I’m sorry I had to leave you stranded last week. I had a severe case of what doctors call the DEATH COUGH. I have since replaced my lungs with two mylar balloons with John Cena’s face on them so now every breath I take is overcoming odds. Go me.

To celebrate my triumphant return over the forces of bronchial trauma, and the thing happening on the 25th I come bearing so damned many gifts I ran out of elves and had to borrow some Oompa Loompas to help carry them all. You’re getting Xmas songs. You’re getting the incredibly hackneyed gimmick of “giving gifts” to famous people. An embarrassment of riches upon you!

Monday Night Raw
December 22, 2014
Target Center – Minneapolis, Minnesota

This week I will watch the recap. Finally, it serves a purpose. Well, a purpose other than giving me 2-3 minutes I can fast forward through each week. Over the course of a year that’s one episode of Raw I didn’t have to watch. Guess that’s their gift to me.

And of course this week there is no recap. How will I ever know if John Cena overcame any odds last week?

Oh dear God a Piper’s Pit with Rusev? Short of possibly bringing Mae Young’s corpse out for one last glimpse of puppies I can think of no less exciting segment to tease.

Jerry Lawler looks more dignified in his “ugly sweater” than he looks most any other week.

Hulk Hogan calling Roman Reigns “The Bad Guy” is okay if gimmick infringement. Calling Bray Wyatt “kooky” is just awful.

Heard from the other room after Cole says John Cena is here, “Is he ever not?” No my love. He is always here, and no matter how hard he tries to be funny or cool or anything one could enjoy, he is always the absolute worst.

Where does Santa Claus, or Hulk Hogan for that matter, rank in the WWE hierarchy that he would have power to overturn previous decisions? Would the Bunny be the deciding vote if they disagreed?

Seth Rollins has a bit of the Randy Orton over explainer gene in him. He’s right about John Cena’s voice though.

I’m having trouble seeing what heights John Cena has taken the industry to. Losing ⅔ of the audience from the Monday Night Wars? Being on top for the bloody death of PPV? Being the face of the underperforming WWE Network?

Since most of these people will surely be out here again tonight, let’s think about what we could get Hulk Hogan for Christmas. While the jokes are so frightfully easy to make, I’m in a generous mood tonight. Let’s give Hulk one more match at Mania. Hell, bring up Sami Zayn and have him get some reason why he needs Hulk to team with him against baddies. I know Hulk still has thoughts of a title run or whatever but I’m giving out gifts, not miracles. I hated Hogan for 20+ years but I would pop something fierce for something like that one last time at Mania.

John Cena vs. Seth Rollins: I hate when they have a match flow right out of the first segment. It makes me feel like I’ve been watching this segment for a month now.

I honestly wonder sometimes if the announcers actually hear each other. They’ll seriously go off on each other like they only heard a summary of what the guy before them was saying.

OH GOD ANOTHER COMMERCIAL! Three straight segments of John Cena is enough to make me bust out the bourbon.

Rollins and Cena has now pretty much been happening on Raw for an hour straight going back to last week. Even soap operas at least use the amnesia crutch to explain the same things happening over and over and over again.

Lost in the midst of all this is that Rollins has a beautiful fluidity about his movements. And a discomfiting awkwardness about others. He should pretty much always be jumping, landing, and getting ready to jump again.

I hope this crowd maintains this level of interest for segments that don’t make me think constantly about ending it all. I also hope people stop overusing the “This is awesome” chant. This is not awesome, unless awesome is going to be defined as “things happening.”

Just in case you were worried about Cena’s odds overcoming skills after last week, let the sight of John Cena beating up three men at once, including your lead week-to-week heel, reassure you of the powers of hustle, loyalty, and respect. Winner: CENAWINSLOL

I’m not sure whether I need something to cheer me up or something to match my melancholy after that seemingly endless segment. Hell, let’s do both at once. A bouncy Christmas ditty about being alone at this time of year. “Christmas Never Comes When You’re Alone” by Tralala.

