Previously on the Best and Worst of Raw: WWE is very into the Roman Reigns “one versus all” catchphrase, so they keep coming up with ways to say, “IT WILL LITERALLY BE ONE VERSUS ALL.” Last week gave us two: Roman Reigns having a match with practically the entire Raw roster (even though it only ended up being Kevin Owens, followed by a gang attack), and Roman Reigns being forced to defend his WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the Royal Rumble. One versus all of it! Woo! Also on the show, Titus O’Neil danced with a kid who had no interest in dancing with Titus O’Neil, and it was pretty funny.
Note: I am writing this week’s report from an airplane on plane wifi, so if anything comes out especially wonky, please bless our mess and I’ll make it look or read five-by-five as soon as possible.
Please scroll through for the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for January 18, 2016.
Best: Rusev, Man Among Boys
In the interest of transparency, this is one of those Raws that made me feel stupid for watching wrestling. I can’t imagine watching over 1100 episodes of something that could produce an episode like this, and if I’m allowed to be hyperbolic for a moment — which I never am, so I think I’ve earned the right — the entire effort made me want to put my head under a tire. I wanted to throw that out there in case you’re one of those types who enjoyed the show, and need your wrestling bloggers to agree with you.
In other words, I feel like Rusev.
The show opens with Roman Reigns, a character who has never confidently finished a sentence at more than an 8th grade reading level, going quip-to-quip with Chris Jericho, who thinks having an 8th grade reading level makes you an elitist. Jericho’s out here in a blazer with no shirt, quietly organizing a show-ending segment while Roman smirks and pffts his way through a quarter-hour. They’re interrupted by the League of Nations, and everyone bickers like a bunch of kindergartners.
Meanwhile, there’s Rusev. He does his best to try to get over his character as a serious, tough fighter in a serious situation, and absolutely nobody is helping him. It goes something like this:
Jericho: League of Nations, more like legal beagle weegle!
Roman: pfft pfft pfft
Sheamus: Jericho, you are a fatty!
Jericho: You are ugly though!
Alberto Del Rio: Shut up, perro! You’re a perro!
Jericho: You two are a perro knuckleheads!
Sheamus: why I oughta
Jericho: Takes one to know one!
Del Rio: You are rubber and we are glue, perro!
Jericho: He who smelt it dealt it!
Barrett: [does nothing]
Rusev: SUP F*CKERS I AM BULGARIAN AND BAD AS HELL, EVERY DAY IN MY COUNTRY WAS A RUMBLE, WE HAD TO FIGHT TO SURVIVE, DUDES WOULD STRAIGHT UP THROW STEAKS INTO A FIELD AND THE KIDS HAD TO SLAUGHTER EACH OTHER TO EAT, I WAS BORN TO FIGHT, IT IS HARDKNOCK LIFE FOR RUSEV, I WILL SNAP YOUR SPINE AND DRINK YOUR SPINAL FLUID AS A F*CKING SNACK, ME AND MY HOT RUSSIAN WIFE ARE GONNA DANCE ON YOUR GRAVES, I WILL LITERALLY END YOUR LIVES
Jericho: you have an accent ur dumb
Rusev: [screaming internally]
Barrett: [misses 4-6 weeks due to conversation]
Poor Rusev out here looking like a 60s Klingon, having all his attempts at serious fighting drama immediately disqualified because he has an accent. The guy who turned “again” pronounced “uh-gain” into a catchphrase is using “I can’t understand you” to ignore a guy speaking clear English. I hope I speak for all native English speakers when I say f*********ck yooooou, Cool Dad.
This is all to set up Reigns vs. Rusev and Reigns appearing during The Highlight Reel later in the night, two things that could’ve been set up by them happening.
Best: Special Guest Referee Requires Jericho To Wear A Shirt
If you’ve watched Smackdown in the last … ever, you’ve seen Roman Reigns vs. Rusev. The crowd is already dead 20 minutes into a 3-hour show, which is a bad sign, and the match follows the same safe, boring structure every match in its family follows. It’s perfectly fine, but nothing you’re gonna remember into hour two, much less tomorrow.
