– As a reminder you’re probably already tired of being reminded about, Meet Me There, the movie I wrote starring Goldust and a bunch of independent wrestling notables, is available for purchase in actual retailers. If you pick up a copy, tweet at me about it and I’ll follow you/kiss your butt/be ingratiated to you until I make the next one.
– Share the column! Your shares, likes and other Internet Things are appreciated.
And now, here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for June 29, 2015.
Worst: Come On Down, You’re The Next Contestant On A Boring Raw Intro
So back when Kane was debuting as a supernatural, fire-throwing monster that could rip the door off the Hell in a Cell and needed three tombstone piledrivers to go down, did you ever picture him as the third most important stooge in a 20-minute product placement gameshow Raw opening? Were you ever like, “wow, I wish Kane would stop burning the graves of his dead parents and make more jokes about going on vacation.”
Raw seriously opens with a solid quarter-hour of Seth Rollins giving The Authority gifts as a Thank You for helping him beat up Brock Lesnar once. He gives them all Apple watches (because they’re good at every form of social media he can remember to list on air), sends Kane on an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii and gives J&J Security a car. To illustrate the effectiveness of the segment, Big Show comes out and honks the car horn for like five minutes.
The entire time you’re like, “okay, this is going to end with Dean Ambrose filling the car with Nickelodeon Gak or Roman Reigns writing DOO DOO all over it, or maybe Brock Lesnar’s going to show up and F-5 the Hawaiian tourism guy,” but nope, nothing. The bad guys just get a bunch of gifts, Seth Rollins yells a bunch of corporation names and the crowd gets hyped for 2 hours 40 minutes of Raw with 20 minutes of bad guys being passively celebrated for nothing.
Segments I want to see next week include:
- a cursed tiki causing Kane to wipe out on his surfboard
- a cursed tiki causing Kane to throw his back out during a hula lesson
- a cursed tiki causing a spider to crawl on Kane’s chest
- Vincent Price trapping Kane in a cave and tying him up
- Kane resolving all his problems and bonding with the native peoples
Maybe after SummerSlam, Rollins will give Kane a trip to the Grand Canyon.
Worst: So Is Mark Henry Retiring For Real Now Or What
The first match of the night is Big Show vs. Mark Henry, which is sorta like the Beatles starting a concert with ‘Wild Honey Pie.’ Show wins with two knockout punches, and Mark is calling his family and seeing when they’d want to go shopping for salmon suit jackets before he hits the ground.
Ryback shows up and starts attacking Show because “WWE Babyfaces,” and there’s a great moment where The Miz (whose brain is clearly out to sea over this feud already) sneaks in, boots Ryback in the face and immediately bails up the ramp doing sarcastic Ryback taunts. That’s negated before it’s even had a chance to sink in by Ryback getting on the microphone and saying “I HAVE A MATCH WITH YOU LATER BUT I SAY WE DO IT RIGHT NOW,” and everyone just going along with it.
Worst: Count-Out Womp Womp
When Miz was on commentary, his major point was that when you wrestle guys like Big Show and Ryback you can’t take them on head-on, you have to “stick and move.” You have to run into the ring when they’re busy, kick them in the face and bail up the ramp. That’s what he did, and it reaffirmed (1) his point, and (2) that he’s an opportunistic jerk. When Ryback gets on the mic and says the threatening equivalent of YOU WANT SOME COME GET SOME, shouldn’t Miz’s response have been, “no, I’m not doing that right now,” followed by more sticking and moving?
They get in the ring, and Miz starts the match by powdering and running around. As soon as Ryback catches him and hits some offense, it turns into a Totally Normal Match, with JBL reassuring us over and over that Miz is “outthinking” Ryback by doing wrestling moves to him. Ryback hits the world’s least impressive delayed vertical suplex by resting Miz’s balls on the top of his head and basically asking him Miz to do a push-up on his thigh for 40 seconds, and that’s more or less enough to make Miz take a count-out loss. Cole’s new talking point is that Miz talks a big game, but when he “gets in the ring with these guys it’s not so easy!”
I wish WWE wasn’t so obsessed with the idea that purposeful count-out losses get you heat. They don’t, unless there’s some kind of hook to it. Guys just giving up on matches and running to the back don’t reflect badly on the performers, they feel like WWE backing out of decisive finishes and saying, “now the match is just over, sorry.” Booking decisions that feel like booking decisions instead of interactions between pro wrestlers are the worst. “WWE” shouldn’t be its own character, you know? In kayfabe shouldn’t a guy who gives up in the middle of matches be the first head on the chopping block?
