Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: We dealt with the fallout from Roadblock by having Shane McMahon and the Undertaker call each other names and get real fussy about it. It didn’t make much sense. Curtis Axel shilled Burger King, Dean Ambrose got a special gift from Mick Foley, and R-Truth dressed up like a penguin.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for March 21, 2016.
Best/Worst: Cape Fear Roman Reigns
It’s always healthy to consider pro wrestling from a different perspective, especially when you’ve spent a year (read: years) writing about the same batch of problems.
Last night, Roman Reigns interrupts Stephanie McMahon with a short, sweet, Captain Phillips-style “I’m the Authority now” promo and snatches her by the wrist when she tries to slap him. Later, Stephanie and Triple H are trying to leave the arena and we get this hilarious Darth Maul shot of Reigns standing outside the bay door. He was just chilling outside all night waiting for the dramatic reveal, I guess. He yanks Triple H out of an SUV and beats him to death again while Stephanie screams. My first thought was, “Why am I supposed to cheer for this guy again?”
Ramon Villalobos pointed out that every white dork on his feed was complaining about Roman not being enough of a babyface, and how every fan of color he knew was cheering. How white fans might not understand the joy of living vicariously through a person of color getting fed up with his self-serving bosses and their private drivers and their excuses and literally dragging them out of their privilege. I know (as a white dude myself) the response from a lot of you is gonna be PFFT PFFT HEY LISTEN PFFT, but it’s true. It’s not everybody, and if you’re bothered by the accusatory tone I’m not talking about you, but it’s somebody. It’s a point worth considering.
Also true: us wanting Roman to shut up and kick ass, and then not really digging it when he shuts up and kicks ass.
It took me a while to settle on how I felt about it, and I think this is where I landed: it’s hard to take this Roman seriously when he’s been prefaced by so, so much “other Roman.” You know? Like, I love that he’s mostly shutting up and kicking people’s asses, he’s just grandfathered in this association with corporately-mandated apathy so fans are gonna boo the image and the expectations and not pay enough attention to what’s happening going forward. I think if he officially turns that corner and never goes back to being Fake John Cena, he’ll be fine. If he ever dips back into it, though, he’s gonna sell out every one of these instances of ass-kicking. Taken on its own, though? I could really get behind it. I’d even be down for a Devil’s Rejects scenario where he’s so broken by the loss of entitlement that he takes it too far.
The core to the Roman Reigns problem is always going to be that he’s a talented performer with infinity upside who got shuffled into a position he didn’t seem ready for, and how difficult it is for anyone, myself included, to get beyond those first impressions. When he’s great, WWE’s forced us to tie it back to all the times he wasn’t.
Worst case scenario here, we lose the smirk and the Roman Reigns that never takes anything seriously. That’d be a huge f*cking plus. Entering from the stage is already a big improvement.
Best: Raw Peaks A Little Early
Here’s something we can all agree on: Raw peaked with its 20-minute AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens opener. That’s a wrestling show analysis layup.
If you missed it, Styles and Owens tore it up through two commercial breaks — we had time for a Snicker’s commercial with Todd Chrisley yelling at Alicia Fox, but we had to take two breaks during this — and managed to simultaneously build two WrestleMania stories. The first was Chris Jericho and AJ Styles, which Jericho showing up to distract Styles and cost him the match. That’s the most tired possible Raw angle, but at least Jericho acted obnoxiously and actually got on the apron to cause a distraction. Most times people lose a match because they heard distant music and got confused by someone standing nearby. This comes up again later, so we’ll touch on it again there.
The other story built was EVERYONE HATES KEVIN OWENS, which would’ve been better with his actual adversaries from the past year and a half, but I’ll take what I can get. There’s a wonderful post-match bit where Owens is still openly complaining about not having a WrestleMania opponent — sorry, a “KO-Mania” opponent — despite three different guys directly challenging him. Dolph Ziggler, The Miz and Sami Zayn all interrupt, and Owens promises he’s going to set up a triple threat match to name his opponent. Again, this story continues later in the night.
I like that we got a long, good match that despite its hacky finish worked to constructively set up stories we’d knock down later in the night. This match did a lot of work and still managed to be entertaining as hell as wrestling for the sake of wrestling. I feel like that should happen more often than it does.
Random thought: I can’t wait for the first Styles/Orton match, because that Stylin’ DDT into an RKO finish is going to be hot fire.
1. Terry Funk wants Dean Ambrose to for real murder Brock Lesnar with a chainsaw. I had to give that a Best on its own.
2. Terry Funk has trouble being 71-years old and cutting PG promos, so most of what he says makes absolutely no sense. Ambrose wins the night by deadpanning, “I understood all of that.” I like that Ambrose isn’t a lunatic necessarily, he’s just a guy nobody knows how to talk to. You need to get real close, real intense, and speak in broken phrases Superstar Billy Graham might’ve used if he’d forgotten his lines and needed to stall for time. Love it.
