Note: I am not Brandon Stroud, sadly, and he is on assignment this week, so I am filling in for ONE NIGHT ONLY. The normal Best and Worst you know and love will return next week, so please forgive this poor facsimile.
Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: Braun Strowman won a tag team title shot, despite not being a team. Also, Roman Reigns exposed Vince McMahon as the dang puppet master, and was “temporarily suspended” for his “actions.” And Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey weren’t there.
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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for March 19, 2018.
Best: Picking Your Spots
Monday’s opening segment was some real whiplash, going from dumb to bad-dumb to pretty cool to silly to super awesome to slightly weak. Overall, it was a net positive, as WWE figured out for the first time how to get Roman Reigns some honest-to-god sympathy heat from the fans in Dallas. Starting the episode with this was the right call, as well, as the Dallas crowd never quite got this good again for the rest of the evening. (More on that later.)
At first, this looked like it was shaping up to be Steve Austin light, as Reigns defied his Vince McMahon-levied suspension and refused to leave until Brock Lesnar got there. General manager Kurt Angle was forced (???) to send out some U.S. Marshals to arrest Reigns, and Reigns played along with the handcuffing and being Mirandized, but actually, literally being arrested was a bridge too far.
Reigns snapped, throwing some serious ‘bows and wrecking these poor fake Marshals’ worlds, but then Lesnar showed up, picking his spot perfectly and being a supreme sh*thead by dismantling and obliterating Reigns with a chair while he was handcuffed and relatively defenseless. (“Relatively defenseless” in Roman Reigns terms means he can still beat three grown men unconscious while handcuffed.)
Referees, trainers, EMTs down to give Reigns the stretcher treatment (and the supremely entertaining bit of a referee producing the key to the handcuffs that an unrelated U.S. Marshal owned — kudos to WWE canon equipping every referee with a universal handcuff key, just in case), but Lesnar returned to wreck Reigns further while the Big Dog was lashed to a Big Stretcher. Slight Worst for Jonathan Coachman (who has been … not great since returning) saying “we haven’t seen an attack like this” regarding Reigns getting his stretcher flipped, when we’re only a few months removed from Braun Strowman flipping an entire Reigns-related ambulance, but overall, I felt this was effective as hell at actually making Lesnar an entitled, opportunistic piece of crap and Reigns being a put-upon underdog, kinda. (Or at the very least, making Reigns a person worthy of sympathy, because come on, man, that’s cold.
Best/Worst: This Is All Fine In Theory
The Alexa Bliss/Mickie James/Nia Jax stuff all remains totally cromulent on paper — although they may be starting to go to the Bliss false emotion a bit too often — but it’s just weird in execution. All the performers are good, and they’re doing what they’re asked to do well, but this is one of the most “treading water until WrestleMania” storylines on WWE television right now.
Also very weird is Jax just sort of screaming into the ether, when she should probably just be a terrifying, furious monster who is enraged, sure, but focused enough to just straightfacedly attack the object of her ire. But I guess maybe that’s Ronda Rousey’s proprietary thing now?
Asuka vs. Bliss was good, because of course it was, but Asuka being here beating the Raw Women’s Champion in non-title matches just sort of hammers home how much Smackdown Live doesn’t matter right now, mere weeks before WrestleMania. Asuka showed up to challenge the Smackdown Women’s Champion, right? Good money says she doesn’t show up on Smackdown again until she (likely) wins that title. It could be read as Asuka thinking so little of Charlotte Flair as an opponent that she’s just going about business til WrestleMania, but come on. Asuka doesn’t believe her streak will ever end, sure; she still has beef with Bliss, sure. But just using Asuka and her streak as a backdrop to the Nia/Alexa/Mickie thing probably isn’t doing anyone any favors.
Worst: Time Management
This episode of Raw didn’t see a wrestling match until 40 minutes into the episode, when the show returned from commercial to find the non-title Bliss vs. Asuka match already in progress.
We did finally manage to get six matches (including Ultimate Deletion) in the three hours of television, but only because we shoehorned in a three-minute Revival vs. Titus Worldwide tag match and a 40-second Revival promo where they promised to enter and win the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, as a team. We can wring our hands later about how this is probably just a way to set up the Revival getting double-tossed by Great Khali in the first second of the match or whatever, but for now let’s just think about how we can use this three (3) hours of television time more efficiently … or at least space some stuff out better.
Best/Worst: You Have To Sleep Together
I am of a conflicted mind about Cesaro’s “you have to sleep together” line being played for a specific type of laughs, but I am definitely fully in favor of Sheamus’ exasperated “Oh, grow up.” More heels putting fans in their place for being closed-minded, please.
Braun Strowman vs. Cesaro is good while it lasts — again, better time management, please — but it’s still a bummer that these guys aren’t having 20-minute feats-of-strength classics for the Universal Championship. I’d like to think this is a preview of a main event feud to one day come, so I will think that!
