– Be sure you’ve read the Best and Worst of WrestleMania 31. It features important pro wrestling analysis and also references to midcard Blitzball teams.
– Shares, likes, comments and other social media things are appreciated. It’s going to be a long 51-ish weeks until WrestleMania 32.
Please click through (or scroll down, depending on how well this formats) for the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for March 30, 2015.
Best: I Mean We Are Technically Still In Suplex City
Requisite “Brock Lesnar is my favorite wrestler and also the best wrestler” preface.
The thing I love most about Lesnar right now is how easy it is to change his alignment. The trick to getting him from heel to face is simply aiming him at a heel or face. That’s it. Lesnar’s one of those guys who doesn’t have a “character.” He’s just himself. He’s an amped up, unhinged version of himself, but this is a guy who trains by carrying around fallen trees and machine-guns prairie dogs for fun. There isn’t a mellow, regular version. Because of that, you can’t fit him neatly into “heel” or “face.” He’s BROCK LESNAR. It’s more important.
So if you want him to be a heel, you put him up against John Cena. If you want him to be a babyface, you have him target Seth Rollins and just be this constantly-moving, constantly-threatening albino gorilla who will not stop bouncing in place until he’s ripped a little Crossfitter motherf*cker in twain. That’s it. How many conversations did you have last night about how Brock didn’t respect the business and wasn’t around for enough dates to justify his spot? None. How many conversations did you have about him wrecking everything and being amazing? You had all of them. That’s the difference. Context, and aiming the cannon of his humanity at the right place.
And trust me, cheering Paul Heyman is the easiest thing in the world. Every time he opens his mouth, an Alexandra Daddario of words comes out.
Best: Brock Lesnar’s Face
Look at him. That’s not a normal person’s face. Even when he’s laughing at the crowd for chanting “suplex city” there’s something off about it. He looks like he’s been battling Deadites all weekend.
Best: Who Knew Watching Daniel Bryan Wrestle Dolph Ziggler Would Be Entertaining?
The only thing easier than changing Brock Lesnar’s alignment is bringing prestige back to the Intercontinental Championship. You just put the belt on a top-tier talent who isn’t being positioned for the WWE World Heavyweight any time soon and have them wrestle good, competitive matches against others of their kind. Right now there are no two better Top-Tier Talents Who Aren’t Being Positioned For The WWE World Heavyweight Any Time Soon than Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler.
Bryan and Ziggler are beer and pizza. They’re Abbott and Costello if Abbott was wet and muscular and Costello wouldn’t stop grabbing his neck. They just go together. Having them open the post-Mania Raw in a lengthy match for a belt WWE assumedly wants to throw some shine at is the best decision of the night. It could’ve gone 20 more minutes and the crowd would’ve eaten it up. There’s such an aura of positivity following WrestleMania 31, and it’s not that easy positivity where you have to pretend everything’s uniformly great. It’s the positivity of knowing certain things you want to be good again can be, and that things like the Intercontinental Championship aren’t dead, just wounded. They can still heal with time. There’s a real joy in realizing that, I think. The benefit of creating a Universe is that you have infinite pull to move things around and make them better, you just have to f*cking do it already.
My favorite thing about Ziggler/Bryan matches is that nobody ever comes out looking dominant, it always comes down to a big counter to something. Sometimes Bryan will rush in for the Knee Plus and get caught with a superkick. Sometimes a headbutt sequence is able to stagger Ziggler and create some distance to set up the knee. It’s all about who hits the big move and when, and both guys always come out looking strong. There’s never a match where I’m like, “wow, Bryan really got shafted there,” even when he loses. I think that’s what people mean when they say wins and losses don’t matter. If you look great losing, people mostly remember the looking great.
Best: Wade Barrett On Commentary
If you’ve followed Barrett since NXT season 1 you know this isn’t a big secret, but dude is AWESOME on commentary. He’s the wrestler who should get the permanent color spot when he retires, because he’s an expert at getting his heel shit over alongside (and not in spite of) putting over the performers and stories. You know he’s out there to jump in the ring and Bullhammer people when they aren’t looking, but you’re still able to believe him when he says the guys he’s gonna jump are the best athletes in wrestling.
