Previously on the Best and Worst of Raw: WWE tried to counter low ratings with a cavalcade (or “calvary,” as Michael Cole might say) of legends. The show got even lower ratings than before. But hey, Hell in a Cell happened and was pretty good, and that cycle’s over now and we can move on. Deep breaths.
1. Apologies for the lateness of this week’s column. I’ve been on vacation for a few days, and it caused so many problems that I’m officially never going on vacation again. I’m gonna just grow old working like the guy from Ikiru. Maybe I’ll get a public park out of it.
2. Double apologies for the open discussion thread eating a lot of the comments and just generally not working. The site redesign is a work in progress, so bless our mess or whatever. We’ll try to fix the problems and make sure it works again next week.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for October 26, 2015.
Best/Worst: Gasp, Roman Reigns Defied The Authority
I wish there was still a way for me to justify this as long-con Shield reunion booking. Let’s just get right to it.
If you pay attention to what Seth Rollins is doing, he’s dismantling the Authority from the inside. Remember J&J Security? He feuded with them almost non-stop until they were fed to Brock Lesnar, and presumably killed in action. Orton and Big Show aren’t with the team anymore. Rollins just finished ousting Corporate Kane from his position as Director of Operations, and they keep dropping hints that we’re building to Rollins vs. Triple H. Is that the rub? That the guy has been working since the beginning to infiltrate the group and implode it? Did he blackmail John Cena into bringing back the Authority after Survivor Series just so his plan trajectory wouldn’t be interrupted? You don’t go from being “the architect” to a guy who can’t predict Corporate Kane’s gonna put Demon Kane in a match without some sort of explanation.
Sadly there’s too much evidence to the contrary — remember when I knew for sure that Kane was Daniel Bryan’s inside man? They really should’ve done that — but it’s fun to think about.
What’s not fun to think about is “any time Roman Reigns speaks.” I feel so bad for the guy. Every time he builds momentum and gets some fan support from not just the casual fans who already love him but also jerks on the Internet, they send him out to the ring to squint and fake-smile his way through dialogue written by a 70-year old trying to approximate teens. “DIS WHOLE THING SAN DIEGO GOT ME FEELIN’ SICK!!” How are you supposed to say that and sound natural? It sounds like his promos were written by a copy of Tony Hawk Pro Skater given life. Hornswoggle should find Santa Claus again and wish for him to remove Roman’s ability to speak. Just be pretty and punch sh*t, that’s all we need.
(And maybe cut it out with the Shield skin and phony reunions if you want me to stop thinking you’re constantly working to rebuild The Shield.)
Best: A Show With Consequence
One of my reoccurring problems with Raw (and Smackdown, and most pay-per-views) is that they aren’t structured to matter. I hate those 15-minute show openings because they’re boring as balls, but also because they suggest that nobody knew what was gonna happen on the episode until they went live and someone had a passionate complaint. Like, if Seth Rollins didn’t open the show and get interrupted by Dean Ambrose to set up our main event, what was gonna happen? Were the Hype Bros and the Lucha Dragons in that spot? Did they get bumped? At least old Nitro episodes tried to come up with a “here’s why plans have changed” explanation, and had “standby” matches for when sh*t went wrong.
Last night’s show was so much better, and it showed. We had a simple setup for the night: The Authority believes Seth Rollins (the guy they hate, who they keep putting in hopeless situations) has defeated all comers (except Brock Lesnar, but shut up), so there needs to be a new #1 contender. To accomplish this, they have four one-on-one matches throughout the night, with the winners moving on to a fatal fourway main event. The winner of that becomes the new #1 contender, and faces Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Survivor Series. Perfect, right? Perfect, logical and constructive.
You can tell how much a show that makes sense helps by listening to/watching the live crowd react. They’re into the show all night long, which is shocking because the show is just people wrestling for championship opportunities, and nobody’s locked in a goofy TMZ romance or running for their lives from a fire-throwing monster. Say what you will about WWE crowds and their tendency to react in the opposite way you’d like, but the reason wrestling storytelling is often so simple is because it works. It allows 15,000 people in an arena to all be on the same page about what they’re watching, where it’s gonna go and who they should cheer for. The one-night tournament was brilliant. Heel/face all the way through, obvious winners for most of the matches, all supported by great in-ring action. That’s how you do it.
(I know you know how to do it, WWE, that’s why I’m so confused and upset when you’re playing dumb.)
