– Make sure you’ve read The Best And Worst Of WWE Battleground 2014. It’s just like last week’s Raw, only slightly longer.
– INSPIRE PRO WRESTLING happens this weekend in Austin. If you’re in town (or around town, or own a car or know what an airplane is) and can make it to the event on Sunday, please do.
If you want to see what we’re about, Smart Mark Video now has our May show available for purchase. I’m shilling it here because it’s the first event (ever, in real life) that I had a role in putting together creatively. If you like my wrestling writing, see how I do it in real life.
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Please click through for the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for July 21, 2014.
The major complaint I had during the build to Battleground (and Battleground itself) was that it was all of Raw’s most tired tropes spaced out on a paper plate and reheated five f*cking times in a row. The opening to last night’s Raw was like a tribute to that build, cramming the handicap matches, lifeless bitch-shouting and depressingly static storylines into one half-hour bonanza. It was like the pre-show to a much better, two hour Raw.
Up first was one of two (!) handicap matches, pitting Roman Reigns in a BEAT THE ODDS situation against Randy Orton and Kane. Randy Orton and Kane fighting at the end of last week’s Raw and fighting again at Battleground wasn’t enough to communicate them being on “different pages,” so we got ANOTHER instance of Orton bailing on Kane, leaving him by himself in what we know as a Reverse Handicap Match. See, being at a numbers disadvantage in WWE is the best thing that can happen for you. If you’re one-on-one, you can win or lose. If you’re three-on-three, the winning team only wins because of “the damned numbers game.” But 3-on-2? 2-on-1? Down 4-1 in an elimination match? You get unlimited health and bonus specials. Therefore if you put Roman Reigns down 2-1 at the start, he’s super powered up. If your partner bails on you and leaves you with him 1-on-1, it’s essentially you vs. 10 Imaginary Guys.
So we’re left with two stories.
Q: Will Roman Reigns be able to impress Triple H and get a title shot against John Cena at SummerSlam?
A: No, unless he needs to say his name for a pop.
Q: Will Randy Orton and Kane be able to co-exist during the next four shows where they’re being asked to co-exist?
A: shit or get off the toilet, guys
Worst: The Stephanie McMahon/Brie Bella Thing You’re Gonna Argue With Me About
The second match on the show was Ultimate Wrestling Hell: a 4-on-1 Divas handicap match where the 1 is a solo Bella Twin and the 4 are Alicia Fox and three ladies with the combined wrestling ability of a lost baby. Even worse, the match is an afterthought to the story happening outside of the ring: Brie Bella is in the front row to cheer on her sister, and Stephanie McMahon’s pissed about her being there.
In the interest of transparency I’m aware that I love Stephanie McMahon and think the Bella Twins are the worst babyfaces of all time, but I’ve got a variety of points to make, so stay with me.
The story they’re trying to tell is Stephanie McMahon abusing her power and putting Nikki into these unfair, dangerous situations because she’s mad at her sister. Nikki doesn’t deserve it, and Stephanie kinda follows the Bellas around waiting for them to do or say anything so she can step in and punish them. That’s fine. In theory, that should make us want to see Nikki fight back and win, and make us want Brie to overcome The Jerks In Charge and get her job back. In theory.
In practice, Brie Bella is a colossal heel and the cause of every bad thing happening to her and Nikki. The Authority had no problems with the Bella Twins until Daniel Bryan wouldn’t relinquish the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Stephanie (very, very unfairly, and quite stupidly if we’re being honest) used Brie as “bait,” telling Bryan that he’d fire her if he didn’t give up the belts. Brie’s solution was to quit, call Stephanie a bitch and slap her in the face. Stephanie ran away, and Brie and Bryan did Yes Chants in the ring. Brie lost her job and Bryan got stripped anyway, because he’s hurt and out indefinitely. So, uh.
