Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: Sami Zayn introduced us to “Bobby Lashley’s sisters” in a segment we definitely won’t look at with a bad taste in our mouths for the rest of our lives.
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Here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for May 28, 2018.
Worst: We Hope You Weren’t Expecting A “Good” Show
Before we talk about anything else, I need to establish some context for this week’s episode. This week, Raw is up against:
- Memorial Day in the United States
- Game 1 of an absolutely absurd Stanley Cup Final
- Game 7 of the NBA Western Conference Championship between the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets to see who moves on to the finals to face LeBron James and a group of J.V. all-stars
The only modifiers you could’ve added to make it more susceptible to lazy filler writing are “pre-taped because we’re filming overseas,” and “it’s week two in a cycle but too many weeks until the next pay-per-view, and we don’t trust our audience to retain any information older than ‘last week.'” So don’t expect anything to happen here that contributes to anything’s “arc.” It’s just some wrestling that remembers last week and at best goes through the motions to set up something we might want to watch in a few weeks.
The highlight of the night is, of course, Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel inviting the tag team division to an in-ring “cookout” where the food’s already completely prepared to ask them if they can have a shot at the Raw Tag Team Championship. Which is how title shots work. Axel and Dallas have decided to be straight-up Nick Toons now, yelling their internal monologues and setting up ridiculous situations to set up food fights. Titus O’Neil is there for extra yucks from the announce team. It feels like they’re trying to keep Vince McMahon away from the rest of the show by giving him one 15-minute block a week to do whatever the hell makes him laugh. What do we get next week, a therapy skit where somebody makes fun of the therapist’s breath? Sunil Singh dressed like Sherlock Holmes?
For more on this segment, here’s the Revival trying to put themselves over as great wrestlers who’ll stand up to any fight while they’re covered in cake.
It’s that kind of night. Sorry, everyone!
Best: Elias Knows 1,004 Songs
Bless Elias for knowing that even if your act is static, you have to change it up *slightly* every few weeks to keep people from getting tired of you. Previously he added kimonos to his wardrobe and added some surprisingly over catchphrases — +1 to Corey Graves for pointing out that Elias asks people to walk with him from a seated position — and now he’s doing a bit where he keeps stopping himself through some combination of genius musician impetus and how much he hates every place’s citizens. He even pulls a Chris Jericho here, going through an entire commercial break with his little last-second tweaks to the sound and performance. It’s getting even the people who want to cheer him to boo him, and that’s as good as pro wrestling ever gets.
Elias is part of the best batch of segments of the night, and the only part of the show that felt like it was put together with any logic or intent. That’s the Intercontinental Championship scene, which to once again evoke The Best There Is At What He Does, which sees Seth Rollins do yeoman’s work and reach 1998 WCW Chris Jericho levels of stepping up in the mid-card and carrying the bulk of the show. The remainder of the show? However that works.
Rollins interrupts to shame Elias into leaving, because it’s time for his Intercontinental Championship match (of consequence!) with Jinder Mahal. From our open discussion thread, which you should be participating in if you aren’t already:
Is Seth Rollins a normal human being, or literally Crossfit Jesus Christ? Tune in to tonight’s Intercontinental Championship match with Jinder Mahal to see if he can work actual miracles, or if we should stop pretending humans don’t have limitations.
I’m not sure if I want Rollins on stained glass in my place of worship yet, but he got something very watchable out of Mahal here by building the match around the guy’s strengths instead of like, asking him to work at a Seth Rollins level. That was a sticking point for me in a lot of the Styles matches. AJ’s great, but he’s asking you to have an AJ Styles match, and that’s where a lot of the complications and bad PPV finishes come into play. Rollins builds the match around the idea that (1) Jinder is big and strong and should be able to throw him around, repositioning Jinder as an aggressive bruiser instead of the generic create-a-wrestler they usually book him as, (2) Jinder always cheats to win, so to beat him, you have to recognize the cheating and turn it around on him, and (3) Jinder will cheat even MORE when he thinks the first cheating’s not going to work, in which case you should probably just say fuck it and attack him with a chair.
It “protects” Jinder not by “not pinning” him or whatever, but by understanding that this guy should be a KILLER, not a by-the-numbers vaguely technical guy who beats you with cobra clutches. He’s not a technical wizard. He can’t “go” in the fan interpretation of that term. But he’s a physical marvel, and you believe that if he hit you as hard as he could he might be able to kill you, and that’s surprisingly important in our wrestling heels. It’s why nobody takes Big Cass seriously. Could that guy win a real fight? Probably, but does he LOOK like he could win a real fight? Not really, even when he’s super tall.
