Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: Monday Night Raw went to Survivor Series to prove they’re WWE’s superior brand and accidentally proved what we’ve known all along: they’re not the superior anything, they’re Raw.
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for November 25, 2019.
Best: A Stomp In The Right Direction
For the past six or seven months, we’ve watched Seth Rollins devolve from a triumphant Beast Slayer with an ace’s in-ring reputation and a beloved history of Shielding into a “whiny, insufferable prick.” Kevin Owens’ words, not mine. This guy who we could always rely on to have good-to-great matches, even when the rest of Raw suffered, turned into a weird Super Corey Graves who couldn’t stop tweeting about his paychecks, his cool girlfriend, his perceived sense of self-worth, and how much better than everyone those things made him.
WWE will retroactively tell you this was always meant to be a “slow burn” toward the story this week’s episode tries to develop, but everything we know about the company, its creative process, and how the promotion works from an atomic level up tells us they watched Survivor Series, got sick of the murmuring boos, and finally, finally decided to lean into it. At this point in my fandom, I’m fine with that. It’s like when your dumb friend finally apologizes to you for making the same mistakes over and over, despite you spending, let’s say, six or seven months telling them how dumb they’re being. You love your friend, and you’re just happy to see them finally figure it out.
This week’s Raw opens with “locker room leader Seth Rollins” hosting a “town hall” about how Raw completely shat the bed at Survivor Series. Those words in quotes would be enough to convince most people that he’s being a dick, but they’ve also got him in a suit, standing on a raised platform and literally talking down to the entire roster at ringside. Can you compliment Monday Night Raw for its cinematography? Rollins nasally whines about how Randy Orton and Charlotte Flair and Rey Mysterio are all to blame, openly shitting on them while trying to maintain an insincere “humility” about himself. He’s just being honest, guys! He’s not trying to be mean, he’s just telling it like it is! He even makes a point of singling out the Authors of Pain, dumping on them for “not being around” to help Raw, as though WWE is just a loosely confederated collection of gang fights and Survivor Series elimination matches don’t get signed and have rules. It’s misguided truths sprinkled with just enough irrational nonsense to let everyone in the building know they’re supposed to believe the opposite of whatever comes out of this dude’s mouth. That’s great. Everyone walks out on him, because even his co-workers can’t stand a 10 minute Seth Rollins promo.
The highlight, which they sadly clipped out of the YouTube version, is Randy Orton saying what we’re all thinking.
The only person who sticks around is Kevin Owens. That’s a great choice for a lot of reasons, from “Rollins questioning Owens’ loyalty to Raw after appearing at TakeOver War Games” to, “Owens always sounds like he believes what he’s talking about when he’s on the mic,” which is the opposite of how Rollins rolls. More on that in a minute. Rollins just rambles at him about how he’s a lazy sack of shit who will, quote, “never be Seth Rollins,” and gets Kick Wham Stunnered.
Backstage, Rollins uses his best Waluigi voice to challenge Owens to a match. Owens responds later in the evening with a great promo, also not included on Dot Com for some reason. In it, Owens says that since day one he’s known who he is, and has never tried to be something he’s not. Meanwhile, Rollins is always trying to be the guy the company wants him to be — certainly true from a fan perspective, as he’s the only independent contractor without a podcast to lick this many boots for klout — and it’s turned him into a whiny, insufferable prick. Does he know how much money Rollins makes?
I really like that they’re paying attention to how the fans feel about folks for once and doing something with it. And you know, if it’s really been “part of the plan all along” to have heroic babyface Rollins slowly descend back into fussy asshole nonsense, I wish they’d considered doing more of that on the actual shows instead of using social media as a way to “work the fans.” It’s a lot like when Stephanie McMahon plays a generous, charitable WWE ambassador and an evil authority villain on the same show. In a world where you accept that your show is entertainment and you aren’t asking us to believe the people we see on TV and the people in real life are one in the same, it doesn’t seem like a great idea to me to blur the lines on social media to the point that you’re still being this carny. Use social media as real life and the show as the show, or use social media AND the show as the show, but don’t set it up so that wrestlers can be total assholes in real life and still be able to say, “you’re a mark, I was just playing pretend.” You don’t see Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on Twitter subtweeting Pilou Asbæk about trying to fuck his sister, you know? Either be an entertainment conglomerate in 2019 or be a territory. The world’s far too stressful, tribal, and confusing right now for you to be both.
This sets up Owens vs. Rollins in the main event, which you know going in isn’t going to have a finish. There’s a lot of really constructive steps forward on this Raw in my opinion, but wrestling’s still gonna be wrestling. The key is that frustrating finishes or decisions that make you unhappy as a viewer or fan can feel like organic parts of the show, and not decisions from upper management designed to condition you to accept mediocrity and week-to-week misery.
