Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: Oh boy. Vince McMahon introduced the barely-defined “wildcard rule,” the Usos put “Ucey Hot” on the Revival’s junk to make them roll around on the ground like idiots, and Sami Zayn literally got thrown into the garbage.
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Before We Begin
This week’s episode comes to us live (on tape) from London, England, and introduces us to a brave new world in which pre-taped overseas Raws are way better than domestic live editions. If you’ve been reading the column since the beginning or, I don’t know, watching wrestling for the past 20+ years, you know that England Raws are usually the dirt worst. But now Raw’s been so bad on such a regular basis for so long that the taped edition notorious for “not trying as hard” tries much harder, to the point that it almost felt like a too-long episode of Smackdown. In fact, if you cut out about an hour of the nonsense and cropped the three-hour episode down to two, you probably would’ve had a really good show.
And yes, “this week’s episode of Raw was better than usual” is damning with faint praise. Three hours of a static logo would’ve been better than last week’s Raw. Three hours of my family being murdered by Jigsaw would’ve been better than last week’s episode. But one of my goals here (believe it or not) is to provide an honest opinion of what I thought about Monday Night Raw, and I want to make sure that while I’m giving them heat when I feel like they deserve it — which is almost always — I need to be giving praise when appropriate.
So, to summarize: this week is a huge improvement over what we’ve been given so far in 2019, and while it still has a long way to go, it’s a step in the right direction. Now we need 12 or 15 more steps in the right direction, and we can write a followup column about how Raw’s finally “turned things around.” I’ve fallen for too many one-off watchable episodes to think not wanting to throw myself off a bridge for a Monday means they’ve got their shit together.
And now, here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for May 13, 2019.
Best/Worst: The Same Segment, But At Least They Dressed It Differently
Up first is The Big Wild Dog Roman Reigns, requester of television ratings, as a guest on Miz TV. Raw can’t seem to shake the idea that it has to open with a promo parade to introduce everyone to the live crowd and set them up for matches on the fly, and this is more of that. It’s just a promo parade with chairs. If I could recommend anything to Raw for improvement they could actually accomplish in the short-term, it’d be taking promo parades off the board entirely and holding yourself to opening the show with literally anything else.
As is, the segment’s not terrible. Roman Reigns has evolved into a natural speaker on the microphone, thank the Lord, and him recognizing Miz’s Hollywood A-lister bullshit and calling him on it as a way to explain to him that the reason fans have taken to him recently is because he stopped doing that is solid. Wrestling characters don’t speak the truth to each other enough. They’re always so hype to hit their catchphrases and posture in the style of Macho that they miss a ton of really obvious communication, such as, “hey man, that direct-to-DVD movie star act and Naturo headband are lame, people want to see you be a real dude and kick Shane McMahon’s ass with a chair.”
Anyway, like all promo parades and WWE talk show segments after like 2001, this ends with the host getting attacked and a match happening. And while the match is perfectly watchable and everyone involved knows what they’re doing, it ends in a disqualification, meaning they wasted the first half hour of a three-hour show — roughly 17% of the episode — on a non-finish.
Of course, this is meant to BUILD MOMENTUM™ for both the Miz vs. McMahon steel cage match and Reigns vs. Elias regular match at Money in the Bank in the grand Raw tradition. I’m not sure it really accomplished anything or said anything about the matches or anyone in them, but at least nobody got medicated topical preparation smeared on their balls as a joke. Boy, the bar sure is low these days.
Speaking Of The Bar Being Low
Cesaro — who doesn’t set half the bar, he ARE half the bar — ends up in a match with Rey Mysterio after questioning the biological parentage of Dominick. I really hope this leads to another “custody of Dominick” ladder match, and that when Dominick becomes a WWE Superstar he’s forced to wrestle for his own power of attorney for his entire career. Literally everyone who challenges him should claim to be his dad.
Anyway, to bring up The Bar again, Sheamus is never coming back apparently, because Cesaro has appropriated the entire Bar entrance … only now instead of standing in the light Cesaro awkwardly walks through it, and instead of a Sheamus slideshow it’s a weird animated GIF of Cesaro posing.
They 100% didn’t talk about this or figure it out before the show went on the air. WWE, if you’re reading this, please do a cooler photoshoot with Cesaro between now and next Monday and/or search Getty Images for “Switzerland vacation” so he can steal Sheamus’ entire entrance without looking ridiculous.