And what to give to our indefatigable warriors who were on my tv for something in the neighborhood of 21 hours? For Seth Rollins, I give him two things. First, the letter “g” that I always have to delete after I type his name as “Rollings”. Second, weekly training with Daniel Bryan so he can learn how to look like he’s actually running across the ring instead of whatever the hell that weird turbostomp is. For Mercury and Noble, because I love them with all my heart, I hope they get another six months of taking sick bumps like the double AA they took tonight. And then finally they just let Noble snap and beat the hell out of everyone. And for John Cena. I would give him the bookshelves full of poetry lining the wall of my living room. He’s got to be tired of just reading Dylan Thomas over and over again. Some Robinson Jeffers or Ai or Richard Jones would do him some good.

My God I wish I could get a good picture of the still frame I paused on. Kane looks like someone just told him that Rand Paul became a Socialist.

Jack Swagger vs. Fandango: So Fandango only has one thing of note about his entire character. Without his dancing to the ring he’s IRS in a slightly more see-through shirt. So let’s join this match with both men already in the ring.

To be fair, I said that last thing assuming there was no way that Fandango was going to win. But hey, why not have Fandango win? Let’s never let anyone get over in any significant way. Next week I expect him to lose to one of The New Day after Fandango puts down their dance skills. Winner: Fandango

A thought on Dolph Ziggler and “stealing the show” as a character trait. In and of itself it means nothing in the construct of wrestling that Dolph wrestles exciting matches or has a crowd-pleasing style. He would be more successful if his style involved one move knocking his opponent out for an easy victory 30 seconds in. The idea of wrestling just to make himself look good is kind of a heel trait when you think about it.

But Dolph is now a humble face who wants to make the WWE Universe happy. He’s still stealing the show, but how does that help make him someone the fans should want to see win, and how can he carry our hopes for overcoming evil if he’s too busy looking at the replay on the Titantron to see if he’s got appropriate swagger?

Brazilian soccer players are well aware when they pull on the national kit they are now part of the legacy of jogo bonito. It is not enough for a Brazilian national team to play well and win games. They feel obliged by history, by the fans, by the samba beat of their homeland to play with a unique verve and grace. To be beautiful. It is part of their identity, and for this they are beloved. Dolph Ziggler needs to embrace jogo bonito. The desire to make something amazing for the people who cheer for him, to not just win but to win in a way that only Dolph Ziggler can win. Anyone can win a match. Hell, Fandango just won one. But Ziggler is the only one who can win with beauty.

(Note: this last part is invalidated if/when Tyler Breeze comes up to the main roster. He’s got this beauty thing down pat.)

With all this talk of beauty and of people trying to look their best, how about a holiday tune with what I consider one of the more beautiful music videos I’ve seen. “Winter Song” by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson.

As for gifts this year, for Jack Swagger the best gift I could give him would be CM Punk somehow making the transition from WWE to MMA. Then maybe Swagger could go do something where moving like he’s part-gorrilla and part Frankenstein’s monster wouldn’t be such a hindrance for him. For Fandango I give him TNA having an even more improbably successful transition to Destination America. Look what going there did for Derrick Bateman. Surely some other old time NXT dudes could benefit from the change of scenery. And for Dolph Ziggler I give him a flip phone with no internet access. It’s really the best thing for him.

Okay now WWE is seriously just trolling me with the extended New Day promo, followed by Adam Rose appearing. I’m told one of my favorite people appeared on Raw as a Rosebud. Contrary to rumors it was not Jimmy Jacobs appearing on Raw causing me to quit this review. Though had I been watching it might have done so. I blame Rich. He whispered in someone’s ear to make this happen.

Adam Rose vs. R-Truth: The match ended before I could even say something about R-Truth being left out of The New Day.

That bunny sure takes a hell of a bump. Kudos to the folks chanting “one more time” as the Bunny lays on the ground in pain. If this doesn’t end with Leo Kruger in the ring holding the Bunny’s head as a trophy I will be supremely disappointed. Winner: R-Truth

Since that may have been the worst segment ever, seems only fitting that we kick back with a song about “The Worst Christmas Ever” by Sufjan Stevens.

