Previously on the Best and Worst of Raw: Raw was a mess, but this week it’s hard to even look back and see why.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for October 22, 2018.
It felt like time had stopped.
Roman Reigns opened up Monday night’s Raw with the announcement that he’d been battling leukemia for the past 11 years, and quickly put it into remission when he was 22, but would now have to relinquish the Universal Championship and step away from the sport because it’s back. He told us his name was Joe, assured us that this was by no means a retirement speech, and did the Shield taunt with his brothers with tears in their eyes.
The first inclination when your brain works like mine does is, “let’s talk about this from the wrestling perspective.” Okay, first we can make some jokes about how the Universal Championship is cursed. Finn Bálor won the championship but had to vacate it the next night on Raw due to injury. Goldberg beat Kevin Owens for the title in 22 seconds, then lost it in his first defense less than a month later. Brock Lesnar made the championship feel like it wasn’t even part of the company, and only defended it a handful of times during a 500+ day title run. Then, as soon as it returns to Raw and the new champion promises to defend it all the time, WWE has to promote three live specials at once and says, “no defenses until Crown Jewel.” Then less than 70 days after winning it, Roman Reigns has to vacate the title because he has a disease that will kill over 24,000 people this year. No, that’s not how to write about it.
The second inclination is, “okay, how does this recontextualize everything we’ve known, thought, wrote about, and done over the past six years?” It presents a new story; the story of a man who has been given a finite lifespan and learned to fight it so hard and so well that he ended up living a lifetime of dreams in just a few years. Four WrestleMania main events in a row. Putting down the Undertaker. Being three-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion. Winning the Universal Championship from Lesnar, finally. Those accomplishments mean something, right? Even in the face of this? Maybe we can write about how it changes the point of view of every feud, from Daniel Bryan trying to prove himself against WWE’s “chosen” new star for the sanctity of “professional wrestling” re-imagines his opponent as a guy who has been fighting an illness for almost a decade and won’t let anyone’s interpretations of how things are supposed to be keep him from living every moment of his life like it was the last. The boos become archival. They’re the first watch of a film with a big twist that changes the meaning of everything the second time through. It makes The Shield so much more than brothers. It makes Rollins’ initial betrayal heartbreaking and even more unforgivable. It changes everything.
No, that’s not how to write about it.
The third inclination is the correct one, but it comes third because it’s the hardest to do. Instead of writing about what this means for Crown Jewel, or what this means for the Universal Championship, or how having and hopefully defeating leukemia will now inexorably be a part of his wrestling character no matter what happens because it was announced in the context of the wrestling show, we write about Joe. Roman Reigns matters, but “Roman Reigns” doesn’t really matter. Nothing could or will keep us from being the kind of human beings who hear a man’s vulnerable gratitude and pleas from the bottom of his heart and respond with anything but unending support and undying love.
To Leati Joseph Anoaʻi, we send well-wishes that transcend our ability to put them into words, and a similarly indescribable thank you for doing what he does, and never once giving up, no matter how much it seemed like we wanted him to sometimes.
To Roman Reigns, get well soon so we can get back to booing you for nothing and making fun of how you wrestle in a padded vest with a big Spider-Man logo on the front. Treat leukemia like the sniveling little suck-up sellout full of suffering succotash it is. Why is your hair always wet? Can’t you learn a third move? Please be okay.
Please. Be okay.
I don’t know what to write, and the reality is that I don’t have to write anything. All I can do is keep Joe in my heart, whether I liked his wrestling character or made fun of his dumb wrestling character stuff or not, and know I’ll see him and get frustrated about him sooner rather than later. This may be, without hyperbole, one of the most unforgettable and important moments WWE’s ever going to have on their show. The reaction when Roman announces he’s kicked cancer’s ass again and is coming for whoever’s Universal Champion again — hopefully not Brock Lesnar, but it’s fine if it is — will be deafening. And it should be.
It’s not goodbye. It’s just “how many Royal Rumbles until Roman returns unexpectedly and wins, and we’ve all got tears in our eyes.” See you some wonderful January, Roman.
Best: Dean T A
The main event carried on in the only way it knew how; by simultaneously playing off the positive energy of Roman’s temporary goodbye, and digging the knife into our side unexpectedly to remind us that wrestling never sleeps.
Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose get a Tag Team Championship match against their rivals, Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler. Ambrose has developed an inferiority complex and has been at Rollin’s throat about feeling like the weak link in the Shield for weeks, but we’ve seen him learn multiple times that his brothers truly have his back, and that he’s irreplaceable. Tonight, if for no other night, they need to work together and win this match for Roman Reigns.
They do, and the moment is there, and it’s great. It’s how destiny works sometimes. It’s how Rey Mysterio ends up with the World Heavyweight Championship when Eddie Guerrero dies. In real life you can be jaded and say, “oh, they only got this because a bad thing happened,” but in kayfabe, there’s nothing that could make these guys stronger than loss. There’s nothing that makes human beings stronger. That’s why we have it, I think.