Best: The Dream Of Mike Quackenbush Is Alive On Raw
Regardless of how the match happened or how much the entrances made me laugh, Cesaro vs. Rey Mysterio was unsurprisingly a total banger, which Mysterio playing the great babyface he’s played for like 30 years and Cesaro showing once again why a big guy spending as long as he did in Chikara is killer for learning how to be a base for high-flyers. Being really tall and super strong also doesn’t hurt. Wait, why is Cesaro not the World Champion again?
This was definitely the best Raw match to happen in a hot minute, and while not everything hit as crisply as they probably wanted, it was wild, ambitious, creative, and full of stuff like this:
Most importantly, the match felt alive. It had a kinetic energy missing from a lot of WWE TV matches, and when we say something was “fine” or “watchable,” that’s what we mean. It’s perfectly fine pro wrestling performed by people who know what they’re doing, often well, but with no living energy. Cesaro and Mysterio made 10 minutes of Raw feel like something was happening, and that you wanted to stay tuned and pay attention to it. That’s part of what Raw did so well back in the Attitude Era. Good or bad, the show had energy and forward momentum, and felt like it had some kind of consequence in the grand scheme of WWE.
I’m waxing a little poetic here, but yeah, big surprise, Cesaro vs. Rey Mysterio was dope. The best compliment I can give it is that it made me want to see it again, in a longer match, on a bigger stage.
Best: Good Friend Necky Storm
One of the strangest bits from the taping spoilers was the reemergence of Nikki Cross on Raw, doing a calm, normal character backstage in a segment with Alexa Bliss. I actually really dug how this turned out, as I think Cross is one of the best talkers to come out of independent wrestling … maybe ever, and that while she’s excelled at her crazy AH NO WHAT YOU DED NXT Sanity thing, I always wanted her to speak and be more three-dimensional.
I don’t think we should expect “three-dimensional” out of anyone on Raw, but at least they gave her a believable character hook: she got called up to the main roster, Sanity was immediately disbanded and separated, and everyone forgot she existed. So now she’s just this demure backstage presence hoping someone will ask her to be in a match or something, who knows, and offering an ear to Alexa Bliss to try to make a friend. What she doesn’t realize — or maybe she does, we don’t know yet — is that Bliss is the most emotionally manipulative person in the company, and will latch onto/control anyone subservient enough to believe her bullshit.
On the positive side of even that kayfabe relationship, Nikki Cross ends up with an opportunity to enter a fatal four-way on Raw and get some visibility. She’s ended up as Bliss’ foot soldier and will probably help her (at least try to) cheat to win at Money in the Bank, so maybe they can pull a Miz/Alex Riley and get Nikki way over. The best part of that is that Cross is actually really good, and not Alex Riley.
The women’s fatal four-way here was another great example of Raw moving forward and remembering to have some good matches sometimes, as it was straight up the most surprising nine-ish minutes of the show. Naomi hits a big corkscrew crossbody onto everybody on the floor, Dana Brooke of all people hits a plancha off the top of a goddamn ladder on the floor, and everyone gets a moment or two to shine. Cross ends up winning, allowing the one woman who wasn’t actually in the match (Bliss) to “gain momentum heading into Money in the Bank,” which is basically the Carmella story again, but with a hench you’d actually want to keep around.
Amazingly, the last hour of Raw really delivers. They run the women’s fatal four-way, Mysterio vs. Cesaro, and a fun main event all in a row, and pepper it with backstage segments and video packages that actually contribute to the overall narrative and feel of the show. Whoever put together this last hour of England Raw should get a shot running the entire show.
Best: This Isn’t Hard, Guys
The Revival get a short promo to put themselves over and say they’re tired of getting embarrassed in bullshit comedy segments. They want a match with the Usos, which is where we should’ve gone in the first fucking place. It’s quick, effective, and does more for the teams involved and the prospect of the match than three weeks of back shaving gags and taint ointments.
Best: BRAY IS NOT YOUR KIND! BRAY IS NOT YOUR KIND!
Bray Wyatt finally reveals “his secret” on the latest edition of Firefly Funhouse, and it’s … well, it’s somewhere between a haunted Juggalo and an evil Ninja Turtle. The mask is designed by horror legend Tom Savini, which rules, and … come on, did you think the guy was going to wrestle matches in a sweater and khakis as a spooky wink wink nudge nudge Pee-wee Herman?
