The WWE had big shoes to fill on Raw. So did the Greenville, S.C. crowd. Last week, the crowd took over the broadcast—in a good way. The fans cheered when things were great, booed the people who needed booing and when thing got a little dull, they went into business for themselves, making even the lamest gimmicks feel fresh and fun.
Could either the promotion or the audience top last week's epic performance?
In short? No. Fandango crashed and burned. CM Punk disappointed for the first time in recent memory with a live mic in his hand. And the WWE doubled down on John Cena's never-ending run as the company kingpin, making it clear it will move heaven and earth to make the WWE universe boo Ryback. This despite the obvious inclination on the part of many fans to cheer someone, anyone, besides Cena.
It wasn't all bad. It was just mostly bad. Click on as I grade each and every segment of the worst Raw of 2013. Disagree with that characterization? With any of my letter grades? Let's discuss in the comments.
Last week, the Big Show destroyed both Randy Orton and Sheamus as the two did battle to earn the honor of facing the giant. This week, because WWE writers don't understand basic wrestling psychology, the two babyfaces are scheduled for a two-on-one handicap match with the heel.
Normally, it's the hero who we expect to overcome the odds, to triumph over adversity. Not so much in 2013's WWE—apparently that's the villain's job.
Randy Orton pins Big Show after an RKO. A Sheamus kick helped Orton secure the finish.
"They're both hot tempered, huge egos." JBL on Sheamus and Randy Orton
"Nearly a quarter ton on his shoulders." Michael Cole.
"I don't even know how the ring withstood that impact." Jerry Lawler, after Sheamus caught Big Show climbing the ropes and slammed him hard.
"That was patently unfair to the Big Show." JBL. You know what? That's true.
I'm not sure what the point of that was. So, two babyfaces can beat a heel with a man-up advantage? To steal a bit from Chris Rock, "What, do you want a cookie?" That's a match you're supposed to win. Beat Show one-on-one. That? That would impress me.
3MB wanted a piece of The Shield. No one is quite sure why. Maybe they no longer value their lives?
I'm no psychologist. I was just looking forward to the inevitable beatdown. And that's just what we got. Only, The Shield never showed. Instead, Brock Lesnar laid the smackdown on all three men by his lonesome.
Then, despite absolutely zero demand, Lesnar and Heyman challenged Triple H to yet another match. This bout, at Extreme Rules, looks like it will be an old-school cage match. I assume that means a real cage match, where you win by pinfall or submission, not the goofy WWE version where you try to climb out or over the bright blue cage.
Brock Lesnar takes out all three members of the band. This was not an official match.
"That other three man cover group, The Shield, wanted to come out and steal our thunder? It ain't going to happen boys." Heath Slater. The crowd was completely indifferent to this.
"What a ridiculous athlete Brock Lesnar is." JBL.
"No more." Paul Heyman, encouraging mercy.
"One more time, one more time." The crowd, disagreeing.
"I told you last week, my client is ready for a fight." Paul Heyman.
"It's time to get barbaric. It's time for a match in which skin gets ripped away from bone...it's time to get primal. It's time to get uncensored. It's time to get ruthless. It's time to get raw. It's time to get extreme. So my client proposes in a down and dirty in an old-school steel cage match....Triple H, we've got two words for you. Challenge issued." Heyman.
I called for Lesnar to get his heat back against some jobbers. Low and behold—jobbers. Everything that happened after that, however, left me cold.
Triple H and Lesnar again? Did a single person ask for that match? These two guys could wrestle in my backyard and I might only go out and watch if there was nothing good on TV. And this was Heyman at his absolute worst, long winded and even, gasp, a little boring.
Somehow this just felt like a title change in the making. I'm not sure what got my Snowden sense tingling, but it was.
On Twitter, a reader asked me if Cesaro was the most misused talent in WWE history. While I think Terry Funk or Barry Windham probably take that title, Cesaro is one of the top wrestlers in the promotion—and he's certainly not treated like that.
Kofi Kingston wins the United States Championship with Trouble in Paradise.
