Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: Roman Reigns and The Undertaker got into a staredown and a brief throat-grabbing about whose yard the WWE is, and how many large dogs are allowed to dog it up within. Sasha Banks earned a spot in the Raw Women’s Championship match at WrestleMania, Rick Rude’s getting into the Hall of Fame, and Neville’s doing everything in his power to make the cruiserweight division, you know, good.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for March 13, 2017.
Best, I Guess: Down Goes Goldberg
Paul Heyman cutting a fire and brimstone promo is always pretty good, even when it’s not, but there are only a few ways (Bill) Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar III at WrestleMania can go, and I think we all know it.
- Goldberg beats Lesnar in like two minutes again, repeating the mistakes of WCW, ending a WrestleMania main-event in only a few minutes and leaving us with Unstoppable Ancient Sweat Dad as a Universal Champion who can’t be unseated by the previous Toughest Wrestler Ever, so he’s got to lose the championship in seconds/by technicality/due to cattle-prod-levels of bullshit.
- Lesnar avoids Goldberg’s initial assault, surprises everyone and beats Goldberg in a few minutes, because Goldberg really can’t go more than a few minutes. Lesnar provides us with the “down goes Goldberg” moment and kinda sorta salvages his legacy as the most dominant guy in the company, even though he’s still down 2-1 to the guy and looked like his b-word twice in the last four months. Lesnar then goes on to lose the belt to who at SummerSlam, Roman?
- Goldberg and Lesnar attempt to do a main-event style match, which we’ve already seen crash and burn at WrestleMania 20. And that was with both parties 13 years younger. And now they don’t have Stone Cold Steve Austin there to stun them and drink beers and save the day, and also they’re following the entire show, for better or worse. If it’s a great show, maybe nobody will care. If it’s a bad show, it gets bad.
Usually with a marquee match there are so many intangibles that sure, you can fantasy book it all you want, but they could always go out there and do something completely different and surprise you. Is there a chance Goldberg and Lesnar are gonna go out there and do that Hogan vs. McMahon WrestleMania 19 garbage match where they wander around the arena hitting each other in the face with shit and going through tables and bleeding for 20 minutes until one of them hits a finisher? Sure, I guess, but Goldberg’s lungs would be ash by the end of that. I don’t want to see someone actually die in the ring in a WrestleMania main event, so one of those three things is gonna happen, and that means even the good pre-Mania Goldberg/Lesnar segments are colored with, “yeah, but.”
(See what I did there)
Worst: Stephanie McMahon’s Not-That-Indecent Proposal
So early in the show, Stephanie McMahon pretends to be nice to poor Mick Foley for a few seconds before revealing her big plan: she’s ordering Mick to fire one person, anybody, from the Raw roster. She says it’ll get people on their toes and make for an increase in competition. Mick is like, ravaged by the possibility of having to do this, even though hiring and firing people on the regular is kinda sorta part of his job description. So Mick is all torn up about it, building for the entire show until the final segment, which we’ll get to (at length) in a bit.
But I wanted to bring this up early, because …
Worst: Why Not Just Fire Titus?
It’s Raw. Raw has a pretty deep roster, especially if you consider the cruiserweights from 205 Live, the possible UK talent that could waltz onto the show at any moment and everyone in NXT waiting to get called up. On top of that, you’ve got this whole sea of jokers who never or rarely get on the show at all. Go to just the male talent section of the Raw wiki page. You’re gonna get wrecked because you have to fire Sin Cara? When was the last time he did anything? Primo and Epico are only around to hand people pamphlets and immediately lose. Frank the Clown and Brock Lesnar Guy could do their jobs, for real. Me and a stranger I meet in the hallway before we’re told to go out to the ring could do that. Bo? Curtis Axel? I like these guys, sure, but nobody else does, and they’re not exactly contributing to your show every week. You only keep the around so you can have bodies if you need more than one jobber in a backstage segment.
