Previously on the Best and Worst of Raw: Seth Rollins blew out his knee against Kane in a match in Ireland and is out for 6-9 months. He’s vacated the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, and now a tournament will be held to crown a new champion. That’ll be decided at Survivor Series. All this happened between Raws, which means last week’s show and this week’s couldn’t possibly be more disconnected. It’s like going from Raw to Impact. Let’s just hope EC3 is on this episode.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for November 9, 2015.
Best: Triple H As The Best-Possible Sean O’Haire
I’ve typed it before, and I’ll type it again: When Triple H stops appearing to be obsessed with making everyone love and hate him simultaneously, he’s the best in the business.
It’s sadly not as common as it should be. I don’t know if it’s a purposeful decision or the guy just understands wrestling too well and gets caught up in the moment, but Triple H — and, in the thing they share the most strongly in common, Stephanie McMahon — will often sacrifice logic, pacing and good sense to make sure he gets all the reactions ever. He wants to be booed the most, but he wants to know you all still love him and think he’s the greatest. He wants to be cheered the most, but he wants that edge that makes him tough and can get him booed. It’s infuriating, because when he sticks to one side and tells the story appropriate for situations beyond “Triple H,” he’s f*cking incredible.
Last night was a great example of that. Listening to him break down exactly why Roman Reigns should say nuts to honor and “sell out” with The Authority was enthralling, and a masterclass in being an unforgivable a-hole who is technically speaking the truth. Those are the best kinds of heels. He drops the info that Roman was their first choice for the Authority, but was passed over because of his stubborn pride — ammo for both a babyface Seth Rollins return OR a Dean Ambrose swerve where he sells out to finally feel wanted — and puts over Roman as the #1 guy in pro wrestling if he’d just stop acting like a WWE babyface. He says that “selling out” is a term unsuccessful people created to throw shade at people who succeed, and he’s right … it’s a jaded, selfish point of view, but it’s also totally valid. On Roman’s end, he knows The Authority is a gaggle of scumbags who will turn on him the second he outlives his usefulness or pisses them off, so he remains prideful and turns it down … but even Roman retains that look in his face where you just know he was thinking about it, and you know he knows he probably should’ve just shut up and played ball.
This is the heel/face dynamic I want on a WWE show. This is the “shades of gray” people talk about. Shades of gray isn’t everybody being a jerk and turning on everyone else because alignments don’t matter … it’s heels sometimes being right, faces sometimes being wrong, and the social and emotional interplay of the consequences of their actions. THAT is compelling. That makes me want to know where the story goes next. “I’m a good guy” and “I’m a bad guy” with no reason or rhyme is outmoded, but so is that awful Attitude Era “I’m good AND bad in random amounts.” Give me one or the other with a third dimension.
Because hey, as it stands, this is the closest Roman Reigns has come to actual character development in … well, maybe ever. If Roman turns, this is the seed that grew the turn. If he doesn’t, this is his motivation to actually succeed in spite of what his dickhead boss says. He has actual, documented reasons now. He’s not just blindly flailing in an ill-defined good vs. evil thing we’re forced to assume is happening underneath three hours of confrontational mannequins banging into each other.
Worst: Roman Reigns Might As Well Be Facing Heath Slater In Round One
Unfortunately, the payoff for Roman Reigns going to the “back of the line” is a round one tournament match against Big Show. If Triple H had said, “Roman, your opponent is your daughter from that adorable I’m A Little Teapot commercial, and that match starts right now,” Roman would’ve been in more danger. If Michael Cole had rolled into the ring and started doing crane kicks from The Karate Kid, the outcome wouldn’t have been as obvious.
Not to say Show’s a bad wrestler, because he’s not. He never has been. It’s just that “The Big Show” character represents the ultimate in wishy-washy, half-hearted WWE non-pushes, which means he’s never actually a threat, and anyone important that comes within 100 feet of him can easily win. It’s basically Reigns vs. King Barrett in round one. Well, Reigns vs. two King Barretts, one sitting on the other’s shoulders, wearing a trenchcoat.
It’s interesting to note that on the brackets, “Roman” is the only person identified by his first name, not counting people like Kalisto who only HAVE one. He should be listed as “Romey,” and everyone else should be, “Whoever.”
Best: I’m Pretending Kevin Owens Wrestled Titus O’Neil To Prove He Could Get A Better Singles Match Out Of Him Than Sami Zayn
Kevin Owens gets a round one victory over Titus O’Neil, and my favorite part is the post-match interview with Jojo, where he manages to still put Titus over. “Titus O’Neil is so strong, you know that? You know how strong that man is? But I beat him, I beat him.” Owens knows a rule of wrestling too few people seem to remember: if the guy you beat sucks, how does that make you look good? You beat a guy who sucks. But if you beat a guy who’s great? There’s the rub.
