– Yes, Cena is now selling submission holds like a Fright Feature Ghostbuster.
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And now, here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for July 13, 2015.
Best/Worst: Brock Lesnar Vs. Seth Rollins, If You Remove The Authority
From The Authority’s perspective, assuming Triple H isn’t trying to murder his eldest son to spend time with his new son Kevin Owens, the Seth Rollins/Brock Lesnar story doesn’t make any sense. They (meaning Corporate Kane specifically, under the orders of The Authority) set up Rollins to be Mr. Money in the Bank, a position that by definition makes you the most undeserved, opportunistic title contender on the show, heel or face. Unless you’re Rob Van Dam and you nobly cash-in for a future date, the entire point is that you’re a jerk who’s gonna “steal” the title at the easiest moment. The Authority remains iffy around Brock because they’re evil co-horts but Brock and HHH have a longstanding beef, so they use Brock to smear John Cena — their most troublesome, omnipresent and judgmental foe — on the concrete. With him out of the way, they set up Rollins for a WrestleMania main-event cash-in, pulled the trigger and suspended Brock for flipping out when he was denied a rematch. So now Cena’s “gone,” Brock’s gone and Rollins is essentially unchallenged. The Authority has the situation they’ve been hypothetically building to since their inception.
That’s not good TV, I guess, so when babyfaces aren’t around to challenge Rollins, he’s challenged by his own crew. Triple H keeps trying to make Rollins lose the belt to “test him” or build his confidence or whatever, so he brings back Brock Lesnar to challenge him. That’e exciting, sure, but it kinda flip-flops on the first half of the story and reveals that The Authority doesn’t really have an end-goal or mission statement beyond “run the show, do some evil stuff.” They do things that are “best for business,” but in lieu of proper competition and a fear of John Cena they’re just repeatedly f*cking themselves for the sake of Good TV. It’s SO WEIRD to me. They’re evil bosses, but self-loathing.
If you remove them entirely, the feud between Rollins and Lesnar is AMAZING. Lesnar is the most dangerous, believable pro wrestler of the modern era, and he’s got (arguably) wrestling’s greatest-ever talker cutting these long promos about how he’s the GOD OF and LORD OF things. In response, Seth Rollins is playing the world’s most unrepentant butthole, claiming he’ll rip the sword tattoo off Brock Lesnar’s chest and use it to cut him in half. HOW AMAZING IS THAT? That’s a Lucha Underground promo. Taken out of context, it’s two guys of a specific, special quality going into a big-time championship rematch in maximum contrast. I just wish we didn’t have to bookend it with, “and then there’s all this stuff about middle-management trying to sabotage everyone.” Not every wrestling story needs that.
The other problem is that the story’s just setting my dumb ass up for more Shield fantasy booking. Think about it … why else do you build up Seth Rollins as this guy who can’t confidently fight a battle on his own — he took 30 minutes to beat DEAN AMBROSE for God’s sakes — and have Brock systematically take out all his help if the payoff isn’t Rollins getting new help and unexpectedly retaining? I guess the obvious idea is that with J&J and Kane gone, Rollins pulls out the big guns — a Triple H run-in, maybe? — but the fun idea is Ambrose and Roman Reigns dragging their asses out of worthlessness for a second and pitching in to help slay Brock. Then, you have Rollins play on the fact that The Authority’s been f*cking with him and souring his confidence for like a year, have him reassemble a crew he knows can actually get the job done and go against them. You can either give the Shield that Guerrero “they’re awful people but we love them for it” vibe, or have them be the biggest jerks in the world to help make Raw Triple H and NXT Triple H meld into the same dude.
Or, f*ck it, have Rollins cut Brock in half with a sword. I want to see if Brock can still German suplex him without legs.
Worst: WWE’s Version Of The All-Star Game!
Because the people who actually deserve to be there didn’t make it, the outcome doesn’t matter and nobody’s watching?
Okay, so, in the interest of being positive, here’s … what’s positive. If you’ve got to address the Randy Orton vs. Sheamus and Ryback vs. Big Show vs. The Miz feuds (the two very worst parts of the show lately, now that Dolph Ziggler’s throat died and went to Heaven), you might as well cram them together and fit them into one segment. You can start off the show with it, too, so we can get it out of the way and a crowd that just wants to see famous wrestlers they know can see them right away.
