– Unbelievably, this is the go-home show for Money in the Bank. It’s been a month of “every day there’s a pay-per-view” jokes and it still doesn’t seem appropriate.
– Share the column! Your shares, likes and other Internet Things are appreciated. I can swing 10,000 likes for a picture of The Undertaker in his jammies at the airport. Content aggregation is weird.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for June 8, 2015.
Worst, Honestly: The Build For Owens/Cena II
Last week’s column featured a lengthy thing about how close the John Cena vs. Kevin Owens feud had come to creative honesty, and how it had totally chickened out.
Cena’s statement about how his marketable tenet (“never give up”) and the passion and emotions that made Kevin Owens claw his way up from the independents for a decade and explode NXT are one in the same is powerful. It connects characters. It connects generations. It says that if Cena is WWE’s big phony representation of garbage pandering, the message he panders is the one that breathes life into the wrestling business and creates superstars. The thing we hate and the thing we love are the same. That’s the story. Instead, it became “Kevin Owens beat me at Elimination Chamber but I’m great and he isn’t a real man.” Cena really emphasized the “real man” stuff. It was … disappointing, but not unexpected.
This week, they get into a non-threatening pissing contest about their abilities to offer open challenges, and it results in them just kinda standing in the ring shoulder-to-shoulder and not doing anything. The point seemed to be that Owens wanted to assert his dominance and show that his NXT Championship meant more than Cena’s US title, and, uh, he did that. He beat Cena clean at Elimination Chamber. The story continues for whatever reason, and there’s not really a new wrinkle to it. It’s just, “did you like that? Here’s more of it.” I guess my response is that yes, I like these people, and these people are good at doing things, so maybe let’s have the people do things?
Best: Neville Cares More About NXT Than WWE
As an idealist wrestling hipster who is super quick to take sides and appreciates Noble Dudes above every other character type, I loved (x 100) Neville pulling a Hideo Itami and saying he wants to fight Kevin Owens. It works because Owens is such an awful guy who deserves to get punched in the mouth, it works because Neville’s still fresh from NXT and that place (and that belt) mean the world to him, and it works because hey, Neville can’t beat Owens but had Cena dead to rights on Raw last month. Isn’t it crazy that we’ve created a WWE world where Kevin Owens is a bigger and more pertinent threat than John Cena?
Best: Owens Vs. Neville
The basic story with Neville’s Raw career is that the Red Arrow is the most obliterating finisher ever, so if he hits it, you’re toast. He’s not really effective outside of it. He can’t put you away with a bunch of different moves from his arsenal, it’s either that or nothing. It’s a lot like how they used to book Justin Gabriel, when he was an easily-dispatched Nexus crony who could also occasionally pin John Cena if he could connect with his big-time top rope finish. Gabriel never evolved beyond that, so once he stopped being able to hit his move, he was nobody. We’re still early enough in Neville’s run to believe he’ll be fine, and that the character depth will come.
Neville vs. Owens doesn’t allow itself a lot of complex storytelling, but it follows the observable trend: Neville repeatedly tries to set up for the Red Arrow, and Owens has to avoid it. He does, so he wins. It’s that simple. The stuff in-between is fun (and on this show, comparatively epic), but there’s not a lot to it.
Cena on commentary is interesting. If you listen to what he’s saying, he’s great. He’s calmly putting over the wrestlers in the ring and explaining why they’re worth giving a damn about, and he’s even successfully navigating the minefield of JBL Negro Leagues conversation. The funny thing is that he’s speaking in a really quiet, unassuming voice, which is guess is his “announcer” voice. It’s funny because Cena is NEVER EVER QUIET, especially when he’s communicating in-ring and calling spots so loud you could hear them from space. If I can hear you yell REACH TOWARD THE ROPES to a guy in the STF, I should be able to hear you say “Owens is a tough competitor” into a microphone without popping my ears.
Best: Y’all Be Good
So every time (every single time) there’s a multi-person match happening, Raw or Smackdown or both has a segment where a guy from the match comes to the ring and starts talking, only to be interrupted by a second guy from the match, and then a third, and on and on until everyone’s there. It’s one of their favorite gags. If they don’t do that, their only idea is “everybody runs out at once for no reason and punches stuff.”
Roman Reigns is in the Money in the Bank ladder match. He might have a chance of winning it, maybe probably! He’s interrupted by Dolph Ziggler and Kane and whoever else, but then R-Truth shows up and starts cutting HIS promo about how HE’S gonna kick everybody ass at Money in the Bank. Kane corrects him and tells him he’s not in the match. Truth is like, “you sure? OKAY BYE, BE GOOD” and bails. It made me laugh in real life, and is the first time in months (or possibly longer) that they’ve intentionally done something funny and had it work for me. Usually their idea of a joke is “your breath smells bad” or “you’re dressed like Sherlock Holmes.” This played on hacky WWE tropes and their tendency to randomly insert R-Truth into multi-person matches, and credit where credit’s due, it was goddamn delightful.
