Did you miss me?

One of the best parts about WWE is you already know most of what is going to happen each Monday night. So I am already mentally preparing myself for the usual endless Seth Rollins promo(s), followed by him being put in some inexplicable match by corporate Kane. The John Cena U.S. Title open challenge will be a highlight I hope. The endless saga of Nikki Bella as the center of the Divas Revolution has been a disaster, so might as well watch that tire fire continue to burn. Surely round 300 of Reigns/Wyatt is on tap. And I sure can’t wait to see the next awkward chapter in the Lana/Ziggler/Rusev/Summer love rhombus.  I have been off since September 29 and I’m something close to kind of raring to go. Like riding a bike they say….

Monday Night Raw
November 16, 2015
Greenville, South Carolina

Wait…what’s this now? Seth Rollins is gone? A tournament is happening? Alberto Del Rio is back and hanging out with Zeb Colter?! What the hell did you people do with my show while I was gone? Did Bryan Rose cause this? We’re on the path to WWE Survivor Series 2015. Let’s do this. 

I would have continued with the gimmick, but I have to break it off so that I can lament that the most impossible to explain to a non-viewer stuff is leading off the show. It has taken three minutes for the Mrs. to ask me why on earth I decided to go back to giving up my Monday nights for this. Some things really do feel like home.

Kane and the Undertaker are teaming. In 2015. Any sort of joke I could make here would pale in comparison to the cosmic joke being played on me coming back to see this.

The blue light is terrible for Taker’s skin. He looks like a man in his 50’s with this light. I assume the Wyatt Family lost the claim ticket for their souls. I once lost a really cool shirt that way.

This interview is like walking in on a Sam Elliott Regional Soundalike Competition. No one from this is going to Nationals for a chance to win a chance to comb Sam’s mustache. None of them are going to get to do their own version of Sam’s dialogue from Big Lebowski. But at least the one old dude might get a nice trophy shaped like Virgil Earp.

Seriously, even Undertaker looks bored with this. He just wanted to get the beating of the sheep mask mooks over with. I wonder if sometimes he pitches gimmick changes to Vince. After all, he’s in the twilight of his career. Time to bust out some of those ideas he’s been hoarding for decades. Wouldn’t we all like to see Taker becoming Dalton Castle’s partner, or maybe he could create the New New Fabulous Ones with Kane? There are so damn many options for this legendary figure.

WWE Title Tournament Quarterfinal
Kevin Owens vs. Neville

It is kind of amazing to me that even though both of them have been on Raw for barely half a year, both Owens and Neville seem perfectly at home there. The idea of Kevin Owens as a bad ass heel is just a thing that happens on Raw now. There can be quibbles with choices made for him, but he’s not the comedy fat guy, he’s not doing a Bull Dempsey gimmick. He’s a top five heel in the company, and he is right at home doing it.

I wasn’t feeling this before the break, everything seemed just a bit off. But goddamn this second half, with the struggle for the Red Arrow by Neville was just awesome. Neville knows he has the ultimate ace in the hole, and he is doing everything possible to get Owens to lay down just long enough to hit it.

The more I think about that the more I love that sequence. Owens has the advantage the longer the match goes. He’s stronger, he’s harder to take down, and he can strike instantly with the murderdeathkill pop-up powerbomb. He didn’t have to be desperate and impatient. He just had to avoid Neville’s weapon. And Neville stopped at nothing to try to get that shot. If this is what I’m going to be dealing with upon my return this might not be so bad.

Change of format going forward. I’m not going to rate every match on this show. That would be ludicrous. But so that VoW doesn’t get left out of rating projects, any match over three stars will be given an official rating. And with that, I award this last match *** Winner: Kevin Owens

Tyler Breeze vs. R-Truth

I watched the episode of Unfiltered where Renee Young talks with Summer Rae. Summer came off so much better on there than she ever does on Raw. She’s not a game-changing talent, but I don’t understand why she is always so uninteresting as a TV character when she actually has personality. Oh wait, I remember now. It’s Raw, The idea of a likeable woman is anathema to them. At least Tyler has a pal to take selfies with.

This is exactly the sort of thing that WWE should be doing with new talent. There are plenty of “names” who the crowd knows and still thinks well of that can be jobbing to establish these new talents.

What the hell do these idiots have against lip balm? Any professional fighter is going to have their face lubricated well to make shots slide off and not cut them. Have neither JBL or Cole ever actually seen a professional fight? Does JBL base all of his fighting knowledge from old woodcuts of John L. Sullivan?