So yeah, this wasn’t perfect, but like Rollins/Mojo Rawley it understands its participants and builds something exciting and workable around what they do, and what they can do well. It’s one of the reasons why every Seth Rollins match feels like it has heat these days. The crowd WANTS to cheer. They don’t WANT to sit on their hands for three hours. Not ever. You just have to give them reasons, man.
When Rollins is done making sure Jinder Mahal has R-U-N-N-O-F-T, he poses on the announce table with the chair over his head. That clears Elias to sneak up and T-ball his ass off the table to the floor with a guitar. It came so out of nowhere it made me snort-laugh in real life.
I always like when WWE remembers that character plots can overlap. Rollins had beef to settle with Jinder Mahal based on Mahal’s attacks on his Fist Brother Roman Reigns. Rollins interrupted Elias, which made him mad, so he showed back up at the end of the segment to get revenge. They even go partial Stone Cold Steve Austin with Rollins by having him be so injured he needs a medical team to carry him away, only for Rollins’ BABYFACE PRIDE to allow the response of the fans to power him up enough to leave under his own power. It’s “tough” and cool without making Rollins look like an invulnerable superhero, and right now that’s the difference between wrestling crowds cheering someone and “reacting” to them always having to be on the show.
Good stuff all around here. I wish this was more of the show.
Worst: Alexa Bliss Was Right
My least favorite part of the show, non-food-fight division, was probably the “exhibition” between Nia Jax and “local competitor” Madi Maxx. It just provides more questions than answers.
The biggest question is, why is Nia Jax just a straight-up heel now, insulting the crowd and making fun of people? Wasn’t her entire thing since before WrestleMania that she was being bullied, and wanted to show people they could be different and stand up to bullying? Wasn’t that why we sat through a month and a half of Alexa Bliss calling her fat all the time? Now as soon as Jax is done with Bliss, her first job is to challenge a rookie to a championship match and basically bully the shit out of her (and an opponent) for no reason. Was Alexa Bliss supposed to be right?
Not only that, but you’ve got the exhibition built around how Nia believes Ronda Rousey won’t be able to physically put her in an arm bar, and if she does, Jax will just be able to easily overpower her and counter it. Which doesn’t take into consideration that very recently we already SAW this talking point in Nia’s feud with Asuka at Elimination Chamber. “Asuka, you can’t put this hold on me!” And then surprise, she can put the hold on her. Asuka won that match by pinfall with a roll-up, sure, but if Asuka can grab you in the hold, you don’t think the Olympic-level legit judoka bad-ass shootfighter can’t? It’d be like Kairi Sane getting punched in the face mid-move by Lacey Evans and then showing up the next week like, “hey Shayna Baszler, I bet you wouldn’t be able to PUNCH ME IN THE FACE IN THE MIDDLE OF ONE OF MY MOVES!”
So you’ve got a character with motivations that completely contradict the past several months of on-screen story, going up against a still-training celebrity who has never had a one-on-one match and just smiles through intimidating until it’s time to look concerned, in a match orchestrated by a third party NPC at an NBC upfront event. Not great, Bob.
Worst: DQs Nuts
Speaking of characters acting a way they shouldn’t to set up matches without finishes, we open this week’s show with a rematch from last week’s main event, caused by [checks notes] Finn Bálor slapping Braun Strowman in the face for calling him short? O … kay?
I watched a really great video recently from Nerdwriter about why people seem to prefer Marvel movies over Zack Snyder’s vision for the DC Cinematic Universe, and how it comes down to Snyder valuing “moments” over “scenes.” He’s such a visual director and so set on creating a series of unforgettable, iconic visual “moments” that he forgets to actually set those moments up and give them meaning. The characters don’t have defined personalities as much as they’re just cool-looking placeholders to play “character 1” and “character 2” in moments the films haven’t earned. WWE is a SEVERE offender in this regard. They want to give you these big images, like Finn smacking Braun in the face, because that would look good in a video package. It doesn’t matter that the character motivations don’t really make much sense, or that it’s not really happening for a reason since they’re both in a match set for weeks from now, or that it’s happening at the beginning of a filler holiday Raw. It was COOL! You LIKE these guys!
