Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: Hulk Hogan returned to the program and nobody had any really aggressive comments to make about it at strangers in the comments section of a comedy wrestling column. Also, John Cena returned, and everyone wrote the 10 best jokes of their life about his hair.
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And now, here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for January 14, 2019.
Worst Best: The Semi-Annual Brock Lesnar Championship Match Switcheroo
To open this week’s column with a positive note, this week’s Raw is attempting to construct a multi-layered A-story as a through-line for Monday Night Raw, connecting the beginning of the show to its middle and end. Whether that’s successful or not feels irrelevant, considering that “attempting something” is usually what I’m asking for in a Raw column, and I’m never more frustrated and disappointed than when Raw just goes through the motions and doesn’t try at all.
The show starts off with Braun Strowman’s response to last week’s awkward waste of time and an interruption from Front House Manager-Elect Baron Corbin, who is still getting half a dozen segments built around him on every show for some reason. Corbin brings up some legitimate points — Strowman can’t beat Lesnar and knows it — and gets chased to the back for watching the shows. I like the implication here that everyone knows Strowman’s act has cooled off, and that his truncated heel run with “The Pack” or whatever as a coward who loses 3-on-1 fights didn’t do wonders for his in-ring credibility.
Corbin runs and hides in Vince McMahon’s limousine, which is parked in the middle of a loading bay for some reason instead of in a parking spot in a parking garage or something. To his credit, Braun uses a weapon to destroy the limo instead of trying to be a bad-ass and doing it with his bare hands like a crazy person who doesn’t need working tendons in his arm. Corbin uses FLEE, and Strowman’s left standing there with a broken limo in front of a distressed Mr. McMahon. Yadda yadda yadda, Vince pulls Strowman from the Universal Championship match with Brock Lesnar.
There’s so much to discuss here, including:
- What are the parameters of Vince McMahon’s love of “aggression?” On Smackdown right now he’s in the middle of a story where he’s motivating AJ Styles by letting Styles punch him in the face and run around all crazy attacking people. He’s even preventing Shane from getting involved. On Raw, he’s mad that Braun Strowman destroyed part of his limo trying to attack Baron Corbin and tries to fine him the full price of the car before pulling him from a pay-per-view championship match …
- … a match that Strowman already had to have a match to “earn,” by beating Baron Corbin at TLC
- which was followed up by the new Council of McMahons (including Stephanie McMahon, who put Corbin in charge of Raw in the first place when she sent Kurt Angle on a permanent vacation) agreeing to pull Corbin out of power, start listening to the fans, and punish him by throwing him into a handicap match
- And now on Raw, despite clear, show-opening evidence that Baron Corbin (the character the McMahons currently dislike) caused the fight with Strowman and led him directly to Vince McMahon’s limo for destruction, Vince is punishing Braun for destroying things and rewarding CORBIN for … causing it.
- If this bit had been done with Stephanie or even Shane, you could’ve rationalized them overreacting and punishing whoever’s in front of them, but again, Vince is in the middle of an angle where people prove their worth to him by attacking him
- you’d think a guy who had his Corvette filled with cement, got his limo vandalized and torn apart by a couple of 45-year old teenagers, had a major limo breakdown on the highway and once literally died in a limousine explosion would be a little more understanding about vehicular danger at work
- emasculated again and removed from a match it took him like two months to earn, Strowman “gets back” at Vince by flipping the limo, which causes WWE’s production team to go into Cinematic Mode and show us like 15 quick-cut angles of it being flipped. Probably the weakest (and weakest looking) Braun Destruction bit they’ve done, and you know we’re in an unwinnable fight when a man single-handedly flipping 5,000 pounds gets the same reaction as Alicia Fox connecting with a dropkick
It might be a good idea to just take Braun off TV completely for a while, let him get better, and invest some time in writing a story or two for him that isn’t, “shouts at us in that one tone of voice until someone tricks him into running off a cliff.”
