– Be sure you’ve read The Best and Worst of WWE Payback 2015 before continuing.
– Real life stuff repost:
If you’re interested in seeing the best pro wrestling card in Texas all spring (and possibly all year), Inspire Pro Wrestling’s ‘In Their Blood 2’ happens in Austin on 5/31. It’s the same day as the Elimination Chamber, sure, but we didn’t schedule ours on a whim Monday afternoon. Also, Ricochet and Joey Ryan and Candice LeRae and a ton of other awesome people are gonna be there, so if you stay at home watching a show that’ll be on demand the second it ends, you’re gonna have a bad time.
If you’re interested in seeing Meet Me There on a big screen before our DVD/VOD release, your last chance is June 7 in New York City at the Anthology Film Archives. If this is your first time hearing of it, it’s a horror movie I made with Goldust and a bunch of awesome independent wrestlers, so in addition to being this emotional, tense thing about the horrors of sexual dysfunction it’s also a ‘Where’s Waldo’ for people who recognize Blue Pants or Evan Gelistico. Go see it! I’ll probably be there!
– Shares, likes, comments and other social media things are appreciated.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for May 18, 2015.
Best/Worst: Female Daddy’s Home
1. That drumroll to reveal the Intercontinental Championship was the saddest thing of all time.
2. Hey look, everybody, it’s Stephanie McMahon! Triple H didn’t clandestinely murder her and hide her body on a tropical island while they were on vacation, or whatever! And she’s wearing terrible lipstick! And she’s … dressed like Mrs. Claus? I dunno.
I’m happy to have Stephanie back because I think she’s hilarious (“back’a th’liiiine!”), but she presents the same problems as Triple H. She’s a fantastic performer with a great sense of timing and a supernatural ability to manipulate and control wrestling crowds, but she’s also kinda shoot terrible? The existence of a strong female authority figure character means she has to jump in and emasculate every top superstar at every opportunity, and while I understand it and sometimes love it, it can get tedious. Like, I don’t need to see her smirking and no-selling Ryback’s attempts at looking like an Important Person, you know? When she does it to Cena it works because he’s so singular and bulletproof, and we can justify him being “taken down a peg.” How many pegs can you take the Ryback down? He’s on the ground beneath the bottom peg. And what makes her sometimes even worse than H is that H can get comeuppance. He can get his ass beaten from time to time, or get showed up or “defeated.” Stephanie never, ever gets comeuppance. The worst she gets is being an upset background character for decisions she doesn’t like, and then they’re immediately fixed. I think the last time she got Actual Comeuppance was when Vickie Guerrero took her mudding, and even that was a self-contained one episode thing.
3. The motivations for the Intercontinental Championship Elimination Chamber are so weird. It’s like the first draft of an idea. “The Intercontinental Champion got broken competing for the title in a dangerous match and can no longer compete, so we’re gonna name a stronger, more durable champion by having a bunch of people compete in a match that shortens careers.” At least Dario Cueto’s open about wanting everybody the crowd likes to die from ultraviolence.
Best: Sheamus Vs. Ryback, Or
Worst: Losers Getting Whatever They Want Because They Complain
The first match of the night is Sheamus vs. Ryback, and it’s another of those “good matches that aren’t particularly exciting” that Ryback specializes in. Like Ryback/Wyatt, the story’s solid. Sheamus gets thrown into the ring post orbit-first, so he covers his face and starts favoring his eye. Ryback continues the attack but the referee starts getting concerned, so he tries to separate them and figure out what’s up. Sheamus uses that moment of distraction to hit a Brogue Kick on Ryback for the Critical and just kinda collapses on him, still holding the eye. I like that Sheamus not only had a gameplan in case he got in trouble, but that he held on to the con until after the match so he could condescendingly justify it as “real.”
The problem I have is with the match existing at all (ha) and Ryback’s inclusion in the IC title Elimination Chamber match. Sheamus shows up and interrupts the Authority with a legitimate point: he’s basically got Daniel Bryan’s number. He beat him in 18 seconds at WrestleMania, and now he beat him so badly his career’s over. Of course, that’s not the actual story, but Sheamus was the last guy to face him so he can take credit for it. He’s also a former Everything Champion, so why wouldn’t he be in the match? Then loser-ass Ryback shows up, is all “Daniel Bryan is a GREAT DUDE” and is suddenly ALSO a championship contender and facing Sheamus RIGHT NOW despite the fact that he’s a Nothing Ever Champion who lost to Bray Wyatt the previous night. He loses, again, but he’s still competing for a title in a huge gimmick match because dot dot dot question mark. At least R-Truth beat Stardust.