The highlight is Chris Jericho reaching peak Cool Dad, wearing a shirt two sizes too small for him (because they don’t make referee sport coats, I guess?) and doing elaborate, Enrico Palazzo-style ejections for the League of Nations members. It was the pro wrestling equivalent of one of those WHEN YOUR DAD DANCES BETTER THAN YOU Vines where two pre-teens are whipping and nae’ing nae and a guy in his 40s pops in to twerk in the background. I’m giving it a Best because it taught me that me and Chris Jericho are exactly the same at cartwheels.
Reigns beats Rusev, which helps set up Reigns looking strong for the rest of the show. Finally.
Best: Stephanie McMahon Tells Jericho What’s Up, Or
Worst: Stephanie McMahon Waited 20 Minutes To Tell Jericho What’s Up So He Got His Way Regardless
“I kinda wish it was 1999.” YOU DON’T SAY.
On the positive tip, Stephanie McMahon finds Chris Jericho backstage, makes wanking motions at his 15-year old “trash bag ho” routine and jams her foot up his rooty tooty whatever for assuming he can make matches and run the show. Normally I don’t like when Stephanie pops in to purse someones balls, but with Jericho, I’ll make an exception. He gets his balls satcheled. On the negative side, however, Stephanie for whatever reason decided to wait until the entire opening promo and match had finished to confront Jericho about hijacking the show when, you know, she could’ve interrupted at any point and put an end to it. It’s one of those scenarios that probably sounds fine on paper, but falls apart when you remember WWE’s supposed to be a real thing featuring real people in real life. If you care, why are you waiting until you’re nose-to-nose with him backstage?
Still, Jericho finally openly admitting that he wished it was still 17 f*cking years ago made me happy. Face Jericho’s cardinal sin has always been that he’s delusional as hell, so it was nice to see him own up to it, even if he didn’t mean to. Later in the show he gets real threateningly confident to Paul Heyman about what would happen if the Royal Rumble came down to him and Brock Lesnar, so if you love this version of Jericho, don’t worry, he’s still whacked out of his f*cking gourd.
Worst: Paige Is A Face Again Because A Heel Unfollowed Her On Social Media
Remember when there was a Divas Revolution? Anyway, here’s Natalya beating Brie Bella in two minutes.
The strangest part is the return of Paige, which is greeted with a rousing, “sure, okay” from everyone because nobody really noticed she was gone. That’s probably creative’s fault more than Paige’s, but she hasn’t appeared any less frequently than some of the active Divas, and pairing up her return with Natalya’s — that was a return too, right? — made it all feel unimportant.
What’s interesting (besides this being Brie Bella’s 45th match of 2016) is that Paige is a face again. If you’ve been following along, she turned on her PCB teammates, twice, but ended up face because:
1. she insulted her friend’s dead brother, and it turned out her friend was a jerk so it was fine (?)
2. Alicia Fox threatened to unfollow her on social media, then did so
That’s it. They preface the match with a Total Divas clip about adult human beings being stressed out about which of their co-workers unfollowed them on Instagram, then turned that into a pro wrestling story. I guess “passive-aggressive about social media” technically counts as character development, especially for Alicia Fox, whose most relevant character trait is, “says ‘foxy’ because her last name’s fox.”
Worst: And Another One
The Wyatt Family wrestled the Dudley Boyz again. A rivalry renewed! When they get to the end of the show and the Wyatts are beating up Brock Lesnar, remember that like three weeks ago they were getting beaten up by Tommy Dreamer.
Just to say it, one of the most frustrating points I run into as a Guy Who Writes About Wrestling On The Internet is people either wanting one thing or the other, and thinking you’re nitpicky or complain too much when those things suddenly shift and you aren’t happy. For example, the Wyatt Family. Since they got called up, jerks like me have been begging WWE to make them look strong. On Raw, they beat up Brock Lesnar. People are like, “you wanted them to look strong, what’s the problem?”
