Previously on the Best and Worst of Raw: Christian showed up to try to talk Edge out of fighting Randy Orton at Backlash. Turns out that was pretty good advice for both of them, in retrospect.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for June 15, 2020.
Best: Make Brother Love, Not Raw Is War
One of last week’s biggest WWE stories was the announcement that Paul Heyman was out as the Executive Director of Monday Night Raw, and that Raw and Smackdown’s creative teams were consolidating under Smackdown’s Bruce Prichard. It’s not like Raw’s been blowing us away with high quality episodes, but it felt like a scary proposition given that recent episodes of Smackdown have featured a wrestler getting run over by a drunk driver, characters getting slimed like they’re on Nickelodeon, and both a massive jar of piss and “Dookie the Diaper Boy.”
There are a few concerning aspects to the way this week’s Raw was put together — we’ll get to those in a bit — but I wanted to open this week by saying how much I liked a lot of the changes, and think they’ll help the show tremendously if they remain consistent and constructive. In case you didn’t see the episode, there’s so much going on this week. Not all of it’s important and some of it doesn’t work, sure, that happens. But the show appeared to be making a concerted effort to avoid being boring, and on a show where my most tired weekly talking point has become WHY WON’T THEY STOP DOING THE SAME THING OVER AND OVER, “not boring” is a massive gain.
I’m sure I missed some of the structural changes to how the show runs, but one of the most obvious is introducing multiple stories near the top of the show and having them progress as they weave together throughout the show. That used to come standard with Monday night wrestling shows, but for the longest time WWE stories have existed independent of one another to a weird degree. If you’re feuding with a guy and his friends, you only ever really run into or interact with that guy and his friends. What was ostensibly “worldbuilding” was replaced by cycled, episodic stories that allowed the characters to change on a whim and be whatever the writer (or Vince McMahon himself, specifically) needed them to be. That makes the writing process easier, but it also somewhat sacrifices character consistency, continuity, and the rules of the universe because WWE Superstars aren’t “real,” not even in the context of the show itself. So that makes divisions stop mattering, which makes championships stop mattering, which makes big events stop mattering, which snowballs and snowballs until nothing matters and you might as well be watching a screensaver for three hours every Monday night.
Some of that’s still here, but even the less successful acting, matches, and segments gain a little more gravity and actually fit into the narrative of the show because they all exist in the same place, are happening at the same time, and might interact.
For example, most normal Raws would’ve had the Street Profits and Viking Raiders existing in one segment, Christian and Randy Orton existing in another, Ric and Charlotte Flair exiting in another, the McIntyre and Truth vs. Lashley and MVP stuff in another, and so on. On this Raw, just with those examples, the Street Profits and Viking Raiders segment brings back Big Show, so Big Show’s around to give Christian advice on whether or not he should face Randy Orton. Ric Flair’s there to talk to his daughter, but he also talks to Christian and uses his intimate knowledge of Orton to beg him not to go out there. That pays off in the main event. Big Show was there to help the Viking Profits fight off Akira Tozawa’s ninja motorcycle gang, who ALSO interact with R-Truth in a bit about the 24/7 Championship. Truth’s teaming with Drew McIntyre in a “winner take all” tag team match against Lashley and MVP, who are mad at Lana about what happened at Backlash. MVP also interacts with Apollo Crews and Shelton Benjamin in a different match. There’s also a pulse to the women’s division, which has the IIconics vs. Liv Morgan and Natalya match set up both a challenge for the Raw Women’s Championship that gets followed up on in a later segment AND some Natalya and Liv tension that connects Natalya to Lana. Which then connects the women’s division to the men’s division through both Lana and Ric Flair.
See how that all goes together and makes Raw feel like a living, breathing thing? It’s like these people go to work every week and talk to each other on a regular basis. The wrestling promotion itself is, and should be, a character on your show. The Simpsons doesn’t work without Springfield, so why should WWE Superstars compete in a business that doesn’t appear to be anything in-universe but a logo representing a broad entertainment concept and a Lazy Susan of increasingly evil bosses who want everyone they employ to fail?
