Previously on the Best and Worst of Raw: A gaggle of WWE Superstars (known as a “murder” of Superstars until the mid-2000s) competed in a one-night tournament to name a new #1 contender to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Roman Reigns won that, because of course he did. The Wyatt Family beat up and kidnapped Th’Demon Kane to add him to their collection of ’90s monster wrestlers. Watch your back, The Yeti!
Also, Alberto Del Rio is back, is United States Champion and has teamed with his old rival Zeb Colter to form a “new nation,” known as The New Day. Sorry, they were never supposed to be the New Nation. It’s called “MexAmerica.” No, Hernandez isn’t in it.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for November 2, 2015.
Worst: Mom And Dad Book The Show
Last week’s Raw ended with a not-sexual-at-all silent staredown between WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins and Precious Special Baby Roman Reigns, so this week’s starts with them. Fearful symmetry, y’all. I was cautiously optimistic, too, because last week’s episode was logical (!) and constructive (!!) and full of great wrestling (!!!). Unfortunately, you can lead a Roman Reigns to water, but you can’t make him explain the water like a human being.
We start with Roman sucking up to the local crowd, then explaining that he hates suck-ups. You might say he thinks they’re sufferin’ succotash. He’s somewhat quickly interrupted by Rollins, who has never “somewhat quickly” done anything ever, and that brings out The Authority. They make a traditional 5-by-5 Survivor Series elimination tag team match for the night’s main event, getting pops from the crowd for their announcement and milking it for all its worth in both directions so they’re simultaneously our greatest heels and most popular faces. I’m never going to understand why they think “beloved evil overlord” is a good thing.
That shades of grey gimmick would work if the rest of your show wasn’t so rigidly defined by “good” and “evil.” All the faces are immediately friends no matter what. Ryback will team with the guys from The Shield because who cares? The heels are only “heels” because they get booed for doing the same shifty sh*t the faces do for cheers, and they coordinate. Then, right in the middle, you’ve got your world-destroying super villains f*cking with the emotions of the crowd and then asking for hugs when it’s time to make matches and hug sick people. That’d be fine if it was real life vs. the universe created by the show, or happening in different contexts on different shows, but The Authority’s alignment is a f*cking lava lamp.
Best: Kevin Owens Vs. Dolph Ziggler, Or
Worst: The Little Things
I love that Kevin Owens won the cursed Intercontinental Championship and pulled a Freaky Friday. Before Owens won it, John Cena had been his blood rival and championed the United States title as a new beacon of mid-card prestige matches. Cena would fight guys like Ziggler or Stardust and have these great, engaging, talked-out 10-minute matches every week. The IC title was a tire fire. Owens won it, and now everything’s different. He’s the one having great matches with guys like Ziggler, Cena’s gone completely, and now Alberto Del Rio’s weighed down by a belt so unimportant he can change the name of it and we barely notice. Isn’t that weird? Kevin Owens hates John Cena, but he’s motivated by the same things Cena’s motivated by, and now he’s BECOME John Cena. That’s a hell of an arc.
He gets a good match with Ziggler to formally open the show, and it starts our second week in a row where Raw remembers it’s a wrestling program. That makes me so happy, and if I understate it amidst all the complaining, don’t forget it. If a wrestling show is terrible and illogical but full of great wrestling — even wrestling that sells itself out by not understanding why it’s happening, which happens a lot — is better than terrible and illogical and empty.
Most of my complaints about Owens/Ziggler are minor, but I’ve gotta type them. First, Ziggler’s strikes are so weak he’s getting into Shawn Michaels territory. Sometimes he kicks Owens and Owens can’t even convince himself to sell it, it’s so dainty. Ziggler’s a fantastic athlete and a great sell, but when he’s throwing hands he makes Brie Bella look like Vader. Also, what’s up with the camera work here? Jump to the 2:00 mark to watch the production team miss the best nearfall of the match so we can stare at a dude’s back. That doesn’t even touch them going to commercial in the middle of a distraction.
The match ends when Breeze is taking selfies at ringside, and Ziggler for whatever reason feels compelled to swat at him instead of wrestling the match. Breeze isn’t even up on the apron. Ziggler walks into a pop-up powerbomb and takes the L, and JBL’s rightfully like, “maybe he shouldn’t have gotten distracted by a thing that was barely even distracting.” As for Breeze, two things: (1) I am infinitely bothered by them forcing Summer Rae into this as Tyler’s “girlfriend,” when we all know she’s a like-minded familiar at best, and that Tyler Breeze’s sexual orientation is “Tyler Breeze,” and (2) how surprised could the announce team have been for Tyler’s appearance when they’ve got velvet ropes and papasan chairs like two feet to their left?
