The Best And Worst Of WWE Raw 9/28/15: Hustle Loyalty Booty

Ashley HR Severed head

Previously on The Best and Worst of Raw: WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins took a break from losing matches to discover that his frienemy Kane has gone from “mild-mannered Director of Operations who sometimes becomes a demon” to “extremely mild-mannered Director of Operations AND a demon.” He’s both, and he switches between them without warning.

In other developments, Kalisto discovered that his tag-team partner is both a wrestler AND a terrible wrestler, which he should’ve figured out by now. Natalya’s back, Cesaro’s career is D-grade horse meat and the Divas Revolution is officially about how jealous everyone is about who everyone else is f*cking.

Please enjoy the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for Sept. 28, 2015.

Worst: John Cena Telling People There’s A Time To Entertain And A Time To Be Serious, Or

Here’s something you haven’t read in a Best and Worst column yet: The New Day was the best part of the show.

This week’s highlights included (1) Xavier Woods answering John Cena’s U.S. open challenge by playing ‘The Time Is Now’ on trombone, (2) a “new U.S. Champ” Cena theme remix, (3) comparisons to and clarifications from Scrooge McDuck and his Money Bin, and (4) Big E selling Cena’s SERIOUS BUSINESS JACK tone with “oh, he cussed! He cussed! That’s scary!” As always, The New Day doesn’t show up doing one thing to make us laugh; they do half a dozen things, and we spend the six days between Raws ranking which ones we liked the most. Kofi Kingston yelling about how we thought they couldn’t swim is probably this week’s #1.

The lowlight has to be Cena himself, McMahonsplaining to The New Day that, “there’s a time to entertain, and a time to be serious.” This is John Cena we’re talking about, the guy who has responded to every serious thing that’s ever happened with a jovial, “WE’RE HOT IN WHATEVER CITY WE’RE IN TONIGHT” tone and wacky jokes. Sometimes he prepares photoshops. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of Cena as an elitist veteran who thinks wrestling should be serious business and lariats dudes to start matches, but it comes across as less “tough champion” and more “do as I say, not as I do.” Cena’s weird code of honor and behavior only exists situationally, and from his perspective.

The actual match that followed was disappointing, but that’s to be expected. It wasn’t a showcase title defense, it was a building block to a bigger story, which I actually enjoyed quite a bit:

Best: You Really Can’t Structure An Opening Much Better Than This

The first half-hour of Raw was extremely formulaic, but with a good formula. It opened with babyface-ass John Cena telling the crowd how excited he is to be JOHN CENA in front of them, leading to an open challenge for a suddenly prestigous secondary championship answered by entertaining heels. They do their thing, the face says, “hey, WRESTLING,” and they wrestle. The heels get sent to the back for trying to interfere, which gets a good reaction, and they run back out and cause a disqualification when it’s obvious their guy’s boned. That brings out the company’s most decorated (and, at the moment, popular) tag team to stand beside its decorated and popular singles star, and we bleed right into a six-man tag. The faces get all their sh*t in to get the crowd reacting, and then boom, the heels steal it.

As a fan who has watched more than 1,100 episodes of this (and infinity episodes of everything else), it gets close to playing as “bad singles match, guy we like gets humiliated, old guys show up, WWE management summons the Teddy Long Zord and it becomes a tag TEAM match, heels win the match that doesn’t actually matter and now it’s hella obvious who’s going over in Madison Square Garden.” Taking a step back from that point of view, it works. It really works. It’s less effective when you’ve got your meandering midcarders going through the motions, but when you’ve got your most marketable guy and your darling nostalgia team interacting with the chickensh*t tromboners everyone who hates the first team probably loves (and vice versa), that’s top shelf. Beautifully done.

Best: One Day, Bay-bay

WWE’s YouTube channel posted this clip of poor Heath Slater backstage, waiting to answer John Cena’s challenge and having no idea how to actually do it. He just kinda stands back there yelling PLAY MY MUSIC, which I guess is how we imagine run-ins and surprises work, and gets his toes stepped on by The New Day. Now that we’re confronted with it, how DOES answering Cena’s open challenge work? Can we get a backstage bit where there are several people trying to answer it, and it’s decided by lottery or a pissing contest or something? Use the Chikara magic hat and draw some names.

I want this Heath Slater bit to stay under-the-radar for a while and build and build throughout Cena’s reign, until he’s gotten enough of a cult following to actually answer the challenge and surprise him. If David Otunga and Justin Gabriel run out to help him, I won’t complain. If 3MB is never getting back together and Clem Layfield isn’t gonna be canon, just get Slater back on TV somewhere so he can Slate.

