Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: Money in the Bank happened. Dean Ambrose won the Money in the Bank ladder match. Seth Rollins pinned Roman Reigns clean (relatively) to become the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Ambrose cashed in and pinned Rollins to become the new new WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Things happened!
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for June 20, 2016.
Best: Dean Ambrose, Real Person
All booking nitpicking and general complaining aside, I wanted to take a second to say how much I enjoy those moments when we get to see how much Dean Ambrose loves pro wrestling. Last night’s show opened with him as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion and the crowd chanting, “you deserve it,” and the look on his face is wonderful. He just takes a second to stand there and smile, and let it all soak in. Remember when Jake the Snake showed up and Ambrose couldn’t stop corpsing because he was living a weird childhood dream? Those moments are great. Wrestling needs more moments where the performers are clearly loving what they’re doing, without telling us they love what they’re doing.
Ambrose was, of course, interrupted by two guys who can’t say a sentence in fewer than 15 minutes: Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins.
I like that Ambrose is the champion now, because both Rollins and Reigns are caught in these bizarre character gray areas.
Reigns has been there for a while, getting booed for literally anything he does, to the point that fans who boo him aren’t even booing him for anything. They’re just booing him because that’s what we do. There’s absolutely no logic or reason behind it. It’s like a “what” chant for a babyface promo, or little kids chanting “Goldberg” at Ryback. The “you can’t wrestle” chants are even worse, because they’re just incorrect. Of course he can wrestle. He main-evented two WrestleManias, was in the match of the year for 2014 and is only in this main-event spot because his New Star Superteam was the best part of the show for the entirety of their run. There are so, so, so many reasons to boo Roman Reigns, but his wrestling ability is at the very f*cking bottom of that list.
Rollins is caught, too, because WWE wants him to be a whimpering coward, and he’s totally not. Not only have we been bombarded with evidence that Seth Rollins is a passionate, talented, motivated dude who busted his ass to get where he is and busted an even bigger, more difficult ass to recover from a career-threatening injury, but when paired with Roman Reigns, he’s a default babyface. So he’s out here heeling and saying the heeliest heel sh*t he can think of, and the crowd just kinds listens to it and cheers. And then he’ll drop in stuff that a babyface would say, and the crowd gives him the same cheer. With both Rollins and Reigns, it’s not about anything they’re saying or doing. It’s about our impression of them, and what we think they should be. That could be said for most wrestlers, I guess, but Rollins and Reigns are the Randy Orton and John Cena (respectively) of intractable perception.
Anyway, they talk forever so Shane McMahon shows up and tells them to fight each other again for a shot at Ambrose at Battleground. Dean Ambrose remained very important.
Best/Worst: Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens
The “Worst” here is mostly for the way the match was advertised before commercial. THIS FEUD IS GOING TO BE SETTLED ONCE AND FOR ALL TONIGHT ON RAW. Yeah guys, I’m sure this eight minutes at the top of a Raw is going to be the definitive end of the Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn beef.
Zayn vs. Owens is always obviously pretty good, even when it’s just a setup for something more important down the road, but NXT has trained me to know that any one-on-one contest between the two that isn’t 100 percent Owens beating Zayn to death is a lie. My only rationalization is that Sami’s somehow getting better now that he’s removed from the pressures of a small pond with a regular audience, and Owens is so distracted by the bullsh*t minutia of WWE that he’s lost focused. Still, calling foul on Zayn beating Owens clean with a rollup in like eight minutes.
The good news is that Owens responds to the loss by trying to Machine Gun Kelly Zayn, and they fight and fight and fight. I love that the way to solve that problem is to put them in a match, which will just cause them to fight more, which will necessitate more matches. Zayn and Owens are condensed, distilled pro wrestling.
BEST: BIG MATCH BIG JOHNNY
I got on Facebook Live when John Laurinaitis’ music hit, so here’s my reaction:
That bizarre Teddy Long episode finally bears fruit as his rival and superior, Mr. Excitement, the former Executive Vice President of Talent Relations and former No. 1 All-Time General Manager of Both Raw and Smackdown, Mr. “Big” John “Ace” Laurinaitis, returned to Raw in the hopes of running Smackdown. I’m going to pretend that Shane McMahon was like, “yes, sure, that’s a great idea,” because I don’t want to imagine the alternatives.
