Because it lasted a really long time, get it?
Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: Braun Strowman because Braun Showman and attempted to win some sort of humanitarian award for playing a standup bass like a guitar, accidentally breaking it, then breaking it on purpose using Elias’ body.
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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for February 19, 2018.
Best: Gauntlet Legends
So here’s something I didn’t expect to type, especially when I was doing the text for the open thread: Raw started with the seven-person gauntlet match for [checks notes] “momentum” heading into the Elimination Chamber, and kept having that match for almost two hours. Since there’s a lot to unpack, I’ll do what I did with this year’s Royal Rumble report and ape Shoemaker’s 10-point format.
1. Firstly and most importantly, after all this time, Seth Rollins finally earned his middle name. I honestly can’t remember a moment that felt more like a star being born than this one. A couple of weeks ago Rollins wasn’t even in the Elimination Chamber match, and seemingly got added to a match with no free space because his existing feud got put on hold. Now, in one of the most pure hours of in-ring action in the history of the program, Rollins defeated both Roman Reigns and John Cena — a guy who hasn’t lost clean on Raw since 2009 — clean as a sheet. He beats Reigns with a roll-up after a series of counters, and beats Cena with another choice counter, a knee to the mush, a kick to the guts and a stomp to the back of the head. Comparing it to something like Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 30 is ridiculous, but if you scale it down to Raw size, it’s comparable. Just absolutely unreal.
2. What’s the play here? Rollins lasts for an hour and change and leaves the match “hurt” in some way — maybe an injury announced later this week, or even on Sunday — so Kurt Angle takes him out of the Chamber match, setting up Rollins and Angle at WrestleMania?
3. There was also something wonderful about the way the picture-in-picture interviews with eliminated wrestlers were done. Renee Young approached them like a sideline interview at a football game, and for the most part, the wrestlers stayed low key and just had conversations about what they were thinking and feeling. Honestly, Cena’s bit might’ve been the most sincere John Cena The Character has sounded in a long-ass time.
4. It’s still dumb for Cena’s whole angle to be “I won’t have a road to WrestleMania for the first time in a decade and a half if I don’t win at Elimination Chamber” when he wasn’t on the card two years ago, but I already covered that.
5. In a related story,
6. I liked the order of the entrants here a lot. You take the two guys you expect to win everything — John Cena and Roman Reigns — and put them into the match early. You could believe that either of them could run the table and win it all, so Rollins beating not only one but BOTH of them felt like an exceptional upending of expectation. It’s mostly impossible to imagine Rollins could win a third match after being out there for almost 70 minutes and beating the top two guys on the show, so you make his opponent in match three the least accomplished/threatening of the group, Elias. Elias wins (without a lot of bullshit, thankfully), and you get the impression he wouldn’t have if not for the way a gauntlet’s set up.
The next entrant is Finn Bálor, a guy the crowd likes but doesn’t really have much of a reason to care about — plus, he’s wrestling Elias — so they can be happy enough, but chill out. Finn wins, because he’s fresh, and not pre-beaten-down. It’s still a good effort from Elias.
7. After everyone’s chilled, you bring out The Miz to dump an entire bucket of bullshit on Bálor. This works because you avoided it all during Elias/Rollins and Elias/Bálor. Team Miz wins, because they are impossible and fortunate jerks, and now the crowd’s (1) rested enough and (2) ready to see a guy like The Miz get shit-kicked. Enter the Kicker of Shit: Braun Strowman.
8. Strowman, who is getting Goldberg-style chants now, instantly freshens up the match by chasing Miz outside of the ring. It’s one of those situations where you know the result, and Miz’s role is to get in more offense than you were expecting and prolong the inevitable. Miz looks pretty good by not immediately getting murked by Strowman — something Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel can’t claim — and Strowman gets a little karmic revenge over the guy who, unless we’re not supposed to remember anymore, tried to murder him in a garbage truck trash compactor.
9. Now you’ve not only “built momentum” or whatever for the Chamber, you’ve used two hours of gauntlet match to add a number of layers and actually clarify the fighters’ motivations. Rollins did something amazing on Raw, but stays humble and says none of it matters unless he wins at Elimination Chamber. Cena’s still super concerned about his imagined loss of a WrestleMania spot, but that’s consistent, and him breaking out all his super moves and still losing actually gives it some gravity. Elias illustrated the advantage of entering the Chamber match last by showing up at an advantageous moment in the gauntlet to pick Rollins’ bones, instead of just shouting THIS IS AN ADVANTAGE into the wind. Finn will be happy to be in the cage where he can’t get cheated by the Miztourage, which again, he’s not just saying, they’re showing using a wrestling match in the same episode it’s said. Roman Reigns is a dick. Everyone has motivation!
10. So yeah, I can’t say enough how much I liked and appreciated this. It took what could’ve just been a match for nothing and a clunky, stale trope to tentpole the same “all the guys from the multi-man PPV match we announced have other matches against each other for a month on loop” and turned it into something that felt constructive and fresh, using the combined powers of
- clear character motivations
- excellent match structure and pacing
- knowing what the crowd thinks and expects, and playing on that instead of ignoring it and seemingly arbitrarily doing what you want
- good wrestling
- plenty of time in which to wrestle
- individual spotlight moments for every wrestler in the match
- in-ring action that tells a story, instead of by-the-numbers action with the story insisted on top of it
- wrestling fans watching the wrestling show to see wrestlers wrestle
- a variety of moods, from “WWE main event style” at its best (the first two falls) to carnie bullshit (The Miztourage) to spectacle (cult hero Braun Strowman)
- mostly clean finishes, so the finish that wasn’t clean stood out and mattered
Those things came together like the fucking Planeteers and made this on-paper filler an in-reality success. Probably the best use of two hours I can remember Raw doing, and after watching hour three, it’s without a doubt the best argument for a two hour show.