If that doesn’t happen, I hope this U.S. title run ends with Carlito returning and luring Cena into a nightclub so Jesus can stab him again.

Worst: TV Time Devoted To Building A Losing Effort Everyone Already Expects At A House Show

On Oct. 3, WWE Network’s airing a Madison Square Garden house show I’m calling BROCK LESNAR: THE BEAST IN THE EAST RIVER whether they want me to or not. In it, Lesnar gets another one of his cuppycake “send the crowd home happy” matches like the one he had against Kofi in Japan. If you remember that build, it was “Brock Lesnar will have a match in Japan” and then Kofi showed up to get suplexed. Lesnar’s facing Big Show at MSG, so the build should be, “Brock Lesnar has a match in MSG” and Show showing up to get suplexed, right? Nobody in the damn world thinks Big Show’s winning that match. They could’ve booked a Brock Lesnar vs. Bo Dallas rematch and it would’ve provided the same drama.

Still, WWE is extremely committed to making Show look as strong as possible heading into MSG. He’s routinely destroying Cesaro and beating down Mark Henry so badly he can’t stand up on his own power. On paper, that’s a good move. If you make Show look like a killer before you feed him to Lesnar, Lesnar will look like he beat a killer, and not like he beat a guy we’ve already seen him easily throw around and beat. In practice … do we need that? Does Lesnar really gain anything from pinning a powered-up Big Show at a house show in 2015? This is the dude who ended the Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania and nerfed John Cena into the mid-card. Maybe if Show tries to pull a gun on him and Lesnar breaks it in half. Or if like, Show shoots him and we find out Brock’s bulletproof.

They’ve even got Show interrupting Paul Heyman promos, which is funny because Heyman promos get Show over, and Show showing up to follow them doesn’t. It’s interesting that they’re showing the history of Brock vs. Show but leaving out Heyman turning on Brock, which was the entire point, because it screws up their narrative. The dorky fantasy booker in me feels like, “Heyman turned on Lesnar to side with Show happened there before, could it happen again?” would be a more believable story tentpole than “Brock Lesnar’s afraid of this guy John Laurinaitis made cry.”

Also, can we give some of this TV time to Cesaro? I know that’s a very Internet thing of me to say, but we like that guy and you could probably do one Cesaro thing and two Big Show things instead of three Big Shows. You could also probably do Cesaro vs. Brock Lesnar and actually get people talking about the wrestling they saw.

Worst: The Name Is Miz TV, Learn It Well, For It Is The Chilling Sound Of Your Doom

Back in August, the still-young Divas Revolution hit its first major creative snag when Team PCB appeared on Miz TV, and a desire to see women who wrestle treated like wrestlers devolved almost instantly into jealous bickering. Miz was like, “you’re all a bunch of yammering bitches,” and the girls were like, “what did you say” but then just fought each other. It didn’t nuke the entire effort — no single thing will, no matter what jerks like me tell you, because the underlying effort making women’s wrestling relevant and crucial in WWE’s own NXT still exists, and still powers the hopes and expectations of WWE fans who watch both levels. It sure as hell didn’t help, though.

Last week’s Raw featured the not-super-cleverly-named “Paige Bomb” that admirably tried to give the Divas motivation beyond “we’re in teams, and we’re wrestling for some reason,” but also turned back the clock a bit on our efforts to see everyone as Raw characters and not celebrity guest hosts from Total Divas. It was a lot of, “you SLEPT WITH HIM!” and “you’re just jealous” and “you’re only relevant because of a man,” and you’re like, “oh, that’s heel,” but also just “oh.”

This week, we’ve pooled our weird efforts. The “C and B” of Team PCB — still not doing well on the OUR TEAM’S ALSO SEX TERMS front — return to Miz TV and get confronted by Team Jealousy, which is everyone. Nikki Bella interrupts to “ashley” explain what’s going on, and Paige interrupts them to call them whores. That leads to Team Bella vs. Team PCB, which would be fine if Team PCB hadn’t f*cking broken up a week ago. WHAT A REUNION! The worst part is that they start the segment with Charlotte saying she’s gonna “throw down” with Paige, 5 minutes later they’re partners again because Stephanie McMahon-Determined Team Alignments > anything, and then we have to wait an entire Divas tag match (which we’ve seen too many times in a row) for the “betrayal.”

