Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: The Lord God proved his existence by putting a Raw on Christmas Eve and the following Raw on New Years Eve, meaning I could take two weeks off from reviewing the show and rest my brain. Now I get to come back to it with fresh eyes, and hopefully won’t notice a bunch of patterns and trends that cause me to associate the episode with the previous 1,336! Oh God!
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And now, here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for January 7, 2019.
Up First, A Quick Recap Of What You Missed The Past Two Weeks
Okay, Let’s Get This Out Of The Way
So, writing about Hulk Hogan showing up on Raw in 2019 to pay tribute to Mean Gene Okerlund without upsetting either side of the “argument” about Hogan is the NG+6 with challenge mode rules of wrestling writing. I’m not going to attempt to do that, but I’m also not going to get upset about it in dense paragraph form, because I’ve been doing this a long time and have had enough compassionate points of view weaponized against me to never want to do it again, no matter what I believe.
Here’s what I’ll say: Hogan’s appearance to honor Gene Okerlund was probably as nice as it could’ve been, and while yes, it contained a heaping helping of carny marketing from WWE and took much insistence on the idea that the only way to properly honor Mean Gene was to have a guy do his honestly completely disconnected reoccurring bit that he did with Gene standing nearby felt off, but we all grieve differently or whatever and the guy lost one of his good friends. So I can see why they did it, understand that choosing to do it this way isn’t the worst thing in the world, and also wish they hadn’t done it this way with this guy.
A lot of commenters will quickly jump into an argument about racism and why you should or shouldn’t accept someone’s apologies, and how something doesn’t matter if it happened 10 years ago in private or whatever, and that’s fine. You can have that conversation, but I recommend you have them in constructive ways with people of color in real life so you can be directly informed and empathetic to people unlike yourself, not anonymously yelling about it in the comments section of a dorky aging white wrestling fan’s Raw column. They can inform you on why this isn’t the best idea better than I can. Here’s a good example. You can read my opinion about what a load of bullshit this all is at length and in a variety of ways on our Hogan tag. All I can do is assure you that as a kid who grew up watching the NWA in the 80s, WCW in the 90s, and WWE in the 21st Century, I have a lot of reasons that aren’t “is he or isn’t he a racist” to not want Hulk Hogan on a wrestling show I’m watching. I don’t know how to explain that to people who are ready to fight about it on the Internet.
There are a lot of really vitriolic nitpicks for the actual segment available, too, from who you think is or isn’t “in Heaven” to Hogan’s weird bit about how Gene should stop working out in the afterlife because the only two women there are old and gross, and his only options for sex. It’s Hogan trying to be affable about his dead friend in the way a 65-year old entertainer might, and not connecting with everyone because of literally everything about himself.
The best news is that the actual Gene Okerlund tribute video exists independently of the Hogan segments book-ending it, to the point that WWE cherry-picked it out of the middle of the full video and uploaded it separately. So there’s a version of the Gene tribute without the Hogan promo, and you can watch it above. It’s really good, and Gene was an absolutely irreplaceable presence that defined the niche position of “backstage journalist who is very serious about this super stupid thing we love and are pretending is real,” and he’ll never be forgotten. His voice is our voice. His voice is decades, eras, moments, events, pay-per-views, hotlines, toy commercials, cartoons, and everything in-between. He’s Mean Gene Okerlund, and he’s singularly timeless.
If you like Hogan, or if you feel like you’ve forgiven or want to forgive Hogan for making mistakes in his life, that’s a decision you make yourself, and one that can’t be influenced by what a guy on the Internet with a fussy wrestling column thinks. The moment here is about Gene, and that’s the truth, even if it’s impossible for an even 100% sincere and selfless Hulk Hogan to exist without the “Hulk Hogan” persona making everything feel like it’s about him. It is what it is, I guess. The world is a very difficult and tiring place to live.
To put it another way,
Did anybody else think he was going to start dancing when this happened?
Anyway, as a final comment I’ll note that when Hogan said that he came out in character and running wild it’s what Gene would’ve wanted, I don’t think that’s true. The way Mean Gene would’ve wanted it is making people call a hotline to hear about his tribute for $1.59 a minute.
