The Best And Worst Of WWE Raw 3/12/18: Suspending Disbelief


WWE Raw

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WWE Raw

Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: Braun Strowman crushed Elias with a piano. I SAID A PIANO!!! Additionally, Ronda Rousey threw a Samoan Drop without seeming to really know how to throw a Samoan Drop. It’s fine!

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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for March 12, 2018.

Worst/Best: Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain!

Remember in the Best and Worst of Fastlane column when I was worried there wasn’t anything to talk about? Oh, those innocent days. Raw might’ve given us too much to talk about, especially from a, “how does anything in the company actually work” perspective.

So … okay, despite announcing Brock Lesnar would appear again and “go face-to-face” with Roman Reigns in grand WrestleMania build tradition, they had Kurt Angle open the show explaining that Lesnar’s not actually there. That brings out Roman, and Roman escalates his talking point from “why aren’t the show’s champions on the show, Brock a bitch,” to “Vince McMahon is personally disrespecting me.” I don’t know if I followed on every inch of that leap, but sure, let’s go with it.

Roman goes backstage, confronts Vince, and gets suspended off-screen. It’s at this point in the jokey-ass wrestling column where I have to point out that watching the show and remembering things doesn’t make you an unhappy smark or whatever, and will try to just say this shit without pretending I’m Dennis Miller about it. Sorry in advance if you watch these shows and want to read about them later on the Internet and somehow don’t want anyone involved in either thing to be paying attention.

WWE’s always had trouble setting up power hierarchies and understanding their own setup. It was already difficult in times when, for example, Triple H somehow relieves CEO Vince McMahon of his duties, Vince returns to the show a few months later like nothing’s happened (because the story is over), and then not very long later he’s threatening to fire Triple H. Like, you can be a general manager or a commissioner or an owner or a Vice President or ANYTHING and hire and fire at will. Now, in the same cycle where you’re building up Kurt Angle to face his bosses in a wrestling match in what’s probably going to be the main event of WrestleMania over some work-related shit, you have Roman “shoot” and go backstage to reveal (1) Vince McMahon on a headset telling everyone what to do and making all the decisions, and (2) Shane McMahon just hanging out to help him, on Raw, the show he’s not supposed to be on or in charge of. You could rationalize that since Stephanie got beaten up last week she can’t be there, but that’s why Kurt’s there.

There’s also the really absurd situation of WWE keeping Brock Lesnar off the shows to build him up as “Vince’s boy,” with Roman Reigns — Roman Reigns — as the anti-McMahon rebel. Can you think of anyone in WWE who seems more like Vince’s boy than the tall, muscular, handsome guy from the famous Samoan WWE wrestling family who’ll be having what, his fourth coronation as “the guy” at WrestleMania? It’s not a bad story idea, especially on paper, and I like Reigns’ more serious, real, take-no-shit personality, but the players are all wrong. If anything, it’s bad “casting.” Austin vs. Vince worked because Austin was one way and Vince was one way. Hart vs. Michaels worked because Hart was one way and Michaels was one way. They didn’t change up the story and who was in charge every few weeks, and the players were designed to play their roles. You didn’t just swap in other guys you think were kinda like Austin or Hart or Michaels or Vince and say it was fine, and when you did — in situations like “The Black Hart” Owen Hart — you watched to see how well it worked, and when it looked like it might not, you changed it up. Roman gets suspended, which feels like the only way to have Brock come back without Roman needing to immediately Superman jump up his ass.

Ugh, I’m sorry, I’m Dennis Millering it.

Long story mercifully short, I like that they’re trying to tie in some real-world attitudes to these WWE stories, and I think Roman’s doing a very good job of handling it. I just don’t know how well you can do Austin vs. McMahon with an Austin who was built from the ground up by a McMahon. And I wish they’d pay more attention to details so jerks on the Internet like me couldn’t instantly pick it the hell apart. Right now you’re probably like, “you would anyway!” so let me change that to add, “or at least not make it so instantaneous and easy.”

Worst: Couldn’t We Name This After Mildred Burke Or Something

Like I said, so much stuff to editorialize on this week.

As you’ve probably already seen, WWE named the women’s version of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal after the Fabulous Moolah, which given what we know about her life and actual contributions to pro wrestling is a pretty tone deaf decision. But they’ve already named a tournament after Mae Young, and WWE doesn’t consider anyone else “pioneers” or “trailblazers” until you get to Trish and Lita.

