Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Raw: The show was so bad that a bunch of wrestlers got themselves stuck in an elevator and entertained themselves so they could avoid it.
One more thing: Hit those share buttons! Spread the word about the column on Facebook, Twitter and whatever else you use. Be sure to leave us a comment in our comment section below as well. I know we always ask this, and that this part is copy and pasted in every week, but we appreciate it every week.
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for June 17, 2019.
Jobbers Of The Week
On this week’s Raw, the War Viking Raider Experience squash the team of Randy Taylor … wait, that’s the wrong Randy Taylor. Hang on …
There we go. So yeah, the Pillage People defeat the brother (?) tandem of Russ and Randy Taylor in fjord order with “The Viking Experience,” which as a finisher move name still feels a little too much like a troll.
If you’re wondering, “Russ Taylor” is actually indie veteran Ryan Taylor, who you may recognize from Championship Wrestling From Hollywood, some early PWG shows, or his occasional jobs on ECW. He was also part of a Big Show I Quit jobber gauntlet match on Smackdown back in 2008 that featured both [checks notes] a “Matt Jackson” and a “Joey Ryan.” Whatever happened to THOSE guys?
Randy Taylor is better known as “Gustin Uberstud,” and if that name’s not enough to get you on board, please watch this promo package for the 2017 Dick Caricofe Tag Team Classic and let him be your new favorite wrestler.
Also on job duty this week are the team of “Gallows and Anderson,” who lose a match to The Usos in like 2 1/2 minutes. Thanks for coming out, mates!
You may remember “Gallows” from a previous run in WWE as “Festus”, the dim-witted Pavlovian muscle for Slam Master J. He was also in the legendary TNA faction Aces and Eights alongside Wes Brisco, Garrett Bischoff, and Tito Ortiz. “Anderson” is probably best known for his time in Japan as part of the “Bullet Club,” which many do not know Gallows was also involved in! This was before the group became a licensed merchandise wing of your local Hot Topic. He also has a Hot Asian Wife™, and his father, regional wrestling star Chad 2 Badd, is the man who blinded Tex Ferguson.
AJ Styles tries to give them a pep talk before the match, but he’s like the fourth best leader of the Bullet Club so it doesn’t work. Maybe on Tuesday they can Wild Card over to Smackdown and get some advice from Finn Bálor?
Best: They Saved The Promo Parade For Hour Two, At Least
So let’s talk about the actual show.
I’ve been deeply cynical about Raw over the past few … uh, entireties of this year. The most succinct summary of why is that it’s been dull, lifeless television and stuck in some endless creative water-treading while WWE figures out what the hell it wants to do with Saudi Arabia and how it’s going to run a show on a real network where they’re asked to do more than sell fried chicken boxes and all new episodes of Suits. Raw has suffered mightily, and Smackdown’s started suffering right alongside it, often for the same reasons.
I’ve also been doing this long enough to know that one anomaly “watchable episode” isn’t indicative of any larger trends, and that they’ve got to do a few good episodes in a row before anyone should get excited about it, but I have to give credit where credit’s due; last night’s episode of Raw, while far from perfect and INCREDIBLY frustrating at the end, was the first time Raw’s felt like a real TV show this year. It felt like, you know, an episode of WWE television. It wasn’t presented in exactly the same way, characters did logical things and had human emotions, the pace was quick even when it was kinda boring, and there was some fun and watchable pro wrestling on the pro wrestling show. And some of it even had consequences! What show am I watching?
Usually the show’s on for about half an hour before anything starts happening. Here, they have an entertaining character (Elias) cut a short promo setting up the A-story of the night: Baron Corbin wants to choose someone to be the special guest referee for his Universal Championship match at WWE Super Shoe-down, because he still maintains some weird executive powers. They move into and on from the segment quickly by having Corbin’s opponent, Seth Rollins, show up with a steel chair and murder Elias for trying to be on Corbin’s side. Rollins makes his motivations clear: if you’re aligning yourself with Corbin for any reason, he’s going to find you, and he’s going to kill you. HE HAS A PARTICULAR SET OF CHAIRS. Then, we allow that segment to lead straight into an actual match featuring stars you want to see wrestle, wrestling for a purpose: a shot at the United States Championship.
