– Be sure you’ve read The Best and Worst of Elimination Chamber 2015 for important information about Roal Bullhammas and Alabama Slammas.
– Share the column! Your shares, likes and other Internet Things make this column a thing a human being gets paid to do for a living, so if you could keep enabling that and not send me back to the world of food service, I’d greatly appreciate it.
And now, the vintage Best and Worst of WWE Raw for June 1, 2015.
Worst: The Authority Starting Raw With A Long Promo Is This Week’s Most Original Decision
So, here we are, opening another episode of WWE Raw. Episode 1,149. We have not been running on fumes for 600 episodes!
Unlike the other … let’s say 1,148 episodes, this one starts with The Authority opening the show with a long speech about what’s been happening, what they think of everyone and what’s happening next. At some point “evil authority figures” stopped being functioning characters with hopes and dreams and aspirations and just became a Greek chorus, announcing whatever we need to know between tragedies.
This week’s topic is Dean Ambrose, who has stolen the WWE World Heavyweight Championship following the Controversial To Dusty Rhodes main event at Elimination Chamber. Stephanie mentions that Ambrose has a history of kleptomania, and has stolen the WWE Championship, the Money in the Bank briefcase, the Intercontinental Championship, and so on. The crowd cheers this, and before the show’s even started I feel alienated from the brain patterns of everyone involved. WWE’s a world where if you don’t earn something you just take it, and if you were cheered before you did it, you’ll be cheered afterward. Nobody’s really paying attention to what you do, they’re paying attention to the social cues of whether or not they should like you. Nothing you’re saying or doing matters. Stephanie saying “a guy shouldn’t lose and pretend he won anyway” is a heel move. Ambrose stealing something he didn’t earn and sending out his friend to blackmail his bosses into giving him what he wants is what babyfaces do.
That’s my common nitpick, though, so I’m not gonna get hot about it. If you think the dynamic makes sense, that’s awesome. I watch the show and see basically nobody I can identify with, and nobody I want to live vicariously through. It’s just a bunch of jerks ordering around some other jerks. Nobody’s really “good,” and attempts to be good are sabotaged. Goodness is weakness. Not caring and doing whatever you want with no consequences are the ideal.
The good news is that we get three Roman Reigns matches on the show.
Worst: Triple H Is Starting At The Bottom
For whatever reason, Triple H decides to punish Roman Reigns by making him win a series of matches or lose his spot in the upcoming Money in the Bank ladder match. The first guy picks for Reigns to face is KING BARRETT, the guy who can’t beat R-Truth and couldn’t win a match against Rudy Huxtable. Unsurprisingly, Roman wins. The WWE Fan Nation clip features Roman clotheslining Barrett over the top rope, because almost every match on the show had someone being clotheslined over the top rope. Seriously, I’ll remind you every time it shows up in a clip.
Two things about Reigns, one good, one bad:
The Good: I’m honestly liking Roman a lot more lately, because they’ve taken the focus off of him being a LONE WOLF BIG DOG JUGGERNAUT WHOM IS ONE VERSE ALL and allowed him to be Dean Ambrose’s sassy, tough friend. Roman isn’t The Rock, but he’s got it. He just needs to know when and where and what “it” is, and what it means for him. What worked for him in The Shield was being the silent, bad-ass exclamation point to the action. What might work for him now is being the straight man to Ambrose, and just showing up and being reasonable and kicking people’s asses until we’re all on the same page again.
The Bad: What happened to Roman’s spear? He used to kill people with it. Now it looks like Edge’s, which we affectionately call the “running hug.” Roman’s just putting his head down, jumping into a bear hug and falling down. The point of a spear is to stop forward motion, not to ease forward motion to the ground.
Worst: Thanks For Coming, Miz
Ryback shows up and delivers a miniature version of his one promo (“I used to be hurt and now I’m not, so thanks, and also feed me more”), and we’re allegedly having an Intercontinental Championship match. The Miz is here and I start going over nice things to say about him in my brain, but then whooooops, here comes The Big Show to knock him out and cancel the match. Show and Ryback have a Rhyno/Baron Corbin conversation as The Miz rolls out of the ring, and Cole’s all, “there will NOT be an Intercontinental Championship match!” Okay, cool. Glad we did this in the ring and wasted time on promos and entrances instead of just having Show interrupt Ryback two words into a sentence backstage and punch out Tom Phillips.
