Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: We spent 1/4 of an entire day watching SummerSlam. On the Raw side, we have new Cruiserweight, Raw Women’s and Raw Tag Team Champions. On the Smackdown side, LOL.
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And now, the Best and Worst of Raw for August 21, 2017.
Best: The Strowdown
The best part of SummerSlam was Braun Strowman taking Brock Lesnar to the woodshed, so I’m pleased to announce that Raw opens the same way.
Paul Heyman shows up to do his HERE IS BROCK LESNAR promo we’ve heard a million times, and while listening to Heyman talk is one of pro wrestling’s greatest joys, I’m happy he kept it short. “REIGNING! DEFENDING! UNIVERSAL CHAMPION!” is a leopard print pocket square away from being “AND YOU CAN’T TEACH THAT.” I want Brock to talk more. I love that Heyman is eloquent and passionate and creates these weekly speeches putting Brock over, and then when Brock talks he’s just like, “I’m gonna punch your dick until BLOOD comes out! OF YOUR DICK! And PISS!”
Braun Strowman shows up and cuts a 10 minute promo getting over his catchphrases, speaking directly to the WWE Universe and setting up a tag team match for later in the night. Just kidding! He beats the shit out of Brock and poses with the championship, because he is BRAUN STROWMAN, and he’s the answer to questions like these:
A little later in the show they announced Strowman vs. Throw Man as the main event of No Mercy, so I’m pretty pretty pretty happy that’s happening so close to my apartment. That feels like it could be slash should be a WrestleMania match, but with Brock’s laissez-faire attitude toward pro wrestling I guess you’ve gotta do it while you’ve got him.
Roman Reigns vs. John Cena, on the other hand …
Worst: That’s Not How Free Agency Works
The week’s other big in-universe news is that “free agent” John Cena returned to Raw, because “free agent” means he can show up on the show that needs John Cena the most right now. I want him to use that free agency to show up on 205 Live and throw Noam Dar’s little ass through the TitanTron from like, the center of the ring.
Anyway, Cena is at his very worst this week in all definitions of that, and it puts a spotlight on the very real problem of Real John Cena vs. Fake John Cena. That’s not a Roman Reigns joke.
Earlier on Monday, Cricket Wireless shared a video of Cena being surprised by a bunch of fans he’s inspired with his “Never Give Up” message, and it’s legitimately one of the most heartwarming and soul-reassuring things I’ve seen in a long time. John Cena the Man is a corporate wrestling robot, sure, but he’s also custom made to inspire, and the work he does for charity and the less fortunate is beyond incredible. It should be the easiest thing in the world to love John Cena. He should be a saint. But then dude like, gets high on goofballs or something between Monday afternoon and Monday night and all of a sudden he’s this Joker-faced shitbag wrestler who doesn’t take anything seriously and hams it up harder than a fucking Hillshire Farm factory and is allowed instant superiority over everyone. It’s MADDENING. It’s like he flips a switch between irreverent and maudlin.
He shows up on Raw because he wants to confront a “certain superstar.” Roman Reigns interrupts him, so Cena acts like he’s surprised … and is then all, “you’re EXACTLY who I want to see!” And then suddenly they’re locked in a shirts vs. skins pissing contest about literally nothing. They’re just both John Cenic people, and this town’s not big enough for the both of them, or whatever.
Best: All Glory To The Miz
That brings out The Miz. I don’t know if John Cena considers Miz his caddy or what, but I imagine that the second Cena walks into a building he hands Miz a rider listing all the ways he’ll be required to put him over tonight. They had a KILLER WrestleMania feud that Miz carried like Samwise by-God Gamgee, and the payoff was (1) Cena easily trouncing him at WrestleMania and proposing to his TV girlfriend post-match so Miz wasn’t even an afterthought, and (2) Miz going off to Raw to wrestle Dean Ambrose for eight straight months.
Here, Cena’s been on the show for 5 minutes and The Miz is already out here to be the guy Cena beats up. The good news is that Miz rules, and what he says about Reigns and Cena is about as close to the truth from a viewer’s perspective as we’re allowed to hear on WWE TV. The crowd loves it, too. You can tell that the on-paper point was for Reigns and Cena to confront each other and jam their “mixed reactions” against each other to get people hype for a Dream Match, and then have super heel Miz show up to siphon off the boos and put them over. Instead, the “mixed reactions” are mostly just boos — totally boos in Roman’s case — and all Miz does is give the crowd someone who actually seems like they give a shit about the wrestling program to cheer.
When Miz’s career is over they shouldn’t just put him in the Hall of Fame, they should canonize him.
Best: Bo Dallas’ Jacket
I love that Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel get more into their characters every week. Axel’s out here looking like he’s performing in a local production of Death of a Salesman, and Bo looks like Leonardo DiCaprio cosplaying Johnny Depp. Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel put more effort into choosing their outfits than Raw creative puts into writing three hours of prime-time television.
