– If you haven’t already, make sure you’ve read the Best and Worst of WWE WrestleMania 30. Some, uh, stuff happened. For bonus goofs, check out our collection of every single sad or shocked face from the ending to Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar. Come for the Carl Winslow guy but stay for the fat guy smooshing his face.
– Share this column. I will randomly award a giant Big John Studd trophy to one of you for doing so.
Please click through for the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for April 7, 2014. The one after WrestleMania 30.
Best: If Every Pay-per-view Was As Important As WrestleMania, Would Every Raw Be As Good As The Post-Mania Raw?
I thought about it on the entire drive home from New Orleans to Austin. WrestleMania 30 was a dream. One of those weird moments where I took too much codeine and dreamed that Cesaro won a battle royal by bodyslamming Big Show to the floor, The Shield demolished a bunch of Attitude Era guys with no problem and the American Dragon Bryan Danielson beat three out of four Evolution members to win both world titles at once. The Undertaker lost and it blew everybody’s mind. Bray Wyatt had a band of Plague Doctors play him to the ring. Bob Backlund put me in the Crossface Chickenwing.
On top of that, it’s just a gag from the column. Besides “all lower-tier bad guys are great and have identifiable personalities” and “Kevin Nash’s face makes him look like he’s taking a shit,” the biggest hallmark of The Best And Worst Of Raw column is hyper-unrealistic, pipe dream fantasy booking that gives the audience credit and appeals to brains and history. I just wrote all these stories in a WrestleMania column and people believed them.
On top of that, I’m a horrible pessimist. I’m always expecting the worst. Part of that is me wanting to defend myself against oncoming disappointments, and part of it is me watching wrestling for 34 years and knowing that it almost always ends up bad. The good stuff goes away. The greatest people disappear, or they die. If you watch it at arms-length, it has a tougher time getting to your heart.
It was a dream and a joke, and couldn’t possibly have turned out the way it did. Then, Monday Night Raw began with Daniel Bryan wearing the World Heavyweight Championship around his waist (like a champion is supposed to) and the WWE Championship on his shoulder, speaking humbly and brushing his hair back over his ear as the crowd chants YES, DAN-IEL BRY-AN and YOU DE-SERVE IT in perfect unison. No scattered, Cleveland-style almost-chants. Solid YES. Solid DANIEL BRYAN. Everyone in the building telling the one man on Earth who deserves it most that he deserves it, to his face. It wasn’t a dream. They were serious, and tonight’s episode wasn’t gonna end with someone cashing in, a referee reversing a decision or a member of the Kliq responding to text message via powerbomb. This is it.
We really did win.
Best: Triple H, Still My Motherf*cker
I’m seriously going to order an Authority shirt when my next paycheck rolls in. Maybe one of those sweet Authority polos Kane was wearing at Axxess.
I’ll be able to talk more about it later, but Triple H as the ultimate deluded Scumbag In Charge is magical, and if we’re going to position Daniel Bryan as the new hippie socialist vegan Stone Cold Steve Austin, I’m glad he’s found the perfect evolution of Mr. McMahon. We moved both characters into the 2010s. Only now Stone Cold Steve Austin is 5-foot-8 and Mr. McMahon is throwing tiger suplexes.
Best: The Wyatt Family As Cult Heroes
I wasn’t a fan of John Cena Overcoming The Odds™ at WrestleMania, but there was one wonderful development: the crowd figuring out that they’re supposed to participate in The Wyatt Family’s entrance theme. In NXT, the crowd would hold their arms above their head and sway like weeds. Sway Wyatt. The WrestleMania crowd adapted that into a sway and a clap-along, and that works for me. As long as they’re cheering for this delightfully absurd cultist trio that can’t stop crab walking and having killer trios matches I’m all for it.