And most of all, Jesus Christ, fire Titus O’Neil. The guy almost got fired for touching the boss, and ever since he’s been back he’s just been a joke for people to easily humiliate. You aren’t losing anything if you fire Titus. He’s got a job in college football waiting. And if we’re being honest, even Titus at his very very best has never been great, so what, you’re gonna throw your life down the toilet or like, tease firing Sami Zayn when you’ve got a trough full of slop you could just tip over and empty? When anybody decent you kayfabe fire can just pop up on Smackdown tomorrow? Come on.
Here’s Titus helplessly losing to Big Show via three chokeslams after an absolutely brutal “New Day Talks” segment that (and yes, I’m actually typing this) was about the Jetsons WWE movie but wasn’t about the Jetsons enough to be good.
Best: Handsome Rusev, Always
Best: Poor Sami Zayn
Speaking of poor, poor Sami Zayn, here he is somehow losing a match he just won. There are all these news reports about Sami’s “babyface push” being done, and I swear, I must have fallen and hit my head on the coffee table if losing to everyone even slightly more important than him constitutes a “push.”
But yeah, Sami teams up with Chris Jericho to take on Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe, who get disqualified for kicking too much ass. That’s not the only time this happens in the episode, if you’re keeping track. Zayn gets beaten up so badly he wins by disqualification, and then disappears so Jericho can come in and get the rest of the beatdown. Because, you know, Jericho actually has a match at WrestleMania. So maybe that’s what they meant by his “push ending?” He’s the least important part of his matches, and he always gets his ass kicked and disappears?
… wasn’t he doing that anyway? I don’t know how wrestling works.
The Other Finish Like That
The other “you wrestled too much!” finish happens when Nia Jax takes on Raw Women’s Champion Belly™. Nia wants to be a part of the Women’s Championship match Sasha Banks just kind of ended up in at WrestleMania, so she beats Bayley up in the corner until the Afraid Of Wrestling referee ends the match. Nia hangs Bayley upside down, beats her up some more, then tosses her into the security railing by the side-pony.
I’m not sure what to give it, because the booking is incredibly tired, but I like pretty much all instances of Nia Jax letting loose and wrecking people. So we’ll call it somewhere in the middle, and hope Nia gets added to the match at WrestleMania instead of Dana Brooke.
Because yo, that might be happening.
Best: Dana Brooke Is Doing Her Alex Riley Face Turn Finally (But Way Too Late)
Dana Brooke loses to Sasha Banks via O’Connor roll in like forty seconds, because Sasha realized Dana’s only weakness: basic wrestling holds. You could like, schoolboy Dana and hold her there for infinity while she waved her arms and legs around like a turtle. If you put her in a headlock there’s a 30% chance her head will actually come off.
So after the match, Charlotte tells Dana she’s a disgrace and not worthy of being in her presence, and they end up brawling. It’s the Miz/Alex Riley teacher/student kerfuffle, which would’ve been INSANELY better timed had they done it BEFORE Dana vanished for what felt like several months with no explanation. She only recently slow-jogged back onto the scene, with all that heat dissolved. So it’s cool, I guess, but there’s a solid chance it’s just another Crying Of Wolf so we don’t expect Dana to hit Sasha over the back of the head with a picnic basket or something in a tag match a week before Mania.
Or maybe she’ll gravitate back to Emma, and when Emma finally returns and reverts back into Emmalina for 17 weeks, she can be Danette, or whatever.
The other female content on this week’s episode is this tribute to Billie Jean King, because WWE honored Trish and Lita last week and in official WWE history, those are the only two female wrestlers who’ve ever been any good. Should’ve spaced it out better, guys!
Worst: Jinder Mahal
I swear, I’ve never been repulsed by a fit human body before. His shit’s starting to look like a stack of Madballs. I’m honestly worried that one day he’s gonna accidentally get cut in the ring and high-pressure gag snakes are gonna pop out of him, and he’s gonna end up a big pile of empty skin.
