Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: Bayley and Sasha Banks became the first Women’s Tag Team Champions of the modern era inside the Elimination Chamber, Finn Bálor won the Intercontinental Championship by pinning Bobby Lashley’s manager, and The Man showed up dressed like Jean Grey to beat the shit out of Ronda Rousey with a crutch.
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And now, here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for February 18, 2019.
The Difficulty Of Effectively Writing About A Raw Like This
Instead of making a bunch of pop culture one-liners and making a bunch of GIFs to tell you how I felt about Raw, I feel like I need to address a few things. Just skip this part if you don’t care.
1. Lafayette, Louisiana
The one constant you’ll see about last night’s Raw is that the live crowd was dead on arrival. I don’t know what the problem was. Maybe WWE should’ve ran a big city instead of a small town this close to WrestleMania to make sure they got the right kind of response, or maybe they should’ve waited to have the big NXT stars guest in one of the towns they’ve actually performed in — New Orleans, for example, or Chicago, or Orlando, or Brooklyn — but Lafayette was sitting on its hands for the full three hours. Poor Triple H went out there at the top of the program to give them the Full Sail treatment with big, exciting announcements about positivity and togetherness and The Future® and they popped for it in the most muted, polite way possible. You know the woo I’m talking about. It was, at best, the first response to a performer’s “HOW Y’ALL DOING TONIGHT” that makes them say, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU, I SAID HOW Y’ALL DOING TONIGHT??”
It was incredibly weird to see Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa wrestle The Revival in dead silence. It was somehow even weirder to see Aleister Black of all people with his crazy combos and backflip feints and Nosferatu-ass entrance hit a big thing and pop a squat only for the crowd to sit there staring at him. Independent of how little sense a lot of this Raw made, Lafayette is wholly responsible for making it unbearable to watch.
2. “Stop Complaining!”
The new mission statement is, “shut up and take your medicine.”
No shade meant to Beth, but this has been WWE’s through-line for a while now. World Wrestling Entertainment is the one TV show/performance/hobby that gets mad and blames you if you don’t like it. The problem is with you, the viewer, not them. WWE is full of creative, engaged people who work harder than anybody anyone knows to produce so many hours of television and you don’t realize how hard it is, and you wouldn’t be able to do it, so you should just shut up and stop voicing your opinion or suggesting ways to fix it, because you’re just not watching it right. Why are you complaining? They’re working so HARD for you! YOU are the only thing they care about!
I’ve written about it a lot in the past, but no other brand of entertainment (except maybe the NFL, which is its own separate but equal issue) is afforded this kind of luxury. Think about The Simpsons. It’s been on for 30 years, and is getting two more seasons despite the fact that it hasn’t been its best in over 20 years. It doesn’t mean everything the show does is a disaster, but you can’t tune in now expecting an episode to be great. If you laugh a time or two, hey, that’s not so bad. Most of the time you don’t laugh once, because the most clever joke they can come up with is Homer accidentally hitting himself in the head with a hammer. Now imagine that instead of 20-or-so 22-minute episodes a year, The Simpsons aired 5-10 hours of new episodes every week. Now imagine that it was the only animated show because it had monopolized and destroyed every other animation studio, ensuring that The Simpsons idea of animation was the only one available. You would get really fucking tired of watching The Simpsons, wouldn’t you? It doesn’t mean you don’t like it. It doesn’t mean that pointing out some things they could do better means you’re a bad Simpsons fan. You love animation, and it’s the only animation you’re allowed to see, and the actors are always on social media telling you how shitty you are at watching their show. Would that make you want to watch it more, or less?
It’s a false equivalency, sure, but it’s the closest parallel I can make. The audience for these shows is going down, but playing to the lowest common denominator for so long has increased profits, and with no competition or motivation to improve their product they can just make the same thing every week and get pissed at us for not enjoying it. Every now and then — like at Elimination Chamber, or nearly every week on Smackdown and NXT — they show they know how to make a better show, because they are wildly talented and overflowing to the point of absurdity with the most gifted performers in the world, and that only serves to make you wonder why this one 3-hour batch of programming on Flagship Mondays is such an impossible shit-show.
And if you do stop complaining and just shut up and enjoy the show, this is what you run into:
“Nobody hates wrestling more than wrestling fans,” and, “nobody hates wresting fans more than wrestling.” There’s no way to win, and it’s been designed that way.
3. An Absence Of Context
The one thing I felt like I was able to articulate over social media last night during the show is that WWE, or at least Monday Night Raw, doesn’t understand the value of context. It’s the primary problem WWE could fix in a heartbeat to make all their shows better. It’s not adhering to some long, dense history or gatekeeping some weird idea of how pro wrestling should or shouldn’t be, it’s just remembering that what is happening is only important if we know why it’s happening.
