Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: Matt Hardy finally became “woken,” Nia Jax decided she had a thing for Enzo Amore, and The Bar retained the Tag Team Championship against The Shield thanks to the quickness of Samoa Joe and the unbelievable slowness of Roman Reigns.
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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for December 11, 2017.
Best: The Shield, In Thirds
This week’s show starts off with a pretty underwhelming segment in which Roman Reigns decides to go fight a guy in the middle of the ring without his two similarly dressed friends, despite it clearly being a trap. Roman gets beaten up by three guys, and by the time his friends get out there The Damned Numbers Game™ is against them and they get beaten up, too. The Shield gets piled, and that sets up the night’s matches:
- Dean Ambrose vs. Samoa Joe for The First Time Ever®
- Roman Reigns vs. Cesaro
- Seth Rollins vs. the wee baby Sheamus
The upside here is that one of those matches is fantastic, one of them is pretty good, and the third isn’t great but is perfectly watchable before the corny finish. If you know anything about how to properly rank the members of The Shield, you already know which one is which.
Up first is Seth Rollins vs. Sheamus, which is full of a lot of great limb work and selling, but shines a light on an unfortunate creative decision: having Seth Rollins’ surgically-repaired knee be the thing all his opponents target and work the entire match, but still having Rollins’ entire offense be “jumping” and “hitting people with my knee.” When he used the Pedigree the knee damage was at least incidental. The Ripcord Knee didn’t use the knee Sheamus worked, but his finish is still jumping on that one hurt leg and throwing his other fragile knee at you. But hey, at this point I’m willing to let that “adrenaline” talking point get me through most of it.
Rollins winning early sorta telegraphed the remaining matches. You know Roman’s not losing the Intercontinental Championship to Cesaro — or losing at all — which meant Ambrose was destined to be the one guy on the team that lost. Sure enough, that’s what we got.
+1 to Dean Ambrose for realizing he shouldn’t tell Renee Young his strategy for this match before it happens with a bunch of television cameras around, then minus all earned ones for having to lose said match via a Jason Jordan distraction.
Joe tried to have a match with Roman Reigns last week, but Jason Jordan showed up and got one instead, because Kurt Angle isn’t even kinda secretive about his nepotism. Joe was like, “sure, I’ll sit in this chair like A.C. Slater and watch the match unfold and just jump Roman afterward,” but Jordan got in the way of THAT, too. So Joe trucked him backstage in grand fashion, and now Jordan’s not only giving Angle a passive-aggressive guilt trip about trying to book a show without a bunch of flashing arrows pointing at JASON JORDAN, he’s Slatering during Joe’s match and, for some reason, interfering to keep him from losing.
Ambrose isn’t one to look a cornball fuck-finish in the mouth, so he leaves his match with the extremely dangerous Samoa Joe to go forehead-to-forehead with Jordan on the floor. Head. Floorhead. Jordan tries to suplex Ambrose on the floor, so Joe wrecks them both and chokes out Dean. Because for real, Joe is a lot more important to Jason than Jason is to Joe.
Not the best stuff in the world, but it got the point across, set up Ambrose as the possible weak link of The Shield, and eased us toward Samoa Joe’s Biblical eradication of Kurt Angle’s bratty-ass blue-chipper son.
The best of the three matches by far, because duh, is Roman Reigns vs. Cesaro for the Intercontinental Championship. Who knew that turning Roman Reigns into a relatively quiet workhorse secondary champion flanked by The Shield who busts his ass in 15-minute title defenses against the best workers on the show every week would make him popular and one of the best parts of the show? Besides everyone ever? I mean, besides that one 70-year old in the zoot suit who was like, “NO, MAKE HIM SAY NURSERY RHYMES, GIVE HIM 60 MATCHES WITH BRAY WYATT.”
Roman Reigns and Cesaro is a great pairing because Roman’s always better when he’s facing a guy who can legitimately kick his ass and make him sell, and Cesaro can legitimately kick anybody’s ass. The way Roman’s character is booked made the match result an inevitability — similar to what was going on during the John Cena United States Open Challenge, where yeah, he’s going 13 minutes with Stardust or whatever and it’s great, but you know the challenge is more important than the challenger and he’s not actually winning it, no matter how many nearfalls he gets — but Cesaro’s such a believable, credible performer and we WANT him to win a big match like this so badly that we can at least pretend suspension of disbelief has crept in.
