Before we get started with this week’s edition of the Guest and Worst of Raw, a couple notes to cover:
- To reiterate, the delightful Brandon is on vacation and has passed on the responsibility for this week’s recap to myself. Despite being a lifelong wrestling enthusiast, writer and most importantly, vegan, I’m fairly sure I was given this gig due to my ties to Kaiju Big Battel. Kaiju was a touring Vaudvillian show which combined the story structure and live performances of pro wrestling with the showy elements and characters of a Godzilla/Super Sentai movie. Sorta like Extremely Strange Wrestling if it was “watchable,” or Lucha VaVOOM with fewer whores.
- Although it doesn’t justify it’s own bullet point, my time with Kaiju was both as a writer and performer, most notably as the character of Dr. Cube through the majority of the Oughts. Yes, I’m a bit smaller than you think in person; Yes, I was also SuperWrong; and No, that was Chuck Taylor at that one Chikara show. MOVING ON!
- As always, comments are greatly appreciated as they’re a great metric for understanding what works and what doesn’t. That having been said, I should just be honest upfront and let you know that I’m terrified of criticism and will probably avoid the comments section for the next week like Mayweather avoids Pacquiao.
- (Full disclosure, that last sentence read “…like Julie Taymore avoids Gawker Media” until my girlfriend told be to change it to something “more accessible.” Brandon will be back next week, everybody!)
- I’d like to take a moment here to thank Casey Boyd and Andrew Johnson for their help with screen shots and art. Casey even Photoshop’d an image of Andrew “Test” Martin in a Polar Bear suit that I wish I’d gotten to use, but didn’t make the edit. Also, it should go without saying that I want to thank Brandon for the really great work he’s put into these columns. They’re hilarious, and I hope minimally to do right by this column while he’s away. Thanks for the opportunity, Brandon.
- Lastly, I’d like to apologize for the late post, but I’m West Coastin’ it, and was waiting for that Andrew “Test” Martin in a Polar Bear suit art to get back to me.
On to the show…
Worst: Oh Great, CM Punk
It’s not that CM Punk isn’t great on the mic, and it’s certainly not that I haven’t bought into what’s been going on the last couple months. Punk has been consistently the meat-and-potatoes of every episode of Raw for something like 12 straight weeks. The problem is no one wants eat the same thing for 3 months. Punk opening the show is starting to remind me of the days of Nitro when Tony Schiavone would start to tell you what was on tap for that night’s events, and as much as you were hoping for Super Calo and Ciclope and Silver King and… (looking it up) DAMIEN to come out and just do a solid curtain-jerk, the wah-wah of the nWo theme would crank up and you’d go back to doing your homework.
Listen man, everyone likes a well-cooked steak. But you gotta eat a salad every once in a while or you’re gonna get scurvy.
And if I have to watch another 3 months of Paul Burchill matches, I’m f**king done.
Worst: the Corporate Ladder of the WWE
It’s strange to give Spoiler Alerts for a recap of a show that you’ve either already seen, or that you’re reading this to get out of the due diligence of actually watching (my English professor just closed the webpage for this article in disgust, and then hung himself). After Punk came out and said he thought the head of the capital-C Conspiracy is someone higher than COO Triple H, my mind reeled. I actually turned to the people I was watching with and asked who could possibly be above a Chief Operating Officer. CEO? Chairman of the Board? President (more on that later)? Instead, we were treated to XVPTR John Laurenitas coming out in attempt to silence Punk and fire him. Maybe I’m just picking nits, but it’s this kinda mental lapse that takes me out of moments of general intrigue and makes me think that creative is leaning way too hard on a guy like Punk to improv his way through dialogue that they’re just trying to handwave through.
Best: the WWE’s (Classy) Version of a Murder Mystery
So Triple H doesn’t know what’s going on (just like the audience), but he does know that SOMEONE is responsible and SOMEONE is getting fired tonight. What intrigue! If Hercule Poirot only ended every case by hitting the murderer in the face with a sledgehammer, I think I might’ve made it all the way through 9th grade Lit.
Worst: 8 Guys Standing Around
Listen WWE, I’m not trying to tell you how to your jobs.
Wait, no, I AM trying to tell you how to do your jobs. People LIKE entrances, and they like to get hyped up for a match. Pro-wrestling entrances as a focus might be slightly trite, but it’s what sold me on everything from Chris Jericho to WoodMan’s stage on MegaMan II. To continue the steak analogy, sometimes you also need that sizzle. Or at least the A1.