As for gifts for this motley crew, I give Adam Rose a one-way ticket back into the South African jungle. For the Bunny I give him being unmasked as Brad Maddox just for the hell of it. For the many very talented female wrestlers (Candace LaRae, Nikki Storm, Heidi Lovelace, Crazy Mary Dobson among others) I wish eventual employment in NXT and eventual spots in the women’s division that exists only in my head after Dave Prazak is given total creative control over them and 25 minutes on Raw each week. R-Truth gets a vaping starter kit. And Jimmy Jacobs gets a knock on the head that makes him forget he ever stopped acting like the Berzerker.

Roman “The Bad Guy Hound of Juggernautish Justice” Reigns vs. Big Show: I just watched the Paul Heyman documentary and one of the best parts was every time Big Show would start doing impressions. I bet Big Show is one of the best people on the roster to hang out with.

Glad neither guy was too angry with each other to not work in holiday references into their inset interviews. How long are we going to do the Roman Reigns entrance through the crowd? Unless it’s going to culminate with the longest most Spinal Tap like entrance ever at WrestleMania it is time to put that to bed.

Always good when the face of the future and possible WM main eventer is getting “Daniel Bryan” and “Boring” chants.

Every match is always the same no matter who is in the ring. Why must a match like this follow the same template as Cena vs. Rollins?

A certain sort of wrestling fan likes to brand certain types of wrestlers as “spotty” usually in reference to small flippy guys.Yet Roman Reigns might be the most spot-dependant wrestler in the company right now. His matches are disjointed bores just waiting for his few big moments. That last match was essentially a chinlock and 2 Superman punches. When WWE has to put him in 20-30 minute matches (because again, we can never deviate from formula) it is going to be a disaster of Heidenreichian proportions. Winner: Roman “Ryback” Reigns

And now Renee Young doing what she does best. Trying to make Dean Ambrose love her the way he loves Bray Wyatt. Stop interfering in their business Renee. These are violent men with violent hearts beating in time with the laughter in each other’s heads. You are beautiful Renee, but Dean is not your density. I know Dean keeps teasing you, but his heart belongs to another.

Ambrose being holiday centric somehow makes perfect sense to me. He’s crazy enough to end up looking for Santa and talk to some random dude about beating up Bray Wyatt while the mall cop just hopes the large crazy man will go away before he has to radio for backup. I imagine Dean Ambrose randomly watching some really cheesy Christmas films from back in the day and being very upset if someone interrupts him while he’s watching Holiday Inn. Is he doodling the words “Mr. Dean Wyatt” on a notebook while doing so? Possible. Definitely possible.

Well, since we’re talking old Xmas movies, this seems a good time to bust out, from Meet Me In St. Louis, Judy Garland doing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. A depressing song sung so sadly. Once on a cold Chicago night many years ago I went to the Ivanhoe Theatre (now a liquor store) and watched Will Kern’s genius play Hellcab. The story of a Chicago cab driver having the longest day and night of sorrow and joy is truly heartbreaking. The last moments of the play are set to this song, as the enormity of everything overwhelms the cabbie. I wept unabashedly at this song, and even now it makes my heart stir.

What the hell to give the people in this last segment? For Roman Reigns I give him a Bill Goldberg compilation and some rope to tie the writers down with as they watch how to push a monster in squash matches. For Big Show a gold watch and a gig as a WWE ambassador. It’s time to let the big body rest and enjoy your life. Even if you’re not going to kick it due to acromegaly you’re still a huge dude, and big guys tend to be on the short side of the life expectancy average. For Dean Ambrose I have nothing. The only gift he wants, the one he craves with every fiber of his being, is not mine to give. Only Bray Wyatt, giving and getting with hands and hearts, can give Dean what he needs this year. And for Renee Young, Jonathan Coachman’s phone number so he can set up an ESPN audition for her. She’s too good for this shitshow.