All I can say is that I hope when it’s time for Roman to actually lose the championship and move on to main-eventing WrestleMania or whatever, Cesaro’s the guy they hand the ball to. And instead of having him be a coward who loses all the time, make him the heel Roman … a guy who has great matches with a wide variety of opponents every week, and wins because he’s really hard to beat. Then when somebody beats him, it’ll matter, and won’t just be modern WWE’s uninspired Go Fish game of wins and losses.
Also, give him the Pulitzer Prize in the field of Pro Wrestling for working the arm to set up that counter to the Superman Punch.
Best: Which Swann?
Also good-to-great on this show as the cruiserweight fatal four-way, booked as a “second chance” for a shot at Drew Gulak in a number one contender match for the Cruiserweight Championship because Rich Swann something something collar-tug.
That story’s unfortunate as hell, but at least it necessitated our third fatal four-way in as many weeks, and gave us another 13 minutes of the cruisers getting to bust ass and be exciting because they actually have the time and the platform to do it. I’m a little sad that WWE slotted in Cedric Alexander in place of Rich Swann instead of finally kinda sorta maybe understanding that Mustafa Ali fucking owns, but whoever wins is just gonna lose to Gulak anyway, so it’s fine.
Speaking of Gulak, what a marvelous, unexpected MVP for the company this guy’s been over the past few months. The PowerPoint presentation stuff was hilarious, sure, but he’s parlayed that into an actual, functioning character that CONTINUES to be funny because of how he responds to thinks and reacts to situations. He’s character-based comedy. WWE comedy is usually The King of Queens and brother’s over here doing Parks and Recreation.
“Informative!” could be a top-shelf catchphrase if they play it right, but I especially loved him constantly deflecting Michael Cole’s questions about whether or not he’d face his boss Enzo Amore in a match with political double-talk. Cole presses him, and Gulak just restates his general stance on unrelated issues and basically gives the Bill Clinton barely-thumbs-up in aural form. Outstanding. The one remaining criticism of the cruiserweight division is that they’re just lumped into “good” and “bad” without any real characters, at least on Raw, so being a wrestler you can actually describe without saying the color of his skin or what country he’s from is a major, major plus. Like, try to describe Cedric Alexander the WWE character. Describe Ariya Daivari. They’re types, not characters. At least Rich Swann had “likes to dance,” like he was a damn child from Yo Gabba-Gabba.
Worst: I Was Saying Boo-lor
Last week Finn Bálor pinned Bo Dallas, so this week he has to pin Curtis Axel. It is what it is. Now that Bray Wyatt’s busy having laugh fights with Matt Hardy, Finn’s got SUPER nothing to do. He’s an extraordinary man who does EXTRA ordinary things! Which means he … uh, does more ordinary things than a normal man! Also, we don’t know that “extraordinary” and “extraordinary” are the same word!
Best: Absolution Is A Mystery
Absolution won the opening tag match against Sasha Banks, Bayley and Mickie James, and how did they do it?
One of the defining characteristics of the “women’s revolution” has been that even when they were specifically portioned off into teams of three, nobody got along. Everyone kinda hates everyone, and gets stuck teaming in these vague alliances of “happy pointers” and “mean ladies,” especially on Smackdown. On Raw, the beefs tend to be more individual, and even Sasha and Bayley — who are supposed to be Best Friends Forever — will go from side-hugging as they walk to like, costing each other pins the second conflict presents itself.
I like the idea that Paige took a step back from that scene, formed a tightly-knit group of partners, and returned to just dominate everybody. Three women actually working together toward a common goal can be a major force in the WWE, as seen here, with Absolution working together and winning pretty easily against the show’s top three female faces.
They return later in the show to roll the dice again, assuming that if their team can beat Bayley, Sasha and Mickie with relative ease, they can probably win a 3-on-1 fight against the single greatest one-woman force in the company, Asuka. She puts up a fight, but it looks like they’re actually going to win … until the ENTIRE women’s division shows up to shift the Damned Numbers Game™ to 8-on-3. Absolution is forced to bail, and the Raw women look like they’ve got brains again for the first time in a while.
There have been rumors of a women’s Royal Rumble going around for a while, so I liked this as a precursor to that. If Absolution goes into a Royal Rumble scenario against, say, 17 other women or whatever and they’re the only group that gives a shit to work together, they should win easily. If you establish that the other female Superstars understand this and are willing to put aside their differences to make sure they aren’t picked off one-by-one by Paige’s evil girl gang, it makes them doing it in the Rumble seem like a logical followup and not a thing they all suddenly decided via hivemind.
Plus, how hilarious is it gonna be when they try to do the Absolution vs. Riott Squad showdown in the middle of that Rumble? I feel like Sonya Deville should be able to beat up the three of them by herself. Sarah Logan’s gonna get tossed over the ropes by her own larynx.
