Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: Stephanie McMahon grabbed three hours of prime-time television by the balls and twisted. Also on the show, Shawn Michaels promoted a Christian film by telling people to suck his dick.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for January 16, 2017.
Best: Nobody Cares About Sasha Banks, And Nia Jax Wears Her Bedazzled Jumpsuit 24/7
Remember when Goldust tried to disguise himself at a 7-Eleven by putting clothes over his gold bodysuit, like the bodysuit was his skin? That’s Nia Jax. Hours before the show everybody including most of the referees are in street clothes and complimentary Tapout gear, and Nia is decked out in full hair and makeup with her spandex and shoulderpads.
So yeah, before the show begins, Sasha Banks is in the ring being evaluated by a medical team who have I guess just realized that she can’t wrestle more than five minutes without one of her limbs falling off like a Dollar Store action figure. Nia Jax manages to get the jump on her despite (1) being Nia Jax-sized, (2) not being especially fast, (3) wearing a glittery bodysuit with shoulderpads, and (4) slowly climbing into the ring to attack her from behind in full view of like 15 people. So either Nia has joined the Nightingales and is wearing the Shadowcloak of Nocturnal, or nobody cares about Sasha Banks’ well-being.
Afterward, Nia talks to that weird lovechild of Tom Phillips and Michael Bublé about how she broke the Boss, and it’s probably the best Nia Jax promo ever. I’m still not a huge fan of her Linda Belcher voice and the awkwardly phrased dialogue they give her (and everybody else), but I’m so, so into Nia Jax as a smiley, violent, fine-as-hell Lady Vader.
Also, she’s kinda sorta totally right about Sasha. She’s great, but she’s also basically the Boss of an Urgent Care.
Best: An Instant Fix
Brock Lesnar showing up to kill anything that moves (instead of being a disinterested talking point in the background of his own promos) minus ANY Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley content equals a much, much better Raw. I can’t tell you how refreshing and easy this feels. “A wrestling show should be about cool wrestlers fighting each other and not passive-aggressive arguments between behind-the-scenes middle-management” shouldn’t be a thing I have to type 20,000 times in six years of wrestling columns.
And before I skim past it without giving credit where credit’s due, Roman Reigns opens the show with the closest thing he’s ever done to a “good promo.” It’s not Cane Dewey or Hard Times or whatever, but he speaks clearly and confidently, seems like he cares about what he’s saying, and moves on quickly to the plot advancement. No smirky half-acknowledgment of his mixed reactions, no hammering of limp catchphrases, just a bad-ass handsome Samoan guy skipping the 15 years of busy work and getting straight to the Modern John Cena “I know I’m awesome, I’m gonna beat the shit out of you” thing. It works, man. The craziest part of all of this is that Paul Heyman shows up and actually brings the promo DOWN. I never thought I’d see the day when PAUL GODDAMN HEYMAN is the weak link of a Roman Reigns promo.
That brings out Jericho and Owens, who are Jericho and Owens, and eventually Seth Rollins. Braun Strowman shows up next to get in Reigns’ face about that double-spear from a couple of weeks ago, and then Brock Lesnar’s music hits. Before he can get into the ring, Sami Zayn shows up, jumps on Strowman’s back, and completes the self-fulfilling prophecy of the Opening Segment Even Numbers Tag Team Match. Then, once the babyfaces are standing tall, Brock gets in the ring.
It’s basically the opening segment equivalent of one of those Royal Rumble things where the ring starts getting suspiciously full of people, and you know somebody cool or big or strong’s about to show up and clean house. Brock basically decimates Rollins, Reigns and Zayn by himself, even adding in a slightly-too-long staredown with Zayn that makes me desperately, desperately wish for Zayn/Lesnar at WrestleMania. Like, put Zayn over Strowman at Fastlane and give him Brock on the big stage. Also, please don’t ever have Brock Lesnar lose to somebody in a sub-90 seconds again. Or like, let that embarrassing loss prevent Lesnar from ever getting lazy and entitled again. Give me a hybrid of boring “Suplex City” Brock and the cool ambitious one who works too hard and does too much.
Great stuff in the open. And hey, the finish is even better!
Best/Worst: LOL What
I’ve spent all morning trying to figure out what’s going on with Sami Zayn in this backstage segment. After years of being “affable concerned Canadian ska guy,” Zayn is suddenly Alvy Singer from Annie Hall. It’s one of those things that gives me a negative reaction right now because it’s so unexpected, but will eventually probably help him stand out as a character and give him some identity on the main roster. It’s certainly different. And a lot like Zayn in real life, according to a lot of folks.
So yeah, a half-Worst this week for “haha, what,” followed by a hope that it becomes part of his actual character, and less like Strowman hit him in the head so hard he started acting like Woody Allen.
Worst: Jimmy Snuka’s Complicated Legacy
I can think of at least one lady who didn’t get to be here long.
Best?: A Dusty Finish For Heels
The general idea of a “Dusty Finish” is that per Starrcade ’85, a face either wins a match or appears to win a match and makes everyone super happy, only for referee or some other third party to reveal that something went wrong, and that’s not actually the result. In the case of Dusty, it was a referee getting knocked out but recovering enough to see the Four Horsemen interfere in his title match against Ric Flair, invalidating the win and reverting the title back to Flair. It’s a great and, at the time, brutally overused trope to keep feuds going and give fans happy responses without ever actually earning them.