He’s so good. One day I want him to wrestle his final match, calmly roll out of the ring and Bullhammer Elbow JBL so hard it knocks his cowboy hat into the cheap seats.
Best: You Look Stupid
So yeah, Barrett jumps in the ring and attacks Bryan after the match, bringing out a returning SHEAMUS, who now looks like a living Immortals character. Actually scratch that, he looks like Dr. Zoidberg trying to find a mate*.
He’s got the face-danglies and everything. The crowd chants “you look stupid” at him because … well, he does, but it’s an awesome kind of stupid. Remember, you were used to his old look, but it wasn’t any better. His hair was so bad they canonically wrote him to be related to a Muppet. At least now he’s a little more marketable as a violently confrontational weirdo and looks like he’s come in out of the Wasteland to steal your bottle caps.
I just hope he challenges Daniel Bryan to Claw-Plach.
*h/t to LUNI_TUNZ who made the same joke in the open discussion thread, which I saw as I was finishing up this column. Eventually I’m just gonna stop watching Raw and write worse versions of the open discussion thread jokes.
Best: Hooooly Crap Kalisto
No matter how good you are as a pro wrestler, being a WWE Superstar is its own thing. Sometimes it’s difficult to adjust. You can be the most talented wrestler in the world and struggle on this level, not because it’s higher, because it’s so different. KENTA is one of the most accomplished performers of the last decade-plus and he’s just now starting to show it in NXT. Some people never adjust. Gail Kim was never as good in a WWE ring as she is outside of it, and Mistico went from the world’s biggest box-office draw to a literal pile of garbage. Some people suck in developmental and shine on the main roster. You never know.
Here’s what we learned last night: Kalisto should never appear on NXT again and should spend the next six months wrestling Cesaro on every WWE show in the world.
On NXT, the Lucha Dragons have never been my favorites. They’re out of place. With shows like Lucha Underground catching fire, the WWE-ized Not Rey Mysterios have been an exercise in patiently waiting for Kalisto to ditch Sin Cara and do something interesting. Sin Cara’s a stack of turds wearing a trenchcoat pretending to be an adult. On Raw, Kalisto debuted in a low-stakes spotlight match against the best base for flippy cruiserweights in the world, and holy shit it was awesome.
If you’ve seen Claudio Castagnoli wrestle Mike Quackenbush before you’ve seen most of it, but that’s a very small overlap in the WWE Universe Venn diagram, so seeing it on Raw was something else. Kalisto went from “guy the Raw crowd’s never heard of” to “guy the Raw crowd’s going to talk about forever” in the span of like five minutes. Sometimes all it takes is being a breath of fresh air, you know? Kalisto’s unlike anything else on the show. Even with Adrian Neville showing up he’s a singularity, and one of the most instantly salable Superstars on the roster. The 5-10 years of “lol is that rey mysterio” from goobers will be worth it, I promise.
Imagine if the original Sin Cara didn’t have bird bones and had spent a hot second in developmental getting comfortable before he got his fingers jammed on Raw and died. That’s what we’re working with. Great stuff.
Best: New, Day Sucks
It’s my favorite chant. If you’re The New Day and your CLAP, CLAP-CLAP causes people to say you’re terrible, maybe stop clapping?
That’s the thing about The New Day. I don’t like 2/3 of them as performers, but it’s SO CLOSE to working. They’re three enthusiastic guys with coordinating skill-sets and matching tights who work together. That should be the most over thing in the world. Kofi has been independently over before and Big E has gotten pretty close, so it feels like all that’s holding them back is them being allowed to exist in a story with a point instead of being an inanimate 3-piece set of magic markers. I’m at the point where I really want to like them, so I’ll happily chant against them until they’re forced to change. Wrrrrestling!
Let’s Ask The WWE Universe What They Thought About That Baller 8-Man Tag
That’s so true about men.
Best: Brock Lesnar Is The Greatest Pro Wrestler Of All Time, And
Best: Seth Rollins Is Getting Pretty Close
1. Seth Rollins is on some next level heel shit right now, and he couldn’t have timed it better. His reasons for not wanting to face Brock Lesnar on Raw were jet lag (despite Raw being in the same city as WrestleMania) and his foot hurting from all the Curb Stomps he’d given out last night. That’s so incredible. When he hit Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose in the back with that chair he gained their powers.