Brie Bella vs. Natalya: Sorry, I made myself an awesome grilled cheese and it distracted me.
Natalya getting a push based on what a jerk her husband is. Guess that’s better than a push based on farting. Just remember people, all women are evil or crazy. Vince McMahon says so. Winner: Natalya

If we use the Vince McMahon theory of gender relations, the man in this song obviously left because Darlene Love was a terrible harpy or a jealous lunatic. Hence her asking “Xmas Baby Please Come Home”.


No one in this segment gets gifts. Except Tyson Kidd who gets all the cat merchandise he could ever ask for. I’ve been dealing Bella storylines since the height of summer. Where’s my gift for that?!

Dean Ambrose somehow comes across as an actual human being even in a commercial for Smackdown. Doing stupid Freud impressions to a psychiatrist is the sort of thing that runs through normalish people’s minds. So it goes with Dean. His humanity in this cartoon environment is always a plus.

So The Ascension. Everyone is getting this wrong. They’re not Road Warriors knockoffs. They’re Demolition knockoffs. The Road Warriors were freaks of nature. Hawk and Animal were two of the most physically imposing dudes ever to get into the ring. Their gimmick could have been that of angry ice cream truck drivers and they would have gotten super over because they just wrecked everything in their paths (at least everything not named Larry Hennig or Crusher Blackwell). But Demolition were imposing by fiat. They were given all the trappings of being wrecking machines but to look at them was to see two big but not overly impressive guys. If The Ascension is to succeed it will be using the Demolition formula. WWE tells you they’re scary, gives them everything we associate with being scary, and hopes that people will then think they are genuinely scary.

Dust Bros. vs. Los Matadores and El Torito: My love of the Brothers Dust is unassailable but I can’t do it. Things happen, a midget does a springboard moonsault, and the Great Gazoo is referenced. This match was the very definition of filler.

Speaking of filler, let’s take what is usually a song we ignore because really how can you not ignore Silent Night? But just like sometimes a filler segment turns to gold (looking at you Mizdow), sometimes a song you know and are bored with becomes something entirely different. Something tender and lonely and full of a love that cannot quite find words without song. So here let’s listen to two versions of “Silent Night”, one by Priscilla Ahn, and the other by Lisa Hannigan.

Do any of these people deserve gifts? Not the Matadores. Their gift is continued employment. Anything else would be spoiling them far beyond what they deserve. For El Torito I give a time machine so he can go back to when the minis at least got to hang out with Sunny in her prime. And for the Dust Bros I would give you a functioning tag team division worthy of your efforts, but alas not even with the Lathe of Heaven could I craft such a thing.

Luke Harper should not be so coherent. It ruins the gimmick.

Dolph is looking a little like Bobby Eaton in certain shota. I did not expect that to happen.

Dolph Ziggler vs. Luke Harper: I can’t help but think that this whole “the champ has to say he’s ready before the match can happen” rule is a new one.

Dolph plays a good face in peril, but the fact that he seems to be doing that constantly is taking away one of his best attributes. His offense is exciting and allows him to connect with the fans. Rather than making his matches against bigger guys all about the banana peel why not let Ziggler maintain consistent offense using his speed, his creativity, and sometimes fall short because of his commitment to jogo bonito?

I’m sure it means nothing, but there is fun to be had in comparing and contrasting the crowd reactions to Roman Reigns and Dolph Ziggler this evening.

And the ending is a good example of what I would like to see after all that yakking on my part. His finishers chained together to knock out Harper.

Speaking of changing things up I really liked the post-match quick promo with Lawler in the ring. That sort of thing makes a moment feel more special and unique. It did make my angle alert radar start to ping mighty quick, but I’m actually glad it was just what it was. Winner: Dolph Ziggler

Watching Dolph turning into a star the last few months has been awesome. It has been…wonderful. I’m sorry everyone, that sort of stretch should be beneath me, but this show tries a man’s soul. So here is “Star of Wonder” by Tori Amos.

