Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: Sasha Banks dove face-first into the ground trying to beat Asuka, but failed. Plus, Braun Strowman attempted to crush Kane to death under a section of stage so he wouldn’t have to wrestle Kane again.
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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for February 5, 2018.
Best: A Continued Focus On In-Ring Competition
Last week’s show improved upon the past … what, ten months of shows (?) by refocusing on the in-ring competition, so even when the show’s boring, it’s wrestling boring, not sports-entertainment boring. That’s always been my preference. Unless it’s special, I’d rather watch well done but kinda boring pro wrestling than half-assed comedy skits and snap battles with nothing behind them.
The best example I can give for this is Roman Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt, which is for all intents and purposes a match I never want to see again. WWE’s thrown these guys together and said “DO GOOD WORK” so many times it’s hard to even differentiate them, but stepping back from the point of view of “guy who has to watch Raw in its entirety every week and remember this shit,” they do good work. Wyatt’s always been better than serviceable in the ring, he’s just very Kane in that his character sorta forces him to slow down. Reigns is always better when someone’s physically stepping up to meet him, and Wyatt’s never been scared of going into a sprint and legitimately belly-jumping into dudes.
So what we get is a good match (yay) we’ve seen a hundred times already (boo) with a very predictable ending (boo) that opens the show (yay) and gets 15 good minutes (yay) building to a clean ending (YAY) of consequence (ALSO YAY). That’s more yay than boo, and that’s pro wrestling fandom in a nutshell. Trying to find more yay than boo.
Another example of this is The Miz vs. Apollo Crews. It follows the same structure. We’ve already seen them wrestle too many times — they feuded for the second half of 2016, if you don’t remember — and the result is extremely predictable, but they do good, watchable work with the time they have, and the match has consequence. It isn’t “just happening,” which is a problem with a lot (a lot) of televised wrestling, it’s for a spot in the Elimination Chamber, which can give you a main event spot on the Mania card. For a guy like The Miz, that’s life or death. Miz takes some shortcuts to win (including a cheap shot to the knee when the referee’s backed Crews away, and throwing Crews balls-first into the top rope to set up the finish), but it’s resourceful shithead shortcut-taking, not Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel running in the ring to take signature moves until he can build up his special and hit it from behind. It feels like a living character deciding how to win the match rather than a weird booking decision flopped on top of five minutes of fighting that has nothing to do with it.
Also, just to say it, I like what they’re doing with Apollo Crews lately. The only way WWE crowds are going to warm to the guy is if he’s on the show regularly, gets some showcase moments in the matches he doesn’t win — he gets at least two believable nearfalls before Miz puts him away — and actually wins sometimes. WWE crowds are monsters for familiarity, which is why they still treat John Cena and Randy Orton the same. One dude’s crucial to the success of the company, and the other’s been around for exactly as long. Same thing! Give Crews another few months of competitive matches he sometimes wins and you’ll have a sizeable chunk of the Internet typing “I’ve been liking Apollo Crews lately!” into message boards until everyone mostly agrees.
And Now, An Exclusive GIF Of Vince McMahon Booking WrestleMania
Best: Character Motivations That Make Sense
1. Kurt Angle, who does not think to book matches for his weekly 3-hour live wrestling event until 90 minutes into each one, and can’t come up with simple solutions to problems like, “one member of a tag team can’t compete tonight,” like “find another partner or the match is off” isn’t the only response
2. Jason Jordan, who is trying to be a main event WWE Superstar but is also an entitled millennial, so he always seems to have a reason why he fucked up, is injured, or can’t compete for phantom reasons
3. Seth Rollins, who is going through some kind of personal crisis where he thinks flame pants and an Iowa t-shirt with bright yellow lettering are dope ring gear
4. Roman Reigns, who has already wrestled tonight, but is also more or less Captain America and would waste away into nothing if he didn’t have macho fights to pick all the time
Another thing I liked about this (not especially exciting) episode is that even the stuff that happened outside the ring — or “about” it, instead of in it — made sense. It makes sense that Jason Jordan’s bark would be louder than his bite, and that he’d pinkie swear to Seth Rollins that he was medically cleared to compete even though he’s concussed and like, one of his arms is chopped off, so he knows he’s lying. It makes sense that Angle would still prioritize Jordan, so he wouldn’t immediately go to the simple solution of “find another partner.” Because he doesn’t think Jordan is replaceable. It makes sense that Rollins would be too frustrated to make a correct decision to benefit himself — again, the flame pants — and it makes sense that if Reigns was within earshot and like an hour removed from his match against Wyatt, he’d be ready to “step up” and fight again. They remembered that they’re Fist Pals!
