Previously on the Best and Worst of Raw: It was the fourth of July, which means everything was America. Team USA defeated Team Everybody Else Including Two Dudes From The USA in an elimination tag, the Social Outcasts dressed up like Minutemen, Enzo Amore named all the Presidents, and a mildly enjoyable time was had by all. “All” meaning “the few of us who stayed in and watched wrestling instead of doing fireworks.”
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for July 11, 2016.
Best: Make Darren Young Effectuate Again
This week’s show gets straight to the best part of my heart with a battle royal with a purpose — naming a new number one contender to the Intercontinental Championship before Battleground, which is in … some amount of days — with The Miz on commentary. For all the love we give Miz as a character, the guy’s utilitarian as hell on color commentary. He’s constantly putting over everyone and then putting himself over them, because he gets that you have to make your opponent seem important if you’re gonna get any kind of rub from beating them. If your opponent sucks, who cares if you beat them? Miz is the opposite of the Bella Twins, is what I’m saying.
Battles royal are great, especially these lower-tier ones where you aren’t totally sure who’s gonna win. In a Royal Rumble you’ve only got maybe two or three believable choices, but who knows with a Raw-opening IC title contendership battle royal? F*ckin’ Konnor could’ve taken this home. But honestly, it could’ve gone to Dolph Ziggler or Apollo Crews as easily as anyone, and then boop, Darren Young wins.
If you’re gonna pay off the what was that, 18 months of Darren Young vignettes, you could do a lot worse than immediately validating his arc of personal improvement by having him play a battle royal smart with some effective coaching and simply outlast everyone else. That’s what he does. Has a guy ever won a battle royal without eliminating anybody? He doesn’t even eliminate the last opponents, they do that to themselves. Crews sends himself and Corbin flipping over the top, and Darren Young’s just kinda kneeling in the corner when the bell rings. I love (love love) that good battle royal safety and strategy actually won someone a battle royal.
Plus, we haven’t even seen the crossface chickenwing from him yet, so we’ve reintroduced him without blowing the one marked improvement he got from the videos. Miz and Young could be secretly dope at Battleground, if only for Maryse and Bob Backlund interacting.
Best: Bob Backlund, BTW
“We’re off to Puerto Rico!”
Best: Dark Beard Rising
This isn’t the kind of thing I’d normally give a Best to. Sheamus has the forward momentum of a goddamn moonwalk right now and Zack Ryder really only pops me with his enthusiastic helplessness. I feel like my cat could win a shootfight with Zack Ryder. He should get some Brock Lesnar Jimmy John’s shorts with Just For Men beard color logos on them.
But yeah, even though the guy isn’t my favorite, I appreciate that they’re at least telling a consistent story with Zack Ryder, and positioning him as someone fans actually have a reason to cheer for, whether I choose to be into that reason or not. It’s very identifiable to see a guy lose a lot but get a few wins in a row, and try to use that tiny, almost nonexistent momentum to get himself an opportunity. It’s desperation, but good desperation. The guy lucked into a WrestleMania ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship due to half the roster being injured and a Kevin Owens plan backfiring, and he won the thing. So why wouldn’t THAT guy be all about using absolutely any excuse to try to make it happen again? “I was part of the winning team on a throwaway Independence Day AMERICA VS. Y’ALL match and then a won a single match, THAT MEANS I CAN BEAT RUSEV FOR THE UNITED STATES CHAMPIONSHIP.” He can’t, and he better f*cking not, but I get it, and I appreciate the character’s effort.
The actual ordeal of Sheamus vs. Zack Ryder isn’t spectacularly entertaining, but it serves a purpose. Sheamus wins, because you can’t expect Ryder to win that many matches n a row, but it sets up a great post-match attack: Rusev showing up and Accolading him to death while screaming I ASSEP YOUR CHALLENNNNN. Rusev is the best, and I’d Best pretty much anything* that got us to the Rusev part of the show.
The best part of Rusev accepting Zack’s challenge is that he did it after a loss. He’s even more comfortable than ever being like, “yeah, I’ll have a match with you, you’re terrible,” and that’s a Best Case Scenario for Ryder. If he’s THAT underestimated, he might be able to get the planets to align again or whatever and pull off another miracle. He shouldn’t, and I swear to God if he does I’ll flip every table I own, but it should make for a hell of a nearfall.
*Notable exception: weird aggro dating angles
Best: The Topes Win A Game!