This is what the Wyatt Family needs to do. Bray is great at delivering the creepy in angles, but he shines when he delivers creepy in the context of a melee … especially ones that are entertaining as hell, like his bouts with the Shield and this one. It also helps that he’s facing the two least likable superstar babyfaces in WWE and their cool friend who accidentally won the Intercontinental Championship and forgot how to win wrestling matches. Does that IC belt have amnesia powder on it or something? Is that why the strap is white? Did Cody Rhodes set this trap when he was Mr. Sinister and forget about it?
Worst: Talk About Awkward! Good Grief!
You said it, Charles Schulz. Sorry. “JBL.” Santino and Emma teamed up to face Fandango and Summer Rae, which I guess is the new Dolph Ziggler vs. Kofi Kingston of Raw. Like all of their Raw matches, WWE rocked their colossal disconnect between NXT and the main roster, gave Emma and Summer about 30 seconds to work and then paid it off with Santino hugging. It wasn’t the worst thing they’ve done, but it certainly wasn’t good.
It was saved a little by how Pro NXT this crowd is, as they followed their Wyatt Family swaying by going all-in on the Emma love, doing her dance as much as possible before she was shuffled away to film dinner date scenes or whatever the hell they’re doing on Smackdown.
I reserve the right to revisit this a little later in the column when the Divas Championship match happens.
Best: Sting Is Not Having It
Nice of you to make it out to the show, Steve.
Best: CM Punk Is Dead And Paul Heyman Is The Best In The World
I have two things to declare.
The first is that I was wrong about CM Punk. The day after the Royal Rumble when news broke that he’d “quit the company,” I was sure it was part of the show. 100% sure. Part of that is the skepticism and pessimism I talked about on the previous page. Some combination of conditioning and The Internet have made me unable to accept any “real” wrestling news as legit. WWE commands media sources now. They plant news stories. They’re also big on “reality” angles, and Punk’s the king of those. Another part of it is me really wanting the guy to not be a dickface and be a great part of the show again. I thought maybe he’d come back as a corporate guy, or run out at WrestleMania to bail out his old buddy Daniel Bryan. I thought he’d resurface at the pre-Mania Chicago Raw, but the deadline was the Raw after WrestleMania. If he didn’t show up then, I said, I’ll accept that it was real.
So, uh, I guess it was real. I am very happy that this column is “what Brandon thinks about wrestling” and not “Brandon is defensive about being right about wrestling.” I am wrong almost 100% of the time, and I’m sad to say I was wrong here. I guess Punk’s just a shoot butthole.
I say that because it loosely (cough) relates to my second declaration: Paul Heyman’s 9+ minute promo from last night’s Raw is the best promo in the history of the show. WWE Fan Nation gloriously and thankfully reproduced it on YouTube in its full version, and I urge you to watch it, then watch it again.
Paul Heyman is a MONSTER on the microphone. Remember when he started doing a fake 1980s screamo promo about volcanos and it was the best thing ever? This was the constructive, sincere version of that. Heyman put over Brock Lesnar in the most epic fashion imaginable with lines like, “Hey let’s get one thing straight, Brock Lesnar is not here to put smiles on peoples’ faces, Brock Lesnar is here to shock the WWE Universe and put tears in the eyes of children.” Are you KIDDING ME? Wrestling Shakespeare couldn’t have come up with something better. I’m going to assume there was a Wrestling Shakespeare. He wrote No Holds Bard.
He also managed to throw shade at the three people I hate the most on Raw:
1. The announce team (“John Bradshaw Layfield and those and those two other things that call themselves announcers”)
2. Hulk Hogan (“Superdome, Hogan, not Silverdome”)
3. The unwashed portion of the WWE Universe (“Are you saying ‘what’ to me? I forgot who you are so i’ll say it slowly for you, Brooooooock Leeeeeesnarrrrrr isssssss theeeeeeee onnnnneeee innnnnn twentyyyyyyy oneeeee aaaaaaaand oooooone!”)
It’s a stunning promo that makes Lesnar seem like the most legit beast con carne to ever step foot in a wrestling ring, puts the severity of the Undertaker’s loss into perfect pro wrestling context and cements Heyman as the coolest and most obnoxious person on the face of the Earth. Listen to those pluralizations. Even I want to punch that guy in the face, and I love him.