Last night, WWE took four of its biggest stars from NXT — Tommaso Ciampa, Johnny Gargano, Ricochet, and Aleister Black — and dropped them into the Raw Universe. They all got the same graphic in different colors. Ciampa and Gargano are smiling, and they’re teaming up to face the Raw Tag Team Champions despite the fact that “will DIY team up again and decide to be evil together” has been an ongoing story in NXT for months. They just do, and are even chatty in a backstage segment, because Raw actively believes that context either doesn’t exist or isn’t important. Context is what makes us care about these guys. We — and when I say “we” I presume that if you’re reading this deep into a wrestling blog’s write-up of Raw that you’re invested in the product on more than a surface level — don’t like these guys because they’re from NXT. We like them because of who they are in NXT, and what they do in NXT, and, most important, why they are who they are and do what they do in NXT. It’s not the same thing if you just debut them cold and have Michael Cole disingenuously tell us they’re cool.
Some people — I think of them as “the lucky ones” — think of wrestlers as interchangeable action figures, and only differentiate them by how they look and what moves they do. Raw and Smackdown and pay-per-views are just banging your dolls together and making punch noises. Sometimes I think that’s how we watch wrestling as kids, and imagine in a lot of people’s minds that it’s the “pure” and “right” way to watch. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that was never my experience. I’ve been going to shows since I was in the womb, and while that in no way makes me a “better” fan than someone else, my childhood featured the same obsession with wrestling where I wanted to know who everyone was, where they came from, what they did, why they did it, and what they were going to do next. My memories are about stories and matches and moments, not remembering names and knowing what they looked like. I hope that makes sense, and doesn’t arbitrarily slot me into your own interpretation of what makes a person who watches wrestling good or bad at watching it.
4. Even That Immediate Context Isn’t Presented
Most of the discussion in our Slack room last night was, “are these supposed to be actual call-ups, or are they just guest starring?” While the answer may have been obvious to you based on whatever you inferred, they didn’t really make it clear. Triple H says, “they’ll be making their debut tonight,” which suggests they’re part of the show going forward, but Ricochet’s post-match interview makes it sound like they were just here for the night. But even in that, he’s referred to as Raw’s newest addition.
That presents two questions of its own:
- If they’re all debuting tonight, why are you debuting all four of them on the same show without any build or reason or anticipation beyond a tweet on Monday afternoon? These are your four top developmental guys, and you’re debuting them on a whim after spending the last two months awkwardly stagger-debuting six different developmental stars? Three of whom aren’t even on this episode, and none of whom compete on this episode.
- If they aren’t sticking around, why did you put them over the Raw Tag Team Champions, your “All Mighty” monster former Intercontinental Champion, and one of your hottest but least focused mid-card acts? They kicked Raw’s asses. Is it supposed to make us want to watch NXT, or not want to watch Raw?
What sucks is that I feel like I know the answer, and that the answer is, “we’re throwing things at the wall to see what sticks.” With a side of, “if the fans love it, we’re good; if they don’t, we can just go on social and explain that the fans aren’t watching the show correctly, and are bad.” And there are so, so, so many tribal-ass motherfuckers ready to pick sides on the Internet in the hopes of being in the “right” group of fans, so you end up with tweet after tweet after tweet like this:
I’m not any better. I do the same thing. I’ll get mad about something on Raw and type about how bad these “wrestling fans” are. I did it up at the top when I was talking about Lafayette. There’s some validity to the question of why you’d pay hundreds of dollars to go to a live Raw and sit in the front row just to hold your phone up to your ear and stare up at the screen in silence the entire time, but it’s still me fussing about what someone who isn’t me is or isn’t doing right.
We can’t win. We devour ourselves from all sides, and the company cannibalizes us and replaces us with someone else. It sounds nihilistic and dramatic, but a little less so when you realize how much time and effort (and in my case, our lives) we give to arguing what does or doesn’t work about a show where people pretend to fight for money.
5. The Disconnect
Stepping away from a too-serious breakdown of why people act like people, let’s take a minute to talk about the disconnect between NXT and Raw, and why it proves so impossible to overcome for so many stars. My dude Bill Hanstock tweeted about how the “RIP your career” joke about call-ups isn’t funny or true, and I wish I could agree.