Best: Yer A Wizard, Kofi
The opening match was Roman Reigns vs. Kofi Kingston, with 1:1 odds for Roman. If you thought Kofi had a chance here, you have never watched wrestling before or you’re some kind of Encino Man discovering television for the first time. It barely mattered, though, because the Night Of Consequence allowed them to wrestle with a purpose, and that can sometimes make even bad matches great. REASONS. I want to put that on a t-shirt in big block letters.
The highlight of the match (and maybe the entire night) was Kofi going full Harry Potter and trying to literally murder Roman Reigns with a Killing Curse. You can’t use Avada Kedavra on him, Kofi, he’s the chosen one. Don’t you know how this works? Also: “You might as well call me Harry Potter because I’m about to go inside that ring and make some magic.”
Theory: Roman uses Aguamenti on himself before every match.
Best: Cesaro Vs. Kevin Owens
The true indicator that Cesaro has something special is that he can go from zero to 60 in one match, and can do it whenever he wants.
If you look at it objectively, there’s no WWE-written reason why we should like Cesaro. He doesn’t get to have much of a personality beyond “wears headphones,” and he doesn’t win very often. He loses here, clean as a whistle, to Kevin Owens. Cesaro’s so goddamn great in the ring, though, that objectivity goes out the window. Watch him move. Watch him hold a Cesaro Section sign and run around the ring to clobber Owens with a European uppercut. Watch him do ANYTHING AT ALL. Maybe WWE hasn’t pulled the trigger on him because they know we’re gonna love him and buy his stuff whether he wins matches or not.
That’s something I’ve been trying to figure out for a while. We’ve had a few wrestlers give interviews (onscreen and off) about how wins and losses don’t matter. It makes me mad, usually. Wrestling’s not real, so yeah, of course wins and losses don’t matter in the statistical sense, but they’re the building blocks of your stories. If a guy like Bray Wyatt never wins matches, what’s he doing? Championships exist to give pro wrestling context — these people are employed by a fighting sport organization to compete to see who can be the best at fighting in various divisions and weight classes. At the same time, the thing a lot of people watch wrestling for is the flashy decoration … the soap opera stories and ridiculous bullsh*t that happen in and around the competition. The way WWE pushes work, they can have a guy lose for years, then pluck him out of oblivion with a bunch of wins in a row to make us go, “this guy’s getting a push.” Cesaro can lose for years, and if he starts winning and looks like he has a shot, we’re gonna be all-in on it and forget the losses because we want to see him win. Right? But we don’t actually “forget” the losses. We’re just happy to be past them. So do they matter? SHOULD they? Have we just all settled with the idea that acceptance of a truth means satisfaction?
Regardless, Cesaro takes another loss here but looks spectacular in the process, and we get to spend another week thinking a lot harder about a show than we probably should.
Worst: The Heel Turn Nobody Saw Coming
Spoiler alert: Paige turned heel on Monday, attacking her PCB faction-mates only like four weeks after turning heel and attacking her PCB faction-mates. Bet you didn’t see that one coming! Charlotte should get a DNA test. I don’t think Ric Flair’s her dad, I think Sting is.
Plus, the mystery of Who Attacked Natalya continues. Did Natalya die? Because she doesn’t appear to be coming back, and nobody can find her to ask her what happened. Did she get attacked by General Zod and banished to the Phantom Zone?
Anyway, I was hoping they’d do a sad version of the Becky Lynch pun gag in the reaction video.
[holds up cafeteria tray]
“I feel be-trayed.”
[gives herself a papercut]
“I can’t believe Paige would do that.”
[points at bookcase]
“It makes me want to kill myshelf.”
Best: Alberto Del Rio, Ring General
1. We find out that Alberto Del Rio has decided to partner with Zeb Colter because Zeb listened to John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ and decided there shouldn’t be countries. No, seriously. Zeb explains that he and Alberto are now citizens of “MexAmerica,” which better not include f*cking Hernandez. I love that the “Alberto has learned to shut up and work with racists” joke has extended into this thing where the Big Hispanic Star WWE wanted is like, “I’m not from Mexico, I’m from MEXAMERICA. IT’S BOTH. I’M FROM ALL OF THEM.” They should let Renee join the group and call it CANAMERIMEX.
2. Del Rio wrestles Neville in the #1 contender tournament, which I like because the old idea behind the United States Championship is that it meant you were #1 contender. It didn’t mean you’d automatically get a match against the champion like “#1 contender” means today, but it meant you were the best guy in the company besides the world champ.