And look at that suit. He looks like the bad guy in a really obvious comedy about the devil. Johnny really needs to hit somebody with an Ace Crusher, or at the very least drop a “f*ck CM Punk” into a promo before he stops showing up. Five stars. Team Johnny forever.
Best: Enzo Amore And Shane McMahon Are Shoe Pals
Enzo and Shane-O dapping shoes was adorable, but neither of them has the freshest dance moves. Or the freshest shoes.
Worst: If I Had A Dime For Every Time A WWE Babyface Insulted John Laurinaitis For No Reason, I Would Have Several Dimes
This of course leads to Enzo and Big Cass relentlessly ragging on Big Johnny for no reason, because that’s what people do. Enzo and Cass have had zero (dimes) interactions with him that we know of, aside from following a segment of his where he asked for his job back and acted kinda dorky. Hey Enzo, you f*cked a trombone last weekend, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, all right?
If you missed the match that followed, here’s what you need to know.
“Did you know the Vaudevillains once gave Enzo Amore a concussion? Let’s take a look at the footage. Did you see it? Let’s look at it again. Whoops, the match is over. See you next week, when we remind you of that one time Enzo Amore got a concussion!” — Michael Cole
Best: Terrible Rival AJ Styles
Before Money in the Bank, John Cena got the righteously indignant idea to produce two possible contracts — one that would make a one-on-one match between himself and AJ Styles, another that would pit him against AJ Styles and the other dudes in The Club, because he anticipated the interference and is great at overcoming odds — and emotionally, masculinely badger Styles into signing to face him one-on-one. “Balls,” Cena explained. “And also purses. And bitches.” Styles had no choice but to sign, because I mean God, come on.
At Money in the Bank, Styles and Cena had a great (great) one-on-one match. Cena had the match visually won with an Attitude Adjustment, but Styles’ feet had put the referee into a coma by gently brushing against him. With no ref, the Club was able to run down to the ring, hit a Magic Killer on Cena and pull Styles onto him for the cheap win. A thousand voices cried out and were suddenly silenced by the “YOU DON’T HAVE BALLS, I SAID” promo we’d assume Cena would cut on Monday.
On Monday, Cena cut a promo about balls. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, WWE Universe got to sit and wonder why why why.
That was predictably terrible — Cena would’ve acted like a fragile baby no matter how Styles beat him, so it was unavoidable — but it was made great by disingenuous heel Styles and his sleeveless bumpkin murder squad giving Cena a “public apology” for what happened. Styles said he wanted to do it alone, but his overzealous friends went too far trying to help him out. They all apologized and didn’t even mean it 1 percent, and it was WONDERFUL. It was such a preemptive “f*ck you” to the Cena promo everyone knew was coming. Styles was like, “hey, if you want a match you can fight any of Club except for me, because kiss this empty, smooth area where you’d assume a dick and balls might be.” He didn’t say it in those words, but I wish he would’ve.
Cena squashes Karl Anderson into a tiny cube, but before he can formally win the match, the Club runs back out and beats him up. I want Styles to play through the rest of his feud like he’s in WWE 2K storymode, just wants to get through it and immediately ends every match with a chair shot. “Oh, balls, really? Here’s me chairing you in your heart, enjoy having balls.”
Styles is so good right now, in so many ways. I hope he beats Cena until dude’s wearing a Nattie Light parody shirt.
Best: Baron Corbin vs. Local Talent
1. +1000 for absolutely no involvement whatsoever from Dolph Ziggler
2. Congratulations to this scrappy young star for getting an enhancement talent spot on Raw. Keep at it and maybe they’ll let you be one of the Rosebuds!
