Previously on the Best and Worst of Raw: The Superstar Shake-Up completely changed the Raw roster, except for the parts they decided to undo off-screen and not mention because nobody’s around to hold them creatively accountable. Plus, War Raiders debuted as The Viking Experience, which was also immediately undone.
H/t to @brilliam for that subtitle.
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And now, here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for April 22, 2019.
Worst: How To Kill 20 Minutes, And A Crowd
Before I start in on the things that didn’t work about Raw and both the melancholy and the infinite sadness of Iowa, I want to say one wholly positive thing about the show: it felt like they were trying.
That’s not to say it totally succeeded, but last night’s episode of Raw for the first time in a while felt like someone had taken a minute to sit down and try to figure it out before it started. Usually they just turn the cameras on and hope for the best. They even do that in kayfabe. How many episodes start with nothing being announced, and someone wandering out to the ring and getting surprisingly interrupted to set something up? What if they had no matches AND nobody felt like opening the show with a big personal statement? They’d be screwed.
Everything on Raw, for the most part, felt like it was contributing to the greater show. There were two triple threat matches announced before the show even started (see above) with the winners set to go one-on-one in the main event. And that had consequence! The winner would move on to Money in the Bank to challenge Seth Rollins for the Universal Championship. It felt like Raw was pretending it was a wrestling show again for a minute by having divisions of competitors exist and people trying to achieve or maintain goals. They ALSO announced Cedric Alexander vs. Cesaro, which would be a good fresh starting point for either (or both) guys. Plus, some of the wrestling parts of the wrestling show would be good! Other segments looked to set up new directions for characters — Robert Roode, Bray Wyatt (more on them later) — or attempted to put some momentum behind newly arriving stars (Naomi, Becky Lynch) by having them do well at their job.
You can’t hold every single aspect of a wrestling show against the writers and creative team. You have to hope all the characters and performers will follow through at a high level of competence, which is too much to ask of some people they’ve chosen to independently contract on their flagship 3-hour prime time television show. But I’ll always appreciate a movie that has some ambition and purpose behind it and fails over a competently made, re-tread waste of time. Just wanted to type that out-loud before I point out things like, oh, I don’t know …
… the fact that Raw had quickly and effectively booked a show for Monday and announced what was happening on it, and still found it necessary to open with a 20-minute, 8-person opening promo parade where everyone has to pretend to be surprised that the matches are setting themselves up.
Yeah, before the show they announce Baron Corbin vs. The Miz vs. Drew McIntyre, and Samoa Joe vs. AJ Styles vs. Rey Mysterio. One of those needs more Christopher Daniels and the other needs less Baron Corbin, but those are the matches. They’re made, announced, and even shown in graphics at the top of the program. And yet here’s Triple H opening the show, and Seth Rollins wondering who he’s going to face next like nobody’s told him about any of this, and the six people who already have a path to a championship match at Money in the Bank interrupt to explain why they deserve a path to a championship match at Money in the Bank. And like too many Raw openings, it takes twenty fucking minutes. It takes Raw the length of a full 22-minute half-hour television show episode to announce what they’ve already announced. Is anybody tuning in for EntranceMania? Do we need to have characters walk out to music, pose, and say I AGREE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE ANNOUNCED MATCH for almost half an hour?
Promo parades are the dirt worst, and they’re somehow even worse when you’re pretending they’re all idiots who can’t pay attention or check Twitter.
To go back to the positives for a moment, the announced matches actually happen as announced — a lesson Raw could’ve used when using the first 20 minutes of its first show after WrestleMania to set up a “winner take all” match between the Universal and WWE Champions that becomes a tag team match nobody asked for — and are both pretty fun.
The better of the two for me was Styles vs. Mysterio vs. Joe, possibly because I’d be more than okay with Rollins facing any of those three. One thing I really liked here is that Raw seems to understand what people like about AJ Styles more than Smackdown, somehow. They have him come up with a creative, skilled way to adapt to his opponents and win the match. Isn’t that crazy? Styles on Smackdown, and especially on pay-per-views where he’s representing Smackdown as WWE Champion, is for whatever reason all about accidentally bumbling into match finishes. Everything he did with Jinder Mahal, Shinsuke Nakamura, Samoa Joe, and even to a degree Daniel Bryan was all about non-finishes and cheapshots and, like, accidentally getting your leg caught in the announce table. Styles is supposed to be better at this than everybody else, because he’s objectively better at the physical aspect of this job than almost anyone else, so having him be smart and win with talent and ingenuity and cunning is a much better call.