The other thing I liked is that Del Rio won with a tree of woe doublestomp, meaning he’s won two matches since his return and won neither with the cross armbreaker. I don’t know if that’s been phased out to keep kids from holding each others’ arms or whatever, but Del Rio beating quality opponents with a variety of moves makes him seem extra dangerous. It’s not a Sheamus thing where it’s the Brogue Kick or nothing so you don’t buy any of the nearfalls. He can beat Cena with a kick, he can beat Neville with a stomp. That’s pretty cool.
Worst: Let’s Get Some Mileage Out Of That Stone Cold Steve Austin Appearance
In a segment you have to believe was taped last week, Stone Cold Steve Austin interrupts The Miz to ask him for information about WWE 2K16. It’s the Tyson Kidd “chicken fries are BACK, Nattie!” of the month. Also established here: Austin has the power to mute others when he speaks, and can use his entrance theme to end personal conversations.
Man, if I we ever develop time travel, I’m not going back to kill Hitler, I’m going back to make sure Austin never calls Christian and creates the “what” chant. Also, to get some chicken fries.
Best: Ryback Can’t Buy A Bucket
In one of the only matches on the show without much of a point, The Dudley Boyz team with Mons’s Goblin Ryback against the “we’re not doing anything important right now” super team of Sheamus, King Barrett and Rusev.
Like most of the Dudleys’ matches since their return, the result doesn’t matter. It’s just an excuse for a WWE live crowd to see the Dudley Boyz, cheer for their signature moves and yell GET THE TABLES. I wish WWE would utilize aging stars like this more often. Japan gets it. When a top star has reached a certain age and can’t really go anymore, they’ll put them in six-man tags or whatever so the crowd can see them and pop for their sh*t, but not have to sit through an entire thing. There’s a real value in that. If, say, The Demon Kane was a guy who just looked like that and dressed and acted like that and tagged into six-mans to hit a couple of chokeslams and a jumping clothesline, we’d probably love him. The Dudleys can still go, but do they have to? They can just do the tables thing and hit a 3-D after the match and everything’s fine. The triple Meathook Clothesline was a perfect example of this. It was adorable and memorable, and didn’t cut anybody off at the knees.
Now if we can just scoop that heel trio out of the toilet …
Best: GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL
Speaking of Th’Demon Kane, he’s the latest abductee of the full-strength Wyatt Family.
If you’ll recall, this isn’t the first time they Wyatts have kidnapped Kane. They abducted him back in 2013 and nothing really happened, and the running theory is that they brainwashed him so he wouldn’t keep f*cking with them. I like to believe this attack and abduction was a followup to that, and that since Kane showed up and tried to punch them, they’re lugging him back to their cultist bayou shack for a refresher.
I also hope that this leads to the Brothers of Destruction actually showing up in sheep masks and gas station onesies, or at least going full, serious heel again to form a new Ministry of Darkness with Wyatt’s crew. They couldn’t get Taker over as a heel with the teleportation dick-kicking and nobody really takes Kane seriously anymore, so why not just goth them the hell up again and have them shoot lighting and fire at people for a few months? The Undertaker’s legacy isn’t “noble cowboy,” it’s “GIANT ZOMBIE MORTICIAN THAT WILL TRY TO EMBALM YOU FOR REAL.” Dude once tried to Black Marry Stephanie McMahon and abandoned The Big Show to die in the desert. He’s not a sweet old man that requires “thank you” chants. He should’ve responded to “thank you Taker” by setting everyone in the crowd on fire. Give me that dude again before he retires.
Best: Dean Ambrose, Pal
You know what’s a shockingly good use for Dean Ambrose? “Level-headed friend who puts things into perspective and says all the stuff Roman can’t say without sounding like a goober.” That should be his role. No more destroying Seth Rollins mannequins with tools and hiding in peoples’ trunks, just an average, blue collar, greasy-haired everyman who sits down beside the Handsome Prince and says, “hey man, here’s what’s going on tonight, I hope you win.” I really like that guy. He doesn’t know Roman likes room temperature water because they’re brothers, he knows it because he’s thoughtful and pays attention. I’M ONTO YOU, DEAN AMBROSE.
Best: Look, Everyone. It’s Tyler!
