Happy belated Fourth of July, wrestling fans. Yes, wrestling fans, not just American wrestling fans.
On the plus side, this “patriotic,” holiday episode of WWE Monday Night RAW is nowhere near as bad as it could have been. In fact, the dreaded barbecue food fight that opens the show is also nowhere near as bad as it could have been. It’s actually pretty well-directed shenanigans, albeit extremely kayfabe-breaking. (Why would Sheamus sit next to—and enjoy the presence of—Sami Zayn at the Social Outcasts’ table?!?) On the other hand, I feel like I have to personally apologize for WWE’s constant xenophobic pride that masquerades as patriotism. It’s the type of thing that makes foreign and even American viewers like myself frustrated to be WWE fans, especially when the company so often calls itself inclusive. Plus, the best matches on the damn card take place in the middle of the show, leaving audiences to witness one of the most dire WWE multi-man main event matches in recent memory.
You see, the main event is the culmination of WWE’s half-baked, red, white, and blue Funfetti tribute to America: a 16-man elimination tag team match featuring the super obvious Team USA versus the team that obviously can’t be called the League Of Nations now, The Multi-National Alliance. No, John Cena is not on Team USA—why do you ask?
The match is a mess, plain and simple. It’s a mess from the moment it’s announced on the RAW pre-show. It’s a mess when Big Show cuts a terrible, tone deaf (though well-acted) drill sergeant speech to his terrible team that only “co-exists” because of the power of “USA! USA! USA!” It’s a mess when you realize that WWE airs a Baron Corbin video package only to not put him, a man who consistently shows up and wins on RAW, on the team. It’s a mess when even a child wouldn’t buy Team USA as the better or even more entertaining team, and it’s a team full of wrestlers who pander to the simplest mindset possible. And that’s saying all of this with an appreciation for the work that the wrestlers on the team have done and do outside of this match. It’s just very difficult to believe the team that frequents Main Event, Superstars, and bad backstage bits (if they get screentime at all) is true competition to the team of comparatively young former world champions, men who are regularly called “fun to watch,” and the guys who are constantly in the conversation for midcard titles as more than just fillers for Father’s Day and patriotism. You know, just because of America.
Kyle Fowle and I have both mentioned it before, but WWE rarely tries to subvert the lowered expectations of its holiday episodes, while also treating the audience as though they’re wrong for not accepting chicken shit as chicken salad. John Cena does his best to hype up the crowd, but considering what they’re given after his promo and that the aforementioned two “true” main event matches happen right before it, why exactly, should they get or stay hyped? Typical WWE structure would place Seth Rollins versus Dolph Ziggler as one of the attraction matches, with the Dean Ambrose versus The Miz match as the wrestling main event (or vice versa, as we already saw the latter main event on SmackDown) and the John Cena promo as the true main event. But that’s not what happens here, and the crowd reacts in kind to all the good stuff having already happened. The crowd is quiet as hell when Golden Truth—who have a song that usually gets everyone involved—squash The Vaudevillains, and the same goes for the main event, where the crowd has the obligation of kind of cheering for Team USA against the clearly stacked team of foreigners. Even Cesaro signaling for D-Von to “go a-swingin’” doesn’t breech the crowd’s quiet force-field, but who can blame them? You can’t cheer a foreigner (even when he’s a face) on July 4, can you? WWE painted itself into this corner.
The main problem with this RAW is that it’s a full-sized RAW with only half as much genuine content as three hours should feature, yet WWE expects the audience to accept it like it’s full of great moments. The crowd pops hard for Vickie Guerrero’s “EXCUSE ME”-filled return, making her the one returning GM with unanimous praise, since Teddy Long ultimately came across like he was lost on stage and confused the audience greatly. And they have no problem chanting “This Is Awesome” at Seth Rollins versus Dolph Ziggler. Cena’s speech is when the crowd is lost, but who can blame them? At that point, they’ve seen/are seeing what should be the end of the show, and unfortunately, it’s not.