Anyway, back to the wholly positive: Cesaro. His match with The Miz might be my favorite Cesaro WWE match of all time, simply because it felt like the kind of match they give an important guy when he’s about to do important stuff. That’s probably way, way wrong, but it felt like the kind of showcase Cesaro should’ve been having this entire time.
He wrestles Miz, and the entire match is built around how cool Cesaro is. They put over the Cesaro Section signs (and accurately bury Byron Saxton for not having enough fans to convince someone to print out and hold up a sheet of paper with BYRON SAXTON on it), put over his ridiculous and superfluously wonderful wristlock counter and spend the entire match going, “heh, oh my” at everything he does. YES. Miz plays his part, too, eating everything as hard as possible and countering with the least cheerable offense ever, culminating in that double axe-handle from the top. Holy sh*t that is lame. Cesaro gets the swing, and Miz taps almost immediately to the Cesaro Family Sharpshooter.
Cesaro’s good enough to reestablish instant credibility whenever you want, partially because everyone who watches these shows gets it by now and wants him to be The Guy. We’re ready, guys. Keep this going and be brave enough to put him into spots that matter, because Orton and Cena are starting to split at the seams.
Best: The Stardust Section
The other highlight of the match was The Ascension and Stardust in Ascension-appropriate attire hanging out in the crowd with a damn SPYGLASS and BEDAZZLED BINOCULARS and STARDUST SECTION signs to watch the match. For real:
I want to sit in the Stardust Section. How do I get Stardust Section seats for WrestleMania?
Best: Bray Wyatt As Amazo
So, if you’re a longtime reader of the column, you know that I grew up an NWA/WCW kid and never liked The Undertaker. I grew up on rich guys attacking fat guys in the parking lot and breaking their hands with baseball bats, or guys getting their faces rubbed into concrete until it broke their noses, or guys getting stabbed in their eyes with spikes. I had ridiculous exaggerated wrestling stuff, too, but I’d been watching too long and had developed too many “this is how it should work” sensibilities to get into Mean Mark from the Skyscrapers having zombie mortician lightning powers.
As you may also know, I plowed through that “cruiserweight wrestling is the ONLY GOOD WRESTLING” thing in my late teens, powered through that elitist but probably totally correct “STRONG STYLE IS THE BEST” thing in my 20s and settled into a peaceful existence of accepting wrestling as total bullsh*t. It’s why I’m more of a Chikara brain than a PWG, and why I like Lucha Underground more than almost anything … it took me a couple of decades of learning, but I finally remembered how to watch wrestling like a 10-year old. Well, ME as a 10-year old. You should’ve heard me ranting about stuff not making sense when I was 10.
Anyway, what I’m getting at is that while I remain a jaded-ass wrestling fan, I am all-in on a swampbilly cult leader kidnapping WWE’s most powerful supernatural characters, harvesting their souls and assimilating their powers like he’s Shang Tsung. I’m all the way in. I don’t ever want to see Kane and Undertaker again, and I want Bray to be this undefeated lightning God for the next 20 years. Just have him do full-on fatalities to people. Let R-Truth try to attack him, get held in the air by his throat and shocked to death. Let him explode again like when MacGruber killed him on Raw. Have Bray set people on fire. Give him command of skeletons. ALL IN. Either that, or build to a WrestleMania showdown where Bray’s spent November through April as the Lawnmower Man or whatever until Corporate Kane and American Bad Ass Undertaker return as righteous cowboy gunslingers and defeat him without their powers.
Whatever you do, keep evolving the characters and move forward. You can’t have a dude say “I HARVESTED THE SOULS OF KANE AND THE UNDERTAKER” and prove that he did it (with a TOILET SWIRL VIDEO PACKAGE) just to have him still do sneak attacks and distraction finishes. Make Bray. Finally. And learn an important lesson from how much cooler this would be if we hadn’t already done a meaningless version of the same feud back in the spring.
Related: Is The Undertaker The Most Terrifying Wrestler In WWE History?
Best: Disappointed Drifter Jack Swagger
In a moment we desperately needed, Jack Swagger shows up looking like he just got back from roadtripping across America and confronts Zeb Colter about his MexAmerica gimmick.
I just want to take a second and point out how wonderful this situation is. You’ve got a guy who hates Mexicans and wants to defend Our Country’s Interests (wearing a “WE THE PEOPLE” shirt) getting upset that his mentor has aligned himself with a Mexican guy under the mission statement of “bringing two great nations together.” So it’s two previously xenophobic heels teaming up to get heel heat by going too far in the opposite direction, confronted by an assumedly still-xenophobic heel who’s mad about it. Right? Is that the situation? Do we cheer Jack Swagger for … not wanting inclusion? Cheer him for knowing Zeb’s full of it, even if not being full of it means he’s still full of it, just a different “it?” Do we boo him? What do we do?