And I do, you know? And maybe it was, but shit, I want talented-ass, easy-to-love Finn Bálor to have ONE STORY in WWE EVER that’s built around a character, and how he feels about something besides “the WWE Universe.” Those NXT vignettes about his personality are the only time he’s ever HAD one outside of t-shirt and costume choice. And this is one of the best wrestlers in the world. Why do I know a thousand times more about Marty the Moth Martinez in his five minutes every fourth Lucha Underground episode than one of WWE’s biggest stars, who’s on TV for 15 minutes every week every year?
That’s not even noting that the show opened with two consecutive disqualifications, which go from a useful booking tool to clear shorthand that they wanted to “do” something, but aren’t really ready to do it do it. So here’s like 1/4 of our effort! Don’t pay too much attention yet, but please watch!
The ‘Going Through The Motions’ Lightning Round
Aside from the main event (which we’ll get to in a moment), that’s pretty much everything you need to know about this week’s show. The Seth Rollins stuff was good because Seth is bulletproof fantastic right now, Elias was funny because he’s leaned all the way in on the character, the Nia Jax stuff was written to make sense to people who are just tuning in exclusively, they did a bunch of DQs because they’re scared to do anything, and everything else was just there. And not incidentally, it’s “just there” by design. That’s the most frustrating part.
The best example of this is probably Bobby Roode vs. Kevin Owens. Sorry, the best example of that is probably “Bobby Roode,” a wrestler who we’re told is things without ever really seeing them. He says he’s glorious. His robe says it! His taunt is to yell “glorious.” His TitanTron video says it! You sing it in his song! Glorious, you get it? And also he has wrestling matches, but pay attention to the “glorious” part because you just LOVE that.
He wrestles Kevin Owens to “build momentum” for Money in the Bank, which would mean something if wrestlers were video game characters with stat bars and vitals and shit. How many specials can Bobby Roode bank before Money in the Bank? That’s the idea. They’re in a match of consequence later, so we want to see them, so they just fight each other for nothing for a few weeks. That ends up hurting how much we want to see them in the IMPORTANT match, which ends up hurting the gimmick of your pay-per-view, which keeps confusing us on whether the Network shows exist to promote the USA shows or vice versa. It used to be “watch the weekly shows so you’re invested enough to pay extra for a bonus show full of cool stuff.” Now it’s, “watch the weekly shows so you know what’s happening on the Network, and watch the Network so you know what we’re doing on the weekly shows.” The product has become the experience instead of anything actually happening on or in the product.
Chad Gable vs. Drew McIntyre felt like a match happening on a rail at an amusement park. The match starts, they go outside of the ring, they go around the front of the ring on hard cam side and then they go back inside for the finish. They’re good at what they do, and they made McIntyre’s offense look exceptional, but they also could’ve had this match between when you get on the boat on Splash Mountain and when you go down the big waterfall. It’s a good squash, yeah, but Gable’s ignoring 100% of his Smackdown character development, and all we know about McIntyre is that he’s very intense. That’s fine, but … like, are we doing anything with it? Are they just waiting around for the next spot to open up in a tag title feud? Is that why the Authors of Pain fell into a sinkhole or whatever?
There’s also Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt vs. The Ascension, which is the best of this week’s examples. You’ve got two of the most absurd characters you’ve ever had on Raw: weird vampire hillbilly overlord Matt Hardy and his tag team partner via lake-based exorcism, Bray Wyatt. And … they’re just normal guys. They do funny taunts and have signature entrances, but they aren’t DOING anything. They aren’t THINKING anything or FEELING anything, they’re just interchangeable wrestlers on a wrestling show. How the heck are you doing that with MATT HARDY, a guy who got you critical and creative acclaim by doing a wacky backyard wrestling video as your Raw main event?
It shouldn’t be so hard to make special characters feel special. Instead you’ve got them doing a tandem Sister Abigail that puts a Matt Hardy-shaped cushion between the victim and the mat, so you’re basically letting a guy Rock Bottom both of you. That’s a total nitpick, but it’s not like there’s anything else to talk about. And it doesn’t help that nobody could seem to remember Wyatt’s name all night. McGillicutty’s out there like, “uh, Matt Hardy and you know, Bro Bryant.”