That all sets up a Promo Parade segment in which Vince is confronted by a seething Drew McIntyre, a righteously indignant Finn Bálor, an “I haven’t been in enough segments already” Baron Corbin, and Immortal Toddler John Cena. They all want Braun Strowman’s Universal Championship match at the Royal Rumble, and they end up in a fatal four-way number one contender match because (again) Finn punched Corbin in the face to prove he’s got what it takes to eat at least three of Brock Lesnar’s two moves at Royal Rumble. Again, Corbin getting a title opportunity when he was clearly the cause of the fit that got Strowman pulled from the match could be “good heeling” in a world where four general managers didn’t stand in the ring a couple of weeks ago and say THINGS WILL BE DIFFERENT before doing everything the same.
But wait! To
make the ending of the main event too obvious add more Odds™ for Bálor to overcome, Vince gives in to backstage hallway peer pressure and gives JINDER MAHAL of all people a chance to pick one of the four guys from the fatal four-way, challenge them one-on-one, and replace them in the match if he wins. Which is all well and good, but presents a lot of similar problems as “declaring yourself for the Royal Rumble.” If Jinder can pull a Wakandan king challenge by just asking for it, why aren’t more people doing that? I can follow that Finn is getting this extra “challenge” because Vince McMahon doesn’t “believe in him” slash wants to “stack the odds against” and motivate him, but the basic concept of how WWE Superstars get into WWE matches is less reasonable than ever. And I know pro wrestling is too fake and loosey-goosey to ever have an actual, functional “rule book,” but shit, some A to B to C reasoning on how and why decisions get made would make this feel more like a pretend sport and less like a soap opera with a 2,000 episode order nobody had time to write.
Finn wins, of course, because he’s been wrestling Jinder Mahal every week since like September and has gotten pretty good at stomping him in the guts.
That finally sets up the main event, in which Finn Bálor once again realizes his destiny as a great last minute substitution, all things considered, and ends up with a Universal Championship match with Brock Lesnar at Royal Rumble. He gets to pin Big Match John as a bonus, and John sticks around after the match to put him over so hard my brain was like this close to thinking he was gonna pull a Paul Orndorff out of nowhere and turn on him. I like Cena in this weird mid-life crisis auto-pilot mode where he plays the hits and puts people over, and Finn sure as hell needed it.
So while I still have my insufferable, nitpicky HEY WHY’D THIS HAPPEN THIS WAY stuff to say about Raw, I’m proud of them for actually building an episode around a narrative, following through on it, and making an (at least slightly) unexpected decision to give new opportunities to fresher talent. Even if that means Brock doing 16 German suplexes to a well-meaning theater nerd with eyeballs drawn on his back and a headband made out of belts.
In all honesty, all I want from the match is for Finn to show up dressed like the ghost of Jimmy John or something to take him off his game plan. He’s The Demon John, the “submissive man who does SUB missive things!”
Worst: Finally, A Fresh Match-Up
The McMahon Family promised new faces and fresh match-ups for 2019, so here’s, uh, The Revival vs. Lucha House Party, with a screwy finish that doesn’t help anybody! Stop me if you’ve heard this before!
One of the things that people “in the know” have been trying to reassure me about is that they’re going somewhere with this Revival story. That’s what I keep getting told. They did the Lucha House Party and had unfair 3-on-2 and 3-on-1 matches where the announcers laughed and joked about how it was Actually Fair because we LIKE the Lucha House Party and heels getting fucked over in handicap matches is the “future of the sport.” Then one week Seth Rollins mentioned that Baron Corbin’s the cause of all the problems, so the Revival kept losing via cheating, but the talking point became, “is WWE actually treating these guys unfairly, because it seems like it.”
