I Accept Your Apology, Monday Night Raw
This week Raw opened with a half-hour cage match between Bray Wyatt and Chris Jericho. You know, the two guys who’ve been wrestling each other for about two months now. On you average week, I would be chiding the writers for biding time instead of developing fresher angles, but this is not your average week. The last Raw was really, really bad. An insufferable, Dragonball Z-like exercise in emptiness, a room full of writers hoping tearfully that you won’t recognize the complete lack of content in their television show. Tonight, they give away a PPV-quality clash straight out of the gate.
The match itself was fine. We’ve pretty much seen the full extent of what these two guys can do to each other in the ring, but hey, we got a crazy top-of-the-cage spot and Wyatt looked a lot more energetic than he usually does. The finish was a nondescript, barely-not-a-tie thing that seems destined to keep this zombified story around til Night of Champions, and that’s mostly okay. I was just so excited to see a real life wrestling match after last week’s autopilot mess, that pretty much any match that looked like it had stakes was okay with me.
A Rare Moment Where a Bad Idea Becomes Momentarily Good
Like all of you, I was letting out a pretty big sigh when Dolph Ziggler was in the ring claiming to have “compromising photos” of The Miz, partially because it serves as consistent proof that Vince McMahon is a giant billionaire carnie, but also because whenever a WWE superstar starts to curate a slideshow things start to go south quickly. Who can forget the stupendous “John Cena shows his goofy photoshops of Bray Wyatt” promo of a few months ago.
ALL THAT BEING SAID, the photo of Damien Sandow waxing The Miz was pretty funny. I’m not saying it’s high art or anything, but I did chuckle. The rest of the segment was awful and vaguely homophobic, but you’ve got to count your blessings with the WWE.
By the way, doesn’t this kinda make Dolph Ziggler a heel? He’s telling an audience that he stole the personal property of the guy he’s wrestling, and is happy to broadcast it on national television. That’s not very nice Dolph! When Miz made his dejected puppy-dog face all the way back behind the curtain, I legitimately felt bad for him! Miz simply hasn’t revved up enough heat since he’s been back, so right now he’s just some goober in sunglasses who’s bummed out a water-polo jock hacked into his phone. That’s pretty sympathetic! More sympathetic than the dude who was making out with both Summer Rae and Layla a couple weeks ago!
Thank God, A.J. and Paige are Momentarily Out of the Bella Storyline
Last week, in the increasingly hilarious Bella trainwreck, we got a brief segment where A.J. Lee and Paige’s feud was folded into the twin-sister bloodfeud. This was disappointing, because generally I like to keep my wrestlers separated from my awkwardly enunciated words. But thankfully this week we’ve gone back to normal. Paige and A.J. are in a tag match against Rosa Mendes and Natalya. Everybody does something cool (except for Rosa,) and we end with the two best divas in the company making angry faces at each other.
Forget the fact that this plot has remained unchanged since the moment A.J. came back from her sabbatical, at least the Bellas aren’t involved. I don’t care what they do, they could turn Paige into the fucking Shockmaster, as long as this thing doesn’t end up as a Fatal 4-Way with Nikki and Brie, I’m good.
A Moment of Empathy with John Cena
Internet wrestling journalism exists for one core reason, to clown on John Cena. John Cena is like Fannie Mae, or Exxon, or any other tippy-top corporation who holds the strings. In J-School you’re repeatedly instructed to question power at all cost, in Internet Wrestling J-School, you’re repeatedly instructed to question John Cena at all cost. It’s not his fault, it’s just part of the job description.
So when Paul Heyman waddles out to the ring to eviscerate Cena in perhaps the best of his killer promos this year, my anti-Cena regimen was running at an all-time high. I knew it wasn’t going to work, because any promo that ends with someone asking John Cena to give into the hate will never, ever work, but it was still pretty fascinating. I was expecting John to pump up his chest and deflect the bullets with his usual superhero acumen, I was not expecting one of the most sincere evaluations of the very ethos that resides in the hallowed halls of the Cenation.
See here’s the thing. John Cena is one of the best talkers in the world, but he’s usually talking to five year olds. When he starts talking to eight year olds, or even 12 year olds, things start to get pretty good. Here, John Cena actually manages to exceed the Heyman barbs with the simple admission that yes, he very much loves being the good guy. He doesn’t care if you think it’s lame or unfashionable, being Superman comes naturally to him, so why resist the tide? John Cena has never once questioned the servitude required to be John Cena, mostly because there’s no such thing, it’s never been a question of willingness. Today John Cena told the WWE Universe that he’s having far too much fun to ever change, if there was ever a way to stick it to the “CENA SUCKS” trolls, it’s that.