Also, I’m into Kevin Owens as WWE’s unreliable narrator. He googled and couldn’t find anybody who’s been able to win both the Intercontinental and WWE Championships at the same time. I think it happened once or twice before, but on really obscure shows.
(I also love the idea that Owens searched through the WWE archives for info and couldn’t find anything, because everything featuring Hulk Hogan got burned out back in a dumpster fire back in July.)
Worst: Submission Moves Hurting More When They’re Done On A Table
First of all, -1 to WWE for screwing with the crowd noise and reactions whenever they go pre-taped. The only thing we really have left as wrestling fans is the organic call and response of a crowd and the wrestlers in the ring. That’s the only thing left that’s real. It’s why I hate Superfan plants like Sign Guy who serve as psychological tricks to get the crowd involved and clapping when they might not otherwise. You’re manipulating the one honest thing happening in your hundreds of thousands of live performances. Stop doing that. Use the audience at a test for what works where and why, and what you should do where and why. Paige getting no response during her entrance despite being in f*cking England doesn’t make you look like you’ve taught your audience how to react to heels and faces, it makes it look like you wasted production time trying to micromanage something that’s totally fine and makes wrestlers being from where you’re from fun.
Second of all, Video Game Play-By-Play Man In Real Life Michael Cole needs to cool it with his 3-5 Divas Revolution soundbites. Some say Paige is responsible for starting the Divas Revolution! SHE CALLS THAT THE REAR WINDOW. You know that thing I just complained about where nothing seems real? The announce team is the gold standard of that problem.
Third, the constant references to Team PCB members being a “B” or a “C” just remind us that they took about negative five seconds to name that team, and couldn’t stop doing it wrong. What a bunch of Bs in the Submission Sorority! The crowd should start chanting “Let’s Go P” during Divas matches as a meta statement on WWE women’s wrestling being booked as bathroom breaks for the past forever.
Fourth, Becky pinning Paige with a handful of tights is kinda-sorta “comeuppance” for Paige trying to cheat her, but also kinda-sorta another example of nobody in WWE with a vagina also getting to have a consistent character alignment.
Fifth, would it hurt more to be put in the PTO on the announce table? Paige specifically dragged her over there to put it on. If Becky had been trying to put PAIGE through it and Paige reversed and got the hold, that might make sense, but nope. If you’re trying to make a statement, isn’t the middle of the ring a better spot? The arena is set up with a focus on the ring, right? There are a bunch of lights pointing at it and everything.
Best: Dolph Ziggler Remembering That Wrestling Is Supposed To Be Real
Ziggler vs. Miz in a battle of Sad Ex-Champions wasn’t anything special, but it made me happy for one reason: Dolph is still selling Miz’s attack on his leg from what, two weeks ago? In wrestling time, that’s like six months. Alberto Del Rio returned two weeks ago and feels like he’s been here for 15 years.
It feels like we’re pulling Dolph out of the rubble of that godawful Rusev/Lana/Summer Rae love rectangle and building him back up for his now-annual (?) Survivor Series push. I hope they do it and stick with it this time. I’m not the world’s biggest Ziggler fan these days, but in a WWE where Cena’s on vacation and most of the close-to-Cena people are hurt, Ziggler’s one of the guys you should be developing and leaning on. The Shield was great, but they aren’t the only important people in the current/next generation. This tournament should be built on the idea that Roman’s gonna “run the table” — WWE’s new favorite phrase — but secretly be about Ziggler, Owens and Cesaro finally stepping up and breaking through for real. Cesaro’s got the crowd, Owens is killing it on the microphone and Ziggler, when removed from the stupidest parts of WWE, is your best underdog babyface. Pull the trigger. Pull all the triggers at once. Let’s firing squad this tournament.
Worst: Can Natalya Disappear Again
The highlight of Natalya vs. Naomi was the pre-match backstage Edge Snatching dance Team B.A.D. pulled off. One day they’re going to combine The New Day and Team B.A.D. into Bad Day on WWE TV, and it’ll be the greatest.
The lowlight of Natalya vs. Naomi was the actual match and post-match story, which seems pieced together from hieroglyphics somebody recovered from a LayCool vs. Kelly Kelly angle. Natalya manages to defeat The Damn Numbers Game and pin Naomi with a rollup. Sasha rushes in to start the beatdown, so Nattie stops her and makes her instantly tap out to the worst side-saddle Sharpshooter you’ve ever seen. Tamina has to make the save for her, and then they beat down Natalya and make her submit 1-2 with a Banks Statement.