Since then, Stephanie has reacted to mentions of Brie by going overboard. The problem is that Brie keeps wedging herself into the shows KNOWING this is going to happen. She “visits Nikki backstage” and Nikki gets put into a handicap match. She “buys at ticket” to be in the front row, knowing that Stephanie’s going to show up and get in her face about it. What’s the point of this? What’s she trying to accomplish? Is she trying to get her job back? Because dude, what’s gonna happen if you do? Stephanie is Vince McMahon’s daughter, she’s not John Laurinaitis. You can’t hit her with an Attitude Adjustment and make her go away. And if you ARE trying to get your job back, why didn’t you do the inevitable thing, let your husband give up the championships he was going to have to give up anyway and do the FIGHT THE AUTHORITY thing every other mistreated babyface does? You quit. You did that.
What happens, if you missed it, is Stephanie comes down to ringside and acts mean to Brie again. Brie yanks the microphone out of her hand and screams into it about how Steph’s a vindictive bitch. Stephanie slaps her and Brie gets taken away, only to return later with police to have Stephanie arrested.
This is just the beginning of our problems.
Worst: Couldn’t We At Least Have Gotten Some FIP Guys To Be Cops
I haven’t been in the wrestling business long enough to pull the “this is how it is in the wrestling business” card, but I’m gonna do it anyway. This is real Real Talk, and if you disagree, I’m sorry: there is an absolute, uncrossable line between fan and performer. If you are a fan and you put your hands on the wrestlers in a malicious way — shoving them, hitting them, slapping their ass or, hey, yanking the microphone out of their hand while they’re talking — you are going to get hurt, and you deserve it. The end.
It goes both ways. If a wrestler puts his hands on you without any physical provocation, that’s grounds for the wrestler being punished. Taking this from a purely on-the-level story perspective, Brie Bella bought a ticket to Raw, got harassed by one of the performers on the show and yanked the microphone out of their hands. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, I urge you to go to any level of wrestling show and see what happens when you yank the microphone out of somebody’s hands. Go to ROH and yank the mic out of Kevin Steen’s hands, see what he does. There is a 100% chance that you’re going to get popped in the face and ejected from the building, with about a 75% chance of somebody shit-kicking you in the parking lot. I am a vegan pacifist pussy and I am clearly typing to you that you deserve it.
If you want to say pulling a microphone away from a performer isn’t a big deal and strictly go by kayfabed-but-WWE-Logic interpretation of the situation, Brie Bella took the microphone and said “you don’t like me because I SLAPPED YOUR BITCH FACE, YOU BITCH,” got slapped, and cried “POLICE!” She’s bragging about how she assaulted Stephanie, got assaulted back and cried about it. “But she was a FAN,” you might be saying. So what? When Brie slapped Stephanie it was the same situation. Stephanie had fired her, and Brie wasn’t a WWE employee. She was a civilian attacking a WWE performer. If you want to play Devil’s Advocate and justify a babyface acting like a complete asshole, we can spin it any way you’d like. “Oh, Stephanie’s being mean to Nikki, she deserves it!” From Nikki, sure. If Stephanie puts Roman Reigns in a handicap match The Usos shouldn’t get to slap her in the face and call her a cunt for a month.
Long story short, the Bella Twins (the characters, just to super clarify) are Total Garbage, “that person’s mean” by itself is not a reason to anything in a world where everybody but Bayley and Sami Zayn are mean, and the next 30 minutes should’ve been Brie huddled by a transfer truck wheel while Road Agent Sara Del Rey kicked her in the side of the head.
Best: This Guy Has Never Heard The Word ‘Bitch’ Before
Delight, then surprise. Delight, then surprise.
Best: Bo Dallas Enjoying Damien Sandow’s Shenanigans
Damien Sandow broke out the LeBron James gear and faux-Sweet Georgia Brown entrance theme for WWE’s return to Miami, because of course he did. He’d previously worn it in Cleveland to get anti-Miami heat, and now he’s wearing it in MIAMI to get anti-CLEVELAND heat. I’m sad WWE didn’t seem to have it in their budget to get him a Cavs jersey (you can get convincing-enough bootleg versions for like, 15 dollars outside of Indians games right now), but this is the company that went to Hot Topic and bought a hoodie when he had to dress up like Magneto, so whatever. Hey Damien, hang on to that LeBron jersey, you’re going to need it again in a year.
The highlight of the match for me was Bo Dallas, who sorta watched Sandow do his introduction with an “aw jeez, this guy’s hilarious” look on his face. Bo is too good at his job right now.
