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The Best And Worst Of WWE Raw 7/18/16: Hardcore Veganism


seth rollins empty arena promo

WWE Raw

Previously on the Best and Worst of Raw: Mr. Mcmahon returned and made a big announcement about who’d be running Raw and Smackdown: that the people who’d be running Raw and Smackdown would be announced NEXT week. This week. Also, The New Day went to the Wyatt Family compound and had a Lucha Overground fight with them.

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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Raw for July 18, 2016.


Best: DANIEL BRYAN CLAP CLAP CLAPCLAPCLAP (And Also Mick Foley’s Here)

This week’s episode opens with the announcement of Shane and Stephanie McMahon’s picks for General Manager of their respective shows, and it’s surprisingly drama-free. Last week when Vince said that if Stephanie and Shane didn’t pick he’d pick for them, it set up the possibility that there’d be some disagreement on the choices, and we’d have to spend another However Long worrying about and nitpicking imaginary wrestling power hierarchies.

Stephanie picks Mick Foley, which is pretty much the opposite of picking Triple H. I guess Triple H already has a high-powered corporate job and doesn’t need to be bothered with day-to-day operations, but also we spent the last several years watching him maneuver himself into day-to-day stuff, so … who knows. Might as well use that spot for someone who’d actually make viewers want to tune in, as opposed to an admittedly popular but classically evil character who almost immediately suggests the show will be (kayfabe) run into the ground.

A quick note about Mick Foley, by the way.

If you know anything about my history as a wrestling fan, you know that Mick Foley’s one of my favorites ever. He’s one of everybody’s favorites, obviously. Not like I’m treading new ground. But Cactus Jack (along with Big Van Vader and Stunning Steve Austin, and the Dangerous Alliance by proxy) was one of the first performers to transcend “good guy” and “bad guy” to me. I wanted to cheer him because I thought he was awesome, not because I was supposed to. Great Muta was the very first because he was cool as sh*t, but Cactus became a thing right as I was becoming a teenager, so he helped foster an ongoing trend. To this day, my favorite wrestlers tend to be Change Of Pace heels.

Foley also fostered another ongoing trend: my dislike of condescending babyfaces.

This one puts me in the minority of wrestling fans. I was a teen for the Attitude Era, so in a world with the nWo and Nation of Domination Rock and Conspiracy Victim Chris Jericho, my Love of Change Of Pace heels turned into a very gentle dislike of overpowered babyfaces. I say this as a guy who loved both Stone Cold Steve Austin and Crow Sting, so I mean very gentle. I also loved THE SPORT, capital letters, and hadn’t had 20 years of the Internet beat me out of being idealistic as f*ck. I still loved the WWF versions of Mick Foley, and I got all tear-faced when he retired at No Way Out in 2000. When he came back for WrestleMania a month later, it was the first moment my brain went, “oh, that sucks, he probably should’ve stayed retired.” It was one of those moments when my desire for wrestling to be the best thing in the world and avoid obvious mistakes overpowered my day-one-birth-belief that wrestling was the best it could be.

It got worse when he came back AGAIN as “Commissioner Foley,” a wise-cracking, irreverent, mean-to-heels and Kevin Smith Both Figuratively And Literally general manager. My favorite guys on the show were Kurt Angle and Edge and Christian, and Foley only seemed to be there to constantly throw Angle, Edge and Christian under the bus. He Stephanie McMahon’d them. They were weird and funny and new and fresh, and Foley would show up like, “LOOK, I’M STILL THE WEIRDEST AND FUNNIEST ONE, LOOK AT ME.”

Mick Foley was a non-wrestler making it harder for anyone I liked on the show to do anything to build drama. Babyface GMs that aren’t objective and heel on heels is a good idea, but in practice, it f*cks the alignment dynamics and makes the construction of even basic dramatic storytelling too challenging for wrestling writers.

Every since, Foley’s been a hybrid of all of his WWE personae, Commissioner Foley included. It got to the point that I only like Foley on TV if he’s getting intense, because the jokey stuff skips Mankind in the hospital room and Dude Love teaming with Austin and Cactus Jack’s big Royal Rumble street fight return and gets straight to ruining kazoo jams.