On the other side we’ve got Corbin vs. Miz vs. McIntyre, which is a good reminder that Baron Corbin can actually kinda go, at least at a watchable, competent wrestler kinda level, when he’s not stuck being the most obnoxious waiter at Hell’s Cheesecake Factory. Babyface Miz continues to be a revelation, as he’s actually good at it this time around, and Drew McIntyre is still Drew McIntyre whether Raw seems to realize it or not. The hope here is that they’re “saving” McIntyre’s title shot for when he’s able to just plow through the champion and win, and that they aren’t Samoa Joe’ing or Braun Strowmanning him by having him be the Biggest and Toughest and Coolest guy only to get fed to the champion and flounder around in the background pretending he’s a threat.
Corbin, who would honestly be a really fun heel character if he had any tangible character motivations or visual identity whatsoever, gets the win by letting McIntyre hit a big move and then tossing him to the floor to steal the pin. To once again compliment Raw for having clear forward momentum, this means two lengthy, watchable matches get used to create a third, also watchable match in a consequential main event between a scumbag heel everyone wants to see lose and the show’s new star we’re all supposed to like.
It’s pretty hard to get a great singles match out of this version of Baron Corbin, as honestly, we’re not going to care about him while he looks like that. This isn’t Roman Reigns sticking to SWAT gear when he should probably get some trunks, this is a “monster heel” who looks like the saxophone player in a bad House of Blues’ jazz band. He’s also 90% “trying to get a reaction from the crowd” and 10% “wrestling,” so you get moments like Miz waiting forever and a day for Corbin to remember he’s supposed to get back in the ring and hit a Deep Six.
Anyway, Styles does an admirable job and thankfully WINS, setting up what should be a banger Seth Rollins title defense if we can avoid the pitfalls of “protective” booking. Rollins vs. Corbin was being teased in the advertising for Extreme Rules, so it was a nice surprise to see him lose. Just let Styles and Rollins tear it up, tell a good story for 20 minutes, and have Rollins win. That’s all we need. Don’t send out Lars Sullivan at the end or whatever to attack them both to set up some other match. Take your time, give fans a different kind of thing to enjoy for a minute, remember to sometimes get over the “wrestling” parts of your Monday wrestling show, and utilize the talent of the massive Superstar Army you’ve spent the past 10 years collecting.
Also, it’ll be pretty cool to see Styles wrestle for the Universal Championship against the guy he called the “future of wrestling” 13 years ago.
Best: Actually New Things!
First let’s talk about “Robert Roode.” He’s a new character that proves Bobby Roode would look like Don Frye with a sunburn if you gave him a Rick Rude mustache and too much self-tanner. Brother looked fluorescent out there, like he suddenly had the body and skin color of a Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out character. The idea is that he’s “remembered who he really is” now that he doesn’t have to force his awkward stepson to play dress up, and is refocusing on being the dirtbag heel that brought him to the dance. There’s probably an interesting, “babyfacing don’t make the world work” plot you could work here without a Sami Zayn-esque declaration of how you feel every week, but whatever.
The larger point is that Bobby Roode’s done being a throwaway character and is actually getting to contribute now, which is good. Ricochet accidentally got tossed into enhancement talent duty now that Aleister Black’s been teleported off to Smackdown Live with no explanation, but he’ll probably be fine. This would’ve been great in front of a crowd that hadn’t been injected with horse tranquilizers sometime during the first hour.
To make a final point about Roode, there are two things modern pro wrestling needs more of:
- ugly people, and
- serious, tough “adult” characters who look like they might actually be able to win fights and would choose to do this for a living
I’m talking your Harley Race types, where they aren’t here to sell t-shirts and get direct-to-DVD starring roles in WWE Studios action movies. They are adults in their forties who wear nice clothes and show up ready to kick your ass, and yeah, they might cheat sometimes, but that’s just a character flaw in an otherwise completely understandable professional wrestler. I’m not knocking the “let’s play video games and do memes” class, I just think wrestling needs as many Tullies Blanchard as it can have.
Something else I should compliment Raw for: matches with finishes. Aside from the Lucha House Party match (which we didn’t really want to watch anyway), every match booked on the show happened as announced and featured a wrestler beating another wrestler in a wrestling match. Some were cheap, like Corbin’s, but still involved someone pinning something else. If Raw can just remember to maintain its structural integrity as a wrestling show for a few weeks and turn that into habit we’ll be going somewhere.
