– In case you missed it, make sure you read The Beast And Worst Of Brock Lesnar: Beast In The East Live From Tokyo.
– Final shill until it’s relevant to the conversation again: 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, you’re automatically my best friend. We’re supposed to hang out this weekend!
– Share the column! Your shares, likes and other Internet Things are appreciated.
And now, here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for July 6, 2015.
Best: The God Of Violent Retribution
Brock Lesnar from a brutal, international upside-downing of Kofi Kingston and is looking for revenge on Seth Rollins.
Lesnar works like Beetlejuice, I guess, so if you mess with him three times it means your ass. The first time Seth formally messed with Brock was at WrestleMania, when he cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase to Curb Stomp Roman Reigns and win Brock’s belt. The second time was the next night, when Rollins enzuigiri’d Brock so hard it turned Brock into a raptor, then fled the arena to escape a title rematch. Time three was two weeks ago on Raw when Seth reunited The Authority and they took Brock to Stomp City.
This week’s show opens with Paul Heyman as Jules Winfield from Pulp Fiction, stomping around The Authority’s apartment, eating its burger and drinking its tasty beverages. He drops faux-biblical lines like, “the sword that shall pierce Seth Rollins’ shield” (nice) and, “Seth Rollins, you have broken the 11th commandment. Thou shalt not intentionally provoke the Beast, Brock Lesnar.” I want Brock to show up to the match at Battleground dressed like the Pope. A Pope that does the will of The Lord by picking up smaller dudes and chucking them into things.
Worst: Take A Second To Think About How Much Better Off The United States Championship Is Than The Intercontinental
There’s an old idea in booking pro wrestling that you don’t put a title on a guy who deserves it, you put a title on a guy who needs it. If a guy’s already popular and over, why does he need a title? If you give a guy who isn’t quite there that championship bump, it can put him over the top and get him where he needs to be.
While that’s probably still true for everywhere else, I’m not sure WWE’s secondary championships work that way anymore. They spent what, 15 years making sure those secondary belts were as unimportant as possible? They merged them, unmerged them, had tournaments just to put the belts on guys who don’t defend them for most of a year, whatever. It’s like they started handing out title runs so guys’ action figures would have cool accessories.
Look at the two belts running parallel to each other right now, the United States and Intercontinental Championships. For the US title you’ve got a guy who absolutely does not need it, John Cena, defending it every week. It’s become arguably the most important belt in the company because it’s built around competition, and the freedom (cough) of an open challenge. A guy like Stardust or Cesaro can challenge for it without a ton of build and look like a million dollars because they’re hanging with John Cena. You can debut Kevin Owens and wedge him into Cena’s title run and make him seem like one of the most important guys in the show in like three weeks. Cena’s not LOSING, either. He’s beating all of these guys, in scenarios that without proper context would cause us to roll our eyes about how he’s not giving anyone a rub. The championship has created a version of John Cena that makes Cena, the belt, the lower level of competition beneath him and the general point of pro wrestling look positive.
What’s going on with the Intercontinental Championship? Two of the most situationally boring wrestlers in the company are feuding about who the audience likes least while a loosely-related third party tries to get them over by sarcastically yelling for five minutes about how they’re terrible. Big Show is wrestling Ryback — not a recipe for instant success despite them having some workable stuff in the past — and Miz shouts over it. There’s no buzz or momentum for anyone involved, everyone’s spent the better part of their career losing to whoever’s around, and the great legacy of the belt in modern history is (1) Daniel Bryan winning it, promising to revitalize the division and immediately having to retire, and (2) a Dolph Ziggler/Luke Harper ladder match that everyone’s already forgotten.
I feel like the idea was supposed to be Cena doing what he’s doing with the US title while Bryan did something similar with the IC belt, building to a big moment between them down the road. Or maybe Sami Zayn was going to debut and beat Cena, Owens was going to debut and beat Bryan and we’d just move NXT up a couple of leagues. Who knows? All we have to show for it is some bad midcard stuff that would be exactly the same without one of them wearing a belt to the ring. Take it home, this feud.
