Previously on the Best and Worst of Raw: Scott Heisel filled in for me so I could move across the country during a plague. I missed Sarah Logan getting stomped out of the promotion, a rematch from NXT TakeOver: War Games, and Jerry Lawler’s first draft jokes about Akira Tozawa’s culture and ethnicity.
One more thing: Hit those share buttons! Spread the word about the column on Facebook, Twitter and whatever else you use. Be sure to leave us a comment in our comment section below as well. I know we always ask this, and that this part is copy and pasted in every week, but we appreciate it every week. Up next is WWE: Donkey Kong, and we can’t wait.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for April 20, 2020.
Best, Mostly: Drew McIntyre’s About To End This Faction’s Whole Career
Drew McIntyre will defend the WWE Championship against a former champion, Seth Rollins, in a Stamford Office Building Cafeteria Brawl or whatever at Money in the Bank. Between now and then he’s going to run through Zelina Vega’s entire faction of handsome narcissists, as Andrade, Austin Theory, and Angel Garza have become the Raw equivalent of the Artist’s Collective; a talented heel group loosely in charge of a secondary championship who lose to the more important characters every week, because they’re willing to keep showing up.
Last week, McIntyre pinned Andrade with a Brogue Claymore Kick so Rollins could “send a message” to the champion. This week, McIntyre pins Angel Garza with a Claymore Kick to send a message back. He also makes sure to beat up Andrade and Austin Theory during the match, Claymores Theory afterward, and gives Garza a second Claymore just because. Did you pick up on WWE’s subtle storytelling here? I hope none of them has a pet spider, McIntyre might drag it over to the ramp and crush it with some ring steps.
So, what’s next week? McIntyre vs. Austin Theory, with McIntyre also Claymore Kicking Andrade and Angel Garza? These three should team up with Sami Zayn, Cesaro, and Shinsuke Nakamura and start losing 6-on-1 handicap matches.
In an attempt to clarify how I’m feeling about this, I know the role of the most talented people in wrestling is often being a charismatic bad guy and feeding yourself to the dipshit hero on an assembly line, and that WWE’s an extremely Dipshit Hero-centric promotion. Hulk Hogan, John Cena, Roman Reigns, whoever. I get that the roster’s incredibly small due to running shows in an empty laser warehouse in the middle of a global pandemic, and understand the thought of putting a bunch of lower ranking heels who can work in matches against the new champ to make him look as cool and dominant as possible. It’s just that as a fan, I’ve never quite been able to find peace with the fact that being great at what you do is never as important as what you look like, or which role you can fill. It’s fine. Drew is cool, and it’s not like Vega’s team (which we’re calling “A to Z”) don’t all have 20 years of career ahead of them to stumble into something more creatively rewarding.
Five Under Four
This week’s show features five women’s matches, with all five either being under or right at four minutes long. That’s more of an observation than a critique.
Up first is Shayna Baszler turning Indi Hartwell into Indi Hartunwell with her Modified Seth Rollins Stomp™ to the arm. Baszler broke Sarah Logan’s arm last week, so she does the same to Indi here. Bonus points to Indi for briefly avoiding the stomp by, you know, moving her arm out of the way instead of keeping it bent at that specific angle. It only worked once, but it completely baffled Shayna there for a minute.
Shout-out to the lowest level NXT talent getting regular Raw and Smackdown gigs because they basically live in the parking lot. It’s gonna be weird as hell when arena shows resume and the roster normalizes again, and Brendon Vink stops being a main character.
I missed Nia Jax squashing Kairi Sane on last week’s show, so they were kind enough to do it again for me here. Here’s Nia lifting up the recently concussed Sane by the throat and throwing her short so she lands awkwardly on her hip and the back of her neck gets smashed under the bottom buckle. We all have fun here.
I’ve been trying to pinpoint exactly why certain wrestlers can do dangerous stuff and get away with it but every single misstep Nia Jax takes gets turned into a “she hurts people” meme. As far as I can tell, it’s not that she “doesn’t know how to wrestle” or anything dramatic like that, because of course she does. I think it’s the fact that she never seems in control of what’s happening in the ring, and some combination of her physicality, timing, and overconfident in-ring character makes it legitimately look like she’s not taking care of her opponent. She’s just hurling them around or dropping them or punching them in the face in dangerous fashion because she’s *acting,* and the image of dominance and the performance are more important than the art of “hurting” your opponent without actually hurting them. There’s just too much of an, “oh no, something went wrong,” vibe in her matches, even when nothing’s going wrong.
Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy thing, like we did with Sin Cara. There were a few bad botches, so we started watching him wrestle looking for them, and everything that went wrong suddenly seemed hilarious and inevitable. Long story short, we probably need to give Nia Jax a break sometimes, but also it would help if she could not turn Kairi Sane’s brains into gruel. And when you hear Kairi screaming “I’M NOT SET” loud enough for US to hear it (if that’s what’s being said here, as it also might have just been “hanase”), you know NIA heard it, that’s just purposefully disregarding your dance partner’s well-being. It’s actual endangerment, beyond “laying it in” or being stiff or whatever. Either or, it’s a conversation. And anyway, why is Kairi stuck taking so much grief and punishment from people trying to get their shit in?
A quick supplemental Worst goes to Charly Caruso for asking Kairi Sane what she’s going to do about Nia’s “height advantage” during the match. She’s a hoss in a combat sport, Charly, you can say “height and weight advantage” without using it in a pejorative tone.
NXT Women’s Champion Charlotte Flair continues to wrestle on Monday nights despite being a Wednesday night champion, because … Charlotte Flair? Not like it matters when every show in the company’s being produced out of two buildings in the same Orlando suburb, but still. She eats Kayden Carter for breakfast and taps her out in about two and a half minutes. If Charlotte’s working her way through the entire NXT women’s division and starting from the bottom, I think Carter’s got one of the lowest OVRs. Congratulations, Aliyah, you’ve got next.
For a group that never did anything and broke up 12 months ago, WWE sure does keep talking about the Riott Squad. They talk about them like they were The Shield, and not a trio of loosely defined costumes that put together some backstage attacks and . They broke up off-screen because of the Draft, then all ended up on the same brand anyway. Ruby Riott got injured and returned to break up a group that’d already broken up, Liv Morgan took bubblebaths to “find herself” so she could be a problematic fifth wheel in a wrestling wedding and apparently nothing else, and Logan hugged deer corpses on Instagram, had a lengthy Main Event feud with Dana Brooke, and was also kind of a Viking? No shade to the performers themselves here, just the observation that WWE still loves saying the words “The Riott Squad” after not doing anything with them, breaking them up, and releasing one of them.
On a quick note of positivity, Liv and Ruby put together a pretty stellar finish here.
Definitely a sequence you wouldn’t have imagined Liv pulling off five years ago, so +1 for the visible improvement. Also, somebody at WWE realize Ruby Riott’s dope already.
The best match of the bunch is Bianca Belair, who goes here now, versus Santana Garrett. If you’ve never seen Santana before, think of her as the Pokémon evolution of Delilah Doom. They EVOLVE’d her using the same stone they that turned Seth Rollins into Elias, and Elias into Drew McIntyre. It’s enough of a straight-up win to help Belair look dominant, but competitive enough that she doesn’t look like one of those WWE Flavor of the Week characters who debut, go on a short winning streak, lose, and are forgotten forever.
Best: The B-Boy Stylings Of Byron Saxton
Hilarious Worst: Watch Bobby Lashley Flip This Tire
That’s it. That’s the entire bit. Lashley flips a tire. Rusev wasn’t secretly hiding inside of it waiting to jump him or anything. Not exactly a memorable feat of strength when we’ve seen your co-workers can pick up cars, overturn jeeps, and flip ambulances.
Money In The Bank Qualifiers Of The Week
Austin Theory draws the short straw and ends up in a Money in the Bank qualifying match against Aleister Black. As you might’ve guessed, Theory gets in ten minutes of offense because he’s daddy’s special boy and then gets savagely kicked in the face. The best part is easily Zelina Vega shitting on Black on commentary, which is endearing when you remember they’re married and share custody of like a dozen smush-faced cats. Zelina should add Aleister to her group (because his name starts with A, like the rest of them) and he should suddenly become an egotistical pretty boy. “Narcissistic Satanist” might be a truly unique wrestling character. Imagine if Hulk Hogan and Kevin Sullivan were the same guy.
Apollo Crews qualifies to Climb The Corporate Ladder™ by defeating MVP, who I guess earned a chance to qualify by being gone for 10 years and then losing a couple of matches. MVP’s doing Crews a solid by putting him over, though, and I think someone like MVP could really do Crews a favor or thirty in a managerial role. Apollo Crews is never going to give you personality growth between “smiling” and “frowning,” but he’s a killer athlete and a good performer who could really use someone to put him into a marketable context. Whether that happens or not, I’m glad to see them trying to rehab him and actually do something with him, for once.
Buddy Murphy didn’t get the Aleister Black draw, but given their history together, he might’ve done better there than getting paired with Rey Mysterio. Rey still has that crazy special power where he can make you lie across the middle rope in a position you never, ever find yourself in in other matches, and if he hits you with the 619 — a dropkick that relies on the momentum of a rope swing instead of the force of his body and legs, which you’d think would hurt more — and lands on you with a 140-pound splash, you are FINISHED. He might as well pull out a bayonet and stab you in the heart.
