Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: In one of the best half-hours-plus Raw’s done in ages, Roman Reigns defeated Finn Bálor in a Universal Championship match and had to rely on a re-reunited The Shield to fight off Braun Strowman. That’s literally all we remember about last week’s show, which is totally fine.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for August 27, 2018.
Best: We Owens The Night
Last week WWE gave us NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn 4 in all its Ryback-bewildering wonder, seven hours of a SummerSlam that was occasionally brilliant and at least worth talking about when it wasn’t, and a Raw that was absolutely hot fire in its final 45-ish minutes. The next pay-per-view (Hell in a Cell) isn’t until September 16, so this week the writers wrote “WE’RE BACK ON OUR BULLSHIT” on a piece of torn-out notebook paper and Scotch-taped it to the door.
That said, there were a few things worth talking about from the Filla In Manila, and at the top of that list was Kevin By God Owens. Instead of having to spend six months eating Shane McMahon baby jabs or doing wacky AJ Styles WWE Championship match finishes that would even insult the intelligence of most mannequins or getting covered in Big Match port-a-john by Braun Strowman, Owens … gets to talk about himself on the microphone in front of a crowd that appreciates and wants to see him, then has a fantastic 22-minute back-and-forth Intercontinental Championship match with Seth Rollins, the hottest (and best) guy on the brand right now. It’s not full of kooky heel stories and crazy run-ins and unbelievable spots where the face flips over a stage that only exists to get flipped over, it’s a guy who is really goddamn great at this doing all the things that make him goddamn great at this for nearly half an hour.
I write a lot of THE BEST PART OF WRESTLING HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE WRESTLING SHUT UP MAX LANDIS diatribes in these columns, but I don’t have to write shit here, because the crowd does it for me. Throughout the show, through those 15-minute opening cut scenes and General Manager ballyhoo and 11:15 restholds, the crowd’s sitting on their hands. They go through the motions. When they get 20-plus minutes of wrestling featuring people they care about who are good at the wrestling parts of wrestling, they’re losing their minds. It’s hot molten lava. It’s Bowser’s Castle up in this Canadian-ass arena, and they’re not just chanting “this is awesome” to show broad appreciation, they’re chanting it because it’s awesome. It’s surprising, moment to moment. It’s engaging, physically. It makes sense. It’s competitive. It’s characters with differing allegiances and points of view trying to prove themselves by beating the other guy in a fight. It’s the simplest fucking thing, and until I’m in a grave somewhere it’ll boggle my mind that this isn’t everybody on earth’s favorite part of this thing we all love.
I read some comments online that suggested the way the ’90s wrestling boom worked it trained us to believe that the “drama” was the important part of wrestling, which (if you read the vintage Best and Worst columns, which you should, is totally valid), but I’ve always believed that they’re both necessary, as one feeds the other. You can’t have soap opera drama without the wrestling to validate it and back it up and hold up the foundation of the storytelling (because it’s a wrestling show), and you can’t just have a bunch of “good” wrestling matches because without the context and the drama, they won’t mean anything. On one side you’ve got guys saying wrestling and championships are the least important things — Vince Russo, I’m looking in your direction, bro — and on the other, mostly on the indies, you’ve got the polar opposite. People are here to see cool moves and backflips and Canadian destroyers on the apron or whatever. And there are enough fans of both of those points of view to create and popularize those kinds of wrestling, which is great, because there should be. There should be (and is) all kinds of wrestling for all kinds of people. But my favorite forever is gonna be the one that takes the best of all the worlds and molds them into a true artistic statement that uses very simple entertainment and stimulus response and exaggerated ideas of humanity to tell identifiable, relatable stories to the people who observe it. And that’s what big leagues U.S. pro wrestling does better than anywhere in the world. About … 10% of the time.
Hey, maybe sitting through 90% bullshit to get to that perfect 10% isn’t a journey most people want to take, but it’s one I’ve been walking since I was born, and that I’ll probably walk until the day I die. And this Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins match, bolstered by Owens’ relatable pre-match speech that hilariously ends up burning Toronto, supported by Seth Rollins’ ongoing quest to remind people what a top-shelf babyface is supposed to be, empowered by over 20 minutes of exciting and well-paced and believable pro wrestling, continued afterward by the “I quit” angle, is that 10%. I’m glad I got to see it.
And now, uh, here’s the other 90%.
Worst/Best: Curse Your Sudden But Inevitable Betrayal
The show opens with Roman Reigns doing that smirky “here’s what you missed on Raw” recap promos he’s never been particularly good at, that have always made it harder to like him than it should be. I bet you wouldn’t have liked Hulk Hogan as a kid if 52 times a year he opened a three-hour show with a 20 minute recap speech about what he and all his Superfriends have been doing over the past few weeks. You just kinda wanted to see him show up and be a super hero. It’s the same reason why Triple H and John Cena are two of the best WWE stars of all time, but are more of a stressful conversation between wrestling fans than a thing to get excited about. It’s the difference between the Undertaker and those guys.
Anyway, Roman is interrupted by Braun Strowman, who is another guy who is pretty good at talking on a microphone but probably definitely shouldn’t be doing those WWE 2K18 “promo battles” to open the show. You know, where a guy talks, they pause for crowd response, the other guy talks, they pause for crowd response, and at home you’re like ONE OF YOU IS A LIVING SUPERMAN MADE OUT OF SPEARS AND THE OTHER IS A 7-FOOT-TALL HILLBILLY HURRICANE OF FISTS, YOU’RE STANDING FACE-TO-FACE LIKE TWO FEET APART, SHUT UP AND PUNCH EACH OTHER. But the idea is that Strowman has a proposal: he knows he’s never going to get to cash in Money in the Bank with The Shield around, so he promises Roman that he won’t cash in Money in the Bank until —
— imagine trying to follow this if you don’t know all the terms and objects — if Roman agrees to defend the belt against him INSIDE the cell. Because Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins will definitely not be able to get inside the cell that everybody always gets into, and Strowman isn’t cult buddies with anyone with teleportation powers or anything. This takes like, 10 minutes. Then Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler interrupt, and everyone in the world is like, “okay, tag team match main event” in second one, but they cut about five more minutes of 2K promos to set it up. And then Baron Corbin shows up to make the match, but has to add another 2-3 minutes of promo before it to fill time, just to say what’s already been said like twice.
Here’s how the entire segment should’ve gone down:
Roman Reigns: [holds up championship] Isn’t the Shield cool?
Braun Strowman: [interrupting] Hey Roman, the Shield is the only reason you’re still Universal Champion. I’ve got a deal for you … I won’t cash in Money in the Bank until Hell in a Cell if you put that title up against me inside the cell, so your Workhorses® (or whatever) can’t help you. DO NOT ASK ME ABOUT MY CULT FRIENDS.
Reigns: You’re on.
Dolph Ziggler: [interrupting] whoa whoa whoa whoa
Reigns: Lemme guess, you and Big Mac (or whatever Roman would call Drew McIntyre) want a tag team match against me and Meat Shack to prove a point. You think we’re gonna end up fighting each other. [looks at Braun] You in? [Braun nods] You’re on. Again!
Baron Corbin: [interrupting] whoa whoa whoa whoa
Braun Strowman: [sprints up the ramp at Corbin]
Corbin: [fleeing] oh god oh god oh god
— and scene. Even if we do full entrances for everybody, which is beyond unnecessary, that’s what, five minutes? Five minutes we can do. We don’t need 15-20 to say “here’s a tag team match, can these rivals get along?” Especially not when this is what happens on like 25 out of 52 Raws a year. Verbally shit or get off the pot, guys, the first half hour of your three-hour show shouldn’t be where you cram in all the boring parts.
Oh, and try not to be surprised when Baron Corbin cashes in on Roman Reigns at Hell in a Cell, and we find out Strowman didn’t actually sign the contract before he handed it over to the evil general manager guy.
So the match happens. At 11:00 PM EST. Roman’s entrance is over at like, 11:02, so you know it’s going to be a barn-burner. Dolph Ziggler, who has been having really good matches again since being paired with Drew McIntyre, decides the best way to keep fans excited this late in the night is by applying a sleeper for like eight minutes. The idea is to build anticipation for Braun’s hot tag, but I don’t think I’m pretending to know how the “business works” to say this is the kind of match you do in the middle of the show, not during the overrun. I know you want to have another hot show-ending angle, but if I’m watching more than one human second of rest hold after 11PM I’m out. Literally and figuratively. But whatever, this is what they do.
When it’s time for Roman to finally make the tag, it’s revealed that — get this — the guy who desperately wants Roman’s championship and got put through a table last week by Roman and two of his buddies actually wants to HURT Roman Reigns this week. He stands on the apron and lets Ziggler and McIntyre get disqualified or thrown-out or whatever for Kicking Too Much Ass — WWE’s worst referee excuse, every year running — and it turns into a 3-on-1 attack. Just like last week! Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose admirably run out to try to make the save, but Rollins went 20+ minutes with Kevin Owens and Ambrose I guess had to artistically vomit for an hour after being in the ring with Jinder Mahal for a couple of minutes, so they fail.
The announcers play this up as kind of a heel turn for Braun Strowman and “the destruction of The Shield,” but (1) The Shield forgot to be The Shield this week, dressing in their singles star clothes and running out one-by-one instead of attacking as a team, which is their entire thing, so they deserve it, and (2) for real, Braun got beaten up 3-on-1 last week. Why is he suddenly a piece of shit for getting two guys to back him up and help him do the same to Roman? It’s a 1:1 ratio of attacks, here. Plus, Braun has a championship match against this guy coming up, and all he promised him is that he wouldn’t cash in the Money in the Bank briefcase before Hell in a Cell. He didn’t say he wouldn’t beat the shit out of him for a month. Braun nearly commits undeserved homicide on poor Kevin Owens for an entire summer and we’re chanting “get these hands,” but he justifiably attacks a guy who wants to enlist his swat-team buddies to beat him to death and we’re concern-booing? Get outta here with that. Braun and Becky Lynch should start hanging out.
I figure they’ll play up Roman not being able to bring in Dean and Seth at Hell in a Cell and Braun not being able to use Dolph and Drew, and then have spooky swampbillies BLEARP in and do the dirty work. Roman should make friends with Randy Orton before then, he’s the only other guy I know of on the roster who can teleport.
Worst: “Now This Is What An Evolution Is About!”
You mean five women — including an MMA star who has been wrestling for four months and won the championship for being popular to people who don’t watch wrestling, a woman who retired 12 years ago, two reality stars who are “too busy with their YouTube channel” to be regulars, and the third-generation Hart who spent the best years of her career trying to teach Kelly Kelly how to hit the ropes — backstage taking a selfie? While the actual people who changed the landscape like AJ Lee don’t work there anymore, Paige is stuck being a general manager because she’s hurt, Emma’s fired, and Sasha Banks and Bayley sit around backstage wondering about their next “be friends or go to therapy” angle? On the show where the only two women’s matches on the three-hour show lasted two-and-a-half minutes and two minutes respectively? In the company where Nikki Bella’s about to coast into a pay-per-view main-event while Asuka, Ember Moon, and Nia Jax couldn’t make it onto a 7-hour SummerSlam?
Best, Though: Trish On The Mic
You know, the narrative of Trish Stratus’ career is that she started off as a Hawaiian Tropic model with no experience and ended up working her ass off and turning into a legit wrestler. And while that’s true, we don’t make enough noise about how her microphone and character work developed even faster. Trish’s first time on WWE TV is still one of the all-time worst attempts at a promo, and by the time her career was winding down she’d turned into, at least in my opinion, one of the best talkers they had. Compared to the rest of the women’s division in 2005 she was Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes combined.
So I liked them letting her talk again on last night’s Raw, especially if she’s got a marquee match coming up at the women’s pay-per-view in October, especially if she’s in there with the male wrestler I’d compare most to her talent growth chart, Elias. That guy went from hot garbage to one of the most charismatic dudes in the company in record time, just like Trish. Plus, look at that smile on his face when she interrupts him. He loves the chance to get to do this. It’s like when Jake the Snake put his snake on Dean Ambrose, and Ambrose was “unconscious” and smiling his ass off.
Worst: The Constant Bull, Baron Corbin
The Demon variant of Finn Bálor squashed Constable Corbin in like 90 seconds at SummerSlam, presumably ending their feud. Because “blowoff matches” don’t actually end feuds anymore, here’s Finn struggling and eventually losing embarrassingly to Corbin because … he didn’t show up wearing a hat made of belts? I swear, I get the idea of a powered-up alter ego and everything, but the difference between “body paint” and “no body paint” shouldn’t be complete futility.
These guys have had four matches since the middle of July, and that 90-second one at SummerSlam is the only one anybody remembers or cared about. Because it had one (1) cool thing in it, and it was over in less than two minutes. Now we’ve got Express for Men Baron Corbin out here using 1998 Vince McMahon “whoopsie, the rules have changed” General Manager goofs to avoid being disqualified and cheat his way to a victory, which probably would’ve been a good way to build the feud a month and a half ago. Maybe if you’d done this initially instead of having Worse Big Cass insult Worse Daniel Bryan about how small he is and beef them over children’s playhouses. If you’re going to give Corbin a win like this, at least have him put on his patchwork pants and leather jacket and a skullet wig with some face paint and squash Finn as “The Demon Corbin.”
Worst: The Rest Of The Show
Let me take a second to talk about the matches I skipped over via hyperlink, because I know some of you (especially among the people who comment) are boldface skimmers who like to read the Bests and Worsts and jump to conclusions instead of reading the paragraphs between them. No shade on you, I appreciate your clicks as much as anybody’s.
- Dean Ambrose vs. Jinder Mahal was, sadly, what you’d expect. Ambrose is still way cooler than before and I loved him managing to keep his cool during the backstage segment that set up the match, and not devolve into wackiness. As I mentioned on Twitter last night, Dean Ambrose character development segments right now are like those Daniel Bryan matches where he came back from injury the first time, where every time he bumped you thought he was gonna end up paralyzed. Every time someone goofy approaches Ambrose backstage now I’m ready for the worst, but he’s doing it. Plus, bonus points for wrestling without a shirt, finally! Rollins and Ambrose have figured it out, let’s pass that note along to Roman. P.S. Jinder Mahal is not very good at wrestling matches.
- Sasha Banks vs. Dana Brooke continued the almost too understated Titus Worldwide breakup angle, and gave Banks a strong squash win over someone she should have no problem defeating. It was fine, but I wish they’d hurry up with those Women’s Tag Team Championships so Bayley and Sasha can do something and have good matches with somebody again.
- Natalya vs. Alicia Fox should’ve just been for the Divas Championship. Alexa Bliss’ promo before it was fine, as she’s gotta build pull a feud with Trish Stratus out of her ass somehow, but the highlight was Alica Fox’s jaunty hat. Or maybe Michael Cole not knowing who Rob Halford was, proving he’s not just uncool now, he’s never been cool.
The Revival vs. B-Team Raw Tag Team Championship feud continues, and is one of those things where you’d rather they just skip the “story” part, do a title change, and move on to something else. The B-Team won via fluke at SummerSlam, so they followed it up last week with two (2) singles losses. This week, the Revival pins them in a tag match (non-title, natch) and beats them up afterward. What, to set up a title match? That they already had on a pre-show and nobody liked? I appreciated the Revival trying to up the quality of this by doing callbacks to the SummerSlam match, but I think callbacks only really work if they remind us of a previous match we enjoyed watching. Don’t remind me of the shit that made me sad for everyone involved.
Finally, please reprimand and fire whichever monster on the creative team decided “Baron Corbin punishes Bobby Lashley by putting him in an easy-to-win handicap match against The Ascension” for hour three. What’s next week’s segment, The Great Khali kidnaps and murders your pets?
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
every time Braun yells “I’M NOT FINISHED WITH YOU” at Roman Reigns, an angel gets its wings and flips over an ambulance
A tale of two yards. It was the vest of times, it was the worst of times.
Drew and Dolph are about to get beat down by all the other Reigndeer.
Corbin: This is a handicap match!
*Ascension comes out*
Corbin: Sorry, misspoke, like I said it’s my first night
The Real Birdman
Trish just came out here to sing the barking part while Elias sings “Who Let The Dogs Out”
Makes sense he lost. He didn’t even beat Carmella to qualify for a title match
Cutting from the Bellas to Bobby Lashley? What are they gonna show next, Data and Lore?
See what happens when KO hangs out with Mark Henry at wrestling shows
“Here, take the Money in the Bank contract. I’m keeping the Greatest Royal Rumble belt, though.”
I want Undertaker to show up just to tell everyone to leave him the fuck alone.
One final Best to WWE for realizing the only people who care about Triple H vs. The Undertaker are from 20 years ago.
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading, and for sitting through the 90% to get the 10. We’ll be here next week to do it again. Make sure to drop a comment below, share the column on social media to help keep us in the business of catty wrestling criticism, and make sure you’re here for the good show on Tuesdays.