Previously on the Best and Worst of Raw: We experienced life in the WWE Fastlane, featuring a Shield reunion, Ronda Rousey punching a helpless Becky Lynch in the chest to make sure she gets to WrestleMania, and the Tag Team Champions retaining despite always losing non-title matches on Raw.
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And now, here’s the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for March 11, 2019.
Best: Raw’s Surprisingly Economical, Logical, And Exciting Opening
Hey, here’s a fun change of pace!
When WWE announced that The Shield would open the show with a “farewell address,” most of us pictured it as one of those long, convoluted Raw openings with too many parts that sets up a bunch of matches for later and probably involves someone flipping alignments on someone else. Maybe Dean Ambrose literally sets them on fire or drops an anvil on them or something.
Instead, they did the last thing we expected: a simple, honest “goodbye” to the team concept. They showed up in their shirts, they did their taunt, we heard the music with the phonetic alphabet intro one more time, and then Reigns and Ambrose bailed so Seth Rollins could open the show with current, relevant content. When you combine this with the ending of the show — concussion angles notwithstanding, but we’ll get to that — I’m not sure they could’ve done it better. “Understated” is one of the rarest WWE moods.
I really liked the Paul Heyman content this week as well, because (1) it’s Paul Heyman, and even his least successful or purposeful work is pretty great, and because (2) it’s another WWE writing rarity: a babyface challenger explaining why he’s going to win the match based on match history and physicality. Seth Rollins doesn’t just say he’s going to win because he “believes in himself” or because he’s “got the WWE Universe behind him” or whatever, he cites Lesnar’s ongoing problems with smaller, more technically skilled guys — read, “people who are good at wrestling” — and confidently believes he’s among the best in that style. Heyman has to give it up to him, too, because he’s fuckin’ correct. That’s how you build a compelling argument for a title match. You don’t see MMA fighters or boxers ignoring skill and experience and reach to say they’re gonna win the championship because they’re just gonna.
Well, I guess sometimes you do, but those builds suck, too.
To make the whole thing feel fresh and exciting, SHELTON X BENJAMIN of all people shows up to attack Rollins from behind. It’s surprising because we thought Benjamin had been swallowed up by the abyss — corporate and creative indifference, not the TNA guy — and because again, it actually references the history of the characters. Benjamin trained and trained with Lesnar since the beginning, went to college with him, and used to tag with him in developmental. It’s the show remembering that these characters have nominal friends and enemies, and can use those relationships to tell more logical and better-tied-together stories.
Plus, a few minutes of good wrestling we haven’t seen before!
I thought for sure Shelton was going to go springboarding into a superkick at some point, but Finn Bálor needed that spot for later, so he just goes for an F-5 and gets The Stomped™. Rollins shows why he’s a performer at the top of the card by beating a skilled veteran who wrestles in (at least the ballpark of) Brock Lesnar’s style, Shelton Benjamin reminds us that he’s still got what it takes to be a relevant contender with an observable WWE legacy, and Paul Heyman proves once again that if anybody can anchor months of story for a guy who never shows up, it’s him.
The only downside to the entire thing was Michael Cole’s fussy indifference toward Heyman and Brock Lesnar, especially given the attempted murder that went down on Raw a few years ago. Cole references it, but in that same cocky tone he uses when he says shit like, “going back to what Byron said earlier.” Would it kill you to pretend to be scared of the monster champion? You aren’t John Cena, Mike, you don’t get to wave your hand in front of your face and make verbal wanking motions at the champ. I hope next week’s Raw opens with Lesnar drinking a protein shake out of Michael Cole’s skull, mumbling about how he was a fookin legend at Jimmy John’s. Jim’s Alley. Whatever.
Worst: Please Don’t Put Roman Reigns In “Is He Literally Dying From This Wrestling Attack” Angles Right Away
I didn’t love that they bait-and-switched a match just to have Drew McIntyre attack Roman Reigns to set up a different, unannounced main event, but hey, at least Drew saved us from another Baron Corbin match. Total face turn.