Up next is the Lucha Dragons (looking like Brother Nero’s arms) vs. Fandango and Tyler Breeze, and stop the f*cking presses: Tyler Breeze won a match by pinfall on Raw. It made me want to pull confetti out of my pockets a la Rip Taylor and dance around my living room. It’s sick, too. Breeze takes advantage of Kalisto and Sin Cara apparently switching bodies and athletic ability in a Freaky Friday scenario, catches Kalisto on the ropes looking back through his own legs like a center and superkicks him in the face.
I’m sure some people watched this and thought, “great, this is what we’re gonna get when the brand split happens,” and yeah, I’m with you. They can’t seem to creatively fill three hours with the entire roster and give us the same variations of the same damn matches every week, how are they gonna do it with half? But on the other hand, it was nice as hell to see the homie Tyler Breeze pick up a W, so maybe we can do the optimistic thing for a minute and say, “the brand split will give more guys TV time, which will give guys more opportunities to get over and win matches and actually have character and stories.”
I really hope someone finally went to creative and said, “writers, get ready … you’re gonna have to start writing things soon!”
Best: Serious Dean Ambrose
Seth Rollins shows up with shocking video, which turns out to be him “interviewing” Roman Reigns on Rock Bottom. The Big Dog is gonna kick that sweet can. It’s funny enough in that Al TV kind of way, and pretty much confirms that Roman Reigns is a total joke. He’s even more of a joke when you get to the end of the segment and you realize how irrelevant he is to the most important feud he’s ever gonna have.
I’ve said it a lot, but it needs to be repeated here: Serious Dean Ambrose is great. In the ring he still has the offensive intensity and believably of an inflatable tube man, but if you let him be serious on a microphone, it eliminates every other problem you could possibly have with him. We saw it in the Roadblock feud with Triple H where he looked like the biggest star in the company, and we see it here again on Raw, when he cuts the sh*t and gets as intense as PG will allow to set up a one-on-one championship match with Rollins. It seems to engage Rollins, too, who is able to do really great mic work when you aren’t asking him to fill 20 minutes.
Ambrose’s “I bled a lot and lost body parts to get where I am, so there’s nothing I won’t sacrifice to stay here” is the kind of babyface talk I feel like WWE always wants, but usually only gets delivered by people who don’t seem like they believe it. When Cena talks about how he’s out here DAY IN AND DAY OUT for THESE PEOPLE you believe him, but it also sounds like something that was written for him to say because people would like it. With Ambrose, you feel like he’s really been in the trenches, because … well, he has. Not that the other top guys like Cena aren’t killing themselves all the time too, Ambrose (the character, just for clarification) just feels like the type of guy who might actually be in a gutter somewhere if he didn’t have this. Rollins doesn’t, and that’s why he can spend weeks begging for a one-on-one championship match, get it, then reschedule it.
Best: Kevin Owens Watches The Show
Sami Zayn shows up to do color commentary for the Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro match, but Owens doesn’t show up. It turns out he’s in the back, telling refs and management that he doesn’t want to go out there, because it’s an unsafe work environment. The one guy in the company who won’t stop punching him in the face is giving himself a front row seat so he can, we assume, punch faces. Owens is totally correct and justified, and then everything else happens.
Worst: Sami Zayn
I can’t believe the WWE main roster has created a world in which I’m on Kevin Owens’ side. I’ve always understood him, but man, Sami Zayn is a dick.
Owens gets Zayn thrown out for (let’s be honest) plotting some interference or a run-in, and Sami takes a swipe at him on the way out. Watch that clip. Owens is being condescending, but Sami’s the one that makes it physical. They fight, and Zayn gets taken out. Even with a pre-match fight, Owens beats Cesaro clean. I can’t bold that enough. It’s a good match we’ve seen a lot, and Owens wins it like he’s Chris Kanyon. And honestly, WHO BETTER to win a match like?
So after the match, Sami manages to sneak attack Owens anyway, jumping him from the crowd. Why? Because Owens got him thrown out so he couldn’t jump him earlier? Zayn gets the upper hand, because Owens just f*cking wrestled Cesaro, then rolls him into the ring. The referee stops him from continuing the attack, so Zayn instructs Cesaro to giant swing Owens. The guy who just lost to Owens clean. And they do it, because babyfaces. Kevin Owens is absolutely justified in hating these people’s guts.
NXT Sami wouldn’t appreciate the man you’ve become, WWE Sami. One day Bayley’s gonna be suckerpunching people and laughing while she jumps people from behind, so at least we’re learning how to have the conversation now.
Worst: The New Day-letion
Credit to like half the people I know for that joke.