Worst: I Am Considering Becoming The Taskmaster And Creating A Fake Dungeon Of Doom To End The Fake Mega Powers Forever
Study question: is The New Day good enough right now to balance out the badness of AxelMania and Macho Mandow?
No. The answer is no. If you can get through these Mega Powers segments and Sandow’s piss-poor Macho Man impersonation without saying “Jesus Christ” and stopping the video, you’re the strongest person I know. Has Sandow even SEEN the Macho Man before? It’s like handing Dana Brooke a stick and saying “here, be Dump Matsumoto.” The New Day pop in to briefly save things and Big Show’s cameo is cute, but it’s like going up to a little kid and saying, “your grandmother died. Here are your Christmas presents! Also, don’t forget about your dead grandma.”
I miss the days when in-show Sonic commercials were just Jerry Lawler breathing heavy and leaning over some tater tots.
Best/Worst: So Close, John
Here’s the thing about John Cena: he’s really great at his job.
Without a doubt, John Cena is as good at WWE presentation as anyone in the history of the company. The content of his promos aren’t always great, but he’s EXCEPTIONAL at delivering them. It’s that Eddie Izzard joke about how speeches are 70% how you look, 20% how you sound and 10% what you say. When I “complain online” about Cena’s work, it’s in that 10% most people don’t care about. That 10% is what I’m looking for and paying attention to. I’ve seen and heard the man for a decade. I know he’s good at what he does. That’s why he is who he is, and why he’s where he’s been for most of that aforementioned decade.
Kevin Owens isn’t about the 70% or the 20%, and that’s what draws me to him. He’s (the fictional version of him, remember) a terrible person. We’ve seen him take shortcuts and blatantly lie about his motivations, and we’ve seen him hurt people for no reason because he’s got a raging inferiority complex. At the same time, though, he’s delivering what could otherwise be a babyface promo: he makes good on his promises, he wants to be a role model for his son, and he’s frustrated by the same corporately-mandated nonsense that made CM Punk a cult hero in front of these same wrestling fans. He beat John Cena, the hardest-to-beat wrestler in modern WWE history, clean as a whistle in the middle of the ring. He didn’t cheat, he didn’t kick Cena in the dick when the referee was distracted, none of it. He just straight-up defeated the guy who constantly says he’s waiting for someone to rise up and straight-up defeat him.
Cena, of course, is Cena. He lost, but his promo is about how great he is and how Kevin Owens “isn’t a real man.” It makes no sense. Cena is obsessed with the idea of nobility and honor and all these vague, troops-related ideals but he refuses to accept them as reality when they happen in front of him. A guy showed up, was confident enough to stomp Cena’s title and beat him fair and square — I can’t emphasize that enough — on a level playing field. Cena got a rematch announced before the show was over. Somehow, Owens isn’t a man. Because his kid likes Cena more? Because he has problems with Cena’s presentation? Why does ANY OF THIS not make you a man?
The Fan Nation clip makes the promo a little better because it skips the horrible shit at the beginning and jumps to Cena defending the legitimacy of his catchphrases, pointing out a kid battling cancer in the crowd and telling the kid to never give up. That’s powerful stuff, and while yeah, I can see how you’d get mad at him for basically shielding himself with a dying child, it was an genuine and touching thing to do. He made that kid’s life. The humanitarian work Cena does is legit, and he should be able to say, “nope, I am real. I am a colorful super hero cartoon character, but this is my real life. What I do matters.” Also legit is the really interesting idea that Kevin Owens’ son loves Cena because he’s from Kevin Owens, and Owens is the type of guy who follows Cena’s same mottos. Owens would NEVER give up if he wanted to achieve something. He fought his way up through the independents and listened to people tell him he’d never make it for a decade, but here he is a day after pinning John Cena on a WWE live special. Kevin Owens and Owen Owens are cut from the same cloth, the only difference is that Kevin had a lifetime of hardship to make him bitter. That’s an AMAZING plot point. That’s so, so much better than “I’m a man and you’re not,” and the fact that the promo is bookended by declarations of bullshit manliness devalue the entire thing.
So yeah, it’s a Best for me, but also a Worst. You aren’t trying to get over on an Evil Russian anymore, John. Sometimes the story is more complex than something Sylvester Stallone would box for.
