Is Paul Heyman Doing the Best Work of His Career Right Now?
So the show kicked off with Paul Heyman explaining, once again, how Brock Lesnar will rip John Cena limb from limb at Summerslam. This was great, because it is always great. Heyman achieves peak anti self-consciousness, he reminds you of your dad the moment he stopped caring. Heyman raps in this promo, seriously, and it’s not even remotely cringe-inducing.
The WWE is a company fixated on weekly rehashes to hype up the more profitable pay-per-views, and it takes a rare talent to deliver the same message over and over again while keeping it hilarious, invigorating, and actually, unironically exciting. There’s no better performer in the company right now. When your marquee promos are the biggest highlights for an entire month’s worth of Raw? That’s kind of unprecedented. At 48, Paul Heyman has piled on some of his best work to an already hall-of-fame career. It reminds me of Peyton Manning last season. Lights out. Nobody comes close.
Roman Reigns: Officially Cooler When He Was in the Shield
I really liked Roman’s bloodfeud against Kane last week, but that’s probably because I saw it live and it included lots of chair bumps. If you throw someone through a table, the world goes home pretty happy, but these sort of empty, flavorless matches against clunky fodder like Rybaxel don’t exactly do him a lot of favors. My favorite Reigns moments come after he gets a hot tag and runs around the ring superpunching everybody. But warmed-over Samoan drops? Eating the stairs for the millionth time? Not so much. Watching Reigns is watching a guy doing his best to fill time before launching into his finishers, Meanwhile a guy like Dean Ambrose is putting together some of the most complete bouts in the company. Right now it doesn’t feel like Reigns was the right guy out of the Shield implosion to be getting title shots. Maybe the Summerslam match against Randy Orton will remind us all of the silent, stoic badass that we’d all penciled in as the John Cena K-Mart-ruling heir apparent. Until then, it probably wouldn’t hurt if he learned a few more wrestling moves.
They Put Dean Ambrose in a Birthday Present You Guys
So the match, I’m pretty sure the only reason Seth Rollins and RVD are fighting is because RVD was an absolute champ selling Rolins’ curb stomp a month ago. I like the way Rollins spends the first few minutes just relentlessly beating Van Dam all over the ring, it sets up Rollins as the sort of heel that only feels confident when the odds are in his favor. He’s a great gloater, which is an underrated part of being a poisonous bad guy. I’d really hate Seth Rollins if I was 9 years old, and that’s the barometer I usually judge worked antagonism.
But forget all that! After the match Seth Rollins walks up the ramp and suspiciously eyes all the presents that had been laid out for Hulk Hogan’s birthday (more on that later,) he shrugs, turns back around, AND OUT COMES AMBROSE FROM ONE OF THE PACKAGES! OH MY GOD. He does that scrapper Ambrose beatdown thing, runs to the ring, and gives one of the greatest abbreviated promos of all time. It effectively boiled down to “YEAH YOU BETTER RUN SETH SUMMERSLAM IS ONLY $9.99 AND I’MA GET MY MONEY’S WORTH.” With Ambrose popping out of the trunk of the car back at Money in the Bank I really hope this becomes a staple. I want crazy-eyes Dean to stowaway in the most obscure corners on Raw. When a wrestler pulls off the top cardboard thing from the announcer’s table? I want Dean to be lying under there. Whenever anyone breaks over anything, there must be potential for Ambrose.
Cautiously Down For This Steph/Brie Affair Twist
Raw has been pretty standard so far, just a lot of table-setting and reinforcement on the big feuds going into Summerslam. There’s never much room for massive swings in the go-home show. Stephanie hints that she has a confession to make, which, like, who cares. Probably just another meaningless wrinkle right? Well…
Steph invites Daniel Bryan’s “personal trainer” to the ring, and after some coercing, gets her to admit that she’s been having an extramarital affair with him. Then, we get perhaps the greatest line in wrestling all year, when Stephanie says “after every session Bryan was going YESSSS!!! YESSSS!!! YESSSS!!!” with full finger points and all.
Anyways, Brie slaps the personal trainer and puts Stephanie in the Yes Lock, about an hour later Brie is getting kayfabe arrested because the personal trainer is “pressing charges.” I’m almost entirely sure that the storyline will be that Steph blackmailed the trainer to falsify accusations (thus putting Brie in jail,) but goddamn wouldn’t it be crazy if this was the beginning for crazy, uber heel Daniel Bryan. There’s no way it would make sense, considering he’s physically unable to wrestle right now and there’s no need to squander his good vibes, but a story focused on the fictional transgressions against a very real, very over wife? That would be some real tight-rope shit, and there’s part of me that hopes they go for it.
Okay, At Least Cesaro is Actually Wrestling Matches
It bums me out pretty heavy that Jack Swagger currently has an important feud going on and Cesaro is aimlessly drifting around WWE orbit, but whatever. This was a fun match, a farcry from the three-minute shrug last week against Ziggler. These two have obviously worked with each other quite a bit, which means Cesaro knows exactly how to make that ankle-lock look like white hot pain. There’s not much more to say other than LET CESARO DO MORE STUFF.
I admit it, I Don’t Believe in Bray Wyatt Anymore
There was a time when Bray Wyatt was my favorite performer in the ring. He had that weird, cult-y, Deep South preacher fire, which is something I’ve enjoyed in pretty much everywhere. He had two bizarre goliaths flanking him in Luke Harper and Erick Rowan. He would cast these profound, mesmerizing promos that tapped into a level of nihilism I didn’t think PG WWE was capable of. He’s never been the best worker in the ring, but he’s still brutish and vile. The Sister Abigail looks cool, and “FOLLOW THE BUZZARDS” sounds cooler.