As always, Murphy loses, but looks great while he does it. He and Mysterio have really good chemistry together, possibly because Mysterio has good-to-great chemistry with anyone who can bend at the waist and walk upright without falling down, and their 15 minutes was easily the best part of the show for me. I don’t know if there’s another role for Murphy besides “spectacularly good loser henchman,” but I hope we’re eventually able to find it. Dude is the jam.
Regardless, congratulations to Rey for smoking Bud on 4/20.
Also On This Episode
Ced-Ric The Entertainers gets a strong win against Actually Local Talent Shane Thorne and Brendan Vink, continuing Vink’s masterful utilization of his proximity to work during a global pandemic and little panties that barely fit him to become a series regular.
Cedric and Ricochet are a really fun team who can and will do mind-blowing things together in the ring, but they aren’t going to really matter until there are similar but differently motivated teams to feud with. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express were great, but wouldn’t have mattered if they hadn’t gotten into a longstanding beef with the mirror universe versions of themselves, the Midnight Express. The Revival wouldn’t have been able to bring tag team wrestling back to NXT if they hadn’t had American Alpha and DIY to work with. If Cedric Alexander and Ricochet are the only team like this and the tag team division remains a Lazy Susan of placeholder champs without any real plan or purpose to hold them up, you’re going to run into the same problem you always do. The wrestlers are cool and popular, but become less cool and less popular the longer you keep them around without anything to do. Creative quarantine, so to speak.
Andrade wins a non-title match against Akira Tozawa, which is pretty good, but begs the question, “why did you use Tozawa here when he’s already booked in and busy with the Interim Cruiserweight Championship tournament on NXT?” You just had him win on Wednesday and declare that he “must keep winning.” So five days later you’ve got him losing in a completely unrelated thing? I mean, all right. I guess these are the same people who announced Drake Maverick for the cruiserweight tournament, released him, and still expected him to work. A lot of that going around.
Seth Rollins reports in from a throne he made out of a loveseat to accept Drew McIntyre’s challenge for Money in the Bank. Given how much he’s trying to look and act like Joseph Seed from Far Cry 5, I’m surprised he didn’t send Murphy and AOP out to shoot McIntyre with Bliss-tipped bullets and drag him back to the Crossfit bunker. It’s funny to imagine Becky Lynch standing there with an iPhone to film this, though. “Make sure you get the bottom of the painting in the shot, Bex, I need it to look like I’m the king of an antique store.”
Finally, in case you ever wanted to like the Viking Raiders or think they were cool again, here they are in the car together in matching clothes and prop helmets, looking like complete geeks in a Carpool Karaoke segment with self-aggrandizing chants instead of songs. They look like they’re driving to a LARP summer camp.
It’s hard to even joke about. You have to watch it for yourself. The obnoxious “VI-KING RAY-DERS!” chants are humiliating enough, the dialogue in-between them is socially grotesque. “We are VIKINGS …. ….. who LOVE to fight!” Not to mention “we worship Thor, and we’ll knock ’em to the floor,” or, “we are men with beards … who ALL should fear(ds)!” I kept hoping the nWo would pull up and run them off the road.
Maybe WWE was like, “you want to leave, Revival? We’ll show you what you’re missing out on. Who’s the toughest team in the tag team division? The Viking Raiders? Make them look like A.V. club dorks James Corden would have to politely ask to get the fuck out of his car. THAT’LL SHOW YOU.”
Congratulations, everybody. You turned War Machine into the guys from the Sonic commercials.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
Charly: “Ruby, you used to lead a group called the Riott Squad. My question is why do you think Sonya was trying so hard to get Mandy to date Dolph?”
The Real Birdman
I want Aliyah to beat Charlotte for the NXT title and chaos to ensue
Is a fresh match up featuring Kairi Sane called Original Pirate Material?
As someone that grew up on a farm, I can tell you Bobby that those larger low compression tires have a smaller sidewall, so even though they are larger overall, they have less mass. Also, can you just shove Lana in one and roll her down a hill? Thanks.
All these ladders at ringside, you’d swear Rey has a custody hearing today.
Lawler is wearing the cover of an MS-DOS chess game as a shirt
King of Smark Style
There’s social distancing and then there’s Lashley and Lana bits offered to us as entertainment.
I read about this in an Orwell novel.
Lashley: “Man, I miss Sarah Logan. Anyway, I’m going to flip a tire.”
Creative writing the Bobby Lashley tire segment on 4/20:
And that does it for another episode of The Best and Worst of Depressing Quarantine Raw. As always, you can help us out tremendously right now by sharing the column on social media, as well as dropping down into our comments section to let us know what you thought of the show. I can make more Byron Saxton dancing GIFs if I have to.
Join us next week for more Brendan Vink and Kayden Carter as more and more of the show’s actual stars stay home. And we’re only 19 days until WWE presents ELEVATOR ACTION pay-per-view, and Daniel Bryan having a monster truck battle against Aleister Black on the roof of Titan Towers. I think that’s what’s happening. Anyway, thanks again, and see you then!