In case you’re a Brother Nero and didn’t watch it last week, a “Broken” version of Matt Hardy that is basically a melodramatic, gothic Foghorn Leghorn is locked in a feud with his brother Jeff that involves robot fleets, Mexican-themed children’s birthday parties, battlefields being prepared for massacre and some of the most insane, badly-filmed-with-drones backyard wrestling footage by way of Tommy Wiseau ever. It’s almost impossible to explain. It’s like Matt Hardy decided to reinvent pro wrestling by sweding it.
For some reason, WWE thought it’d be a great idea to do a super serious version of that. It failed. A lot.
The New Day visit the Wyatt Family’s compound, which is apparently just a circle of dad cars in a field. They decided to wear matching “street fight” clothes, and … well, the teams fight. I don’t know why they didn’t just try to easily beat the Wyatt Family in wrestling matches like everyone else, but here we are having a field fight as seen through an Instagram filter, filmed on 8MM film and so full of bad lighting and jump cuts you can’t even tell what’s going on.
F*cking Matt Hardy of all people was able to orchestrate a fight built around fireworks guns, jumping out of trees and hiding under dilapidated boats and told a cohesive narrative. It had a beginning, a middle and an end. Those things were all SUPER STUPID, but they were there. This sh*t has none of it. Why are they in a field? What’s with all the cars? When did this happen? Who was taping it, and why’d they send in the footage to Raw for editing? Why are there “stay tuned for this later” bumpers with guys almost being killed with axes? Why do the Wyatts keep introducing deadly weapons only to drop them or stick them into trees? Why did Bray Wyatt throw someone into a car and beat up the car? It doesn’t hurt them. Did he learn that from John Cena dropping chairs onto a cart Wade Barrett was under? What happened at the end? Why did the fight just end? Is everybody fine? When Wyatt hit his catchphrase did they all Good Game each other?
The problem is that none of these questions are fun. With the Final Deletion, you’re like, why does Matt Hardy have a hologram drone? Why is “vanguard” spelled wrong? How did Senor Benjamin end up in the Willow costume? And the questions are all so f*cking illogical for existing that they’re fun. It’s like hyper irony. It’s the same tone Lucha Underground hits so well. Dragons and time travelers fighting werewolves in bathrooms with nunchucks isn’t cool. It’s the exact f*cking opposite, but they do it with style and pride and they never back down from it, and they say “this is our universe, these are the people in it, and this is what they do.” There’s a context. Beginnings, middles and ends. Not just, “we got together this weekend and made an art project, check it out!” Why’s this sh*t look like a horror movie I wanted to make look nice but didn’t have enough money to?
The most important question is this: How the hell are y’all gonna do what TNA just did worse than TNA? What the hell has the world come to when Matt Hardy and TNA are the trendsetters, and are legitimately funnier and better at executing a concept than The New Day?
F*ck this entire thing.
Best: The Social Outcasts
On a happier note, the Social Outcasts for real cut a promo about it being National Blueberry Muffin Day.
Worst: Slater Gator Explodes
The world is a terrible place right now as it is, now you gotta make me watch Titus O’Neil and Heath Slater beat each other up? Leave the memories alone.
Best/Worst: John Cena Is DEFINITELY NOT Here!
Enzo and Cass take on The Club to continue the story from last week and continue building toward the six-man at Battleground. The finish is Styles getting tired of Enzo being scrappy and dumping Cass into the crowd in full view of the referee to set up a 3-on-1 mauling. Just as Enzo’s about to get turned from the 100 emoji into the poop emoji — I’m speaking to you, youths — BIG MATCH JOHN appears from the mists and saves the day.
This is set up by so much conversation about John Cena not being around that had to be there. “John Cena’s not here. But if he WAS here, which he isn’t, we would fight him. Because we respect him. And his travel schedule.” “WULL MAYBE WE’LL GO TO WHERE JOHN CENA IS, WHICH IS NOT HERE TONIGHT IN THIS ARENA, AND BEAT HIM UP! BECAUSE IF WE CAN’T BEAT HIM UP NOW BECAUSE HE’S NOT HERE LIKE YOU SAID, WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO?” “I don’t know, I would call him, but he’s not here.”
God, all I want from Battleground is for Cena to turn on Enzo and Cass. I will learn how to fart gold before that happens, but how great would it be? Old Man Cena gets to finally shake things up and go Hollywood, and Enzo and Cass get made for life. They would sell so any t-shirts in both directions.
Actual Battleground prediction: Enzo hits his finish without Cass ever actually touching him, Cena does one of those celebratory freeze-frame jumps with his hands in the air.