Here, they call back to the opening promo of the show by having the Authors of Pain, of all people, show up to get confrontational with both guys. Earlier in the night they’d squashed Curt Hakwins and Zack Ryder, as you do, so their inclusion on the show actually has a beginning, middle, and end.
Interestingly, they have Owens throw the first punch. That leads to AOP brutally beating him down, tossing him into the ring post shoulder-first over and over. When they turn to confront Rollins, he just kinda squats in the corner staring at them, ready to fight. They bail, leaving Rollins confused. Like I said, I don’t really like this finish — the crowd’s constant “bullshit” chants seem to agree with me — but I like that they’re trying to actually do something with AOP, and that they’ve set it up so that, if they want it to be, it can actually be kind of complex. Are AOP the new J&J Security, out here watching Rollins’ back already, and was him calling them out in the show-opening promo meant to draw attention to this? Or are they the only guys on the roster who actually tried to listen to Rollins and take his criticism? Or are they an independent force that only attacked Owens because he attacked them first? Is that why they didn’t attack Rollins? If that’s the case, why did they come to the ring and get into the middle of a main event? Were they just trying to make the biggest impact possible after being dragged through the mud in the open?
See how much more fun it is to be able to talk about where the stories are going and what everyone’s motivations are, rather than getting the exact same thing spoon-fed to you every week to the point you could book the shows in your head before they even happen? It’s not perfect, certainly, but damn is it an improvement to me.
Best: Other Things Raw Did Really Well This Week
1. Remembering that they have a really big roster, and actually using some of the people who aren’t always on TV.
2. Advancing plots, instead of doing the same thing every week!
What, is it Christmas already? Who greenlit this Raw? Can they be in charge of all of them?
A good example of these two things is the Lashley/Lana/Rusev story. This week’s contribution starts as, get this, an actual wrestling match between Bobby Lashley and Titus O’Neil, who believe it or not is still a professional wrestler. It doesn’t matter if you’re a top guy or a total jobber, if you’re a “Raw Superstar” signed to WWE to compete on television, you should occasionally get matches and spots on television, even if it’s just to lose. We shouldn’t ever have a situation like we did at Survivor Series, where Sarah Logan gets added to the Raw women’s Survivor Series team and everyone’s like, “lol, what, is Sarah Logan even on Raw?” Your audience doesn’t know your by-process-of-elimination sixth most important woman on Raw competes on Raw.
Titus is terrible in the ring, mind you, so they keep it really short. To clarify, he’s an incredible ambassador for the company and an impossibly sweet and cool guy, but he wrestles like somebody tied the Great Khali’s shoes together. There’s a reason his career’s most memorable moment is falling down trying to run to the ring. But anyway, Rusev shows up dressed like Roman Bellic — Lashley, cousin! Want to go bowling? — and beats the complete dog’s mess out of Bob. After weeks (and weeks) of being a total non-factor and then getting his ass kicked by the cast of Paul Heyman’s favorite non-cuckold porn site, Rusev finally gets to look like a charismatic, exciting force. He knocks Lashley off the stage through a table, tips over one of those freestanding trusses Erick Rowan used to try to murder Roman Reigns, and gets taken away by cops like it’s 1998. It’s a massive improvement that the crowd enjoys because more than anything else in the WWE of 2019, wrestling fans want to see wrestlers they like stand up and triumph over the terrible angles they’ve been saddled with. That’s the updated version of being “worked,” I guess, and I’m fine with it, as long as we don’t have to wade through six months of set-up for this one moment of catharsis every time.
3. Knowing that easy victories over low-level opponents can help your wrestler look good, and don’t always have to come with post-match run-ins and promos and attacks and blah blah
Andrade went toe-to-toe with Seth Rollins on last week’s show, but it ended inconclusively thanks to Lucha House Party’s corny asses showing up to deliver some Survivor Series violence. This week, WWE remembers that Andrade still exists (instead of banishing him to the backstage promo rooms where AOP and Aleister Black have been hanging out and doing nothing for most of the year) and gives him a solid, two-minute, totally clean win over Akira Tozawa.
Do I wish the former La Sombra vs. former Cruiserweight Champion Akira Tozawa was a 10-minute NXT TV match? Yes, of course. But do I totally get why a guy like current WWE Tozawa should get his ass kicked by current WWE Andrade in short order? Absolutely. It’s good to remember that heel wrestlers should be able to actually win matches without cheating their asses off and being total cowards sometimes, because it helps them look like actual threats when they go up against more accomplished stars. It’s also nice to get into and out of a Raw match without them tying ever bell and whistle they own to it. On a show with a lot of story progression and character development, these “easy,” lightly competitive showcase matches are key. The NWA built an entire business model out of them for decades.
