Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: Braun and Kane threw a sit fit. Also, Cesaro and Roman Reigns had the best TV match not involving Braun Strowman of the year.
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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for December 18, 2017.
Worst: Another Kane Event
This week’s show opens with Kurt Angle making the Royal Rumble main event everyone expected: Brock Lesnar defending the Universal Championship against both Braun Strowman and Kane. Braun says he deserves the spot because, to quote the WWE 2K18 soundtrack, he was the last one standing. As you know if you’ve been watching Jinder Mahal all year, the ability to stand without falling over apparently earns you title matches. Kane says he deserves the shot because Brock Lesnar’s list of victims doesn’t include him, not counting the 2003 Royal Rumble or that attack on The Authority in 2015 I guess. Lesnar agrees to this because he’s hardcore, and he’ll take ’em both.
After the entirety of this recent Kane run and the aforementioned year of Jinder, I’d kinda like my respective WWE title scenes to, you know, contain people who are (1) exciting wrestlers that put on good matches I can be interested in or (2) are under 50 years old or (3) both. I’m guessing Kane’s just there to take the L so Braun can get another title shot without getting pinned again — and the title match won’t main event, it’ll get crammed between the two Royal Rumble matches — so whatever. Just don’t give me a surprise Kane win.
Note: Am I the only one who wanted this segment to end with Kurt Angle suplexing everybody?
Best: Next Week, Survivor Series Team Smackdown Member John Cena Returns To Raw
EXCLUSIVE: John Cena to take time off after next week’s Raw.
BEST: TOP GUISE
This week’s best new is the return of THE REVIVAL, a pair of Top Guys who dare to be a team of normal dudes in matching trunks who break the shit out of everyone with wrestling moves instead of being cartoonish, hairless fitness monsters like the rest of both shows’ rosters.
They’re the greatest, and 2017’s most disappointing “actually affecting the wrestling” news was Dash Wilder getting injured, and then as soon as he got better Scott Dawson got injured. Now they’re both healthy, apparently, and dear lord, let’s keep it that way. Raw’s tag team division desperately needs a functioning, successful tag team that isn’t The Shield or The Bar.
Here they get to trounce Heath Slater and Rhyno, setting up what is either another tag team breakup angle a la the Hype Brothers or our intro to Rhyno “toughening up” Slater by suspending him from hooks and beating him with a barbed-wire baseball bat.
Worst (With Some Best): Running Four Matches On The Same Show With The Same Structural Set-up
Before you get worried that I’m going to do that thing where I get fussy negative and crap all over the show for being itself, don’t. There’s a lot of good here as well, so I’ll try to point it out. For example, Jason Jordan got another 20-minute match with a top star and looked great in the ring, but came up short. Being good in the ring has never been Jason Jordan’s problem, and hey, the show following the opening promo with 20 minutes of wrestling isn’t something I’m going to complain about.
There are, however, some creative inconsistencies. You know that Teddy Long thing where a match goes badly for someone and they get attacked or ganged up on or whatever, so Teddy shows up and restarts the match as a new match featuring everyone in the ring? They do that twice on this same Raw, resulting in four matches that are actually only two, but still take up an hour of the program.
The first is this Jason Jordan vs. Seth Rollins match, which is supposed to be for a chance to face Samoa Joe. Joe’s at ringside and looks like he’s going to interfere, but Rollins knocks him out with a superkick, hits Jordan with the ripcord knee that really needs an official name instead of three rotating half-names, and wins the match. Joe attacks him afterward, and based on all information provided, that should’ve set up Rollins vs. Joe for later. Right? Except no, Kurt Angle makes it Rollins AND Jason Jordan and Dean Ambrose for some raisin against Samoa Joe plus The Bar.
That match is fine, but mostly built around setting up a fake injury for Ambrose that’s reportedly covering for a real one. The heels win by ganging up on Rollins, and then jump Ambrose and Rollins backstage to further injure them. Roman Reigns is nowhere to be found during this, because he’s a great friend who was like, “y’all gonna come out here wearing your singles gear, I’m gonna keep my dog-themed swat-team ass at home.”
Note: I don’t wish an injury on anyone, but it would be pretty funny if Ambrose hurt himself on that suicide dive, because it’d be the first time that move hurt anybody.
This trope gets repeated later when Finn Bálor, the Extraordinary Man with Nothing To Extra Ordinarily Do, is about to defeat Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel in a handicap match. Bo and Ax get disqualified via WWE’s worst finish, “kicking too much ass.” As Finn is getting his ass kicked, possibly for having that lame t-shirt about how not over he is, a debuting (and technically “returning”) Hideo Itami shows up to make the save.
