Previously on the Best and Worst of Raw: Raw broke its normal format, and in doing so, broke me.
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And now, here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for February 25, 2019.
Best: Man On A Remission
I shared my immediate thoughts on Roman Reigns’ return and remission announcement in the news post from last night (read that here), but for the sake of making sure it shows up in a Best and Worst of Raw column for posterity, here goes: a real life struggle as major as battling leukemia trumps literally everything I, or you, or we have ever thought about a man’s wrestling character, and seeing this human being who literally destroys his body on a weekly basis for our enjoyment triumph over and come back from something that scary is powerful, heartwarming, and wonderful. I think the most aggressively pragmatic response that remains valid is, “I’m happy for Joe Anoa’i to win this fight and get back to doing what he loves, so my biggest worry about him is that I don’t like his scenes on my stories.”
Having said that, let’s have another difficult (but brief) conversation.
The worst thing about social media and everyone in the world getting a public platform is that stupid people can so easily convince themselves that they know everything, and even smart people can be convinced that everything is a conspiracy.
Let me speak about leukemia and how it works and affects folks from personal experience. As he said on Raw last night, it was hard for Joe Anoa’i to tell the world he’d been battling leukemia for the past 11 years. Having heard him say that, you could probably understand (with even a tiny dollop of human empathy and compassion for people who are not you) that he might not want to go into detail about what kind of leukemia he has. When you live with an incurable but treatable disease — which I personally do, even though it’s nowhere near as scary as cancer — the fear of a relapse is CONSTANT. Even when you’re perfectly fine and feeling on top of the world, that dormant nightmare lives in the back of your brain and in the recesses of your body, and maybe the only thing scarier than finding out it’s powering up again is the reality of knowing you’ll have to treat it.
You’re going to read a lot of commentary from assholes about how Joe doesn’t seem like he “actually has leukemia” because he didn’t lose any weight or hair, and he doesn’t look like a cancer patient, and how he went to college football games and filmed a movie so he can’t be sick. Here’s the truth in the simplest way I can phrase it: leukemia is fucking complicated, and different types of leukemia react in different ways. Some of them are really forthright and destroy you, and you have to live in the hospital and have doctors save your life. Some of them, presumably like the kind Joe has since he beat it into remission 11 years ago, can be treated without a lot of evident and obvious signs of danger, especially when you’re a rich celebrity who works at the top level of a billion dollar company.
Some treatment for leukemia makes you lose your hair. Some treatment for leukemia doesn’t. It can make you lose weight because you’re sick, or gain weight because you’re sick. Some treatment for leukemia makes you tired and powerless. Some treatment doesn’t. Joe seems fortunate in those respects. But even if he wasn’t, guess what? You’re a ripe piece of shit if you think you have the right to evaluate how another human being deals with a life-threatening disease. What do you want him to do, be frail and bald and stuck in a bed all day? Does that “validate” leukemia? The emotion you should be looking for here is joy, because someone who might not have been okay is okay.
I get it, man. This stuff is scary, so turning it into fiction makes it easier to process. I’ve done that before. When I was a younger and meaner and sadder person, I’d hear of celebrities dying or getting sick and make light of it, or lash out with jokes and theories because I would be terrified to have to experience it. I’m not claiming to have ever been above it or better than you. I have failed, and failed, and failed again. But one of the cool parts about growing up and meeting people and having life experiences — and, believe it or not, constantly failing at being a “good person” — is that you can evolve your thinking and your ability to process feelings, and though it’s tough to know that cancer is a thing and kids and adults and old people and celebrities are all going to die, accepting it as a truth can bring a certain level of clarity to your life. It certainly doesn’t hurt to add skills like compassion to your toolbox, and it continues to boggle my mind and hurt my heart that caring about other people seems to have gone out of style.
In other words, if this is how you process grief, do what you’ve got to do … but remember that on the other end of these dumb stories and wacky characters and horrible, horrible creative decisions are a bunch of human beings who are not the characters they play, and they deserve your common human decency even when they aren’t performing for you. If that’s too much to understand, here’s the quick version; learn to be kind, and if you’re struggling with it, consider shutting the fuck up.
Worst: We Now Return To Our Regularly Scheduled Complaining
Three Raws ago, The Revival finally won the Raw Tag Team Championship. Those statements of, “they’re doing something with the Revival, trust us, wait and see where it goes,” finally seemed valid. They got a “point” photo with Triple H and everything. Then, as it so often does, things go back to normal. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid.