Worst: I Have Officially Turned On Bray Wyatt
I GASP hate to say this GASP and I GASP never GASP though I would GASP, but Bo Dallas > Bray Wyatt. Actual gasp.
As I wrote in the Best and Worst of Battleground, the Wyatt Family is the Bushwhackers with a Bible now. They’re absolutely pointless. Bray’s promos (while still fundamentally very good) jump around in the narrative and randomly pick and choose what they want the Wyatts to believe this week, and that’s the worst thing you can do when trying to get over the mission statement of a cult. Bray once again says he doesn’t care about wins and losses, because “the war” is what matters. So why did he need to win that cage match with Cena to get his message across to fans? If wins and losses are meaningless to Bray, does that disqualify the Royal Rumble victory against Bryan that people use to say Bray won that feud? If Bray’s won a few matches but zero of his opponents have been fundamentally changed by his actions, what has he accomplished?
If Bray’s a nihilist, go for it. If he just wants to attack people, clue me in to that enough that I stop looking for any sort of logic and meaning in his ramblings. I know I’m not really supposed to, but I can’t care about a guy if one week he’s saying I HAVE TO WIN and the next week it’s I DON’T CARE IF I WIN. It’s a bad guy doing the John Cena “some a y’all like me and some a y’all don’t” act, but with STORIES. He’s saying one thing, doing another, then switching. It’s meaningless, and that pisses me off because Bray Wyatt’s hook has always been the meaning. The payoff here should be Harper and Rowan just randomly going “what the f*ck are you talking about?” and leaving him to be the wordy rocking chair wrestler that never wins.
As for the gasping thing, someone suggested that he’s using it as a way to deter “What” chants. That’s disappointing if true, because Bray’s ability to simply change the cadence of his voice has proved 100% effective in nerfing “What” chants since he debuted. You can say more than three words without taking another breath, dude.
Worst: The New IC Champion Immediately Losing A Non-Title Match, But
Best: The Best Miz Match In What, Years?
From last night’s WWE Raw open discussion thread’s five-point preview:
The Miz is your new Intercontinental Champion. Look for him to lose a non-title match to literally anybody tonight.
Reminder: sometimes “snarky” is just a disappointed truth.
That aside, this was the best match Miz has had in forever, and on most Raw’s would’ve been match of the night. Miz is still Miz — try to figure out which leg you’re supposed to work in the figure four, buddy — but I appreciate how Ziggler’s ditched the social media Zack Ryder whimpering in favor of practicing what he preaches and actually trying to steal the show. That Zig Zag on one leg was incredible. It was like a video game animation. He was too far away for it to physically work, but nope, his body just heat-sought Miz’s neck and launched him into the ground.
A supplemental Best for Miz’s white suit. All it needs is a Mr. Hero logo on the back.
Worst: ‘I Am No Longer A Paul Heyman Guy Because He Can’t Do Two Things At Once.’
I’m so confused as to why WWE can’t let its characters multitask. A guy has to be in one feud with one other guy and that’s it. You can’t have past relationships enhance anything. If Dean Ambrose is having problems with Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns has to go be mad at somebody else despite REIGNS being the one who caught the first chair to the back that broke up The Shield. If Paul Heyman’s managing somebody and Brock Lesnar comes back, he has to stop managing that person and only pay attention to Brock.
That’s crazy disappointing. I think WWE fans could follow it. You don’t have to involve complex emotions here, just “these wrestlers are all bad and on the same team.” Wouldn’t Heyman’s claim to being the greatest manager of all time be more effective if he was managing Brock, Cesaro and Rybaxel all at the same time? Wouldn’t that be a pretty swell new Dangerous Alliance? Imagine if Punk was still around and on the team. He’d be the Stunning Steve, and it would be awesome.
Instead, Heyman’s off in Client Quote Reference Land and Cesaro’s left to meekly say “I’m no longer a Paul Heyman guy” in a throwaway backstage segment to set up a match on Raw. A match that ends in DQ, spoiler alert. Nothing gets accomplished, there’s no fanfare and the last three months of Cesaro refusing to swing people, losing the nickname he’d JUST GOTTEN and floating aimlessly in the wind continues.