Worst: Dana Brooke
Paige is less a pro wrestler these days and more of a Wednesday Addams for WWE’s reality properties, but she Pinned The Women’s Champion on last week’s Raw and hey, that earns her a title match. She looks like she has it won, too, until Dana Brooke puts Charlotte’s foot on the rope. Sorry, I’m not phrasing that correctly. “She looks like she has it won, too, until Dana Brooke forgets how spacial relations work, climbs into the ring in front of the referee to help, f*cks up putting Charlotte’s foot on the bottom rope by trying to put it THROUGH the rope, then just kinda headlocks it against the bottom rope while yelling HEY REFEREE, LOOK AT HER FOOT ON THE ROPE while she is visibly cheating.” The referee, unsure of what the hell to do now that Dana’s executed the worst attempt at cheating ever, just walks across the ring away from everyone and calls it a two-count.
I’ve warmed to Dana as a character and a performer over the last year, but guys, it might be time to stop asking her to remember cues and do things.
Best: F*cking FINALLY
This is all an excuse to get the Fireworks Factory, aka the return of SASHA BANKS, all capital letters. I’ll miss my “none of these people are Sasha Banks, Sasha’s at home doing a jigsaw puzzle and forgot the pay-per-view was on” jokes, but I’m happy to have her back. She instantly becomes everyone’s favorite again by just wrecking Dana with a forearm. It’s so good the announcers actually pop for it. It’s the first time they’ve sounded interested in wrestling in a while.
There’s some awkward in-ring stuff where she jumps Charlotte, gets attacked from behind by Dana again and has to be saved by a barely interested-in-any-of-this Paige, but it’s a means to an end. We’ve got Sasha back, Sasha’s finally (f*cking finally) challenging for the WWE Women’s Championship, and Battleground’s looking like the best pay-per-view in ages. A Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn match, Sasha going for the women’s strap and (spoiler alert) a Shield triple threat for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship? AND probably Cena/Styles II? Battleground is gonna rule.
Worst: The Status Quo
Remember the last Raw Bray Wyatt appeared on before his injury? It was the April 11 episode. They teamed Wyatt with Roman Reigns against Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio, under the assumption that Bray would just turn on Roman and everyone would beat him up. Instead, Bray wrestled the match as a total babyface, and it was supa hot fire.
Here’s what I wrote at the time:
I didn’t expect much from the match, but it featured a real revelation: Bray Wyatt is kind of an amazing babyface.
I don’t want to get too enthusiastic about it or too hyperbolic trying to explain it, but it finally, finally felt like what Bray Wyatt needs to break that stupid f*cking cycle of failure and become the important guy he’s always needed to be. Bray coming in with fire off a hot tag honestly reminded me a lot of Dusty Rhodes, which is fitting. There’s something so physically off about him and he’s got such a natural internal charisma (the same sh*t that made us love him in NXT in the first place) that when he’s actually moving around and trying to get the crowd into it instead of stalking around like a slow, ineffective spider-man it’s AWESOME. It felt like we were waking up from a nap.
The best moment of the entire match is the finish, with Bray hitting Sister Abigail on Del Rio. Jump to the 2:45 mark in the video. When he goes for the pin, Sheamus steps in to break it up. Without looking back, Bray just sticks out an arm and points at Sheamus, and Roman Reigns comes rushing in and spears him. It’s like Wyatt was in control of Reigns for the moment and ordered him to jump Sheamus like you’d send a sabretooth tiger after an enemy in Far Cry Primal. I f*cking LOVED it. I also loved Bray being able to use Wyatt Family teleportation to stop outside interference.
I was so hopeful.
Much like Seth Rollins returning to Cowardly Heel despite having such a fresh interpretation of the character to replace it with, Bray Wyatt returned to the Wyatt Family status quo in his return to Raw. A long promo about nothing in particular, interrupted by some fan favorites making corny jokes, followed by sinister laughter and prophecies of their doom. Rinse and repeat.
The only highlight for me here was Xavier Woods being temporarily hypnotized by Bray, which opens up a world of Lucha Underground-style hypnosis story possibilities. Although even that’s got me worried, as it might be a long con to reveal that Eric Rowan just wanted to f*ck the dude’s trombone.
