Previously on the Best and Worst of Raw: Braun Strowman and Bobby Lashley got into a fight about tug of war that surely won’t escalate to electricity murders. Also The Undertaker returned, Frank Thomas got impressed the ladies with Nugenix®, and Raw continued its weird avoidance of commercials with increasingly contrived match stoppages and restarting.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for July 1, 2019.
Best: Heyman, Nice Spot
Good spot, man!
After a month of arm wrestling competitions and tugs of war, 6-foot-3 260-pound MMA muscle machine Bobby Lashley and 6-foot-8 340-pound monster among men Braun Strowman decided to stop playing summer camp and start exploding each other to death through walls. It was a very good decision.
In the freshest breath of air, the first segment of what I guess we’re calling the Holy Shit Era eschewed the boring, 20-minute promo parade in favor of a falls count anywhere match ending in violence, fireworks, and loud, on-air cursing. It might’ve just been a way for them to explain why they’ll have a new set next week, and yeah, the drawn out Local Medical Facility talk probably went on too long, but it was exciting, man. It was the first time in a hot minute that Raw’s felt unpredictable, at least from a presentation and production standpoint, and I’m here for it.
To get a little ahead of myself and talk about the vibe of the episode in general, one of the best descriptions of this different-feeling but familiar-enough Raw came from Nate Birch, and instead of loosely appropriating it, I’ll just share it here. I think it’s extremely accurate.
“Ohhh right, mainstream wrestling *can* have energy, direction, and a sense of purpose. There’s reasons to watch *other* than, ‘well, maybe my favorites will find a way to do something with bad material.’
“Most interesting thing to me, is how obviously Heyman was trying to write something Vince would like. Lots of sassy clapbacks, wacky comedy, sexy shenanigans, big guys brawling, and a silly gimmick spot, etc. Heyman didn’t last long in his previous WWE [run in creative] because he tried to do his own thing in Vince’s world. A tag-teams and workrate Smoky Mountain thing on Smackdown, and later a recreation of ECW, and it didn’t work.
“Point is, seems like Heyman is looking for job security this time. He’s giving Vince what he likes (except, y’know, good) so this might actually go somewhere.”
For more on “giving Vince what he likes,” let’s talk about the elephant that’s still hanging out in the middle of the room.
Worst (Plus Some Bests): The Show Is Still Writing Itself Around Commercial Breaks
It looks like the awkward commercial break mandate that’s caused the past few episodes of WWE television to be suddenly inundated by 2-out-of-3 falls matches, random ref stoppages, and Teddy Long style disqualifications causing on-the-fly match updates is sticking around. This week, we got one of each flavor.
Joe Betta Bruise
For the Teddy Long match we got New Day vs. the Viking Raiders, which ends pretty quickly with Samoa Joe attacking Xavier Woods to draw out Kofi Kingston. We go to commercial, and when we come back, it’s transformed into the full New Day squad against Samoa Joe and the Viking Raiders. [/Teddy Long dribbling two invisible basketballs]
It even ends with another WWE creative mainstay: Samoa Joe has defeated the WWE Champion! What will this mean for Extreme Rules? Can Kofi build momentum™?
On a positive note, tying it back to the “stuff Vince McMahon likes, but good,” talking point from earlier, it’s a better executed version of the trope than we saw last week. Here, they go fairly quickly from a hot opening match with a big showcase spot to match two, without any long promos or wacky, extraneous match set-ups in-between. New Day and Viking Raiders are both great tag teams, so the actual wrestling they do in both versions of the match is fun to watch, and got me thinking how hot fire it’d be on a TakeOver card. Plus, even the decision to put Joe over Kofi this way read better than usual for me, seeing as how Kofi’s been nigh unstoppable since winning the WWE Championship and Joe’s been a real championship scene bridesmaid on the main roster. Joe should be threatening to the nth degree, and honestly should only ever lose wars in the ring. The decision to ever let Joe lose in 60 seconds to a bullshit roll-up is pretty ridiculous.
This Right Here, This Is Carmella, And She Doesn’t Let Understated Dialogue Speak For Itself, And You Can’t, Teach, That
The, “do a match, have it end quickly, go to commercial, come back to a slightly different match” thing that SERIOUSLY needs a name continues with A Moment of Bliss. Three quick notes:
- Nikki Cross’ speaking voice is my favorite, and anyone who “what” chants her should go to prison
- Carmella interrupts the segment as soon as it starts to try to drive a wedge between Cross and Bliss, continuing that weird WWE female Superstar obsession with how everyone’s allowed to feel about Alexa, to the point that they’re basically forcing her to be the person she has a reputation for being. Yeah, she’s probably gonna whip out a random heel turn at some point, but so far she’s just a really self-obsessed person being genuinely pretty nice (if not mildly opportunistic) to her friend, isn’t she?
