Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: WWE responded to a strong backlash to Backlash by giving us a Raw and a Smackdown heavy on wrestling, light on bullshit. Will that trend continue this week?
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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for May 14, 2018.
Best: Roman Reigns, Violent Crybaby
At this point I think most of us, whether we like Roman Reigns’ character and his in-ring work or not, think it’s pretty ridiculous to book the same guy as the “I’m the company man and this other guy isn’t” point of view (building to WrestleMania) and the “company’s against me” point of view (building to everything else) in the span of about a month. Roman gets non-stop opportunities and title matches, and on the rare cycles when he doesn’t, he shows up angrily at the tops of shows to loudly complain about how he’s not getting opportunities and title matches. Kurt Angle’s “shit man, I’m sorry, but chill, other people work here too” promo at the top of tonight’s show is a great example.
Knowing this, there’s still something kinda great about Reigns’ final statement being smoldering blue steel, followed by him stomping backstage to beat up the guy who interfered in his Money in the Bank qualifier and robbed him of ALL TITLE SHOTS HE’D EVER HYPOTHETICALLY GET FOREVER. Brother Mahal grabbed Roman’s leg once and now he’s in for a show-long Reign of terror, including a backstage attack, getting dragged out on the stage in a signature moves exhibition, and the cherry on top: a spear through what’s either an unfinished wall addition or the entrance to a secret passage at the O2 Arena.
The Reigns character is borderline insufferable most times, and the last thing I want to see is a summer program built around 20-minute Jinder Mahal singles matches, but I love how WWE sometimes leans all the way the hell into a character trait like Roman’s entitlement and instant violence at its perceived absence and show us what Stone Cold Steve Austin would look like if nobody wanted to cheer him. It’s fascinating, really. Jinder Mahal is the cookie cutter 1980s pro wrestling heel, and top babyface Roman’s general vibe is so toxic it almost makes Jinder feel sympathetic. He’s not, but he almost is. That’s impressive. Roman is the John Cena heel turn that would happen if we wouldn’t immediately start cheering John Cena for turning heel.
Best: Seth Rollins, Again (Again)
Meanwhile you’ve got Seth Rollins as a brilliant juxtaposition to Reigns. Rollins spent a lot of time doing those show-opening plot-progression promos, and while he was pretty good at being the most obnoxious person in the world, they kept him at a constant. You knew what you were getting, and WWE delivered on your expectations. Now you’ve got Rollins out here with so much momentum in the ring that he’s transformed into what almost feels like a classic babyface; namely, he’s not getting cheered because he came up with something funny to say or did a skit people laughed at, he’s becoming the Top Guy in the company by going out and having outstanding matches with everyone, winning them, and regularly defending a championship that’s become the top prize on the show thanks to Brock Lesnar’s German suplex vanishings and the yeoman’s work of The Miz.
This week he gets challenged by Kevin Owens, which continues last week’s wonderful idea of, you know, booking top star Kevin Owens like a threat. The “wins and losses don’t matter” argument really only works if everyone seems competitive and you don’t have clearly separated classes of “Superstars we care about” and “other guys we don’t, at least not right now.” So yeah, Owens losing here makes him AND Rollins look better, because there’s an elevated level of competition and a sense of urgency not only to win the match, but to be the champion. Because being the champion is the base reason why — viewing pro wrestling as an actual job in real life — anyone would work there.
The finish also validates the competitiveness of the match. Rollins doesn’t just hit a series of moves and wins; Owens is in control, and Rollins uses his ring positioning to pull of a surprise Curb Stomp when Owens wouldn’t be expecting it to get the three. It shows Rollins’ craftiness and acumen, and suggests that Owens would’ve had a counter for it (as he showed) if he’d known it could hit him like that.
Great stuff from Rollins again, as he continues to be 2018 WWE’s undisputed MVP.
Best: And They Say, They’re In The Class B Team
Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel are now the “B-Team,” with homemade Team Rocket shirts and a Dudley Boyz transitional move as their finish and I am into it. Because of course I’m into it. They get their “first win” over Breezango, and the post-match promo about it is adorable. WWE should spend the next 8 months turning them into the top underdog babyface team on the show and run them against Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre at Mania. Yes, I am advocating marquee Bo Dallas WrestleMania matches.