"Yodelaehoo." Antonio Cesaro
"Sounds like John's commentary when he gets riled up." Michael Cole.
"Every time he yodels, Daniel Bryan and Michael's old dates come out." JBL. I like having JBL on Raw.
The finishing sequence the announcers were raving about didn't quite work. It was just a little bit too choreographed to flow seamlessly and allow fans to suspend disbelief. The idea was great. The execution, however, was less than perfect.
Dolph Ziggler and crew come down to the ring and he immediately proceeds to forget he's spent the last three months jobbing every week on national television. It's important for an athlete to be able to forget and put a bad result behind him.
But I didn't forget.
Alberto Del Rio comes out and invokes his automatic rematch, despite a badly injured leg he only sometimes remembers to sell as he walks around. Vickie Guerrero confirms his right to the match, but before it can get started, Jack Swagger comes down to take Del Rio out.
What to call this? The match never really started, although the bell rang. Instead, Swagger attacked Del Rio and the former champion was left writhing in pain.
"It was the single greatest moment in the history of Monday Night Raw." Dolph Ziggler on cashing in the MiTB last week.
"You name it, I've got it. And I do it better than everybody else." Ziggler.
"I am just too good." Ziggler.
"Listen to me as loud as you possibly can. I don't care." Ziggler. How do you listen loudly?
"Showing off is what you do when you're simply better than everybody else." Ziggler.
"I want my rematch right here in Greenville. And I want it right now." Alberto Del Rio.
"Cool story, bro." Ziggler. He's the greatest.
"There would not be a money in the bank cash in or a Dolph Ziggler title reign without Jack Swagger." Zeb Colter.
"Dolph, you don't deserve to be world champion. And Alberto, for damn sure you don't deserve another shot at it." Colter.
I hated this. Ziggler has to acknowledge all the jobs he's done and his losing streak. It's the only way to get some credibility back and earn the crowd's trust. The fans have to believe he can succeed to invest any energy in him, either as a face or a heel.
Attaching him to a dead feud like Del Rio vs. Swagger is not the way to do that.
Last week, Daniel Bryan and Kane came out to help The Undertaker face down The Shield. Next week, the six men will compete in a huge match in London.
Just a little less exciting.
I really like the Prime Time Players. But they are jobbers. I wish they weren't. But they are. And so this match didn't have a single moment of doubt attached to it.
Bryan pins Darren Young after a flying headbutt.
"Will Daniel Bryan even eat an animal cracker?" Jerry Lawler on Bryan's veganism.
"He's better now than he's ever been." JBL on Kane. Is that faint praise?
"Call PETA. We've got us a flying goat." JBL on Bryan's flying headbutt.
This was, technically, a fine match. I'd love to see the PTP get a chance to show what they've got in a fast-paced 15-minute match on pay-per-view. I think they'd surprise a lot of people.
Ryback, in the back where he can be carefully edited and scripted, where he can read right off a teleprompter, attempts to explain why he turned on John Cena.
"You beat the Rock...good or you. You were on top of the world. And I was on the bottom. Only one way to go for both of us John. Me up and you down." Ryback. He called Cena by his first name throughout. I suppose that was meant to make it feel more intimate.
"There must be so many questions swimming through your head. Why Ryback? What did I do?" Ryback. Perhaps, like Rikishi, he did it for The Rock.
"Really, what choice did I have?" Ryback.
"You're probably thinking, I helped that guy out. I took him under my wing. And this is how he repays me?" Ryback, not helping his case at all here.
"You even gave me your title shot when you were injured. Which I think more people wish you were more often." Ryback. OK, that was a good one.
"A friendship with John Cena is nothing more than a promise to live in the shadow of John Cena." Ryback.
"If you are Superman, say hello to Kryptonite." Ryback. DC's lawyer's on line two.
"Six times, John. Six times I was attacked by The Shield. Where were you? Designing your latest t-shirt? Where were you?" Ryback. Not that anyone is counting.