Best: The Family That Deletes Together
Prior to Ultimate Deletion, we were treated to a trio of vignettes at the Hardy compound, and our first real, actual taste of the Woken/Broken Hardys and the Hardy compound on WWE television. Reby playing piano, Señor Benjamin readying the battlefield for ANNIHILATION, even George Washington the giraffe. It was all perfect, and missed, and needed. It was also a great and necessary call to make the entire night all about Ultimate Deletion, which ended up being the main event. So wait for it.
Best: We All A Bunch Of Puppets
Mark Henry is going into the Hall of Fame, and it couldn’t be happening to a better guy. The World’s Strongest Man will forever (and rightfully) be the example to point to about how anyone can turn anything around if the talent is there, on a long enough timeline. Henry was derided by fans for the duration of the 10-year contract he signed as a rookie, known as a sub-Ahmed Johnson joke even BEFORE he was best known as the guy who f*cked Mae Young.
The guy turned his career around right at the end of his first 10-year deal, and then he instantly became one of the best parts of WWE television from the beginning of his Hall of Pain era and title reigns up through his infamous salmon jacket promo and everything else in between. In his later years, he was known as one of the most sympathetic and entertaining people on the roster and one of the best actors, to boot. In the year of Hillbilly Jim, this is a much-deserved epitome of a success story.
Best: Legit Gaslighting
Worst: The Dallas Crowd
Bayley and Sasha Banks still have a thing going on, and by “thing,” I mean “they still haven’t actually turned on each other.” The best part of their pre-match dueling promos, to me, was Banks very clearly gaslighting Bayley (and by extension, the crowd) by telling an alternate history of what happened at Elimination Chamber and the weeks afterward. Luckily, Bayley disputed that account, but it was still nice to see Banks going completely evil while never acknowledging she’d done so. Complete with weird good-guy-Sasha Banks voice.
The opposite of ups, of course, to the Dallas crowd, which gave a whole-assed “WHAT” chant to the entirety of Bayley and Sasha’s pre-match promo work. I guess I still expect way too much out of WWE crowds, and that chant will legitimately never die, but it should at least be used sparingly. It’s not fun to do, it’s not fun to listen to, it’s not fun to sit among, and it never does anything but make the entire product worse. So good job, everyone.
Bayley and Sasha vs. Absolution ends up being another totally fine match that serves as a backdrop to the stuff that’s actually going on, and in this case, that’s a good thing if we’re still playing out the string until one of these women turns on the other, but I definitely wanted to single out Sonya Deville’s jumping switch-kick finisher. That thing rules. Sonya Deville rules. I’m looking forward to her Mark Henry year when everyone realizes she’s the sh*t.
Worst: [Incredulous John Cena Face]
And now John Cena’s Road to WrestleMania has moved into the stage where he skips over the “some of y’all like me and some of y’all don’t” part of every serious-voice John Cena promo and moves right to calling a retired dude a coward baby pee-pants for having the AUDACITY to NOT RESPOND to a challenge the Undertaker had nothing to do with, because he’s busy just trying to live a normal life and concealed carry at Brazilian steakhouses, like normal retired undead biker mortician MMA warlocks do.
There were some truly stupendous John Cena faces made in this segment, but it’s so hard to not hate the guy’s guts for not leaving this poor old man alone and acting like such a jerk about it throughout. And that’s fine in the end, because there’s no one alive who’s going to cheer for Cena over Undertaker at goddamn WrestleMania, but it’s tiring to know we have to sit through probably at least two more weeks of Cena being like “you’re being a coward, JACK” before we finally get to the *DONG* factory.
At least the guy in the Undertaker cosplay was fun!
Best: Our Generation’s Rodney Dangerfield
The Miz and the Miztourage’s collective new catchphrase is, apparently, “no respect!” Miz cuts another great impassioned promo about how no one respects him, and shoots on “Tyler Black” and “Prince Nevitt” sucking and being dumb, before going on to prove their point about being treated like a joke by clonking heads and getting rolled up for the pin in a six-man tag match against the Bálor club.
That jacket looks great on Miz, though. I bet it comes with a free bowl of soup. [rolls eyes extravagantly, adjusts tie six times] Boy I tell ya.
Best: WWE’s Video Team Remains Undefeated
Thanks to Lesnar technically being on this episode, that means we get another week of Ronda Rousey technically not being on this episode. (Although she did appear in front of the live Dallas crowd while the at-home audience was watching Ultimate Deletion, and luckily WWE uploaded that segment to their YouTube page. Poor Dana Brooke.)
Thankfully, the at-home viewers got the first full-bore “WWE Desire” video package treatment for Rousey. I assume this is the first of what will be many years of these. I just hope she’ll one day be on the more-than-one-match-a-year track at some point to really flesh them out.