If I could change one thing about WWE, it’d be the elimination of people being able to just show up and book their own matches via argument. At least on NXT they’ve got William Regal pointing that out and justifying why it should happen anyway. At least do THAT.
Best: Bo Knows
Unsurprisingly, one of my favorite moments of the entire show was Neville being randomly confronted by Bo Dallas and acknowledging their NXT history. While it’s not Zayn/Owens by any stretch of the imagination, Neville and Bo had a lengthy history. They’re the #1 and 2 longest-reigning NXT Champions ever. Neville beat Bo for the title at Arrival, NXT’s first live special, and held the title 7 days longer than him. 287 to 280. The nod to that was great because they could’ve just ignored it in favor of establishing Neville in a new universe where he’s a weird-looking spaceman and Bo’s a loser.
It also made Bo feel like an important character for the first time in a long time. Bo attacked Neville and caused him to lose. He got to sit in on commentary and be funny and be a character in the universe, and not just the guy who says “bo-lieve” and loses. WWE has a f*cking treasure trove of great performers and characters they could use to flesh out their world and turn Raw and Smackdown into ‘The Simpsons.’ The Simpson family are your protagonists, sure, but sometimes there’s an episode about Krusty or Comic Book Guy or Lenny and Carl. At least a good B-story.
Best: Neville Selling On Offense
It’s such a simple thing, and nobody ever seems to do it.
Neville’s knee is taped up, so when he pisses off Bo, Bo attacks it. That leaves Neville vulnerable during his match with King Barrett. Normally what’d happen is a guy would be injured and sell early in the match, do all of his signature moves like everything was fine and then, if we were lucky, remember to sell for a second during the finish. Sometimes they’ll only remember to sell after it’s over, but only between the pinfall and the “getting up on the ropes” taunting parts. Neville actually wrestles a match with an injury, which is a totally different thing. When he does a move that involves the knee, he sells it. He hits a jawbreaker on Barrett where he drops to his knees, so he grimaces and touches the knee. It lasts about half a second, but it MATTERS. He throws kicks where he has to use the bad leg as a fulcrum and he sells it for a moment, but never oversells it. It’s indirect pain. It gets worse when he throws a spinkick with the bad leg and tries to keep Barrett up for his delayed German, and it goes out on him completely during a springboard. The story works because this is Neville’s offense. He doesn’t have anything else. He’s either gotta power through it and trust himself to be okay, or he has to crash and burn. He crashes and burns here, and Barrett gives him the ROAL BULLHAMMAH for the win. Love. Wrestling is awesome when you can trick yourself into thinking, at least in the moment, that it’s real. If you can trick yourself enough on a regular basis, you start expecting that awesome reality and everything about the show feels better.
Also great: Bo Dallas and Booker T having conversations, and Bo calling him “Mr. T.” Don’t ever leave me again, NXT Bo Dallas.
Best: The Best Dean Ambrose/Bray Wyatt Match So Far
It’s probably a bad sign that when I was writing up this report I’d totally forgotten this match happened, but I enjoyed it while I was watching it. It certainly played better for me than their previous matches, although there’s basically no drama in Wyatt taking moves when he more or less no-sold a splash through a table from the top of an ambulance. What, I’m supposed to believe he’s gonna get super hurt because Ambrose fall backwards in the ropes like an idiot before he threw a clothesline?
Ambrose has GOT to stop leaning on that rebound lariat. It’s getting comical. He goes for it non-stop, which is what made any Ring of Honor fan with a brain hate Nigel McGuinness during his ROH title run. He stopped wrestling and just started falling around in the ropes and throwing lariats for 30 minutes. I get that it’s a unique thing and can be an Ambrose signature, but Jesus, limit him to one well-timed attempt per match. Two max, and only if you have the first one reversed. Most of the time people are just standing there gawking at him when he does it anyway, they should just run up and kick him in the ass. Run up and shove his legs and send him falling to the concrete. That’ll teach him. You know what also builds momentum, Dean? Running into the ropes like normal.