4. Remembering that yesterday happened, and following up on it
5. Making sure that at least a couple of the weekly matches are very good
At Survivor Series, Charlotte Flair’s Raw team lost largely due to the fact that Flair and Asuka got into it with each other. The Raw announce team really wants to make it sound like it was Asuka’s fault, but Charlotte started it. But anyway, Flair got a face full of Nickelodeon Slime and got rolled up and eliminated, and now she wants a piece of Asuka. Asuka is a crazy person whose head is increasingly filled with green liquid, so much so that it’s leaking out of her eyes and mouth, so she’s down. And so, we get a glorious 17 minutes of Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka, WrestleMania-style.
This was obviously very good, and let’s be honest, there’s no reason that with a roster that big and talented and diverse there shouldn’t be 2-3 notably good-to-great matches on every single Raw ever. Every Raw is half an hour longer than NXT TakeOver, so give me something. I might’ve liked a cleaner finish — I like that in WWE if the referee sees you spit mist it’s a disqualification, but if he turns around and turns back and your opponent’s face is suddenly covered in green slime it’s no harm no foul … if I see you get stabbed with a knife that’s a DQ, but if I turn around and turn back and there’s a knife sticking out of your opponent and they’re bleeding to death, well, I missed it — but Asuka getting the win was a nice surprise, and for once WWE didn’t have the babyface (or whatever Charlotte is right now) immediately get their heat back. I think we’d all be good with an extended Flair vs. Asuka program that sets up a big, even longer, even better pay-per-view showdown. Anything to get Asuka back to where she used to be, you know?
(Just keep Charlotte away from the Women’s Tag Team Championship, please and thank you, she doesn’t need to be the 10-time that too) (Especially if it includes Natalya) (If you put Natalya over Asuka again I will flip every table in WWE headquarters) (twice)
— GIF Skull – I AM GROAT! #RAW (@GIFSkull) November 26, 2019
A quick negative note amid this positivity: Jerry Lawler’s got to go, man. From not knowing who the wrestlers are and not recognizing any of their moves to his absolutely venomous, derisive read of “To-zawa” and openly burying him by saying he doesn’t have a chance because he’s small (on the same show where Rey Mysterio’s winning two matches to win the United States Championship) to his match-opening line here about how Ric Flair is “looking down on” Charlotte like he’s dead, Lawler’s worth as a color commentator seems to be far behind him.
Keep him around for special legend appearances and whatever if you want, but there’s zero reason why this increasingly confused and counter-productive boomer needs to be calling three hours of live wrestling every Monday. He’s been horrible since he returned to Raw, he was extra horrible at Survivor Series, and he’s BONUS horrible now that Dio Maddin got fireman’s carried into the grave apparently and Raw’s got a two-man booth. How much better would this show be if you put Nigel in that spot, you know? Put Michael Cole on color and have him and Vic do a father/son bit, I don’t even care, just commit that professional regicide already and remove the King.
6. Bringing back characters people like and want to see!
Hey look, Matt Hardy’s still alive, and he’s dressed like a member of the New Brood again! He looks good, too, even if that fluffy ponytail makes him look like the girl from the A-Ha Vine got a gift certificate to Gadzooks. He provides a valuable service as a 20-plus-year WWE veteran: showing up and doing his thing so people can be happy to see him, and then absolutely dying to sell his younger, fresher opponent’s offense.
Hardy shows up to eat knee after knee after knee from Buddy Murphy in a surprisingly hard-hitting sub-three-minute match that leaves Murphy bloody (Bloody Murphy) and leaves Hardy concussed and apparently knocked out for so long at ringside that people were starting to get concerned. That’s a good sell. Murphy’s ultimately confronted by Aleister Black, who is still upset about Murphy knocking on his chamber door the second he stepped into the shower. I like Aleister Black a lot and think Black and Murphy is gonna rule hard, but man, Black needs a better character than asking people to knock on his door, and then getting super offended by anyone who knocks on his door. Brother’s a Satanic karate monk, you’ve gotta have something better for him than, “pissed that the mail hasn’t run yet.”
7. And finally, an actual jobber sqaush.
Always good to have one or two of these on the card, especially if the wrestler actually appears to be “local talent,” and not some cartoon goof you dressed up in a costume. I’m far more interested in an average looking guy named “Kyle Roberts” than I am in SAINT LOUIS, the local promotion’s worst but most obedient guy you put in a Cardinals uniform and gave a baseball bat so he’d “get heat” in Chicago.
As a quick side note, there’s seriously no planned ending for that Erick Rowan crawfish cage bit, is there? What’s the payoff, honestly? Luke Harper’s head? Hornswoggle stuffed into an extremely small space? An oppossum puppet with Baby Yoda eyes? The Vince McMahon payoff feels like it’s, “he carries the cage down to the ring with a tarp over it for several months, and then eventually the babyface pulls off the tarp, and there’s NOTHING IN THE CAGE, because he’s CRAZY. It’s such good shit, pal!”