Some people are bothered by the fact that they got a clean win over Breezango, which I get, and that Breezango JUST beat the Bar a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t mind it too much because as much as I love Breeze and Dango, they aren’t a notable physical threat, and having a competitive tag division means having more than two teams at a time that can win matches. If you’ve got five or six middle-ground teams and they can win or lose to each other without needing a ton of story explanation, you create “competition,” which makes it easier to slide a team like Breeze and Fandango or Dallas and Axel into more important matches without it seeming like a spur of the moment “thing” you’re trying. I dig it.
Worst: The Opposite Of That
If you don’t build a competitive tag team division full of teams who can believably win wrestling matches, you get shit like The Deleters Of Worlds vs. The Revival. It gets about four minutes, and could’ve gone 90 seconds and accomplished the same thing.
Here’s the thing about the Revival … they’re (to me) the greatest tag team in the world, but they look like throwaway jobbers. That’s why they’re a “revival,” they’re calling back to a time when tag teams where ugly dudes in matching tights who beat people’s asses and broke their legs. The Midnight Express, for example. Just the ugliest dudes. WWE’s main roster has never been sure what to do with characters like this, which is why some big former stars like Taz — a little, ugly dude who wears a singlet and suplexes the Christ out of people — went from a Kurt Angle-stomping bad-ass to crying when Jim Ross hits him in the face with candy so quickly. Someone up top just doesn’t get it, or they get it and don’t like it, and your trendsetting NXT workhorse team turns into Local Talent with announced names.
And that’s not to say WWE can’t just fix them in a month and throw them into a match as the best tag team in the world, but it’s starting to look like they don’t have a lot of interest in doing that. And then they lose to a clumsy STO. So … yeah, not my favorite thing on the show.
Worst: When Teams Lose To Random Groups
It’s one of my more niche old school pet peeves, but I’m never much of a fan of established teams — whether it’s a tag team, a trio or a faction — losing tag team matches to groups of singles stars who got thrown together to challenge them. That’s this Riott Squad vs. Natalya, Ember Moon and Sasha Banks match. There’s nothing bad in it, assuming you muted and didn’t listen to Michael Cole talking about Sarah Logan’s uncle’s “taters farm,” but I think teams work better when the team dynamic actively makes sense and helps them win matches. What’s the point of hanging out together and wearing the same t-shirt if it doesn’t help you? It’s why it was so cool when Team Hell No and Randy Orton managed to beat The Shield … The Shield had gone through EVERYBODY in 3-on-3 matches, and it took the top tag team and the world’s most wild card-ass top star to pull off a win. And even THAT felt like a surprise.
One quick note: Sasha Banks scares me to death every time she does a Meteora off the apron to the floor. I know she’s wearing knee pads and doing it onto padding most times, but man, it can’t be good to go joints-first into the floor like that. Be careful with your knees! Don’t be Psicosis if you don’t have to.
Second quick note: This is the kind of match you get when you build your women’s championship program at the NBC upfronts instead of on your wrestling show. Is Natalya still doing a thing with Rousey or nah?
Best: When Teams Beat Random Groups!
In direct contrast to the women’s trios match is Rebrand McIntyre getting a win over two of Raw’s tippy-top stars — Braun Strowman and Finn Bálor — because they’re an established team that knows how to work together and is working vehemently toward a goal. It makes Dolph and Drew look great because they get a (relatively) clean but opportunistic win over these big names, and it doesn’t hurt Finn and Braun at all because they aren’t a tag team. My going theory is that Braun ran into Finn backstage and assumed he was a 9-year old.
I’ve been all about the Ziggler and McIntyre team, so it’s great to see them get a big, strong win on Raw. I like that they more or less won with basic scouting. If Finn knocks you down in the corner, he’s going to the top rope. If Braun catches you on the floor, he’s gonna run around in a big circle and try to run you over. If you trip Finn off the top and keep Braun running in a circle, he’s not gonna break up the pin, and you can win. SMART PEOPLE~
Also, man, I don’t usually like the “follow up a tag team match with a series of singles matches involving the teams to set up a second tag team match” trope, but I would be pretty stoked if next week’s show featured Finn vs. Dolph for 20 minutes and Drew McIntyre’s shockingly gigantic self throwing hands at the Strow.