The Internet’s response has basically been this:

YouTube

That Mildred Burke bit is a joke — it shouldn’t be, but stay with me — but if you’ve got one battle royal named after a Wonder Of The World, why not name the women’s version after the next one on the list, Chyna? If you’re still hung up on the “kids Googling them” thing, the Fabulous Moolah. Name it after Sensational Sherri, she deserves about a billion more accolades than she gets for her work. Hell, name it the Alundra Blayze Memorial Battle Royal and make the trophy a bronzed trash can with a title belt hanging out of it.

Continuing To Piss Off Everyone In The World, Here’s The Alexa Bliss/Nia Jax Story

A lot to unpack here.

So! Asuka shows up to explain her choice to challenge the Smackdown Women’s Champion at WrestleMania to Disinterested Sleepy Robot Charly Caruso when she’s interrupted by Alexa Bliss and Mickie James. Bliss and James are suddenly Bulk and Skull from Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, by the way. Bliss does a little of that Jinder Mahal-quality “the Japanese person can’t speak English well so I’m going to pretend to translate for them” thing, and Bliss tries to set up another Asuka vs. Nia Jax match. Later she reveals she was trying to set up a 3-on-1 beatdown, which also makes sense. Nia doesn’t show up, so Bliss jumps Asuka and we go straight into a Mickie James variant match.

The actual match is surprising, as it’s built almost entirely on James shit-kicking Asuka and nearly beating her clean before getting caught in the O.G. Asuka Lock. I liked the ring post transition spot, which allowed James to realistically take control. I also like that since we aren’t building to Asuka/Rousey anymore, Asuka can use the Actual Asuka Lock. But yeah, Asuka wins, and Bliss storms backstage to complain to Jax about it. Jax explains that she was gonna come out and join in the beatdown, but Kurt Angle stopped her and told her she had a match.

In a normal scenario, the online wrestling column talking point would be that Bliss heeled it up to an uncomfortable degree, and how it’s fun to discuss whether or not heels are allowed to actually piss off the audience in our current world, and if seeing a villain get their comeuppance after awful acts is still relevant in a fandom culture where fictional characters are spot-checked for real-life moral worth every second they’re on screen (because we say we want to be shocked and offended and feel things but we really don’t, not even a little, my own sensitive baby self included). Instead … well …

Nia Jax has a quick squash match against Joan King, the James Ellsworth of women. When that’s over, we get a 1080p GTV segment on the TitanTron of Bliss and James backstage shit-talking Jax for everything from wanting to have friends, believing anyone could love her, and how fat and ugly they think she is. It’s kinda brutal, and I could see why they’d want to do it. Bliss is Chaotic Evil, and having her reveal her truest, scum-baggiest self and end up getting trounced and dethroned at WrestleMania is a good call. You pull back the curtain on her emotional manipulation, and you finally build to the end of the story.

What we actually get is kind of a mess. Every definition of mess. You’ve got a person who has openly talked about battling body dysmoprhia and eating disorders teaming up with the protagonist of the Piggie James story making fun of another person with body issues for being fat. Which, again, acting. I get it. It’s less pearls-clutching and more, “not your best idea, guys.” And that brings up the talking point of why guy monster characters are these Braun Strowman types that run wild and don’t care about anyone or anything, but female monster characters are that way because they’re outcasts who are ashamed of themselves and don’t have any friends. See also: Kharma.

That’s all the stressful wrestling stuff. Then you get the reveal of why the segment happened at all: Charly Caruso was late for an interview, which is why the interview equipment was around them, and Bliss finds out the boom mic was on the entire time so Jax heard her. No mention of the manned camera that was in the locker room with them filming them, or even an acknowledgment that video was shot and seen by Jax and the crowd. Jax shows up to wreck the locker room and scream about the heels like she’s the Frickin’ Fricks kid and the camera, you know, moves around and films her. So there is 100% a person controlling it, it’s not a static “security cam” thing.

And that’s the story. On paper, a thing you might look at and say, “that’ll get the crowd behind Nia,” and hey, it might. Bliss is gonna get got. In practice, on the same show you announced the Moolah Battle Royal you’ve dumbed down your now top women’s division story to “the pretty girls would never be friends with the ugly girls,” which seems way more like 2000s Divas division WWE than it ought to. Nia’s crying a bunch, smart character Bliss doesn’t know how cameras work, the announcer shows up with the wrong (or at least an incomplete) reveal, and Mickie James is ruthless and evil now, I guess? It really feels like they didn’t think about what to book besides Asuka until Monday afternoon, and then refused to go back and watch all the previous Jax/Bliss bits and interviews to find a better way to the match. They fell back on an old standard that was never very good to begin with.