The problem is that context exists. Patterns exist and can be observed. I’ve written a lot about how the Wyatt Family is never more powerful than when they’re about to lose a feud, and that’s the truth. Think back to Bray vs. The Undertaker. Think about Bray vs. Cena. Bray vs. Reigns. Bray vs. The Undertaker and Kane. In-between these feuds, the Wyatts just kinda gang up on somebody who doesn’t matter — R-Truth, the Dudley Boyz, whoever — and tread water. Then suddenly they do something big and crazy like maul Cena or kidnap the Brothers of Destruction to harvest their souls, and you’re like, “finally, the Wyatt Family looks strong!” Then, like clockwork, they get beat. Somebody reveals that Bray is full of sh*t and hasn’t accomplished what he’s said, and then they either beat him handily in a match, beat the family in a match, or lose via wacky shenanigans to set up a later match they’ll win. That’s the pattern.
So, if the Wyatt Family is beating up Ryback for a few weeks (and sorta struggling, if we’re being honest) and going toe-to-toe with Tommy Dreamer and then all of a sudden they’re trouncing Brock Lesnar, what does that suggest? That no effort has been put into establishing the what and why of the Family, they still hide the fact that they’ve got no discernible reason to exist or goal to achieve, and they’re only looking strong so someone can look stronger beating them. It’s an immediate A-to-B thing. Do you think Bray Wyatt’s going over in a feud against Brock Lesnar? Of course not.
So when we say we want the Wyatt Family to be stronger than they are and “look strong,” we aren’t saying “we hope they do well right now.” We’re hoping for something that will break this cycle, and establish Bray and his family as something more than gutless boogeymen who have no idea what they’re saying and can’t get the job done. Because they’re kinda awesome sometimes, and they deserve it.
Worst: Vince McMahon Struggles With His Balls
Brutal. Just brutal.
The McMahons make a big deal out of a drawing to see who will be #1 in the Royal Rumble, and even household pets suddenly develop the ability to talk just to say, “it’ll be Roman, and Triple H will be #30.” It’s not a bad call for the story they’re trying to tell, even if it’s the most obvious storytelling lay-up they’ve pulled in a while, but it probably didn’t need hype, several minutes of a segment, Stephanie and Vince doing live mic improv and several additional minutes of a 70-year old man struggling to open plastic tumbler balls.
When they pulled Roman’s name you were like, okay, there we go, now move on. Instead, they just stood there trolling the audience forever, going back into the tumbler to pull out more balls Vince couldn’t open just to make the same, obvious joke we got the first time. It’s a good way to get the crowd to hate them, I guess, but I think the level a WWE crowd can hate the McMahons reached maximum levels and sorta plateaued years ago, and now we’re stuck watching them entertain themselves without any reasonable chance that someone’s gonna step up and stop them. If it was entertaining — which both Vince and Stephanie can still very easily be — I’d love it. But man, it was just terrible. The kind of thing that feels like it would’ve been a fourth as long if they weren’t aware of how much TV time they had to kill.
Best: Bo Dallas, And The Hope That This Is Going Somewhere, Or
Worst: What Actually Happened
I liked two things about Heath Slater vs. Big Show:
1. My stupidly optimistic belief that Big Show knocked out all four members of the Social Outcasts like they were nothing to set up a great moment on Sunday, where the Outcasts band together and eliminate him from the Royal Rumble, and
2. Bo Dallas avoiding a knockout punch, seeing his life flash before his eyes, celebrating his survival and victory lapping right into a knockout punch.
I know it feels weird to react to a team with these guys on it, but come on, WWE Universe, give it a try. Can you do this for me? I need this. I can’t rely on the New Day having trombone funerals as my only source of unbridled, ironic joy.