Best/Worst: Dolph Ziggler vs. Kofi Kingston In A Singles Match That Turns Into A Tag Is This Week’s Most Original Decision
As longtime readers of the column know, Dolph Ziggler vs. Kofi Kingston makes me want to put my head in a garbage disposal. There was a what, two year period when Raw was nothing but Dolph Ziggler vs. Kofi Kingston. It went from a fun, under-midcard rivalry to an absolute constancy, and we’ve seen them lazily reverse each other’s signature moves so many times I could play through an entire match in my sleep. Every variation. Ziggler and Kingston wrestling in 2015 makes me feel like I can see The Matrix.
Raw makes matters worse by adding on two of its most common tropes:
1. The post-match attack from the loser’s friends that cause the winner’s friends to run out an start a brawl, and someone deciding that if they want to fight so bad, we can have a TAG TEAM MATCH right here, right now. You have to type that sentence in italics.
2. Stories that start off about Dolph Ziggler, then forget him to focus on everyone else.
Ziggler gets saved by the Prime Time Players, so they do Ziggler and the PTP against the fully-formed New Day. Ziggler does nothing, because Dolph Ziggler, but Titus O’Neil looked DOPE. I don’t think Titus has ever looked as good as he did wrecking The New Day at the end of this. He even gives Big E a clothesline over the top rope, which I told you I was gonna point out.
I’ll actually give this part a supplemental Best, because I think the Prime Time Players have really elevated their in-ring work and could be something special if (1) the focus stayed on them for more than a cycle, and (2) they got some actual teams to work. The root problem of the tag team division is that WWE only creates 2-4 teams at a time with a maximum of 1.5 important teams, so whoever’s getting pushed has to face whoever’s champion on loop for months. If you expanded just slightly and put just a baby amount of effort into teams like Los Matadores or the Lucha Dragons, you could create the illusion of competition and give everyone a break. Having two teams at a time and then sudden 6-team Elimination Chamber matches isn’t how that happens.
Worst: Did You Like The First Roman Reigns Match? Here It Is Again
Triple H’s second opponent for Roman Reigns is Mark Henry, who when not being pushed as a monster is an alignment-hopping nobody who’s almost as easy to beat as Wade Barrett. Unsurprisingly, Roman wins. They do a count-out to protect Henry a little and make Roman look like he could realistically win two competitive matches against two competitive opponents without looking overpowered, which is hilarious an hour later in the main when he’s singlehandedly fighting off outside interference, spearing Bray Wyatt and pinning him clean.
Nobody’s doing what they should be. If Triple H wanted to dangle the carrot of success in Roman’s face and snatch it away, he should’ve put these three matches in a row. He did it with Daniel Bryan once and it was great. It didn’t work, but it was entertaining and got everything into one big segment instead of spreading it out over three hours. He also could, you know, take away Roman’s spot anyway. He’s the COO, his wife’s the executive Vice President, they’re both on the Board of Directors and Vince McMahon’s in a home somewhere under there thumb. I don’t actually know where Vince is supposed to be or what he’s supposed to be doing right now, do you? Anyway, Roman should just sit this out. Triple H keeps giving him title opportunities anyway, why kill himself in a ladder match to get an extra one? Doesn’t he already wrestle Seth Rollins every week? H is obviously softballing this to him, too, putting him up against three dorks and giving him an hour’s rest between each. If Reigns isn’t in secret cahoots with the Authority now and setting up to turn on Ambrose, I’ll be shocked. It’s the only thing that makes sense beyond “WWE isn’t great at writing sometimes.”
Worst: Twin Magic Is This Week’s Most Original Decision
When the Bella Twins started doing Twin Magic, they were believably twins. Discerning eyes could pick out Nikki as the hot one even then, but whatever, they looked mostly the same. In 2015, WWE has worked hard to differentiate them and they look dramatically different. Nikki is basically twice Brie’s size because she dates John Cena and Cena dates weights. She’s got lighter hair and a different hairstyle. Her skin is several shades darker and, uh, she has massive breast implants. Also, sometimes she wears a hat. They are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Somehow, still in 2015, they are able to pull Twin Magic to win wrestling matches.
