The Best And Worst Of WWE Raw 2/23/15: From Russia With Love

Pre-show notes:

– Be sure you’ve read The Best And Worst Of WWE Fastlane before reading about Raw, otherwise you won’t know who’s in the rematches.

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Please click through for the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for February 23, 2015.

Worst: Randy Orton, Just Another Guy

One of the very best moments of WWE Fastlane was the return of Randy Orton. He showed up in the middle of an Authority beatdown and plowed through them with RKOs in every direction to get to Seth Rollins, the man who tried to end his career with a Curb Stomp on the ring steps. Rollins barely survived thanks to an assist from a surprisingly not-turned Big Show, and literally fled the arena.

How did WWE follow that up on Monday night? By having Orton REJOIN THE AUTHORITY with little-to-no provocation, shake Rollins’ hand and tag with him in the main event. After that match, everything was fine.

This is so twisted and backwards it defies explanation. It’s like they’re doing a Red Arrow up their own asses. Everybody and Mongo’s grandma knows they’re prepping to do Orton vs. Rollins at WrestleMania, so why do a big angle with Rollins putting him out and a several-months absence with a big pay-per-view return just to shuffle him back to square one and start the hell over? Why are we waiting for Orton to turn on The Authority? Didn’t we DO that? Wasn’t that the entire f*cking point of the attack? Rollins becoming the new “golden boy” of the Authority because he could get the job done and Orton couldn’t? Orton had the man running away through a frozen parking lot in nothing but pleather tights, what kind of Machiavellian positioning is he going for by palling up again for no reason and going through the motions of these thrown-together main-events? It’s insanity. It’s not just wrestling for the sake of wrestling, it’s wrestling we’ve already done for the sake of a story we’ve already finished.

The best part of the interaction was Triple H. Look at him. If he’s not thinking “I’m going to fire the guy who thought this was a good idea” I’ll eat my shoe.

Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns should’ve opened the show arguing about who should be in the WrestleMania main-event, and the Authority should’ve interrupted them and put them in a Royal Rumble. The winner moves backwards to Survivor Series to captain Team Cena.

Worst: A 4-Way Intercontinental Championship Feud Just Means Three Guys Pinning The Champion

Speaking of Team Cena, here’s Dolph Ziggler as the third most important person in a four-person Intercontinental title feud.

I think it’s safe to say that Wade News Barrett is the worst Intercontinental Champion of all time. At Fastlane, Barrett won a match against Dean Ambrose by BEING BEATEN UP TOO MUCH. Here, he loses cleanly to Dolph Ziggler. Cram all of Barrett’s reigns together and it tells the story of a man who absolutely cannot win and is celebrated for it. Imagine if Iron Mike Sharpe had the same win-loss record he had in the 80s but brought the IC belt with him to the ring every time. It’d be about as prestigious as his shooting sleeve, right? Barrett doesn’t even have THAT anymore. Ambrose has his belt. So Barrett is an Intercontinental Champion who never wins and doesn’t hold the belt. Holy shit.

To make matters worse, you’ve got R-Truth on commentary trying to get a “get me on the WrestleMania card” hashtag over and being celebrated for it even though they’ve got Curtis Axel doing the same damn thing an hour later as a joke. The hashtag he should’ve been pushing is “WWE realized they needed a black person on the card and put all of them except me into The New Day, and L-O-f*cking-L at The New Day having a WrestleMania match.” That’s probably too long for a hashtag.

Worst: Matches That Help Nobody

Actually wait, I forgot about The Prime Time Players. Add “also you’ve got Titus O’Neil, a guy so bad he screwed up WWE’s attempt to humiliate him by having him tie Santino’s elimination record in the Royal Rumble, and Darren Young, his Brie Bella. Remember when they broke up and Young got injured, and when he got well they decided to forget it ever happened? Remember how everyone thought he was going to be the bunny? Yeah, the actual most promising black wrestler on the show’s only character growth is HE MIGHT’VE BEEN SNEAKING AROUND IN A BUNNY COSTUME FOR A WHILE.” THROW IT ALL IN THE HASHTAG.

So. Matches that help nobody.

The Ascension faces the newly reunited-for-no-raisin Prime Time Players. They beat up Young for a minute, Titus interferes, they knock him out of the ring and Young rolls up Viktor for a surprise pin, giving The Ascension their first main-roster loss. The Ascension immediately beat him up and hit him with The Fall Of Man.