So, let’s check out this week’s A-story, and go through this beat by beat.
Best: Christian Vs. Evolution
(h/t to @StevesTweets3 for getting to that joke first)
The show opens with 2020’s best real-life face turn, Randall Keith Orton, bragging about his victory over Edge in The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever™. If you haven’t read the Best and Worst of Backlash, please check that out. I’m not sure I have the emotional currency to explain my thoughts on that match again. All you really need to know is that Orton is gloriously awash with deluded cruelty and believe he legitimately proved he was the “better wrestler,” fair and square, by kicking Edge in the dick, concussing him, and legitimately putting him in the hospital. He even says HOSPITAL, and not Local Medical Facility, so we’re cutting promos with the FORBIDDEN WORDS.
Orton’s interrupted by Edge’s fellow vampire brother tag team partner Christian, who you’ll remember showed up last week to try to motivate Edge with a tough-love pep-talk that did not prevent him from getting got. This week it’s Christian’s chance to get got, as Orton [gasp] flips “one more match” on him, effectively turning his words from their championship feud from ten years ago into bait. He wants to face Christian tonight in an “unsanctioned match,” and Christian’s pride blinds him completely from the very, very obvious trap this generation’s Lex Luger has meticulously set to continue Eternal Sunshining Edge out of existence.
Orton knows him too well. He knows all he has to do is play on Christian’s well-documented inferiority complex with Edge to get him in the ring. As we’ll learn later, Orton doesn’t really realize he’s going to, you know, cause possible permanent damage and debilitating injury to a guy he more or less likes at this point, or at least mildly respects, until it’s too late. He’s let his Intermittent Explosive Disorder control his prefrontal cortex again, and his version of “fight or flight” is, “plot more and more aggressive beatings until I calm down.”
Throughout the show, various people who know both Christian and Orton — notably the Big Show, who we’ll talk about in a moment, and Ric Flair — find Christian backstage and try to talk him out of getting back into the ring. Incredibly, Big Show is the one who’s on the level here. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do, though, so at the end of the night he shows up in his street clothes to fight. God bless him for not being retired for six years and randomly having his gear on him for some inexplicable reason. That happens more often than you’d think. Is Raw paying attention to details now?
Before the match can start, Ric Flair shows up again and is like, “hey man, woo, don’t do this.” Christian once again informs him that he’s got to do this and makes the biggest mistake of his life by positioning Ric Flair, history’s greatest dick-puncher, just behind him. Flair, remembering that he’s the dirtiest player in the motherfucking game for the first time in like 15 years, delivers an immediate Tiger Uppercut to the ol’ Ryu and Ken down there. Orton, who made it VERY CLEAR that Evolution is a mystery, delivers a Critical Hit with the punt. It’s GREAT. Christian, you are a DAMNED FOOL.
Firstly, HALLELUJAH for Ric Flair feeling like the character we’ve known our whole lives again and not just like a crying old man who looks more and more like the First Doctor every time we see him. I, for one, would watch the shit out of Doctor Woo. Give him a female Companion and have his catchphrase be, “WOMAN OH WOMAN WON’TCHA MARRY ME NOW!”
Secondly, everything after the punt is WONDERFUL. Orton suddenly seizing his destiny and becoming the best wrestler and character in the company and turning face in real life is 2020’s most unexpected but welcomed news. If you didn’t see it, jump to the :55 mark in the above video and watch until the end. As mentioned, he doesn’t seem to know what he’s doing until it’s over. He kicks a man who isn’t medically cleared in the brains and knocks him out, possibly crippling him, and it never even registers until foot meets skull. Emotions reach Randy’s heart like pain reaches Elmyra’s brain on Tiny Toons. It takes a minute. The lateral press alone is an acting workshop, and the post-pin monologue is even better. Brother is IMMEDIATELY ravaged with guilt, and his only method of coping is to loudly rationalize it until he decides that yes, yes, this is CHRISTIAN’S fault. He never wanted to hurt Christian. He likes Christian! He likes Edge, too! He just wishes these guys would stop showing up from oblivion to threaten his reputation and livelihood. They remind him of the Randy he used to be. And as we all know, 2020 is about Randy Orton trying to be a better person and deal with all his past mistakes. They just won’t leave him alone. If they won’t leave him alone and give him the benefit of the doubt, he’s going to vanish them so he never has to think about them again.