Last week, The Revival lost a non-title match to Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, who per ongoing NXT TV aren’t even supposed to really be friends again yet. “But sure,” we rationalize, “DIY and The Revival have a lot of history and Raw wants to put the new arrivals over.” Then this week The Revival loses another non-title match to Ricochet and Aleister Black, who aren’t even an actual tag team yet. “But sure,” we rationalize again, “I heard they’re going to be in this year’s Dusty Classic, so Raw wants to put them over!” And in all that rationalization, we realize the truth: the Raw Tag Team Champions and “best tag team in the world” have lost two straight matches in two straight weeks to two teams that aren’t officially on the show and aren’t currently teams.
The silver lining is that maybe at Fastlane they’ll give The Revival 20 minutes to wrestle a red-hot triple threat match against NXT’s top four male singles performers, and that nothing makes you Tag Team Champions in WWE like losing a bunch of non-title matches and somehow retaining at pay-per-views. But damn, haven’t we seen The Revival eat shit enough? Can we just have them win some tag team matches because they’re a good tag team? Can we build to a title match in some other way than having the champion lose non-title matches to their upcoming challengers? Jesus Christ, guys. I’m trying to be positive over here. Put at least 15% the effort into coming up with new ideas that I do coming up with new ways to say the same thing about your show every week.
Worst: Of Steaks And Weights
In other sad Raw Tag Team division news, Otis
Dozovic has gone full Festus, and The Ascension — a team that was last seen as Breezango’s babyface sidekicks and hasn’t won a match in so long I’d be shocked if anyone could remember it without looking it up — are suddenly bully heels again. This is one of those moments on Raw that doesn’t really matter to anyone, but could have meant something if anyone had ongoing histories or consistent character motivations. Plus, I don’t buy for a second that Konnor would shade someone else for digging around in the garbage looking for cheese. Remember when he was literally a rat who could be Hansel and Gretel’d by floor cheese?
Anyway, I never got the impression that Otis was supposed to have a learning disability or some kind of mental handicap, I just thought he was an affable Midwestern fat guy. Maybe I’m watching wrong.
Best, Mostly: The Man Gets Arrested By The Man
Becky Lynch continues her slow evolution into Stone Cold Steve Austin by showing up for a pull-apart brawl and getting arrested by LOCAL POLICE. I think we all went into this episode hoping Becky would randomly appear during Ric Flair’s 70th birthday celebration and break his arm with a cake or whatever, but this was fine. It created a nice misdirect for what actually happened to Flair, which was nice. I was just kinda hoping this would be one of those classic 1998 Raw arrests where they take you out in cuffs and make you sit in the back of a police car in the parking lot until you apologize, or beat up all the cops and return.
The match leading up to it involved Natalya, so you know there’s a ceiling on how good it could be.
Ronda Rousey’s in a weird spot where it feels like she’s either getting too excited and rushing through her work or, alternatively, is less interested in performing than she should be because her time in WWE’s rumored to be ending soon and has her mind somewhere else. She sounds blown up and confused in promos whether she’s just wrestled or not, and dialogue like, “gaudy accessory that isn’t even my style!” and, “Vince says that he makes … he’s the man … he makes all the tough decisions,” aren’t really the kind of thing to carry you into a WrestleMania main event, and are the kind of corny things we dumped on Roman for for so long.
At the same time, I like how WWE’s managed to get an audience that vehemently booed the idea of Charlotte Flair being added to the match at WrestleMania to cheer for the idea of a triple threat. Furthermore, if Ronda’s not really able to anchor the performance aspect of these stories outside of beating people’s asses in the ring (which itself has even been a little iffy lately, from the squash at Elimination Chamber to that phantom Dragon Punch from last week), Becky Lynch has reached the next level and Charlotte’s been doing the best promo work of her career, so it should end up great.
From a pure fan perspective, I don’t know how to feel about Ronda and Stephanie’s conversation about her thinking she’s “bigger than WWE,” and then Ronda just dissing the Raw Women’s Championship and leaving it in the ring because she doesn’t get what she wants. Isn’t that validating what Stephanie’s saying? I dunno.
Worst: Lowered Expectations
Jinder Mahal shows up and challenges anyone who is attending Ric Flair’s birthday celebration to a match. Kurt Angle answers, which is easily the most boring option of the bunch.
I mean, no Jinder Mahal match ever is going to be good, but how much fun would it have been if like, Ricky Steamboat had come out and wrestled him? You know Steamboat is still a better wrestler than Jinder. Watching him chop Singh Brothers into backflips would’ve ruled. Or hell, what if Shawn Michaels had answered him? We saw him wrestle a few months ago, he can answer an impromptu challenge and throw a few superkicks to pop the crowd. How great would it have been if STING had answered him? I doubt any of those guys are in iffier in-ring shape than Kurt is right now.
Honestly, they could’ve sent Flair out there himself to kick Jinder’s ass. I would’ve popped hard for a bunch of strutting and ’97 Flair style melee-kill low-blows. He could’ve dropped a big knee on Jinder’s scarves.