The Elias finisher parade made me feel bad for Elias because I’m an El Vagabundo homer and all, but everyone seemed to have fun with it. Instead of opening with eight guys cutting promos despite five of them not being able to do it well, Raw had two guys who are good on the mic get in and out and feed us directly into the action. Good start.
We start off with a fatal five-way featuring two wrestlers who are great with a little momentum behind them (Ricochet and Cesaro) plus three who can be great when put into the proper context (Bob Lashley, Bruan Strowman, and The Miz), competing for a shot at a wrestler who’s great if he doesn’t have to lose all the goddamn time (Samoa Joe) for a title that’s great when it’s treated as important (the United States Championship). Check out Raw finally understanding that it should play to the strengths of its Superstars, instead of trying to fit a bunch of square pegs into John Cena and The Rock-shaped holes!
It gets good time, too, running almost a quarter-hour. I wouldn’t have structured some of the eliminations like they did, especially not with Cesaro going out first, but it all made sense. Strowman eliminates Cesaro and Lashley, so they rightfully get back into the ring and kick his ass about it because it’s not like anybody’s going to get disqualified or eliminated twice. These guys get back at least a tiny fraction of their heat by taking out the big “monster” character, the monster looks like a monster again instead of the big slow goober who hangs out with 10-year olds and loses to Brock Lesnar, and Ricochet, bless his heart, avoids looking stupid by understanding the rules of a fatal five-way and capitalizing on Strowman’s attack. It’s gently heelish, I guess, but he’s not Barry Windham, so he might as well do his big move and get himself an opportunity.
The finishing sequence between Miz and Ricochet is a lot of fun as well, as they have a surprising amount of chemistry together. I made some jokes on Twitter about putting Miz into the B Block of the G1 Climax, but for real, Miz is only as good as he is now because of the variety of opponent he’s been asked to work with for the past couple of years. Putting him in the ring with guys who can out-pace and out-work him might push him to an even higher level of performance, and also maybe convince him to stop doing that springboard double axe-handle he can barely do.
Plus, Stomping Grounds finally has a match someone might want to watch: Samoa Joe defending the United States Championship against Ricochet. If they give them some time and let them work a TakeOver style match, that’ll steal the show in a goddamn heartbeat. Even the bad Raw version of Ricochet/Joe seems like it’d be pretty good, right? How could it not be?
Best, I Guess: Weekend At Ethan’s
The hour two promo parade is even better than usual this week, as it involves two funny bits:
- Kevin Owens reading Baron Corbin’s introduction of his little cards was a riot, because of the weird spaces he put between common phrases. He has “Monday Night” on one card and “Raw” on the next, “Wrestle” on one card and “Mania” on the next, and (best of all) “Baron” on one card and “Corbin” on the next. Between that and shouting at “Bob” for not having his new signage ready, KO really made something out of nothing.
- Corbin introduces EC3 as his referee replacement for Stomping Grounds, so Seth Rollins materializes out of the abyss like Arya Stark and blasts EC3 with a chair. New Day then shows up and uses EC3’s unconscious referee body to book themselves into a sanctioned match against the heels.
Brother, I don’t want to see my boy The Carter get buried anymore, but at least he’s trying to have some fun with it. Between this, the depressed Solo cup, and the cannibalistic elevator conversation, he’s going to super secretly get over. He’s already getting crowd chants. HEY VINCE MCMAHON, THIS GUY YOU HATE FOR SOME REASON IS THE LIVING EMBODIMENT OF WHAT YOU THINK A PRO WRESTLER SHOULD BE, PLEASE NOTICE IT SOON.
Worst/Best: The Actual Match That Followed
Reasons this gets half a best:
- again, it’s a wrestling match on the wrestling show, and I’ve gotten depressed enough about Raw recently to start complimenting it for doing the absolute most basic amount of work toward being what it is, and
- it’s creative, at least mildly, in that it’s one of the only 2-out-of-3 falls six-man tag team matches I’ve ever seen in WWE. Little match stipulation bonuses like that could go a long way toward making stale matches seem fresh, and allowing you to do “multiple finishes” in the same segment to accomplish different and more varied things.