Then we have Sami Zayn’s “apology” to Bobby Lashley and the WWE Universe for last week’s very well-done and universally beloved Lashley Sisters segment. Every week there should be a retraction like this. Next week Bo Dallas needs to show up like, “sorry we spent 15 minutes throwing beans on people, we know you probably would’ve liked to have seen that time go to the women’s division and the heavily advertised gauntlet match main event but Michael Cole wanted to snicker about Titus again.”
You know material is bad when Sami Zayn can’t get something good out of it. That guy took “white guy pretending to be generic Mexican” and turned it into a beloved character. He EXISTS to spin hay into gold, and he’s on here struggling to make Bobby Lashley seem likeable or like he gives a sincere shit about ANYTHING. Lashley’s comedy makes R-Truth feel like Richard Pryor. “Hi. I am Lashley. I am a wrestler! Here is punch!” All Lashley’s shown us since WrestleMania is a bad delayed vertical suplex. Turn the man into “walking Armageddon” or be okay with us treating him like MMA Lennie Small for the rest of his career.
Best, Mostly: The Gauntlet
Finally we have our main event gauntlet match for the final Raw spot in the women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, which ends up being solid, even though it could’ve used 10 of those in-ring barbecue minutes to pace itself out and give some of the less Obviously Winning participants time to shine. Sarah Logan and especially Liv Morgan are out of the equation early, as they just kinda zip through the Riott Squad content to get to the end. Honestly they could’ve just done 20 minutes of Ruby Riott vs. Sasha Banks and it would’ve accomplished the same thing, unless you need reminders that Bayley makes bad social decisions and Mickie James is chaotic neutral.
Still though, it got good as it went along, with Riott vs. Banks obviously being the highlight. Gauntlet matches are a weird conceit, since there’s no internal logic or in-universe “drawing” or event that gives the people in it their number, so you’re just like, “of course the biggest star comes in last and wins.” It’s a match about overcoming odds where babyfaces (or something like them) get the final three spots. Making Bayley go out there first against three people and then having Sasha show up dead last to pick up the win on a tired opponent is one of those booking lay-ups that feels so obvious you’d swear they wouldn’t do it, but here we are. It’s what you’d expect, because it’s Memorial Day, and there’s hockey on, and there’s basketball on. You’d think that’d be when WWE would put their best foot forward and like, give you a reason to maybe prefer watching this over that, but it’s not the business model.
At the end of the day, everything’s where you’d expect. Bayley’s still kinda dumb, the Riott Squad keeps saying they’re dominant and losing unless Ruby’s doing all the work, and Sasha Banks gets into the Money in the Bank ladder match because she and Charlotte are the John Cena and Randy Orton of dangerous women’s division spots. The ladder match is probably going to be good-to-great, and a year from now we won’t have any memory of the roundabout way we got everybody into it. You don’t even have to watch the shows to know what’s going on anymore. Is that … good? What do y’all even want? Are we supposed to not like the show until people who don’t watch start liking it?
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
The Real Birdman
Liv Morgan thought it was an infinity gauntlet match and lost in a snap
The B-Team BBBQ. The extra B is for BYOBB
Akam: hey Paul, we were wrong man, please take us back
*Paul doesn’t pick up*
*meanwhile in Florida*
Paul: so, War Raiders huh? How do you guys feel about helmets that cover your entire head? And even larger horns?
Pretty sure having this many low card guys in the ring is catnip for Braun
If Lashley were any cornier, he’d be attacked by crows daily.
canadian having trouble saying sorry. unrealistic.
MATT: Aha! I’ve only been pretending to be part of your cult!
BRAY: I joined your cult.
MATT: But…This is how your stories go…
BRAY: Sure, but this time I infiltrated your cult just to see what it was like.
BRAY: I’m gonna stay. In your cult, you can win consecutive matches.
Big Baby Yeezus
Dana Brooke: I couldn’t believe the numbers so I ran them by a colleague from a highly prestigious university and he confirmed that I had a 141 and 2/3% chance of winning at sacrifice
Nia calling someone else cute is like the pot calling the kettle adorable.
Seth Rollins: Activating SHIELD code, Jinder is backstage, I repeat, Jinder is running wild backstage, advise spear, over.
Roman: New walkie talkie, who dis?
I’ve crunched the numbers, and that’s it for this week. Let’s hope they have a little less social competition next week and remember to write the show before they do it for three hours. Drop us a comment and share the column if you’re kind, and stay with us all week for the thrilling followups.