One thing WWE likes to do that makes me super uncomfortable is bringing a guy back from injury, then having him appear to get “re-injured” in a really scary, realistic way. They did it with Sami Zayn getting concussed down in NXT, they did it on purpose and by accident with Daniel Bryan for like a year where every bump he took felt like the end of his career, and now they’re having Roman Reigns, literally just back from beating leukemia into remission, getting his head kicked into the ring post. It’s not a bad angle, I guess, especially if you want to build up McIntyre as a ruthless killer and set up a reason for him to fridge Dean Ambrose and cause a Roman/Drew match at Mania, but this felt like a little too much. The timing is just iffy, I think. Having Roman get sent into the post and everyone huddling around him like he’d just been stabbed through the chest with a broadsword, Berserker-style, certainly didn’t help, especially when he had to have his friend walk him to the back like that.
If Roman shows up again next week ready to fight for the fallen (®) and starts selling this injury, it opens up a whole other can of worms. From a five-years ago (wow) NXT column:
Concussion stories integrated into pro wrestling matches are the worst. Wrestling loves to do them, and I’ve never understood it. “He’s clearly hurt and should not be wrestling” is a ridiculous conceit, especially when you’ve put weeks between damaging incidents and declared that the clearly hurt guy has passed all the requisite medical tests. Those things aren’t for show, those are actual tests to decide if the wrestlers can go. So why is the wrestler immediately not able to go when he starts wrestling? Do you have bad doctors? Are the doctors in developmental?
Furthermore, concussions have caused a ton of wrestlers to, you know, have their careers ended and/or flip out and murder people. They are not a birthday cake you can throw in somebody’s face on their birthday. They aren’t a wrapped gift that turns out to be a trap. They are a serious problem, and “murder” is one of those things that makes me instantly say “you should probably be doing a different story.”
Add that to how difficult it’s already been to get a portion of the WWE Universe (and the wrestling media) to discern fiction from reality re: Roman Reigns’ real-life illness, and it doesn’t feel like the best decision. You could’ve just as easily had the Claymore break through Roman’s flak jacket and break a rib, or something.
TL;DR version: pro wrestling brains ain’t nothing to fuck with.
Best: Gunga Dean
It comes back around to being a positive, though, because born-again Dean Ambrose gets Ambrose Asylum-level mad about what happened and asks his future self for a no holds barred, anything goes, falls count anywhere match with the giant muscular guy who almost just kicked his friend to death. It’s one of those pro wrestling decisions that makes sense in the moment.
That sets up the new main event, which I guess replaces the 30-minute Roman Reigns vs. Baron Corbin match they were planning on, or bumped a Stephanie McMahon interview segment to next week. I don’t know what they had planned for this spot before a match materialized at 10:40.
But yeah, the best news from the entire show is that it looks like we’re finally, finally remembering that Drew Galloway is a colossal murder-monster who should be absolutely ripping through most of his opponents and winning instead of being the second or third most important guy in a trio of mid-card Raw heels. This is DREW GODDAMN MCINTYRE, y’all. He’s not the guy who cowers away from a fight because someone ran in to make the save, he’s the guy who wedges your entire upper body inside a guard rail and then running shit-kicks you to Hell. He’s the guy who stabs you in the eyeball with Corey Graves’ pencil. At the very least he should be able to stand in the middle of a wrestling ring and throw Finn Bálor through the arena ceiling.
If this is Dean’s actual “farewell address,” he went out on a high note. He’s collateral damage to build a WrestleMania feud, as we expected, and our last image of him as a character gets to be him doing the right thing and getting ate the heck up for it. Also, wacky hardcore nonsense. it’s a great encapsulation of what made Dean Dean, so now if he pops up in AEW as Jon Moxley or whatever we won’t feel like he’s left anything on the table. I think Elle said it best:
Best, Mostly: Daved!
I don’t think this segment worked as well as they wanted it to — I’ve watched too many cartoons in my life to hear a bad guy yelling, “COME ON, GIVE IT TO ME! GIVE IT TO ME! GIVE IT TO ME!” without someone shrugging at the camera and hitting them in the face with a pie — but it got us where we needed to be: a match between Triple H and Batista at WrestleMania, with the now requisite “anything goes” stipulation for older guys who want to wrestle in main events but can’t really wrestle for entire main events.
