Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: We had a SummerSlam, and boy was it crazy. Roman Reigns is the Universal Champion, Ronda Rousey is the Raw Women’s Champion, and Brock Lesnar flew home like 20 seconds after it was done. An airplane basically flew into the arena and swept him away while Roman’s music was still playing.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for August 20, 2018.
Best: A Raw That Listens, Addresses Your Concerns, And Makes Sense
After an extremely weird but also extremely interesting SummerSlam on Sunday, WWE was promoting Raw as the “beginning of a new era” based on its two top-tier title changes. On Monday, they … delivered? [checks notes] [panics] [furiously checks notes again] [calmly puts notes in drawer and retires the “checks notes” gag so you will stop complaining] Wow, okay, great. Did a tornado come to Brooklyn on Monday afternoon and spirit me away to the magical land of Oz?
Raw opens with new Universal Champion Roman Reigns — who I should point out is a very good promo these days, and it’s a shame we’ll never be able to completely forgive him for that beanstalks and tater tots and sufferin’ succotash and [forgets line] era — righting the wrong of the Brock Lesnar title run by announcing he’ll be a fighting champion, and that he wants to defend the belt right here tonight. The announcers play this up like he’d been through hell on Sunday, and even though he wrestled about three minutes of a six minute match and won via Meat Shack distraction, I’ll allow it. He’s going to make it even better by defending against Finn Bálor, the first-ever Universal Champion who never technically lost it, whose major talking point for the past two years has been, “when is Finn Bálor getting his Universal Championship rematch?”
They even use the opening segment to address the kind of plot holes I’d point out if they didn’t. Constable Corbin shows up and tries to use his wildly varying amount of power to take Bálor out of the match for playing dress-up and kicking his ass last night, but Kurt Angle shows up and uses his wildly varying amount of power to keep him in it. This causes more friction between Angle and Corbin, and this (and the reality that Stephanie McMahon is in the arena and would/should have an opinion of her own, given how often she’s used as an off-screen Dominus Ex Machina) is addressed later in a scene where Stephanie finds a reason to be mad at Kurt and passive-aggressively future endeavors him to put Corbin in charge. Also, LOL at the two biggest jerks on the show (Corbin and Alexa Bliss) being Stephanie’s only active roster friends.
A couple of matches later we see the next step in the story of Roman’s Fist Pals and their ongoing beef with Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre. At SummerSlam, Big Mac and Dean Ambrose got into it at ringside and caused a multi-pronged distraction, but Rollins was able to persevere and take out Ziggler to win the Intercontinental Championship via a combination of crowd support and a golden boot forged by Eitri the Dwarven King. On Raw, Ziggler gets knocked down the rankings a notch and has to face Ambrose in Ambrose’s first match back from injury.
I need to take a second to type this in bold, so everybody sees it: Dean Ambrose fucking RULES now. I know he’s had fan support for a while because he was great on the indies, great in FCW and great in The Shield, but solo babyface Dean Ambrose has previously been one of the kayfabe dumbest, softest-hitting and gentlest-diving dudes on the roster. Just an absolute mess most of the time, doing wacky rebound lariats and jumping pushes and making his hair look as much like a dead sea creature as possible. Having an arm injury and needing to lift weights all the time to rehab it flipped some kind of switch in his brain, though, as now he’s back and not only a dozen times better looking physically, he’s a dozen times better in the ring again as well.
There’s a moment early on when Ziggler backs him into the ropes and gives him a little heel shove. The old Ambrose would’ve either given him a little shove back and made some faces, or like, fallen through the ropes and ricocheted back into the ring to tap him in the forehead with an exploding Christmas present or something. The new Ambrose immediately shoves him right the hell back, with FORCE, and knocks him on his ass. It’s GREAT. It’s FORCEFUL. He starts throwing HARD chops and HARD clotheslines and I’m immediately like “oh, shoot, what’s going on, this is bad-ass” with my eyebrows up.
This Ambrose addresses literally every concern about the character I had before, and fixed everything that kept me from loving him. Instead of being coo-RAZY, he’s focused and threatening. He’s still “unpredictable,” but in a violent way, not in a birthday party clown kind of way. He physically looks better, his hair looks better, his moves are connecting and look awesome, he’s traded in the generic WWE main-eventer moveset for some cool power moves and strikes, and he’s (at least in the short term) ditched the delicate diving shove and the Nigel McGuinness Special. He can keep those in his moveset if he wants, especially if he’s going to hit them with power and urgency instead of sleepwalking through them, but those moves are sometimes foods he can hit when he needs them, instead of dropping them into every match.
This was a revelation for me, and Dean’s not even done.