Worst: A Moment Of Fan-Fiction
To put it mildly, this was the John Cena kiss of wrestling segments.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything as unconvincing as Finn Bálor flirting with another human being. I’ve seen a man claim to be a fog and time-controlling Boogeyman who eats worms on this show and thought it was more realistic. Finn seems like a wonderful guy and he’s gorgeous and fit and leads with the crotch, Alex Wright-style, but I can’t see him showing eyebrow-raising interest in anything but a new LEGO® playset. He’s Todd Chavez as a beautiful, demon-summoning Irish ballerina man.
It’s not his fault, though. Captain Jack Harkness could’ve have successfully flirted with Alexa Bliss with this dialogue. You’ve got a woman in her late 20s telling an almost already completely naked man in his late 30s “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” Which Foley kid wrote this? What’s even worse is that the “if you show me your abs I’ll show you my ____” is the interruption line and Raw’s pretty bad at hitting interruption cues, so Bliss had to be like, “I’ll show you … my ….” and hope Lio Rush’s music cuts her off. What was she going to show him? Was she gonna have sex with him on the stage on her pro wrestling talk show?
Best: Rush, Rush
That sets up what I thought was the best match of the night: Finn Bálor defending the Intercontinental Championship against Lio Rush. It reminded me a lot of that Sting vs. Dean Malenko match from Nitro back in the day where top star Sting doesn’t have to give Malenko a bunch of offense and make him look great in a loss, but he does. Finn gives Lio Rush SO MUCH here, and guess what? It makes them both look better. Lio looks like he can at least vaguely hang with top guys, and Finn looks like he can defeat uniquely skilled opponents without just hitting 30 dropkicks and 40 Slingblades.
What’s more, it was a match that actually paid attention to its stories and used them to create consequences. Rush shows up angling for an Intercontinental Championship match for Bobby Lashley (because he cost Lashley the championship at Elimination Chamber) and gets double-talked into challenging for the belt himself. He doesn’t really want to, but he takes the opportunity. That puts him at odds with Bobby, and the second loss puts him at odds with his own sense of self-worth. That’s what keeps him following Lashley around and being his hype man, even though Lashley beat him up at Elimination Chamber and screamed at him on Raw. Segments and matches like these are so much better when even a tiny effort is put into establishing why it’s happening, and what’s at stake. “Building momentum heading into Upcoming Pay-per-view” is such a lame, constant cop-out.
Also This Match Happened
Even though the match felt sloppy (because it had Nia Jax in it, and the idea of her is still better than most of what she actually does), I have four compliments for Bayley vs. Nia:
- the Riott Squad wasn’t involved for once
- having the top rope elbow end the match makes future nearfalls from that move seem like they might actually happen
- they didn’t have Nia Jax pin one half of the Women’s Tag Team Champions to set up the title match at Fastlane
- Sasha Banks’ unity pony was a cute touch
It’s not the worst match you’ll ever see, but much like The Revival, we need to get Raw’s women’s Tag Champs over to Smackdown to face some interesting and compelling opponents sooner rather than later. Nia’s in an awkward spot where she’s got some believability and momentum left over from Becky Lynch and the Royal Rumble, but she’s not really good enough in the ring to elevate Tamina, and Tamina’s presence absolutely brings her down a little. That’s why I liked what they did in the Elimination Chamber; it was a short, intense burst of violence that didn’t outstay its welcome and, Superfly Splash aside, didn’t expose their weaknesses.
The Ballad Of Dean Ambrose
Early in the show, Elias is interrupted by Lacey Evans, a woman out of time who is possibly suffering from dementia and doesn’t know where she is or what she’s supposed to do. When she leaves, Elias is interrupted by the only character that makes less sense than Lacey Evans: Dean Ambrose.
A couple of months ago, Ambrose was a germaphobic super heel in a gas mask who betrayed his brother and claimed that God was punishing Roman Reigns by giving him leukemia. Now that Roman’s doing okay, WWE’s like, “whoops, do-over,” and is sending Ambrose out here to be the wacky “Lunatic Fringe” to presumably set up another (final?) Shield reunion before he bails. The tonal shift is bizarre and jarring, and is maybe the best-ever example of WWE telling you what to think and how to feel instead of putting in the work to make you think or feel. They’re just like, “here’s Dean Ambrose again!”
Ambrose does a goofy promo where he requests random songs from Elias — shout-out to the Temple of the Dog reference — and hits Dirty Deeds on him after requesting ‘Dirty Deeds.’ It’s fine, but something that would’ve fit a lot better a year and a half ago when these characters were more organically aligned in these personalities.