You know what’s not exciting? Coming back from commercial to 8 guys, just standing around.
Best/Worst: Air Boom
I’m a massive homer and Dragon Gate mark, so may be cloyingly positive when it comes to Massachusetts-born Kofi Kingston and Evan “Brave Gate Champ” Bourne. I think they’re both good-to-great in the ring, even when held to the WWE’s style of wrestling and even though half their offense doesn’t make sense. That having been said, this will be the only time in my life when I’ll get a public forum to complain about the name “Air Boom,” and I’m gonna complain the sh*t out of it!
Don’t get me wrong: I like the matching tights, goofy smiles, and that DragonBall Z Fusion Dance-symmetrical thing they do at the top of the ramp; and I almost don’t mind that they don’t have a tandem-based finisher (because as a kid who watched wrestling through the 90s, the only thing that matters in wrestling is a pithily named Finishing Manuever™). But when it first became obvious that they were teaming the two of them up, my pun-obsessed brain became absolutely certain they were going to be called ‘Sonic Boom’. Ya know, like jetplanes breaking the sound barrier? Airplanes and ‘Boom!’ sounds, right? Right?!…
…And then you could have them wear matching camo pants, and make them come out to Guile’s music from Street Fighter 2, because ya know, the internet. You could even call the Bourne’s SSP “the Flash Kick,” and…and…
Alright, moving on…
Worst: No Alex Riley
Listen: I dislike Alex Riley as much as possible, which is to say as much as I could care about someone who doesn’t make me care about anything at all. And I could have a legitimate gripe to write about here: sticking Justin Gabriel on a show he doesn’t really belong on, when you could just as easily have put Riley in his place on a time and channel where he’s supposed to be getting recognized.
But, no, my real gripe is this: this is likely the only time I’ll be asked to write one of these articles and I wanted to do a good job. But living out on the West Coast puts me at a couple disadvantages in terms of time. Getting up early enough to finish this article requires being mindful that my 9 AM is already the East Coast’s noon.
So I cheated. I wrote a couple of pieces that I thought would fit in snugly based on what I assumed usually happens. The whole thing about Air Boom just above this? Yeah, that was at like 3 PM Monday afternoon.
So what happened? I write like 600 words on Alex Riley and that motherfu***r doesn’t even get booked.
The lesson, as always, is A-Ry for President.
Best: ADR Squashing Morrison
I’m throwing this one up as lip-service to Brandon whose love of Del Rio and hatred of Morrison was apparently so tangible, it was able to traverse the internet like a beautiful 4-D pretzel of kinetic inevitability and actually manifest itself as a complete burial. I like what they’re doing here with Del Rio, but this deserves as many words as it did time, so let’s move on to the real Honey Pot.
Best: Every Delectable Moment of the Hugh Jackman Segment
Since it’s probably not apparent yet, let me just say this was one of my favorite Raw’s since I started rewatching a few months ago. Tonight felt like everything was either a great segment of wrestling with kinda so-so plot development, or some really interesting character studies to go along with so-so wrestling. This is absolutely a formula I can get behind. I don’t need to be blown away with every segment, just don’t insult my intelligence and waste my time, ya know?
And honestly, if you’re gonna be a gross corporate shill-machine (WWE’s bread and butter), you really couldn’t ask much more from this segment featuring Vicky and Leopold. Vicky continues to be the best Heat inducer since War of the Worlds, Dolph is still Billy Zabka re-incarnate and Hugh Jackman managed to say that the difference between hosting the Oscars and hosting Raw was “the Oscars wasn’t in front of 15,000 screaming fans in Cleveland” with a totally straight face (which was the straightest thing he’s done in 15 years BAZIIIIIIIIIIIIING!).
Seriously, everyone was great in this, and it really highlighted that you can pick up some extra cash without lowering yourself if you put the right people in there.
Best: Ragging on the Losers in Cleveland
Somehow still funny. But…
Worst: “Just Like People Who Meet You, Losers Lose.”
Ziggler actually said this during his confrontation with Hugh Jackman. Oh Dolph. I expect so much more from you.