The match wasn’t terribly bad, either, thanks in part to how into it the crowd was. Miz is still doing hard work to make sure every living human wants to punch him in the face. And hey, the best version of Randy Orton (besides “over-explainer”) is the one who gets his feelings hurt about being the least important guy in a tag match, forgets to act like a snake and starts acting like a condescending cheer competitor. It’s so good. He stops trying to “tell stories” and just acts like a huge phony asshole. Remember when he was teaming with Christian and started doing jumping toe-touches? Watch him mock Sheamus before RKO’ing him and tell me that’s not the same disenchanted dude.
The multiple commercial breaks didn’t do it any favors, though. Also, you announce “Randy Orton and Ryback vs. Big Show and Sheamus” as your hot show-opener and I’m already climbing over the railing of the bridge.
I’m kind of in love with Ryback’s sudden obsession with being “well-rounded” after 11 years of eating bricks and doing shoulder presses. First he starts doing top rope splashes, and now he’s throwing planchas! It’s like he finally saw a Cesaro match and was like, “oh.”
Worst: Dean Ambrose, The World’s Least Important Man
Roman Reigns figures out that he can use the entrance ramp to get to the ring more quickly — congratulations, Roman — and uses it to attack Bray Wyatt from behind. If you’ve been keeping up with the story, Wyatt is LARPing Bioshock at Roman’s expense and he’s sick of it. They do some brawling, Bray hits Roman in the face with a lantern and scurries. Roman poses in the ring as we go to commercial.
The uh, thing about what I just typed is that Wyatt was supposed to wrestle Dean Ambrose, so Ambrose’s entire contribution to the episode is walking to the ring, then disappearing while grown folks is wrestling. He just stands by the announce table to be off-screen as much as possible, making a face that says, “Roman Reigns is my close friend!”
Best: The NXT Women Get Demoted From The Four Horsewomen To Raw
As long-time readers know, the only thing I obsessively fantasy book as much as “The Nexus reforms” and “The Shield reunites for literally any reason” is “the NXT women’s division shows up and brute-force replaces the Divas.” NXT’s done a wonderful job of not only allowing women’s wrestling to be seen as just as good and deservedly anticipated as the men’s, but in normalizing their presentation. When you watch an NXT live special you usually aren’t like, “here come the women,” it’s “I want to see Sasha Banks wrestle Becky Lynch.” They’re in their own division and recognized as women — not like the genderless Pit-Pat blobs some people think women have to be to be “equal” — but their talents and accomplishments are never considered second-best. The women aren’t NXT aren’t “good for women,” they’re good. They aren’t perfect, but they’re worth your damn time.
The Divas Division on the main roster has spent the last year battling a hashtag it doesn’t fully understand and treading water between the idea of what women’s wrestling in WWE has always been, and what NXT’s tweaking it to be. Wrestling is wrestling so this isn’t some kind of cultural revolution, but after years of Diva Searches and Playboy Bunny matches at WrestleMania and Candice Michelle, a bunch of women who want to do the wrestling parts of wrestling shows instead of being an novelty aside feels important. Worst case scenario, none of it’s important and we want the 4-6 female WWE characters we already love to be on the important show doing cool stuff and making a bunch of money. It’s good from about a dozen perspectives.
If you missed the segment, Team Bella bragged about being dominant and Stephanie McMahon showed up to test them. She added Becky Lynch and former NXT Women’s Champion Charlotte to “Team Paige,” evening the odds. Naomi and Tamina wandered out to say they were already enough competition for the Bellas, and Stephanie added (gasp) current Women’s Champ and Basically My Favorite Wrestler Sasha Banks to the group. That gives us three competing “teams” of women, freshens things up considerably and instantly presents us with 3 badass wrestling motherf*ckers wrecking the Bellas while the crowd chants “this is awesome.” It’s not an instant fix forever, but it’s a damn good place to start.
Worst: Some Things We Should Probably Pay Attention To Going Forward
Without any of this being meant to say I didn’t love the shit out of that segment, there are some problems to consider.
The alignments are all wrong. Following what happened on last week’s (and Wednesday’s) NXT, you bring up Sasha and Charlotte and put them back together with Summer Rae. That’s your crew. You put Naomi with Paige and Evil Emma as that “classic NXT” squad, and leave Team Bella the way it is as a trio of women who have no idea what “good guy” and “bad guy” mean. Becky Lynch can be the Diamond Dallas Page, or you stick her with Sasha and Charlotte since she was an ersatz BFF anyway. Put Tamina, Rosa Mendes and Dana Brooke together and give them a trophy every time they go five minutes without falling down and hurting themselves.