Worst: Let’s Ask The WWE Universe What They Thought Of Paul Heyman’s Promo
Sorry, let’s try that again.
Best: What A Bunch Of A-Holes
WWE has learned from its mistakes. Remember when they sent Randy Orton and Sheamus out to have a 15-minute match in front of a post-Mania crowd and it died a horrible death, but they’re Guy 1 and Guy 2 from the pre-Full Sail WWE developmental system so they just went through the motions anyway? This year, WWE knew they couldn’t send Orton or Batista out in front of these jokers so they gave them a short, violent appearance that got them over as vicious pieces of shit and absorbed all the Y2J and JBL and CM PUNK chants in three minute burst. Perfect.
I normally hate when two major singles stars team up and are suddenly crazy dominant over the company’s best tag teams, but I like Orton and Batista kinda realizing that nobody in the world likes them, so they might as well throw in together and try to get along. They’re perfect for one another. When they were face to face before the table spot at Mania I thought for sure they were gonna start making out, and WrestleMania 30 was going to go off the air with two living penises rawdogging each other.
Putting my foot down on this one. I refuse to acknowledge or support Adam Rose with this bastardized entrance theme.
If you’re a regular reader of the Best and Worst of NXT column (and you should be), you’re already familiar with this drama. On the March 5 episode, the former Leo Kruger was repackaged as Adam Rose, a Get Him To The Greek character with the GREATEST ENTRANCE THEME IN THE WORLD. It instantly made him a viral sensation. We hopped around our houses singing it like a soccer chant, doing that dumb little reverse crotch chop and yelling WOOOO. We were ready to make him our new God.
A couple of weeks later on the March 20 episode Rose had his second match … with a new theme. A “soundalike.” Supposedly WWE couldn’t get the rights to the original song and dubbed over Rose’s entrance with their own version. It is HORRIBLE. The live crowd was chanting the original song because that’s the one they heard.
Adam Rose is being brought up to the main roster with this abomination of a theme. Do not support it. Raise a fist in support of ‘World Goes Wild’ and keep it in the air.
Best: Support Bo All You Want, Though
I think they’re doing my “switch NXT and Raw” idea.
Worst: Rob Van Dam Is Back
If you’re new to the Best and Worst of WWE Raw column, there are two things you need to know about my Rob Van Dam opinions:
1. He’s one of my least favorite wrestlers in the world. I loved him when I was 17, but I grew out of it when I realized he was going to be exactly the same forever. He’s the Kevin Smith of pro wrestlers. He makes it super fake for me and does not do any of the things I like for wrestlers to do. This will color my opinions of him in situations where, say, he comes back and you’re happy to see him again.
2. I have a standing offer that I will give Van Dam a second chance and reevaluate him as a performer if he does one single thing in a match that he didn’t do in 2000. One thing. In 2000 he added the Van Terminator to his moveset and it was great, and then he just stopped. He hasn’t even cut his hair or changed his clothes in 15 years. His hair just pizza-french-fries up the side of his head and his singlets get dumpier on the inside.
And what, does he not pay Ricardo to follow him around in airbrushed t-shirts anymore?
Best: I’M AFRAID I’VE GOT SOME RAD MOVES
The opposite of Rob Van Dam is BAD NEWS BARRETT, a man I am extremely excited to see back in the ring again. He’s got new gear, a freshened-up attitude, pop icon status with smart crowds and a finisher that actually looks like it’s worth a damn for once! I put that in italics for MAX EMPHASIS. The one hangup about Wade is that his finishes have always been garbage. The WADE SLAM (which later became the Wasteland) is just John Cena’s finisher except you drop them forward instead of to the side. You’d have to be Mark Henry to make that move hurt, and you’d have to Wade Slam people onto beds of nails. That was followed up with THE SOUVENIR, an elbow strike that added a dumb wristlock short-arm that required Wade to kinda have to step over his opponent to strike them. He later changed the name of it to the “Bullhammer,” because nobody got the joke about the Souvenir leaving his opponents with something to remember him by. I like to call it the DOG BONER, because of how he switches to a red elbow pad before he does it. The Dog Boner: when you see red, you’re about to get f*cked.