That was short and inoffensive. Except for the commentary. I forgot how much I really hate those guys. Winner: Tyler Breeze

WWE Title Tournament Quarterfinal
Dolph Ziggler vs. Dean Ambrose

The slow start is working for me. Two guys with no significant grudge or personal feud should approach this more like a sporting contest.

Even the announcers have trouble acting like WWE title shots are hard to come by.

The style clash of two guys who are always selling and always taking the offense is a noticeable thing. I appreciate that they’re showing these two as equal, but at some point the match would benefit from one of them taking the lead.

Did they just say that “The Lunatic Fringe” Dean Ambrose usually keeps a cool head? For a moment the three idiots were doing well, talking about the difference between a former champ and a guy who never had the belt. And then these things happen.

The dueling crossbody was nasty looking. I give them credit for keeping the theme of two equally matched guys going so deep into the match.

The finishing sequence had a few touches that made it feel different than usual. The close headbutt by Ziggler gave it a little extra gravitas, the idea that Ambrose and Ziggler are truly fighting for something, not just doing moves to each other.

Next week I’m going to be talking about Ambrose wearing a suit and selling out to the Authority aren’t I? Winner: Dean Ambrose

The New Day vs. The Usos & Ryback

Oh I have missed feeling the power…

The story of Kofi Kingston at Taco Bell is the apex of Table For 3.

I get New Day and Ryback together in the same match? This is like a WWE is giving me an olive basket.

I have dreams of a unicorn stampede. They are often followed by a koala riot.

If the announcers are digressing to the point of discussing Road House, I’m not really sure I can add anything to the proceedings.

There are classic, timeless pleasures in life. The feeling of waking up on a Saturday morning, looking at the clock, and rolling back over to sleep some more is a perfect thing. To nuzzle noses with a puppy, all wide-eyed and full of excitement, is unable to be improved upon by the works of man. A face in a tag match being beaten down, finally getting a tag but not having it be seen by the ref due to heel chicanery, is a gift from the heavens. It is joy and familiar and perfect. No matter what the crowd is like, what the year is, where the ring is at, this will get the crowd ready to burst when that face finally does make that hot tag.

The hottest this crowd has been all night was when Ryback finally got in the ring to murder New Day. Before all is said and done he will wear the WWE title again. I have deemed it so. Winners: New Day

WWE Title Tournament Quarterfinal
Roman Reigns vs. Cesaro

Cesaro is getting a talk from HHH. I hope Paul tells him to be less Swiss. 

This match should be good. The last thing it needs before it gets started is Roman with the microphone. Roman is just not good at exposition. He’s not a bad interview. He’s not someone who doesn’t know how to come across as cool. But dear sweet jesus tandem skydiving christ on a cracker why are you making Roman move the story forward? The pop he got when he first picked up the microphone was much larger than the one when he finished talking.

And then Cesaro cartwheeled on the ropes to get out of the corner. One day Vince and Guy Laliberte are going to decide to make all the money by having a wrestling themed Cirque du Soleil show centered around Cesaro throwing people into near earth orbit and cartwheeling around while Kalisto jumps off things.

JBL has pulled out Danny Hodge and Antonio Rocco references in this match. At some point I’m going to assume he has it out for me and is trying to make me give up and just start reviewing old AWF shows.

Roman just forgot which arm is hurting him. The announcers are trying to tell the story of Reigns not being able to use his right arm, but he is using his right arm all the time.

This match was exciting, but I was driven nuts by it. They kept showing Chekhov’s gun over and over, and then at the end it just stayed on the wall. I know there are people who don’t give a damn about selling in a match. In many cases I’m with them. I accept a match in the world in which it is presented. If the match is Honma vs. Ishii headbutting each other a million times and rising every time because they both ate a dragon before the match and consumed its fighting spirit, I’ll watch the match accordingly. If the Young Bucks are throwing superkicks like crazy and people are flying around the ring and everyone takes two seconds to recover and get back into the flying, that’s good. I don’t need selling, or body part work, or even a rational flow to enjoy the story if that’s not the story you want to tell me.