That’s all jokey fantasy booking, of course, but the way it’s set up now kinda ignores the women having characters and motivations. Stephanie just kinda up and decided this is how it should be, so everyone’s following along. That’s fine for the sake of pulling the trigger and getting the cooler, updated version of the Divas underway, but I don’t want all the work to be in NXT, you know? I don’t want everyone to turn into 2D, interchangeable version of themselves that we hang onto because of how much we loved them coming up. Bray Wyatt, I’m looking in your direction.
NXT Stephanie’s even weirder than NXT Triple H, so I don’t know how to take her doing her “I’M THE ONLY IMPORTANT ONE” thing to out-heel the heel Bellas for face pops. Plus, Stephanie putting Sasha with Tamina and Naomi is a little suspect. Nothing you need to flip out in defense of one way or another, but you know … I’m gonna let it be okay in my brain because (1) it gets Sasha Banks on the show, and (2) Naomi was kinda cosplaying as Sasha already, so you might as well put her with the real thing.
I’m excited, though, and I watched that introduction and brawl with a Joker smile on my face, so no worries. Let’s just throw that hashtag in the garbage for good and try running the Raw Divas division like you run it on The Network. We’re ready for it.
Best: If Mark Henry’s Gonna Team With The Prime Time Players, They Should Dress Him Up Like Pancake Patterson
1. The only way to follow the NXT Women’s Division Invasion (aka “The Bexus”) is by having The New Day cut an insane, shouted promo about how the Atlanta Hawks are chokers and the city shuts down under an inch of snow. Forget a gaming channel, I want a YouTube show that’s just Big E cutting church promos about local history and etiquette while Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston treat him like Supa Hot Fire.
2. Titus O’Neil should quit his tag team and go for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. That’s the most unstoppable wrestler in the world right now. He could go undefeated in the G1. I can’t remember the last time he took offense. I’m sure he gets hit during matches, but in my brain he just stands on the apron until it’s time to do wrestling moves to people and then it’s OVER.
3. As the boldface says, Mark Henry should wrestle as Pancake Patterson and treat The Prime Time Players like his grandsons. They even share the “that’s what I do” catchphrase!
Worst: Let’s Book The Ending To The Endless R-Truth vs. King Barrett Feud
R-Truth defeats helpless-ass Wade Barrett in their 500th consecutive match, building to match 501 on the Battleground Kick-Off. This time it’s for the crown, which we’ve spent a few months explaining as being as worthwhile and prestigious as an insane man’s toilet plunger.
I’m trying to figure out what a good payoff for this is, and all my brain will communicate is that they should go full Wee-LC and make it as ridiculous as possible. Hornswoggle interfering in a dragon costume. The ring catching fire, stuff like that. Play with the lighting in the arena to create thunder and lightning. Just make it the stupidest, most wonderful thing you’ve ever done and then never mention it again. No recaps, no writeup on Dot Com, nothing. Just blow it out with fantasy nonsense and spend the next 50 years arguing with smarks about how it never happened. The next night on Raw, Michael Cole can lead a nude Wade Barrett through the arena ringing a bell and yelling “shame” while people throw sodas at him.
Best: The Stupid French American Whatever He Is
I guess Cesaro’s new role is to guarantee that 20-30 minutes of Raw are the best wrestling you’ll see that week.
John Cena returns to his weekly resting animation of YOU WANT SOME, COME GET SOME, and Rusev answers the challenge. Like most of you, my first reaction was OH GOD, NO, because “John Cena vs. Rusev” makes us remember John at his worst … as that guy who will lose to you once when nobody cares, then beat you over and over and over again until you’re meaningless. He did it with Wyatt, he did it with Rusev, and then whoops, the United States Championship turned him into a magical giver or whatever. We’re balls deep in New John, no reason to revisit the shit we complained about for a decade, right?
Rusev gets interrupted by Kevin Owens, who is enraged because Finn Bálor literally pulled a piece of bread out of his child’s mouth, threw it on the ground and stomped on it. Owens wants to be the one to defeat Cena, so he says f*ck the Battleground match and wants it now. Cesaro shows up to throw inner-elbows at him for being a constant pain in the ass, and WWE decides they’ll all face each other in a triple threat for a shot at Cena.
What follows is wonderful, as Raw continues to set us up with these terrible “Orton hasn’t forgotten the thing we all forgot Sheamus did to him” or “Dolph and Lana are the Love Is children” stories, then stumble into the best damn wrestling matches. I’m absolutely okay with it. Cesaro gets another week to look like the world’s closest approximation to An Actual Superman, Kevin Owens bails in the middle because providing for his family isn’t worth getting kicked in the face by Rusev’s new Bulgarian Super Boots, and Rusev … God damn, if you doubted Rusev’s ability to hang with the top workers on the show, here you go. That guy is good as heck at wrestling, and watching him go hold for hold with Cesaro is a thing I need to happen more. Who knew THOSE guys would have the best chemistry?