There’s a clear difference between what works for a 1-hour show in front of more or less the same 200 people every week and what works for multiple 3-hour shows in front of thousands multiple times a week dependent on keeping TV networks and sponsors happy. Just wanted to say that out-loud. But one of the strangest things about NXT and now the Performance Center being “developmental” is that it rarely seems to train them to do what works in front of those thousands on those shows. There are some exceptions that work in both, like Seth Rollins, but the list of bodies in the character graveyard are so much bigger. Look at the problems The Revival have had trying to get wrestling over on the wrestling show. Look at how long it took (or arguably, “is taking”) Big E. Look at how badly Drew McIntyre’s looked the past couple of months, despite being a booker’s dream. Then look at Bobby Roode, or Chad Gable, or Bo Dallas, or The Ascension or No Way Jose or Sanity or The Authors of Pain or Apollo Crews. Look at goddamn Bray Wyatt and the Wyatt Family. Look at how quickly they extinguished Braun Strowman’s flame. Look at the people who aren’t around anymore, like Neville, or Emma, or Austin Aries, or Adam Rose.
The success rate for transition from the most critically applauded brand in WWE to its most watched show shouldn’t be this low. If you define success by being a body on the roster and making money to go through the motions, sure, they’re fine. But as fans, we (or maybe just I, I don’t know) don’t get excited knowing how easily my favorite star can buy a car or a house, I want to see them doing fun or good or exciting or interesting things on the TV show. Look at Tyler Breeze vs. Ricochet in NXT, and the Breeze vs. Ambrose Raw match that followed it. It’s like we’re spending the emotional and creative currency of wrestling’s best minds and bodies ever to create these special little precious gems, only to send them down an assembly line to be crushed up and turned into mulch. Are we doing this? Are we to blame?
I Want To Love This, And I Want It To Be Better
When I write columns like this, the consensus among people who don’t agree — and I expect there to be plenty of you, which is fine — is that if I don’t like the show, I should just stop watching. That kinda ties back to the “wrestling fans telling wrestling fans they’re bad at being wrestling fans, because WWE taught them it was true” thing, but I want to say in clear, non-Brandon language that I really do go into every episode of Raw wanting to love it. I want to be surprised. I want them to prove me wrong, to turn my endless nitpicking against me and show me that I’ve been wrong all along … they’ve had a master plan, and everything they’ve done has mattered, and they’re about to pull back the curtain and blow my mind. It happens sometimes. They did it on Sunday with Kofi Kingston and Daniel Bryan in the Elimination Chamber. That shit made me feel like a kid again. I showed it to my parents, and my mom, who had never heard of Kofi Kingston before the match, was cheering loudly for him to win. In my brain, at least, pro wrestling is the easiest thing in the world to love.
Pro wrestling is a world where giant inflatable panda bears can be stars. It’s where a trio of guys who got shuffled into a kinda-sorta racist “smiling black guy” group can go into business for themselves, transform their characters into unicorns and butthole-themed cereal salesmen who pull pancakes out of their underwear and throw it at you while you happily cheer. It’s where a guy’s penis can grab you, hurt you, and flip you over. Pro wrestling is fucking magical, and WWE right now has the most unbelievable collection of creative talent, physical performers, brilliant minds, experienced points of view, passionate hearts, and dedicated craftsmen in the history of professional wrestling. It keeps getting bigger. WWE can sign ACH and KUSHIDA and it’s barely news, because they’ve also signed everybody else, and they’re creating performance centers around the world. New companies are popping up. There’s more pro wrestling to watch than ever. If I want to watch any episode of Nitro ever made, or World Class, or AWA, I can hit a button on my PS4 or Roku and bring it up in HD. Wrestling fucking rules right now, even in — and especially in — WWE. Smackdown is routinely great. NXT has been consistently entertaining for years, and TakeOver days feel like holidays for me. A lot of the big spectacle shows are unforgettable even if the content’s not great, because WWE employs the most banger production guys ever assembled. They make a better video package than any team in the world.
And still, every Monday, I have to sit through three hours of barely attempted horse shit that insults my intelligence, rots my love of the product, and pits fan vs. fan while WWE stands around us in a circle chanting “ass to mouth.” Raw is an absolute embarrassment of a television show and an even worse wrestling show, and explaining why every week has driven me to such a point of futility that I can’t even joke about Ronda Rousey throwing a phony-ass Dragon Punch without having to write 3,000 words about the state of fandom and the danger of managing expectations.
And that was the main event.