(Edit: Bray actually calls himself Bray Wyatt in the very first Firefly Funhouse video and I forgot about it, so … read the following paragraph knowing that. They could still do the fun idea, though!)
I don’t think they’re going to go this way, but I have a suggestion in case anyone important is reading. You know who you are. Bray Wyatt’s never actually called himself “Bray Wyatt” in these segments, right? So you remember way back in the day when Bray’s character started up, and people would tweet at him about being “Husky Harris,” and he’d tell them Husky was just the vessel he’d chosen to consume? What if the host of the Firefly Funhouse is actually Husky Harris, and that’s why he’s so weird and nice? Husky Harris is Bo Dallas’ brother, after all. He’d been consumed by the Bray Wyatt entity — tying it into the Matt Hardy mythos that’d be established, as ridiculous as it was — and now he’s, as he says, learned to control it. So when he cuts promos as a nice guy, he’s Husky. Or whatever Husky’s kayfabe first name is supposed to be. And when he’s in this mask being all crazy, he’s like the “pure” form of Bray Wyatt. That face is what “Bray Wyatt” has always looked like. Only through PTSD therapy has Husky had the counseling strategies in his mental toolbox to compartmentalize and understand it all.
Or, I don’t know, Bray sings NXT’s new theme song. One or the other.
Best, Mostly: Garbage Day!
Braun Strowman’s supposed to have a match with Drew McIntyre to Build Momentum™ for Money in the Bank, but Sami Zayn — who miraculously escaped being crushed into a cube or otherwise murdered in a junkyard between last week and last night — annoys his way into an opportunity.
On-the-level boss Shane McMahon books Zayn vs. Strowman with Strowman’s Money in the Bank ladder match spot on the line, and extremely smart Braun Strowman who hasn’t worked here for years is like, “sure,” and doesn’t assume the falls count anywhere, no disqualification stipulation means a bunch of heels are gonna run out and kick his ass.
So yeah, a bunch of heels run out and kick his ass.
I thought the main event was a mess, but it was fun. The falls count anywhere stip at least adds some variety to the show, and brings the action out into the crowd where it’s at least not as protected and sterile as what they usually do in the ring. I wish Sami Zayn didn’t need two giant heels to give him a win and an opportunity like this, but I also wish they hadn’t literally thrown him into a garbage truck last week, so we’re making progress. Hell, Sami Zayn wrestling is an improvement over what they’ve been doing. He accomplished more wiping his feet on someone’s sign than he did in like half a month of telling us we’re stupid for watching WWE. Also, Strowman showing up for like three minutes late in the Money in the Bank match to rip ladders in half and destroy everyone who wronged him is a better use of Braun than having him win and fail at cashing in again.
Best/Worst: The Other Video Packages
Seth Rollins gives a backstage interview that incorporates footage of him wrestling AJ Styles at an NWA No Limits Wrestling show in 2006, and holy shit have I been begging for WWE to utilize the history of their performers and their endless tape library to provide modern context and gravitas to their matches and characters.
I would love to see more of this, as it makes things feel a lot more exciting and important than one guy saying he “built” Smackdown and the other giving himself a Raw-themed catchphrase. I don’t give half a dog’s shit about “brand supremacy,” I care about the human beings who have chosen to do this for a living, how they got to where they are, and what they’re going to do to stay there.
It’s certainly a lot better than that super long Roman Reigns video package they show, produced by WWE’s propaganda arm to make us believe Roman’s always been universally beloved and supported. Footage of fans being REALLY EXCITED when he pinned Triple H after like 35 minutes at WrestleMania, being really happy when he won the Royal Rumble instead of Daniel Bryan, and on and on. Yeah, we’ve got Roman’s back now, but pretending it’s always been this way takes a really interesting chunk of Reigns’ character history and growth. Huge Worst.
I’m Seeing Double! Four Charlottes!
You know, I like Becky Lynch. I like her character and her attitude, even if she veers a little too far from “confident social media bad-ass” to “bully troll” most of the time. But for real, her showing up to a contract signing against two opponents pulled from the same hateful murder-Barbie embryo and talking shit was ridiculous. Why did she agree to this? What did she think was going to happen? Charlotte Flair and Lacey Evans are both facing Lynch in separate title matches on Sunday and don’t have to face each other. Why wouldn’t they team up and kick her ass? Come on, Becky, at least bring Bayley or someone out to watch your back here.