WWE loves trying to convince us that characters are “crazy,” but Truth’s the only one who’s made it seem legitimate. Craziness isn’t attacking people from behind and dressing up like a monster. Craziness is obliviousness. Craziness is losing a championship main-event because somebody threw soda in your face. Craziness is riding go-karts with an invisible little boy and not wanting to win a briefcase because you think it’s full of spiders. It’s rapping the same song for a decade as you smile and skip in a straight line.
Worst: Holy Christ Are We Seriously Doing Another Randy Orton Vs. Sheamus Match
Whenever Randy Orton vs. Sheamus happens, Raw should be required to stop the show, reset, and re-do the entire episode from the beginning.
You know it’s mad when this week’s most boring, tired match starts with a video package of highlights from last week’s most boring, tired match. Randy Orton and Sheamus are both talented performers when utilized to their strengths and worked into situations that ask them to be dynamic, but when they’re in the ring alone with each other they are the most Player One and Player Two motherf*ckers of all time. I’ve said it before, but watching them wrestle makes me stare at my TV like I’m trying to see a Magic Eye.
The fact that it ends with Orton nonchalantly throwing a chair at Sheamus’ stomach makes it feel even more futile. This was such a blatant time-killer it might as well have been a Tough Enough video package. It makes me feel like Shireen Baratheon, and Vince is just standing there stonefaced.
Best: THE SHIELD 2.0
Okay, back to the good stuff.
J&J Security have been disposable goons for Seth Rollins since their creation. They really only exist to take moves and provide distractions, and he’s already “broken up” with them and beaten them up. They’re still here, and the weird story of The Authority booking its own destruction and putting obstacles in their way by choice continues. They don’t have strong babyfaces making their lives miserable anymore because Cena’s preoccupied, Bryan’s injured and the Shield guys are dopes, so they have to make problems for themselves. Can’t you just be happy? You won. You own the company and everybody has to do what you say.
Anyway, J&J Security. They get into an argument with Seth backstage (again) and he decides to beat them up (again). My brain goes, “okay, he’s gonna have a match with them and Kane’s gonna be at ringside and Dean Ambrose will show up, and then The Authority will go HAHA WE SPEND THREE HOURS FILMING SKITS TO TRICK YOU and beat him up.” My brain isn’t always the most optimistic organ in my body. That was my appendix, I think, and it’s currently rotting in a landfill somewhere. I promise that’s not a metaphor for my wrestling fandom.
ANYWAY, J&J Security. Rollins makes them feel like garbage and threatens them, so they stand up to him … only this time they really stand up to him, tell him off and say they’re gonna kick his ass. It’s AWESOME. It starts with that same lovable Jamie Noble goober-speak and ends with Joey Mercury looking like a shoot bad-ass, and that’s pretty much the definition of what I want on Raw.
Worst: Is The Show Back On Yet
I know you expect a certain amount of reverence and understanding when you read these jokey, 8,000 word rants about Raw, but sometimes I have to be honest: I looked up at my screen during this, saw Dolph Ziggler and Kane in the ring and realized I’d completely spaced out and missed the entire setup. I had no idea wrestling was happening. That’s not a good sign, is it?
Worst: Lana, Wounded Baby Bird
Lana shows up and stands on the ramp for Ziggler/Kane, and folks on Omicron Persei 8 can see the match finish coming. Sure enough, Emo Rusev takes a break from listening to ‘Hands Down’ and sobbing to crutch out and threaten her. She steps off the ramp and twists her ankle, Ziggler gets distracted and Kane chokeslams him for the win. When it’s over, everybody kinds forgets what they’re doing and we hang out with Lana for a few minutes, watching her rock band and forth like Mankind until Ziggler curses too much and we go to commercial.
I hope the intent of this story is not HAHAH YOU BROKE MY HEART NOW I’VE CAUSED YOU TO HAVE A MINOR SHOE MISHAP. Although I’ll be honest, I’d love it if Rusev showed up on Smackdown all, “I know how much you loved those shoes! Now we’re even!” And then it’s just four straight minutes of ‘As Lovers Go.’
Best/Worst: Dean Ambrose
Dean Ambrose stealing the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and taking wacky photos around New Orleans for the corporate Instagram account is great if you love social media and don’t need your wrestling to involve people hitting each other. I’m kidding. It’s cute. Tumblr’s probably super excited about it.