When you do it with a heel, the motivations get a little confusing. The better of the two tag team matches on the night is The Club facing Sheamus and Cesaro in their quest to be the first team to lose 10,000 Tag Team Championship matches. They actually win this one by pinning Cesaro with a Magic Killer, but only after Sheamus accidentally knocked out the referee. So the Club’s announced the winners and the new champions, only for the original ref to wake up, disqualify Sheamus, and reveal that yeah, The Club won, but they didn’t win the titles.
So what’re we supposed to feel here? Anger at Sheamus for keeping the heels from winning the titles by inadvertently heeling himself? Sympathy for The Club, because they won, but not really, and only aren’t the champions because the faces got lucky on a technicality? Are we setting up a double turn? Do they ever do double turns EVER, and are we even deep enough in the feud to validate that? Did we just forget everybody’s personalities and want to keep the feud going?
Worst: Let’s Go To Mahal
The lesser of the two tag matches but certainly not bad on its own is Enzo Amore and Big Cass teaming up to face Rusev, who is still hanging out with Jinder Mahal for some reason. Enzo and Cass are smart here, utilizing the strategy I would recommend, “isolate the loser.” They just keep Rusev out of the ring and hit Jinder with moves. Because for real, Rusev drifts somewhere between Major Circuit and Minor Circuit Piston Honda, but Jinder is Von Kaiser at best.
Cruiserweight Division Lightning Round
Speaking of people who are like Von Kaiser, Jack Gallagher sits in on commentary for Ariya Daivari vs. Lince Dorado and in dulcet tones puts over his “I Forfeit” match with Daivari on this week’s 205 Live. I hope they surround the ring in a wooden fence and it ends with Gallagher stabbing Daivari in the eye with an umbrella.
Lince Dorado loses via submission, because that is Lince Dorado’s entire character right now. “Loses via submissions. Is cat?”
Cruiserweight match two is Cedric Alexander vs. Brian Kendrick. If you missed it, Cedric broke up with Alicia Fox and caused the greatest acting moment of the year, and probably the best WWE acting moment since Dolph Ziggler broke up with Maria.
This was actually really good without the Beau-iful Alicia Faughhhss content. Kendrick and Alexander had some great counters going on, and have a chemistry that could be a result of neither of them being TJP. But yeah, Alicia shows up post-breakup and helps Cedric grab the bottom rope to escape the You’re A Crook Captain’s Hook, then distracts Kendrick so Ced can get the jump on him. After the match, she tries to hug Cedric and gets cold-shouldered.
Meanwhile, we take multiple looks at “Bad At Jackets” Noam Dar standing backstage with the posture and hand gestures of a Scottish Mr. Burns, pervertedly observing high-octane cruiserweight chinlocks and Foxy’s romantic failings. I’d make a joke about him masturbating to this, but I can’t imagine Dar doing anything below the waist besides dramatically zipping up his pants.
The best cruiserweight content of the week, of course, is The God “Adrian” Neville saving us from a Tony Nese match by jumping Rich Swann before the bell. They tease Neville and Nese being “mirror images,” and I swear to God if they keep employing Tony Nese and DON’T make him Neville’s Mizdow, they are fucking dense.
Neville forever, the rest of y’all never.
Worst: Brand Over-saturation
Over the past few weeks we’ve seen such blockbuster segments as “Titus O’Neil tries to join the New Day, ends up insulting them and fighting Xavier Woods,” and, “Titus O’Neil tries to join the New Day, ends up insulting them and fighting Kofi Kingston,” so of course this week we get, “Titus O’Neil tries to join the New Day, ends up insulting them and fighting Big E.” You’ve done two-thirds of the story, and who cares if it’s the dirt worst? Do part three.
On the plus side, Big E gets a strong singles victory, which he should be getting on the reg. On the negative side, literally everything else.
Worst: Ah’ve Been Suo Good
The only way this pays off is if Emmalina debuts at the top of next week’s Raw, and doesn’t finish her entrance until the overrun.
Best: Kurt Angle Is Back And Definitely Won’t Be Having Any More Problems!
First of all, way to not save this for a Royal Rumble surprise and announce Angle’s induction the next night on Raw. I’m jaded as hell and spent the past 10 years watching Angle dive off cages every month, lose his wife to Jeff Jarrett like some sort of real-life Mongo and get tea-bagged by Scotty Steiner, but I would’ve lost my fucking sugar if I’d been in San Antonio, counted down a Rumble entrance and heard those horns.
But yeah, Kurt Angle is back from that mystical “independent circuit” void Sting fell into for a decade and is back for a WWE Hall of Fame induction. I’m sure I’ll write a lot about the guy, especially if he actually competes again, but original Kurt Angle pretty much all the way through the tiny hat era and into baldness and Brock Lesnar grab-ass was my JAM. There are few people more deserving of the spot, and if he’d just retired in 2005, there’d be nobody ever.