2. Whenever people are like, “ugh, I don’t get Brock Lesnar,” show them this. This is a pro wrestler that MATTERS. When Brock’s in the ring you forget about workrate and pacing and the minutiae of performance and just go EVERYBODY LOOK, THERE’S A SCARY WRESTLER IN THE RING AND HE’S HURTING STUFF. That’s Brock. He’s an instant disconnect from incredulity. He exists to hurt things and is big and lucky enough to have found multiple jobs that pay him to do it. When Rollins countered the German suplex and kicked him in the head and he just recoiled and stared him down, oh man, my brain caught on fire.
What’s great too is that Lesnar’s such a freak of nature he can chase down the fast guys and catch them before they flee. Normally if Rollins was feuding with a guy like Big Show, a distraction would happen and Rollins would bail. It’d be an easy out for a segment. Here, Rollins tries to escape multiple times only for this Pyramid Head motherf*cker to rush up behind him and grab him around the waist. The escape required MULTIPLE distractions, and ended with HOW many people dead?
I love that Lesnar’s fury is just that. Fury. It’s not a thing he can control. He’s not Kofi Kingston. When Brock is enraged and aimed at something, he fires his ass at it again and again until it’s destroyed. So when Rollins bails, Lesnar just murders anything within arms reach. The camera man, Michael Cole, the announce table, whatever. He seriously incapacitated two WWE legends by turning a table over on them. Booker T had a damn Mil Muertes situation going on where he’d gotten killed so hard it made him smile. Michael Cole got F-5’d into dust and all that’s left of him is his shoe. It’s f*cking madness and chaos. See how great wrestling is when it doesn’t feel safe?
Best: Unbelievably, This Is A Raw Made By People Who Are Paying Attention
That’s the biggest compliment I can give last night’s show. It made sense. Somebody paid attention and made it make sense.
Rollins is the WWE World Heavyweight Champion and obviously The Authority’s golden boy, but they have the very serious problem of Brock Lesnar to worry about. They put Lesnar in this situation where they know he’s gonna go crazy, follow through with the plan and legally remove him from the show as soon as they can. Do you think Stephanie McMahon gives a shit about a random camera man? Of course she doesn’t. She’s just compartmentalizing Brock and moving him somewhere he can’t hurt her. The backstage promo followup points out that Brock publicly announced he’d signed a longterm deal with WWE and wouldn’t/couldn’t jump ship to UFC on a whim, so Stephanie’s able to legally manipulate him, fine him and keep him off her show until she says so. Over an F-5 to a camera guy. That’s heel as f*ck and I love it, and I love that “Brock Lesnar isn’t on every episode” has gone from heel work to babyface fire in one damn segment. That’s art.
Pro wrestling (and yes, even Raw) can be SO GREAT if you just pay attention.
Best: Rhodes Scholars Have Gotten Pretty Weird
Back in the spring of 2013, Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes were best friends who loved and respected one another tremendously. Sandow was the Intellectual Savior of the Unwashed Masses, an elitist in a Joey Gladstone bathrobe who’d quiz the audience and sing condescending versions of Superstar entrance themes. Cody Rhodes was the dashing black sheep of his weird family and was trying to grow a mustache. They tagged together and found great success because they valued one another as equals, and weren’t afraid to be affectionate even when people like The Miz called them gay. Miz has never treated Sandow well, I guess.
Fast forward two years. Damien Sandow is now “Damien Mizdow,” a guy who was so obsessed with The Miz that he became his “stunt double.” He dressed like him, acted like him and mimicked him in real-time despite that not being what stunt doubles do. He wears Miz’s clothes. He put Miz in his name. Now he’s suddenly at odds with The Miz but still wearing his panties and doing his moves. He’s beloved, but mentally broken. Cody Rhodes is now an intergalactic housecat pretending to be the Frank Gorshin version of The Riddler.
How did they get here? What happened? They were educated, handsome, accomplished best friends. Now they’re the two weirdest people in a promotion that includes an anthropomorphic bull midget, a guy in a bunny costume and a tag team from the 1890s.