In the same vein as the Jordan/Rollins match, hey, Hideo Itami is here! He’s doing running knees and the Go To Sleep on Raw! That’s super cool. Goddamn KENTA is on Raw.
On the negative side, it’s a handicap match ending in a “too much fighting” DQ to set up a tag team match featuring the same dudes. Woof. Plus, this is the very first wrestling move Itami attempts after making his big debut hot tag:
Did Axel think he was supposed to hit an Attitude Adjustment to counter that? I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guy take a tornado DDT by standing still, waiting for his opponent to fall awkwardly over the ropes, then pretend he got kneed in the face by nothing. Poor Hideo Itami just can’t catch a break.
Plus, when all’s said and done, Finn Bálor won two straight matches on Raw including a 2-on-1 handicap match and a tag match featuring a surprise debuting partner and he’s no better off for it. I guess you can’t type “I’m over Finn Bálor” without “over.” Can we just add him to 205 Live, too?
Worst: Another Too Much Fighting Disqualification
If all that’s not enough, the main event — Absolution vs. Sasha Banks, Bayley and Mickie James — ends via disqualification when Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville won’t stop beating up Sasha. You know, if the referee’s gonna throw these matches out, the fucking LEAST he could do is pretend like he’s trying to break it up and regain control first. Referee Seth Meyers just stands there making “oh no” hands and then walks away ringing the bell. Hey ref, you’re a performer, too. Get your ass in there and make it look like chaos you can’t handle and have to stop the match over.
This is, of course, to set up the Raw women’s division hitting the ring and having another impromptu battle royal, which is an entire other thing.
Worst: “Please Clap”
I don’t know why I thought Shane would be the McMahon to do this. I forgot that the point of WWE’s female Superstars making all this history and doing First Time Ever™ everythings is for the glory of the inventor of women’s wrestling, Stephanie McMahon.
So Steph shows up in a limo two hours and 20 minutes into a show she’s supposed to be running. When the Raw women are going crazy attacking each other, Stephanie’s music hits and they all stop fighting to stand and stare at her in awe. How hilarious is that? The announce team is like, “WHEN YOUR NAME IS MCMAHON, YOU COMMAND RESPECT!”
As you may know, Stephanie has a history of pointlessly lording herself over the entire women’s division, reminding them how worthless they all are and how she’s in charge, then turning around and praising them for being a part of a revolutionary Stephanie McMahon decision. It’s wildly inconsistent, partially because Stephanie McMahon the conniving Evil McMahon Character and Stephanie McMahon the cool progressive real-life business lady don’t have a hard enough line drawn between them, and happen simultaneously on the show. She told me once that it was “acting,” but I don’t think she gets that she can’t be a fictional character and a non-fictional character on the same TV show.
Here, once all the women are like, “wow, it’s Stephanie McMahon,” Stephanie makes a very cool announcement: the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble match. Instead of like, letting that announcement carry itself, Steph builds it up a little too much running down WWE’s list of Historic Firsts She’s Spearheaded, then makes it awkward with an, “if there’s ever been a time for a YES Chant, it’s now!” Damn, Steph, let us get there. You aren’t a living APPLAUSE sign. It’s one of those WWE things where they tell you how to feel instead of making you feel it, because it’s easier to say they’ve done something than to do it.
At the end of the day, a women’s Royal Rumble is a great idea, and I’m excited to see it, especially if they bring in famous Divas from the past and bump it up to 30 women. I want a LayCool reunion in my first women’s Royal Rumble. I want the return of Kelly Kelly and for someone to clothesline her over the top when she gets Irish whipped and is terrified of touching the ropes. And more than anything in the world, I want Absolution to have a 3-on-3 staredown with the Riott Squad that results in all three Riott Squad members getting tossed over the top like jokes simultaneously.
And James Ellsworth is winning the first women’s Royal Rumble, right?
Best: I Think I Ship Elias And Mickie James Now
The intro to the match was fun, though, with Elias trying to perform a song about how Rhode Island sucks (after a lengthy explanation of how Tom Brady gets inspired to cheat at football by listening to Elias on game day *chef kiss*) and getting interrupted by Sasha Banks (who has a musical relative) and Mickie James (who has a music). Now all I want is for Elias to play guitar in a live performance of HARDCORE COUNTRY on Raw. Or better yet, the legitimately good country song ‘Somebody’s Gonna Pay,’ which sounds like the intro to American Males when it starts.