It’s one of those things that on paper probably seemed like a good idea — Natalya fights off the heel faction by trying to play them against one another until they get it together and overwhelm her — but in practice felt like everybody involved missing the point. WWE’s still weirdly treating the We Want Sasha chants like a fulcrum for in-faction jealousy and not just thousands of people telling them what they want every week. Natalya still doesn’t have a team allegiance or a goal besides “don’t get beaten up backstage again,” and nobody in the Divas Division looks like they can get it done without help. So … it is what it is. Hopefully the Natalya/Sasha Banks match we’re building to gets some time, and pretends it’s happening at Full Sail.
Best: Give This Tournament To Cesaro, You Pricks
Sheamus vs. Cesaro is almost always good. Almost. The Night of Champions 2014 match is still a personal favorite of mine, one of my picks for the best WWE singles matches of that year and easily the most underrated. When they’re asked to cut the bullsh*t and just spend 15 minutes hitting each other as hard as they can, you get magic.
It’s the perfect combination of guys. Sheamus is a terrible wrestler unless someone legitimately starts beating the hell out of him, but he’s big and strong and hard to hurt, so it doesn’t happen as often as we’d like. Cesaro is the KING of impactful offense and being a great base for his opponents, but too often seems like he’s holding peoples’ hands in matches. If he wrestles someone like Miz, you can see him leading them through moves and setting everything up. Even in matches with dynamic guys like Kalisto, much of it is Cesaro just planting and getting into position to make them look good. With Cesaro/Sheamus, you unleash Cesaro’s potential and engage the intangible that makes Sheamus great. The crowd roaring through most of the match is the proof in the pudding.
I’m excited and extremely stressed about next week’s big round two match of Roman Reigns vs. Cesaro. That’s going to cause some Montague and Capulet sh*t amongst wrestling fans. You’re gonna have the Classic Smarks united around Cesaro, hoping he’ll be able to surprise the world and get a major victory over the golden boy everyone assumes is gonna win. It’ll strike a blow for wrestling that matters, dammit! On the other side, you’ll have Proto Smarks who wait for the smark response and take a stance against it backing Roman, with the truth that Roman is the one being groomed for the win so he should win, despite people who don’t understand the business thinking Cesaro’s ready. It’s gonna be a lot of line drawing and side taking, so lock your doors or whatever.
I’m choosing the “hope it’s a great match that allows Cesaro to prove himself as a trusted main-eventer that doesn’t seem too much like that good but sad Roman vs. Daniel Bryan Fastlane match” side.
Worst: King Barrett Gets Flo Rida’d
In case you missed it, the rivalry between English footballer Wayne Rooney and WWE Superstar King Lose-A-Match came to blows and ultimately cost Sheamus the match via ringside distraction. I never like celebrities getting to beat up wrestlers without consequence, but it’s made a little easier by it happening to King Barrett, whom at this point I’m convinced would lose a straight-up one-on-one match to a baby pug. I usually go for “he’d lose to a pile of laundry” for that joke, but I’m not sure the Barrett character’s got enough prestige to wrestle laundry.
Worst: Zeb Colter And Alberto Del Rio Came All The Way To England To Tell England They Can’t Be In Their Imaginary, Two-Dude Country
If you’re looking for the worst part of the show, it’s Alberto Del Rio’s horrible promo about how the crowd are “haters” for booing him and Zeb Colter’s continued, exclusionary succession announcement.
I don’t know where WWE’s going with this or why they’re doing it, but every time Del Rio grimaces through a bit where he says “Viva MexAmerica,” I think about those fired-up Lucha Underground promos where he seemed like a real dude who understood his lucha libre legacy and not like a cardboard cutout here to accept sacks of money in exchange for being a Mexican guy on WWE TV. Save your Seth Rollins “sell out” chants. Chant it at the guy who thinks flying economy is “sub-human” and came back to the company that fired him for standing up for himself to play a xenophobic human koozie for John Cena’s title.
Best: Tyler Breeze Is Working
I’ve written a lot about Tyler Breeze in the Best and Worst of NXT column, and my opinion of his work and ultimate fate has gone from “oh no, keep the selfie-sexual male model character away from the main roster, they’ll kill him” to, “this isn’t working in NXT because his character is too made for the main roster.” As it turns out, that’s the right answer. As strange as it seems, Tyler Breeze fits better on Raw and Smackdown than on NXT. So far.
So far is important, but I’m feeling good about it. Summer Rae has deflected most (if not all) of the assumed gay jokes that come with being a self-obsessed model, and even though he hasn’t technically won a match yet, he got to debut by taking Dean Ambrose to the limit, and that’s pretty cool. It was the good Ambrose, too, not the goober one that just opens his mouth as wide as possible and stomps around between rebound clotheslines. Breeze got a good, competitive match against one of the most popular characters on the show and lost cleanly, but to a non-distraction-based rollup. He lost to an expertly-applied small package (more on that in a sec), one of those holds that lets you lose without really “losing.” Ambrose didn’t destroy him. Breeze beat him up, and lost to a flash. Nothing that happened made me think Breeze was less than competent, and that’s a great sign for a show that usually tosses people in the garbage before they can even get to the ring.