"You tried to keep me in your shadow...but you'll have to see me for what I am. And what I am, John, is the biggest threat to your WWE title ever." Ryback. Well, I smell a two-star match in our futures.
Ugh. The fact that this guy can't walk the aisle and deliver that promo shows that he doesn't belong in that spot. If you can't cut a live interview, how can you hope to make it at the top of this business?
You know how sometimes there is a match on Raw designed simply to fill time? This was that match.
R. Truth pins Barrett with Shelton Benjamin's Gold Rush.
"Come on." Barrett as he takes control of the match.
"Like you're some hip kid Michael." JBL after Cole mocked Layfield and King for discussing the Andy Griffith Show.
"Man, that came out of nowhere." Lawler.
"No offense to R Truth, but that was an upset." JBL. That all happened so quickly.
This was over before it even really got started. An awful, disjointed mess. I guess this makes Truth a contender? I don't understand why the WWE has so many non-title matches. Can someone explain? By the way, I feel like the world's oldest man yelling at the wold to get off my lawn right now.
Damien Sandow is out to quote philosophers and kick butt. And he's all out of butt to kick.
Sandow snuck up behind Santino to steal a win while the world was distracted by the incredible pairing of Hornswaggle and the Great Khali.
"A famed philosopher once said 'We are but dwarfs on the shoulders of giants.' We will be those giants... even in a den of ignorance like South Carolina." Damien Sandow paraphrasing Isaac Newton.
"Two state championships." JBL, running down Cody Rhodes' high school athletic achievements like he was Jim Ross.
"If Cody Rhodes ever got in a think tank he'd drown." Lawler.
"You're not even doing it right." Rhodes to Hornswaggle after he attempted a mini-cobra.
Let's face it—WWE doesn't have three hours of material every week for Raw. This is one of those weeks.
Fandango was a revelation at WrestleMania and again last week when a boisterous crowd hummed along to his theme music and treated him like a legitimate star. It felt like something special was brewing.
The WWE felt it too and pushed him hard in social media throughout the week. Yet, as he stood in front of the crowd in Greenville, he had nothing. Absolutely nothing.
His attempt at getting a crowd participation catchphrase over failed and failed miserably. Epically. It was awkward and a little painful to watch.
"Shhh. Jerry. How are your hips feeling?" Fandango trying to get King dancing. Instead he bails out back to the announce desk.
"Who here tonight want to go Fandangoing with me?" Fandango
"Before we go Fandangoing, I need you to do one thing. And that's pronounce my name correctly. It's Fan..." Fandango trying to get a crowd participation spot going. And failing.
"It's quite obvious that you can't pronounce my name correctly. So you can all go Fandango yourselves." Fandango.
That was mesmerizing. You could see the flop sweat form as Fandango tried and failed to connect with the crowd. I can't believe the WWE booking team sent him out there with no material and no plan. That was ugly.
Think that holding the world championship changes anything for Dolph Ziggler? No such luck.
Another week, another job.
After the match, Del Rio comes down to get his revenge on Swagger. He wasn't healthy enough to wrestle, but I guess he was well enough to jump a guy? Swagger doesn't seem quite into it, and neither is the crowd. The fans were in danger of losing circulation—they'd been sitting on their hands for an hour.
Swagger pins the champ after draping him neck first onto the top rope and then school boying him. That was a nifty finish—for a squash match in 1985.
"You don't see that in the NCAA's." JBL after a hard slap.
"Is she thinking about this match or trying to figure out what state she's in." JBL on AJ Lee.
The match was okay, but the Swagger vs. Del Rio feud has X-Pac heat at this point. The fans in the crowd just sat with their eyes glazed over. And I don't blame them.
As usual, it was up to CM Punk to save the day. The show to this point had been abysmal. Truly wretched stuff. But Punk with a live mic can light a fire under any crowd. There was hope yet.
And then, like that, hope was gone.
Before he even came to the point, Punk was leaving the ring like Shawn Michaels sans smile.