Best: Neville Is Coming!
Sweet! I can’t wait to see more of these vignettes. I wonder who he’ll debut against? Maybe he’ll get a match at Extreme Rules where he-
Worst: The Man Whose First Name We Forgot
But Actually Best: NEVILLE, Y’ALL
In case you missed last night’s show, this miniature forest ranger Beverly Brother is “Neville,” formerly known as NXT’s Adrian Neville. This is his Raw debut (not counting that NXT preview tag match from last year), and he gets to squash Curtis Axel in front of a crowd that recognizes him and loves his work. You couldn’t pick a better audience to debut him in front of, especially since about a quarter of these people were at San Jose State University on Friday watching him tear it the f*ck up with Finn Bálor.
Neville’s been one of the best parts of NXT for a while now, and he’s the best and brightest commercial for WWE developmental. He was a great athlete and performer when he was a star on the independent circuit, but his time at NXT taught him basically everything he needed to know and turned him into one of the most reliable, well-rounded pro wrestlers in the world. He’s short as hell, as a foreign accent and looks like a Lord of the Rings character so don’t expect the resuscitated Raw announce team to do him any favors, but he’s incredible and deserves to be here. Neville and Kalisto should be the new Malenko/Mysterio.
As for the name thing, yeah, I know. It’s so strange that WWE doesn’t think they can brand (or that we’ll remember) first and last names. We’ve already lost Antonio and Alexander, and now we’ve lost Adrian. Does Vince McMahon hate names that start with “A?” I want someone in NXT to pitch the idea of calling themselves Adrian Antonio Alexander Langston. Give it to a Hispanic guy and call him “Triple A.”
Best: Ax-Treme Rules
I’m not totally sure when Curtis Axel became Heath Slater, but I love it. I hope he gets a pre-show match at Extreme Rules that’s just Al Snow rising from the grave and rolling bowling balls into his dick.
Worst: John Cena Trying To Escape His Own Move
New United States Champion John Cena wears the world’s ugliest t-shirt to the ring and lays out an open challenge. This is good, because just like the Intercontinental Championship, the US Championship can be rehabbed by simply putting it on someone people like (or vehemently dislike) and having matches built around it. Just do that over and over and write some stories on top of it and you’re good.
Dean Ambrose answers the challenge, and the match is not Jonathan Great, but it’s Jonathan Good. Near the end, Ambrose counters an Attitude Adjustment and catches Cena in an STF, which is better than Cena’s about 0.00001 seconds into the application. Then, this face happens:
Cena is a great professional wrestler, don’t get me wrong, but there is probably nothing worse about him than his melodramatic facial expressions. They’re not faces human beings make. He’s Michelle Tanner at best and a f*cking lemur at worst. Remember when he won Money in the Bank? Yeah.
So yeah, Cena’s in the STF and Ambrose keeps trying to work it to keep it interesting. Cena very clearly has no idea what Ambrose is trying to do, and they engage in this awkward exchange where Cena’s alternately trying to tap out or easily counter everything. At one point he grabs Ambrose’s hand before he reaches for the bottom rope and just kinda holds it. I get what they’re going for and I appreciate them trying to add some detail to the struggle, but man, work that shit out before you get in the ring. It looked like a dad trying to help his son go to the bathroom.
Best: Bayley Shirt!
At this point in the show Raw becomes wrestling for the sake of wrestling, but I’d be a ripe a-hole if I didn’t give AJ Lee love for rocking a Bayley shirt on television.
Real quick though, a note on the announce team. At first it looked like we were just gonna have the show called in silence by the corpses of Booker T and JBL, but Byron Saxton showed up to be the world’s most nervous, least-prepared Joey Styles. Byron did a fine job of calling the action in a low-key way, but then Jerry Lawler showed up and you know how that goes. The reason I thought to bring it up here is because the commentary on the remaining matches is THE WORST, with Lawler calling it like he’s on a 2008 Smackdown and Byron trying a little too hard to sell the gravity of Earlier Tonight. It was like listening to me and my dad have a conversation at Thanksgiving Dinner.