Worst: The Inevitable Payoff
As always, the payoff to any exciting verbal confrontation between The Miz and cornball-ass John Cena is Cena fireman’s carrying him once and pinning him. This week is no exception. The opening segment sets up Cena and Reigns (who I’m calling the “Nega-powers”) against The Miz and, somewhat randomly, Samoa Joe. Joe and Miz are a great team and show some unexpected chemistry, but of course they do. Reigns and Cena wrestle like action figures being smacked together. The match is fine, but the ending was written before the first prehistoric fish dragged itself out of the primordial ooze and farted out a pair of legs.
So I guess we’re moving forward with Reigns vs. Cena, and Miz gets to go back to trying to spin hay into gold with Jason Jordan. I hope somebody somewhere was listening to Miz’s promo and compared and contrasted it with Cena’s hamfacing. And also that they have listened to every other Miz promo since he got back from filming The Marine 5.
Worst: Beach Ball Slam 2
On the topic of Jordan, he gets a very good 11-minute match with Finn Bálor that (1) gently improves his terrible entrance theme, (2) lets him look like a legitimate singles competitor against a respected, top-level WWE talent, (3) gives him a generous amount of impressive offense and (4) tells a good story that, if anyone was paying attention, could help get him over as a fully formed wrestling character.
Instead, the Charlie Bit My Finger-ass Brooklyn crowd starts playing with beach balls and not paying attention.
I know you’re supposed to “have fun” at wrestling shows, and wrestling fans can’t shade other wrestling fans for having their kind of fun at a wrestling show or whatever — I’ve listened to you, Internet — but can you imagine paying hundreds of dollars to go to Brooklyn and get floor seats for Raw just to not watch Raw and play with a beach ball? Can’t you hit up a Five Below and satiate your newborn baby kitten attention span there?
I guess the lesson we’re learning here is that doing several wrestling shows in a row in the same venue is a terrible idea, especially when each show is several, several hours long. Brooklyn got all of NXT TakeOver, all six hours of SummerSlam, and was now like two and a half hours into Raw. That is too much wrestling. No wrestling promotion in the world can put on that much wrestling three (or four!) days in a row in front of essentially the same batch of fans and keep them interested. It’d be like if New Japan ran the entire G1 climax in one building over four days. By the time you got to Omega/Naito you’d be falling asleep on your phone, match of the year be damned.
For my further thoughts on beach balls,
This Foghorn Leghorn version of Cena encouraging them didn’t help anything. The beach balls continue into the main event, and Cena’s like, climbing up on the turnbuckle and pointing at them. He’s making wacky faces and holding out his arms and doing the wave with everyone. Brother, how about you get them back into it? Or better yet, spend the entire match in a fucking abdominal stretch. Give them what they deserve.
Worst: Streets Behind
Two bits of bad news:
1. Despite shitting the bed in toto at SummerSlam, the Big Cass vs. Enzo Amore feud continued on Raw, and
2. The match ended prematurely when Cass hit the floor awkwardly and blew out his knee.
The only bit of good news, if there is any, is that the second one canceled out the first. But even that’s not good news, because knee injuries are no joke, and whether I’m invested in seeing Big Cass slow-talk his way through the worst big man matches of the year or not, nobody should have to experience them. In all seriousness, I hope the news is positive and that Cass doesn’t have to spend a year-plus on the shelf so soon after having the spotlight shined on him. Get well soon, Cass, and I hope to see you back on Raw making me type several angry paragraphs again soon.
Worst: Giving Away “Dream Matches” With No Promotion Whatsoever
While I wish WWE had the restraint to build up matches like Braun Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar and John Cena vs. Roman Reigns (and, uh, AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura) for WrestleMania so they’d be as “important” as WWE can make them, I can see why they’d want to do them as soon as possible. The ecosystem has changed, and it’s not all about pay-per-view revenue now, and so on. But that said, what’s the value in putting on a match like the Hardy Boyz vs. Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose without even announcing it ahead of time? You could’ve announced it for next week and gotten people excited about seeing it, or, I don’t know, announced it earlier in this same three-hour wrestling show so people would have a reason to stay tuned in? You’re just doing it to do it. Your creative team is just sitting in a room batting around a beach ball, right?
Best: The Match, Though
The actual match that occurred was the best match on the show, obviously, which adds another level to that promotional frustration. WWE is so great at publicity and public relations and getting over the moments and Superstars, but they’ve got such a blind spot when it comes to making people excited about seeing the actual working product they create.
Anyway, the Hardys are kinda rudderless without the Revival around, but their nostalgia act is still good in the ring and extremely over — 2 extremely over, in fact — so it is what it is. Dean Ambrose continues to be revitalized by this tag team run, and he and Rollins are a legitimately hot act that could carry that division AND put on great matches with a variety of teams for a long time. So that’s all well put-together. The crowd started drifting in the middle, but the teams kept working to get them back into it instead of, say, making Muppet faces at them for 10 minutes and asking them to throw them a beach ball.
