
Mr. Royal Rumble, TheCensoredMSol
Shane McMahon: “See, this is exactly what I’m talking about.”
The Real Birdman
*Monday night after Shane beats Taker for control of Raw*
Shane: “And now for my first act as manager, Raw is now 4 HOURS!”
*WithSpandexers collective facepalm*
Establish previously unheard of conflicts
Quickly escalate those stakes so they engulf the entire company
Randomly insert the Undertaker into said feud
Thanks, everybody. Happy to be on the Actual Road To WrestleMania finally. Next week, Linda McMahon returns and immediately lapses into a coma! And so do we!