3. TERRY FUNK WANTS DEAN AMBROSE TO KILL BROCK LESNAR WITH A CHAINSAW.
4. I hope the “Dean Ambrose collects legendary weapons from classic hardcore fighters” angle continues through WrestleMania. I hope Al Snow shows up on Smackdown and gives him a bowling ball. I want it to culminate with New Jack giving him a cassingle of ‘Natural Born Killaz’ and being like, “play it before you fight, I know it doesn’t make any sense right now but I swear to God it helps.”
5. WWE has introduced a chainsaw and a barbed-wire bat, so they have to pay them off, right? Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar is now creatively obligated to work in an actual chainsaw. How great would it be if the main event of WrestleMania was a crazy dude with a chainsaw vs. an Incredible-Hulkish motherf*cker double-wielding fire axes? How great would it be if it ends with Ambrose about to be killed, only for Jamie Noble and Joey Mercury to ramp into the arena in a half-destroyed car and land on Lesnar, killing him? Honestly if this match involves any wrestling whatsoever I’ll be disappointed.
Best: A Very Gaijin Raw
I wrote about it a little more over here, but one of my very favorite wrestlers ever, Stan ‘The Lariat’ Hansen, is getting into the WWE Hall of Fame. I don’t really think of him as a WWE guy, but the Freebirds and Sting are getting in so whatever, he broke Sammartino’s neck back in the day, he counts.
My relationship with Hansen was weird growing up. I first saw him in the NWA and WCW, and he was maybe the grossest possible person. It looked like he was constantly diarrheaing from the mouth. He was loud, he sorta crouch-walked in a way that made me uncomfortable, and he reminded me of too many violent alcoholic relatives I tried to avoid at family functions. Still, he was compelling. I couldn’t stop looking at him when he was onscreen. Later, mostly through tape trading and my brief obsession with the AWA, I discovered that not only was he one of the biggest personalities in wrestling history, he was one of the best wrestlers. Stan Hansen is a f*cking anomaly, man. He shouldn’t be able to move and hit and work like he does, but he does, and it’s special. This guy can go shot-for-shot with a young Kenta Kobashi and come out on top. This fat cowboy with Turd Mouth.
If you don’t know Stan Hansen, get to know him. Watch him and Paul Heyman yell about Lex Luger for a couple of minutes. It’ll make your day better.
Best: Tyson Kidd Has Sex With Todd Chrisley
well I guess this explains a lot
I want this Snicker’s commercial to become canon. I want entire episodes of Total Divas where Natalya’s played by Todd Chrisley until she eats a candy bar. Go back and CGI Chrisley into all the awkward gift exchanges and burglar sex roleplays. Book Todd Chrisley into matches with Charlotte where he doesn’t understand how figure-fours work. COOTCHIE CUTTERS, THAT’S WHAT WE CAWL EM.
I’d make more jokes about Tyson Kidd here, but dude almost f*cked a basket of chicken fries on live TV once so hey girl, do you.
Worst: Garbage Emoji
We’re officially to the point where I’m siding with the boring-ass League of Nations during New Day promos. How did we get here?
Big E takes on Rusev, which should be right the hell up my alley, and it’s prefaced with this 20-minute 5-minute promo where New Day screams “booty” a lot and uses flash cards to tell the League of Nations they’re “trash.” See, one of the cards has a garbage can on it. It’s … funny? I mentioned before, New Day segments have started to feel like Daniels and Kazarian bits from when TNA realized they had funny characters and took too much ownership in making sure they stayed funny. There’s a huge difference between people being funny and a show trying to be funny, and in wrestling far too often the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. If too many of us like a thing, it turns into a thing we don’t like. It’s not about popularity or contrarian hipsterism or whatever. It’s hard to put into words. Basically, we like the feeling of being on the front end of a moment, and WWE makes most of its money on the back end. There’s a switchover, and stuff stops being for one kind of fan and moves into being for another. It’s not a bad thing I guess, especially not for the performers who deserve to be rich and famous and popular, but it feels pretty lonely when you’re the wrong kind.
Shorter version: I want to palm strike the guy who decided saying “booty” is what made New Day funny, and instructed them to cut the other sh*t and focus on what works.
Worst: Smiling Poop Emoji
Raw falls off a cliff onto a pair of other cliffs it then falls off of and pulls a Triple Lindy at this point, so I’m gonna breeze through it with as much positivity as possible.