Best: Like A Marvel Vs. Capcom Combo
LOOK AT THAT. I love (love love) how Rollins and McIntyre were able to brawl around independently at ringside, involve the two guys actually wrestling in a match without touching them and causing a disqualification, and still have one of them get into the ring to do something exciting without it ending the match. Ambrose spinning Ziggler around in perfect time for Rollins to blow through them like he’s jumping a turnstile is maybe the coolest thing I’ve seen on Raw in months. Brilliant stuff.
I LOVE YOU GUYS. DO THE THING.
BEST: THEY DID THE THING
Okay okay okay okay, first I have to give some love to Roman Reigns vs. Finn Bálor for the Universal Championship; not because it was really good (which it was, because these two are naturally great together) or even because it got almost 20 minutes in the main event of Raw, or even because the Universal Championship is back on Raw and makes the entire show feel like competing on it has a goal and purpose … but because it happened. Raw could’ve easily coasted on the buzz from SummerSlam and bait-and-switched this, but they didn’t. They set up a dope main event in a short opening segment, gave us some drama about how it might get changed or not happen (or be influenced by Braun Strowman and the Money in the Bank briefcase), but showed desperately needed restraint and trusted their top stars to go out in the ring and kill it with their art instead of the booking.
Here’s a great thing about Reigns having such a divisive crowd reaction, even still: it makes his Universal Championship matches seem important, because he’s the first Universal Champion to … how do I put this? Care about the Universal Championship? Finn only had it for a day. Goldberg, Kevin Owens, and Brock Lesnar didn’t care about it. It was either a vague status boost or a way to impress their kids. Roman wants to be Universal Champion so he can be UNIVERSAL CHAMPION, and the crowd knows he’s largely unstoppable, coming in at about 2.5 John Cenas currently, but can be beat. It’s like Cena’s United States Championship defenses, where yeah, he’s John Cena, but it’s a secondary championship so maybe Stardust can beat him? I love it. They’ve got an extremely overpowered character who can still lose from time to time, which makes him feel more like the most powerful guy at the job instead of a big ol’ soulless corporate decision. Which is like, the inverse of how Roman felt for most of the past three years. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe I’m being optimistic.
The match is great, the finishing sequence is hot fire (aside from Roman having to sell double-stomps when he’s wearing a padded chest protector), and Roman wins, cleanly. Braun is then like, “I have to step into the ring to explain to you the amount of not finished with you I am,” and at home you’re like, “welp, here’s Braun winning. OH NO WHAT IF ROMAN JUST SPEARS AND PINS HIM?” And then, the most beautiful sound in wrestling.
Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins show up again IN THEIR OLD SHIELD GEAR to help Roman Reigns fight off a Money in the Bank cash-in attempt from Braun Strowman. That’s like, the best sentence I could ever write about an episode of Raw. The best part is that they don’t just truck him, either; Strowman’s still Braun Strowman, so he manages to fight them off a couple of times before finally getting bitten by The Original Dog From Hell and triple powerbombed through the announce table.
I don’t want to spend the rest of this column fantasy booking or anything, but if it turns out Erick Rowan got injured at SummerSlam, can we please (times a million) have Strowman bring in Luke Harper and Bray Wyatt as his backup, and get the coolest-ever version of The Shield with ace Seth Rollins and violent hoss Dean Ambrose and unstoppable dickhead champion Roman Reigns against The Monster Among Men with his grappling hooks and stage flipping and car flipping, a powered-up Road Warrior Luke Harper with his big-ass hammer, and Bray Wyatt after another dunk in the Lake of Reincarnation to make him the ultimate evil? Can we get Super Shield vs. Super Wyatts at Hell in a Cell? Or Survivor Series? Or literally ANY TIME EVER?
Man, it feels great to love the wrestling show again. Love is the best emotion we have.
WHY YOU GOTTA RUIN LOVE, BOBBY LASHLEY.
Worst: Ugh, Bobby Lashley
Don’t get it twisted; this is still Raw, so you’ve still got Bobby Lashley out here opening the show with his vertical suplexes and armpit finger-taunting, getting “boring” chants with Baron Corbin 10 minutes into the show. One, this match looked like a fight broke out in the parking lot between a 24 Hour Fitness and a TGI Friday’s. Two, how lame does Bobby Lashley look when he’s struggling and going toe-to-toe with “The Constable,” the guy who lost to a guy 1/3 his size in like 30 seconds on Sunday with zero offense because he wasn’t expecting the guy to be wearing belts on his head? YOU’RE STILL LIKE SEVEN FEET TALL, MAN, PUNCH HIM SOME.
Can we send Bobby to Big Time Wrestling and WrestleCon or whatever and give somebody else this spot? Holy shit, he’s the worst.
Speaking Of Constable Corbin, One More Note About Finn Bálor
Last night on Twitter I posed the question, “why would Finn bring out the Demon to fight a guy called “the constable” but not for his Universal Championship match against a guy with the power of 2.5 John Cenas?” These were the best answers I got.