It was a good match, though, don’t let my hyper-specific complaining fool you. I’m a little anxious whenever Wyatt starts winning matches, though, because you know he’s just being built up to get fed to someone important. Is he wrestling Sting at SummerSlam or something?
Best: The Lana And Rusev Breakup, Part 1
Let’s take these one at a time.
So, Rusev shows up to protest the finish to the I Quit match from Payback and tries to restart it, which frankly is the biggest heel move of all time. He tells the crowd that there won’t be any Lana tonight, but Lana shows up anyway and tries to explain herself. What follows is one of the most emotionally complex situations I’ve maybe ever seen on a main-roster WWE show, whether they were doing it on purpose or not.
Lana gave up for Rusev because she cares about him and wanted to do the right thing not only for him, but for them. She implies their romantic relationship more than ever before, which isn’t a shocking surprise to anyone with social media, but she stays professional. She’s not sobbing, she’s not screaming, she’s just speaking passionately and trying to explain herself. She lets it slip that Rusev was saying “I quit” in Bulgarian, a language NOBODY IN THE WORLD COULD EVER HOPE TO UNDERSTAND according to the pleeb announce team. Rusev’s response is to get heated and lash out at her, call her names and tell her to leave. In a normal WWE situation, this would play as crass and misogynistic. Here, though, Rusev is clearly in pain. He’s embarrassed. He’s lashing out because he’s humiliated and she let out his big secret about what he said, and his emotions are out of control. His identity, everything he is, has been threatened and compromised by the one person he’s tried to trust. The key is when Lana says he’s “misunderstood.” That’s the focal point of all of this. It’s a shamed man trying to come to terms with what’s happened and attacking the only person who wants to help him. It’s real life. It’s what happens, for better or worse.
“You’re weak, and you make me weak.”
That line killed me. It kills her, too. She leaves, and as she’s leaving, Rusev keeps yelling at her to go. She’s already leaving, you know? He’s just yelling because he wants her to turn around and yell back at him and argue, because his brain’s on fire and he needs to work it out. He needs an answer. An excuse. He needs her to know him and take this blame and make it better, but she does know him, and that’s why she’s leaving. He’s misunderstood by everyone, including himself. He just screams and screams until she disappears into the back. It’s like the ending of Harry and the Hendersons, and Rusev’s trying to get her to leave before things get worse. That’s amazing.
Worst: The Lana And Rusev Breakup, Part 2
WWE is a ruiner.
Dolph Ziggler wrestles Stardust for like five seconds. When that’s over, Michael Cole gets in the ring to tell him he’s an entrant in the Intercontinental Championship Elimination Chamber match. As that’s happening, Lana shows up for basically no reason, stands around awkwardly for a few seconds and kissing Ziggler. The crowd I guess is one of those Saved By The Bell groups that’ve never seen a kiss before so they go crazy, and Lana kisses him again. That brings out Rusev, who attacks Ziggler and gets slapped by Lana. He gets enraged, and Ziggler Zig Zags him from behind. Ziggler and Lana leave, and now she’s posting hashtag American Selfies on Instagram.
It’s not “bad” I guess, aside from it being lazy, existing for all the wrong reasons and selling out a Diva’s one instance of emotional complexity. It’s just a valet leaving a heel and pairing up with a face to make the heel mad because they’re in a match together and it needs heat. But man, it’s so disheartening. A story about Lana and Rusev as human beings falling apart is turned into “I’m gonna kiss the babyface because he’s HOT” and Rusev wanting to beat her up. It’s just … dumb. It’s dumb when it doesn’t have to be. There’s nothing more infuriating than when WWE has a good story and gets afraid to tell it. It’s why Sandow and Axel are just cosplaying the Mega Powers instead of bonding over the fact that they’re lost and neither of them has an identity. It’s why Emma is stealing Bayley’s shirt instead of playing on the truth about what WWE wants from women on the main roster.
A supplemental Best, I guess, for Lana being Eskimo Brothers with Sheamus’s ass.