Worst: Charlotte Has Amnesia Or Something
So this week’s main event is Sasha Banks vs. Dana Brooke. Sasha’s in her milestone pink and yellow gear, so you know it’s important to her. They have a solid match that might’ve been a little much, but it was good for what it was. Dana Brooke’s a lot like The Miz, especially early Miz, in that she’s a much better character than a wrestler, and her athleticism hasn’t totally figured out how to work for pro wrestling yet. She’s getting better, though, which I guess probably isn’t something you wanna be saying about someone main-eventing Raw, but it is what it is.
I’m Worsting it for the storyline, which is just inexcusable. Charlotte is like, “you beat Dana Brooke, but to prove yourself, you’re gonna have to beat Dana Brooke.” Not like Sasha hasn’t already beaten Dana Brooke before, even, but she’s gonna do it again on Smackdown. I was hoping Charlotte was gonna say IT’LL BE ME AND DANA VS. YOU AND PAIGE AT BATTLEGROUND.
Worst: More McMahons, More, More!
Vince: so there’s a brand split coming up, and the two people I have running Raw are fighting over who should run Smackdown
Everybody In The World: Shane’s running one and Stephanie’s running the other, right?
Vince: well hang on
Vince: tonight I’m gonna name a NEW COMMISSIONER, and they will be BRAND NEW to fit this NEW ERA of NEWNESS
Everybody In The World: sigh all right I’ll stay up
Vince: now for 15 minutes of me making my children bicker at each other about sh*t
Everybody In The World: uggghhhhh [hopes it’s Daniel Bryan to make up for this]
Vince: all right stephanie, plead your case
Stephanie: Hey isn’t this the exact same thing that happened when Shane showed up, and you made me explain why I’m good at the job I’ve been doing for years and you made him co-GM of Raw or whatever because he jumped off a cage, even though the entire point of his match was you bitching out the Undertaker to keep Shane out of power
Vince: shane, your turn
Shane: ay look I just wanna give much love to the crowd, one love y’all, one love
Vince: great point, has it been 15 minutes yet?
Everybody In The World: YES NAME THE COMMISSIONER
Vince: drum roll please
Drum Roll: [actually happens]
Vince: shane’s running one, stephanie’s running the other
Everybody In The World: [facepalms]
Vince: but that’s not enough, next week yous both will name your general managers, because i thought it’d be cool if instead of having one authority figure we had four
Shane: sounds great everything is so great
Vince: but look, i want you two to compete, and not just compete, i want you to literally kill each other. i want you at each other’s throats, i want you choking each other and pulling each other’s hairs but with sports-entertainment. i want you both to GRAPEFRUITS and RUTHLESS AGGRESSION. i want you HOLDING HANDS but then i want you to say EW and STOP holding hands because you HATE each other and also you wanna keep holding hands but you DON’T
Vince: now that I’ve let everyone down, my stories are on, bye
Shane: so are we supposed to make out, what are we doing
Stephanie: [slaps him]
Stephanie: yeah it still feels like we’re supposed to be hooking up
Daniel Bryan: [gardens]
Mauro: D-BRY SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON NYEW JAPAN’S KOTA IBUSHI, HE’S LIKE THE HARRY POTTER OF JAPANESE “PURORESU” OR JAPANESE PRO WRESTLING, AND HIS PATRONUS IS HIGH FLYING ACTION, METEOLOJINX RECANTO AND THEN HOP ON THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS THAT IS THE GOLDEN STAR PRESS
Daniel Bryan: [gardens angrily]
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Can’t Shane just ruin Stephanie’s lawn so this crap escalates?
“I expected you to be stabbing each other in the back, or slitting their throats”
*crowd starts throwing knives into the ring*
I think the girls could move so much better/have faster paced matches if they’d stop making them wear 6 feet of extensions. I’m not saying cornrows or GI Jane cuts but damn stop at shoulder length. That stuff is just in the way when you’re tryin to compete
I was expecting the camera to turn around at the end to reveal Luke Harper filming from a wheel chair. Then editing it on Final Cut.
The Real Birdman
This somehow ties into the new WWE Scooby Doo movie right?
Bray: See what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!!!
This has been a bad month for Jeff Hardy’s lawn
“Maryse has brought an all new level of confidence to myself and the Intercontinental Championship.”
The Intercontinental Championship has confidence issues?
Looking back over the past few years….I suppose that makes sense.
New Day going with 3 black guys in a horror move…. That’s a bold move Cotton, let’s see if it pays off for them.
Reigns: And then I/ grabbed the/sweet/drugs/sweet/ drugs.
Rollins: So you admit you grabbed the drugs. Do you have anything else to say in your defense? Mr. Reigns, your silence will only incriminate you further.
[paused Reigns face]
Rollins: No Mr. Reigns, don’t take your anger out on me! No, no, NOOOOO!
[Dramatization. May not have happened.]
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