Reasons this gets half a worst:
- a promo parade + talk show segment set it up, and that feels very tired right now even when that’s well performed, and (more importantly)
- the booking decisions here are STRANGE. Did you guys make it a 2-out-of-3 falls match so you could do the “Baron Corbin’s partners don’t like him and abandon him” finish AND have Sami Zayn take a pin? Because you probably could’ve just not had Sami lose for once. Also, why are you having Baron Corbin take embarrassing losses to people who aren’t even on Raw six days before he challenges for Raw’s top title in what’s ostensibly your pay-per-view’s main event?
Worst: You’re Disrespecting A Future US Army Soldier
Becky Lynch, who can’t appear on television now without Michael Cole excitedly explaining to us that that’s HER BOYFRIEND SETH ROLLINS®, has a short promo battle with Dana Warrior self-insert character Lacey Evans. I feel like “moral ambiguity” was a big theme of the night, between Seth Rollins’ chair assaults, the Bayley stuff (which we’ll get to in a minute), and Lacey Evans getting mild cheers for bringing up the fact that she’s The Troops in the middle of a heel promo. Lacey’s real-life story is interesting, but her main roster presence in 2019 has literally been, “talk softly and carry no stick,” so you’re kinda springing that on the audience at large right before having the character we like cheap-shot suplex her.
I don’t think it’s Becky Lynch’s fault, but one thing Raw could probably stand to stop doing for a while is making sure we don’t like anyone in any of the feuds. Everyone’s a hateful dick! Pick one to like!
Best: The Kind Of Shane McMahon Content That Makes Sense
Another huge compliment I can give last night’s Raw is that it finally handled the Shane McMahon character like he should’ve been handled from the beginning; not as a superhuman athlete in the body of a visibly dying 49-year old non-wrestler who wins Best in the World trophies and Tag Titles en route to pinning The Miz and Roman Reigns, but as an entitled, cowardly trash person who PRETENDS he’s great while hiding behind his dipshit friends. It’s OG Shane McMahon, hiding behind his dad and the Mean Street Posse, and only sticking his nose into people’s business when he thinks he’s got some kind of social upper-hand on them.
Plus, the show limits him to two segments instead of having him be the toughest and most disaffected wrestler for half an hour. He holds this sad VIP suite catering party for his friends, and Heath Slater shows up asking for a raise. This is a nice followup to last week’s elevator nonsense, when Slater was forced to face his own mortality and realize he needs to take his career more seriously. Plus, his old 3MB band mate Drew McIntyre is best friends with Shane all of a sudden, so it’s a nice networking connection. He shows up, asks for a raise, is refused, and is sent away. Shane, to his credit, does a great job of being two-faced in this bit, pretending he respects Heath’s “guts” but still telling him to go screw. A very Vince McMahon kind of move.
Drew McIntyre follows Heath out into the hallway and offers him money, and when Heath refuses, Drew kinda sorta manslaughters him. The little nod from Shane suggests that he was forcing Drew to execute the attack, so it’s interesting to wonder if Drew’s offer of money was an attempt to sort of “set him free” from the beating (so he doesn’t bother Shane anymore, and Drew can say he handled the problem), or bait. I like to think Drew was trying to get a good dude, but got frustrated that Heath couldn’t take a hint and had to punch him about it. Look at me actually getting to analyze character motivations!
Later in the episode, Shane and Drew try to that shame shit with Roman Reigns. Roman Reigns is not Heath Slater, so he just marches back through the crowd — paying close attention to local arena geography that was established earlier when we followed The Revival back to Shane’s suite in a nice touch — and Big Dawgs them. I even like how they structured the fight, with Reigns picking off the unprepared Revival members in the hallway, taking out McIntyre with a table spinebuster in the actual suite, and then chasing Shane back to the ring where he challenged him to be in the first place before hitting the Superman Punch and spear on him.