This would be easier to understand, I think, if WWE’s announce teams were encouraged to get the matches, stories, and characters over instead of just picking a side on an arbitrary issue and scream-fussing at each other every time your mic’s on. For example, now that Renee Young agrees with Corey Graves that something’s up with the way the Revival’s been treated, Michael Cole’s suddenly taking a hardline nothing is happening, you’re stupid stance, and The Revival’s suddenly the ones cheating, and winning. So was the long-term plan here it tell a story, then suddenly start telling the opposite story? Actually it’s THE REVIVAL who have been cheating all along! If you remember anything that happened more than a week ago, you’re not our target audience and you’re just trying to destroy this for everyone else.
I guess the thing I’m hung up on here is, is pushing your opponent’s foot off the rope before the referee sees it considered “cheating” or taking a short-cut, or is it righteous justice because the more popular people have been ruthlessly cheating the shit out of you for months? If you’re a heel, do you still get WWE’s endless reciprocation perk when you’re wronged?
Worst: Maybe The Weirdest Segment Structure Ever
Alexa Bliss is hosting the second episode of ‘A Moment Of Bliss,’ the talk show she’s doing while she’s rehabbing to get back into the ring and is also suddenly not a general manager character. To set this up, we have a production assistant … stumble upon her while she’s getting dressed?
This bit is so important they give it its own WWE Fan Nation highlight video (above). It’s not referenced again, so … I don’t know, if you got a Puritan-ass TV-PG boner from looking at a lady’s shoulder during a gopher mishap, congratulations? The highlight here is either Bliss not caring that a camera man is there and still filming her, or maybe where she goes full Scott Steiner and turns “Bird Box challenge” into one word. Seems like we could probably not do segments like these.
Later, Bliss’ interview with Paul Heyman (which honestly didn’t have a lot to say, because they were in the middle of rewriting his last month of story) ends when Otis Dozovic of Heavy Machinery shows up and … I’m not sure how to explain it. Does one of those creepy calls where a guy just breathes into a phone and makes weird noises until you hang up? In NXT, Otis was this weird guy who loves working out and eating steaks and dancing. Based on a first impression, his WWE main roster character is Lennie from Of Mice And Men but in a construction onesie?
I guess the idea is that he’s supposed to be “weird,” but there’s a marked difference between affable comedic weird and “standing in the background convulsing, yelling PRETTY LADY I’M COMINGGGGGGG.” What am I even supposed to do with that?
And yeah, your most perfectly WWE moment of the night is Alexia Bliss finally unveiling the long-awaited WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship title belts between two comedy harassment bits. I like how they look, even if they straight-up look like all of Impact Wrestling’s championships, and even if we had to have Otis bust a nut all over them as soon as they showed up.
A Night Of Weird Debuts
“Debut” is probably pushing it. The six NXT stars who are “coming soon” at a Glacier’s pace finally started popping up on Raw, and we got confirmation that they’re getting a sort of “free trial period” at the beginning where they’re on both shows to help us get “a feel for them.” Aside from Nikki Cross, who shows up to help Bayley and Natalya defeat The Riott Squad while Sasha Banks is too busy to do her one match from last year, every “debut” was done in quiet, forgettable cameo form.
Otis Dozovic shows up to yammer meaninglessly at Alexa Bliss, and Tucker Knight’s debut is “showing up to help his mentally challenged tag team partner out of an awkward social jam.” EC3 debuts silently in a picture-in-picture shot, in a line of people standing backstage waiting to ask Vince McMahon for an opportunity. Lacey Evans shows up dressed like Carmen Sandiego in the background of a Finn Bálor backstage walk.
Lars Sullivan, the one they were actually advertising before the rest of them, is still nowhere to be found. He’s reportedly dealing with anxiety and panic attacks that are keeping him off TV.
So that just leaves Nikki Cross, who actually gets to look good in her match and help her team win. It’s hurt only slightly by the announce team’s hard sell, and by these six-woman tag team matches involving the Riott Squad still happen every week for no reason. Couldn’t we at least tie this in with some “future women’s tag team championship opportunities” or something? At least make it look like we’re building the skeleton of a women’s tag division, instead of just having the only difference in how these characters wrestle and react to things is the color of their clothes?