Cesaro vs. Cedric Alexander was good while it lasted, which was sadly only about six minutes. But honestly, singles star Cesaro should be beating EVERYBODY in 5-6 minutes. No disrespect to Ced, who rules and deserves a spotlight, but we’ve spent YEARS watching Cesaro be 10/10 in everything a guy can do inside a wrestling ring and never get any real love or “push” from the company. Being half a tag team that does well sometimes is all well and good, but brother spent his past two WrestleManias losing the Tag Team Championship to a 10-year old as a funny joke and being the fourth most important guy in an ersatz League of Nations. It’s time for somebody to stop feeling bad about Cesaro’s accent or whatever and let him be the supernaturally strong and unique Superstar he’s been for at least as long as he’s been shaving his head. Probably longer.
Can we move Cesaro straight into a feud with uptight angry man Sami Zayn, and then pivot into a program with Seth Rollins? I know he won’t win it, but shit, I’d like to see those championship matches. All of those matches. I’m also looking in your direction, Cesaro vs. Samoa Joe.
The least successful “new” thing is that The Viking Experience has had their name changed to The Viking Raiders because we communally came together to laugh at them for a week. “Viking Raiders” is better — it’s not good, really, but it’s better — even if it’s just two football team mascots crammed together. I wish they’d kept Aleister Black teaming with Ricochet on Raw so we could’ve feuded Viking Raiders against the Eagle Saints.
Secondary question: when did the War Raiders get turned heel? They’re out here beating up goober-ass Lucha House Party before the match starts for no reason, doing the cool moves that pop everyone in NXT but make the Iowa crowd sit perfectly still, presumably in a high fructose corn syrup-related coma. It was so sad watching two guys dressed like vikings beat up three luchadors and go AAAH AAAAHHHHH at a crowd that couldn’t be arsed to react.
AND THEN THERE’S THIS
Welcome to the most surprising Raw moment since the debut of the Funkasaurus, as Bray Wyatt is now a haunted Pee-wee Herman who hosts a children’s television show and attacks images of himself with a chainsaw. It’s … wonderful? Kind of?
Okay, so here’s the tea: Windham Rotunda the actor, wrestler, and performer, is really fucking good at his job. He’s a great talker, a great personality, and more than capable of handling himself in a wrestling ring. But due to some combination of circumstance, familiarity, and complete creative failure, “Bray Wyatt” is a joke. It’s not his fault, I don’t think. You can only pretend to be the all-powerful devil who pulls the strings on all the helpless puppets of the world and lose embarrassing-ass wrestling matches so many times, you know? Wyatt losing matches and feuds had already reached a dangerous point of spoopy ghost lanterns when they suddenly put the WWE Championship on him, and we were like, “yeah, this will be awesome and get better,” and then boom, ring of bugs at WrestleMania. House of Horrors. Dressing up as Sister Abigail, and then not actually making it to the match. Laughing with Matt Hardy, and then just doing the most basic version of that for months. It’s been an ongoing disservice to one of the most talented performers in the company.
So seeing him try something new, finally, is good. I thought he killed it. It certainly got us talking. I didn’t think the bad Blumhouse toy commercials were going to pay off with a maniacal interpretation of the Playhouse, and if they actually do something with this character and concept instead of just doing two more months of this exact same vignette until we’re sick of seeing it, it could be something special. It could be the thing that finally expunges and re-contextualizes “Bray Wyatt” and turns him into a Cactus Jack-esque persona who only shows up in big, important moments to be a boss. But I cannot stress enough, dear WWE employee who might be reading this, that you HAVE TO HAVE HIM START DOING THINGS RIGHT AWAY and making an impact on the show, because a month or two or three or six in the Stardust promo room doesn’t help anyone. Ever. Like, what’s Mojo Rawley up to this week?
Also, can we get Eric Young to be Mercy the Buzzard and Nikki Cross to be Abby the Witch if they aren’t penciled in for that already? I want a full-on faction of weird children’s show monsters. Like you don’t want to see goth Nikki Cross and Eric Young in a vulture skull like a wrestling Cubone. Bring in Lacey Evans to be their Miss Yvonne!
Note: I’d also like to say how much I love the Night of the Hunter reference on the knuckles of his gloves. Robert Mitchum was also in the original Cape Fear, which inspired the Robert De Niro remake, and they both inspired the original Bray Wyatt character in NXT.
Secondary Note: At the end there, when he said, “I’ll always light the way, and all you have to do …” I was really hoping he was gonna say, “IS BO-LIEVE!”
Worst: The Women’s Division Shits The Bed
in case you missed the live broadcast, here’s Alicia Fox going for a tilt-a-whirl something and completely falling apart in the middle. It’s like the Monstars sucked out her talent right as she started the move.