Now Shane has some actual motivation to want to fight Roman Reigns instead of that random shit from Super Showdown, McIntyre’s been “sent a message” for their boss fight at Stomping Grounds, Shane is a helpless old man who is up his own ass and in over his head as he SHOULD be if he’s gonna participate in wrestling matches in 2019, and Roman Reigns is a charismatic ass-kicker who ranks on the S-tier of WWE Superstars.
Again, this Raw isn’t perfect, but whoever was in charge of it needs to be in charge more often.
Best: The Adventures Of Time-Traveling Washington And Chaplin
And now, the most absurd 24/7 Championship segment ever. So far.
R-Truth, who we last saw trapped in a box and presumably being left to die in the back of a production truck for six days, shows up in “disguise” alongside Carmella. First of all, the disguises are ridiculous. Charlie Chaplin with an afro? George Washington, I guess, but with a mustache, and holding a plastic baby? Second of all, why are you hiding from the 24/7 challengers by going to the wrestling show, and third of all if you’re trying to be incognito, why sit in the front row at the wrestling show? It’s so fucking absurd that you can’t help but enjoy it, and it long ago crossed a line from, “nobody has any idea what they’re doing,” to that wonderful NXT Redemption-style, “nobody’s paying that much attention to us, so we’re just gonna do stupid shit to pop ourselves and everyone will enjoy it.”
They also have him getting chased during commercial breaks, and trying to escape the arena he never had to be in in the first place. They should at least make up a rule where to keep the championship you have to like, “check in” at every WWE live event. It doesn’t matter, really, but it’d be a nice closing of that loophole.
Oh, and here’s the definitely not filmed later confrontation between Truth and Titus under the ring. Give Truth an Emmy.
Speaking Of People Who Are Funnier In Backstage Segments When Nobody’s Paying Attention
Holy crap, the IIconics are actually defending the Women’s Tag Team Championship against real wrestlers on Raw! It’s the first time they’ve faced a real team with the titles on the line since they won them at WrestleMania, as far as I can tell, and the only matches they’ve even won before this one were against two randomly occurring local jobber teams.
There’s even a backstory! Alexa Bliss decides to be a good friend and get Nikki Cross (and, cough cough, herself) a Tag Team Championship match. Bliss is going up against Bayley for the Smackdown Women’s Championship at Stomping Grounds, so she’s spent the past couple of weeks trying to convince her new best friend Necky that Bayley’s secretly toxic. It’s been mostly circumstantial up until now, but now mean tweets are getting involved. Special shout-out to the character consistent backstage moment where Bayley casually notes that she watches the show and knows Bliss is trying to emotionally manipulate people against her, and Natalya’s still enough of a dirtbag to think Bliss is telling the truth. You are forever the worst, Natalya.
The match happens, and get this: there’s actually some truth to what Alexa’s been saying. The only reason Alexa can’t break up the roll-up pin on Nikki is because Bayley is interfering at ringside, openly costing Nikki Cross an opportunity that before had just been conjecture. Now Nikki wants revenge, the Cross/Bliss friendship is solidified, and the crowd is happily cheering the idea of somebody putting Bayley in her place. This is what happens when you hang out with Sasha Banks too long!
Best: The IIconics Are Still Great
The Lakers jokes were pretty lame, but as always, there’s a backstage segment where Bill and Peyton just get to riff and be themselves and make a backstage interviewer’s life miserable. Here they are dumping on Jenna Dewan and telling Queen Cathy to, and I quote, “skedaddle off.”
Also On This Episode
Paul Heyman, who wields the better of two cheap heat Lakers jokes on the night, tries to convince us that we should wonder whether or not Brock Lesnar’s in the building. I know they’re building up to him saying this sometime and Brock actually miraculously being there, but again, if Brock Lesnar’s there, he’s going to be hopping up and down in place about a foot to Heyman’s right. That’s all he ever does. If he’s in the building, somebody’s going to be around filming him reading the latest issue of The Back Woodsman. This month’s cover story is about the 10 best prospectors to visit when you want a group of teens to get told they’re doomed!