If you need that broken down for you, here you go: The Ascension just lost in about two minutes to a team that hasn’t tagged in over a year. Instead of selling shock and letting the surprise sink in, they jump that team and beat them up. Everybody loses their heat, nobody gets it back because there are no stakes, and everybody’s where they were before. The Ascension got beaten by one dude, and that guy got trashed before he could even stand up and raise his hand. The crowd goes, “well, that happened,” and you continue to condition these live crowds to expect to be disappointed and unenthused by 2 1/2 hours of your 3-hour show.

Fart noise.

Worst: The Great Hall Of Fame Mystery

SPEAKING OF FART NOISE, The Ascension cuts a promo before their match about The Bushwhackers going into the Hall of Fame. This graphic goes up an hour later, and Michael Cole asks us to stay tuned and find out who it could be. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

The only thing that could’ve made the reveal less surprising is if they’d brought out Dixie Carter to read it.

Worst: ‘Making Roman Reigns Look Strong’ Has Officially Gone Overboard

Okay, forget what you think about Roman Reigns. Forget The Shield, forget the weird second half of 2014 with the bad promos and the hernia injury. Stepping back from the jokes for a second, WWE’s attempt to make Roman Reigns “the guy” has gone bonkers.

If you’re building a guy to be the top star of the company and defeat the undefeatable champion at WrestleMania, what do you do? You have him win the Royal Rumble, do some cool stuff, put him over his top contemporary on the February PPV and send him into Mania strong. Right? The crowd might not respond the way you want them to at first, but you’re telling a story. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. In theory, by the time you get to the end they’ll go “oh, I get it” and PYRO AND BALLYHOO, that’s how stories work. If you get to the end of the story and it’s still not working, you take the story somewhere else. The idea shouldn’t be to tell the beginning of the story, gauge a bunch of first impressions and change the story on a week-to-week basis trying to please everyone.

I’ve written a lot about how WWE’s major problem right now is that they don’t show their work. They tell you something and expect you to believe it, instead of taking the necessary steps to make you think it on your own. I don’t know if social media’s to blame or what, but they feel like every second of everything has to be safe and successful and universally beloved, which leads to them being afraid of change and noncommittal about everything. If they do start to change, they double back over it so many times it becomes unrecognizable and feels like the same old shit.

Roman Reigns having a good match with Daniel Bryan and pinning him is a step in the story. It made a lot of people say, “okay, maybe Reigns vs. Lesnar won’t be so bad.” Roman shut up for five seconds, didn’t do anything stupid and looked like an accomplished pro wrestler. Boom boom boom, one two three. There is no reason whatsoever to devote an entire quarter-hour to having Daniel Bryan stand in the ring whimpering about how people love him and repeatedly insisting that Roman’s better than him. You know what we love/loved about Bryan? The fact that he seemed to take pro wrestling seriously. He loves it and loves to do it, and he’s great at it. You know what sucks? Having a guy you love say LOOK AT HOW MUCH EVERYONE LOVES ME for ten minutes. It’s even worse when he ends it with THEY SHOULD PROBABLY LOVE YOU MORE, HUH? It’s a worse version of not showing the work: you DO the work, but you’re afraid nobody will notice it so you circle it a bunch of times and point to it instead of finishing the damn test.

When Paul Heyman shows up and spends an additional ten minutes saying Roman is better than Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, Stone Cold Steve Austin and every non-Lesnar person he’s ever seen, it ventures into parody. Heyman seems like he’s making fun of Roman, but there’s never a punchline so it just comes across as blowing him. It’s so unnecessary. Writing a sentence, erasing it, writing the same sentence, erasing it. Roman Reigns is a tall, muscular, handsome guy who is a bad promo but pretty good at wrestling, and occasionally carried to greatness. He’s related to the most famous person you’ve ever employed. Heyman can (and has) put him over without it feeling stupid. You don’t have to try this hard. Just take the microphone out of his hands, put him in a bunch of good matches and cool situations and the brighter of us will fall in line.

This show really needs to change after WrestleMania. I don’t know how, but f*ck.

Best/Worst: Nattie Literally Turns Heel

I have to give a Best to SOMETHING, so let’s take a second to praise Natalya for finally and officially throwing in with her scumbag husband. More of Natalya giving the Usos testicular concussions and shoving Naomi on her ass, fewer sassy dinner date skits.

At the same time, though, a part of me mourns the loss of Tyson and Natalya’s loveless marriage. If she’s fully on his side now there’s no reason for them to passive-aggressively be at each other’s throats over nothing, which has been my secret favorite part of NXT for like a year. It’s also bad to see her twist her ankle — or whatever happened — the SECOND she turned. Part of me wanted to see Tyson celebrate with Cesaro and make her hobble to the back on her own, but see? You can’t think that stuff if they actually love each other. Stupid coordinated marriage alignment.