"For 434 days as WWE champion I couldn't enjoy the ride because I was always looking around the corner at what was next. The WWE championship meant the world to me...but I wanted that next challenge. And I found that challenge in The Rock." CM Punk.
"I'm never satisfied with what I am doing...I always want more." Punk's got that drive. That's a shoot.
"After battling the most electrifying man in sports entertainment, where do you go? And I looked to the one thing that could possibly be bigger than the championship that I loved...and that was taking on the streak at WrestleMania." Punk.
"I pushed The Undertaker to the limit." Punk. Well, he kicked out of your finishers a bunch. Is that what you mean?
"I don't think Heyman knows what to make of this." Michael Cole as CM Punk walks out of the ring.
This could have been the show's saving grace. Instead, Punk stepped to the plate and whiffed.
I understand we were supposed to believe that Punk has now done and seen it all in this business and doesn't know how he can top himself at this point. What's next after The Rock and Undertaker?
But I only understand that much because I've been listening to wrestling promos for 25-plus years. Standing alone, they didn't manage to tell that story here. And Punk's pathetic puppy dog facial expressions did little to sell me or anyone else that he was ready to walk away from it all. Even the completely disingenuous Shawn Michaels, never the master of subtlety, did this story better every time he wanted to get out of doing a job.
We've come to believe that CM Punk's slogan "Best in the world" is a shoot. But he didn't live up to the billing here. Just another turd in a night filled with turd sandwiches.
This was the honorary 1998 Monday Nitro match of the night as the announcers talked about everything but the action in the ring.
Tomfoolery as the Bellas pulled the old switcheroo. Brie snuck into the ring to replace her sister and pinned Kaitlyn. With the loss she became the third champion to lose a non-title match. Not ever. On this edition of Raw!
"This match makes my eyeballs very happy." Jerry Lawler. Puppies!
"Is that the larger one King?" JBL teasing King for referring to one of the Bellas as "the larger one."
Imagine if King hadn't referred to one of the Bellas as the "larger one." That gave the announce crew something to focus on and saved this segment from complete failure.
Cena normally gets a mixed reaction from the crowd. A handful love him, a growing contingent boo everything he does. But not in South Carolina.
Remember the great crowd from last week's Raw? This is their Bizarro, a crowd that loves Cena and hates everything else.
Cena comes down and does a weird interview where he channels pieces of The Rock and a bit of Thunderbolt Patterson—perhaps a misguided attempt to connect to the Southern crowd. It doesn't work as they start a boring chant almost the moment Ryback hits the ring to stare into Cena's beady eyeballs.
Excuse me—the Ryback.
Eventually Ryback bails without meeting Cena's challenge, and then The Shield hits the ring to teach the WWE champion a lesson. The Ryback, trying to earn his heel bona fides, simply watches as his former friend takes a sustained beating. Dastardly!
"The champ is here. And the Ryback is there. And the champ has a little business with the Ryback. So they Ryback, get here right now." John Cena. Seriously, someone scripts this stuff?
"The WWE universe see what I see. 290 pounds and you've destroyed everything in your path...Someone like me should be shaking in my boots, about to wet my khakis." Cena. His accent here is completely ridiculous.
"You sat and you waited until my back was turned to knock me down." Cena.
"Do you know who you're dealing with jack?" Cena. The 70s called and want their promo back.
"You lack the two most important things you need to be a champion. The space between your ears and the piece between your legs." Cena in the one solid line of the segment.
"Cena and Ryback are in trouble." Michael Cole as the announcers pretend Ryback isn't going to leave Cena hanging.
Cena referring to Ryback as "the Ryback" was pretty funny. Not quite as funny, however, as Ryback flexing his pecs pretty much the whole time Cena was talking. Only Lex Luger is his equal when it comes to sustained pec flexing.
The purpose here was to establish the Ryback as a heel. The crowd cheered him a little too hard last week I guess. This was the WWE's way of eliminating any ambiguity here. You'll cheer for John Cena marks—and you'll like it. That's the bottom line because Stone Cold Vince said so.