The finish seemed a little weird with Cesaro bouncing off the top rope and just kinda falling and Rusev finishing him off with a kick, but it’s not enough to diminish the work they did. The United States Championship is basically everything the WWE World Heavyweight Championship SHOULD be right now: the top prize in the company, held by the Most Important Guy, competed for by the best pro wrestlers in the world.
Secondary suggestion: give Rusev a mic and have him insult people every week, please.
Worst: John Cena, Babyface
Aaaaaaand here’s John Cena.
Continuing to bet he heel in every feud he enters, Cena pulls a Rey Mysterio and decides to wrestle Rusev SECONDS after he’s just cleanly defeated two of WWE’s top wrestlers in the same match. Rusev’s barely up to his feet and Cena’s in there throwing headlock takeovers. It’s the worst. Then, after all that, Cena’s LOSING. Rusev fires up and valiantly (and again, cleanly) grabs Cena in The Accolade. Cena tries to break it, but Rusev won’t let up. Summer Rae doesn’t claw Cena in the eyes or help Rusev get to the ropes or whatever, she just cheers him on and hopes he wins, and looks concerned when he’s losing. These are three-dimensional people with hearts and effort and stories trying to stop the Demon Wall from Final Fantasy IV.
Cena’s helped out by Kevin Owens, because Cena was right: he and Owens are cut from the same cloth and inspired by the thing, and their characters are both TERRIBLE PEOPLE. Owens wants to be US Champion by pinning John Cena in an important match and will head-kick anyone who threatens that dream. Owens is ruining championship matches, Cena’s holding onto the title and constantly putting himself over despite this being the third time he appeared to have a title match lost before someone interfered on his behalf, and Rusev’s the guy we boo, because he’s not from here.
Worst: Can Dana Brooke, Emma, Alexa Bliss And Blake & Murphy Run Out And Beat Up The Cast Of Tough Enough Now
I’m sure these Tough Enough people are nice, but I’m legitimately more interested in which milkshake the Sonic guy will order than in their career arcs, so vaya con dios or whatever.
Best: Welcome Back, Stardust, Or
Worst: Trying To Make Sense Of This
Stardust! He’s back, he’s got jewels on his forehead that make him look even MORE like Starro, and he’s dropping “the view never changes” into promos (with a lisp) to make my heart go, “aw, aw.”
I’m not totally sure what they’re doing, though. I think a lot of people were hoping that he’d just be Cody Rhodes again, and I don’t think the value of your one super villain guy having some throwaway matches with your one super hero guy is more valuable than that. They talk this up as being Stardust’s first match back since his dad passed away, but he’s still a heel and he’s winning with a handful of tights. So do we have sympathy for him and chant “Cody” at him because we love him and want him to succeed and be okay, or do we just pretend all the sad stuff didn’t happen, or what are we doing?
Best/Worst: I Live To See You Eat That Contract
The end of the show is the aforementioned contract signing, which should’ve started with Seth Rollins trying to stab Brock in the hand with a pen, and continued to be only that until it was over. Just a pissed off emo guy trying so hard to put an ink pen through an albino gorilla’s hand.
In a related note, in-ring contract signings are dumb, and if you aren’t using them to escalate non-violent tensions like one of those terse Game of Thrones conversations (see: Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens signing the contract for their match at Takeover), they aren’t worth it. You’ve done all your meta “I know how contract signings work on wrestling shows” jokes. The well is dry. Make it about who these people are and what they’re gonna do, so we can care when they do it.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Brock enters as a challenger, the defending champ leaves looking like The Challenger.
The Real Birdman
Hurry up Paul, we’re all wondering how Kane’s vacation went
“The renewal of a great rivalry: Bray Wyatt vs. Dean Ambrose.”
I understand all those words, but not in that order.
Mr. Royal Rumble, TheCensoredMSol
Steph owns the WWE in the same way I own my parents’ house.
Pro Wrestling Gorilla
Believe in the SHE-IELD
TAMINA SNUKA! IT JUST KEEPS GETTING BETTER!
Alicia Fox has been on everyone’s side in this brawl by now. Twice.
Bayley just had her Paul Kinsey finds the offices empty moment at Full Sail University.
RUSEV: “By the way, what does Kevin Owens mean anyway? It means flute! Look it up!”
This is not the first time an American has waited for a Russian to get worn out fighting a European before joining in.
Thanks, everybody. See you this Sunday for Battleground!