Best: Two Minutes Of A SHIMMER Tag And Then HEEL PAIGE Y’ALL
Two things I enjoyed here:
1. The four most reputable in-ring performers in the main roster Divas division in a tag match. That’s something to get excited about. It lasted about two minutes and was basically just DO YOUR SPOT, OKAY NOW TAG ME IN SO I CAN DO MY SPOT, OKAY TAG ME IN SO I CAN DO MY SPOT, SPLAT FINISH, but it wasn’t the same thing we usually get so I’m gonna applaud it. Someone in the Battleground comments accused me of having a “boner for Paige,” so feel free to assume that my “this was better than awful” comment means I’m over here jacking it to 80 seconds of transitional moves.
2. Paige fINALLY turning heel. Man, how long did that take? The crowd seems to like AJ when they’re done with their eight seconds of CM PUNK chants, so why not take the lady born from Saraya f*cking Knight and let her rip people up? Crying pal Paige has never and will never be as good as brutal, screaming, headbutting Paige. And hey, check out the Divas getting a story built around their characters! They aren’t worried about their social lives or their jobs or their boyfriends! They’re just chucking each other into security walls and ring posts. That real basic story building trope shit they use for people like Alberto Del Rio could do WONDERS in the Divas division, and go a long way toward convincing the crowd that at least THIS half of the division is gonna try to have matches.
Let’s Ask The WWE Universe What They Thought About Paige’s Heel Turn:
There goes my boner.
Worst: WWE Babyfaces, Or
Worst: Zack Ryder Saw His Shadow And Now We Get Six More Weeks Of Broski
As we’ve discussed … way, way too many times before, WWE’s very worst character is its vindictive babyface. If somebody does something bad to you, you’re entitled to revenge. When you get that, you’ve “won” or whatever. In WWE if somebody does something bad to you, you’re entitled to an INFINITY of revenge. Fandango was a jerk for dumping Summer Rae for Layla and playing them against one another so he could hook up with them simultaneously. They turned on him, and now they continue turning on him by helping every single one of his opponents get a cheap win over him. He hasn’t done anything bad to them in like a month, and here they are as PEOPLE IN THE MORAL RIGHT f*cking up his career until the end of time.
Zack Ryder (of all people) hits his finish on Fandango near the ropes. Fandango gets his foot on the rope at two, but Layla runs over and pushes it off. The referee counts to three, the crowd cheers and everybody celebrates Fandango getting what he deserved. This is an awful point of view written and enjoyed by awful people. She’s cheating, he doesn’t deserve it — especially not in a match against someone who had nothing to do with it — and unless we’re shooting for a The Devil’s Rejects-style double turn, they need to move on with their lives.
Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I want to see Layla and Summer Rae make out. I’m not gonna front. I also want them to move in together and grow old together and eat cheesecake and make quips about how 55-year old AJ Lee won’t stop going on dates with firemen, but I’m just a bro sometimes.
Worst: The Maddest I’ve Been At Wrestling Since, Well, WrestleMania 28
I hate everything. I HATE EVERYTHING.
WrestleMania 28 is my least favorite wrestling show of all time for two reasons: Daniel Bryan losing the World Heavyweight Championship in 18 seconds, and a backstage segment where Heath Slater goofily approached celebrity guest Flo Rida only to get repeatedly insulted and shoved into a wall.
I’ve harbored ill will about both of those things for years. WrestleMania 30 made the Bryan thing a little easier, but the Slater thing still bummed me out. As I wrote in my ranking of the worst celebrity guests in WrestleMania history, a celebrity guest showing up and humiliating (and INJURING) an undercard wrestler like that is embarrassing for the sport. Slater’s gotta be there tomorrow, you know? Flo Rida’s a musical act. Why does he have to be a SUPER TOUGH BADASS musical act? He ain’t exactly Mike Tyson, he’s Pitbull’s unionized American equivalent.
Anyway, years pass and FLO RIDA gets announced as a guest on Raw. I wanted one of two things: Heath Slater to get his revenge, or for Flo Rida to be all “hey, sorry about that stuff before, come hang out on stage and dance stupid while I play.” Violence, or them being friends. One or the other. Closure of some kind. Slater not looking like he’s the most worthless person in the world. Or Hell, a third option: them not even referencing it, and me writing a paragraph in here about how they should’ve done something.