So after all of that, where does it leave us? I’m a bad fan, you’re a bad fan, WWE knows best, Raw doesn’t know anything, it’s the flagship show that the most people watch, it’s the company’s worst show by a mile, none of it makes sense, none of it is intended to make sense, you can’t give Raw NXT’s credibility and audience by cherry picking out NXT guys and dropping them into Raw with no explanation or reason or motivation or character consistency, and we should all stop watching, even though this is what we want to watch the most.
So What Happened On Raw, You Verbose Dork
- an amalgamation of D-Generation X teams is going into the WWE Hall of Fame. Triple H (who more or less inducted himself), Shawn Michaels (who is already in the Hall), the New Age Outlaws, X-Pac, and, thankfully, Chyna. Members not being inducted include Rick Rude (who is also already in, so it’s fine), Mike Tyson (same), Hornswoggle, Stephanie McMahon, Tori, or those comedy guys they added for a night like The Great Khali. At least Chyna’s getting in.
- Finn Bálor and Ricochet (team name: Two Princes) teamed up to defeat Bobby Lashley and Lio Rush, who Lashley beat up last night and apparently split with, but I guess not?
- two characters who are not on the show and are going against their natural motivations have pinned the Raw Tag Team Champions!
- Roode and Gable tried to big-time DIY backstage and forgot they are two of the saddest NXT call-ups ever and should mind their own business, which I assume is sparkly bath robes and spinning around on Roombas
- Paul Heyman appeared live to throw it to a video of Paul Heyman putting over Brock Lesnar, which is a sentence you just read correctly
- Heavy Machinery and Lacey Evans had a Walk Off and I think are friends now, because maybe we’re doing a Sunny managing the Godwinns thing
- Kevin Owens went to the movies with his family
- Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins continued Hawkins’ losing streak by losing to the Lucha House Party, who have still not addressed that weird month where they were allowed to wrestle handicap matches in their favor
- Bayley and Sasha Banks brute-forced their way through a promo and were interrupted by Nia Jax and Tamina, who did nothing
- Aleister Black wrestled in complete silence for what I’m guessing is the first time in his entire career
- Dean Ambrose got squashed by Drew McIntyre and completely forgot he’s supposed to be a heel, which I think is supposed to be a joke but came across more like he’s the living embodiment of the Raw writing team
- Braun Strowman wrestled Baron Corbin again, which didn’t really work, because it never, ever works, but maybe (?) we’re done with that feud again (??)
The Good Things About Raw
- Ricochet and Aleister Black are obviously both great
- the wrestling in DIY vs. The Revival was good, but not as good as it’s been in the past, because it didn’t have any context and the crowd didn’t seem to care about it or anyone involved (and they’re all heels)
- none of these people were the Velveteen Dream
- Triple H tried
- that missed uppercut was seriously hilarious
And that’s all I can manage for this week’s Best and Worst of Raw. I feel like I have to apologize over and over when I can’t bring myself to do my normal formula and dismiss everything with a know-it-all armchair booker wank, but this week’s Raw (and Lafayette, which is the new Corpus Christi) finally crossed the line between “why is Raw like this” and “why are any of us watching Raw?” Maybe next week will be better. I’m sure it will be.
If not … at least everything else in WWE is pretty good right now.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
Corey: “I had the opportunity to call that match, Revival vs DIY!”
Renee: “Do you miss being in NXT, Corey?”
*everyone starts to weep openly and hug in a circle*
Cole: “These guys are so fun to watch!”
Vince: what about that Velveteen guy I heard about some months ago
*Hunter looks at Tyler Breeze, Shinsuke Nakamura and Asuka*
HHH: uh, *points at Lio* there he is
HHH’s “I drove a tank to WCW once” is the new “four touchdowns in a single game”
Hailing From Parts Unknown
Gable – ‘This isn’t NXT. This is Raw. On Raw, we start at the bottom.’
Gargano – ‘….and?’
Gable – ‘Oh, that’s it. I was done talking.’
I’ve been down on the WWE Hall of Fame since they didn’t induct Val Venis at Wrestlemania XXX
THERE in the world is Carmen Sandiego
Boss Hug was my favorite Dukes of Hazard character.
that’s not believable, we all know ronda can’t survive a head kick
Well, at least we had a Mass for this dead crowd.
Damn it new Uproxx commenting system, if I liked change I wouldn’t be watching Raw
That’s it for this week’s column, and/or my sanity. Maybe I can make like Smackdown and forget I have it.
Share the column if you want, or wait until one that has jokes in it, whatever you wanna do. I appreciate you reading and supporting us no matter what. Just go read the Best and Worst of Elimination Chamber again and share that. Drop a comment down below to tell me what you thought of the show, especially if you want to argue for the show’s merit, and join us next week for something else entirely!