So yeah, Mick Foley’s career sorta represents my path as a fan. Pure love, growing into reckless passion and discovery. A love of innovation and danger. A love of reinvention and creativity. A love of wrestling becoming a thing the world appreciated. The decay of that love. Observation overriding enthusiasm. An alignment change where I suddenly understood and sympathized with the bad guys. Frustration at the same thing happening over and over. Deep shade at wrestling not letting go of what worked 20 years ago. Begrudging acceptance that I have to keep coming back to it because it’s my job. And now, deeply guarded optimism. I hope the next step is, “realizing that everything works out okay in the end.”


After that, Shane McMahon announces his NXT season 1 rookie. Sorry, the general manager of Smackdown.

Shane McMahon Yes dance

WWE Raw

As our GM breakdown and the spoilers foretold, Daniel Bryan is the new general manager of Tuesday Smackdown Tuesday. SuperTuesdayLive. Whatever they’re calling it.

It’s funny, if you look at it purely from a kayfabe perspective, Daniel Bryan running Smackdown after being an NXT rookie is like Kenneth running NBC at the end of 30 Rock. From a fan perspective, I’m happy to have one of my favorite pro wrestlers of all time back on WWE TV in a role that keeps him visible and important, and lets him continue to soak in adoration from a rotating selection of tens of thousands of fans. Dude deserves it. I love that he still gets an arena full of people doing YES chants, and that his ovations continue beyond that. “Yes” was over, but not as much as Daniel f*cking Bryan.

And you know? They might turn him into Commissioner Bryan or whatever and he might end up being a character I write about in jaded, sarcastic tones, but as for now, this is a strong step in the right direction. They should keep him as objective as possible, because that’s what moderate pacifist Bryan would do and be, and I sincerely hope that one day he’s well enough to complete the circle of William Regal training by “lacing up his boots” to step back into the ring over something personal.

The best part about the Foley/Bryan dynamic is what they represent. Foley represents what WWE used to be. What people who loved it then wish it could be again. A guy who loves wrestling, but is also way too willing to go along with the corporate mandate and make everybody happy. He’s a proxy for Stephanie McMahon. Bryan represents what WWE can be. What people who love wrestling now wish it could be. What it’s starting to become. A guy who loves wrestling, but is too willing to sacrifice his own well-being to do what he loves and make everyone happy. He’s a proxy for Shane McMahon, and, funny enough, for 1995 Mick Foley.

Plus, it’s interesting that the guy who got thrown off the Hell in a Cell wasn’t chosen by the guy who jumped off it. Don’t live in the past. Top it.

Worst: Two Things

1. Why would you have Smackdown general manager Daniel Bryan do color commentary for the Cruiserweight Classic, and then have Stephanie McMahon announce an exclusive cruiserweight division for Raw? That’s not a complaint, really, just two irregular puzzle pieces.

2. Speaking of Stephanie McMahon, Stephanie McMahon. Stephanie can be the very best character and performer on the show when she remembers to be Stephanie McMahon The Character, but she doesn’t always do that. Sometimes she’s like she was last night, stepping over everyone’s lines to get the last word, playing both sides of the heel/face fence to get everybody’s reactions to everything and even interrupting DANIEL BRYAN’S RETURN SPEECH. That Stephanie is the dirt worst.

I know she has to be the funniest and smartest and best character on the show — it’s the trait she and Triple H share more than any other, and quite possibly the reason they fell in love in the first place — but sometimes you need to purse your own Lady Balls or whatever and let people do their job. Maybe Foley not being able to remember his lines got her too deep into control mode.

Okay, One More Thing

Can we get Shane McMahon a tank top? He was Shield Hair levels of wet. Dude looked like a beached hot dog.


Worst: THE LAST TIME

The most frustrating part of the rest of the show is that it’s the final Raw before the Draft, so the announce team has a single sheet of paper with SAY THIS WILL BE THE LAST TIME written on it in Sharpie with a bunch of arrows pointing to it. Everything that happens “could be the last time” we ever see it on Raw. Even the picture-in-picture of Sami Zayn tries to sell the Battleground match with Kevin Owens as the POSSIBLE LAST ONE EVER, because the brand split might put them on the opposite sides of a great divide like they’re Cera and her family from a f*cking Land Before Time.