Instead, WORST CASE SCENARIO. Flo Rida shows up, brags about how he’s tough enough to take on John Cena (while Renee LAUGHS AND AGREES), then shoving Slater on his ass AGAIN. I mean, I guess at least Slater got to gently shove him first this time, but Flo Rida still is the tough, instant winner and adds an “I don’t know who you are” to make it worse.
Again, in WWE, the good guys are the worst people in the world. Congratulations, guy who has busted his ass for WWE for four years, you’re Pete Rose in a feud with bad R&B’s Kane.
Worst: Please Enjoy These Old Lip-synced Disco Hits
Oh, I get it, he waited until Jinder and McIntyre were gone. I hate you for real, Flo Rida.
Best: Xavier Woods Is Finally Utilizing The Fact That He’s Impossible To Like
“We’re not bothered by that Atlantic piece AT ALL!” – WWE
First things first, ANYTHING other than wet-everything Fake Geek Girl Xavier Woods is an improvement. If he shows up dressed like Big Johnny and acts like Clarence Mason, hey, at least he’s not pretending to like Power Rangers.
As for the team, we’ll Wait And See Where It Goes. I’ve got a bad feeling that we’re gonna fantasy book it to death and get our hopes up, but it’s just gonna end up being the black guy version of Rybaxel and accomplish nothing. The parallels here to TNA’s MVP/Kenny King/Bobby Lashley team are strong, and I’m not even gonna try to point out that TNA built a team with the initials MLK and WWE’s building one around a guy whose name starts with X.
But hell, let’s fantasy book it to death. WWE should go all the way with it. CALL the team “The Atlantic.” Throw R-Truth, Cameron and Alicia Fox in there, then have Mark Henry act all nervous about joining because it’ll be his first-ever exposure to racism in WWE. Just give me that one moment where they’re gathered backstage before a big match and Rusev turns a corner, notices them and his eyes get all huge.
Jump to the point when WWE forgets they’re serious and adds Kenta with a hip-hop gimmick. Let Christian hang out with him, because that joke was funny forever ago. He can complain about the plight of the yellow man. Call HuffPo at least 30 times a day.
Worst: Get Used To Lana Being Suddenly Interrupted For The Rest Of Her Career
Before Lana could launch into her “have you heard the good news about Vladimir Putin” spiel, The Great Khali’s music hit and interrupted her. Get used to this. WWE’s gotten a lot of negative (and/or funny) press for nodding in the direction of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Heat, so we’ve gone from Remember How We Felt About Shit During The Cold War to Whoops We’re Socially Concerning.
Best: Rusev Is Stil Selling His Ankle
The good news (about Vladimir Putin) is that Rusev is selling an ankle injury 24 hours after his match with Jack Swagger. That makes me happy. If WWE’s gonna retcon it as Swagger losing decisively and drop the angle, at least we’ve got the performers involved doing all they can to make it matter. Rusev’s pretty great, and I’d hate to see him get Muhammad Hassan’d because the company he works for doesn’t know how to handle criticism.
Study question: Who is better at realistically selling pain, Nikki Bella or The Great Khali? I’m gonna go with Khali, because he’s a Groot motherf*cker who would do that macho “it’s not hurting, it’s not hurting, it’s not hurting, OW OKAY IT’S HURTING” thing. Him going completely blank and selling a camel clutch like he’s standing calmly horizontally is better than Nikki’s furrowed brow.
Second question: Khali’s nipples are ALWAYS visible. Can we black out the screen when they appear?
Worst: Did Dustin And Cody Record 10 Of These A Month Ago And Then Take A 30-Day Vacation?
The final vignette needs to end with Goldust going, “come on, man, we gotta leave this room or we’re gonna starve to death.”
Best: Hot Damn, Cesaro Vs. Ambrose Please And Thank You
This was SO GOOD, you guys. And yeah, you probably need me to tell you that Cesaro and Dean Ambrose had a good match. That’s the kind of hard-hitting analysis you can only find in the Best and Worst of Raw.