Firefly Funhouse is good again this week, but it’s really time for Bray to start wrestling again. We’ve reached our limit of backstage segments with nothing to do. Stretch it out another week and you might as well have him sitting next to Aleister Black on Smackdown, wondering why nobody’s “picking a fight with you” because apparently you don’t know how working for a wrestling promotion and signing up for matches works.
Worst, Then Best: The Main Event
Early in the night, Wild Cardigan Daniel Bryan and presumed also Wild Card Rowan cut a short promo about the “impotent masses of Los Angeles.” That sets up the advertised main event of
Bryan Danielson vs. Tyler Black Daniel Bryan vs. Seth Rollins, aka pretty much the best match you can book in WWE right now.
I got HYPE when Bryan made his entrance for the match with 20 minutes left in the show. The rest of the show had been such an improvement that I thought for sure they were gonna give us a banger main-event with two of the best wrestlers on the planet going full-tilt. Instead, they ended it via disqualification for no reason about a minute in. Rowan attacks Rollins because I guess the feeling out process didn’t go Bryan’s way, and that leads to an absolutely pointless Royal Rumble or Survivor Series go-home segment where the locker room empties out and equal numbers of heels and faces brawl.
My reaction when I thought they’d fully bait-and-switched the main event:
Thankfully, the match gets restarted as one-on-one with no one allowed at ringside, which … seems like it’s what the match was supposed to be in the first place, but whatever. That leaves us with about eight minutes of Bryan vs. Rollins and it fuckin’ rules, as long as you don’t think about how this eight-minute match could’ve been 20 if they’d just had some faith in our desire to see good wrestlers wrestle without some WCW Monday Nitro 2000 cornball overbooking that goes nowhere. I thought maybe they were gonna turn Stomping Grounds into In Your House: Tacoma Stampede with a big 10-man tag, but nope, they just false-started the main event and killed the hype and good will it’d naturally built up by existing.
Also, they spent the entire episode teasing who’d be the special guest referee at Stomping Grounds, then ended the show without announcing who it’d actually be. Can Brock Lesnar wear a shirt long enough to ref a match?
So … yeah. That’s Raw. The main event ruining and then half-fixing itself is a very on-the-nose metaphor for WWE television right now, and I hope they can see the generally more positive reaction to this episode from fans and realize that if they keep the characters consistent, keep the pace moving along, keep the long monologues to a minimum and deliver exciting action from the dozens if not hundreds of pro wrestlers they independently contract to be the stars of their show, they can actually create a worthwhile, weekly product that doesn’t make us want to put our heads under a tire.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
The Real Birdman
Corbin: “Hey Seth, will you be special guest referee for our match?”
Seth: “What? Noooo!!!!”
*Repeatedly bumps onto chair*
Why aren’t Alexa and Nikki known collectively as Bliss Cross? They could make us jump.
HEYMAN: Maybe Brock Lesnar is here.
RON HOWARD: He was not.
That new dollar sign tattoo behind Baron Corbin’s ear represents all the tips he’s been getting at the Bennigan’s
Random Superstar: Hi
Even the Audio Director is sick of Shane McMahon.
“first he came for the beasts, and I said nothing because I was not a beast. Then he came for the referees, and I said nothing because I was not a referee. Then he came for the advocates, and I said nothing because I was not an advocate. Then he came for me, and there was no one left to stand for me…”
For once, I want someone to go “WHEEEEEEEEEEE” when they’re taking the Deep Six from Corbin.
Lacey Evans seems like a woman who learned what “sexy” in in an abstinence only high school sex ed class.
can we sub in betty gilpin for lacey evans going forward please
Editor’s Note: Yes.
So, was this week’s Raw better?
That’s it for this week’s column. The road to Stomping Grounds is not a very long road!
Thanks for reading, as always. If you can give us a share on social media to help prevent all wrestling coverage from being the absolute worst, we’d appreciate it. Plus, you can drop down into our comments section and let us know what you thought of the show, especially if you DIDN’T think it was better and want to yell at me about it. That’s fine! Make sure you’re here this weekend for Super Shoe-down, too.