They make an attempt to explain Miz’s motivations in a backstage segment, which I appreciate, but
1. Why not put this on the show? Wouldn’t it help people who watch three hours of your wrestling show to know why people are doing whatever they’re doing? Can we skip a few Did You Knows and product placement gags in an effort to understand the characters and give a crap about why things are happening? I shouldn’t have to multitask on multiple forms of media to understand basic sh*t about the show.
2. Miz is basically saying the match is meaningless and a training exercise for him, so … why is it happening? I get that it’s a heel explaining his way out of a cowardly situation, but again, if a guy bails in the middle of matches he deems meaningless, why is said dude getting title shots at pay-per-views? I feel like 75% of WWE’s problems would be solved if every feud and marquee match didn’t start because two guys bumped into each other and suddenly realized they had issues.
Best: Welcome Back, Cesaro
Some wrestlers are great, but get damaged so regularly for such a long period of time that nothing can save them. Bray Wyatt’s in that position right now. Bray could have a great match, but then he’d start speaking again and your brain would glaze over and you’d imagine all the ghost lanterns and spooky song children or whatever, and it’d be done. Some wrestlers are so great that no matter what happens, they can be unleashed for a moment and make all the meaningless sh*t they’ve gone through seem like a dream. That’s Cesaro. Cesaro is that good at wrestling.
Kevin Owens answers John Cena’s US Open Challenge, but reveals that he’s just going to sit in on commentary. Cesaro’s Cena’s actual opponent, wearing a Tyson Kidd commemorative shooting sleeve in case your heart wasn’t already with him. The match they have is one of the very best things I’ve seen on Raw all year, which is kinda obvious when you combine two of the best things about WWE right now:
1. John Cena’s in-ring work in these US Open matches, and
2. Cesaro at any point ever.
The match they have mirrors the one Cena had with Neville, only with Cesaro boosting all of his attributes and making the most of the opportunity he’s been given. “Grabbing the brass ring,” as it were. Just like the match with Neville, Cena’s opponent has him “beaten” until the guy Cena’s feuding with runs in and breaks it up. For Neville, it was Rusev. For Cesaro it was Owens, because Owens is a self-righteous SOB who doesn’t just want the United States Championship, he wants the glory of defeating John Cena for the United States Championship at a WWE pay-per-view and proving some broad, impossible-to-quantify idea of being better than the best.
The thing about Cesaro is that his work is INSANE. The guy has a balance, ring-awareness and actual unf*ckwithable strength that nobody else has. He’s a big vanilla Swiss guy, sure, but he’s so impossibly prepared to be a great pro wrestler that we sometimes take him for granted. Watch him counter the Attitude Adjustment, land on his feet, launch Cena into the air and uppercut him on the way down. Watch how effortless it seems, and how controlled it is. Watch Cena go for his wacky Code Red that he can’t really do, and watch Cesaro plant his feet and hold himself steady while 250 pounds of Cena attempts agility. Cena’s got a natural timing for the ebb and flow of WWE storytelling so I don’t want to make it sound like he didn’t have anything to do with the match being good, but when he starts in with that extended moveset full of sh*t he hasn’t practiced enough to get good at yet, he needs a guy like Cesaro in there to anchor him and keep it five-by-five.
With Kidd on the shelf for the next year and change, I hope this was WWE’s announcement that they realize they’ve got the best wrestler in the world just kinda farting around in the middle of the beginning of their shows and have decided to do something better with him. Personally I’d love to see Owens take the belt from Cena at Battleground and then have Cesaro have to power up to try and take it from Owens. Cena’s done great work with the US title but he can’t do it forever, and his accomplishments will mean so much more if the belt continues to have as good of a life without him. If you’re gonna put it in someone else’s hands, you could be working with worse hands. Hell, it could be the Intercontinental title.
If we’re fantasy booking Cena, his next humanitarian goal should be to team up with someone below him and revitalize the tag team division. Pair him up with Neville and let them do a Kenta Kobashi/Tsuyoshi Kikuchi thing. I want to see if Cena can turn The Ascension into Furnas & Kroffat.
Best/Worst: Have A Foxy Heel Turn!
The second best match on the show for me was Paige vs. Alicia Fox. Not as good as Alicia’s all-time classic with Melina, but pretty good. The Bella Twins are heels again, high-fiving each other at ringside and trying to cheat to help Fox win, but I’m starting to settle into the chaos theory of Divas booking, so whatever.