Anyway, Jinder is afraid of being fired so he shows ass and ends up in a match with (dun dun dun) Roman Reigns. He does surprisingly well, thanks in part to a distraction from the Undertaker’s Dong, but ultimately Roman’s able to finish him off with a Signature — not even a Special — and score the win. You know you’re low on the totem pole when you lose to a Superman Punch. He doesn’t even care enough about you to run at you with his head down. Sami Zayn should try pinning Jinder with a Blue Thunder Bomb.
After the match, Roman is like, pursed lips pursed lips “I’m the biggest dog in the dog yard so ay Undertaker get out here and let’s find out what it’s like havin’ a roni” or whatever. Instead of the Undertaker’s Dong donging again, he’s instead visited by the ghost of Shawn Michaels. Here’s a video clip of Shawn doing his annual, “I heard somebody’s wrestling the Undertaker, so I have to tell them they aren’t gonna beat him” promo:
Best: Roman Reigns, Shawn Michaels and Everything After
Shawn is like, “wrestling the Undertaker is so hard, when you’re done your eyes won’t even be pointed in the same direction.” We’ve heard it before. Shawn couldn’t beat the Undertaker, and even though Taker got beat like a Booger Red schoolchild by Brock Lesnar at Mania 30, he’s apparently still the toughest possible WrestleMania opponent. To my surprise, Roman takes the Modern John Cena approach and is like, “okay, so he’s the Undertaker, but I’m ROMAN REIGNS. Have you SEEN Roman Reigns? I don’t lose ANYTHING.” And then he drops an “Undertaker retired you, and I’m gonna retire the Undertaker,” which is boss. I like sassy, up-his-own-ass fraudulent asshole but also just totally self-aware Roman Reigns, Man Of Somewhere Above The People. It’s the truest version of his character.
I also loved (loved loved loved) when Roman did his big dramatic lip-smackin’ turn at the top of the catwalk and got ABSOLUTELY FUCKIN’ TRUCKED by Braun Strowman. Look at this thing. Roman goes for-real tumbling down the ramp, flailing around and falling off the side into the side wall. Unreal.
Beautiful. This is Strowman’s only appearance on the show, wherein he looks like the ultimate badass, lays out the Big Dog All Rights Reserved with one shot and calmly leaves to a “thank you, Strowman” chant. Top babyface right here. Braun Strowman vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania, please. He’s like all five members of the 1997 Hart Foundation got malformed into one giant dude.
Worst: Here’s What Happened To Predictability
I tweeted this on Monday night, but I wish WrestleMania could be an important thing without everyone in the company having to be on the card. Instead of building to a match for the Women’s Championship, they’ve got to build like six things concurrently so Bayley and Sasha and Charlotte and Dana and Nia and whoever else can be in it. Over on Smackdown, Alexa Bliss is facing “all available SmackDown women’s division competitors.” Instead of building to an interesting or compelling match for the Tag Team Championship, they’ve got to do too many #1 contender matches that end with non-finishes or interference so The Club has to fight two teams instead of one. Everyone without a match gets thrown into the battle royal. We’ve got eight official matches so far, and four of those eight have three or more people in them.
Enzo Amore and Big Cass were supposed to face Sheamus and Cesaro — the other tag team — to see who would go on to face The Club at WrestleMania. The Club interferes, causing a no contest, explaining that they figure a winner means they have an opponent, and no winner means no opponent. The Club has never watched wrestling, apparently, and end up with the triple threat everyone predicted. Enjoy the pre-show, everybody!
What We Did Inside The Purple Ropes This Week
Up first for the Purple Team is a preview of the main event of 205 Live, in which the top five contenders to the Cruiserweight Championship — the roster, minus Jack Gallagher, Daivari and the injured people basically — face off to see who will challenge Neville for the strap at Wrestling Mania. The only story Raw’s got right now is, “someone has a title, let’s have a match to see who faces them.” That’s it. I’m surprised Brock Lesnar didn’t have to face Roman Reigns to see who’d challenge Goldberg.