In this video, we get the struggle of Rousey, and what she’s accomplished and what she’s gone through, and what she’s lost, and why she’s here. That’s presented fully alongside why Rousey is so polarizing just as a human being, but she’s never made any bones about who she is or what drives her. And allowing fans to see more and more of that without having to watch her go through the adjustment period of learning how to be a version of herself in front of 12,000 fans at a time is probably best for all involved.
This was a fantastic video, and I imagine we’ll see a different version of this sort of package before her WrestleMania match, when we’ve probably got at least one more week of her being around and doing things. But given the time management issues on this episode, and how many things happened without happening, and how much time was spent to things that didn’t have to do with wrestling, this was as effective a use of the Ronda Rousey time as any. I’m looking forward to more stuff like this that actually helps get us on Rousey’s side for more reasons than “Ronda Rousey? I know who THAT is!”
Best: Ultimate Deletion, Finally
It’s rare that you LITERALLY get to the fireworks factory, and rarer still when it lives up to your expectations. It wasn’t the best thing that has ever happened in the Hardy compound, certainly, but it was still appropriately goofy as hell, and even contained references to all the bad Bray Wyatt quasi-Hardy stuff that WWE had already tried. I know I’m not the only one who expected that Caterpillar tractor to start moving backwards after Wyatt left the graveyard.
I’m not sure whether Ultiate Deletion was worth the extreme wait we had to sit through before Hardy became fully Woken and then again before we had to wait for hi to stop laughing and get to the stuff we want to see, but I drank up this segment like refreshing, cool water. And I’ll have another as soon as they’re willing to present me with one.
We’ll have a full breakdown of Ultimate Deletion coming up here on Monday, so I’ll just go ahead and bullet-point the stuff I thought was just DELIGHTFUL AHHHHH YESSSSSS:
- The music
- Vanguard launching the Boomstick Protocol, which was “set of fireworks in the near vicinity”
- The Whac-A-Mole graveyard kendo stick jaunt, played in fast motion with Matt Hardy flitting from headstone to headstone like it was a Scooby-Doo hallway. This felt like the first time the Ultimate Deletion did something that was 100 percent Hardy and 0 percent “WWE is probably okay with a version of this,” and it was a breath of fresh air
- CHAIR OF WHEELS/MOWER OF LAWN
- The Brother Nero cameo
- No commentary
There was lots more great stuff, of course. I was disappointed that the “Eater of Worlds” did not attempt to take a bite out of the globe, and I think everyone was/is waiting for Husky Harris to pop out of the Lake of Reincarnation. (And big time Worst to Michael Cole for basically saying “this is gonna suck real bad” right before the main event segment of Raw began.) But this bodes extremely well for the hope of future Woken Hardy stuff, and I hope the WWE Universe is as receptive to it as the original audience for the Broken Hardys was.
As discussed above, the live crowd was not treated to Ultimate Deletion.
The fans in the arena instead got an Elias concert, an Elias/Strowman confrontation, and the aforementioned Rousey segment. That may seem like a vote of no confidence to some fans, but I’m choosing to view it as leaving nothing to chance. They remove the chance of the live crowd crapping on having to watch a 20-minute video, even if they don’t pipe in the crowd noise (a la Raw 25).
At the same time, they don’t have to anger a live crowd by forcing them to watch a video they may not like before getting to the dark match main event, and you instead treat them to some exclusive non-televised stuff, before allowing them to watch Ultimate Deletion at home, where it’s best viewed anyway. Everyone wins, theoretically.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
So he wasn’t reincarnated? Wow, even the gods have given up on Bray Wyatt.
Son of Tony Zane
Man, Bray Wyatt can’t win *any* kind of match.
The Voice of Raisin
Kane: “it’s not my place to tell undertaker what to do. Those decisions should be left up to the individuals themselves, with as littler oversight and interference as possible.”
Don’t be fooled by the push that I got,
I’m still, I’m still jobbin to the Brock.
Used to have a Shield, now I’m dressed like a SWAT,
No matter what I do, they still boo a lot.
Don’t fooled by my connection to Rock,
I’m still, I’m still jobbing to the Brock!
Cena inducts Mark Henry
Henry comes out in a Salmon jacket
*plenty left in the tank intensifies*
Braun & These Hands, Freebird rules. Let’s do it.
We can only arrest so many Samoans before people start asking questions
Trapped between a Rock cousin and a hard place
When Alexa Bliss and Nia Jax finally fight will WWE license music from Shadow of the Colossus for it?
Baron Von Raschke
Worst Prisoner Transfer in Dallas since November, 1963
That’s it for this week. Be sure to drop a comment and share the column, or else you’ll be temporarily suspended. Or perhaps PERMANENTLY DELETED!
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