Best: The Logistics of Battling Your Doppelganger
I know this column has already been rife with nerdy/obscure LitCrit references, but I would be completely remiss if I said I wasn’t really hoping that when the 2 Sin Caras…s touched we would be treated to some sorta Time Cop/Blinovitch Time Effect and they’d both shriek out of existence in a ball of blinding light.
What we got instead was a teeny bit of good lucha, because it felt like they finally paired Mistico with someone who actually SPOKE HIS F*CKING LANGUAGE! I don’t just mean Spanish, I meant someone who’s actually spent time down in Mexico learning the trade. Indie style isn’t Lucha just like Llave isn’t PuroRes and the quicker people in WWE management learn this, the quicker they’ll find a solution to keeping a popular Mexican star on their roster without having all his matches look like a pile of garbled shit. Instead they seem content with sticking him in matches against Daniel Bryan or Evan Bourne and throwing their hands up in contempt when it doesn’t go smooth as virgin cream.
This isn’t a complaint. I’m looking forward to this storyline and match slightly more than I did Taker vs. Taker and just slightly less than Doug vs. Rigby.
Worst: Cody Rhodes
Literally, the people in charge of handing out custom fabricated paper bags, the people who fabricate the bags and the people in charge of moving and removing Sin Cara’s trampoline had more to do this week than Cody Rhodes. Rhodes is a talent with an an interesting gimmick and this isn’t how he should be used. I will however say that if the eventual loser of the Battle-to-Not-Have-a-Face ends with Sin Cara Dos having to wear a paper bag on his head like Spidey that one time when he split from 4 Freedom Plaza, I would cry in delight.
Disappointed, wistful delight.
Super Very Double Best: the Awesome Truth
Miz and R-Truth are on an absolute tear, and it feels like people aren’t noticing.
I write this aware that when CM Punk delivered his fourth-wall shredding promo 3 months ago, it genuinely changed perception about wrestling. I’ve tried to explain this to non-fans, and the best thing I could come up with was a rough analogy to comic books in the 80’s. I would tell people that when Alan Moore did Watchmen (of course) and Swamp Thing (more importantly), along with half a dozen other important guys thinking outside of the box, they were able to actually raise the public perception of the medium. Comics were seen as strictly kids stuff for decades, and now colleges teach courses with ‘Human Anatomy’ and ‘the Coyote Gospel’ as required reading. There exists, within the purview of Pro Wrestling, a means to elevate out of the muck and mire of being just for kids and idiots.
This is what that moment of cultural relevance that CM Punk received was about. And it’s a real shame that I see it rescinding just as quickly. Critics were quick to praise fourth-wall-breaking, but are missing the Miz and R-Truth elevating their performances within the context of just being WWE Superstars. Tonight, they delivered heartfelt, believable moments of remorse over their actions and fear about the consequences. It was good and engaging, and if I was a 10-year-old kid watching it, it’s the kind of stuff that would get me locked in for life. If the WWE isn’t capable of delivering reality the way that, say, the UFC can, they can deliver interesting and believable fiction the way that UFC can’t, specifically when they’re trying to convince me that Rashad Evans and Jon Jones really hate each other. This is the beauty of American pro wrestling, and sometimes I worry that it’s a dying art.
Best: Mark Henry Be Henry’ing
For me, Henry and Orton’s match at Night of Champions might’ve been the understated Match of the Night. If you really want to pass a torch or give a guy “the ball,” you’ve got to let him get over clean to semi-clean (it’s exactly how they built up Sheamus). And after the World’s Strongest Man beat the World’s Manliest Snake with nary a shenanigan, I felt like the WWE was serious about treating Mark Henry like the beast he’s been portraying himself as.
The mark of a good villain, it’s been said, is that they don’t believe what they’re doing is wrong; that it’s truly justified due to the circumstances they’ve been forced to endure. When Mark Henry started his interview talking about “dealin’ with haters” and then followed that up by assaulting JR after forcing him to apologize because he “hate(s) ass kissers,” I high five’d my cat out of both hilarity and respect. Dude’s crushing right now. CRUSHING! You could stick him in an episode of Scared Straight and not miss a beat. Just a whole bunch of killers, thugs, and drug dealers, and a ‘92 Olympian scaring white kids into respecting their teachers again.
Best: Jerry Lawler
Lawler went through a table about an hour before “my perception of how free wrestling shows go” would allow me to believe anyone could actually go through an announce table.