Absolutely killer character work from Orton here, to a degree that’s actually kind of disappointing. Orton’s had a legendary career already, for better or worse, but imagine how good he would be right now if he’d spent the past 15 years working with this kind of depth and motivation? The world’s turned upside down.
Best: True Friends
While the Orton monologue is the best part of the show, I think my favorite part is the payoff to the announced Drew McIntyre and R-Truth* vs. MVP and Bobby Lashley tag team match. Wanting revenge on McIntyre for what happened at Backlash, MVP proposes turning it into a “winner take all” match for both the WWE and 24/7 Champion, leveraging an opportunity out of the fact that the WWE Champion’s agreed to team with a guy who regularly loses championship matches to celebrities, sports stars, TV personalities, and actual cucks. Truth, being Truth, loudly agrees before talking it over with his partner, who has WAY more to lose.
Later in the episode, Truth is confronted by Akira Tozawa and his ninja motorcycle gang, who now have a NINJA REFEREE with them in case they want to take a break from espionage and assassinations on the open road and win the hardcore title. McIntyre exists near the ninjas, however, so they scram. It’s here that Truth realizes he’s set his team up for failure by putting both of their championships on the line, so he goes to management and gets the stipulation reduced to only ONE title being up for grabs … and it’s Drew’s. This works both because Truth is already the Paddington Bear of WWE, and because everyone knows the 24/7 Championship can’t be won during “wrestling matches.” That’s the safe roll-ups on the studio floor title!
McIntyre is understandably worried now that the easily pinned R-Truth can be, you know, easily pinned again and cost him the WWE Championship, but Truth wants Mac to believe in him. All he needs is someone to believe in him.
Truth looks like he might take the loss throughout most of the match, but near the end is miraculously able to dodge a Lashley spear and drop-toehold him into the ringside steps. With Lashley briefly incapacitated, McIntyre uses the mismatch with MVP to hit a Claymore Kick and win the match … only, what good would McIntyre pinning MVP do anyone? So McIntyre, in an unfortunately rare moment of a top WWE babyface deciding to do something nice for someone else, tags in Truth to make the cover and win the match. Because he BELIEVES IN HIM. They do the old Midnight Express Rocket Launcher, and the 24/7 Champion retains the WWE Championship. However you want to say it.
I can’t tell you how much I love the top guy in WWE decided to be nice to someone without provocation or a weird point to make. I am DYING for pro wrestling to have more heroes you want to cheer because of what they do, and not just because of who they are and whether or not you like their wrestling. I want to be able to rationalize and understand the decisions of the babyfaces as often as I’m able to do it with heels. WWE’s spent too long insisting that anyone with an emotional range or the ability to form meaningful personal relationships needs to be booed, because they think they’re BETTER THAN YOU. You are probably too stupid to feel or think things, they think. They don’t have to, though. The world needs some actual heroes in fiction right now. Shades of grey is more realistic, but got us to some real shitty places creatively. I don’t need Drew to be a goody two-shoes all the time, but even the ultimate rebel Stone Cold Steve Austin occasionally saved Stephanie McMahon from Satanic weddings because it was the right thing to do. McIntyre putting over Truth and giving him a sense of self-worth is better than McIntyre murdering Erick Rowan’s pet spider 10 out of 10 times.
Worst: Just to mention it, it’s pretty funny that Bruce Prichard — the man who recently booked two consecutive triple threat singles matches for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship, a 3-on-1 handicap match for the Intercontinental Championship, and a 2-on-1 handicap match for the WWE Championship at Backlash — takes over Raw on Friday, and by Monday we’re already putting a singles title on the line in a tag match. Tag matches for tag titles and singles matches for singles titles, my dude. How mad do you think Bruce is that he can’t book every single match under Lucha House Rules?