Alicia has always been one of the more underrated wrestlers in the Divas division, and I remain pressed that she hasn’t quietly drifted down to NXT to rip it up with Becky and Sasha for a few months. Regardless, her northern lights suplex is one of the 10 best looking moves in WWE, and it’s nice to see Paige get to work someone who can fall down and stand up without their brain flipping upside down and EMP blasting everyone’s ability to wrestle. We argue about it a lot online, but as respected as the Divas deserve to be, the division and women’s wrestling in general would be 1,000 times better off if WWE worked a little tough love into the presentation and got rid of the dead weight. Keep the ones who are good at some aspect of what they do (whether it’s wrestling or speaking or being marketably attractive) and give the Camerons and Rosa Mendeses of the world a nice severance package and a front row seat to the damn future.
Best: And Now More Things That Are Pretty Good!
In case you missed it on Smackdown, Bo Dallas and The New Day are friends now and Bo can’t get the hang of the clap, fulfilling a fantasy booking need that would’ve followed me to the grave had it not happened. So now we’ve got two confederated midcard teams: Bo and The New Day, and the Prime Time Players/Lucha Dragons/Neville squad. I’m absolutely okay with this. If I’m a kayfabe WWE Superstar and all the top level talent is getting jerked around and destroyed by top-shelf factions, why am I not aligning myself with every like-minded individual I can find?
Those teams (minus Neville) face each other in an 8-man tag, and while nothing of note really happens, it’s fun and a good use of the talent. Bo as face in peril for most of the match was weird, as was The New Day doing their clap in babyface situations for heel heat, but it all worked out like it was supposed to. They’ve done an outstanding job of making Titus O’Neil look like a f*cking destroyer in recent weeks, haven’t they? That guy never takes heat. He just tags in, throws folks around, does some sassy poses and wins. He’s like the world’s least threatening Goldberg.
Study question: do you ever get the feeling that Kalisto should’ve just been Sin Cara?
Worst: Let’s Ask The WWE Universe What They Thought Of The 8-Man Tag
Worst: How Do We Get Dolph And Lana To Go Private
Dolph Ziggler and Lana have the romantic chemistry of Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny. I never want a crowd to chant “what,” but after listening to Dolph inhumanly mumble through a dozen “ums” and Lana complain about how Rusev made her dress a certain way while wearing the same thing she’s always worn might’ve deserved it. Ziggler and Lana are oil and toilet water, and watching them be way too aware of the crowd’s negative response while trying to plow through their declaration of love made me want to be single for the rest of my life. Who would invite this into their life? Love is dead, and Dolph Ziggler killed it with a sleeper.
Rusev shows up with Summer Rae and no knowledge of how crutches work and plays the YOU DIDN’T HURT ME, I’M FINE card, calling her a “cold fish” and saying kissing her was like “kissing that ring post over there.” The part I like is that Rusev and Lana were never about kissing. They were partners, wrestler and manager, united under the watchful eye of Vladimir Putin and dedicated to the destruction of stupid, low-level American professional wrestlers. Ziggler — a guy who would NEVER tell Lana how to act but has already changed her hairstyle and downgraded her career from “manager” to “wrestler’s girlfriend” — jumps in with some “hey hey heys” and acts like a total prick, because he’s a natural heel and Rusev’s always accidentally the babyface.
Rusev’s feeling are hurt so he tries to leave, but Summer Rae grabs the mic and launches into some EMOTIONAL REAL TALK. She tells Lana that Rusev is a kind-hearted guy who cared about her a lot, but that when he got hurt, Lana jumped ship. Summer knows she’s really just an opportunistic phony. Answer me this: did Rusev make Lana become a Bulgarian, or was it the other way around?
Rusev stands in the background on the apron with this look on his face where he knows what she’s saying is true, but he’s worked so damn hard to put up a front and act like none of it bothers him. Summer is actually being a great friend and sticking up for a guy who’s been physically and emotionally broken over the past few months, and … she’s the heel? F*ck that. F*ck Ziggler and Lana and the patriotic horse they rode in on. Summer knows what it’s like to be on the ass-end of a sh*tty WWE relationship and isn’t afraid to let Lana know she’s a Catty Little Cat.
Dolph and Lana should have a backstage segment next week where they say, “hey, you know what? We shouldn’t have made our relationship a public thing and used it for petty revenge. Sorry. We aren’t going to talk about it anymore.” Then we should get a vignette of Rusev and Summer having lunch and getting along and maybe going to Six Flags.
Worst: Sheamus Needs An Intervention Or Something
Neville is just like a super hero. He’s the man that gravity forgot! Sheamus is just like a super villain, with the power to drain the energy of 10,000 people by standing near them.