Stop being safe, Raw. There’s money in bravery.
Worst: Dear Shane, Don’t Be Stephanie
I didn’t enjoy Shane Stephanie McMahoning Chris Jericho — “Stephanie McMahoning” is my simplified way of saying, “emasculated him with a series of vague threats that the wrestler can’t really respond to in context or come out of looking good, which sucks, because they’re the talent we’re paying to see and even tough, respectable general managers shouldn’t be putting themselves over talent for no reason, see William Regal for an example of the character done right in your own company, Charlie Brown argh noises intensify” — but I do love a good “stupid idiot.” So this is mostly a wash, but Vince McTan needs to chill with the I’m The Coolest And Toughest And Most Important Character stuff. It’s just not necessary.
Capital letters. One of the best and most surprising moments of Raw for me was the followup to the paint-by-numbers-other-than-the-child-humiliation Titus O’Neil and Rusev United States Championship match. If you missed it, Rusev made Titus submit in front of his children, then stood next to them, called their dad a loser and wished them a happy Father’s Day. It was baller. It also featured savage followup tweets like this:
On Raw, Titus is like, “yeah, I’m gonna beat his ass for humiliating me and my family.” Then, instead of wrestling a match against him like most boring modern WWE dudes would do, Titus lets it f*cking rip. He shows up throwing hands, throws Rusev around (and into things), and responds to any Rusev offense by just going AAAAAAAAHHHHH and clobbering him. It’s AWESOME. Titus just straight up kicks the sh*t out of him for a few minutes until Rusev has to flee through the crowd.
This was great. Can we get some wrestlers and some matches with this kind of believable intensity in the future? Let these guys stop wrestling like they’re in a video game and actually perform some believable stories about revenge, anger and fury. Let’s get some pathos up in this fussy-ass three-hour soap opera.
Best: He Said Quail
Miz cuts a more heated and believable promo on the nutritional value of quail meat than Roman Reigns has about anything ever.
Best: Money After The Bank
Speaking of Roman, he and Seth Rollins have another very good match to determine the No. 1 contender to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Battleground. It gets out of hand to the point that Roman is spearing Seth over and announce table and getting them both counted-out. That leads to exactly what you think it leads to: Ambrose saying he’ll face both of them, and Shane McMahon making Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns — the long-awaited, often-tried Shield triple threat — for the 10 pounds of whatever that enormous gaudy class ring is made out of. Ambrose ends the show by beating everyone up, because he’s a paranoid drifter who finally realized his dreams and is probably going to lose his mind trying to keep it. I want pay-per-views ending with him biting people until the referee stops the match, then biting the referee.
As I was finishing up this week’s column, news broke that Roman has been suspended for a wellness policy violation, but he’ll be back in time for Battleground, because of course he will. At least now we’ve got a talking point for why he might not definitely win, right guys?
(God really doesn’t want that Shield triple threat to happen, does he.)
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
WWE fans: “WWE only puts important matches on 4 PPVs
WWE: *Puts an important match on another PPV*
WWE fans: “How dare you, this is an outrage.”
Odds of a segment where R-Truth tries to avoid “The Draft” because he ”ain’t about no war”?
According to Rey Mysterio / Eddie Guerrero rules, doesn’t Rusev legally own Titus’s kids now?
Apparantly Darren Young is the new way to say Glacier
The classic rivalry of meme-loving unicornkin, butthole-cereal-salesmen vs spooky swampbilly cultists
Big Baby Yeezus
Paige must be making bank letting the WWE use her house every week
The Phantom of the Uproxx
I’m glad Dolph finally cut his hair. And I’m digging the new green tights!
John won’t fall for this until AJ sends Rickon Cena up the ramp.
“Dean Ambrose proved something. When he cracked me over the back of the head last night, he proved he was nothing but a cockroach and a thief. I am the man.” -Seth
“Yeah, well, you know, thats just like, your opinion, man”
“I need you to apologize to one more person.”
“Sting, of course. Come on out, Sting!”
Thanks, everybody. See you in 30 days*!