If they just mentioned it a few times to sell Tuesday’s Smackdown, it’d be fine. Instead, EVERYTHING is the last time. “This could very well be the last time we see Cesaro go for a giant swing on Chris Jericho, Jericho reverse it into a rollup and get two, and Cesaro come out of that with a springboard uppercut for a nearfall of his own ON RAW!” It’s maddening.

It’s a lot like when people get bent out of shape about what happens in comic books. The defining characteristic of modern comics is that nothing matters, and as soon as the creative teams change, the story’s either going to reset or go in a completely new direction. Captain America died, and now he’s a black guy, and now he’s an 11-year old Australian who rides a mechanical donkey named AMERICA, and now he’s just Steve Rogers again. And now he’s evil! AND NOW HE’S DEAD. AND NOW HE’S GOT LONGER HAIR. SORRY FOR THE LONG HAIR, THE NEW CREATIVE TEAM REBOOTED IT AND CHANGED THE TIMELINE SO NOW HE HAS SHORT HAIR AGAIN. It’s all very temporary stuff, for better or worse, to shock reactionary folks into buying more comics. WWE operates the same way sometimes. Characters come and go and change on a dime, and if you remember it or question why it’s happening, you just don’t understand how it works. It’s about making people who aren’t already tuning in hear about things and tune in, often at the expense of the irrationally forgiving people who watch every week.

They might do this same tag on Smackdown. They might draft everyone to different shows and do it as RAW VS. SMACKDOWN EXCLUSIVE MATCH next week to sell the brand extension. The one thing I can guarantee you is that anything happening on WWE TV right now, you will see again. If you see it two more times or fewer in the next month, it’s a miracle. We know that, you know that, so chill on the earthshaking announcement that we might not see Baron Corbin vs. Sin Cara again.

Best: At Least The Wrestling Is Strong!

I’m ready for the post-draft landscape to truly change, because I don’t want to be the kind of guy who has nothing to say about Sami Zayn and Cesaro teaming up against Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho. I have nothing to say, because we’ve seen these four guys fight each other non-stop for months. There’s nothing special about it, because this is the Raw before a Scheduled Special Thing, and before a pay-per-view.

I don’t want Sami Zayn to be as tone deaf as he’s been recently. I don’t want CESARO of all people — an actual living, breathing, wrestling superman — to be “just another guy.” I don’t want Jericho and Owens trying to make lemonade out of stale-ass Country Time. I want an environment where everyone with a role on the show is asked and encouraged to make their role the best role, and if anything gives WWE a reason to cut the sh*t and start trying hard, it’s this brand extension. You’ve got to fill three hours with half the roster and two hours with the other, guys. You can’t just come up with one two-hour show you like and run it 8 times a month like you’ve been doing.

Or you can, and I’m an idiot.


Best: The Wasteland Sounds Really Pleasant

WWE’s goofiest tag teams spend the night trying to suck up to the new general managers, with Golden Truth giving the hard sell to Daniel Bryan and Breezango trying to get Mick Foley to dance. The best of these in a walk is The Ascension, who tell Mick that they’ve got tennis courts, trees (?) and Pitch & Putt.

First of all, Miz and Dolph Ziggler should team up as “Pitch & Putt.” Second of all, is The Wasteland a really nice gated community? When they were welcoming us to The Wasteland, was that like, a sales pitch for timeshares? Was it like the Shining Stars trying to get us to go to Puerto Rico? The Ascension should get 12 weeks of vignettes of them cutting terrible promos in front of green screen photos of old ladies being helped by orderlies outside of clubhouses.

Best: Darren Young And Bob Backlund

I really like them both together. There’s a weird humanity to it, which is especially weird when they spent two months talking to each other via satellite.

Worst: Alberto Del Rio

Here’s your 1000th reminder to go back and watch his promo from Lucha Underground and feel really badly about him totally selling the f*ck out to be the third most important guy in a faction of evil foreigners, have that team break up and still team together because WWE doesn’t know what to do with guys who aren’t from the Caucasian parts of North America, and then lose sub-3-minute matches to low-level guys to set up Intercontinental Championship feuds he isn’t part of.

Nobody as gifted and good at what they do as Alberto Del Rio should be as throwaway boring and bad at what they do as Alberto Del Rio.

Best: Enzo Amore Is On Fire

Last week during the Cruiserweight Classic, Enzo Amore cut one of the most brilliant and totally unasked for promos of the year:

Note: It would take Colin Cassady two weeks to cut that promo.