Tony Nese and TJ Perkins wrestle way too much of this match, and it hurts for it. Those guys are the worst of the faux-indies style without any gimmick or charisma that connects with people. Nese doesn’t even have Perkins’ “I like video games” act, his gimmick is, “he is an athlete.” That’s also everyone else’s gimmick, guys, it’s supposed to be a sport. Imagine if your favorite basketball team signed a guy who couldn’t play defense, couldn’t shoot, couldn’t handle the ball, had no idea how to pass and couldn’t jump but was in super good shape and called himself “the ultimate athlete.” That’s Tony Nese. I mean, he can jump, but that’s honestly about it.
Nese wins by knocking Perkins out with a schoolboy roll-up. Kendrick teaches Tozawa his latest lesson: “Don’t team with TJ Perkins.”
After that was the Raw debut of Austin Aries. He took on a bad Austin Aries create-a-wrestler, Ariya Daivari. I liked this one a lot, because it was caught somewhere between going smoothly and completely falling the hell apart. Aries looked like he was trying a little too hard, and hit Daivari hard enough enough times that the guy couldn’t take a suplex without falling on his face.
For real, this is him taking a backdrop:
Aries finishes it off by hitting a basically already concussed man with a rolling forearm to the face. Part of me is like, “maybe you shouldn’t hit him so hard for real, man,” and the other, more bloodthirsty part of me is like, “no, hit people like that for a few more weeks until you get to WrestleMania and Neville LIGHTS YOU UP.” Just be careful with your eyeballs this time.
Best: Chris Jericho vs. Tom Phillips
It’s good to know that not only the female backstage interviewers are made in an imperfect cloning factory. Backstage interviewer The Dapper White Nationalist talks to Jericho about next week’s Highlight Reel, which promises “The Real Kevin Owens.” Jericho’s a face now, so that preview set off my Bad Photoshop radar. 60% chance some intern’s already showing Vince three versions of Owens’ face on the butt of a donkey.
The best part is when the “calling every announcer by the wrong name” finally subverts itself, with Jericho calling this new guy “Tom Phillips” after calling Tom every non-Tom name in existence. Jericho refuses to believe this guy isn’t Tom Phillips, and puts him on the List for insulting his intelligence.
For real, I hope this guy disappears only to reemerge as The Demon Phillips.
Worst: Raw, Your Ending, Woof
All right. This one’s going to take a little deeper analysis.
So Mick Foley has all night to choose a Raw superstar to fire. Most people thought he was going to fire himself in a final blaze of glory to make way for General Manager Kurt Angle, or that maybe he was gonna fire Sami Zayn so Sami could go to Smackdown and be important in time for WrestleMania since The Authority seemed so into keeping him down. But nope, brother chooses Stephanie McMahon, which is a one way ticket to Emasculation Town.
Stephanie calls him pathetic and says he’s got no fortitude (while looking at his testicles, because that’s a Mick Foley thing). When that’s not enough, Triple H himself shows up to call Mick a worthless has-been, and says he’s trying to create the future so he doesn’t have to look at washed-up losers like Mick. He runs down his kids, makes fun of how he looks and yells at him to get out of his ring. Remember Royal Rumble 2000? Aren’t you glad you watched that without knowing how the story would actually end, 17 years later? Mick’s one act of defiance is to put a sock in Triple H’s mouth, which really doesn’t seem like a blood feud, last blaze “taking away my livelihood” kind of gesture. Maybe punch him? Maybe mandible claw him without a joke? That gets too close to comeuppance, though, so Stephanie punches him in the dick. Thanks for your years of service, Mick.
So after all that, Seth Stinkin’ Rollins shows up. He drops his crutch, reveals a KINGSLAYER t-shirt and hits the ring to fight Triple H toe-to-toe. For a moment, it’s great. Rollins sticks up for Mick, drives Triple H out, and for the first time since his return from injury the last time (I’m pretty sure), he’s got people chanting “Rollins.” You’d think that’d be where the night would end, right? Rollins is back, apparently healthy enough to go, and H vs. Rollins is back on for WrestleMania. Great, hot ending to the show that makes up for the depressing shit we had to sit through to get to it.