There’s also still a lot to like here, from Batista’s general “too good for this, but I understand how it works better than anyone” vibe to Triple H’s “guardians of the independent scene” burn, which finally says what we’ve always been thinking about WWE’s “security guards.” It’s another example of Triple H breaking the fourth wall and still expecting us to believe the wall is solid, though, so that’s not necessarily great. It was funny, though. I think the entire thing was saved by Dave’s post-match-announcement addendum, where he calmly explains that he just wants to end his career on his own terms, and to end Triple H’s career, also on his terms. It’s enough reality to make the relationship and scenario work, and should create some really good TV if we can stop winking at the camera for five seconds.
I wonder which one of these security guys is a future World Champion?
And Speaking Of WWE Being Fake, Here’s Ronda Rousey
For real, this is all I can hear when Ronda starts rushing through a promo. “I was called here by HYOO-mans who wish to pay me tribute!”
It works, too, because as soon as Ronda’s done pointing out how fake and carny WWE is and how she wants the WrestleMania main event to be a 2-on-1 handicap shootfight, she steals Dana Brooke’s soul. I can’t imagine how much better Rousey’s character would’ve been if she’d turned heel back in November when people started booing her in favorite of the NXT Four Horsewomen and just shut the hell up and been a ruthless bad-ass. She IS that, but when she starts talking about it it’s the pits. “There is no sanctuary for you here! I have come to desecrate your place of worship!”
Also, has anyone asked Ronda why she cares so much about being the undefeated champion of a place that she hates and thinks is fake? It’s like standing in the front row of a Lil Uzi Vert concert with your back to the stage yelling at everyone about how you hate SoundCloud rap.
As Usual, Becky Lynch Says It Best
Now let’s get her through a TV segment without her hopping on one leg and telling everybody it’s a flesh wound.
Worst: Braun Strowman Should Drive Around In An NXT Crash Cage
What they’ve done to Braun Strowman’s character is seriously unprecedented. This guy was on the cusp of being the face of the company, arguably the new Hulk Hogan, flipping ambulances and trying to kill folks with grappling hooks and having banger TV matches with The Big Show, and within a year he’s been turned into a goofy muppet. He’s currently feuding with the hosts of Weekend Update by tweeting threats at them and tearing apart a prop car in a throwaway Raw segment to sell an action figure set.
That is … embarrassing. He should attack Colin Jost at WrestleMania while wearing a pair of Hulk hands that make roars and punching sounds. Who knew that teaming up with Nicholas at WrestleMania would be the high-point of his year? Get this guy away from the Raw creative team and the forever-nerfing from Brock Lesnar already. Your six-foot-eight, 400-pound power-lifter who can also talk and is super fast should have something better to do at your biggest show of the year than argue on social media with WrestleMania’s third most important host.
Also On This Episode
Congratulations to members of Harlem Heat for being inducted into the Hall of Fame for a company they never wrestled in together. At least they’re wrestlers. We’re gonna not worry so much about Torrie Wilson getting in when Mark Cuban or whoever gets announced in a couple of weeks.
The Best and Worst of Nitro writer in me hopes they get inducted by Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, and the induction speech is just 30 minutes explaining why they’re never getting a shot at the WCW Tag Team Championship.
No Way Jose is still alive, and he’s … Naomi now? Free this guy so he can at least make some money at WrestleCon this year.
Beth Phoenix still looks great. From the Best and Worst of Fastlane:
The Beth Phoenix stuff after the match was interesting, but WWE, I am openly begging you to run this on Raw and not at WrestleMania. You just saw how good Nia Jax and Tamina are in a seven-minute tag match against the two best workers on the Raw women’s roster. Imagine how they’d do in a longer match against a woman who hasn’t wrestled a match in seven years and her partner Natalya, who wrestles every night like she hasn’t had a match in seven years.
The nicest thing I can say about the 25 seconds of follow up on Raw is that … [checks notes] Beth Phoenix still looks great. That’s all I have written here. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of doodles of rain clouds.
Alexa Bliss is hosting WrestleMania, which is fine. I just hope they have something better for her to do than announcing the attendance and stooging for the Weekend Update guys. Would it kill y’all to give me a Mike Quackenbush cameo on a WrestleMania? Let him play the Moment of Bliss producer or camera man or something, I just want this year in pro wrestling to be even weirder.