It’s you, Gene. Rest in peace. :(
Best: It’s (Not Really) A Fresh Start!
I spent a lot of time talking to people about this on social last night, but I’m convinced, right or wrong, that WWE’s idea of a “fresh start” is doing the same thing, but approaching it from a slightly different angle and believing that’s all the work they need to do.
Instead of, say, having John Cena open the show with a promo, get interrupted by Drew McIntyre, have another heel attack him to set up a 2-on-1 attack, then have another babyface run out to make the save and set up a tag team match, they approach it differently. The show actually starts with Seth Rollins and Bobby Lashley brawling in gorilla open the show, which gives way to the Cena promo and McIntyre’s interruption. Lashley shows back up unrelated to the Cena promo and Lio Rush complains loudly about Rollins until they’re attacked again. The two beefs bleed together a little more fluidly, and that sets up a tag match. While it’s technically “different,” in my brain it’s more akin to saying 2+2=4 and 1+3=4 are completely different, even though both equations end up with the same solution.
To be positive here, I appreciate at the very least how effort was put into “if yes, then what” storytelling. Last week, Lio Rush’s constant Lio Rushness caused Rollins to get distracted during a match with Lashley, and Lashley was able to knock him over the guardrail. This is after Triple H had weirdly asked for the “old Seth Rollins” to come back, suggesting that Seth had gone soft without the Authority pulling his strings. Those two factors combined into Rollins flipping out and attacking everybody with a chair, and continued THIS week with Rollins brawling with Lashley before the show even technically began. It informs why Rush and Lashley would be upset enough to interrupt a promo they had nothing to do with, and loudly complain to management about how management caused Rollins to attack them like a crazy person. And then Rollins attacks them again like a crazy person.
Meanwhile, Cena’s being Cena and Drew McIntyre wants to “make an impact” or whatever, so he takes prison advice and goes after the “biggest guy” on the first night. Because Cena’s been doing this for decades now, he blows McIntyre off with the same “I’ve heard your promos before” speech, even though the past couple of people who made that speech to him (specifically AJ Styles) actually followed through on it. Cena’s going through the same delusion Hiroshi Tanahashi was before The Elite all jumped ship and turned “aging star is still great but a little deluded and doesn’t want to admit that he’s no longer the ace” into “he’s actually still the ace, it’s fine.” Lashley’s interruption and accidental summoning of Rollins drew McIntyre’s ire, and Cena, being Cena, made the save because He Feels Strong About Right And Wrong, And He Don’t Take Trouble For Very Long. That brings out the other guys in associated feuds, and that sets up the tag match.
So you see, it’s the same solution, with a different equation. 4+0=4. And I’m okay with that, because they’re at least putting in a small amount of work to say, “these things are happening because of these reasons,” instead of just introducing concepts and yelling at us to believe them. It’s not particularly exciting, or interesting, but it makes sense. And that’s the very first step in fixing Raw’s actual problems.
Similarly, the result of the opening match informs the main event. Seth Rollins pins Dean Ambrose — “Seth Rollins has pinned the Intercontinental Champion!” — and believes this kinda sorta proves that he’s refocused and back in the game, so to speak. The actual Game, for some reason, is shown on the TitanTron not even WATCHING the finish of the match, instead of having a conversation with his NXT Children Sasha Banks and Bayley. Triple H’s relationship with people from “his” version of NXT is great. Rollins is from Dusty’s version, and there’s always been a disconnect there. It’s pretty obvious that H had someone show that footage to Rollins at that exact moment to piss him off and make him act irrationally.
So Rollins charges backstage and demands an Intercontinental Championship match (because he pinned the Intercontinental Champion) right here tonight. Triple H, having successfully executed his Cerebral Assassination, agrees and makes it a Falls Count Anywhere match. Rollins is hype, because this means he gets to kick Ambrose’s ass and ride this high to another IC Championship, and doesn’t think about how he just opened the show attacking an ass-centric bodybuilder and his weird friend.