Best: An Entire Hour Devoted To The United States Championship
Here’s a good example of how I can not like what happens on the show without it being a “Worst.”
AJ Styles is supposed to defend his United States Championship against White Ranger Humberto Carrillo, but the O.C. attacks Carrillo and takes him out before the mach. Styles is insistent that he won’t have to defend the championship now, as he signed to face Carrillo specifically, so he can taunt everybody and rub their face in it. He’s a “sore winner,” the number one kind of heel you want to see get their asses kicked, and/or your Raw Women’s Champion when she loses the main event of the pay-per-view. You know, either/or. Maybe she’s turning heel too to justify her jerk boyfriend, who knows?
Anyway, this leads to another thing I dislike, but that turned out well: a promo parade, wherein Ricochet, Randy Orton, Drew McIntyre, and Rey Mysterio all try to challenge Styles for the championship in one way or another and work their way into a fatal-fourway for a shot at the belt. Styles really hams it up here and tries to make every excuse in the book to make sure the crowd’s gonna boo him against anyone he ends up facing, which is good work. Even the guys on his own team are like, “I think it’d be cool if you wrestled one of these guys.” They did the work, for once!
That sets up a 14-minute match of consequence with four of the biggest stars on the show, which is a pretty good way to end up after an Humberto Carrillo bait-and-switch. Lawler’s, “that guy wasn’t ready ANYWAY” was the dirt worst, but I digress. Everyone does great work here as well, with Orton seemingly winning the match with an RKO but getting pulled out of the ring by the O.C. That, amazingly, becomes important later. Mysterio ends up pinning Ricochet in a barn-buner finish, hitting a springboard moonsault into a small package to take the win. Dude’s 44-years old. Just saying.
And that immediately sets up a 15-minute championship match between Styles and Mysterio, without any further stalling or ridiculous plot contrivance bullshit. They set up a match, established the stakes, and then followed through on it. ♫ This is how we do it ♫
Mysterio vs. Styles is about as good as you’d want it to be, and expect it to be as an impromptu match on Raw. Again, Mysterio’s currently only a year younger than Bob Backlund was when he was a crazy old man choking out Bret Hart in the ’90s, which is borderline nonsensical considering that Rey still moves and wrestles like he did in 2002. He had that sad period with Sin Cara where he started wrestling in a shirt or whatever, but he immediately righted the ship and has been Rey goddamn Mysterio goddamn the junior ever since.
Not only do I love Rey winning the U.S. title here, I love that they did a total cause-and-effect with the qualifier match. The only reason Orton didn’t win the match is because the O.C. got involved and dragged him out of the ring, presumably thinking Orton was the biggest threat to Styles. So when the referee gets knocked out cold and put into a coma by a stiff breeze, Orton shows back up, teams up with Mysterio to hit a finisher blitz on Styles, and completely costs him the match and the championship. Now not only is Rey the champ, but he might get to STAY the champ, as Styles is gonna have more immediate beef with Orton than with Rey. That frees Rey up to start a rivalry with someone else — possibly putting over Humberto Carrillo, who he put over in a promo last week — or to just pull a John Cena and have a bunch of good U.S. title matches.
Thanks for finally getting the fuck out of the way, Survivor Series.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
This is literally Seth and the RAW roster right now
I really like that every time Asuka uses the mist, she makes sure to get her body over the opponent’s face during the pin so the ref doesn’t see it. Small details. I appreciate them.
You’ll always be “Kevin Owens?” You could be “Pudgy K” as soon as next week, kid.
The Real Birdman
You down with AOP?
Wait, who are we?
You all think you can leave, but Seth Rollins will tweet each & every one of you
Seth: And what about you Asuka!
Asuka: stares literal daggers
Seth:…great job you’re doing great
Seth: “I don’t understand, I gave the same pep talk to Ambrose!”
Baron Von Raschke
If the fans really want to fire up KO, they should be chanting for Sami Zayn instead of CM Punk.
Hardy jumped into the Lake of Reincarnation and went all the way back to ’99
WWE needs to retrain the stage crew on truss assembly. That freestanding one with no support is an OSHA nightmare.
Give one of these to the person who changes Raw back into a terrible show again next week.
Thanks for reading this week’s Best and Worst of Raw. A nice change of pace, right? Drop down into our comments section below to let us know what you thought of the show, give us a share on Facebook or Twitter to help keep us in business, and make sure you’re here on Wednesday and Friday to see how much better WWE would be without dumb themed pay-per-views that completely, consistently derail organic character development and storytelling! See you then!