The best part of the “Dean Ambrose is getting a ticket to Raw” gimmick is that he bought comp tickets from a scalper.
I’m surprised Dean didn’t barge into the Ticketmaster offices, toss somebody through a window and ride a bridge of tickets into the arena like Iceman.
Best: Hey, Summer Rae’s Back! Or,
Worst: Nobody’s The Face Ever
Anybody else miss Summer Rae on NXT? And by “Summer Rae on NXT” I mean “Summer Rae.”
She wrestles Nikki Bella, who follows the J&J Security trend of looking at the floor a little too much during promos. Did they start taping cue cards to the ground? She’s supposed to be addressing Paige’s Smackdown promo about how Twin Magic is garbage and the Divas division’s been stale forever, but instead just talks about Paige being insecure and jealous. Nobody’s likable, nobody’s paying attention to anybody else and the popular babyfaces are the worst cheaters. What are the Bella Twins, anyway? Calling them “tweeners” doesn’t seem to fit. They’re never in the in-between, they’re just hopscotching back and forth between beloved faces and conniving heels, sometimes in the middle of a match. Sometimes they coordinate their alignment, sometimes they don’t. Nikki only seems capable of seeing things through Nikki Bella’s eyes, even when fictional, written stories demand something else.
It’s not that argument of whether or not she’s “good” or if she has “a passion for This Business,” she’s just openly not participating in stories. She’s enslaved her twin sister, and they just forget about it and are friends. “She must be jealous” is the only thing she says when you pull her string. Cena wakes up and asks her if she wants cereal, she says the cereal must be jealous.
Worst: Goodbye Forever, One Notable Thing That Could’ve Happened
Miz TV is Raw’s walk of shame.
Miz cosplays Jared Leto and tries to interview Ryback, who has the TEMERITY to say MIZ is the one who always says the same thing. Yo Ryback, how many times have we heard about how you used to be hurt and now you aren’t and how you’re hungry? Instead of him becoming enraged and throwing a couch like we want, Big Show interrupts and a sassy conversation becomes THREE-WAY SASS. Miz gets dumped, Ryback gets the better of Big Show and … Shell Shocks him.
Now, I’m not involved on the business end of WWE, and although I’m totally it sometimes I don’t like being that guy who says “why didn’t you do business this way?” But seriously, if you’ve got a Big Show vs. Ryback Intercontinental Championship match on Sunday with almost no build and you want ANYBODY ANYWHERE to take something good away from it, isn’t it that Shell Shocked spot? It’s the only pop you’re getting, and you threw it away at the end of Miz TV in the middle of a bad Raw. Call me a know-it-all smark or whatever if you want, but unless Money in the Bank’s being booked by magical fairies, we ain’t getting shit from this now.
Best: Team Cree-P
Erick Rowan and Luke Harper are using the 3-D now, which is a great tag team finish for guys that big and strong. The Dudleys were tweeting about WWE not having balls almost immediately, and I guess we’re looking at a Discarded Wyatts vs. Bubba and D-Von match at SummerSlam, or one of the 16 pay-per-views between Money in the Bank and that.
That’s all well and good, but it continues one of WWE’s most unusual problems … the idea that young guys aren’t able to get over on their own, and that when they are, they are to be immediately torn back down. That sounds more severe than I mean it and it’s not always the case, but it happens more than it should. Remember when The Ascension showed up, were immediately buried on commentary by JBL and got beaten up by a ring full of old non-wrestlers? Remember how that payoff was them winning one match against the New Age Outlaws, nobody really selling it as important and then everyone forgetting it and moving on? Now The Ascension are Los Matadores in different clothes. Harper and Rowan aren’t getting The Ascension treatment, but what’s the point of having them do a move and immediately get called out on it? Shouldn’t we try to build some drama, and not just have social media be a checks and balances thing where everybody tattles and nothing happens but fussy typing?
Say Harper and Rowan wrestle the Dudleys at SummerSlam. Say they win. Even in victory, is the message that young guys can’t and aren’t allowed to try to do anything that worked before, because the guys who once did it are bitter gatekeepers? If John Cena keeps saying he’s waiting for a young guy to step up and beat his ass, then Kevin Owens steps up and beats his ass, why is Cena’s reaction negative? Shouldn’t it be the fulfillment of what he’s been asking for? If somebody does a 3-D, can we let them get two matches into doing it before the previous guys who did it are publicly complaining about their ballslessness? If you’re gonna make money, isn’t the money in the draw and the story? Don’t we want to create an in-universe narrative that compels people to watch the show and pay extra for the payoff, instead of some aimless complaining people scroll past?