Imagine if during Cena/Owens at Elimination Chamber, Cena had rolled under the ring and replaced himself with a shirtless Daniel Bryan in sneakers and jean shorts. Imagine if Bryan had then small packaged Owens and pinned him, only for Cena to jump out from under the ring and hug him. Imagine ANY OF THIS HAPPENING in a world where men are sentient creatures who don’t come in a 2-pack and referees who work for WWE have seen and/or can identify their co-workers.
Worst: Randy Orton vs. Sheamus Is This Week’s Most Original Decision
While we’re imagining fantasy scenarios, imagine a world where Sheamus and Randy Orton wrestled and you cared.
Show-opening Triple H speeches, Sheamus vs. Orton, Ziggler vs. Kofi, impromptu tag matches and Twin Magic. They should’ve called this “Old School Raw” and pretended we were nostalgic for 2012.
Best: Emo Rusev
Now that Rusev has lost his manager, been disowned by Vladimir Putin and moved back into his apartment in Bulgaria, he’s dressing like a beatnik poet and delivering somber moments about how in Soviet Russia, feelings crush RUSEV. The best part is that it continues Rusev’s narrative as a secret babyface hero, right? He’s vulnerable. He’s faced adversity and been broken down by it. Arrogance and misguided patriotism took him from the top of the mountain — a WrestleMania match against John Cena where he rode to the ring on a f*cking tank — to the very bottom, breaking him physically and emotionally. Now he’s scared and has nothing left to lose, so he’s promising he’ll do anything he can to get it back. The language barrier makes some of the stuff he says seem more severe than he means it, I’m sure.
I really hope Jimmy Jacobs is in charge of the Rusev character now, and that next week we get a homemade video of him painting his fingernails and singing about Myspace.
Worst: Neville Vs. Bo Dallas Is This Week’s Most Original Decision
I know I sound overly pessimistic about Raw sometimes, especially when it’s the same damn episode I reviewed last week and the week before and the week before, but what are we doing? Why are we doing any of this? We’re three live specials into a four live specials in a month run, but shouldn’t that be a creative opportunity? Shouldn’t we be able to trim the fat and differentiate these shows by hitting plot points hard and fast, and zipping through stories like they do on Lucha Underground? Start a feud, continue it next week, end it on the third week. In and out, boom boom boom. Instead, we’re just holding the same goddamn show over and over and changing the theme on the match announcement graphics.
To continue the Neville vs. Bo Dallas feud, Neville gets his third clean win in a row over Bo. He pinned him on Smackdown, he pinned him with an injured leg at Elimination Chamber and he pins him again here. So what’s the story, that Bo sucks and Neville can beat the same sucky dude over and over? F*cking move on, guys, I shouldn’t have to use that “this week’s most original decision” gag more than five times.
Worst: Bray Wyatt Is Just Joey Mercury With A Lantern Now
The Authority’s final man in the Roman Reigns Trilogy is Bray Wyatt. Unsurprisingly, Roman wins. Roman moves on to participate in the Money in the Bank briefcase, and Raw ends with Wade Barrett, Mark Henry and Bray Wyatt being stacked up in a little pile and set on fire. They should make Bray Wyatt King Barrett’s court jester and have him juggle. It would for real be better character development than what they’ve got going on right now. Seriously, picture Barrett slumped over all sad in a throne until Wyatt walks in like a spider, and Barrett starts happily hopping up and down and clapping his hands.
As a reminder, I should not book Raw.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Mr. Royal Rumble, TheCensoredMSol
Owens: Works his ass off, supports his wife and family, claws his way to the top.
Cena: Lives with his girlfriend he’s stringing along.
Who’s a real man?
I wonder if the mics are rebelling in response to the criticism of their over performance last night.
The Real Birdman
*King Barrett’s music hits*
Roman: Alright! Going to Money in the Bank!!
More like “The Winds of Stay the Same.”
The Big Show.
Press 1 for Face.
Press 2 for Heel.
Press 3 to cry.
Never considered this before, but it’s odd for a man who has a seemingly endless supply of towels so rarely gets beaten clean
“A real man doesn’t judge another by the color of their t-shirt.”
– Martin Luther King, Letters From a West Newbury Jail
Sliced Bread No.2
Oh and he just buried Adamn Rose. Another father wrestling for his kid. I get it now.
John Cena’s treatment of fathers everywhere really fired Titus up.
Henry is so unthreatening that he’s going to induct Roman into the Oates of Pain.
Thanks, everybody. See you next week.