I gave Dolph a gift earlier. So all that’s left is Harper. Luke is getting a nice sized gift card to Michael’s. I want to see him expand on his vest making hobby. With the right materials and some time maybe he could graduate to making himself a nifty denim entrance robe. Sure he’s not a Renaissance Man like Erick Rowan, but he’s still obviously a very creative soul who needs an outlet.

Oh no oh no oh no oh no. Piper, Lana, Rusev, and Christmas. Thank God it’s after midnight so no one in my home will watch it, and thankfully no one I work with knows I write about this. Because this just has trainwreck full of racism written all over it.

Lana needs to talk slower. When she gets rolling the Floridian starts to creep out.

Was “Communist Scrooges” so funny he had to repeat it?

Well I guess that could have been worse. It just was kind of sad watching Roddy be slightly senile in the ring but he seems to want us to watch him deteriorate slowly but surely. So who am I to stop him?

But like I said, it is kind of sad. Seems like “All I Get For Xmas is Blue” is the kind of sentiment that fits in here. I’ll let Over the Rhine handle the music.

As for gifts out of this segment, the first one, and really the most heartfelt, is a comfortable rocking chair for Roddy Piper. I get no joy from seeing Roddy anymore, so really this is as much a gift for myself as for Roddy. For Rusev I have 100 gallons of whatever the hell he uses to keep his hair looking like that. For Ryback it would be too easy to say passes to an all you can eat buffet, so instead I’ll give him another chance to get over and not end up teaming with Curtis Axel a year later. And for Lana, a trip to the Cary Elwes School of Accents.

Paige, Cameron, Summer Rae vs. Emma, Naomi, Alicia Fox: Apparently Minneapolis is Paige Country. I guess given the winters there they can appreciate a lady who doesn’t tan. You remember that dream version of the women’s division I mentioned earlier? This match doesn’t happen there.

The most impressive thing in that match was Alicia Fox’s hat staying on. And of course Lawler says it just as I type it, rendering the thought horribly lame. I’ll give some credit to Naomi. Her offense looked unique and credible. I don’t know if she can put it together for an entire match of Raw length, let alone long enough to actually be a good match, but I’m at least curious to see her progress. Winners: Naomi, Fox, Emma

It’s cold in Minneapolis. One needs to stay warm. Perhaps by wearing a sweater. A “Christmas Sweater” by Brenda Weiler.

For all of the women in this match I give you the gift of trying to take you more seriously than your company does. And for Paige I give you the gift of your wonderfully insane Mum somehow just once appearing on Raw. Again, this gift is kind of for me as much as for you.

Jey Uso vs. Miz: I know Miz somehow main evented ‘Mania as a solo act, but he really works better when he has someone to bounce his awfulness off of. Really that’s been the case all the way back to his time on the Real World.

The last few minutes of this match were surprisingly good. Miz was moving more like an actual wrestler than usual. So much of the time it is like watching an actor acting at wrestling. In these few minutes he was wrestling. Fun sequence. Just the sort of thing Miz needs to keep doing if he wants to sniff the main event scene again.

One thing I’m seeing on the internet that I’m not really feeling is that people are taking Miz at face value regarding Naomi. Did I miss the part of the story where they stopped establishing Miz as a braggart and a liar? A man who screws with people for his own entertainment? A guy who abuses the one person in the world who really seems to like him? I don’t think I did, since I watch Raw every week and I know damn well nothing important ever happens on Smackdown. If this story ends up being like Jericho and Stratus where the heel develops real feelings for the female face then I will eat my words and give WWE a standing ovation for telling an honest to goodness story. But I know these people. Miz is awful, Naomi is just removed from being a cheerleader for a dancing dinosaur, Mizdow is so deep in the throes of Stockholm Syndrome I figure somehow he ends up with Naomi purely as part of his Method work. And I don’t even remember which Uso is married to Naomi right now. Miz is an awful person. Unless we are given a compelling reason to assume he is not being awful it is generally best to go with what we know of him. Miz has no friends, only people he can use for his benefit or his amusement.