The highlight of the entire Raw is the interaction between Elias and Bayley. I’ve missed the Bayley that actually tries to hug people because she loves them, and doesn’t just wear shirts that says she likes to hug. Also, try to look at Elias marking out for him being a jerk as he passes her and not love him:
when u nut but she still sucking
Best: Let’s Hope Asuka Enters At #1 In The Women’s Royal Rumble And Wins It All
That brings up a good question about the women’s Rumble. Do you win anything for winning it? Like, a shot at the Women’s Championship of your brand at WrestleMania or something? If Asuka doesn’t win, I’m guessing it’ll be because Ronda Rousey shows up and tosses her out to set up the Battle of the Armbars at WrestleMania. Getting eliminated in a Royal Rumble doesn’t count as a loss, does it?
Best: Uh What’s Up Dana Brooke
Judging by the Internet’s (and my) reaction to Director of Statistics (or whatever) Dana Brooke, she’s the Reverse Superman. When she’s out there looking muscular and fighting, everyone hates her. When she puts on the suit and glasses? Instant hero.
I love the fact that she showed up at the end of the show in her gear just to be part of a battle royal run-in, suggesting that she was wearing her gear under the suit and like, Christopher Reeve’d it off as she was running to the ring.
Worst: Enzo On Commentary Ruins The Cruiserweight Number One Contender Match
1. Recently, the announce team’s love of shout-arguing with each other for ENTIRE MATCHES has made the product worse. I don’t know a direct way to say it. It’s not adding anything to the matches, it’s not getting anyone or their stories or their characters over, and it’s not even entertaining. It’s not the playful joshing between Bobby Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon, or even the comical hatred of Bobby Heenan and Lee Marshall. It’s just dudes who don’t know what they’re talking about INSISTING, over and over, that they’re right and the other guys are stupid. Stop it, please. Adding Enzo to the end of the table to yell baby talk while checking his phone doesn’t make it any better.
2. There’s nothing WWE loves more than throwing out a baby with the bath water. If they’ve planned something like Rich Swann vs. Drew Gulak for the number one contendership to Enzo’s Cruiserweight Championship and Swann gets in trouble in real life, you’d assume the guy still booked in the match would like, win? Right? Except no, if WWE has to call an audible ever, the new thing they added is going to be the winner. If Bayley’s supposed to face the women’s champion and gets hurt, whoever’s replacing her is suddenly going to win and be women’s champion. Here, Cedric Alexander is suddenly the number one contender to Enzo’s title even though he wasn’t originally even scheduled to be in the match, and Drew Gulak is the one with weeks of story build-up. Hell, Tony Nese has more of a reason to fight Enzo than Cedric does.
Even the backstage segment after the match builds up Enzo vs. Gulak more than anything else. A huge supplemental Best to this season’s WWE MVP Gabba Gulak for cutting a breathless apology promo while bleeding from the face to ruin Enzo’s “side into your DMs” game.
In a related note, I really hope the payoff to this Nia/Enzo angle is that Nia keeps trying to get him alone so she can beat him within an inch of his life without anyone getting in the way.
Best: Matt Hardy Playing Chess With Like A Third Of The Pieces Against A Goldfish Containing The Soul Of French Statesman And Military Leader Napoléon Bonaparte
I feel like these segments are going to get really good when they give Matt a little creative control and let him film them at the Hardy Compound, instead of in that Olan Mills studio they make guys cut two months of promos in when they don’t get to be on the show. And I really hope that fish bowl contains water from the Lake of Reincarnation.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Asuka draws the first entry spot, the last remaining divas Bushwhacker Luke their way over the ropes for the following 20 minutes.
Asuka has the look of someone who felt this was another meeting that could’ve been handled as an email
Baron Von Raschke
HHH: Their fighting! The crowd is getting into it! Finally!
Steph: Hit my music! Time for the main event
HHH: I can’t believe I’m in this family now.
Elias: “You know the words, ladies.”
Elias: HARDCORE COUNTRY
Big Baby Yeezus
Can anyone really walk with Elias when he’s carrying the whole show?
The Real Birdman
Rollins: “Roman Reigns isn’t here tonight”
Ambrose: “Well who’s gonna absorb all the boos we get”
Angle: “I know just the guy”
Last Week: Fox Studios became property of Disney This Week: Alicia Fox’s arm became property of Asuka.
“150 slides on why this situation is, in fact, presumably a trap.” -Admiral Gulakbar
Finn: Thanks for the help but, but why didn’t you come help me back when I was getting jumped by Bray Wyatt?
Hideo: sorry but my career is already rocky as it is, I couldn’t afford to get stuck in a feud with Bray
Finn: I guess that’s fair enough…
Bray Wyatt: “What is it that draws ya’ll to awoken Matt Hardy? Please tell me, I’ve been doing this for years and no one seems to like me.”
You know the Yes Movement was against you, right?
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