Oh, and before I forget (which I seriously did when I originally got to the end of the column, despite mentioning it earlier), Bobby Lashley is once again the Intercontinental Champion. Yeah, I wanted Finn Bálor to hold onto a championship heading into WrestleMania too. Yeah, I wanted a really good Intercontinental Championship match at WrestleMania. Yeah, I wanted Finn to have at least one main roster title run that meant something. [shrug]
In case you missed it, Finn had the match won until a MYSTERIOUS BELL RINGING OCCURRED, which turned out to be Lio Rush in a hoodie. Finn got distracted instead of like, hitting the move and winning the match, and it ended up costing him. Here he is hitting the Shelton Benjamin finish on a show featuring Shelton Benjamin!
I guess I’ll wait and see where it goes. If you’re gonna do an “everybody into the pool” match for the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania and another one for the United States Championship — or if you’re leaving either off the already 7-hour long show — maybe just run the Andre the Giant Memorial battle royal and give the winner both? It’s not like it’d make them any less important.
A Raw tag team division match occurred. The loser was Bobby Roode, seen here losing about 1/10th the spit Batista lost cutting a promo.
Best: Saying Goodbye To The Three I’d Raven
Finally we have the official announcement of a “farewell match” for Kurt Angle at WrestleMania, and the (hopefully) actual end of his in-ring career. As I mentioned in the news breakout about the announcement, I think Angle’s one of (if not THE) most perfect and well-rounded WWE Superstars ever. He’s one of the best actual amateur wrestlers ever and has the pedigree to back it up, he’s one of the most decorated WWE stars ever, he’s had some of the best matches in the history of the company, he was already a star and smark favorite like halfway through his debut match against Shawn Stasiak, he could talk, he could be funny, he could be serious, he could do anything and everything. I don’t know if he’s the overall GOAT, but he’s in the conversation.
He wrestles his final Pittsburgh match against Apollo Crews and wins pretty easily, which brings up the notion of a few matches we have to figure out how to have before WrestleMania:
- a match with Daniel Bryan, which I seriously can’t believe hasn’t happened yet
- a match with his actual biological American Alpha son Chad Gable, which can maybe remind Gable that wrestling is cool and he’s got value beyond wearing Bobby Roode’s robe and underpants
- a rematch with John Cena, which Big Match John’s cryptic Instagram-ass suggests might be the farewell match at Mania
And if Angle doesn’t end up wrestling Cena at WrestleMania, can we bring back Ken Shamrock for the night? The world needs at least one Kurt Angle vs. Ken Shamrock match. Also I just kinda want Ken Shamrock to get the WWE love he deserves.
Maybe Kurt can wrestle the Undertaker at WrestleMania and reveal that Eric Angle is actually the one retiring.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week
Batista: I’ll tell you what I want, what i really really want.
HHH: So tell me what you want, what you really really want
Batista: I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I really really wanna fight at Wrestlemania!
The Real Birdman
“Zelina, who is one of your favorite role models?”
“I’d say Jennifer Lopez”
“Ohhh I’m so sorry. The correct answer was Cthulhu. Here are your divorce papers”
I thought Drax already faced off against Ego?
HHH: GET IN THE RING!
BATISTA: GIVE ME WHAT I WANT!
BALADEER ELIAS: Looks like those Evolution boys got them a Mexican standoff.
Beth Phoenix: I am merely an announcer, Beth Hodgkinson
Also Beth: You have unleashed my alter-ego: Glampiro!
One day “the jumping nothing” will connect and it will be devastating.
Just finished up the Batista/HHH showdown and, Jesus, you could smash the sexual tension with a sledgehammer.
Auston 3:16 says Renee should get on the Maple Leafs bandwagon.
Roman gets concussed: Everyone is concerned.
Dean gets murdered: “Dean will Dean! Lol”
Not A Crook
Paul’s paying people off to jump opponents, he’s answering phone calls during matches, if Madusa walks out next this is officially a new Dangerous Alliance.
Wow, Ronda and Triple H are both pretty heated about this fake show that doesn’t matter. Oh God, they could be here in the thread right now and we’d never find them!
That’s it for this week’s show. Raw continues to move forward, which is something!
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. We’re now in a faster lane than the fastlane on the road to WrestleMania Statue Of Liberty Crown!