RAW MAKES ME WANT TO DIE
But no, Big Show shows up (bigly) and announces that hey, you know all that stuff he says about being the greatest giant? He just says that because he sucks and wants to feel better. The real best giant is Andre, and he wants to enter the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal and win it again. If that halfhearted also-ran announcement wasn’t quintessential Big Show, he’s interrupted by the Social Outcasts and gets BEATEN UP BY THEM. Kane makes the save, “eliminating” them from a battle royal nobody was having, and then Kane turns on Big Show.
So here’s the rundown. In what might be the world’s most perfect Big Show segment, the guy shows up to admit that he sucks, gets beaten up by four jobbers, gets saved and then beaten up by the guy who saved him. If you ever wondered how a guy could be 7 feet tall, 500 pounds and a complete afterthought, here you go. You know what the odds-makers are really into heading into WrestleMania? This red hot Kane vs. Big Show battle royal story.
speaking of red hot
Fandango gets a WRESTLEMANIA REMATCH against Chris Jericho, which felt a lot like WWE realizing they’re still sending Johnny Curtis a paycheck and wanting to get one final Raw appearance out of him before jettisoning him into the sun. He looks fine, but Fandango is that Tupperware container in the back of your fridge with something in it that looks like it might still be okay but you sure as f*ck aren’t gonna open it, and you don’t even really want to touch the outside to throw it away. AJ Styles shows up to do to Jericho what Jericho did to him earlier, but Jericho’s wrestling a much less challenging opponent and wins anyway.
That sets up Styles challenging Jericho for WrestleMania, which Jericho ultimately turns down. I love the story that Styles wants to prove himself at a WrestleMania, but Jericho resents him so much he has to feud with him to maintain his attention, but prevent him from actually living his dream. That’s coldhearted.
Best: This Guy
Is that … son of Ralphus?
Best: Kevin Owens Flies Too Close To The Sun
Kevin Owens should be your favorite wrestler. The guy cheats to beat AJ Styles out of pure feud happenstance and can’t just be happy with it. He gets on the microphone, tries to get over his personalized nickname for WrestleMania, and complains about not having a worthy opponent. Keep in mind, again, that Styles was close to beating him on like 5 nonconsecutive occasions. He gets interrupted by three guys who you could rationalize as legit WrestleMania opponents — Dolph Ziggler, the adamant one; The Miz, the one looking to reclaim his former glory; Sami Zayn, the actual goddamn opponent — and says he’s going to set up a triple threat match to see who gets the shot. What he doesn’t mention is that none of these dudes are in his triple threat match. He set up a triple threat with a bunch of easy marks to get himself a match at the big show while simultaneously avoiding all of his most threatening opponents. How could you not be enthralled by this horrible, horrible person.
That leads to Stardust vs. Zack Ryder vs. Sin Cara in my ultimate “I haven’t played WWE 2K in a while and I know it sucks, but I’m bored and maybe I didn’t give it an honest shot, oh hey have I ever played as these guys?” triple threat. That of course leads to all the guys from earlier showing up and everyone realizing they should be punching Kevin Owens instead. Because Stephanie McMahon is Two-Face and decides her alignment via coin flip before every conversation, she punishes Owens and makes a 7-man ladder match for the IC title at Mania.
With half the roster injured, this is a pretty good plan. I’d have preferred Owens vs. Zayn one-on-one, but I guess we have time for that. This’ll be a good introduction. There’s a Ladder War at WrestleMania, you guys.
Shoutout to Stephanie McMahon for giving Dolph Ziggler a WrestleMania match a week after humiliating him so he couldn’t get a WrestleMania match.
Worst: Charlotte’s Gear
Charlotte vs. Satisfied Todd Chrisley isn’t much — it’s mostly a dumbed down version of their much-better Roadblock match with Charlotte’s WrestleMania opponents bickering at each other on commentary — so let’s take a second to talk about Charlotte’s gear.
I mentioned this on Twitter, but that green gear looks like some old lady plus-sized undergarments from a Sears catalog. That has nothing to do with Charlotte herself and isn’t a commentary on her attractiveness or worth or anything, but for real, that is a granny bra and some high-waisted protection panties. Charlotte should dye her hair grey and go full Naked Grandma.
Worst: Three Poop Emoji In A Row
Bubba Ray Dudley faces R-Truth, and most of the match is Bubba loudly recapping the feud as they wrestle. “HUH, R-TRUTH, YOU HAD GOLDUST WANTING TO BE YOUR TAG TEAM PARTNER, HUH? AND YOU DIDN’T WANT HIM TO BE YOUR PARTNER, HUH? [stomp] BUT THEN HE STOPPED TRYING AND YOU REALIZED YOU WANTED HIM TO BE YOUR PARTNER, HUH [stomp stomp] WE AREN’T GONNA PUT YOU THROUGH TABLES BECAUSE WE STOPPED DOING THAT BUT WE’RE GONNA PROVE TO YOU AND OUR RIVALS THE USOS THAT WE ARE THE BEST TEAM [stomp] EVEN BETTER THAN YOU AND GOLDUST, HYPOTHETICALLY [punch].”