Worst: The Worst WWE Finish
Cesaro and Tyson Kidd wrestle The New Day again, only this time Xavier Woods is banned from ringside. Instead of doing anything with this concept or moving these teams forward in any way, WWE decided to cram together two of their very worst tropes:
1. The “you WRESTLED TOO MUCH” finish where wrestlers don’t listen to the referee for like five arbitrary seconds and get disqualified. The New Day is stomping Tyson Kidd in the corner and the ref goes “hey, stop it” and when they don’t, whoops, the match is over. It’s the worst. It’s everything bad about the distraction rollup or the countout-on-purpose without the basic amount of structural work those finishes require. It’s wrestling for the sake of not wrestling.
2. That thing where a multi-person match or a battle royal is coming up, so everybody involves runs out for no reason and punches each other. There’s no goddamn reason why a New Day/Cesaro and Kidd match should end with the Lucha Dragons running out and doing anything, and there’s no reason why a Lucha Dragons run-in should bring out Los Matadores, and on and on. They’re just like WE’RE ALSO HERE, which doesn’t even make kayfabe sense because if you know you’re in a match for the tag titles with 5 other teams and you see those 5 teams hurting each other, shouldn’t you stay the hell in the back and let it happen? If it’s about something vague like “making an impact,” can you have Sin Cara run out doing airball crossbodies and let The Ascension chill in the back by the monitors making Mr. Burns hands?
Best: The New Day, Though
I can’t write one of these columns during this assumed month-and-a-half or whatever The New Day gets to be good without pointing out how good they’re being. Kofi and Big E’s FIVE? FIVE! FIVE? FIVE! bit was great even before it tied itself into E’s Langston days. I can’t believe I’m typing it, but this show needed more Xavier Woods.
Worst: Is There A Sadder Team Than Fandango And Zack Ryder?
Here’s the roster photo Fandango keeps in his pocket:
Pretty mediocre photographic fakery, they cut off Derrick Bateman’s hair.
Worst: ‘More Tamina’ Said Nobody
Nikki Bella defends her Divas Championship against Naomi, and somehow the feud still isn’t about how many times Naomi’s pinned her, it’s about how bad Nikki feels that she can’t be seconded by her enslaved twin sister. They pretend to wrestle a little and hurry to the finish, which is Tamina getting in the ring and superkicking Nikki before she can hit the Rack Attack. It’s not an insult to women’s wrestling in general, but the crew they’ve got on Raw right now just seems so … fake. They don’t seem like they get what wrestling’s supposed to be about. There’s nothing visceral happening, they’re just tying up and hitting each other with their asses and forming thick, concrete walls between what WWE audiences think is “good women’s wrestling” and the reality. They half-ass it until the shit happening in NXT becomes so removed from “WWE” that casual fans think it’s what “hipsters” like, or worse, smarks. It’s not just a better option. It’s a conflict. It’s “let’s aim higher” being nerfed by “what we have is good enough.”
Best: Paige, At Least!
The payoff to the match is Paige returning from filming Christmas Bounty 2: The Desolation Of Miz to save Nikki Bella, then beat her up because REASONS! None of it really makes sense beyond “everybody hates everybody and nobody’s even sorta likable,” which I guess is the mission statement of the Divas division, but hey, it’s Paige. If I can have a show with Paige or a show without her, I’m picking with.
If you missed Raw, John Cena’s U.S. Open Challenge was answered by none other than NXT Champion Kevin Owens. That by itself — the image of Kevin Steen standing in the ring with f*cking John Cena — would be crazy. What happened is … so far beyond that.
Owens explained to Cena that HE was the one who injured Sami Zayn, and that Zayn was broken long before his Raw debut against Cena a few weeks ago. Cena responded by saying that Zayn showed him heart, and that Owens has none. There’s nothing that bothers Owens more than having Sami Zayn’s awesomeness thrown in his face, so he backed out of the open challenge and kicked Cena’s ass anyway. A boot to the stomach and a pop-up powerbomb later and the NXT Champ was standing on the United States title belt and You Can’t Seeing Me (you can’t see me-ing?) in the face of The Face That Runs The Place. Holy crap.