Except in the production truck. Miz must have friends in the production truck. My feed went out just as the supposed grab of the trunks occurred. I have no proof Miz cheated. Clean win for Miz! Winner: Miz

Here I would have loved to link to a video of Paul Westerberg’s version of “Away in a Manger” but it is nowhere to be found on the youtubes. What better than a Xmas song from the leader of the best band ever to come out of Minneapolis? Thankfully the second best Minneapolis band also did a Christmas album. Low doing “Just Like Christmas” makes me smile. Hope it does the same for you.

For the Usos I give you the name “Steve” to use for one of you in place of your current alliterative nomenclature. It will make it much easier for me to remember Steve Uso. For Naomi, I give you the benefit of the doubt in 2015. For Miz I give him a clean slate with the higher-ups in WWE. The combination of a concussion, a Cenation, and a People’s Champion pushed him into the background of Mania, but he showed some very strong character work in the lead up to that event. One day it would be nice to see that again. For Mizdow I give him that thing Jim Croce so badly wanted. One day soon he will have a chance to capture time in a bottle, taking that instant when the crowd loses its shit because either he turns on Miz or Miz finally gets dragged to the side of good by Mizdow and Naomi. Either way he will have earned that roof-busting noise.

It’s good to be reminded from time to time that Mick Foley was once an awe-inspiring talent, not just a fat old guy with a Christmas obsession.

Bray Wyatt vs. Dean Ambrose: There’s been a shift in tone in Bray’s monologues the last month or so. For most of his time he has been straddling that line between face and heel in the way he addresses the fans. The announcers played into it by noting how many followers he had and how the fireflies were alight for his entrance. But since the Ambrose feud started he has stopped trying to bring people to his side. He does not talk to the fans trying to show them the error of their ways and offer them a chance to be by his side. He is telling them things and is frustrated by their refusal to understand. He’s given up on these people. He knows they cannot understand his mind or see the world through his eyes.

But one man can see the world the way Bray sees it. One very special man.

Dean Ambrose using the props and being entertained by the Christmas theme fits well with his personality. Dean is a fully formed human character. He bought Roman Reigns something for Christmas. He likely watched the Grumpy Cat Christmas movie. Of course he’s going to have fun wreaking havoc in a Christmas themed world. He understands the inherent value in wearing a large wreath while hurting someone.

Bray may be a Bayou hell demon or whatever, but he’s also kind of fat. Fat dudes need to slow the tempo from time from time. Good chance to plot future evil.

I loved the bulldog Ambrose hit Wyatt with late in the match. So many bulldogs look like the guy taking the move is compelled to fall simply because someone lightly held the back of his head. Ambrose on the other hand latched on and absolutely torqued his body up and out. It looked like he actually was yanking Wyatt’s head down into the mat. More moves need to be done with that sort of conviction.

I’m not going to act like this was Ishii v. Goto or something like that, but these two were connecting with things like it mattered to them tonight.

Chekhov’s Kendo Stick. A famous trope in all forms of entertainment.

Note to the fans. If you want to cheer for Dean, use a cheer for Dean. You don’t even need to change the hand movement. Take the fingers, point them in the air, and yell “Dean! Dean! Dean!” Same cadence so it shouldn’t be too hard to master. Winner: Bray Wyatt

If you’ve been reading these reviews you should know what gift is coming for Dean and Bray. In fact, just imagine them singing this to each other. Bray can be Shane MacGowan and Dean can be Kirsty MacColl. It would be beautiful. Two lovely lunatics duetting on the most lovely of all Christmas songs, “Fairytale of New York.”

And now all the songs have been sung and all the gifts have been gifted. The last gift is for you dear reader. If you’ve been reading these long rambles for the last few months I give you my deepest appreciation and gratitude. If you ever see me feel free to claim a free Christmas hug no matter the time of year.

And if you want to give me a gift, share this column far and wide. Put it on Reddit, put it on Twitter, put it on Facebook, tell your friends to come listen to the crazy man talk and talk and talk.

Happy holidays, my friends. Tell someone you love them, even if it is just yourself.