Before we go off the air, Triple H slides back into the ring, gets the better of Rollins, hits him in the knee with his own crutch a few times and re-re-reinjures the knee with an inverted Indian deathlock. He adds one more crutch shot at the end for good measure. So Raw goes off the air with TRIPLE H TRIUMPHANT against the guy who JUST RETURNED FROM INJURY WITH A NEW T-SHIRT. Like, they couldn’t let Rollins be on top for a WEEK. One episode. He couldn’t look like he was worth a shit for one fucking segment. So Mick looks like a worthless has-been idiot who got smashed in the nuts on his way out by the woman who bossed him around for months, and Rollins had his big surprise return victory in nobility immediately murked by the most frustrating possible version of Triple H.
And what sucks is that sure, Rollins is going to win at WrestleMania, but can’t we make him look worth a damn before then? WWE’s so obsessed with “moments” and “WrestleMania moments” they forget that moments make up the time between them. Moments help build to bigger and better moments. Austin passing out in blood in the Sharpshooter at WrestleMania 13 wouldn’t have mattered if they hadn’t invested time in making him look like a guy you might want to cheer in a series of moments for several months before that. Hulk Hogan slamming Andre wouldn’t have mattered without moments. It’s why Andre got slammed like a hundred times before that and nobody cared, but that is a forever big deal. The moment matters because of other moments. It’s all part of the blanket.
I guess WWE’s argument is that nobody remembers those. They just remember how it ended. And maybe that’s true, but they do that because you’ve conditioned them to do that. We don’t expect Raw cycles to really matter anymore, because the only time anything happens is (1) at pay-per-views, or (2) on shows immediately following pay-per-views. Everything else is a wash. I feel like such an End Is Nigh lunatic for suggesting anything else matter. It’s such a bummer.
The other possibility is that they did this all in one segment to get the not-forever-injured-but-too-injured-for-Mania Rollins out of the story officially and bring in Finn Bálor in Brooklyn or whatever as a substitute, and sure, we can do that. And maybe there’s more story down the road, so much so that we had to cram too much into this week, because there’s so much good stuff to tell and only a few weeks left to tell it. Right? That’s the optimistic take, isn’t it? I guess I’ll cling to that for another week or two, and wonder how much better this would’ve felt if we’d gone off the air with the Authority actually getting some kind of karmic punishment for being the worst people in the world, instead of being the best and worst people at the same time.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
That Triple H is a badass! It took 20+ years of WWE telling me about it, but now I finally see it.
“Mess with me Mick, and it won’t be ‘cane Dewey’ it’ll be ‘can Dewey’”
H is looking like an old boot covered in pubes.
Triple H: “Sorry Steph, it’s legally binding, your stuff’s on the lawn.”
A Shawn Michaels segment followed by an Austin Aries segment, otherwise known as An Eye for an Eye.
The officials should just try and pin Roman and he’ll pop up fit as a fiddle.
HBK is proof Vince can get an unpopular babyface over as a top guy. All it took was a heel turn, four-year lay-off, miraculous comeback and him being one of the best workers ever.
The Real Birdman
I hope all of Taker’s vanquished Mania opponents come to give Roman advice:
Giant Gonzlaez: “I got a good chloroform guy if you need it”
“Why isn’t the Titus Brand in the Jetsons movie?”
….because the Jetsons is about the future, and you don’t have one.
Jinder Mahal reminds me of a hotdog I left too long in the microwave.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, as always. Be sure to click “like” and “share” and all your other social media things to spread the column around, and scroll down slightly into our comments section to let us know what you thought of the show slash why you’re “done” reading Stroud’s columns. If you’re especially bummed out, keep your chin up … Emma is coming!
[deepest possible sigh]
If that’s not good enough … I don’t know, man, we’re almost on the road to Payback! It’s all the same Raw matches from WrestleMania, minus the celebrities and with like 1/5 the crowd!