Worst: Speaking Of Feuds That Need To Take It Home
I was going to make a joke about how long the Bellas vs. Paige feud would’ve lasted if they were on Lucha Underground — two episodes, tops — but I think they’ve been teasing the next step in the feud for longer than that show’s been on the air. Paige is upset at the massive Bella pull in her various houses and wants change. The Bellas are changing from heel to face to heel to face like they’re The Riddler’s color-coded automatons from Arkham Knight. Alicia Fox put on a shirt that says TEAM BELLA because if she’s gonna be out there, she might as well wear the merch of the people who matter.
And that’s just where we are. The wrestling isn’t bad (keeping in mind that Nikki is still way better in the ring as both a wrestler and a presence than Brie no matter how hard she’s trying), but the Wrestling Show around it just feels like a whirlpool. We’re going around in circles, and eventually we’ve either gotta disappear down the drain or get out of the f*cking water. That NXT ladies Nexus attack needs to happen at Battleground at the latest, and if it doesn’t, we need to bring Kharma back with some pentagrams on her shit and finish the Bellas arc for good.
I would also accept a returning Aksana as a well-meaning Lithuanian satanist.
Worst: Roman Reigns Snatches Bray Wyatt’s Wig
1. Please tell me that was Bull Dempsey cosplaying as Bray Wyatt. TELL ME BRAY CONVINCED HIM TO DO IT BY OFFERING HIM A BAG OF DORITOS.
TELL ME THE DORITOS WERE HAUNTED.
2. Sheamus should cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase for a shave and a mulligan on the past three months. I don’t think there’s a wrestler who shows up and makes me want to change the channel harder than him, and it seems so ridiculous. Sheamus is obviously a very good wrestler, but good grief, his existence makes me want to put my head under a tire. I want to chain myself to a television and throw us both off a bridge. Him getting a count-out win to “protect” him and Reigns is equally goofy because it happens so often, and raising the briefcase like it’s a championship has always cracked me up. It’s like carrying a Slammy to the ring. You aren’t defending it. It’d be like Ric Flair holding up one of his robes after he won.
3. “Randy Orton has not forgotten what Sheamus has put him through!” Uh, pretty sure I have. They’re feuding over Sheamus kidnapping Randy Orton’s daughter and trying to have ghostly tea parties with her, right?
Best: Dolph Ziggler Gets His
AKA “Rusev and Summer go public,” I guess.
Rusev wants to apologize for wasting a year of his life on that “Lana that calls herself woman,” and while the promo is supposed to be from a heel perspective, it makes a lot of sense. Think about it. Rusev was this Bulgarian karate guy who liked to write peoples’ names on wooden boards and break them. He’d already made it to NXT when he ran into Lana, a Russian lady who hated America, loved Vladimir Putin and (thought it was never clearly specified) managed Rusev’s affairs. They never really pointed out if she was a girlfriend or a manager until they broke up — she was a girlfriend — and what did Rusev do to show her he appreciated her? He became Russian. He worshipped Putin. He fought so hard for a foreign country that they made him a hero of their federation. He was given a GOLD STAR MEDAL by the PRESIDENT OF RUSSIA for being so good at what he does. Lana clapped for him and did hand gestures for him when she wanted him to camel clutch guys, but she started to change her mind. She started loving the crowd reactions and craving attention. The crowd chanting “we want Lana” became the mission, not “Rusev crush.” Rusev was in the middle of the biggest fight of his life against Unstoppable-ass John Cena, and Lana kept screwing it up. He was emotionally and physically broken, and what happened? Lana ditched him. He handled it poorly for a few months, but the broader picture is that he gave her his life and she lost interest. She sold him out in that I Quit match thinking she was helping him, because Lana doing what the crowd wants and making them cheer became more important than Putin’s pro wrestling mission.
Once again, Dolph and Lana wander out to rub it in Rusev’s face. He can’t just cut a promo on them to make himself feel better and leave; they have to walk out, remind him of how much he f*cked up a few months ago and MAKE OUT IN FRONT OF HIM, because they’re adults. Summer is like, “why are you guys such dicks?” They threaten her with violence. They’re the worst “cool” characters from the worst 80s movie about the Cold War ever made, and Lana’s just this catfighting, presumptuous arm-candy without an identity. She went from RAVISHING RUSSIAN LANA, following a f*cking tank to the ring at WrestleMania, to being the sassy accessory of a sassy guy who doesn’t care about anyone but himself and has a shit history with women.
So, because sometimes good wins out over evil, Rusev beats Dolph Ziggler to death with a crutch.