It’s such a perfect moment born from the most ridiculously fantasy-booking-obsessed parts of my brain that I can’t even analyze it. Owens is using an open challenge for a United States Championship match to talk shit about Sami Zayn. He’s being condescending to John Cena, a man who ABSOLUTELY CANNOT HANDLE CONDESCENSION. He’s establishing himself as the perfect foil for Cena because he represents the opposite of everything Cena stands for … he’s not American, he doesn’t love America’s troops, he will give up if he thinks it’s not worth his time, he won’t wrestle matches for nothing to prove vague points, he doesn’t work out all the time, he has a family, he killed himself on the indies for 15 years, he wasn’t handed shots, he’s not handsome, he’s not a movie star, he’s not beloved by Hollywood producers. He’s not a face that runs any place. He’s a fighter. He’s independent wrestling. He wrestles in a t-shirt. He loves his kids and hates everyone else’s. He’s the every man, with the understanding that every man is actually an asshole.
Cena’s great, too, because he’s such an impossible person. He knows who Owens is, and knows that “Sami Zayn is great” will get him off his game. He’s also arrogant enough to let his guard down and think Owens will get as intimidated by him as Zayn and Neville were. He has no idea what a pile of shit this guy is, and it’s great.
My only worry is that Owens’ awesome “we’ll fight one day on my terms” is happening so soon and not years from now, because it would’ve been a really cool moment to flash back to when things truly mattered, and because I don’t want Cena just automatically getting his heat back and Rusev’ing Owens on a smaller scale. I’m not asking for Kev to trounce him at Elimination Chamber, but I hope he ends up looking as good there as he did here.
Worst: The Authority Vs. The Authority, The Legend Continues
The main event of the show was a video package sandwiched between more of The Authority arguing and punishing themselves for no reason. They force Kane to introduce Rollins and kiss his ass, and Rollins keeps exacerbating it. Dean Ambrose interrupts and The Authority backs off to make Rollins not be a coward and fight him one-on-one, then jump in anyway when he starts getting beaten up. Ambrose holds Rollins hostage to get a match he wants and The Authority gives in to keep Rollins from getting hurt, then jump in anyway and save him when they could’ve just said HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY and like, jangled some keys to distract Ambrose for the same amount of time. Then Ambrose gets the upper hand, only to lose it to Rollins, and this is just a wacky mess that keeps going around in circles and doesn’t put anybody over.
Rollins looks like a coward because he can’t win a one-on-one fight and has to take cheap shots. That’d be fine, except the people calling him out on this are the people HELPING HIM TAKE THE CHEAP SHOTS and simultaneously putting him in situations that benefit and hurt him. It’s so bi-polar. The Authority has no idea what it wants or what the end game is. Kane’s a lap dog who sells out every time he gets close to breaking free, so there’s no value in hoping he’ll break free, and no threat in him sticking around. Dean Ambrose is a jerk who tries to get thematic revenge almost a year later, but can’t pull the trigger and gets beaten up. CONTINUES DERP SOUNDS.
Best: ROMAN REIGNS RETURNS
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Why are they drinking champagne out of milk flutes?
Kane: “You made me angry and questioned my authority, so you’ll be facing Bray Wyatt!”
Dean: “Don’t you mean I’m facing you?”
Kane: “Well, normally, that’s how it would work, but then who’d face Roman?”
At Elimination Chamber, Titus pins Kofi for the title, and the ref awards the belts to The New Day.
(Lana lays a big smooch on Dolph Ziggler)
Lana: You still taste like Amy Schumer.
Dolph: How do you know what Amy Schumer tastes like?
The 1005th hold
Dolph and Lana were making babies, and Rusev saw the babies, and one of the babies looked at him!
I feel so bad for Ryder. His broskis never stick around, his hoeski left the company, and Trotsky was assassinated like seventy years ago.
Steph: “Health is of the Utmost importance of our superstars and diva”
Brie “Why don’t we have health insurance then?”
It is very sad that Paige’s ring is her house.
Hornswoggle can’t be a good roommate
WWE Too Hot For TV or as it was known in 2010 and 2012: Connecticut Opposition Research
KEVIN OWENS IS BEATING UP JOHN CENA, LANA ISN’T WITH RUSEV ANYMORE, ADAM ROSE DOESNT HAVE ROSE BUDS, DOGS AND CATS LIVING TOGETHER, MASS HYSTERIA!
Thanks, everybody. See you on Wednesday for NXT!