(He’s still just using Dog Boner, but he hit it hard here. Maybe he spent all that time off learning how to connect with an elbow?)
A supplemental Best goes to poor Rey Mysterio, the biggest accidental heel in wrestling. This poor guy can’t catch a break. He shows up as the #30 entrant in the Royal Rumble and gets booed out of the building because he isn’t Daniel Bryan. He’s a throwaway entrant without an entrance in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, and the next night he’s trying to get cheers against a character everybody with a brain and a happy place wants to see win and succeed. Next week Mysterio’s gonna accidentally stitch Game Of Thrones spoilers down his pant leg.
Best: Внимание! Посмотрите на мою стебли!
Cut Zack’s life into pieces! This is his Last ReZort! Camel clutches! No breathing!
Alexander Rusev finally made his Raw debut last night with a fun squash of Zack Ryder, who deserves to be squashed more than anyone in the world. If you haven’t seen Rusev work yet beyond this, check out his match with Dolph Ziggler from NXT last year. I’m a little sad that he isn’t writing dudes’ names on wooden boards and breaking them before his matches anymore, but he’s got Lana, and she will provide at least several months of gratuitous gams screengrabs:
Maybe Zack should get in his hilarious shoebox coffin and time travel back to when he wasn’t worthless.
(Sting didn’t enjoy any of this show, did he?)
Best: Ron Pearlman Has Lost His Mind
I caught some shit from defensive nostalgia nerds in the Best and Worst of WrestleMania 30 column for Worsting the opening segment with Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock interacting. My rationale is simple: if I wanted to watch popular old wrestlers stand around doing and saying nothing, I’d go to WrestleCon.
The other piece of that (besides “I want Steve Austin to start stomping these guys”) is that it’s hard for me to be nostalgic for people I always see. It’s the same reason I don’t pop for Million Dollar Man, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Sgt. Slaughter or Rowdy Roddy Piper on Raw. They’re there all the time. It’d be like nostalgia popping for Yoshi Tatsu. The Rock is in every movie and main-evented the last 2-3 WrestleManias. Stone Cold Steve Austin isn’t on wrestling much anymore, but he’s in movies and on the cover of 15% of DVDs sold at Target. Hulk Hogan hadn’t been on WWE TV in years, but he’d been in the f*cking Impact Zone every week for an eon, so his welcome got worn out a long-ass time ago. I’m not gonna get all happy about guys I see all the time congratulating each other on being good guys at sports-entertainment.
In contrast, there are very few times when I get to see borderline-senile WARRIOR wearing a plastic Ultimate Warrior mask on Raw, snort-breathing about the immortality of shared blood-pumping. That is unique and ridiculous. I will give that a Best whether I like Warrior or not. It’s easily the best thing he’s done since getting someone who can’t pronounce “Warrior” to induct him into the Hall of Fame. HERE’S MY FRIEND WOYER. HE’S IN THE HALL OF FAME ALONGSIDE PAWBEAR.
OH MY GOD. TRAMOPOLINE! TAMBOPOLINE!
If there was one thing I did not expect from tonight’s Raw it was PAIGE from NXT debuting and DEFEATING AJ LEE FOR THE DIVAS CHAMPIONSHIP. HOW DO I EVEN TYPE SOMETHING WITHOUT THE CAPS LOCK.
If you don’t read the NXT column, Paige is the best. The best. In addition to being the only Diva ever employed without a gnarly tan, Paige is awesome in the ring, a veteran of SHIMMER and the independent circuit and basically everything you’ve wanted from a female WWE professional wrestler since you figured out what good wrestling was. The running fantasy booking has been “AND THEN PAIGE SHOWS UP AND WINS THE DIVAS CHAMPIONSHIP AND EVERYTHING’S FINE.” That’s seriously been the pipe dream joke for like a year. Last night on Raw, Paige showed up and won the Divas Championship. Is everything fine?