It also makes sense that Jordan would show up “trying to help” and once again cost Seth Rollins the Tag Team Championship and not understand what he did wrong, because in a young person’s brain motivation for what you did is more important than what actually happened. And hey, it even makes sense that unstoppable freight train-ass Roman Reigns wouldn’t be able to squash The Bar before the bullshit started, because he’d already wrestled 15 minutes earlier in the night. So whether I love the story or not, God bless them for telling one that asks, “what are the characters feeling and how would they react,” rather than writing what happens and cramming a bunch of square pegs into round holes.
Worst: Give Credence To The Revival
I think the two things I want most from the Raw tag team division right now are:
- for Bálor Club to stop acting like dipshits and start beating the shit out of people, and for
- The Revival to get back to their genre-defining, barn-burner, old school southern tags and leg breakings
That puts me at odds with myself here. It’s great to see Das Wunderfinn and Karl Anderson so obviously happy to be working together again and hey, eight minute tag team win. But on the other hand you’ve got The Revival losing again, which they really don’t need to be doing this close to getting signature move bukkake’d at Raw 25. And on top of that, the “tag team specialists” who claim to be better at what they do than any other team in the world are losing to a non-regular team who didn’t even know they were having a tag team match until like five seconds before the bell rang.
I dunno. I just want to see the Revival on Raw, not the Mechanics.
Best, Mostly: The Women’s Division Gets A Spotlight
Last night’s Raw featured three (3) women’s matches, which I’m hoping is a response to everyone telling WWE, “we loved your women’s Royal Rumble match, but maybe don’t have Ronda Rousey show up as soon as its over to kick dirt on everything, and then only talk about that?”
The reason I put “mostly” next to Best for this section is because of the segment between Kurt Angle and Alexa Bliss, which failed by (1) announcing the competitors in the women’s Elimination Chamber match without putting in the same amount of effort to make them, you know, actually compete or qualify for it — surprise! the women in the match will be the Raw women’s division! — and by (2) going full Divas era by having the heel character bring up issues like sexism only to be drowned out by the male GM explaining how it can’t be sexism because the WWE Universe is clapping for it. You already tried the “she’s got a big butt” diss on Bliss with “biscuit butt,” WWE, you don’t have to go full Molly Holly.
(That last bit is at least softened by the fact that Bliss is clearly just pulling out excuses to try to get out of the match, which Kurt points out, and that Brock Lesnar has defended his absentee Raw championship more recently than Bliss has. Which brings up a whole DIFFERENT set of problems — why aren’t you booking title matches, Kurt? And does that 30-day no defense rule only apply to Naomi? You can’t pick and choose rules when they suit you! — but I digress.)
The best of the three women’s matches on the card was, of course, Asuka vs. Bayley. It wasn’t as memorable (or as memorably cringeworthy at times) as last week’s Asuka match with Sasha Banks, but it was 11 minutes of strong women’s wrestling, and Bayley got to look like an important, accomplished wrestler again for the first time in a while. Bayley getting the post-match handshake was a nice touch as well, because Asuka appreciates Bayley’s spirit, even if she knows she could beat her with both arms and one of her legs tied behind her back.
That’s two good matches on two consecutive shows for Asuka, as it looks like they’ve finally figured out the secret to getting people to like her: letting them watch her wrestle. It’s hard to watch her compete at the level she’s been competing for like 15 years and not be into her.
One additional problem with Asuka and that Alexa Bliss segment, though …
Angle mentions that Nia Jax isn’t in the Elimination Chamber match because she’s going one-on-one with Asuka at the pay-per-view, and that if she wins, she’ll be added to the Raw Women’s Championship match at WrestleMania. The only problem with that is … Asuka never actually declared which championship she’s going for, did she? Ronda shows up and pointed at the WrestleMania sign before it could happen. So how can Kurt “add” anybody to a match that’s not actually happening yet?