To make matters even more complicated, Natalya shows up to take Paige’s spot and Paige attacks her, which distracts CHARLOTTE, leading to — drumroll please — a distraction finish. So that’s basically everything wrong with the Divas Revolution all at once, right? We had:

1. A Miz TV segment that doesn’t help anybody
1a. The Miz
2. Shifty alignments and arguments that mean nothing because we know next-to-nothing about the characters
3. Team Based Everything, even when it doesn’t make sense
4. Pipe bombs about how the women we’re trying to take seriously are just sluts, and why that’s bad
5. “You are only important because of men” more than thrice
6. Natalya alternately not existing, then existing for no reason
7. The Bella Twins pronouncing words
8. Six-person tag matches in place of actual goals or stories
9. Distraction finishes
10. Constant arguments about what the Divas Revolution is and what it means without anybody showing the work, or trying what worked down in NXT, which was “training women to wrestle well, trusting them, putting them into entertaining stories and rivalries, treating them like wrestlers instead of like ‘lady wrestlers,’ investing time and sustained effort into maintaining everything, establishing that good matches are the expectation and not a special treat, building an audience that appreciates the effort everyone’s putting into everything, building positive hype around the product as a whole and putting your plan into action with great women wrestling great matches in important spots on important shows.”

Best/Worst: The Hilarious Choking Death Of Darren Young

The Divas segment kinda drops Raw into a hole it doesn’t crawl out of until the main event — assuming you don’t love ridiculous monster transformation stories revolving around Human Resources evaluations — we’ll get to that in a second — but I’m gonna try to stay as positive as possible.

The Wyatt Family takes on The Prime Time Players and just guts them, which is super sad because the PTP as tag champs (or at least contenders) has been one of the better parts of the show. Braun makes a Strowman with Titus O’Neil, which I guess is the end of “Hot Tag Titus” and our jokes about how him standing on the apron for 4 minutes gives him a Super Mario Bros. invincible star. The highlight of the match for me is included in the WWE Fan Nation video, and the more I watch it, the more I like it. Darren Young needs to be incapacitated so Titus can get choked out and lose, so Strowman just kinda goozles him and drags him out onto the apron. He doesn’t make it all the way out, though, and we’re stuck with this comical image of Gamma Radiated Samwell Tarly one-hand choking a guy while the guy’s dangling over the top rope. Young going “EEEH, EEEH, EEEH, EEEH, EEEH” makes it funnier. I don’t know why Titus punching Strowman in the back knocked Young out for several minutes, but Wrestling!

I like Strowman a lot as the Caucasian Great Khali — the Great Cauli? — and I hope they go somewhere meaningful with it. I really don’t want to see him in an STF any time in the next calendar year.

Worst: All Hail This Thing We Didn’t Miss

Oh, awesome, King Barrett is back. I half expected him to slide into the ring and take the pinfall.

I don’t know. Hooray? If he’d returned as Bad News Barrett (or even “Wade”) I’d have some hope for it. At least they remembered that Stardust turned on Barrett a few weeks ago. Where was The Ascension, though? I guess we’ll tune into next week’s Stardust vs. Neville match to find out!

Best: Randy Orton Winning With His Full Taunt

Woof. Randy Orton defeats Bo Dallas with an RKO to make the Buffalo Bills happy. I liked Michael Cole calling them “the 2-1 Buffalo Bills,” like they were undefeated. “PLEASE WELCOME THE 77-78 CLEVELAND INDIANS! They’ve won over 70 games, King!”

One thing I will say is that I appreciate the top-level guys dropping down a level or three every now and then to re-establish what their moves look like and what they’re supposed to do. With Orton, you get in those year-long spans where he does the “hunting” RKO taunt near the end of a match, but he’s wrestling Cena or Sheamus or whoever so you know it’s gonna be reversed. I don’t think Kofi Kingston’s ever done the Boom Claps in the corner before a Trouble In Paradise and actually hit it. Charlie XCX has a better success rate with Boom Claps. If you run Orton against Bo Dallas and have him do all his moves and taunts in the right place and 100%-it, it’s easier to believe he’ll hit it on an important guy when he breaks it out later. Does that make sense? It’s the “don’t bring a guitar to the ring unless you’re gonna play it” thing.

Worst: The Middle Of This Show Is Literally Nothing

Kevin Owens and Rusev have like 20 seconds of a match before one throws the other into Ryback, and everybody brawls. Dolph Ziggler runs out to team up with Ryback, and we’re straight up using placeholder segments from video game story-modes to build our primetime TV wrestling feuds.

Nothing is happening, man. There’s a huge chunk of this show that feels like a hazy daydream, and not the good kind. That kind where you sit down on the couch with your palm over your eye and wake up two hours later going WUH, WUHH with giant red marks all over your face. The Prime Time Players get jobbed out, King Barrett shows up to end a match before it gets started, the Intercontinental Championship division gets about 1/15th the time an HR evaluation gets, The Miz is side-eyeing the Divas over hating on his infinity scarf … waking up with “wuh, wuhh” is too much of a compliment. It’s like falling asleep at the wheel and waking up to find out you’ve gently coasted into the empty-ass parking lot of an old Blockbuster Video.