Let’s think about it. They put AJ Lee over literally everyone in the Divas division at once, cleanly, then had her lose in ONE MOVE to the NXT Women’s Champion. That is SEVERE. We’ve got a lot of NXT types sneaking onto the main roster … if Paige was to just defend against people she wrestles all the time down at Full Sail, she’s got Emma and Summer Rae waiting in the wings. Hell, Sasha Banks was one of Triple H’s lamentation girls during his entrance at WrestleMania. She’s wrestled (and beaten) Natalya down there. Are we finally moving in the right direction? Was the Vickie Guerrero Invitational a preemptive goodbye to all the hand-on-hip one-footed-dropkickers on the roster? Are we going to have Total Divas over here and a functional, productive women’s division over there? THE FUTURE IS NOW YOU GUYS.
And yeah, I know I’ve been linking the NXT column a lot, but man, this is IT. If you count the game show version, NXT’s on basically every segment of this show. Daniel Bryan’s the champion. The Wyatt Family, Big E, Fandango, Emma, Summer Rae, The Shield, Alexander Rusev, Lana and Cesaro were all in or around matches. Paige debuted and won the Divas Championship from AJ, who was on season 3. They previewed the arrival of Adam Rose and Bo Dallas. The New Age Outlaws are gone. Did we step through the looking glass at WrestleMania 30? Are we officially in the New New Generation?
Best: Paige’s Backstage Fallout Segment
If this isn’t the dawn of something special and is just a cool lady getting a shot at being one of the disconnected Divas on Raw, it’s still an amazing moment. If you need proof of why, watch her reaction during her Raw Fallout segment. Paige is the best.
(And I see you trying to hug folks like you’re a human being, Eva Marie. I’m onto you.)
Best: The King Of Swing
To put this into the best possible perspective, Claudio Castagnoli just shook hands with Hulk Hogan on Raw and caused a fight between Paul E. Dangerously and Dirty Dutch Mantell. I am not sure when Raw became my save of Fire Pro, but God damn am I loving it.
As I mentioned, I originally only caught the last 30 minutes or so of Raw. I was driving back from New Orleans and had to watch the rest of it thoroughly spoiled. What was not spoiled for me was this segment, so I turned on my TV, sat down and within a minute heard Cesaro announce himself as a Paul Heyman guy. I just sat there with my hands in the air and my eyes bugged out for five minutes. On a show where Daniel Bryan is treated like Pro Wrestling Jesus, a bunch of NXT guys either debuted or have promised their debuts and Paige shows up to win the Divas title, it might be CESARO: PAUL HEYMAN GUY that might’ve flipped me out most.
It’s such a perfect progression. You break Cesaro off from Zeb to clear up that whole HORRIBLE RACISM thing the Real Americans were actually kinda-sorted founded on, you do it in front of a crowd that’s going to love him AND his new manager (despite booing him earlier in the night … everyone’s Brock Lesnar Guy when it comes to the Undertaker, I guess) and you debut his glittery Blanche Devereaux blouse on Raw. You also set up a scenario wherein Jack Swagger can show up and break the trophy, because “someone breaks the trophy” was in 100% of our WrestleMania predictions. You are SUCH AN S.O.B. for breaking an Andre the Giant trophy, and Cesaro and Heyman are Base Gods 1 and 2 for carrying around gold baby Andre like a precious child.
Best: ATTN Every Crowd, Treat Cesaro Like This
The actual match between Cesaro and Swagger was a lot of fun even if it ended way prematurely with the tired purposeful-countout Raw trope. I want to see them get a full match at Extreme Rules, and more importantly I want every Raw crowd this year to treat Cesaro like New Orleans treated him.