*I suspended my “team name” bit here because I asked Twitter for better suggestions than my ideas, “R-Drewth” and “Scot’s Up.” “MacRon” and “Drew Kill” were also on the table. Some of the better suggestions included No Truth Scotsman, Clay-Kwik, and my personal favorite, Ron Kiltings. My readers will always be funnier than me.
Mostly Best: Thot Experiment
It was a bad night for Lashley and MVP in general, for the most part, continuing their frustrations from Backlash. Here’s the segment where Lashley realizes getting shoe-horned into a Lana and Rusev cuckolding angle didn’t work for Dolph Ziggler and makes even less sense now that Rusev’s gone, so he prioritizes his professional career over confrontational on-screen make-outs and says he wants a divorce. I like that MVP rightfully blames Lana for getting involved after being “explicitly told not to bring her behind to the ring” and possibly costing them the WWE Championship, but is misguided enough to shade Drew McIntyre for capitalizing on their ongoing fuck-ups and therefore “hiding behind another man’s wife.”
Highlights you don’t see in the WWE YouTube version of the segment include MVP becoming a trending topic by calling Lana a thot on international television, and him standing on the stage giving her a sarcastic kiss goodbye due to his pride at single-handedly Littlefingering his way into Lashley’s life and forcing the dissolution of the man’s marriage. MVP (the character, to be clear) is a terrible person who is going to keep manipulating his way to the top in the quarantine era whether the path opens its way up for him or not.
Ending last year’s worst angle and competing in a Winner Take Some tag team match aren’t all The Porter’s up to; he’s looking to expand his clientele, helpfully offering his services to both Apollo Crews and Shelton Benjamin. Taking a step back from the narrative for a second, last night was an interesting night for WWE Superstars of color. WWE’s black stars were ALL OVER Raw, from MVP and Lashley’s story and tag match against R-Truth to Apollo Crews vs. Shelton Benjamin; appearances from the Street Profits, Sasha Banks, and a number of on-screen extras; and even Akira Tozawa’s 7-foot-3 ninja. We also got matches from Asuka, Nia Jax, Angel Garza, an appearance from Rey Mysterio, a run-in from Dominick, and more. Just wanted to give WWE a quick +1 for showcasing their diverse, talented roster with a wide array of goals, skill sets, abilities, and personalities. That’s a good look for the show right now.
The Crews vs. Benjamin match was interesting, too. Benjamin (who really needs to be on these shows more often) has Crews beat with a roll-up and his feet on the ropes, but he gets caught by the referee. That pisses him off and distracts him long enough for Crews to shoot a roll-up of his own, and grab the ropes himself for a cheap leverage pin. The announce team, as always, calls it as, “turnabout is fair play,” but there’s clearly more going on than that. I don’t know if Crews is going to go lawful evil on his own, join the WWE version of the Beat Down Clan, or turn into a Bo Dallas type who insists he’s a hero while being a complete jerk-ass coward, but it’s one of the first times we’ve ever actually seen Apollo Crews be or choose something beyond just seeming like he’s happy to be here. Characters are welcome at USA Network, don’t forget!
Worst, But Still Interesting: Natalya
Like I said, even the stuff I didn’t like was at least interesting. Characters were doing things and mingling and interacting instead of just being removed from cold storage when it’s time for their segments.
We followed the MVP and Lashley arc out through the end of the episode, so we should do the same for Lana. She makes an appearance after Natalya and Liv Morgan (tag team name “Pussy Riott”) lose a quick match to the IIconics and argue about it backstage. Quick side note, Natalya is in top form here, agreeing to let Liv start the match only to blind tag herself in before the match even BEGINS and get immediately forearmed in the face.