Worst: Just Start The Modern Family Episodes An Hour Early
Now is the Ariel Winter of our discontent.
Yeah, the gauntlet match is pretty much all this Raw had going for it. That’s a lot, so I’m definitely giving the show as a whole a thumbs up, with a strong recommendation to find something better to do when the gauntlet’s over. Hour three of this so-far exceptional Raw feels like hour two in the middle of a bad one. I wouldn’t call it Smackdown bad, but I’m not sure I’d call ischemic heart disease as bad as Smackdown.
Ronda Rousey still isn’t here, but at least the videos have expanded from just pointing to her actually fighting, like when the videos in WCW went from “GLACIER IS COMING” to Glacier also doing snow karate.
As The Halliburton Turns
I’m convinced this is a long con where WWE says they’re inducting Jeff Jarrett into the Hall of Fame just to get him to New Orleans, get him all comfortable up on stage and then Carrie him. Or the Hall is when Jarrett calls for Order 66 and activates all the TNA sleeper agents on the roster.
I think my biggest complaint is that they’ve forgotten that The Roadie sang ‘With My Baby Tonight,’ not Jarrett. Maybe Road Dogg doesn’t remember and they don’t want to freak him out in the middle of Smackdown’s cool year-long Player Coach Shane McMahon angle.
This Is Still Happening
Worst: Making The Japanese Stars Cut Lengthy Live Promos In English In The Middle Of The Ring
I really wish they’d stop doing this with her and Nakamura, where they’re like, “you speak some English, go out there and cut a long recap promo full of wacky phrases like Roman Reigns would.” ESPECIALLY with Asuka. Nakamura’s got some fun extroverted weirdness about him, but Asuka’s whole thing is silent, smiley unease followed by screaming and kicking. She’s a lot less threatening when she’s trying to communicate like a normal WWE person. Like, can you imagine Brock Lesnar cutting Reigns promos like that? Where he’s like, “I am in control of my own destiny, and this Sunday, I will defeat you at Elimination Chamber!”
It’s not the worst Worst to give — the post-interview attack from Nia was more of the same we’ve seen, in an attempt to get us to buy Nia as a threat to Asuka, so same there — but it doesn’t seem like the best use of your time or talent. It’s like the people writing segments for some of these wrestlers don’t really know the wrestlers’ strengths and weaknesses. It’s fine, but everything in hour three feels like a leftover draft from last week.
Worst: The Other Two Matches On The Episode Are CHALLENGER HAS PINNED THE CHAMPION! Matches
The more boring of the two is Titus Worldwide vs. Raw Tag Team Champions The Bar, featuring the former Apollo Crews, now simply known as “Apollo.” Honestly it’s hard to tell whether losing part of your name now means they like you more or they like you less. Can’t wait for them to change Titus O’Neil’s name to “Titus,” Dana Brooke’s name to “Dana,” and Akira Tozawa’s name to “there are only three people in this group, sorry.”
Not a lot happens, and then Apollo pins Cesaro with a schoolboy. Titus Worldwide has pinned the Tag Team Champions! Because we need another match at the pay-per-view, quick!
The better of the two is Bayley, Sasha Banks and Mickie James in a six-woman tag against Alexa Bliss, Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville. Highlights include …
… okay, maybe “highlights” isn’t the word.
Like the Titus Pals vs. The Bar, it’s fine, but completely disposable, and only here for the champion to lose — Sasha Banks has defeated the Raw Women’s Champion! — so someone can “build momentum” against them heading into the pay-per-view. The announce team has a real Minecraft thing happening with momentum building, they can’t get enough of it. If you can’t handle me at my creating separation, you don’t deserve me at my building momentum.
It’s also here so that Mickie James can return the favor to Alexa Bliss and save her from a post-match Absolution beatdown. Bliss tried to suck up to Mickie and help her so she’d have an ally in the Elimination Chamber, and now Mickie’s helping Bliss, probably to set up a big roll-up at the pay-per-view. A roll-up that can shorten careers.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
The Real Birdman
Vince: “Alright Hunter, I’ll give you one match you can book tonight, but I’m doing the rest of the show”
HHH: “Deal! Hey Seth, c’mere a minute”
We’ll all have our minds blown when it’s revealed that Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy are really Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn sent back in time after fighting for 200 years.
Sorry Matt, the writing team has had a three year headstart on rendering Bray obsolete
LIKE MIMI ROGERS, NICOLE KIDMAN AND KATIE HOLMES, APOLLO HAS DIVORCED HIMSELF FROM CREWS!
Is this a joke? The guy didn’t even sing his own songs…
Asuka’s smiling because she thinks she’s next in the Gauntlet Match.
I better be able to buy a ROLLINS 1:05 shirt next week
The rib tape….IT DOES NOTHING!
If you’d tuned out of Raw for the past 10 minutes, you could be forgiven for thinking Finn came out after Cena, and Rollins has been in the ring so long he now has a full beard.
WWE Creative: This is just us blatantly showing fans we had no ideas for tonight’s final Raw before Elimination Chamber.
Fans: Thank you.
That’s it for this week. All in all, this felt like an upside down Raw, or like that one weird Nitro where the first hour was just promos and commercials. The gauntlet match was money, and then we were all like, whoops, there’s another hour. What do we do? TITUS WORLDWIDE GET OUT THERE!
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Be sure to join us this Sunday for Elimination Chamber — I’ll be there live on Sunday, if you wanna find me and say hi — and on Monday for all the fallout. Plus, the WWE Universe being punished for enjoying so much wrestling on this one episode of Raw! Next week we’re talking for 45 minutes to set up some tag matches.
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