Is it weird that the Hardy Boyz just kinda feel like another team in the division now? I hope it doesn’t stay like that. And I hope whatever hangups with the “broken universe” still exist get worked out, because Matt Hardy being 5% broken bums me the hell out. Pretty soon that “WANderful” and “delete” and “Brother Nero” shit’s gonna be a bunch of in-jokes nobody in the crowd still gets.
Best: The Matches They DO Promote
To continue on that “why not promote your product” tip, WWE does a pretty good job of promoting two upcoming matches: Akira Tozawa evoking his rematch against Charly Caruso’s Guest At This Time, Neville, and an Alexa Bliss vs. Sasha Banks Women’s Championship rematch. The Sasha/Alexa bit is extremely good, as it features Alexa pointing out that while Sasha is a four-time Raw Women’s Champion, she’s NEVER successfully defended it. Not only is that true, it adds some plausible doubt to the outcome of the rematch. Will Sasha Banks finally be able to win the Women’s Championship and actually KEEP it, or is she better at title wins than being a champion? And I mean, of course she’s winning, but it’s nice to have a story that suggests maybe she won’t.
And The Rest!
Nia Jax squashing Emma continued the depressing humiliation of Evil Emma, who should be one of the tentpoles of the women’s division. The announce team condescendingly laughing about how Emma “says” she started the women’s revolution is such bullshit. She didn’t single-handedly start it, no, but none of these current women’s matches would be any good if Emma and Paige hadn’t been good enough to give WWE-style women’s wrestling a buzz years ago when NXT was taking off. She’s the one person currently on your show responsible for that. Can you stop sticking your middle finger in her face every time she tries to exist?
Elias [Samson] squashes R-Truth as well, with the highlight definitely being Elias’ pre-match, Dynamite Hack-style cover of Truth’s entrance theme. I think Elias is my favorite talker on the show right now. His laid back delivery paired with his hilariously over-the-top insults about literally every city he’s in really do it for me, I don’t know.
Truth continues to be a character on the show, but Goldust doesn’t, because dot dot dot 700 question marks.
Finally we have a match involve the entire cruiserweight division, minus the four people who get to compete for the Cruiserweight Championship. It’s perfectly cromulent as a wrestling match, but such a missed opportunity. How much better would this be if it was WCW luchador style, with the wrestlers you employ because they do crazy shit nobody else can do were encouraged to do crazy shit nobody else can do and try to stand out? I mean, I know you want those Drew Gulak chinlocks worked in, but this should be BONKERS, not “average.”
Also, this is the match that made me notice that the cruiserweight division is exactly like the Smackdown women’s division. If you aren’t in a title match you just wrestle in these giant piles of match, and all the exciting or engaging wrestlers are babyfaces. The Smackdown women’s division has Becky Lynch, Charlotte and Naomi on one side with Tamina, Lana and Carmella on the other. That’s so lopsided. But here you’ve got boring Drew Gulak and boring Tony Nese and boring Noam Dar teaming up against living exclamation points Rich Swann, Cedric Alexander, Mustafa Ali (who should seriously be Cruiserweight Champion) and Gran goddamn Metalik. And that’s not to criticize the performers on the heel side. They’re all very good wrestlers — well, everyone but Tony Nese — they just are stuck in “very small regular heel” mode where it’s headlocks and light cheating and not a lot else.
And that’s the show. BYE.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
You know usually I don’t like handicap matches, but Joe, Cena, Reigns, and Miz vs. the entire Barclay’s Center is pretty brutal.
You know, for all the talk about cutting entrance budgets, Maryse still comes out looking like a million bucks
Fans: Why don’t we get good, fresh wrestling matches on Raw?
Also Fans: OOOOOH BEACH BALL
Jason Jordan Employee File: Suggestions for Improvement– stand closer to Chad Gable.
The Real Birdman
“I know John Cena inside and out. My wife and I used to dress up as him and his fiancee and get weird”
Matt Hardy over here handing out Side Effects like a pharmaceutical commercial.
Yes Way Jose
I don’t care, Matt Hardy still looks great after having 2 kids.
Matt Hardy moves like my dad when his arthritis flares up.
Miz’s promo just got me teen pregnant.
Oh I get it. We thought that Cena said “Certaint”, but what he said was ” Sir Taint”, because he was summoning Roman Reigns: Douche Knight
Join us on Tuesday night for three more hours of wrestling at the Barclays Center. And technically Wednesday night for another hour. LET’S JUST GO AHEAD AND DO NO MERCY ON THURSDAY AT THE BARCLAYS CENTER, GUYS.
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