It’s hard to say it on a show with Brock Lesnar killing a Cadillac with axes and Cesaro tearing it up in a main event, but this might’ve been my favorite moment on the show. It was like therapy. Rusev is this sad, hateful fish out of water who is good at stuff and tries hard but doesn’t know how to handle emotions or express himself in personal situations, and I don’t think I’ve ever identified with a character more. That probably makes me an awful person, but f*ck you, Putin would like me.
Watching Ziggler get the John Morrison goodbye with a stretcher job and a crushed throat should legitimately be the end of his WWE story. If he wants to take time off to be a stand-up comedian or whatever, let him do it. Ziggler the wrestler is good (and sometimes great), but Ziggler the character needs to crash-land in Siberia and get eaten by wolves. I want him to never show up again, and then 20 years from now when Rusev retires as a 10-time former WWE Champion with his happy wife Summer Rae and their beautiful Bulgarian-American children, Dolph can induct him into the Hall of Fame from one of those wheelchairs that talks when you type.
Best: Bo Dallas
Bo agrees with me about Ziggler. Whose side do you want to be on, the millions and millions of people who enjoy WWE every week, or Bo Dallas and a blogger with emotional problems?
Worst: Dean Ambrose
Every time Dean Ambrose loses on pay-per-view and then “manages to pull one out” against a guy like Bo Dallas, the announce team should be replaced by that clip of Christian Bale yelling OH GOOOOD FOR YOOU.
Best?: King Barrett Vs. King What’s Up
Now that CM Punk’s gone forever (until the end of his first fight) and AJ Lee’s not around to draw “CM Punk” chants, the Chicago crowd’s come back around to being pretty great. Stop furiously typing at me, Chicagoans, I said you’re great.
If you need an example of this, look no further than King Barrett vs. King What’s Up. These guys have wrestled each other, what, 400 times in 2015? Sometimes they wrestle five times a show. Every commercial break they do a quick Wade Barrett vs. R-Truth match. Anyway, it’s nothing fresh and we’ve all seen it before, but the crowd went along with it … and by the end of the match, they were rocking and rolling. The crowd’s count-chanting falsies and reacting to moments and spots like they’re watching Bálor and Owens. I’m not saying a crowd should pretend like everything they’re watching is great, but if the match ends up getting pretty good, it’s nice to know the crowd’s paying close enough attention to notice it.
Worst: Let’s Ask The WWE Universe What They Thought Of This Match
Best: Titus By God O’Neil
I kinda want Titus O’Neil to just retire as a wrestler and immediately, permanently join the announce team.
The Lucha Dragons vs. The New Day was fun, but Titus taking JBL to the announcing woodshed is one of the best things I’ve ever heard. There’s not enough of it in the Fan Nation video, but man, it was the Brock Lesnar vs. Kofi Kingston of announcing battles. Titus just caught JBL in the air, tossed him up to reposition him, then dumped him on his f*cking head. He even drops a “got eem” from the Deez Nuts guy somewhere in the middle to show that he’s working without a net. Beautiful work. Wrestlers need more opportunities with a live mic. Thin out the ranks of the people who think they can talk, and retrain wrestlers (and wrestling fans) to know what a “good promo” can be. Just talk, man. I’d rather hear a human being talk than another “THIS SUNDAY, AT SHOW NAME, I, RANDY ORTON, ETCETERA.”
Supplemental Best for Xavier Woods yelling, “YOU BETTER WORK, KALISTO, YOU BETTER WORK” and making himself laugh.
Best: The New Day Just In General
If you can watch this video of Jojo trying to interview the New Day and getting threatened away by their loud-as-f*ck positivity without smiling the entire time, you might biologically be dead. These guys are so good at this, and I want the narrative of the Day and “Josephine” to continue. Eva Marie’s catching a case of the Try-Hards and Jojo’s turning into the new Renee. Maybe season 1 of Total Divas happened for a reason.
Best: And Now, Brock Lesnar Destroys A Cadillac With Axes
I didn’t give it a Worst because I didn’t want to think about it again, but the bad comedy happening around The Authority all night was the worst. Kane got horribly photoshopped Hawaii vacation photos that I guess he couldn’t just hold a fruity drink backstage and pose for — what, Kane’s never been to a beach in real life? Nobody in his family has a phone or a camera? — and J&J Security got a bad “road trip” video someone made on their Macbook 20 minutes before the show started. Triple H showed up briefly to have one of those intense, face-to-face confrontations with Rollins where he clearly loses interest in the middle or becomes too aware of the situation. I still think he’s trying to get Seth Rollins killed so he can replace him with Kevin Owens, and they’re doing a whole Jacob and Esau thing.