Please Do More Than One Thing With Woken Matt
I’m a little worried that “funny laughing” is the only thing Vince McMahon knows about the Broken Universe. Last week, they had Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt do dueling TitanTron videos that ended with them laughing at each other, and it was a lot of fun. This week they did the exact same thing, only they added slick production bumpers between them and made it last twice as long. And they didn’t do anything but funny laugh for most of it.
I’m not gonna abandon ship in week two, but WWE, if you’re reading this, please understand that one of the most fun things about what the Hardys were doing in TNA is that they were creating a universe, and every single week that story would move forward and introduce new quirks. Like, yeah, Matt’s hair is weird and he has a funny voice, but that’s not everything. The last thing we need is another Goldust Classic situation where they sit in a room for a month cutting the same taped promo over and over for two months until everyone’s lost interest. Let the Woken Universe grow, and let Hardy produce these things himself. You’ve got a great production team, but that is a billion percent not going to help these.
In other words, less “Wyatt Compound brawl with New Day,” more “Matt using drones to distract his brother so he can mow over his customized landscaping.”
Worst: NO MORE KANE EVER
Finally this week we have … something?
It’s supposed to be Kane vs. Braun Strowman to see who faces Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship at the Royal Rumble, but I think everyone’s brains automatically went to “triple threat” when Cole wouldn’t shut up about how Kane’s never faced Brock.
Much like the garbage truck murder at TLC and the powerslam through the ring from last month, Braun Strowman vs. Kane matches try to capture the BIG MEN DOIN’ STUNTS magic of Strowman vs. Big Show, but Kane is not Big Show. Kane’s probably the worst regularly successful main event WWE wrestler of the past 20 years, man, he’s slow as shit and from another era and his face looks like the Universal Championship. Ironically, nothing he does has any fire behind it. This is just slow chokeslams to set up some lazy images and bad weapon spots. Show vs. Braun had this giant urgency behind it, which made the stunt spots pop. This is just a been-there done that with the company’s next big thing having to pretend he’s on the same level as this elderly mayoral candidate in a Party City costume. It’s bullshit.
And that’s a shame, because Braun Strowman can make almost ANYTHING fun to watch. The best moment of the entire thing is the dueling sit-up, which yanks from the much better imagery of Lesnar and Undertaker sitting in the middle of the ring laughing at each other. I guess it’s not a good sign when they decide to air a lengthy video package and then go to commercial with five minutes left in the show, and then spend an entire break “reinforcing the ring” when the big damage spot happens on the barricade.
The worst part, I guess, is that it sets up ANOTHER Kane match … this one a pay-per-view main event. In 20-goddamn-18. For KANE. And he’s only in it so Braun Strowman can not win the Universal Championship again without having to take the pin, which everybody got mad about at No Mercy. And/or it’s to set up a Kane Universal Championship run. Oh, also we’re probably going to have another STAIRS MATCH. Didn’t we suffer enough in 2017?
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
The Real Birdman
How can you end on a cliffhanger 7 weeks away from the Rumble?!??
Millions of Danas…
Millions of Danas…
That nonchalant senton on Jordan before casually rolling into the ring to finish off Ambrose might be the best thing I’ve seen on tv all month.
Kurt: Those situation we’re in is not easy for me.
Jason: You mean being my father?
Kurt: No, this storyline. I have no idea where this is going.
Cesaro winning the SHIT out of his Quick Time Events tonight!
I can’t wait for the day when there will be peace in the middle east, and in front of a sold out crowd in Tehran, Triple H pins Ariya Daivari, Mustafa Ali, and probably Noam Dar and Sami Zayn all at the same time.
Baron Von Raschke
Gulak: It’s an honor, Mr. T!
Shut it down! Shut it all down! Can we just have #Drewtopia on commentary for the rest of the night?
these two dorky youth pastors mocking Finn Balor is gold
Woken Matt has already done more for the lore of the Wyatt Family than WWE Creative has in 4 years.
drew looks like the A+ student tutoring Enzo in exchange for Enzo teaching him how to get the girl
That’s it for this week. A very good Raw from an in-ring perspective, even if Kane dragged down Braun, and not even a bad Raw from a story perspective, assuming the Woken Matt stuff actually goes somewhere. Join us this weekend for Clash of Champions, which is all over the Raw video clips despite having nothing to do with Raw, because the brands are VERY DIFFERENT.
Throw us a Facebook like and a Twitter share if you can, and drop a comment to let us know what you thought of the show. And remember, as the holidays approach, take time to hug the ones you love.
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