This match though, kept trying to tell me a story, and then forgetting the story it was telling me moments later. All the participants, the wrestlers, the announcers, the production staff, all were showing me that I should pay attention to Roman’s arm. This limb was barely dangling, a wrecked tattooed husk hanging on by a SWAT team vest’s kevlar thread. Could he overcome this challenge, how would he adapt, what would Roman do now that his main weapons were compromised? That’s the story they told me. I didn’t have to read into the match and apply a deeper reading, like the time that I tried to sell my English teacher on Heart of Darkness being a proto-Nazi text that inspired Hitler to write Mein Kampf. This time it was all being spoon-fed to the viewer.

But then nothing.

Roman threw over 15 lariats with the bad arm. He landed multiple Superman punches, a one arm deadlift powerbomb, and a finishing spear with the bad arm. That’s beyond just not paying attention. That’s having some sort of vendetta against the entire concept of selling. You would think his parents died because a fireman was too busy pretending to be tired from carrying the hose to actually put out a fire. In the eternal battle of cause vs. effect Roman was a drunken guy getting bleeped on sports talk radio for using a gay slur when talking about effect. Winner: Roman Reigns

The Dudley Boyz vs. Ascension

If you’re reading this review, and you’re feeling cheated because there is not enough discussion about this match, you may contact the management for a full refund. a 3-D happened. Winners: The Dudley Boyz

WWE Title Tournament Quarterfinal
Alberto Del Rio vs. Kalisto 

I’m sure there’s a story about how this came to be, but I don’t really know if I need or want to hear it. Alberto Del Rio is standing there while Zeb Colter rambles about made up countries. 

The benefit of a tournament like this is that it forces most of the participants to be humanized. Kalisto actually had an interview where he talked. Like a normal person, not just some wind-up toy that yells “Lucha” whilst pumping his arms. Fans get behind people, not characters. And tournaments give people something to aim for. Hell, even TNA could put together decent TV when they had the Bound of Glory series as a thing, and those people couldn’t make compelling TV out of the first cat walking on Mars.

Alberto seemed surprised at how quickly and easily Kalisto’s mask came off.

Oh the nasty slaps by Del Rio. Pretty sure Art Barr once caused a riot that lasted for a month when he did that to El Hijo del Santo.

That double stomp finisher sucks. Ronda Rousey lost, you can have the armbar back now Al. Winner: Alberto Del Rio

Main Event Contract Signing – Paige & Charlotte

Ignoring the months of awful TV, at least WWE is trying to make this match seem important. They’ve been airing clips from Paige and Charlotte interacting over the years, and the contract signing gets the main event spot on the go-home episode of Raw. The effort should be appreciated. It does not make up for six awful months of booking, but it is a good thing to see happen.

This could work in a different world. One where every other diva division angle didn’t revolve around jealousy and who is the prettier girl and the usual claptrap. This could have been a deep angle about a mentor who has let down the one who idolized her. Instead it is…well it’s this.

I’m going to say Saraya Knight never cared about WWE one single fig. I am fairly confident in this.

This promo is approaching exquisite corpse territory. Each person is saying their thing but it feels so disconnected.

I’m going to need @doctordala to weigh in on Paige’s eyebrows.

As someone who has grappled with mental illness and seen the ravages of addiction up close, I honestly am not bothered by this. A terrible person said a terrible thing to someone who she is being terrible to. I think it is a thorny area for WWE because they’re terrible at handling anything with nuance. I suspect in the end they will end up pissing off everyone because they’ll be too PC for some when they inevitably walk it back and too tasteless for others for doing so in the first place.

The current world of wrestling is hard to understand. Some real life things are part of the story. Some are not. We demand some aspects of real life be addressed in the performance. Others we want kept out of the spotlight. Charlotte has talked on many occasions about Reid Flair. He has become part of the character biography of Charlotte, as well as having been the real life sibling of Ashley Fliehr. Is Reid Flair’s death the same tragedy as Reid Fliehr’s death? Are the characters portrayed by the people we see on TV wholly compartmentalized, with their off-screen lives similarly reconstructed for use by their on-screen counterparts? I don’t know. To try to determine this sort of thing in-depth without any reflection seems pointless. I do know that in the moment I was not offended or upset. I just wish Charlotte had given more intensity in the ending brawl. Seemed like a missed opportunity.

Final Thoughts: It’s good to be back. I promise to return to whatever form I was in when I went on hiatus, and to bring back some digressions to the column. After all, it’s almost time for the holidays, an excellent time for talking about things that aren’t wrestling. Really a good show to watch. Everything moved with a purpose, lots of ring time, and only one cringeworthy promo. Okay, maybe two. But at least one ended with horrible personal insults.

See you next week. Send me birthday gifts this weekend.