Anyway, that bad comedy was worth it for the payoff, which is Seth Rollins and J&J coming to the ring with axe handles — actual axe handles, not the kind Macho Man did — and “calling out” Brock Lesnar. They make the mistake of driving J&J’s Cadillac out onto the stage (with it’s sweet camo racing stripe, because Jamie Noble rules), so Brock shows up, DOUBLE-WIELDS FIRE AXES and demolishes the car with weapons. Every person you’ve ever met made the Street Fighter II bonus stage joke, but it’s appropriate. It gets even better when he breaks Jamie Noble’s arm, suplexes Joey Mercury into the windshield and tries to Kung Lao decapitate a fan in the crowd with a hurled car door.
Has there ever been a more legitimately terrifying pro wrestler than Brock Lesnar? Like, I know we all have our favorites, but when Brock pulled a f*cking axe out of that crate, wasn’t there a moment when you thought he might actually flip out and attack somebody with it? When he ripped a car door off with his bare hands and discus-threw it across a damn arena, were you able to say “this is a normal human who’s acting like this because it’s part of a show?” Hell no you weren’t, because BROCK LESNAR. He’s the beast. He’s the best. Both of them.
The match at Battleground should start with Rollins driving the mangled car onto the stage during Brock’s entrance and running him over, only for Brock to explode out from underneath the wreckage and send car parts flying everywhere.
Best: The Main Event
Last week’s show featured a John Cena vs. Cesaro match for the United States Championship that ended with interference from Kevin Owens, but was good enough to be considered one of the best (if not THE best) Raw matches of the year. This week they do it again, only they go longer, fight harder, build to a clean finish and pretty much become the perfectly realized version of what an important, powerful secondary championship can mean.
There’s never a moment in the match where Cesaro doesn’t look like he belongs, or like he’s only there to make Cena look good. These men are equals, whether they’re equals in stature or talent or not, and they give it all they have. You keep waiting for that moment when Owens runs out and messes it up, but it doesn’t happen. Cesaro keeps lifting Cena from ridiculous positions, Cena keeps expanding his moveset and breaking out pop-up headscissors takedowns, and even stuff like the sloppiness of his springboard stunner is part of the story. He doesn’t get it all, so Cesaro’s able to recover and shake it off. Even at the end when Owens DOES finally run out (post-match, thank God), Cena fights him off but does so in a way that makes him look cool and tough, and not like a guy who forgot to sell. Cena does that a lot. He’ll end the match and be totally fine, because none of the damage really happened or mattered. Here, he’s taken such a beating and told such a tight story that when he tosses Owens out of the ring, he wearily goes to a knee and puts his fist up. He’s scratched, sweating, breathing heavy. He’s a tough f*cking champion, and he survived that attack not because he’s an overpowered goober who compromises the reality of wrestling, but because he knew it was coming and fought back. That’s AWESOME.
Cena’s post-match speech putting Cesaro over says more than I could ever say. I want this to matter for him. I want this to matter for the show, you know?
It’s so rare that a show’s final match is not only the longest match on the show, but the best. For once, Raw truly got a main event.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
At this point, the old woman on Seinfeld is the only person who wants her Ryback.
*Turns on RAW*
*Sees Sheamus with Roman in a headlock and hears CM Punk chants*
*Goes back to hunting RIddler trophies*
Fandango looks different then I remember.
Brock’s a lumberjack, and he’s OK.
He eats and sleeps all night, conquers and repeats all day.
Kevin Owens is like the kid that bullied you in grade school and Brock is like that kid’s older brother who “went away”
“If that car could tap out it would.”
If that car was sentient it would be dead. From an axe.
That was nice of Brock to put some speed holes in that car.
The Real Birdman
“Why’s Cena’s body vertical like that during a delayed suplex? – Ryback
Sudden Death. 300% damage a piece. First Smash Attack will win this.
Go til 11:30 you crazy bastards. 11:30 AM.
Thanks for reading, everybody. See you next week.