Also: Remember all that talk of the New Era? Well there’s definitely no place for that in the celebration of a nation’s 240th birthday; that joke of a main event makes that perfectly clear. Team USA is a team with Kane, Big Show, Mark Henry, Jack Swagger, the Dudley Boyz, and—a man who’s having the weirdest year of his career—Zack Ryder. Apollo Crews is there too, but really, did anyone notice he was missing in that list? Regardless, that’s the team that wins and not because the other team is the Social Outcasts, Ascension, and the ghost of Brad Maddox. (It’s not.) There’s also the Awesome Truth versus Vaudevillains match, which starts with the high note of Breezango’s ringside presence (while the Vaudevillains, of all teams, are already in the ring) bringing on the feeling that Tyler Breeze and Fandango are finally moving up in the tag team ranks… only for Golden Truth’s intro to turn that into the low note of realizing that the Vaudevillains have actually fallen way down in the tag team ranks. The brand split can’t come soon enough, just because the question of whether or not it will change the company’s reliance on the not-so-new-era (that have had years of irrelevance… except for when they don’t!) will then finally be answered. There’s the great chance most people won’t like the answer, but there will at least be an answer.
The Becky Lynch versus Summer Rae match is decent for what it is, but it’s got nothing on the Sasha Banks versus Summer Rae match on last week’s SmackDown (which was already a slightly lesser version of their Main Event match), and the first half of the show already has the fire segment between Charlotte (featuring Dana Brooke) and Sasha Banks. Becky Lynch is in the unfortunate position of being the Dean Ambrose (circa that monitor exploding in his face) of the “Divas Revolution” trifecta, except without the chance to show the same babyface fire. Sasha Banks gets that moment on this RAW though, and she absolutely slays. Becky Lynch may be the purest face on the women’s roster right now, but Sasha Banks has the opportunity to show off everything you could possibly want in a modern face of the women’s division. Becky has to feud with Natalya.
Rusev versus Titus O’Neil is the classic WWE match-up of wrestlers only being able to fight each other, even with the type of definitive results that should just put an end to the feud in the first place. Like the fact that Rusev beats Titus clean (which should really close this up) like he does again tonight or the fact that Titus can’t even beat Rusev without it being count-out (which shouldn’t put a person up for contention). (Actually, one can assume Baron Corbin’s absence on this RAW is because he didn’t know what to do once Ziggler had a match with someone else.) Rusev is too good to just be the “evil foreigner” of WWE, even though he excels at the role. Part of that is because he can barely keep up the broken English accent anymore, just like Lana’s Russian accent gets thinner on a weekly basis, but the greatest part of it is that he’s both too good on the mic and in the ring to be stuck in any sort of limbo. As it stands now, Rusev is one of the few wrestlers in WWE whose ringwork never feels stale or repetitive. That should be considered a commodity, not fodder for the next “patriotic” feud.
Titus O’Neil… is good at being a dad, apparently.
As for the feud between New Day and the Wyatt Family, while it should be something akin to a Shield versus Wyatt Family 2.0 (in terms of heat), it’s really on thin ice right now—and it shouldn’t be. Xavier Woods’ acting in these segments is top-notch, and this week’s material is the best so far. The fact that his trance-like states and his noticeable discomfort in these segments stem from his realization that the Wyatt Family is a truly serious threat (they’re a supernatural cult for crying out loud!) is a very nice touch. But if WWE really is all about storytelling, hopefully Xavier’s actual awareness doesn’t end up being a ruse for a booty joke. Or any joke at all; all he needs is the power of positivity, right? As long as the content is good, the friction of the storyline can work, even with the knowledge that New Day won’t break up.
But as fun as New Day are, nothing makes their current babyface schtick worse than their inability to take anything seriously. See: The entire incest tangent this week, just for starters. While the Vaudevillains’ gimmick sort of inspires constant mocking, that’s the last thing New Day should be doing with Wyatt Family, at least at this level of disregard and refusal to listen to what their opponent is even saying. Because a time machine is dumb but makes sense, but jokes about the Wyatts smelling are just downright lazy. Then again, WWE is still under the belief that the Wyatt Family can be taken seriously despite a constant stream of embarrassment and defeats. It’s almost like the Zack Ryder Principle, only WWE never wanted or expected that guy to be taken seriously. Except for when he squeaks out another “big” win, like he does for Team USA.
On second thought, WWE is highly illogical, and it’s not just the Fourth of July that makes that so. That’s the only thing that can, so far, “explain” the company’s approach to the Roman Reigns suspension situation. Seth Rollins is unanimously cheered on this RAW when he calls out how Reigns is a disappointment, especially since he’s supposed to be a role model. The same goes for when Rollins call himself the hardest working man in the company. Why shouldn’t they cheer? He’s not wrong (for the “hardest working” point, the man had about 20 matches in the month of June, when he returned to in-ring action), and the same “disappointment” line would be true if John Cena messed up this badly, even if he were to “own it.”