That interchangeability comes into play in the opening match of the night, as well, with Ronda Rousey teaming up with Sasha banks (but can they co-exist) against Nia Jax and a second, smaller, worse Nia Jax. The angle is all about Sasha Banks vs. Ronda Rousey, a challenge that was laid out (sort of) last week and fought about, and is now being fought about again in a tag team match. Everything’s fine until after the match when Ronda tries to compliment Sasha and ends up insulting her, then DIRECTLY insults her and is like “actually no I’m sorry, c’mon, let’s co-exist.” It’s a perfectly cromulent reaction, but an extremely forced one, since they made a big, big point of not having Rousey and Banks interact in any kind of meaningful way for the first six months Ronda was around.
Tamina and Nia Jax is about as bad as a tag team can get right now. That says nothing of their character work, which is probably the bare minimum you can do and still be considered a “WWE Superstar.” Tamina looks lost and confused in there no matter what she’s doing, Nia’s arrogant personality isn’t believably backed up by anything she does in the ring, and Rousey’s working two characters simultaneously, trying to be a likeable everyman babyface and a ruthless killer at the same time. The Ronda vs. Sasha match will probably be really good, but Raw needs something concrete to build these stories on, and the reliable in-ring work of Nia Jax and Tamina Snuka ain’t it.
Best: Hit Em With That Championship Pose
The biggest surprise of the night has to be the Intercontinental Championship triple threat match between Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Ha Ha My Man Lashley. This is the best Lashley’s looked in his return since at least that one baller match with Roman Reigns back in the summer, and I think Seth Rollins deserves some kind of primetime Emmy for being able to put together entertaining triple threat matches. This guy got a match of the year out of a triple threat with Cena and Lesnar, and he’s out here making magic again with Wallet Chain Wally and Assmaster.
The match is very good, and it pushes things in a slightly new direction. Now, we can resolve whatever’s left to resolve in the Ambrose vs. Rollins feud without having to cram a championship into the narrative, and Lashley can (maybe) defend against a more diverse selection of opponents and not get stuck like, going one-on-one with Elias for three straight months. Plus, that was a hell of a spear, even if he pulled a Ronda Rousey and did more of a forward roll than an offensive attack. Still looked good.
And again, that’s the biggest compliment I can give this Raw: I see it trying to do something different while maintaining the same status quo that got it here in the first place, so I have to remain critical of what I’m saying, but note that “a small amount of concern and effort” is actually more than what I expected them to give.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
Sam Jackson in Glass thinks Cena’s hair looks silly
I have come here to chew bubblegum and plug Glass. And I’m all out of bubblegum.
May Balor be halfway to heaven before the Devlin knows he’s dead.
If the Uproxx review of Glass is accurate it spends a vast majority of the time talking the same points over and over again with a little sub-par action at the end, making it perfect for viewers of Raw.
The Real Birdman
I hope Vince announces a battle royal at the Royal Rumble to determine the number one contender for Brock Lesnar
Finn was thinking about saying hi to Lacey, but then he noticed the “Irish need not apply” hung up nearby.
Vince is one scepter away from being Jeff Goldbulm in Raganarok
Nikki Cross is the wrestling equivalent of button mashing with Eddie Gordo in Tekken 3: you’re being completely random, but you’re winning that fight.
Vince to Jinder: ”Well, you’re tall and really jacked up. Hey, why haven’t you been champ yet?”
When Cena retires, I hope he pulls a handtowel from his back pocket that says “I Give Up”
That’s it for this week’s show. Raw still has a lot of room for improvement, but they’re taking some visible baby steps, and I’m gonna keep saying that’s a positive thing until they figure it out.
Thank you for reading, as always, and please observe all the various Call To Action® items like sharing the column on social media, commenting below to let us know what you thought about the show, and being here next week for more.