- Carmella gets a reaction for the line, “How about we take a little walk down to the ring and I’ll show you a sidekick,” but then immediately Randy Ortons it with, “when I kick you upside your head?” It worked better without the explanation! “How about we take a little walk down to the ring and I’ll show you a side kick … when I use a standing SIDE KICK to KICK you in the SIDE of your head, inside the wrestling ring currently several steps away!”
So Carmella vs. Alexa Bliss happens, lasts 10 seconds, and we go to commercial. The promo they do linking Carmella vs. Bliss to Carmella vs. Cross during the commercial is actually one of the better parts of the segment, as the “during commercial” bits they’ve been doing lately have felt a little loser and more character based. ANYWAY –
The match advances the idea that Nikki Cross is “doing all the work” in her relationship with Bliss, but still, it seems pretty par for the course for pro wrestling relationships. It’s not like Cross earned a title shot for herself and then Bliss made her give it up, like an Eddie and Chavo Guerrero Jr. thing. And it’s not even a Nexus situation where Bliss feels like everything Cross does has to benefit the collective; again, to me at least, she just feels like normal Alexa Bliss in an advantageous professional and interpersonal relationship with someone Raw was ignoring until Bliss threw her a bone.
I don’t know. WWE’s trained me to side with the logic of heels, because they’re usually the rational and thoughtful people with friends and relationships, and top WWE babyface Superstars are these lone wolf sass machines who want to take off their shirts and punch you about everything that happens. I hope they go somewhere unexpected with this, because Cross and Bliss really benefit each other. Especially if Bliss is hurt a lot and needs to be more of an outside-of-the-ring character.
Who Wants To Tap With Elias?
This week’s 2-out-of-3 falls match for no reason is The Miz vs. Elias. It follows that same weird pattern of WWE elimination matches, where guys are able to hit and win with whatever they’ve got in way less time than it’d usually take, for the sake of match plotting. Miz easily wins the first fall with a Skull-crushing Finale, Elias easily wins the second fall with Drift Away, and then they … stop the match to go to commercial.
It’s hard to put into words, but the random, “okay, now we’re gonna give you a random time-out” stuff really hurts the organic feel of the action, and basically puts colorful flashing arrows around the idea that the commercials are dictating the pace of the program, and not just incidental promotion during lulls or act breaks like everything else. I liken it to the, “COMING UP … AND LATER …” breaks reality shows do. It’s drama so transparently manufactured you’d have to be a fool to think you’re gonna feel satisfied when it picks up again.
The interesting thing about this, though, is that the match DIDN’T stop for the commercial. They just kept wrestling, only with Rudy Charles in the background yelling HEY, STOP IT, IT HASN’T STARTED YET. I don’t know if this is creative easing back into just going to commercial break sometimes like in the previous 30 years of Raw episodes or if they just didn’t want to bore the crowd, but for real, this is better.
You can go to commercial during matches. Just don’t go to commercial immediately in every match where it makes it feel like you’re actively trying to avoid wrestling. Just place the breaks better, you know? Do entrances, or even one entrance, go to break, and come back for a match. Put a break in a long match during the rest holds or extended heat and come back for the rising action. IT’S FINE.
Find Me In The Club
The best of this week’s Not Interrupted By Commercial™ Interrupted By Commercial® fare is what ends up being the main event: Ricochet defending the United States Championship against the man who pinned him last week, AJ Styles, due to some reverse psychology rebel rousing from Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson.
I really love what they did with The Club this week. Styles has been big-timing them backstage for weeks now, asking them where the “old” versions of them he knew from Japan went, and why they’re stuck being No Way Jose conga line jobbers if they’re on TV at all. This week, Gallows and Anderson decide to throw that back in Styles’ face by manipulating him and Ricochet into throwing hands, because the old redneck asshole heel AJ Styles they knew would’ve been a jerk about it. Styles, who has never been the smartest character, falls right into their trap. Those slaps were great, too. They sounded like gunshots. Full Stephanie McMahon Women’s Special #2 strikes, and I mean that as a compliment.
This still falls into the commercial break section because it ends VERY quickly with Styles pinning Ric with the Phenomenal Phorearm and being announced as the United States Champion … but whoops, whoopsie, Ricochet’s entire leg was under the bottom rope. The match is paused for VAR review, we go to commercial, and we come back to it restarted. Again, they could’ve just used that ballyhoo time to give us more of Styles and Ricochet being rad as hell and beating the shit out of each other, gone to commercial, and come back straight into more rad shit-kicking. It’s a very strange mandate from a very strange and particular man.
This was so good, though. They were really laying in the strikes and hitting everything with impact, and the best excuse for these two having multiple, stunted TV confrontations for a month is that it could serve as a “spring training” of sorts for an 18-minute championship classic at Extreme Rules. I’m extremely ready for a heel AJ Styles who kicks people’s asses in the ring again instead of winning by divine luck, because he rules.