First of all, I want to skip through all the pessimistic assumptions and jokes and say how happy I am that Tyler Breeze is on the main roster. I love (loved?) him in NXT, but he never got to win the big one and kept getting passed over for Triple H’s latest Big Name Indie acquisition. Zayn, Owens, Finn, Itami, Joe, Apollo Crews, all of them. Breeze was always right there and ready to be the guy, but he never got to be. I don’t see him getting to be “the guy” on Raw and Smackdown either, but he’s a great wrestler and a fantastic character actor, so if he’s gonna spend his entire career being that enjoyable mid-card guy eating grapes in a papasan chair for heel heat, let him do it in a place where he can make lots of money.
Second of all, as much as I like Summer, I’m not sure I’m down with MR. HETEROSEXUALITY TYLER BREEZE yet. His narcissistic asexuality was one of my favorite things about him. He’d run into Alexa Bliss backstage and ask for a picture, and then make her take one of him. That’s Tyler. He’s “part man,” but all model. I guess main roster crowds would react to that in a collar-tugging way and you have to safeguard it, and of course I’m happy to cheer for them both and see where it goes, but it’s a lot like MexAmerica for me. I can see myself loving it in the short term, and doing a lot of disappointed head-shaking in the long.
Best: Team Rocket Explodes
Anyway, Summer Breeze show up in papasan chairs to watch Dolph Ziggler take on Big E in the #1 contender tournament. This is one of those times when I wish the WWE announce team would be cool reading their company’s actual history, and directly (and maybe even humorously) recapping how these characters know each other and why the match matters. I’ve always thought that’d help the product and reward people who watch every week, and hell, it’d be a nice recap for people who don’t without having to do “moments ago” recaps. Who the hell is watching hour two of Raw and needs a Hell in a Cell recap, especially when they recapped it in hour one?
So yeah, Ziggler defeats Big E in another good-to-sometimes-great match, and God, I wish Raw could be like this every week. I probably wouldn’t have any jokes, and you’d get tired of me writing “I liked this!” 10 times a week. I need horrible Raw segments for job security, people. My favorite part of this match is the finishing sequence, which allowed Ziggler to play to his greatest strength: creatively sticking-and-moving until he’s in the right spot to hit his finish. I like that he doesn’t really have a common setup for it, and has to organically look for it as he’s wrestling. The headbutt to spin Cena around was great, as was the corner dodge and Big E going shoulder-first into the post. Ziggler vs. Del Rio would be the greatest alignment of special skills in wrestling if they hadn’t already done it 60,000 times.
That leaves us set for the main event: Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens vs. Alberto Del Rio vs. Dolph Ziggler. Two faces, two heels. Give whoever agented this episode a raise.
Best: MORE OF THIS RAW YOU GUYS
If you want to see HOT FIRE, watch the finish of this match. Holy sh*t. This is what Roman Reigns needs to be.
The crowd’s so into this match that they’re just kinda mindlessly clapping and stomping, and that’s WONDERFUL. Everything’s set up to make the wrestlers look like superstars, my word not theirs, and the finish could not have been better. Kevin Owens won his match earlier in the night by hiding in the ropes, waiting until Cesaro was distracted by the referee and hitting him with a cheap superkick. Here, Owens waits for Roman to step in through the ropes and does the same thing. He pushes him into the ropes for the pop-up powerbomb and pushes him into the air, at which point Roman counters with a Superman Punch and makes me stand up with my arms in the air. That is SO DOPE.
Just to recap, this is the kind of Raw I sift through the garbage to get to. This is the kind of show that isn’t perfect, but aligns with my wrestling fan sensibilities. I want to see cool wrestlers doing cool sh*t in matches that mean something, to build character relationships that matter and build to something else. Wrestling is the best when it treats itself like a weekly show, and not like a series of bizarre, inexplicable 3-hour specials. This is a living, breathing universe. Things that happen here should matter next week, and the week after, and on and on. Things should build on top of themselves and grow. That’d allow us to form actual opinions about things and actually invest ourselves in the performers and product, instead of getting lobbed these WWE talking points and having to agree with them or not. If you agree, you’re sycophantic. If you don’t, you hate wrestling. It’s so pointlessly divisive. If you just put on good shows with good matches and good wrestlers, we are going to love the sh*t out of it and praise you every week. It’s why we’re so up NXT’s ass. LET US BE IN YOUR ASS, RAW.
If you’re gonna be in Texas around November 1 (this Sunday!) be sure to check out the Inspire Pro Wrestling tag team tournament happening in Austin. We’ll be at Fun Fun Fun Fest all three days as well, so lots of local wrestling happening. Support that! If you can’t make it, you can buy some stuff here.
Click this button to share the column and ensure that I will never leave my computer again: