Previously on the Best and Worst of Raw: Sasha Banks made a spectacular return to destroy Natalya, destroy Becky Lynch, and pop a crowd of wrestling fans with a wig reveal.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for August 19, 2019.
Best: I Could’ve Told You, Vincent, This World Was Never Meant For One As Beautiful As You
Welcome to an episode of Monday Night Raw reportedly without micromanagement from an increasingly blind and senile 73-year old billionaire who hates wrestling! It features two championship matches, two matches highlighting underutilized talent in a tournament arc, four matches that go longer than 10 minutes, angle advancement, character growth, an actual functional women’s tag team division match, an announce team that isn’t shout-arguing among themselves for three hours, and a happy crowd that ends the night clapping and standing on their feet. Crazy how that works out, isn’t it?
I can’t necessarily speak to the value of replacing Vince McMahon with the guy whose ideas made wrestling worth watching in three different companies in the mid-to-late ’90s and the guy who made NXT the best thing in wrestling in the 2010s, as I’m not a WWE creative type and I’ve never had to create 52 3-hour traveling shows a year where the talent slowly breaks down like weapons in Breath of the Wild. But as someone who has watched every goddamn episode ever made, I can certainly speak to the value of fast-paced and consequential programming that feels alive, isn’t insulting to its audience, and leaves us with questions about what might happen next. You know, like every other TV show ever made.
But, you know, who knows? Maybe it’s all a work, and Vince is still writing the show this week and laughing at the lowly, stupid marks for thinking a temporary change of executive power for a billion-dollar, publicly-traded company means anything for what makes TV. Maybe we’re still being worked, and the work has changed. My stance, I guess, is the same as it’s always been; I’m happy to be worked and find out I’m wrong about everything as long as the shows are good.
Best: He’s Got Spirit, Yes He Does
So let’s talk about what actually happened on Raw.
The show opens with Dolph Ziggler, the least funny wrestler who thinks he’s funny, interrupting Roman Reigns. I was convinced this was going to play out exactly like the Goldberg match at SummerSlam, only with Dolph trying to out-do Buddy Murphy’s backflip sell of Roman’s spear from last Tuesday’s Smackdown.
Instead, we got 10 minutes of competitive wrestling that played to Dolph’s actual strengths and let Roman’s offense look as quick and impactful as it ever has. I don’t think the spear topped Buddy Murphy’s, because I’d take Murph over Ziggler 10 times out of 10 — ersatz Kenny Omega greater than ersatz Shawn Michaels — but it was still pretty awesome.
Ziggler’s really coming into his own as an illogically whiny dirtbag loser and doing some of the best work of his career. My only question is, if Ziggler is redefining this role for a generation, can we move Sami Zayn out of his very similar character and back into something meaningful? Let Dolph take all the 30 second roll-up losses and Braun Strowman chum-dumpsters.
Worst/Best: Fire And Desire Expire
For a Worst, there are only about four minutes of women’s wrestling on the entire 3-hour episode of Raw, and they don’t happen until about two hours in. For a Best, hey, at least they’re happening for a reason.
As most of us figured, WWE has finally remembered that the Women’s Tag Team Championship exists now that they’ve put them on Alexa Bliss. It would’ve been nice to see the Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection or the goddamn IIconics get this kind of regular TV time and win/loss record, but I’ll take what I can get. Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose finally get the title match they’ve been trying to get/talking about for months, and while it’s too short to really showcase anyone involved, it happened, and it was clean, and it mattered.
I hope they give the Women’s Tag Team Champions an actual story soon, as the title belts have never actually had one in their entire existence. I also hope that the main event of this Raw keeps that story from being, “one of the tag team champs beats up their partner,” which never needs to be the ending to the Bliss and Cross story.
Best: Promo Superior
Wrestling promos are infinitely better — for better or worse — when they aren’t scripted word-for-word and read from a teleprompter. Not everyone can do promos off the tops of their heads, sure, but the ones who can should be allowed and encouraged to.
Take this bit from Becky Lynch for example. It’s just her (and her high-pony) talking. She stumbles over her words at one point, but it doesn’t hurt the promo; it helps it, because that’s how normal people speak. Sometimes we get caught up and passionate about things, and we misspeak. We can correct it. Ric Flair misspoke sometimes, and made it work. Dusty Rhodes misspoke almost as an artform, and made it work. Every great talker ever has had some stumbles, and “imperfections” make them real. It keeps the show from feeling like a homogenized product where every character has the exact same voice.
And hey, as an added bonus, you’ll occasionally get a “good lucha thing” promo. I’ll take “unforgettably bad” once in a while over an endless conveyor belt competent but boring promos.
Best: Laying Down The Law
Jerry Lawler is supposed to interview Sasha Banks on The King’s Court, rambles for a while about how he used to call nickels bees back in the day, and then (in a best-case scenario) gets attacked by The Fiend. The interview never happens, and Michael Cole has to talk to Sasha via LAN-party Skype like she’s a WWE Legend.
Yes, I want Bray Wyatt to make his next lantern out of Jerry Lawler’s head, crown and all, but that’s not my favorite part of the segment. My favorite part is that Lawler sees what’s happening and actually reacts to it, because he watches the show. He sees the lights start to go out and actively tries to leave the ring to escape it, instead of just standing in there making confused faces like an idiot. This is a great example of the show feeling “alive.” The characters react like these characters might actually react, even in a crazy pro wrestling world where things go bad all the time. It’s the physiological equivalent of an interviewer actually ending an interview by sending it back to the announce team, instead of standing there nodding and staring off into space until the camera stops filming them.
Worst, Then Best: Eyeballs, Sasha
It feels like the good old days, again.
Banks’ Michael Cole interview isn’t great, but it’s fine, especially given her history of iffy promos. The “pretend he’s asking about your new hairstyle instead of what you did to Natalya and Becky Lynch” bit probably played better in their heads than it did on video. One thing I really enjoyed, though, was this line:
“Last week I looked in the mirror and I told myself … blue is your color, and, I mean, look at this.”
Looked in the mirror, you say? How could looking into a mirror remind you of who you really are?
And furthermore, how could looking into a mirror make you turn evil, and convince you that you have to dye your hair a new color to battle your friend turned rival?
I know this isn’t a farewell tribute to the end of an era, but I’m going to pretend it is. Also, thank God Bayley never looked into the NXT Oculus, it probably would’ve turned her into The Fiend.
Anyway, this all pays off when we get an update from Natalya, who tells us that she just came from the WWE doctor at the WWE hospital and he told her she has broken a WWE bone. Sasha Banks comes in from just off-screen and murdalizes her again, smashing her injured arm in a production crate drawer and telling her to say hi to her dead dad when she seems him in Hell. Apparently dying your hair blue turns you into Legend Killer Randy Orton.
I’m not a fan of using recently dead-in-real-life former wrestlers as emotional fodder in stories, especially considering the wrestling industry’s tendency to grind people down and end their lives way too soon. At the same time, I’m a fan of heel wrestlers doing actually evil shit that might make us boo and hate them, and Nattie’s entire identity post-farting gimmick has been “remember who I’m related to,” so it’s probably fine. I do hope they let Becky get back at Sasha by breaking Snoop Dogg’s arm at some point, though. You know he’d be up for it.
Best: 50 Shades Of Rey
Speaking of remembering who you’re related to, Dominick Mysterio makes his triumphant return to WWE television, still not chopped up with a machete by Samoa Joe somehow, to stop his dad from retiring and unmasking. Dominick’s acting is pretty terrible here and the way Mysterio stops him to finish the dialogue kinda makes it look like they’re about to kiss …
… but I love the idea of the segment, and Mysterio’s acting was really top-shelf. Between last week and this week, he’s showing some real acting chops, and I like that he could be the next guy like Shawn Michaels to pivot to extreme story-based stuff later in this career to give his character and history more gravitas. I hope Dom’s at least passable in the ring. I worry we’ve got another David Flair situation on our hands. Maybe it’s the rosy cheeks.
I also hope that when they eventually have their first match together, Dominick attacks Rey, beats him bloody, then removes and puts on Rey’s bloody mask as his own. I know the Wednesday Night Wars is between AEW and NXT, but I really miss Lucha Underground, the only promotion where this could possibly happen.
King Of The Ring Of The Week
My only complaint about Samoa Joe vs. Cesaro in round one of the King of the Ring tournament is that it didn’t start at 8 PM and end somewhere between 10:59 and 11. I don’t care if it’s AM or PM. Actually, I take that back … I’m also unhappy that we had to give Joe or Cesaro a round one loss due to pairing them up against one another, as good as it was, especially in a tournament featuring Baron Corbin and Sami Zayn. You could’ve ran Joe vs. Corbin and Cesaro vs. Zayn in round one, tying together two old NXT feuds, and then done this match in round two. But again, that’s just me loving this and wishing there was more.
This was the shit from second one, with Cesaro barrelling across the ring and knocking Joe on his shorts with a European uppercut. The story of the match was built around Joe attempting to throw bombs with Cesaro, realizing that’s probably a bad idea, and changing his gameplan to avoidance and counters. Cesaro’s too smart for most of that, but Joe capitalizes on one of Big Tony’s flashes of showmanship, counters an M. Bison Psycho Crusher off the ropes, and drags him to the ground in the Coquina Clutch. I don’t really buy Cesaro tapping out that quickly instead of just standing up with Joe’s weight on his back like he’s an empty backpack or whatever, but it’s all good.
Ced vs. Zayn was less enjoyable, mostly because of how Sami Zayn’s been booked this year and the whole thing being about three minutes long. That’s two and a half minutes longer than I expected, though, and at least Sami got to do a few wrestling moves before losing. I still don’t know what’s going on with that guy. I hope somebody figures it out soon.
The other Raw King of the Ring guys get a BOLA Night Two tag team match that goes a little over 10 minutes and puts over the babyfaces, because they’re almost certainly not moving past round one. Ricochet might, as he’s in there against a Drew McIntyre nobody in WWE seems to realize is physically impossible and great at everything, but King Corbin seems like a nihilistic lay-up. At least he managed to remove his vest AND his Cheesecake Factory button-down this week to reveal the Shawn Michaels tank top underneath which almost made him look like a wrestler again. I hope next week he loses the tank top and we find out he’s wearing a tube top underneath, and then he removes that and is wearing pasties.
Oh, and as a side note because I’m making jokes about these things: I deeply appreciate and love that this week’s wrestling show was full of wrestling, and a Raw I can watch that doesn’t feel like it takes six hours from beginning to end feels like getting splashed in the face with cold water. I’m finally awake again!
Best: Takeover R-Rival
The 24/7 Championship content this week was pretty weak, but they kept it short, and continued one of my favorite running gags: R-Truth going through a ton of trouble to put on an elaborate disguise and sneak up on his opponent, only to remove the disguise, reveal himself, and stand still smiling at them until they’re able to react and avoid the attack. It’s so enjoyable and weird. It’s like they have to give the audience time to “realize” it’s R-Truth, even though he’s the most instantly recognizable person in the company and nobody’s having problems.
While we’re on the subject, I’m actually pretty happy if this is actually Elias’ “farewell performance.” I think having him try to play a song only to get interrupted has run its course, as they’ve done it like 2-3 times a week since he got called up, and he’s talented enough of a performer to show up and get into angles without them all being the same. We haven’t explored Backstage Chorus Elias enough yet, where he’s randomly sitting on stuff playing songs about what’s happening around him. Just don’t turn him into Jeff Jarrett and we should be fine.
Alternate idea: serious him up a bit and make him the fourth member of Randy Orton’s new Four Horsemen. Four Snakemen. Whatever.
Best: Randy’s Savages
I’m very into the teaming of Randy Orton and The Revival. I wish we had the NXT version of Dawson and Wilder as much as anybody, but if we’re never going to put a focus on main roster tag team wrestling, we might as well let them be an important wrestler’s workhorse cronies. Orton seems revitalized by the pairing as well, and it’s fun to see The Revival in the ring looking like killers having the time of their lives, instead of sad guys who wished they worked somewhere else.
I can’t decide which RKO I liked more; the “from outta nowhere” version on Big E …
… or the one Kofi sold with a straight-up face plant.
This is really making me wish WWE had a trios title. A division with Orton and The Revival, New Day, Reigns and the Usos, The O.C., maybe Undisputed Era … that’s already better than whatever they’re doing with two separate, ill-functioning tag team divisions. New Day would probably keep those belts forever, though.
Somewhere In The Middle: Can They Co-Exist??
From our open discussion thread:
Braun Strowman faces AJ Styles for the United States Championship. Over/under on outside interference leading to a six-man tag set at 3.
Congratulations if you took the “under,” because Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson interfered at the 1:55 mark. On the plus side, instead of setting up a six-man tag team match for nothing but momentum and bragging rights, the interference set up an actual match with consequences: a Raw Tag Team Championship match. Whether or not that ended up being a good decision is another talking point entirely.
On the positive tip, it’s a 12-minute championship match main event with a clean finish that advances multiple stories and continued the Seth Rollins vs. AJ Styles and Seth Rollins vs. Braun Strowman Universal Championship beefs. That’s probably leading to a triple threat match at Clash of Champions. The crowd loved it, too, and it was the biggest breath of the freshest air to see Raw actually fade out with a crowd happily cheering a show they enjoyed. It’s weird how infrequently that happens. The wrestling felt lively, commentary helped the story instead of hurting it — please keep Vic Joseph in Corey Graves’ chair indefinitely, and maybe in Michael Cole’s chair, too — and it seemed genuinely exciting.
On the negative tip … yeah, the Tag Team Champions got beaten by two randomly assembled singles stars who had no eyes on the Tag Team Championship until like an hour into the episode. It’s also another chapter in one of WWE’s favorite stories: “can they co-exist,” featuring two singles stars who are feuding over something accidentally ending up Tag Team Champions and having to decide whether they should be tag champs or still hate each other, or both. It’s not the most original or compelling shit in the world, but maybe the inclusion of Styles and the leveraging of a triple threat match could add some flavor to it. I don’t know. At least Braulins didn’t pin Gallows and Anderson in a non-title match.
It’s a, “wait and see,” kind of moment, for real this time. By doing something unexpected and actually letting us process it instead of having whoever lost immediately get their heat back or the wrestlers turn on each other seconds after becoming champs, you leave room for conversation. Speculation. Anticipation of action. If we can string together a few more good Raws like this, “being excited to talk about what might happen on Raw” can start happening on a weekly basis again, and not just for like 16 hours a year on the Monday after WrestleMania.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
Nice to see Eddie’s kid give some words of wisdom to Rey.
Charly: Rey, is it true that Eddie isn’t in heaven?
“This is who I am now Dad. Why won’t you accept me?”
”All I wanted was for you to pass the salt”
Sethy 2 Belts
Big Baby Yeezus
“King Baron Corbin”
That Fiend/Lawler segment still terrifies me. You had that guy with the leathery, disgusting skin with a creepy obsession with kids and hasn’t cut a coherent promo in five years. And he got attacked by Bray Wyatt.
I see Seth absorbed Sting’s idiot-babyface soul when he killed him
The least likable person in this match is the super hot blonde who we all generally like and want to be in a romance angle with her teammate.
Son of Tony Zane
I would love if the Fiend just appeared right behind Booker in Houston like it was nothing.
Me: *Halfway asleep*
That’s it for this week’s Raw. Please do not notice that the Street Profits aren’t wearing the NXT Tag Team Championship belts anymore. I SAID DON’T NOTICE IT.
Thanks for reading, as always. Really watchable show this week. I didn’t like every decision they made, but I don’t have to to enjoy an episode … I just want it to make sense, have a good pace, and feature a ton of pro wrestling. This week they gave us those things, and I hope Vince McMahon decides to stay on whatever vacation he’s on and leaves Raw in the hands of people who can effectively entertain fans over the age of 8 and under the age of 60.
Drop a comment down below to let us know what you thought of the show, share the column on social to help us out — it really helps us out, I wouldn’t type it at the bottom of columns every week if it didn’t — and make sure you’re here for a (hopefully) good followup Smackdown.