Best: Looks Like We Made It

Finally, time to make that sweet money!

Best: Kane Is Stupid As Hell So Let’s Enjoy It

Okay, so, before we begin, this is dumb as sh*t. Just embarrassing as balls as dumb as sh*t.

That said, Kane is killing it. If you didn’t watch the show, here’s what you need to know: Seth Rollins filed a complaint with Human Resources about Kane babyfacing him backstage and then turning into a fire demon and trying to drag him into literal Christian hell. When WWE got a Human Resources department I have no idea, and I have even less idea how Rollins could be aware of this and have not already filed like 500 complaints against Dean Ambrose. That guy hid in his trunk, hid in a man-sized Christmas present to attack him and molested a Seth Rollins dummy with power tools. Also, why hasn’t every wrestler reported every other wrestler ever to Human Resources? We’ve seen murders, kidnappings, forced miscarriages, rapes, forced weddings, arson, necrophilia, horrifying racism and homophobia and everything else bad a person can do to another, and that doesn’t scratch the surface of physical assault outside the legal boundaries of (kayfabe) WWE competition. I watched a dude steal a milk truck and drive it into a public arena to spray people with hijacked milk. I saw a guy steal a Mexican guy’s car and eat a bunch of Mexican food so he could specifically have racist bowel movements in that car. I’ve seen a man set peoples’ graves on fire. I SAW A GUY STEAL HIS OPPONENT’S FATHER’S DEAD BODY FROM A FUNERAL WITH THE BLUES BROTHERS CAR. Human Resources finally shows up for this?

Anyway, the Human Resources lady (Ashley, or as the Bella Twins would say, “Actually”) shows up and finds Kane to be a polite, helpful kind of guy. That’s Corporate Kane, though. Rollins and everyone else ever knows that Kane’s moonlighting as a demon — or is a demon moonlighting as a weird office guy, I’m not sure how it works. As an apology for the misunderstanding, Kane digs Rollins’ bronze statue head out of a Baltimore landfill and presents it to him in a box, setting up an admittedly on-point Seven reference. Rollins freaks out about nobody handling his HR complaint to his liking and attacks Kane, Pillmanizing his previously injured ankle and sending him away in an ambulance. BUT OH NO, WAIT JUST A MINUTE, Kane uses the power of Dean Ambrose’s spooky ghost ambulance to transform into The Demon Kane, heals his injured leg by stomping really hard (with comical sound effects) and runs back out for more fighting.

It’s dumb as sh*t, but come on, if they were doing this exact story in NXT with Finn Balor and Kevin Owens, you’d be all about it. We’d be squeeing at Balor transforming into a demon in a puff of smoke and being able to no-sell broken bones with theological magic. If you’re gonna be dumb, at least be SUPER dumb so we can laugh about it later. Don’t be regular dumb. Regular dumb is just dumb. Regular dumb is a drag.

Best: Nothing’s Happening And Here’s Some Chinlocks And OH WAIT JEEZ WE’RE DOING STUFF

This week’s main event is “The Big Dog,” “The Powerhouse,” “The Epitome of Power” and “Mitochondria: The Powerhouse of the Cell” Roman Reigns taking on The Devil’s Honorably Mentioned Demon, Bray Wyatt. It’s such a weird match, too, because it’s mostly just 10 minutes of chinlocks building to a double count-out, and somehow builds to the most exciting part of the show.

Wyatt and Reigns are both spectacular in team matches, and iffy as f*ck one-on one. They can be great as singles competitors, but it’s not a given. If you put them in something big like a WrestleMania match against Brock Lesnar, they can deliver on the spectacle, but if you ask them to be entertaining for the first 12 or so minutes of a 15-minute singles match, you’re playing roulette.

The good news is that it doesn’t matter, because the post-match fight found its way into the crowd until everyone was into it, Wyatt was running striking Reigns through the ass-end of the security barrier and Reigns was powering up enough to recover and spear Wyatt through the announce table. It went from “seriously?” to “why is this still happening” to “what are they building to” to “oh sh*t” to “YEAH KILL HIM.” That’s a good hill to climb, you know? At the end of the day, the post-match is what everyone will remember. I’m still hoping we continue the Wyatts/Shield numerical feud by having a 4-on-4 match at Hell in a Cell, and that this is the next step.

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