This was great because John Cena shouldn’t be talking about wins and losses anymore. His legend has far surpassed that sort of discussion. The only thing interesting about Cena anymore is his lack of crisis, and his acceptance with the status quo. That’s a far more interesting discussion than whether or not he’ll make Brock Lesnar tap out.
Guess What, You Can Actually Watch Cool Stuff Like This Every Week!
This was the best surprise Raw has packed in months. We were just listening to Michael Cole put over the NXT Takeover 2 special on Thursday, but then he drops the bombshell of “HEY GUESS WHAT, FOUR OF THE BEST GUYS IN NXT ARE ABOUT TO WRESTLE, LIKE RIGHT NOW, ON RAW.”
I’m a big NXT guy, it captures the lighter, de-commercialized side of the wrestling business, and it features inarguably some of the most talented guys in the world. If you don’t know, NXT is like WWE’s personal indie promotion. Think of it as a farm team, but stocked with wrestlers who twice as good as some of the people on the main roster. Case in point, this little barn-burner put Tyson Kidd (longtime, been-through-the-ringer vet,) Tyler Breeze (great performer with an amazing male model gimmick and the best theme music in the world,) vs. Sami Zayn (El Generico, watch this if you haven’t yet,) and Adrian Neville (THAT RED ARROW.) Unsurprisingly, it was the most exciting match of the whole night. Why? Well, it was definitely the only finish to feature a corkscrew shooting star press. And hey! Guess what! Even if the audience has absolutely no idea who you are, if you do a corkscrew shooting star press they’ll start paying attention!
Watching this actually made me a little wistful. A guy like Sami Zayn toiled through the indies before earning that WWE contract, and now making his debut in the nation’s marquee promotion. It didn’t matter that your average viewer was far more excited about Jerry Springer than an NXT crossover, we were still watching the culmination of lifelong dreams. When the state of Raw gets you down, remember that this is what the show will someday be. That’s certainly enough to keep me optimistic.
Jerry Springer is on Television Because the WWE is Out of Touch
First off, really? Jerry Springer? Is it 1998? Weird Al wrote a parody song about Jerry Springer, and that was already more than a decade ago. How the hell is one of the top-promoted segments of the show a mediation featuring Jerry Springer? Is there any poor soul in the WWE universe who was organically stoked to see Jerry Springer tonight? Wait, don’t answer that, the reality might be depressing.
So Jerry waddles out and does his best to pretend he has any idea of the specific bad blood between Nikki and Brie Bella. Nikki blames Brie for their father walking out on them(!) and eventually they start fighting. Somehow Jerry Springer gets involved in the tangle and has to be carried out on a stretcher. You know, wrestling.
Here’s the thing, in abstracts I’m totally in love with the idea of a feud between two identical twins. I mean any storyline that’s centered around “I WISH YOU DIED IN THE WOOOOMB” appeals to our base sense of “HOLY SHIT LOL,” and “HOLY SHIT LOL” has built a number of great storylines in the past. But Brie is such an unlikable protagonist, constantly stumbling over her lines and wearing unquestionably the worst pouty-face in the Divas Division, eventually you just stop sympathizing. I like Nikki, at least she’s saying something interesting. She’s being a bully sure, but she’s going up against a blank slate of blithering good-guy nothingness. At this point, I think the only thing they can do to save this segment is turn Nikki face and reveal Brie exactly as manipulative as Nikki claims she is. That would be the only conclusion that makes sense! And when the only conclusion that makes sense is “actually wait, the bad guy is really a good guy,” then you need to be writing a better script!
A Match That Nobody Necessarily Wanted to See Twice
I was fine with the headliner being a rematch between Randy Orton and Roman Reigns. The dusty interference finisher is always annoying, but whatever, you’ve got two top guys in a wrestling match. It’s hard to expect more than that.
Let’s take a moment to talk about a Randy Orton Thing I deeply, deeply love. There’s this occasional moment during a heel Orton match where he starts casually walking around the ring, throwing a few arms or legs here and there, but mostly basking in the uncomfortable, aloof grumble of an audience angry at a man who doesn’t seem to understand the show-business side of things. This is great! Because it’s usually accompanied with Randy Orton yelling hugely condescending things to the babyface he’s dismembering. My personal favorite? “RING THE BELL, IT’S NO DQ, THERE’S NO BELL TO RING.” Last night we got the almost-as-good “TODAY JUST ISN’T YOUR DAY.” Sure the match was kinda boring because Roman Reigns only knows like three wrestling moves, but pragmatic, bloodthirsty Orton is always worth the price of admission.
It’s funny, I remember being really out on Randy Orton a couple months ago, during his last limp-wristed title run, but right now he’s one of my favorite guys on the show. Taking some time out of the spotlight can do wonders, missing someone’s presence can rejuvenate any fatigue. It’s something to keep in mind when we’re watching this exact same match for the next three months.