Even more telling is the cheers Rollins gets even as he runs the crowd down and compares them to Reigns. Rollins is doing his best to be hated, but how can a crowd truly hate someone who’s proven they want it the most (again, the WWE 24 documentary rears its ugly head), consistently steals the show with his ring-work, and most importantly, wins clean. Rollins beats Ziggler clean in the middle of the ring right before he cuts that promo. What’s to boo? Rollins just came back early from a career-threatening injury, while Reigns is missing time because he got popped for a Wellness Policy violation. And honestly, recent months have shown Reigns probably wouldn’t have wrestled as much on the shows as Rollins or Ambrose are right now. For all the blind “USA! USA! USA!” chants that the crowd is obligated to chant (which they pretty easily give up on by the main event), they can still spot bullshit a mile away. WWE’s insistence on making Rollins the heel—especially since the current “heel” Seth Rollins is a very different beast than the pre-injury heel Seth Rollins—because he’s good at his job is the type of WWE logic that makes anyone who’s in a healthy relationship or just a good friend a heel. Because talent, love, or even friendship is for suckers, apparently.
Again, Titus O’Neil got his first title shot by shouting at Rusev to “FIGHT,” right after Rusev would win matches and Titus would have none to even put him in contention.
There is good tucked into this episode of RAW, even within the standard bad, but said good will surely be played in replays and video packages to come. If you missed this, you’ll be fine in the future when it comes to seeing the good stuff. Enzo listing the United States presidents, in order. The Dean and Seth matches. Sasha Banks breaking down boss scripture. Summer Rae being on television. #VickieRunsSmackDownLIVE. The Club beating up John Cena. The Multi-National Alliance, despite having to be called the Multi-National Alliance. A Real Americans mini-reunion that should never go any farther than that. The mystery of who exactly pied Kevin Owens’ face. It’s padded with a lot less good, and WWE makes sure the audience (both at home and in the arena) knows it’s their fault for not being as into the nothing the show gives in return as they should be. Happy Independence Day, everyone.
- RESULTS: Rusev defeated Titus O’Neil (United States Championship); Enzo & Cass defeated The Social Outcasts (Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel); Dean Ambrose defeated The Miz; Seth Rollins defeated Dolph Ziggler; The Golden Truth defeated The Vaudevillains; Becky Lynch defeated Summer Rae; Team USA (Big Show, Kane, Apollo Crews, Mark Henry, Dudley Boyz, Zack Ryder, and Jack Swagger) defeated The Multi-National Alliance (Cesaro, Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, Lucha Dragons, Kevin Owens, Chris Jericho, & Sami Zayn)
- Titus’ Uncle Sam costume was very insensitive, given Brett Gelman’s recent announcement that Uncle Sam (who is a real person) committed suicide. Very insensitive.
- Now that we know Darren Young will be using the Crossface Chickenwing when (if) he finally hits the ring, this tweet makes a lot more sense.
- For what has to have been the first time ever, JBL brings up Dean Ambrose’s hair (or lack thereof) when Dean is on guest commentary. We’re all in agreement it was a line Vince fed to JBL just to remind everyone’s Dean’s not “The Guy” and for Vince to publicly point out a problem he has with Dean’s look, right?
- How can I not root for the guys who just want to beat up John Cena? The Club (at least, AJ) has clearly cracked the code to how this whole thing works. They’re just having fun! I am sorry Enzo and Cass don’t also know how this whole thing works though…
- As Dolph showed up in the backstage Vickie segment, I quickly repeated to myself: “Please don’t be a piece of shit.” His “I’ve never seen this woman in my entire life” barely breaks a two on the Dolph Ziggler “piece of shit” meter, so it works out. Especially followed by the very sad continuation of his phone conversation: “Yeah, I lost again. But I tried really hard.”
- The Shining Stars now just get “pictures” of fireworks as their greenscreen background. Please just shut it down so they can get to their next gimmick: Primo grows out his hair and pretends to be Carlito. If Epico can slim down, maybe there will be hope for him as an eventual Sin Cara Tres.
- The main event gets points for Sami and Kevin ruining things by getting into another punch-off, but it loses points for Kane getting DQ’d for chair-hitting someone who was already DQ’d (and commentary pointing out their company’s terrible booking in real time) and for no one ever attempting to break up a simple pin. This was the main event.