Worst: Congratulations To WWE Hall Of Famer Kid Rock

Things I want from this induction include:

Best: Disinterested Teen Bayley

I like that Bayley’s entered her rebellious, “misunderstood” teen phase where she looks like she doesn’t want to be there and just goes through the motions with her lame friends. She’s there long enough to make sure Sasha Banks has a fair chance of winning her match against Sonya Deville, and then bails completely instead of sticking around to prevent the inevitable post-match attack. Which would’ve been easy, since they still count Paige in the “3-on-1 attack” even though she has to stand ten feet away and point.

Best: The Miz Psychologically Dominating His Opponents In The Stupidest Way Possible

Seth Rollins: “Miz, do you think we’re stupid? We see what you’re doing.”
Finn Bálor: “Yeah, you’re gonna have to try a lot harder if you want us to fall for that.”
Seth and Finn: [both immediately fall for it]

This leads into Seth vs. Finn, one-on-one, and I really appreciated the story here. Miz brings up the fact that Finn beat Seth for the Universal Championship and how it’s gotta be eating at him, and how Finn always seems to show up to try to steal Seth’s thunder. Then they have the match, and Finn wins because he’s got Seth’s number, and also because he actually, you know, studied tape or whatever and figured out ways to beat him. The finish isn’t a big elaborate sequence or anything, it’s Finn knowing the superplex into the Falcon Arrow is coming and countering it into a pin.

It’s smart wrestling from a guy who has only really done Slingblades and dropkicks (and stomps, which are just vertical dropkicks) since he came up. Being smart in the ring would help Finn’s vibe tremendously, I think, and show why a guy his size should be able to beat guys like Rollins, and beyond. Like, Finn’s lithe little ass could dropkick Brock Lesnar all day and do fuck-all to him, but you could buy him outsmarting Brock and scouting enough to get an unexpected counter and a flash pin. How into The Club would we get if they just started being smarter than everyone, and using all the techniques and tropes WWE stars have seemingly forgotten about, like thinking and paying attention?

Best: This Counts As The Debut Of The Future Hardy Boyz

So I get why WWE wants to do a preview of the Hardy Compound before we actually go there — everything that happened there happened on Impact, so you have to assume a large portion of your audience doesn’t know what the hell is going on — but I think “not knowing what the hell is going on” is why we got so into the Hardy stuff in the first place. We’re less in it for what’s actually occurring than with the fun backyard wrestling fan fiction subversion of tropes. Like, why does Matt Hardy have seven ancient Gods communicating to him? Impact never really (really) explained it. Why is Hardy’s gardener so into killing people? Why does Matt Hardy command a squadron of flying robots? Why do their yards look like that? Why does he have a lake that makes you change wrestling gimmicks? WHY DOES THE BOAT HAVE LORE. WHY ARE THEY SHOOTING FIREWORKS. WHY IS THE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL EXPRESS HERE. By doing a video that’s like “here’s what gonna happen” before it happens, we’re taking a more direct WWE approach to putting the segments together instead of understanding their true nature as a sudden, inexplicable performance art piece.

That said, hey, it’s the characters we know! Plus, this counts as Wolfgang and Maxel Hardy’s WWE television debuts, I believe, so in 20 years when they’re WWE Universal Tag Team Champions or whatever it’ll be fun to know they first appeared as babies.

I could live without Bray Wyatt anything right now, but at least it looks like we’re finally moving forward with some tangible version of the thing we liked. Beats the hell out of standing still and laughing at each other!

Remember When They Said Ronda Rousey Was A Regular Who Would Be On Every Raw Before WrestleMania?

Where’s Roman when you need him, am I right guys

Best/Worst: Non-stop John Cena

Speaking of people Roman Reigns needs to have issues with if he feels disrespected by part-timers, here’s a goofy old man who dresses like a little kid, demands a WrestleMania main-event despite taking like half the year off, and won’t take Roman’s name out his mouth.