This week on Raw, he tries to top that by pointing out AJ Styles’ soccer mom haircut, insulting Karl Anderson with FONT CHOICES, backhandedly philosophizing that beauty exists in the world because of Luke Gallows, and (in my favorite moment) saying he always judges books by their covers because he’s not stupid enough to read books. It’s wonderful and that great sort of Enzo promo we used to get between “certified G/you can’t teach that/realest guys in the room” on NXT. Enzo is at his best when he’s asked to fill in the gaps. Nobody has ever done it better, or less predictably.

Best: Grandpa Cena

John Cena stands in the background of Enzo’s promo like, “LOL, this is all well and good, but what about the BALLS and FARTS my good man?” He doesn’t understand how How You Doin’ works or why it’s funny, and then when The New Day shows up and starts listing off Pokémon, he makes this face:

confused old man John Cena

WWE Raw

I have never empathized more with John Cena. He used to be with it, but then they changed what it was. Now what he’s with isn’t it, and what’s it seems weird and scary to him. And it’ll happen to you, too.

All I want is for Cena to show up to the Cruiserweight Classic, flip a table and storm out.

Worst: The New Day

1. Remember last week when New Day traveled to the Wyatt Family’s compound to have a Final Deletion, and y’all got mad at me for not liking it? Remember how some of you were like, “they finally do something different with the Wyatt Family and all you do is complain?”

Well hey, guess what? The Wyatt Family did the exact same thing they always do. They act scary and say scary stuff, babyfaces act real concerned about it, the Wyatts get a big power move like kidnapping them or stealing their souls or, say, luring them into a wooded car-circle and surrounding them with magical lantern Sheep Zombies or whatever, and then boop, nothing. It doesn’t even matter. This week, New Day shows up and is like, “it was scary but it was fine.” They are totally normal, and even Xavier Woods isn’t shook anymore. So is that it? That was the fresh and revolutionary thing we weren’t allowed to say was a cornball rehash of Dilapidated Boat Theater? The same garbage Wyatt Family story, only illustrated?

Really not liking these guys lately. Butt Cereal is not the only relevant plot point. “We don’t care about anything” is a storytelling dead end, especially when the people saying it are the ones you’re supposed to be supporting.

2. I wish they’d let Xavier Woods name off all the Pokémon, just to see if he could do it. Ever since that time on NXT when he pretended like he could confidently reference Rocky IV, Woods’ dorky references make me nervous. You gotta name them in order to make sure you name them all, man. Who throws out #94 Gengar that early, especially without naming Gastly and Haunter first? Enzo didn’t say Truman before Lincoln, you know? You’re gonna get mixed up.


The match itself was fun and had some good action, but it was hurt a lot by the multiple commercial breaks. The Club vs. Cena, Enzo and Cass six-man at Battleground should be much better, and less like a house show match they put together to get everybody they actually use in the ring again before the Draft.

One thing, though: I don’t think I’ve ever bought anything in wrestling less than John Cena falling down and powdering off a gentle Enzo Amore clothesline. I’m not sure I’d buy Enzo being able to knock Cena down if he drove into him in a car. It reminds me of that “Jean Claude Van Damme vs. Beavis with a spear” fight from the old Beavis & Butthead book.

Worst: See You Never, Sin Cara

Here’s a great idea: announce a cruiserweight division exclusive to Raw, then have a big guy easily beat up your two cruiserweights.

Worst: The Build For The Women’s Championship Feud

Here’s another idea: announce a tag team match where Sasha Banks has to find somebody to back her up against Dana Brooke and Charlotte, then tag up Sasha with someone in a tag match against Dana and Charlotte on the show right before it.


Best: The Best Way To Do Promos

Oh and here’s a great idea: an actual great idea.

I write a lot in this column about how WWE needs to remove like 75% of live promos and pre-tape them, both for the benefit of the talent and to train audiences to stop yammering like morons through the promos they get. They aren’t even listening most of the time, even to people they like. They’re just waiting for the ends of sentences. Sometimes it’s “woo,” sometimes it’s “what.” There’s very little exchange of information happening.

When you film these things backstage in controlled environments, you can actually tell the stories you want to tell without having to satiate a crowd in real-time. If you do enough of these, you allow your talent to build stories and build characters and really act and perform, and the wrestler/fan interaction gets (mostly) limited to the wrestling in the ring. That could get fans more excited for the wrestling, because they didn’t have to watch a character they like talk for 20 minutes before it happened.