Note: Bo Dallas is really brilliant, and I love how well he knows his role on the team. The other guys are still sorta trying to find their place — Axel still being obsessed with Royal Rumble elimination status is nice, but not really helpful for an ensemble piece — but Bo is acutely aware that he’s the “nice” one. The Outcasts don’t really like each other, but Bo loves ALL of them, and very clearly views them as babyface rebels. That’s crucial if you ever actually want to turn them into babyface rebels, which you … probably don’t want to, but you get what I’m saying.
Best: Becky Lynch, Or
Worst: Becky Lynch Doesn’t Understand How Ric Flair Operates (And Neither Does Charlotte) (And Neither Does Ric Flair)
Worst: Becky Lynch’s totem pole hoodie. I’m not even going to get into the appropriation aspect of it, I’m just wondering why a steampunk lady who has not explained why she’s a steampunk lady beyond “I’m wearing a top hat and dig the gear aesthetic” is suddenly also Native American. It’s like she picked it up at a souvenir shop and thought it’d be cool to wear on TV. Next time they come through Virginia, Becky’s suddenly gonna have an Appomattox Courthouse gimmick.
Best: Becky did her best to get a watchable match out of Tamina Snuka, which is like trying to teach a horse how to pole vault. The finish, with Becky up on Tamina’s shoulders and rolling through into an armbar, is probably the best thing Tamina’s ever been a part of in the ring.
Worst: Team BAD’s new entrance theme. Did they get Billie Kay and Peyton Royce to write it? Also, where the hell is Sasha? I know she’s hurt, but if King Barrett’s delicate ass can come to ringside and flee at the first sign of danger every week, you can let The Boss hang out out here on crutches.
Best: I’ve got a feeling Becky Lynch and Charlotte are gonna tear it up at the Royal Rumble.
Worst: The idea that you can trick Ric Flair into agreeing to something by bringing up how he never runs from a challenge. This is the guy who formed the Four Horsemen specifically so he could run from challenges. Flair flipping out and accepting was fun, though, so I’ll pretend drunk PTA Ric Flair is a canon thing and not just something I’m projecting onto him.
Best: Funeral For A Trombone
The New Day held a wake for Francesca the trombone, and they had all my love even before they mentioned eating “hella Chipotle” and defiling the bathroom of Chris Jericho. To be constructive, I’m glad they changed up the New Day formula a little bit this week, because I love them, but there are only so many “New Day stand shoulder to shoulder in the ring and annoyingly laugh at themselves” bits I can justifiably love in a row.
RIP Francesca, Heaven needed something to make noise while angels get stomped.
Worst: The Usos In Somebody Else’s Feud
Speaking of Francesca, here’s The New Day getting revenge for Chris Jericho murdering their trombone by … beating up The Usos, who were also kind of involved? You know, if you were gonna keep doing the Usos/New Day feud and shuffle Jericho off into some stuff for the Royal Rumble, why not let the Usos break it?
I’m glad to see Big E pick up a win, even if he needed help from two guys to beat an Uso, I just kinda wish the tag division was deep enough to run different kinds of feuds, and not always default back to this. There are so many guys on the roster not getting TV time, you guys, just make some sh*t up. It worked with the Social Outcasts, kind of. Hey Damien Sandow, you and Goldust are now a tag team. You used to team with his brother, and your mentor was a Hollywood guy. It works. Do it. Your team’s called “Dust Jacket.” Go get that non-title win!
Worst: Nerfing Kalisto
Speaking of the tag team division, remember Kalisto? Remember how hopeful we were last Monday that WWE had finally pulled the trigger on a cool new star at the right time, instead of waiting forever and having us watch him lose to everyone for three years so he could “deserve it?”