Best: Dean Ambrose, Old Bull
Speaking of Dean, his Backstage Fallout interview with Renee might be the best interview of the year. Watch in amazement as he explains the logistics of a small package with a confusing metaphor about why bulls go to meadows:
Between this and the Owens clip, I wish they’d just put Backstage Fallout videos on the shows. I always, always like the characters more when I watch them. WWE brings in these guys who are amazing promos, then scripts them so rigidly you’d never be able to tell. If you let Owens or Ambrose or The New Day just bullsh*t for a few minutes, you’re probably gonna get gold. GET YOUR GOLD.
Best: New Day All Day Every Day
Speaking of gold, God bless The New Day for putting up their horns for their fallen captain Seth Rollins. I love that The New Day has become so bizarre and awkwardly beloved that they can command an entire arena of wrestling fans to make fake unicorn horns on their heads and poop-wish for a heel champion to get better.
All of this is great. I’m going to be quoting their reaction to being left out of the title tournament for weeks, and Big E’s over-the-top laugh might be my favorite thing in life. Kofi Kingston gets +1 as well for saying Harry Potter sucks a week after actively doing Harry Potter spells on Raw. European magic is garbage!
Best/Worst: Teaming The Usos With Neville
You can’t put The Man That Gravity Forgot in a six-man tag with The Usos, who have the gimmick of “good at jumping” despite not being very good at jumping. They aren’t Tamina bad, but they aren’t exactly majestic gazelles when they take flight.
Watching Neville wrestle makes me happy, because he seems oddly ahead of his time. You can see him visibly slowing down and taking his time to not do too much, because nobody in the ring with him can do what he does. He learned how to do that in NXT, but the competition down there was a little wilder and could let him let loose from time to time. On Raw or Smackdown, he’s like, “okay, standing on the apron. HOT TAG, kick kick kick kick JUMP JUMP JUM- sorry. Standing still. Getting punched. Sorry, sorry.” He needs some guys his speed to throw hands with. I don’t trust WWE with a Cruiserweight Division, but sh*t, between Neville and Kalisto you’ve got enough good will to build up SOMETHING for them besides “cool guys who are too small to win much.”
Best: The Undertaker And Kane Killing Folks, Or
Worst: Hope You Enjoyed That One Week Of Power, Bray Wyatt
Finally, we have Bray Wyatt “paying respect” to Kane and Undertaker in a segment that is actually us “paying respect” to Wyatt having an interesting story.
Like always, Bray doesn’t get a middle. He gets the beginning of a story and the end without anything in-between to validate us having a story at all. He beats up and kidnaps the Undertaker and Kane. He says he’s “harvested their souls” and absorbed their powers, and can now shoot fire and lightning. Then, one damn week later, Kane and Undertaker are totally fine, show back up unharmed and beat the sh*t out of Bray and the Wyatt Family. And … that’s it.
I don’t know why this happens. I don’t know why we don’t invest some time in telling the story they set up. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know what had actually happened to Kane and Undertaker? Wouldn’t it be cool and fun to play with how their powers work and where they come from, and see if they could handle a newly powered-up Bray, or a newly powerful Wyatt Family? Wouldn’t it be cool to see Regular Guy Biker Undertaker return for a bit, maybe alongside Corporate Kane, as they try to reclaim their powers from a crazed madman? Wouldn’t that at least be a STORY? Instead, what do we get? A beatdown followed by some bragging that turns out to be a lie, and two important kidnappings being absolutely meaningless. They’re just fine. It’s great if you like Taker and Kane and want to see them kick ass, but what’s the f*cking point?
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
Roman Reigns is an outsider like Jeb Bush is an outsider.
As proof he really lost his soul, I hope they show Kane walking into an automatic door, followed by Bo Dallas happily walking through and going “Thank you, door!”
What JBL said: “Winning makes you heal a lot faster.”
What I heard: “Winning makes you heel a lot faster.”
Sorry I havn’t seen Lucha Underground, I understand Alberto was the best thing since sliced bread. He appears to have gone stale.
If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that limpwristed slaps are all it takes to defeat Wade Barrett.
F*cking Oliver is going ham
*Bray Wyatt enters the ring on a Harley, wearing a bandanna*
Woah, those powers really take hold of you, don’t they.
Mr. Royal Rumble, TheCensoredMSol
“…and also I’m plowing Michelle McCool now!” – Bray Wyatt
I wish Triple H would have came running out at full speed while those lightning bolts hit. Then he would have traveled back in time to stop himself from placing Kevin Nash into the CM Punk Storyline.
And in the main event, the Wyatt Family lost to a video package and some CGI.
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