That’s not to say you shouldn’t use social media to help the work, but when you’ve got the same guy instantly calling fans marks for being worked by his work. What the f*ck is the point of a work if you don’t want us to get worked? What are you accomplishing? Is it about BALLS HAVING? Because I bet it is.
Best: The New Day
Worst: … Are Not Enough To Make This Interesting
The rest of the show is a hodge-podge of “Money in the Bank participants having singles matches against one another” and filler, like this Big E vs. Titus O’Neil match that ends in (surprise surprise) a distraction. The New Day’s great, especially Xavier as the annoying hype man, and Titus has been better than ever in the ring lately, but it’s just … nothing. Nothing is happening. You’ve got Big E doing the New Day Rocks clap on O’Neil’s stomach while he’s got him in an abdominal stretch, and that’s shoot it.
Did I Stutter?
You’ve also got Kofi Kingston trying to have a competitive match with Roman Reigns, which would be great if Kofi hadn’t spent the last Entirety Of His Career being an easily-dispatched extra and we could believe some of the nearfalls. Just like the Big E/Titus match, I appreciate the work the guys are putting in, but they’re just not given anything. There’s no context to make this important because we’re just zipping in and out of Live Special builds and kinda swirling everything in a circle. I want to care. I desperately want to care, but the announce team sounds like buzzing and the screen looks like dim flashbulbs and I feel like I’m gonna pass out.
The good news is that WWE summers can be fresh, and no matter how obvious the result, the Money in the Bank ladder match gives us the ever-present “when’s Roman gonna cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase” conversation. That’s something. Brock will be back to be Brock and that’ll be fun, and we can head into SummerSlam with some optimism and maybe not get Bragging Rights and Fully Loaded and In Your House: Beware Of Dog crammed into the downtime. Let us breathe, man. Let some of this sink in and matter so we can relax and ask, “what’s next?” Because right now there’s no anticipation, there’s just the numb-ass feeling that you’re gonna shovel more dirt on the pile.
Best: J&J Security Is Legitimately The Best Tag Team In WWE
Instead of The Authority swerve, our main event gives us the Raw match perfected: The Authority booking a handicap match against itself, and it ending with a distraction rollup. The snake is eating itself.
The good news is that Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble are an incredible tag team, and that Jamie Noble hot tags are happening in Raw main events in 2015. They’re great because they’ve been allowed to develop characters and be around important situations without being the constant focus of them. It’s why Roman works so much better as Dean’s friend than as Dean’s superior. WWE booking right now is like trying to see at night. If you look directly at something, your eyes can’t take in the light and focus. You have to look at whatever you want to see in your peripherals. If you have Roman win the Royal Rumble and have the Rock raise his hand, he’s getting booed. If you have him be 1/3 of a cool thing and don’t spend the entirety of that thing saying ROMAN’S GREAT, it’s easier for us to see the reasons we would choose to like him.
Guys like Noble and Mercury work for me because they don’t feel like a fandom burden. They’re just fun wrestlers guys with distinct personalities who are good at what they do, and don’t always have to win or stand tall or whatever. Rollins is struggling right now because he looks like a geek that can’t get the job done, and we can’t even build a desire to see him get his comeuppance because he gets it every week. It’s stressful because we know they could do better, and we want better than we’re given. When Noble hits the ring and drops a guy with a spinning neckbreaker, though? All in.
Let’s say f*ck it and give Mercury the Money in the Bank.
Actually, uh, maybe keep him away from ladders.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Mr. Royal Rumble, TheCensoredMSol
I feel lIke John Cena walking into a writer’s meeting and going “I accept” is how the last 10 years or so have gone.
Kevin Owens: “We’re going to fight Sunday, so we’re not going to give the same match away free on Raw”
This is why every match happens in a Best of 4,000 series.
The Real Birdman
They should start an IC open challenge and just have Ryback stand in the ring awkwardly for 3 hours
The way that camera zoomed in on Neville it looks like we are going inside his concussed brain to see Chrisley
Cena needs this match to finish so he can go start his shift as a late night Jazz Radio DJ.
This is the kind of RAW that says, “Yes, workplace…I WILL work on Monday nights.”
Dolph: *wipes away tears*
Lana: “Don’t cry, it’s nothing really”
Dolph: “Its not that, its just you, you sold a two foot fall like you had been shot, I’m so proud”
Owens was right. “We’re fighting Sunday. There’s no reason for us to fight now.” Someone write that down in large, neon marker and plaster it above the computer of every WWE writer’s computer, office door, and bathroom mirrors.
Kevin Nash Booked This
Dean Ambrose so wack, much wacky, wack guy.
What’s happening on Nitro?
Thanks, everybody. See you every day ever!