Plus, it looks like we’re finally CLUBBING it, for real this time!
WWE bringing in so many Bullet Club guys and not having them team up in any kind of meaningful way for years is one of their strangest decisions. Can we let Finn Bálor join up with them as well? I think it’s time to finally shit or get off the pot with our WWE Club content.
Worst, Then Best, Then Worst, Then Maybe Best Again: The 2019 Mixed Match Challenge
You know what’s weird the more you think about it? The fact that Lacey Evans, a “sassy southern belle” who wears fancy clothes and talks about how much she hates rude “nasties,” deciding to be best friends, teammates, and a possible love interest with a notably rude waiter and scuzzy former biker from the mid-west who cheats all the time and has “LOBO” tattooed on the side of his head. Is Lacey Evans trying to make her parents mad or something?
Anyway, Lacey has a quick match with Natalya that ends with Baron Corbin interference, and is exactly as good as those nouns suggest. Meanwhile, their upcoming Extreme Rules opponents, Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch, watch the match while standing a few inches from the screen and like an inch apart, shoulder-to-shoulder with their belts on their shoulders, like normal people do.
Rollins and Lynch are now in an EXTREME RULES “winner takes all” mixed tag team match at Extreme Rules — who knew? — so from a creative standpoint, it’d make sense to have them wrestle and win a match against another mixed tag team sometime between now and then. Their very natural and believable chemistry gets interrupted by MIKE AND MARIA KANELLIS, who we haven’t seen on Raw … ever? They were on Smackdown for a minute and then came back to 205 Live, but I don’t think we’ve even seen Maria on Raw since that “honoring the women who competed during the decades-long era when we didn’t care about women’s wrestling” segment from January 2018.
I’m happy to see them, though. Maria’s always been better than she gets credit for on the mic, and currently looks like Isla Dawn’s Ghost of Christmas Future. Mike is doing a new version of the “in-love married couple” gimmick where I guess he’s straight cuckold, as Maria refers to him as her “bitch,” in a very ECW kind of way. They decide to have a match, and OH BOY, I bet you weren’t expecting where this went.
Smack My Bitch Up
When it’s time for Maria to participate in the match, she stops everything and announces that she’s pregnant. Mike is obviously very surprised, so much so that he quickly gets hip-tossed into the ring by BECKY and taps out to a Ronda Rousey version of the Disarmer where the arm bends the way an arm’s normally supposed to.
With the match lost, Maria takes the opportunity to announce that she’s embarrassed to have Mike as the father of her children, and that if she wants a real man to impregnate her next time, she’ll ask Becky Lynch. Somewhere in Pennsylvania, Beulah McGillicutty is smiling while Kimona Wanalaya dances atop the Planned Parenthood. It was … interesting, I guess.
There are some good things to note here. Firstly, Raw involved some new (or at least fresh) characters with an interestingly mature vibe, which at the very least adds some new faces to the show and lets us connect the dots between a married couple featuring a HotHusband and AJ Styles as a modern redneck swinger who competed for Karl Anderson’s Hot Asian Wife. Raw is Fetlife! Secondly, Paul Heyman has gone on record saying that Maria Kanellis is the most underrated creative mind in wrestling, so maybe they’ve got some fun directions in mind for where to take it. Regardless, we definitely didn’t tune into Raw expecting to see electricity murders, The Bullet Club, and Becky Lynch impregnating people, so that’s progress.
Best, But Also Worst: LET NXT HAVE TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS, DAMMIT
Another thing nobody expected to see when they tuned in to this week’s Monday Night Raw is the STREET PROFITS, the current NXT Tag Team Champions. Don’t get me wrong; Montez Ford is one of my favorite wrestlers on the planet, anyone who reads the weekly Best and Worst of NXT column knows I’m a huge Street Profits homer, and I don’t blame Paul Heyman for wanting them on his show … but goddamn, we just dealt with the NXT Tag Team Champions getting called up to the main roster and immediately turned into a meme, and we just got the NXT tag belts from them to the Profits. What’s next, the Profits getting their name changed to The Party Experience and giving up the titles so the Forgotten Sons can fight Oney and Twoey over them? What happens then? Do the Forgotten Sons win the tag titles and get called up two weeks later?
Let NXT have Tag Team Champions, dammit! At least do something of note with the Tag Champs you already brought up and forgot. Quick, tell me whether I’m talking about Neville, Harper and Rowan, The Ascension, The Lucha Dragons, Aiden English, Buddy Murphy, The Revival, American Alpha, The Authors Of Pain, Sanity, or the War Raiders.
Best/Worst: Lightning Crashes
Bless this week’s Raw for keeping the “show opening promo” bit until the second hour, and interrupting it with magical lightning.