Bubba wins with a big boot — yes, Test-style — and pins Truth like it’s nothing. The Dudleys decide to beat up Truth after the match, but Goldust makes the save. They beat up Goldust, so the Usos make the SECOND save. There’s a sad situation happening in the WWE midcard where nobody but AJ Styles is getting actual face pops. Goldust is great, but when he shows up people are like, “weeeeh.” The Usos run out and they’re the fan-voted 2-time Tag Team Of The Year, and the crowd’s like, “weeehhhhh.” The only pop that happens is when the Usos grab a table, and even that goes away when they take forever to set up the spot and even blind kids in the crowd know Bubba’s gonna pull D-Von out of the way.
That’s my issue with these big hour-long stretches of Raw filler. They’re always here and there’s SO MUCH of it, but it doesn’t seem to be getting anyone or anything over. It never seems to accomplish anything. The beginnings and endings of Raw seem like they matter, but that stuff in the middle might as well be an Suits commercial.
Worst: Announcements Will Continue Until Morale Improves
Here’s an odd decision: Mr. McMahon announces that if the Undertaker doesn’t defeat Shane McMahon at WrestleMania, it’ll be Taker’s “final WrestleMania.”
Did anybody need that extra stipulation? Was “returning McMahon who hasn’t been here in six years faces the company’s biggest legendary star in his signature match on a show he’s lost at once in 23 events in front of the biggest crowd in company history with the fate of the organization hanging in the balance” not enough? Did we need an extra thing? The worst part is that you KNOW Undertaker vs. Shane McMahon isn’t going to be Taker’s last WrestleMania match, so win or lose, that stip is bullsh*t. Plus, now there’s no way for fans to be happy. If Shane wins and defeats the Authority, Undertaker doesn’t get any more WrestleMania matches. If Taker wins, The Authority’s still in power. It’s two faces wrestling a heel vs. heel match. It doesn’t make any sense. How was this so simple a few weeks ago?
The only payoff is the match suddenly changing at the last minute, but even that will feel like a copout and a bait-and-switch after all the hype and promotion. Unless they’ve got a magical booking play I’m not thinking of, this is starting to feel like a real disaster.
Worst: “This Is Boring” Isn’t A Chant You Want In Your Main Event
Dean Ambrose vs. Braun Strowman. That’s this week’s main event. GET HYPE.
The highlights all happened after the show, with Luke Harper getting hurt and a fan trying to fight Strowman. Otherwise it was just Strowman doing a lot of clubbing forearms and stomps until the crowd started chanting “this is boring.” That’s not a great sign when you’re 3 hours into a show two weeks before WrestleMania.
The ending is Ambrose just attacking Strowman with a chair and getting DQ’d, I guess proving that he doesn’t have a chance against a big monster in a wrestling match, but can win if he’s allowed to attack with weapons. That’s a believable point, but not really one I want from my babyface superheroes? Does that make sense? It’s not really a complaint, I just didn’t get a lot of out of Ambrose getting browbeaten by the 3rd most important member of WWE’s least important faction and taking an L to prove a point. This would’ve been a great opportunity to have Ambrose murder Strowman with a chainsaw on live television.
That’s … the show. That ending felt like something that’d happen 40 minutes into hour two, but here we are. WrestleMania’s in a couple of weeks.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
For the first time ever, Wrestlemania is worthless! Free! I mean Free!
Abyss: “I saw what Mick and Terry did for you. I wanted to give you, or rather, Janice, would like to…”
Ambrose: “I gotta stop putting up ads on Craigslist.”
Sabu: *throws chair*
Sandman: *throws Singapore Cane*
Vince Russo: *throws Viagra*
I don’t hear anyone complaining about this Charlotte vs Chrisley intergender match but when Lucha Underground does it, everyone goes nuts.
INT – LIMO
Triple H: “You booked Kevin Owens in a what? He’s a good friend, how could you do that?”
The Shawn Michaels/Razor Ramon Intercontinental Memorial Ladder Match?
The Real Birdman
Tyler Breeze is Fandango’s looper
Mr. Royal Rumble, TheCensoredMSol
The WWE League of Nations is a lot like the UN…a bunch of ineffectual people from different countries accomplishing nothing, and you wonder how no one’s blown the whole thing up yet.
“Here, kill him with this.” – Terry Funk
Flips channel to FX: Oh, look. The People vs OJ Simpson is on.
Flips channel to USA: Oh, look. The People vs Roman Reigns is on.
Of course Roman Reigns can be bought. It’s selling him that’s the problem.
Thanks, everybody. We made it through another week. Onward!