Anyway, Jax squashes enhancement talent “Vanessa Floyd,” presumably the daughter of Freddie Joe, played by Michael Elgin student Savanna Stone. If you’re wondering why she looked like she’d never wrestled a match in her life, it’s because she’s less than a year into the business and is still in high school. So that’s fun.
Finally we have Mickie James vs. Sonya Deville, with Mickie working overtime to make Deville’s strikes look strong. She’s on her knees whipping her head around and practically spinning every time she gets hit. I was actually really digging this until the finish, which is Mickie getting a roll-up with absolutely zero build and winning. Like, I’m not even sure how to explain it. It’s not like Mickie was fighting back and got a clever pin because of her Vennern Instincts™, or that Sonya was getting overconfident or sloppy … they’re just doing moves and then Mickie hits up on the right stick to do a roll-up, and that wins it. Blearp.
The post-match stuff was interesting though, with Paige “joining in” on the beatdown by standing 10 feet away and vaguely pointing, and with Bliss showing up to pretend to be Mickie’s friend, so she’ll have an “alliance” in the Elimination Chamber. I love that Bliss prefaces every title match she has by awkwardly trying to make friends with someone who hates her. That’s good character continuity.
More Totally Solid Pro Wrestling With The Finish You’d Expect
Cedric Alexander and Mustafa Ali defeat Tony Nese and Drew Gulak when Alexander hits Gulak with a Lumbar Check, because fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, Drew Gulak gotta take the Lumbar Check on Raw.
The good news here is that the wrestling was solid, as it usually is, and that 205 Live is honestly in better shape right now than it’s ever been. WWE is never better than when they’re forced to call an audible, so a show that was at best “Bad NXT” for most of its early existence added Enzo and became this weird sports entertainment mess with Wyatt and Hardy going on tour with them and Nia Jax as special romantic referee, and now they’ve got to audible again. So now suddenly we have Rockstar Spud as general manager, Daniel Bryan showing up sometimes, the format and matches suddenly becoming much more like the Cruiserweight Classic, Mustafa Ali and Cedric Alexander as the top babyfaces, and new guys like Itami and Strong and the UK guys popping up to flesh out the roster. I think we managed to fail upward.
Best/Worst: This Better Lead Where I Think It’s Leading
Finally this week we have a triple threat to decide who’ll enter the Elimination Chamber match last. It continues to expose Braun Strowman’s biggest weakness — if you get him in a triple threat match he’ll care too much about what’s happening to himself, lose focus, and give you an opening to pin the other guy — and sets up what might be the greatest moment of the year: Elias sitting in a pod playing guitar for an entire Elimination Chamber match. Better still if you combine that with the “Braun Strowman destroys something” inevitability … what if they do an Animal House homage where Strowman plays guitar and annoys people the entire match, so Braun bursts through his pod wall and murders him for it?
Like most of the show, this was functionally appropriate and fine, but nothing special. And no, not everything has to be special, as long as it’s ultimately attempting to build at least toward special. You have to move the pieces before you can check someone, you know?
And that’s Raw. To summarize: lots of wrestling, the non-wrestling stuff made sense and kept up continuity, Jason Jordan is hilariously the worst, and Braun Stromwan’s going to make a sausage link out of Elias and his Elimination Chamber pod.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
It’s always ‘I’ with the Angle boys, Seth.
Even Braun’s phone is shaking in fear
The Real Birdman
Seth: “We need need to win tonight, Roman. If not, I won’t get another title shot”
Roman: “Don’t be ridiculous, Seth. That’s not a real thing”
Didn’t Roman already have a grueling match tonight against… *checks notes* Ah, he should be good.
Get you somebody who looks at you the way Jason Jordan looks at the SHIELD.
(Braun Strowman comes across a pouting, disappointed Alexa Bliss)
Braun: “Just give me a name.”
•Ready for Asuka [ ]
•Not ready for Asuka [✓]
Bayley coming out in red. Good choice, that way you don’t have to worry about the bloodstains.
Ja Gi Kyung-Moon
I dunno. Asuka killed Dana Brooke so hard she resurrected as a statistician. Bayley might very well come out of this match with the codes to the Matrix.
Insisting that Roman vs Bray is a rivalry is like saying the Globetrotters vs the Generals is a rivalry
That’s it for this week, folks. Thank you as always for reading, and for commenting and sharing the column on your social media. It’s greatly appreciated. Let’s make it WrestleMania season all year long.
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