Worst: Charlotte Has No Idea Who Ivory Is, Does She
Look, I get what they were going for with this segment. On paper, it works. Charlotte Flair is an entitled, confident champion who thinks Bayley is beneath her, and uses Bayley’s openly markish history as a lifelong WWE fan to shame her. To Charlotte, a woman born into the business as the daughter of arguably the greatest North American pro wrestler of all time, has no idea what it’s like to be a fan. She kinda HAS to do this. She didn’t even want to for the longest time. To her, you’re kinda stupid if you spent your childhood idolizing these creeps and jerks. She even hates her dad, who was terrible to her, and publicly threw him under the bus to establish her own legacy.
At the same time, Bayley’s not shaken by this. She’s not insulted by being called a mark, because you have to be a mark to want to be a wrestler. Unless you’re like, Goldberg or Brock Lesnar of a football player without a future. Most folks got into wrestling because they like wrestling. She thinks it’s cool that she’s got mark photos with Bret Hart and Rob Van Dam and whoever else, and that she wrote essays and poems about wanting to grow up to be a wrestler. It’s a plot point that made her rise in NXT so memorable and identifiable. So the point of the segment is that Charlotte thinks she’s got an emotional or social leg up on Bayley, and Bayley’s like, “I’m proud of who I am.” Like I said, it works on paper.
In practice, it felt like it lasted for an hour. And you know, it was even still fine then until Bayley started making up poems. That was so bad it had a WWE crowd murmur-booing BAYLEY. That’s a bad decision. I know you think every babyface has to be a smarmy sassy genius, but they don’t. We like Bayley because she’s a normal human, not because she’s writing sub-Roman Reigns nursery rhymes.
A Quick Note About The United Kingdom Championship Tournament
A lot of people have messaged me asking my opinions of the tournament of if I’m writing up a Best and Worst of it, and I have to be honest. It’s a great idea and I’m glad that everyone was all about it, but it doesn’t do a lot for me. It’s kinda like somebody said, “what if we do the Cruiserweight Classic again, except everyone’s identical and the crowd’s doing karaoke the entire time.” Again, not throwing a lot of shade at it. It’s a thing people like, and they should like it how and why they do, and it just isn’t my bag.
That said, I hope they keep doing more and more tournaments for title belts with smaller and smaller guys until Triple H is taking smug pointing selfies with King Maxel Hardy.
Also, shout-out to WWE for having a champion who is a vegan born in 1997. Gonna pretend he’s my son from a Cable-esque imperfect future where I actually got out and met someone and maybe lifted some weights instead of writing about wrestling on the Internet 20 years.
Best: Everything But Kevin Owens’ Recollection Of Pay-per-views
As mentioned, this week’s main event is Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Sandy Bates from Stardust Memories against Team Chris and Kevin and Braun. The actual match is pretty forgettable, but the post-match stuff is GREAT.
Strowman pins Zayn (because of course he does), then carries him up to the stage and tries to put him through the announce table. He’s stopped by Rollins and Reigns, who execute the “cardio smokescreen/Mr. Clean” plan Zayn suggested earlier in the night. They try to finish off Braun, but Jericho and Owens recover and interrupt. What I loved about this brawl is that it actually felt like two teams fighting back and forth for supremacy, instead of the standard, “this week THIS team wins” three-minute uncontested beatdown.
The fight ends with Owens putting Reigns through a table, getting to look like a competent beast of a champion for the first time since … maybe ever. They’ve spent the entire year nerfing the guy, and now that he’s almost certainly about to lose the strap to Roman at Royal Rumble, he gets to look tough. That timing sucks, but I’m a big fan of Kevin Owens looking like an actual competitor who can hang with these jump-punchy superheroes.
One quick note, though: right before Owens puts Reigns through the table, he yells, “REMEMBER BATTLEGROUND?” What he meant to say is “Remember ROADBLOCK: END OF THE LINE,” which is the one that recently happened and ended with Jericho and Owens getting Shield-bombed through announce tables. Battleground is the one where Owens lost to Zayn. Guess we can’t blame the guy for not being able to remember pay-per-views.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
Let’s all take a moment to honor both Angles HOF spot and MLK day by remembering the time Angle became obssesed with banging Booker T’s wife.
Dar Wars, brought to you by 20th Century Foooooaaaaaauuuuuuxxxx
“Just thumb Alicia Fox in the eye.” -Aries
“Fine poem” — John Cena
Baron Von Raschke
Some say Bayley’s Junior High English teacher started the Women’s Sports Entertainment Revolution.
Full Nelson Reilly
I swear Duggan doesn’t age, he just stays at the same level of ruggedly ugly.
John Michael Hall
Titus’ brand is so bad it should be called Hepa-Titus.
Titus’ Brand: Still stronger than TNA
Cut to a crew member, “Aw, come on Adrian. We JUST changed those ropes.”
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading. Be sure to drop down into our comments section to let us know what you thought of the show, and click those social share buttons to help spread the word. I appreciate it. Yesterday was my birthday, so do me a solid. Join us next week as the Road to the Royal Rumble heats up, and I publish at least two retractions about how much I loved the UK tournament.