And then, this happened:
The joke I made earlier in the night was, “what if Seth Rollins turned on Dean Ambrose tonight,” because I thought it’d be funny to have Rollins end up being the turncoat again, and only jumping Ambrose and retaking his position as the Undisputed Future Of WWE when Reigns was out. What we got was the most obvious call, but it still works: Ambrose turns on Rollins with furious internal trauma bubbling to the surface, causing him to writhe around on the floor in agony between moves. He doesn’t really WANT to do this, but he HAS to, because if he doesn’t, he’ll never know for sure if The Shield is holding him back or not. He thought he could put it behind him, but he can’t. And Rollins broke his heart for real when he killed The Shield, you know? Sometimes even when you work so hard to forgive and forget, your heart doesn’t let you truly do either.
The Shield was the only thing keeping them together. Now it’s gone, and none of them can keep it together.
I am begging, literally on my knees begging, for WWE to continue this story with Rollins and Ambrose as fully-formed human beings, and that if Roman Reigns’ leukemia has to be a plot point — because let’s face it, it’s going to be even if they don’t intend it — use it to illustrate the difference between how people grieve and deal with unexpected trauma. Rollins is in visible tears when he’s with Roman. He’s the sensitive soul who feels like he’s going to spend the rest of his life making up for his foolish mistakes, and sees Reigns as that one guy who truly understands him and was willing to give him another chance. Ambrose is just staring off into the distance. He doesn’t know how to process this. It’s just coming out as fire and screams and rage and punches. Even to people he loves. People he fucking hates that he still has to love. For lack of less appropriate phrasing, he’s so scared of what’s been laid upon his table that he’s willing to burn it all down instead of putting in more emotional currency and more hard work. Because he’s done. He’s exhausted. That’s all he had to give.
The Rest Of The Show, Which I’ll Try Very Hard To Make Jokes About
“Jeff Hardy. He is the charismatic enigma. His knowledge of scientific biological transmogrifications is only outmatched by his zest for Kung Fu treachery!”
The funniest bit of the night is this pre-taped Kurt Angle promo, where he goes down the list of everyone in the WWE World Cup and reads a selection from their WWE Encyclopedia entry. Between Kurt’s dead-eyed glare and stunted reading, this felt like I’d accidentally hit “I don’t understand, tell me the story again” during a video game tutorial and have to spam X to get through 20 blocks of dialogue. Brother was one line away from, “This is Katana. She’s got my back. I would advise not getting killed by her. Her sword traps the souls of its victims.”
Are we still doing Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia, or nah? Can you imagine having to be a WWE PR person this week? The mainstream media and U.S. government is talking about your upcoming wrestling show in the same breath as human rights violations bordering on war crimes, Roman Reigns has to tell the world he has leukemia and step away from WWE, your first all-women’s pay-per-view is coming up and your roster’s not happy, and so much more, all at once.
D-Generation X vs. the Brothers of Destruction brings us down from the emotional highs of the night by reminding us that yes, we’re still watching the flagship show for the company that forgot to make more than two new stars over the past 15 years and is still relying on name recognition from 1998 to sell shows in 2018. Kane and Undertaker cut a promo from Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights and point at some spooky crafts to tell two of their 50-year old co-workers that they’re gonna rest in some peace.
We need to go full Haunted Mansion with this feud.
“Here lies Mayor Glenn
He’s retiring, don’t know when
In memory of our patriarch,
dear departed Grandpa Mark”
Not much going on in the women’s division this week considering there’s a First Ever All Women’s Pay-Per-View coming up in six days, but here’s Alicia Fox using choreographed insanity and apparently human growth hormone to distract Lita and Trish Stratus for a backstage attack. Unfortunately, it’s Mickie James who ends up getting thrown into wrestling’s deadliest backstage obstacle, the Clangy Poles. Instead of doing a tag team match at Evolution, they should do an American Gladiators-style Joust tournament and try to knock each other off pedestals using long, free-standing metal poles. CLANG CLANGGGGG
If you’re wondering where Alexa Bliss is, she reportedly got a concussion on Saturday and might not be able to make it to Sunday’s match. So it’s officially 2004 vs. 2008 on pay-per-view in 2018. Two more Evolutions and Mickie and Alicia will be cutting promos on Trish and Lita from the graveyard.
In other women’s division news, WWE attempts to promote the battle royal everyone thinks is a terrible idea in a fatal fourway match with INCREDIBLE diminishing returns: Ember Moon vs. Nia Jax vs. Dana Brooke vs. Tamina Snuka. That’s like a dinner plate of steak, corn, soggy hamster cedar, and somebody’s old gym sock.