Worst: Alberto Del Rio Vs. Your Ability To Watch Without Changing The Channel
As previously mentioned both here and on Smackdown, Alberto Del Rio is back and can only wrestle the same 8-ish opponents on repeat. R-Truth, Jack Swagger, Sheamus, Cena, Orton, Ziggler, Kofi Kingston, Sin Cara. Sheamus and Kofi are heels, so they’re out, Cena and Orton are injured or on leave, and Sin Cara’s not the actual Sin Cara he loves to stomp to death. Ziggler’s around but busy, so it’s Del Rio vs. R-Truth twice in a row to set up Del Rio vs. Swagger. Good lord. It’s a carousel of boredom.
It’s especially drab now that my one cool new Alberto talking point — that he was creating compelling match situations by not relying on a single finisher — is negated by him having to finish everyone with that tree-of-woe double stomp. It’s convoluted, takes forever to set up, can only be done in the corner and doesn’t even really look like it hurts. The kick to a kneeling opponent at least looked like a knockout blow. A guy stomped you while you were hanging, but couldn’t actually land on you with any of his weight and couldn’t even compress parts of your body because there’s nothing to push you against? SURE. That sounds way better than an armbar or kicking you in the face.
Join us on Thursday for Del Rio vs. R-Truth part 3, volume 200.
Best: The Atypical Raw Match
A really easy way to get me to like a Raw match, whether it’s actually any good or not, is to have it contain something or play out in a way that I’m not expecting.
This week, the Lucha Dragons vs. Sheamus and King Barrett (aka “King Nothing”) was that match. Not only was the finish unexpected — Kalisto getting a clean pin on Barrett, which I guess is the most expected thing EVER, but Sheamus still has enough “I’m supposed to be important question mark question mark” vibe to seem like he’s not gonna lose to Sin Cara or whoever — but the actual structure of the match was, too.
There’s a moment where Sin Cara goes up to the top and gets tripped, and you assume that’s the end. Your Raw sense is tingling. That’s how every other Raw match for the past x-amount of years would end. It’s sorta like how you instinctively know when they’re going to commercial, because people fell to the outside or tag partners got in the ring to do a weird standoff in the middle. Instead of ending, though, they go into a second heat. That alone made me go, “oh, okay, I need to pay attention to this.” That allowed me to get into what they were doing and stop worrying about how Raw works. That’s cool.
I also got to a moment where I was like, “wow, this is the second match in a row where Sin Cara did great and didn’t f*ck anything up.” And then, well, you know.
Fish gotta swim, I guess.
Before I forget, how great was it to see a video package hyping a mid-card tag team? We’re used to that on NXT, but sometimes Raw forgets that SHOWING how cool somebody is is more important than mentioning it on commentary in passing. You know what’s cooler than saying “Miz, a former WWE champion?” Showing Miz winning the WWE Championship. Letting history be alive and real for people who might not be paying that close of attention, instead of letting it be a crutch for Michael Cole to fill what would otherwise be dead air.
Best: Some Say Paige Started The Divas Revolution!
In another example of atypical Raw booking, the Divas division got a match with time, purpose and multiple character interactions and used it to not only steal the show, but build to a future match based on past rivalries. What? I’m loving this. I don’t know who put together these past two Raws or if WWE sees them as holding-pattern shows while they try to figure out to exist without Randy and Big Match John, but they’re great, and I would be a happy-ass wrestling fan if this was the show I’m used to getting. It’s not perfect, but of course it isn’t. Nothing is. But expecting a show you like to be good should be a given, and not an exception.
So yeah, they give us Paige vs. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks vs. “King of Strong Style” Brie Bella in a fatal fourway to name the new #1 contender to the Divas Championship. Not a battle royal, not a 6-man tag … an actual fourway match that was put together so well it allowed Brie Bella to look like a threat. Sure, she did a lot of corner crouching waiting for spots to happen and still hasn’t figured out how to do Daniel Bryan’s kicks without looking like she’s Stephanie Tanner at a dance recital, but she contributed. Paige over Becky was the super, super obvious finish, but the inclusion of Unstoppably Popular Sasha Banks and us knowing her history with Charlotte at least gave us the benefit of the doubt necessary to not feel like we were trudging toward the inevitable.
This was good, and I hope the Survivor Series Divas Championship match forgets that it’s on the main roster and gives us the Ace Paige vs. Ace Charlotte match we never got on NXT. Those are the first two NXT Women’s Champions, man, and that’s a belt that means something. The Icing By Claire’s Championship is an afterthought. Just let them tear it the hell up. Damn the man.
Best: WHO WILL SURVIVE
There were only 5 matches in 3 hours, but when they matter, that’s 5 more matches than usual.