Worst, Probably: Sami Zayn EXPOSES Bobby Lashley
I hope next week Sami Zayn brings out Lashley’s sisters and they’re like, “yes, he is related to us, and yes, he loves us,” and then they just stare at him for five minutes.
WWE “secret” angles usually involve wrestlers and local theater actors playing weird NPC parts and wasting everybody’s time. Let’s hope Lashley’s dark secret doesn’t involve him having an affair with his physical therapist or impregnating a random lady at an amusement park. Can we just forget this and have Sami answer Seth’s open challenge next week instead?
Best, Mostly: Money in the Bank Qualifiers
Last week, the Money in the Bank qualifiers were the highlight of both Raw and Smackdown. This week they do them again, and while they aren’t anything to write home about, they’re perfectly watchable matches of consequence.
Up first is Bobby Roode winning a triple threat qualifier because he’s the only guy in it you could believe would make it into the Money in the Bank match. He’s up against Baron Corbin, who is nearly synonymous with the worst parts of winning Money in the Bank, and No Way Jose, who’s barely a wrestler right now. Although I’ve gotta be honest, No Way Jose wining the briefcase and cashing it in with a conga line behind him would be pretty amazing.
For our weekly “why isn’t Bobby Roode a heel yet” content, let’s hope that Roode uses Money in the Bank as a Cody Rhodes-esque excuse to cheat a fan favorite and head all the way the hell over to the dark side. Roode might be my pick, actually.
Up next we have Alexa Bliss vs. her good friend Mickie James and everyone in the women’s division’s chosen punching bag, Bayley. Bliss wins this, because of course she does. If you put this match listing in front of 100 people who watch WWE television, 100 of them would say “oh, Bliss wins that.” Even little kids in Bayley bands would say “yeah, Bayley’s probably not winning that.”
Still, it gets Alexa Bliss into the women’s Money in the Bank match, which probably guarantees us a Twisted Bliss from the ladder. That should rule. Like the Roode/Corbin/Jose match, this was perfectly watchable and logically put together, even if it was a foregone conclusion before the writer’s pen left the paper.
Finally we have the best of the three: Elias and Bob “Good Brother” Lashley against Kevin Owens, pulling double duty as a replacement for the speared-through-the-drywall Jinder Mahal.
The character dynamics in this are great. Owens is a heel people want to like, but are unable to because he’s so unbelievably insufferable. Elias is a heel people are getting super into, and since Owens is there to play off of, he gets to lean into it a little. The musical interlude during the match, yelling in Owens’ face about how the people are walking with Elias, and so on. Then you’ve got Lashley, who insists on being the big shiny happy babyface, and he’s fine, but you aren’t gonna find a lot of people who are “into” him. It’s a fun three-character combo.Also, shout-out to Elias for that amazing rana counter into a powerbomb on Kevin Owens. How strong is that dude?
The finish pays off the entire episode. Jinder’s not in the match because of what Roman did in the opening, and in the followup. Owens is the sub because he wanted a rematch with Rollins, couldn’t get it, and settled for the next best thing. Lashley only loses because Sami Zayn’s got beef with him, and Sami once again helps Kevin win because he’s his guardian angel. Like a good match, the finish of a show should play into the early “limb work,” and they did a great job of that this week.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
Roman Reigns got Jinder Mahal replaced with Kevin Owens, cheer this man
Ronda:“K I’ll wrestle u”
it was really nice of the WWE to re-do the “Braun teams up with small local child” angle for the UK crowd
Where is Boudica when you need someone to keep the Romans out of England?
I assume this B team push is just an excuse for “Jumpin” Jim Brunzell and B. Brian Blair to show up on a random RAW and pin Bo and Axel in 10 seconds
The Voice of Raisin
And now an AJ-Nak hype commercial. So we go from Bo to Ro-sham-bo.
No Way Jose is like Vince McMahon’s version of “This Is America”.
The Real Birdman
Roode should just join up with The B Team then call themselves The Broode
Former IC Champion Pdragon
Well the B-Team is just as deserving of a title shot as Ronda
the rest of that hallway won’t load
That’s it for this week’s column. Be sure to let us know what you thought of the episode in our comments section below, and take a moment out of your day to tweet and Facebook out Best and Worst so we can keep as many people reading as possible.
See you on Wednesday for the Best and Worst of Smackdown!