Also when she’s backstage scolding Liv and Liv walks away, but Nattie keeps doing the promo anyway, to nobody. Seriously, Natalya is like an alien who put on a human skin suit to blend in and tries to act like a normal person, but something’s just off. Lana wanders in, catches the end of Nattie’s TedHartTalk, and offers her commiseration. Are you ready for the Natalya and Lana alliance you’ve been waiting for?
(This is totally going to end with Nattie getting divorced and Lana marrying Tyson Kidd, isn’t it? If Edge, Christian, and Daniel Bryan can all come out of retirement to varying degrees after career-threatening injuries, can we get Tyson goddamn Kidd back one of these days?)
Best: Conic Boom
After the IIconics (who have really gotten their shit together lately in the ring in what I assume is an effort to stay on TV as active characters) defeat Pussy Riott, they once again challenge Bayley and Sasha Banks for the Women’s Tag Team Championship. Shout-out to whoever decided the Women’s Tag titles should get a huge, recurring, weekly spotlight on Raw, especially since the Raw Tag Team Championship is a prop in the background of comedy sketches for stupid people and babies.
Later in the episode, Banks and Bayley Dos Straps (rocking a birthday cake pin in her hair to condescendingly celebrate her own birthday and go Full Karen in the process) show up to gloat about winning the triple threat match for one of two said straps at Backlash. The IIconics show up to reiterate their challenge and are at first rebuffed, but remember that Bayley and Sasha are a powder keg that’s always a moment from complete explosion and physically taunt them into accepting. That match will happen on next week’s Raw, which is good because (1) it’s another title match on Raw, and (2) this makes sure Bayley and Sasha get to go back to NXT at least once and defend the belts like they promised. That promise was over a year ago, and Wednesday’s the first time Sasha and Bayley have ever actually gotten the match scheduled.
Worst, But Whatever: 3 Ninjas High Noon At The Performance Center
Can’t forget to talk about WrestleMania 36 main-eventer THE BIG SHOW, who makes an appearance to back up “The Viking Profits” after they find themselves in a six-man tag against Akira Tozawa’s motorcycle goons and threatened by a 7-foot-3 ninja.
Firstly, I’m happy that if Akira Tozawa’s going to suddenly be the leader of a ninja posse they’re at least homaging the Ernest Miller vs. Jung Dragons rivalry from WCW and having them randomly appear backstage to (lovingly?) sneak attack their enemies. Secondly, I was really hoping the motorcycle ninjas would unmask as Garrett Bischoff, Wes Brisco, and, I don’t know, Tito Ortiz? Thirdly, at least the random tag team-up and inexplicable ninja fights took place in a ring this time, instead of ending with Raw’s top two tag teams literally being tossed into the garbage.
So yeah, Rocky, Colt, and Tum Tum lose the match with gusto and end up on opposing sides with the returning Big Show, who is now a face again despite being a heel the last time he was on TV, because of course he is. It makes sense, though, as Hulk Hogan is a friend to ninjas and Show was born from beneath a haunted mountain to destroy Hulkamania. Wrestling’s weird, it’s fine. Later in the night, Show wisely recommends that the Viking Raiders and Street Profits stop being dorky Disney Channel comedians for five seconds and settle their rivalry in, you know, a goddamn WRESTLING MATCH on next week’s Raw. Wow, what a crazy idea! 80% chance he recommended that because he’s going to turn heel on them and become a ninja.
Best: Dominick’s Famous Guerrero Temper
- I love that Rey Mysterio’s eye patch is getting slightly more translucent as his eye heals. Looks like he’s still got some of Lucha Underground’s dangerously symbolic magic in his system.
- Seth Rollins is really digging into this Monday Night Messiah character, and he’s doing a great job. Unlike a lot of other characters on the show, especially the heels, Rollins seems like he’s legitimately lost his mind and has completely forgotten how to interact with other human beings. That actually makes sense for his character, too, given that we’ve only ever seen him as part of a mercenary trio, as the golden child of WWE’s corporate overlords, or desperately begging us to love him enough to remain a solo act. We didn’t, because he’s routinely insufferable, so he relapsed and is back on his “deluded follower who honestly believes he’s a leader” bullshit. Fantastic.