That’s one of the worst parts of post-Raw Manias … the disconnect (there’s that word again) between a big event crowd and a regular one. When you’re at a post-WrestleMania Raw, guys like Cesaro are king. It’s a crowd full of people willing to devote thousands of dollars to attend wrestling events, and usually those are the types who pay enough attention to love the guys who’re actually great. That, and guys they love ironically. 3MB chants I’m looking in your direction. Lovingly.
But no, this crowd treats Cesaro like the new boss of the world, but what happens when WWE goes to Iowa? They’ll pop for the swing, sure, but will they care about anything else he does? Will they boo him because he’s with Heyman? Are we supposed to already be booing him because he’s with Heyman, or are we supposed to be happy that he ditched the racist uncle? It’s such a weird request to make of casual fans, and I hope Cesaro just continues to be baller as f*ck and overrides the mom and pop reactions with ultimate Swiss awesomeness.
Best: TrollShield vs. Kane
Poor Kane. In one weekend he has to give a speech about his dead father, watch his brother’s legacy get broken and defeated and lost his friends in a squash match. Now he’s on Raw being emasculated by the eyes of the three coolest guys on the show. He just wants to go home and read his political blogs and think about dragging Obama into literal Christian Hell :(
Best: And We Saved the Best For Last
So much happened on this show to make me happy, and then they end the night with The Shield showing up to fight injustice and prevent Triple H and his 2007 Roster cronies from dethroning Daniel Bryan. How am I supposed to handle this? I’ve been complaining for a while about not understanding Daniel Bryan’s point of view and losing faith because of what a dork he’s been, and now he’s 100% in the right, battling the scummiest people on the show and being backed up by three bad motherf*ckers in flak jackets and bandanas. Let Raw be this all the time. MAKE THIS EVERY RAW.
And seriously, when I say “make this every Raw” I don’t necessarily mean “make my favorite guys win and debut all my favorite minor leaguers,” I just mean to make every Raw feel important. Give every Raw something that truly moves a story forward, creatively interprets a tried-and-true wrestling trope (like the trophy breaking) or simply entertains us by letting the show’s characters be themselves and react to shit like we might expect them to. Surprise us, but also allow us to live in the universe you’ve taken so much time to create. Don’t box us out with illogical writing and twists we’ve seen a thousand times before … have faith in the million-dollar creative team you’ve put together and let them craft 2014’s best possible interpretation of pro wrestling, because guess what? You’ve got the best of it. You can make this Raw happen on a regular basis, and eventually every crowd would be a “post-Mania” crowd. They’re just like this because they know they’re guaranteed an episode where stuff happens.
While I’m making ridiculous requests of you, broad concept representing “WWE,” put these guys in a War Games match sooner rather than later.
Best: Because I Don’t Say It Enough
I love you, pro wrestling. I hope I do not have to wait until next April to tell you again.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Going to be hard for John Cena to find employment in Slam City, since he refuses to do the job.
The Deposed Knave of Bel-Air
(Backstage before Raw began)
Paul: “Start your promo with ‘The Undertaker had a coffin fit.’ ”
Brock: “The Undertaker had a coughing fit.”
Paul: ” ‘The Undertaker had a COFFIN fit.’ ”
Brock: “THE UNDERTAKER HAD A COUGHING FIT.”
Paul: “… close enough.”
This crowd is good, but their arms are too short to box with god.
If anyone is wondering why Lesnar didn’t challenge for the World Title, he needs to go eat and sleep first.
Smart of them to send Batista out first. Now he has 3 whole intros to catch his breath.
Sandow can’t win this because they aren’t allowed to play his entrance music during Lent.
“I’m afraid I have some bad news!”
(Pulls out MRI of Rey’s knees)
Bad News Barrett should start his own streak of only wrestling and winning on the post Wrestlemania Raw show.
Rusov is also known by his nickname ‘What If Samoa Joe Actually Tried?’
Being a trophy in WWE is like being a drummer in Spinal Tap.
Thanks for reading, everybody, and thanks for spending an amazing WrestleMania weekend with us.