There’s also a Sasha Banks vs. Ruby Riott singles match to help sell the upcoming six-woman tag team match at Evolution, which I’m guessing is what they settled on when Sasha Banks stormed into somebody’s office and threatened to bail if they spent five years watching her help build a believable and entertaining women’s division across two brands just to throw her in a battle royal at the pay-per-view.
I think the thing I want most for Evolution is for all six of these women to get together in private, decide they’re going to put on the 2018 version of one of those Dragon Gate six-mans from Ring of Honor, and absolutely steal the show. Bayley and Sasha Banks having to sit on their hands while the Bellas main event and two Hall of Famers are returning just to beat up a couple of their friends from the 10-years ago mid-card is such a drag. Like, a “say Becky vs. Charlotte is the first ever Last Woman Standing match but don’t call up Nikki Cross with the rest of her faction and dump Asuka in the battle royal” level drag.
Also, Lashley Wrestled
If Bobby Lashley’s push dies in front of a crowd and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Finally, Two Unexpected (But Welcomed) Face Turns
You could argue that Braun Strowman turned face again when he turned against his “pack” in the Shield six-man last week, but this week made it very clear: we’re at least attempting to go back to early 2018 Braun Strowman, when he was a cool violent yelling guy who flipped shit over instead of a sad loser who was the third most dynamic guy on a team with Dolph Ziggler.
Paul Heyman shows up and puts over Roman Reigns, which is good to see but hard to watch. You can tell how close Heyman is with Roman and his family when he speaks, but man, I wish I had a Paul Heyman to talk me up every time I faced adversity. Anyway, Heyman shows up and starts some hype for the new one-on-one match between Brock Lesnar and Braun Strowman for the Universal Championship at [Scene Missing]. Strowman interrupts him and drops his catchphrase, only to be attacked from behind by Drew McIntyre. That, at least in my mind, clearly “resets” Strowman to the night before Money in the Bank, and we can maybe work toward forgetting that ever happened.
Also, if Brock Lesnar leaves Saudi Arabia as Universal Champion at Crown Jewel, is that definitive, observable proof that the Large Hadron Collider irreparably fucked up our universe? Because that even pushes the definition of “darkest timeline.”
The other is Elias, who gets interrupted by charisma vacuum Apollo Crews and defeats him in a pretty boring match. We think that’s it, but Elias has finally figured out that if he wants to play a song and gets interrupted, he should go back to trying to play the song.
That brings out General Baron Constable Corbin Esquire or whatever to try to shut him up, and wait just a minute, fans, Elias is a HUGE BABYFACE all of a sudden. They seem to have remembered a shortcut with Elias: the easiest way to get a crowd to love a babyface is to have them be really good and entertaining at being a heel long enough for everyone to notice, then change like 1% of their motivation slightly and watch them get cheered forever. See: The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Chris Jericho, and so many more. If Elias stays Elias and just gets cheered for it, that’s a best case scenario, isn’t it?
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
Beige Lunatics, King of String Style
That’s not what I meant, monkey paw!
“Damn. He did that to his best friend? That is so messed up!” – Kevin Owens and Tommasso Ciampa
(two and a half hours ago)
Seth: “I’m sorry you have to go through this, man.”
Roman: “I know but you can’t take this lying down. When there is a cancer in your life, you have to beat it into submission. No remorse. No mercy. No matter the cost. You know what I’m saying.”
Dean: “Yeah, I think I do.”
Wow, I can’t believe it either.
The backstabbing of the century.
And after everything Baron Corbin has done for Elias, he has the nerve to viciously assault him.
The Real Birdman
Big night for Vacant
IC champion Pdragon619
“and from E’s Total Divas: Nikki Bella”
Well that just about sums it up doesn’t it?
Baron Von Raschke
The build to Evolution sure hasn’t had Intelligent Design behind it.
John Cena has a new children’s book about a truck that’s always in the shop…because it just won’t do the job.
One week Taker says “Rest in Peace!’ then this week he says, “You will never… rest in peace!” I know WWE loves 50/50 booking
The Voice of Raisin
I wish that graveyard had funny tombstones ala Treehouse of Horror, such as:
“The Attitude Era, 1997-2001”
“Ken Patera’s Redheaded Stepson Promo”
That’s it for this week’s column. I hope I could find at least some of the right words. I think like a lot of us, I’m still stuck between “stunned confusion” and “trying desperately to cope with wrestling jokes but realizing these are real people and feeling terrible about everything ever.” Just gonna keep telling myself that when Roman’s back and leukemia’s in his rear view mirror, it’ll be fun to type too much about how I don’t want him to win. But also I’ll probably want him to win.
Drop a comment below to let us know what you thought of the show, share the column around to help us out, and be here this weekend for Evolution. And also, take a second in real life to hug some people you love and tell them you love them, okay?