Rollins sends his Hired Goons after Mysterio’s son, but doesn’t remember that Dominick’s got a FIERY GUERRERO TEMPER from his REAL dad and is willing to risk a 3-on-1 beatdown to get the jump on his enemy. Dom decks Rollins and quickly Lio Rushes his way out of danger when Austin Theory and Buddy Murphy bumble out to help. It’s going to be super funny when Rey doesn’t recognize ANY of this as a set-up and has to slump down in the corner holding his ribs while his son poses with a bunch of religious fitness zealots from work.
Worst: The Least Successful Parts Of The Night, Besides The Ninjas
At Backlash, Asuka defended the Raw Women’s Championship against Nia Jax (despite spending most of the month in the middle of a Charlotte Flair program) and a match that should’ve ended with Asuka knocking her the hell out ended in an underwhelming double count-out. Even the fake fans in attendance didn’t want to cheer that. So they have a rematch on Raw, and that match ends with more nonsense. Jax loses, sure, but only after she shoves the referee, gets rolled up, and has the vindictive ref hit her with a fast count. Yes, Best and Worst of WCW Monday Nitro readers, Nia Jax just became Perry Saturn in her own Scott Dickinson angle. We’re definitely just flipping through the Rolodex of old ideas most people forgot instead of coming up with new ones, huh?
Pretty funny that even the ref doesn’t want to see Nia in the title picture, though. You’re being a bad role model to the former Tag Team Champion at home, John Cone.
Finally there’s the match that opened the show between Kevin Owens and Angel Garza. The good news about this week’s Raw is that even the most unsuccessful stuff for me was either perversely interesting (the ninjas) or at least watchable, whether I liked what happened or not. Jax vs. Asuka was kind of the pits but the finish was dumb enough for me to laugh about, and Owens vs. Garza is the definition of fine before it falls victim to the tried and true distraction finish. Again, distraction finishes would mean a lot more if you didn’t do them so often. At the risk of rambling about it for the thousandth time, even the most tired wrestling tropes can work if you don’t do the same ones over and over all the time. I feel like I see distraction finishes more than I see normal ones.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
The Real Birdman
And here I thought the one to end Christian’s career would be Roman
Not A Crook
next week’s Raw will begin with a 10-kazoo salute
Saxton: You don’t hit someone on their birthday!
Samoa Joe: That’s the best time to hit someone
Samoa Joe is a national treasure and we do not deserve him
Editor’s note: Joe is the best.
It just occurred to me that despite his training montage, Lashley couldn’t flip McIntyre.
Next week as revenge, Tozawa will be seen slicing holes in the Viking Profits’ gloves and masks used for social distancing.
He will choppy their PPE.
“That’s Lana’s second divorce in 8 months.”
Great…another Ric Flair record is being chased by a WWE employee.
Big Baby Yeezus
Becky’s gender reveal is gonna be hijacked by Asuka misting her with either Blue or Pink mist
You know, I’m not saying there’s anything weird about Dominick, but there’s something wrong when you could try to guess a kid’s age and still be off by a decade.
Come on WWE. Ninjas don’t run away. They drop smoke bombs to disguise their exit. Plus the Street Profits would have got the smoke. Everyone would have won.
That really needed to end with Big Show telling Ivar that he’s cute and Erik…not so much.
That does it for another episode of The Best and Worst of Quarantine Raw. Thanks as always for reading and supporting us. You can help us out tremendously right now by sharing the column on social media, as well as dropping down into our comments section to let us know what you thought of the show. We’re going to make sense of this era of WWE one way or another, assuming they don’t lie and fail their way out of business in the next few months.
Make sure you’re here next week for the long-awaited Actual Match for the Raw Tag Team Championship wherein the Viking Profits EXPLODE, a Women’s Tag Team Championship match featuring the IIconics versus the artists formerly known as the Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection, and hopefully Jerry Lawler returning for another episode of Divorce Court. “Hopefully.” See you then!