Seriously though, it’s a perfect combination. It’s two guys who should’ve clashed a billion times on the independents but somehow missed one another getting a little bit of time to shine in the main event of Raw … a chaotic neutral Dean Ambrose trying (and failing) to keep his composure against Lawful Evil Cesaro. Ambrose works best right now when he gets to be a crazy pinball, and Cesaro is better than anybody in pro wrestling at impressively pinballing people. Cesaro gets to push him around, throw him, counter his attacks, and Ambrose gets to land hard, pop up to his feet and come back swinging. I could watch them do this for an hour.
I’m not a huge fan of the DQ finish, especially when they’ve made no attempt to keep Cesaro strong lately, but it works for the characters. Ambrose LEGITIMATELY doesn’t seem to care about wins and losses as long as he’s pointed straight at the thing that deserves revengin’. Cesaro’s trying to prove that he can get the job done against people who pester Triple H, and Ambrose got to one-up him without really beating him and farting on the whole thing. My only real issue is that it attempted to get Cesaro over by showing that he’s a great wrestler, but everybody KNOWS that, and that’s why were were cheering him back in the spring. You’ve shown your work, so go ahead and solve the problem.
For once, ultimately, Raw gave us a fresh matchup that truly felt fresh. More of this, and at least one rematch of note with a finish.
Best: The Immediate Illustration Of Randy Orton’s Futility
1. Anybody else a little uncomfortable with Orton keeping his t-shirt pulled down by hooking it over his dick like that?
2. Orton being announced as the World’s Most Boring Opponent for John Cena at SummerSlam (in a REGULAR MATCH, I hope!) only to be instantly run off by Roman Reigns was wonderful. It just needed the Yakety Sax. Smackdown should start with Roman bursting into Orton’s house a la Triple H and spearing him through his bay window. Just repeated backstage segments of Orton trying to take a leak and getting speared into urinals. Get the bottom front of his shirt all wet.
Five stars. This might be the first time I’ve ever legitimately enjoyed the Pledge of Allegiance.
It’s the most predictable thing in the world (thanks, Amazon!), but my wrestling show feels better when Brock The Conqueror is on it. Just a horrifying, giant man-baby in Keds and a Jimmy John’s tank top, ready to obliterate anything that moves. Cena and Brock are great together in the ring, and hey, worst case scenario Cena beats him like it’s nothing and the Internet eats itself alive trying to justify Brock ending Undertaker’s streak.
What needs to happen is the definitive, bloody decimation of the Last Four Years John Cena. I’m not asking him to come back as a bad guy or anything, but he needs to get eaten alive and come back as the Titan he’s earned the right to be.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
My country ’tis of Paul,
Sweet match set for one fall,
Of thee I sing.
Land where his client Brock
Cinched a Kimura Lock,
Then F-5’d Cena out his jock,
Let the bell ring.
COME TO WORK EVERY 12 WEEKS
Del Rio’s alone crying because he thought Heyman was saying Option Si.
“21-1? I like those odds!” -Cena
Renee: Shouldn’t you be with your wife right now?
Trips : You gotta be Tyson Kidding me
Triple H calling the Rock:
Trips: “Hey dwayne, its hunter, I got a situation, do you know anyone in the Miami police department?”
Rock: “Who is this?”
Trips:”Paul, you beat me for the wwe championship?”
Rock: “CM Punk”
Trips: “Beat me for the intercontinental title?”
Rock: “Stone Cold?”
Trips: “We main evented wrestlemania 2000?”
Rock: “Mick Foley?”
Trips: “Stole the main event spot at wrestlemania 18?”
Trips: “Forget it”
I wonder if Dean still has Seth’s suitcase. “SETH RAWLNS, I GOT YER UNDIES, I GOT YER TOOTHBRUSH, IGATYERIPAAAAAD SETH RAWLNS!”
Ambrose should really come down the ramp on a shitty dirtbike.
Terrence Kiels Sizzurp
“Khali also favoring his ankle tonight, because he’s a horribly assembled human being.”
This is sooooo GOP..instead of Americans taking out Rusev themselves, Zeb and Swagger just outsourced the job.
Thanks, everybody. See you next week for week 6 of the road to Battleground!