- “Maybe Finn Balor’s Demon is like the Master Sword. If he uses it too much it needs time to recharge. Like he only unleashed it every six weeks for NXT Takeovers. So maybe he can’t unleash the Demon again until Survivor Series.” – @Michael_Hagins
- more variations on that theme, from “the skill has a cooldown” to it being “some sort of Kaioken technique”
- “He doesn’t choose when to use the Demon, the Demon chooses when to use him.” – @skepticalsports
- “Well he did beat him once without the demon.” – @realrobpresley
- “As was proven against joe, the demon’s weakness is Samoans.” – @blizzowski
That last one is my favorite. He got that weakness from being in the Bullet Club and developing a love for Pacific Islanders, even!
The general consensus otherwise seemed to be, “it takes too long to put on the makeup and Finn wasn’t expecting Roman to give him his match right away,” which could be countered by that old NXT video package where he shows he can instantly change in and out of Demon form at will. And if you want to say that’s non-canon and it’s just makeup that makes him feel more powerful (as established in other interviews), you’d think the guy would at least paint a couple of Melisandre shadow demon vaginas over his eyes like Ronda Rousey did at SummerSlam and borrow some of Bayley’s tassels. This was important.
Best: Tormund Smarksbane
This is the Elias segment they should’ve done at SummerSlam. Instead of having him show up to sing a song, breaking his own guitar and getting mad at himself for not being able to play guitar (?) (whatever the hell that was), they have Elias get interrupted by a hometown boy, Curt Hawkins, who also happens to be a massive jobber with a 200+ match losing streak. Hawkins puffs up his chest, resists Elias’ bullying and demands a match, and the crowd is real into it.
He’s in there getting chants, getting off some offense, and absolutely eating an entire pile of festering shit off a jumping knee to the jaw. Best jumping knee I’ve seen since the one Seth Rollins threw that made Cena decide he’d rather be an actor. Elias wins, of course, because he should, but Curt Hawkins builds some momentum and creates a little bit of a reputation as a scrappy workhorse, instead of Throwaway Talent #45 with cane accessory.
Best: Apollo Rising?
Also surprisingly good was the latest in the endless series of Authors of Pain vs. Titus Worldwide matches. I think I dug this one for a variety of reasons, including (1) Apollo Crews actually getting to look talented and do cool things instead of just being Smaller Titus and eating pinfalls, (2) the weird pre-match drama between him and Dana Brooke that’s either the beginning of a romance angle or her trying to convince Apollo to get away from Titus before he sinks both of their careers, and (3) the Authors of Pain actually looking impactful and tough again. Did they have a seminar before the show with Dean Malenko reminding everybody to connect on shit? Because whatever happened, it helped.
To talk about the Apollo/Dana thing for another second, I hope it’s #2. The latter half of #2. I would be pretty into Apollo Crews and Dana Brooke as Domestic Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas and Zelina Vega. Build up a bunch of legit intergender pairings between now and the next Mixed Match Challenge so it can seem like a real tournament instead of a randomly thrown-together Battle Bowl. Also, let’s just go ahead and make TItus a global ambassador to something so he can stay in the company and do good things for people but also maybe never wrestle.
Worst: The Guy Who Usually Books Raw Put Together This Tag Team Singles Match Stuff, Didn’t He
If there’s one thing I don’t need to type in a Best and Worst of Anything column, it’s that I love The Revival, appreciate a good comedy tag team match or angle, think Bo Dallas is an unheralded character acting genius, and enjoy fewer things more than the artist formerly known as Michael McGuillicutty being a lovable Minnesotan goober.
That said, what part of this angle are we supposed to be into? The Revival are a great tag team, but lost cleanly to the B-Team in a pre-show match via “one guy accidentally falling down into the other.” So now they want to prove their dominance in a singles match? And when the B-Team loses, the other guy from the team asks for ANOTHER singles match? And then they lose THAT, and the post-match segment is the B-Team celebrating their loss by saying they’re winners and trying to get the crowd to chant “go go go” for them? All right.
The Authority Section
Triple H has a match with The Undertaker coming up at the Bonzer Royal Rumble in Australia. In reality, it’s happening because international fans want to see matches between guys they remember from a long time ago who are Big Stars, and these overseas Network live specials are basically house shows in stadiums. So it’s not happening for any story reason, and Triple H does some really exceptional work attempting to explain it.
He talks from his heart, righteously puts over NXT, puts over their “legendary rivalry” that probably wouldn’t be considered a top 5 or maybe even top 10 rivalry for either guy, and uses his natural speaking skills and enthusiasm for the business and performers to give it some gravity. I absolutely love Triple H The Actual Guy and think he’s more or less the coolest person in wrestling, but I also don’t like many characters less than Triple H The Character — sorry, Max Landis, wrestling is still wrestling — so I love the promo, but I’m beyond not excited to see anything it produces. Let the past die, kill it if you have to.