This week we get pre-taped promos from Seth Rollins (in an empty arena, doing the Shield entrance) and Dean Ambrose (filming himself, like the old Shield promos), and they’re great. The Rollins one is better because he has more to say, but Ambrose’s confidence shines through. Everybody looks better for it, and you didn’t have to listen to 10,000 strangers hold their breath between “what” chants. A+.

Best: Rusev
Worst: Everybody Else

The League of Unaffiliated Nations teams up against Dolph Ziggler and Zack Ryder, and the crowd is so dark and silent they might as well be wrestling in the Upside Down.

WWE’s really confusing me with this Ryder vs. Rusev build. Ryder wants a United States Championship match, so they have him winning matches you’d expect him to lose, and losing matches you’d expect him to win. 99% of my brain says they’re gonna bump that to the Battleground Kickoff show and Rusev’s gonna truck him, but that lingering 1% says, “Ryder doesn’t really have any momentum, they’re just SAYING he has momentum, so this is EXACTLY when they’d pull the trigger on a title change.”

WWE loves saying things are so and not actually doing the work to make them so. See also: “The Wyatt Family is scary and threatening.”


Best/Worst: A Means To An End

The main event is Seth Rollins getting his one-on-one rematch for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Dean Ambrose, but there are two obstacles in the way. One, the Shield triple threat for the belt is happening at Battleground on Sunday. Two, the Draft happens on Tuesday, and you know they’re gonna find a reason to split the title again and give each show its own world champion. I mean, they might float the champ, but I’m not sure they’ll be able to resist.

So any big time championship matches this week (and there are two of them, because there’s a rematch of the rematch happening on Smackdown) are a means to an end. They’re either a placeholder until Roman gets off his wellness suspension, or they’re the first steps in disputing the championship amongst all the new commissioners and general managers until it gets split.

Ambrose and Rollins do their thing, and it ends in a double pin. The show goes off the air with Rollins holding the title over his head, and you think they’d hold on that and get speculation up so more people tune in to Smackdown for the resolution, but … nope, they go straight to the WWE Network, show the replay and have the referee make the match a draw, allowing Ambrose to retain. It’s such a weird buzzkill, right? Imagine if other shows did that. Imagine if The Walking Dead season 6 ended in a cliffhanger and AMC was like, “go to AMC.com to see how the cliffhanger was resolved.” Now imagine that they did that and the season 7 premiere was the next night.

I’ll say this with total sincerity: I’m excited for the draft to change some things, because the immovable object of current WWE booking is what makes me so damn pessimistic in these columns. I don’t care if there are a ton of missteps and misfires if they’re ambitious or interesting, I’ll give them a shot. Or if they make sense. I’ll take “make sense” at this point.


Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Week

Clay Quartermain

Are we sure the concussion lawsuit wasn’t filed by the writing staff?

The Real Birdman

*Cue Vince McMahon quad tearing*

Cami

Cena hosting the ESPYs is like Kobe in a hotel room: unstoppable.

Mr Grift

“Ah Seth, you think E-fed promos are your ally? You merely adopted the E-Fed Promo. I was born in them, molded by them. I didn’t see an in ring promo until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but blinding!” – Dean Ambrose, probably.

NotACrook

“Oh man, just when we thought it was safe to just lie around these backstage areas again!” – random cameras

AshBlue

I hope Breeze and Fandango get in a big fight sometime down the line and get forced to be handcuffed together to make them get along.

Daniel Valentin

“FRIENDS, ROMAN, LEND ME YOUR EARS!”

Cutlip

that moment when the concussions kick in and Foley drafts Brett Favre in the first round — everyone knows you wait for quarterbacks

Taylor Swish

I wonder if Bray Wyatt’s dad advised him to classify the Compound land as a house of worship to save for tax purposes.

If Japanese porn has taught me anything, Karl Anderson’s hot wife dresses just like Enzo


Thanks, everybody. See you on Tuesday night for THAT DRAFT, and next week for the All New RAW Is War or whatever.

Share the column if you don’t mind. I need to be at least as happy as Karl Anderson.



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The Best And Worst Of WWE Raw 7/18/16: Hardcore Veganism

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