I don’t know what’s going on with Sheamus, but spend a day on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles set appears to have completely zapped him of his wrestling ability. He’s always been kind of a crappy character (“I’m Irish! Whoops, that’s it!”), but his ring work has always been good, especially when he’s a face. He takes a great beating, and he’s big and strong enough to throw slams and strikes that actually look like they could hurt someone. Since he got the mohawk and the beard that looks like a dog’s ass, though, he’s been the worst. I don’t know if it’s me or him or the moon or what, but he needs to take a step back, watch some tape and realize that what he’s doing is abso-f*cking-lutely not working. There’s no reason a Neville/Sheamus match should be terrible. EVER. Neville made Bo Dallas matches seem like social events. Why is Sheamus spending 60% of a Raw match standing around staring at the crowd, waiting for them to say something? Holy sh*t.
Worst: All Work And No Play Make Jack A Dull Boy
Hey look, Jack Swagger’s back! And he’s totally not dead inside.
Nope, he’s totally fine. He’s okay not being on TV for months and then showing up to lose to Wade Barrett. That’s not the kind of thing that would make you feel empty and worthless.
This t-shirt with the big handprint on it isn’t a reminder of a time when “we the people” got over, or the days when Swagger was wrestling heavily-promoted WrestleMania matches. It’s just a t-shirt. Being a good hand is fine. WWE needs good hands. Not everybody can be a star. Ha, get it, good hand? Like the hand on the shirt? That’s a funny joke.
No, he’s not dead inside. He’s got a happy life. He loves wrestling. It’s what he’s good at. Remember when Jim Ross was here and could make sure he was gonna be okay, because he’s an amateur wrestler from Oklahoma and JR loves those more than anything? Remember how safe and protected he used to feel? He’d gotten really good for a while. But yeah I guess that’s why he’s still around.
Yep. He’s still around.
Jack Swagger is not thinking about how much better things would be for him on Mars.
Worst: The Show Goes On (And On, And On)
And now here’s our main-event, the exciting, fresh matchup of Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins and Kane. Earlier in the night Reigns had wandered in on Ambrose having a conversations with some prop Terminator skeletons because he’s a lunatic, and because his one friend having imaginary science fiction friends is less stressful than the kidnapping, Bioshock nightmare he’s been sitting through. On the other side, Kane is getting ready to go to Hawaii on vacation. These are WWE’s main-event storylines.
The match is no disqualification, so OF COURSE they stand out on the apron waiting for tags instead of just running in and hitting each other with chairs. Eventually it breaks down, and we find out that the no-DQ stip was there so Bray Wyatt could attack Roman but The Authority could still win the match. See what I mean about match finishes seeming more like booking decisions than match finishes?
Anyway, Ambrose is immediately dispatched and disappears into a Mystery Hole. Reigns sticks around and successfully fights off four dudes for a while before finally succumbing to multiple finishers, including a powerbomb through a table. He’s still kinda sorta fine until the very end, when Bray Wyatt wanders BACK out and hits him with Sister Abigail. The match ended at 10:01 and there was like 14 minutes of guys standing around beating up Roman Reigns. You keep thinking Dean’s vanished because he’s snuck off to commandeer the J&J Cadillac to drive it into the ring or whatever, but nope, it’s just a massive, extended, depressing beatdown. It’s continuing proof that no current WWE babyfaces are good enough to challenge The Authority, and that The Authority has to create drama and fight amongst themselves to feel worthwhile. Brock didn’t come back for revenge, The Authority authorized him to come back and is giving him a title shot because they’re feuding with their own guy. Roman and Dean are helpless, Ryback and Ziggler are so low on the card they’re somehow below it, Randy Orton teleports in and out of existence on a whim and John Cena’s busy working an ROH show in 2007.
HOPE YOU’RE EXCITED FOR BATTLEGROUND.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
That’s a nice Tupac hologram of Jamie Noble.
AND YOU GET AN APPLE WATCH, AND YOU GET AN APPLE WATCH, AND YOU GET AN APPLE WATCH! And everyone in the audience? Look under your seat! You’ll find…PICTURES OF ME BEATING BROCK LESNAR.
Nobody buys sticker price, Seth.
How long before Ambrose poops in that car?
Seth: now you all make sure to have your beast spayed and neutered.
Couple seen making out in the middle of the ring several times to go public.
But wait what was Dean doing chilling with the Bella Twins backstage?
Mr. Royal Rumble, TheCensoredMSol
Pink hearts, orange stars, yellow moons, green clovers, blue diamonds, purple horseshoes, and gold briefcases.
The Real Birdman
Being no DQ, I’m assuming Noble will hit Dean with the car, only to have Dean rebound off the apron and clothesline the car.
Guys we are the high school girl in that signing away your rights tobacco commercial, and RAW is our cigarette.
Thanks, everybody. See you at 5:30 AM on July 4th for Brock Lesnar: Tokyo Drift.