The Divas match is the worst, because now I guess the AJ Lee/Paige/Bella Twins feud is about how the Bellas aren’t good enough role models, and how that’s bad because all Divas are role models. I have no idea what they’re talking about. What is Rosa Mendes a role model for? Bad dancing and not studying hard enough in Spanish 1? Can we please get some Divas stories that aren’t built around how judgmental everybody is?
Best: So The Good News Is That Rusev’s Winning Again
The bad news is that he beats poor Goldust to death, and there’s no sign of WWE salvaging the Goldust/Stardust story and getting them to Extreme Rules. So … I may have to just come to terms with that.
But no, it’s good to see Rusev take his inevitable loss to John Cena in stride and get back to winning. The announce team put over the fact that it could be the beginning of another long win streak for him, and I love that. It makes sense, right? If you can win 100 matches in a row and suddenly lose one, aren’t you still working with a crazy high win percentage? If you keep him winning you can make the future losses still seem important, even if they don’t have a historical footnote attached to them. Cena’s win didn’t matter anyway if you count all the disqualifications and count-outs losses. So yeah, no, Rusev rules. Let’s keep him ruling, and maybe next year roll him to the ring at WrestleMania on a live nuclear warhead.
Worst: Three Hours Is Too Much For Even A Good Raw
The main event is fine, but it is seriously just “everybody else.” They booked a Hot Fire first hour, peppered the next hour and a half with enough cool stuff to keep us interested and kinda mailed in the final 30 minutes. Can you blame them, though? Three hours of wrestling is an insane task to attempt every Monday night, even with unlimited talent and capital. It’ll never happen now because of ad revenue or whatever, but slicing off that third hour of Raw would solve so damn many of WWE’s problems.
My other concern is that sometimes I feel like people aren’t watching the show closely enough. Hearing Roman Reigns get booed after that WrestleMania main-event seems so weird to me, and validates that awful “pick a side” thing wrestling fans (and everybody else on the Internet) does. The idea is to watch the shows and form you opinions organically, and allow them to change if context or circumstances change. If Roman’s been bad for a little while (like he was), you like him less. If he gets his shit together, you notice it and give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s rarely ever a “nope, gonna hate this guy forever” situation in WWE, where they’ve proven they can make you hate guys you love and love guys you hate on the f*cking fly. You know how much I loved Adam Rose for a week? You know how much I hated Bo Dallas? I’d urge you to try to not just decide something and stick with it, because what’s the fun in that? It’s like filling out a questionnaire. The joy of wrestling is that it lives. It’s a physical, active thing happening in the world. It’s dynamic. It changes. Deciding you like or hate something and having no idea why — or worse, liking or hating something because you decided how OTHER people feel — is the worst.
If you’re gonna boo anybody in this match, boo Kane. Kane should’ve retired the second Team Hell No ended. That was his curtain call. Unless he and Undertaker are pinning each other in a career vs. career match at next year’s WrestleMania and being collectively swallowed up by hellfire so they’re never seen again, I don’t want to see Kane in any more main events.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
For once I’d like a crowd to cheer for Arn and not Ole.
I really hoped the third man would be Brock in a mask billed as Bork Lazer from Suplex City.
“I’ve just had some news through: JBL and Booker are pretty roughed up but news on Cole is not so good. He’s completely fine and will be back momentarily”
A Cena heel turn would be great if he completely embraced kayfabe. Visiting those Make a Wish kids telling them that their time is up and his time is now.
Joe Bucks Disgust
SOMEONE GET SAXTON A DIET MOUNTAIN DEW IMMEDIATELY.
Dean Ambrose is out here to sternly object to the US title being defended.
Vince McMahon: “Boy, this one-man announce team isn’t working! Styles! Where is Styles?!”
Joey Styles: “Yes, sir!”
Vince McMahon: “Get me a cup of coffee! I need to find someone to put on the announce table as Play-by-Play Commentator, dammit!”
The RAW After Wrestlemania, or; as it is more commonly known: The One Day of the Year Vince McMahon Sleeps.
You can’t fine Brock! He just got a new cabella’s catalog!
The camera shot catching the wave around the arena multiple times just made me so dizzy that someone just took advantage and rolled me up for the victory.
Thanks, everybody. See you next week, unless you’re a casual fan. If so, see you next year!