It’s the same thing they did with her during the Flair and Ronda Rousey story from like December until April. She’s supposed to be a Stone Cold type, but she’s always getting her ass handed to her. She pulls out the win when it matters, yeah, but she could really save herself a lot of grief by not waltzing chin-first into dangerous traps. This isn’t necessarily a “worst” or a condemnation of her character or anything, but I can’t be alone in wishing the wrestler I like would be a little smarter. Lifelong Sting fan over here.
Also On This Episode
Don’t worry, it wasn’t all constructive.
Baron Corbin continues his unparalleled work in the field of Making Exciting Wrestlers Boring, as he pins Ricochet clean with the End of Days. Corbin’s pre-match introduction is some good, old school, quality heeling, but he’s still dressed like that and still having the most boring matches in the world. WHY IS HE STILL DRESSED LIKE THAT. “You look stupid” heat isn’t “heat,” it just feels like a dumb decision somebody made. Like when Sheamus wore braids in his beard and made the lower half of his face look like a dog’s asshole. Nobody has or will ever look good in dress pants jeggings and a spandex dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He might as well be wrestling in a clown costume. Sorry, Bray.
Another note: how do you bring Ricochet up to the main roster, put him on your “A-show” as a singles star, and then keep putting him in the ring with the most boring guys you’ve got? Multiple weeks of Bobby Roode, and now Baron Corbin? They should run Ricochet vs. a stack of overdue library books on the Money in the Bank kickoff show. It’s Ricochet, y’all. You can’t give him and like, Chad Gable 6-8 minutes to do some fun shit somewhere in the middle of your wrestling show? What’s Cedric Alexander up to? You brought over Apollo Crews from Smackdown to get squashed but you can’t run Ced vs. Ricochet? This is like when WCW kept insisting Rey Mysterio should wrestle Kevin Nash.
Finally, here’s Mojo Rawley formally debuting his gimmick as a guy who fell down in the “blueberry” section of the Fruit Roll-up factory. It lasts about a minute, which is roughly 45 seconds too long to hear Mojo yell BLAAAAH! BLAAAAAH! BLAAAAAAH! before, during, and after everything he does. Why does his pleather sleeveless hoodie have little pads on it in random places? I’m really gonna need an explanation for this besides, “easily excitable guy had to look at himself in the mirror for three months and lost his mind.”
Best: Top 10 Pre-Taped Comments Of The Week
Big Baby Yeezus
Sami Zayn’s fall into the garbage truck was cushioned by the last few months of Raw episodes
The Real Birdman
Three producers died editing the boos out of this video
Becky vs Charlotte & The New Frontier Charlotte
Seth is just telling anybody who will listen that he is dating Becky Lynch
The Church of Ladder Day Zayns
I like to think Nikki Cross is a wildling that never got over the death of Mance Ryder and during a fuege state ended up in an Orlando wrestling ring, the rest is history
Sami Zayn crawls out of the Garbage Truck to find himself transported to NWO Souled Out 1997
THERE’S A WEREWOLF IN THE LOBBY!!!
Much like World Wars One & Two, the British had to take this Raw on the chin before the Americans even had a chance to see it.
I hope EC3 is somewhere at a nice hotel pushing someone into a pool
So is Mojo Rawley’s gimmick that he’s the protagonist of Michael Jackson’s ‘Man In The Mirror?’
Anyway, that’s it for this week’s Raw. I think most people were frustrated by it out of habit, which I totally understand, and maybe I’m just looking for things to enjoy so I don’t go crazy … but yeah, I thought it was better. I just hope it can continue to at least attempt “slightly better than normal,” and let the talented and often exceptional performers carry the dumb writing and tired plots on its back for a while until someone important realizes they should stop wasting an entire generation of wrestlers.
Thanks for reading, especially if you got far enough to read this end bit. I might start putting prizes or something down here so the 15% of you that scroll past the comments can be rewarded. You might also be rewarded for sharing the column on social media or dropping a comment in the comments section below, even if that reward is just me painfully smiling at my computer for a few seconds.
SEE YOU THIS SUNDAY FOR MONEY IN THE BANK, EVERYBODY.