It’ll be cool for the people want to see it, though, and sometimes, especially in WWE, “seeing wrestlers” is more important to wrestling fans than anything they do.
Mostly Best: “I Am Not Brock Lesnar”
Finally we have the most important non-Shield-related segment of the night, a ridiculous Raw Women’s Championship celebration with Stephanie McMahon once again trying to take credit for comma suck up to Ronda Rousey. This is one of those segments where everyone involved did good work, the mic work was there, the intent was good, but there were so many external things going on in the execution and bigger picture that it didn’t totally hit the mark.
If you didn’t watch it, Stephanie brings out the entire Raw women’s division (and also the Bella Twins for some reason, because they showed up this weekend to promote their YouTube channel and we’ve got to treat them like legends) to stand around the ring and watch her give the championship to the woman who already won and got the championship. It’s a huge middle finger to all the women on the show, which they thankfully acknowledge when Ronda points out how Steph’s trying to put her and herself over everyone else. Ronda even invites them up onto the apron with her instead of leaving them beneath her, which is a wonderful attempt at a human moment, and an extremely necessary thing to happen. Before that, Sasha Banks’ “I just smelled a fart” face at having to be involved in this was the funniest part. She didn’t even get to be on SummerSlam. In BROOKLYN. Which is like not putting Jerry Lawler on a show in Memphis. By the end she still didn’t want to be there, but at least they gave her a thumbs up for playing alone. Note: Sasha and Bayley team up with Ember Moon in a loss to Ruby Riott, Liv Morgan, and Sarah Logan, which is perfectly watchable but ultimately kinda pointless, and exactly the kind of six-person tag you’re gonna be having for the entirety of a Ronda Rousey title run.
But anyway, Ronda ultimately decides she’s going to break Stephanie’s arm again, and does. I like that she’s the world’s most to-the-point Stone Cold Steve Austin when it comes to the McMahons. She knows they’re screwing with her, so she just injures them every time she sees them to keep them out of her business. They’re gonna “stack the odds” anyway, you might as well put them in the hospital so you don’t have them screaming in your face on TV every week. Then, in a moment that didn’t really work like they wanted, Ronda celebrates with the “women’s division,” which is actually just the babyfaces from the women’s division — all four of them — and the Bellas. This is for US, she says, while half the division is checking on Stephanie instead of celebrating because they’re mean?
Ronda’s “I am not Brock Lesnar” was a good moment, as was her saying she’s going to be a regular on the show and defending the championship regularly. I hope that ends up true, and that we don’t have another John Cena “The Rock left you guys behind because he wanted to be a movie star, I would never do that so you should cheer for me over him, whoops I got a little older and got a few more movie roles so I’m gonna peace out for 9 months a year” situation.
Shout-out to Alexa Bliss’ sparkly pink sling, which doesn’t make the best looks of the weekend list, but is up there with Ciampa’s jacket and The Dream’s crown for best and most thematically appropriate accessory.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
Also sign of Braun’s intelligence.
When Shield’s music plays, he looks for them in the crowd
GET OUT THERE, NICHOLAS! SAVE HIM, GOD DAMN IT!
Cathy Kelley: So, Velveteen, what do you think of the Australia PPV, HHH and Undertaker reviving their great rivalry?
VD: Great rivalry? The Dream has no memory of that.
HHH-Taker IV: Triple H Need His Win Back
The C Team (aka The Coolest Team, duh!)
If Graves thinks Bayley and Sasha are going to actually end up wrestling then he has more hope than the entire Blue Lantern Corp.
The Voice of Raisin
In Australia, my enthusiasm for another Taker-Trips match flushes clockwise.
Dean Ambrose walks around like a drunk guy who just found out that his ex has a new boyfriend.
A WWE GM promoting her show ahead of time? Paige, where did you learn this?
Finn just grabs the suitcase and tosses it into parking lot before the match.
Ambrose kinda feels like Mojo Rawley’s older brother who’s smaller but a lot tougher and much much more confident & casual about himself.
“Sasha, Bayley, remember when you did that thing? Like, three years ago? Remember? Obama was president, Uptown Funk was our jam, I was in MMA, I think Bliss over there was still in high school? Remember?”
DEATH TO THE SIN CARA KICK.
That’s it for Raw. Thanks for reading, and thanks for making this one of the biggest and best weekends the site’s ever had. If you haven’t caught up on everything, make sure you drop a comment, share the column, then check out the vintage Best and Worst of WWF SummerSlam 1988, Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver Brooklyn 4 (one of my favorite columns I’ve ever done) and the Best and Worst of SummerSlam 2018. Only one more Best and Worst to go and SummerSlam weekend’s behind us.