Of course Rollins kicks Ambrose’s ass and is about to win, and OF COURSE Lashley shows up to ruin it. Again, it’s 1+1+1+1=4 and still fucking equals predictable-ass four, but it makes sense, and they’re showing us why it makes sense instead of just having Michael Cole insist it’s so. That’s something. Raw could actually stand to wallow in predictability for a while until it finds its storytelling feet with consistency, because practicability isn’t always bad. New Japan’s got some of the most predictable booking in the world, but we care and enjoy it anyway, because it makes sense and happens to (mostly) consistent characters based on what we’ve seen them do in the ring. Once Raw gets that under control for more than a couple of weeks at a time, then they can start swerving us and subverting our expectations in a way that feels exciting, and not like a bunch of mistakes.
At the very least, this Rollins and Ambrose match was a lot better than that thing they did at TLC.
Worst: And Now, The Downside Of Predictability
I’ve done a lot of math in this column, but the way Raw treats the Revival is:
- I think 2+2=1
- are you sure 2+2 doesn’t = 1?
- no, the mathematicians are wrong, 2+2=1, definitely
- look how shitty and embarrassing 2 and 2 are, lol
- let’s have all the other numbers beat up 2 and 2 to show them how worthless they are
- some smark fans are saying 2+2=4 but who cares, nobody’s going to remember that
- wait, what are numbers again?
This week, the poor shat-upon Revival get another Raw Tag Team Championship shot against the champs, Bobby Roode and Bobby Roode’s awkward son. It’s a lumberjack match in which the lumberjacks don’t really do anything or serve any kind of purpose beyond reminding us how embarrassing Raw’s tag team division is. Roode and Roode Jr. retain when Scott Dawson gets a small package, Roode reverses the momentum for his partner and accidentally hooks Dawson’s foot under the bottom rope, and the referee just ignores it to count them down. It’s a continuation of the “are the Revival getting screwed on purpose” story that Raw suddenly decided it was telling after weeks of having the face announcers shout down Graves about how ridiculous he was for not thinking 3-on-2 and 3-on-1 handicap matches are fun.
I don’t have any clue what the end game is here, because the theme seems to be “the heels are getting cheated and the faces are cheating, but since they’re faces they can just get away with it,” and it’s slowly turning into even Renee Young realizing that yeah, maybe we shouldn’t treat the Revival like this. But I feel like that’s only happening because of Seth Rollins’ promo from a few weeks ago where he name-dropped them, and I don’t see a solution where The Revival end up as righteous winners, since even when they’re allowed to be the best versions of themselves, they’re basically the modern Brainbusters, i.e. wrestling purist dirtbags.
There aren’t two guys I want to bail on this entire thing and shack up with AEW as much as The Revival. Even if I can’t stop pronouncing “AEW” like Jimmy Fallon saying Ew!
Worst: Mom, You’re Just Jealous, It’s The Beastie Boy
The worst part of the show had to be this split-screen promo between Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman, in which they attempt to build up a match by … staring at each other (by staring into the camera) and not really saying anything? Heyman cuts an average promo, so Strowman awkwardly reiterates everything Heyman just said, and it gets embarrassing. When you finally think something, anything is going to happen, Lesnar walks to the ring, walks around it, and then leaves without doing anything.
It’s very obviously an attempt to have a segment when you can’t have a segment. Lesnar isn’t going to do anything that isn’t a title match on a pay-per-view, and he’s only going to do that a few times a year. His commitment to doing those few matches well is iffy as well. Strowman is still injured, and can’t carry the physical side of a confrontation. “Beastie Boy” as the mic drop line means somebody needs to write this man some better dialogue. Heyman can’t do everything by himself. And to top it all off, there’s not a lot of intrigue in a “they meet FACE TO FACE” bit when we’ve seen Lesnar already beat Strowman twice, most recently in about three minutes. Turrible.
Also On This Episode
Ember Moon and Apollo Crews defeated Jinder Mahal and Alicia Fox in a mixed tag team match, which seems a little extraneous now that the Mixed Match Challenge is over. It was a good showcase for Crews and Moon, who are too good to be competing on this level with this little character development, but 1989 Ric Flair with the Infinity Gauntlet couldn’t create a good match with Jinder Mahal.