Like, maybe I just thought they were made out of Solid Oak for the first hour 45 minutes, and just compressed fiberboard the last 15, but I was genuinely surprised when the set got demolished at that point in the broadcast.
And Lawler and JR put a champ over solidly and belivably. It was the greatest performance I’d seen from a commentator since Michael Cole lost his voice at Night of Champions and was forced to just shut the f*ck up for the last hour.
Best: Beth Phoenix’s ShoeGaze Entrance Music
Aside from Beth and Natalya co-ordinating their apron glares like synchronized swimmers, the only thing I was able to take away from this match was that if you took an .mp3 of Beth Pheonix’s music, stripped the tags and released it on the internet as a leaked M83 single, Pitchfork would be writing a review about it tomorrow morning.
Best/Worst: the Daedalus’ Wings of Zack Ryder
Ryder is as close as the internet/wrestling community seemingly gets to a feel good story. “Clearly aware, relatable guy makes his own destiny through hard work and shameless self-promotion.” But don’t for a moment think that if he gets too popular with the non-smarks, he won’t get left unceremoniously at the alter.
Good nature makes me want to believe that that won’t happen, but to be honest, he’s riding this thing farther than I think even he imagined. He’s not exactly Antifaz del Norte in the ring, and if his schtick is confined to tacking the Jersey Shore thing onto the genuinely interesting insight and character he’s able to run with outside of the WWE’s Universe of Sheen and Archetypes, well then shit son, it’s doomed to end soon.
I like Zack Ryder and I like him getting a lot of cheap pops on the big show. But everything successful comes from a combination of Substance AND Style (Chris Benoit, Sabu, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, Yoshihiro Tajiri’s first 6 months in ECW, Mike Awesome, Masato Tanaka, Barry Horowitz’s one program with Chris Candidio, Scott Hall and a million other wrestlers notwithstanding…).
For those keeping score at home, that’s Agatha Christie, Broadways musicals, Doctor Who, Time Cop, Grant Morrison, Greek mythology and hipster music references. Brandon will be back next week, everybody!
Best: Hugh Jackman’s Right Straight
Holy Smokes, did it look like Jackman potato’d Ziggler from that camera angle. Ziggler rebounded from a perfectly acceptable and entirely unintelligible promo earlier in the night by selling his ass off and doing the job to Ryder, but either the camera operators at Raw deserve their own Best, or he got col’ cracked and still had the wherewithall to sell the Rough Ryder like it wasn’t a stupid finish. Either way, kudos all around.
Worst: Miz as a Hype Man
I’m really appreciative of combining the Miz and R-Truth and the integration of their personalities. But Miz is the worst damn Hype Man I’ve seen in ages. All coming in a beat and a half late on all the “Shut Ups!” and shit. Like, c’mon maaaaaan. If Natalya/Beth can combine their sullen looks, the two of you can stop stepping over each other’s lines. You’re the most Must See SuperStar in WWE, Miz, so get your damn audio straight.
Bonus Best: The ‘A-W-E-S-O-M-E’ Sign Guys
Seven kids spent the entire night trying to get enough air time to hold up their signs and turn them around like Vanna White. I think I was the only person happier than them when they finally got to do it in the last 10 minutes of the show. (The best part was that after 90 minutes of trying, they didn’t really know what to do when it actually worked. A couple of them just retracted their signs. The rest just kinda jostled them around in disbelief. It was actually quite sweet.)
Best: The Main Event
A funny thing happened on my way to shitting on a needlessly All-Star main event with a hackneyed premise: a great match broke out (and I apologize for WWE not putting footage of it up).
I put Raw back on while I was writing this article, on mute so as to not get distracted from writing down glib references. About the third time though, I actually had a chance to watch the main event, without the context of shrill commentators, or a live audience I probably don’t agree with, or an overly mic’d ring that makes every suplex sound like Death. And I got in that rare, weird moment an opportunity to watch the match itself; watch the facials that Miz is pulling constantly, and the incidental extra selling R-Truth does. I saw the true face of Cena’s workrate, how he’s much better on the ground than most people are willing to believe, and absolutely surgical in his technique. And I watched as CM Punk not only convinced me that he had a nagging leg and neck injury, but that not being able to get into the match was pounding in his brain and tearing out his guts. In silence, I watched all 4 men in that match be wrestlers, maybe the top of their craft.