On paper, Becky Lynch getting eight minutes of back-and-forth with Alicia Fox isn’t a bad idea. We’ve always kinda had the idea that Fox is more talented than she’s ever been asked to be, so it’d be the next in Becky’s line of “giving an opportunity” to people like Natalya or whatever who’ve been around for years. In practice, Fox was just not ready for this. In any definition. I don’t know if she was injured or had some personal problems or what was going on, but this is easily one of the worst actual wrestling matches on Raw this year. Just brutally, unforgivably bad. This reminded me of the women’s matches we used to have on Raw, before the Revolution.
It’s bad for Becky, too. She needs good in-ring performances to cement her as the Women’s Champion her persona and popularity insist she is. Instead, her title run so far has been Ronda Rousey not getting her shoulder down for a pin, a feud with randomly occurring Lacey Evans, and now this Alicia Fox nightmare. The promos haven’t been any better. I hope it gets better, soon. I’m not saying “let Charlotte carry the other side of this for a while” again, but I’m not not saying it. Forget the “first time ever dream matches” or whatever you wanna call them and let Becky wrestle Bayley, Sasha, Charlotte, Ruby, Ember, and anyone else who can help her look good for 10 minutes without the threat of accidental paralysis.
I’m also worried that the Raw creative team has “noticed” at the IIconics are funny. That’s a bad sign. Nothing’s worse than when the company’s not paying attention and wrestlers do something legitimately funny. Eventually WWE sees that people on social media like it or whatever and try to micromanage it to sell it to as many people as possible, which removes everything we loved about it and most of what made it funny. They did it with Santino Marella, they did it with the Fashion Files, they did it with Matt Hardy, and now the IIconics are cutting promos about how Ariana Grande sounds like Starbucks? I know my IIconics material. It’s a very specific kind of affably, performatively obnoxious. It’s not a joke to make your grandpa laugh.
Also not helping is WWE’s love of making someone champion and then having them lose every time they wrestle. The IIconics were on a roll heading into WrestleMania, won the Women’s Tag Team Championship, and immediately stopped being able to win. They get pinned all the time now, and are currently in a tag team (?) feud with a woman who came over from Smackdown to Raw to be the new partner of someone they sent from Raw to Smackdown the next night. So they’re still feuding for some reason, and Naomi’s still out here pinning one half of the Women’s Tag Team Champions in two minutes despite not having a tag team? You gotta be joking me.
Best: Son Of Hammock
I’m still not sure it’s a good look to have the most socially conscious and accountable WWE Superstar cutting long promos every week about how WWE as a business is actually fine and it’s you, the fans who are the problem and make it toxic, but if he continues stretching that into a weird humblebrag about all the fun vacations he’s taken, I could get into it. That’s what this character needs the most right now; if he’s going to be a heel and cut these promos every week, he needs an ulterior motive. He needs a “real” reason why he’s doing it, so we can boo him for x or y or z and not just say, “welp, he’s right,” and boo him for being “honest.” It’s gotta have a hook.
Like Bray Wyatt’s new thing, I trust Sami as a performer and know this has to have something going on for it besides, “guy tells the fans he doesn’t like them all the time.” That’s the easiest and lamest thing in the world if you aren’t doing it with style or purpose. Mick Foley had the indignation of “smart” fans making jokes about his family. Elias has a guitar and can make it funny. Is Sami’s thing that he’s just now realizing he’d rather go on trips and do fun shit than work? That the worst part of any pop culture phenomenon is the fandom? What is he, new?
DON’T MESS THIS UP FOR ME YOU JERKS
Finally, here’s this teaser confrontation between The Usos and The Revival. If there are any two teams in the world who can add some zazz to the Raw tag team division, it’s them. You just have to trust them and let them do their thing. Please trust them and let them do their thing. I just want to like tag team wrestling all the time.
okay, maybe not all of it
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
The Real Birdman
If Roode doesn’t call himself “Your mom’s favorite wrestler”, I’m not sure WWE knows what they’re doing
Robert Roode IS Moustache Mountin’
Graves: Rene, you confuse tenure with experience and talent.
ROODE: That’s what I love about these WWE divas, man. I get older, they stay the same age.
Robert Roode will go to a strip club on a weekday for the buffet.
Baron Von Raschke
I don’t see how Sami is the heel here. Ten months away from Raw would make me think those were the happiest times of my life and coming back to it would make me pretty bitter.
Sami is still feuding with The Authority, I see.
Since it is Earth Day the New Daniel Bryan should come out and thank the WWE for recycling Rowe/Hanson’s name so much and setting a good example.
Is that black band on Lacey’s hat covering the “make america great again”?
know your role
What we actually got was the Superstar “Shave” Up
And that’s it for a not great, but hopeful, episode of Raw. Let’s keep it productive and moving forward, everybody. And do that thing with Eric Young and Nikki Cross.
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See you next week!