Best: Stardust Being Tortured By ‘Cody’ Chants

That’s good character development. Remember ‘Cody’s Mustache?’ Cody Rhodes can always use a good derisive chant.

Worst: The Actual Match, Though

More matches that don’t help anybody. Jack Swagger hasn’t had a relevant moment since at LEAST Zeb Colter breaking his leg (and being taken out back and shot, apparently), but he’s taking advantage of distractions and tapping out Stardust to phantom ankle locks. Dude didn’t even have it applied. That’s how powerful a WWE musical distraction can be. It physically hurts you itself.

I wish there was a little more logic to the musical distractions, though. Stardust has been teaming with Goldust for every match he’s had besides the one on Sunday, right? Doesn’t his entrance usually start with Goldust coming out, then him? In a roundabout way, he’s being distracted by his own music. One time I want a wrestler to suddenly notice that 10,000 people are surrounding him and panic. THIS WASN’T IN THE CONTRACT, MCMAHON.

Best: WWE Still Loves And Remembers My Terrible Fan-Fiction

If Curtis Axel shows up next week in a t-shirt with a hand turkey on it I’ll know I’ve made a difference.

h/t to @lxshopguy

Best: Who Is John Cena To Speak For Vladimir Putin, I Mean Honestly

This. THIS.

Since Cena and Rusev started feuding, I wanted it to be Rocky IV. I’m not alone in that. I wanted them to skip the cookie-cutter WWE feud and “Moscow Mooseknuckle” nonsense and get straight to Russia vs. America. I want full-on COMPROMISED TO A PERMANENT END faux-Marine Cena feeling like the United States is going to crumble and vanish from the Earth if he can’t defat Rusev in a wrestling match. They did it with people like Big Show and Mark Henry and Jack Swagger, but none of them have the real-talk TV Patriotism of John Cena. He’s the most American person in the world. He’s the only person who gives Hulk Hogan a run for his American-ness.

Cena shows up to do the normal “I’m not gonna make excuses” excuses-making he does when he loses, and Lana and Rusev interrupt him to throw AMAZING amounts of shade. They drop the Putin photo on him and demand he admit Rusev AND RUSSIA are better than Cena AND AMERICA. It stops being a wrestling story and becomes a giant boxing glove with a hammer and sickle on it smashing into a giant boxing glove with the U.S. flag on it and exploding. That’s perfect. If Cena defeats Rusev at WrestleMania it’ll be obvious and disappointing … but if he defeats Rusev at WrestleMania with a full color guard, riding a jeep to the ring with a flag draped over his shoulders while a bunch of military dudes stand on the stage with tears in their eyes saluting him? And a f*cking bald eagle swoops down from the heavens with the United States Championship in its talons and f*cking dies in Cena’s arms as it hands it off? I am so into that.

Also awesome: when did Rusev start sounding like Triumph The Insult Comic Dog? Because I’m into that, too.

Best: Revisionist History Actually Improving A Story

No matter how bad the rest of the show gets, WWE maintains the ability to slam dunk the shit out of a video package. They’re better at it than anyone in the world. Here we get the 4-minute version of the Best of Sting DVD, starting with his rise to prominence in WCW and culminating with the face-to-face confrontation at Fastlane that set up his first-ever WWE match. As a former Little Stinger, this hit me right in the feels. In the guts of my feels. It’s how I imagine you jerks get when Hulk Hogan shows up.

The best part is that they skip over two entire eras of Sting, and it helps the narrative. Here, Sting was a charismatic guy with a blonde flat top who was driven to darkness by the nWo, forcing him to reinvent himself as a silent avenger. He valiantly defended WCW until the company went out of business, then disappeared for 14 years. You’d expect them to toss Sting’s contributions to TNA in the garbage, but they made the right call by leaving out everything between SuperBrawl VIII and the last Nitro. It doesn’t help the story to know Sting became an also-ran in the shadow of Goldberg, or that he joined the nWo and painted his face red and wore wolf shirts with Lex Luger. You don’t need to know about him wrestling Vampiro in a graveyard or being set on fire and thrown off an ersatz TitanTron or Scott Steiner attacking him with dogs.

Great stuff. MEANWHILE, THO.

Worst: Just Cut This

30 seconds. 30 seconds on a 3-hour show. Natalya and Naomi spent more time fussing with each other outside the ring during the tag titles match than the Divas division spent wrestling. It’s mind-blowing.