Shane McMahon and Drew McIntyre show up to shit-talk Roman Reigns for “needing help” from The Undertaker, which is a very heel thing to do when you’re the boss’ son who manipulatively runs the company for his own glory and benefit and booked yourself into a 2-on-1 handicap match. That’d be good heeling if it was from an actual wrestler, and not Shane McMahon’s decrepit, sweaty ass. They’re interrupted by this:
McIntyre selling the smoke and getting mad about it is is the best part.
So yeah, The Undertaker does The Creep down to the ring and does his normal promo that starts off really impressive and awesome because of his vibe and reputation, but then sorta spirals into goth nonsense. Undertaker is The Doors of professional wrestling. The first minute of every Doors song is great, and then it goes on for seven more minutes. I really hope Taker’s getting involved here as a way to put Drew McIntyre over, for real, because playing it against Taker “having respect” for people who give him a fight at WrestleMania — Shane, Roman Reigns — and having McIntyre wreck him independent of his old timey wrestling respect is a good story.
Best: Renee Michelle On Raw, Or, “Drake Maverick Is Definitely Getting Pinned During His Honeymoon”
Finally this week we have an update on our 24/7 Division, which continues to be the most enjoyable part of any WWE show because (1) it’s creative, even if it’s limited by being a hardcore division without anything hardcore, and (2) it’s a focus on lesser seen and less appreciated characters who’d really thrive if they got more TV time.
This week’s bit centers around Drake Maverick seemingly finally realizing that he needs to stop being obsessed with WWE’s least prestigious and keep-able title because it’s ruining his fledgling marriage. He brings his wife to the show for a honeymoon and quickly has to backpedal out of it, and Truth gets to go full Daffy Duck and cartoonishly antagonize him. Truth is truly in his element as a supernatural trickster.
Later in the episode, No Way Jose congas out to the ring to futilely battle goddamn Tony Cesaro, and Truth puts on a Cat in the Hat hat to continue messing with Drake. He’s such a jerk, and he’s having so much fun with it. Renee Michelle’s disapproval is also pretty funny, but I’d like to think it’s because her husband finally brought her to Raw just to sit in the front row for a No Way Jose match.
The 24/7 nerds show up and chase Truth off. Cesaro, because he’s Cesaro, just hops out of the ring, kicks Jose’s ass in a heartbeat, and then leaves. You’re the dude, Cesaro. Also, +1 to Jose for dropping the faux Naomi look.
This all leads to the final moment of truth: the Mavericks are leaving Dallas ( … wait … ) when Drake accidentally runs into R-Truth hiding from everyone. Drake assures him that he’s not going to try to pin him, because of the promise he made to his wife, and Truth is actually nice to him for once. I like that choice, because Truth’s just been messing with Drake for fun, and ultimately really likes him. So Drake, of course, immediately betrays the trust of two people and smashes him in the back of the head with a suitcase to win the 24/7 Championship.
This leads to Drake promising his wife they’re going to have a “24/7 honeymoon,” and the billion percent chance that Truth’s going to infiltrate said honeymoon and win it back, possibly mid-consummation. The 24/7 Championship is so fucking weird, and I love it. Thanks, USA Network, this is the best thing you’ve given us since season 14-25 of Suits.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
The Real Birdman
This entire segment
Heyman: “Sure, I can write for women wrestlers”
The Mavericks should return from their honeymoon next week with Drake’s wife as 24/7 champion with no explanation given.
Ricochet, like children, should be seen and not heard.
Ok if Roman ends up being one of those ambulance drivers then I’ll be a fan. Promise.
I guess we’ll really know if they’re paying attention to continuity now if Truth shows up at Smackdown with Drake Maverick’s suitcase, adorably wearing his stretched out clothes.
Ref 1: We have a winner!
Ref 2: We need run some Krypton ads.
Ref 1: Restart the match! After a Krypton ad!
I kinda want Lashley to come back with white (eyebrow)hair with his entrance theme being “Mmmm” by “The Crash Test Dummies”
You can’t spell “acrid stench” without “s-h-a-n-e.” Did you know?
the undertaker has spoken…..boogly boo
I know this outro is supposed to be about wrestling, but hold on, I’m watching the trailer for the new hit film Crawl. It’s like Lake Placid and Deep Rising had a baby!
Thanks for reading, as always. Raw’s still got some progress to make, but damn if it wasn’t easier to watch and write about this week. I’ll take ambitious and flawed over competent and boring 10 times out of 10. Make sure to drop a comment below to let us know what YOU thought of the show, throw us a social media share to help keep us in business, and make sure you’re here on Tuesday night for Eric Bischoff Presents Smackdown Live. Heyman already took his HLA idea, so who knows what he’ll do?
See you then!