Previously, Cena appeared on Raw to announce that he wanted a match with the Undertaker at WrestleMania, but was told that’s not possible. So he decided to use his magical “free agent” status to go to Smackdown, shoehorn himself into the six-pack challenge at Fastlane and lose. Now he’s back, demanding a match with the Undertaker. He’s gonna keep saying it until it happens, and we all know it’s gonna happen, so let’s hurry up and get to the part when it happens.

I think the most confusing thing happening in WWE right now (which is saying a lot) is their relationship to “part-timers,” i.e. people who only seem to show up for the big events with big paydays and then disappear for the rest of the year at the expense of people who are there every week. Cena used it first as a way to shade The Rock, but now Cena’s doing it, and the Undertaker’s doing it, and everyone’s fine with it because they’re big stars. Jericho does it. But then Brock Lesnar does it, and that’s *disrespectful* because we say it is. Shane McMahon’s not a wrestler, certainly not full-time, but keeps getting marquee matches on big pay-per-views. Ronda Rousey’s been on like two Raws ever and is going to the main event of WrestleMania, but we love her, and she’s facing Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, who aren’t exactly full-time workhorses. They wanna bring in celebrities to do stuff and promote non-WWE material, but then they’re very mad if someone isn’t there all the time, because that means they don’t love the business. Do I love them more than the regulars because they’re stars, or do I boo them in favor of people with no momentum who get shuffled down (or off) the card when they show up? Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens and Rusev and Elias (and up until this episode, Braun Strowman) aren’t on the show, but we’re dedicating at least 1-2 full segments on Kid Rock. I don’t know what you want me to think.

Best: Poor Sad Precious Elias

I hope the payoff to this is him volunteering to be Braun Strowman’s partner at WrestleMania due to their shared love of music. Call them “Get These Jams.” I know that’s probably Big Show’s spot (if Strowman gets a partner at all), so maybe a WWE Hall of Famer will step in and let him do the Sheryl Crow part of a duet.

Best: I’M NOT TAGGING WITH YOU YET

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, yeah, they held a battle royal to find out The Bar’s challengers for WrestleMania and it was won by one guy, Braun Strowman. I don’t love the entire tag team division getting their asses kicked by one guy, but Raw’s current tag team scene is pretty job-tastic, so it’s probably fine. Nothing’s quite as disheartening to hear as the announce team casually dropping “The Revival’s eliminated, they’re not going to WrestleMania,” like it was never a possibility. Those dudes care more about the back of Bo Dallas’ head looking like the back of Rhyno’s head and loudly arguing about it.

The good news here is that Braun rules, and Braun + someone vs. The Bar at WrestleMania could be legitimately incredible. Cesaro vs. Braun Strowman is a match that should’ve happened at least once by now, and is the Universal Championship match we’d book in a different timeline. I hope it’s Elias, but I’ll be okay with it being his blood brother Big Show. At least he’s on the card proper now, and we’ll get a chance to see him do something stunt-prop-crazy beyond a backstage bit of him throwing special guest Logan Paul through a window or whatever.

Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week

NotACrook

“Why didn’t I think of that?” – John Cena

Mr. Bliss

Titus points at Wrestlemania sign, Vince bans pointing at Wrestlemania sign.

Ja Gi Kyung-Moon

While this isn’t good for the tag team division, in a way, this would make sense only because, to my knowledge, Cesaro and Sheamus never really got theirs as comeuppance for helping dump Strowman into that trash compactor back during that not-Shield-reunion.

Cut to Alexa and Mickie trying to escape the arena in a Smart Car but Nia Jax is holding the rear axle in the air.

The Real Birdman

Charlotte & Roode have about as much chemistry as Bayley and a live microphone

Big Baby Yeezus

Braun Strowman: I’M THE TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS!!

*Camera pans to Dr. Shelby thrown halfway through a wall*

Brute Farce

*Shane throws a multitude of punches to protect his father, but Roman doesn’t notice.”

Razorcakes

Please Nia don’t kill Donna Dorable!

Baron Von Raschke

Asuka’s going to be really upset that the ringpost didn’t sell that kick.

Spitty

Bliss: “Now Asuka, you’ll face this woman!”
*…*
Bliss: “I said you’ll face this woman!”
*Bored Bayley walks out, rolls her eyes, and goes backstage again*


WWE Raw

“Your ad says Get These Hands.”
“Oh, they got this all screwed up.”
“So you don’t work on a contingency basis?”
“No. Get these, hands.”

That’s it for this week. Be sure to drop a comment and share the column, or else hands will be gotten.

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