Enjoying wrestling is like enjoying anything else. After enough time, you get to a point where you think you can discern the good from the bad. The effete and the auteurs can tell you specifically what makes one better than the other, but for the rest of us it comes down to Liking this, and Hating that. It’s no different from music or literature or film. Not every movie can be Seventh Seal, but I’ll watch me some Crank 2. And not every album is Rumours, but if you don’t like Red Light District than I think we’re probably just not gonna get along.
It was a fine main event, full of all the great things you’d applaud in a ROH or NOAH or Stampede (in the early 80’s) show, only done in the style of the current WWE product.
Oh, and then Triple H showed up.
Worst: Triple H
I have a tremendous amount of personal bias against Triple H, but that’s not what gets him a Worst here. Ten plus years of Motörhead, crotch chops, sledgehammers and Katie Vick have pretty much deadened the nerve endings that used to make me want to trepan myself every time he came on screen.
Nope, instead he gets a Worst here because I took 5 years of Latin and I’m almost positive that “Vocare Ad Regnum” doesn’t mean anything. When Namor the Sub Mariner is inventing non-sensical Latin catchphrases, it’s the bees knees. But when Triple H does it, it fills me with banal indifference like everything he else he does.
And that’s what really grinds my gears about his run as COO the last 2 months: even if he does something I like or that’s interesting, HE’S STILL TRIPLE H. I’m never going to like him, never ever. Is it unfair to view his present work through the scope of how he used to carry himself? Probably. Do I fly into a fury when people say they don’t listen to Kanye West because “he seems like an asshole”? Most definitely.
So maybe I’m being hypocritical and just need to let Mister Haitches run with the ball for a little bit. But if Triple H is now Namor, we should at least acknowledge that CM Punk gets to be Ben Grimm, Sheamus is Terrax the Destroyer, and Mark Henry is a character I’m gonna call B’lactus.
Best: Neatly Arranged Viewing Parties
And while I’m beating the comic book analogies to death, who’s idea was the George Pérez-like backstage segment to close the show? I get that we’re supposed to suspend disbelief because it’s a wrestling show, but at least do us the common courtesy of separating the Goodies from the Baddies.
I’m not complaining however, because this was easily the funniest moment of a genuinely funny show. Everyone just sitting around backstage like it’s no thang, watching a seemingly unimportant tag team main event. Are we supposed to think this is what they do at the end of every show? Did Helmsley gather everyone and say “listen guys, we’re gonna reveal everything in the third act, so sit down peacefully in this quiet uncatered area we arranged for you”? And if that was the case, wouldn’t you have the same befuddled reaction after uncomfortably sitting within 10 feet of your work nemeses, probably just trying not to make eye-contact, only to have the whole thing be an elaborate set up for a semi-irrational firing?
AND ANOTHER THING: to borrow an old comic roast joke, it was like a “who’s who of who’s that?”. I spotted a Tyler Rex and a William Regal fob watch, before the shit hit the fan and it turned into a blur of shouting and teeth and tanned flesh.
Best: The “Firing” of Miz and R-Truth
I got the sensation last night, and lord help us if I’m right, that some of these story lines might actually have a larger picture in mind, and that WWE creative is actually vectored in the right direction. I know, I know. I’m as confused as you are.
It started at Night of Champions, when a frustrating month of arbitrary promos and match-making culminated in a finish to the main event that left me more intrigued then I thought possible. It’s been building in the ascension of Henry and the tag-team division, and the creative free reign given to Awesome Truth and Punk during their respective airtime. The use of heavy-handed fines levied against employees who assault officials might just be seen as a single step towards making the WWE seem “more realistic,” but it’s also an example of the kind of new wrinkles they’ve been mixing into the product that are keeping me tuned in.
The biggest challenge that WWE faces going into the future is how to keep the attention spans of people who are given more and more to look at. Sure, DVR makes it imminently easier to justify spending the 80 minutes (without commercials) or so that a show like Raw demands. But that all goes for nought if people like me, people who WANT to believe in the product and WANT a reason to host Nitro-parties, can’t be given something new and fresh and interesting.
Last night and Night of Champions and some of the things they’ve been doing for the last 12 weeks have given me some hope for the future. But let’s see how long it can keep up before even I can’t justify watching this shit.
Until then, as always, A-Ry for President.
Diego McCafferty is a Los Angeles-based writer. You can follow him on twitter @UniqueDiego.