But man, this standoff between him and Chris Jericho has been a pretty bad look. Here they’re sitting down in a talky interview segment. Bray Wyatt dismisses Michael Cole, and launches into a winding, inexplicable, contradicting promo about nothing at all. He touches on the following.
- Chris Jericho thinks of himself as a “savior.” (He doesn’t.)
- Bray Wyatt knows he’s not a savior, but all he cares about is helping people. (???)
- He helps people by hurting them. This is not expanded upon.
- He hates everything in this world, including himself.
This takes something like five minutes, and you’re sitting there hoping Wyatt will stumble into something resembling a coherent path, but it never comes. Chris Jericho then retorts in a 30-second, crisp, clean promo that sets out his operandi in clear, badass, and totally understandable fashion. There are many sides to Chris Jericho, he doesn’t know which one will show up at Summerslam, but he will finally silence Bray Wyatt.
Again. Wyatt is going to win this thing. Which is good, because I still believe in Bray Wyatt. But I’m glad we’re finally moving on from perhaps the most transparently befuddling feud of the year.
Eva Marie, The Most Hated Human in Pro Wrestling
So this is an utterly meaningless bout that simply exists so Paige can read a poem to AJ about how she is going to beat her at Summerslam. Demented Paige is really starting to grow on me, and distracting AJ so Eva Marie could score a pinfall is some of the most delicious heel work you’ll ever see. Let me explain.
Eva Marie is the worst wrestler in the company, a throwback to the days when the WWE pulled models off the street and taught them how to fall. She can’t do anything. Seriously. I’m not trying to scorn her, but there’s a reason she’s on Total Divas and hardly ever working in the ring.
AJ Lee is one of the most talented women in the company, so her losing to Eva reverse everything the smarkier side of the audience holds sacred. It’s telling that after the match, AJ beats up Eva Marie for no real reason, and everyone starts cheering. Eva Marie: so hated that she can make quintessential heelish behavior feel like ultimate righteousness.
Cena Tease a Heel Turn, Could it be?
The Miz on Commentary Shows You the Man Behind the Curtain
The Miz walks out in his platinum-white blazer to do commentary on the match between Dolph Ziggler and Heath Slater. Instead of sitting down, Miz decides he’s going to stand on top of the announcer’s table to do his commentary. Ziggler arrives in Miz’s shirt. Ziggler gets in the ring and chucks Miz’s shirt directly at the Miz. This is funny, until you realize the only reason Miz was standing on the table was so he could be in prime position to have his own shirt thrown at him.
You see, it’s moments like that where you can see the threads holding this whole ridiculous operation together. Something as forgettable as a clothing toss needs to be choreographed down to the basics. You can’t have Dolph missing with the shirt, the whole universe might implode.
Oh yeah, the match. Ziggler drop kicks Slater so hard his face explodes, but when Miz interferes Slater ends up winning on a countout disqualification. That means Heath Slater has won TWO STRAIGHT MATCHES! THE SLATER PUSH! IT’S FINALLY HERE!
Yeah Okay Fine
Randy Orton pinned Sheamus clean, because Randy Orton needed to beat someone reputable to look good going into Summerslam. This was fun, arbitrary, but fun. I like that Randy Orton is doing the pound-the-mat viper thing again, and I really love how he skulks around the ring like the worst James Dean ever conceived. That RKO off of Sheamus’ top-rope dive? People were actually applauding that. That’s Randy Orton for you, equipped with a finisher so cool that even at his most unlikable you can’t help but cheer.
And Now, The Silliest Ending to Raw in Quite Some Time
Okay, so through the whole show everyone was constantly putting over that this was Hogan’s birthday, but you didn’t realize that they were planning to headline the show with that. Hogan comes out to Mean Gene’s introduction, they play a well-constructed video that documents his entire career, and then Hogan relentlessly starts shelling out the WWE Network. “IT’S ONLY $9.99 BROTHER.” This is the opposite of what Triple H was able to do last week, because Triple H is a prick and he’s well aware his hawking is despicable. Hulk Hogan seems to think he’s actually doing us a favor reminding us that we can give him money.
And then Ric Flair comes out for some reason. Then Mr. Wonderful. Then Rowdy Roddy Piper. Then Kevin Nash and Scott Hall in nWo shirts. Then Hulk Hogan rips off his yellow and red to reveal that HE’S wearing an nWo shirt, and you think this is going to be some set-up for the rebirth of Hollywood Hogan, but then Brock Lesnar comes out? And tells Hulk Hogan that his party is over? Because Brock Lesnar hates birthdays, apparently? Then Cena runs out? And just kinda stares at Brock for a while? And that’s that. Show’s over. Everyone goes home.
Look, I’m all for crashing the birthday parties of old men, but there needs to be some sort of motivation right? Why not just have John Cena out celebrating with Hogan, and then have a thing where Lesnar comes out and throws the punch bowl into the audience? The way it went down it felt like the writers were like “OH SHIT THAT’S RIGHT WE HAVE A MATCH TO PROMOTE, UH, I DON’T KNOW, LET’S HAVE BROCK CALL HOGAN “GRAMPS.”
That’s the moral of this week’s Raw. Don’t invite Brock Lesnar to your party.