That all sets up the no disqualification rematch between Ambrose and Drew McIntyre, who continues to be a giant murderer made of muscles who can’t win wrestling matches against guys way smaller than him. I don’t know how you have Drew McIntyre and don’t know how to book him as threatening, that guy would make me shit my pants if he wandered up to me on the street and asked me what time it was. As a WWE character, McIntyre needs 4-5 people to help him beat a guy so dumb he didn’t know to unplug a television before trying to use it as a weapon.
Anyway, this accomplishes two things: getting Elias on the heel team and teasing a Shield reunion. I assume the first informs the second because if you remember the attempted reunion at TLC that Kurt Angle had to sub into, they booked it as 5-on-3 instead of just having a dope trios match. WWE’s so into booking their villains as helpless idiots and their heroes “overcoming the odds” that they’ve lost the ability to write believable one-on-one, two-on-two, or three-on-three wrestling matches. It’s why even the WrestleMania main event’s gotta be a triple threat, after they were more or less handed the biggest female sports star ever and the most grassroots supported and popular female wrestler they’ve ever employed. Gotta add a third person and three different authority figures and cops and everything else.
All of this said, I’m not above admitting that if Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose do one final Shield fist-bump in Cleveland at Fastlane I’ll love the hell out of it. I’m going to miss that team, and I know it’s true because I’ve been missing them for years.
It’s Almost A Match!
Braun Strowman has nothing to do and has already lost two embarrassing matches to Brock Lesnar, so he’s stuck in these weird non-matches where he shows up and wrecks shop and nothing really comes of it. Here, he beats up Lashley and Rush and leaves when his music plays. It is what it is. If they can’t make Drew McIntyre threatening, it makes sense that they’d spend a year struggling with how to book a guy whose big WrestleMania moment was helping a 10-year old go over Cesaro.
Best: I’ll Do You One Better … WHY Is Ric Flair??
As I mentioned earlier, the best part of the Ric Flair birthday celebration is that they had us all believing Becky Lynch was going to be the one to interrupt it, only to spring BIG DAVE on us. The worst part I guess is that they spent three weeks and three entire hours building to a Ric Flair birthday segment where Flair never even got to the ring.
Regardless, I’m excited to see Batista back. I think circumstance kept us from appreciating his previous return run, and now that Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns are in completely different places and Randy Orton’s not involved, we might be able to appreciate him more. Batista rules as a personality, has a legitimate intensity that almost all current WWE Superstars lack, has the best filmography of any wrestler turned actor (don’t @ me about Southland Tales), and has a surprisingly great history of overperforming in big matches. See his WrestleMania match with the Undertaker, for example, or the six-man tag against The Shield, or WrestleMania 30. And seeing Flair get literally dragged at his own birthday party was pretty funny.
Maybe Batista knew Flair and H were planning to swerve Sting again and jumped him to stop it.
I’m probably not alone in being nonplussed at the idea of a Batista vs. Triple H match at WrestleMania, especially when all the cruiserweights and tag teams and like 75% of the women are going to get stuck on the endless Kickoff Show, but that’s the nature of the event. WrestleMania’s turned into half WrestleMania, half in-ring WrestleCon, and when you’ve spent the last decade making sure everyone knows the retired wrestlers are better than the active ones, you’ve convinced yourself that you need to put those retired wrestlers at the top of a card to sell tickets.
I’m fine with it as long as they promise to give me another “Batista quits” segment, as the previous two were amazing.
Best: Top 10-ish Comments Of The Week
Sierra Hotel Indigo Echo Leukemia Defeated
If Otis had said “They’re right, I was in the dumpster getting cheeseburgers”, that would have made my night
Superman comes back from the dead, dressed in black with long hair.
Oh God, he was standing so perfectly still we never saw him coming!
Roman: “I just signed with AEW!”
Not A Crook
oh god two hours in the joint turned Becky into an animal
The Real Birdman
Sting: “HOW’S IT FEEL TO HAVE YOUR FRIEND KICK YOUR ASS, RIC?!?”
Maybe The Revival can change their name to The Loss & Shrug Connection
Lacey “I voted for GREEN BOOK” Evans
The Iron Yuppie
Just give Flair and Steamboat the third hour of Raw
That’s it for this week’s show. It’s still got a lot of the same problems as the previous Raws, but at least some notable stuff happened. Roman’s gonna be okay, Big Dave’s going to make sure Triple H and Ric Flair aren’t, and now Stephanie McMahon can get the most heat in history by handing the Raw Women’s Championship to Charlotte Flair.
As always, thanks for reading. Drop us a comment below to let us know what you thought of the show, share the column on social to keep us in the business of writing wrestling jokes while battling crippling depression, and make sure you’re here next week. Fastlane is slowly approaching!