There was so much going on in the main event. If you missed it, it was “Team Roman Reigns” vs. “Team Seth Rollins,” with Reigns and Rollins having to recruit their teams throughout the show. We didn’t see Reigns putting his team together, but followed Rollins through the creation of his, and thank God we did. Not only did we get Kevin Owens sowing future seeds of Rollins “owing him” and promising him a WrestleMania main-event for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, but we got the New Day throwing up their horns and more or less sh*tting Xavier Woods back into existence. Watch it again. They put up the horns and squint and squat like they’re taking a dump, and then Xavier bounds in. That’s PERFECT. Xavier Wood is unicorn poop.
On Twitter I joked that Reigns’ team would be Dean Ambrose and three bottles of room-temperature water, and I was totally right. The third member was Ryback, who I would believe has memory problems and is fine with being pals with two guys from a corporately-mandated swat team that made his life hell for a year and a half. Members 4 and 5 were the returning Usos, who are immediately buried when Cole can’t remember which one was injured. Whoops! At least now they’re coded red and blue, so it’ll be easier to explain the difference in Usos than, “Jimmy wears his half of the Umaga facepaint on the right side of his face. No, his right.”
The match itself was fun, as Survivor Series matches almost have to be, even though it contained a lot of the problems I have with WWE elimination tag matches. Guys rarely run in to break up pins, so you get teammates losing members right and left without any attempts at teamwork. You’re trying to win the match, right? Even if you aren’t bosom chums with your partner, why are you standing there like a jerk and watching him get pinned? It’s giving you a disadvantage. GET YOUR ASSES IN THERE. At least they kept many of the eliminations strong, and didn’t have guys getting beaten on transitional moves. Elimination tags are the only place you’re gonna get pinned by a Dolph Ziggler Fame-asser.
(Quick Worst aside: anybody else bothered slash laughing their asses off at Sting being removed from the Survivor Series 2014 recap video? What the hell? I’d hit that “why do you pay Sting money to be around if you hate his guts” talking point harder if I hadn’t spent most of the 2000s dealing with “why did you buy ECW and WCW and bring them in as parts of your company only to bury them, you OWN THEM, why wouldn’t you want to diversify and keep everything strong so you can make ALL the wrestling money from every direction?” Anyway, LOL to Dolph Ziggler being WWE’s shining hero and now being the fifth most important point in a love pentagon.)
(Quick Best aside: note to self, pitch “Love Pentagon” for Lucha Underground season 2.)
The ending is what it was supposed to be, even if it didn’t really help anyone. Rollins let his personal issues with Reigns and Ambrose distract him, which made Kevin Owens mad and ended with Rollins accidentally kneeing Owens in the head, leading to his elimination. That left Rollins alone against the Ice Cold Beers Club, so he attacked them with a chair. FEARFUL SYMMETRY, Y’ALL. It allowed the champ to look strong, which they’ve I guess figured out they should do after 6 months of making him look like the 4th member of 3MB.
And then, you know, Roman had to also look strong. So we’re not totally there yet, but we’re doing it. We’re getting closer. Let’s keep this momentum going, take our eyes off the ratings for a few months and just put on good wrestling shows. That way when WrestleMania 32 happens, you can get people into the shows before and after it instead of just it, and maybe keep some of the casual fans watching.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
“But I pitched Marsamerica to you years ago, Zeb” – Swagger.
Sammy Davis Jr.
It’s not that impressive, both Taker and Kane were listed as Soul Donors on their drivers’ licenses.
25 revolutions out of Cesaro and we can’t even get *one* out of the Divas division.
Mr. Royal Rumble, TheCensoredMSol
Ryback’s baby blue beanie/half shirt combo makes him look like a roided out Virgin Mary.
The Real Birdman
“Halloween’s over JoJo”
*Becky Lynch enters*
MSNBC: Old white man makes minorities fight for his own enjoyment
FOX: Affirmative action gone too far?
CNN: Undertaker returns to give Sharpshooter to Rick Martel
Kevin Nash Booked This
IQ Test scores:
Over 140 – Genius or almost genius
120 – 140 – Very superior intelligence
110 – 119 – Superior intelligence
90 – 109 – Average or normal intelligence
80 – 89 – Dullness
70 – 79 – Borderline deficiency in intelligence
60-69 – Feeble-mindedness
<60 – WWE Babyface
Harper: “We should go out there and take their souls, then we’d have Sheamus’s money in the bank power!”
Rowan: “Yeah, and Kalisto’s high flying ability!”
Bray: “You idiots, what if we accidentally got Sin Cara and Barrett’s souls?”
Harper: “…..Yeah, good point”
We’re not going to give way a great man event tonight you idiots!
Anyway let’s do survivor series right now.
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