Baron Corbin defeated Elias, and the nicest thing I can say about it is that Elias is getting really good at the guitar. If Corbin’s not going to be an authority figure anymore, can we get him to stop wrestling in spandex dress clothes? Vaguely lycanthropic motorcycle guy was kind of threatening. “When you’ve got to wrestle Elias at 9 but pick up a shift at TGI Friday’s at 10” isn’t.
Best, Mostly: Zone Bliss
Finally we’ve got “A Moment Of Bliss,” a Wendy Williams-esque talk show segment for Alexa Bliss that (1) is at least better than This Is Your Life and those open forum goofs, and (2) would’ve been better if they’d given her a themed set like one of those old ’80s or ’90s wrestler talk shows. Brutus Beefcake interviewed people in a fake barber shop, you know? He didn’t just drag some office chairs out of the arena commons.
Anyway, there’s a lot of good work here. A video package highlighting Ronda Rousey’s legitimate mainstream sports stardom — which we know, but is helpful to be occasionally reminded of — puts over Rousey as a star before she even shows up. Bliss thinking Rousey’s complimenting her when she isn’t isn’t the best (and when I say “the best” here I mean “the Abraham Washington Show”), but Rousey bringing up and attempting to put over Sasha Banks is. It’s especially interesting given that she puts down Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch to do it. An interesting plot point for this feud would be whether or not Sasha agrees with that, or (more likely) doens’t think Rousey’s in a place to judge her fellow NXT Horsewomen that harshly, especially when they’ve been taking turns kicking her ass the past couple of months.
Like most segments involving Nia Jax, the segment dips in quality when Nia Jax shows up. She cuts a bad promo about deserving a title shot that brings out Sasha Banks, and they discuss who is and/or isn’t a bitch to set up a number one contender match. This would’ve been stronger if Rousey had actually mentioned her intention to give Sasha a title shot at Royal Rumble before Sasha and Nia agreed to fight over it, but hey, it’s still a match with actual consequences.
The actual match kinda falls apart by the end, and your enjoyment of it directly correlates to how much you like watching Sasha Banks try to kill herself in the ring. She gets dropped face-first on the top rope, then does a Misawa-level reckless short headscissors on the apron that doesn’t actually send Nia’s face into anything but sends Sasha flipping upside down and smacking against the arena floor like a fish. It’s very high on the “Cactus Jack doing a sunset flip from the second rope to the floor” levels of “you need to rethink your strategy.”
Still, Banks is able to follow up with a nice transition into the Banks Statement and win the match. And like I’ve said a lot in this column, even if it wasn’t great wrestling and was never particularly exciting, it’s logical pro wrestling storytelling that sets up something good for the future. Jax as a jobber to the stars is probably the best use for her, Tamina is AT BEST an accessory that babyface accompaniments should beat up for sideline pops, and Rousey vs. Banks should be dope.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
damn you, wwe, getting my hopes up, cunningly realizing i would never remember bobby lashley!
That’s the hardest part of the concrete!
“While you were having candlelit dinners, I was learning arm-bars!”
The Voice of Raisin
Where Tiny Lister to make this a trios match? Apollo and Athena need to team with Zeus!
The Real Birdman
I’ll get back on the Lesnar train if Cena randomly walks by & he German suplexes him
The Saudi Prince just phoned to ask how much heaven is paying for that tag match and how much it will cost him to get the rematch.
Legend Killer Randy Orton walks out, insists that all those people are in hell.
Baron Von Raschke
Hogan told Gene to make that tag team match and to make sure that Savage took the pin.
I don’t like Cena’s messy yet balding hair, it reminds me too much of my own mortality.
Cena: “Which Nexus member were you, again?”
All in all, this was oddly an improvement on Raw while still not being an especially good Raw. It was like watching Raw go through puberty or something, down to the unwelcome boner in the middle making everything about himself.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you found something to like about the show. Going forward I’m going to at least attempt to be as positive as I can in the face of this current Raw vibe, so if you liked that, let me know in our comments below. If you think I should just be a terrible Internet shock jock and just hate everything Because Tribalism or whatever, you can tell me that, too. Share the column if you’d like to help us out, and join us next week for what we assume might be an actual fresh start for Raw, featuring nobody we love dying.