This is so f*cking disappointing, I don’t even know how to explain it. Kalisto won the United States Championship on Raw. It was the right call. He loses it the next damn day (per WWE.com even, who occasionally out Smackdown as a Tuesday affair), and the followup to that is him losing again on Monday. He’s got another match at the Royal Rumble, but you know what? You’ve already killed the excitement. You’ve dialed back on him so far that it barely matters. That’s not to say he won’t get it back or that everything won’t be fine, but why create these storytelling opportunities just to back up ten steps and start over? Why build the momentum and get people talking just to make sure the voices are as quiet and unenthusiastic as possible? Stop 50/50’ing these dudes into oblivion, and building to matches by showing us every possible outcome of the match beforehand.
Worst: Happy MLK Day, Everybody
WWE putting all their black wrestlers on a team in a match on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, complete with a “keep the dream alive” pre-match speech, only to have the white guy on the team get the pinfall is maybe the most WWE thing that’s ever happened. I guess it’s better than a couple of years ago, when you had Big E get Curb Stomped on MLK Day.
Worst: Poor Tyler Breeze
This isn’t mine, but I couldn’t say it any better:
Worst: An Attempt To Create Total Silence
And then, The Highlight Reel.
I’m not sure what to say. I considered making today’s Raw report just a picture of me with my head in my hands. WWE managed to create a scenario wherein a segment contains several of the most talented people in the history of wrestling and makes every single thing every single one of them does not matter.
For example, you’ve got Paul Heyman and Chris Jericho dueling on the microphone. That should be KILLER. They should have the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands. Instead, you’ve got Heyman going through the motions without a lot to say, and Jericho responding with a series of statements even Chris Jericho doesn’t believe. It turns into a battle of whisper-threats, and you can see the people in the crowd just begging to go home. Watch them. They’ve got their heads down or they’re looking at the TitanTron, they aren’t reacting to anything, and they can’t even muster up a “suplex city” chant when they get baited into it. They weren’t the best crowd all night, but can you blame them?
Then you get to the meat of the segment, with Lesnar showing up. Reigns interrupts him and you think it’s about to go down, but the crowd just doesn’t care. Reigns spears Lesnar, immediately removing all the things you want to see from BROCK F*CKING LESNAR, and the crowd just kinda meekly boos. Is that the reaction you wanted? Meek boos? Is Sheamus back there somewhere going, “wow, they got a reaction?”
That sets up a truncated version of the annual “everybody in the Rumble shows up and fights for some reason” bit, with the League of Nations jumping Lesnar and Reigns, and Lesnar fighting them off. Even that doesn’t get much of a response. It’s all to set up another opportunistic spear from Reigns, and more meek boos. That sets up the SECOND gang attack, right after the first, with the Wyatt Family showing up and beating everyone up. Like I was saying earlier, sure, we want the Wyatts to look strong, but in what f*cking multiverse of possible human thought do you write “Brock Lesnar sells Erick Rowan’s offense” and hand that in as the main event of your show?
Like I said, I’m not even sure what to say. The Rumble is on Sunday, and I hope they’ve got a miracle or two to pull out of their ass. I hope that miracle isn’t just “a guy you used to like a long time ago.” Again.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Mr. Royal Rumble, TheCensoredMSol
When Jericho’s music hit, my shoulders dropped like Apollo Creed’s.
Keep the dream alive! White guy’s hand on top! 1-2-3, Go!
This is just like the time Ric sold Charlotte’s bike to pay back a loan shark.
One day we’re going to find out that the flying gentle shove is what’s f*cking up everybody’s shoulder.
These wrestlers wouldn’t have teamed together in the Impact Zone, because Ryback hates Bullies.
Steph – “One of you could win the Royal Rumble.”
King Barrett – “Will there be ‘Participant” ribbons?”
“Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio are both Royal Rumble winners, while Wade Barrett was once the last person to leave a buffet.”
The Real Birdman
Kind of shocked Jericho volunteered to referee since it requires a shirt
Paige’s alignment is a flat circle.
Anyone know when Fozzy is going back on tour?
Thanks for reading, everybody. Give us a share on social media if you like the column. It helps more than you know. I don’t want to end up writing THE UPS AND DOWNS OF RAW on Brandon’s wrestle goofs dot blogspot dot com.