In case you missed it, the actual match is about 5 seconds of that 2-minute video. Paige walks down to the ring and has to stand there awkwardly for five minutes while they play a hype video for someone who’s never wrestled in the company. When that’s over, the match starts. It’s supposed to be Paige and Emma against The Bella Twins. Paige is mad at them for stealing her gear last week so the ref forces her out of the ring. Brie knocks her off the apron, then hits Emma with one f*cking move and pins her. It took more time for the Bellas to walk out, shake their asses in a circle and walk down the ramp than it did to defeat Paige and Emma. Remember when those two tore it up at NXT Arrival? Isn’t that the saddest thing in the entire world?

Without resorting to any preachy speeches or appropriated hashtags, this match, like so much of the show, is just unnecessary. If you’re short on time because your Roman Reigns Is Great convention and Bushwhackers retrospectives and Popeye’s commercials have run long, just cut it. Nothing was accomplished here that removing the match entirely would’ve missed. If you want to give them work and entertain the crowd, put the match on Superstars. Give it six minutes or whatever. All you’ve done by having this garbage, 30-second exercise in nothing is pissing off everyone with a mild interest in seeing NXT and/or female wrestlers succeed, and unfairly branding the Bella Twins as Divas who “can’t wrestle.” It’s wallowing in your show’s stupidest, most easily-avoidable criticisms.

To continue that point,

Worst: Cut This, Too

It’s easier to get outraged about the Divas getting 30 seconds to work, but Ryback and Curtis Axel didn’t fair much better. Their match when what, 45? The “MOMENTS AGO” recap of Randy Orton shaking hands with Seth Rollins backstage lasted longer than these last two matches combined. Are you processing that? This is a 3-hour show. It’s not like they’re trying to fit a 70-wrestler roster into 60 minutes. They have THREE HOURS. Can you imagine how good this show would be if they carefully filled that time with stuff that made the show better? Can you imagine how good they’d be if they realized and utilized the talents of workers they’ve carefully gathered from around the world and showcased that instead of recapping themselves in real-time and celebrating shit they did right 20 years ago?

Best: Curtis Axel’s Gear

The #AxelMania shirt was great, and then he revealed those custom trunks. Too good.

No idea what’s going on with Ryback, though. Is he colorblind? Dude looks like a jar of peppers.

Best/Worst: A Fine Enough Main-Event That, You Guessed It, Accomplishes Nothing

Are you tired of reading that yet? Because I’m tired of typing it.

Roman Reigns teams up with Daniel Bryan against Randy Orton and Seth Rollins, and everybody on the Internet calls a double-turn. Orton’s obviously snapping and RKO’ing Rollins at some point, so that’s a gimme. He’s been forced into a situation against his will and there’s no way his Authority loyalty is just back in full, so the show’s been a 3-hour ruse to get him in the ring with Rollins. As for Bryan, he has to do SOMETHING at WrestleMania and his burgundy trunks are back, so maybe he’s going to realize all his dreams are dashed and throw in with The Authority. Justify his weird obsession with how much more the crowd loves HIM than other people by turning him heel. Maybe give Roman another boost — God knows he hasn’t had enough — heading into Mania.

In the end, none of that happened. It’s wrestling for the sake of wrestling. Not even the Orton thing, which is crazy. The teams mostly get along, and the payoff is a pair of partners tagging themselves in with different reactions. Rollins tags himself in while Orton’s trying to hit a move and Orton’s upset, but nothing happens. Then Bryan tags himself in while Reigns is trying to hit a move, and Reigns smiles. He’s fine with it. He’s The Big Dog! The Juggernaut! The Powerhouse!

Reigns and Bryan win (as they should always, lest that Tag Team Turmoil from Smackdown be revealed as a total burial of the tag team division) and we go to the post-match. Orton’s in Rollins’ face and you’re like, “f*ck, finally.” He RKOs Jamie Noble and puts the fear of God into Joey Mercury, then … nothing. He’s also fine with it. He’s The Viper! The Apex Predator!

It’s just nothing. Totally fine nothing.

Worst: Speaking Of Nothing


Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night

Anthony Daniels

They must be driving through Kansas on the road to WM, because this is boring as shit.


Black screen got more time than the divas

Mr. Royal Rumble, TheCensoredMSol

Mercury got the Superman Punch because Reigns thought it was Lex Luthor.


You guys complain, but at some point, they’re going to induct the original WWE Network subscribers into the Hall of Fame and we’re all getting rings.


In Triple H’s revisionist history, he raised a flag over Nwo Jima.

Harry Longabaugh

“Uncle John, thanks for the complete set of Pixar movies. But it’s missing one…”


Roman Reigns only needed Paul Heyman to move so he could see the teleprompter.

Johnny Slider

When did Roman Reigns and Randy Orton exchange voices?


No wonder Heyman is always broke, he bets on pro wrestling.


Roman, or the unexpected virtue of ignorance

Thanks for reading. Let’s hope next week’s a little more positive.