SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
RISING STAR OF THE WEEK: Neville
Last week he was an honorable mention; this week, the self-proclaimed “King of The Cruiserweights” claims his “Rising Star” Throne (Neville totally looks like a Night’s Watchman by the way, definitely killed a Whitewalker or two in an alternate universe). You could make a cornucopia of arguments for several other wrestlers for this spot (and that will be evident in my list of honorable mentions), but it was Neville who had the greatest week out of anyone.
Winning against a lukewarm babyface, meh, alright, nothing to write over the pond about (don’t even get me started on Michael Cole underselling Neville’s handful of tights; J.R., dear God, come back), but anyone under 6-0 not named Enzo Amore getting a chance to speak on Raw? Just about as rare as a Stephanie McMahon segment where she doesn’t get the last word, which is Bigfoot sighting levels of scarcity. Then “205 Live” was pretty much a Neville narrative, complete with a sassy sit-down interview and, yes, another “W” against a lukewarm babyface. Neville is just aggressively good in this new role. I hope he just goes on a rampage of launching the lukewarms into barricades week in and week out until he finds the perfect Jon Snow to stab in the stomach.
Braun Strowman: Yeah, you could absolutely put Braun in this week’s top spot, but let’s be honest, is it really for the right reason? I mean, we cheered him for stopping a filler of a match between travel agents and two guys who look like they just won a spelling bee. The monster hipster did manage to show a little personality in his backstage segments, but Stephanie made it clear she could manipulate him and he still looked like a big dumb oaf stomping and scaring off writing assistants like they were in a Scooby Doo episode. If him destroying the entire mid-card is WWE’s distorted way off hitting the restart button on their booking strategy then by all means, Braun, throw Christmas trees during every segment, but just make one thing clear to me: why are we supposed to boo you?
Jack Gallagher: I’m begging you, Jack, just give me one good reason to not keep including you on this list. “A Gentleman’s Duel” in WWE initially sounds as enticing as a “Dance Off” or an “Arm Wrestling Match”, but I’d be damned if Gallagher didn’t make this two day angle work, all the way from the glove slap to the umbrella taps. From his line delivery to his body language, he’s absolutely the best babyface going in the cruiserweight division, which also puts him in the top three babyfaces of Raw, sadly (not counting Jericho and Owens, because they’re buddies!) Seriously, if you haven’t watched that segment yet, do it. It’s a total payoff to hear the crowd’s reaction when Gallagher goes all Roadrunner to Daivari’s Wile E. Coyote.
American Alpha: This one’s kind of weird, not because American Alpha aren’t great, but because of how it happened. Didn’t we all kind of figured at the start Alpha would be chasing the titles? Suplexing and showcasing their way through that “robust” tag team roster on Smackdown? Or more realistically, just feuding with the Usos for awhile? Instead, we had them jobbed out unceremoniously several times and diluted in what seemed to be a countless plethora of 30-men tag matches. American Alpha are very much like the much anticipated deaths in this season of the Walking Dead, by the time we figured out who died, the emotional reaction wasn’t as powerful as it could have been if we would have seen who got smacked with Lucille at the end of last season (or in America Alpha’s case, when they first got drafted). Great, now all I can picture is Vince as Negan (yikes, and it’s frighteningly accurate)
Goldberg: Bill doesn’t even have to be on Raw to get an honorable mention. The simple action of WWE promoting his story and his return to Raw is good enough to get him on this week. He’s still the hottest babyface on Raw right now and he just turned 50. Now, that number may give the older end of the show’s demographic some athletic hope, but it also reveals how extremely depleted the good guy side of the roster is.
FADING STAR OF THE WEEK: Stephanie McMahon
If you couldn’t tell already, I’m on a bit of a Stephanie rager, and you know what’s horrible about this rager? Stephanie’s “star” will never actually “fade” unless she goes off television or WWE goes under; that opening segment was more of an ode to “McMahon in an ivory tower” than it was of furthering any type of feud with Triple H and Rollins. Her literally sticking herself in between the already cringe-worthy rambling of Reigns & Rollins was further hammering home the point of who’s in charge. We’re always going to be stuck with her one-upping any wrestler that comes her way, any legend that sticks a hand in her face, or any “C.M. Punk” chant that attempts to hijack the show. If you’re a VIP member, I’d recommend you listen to Todd Martin’s beautiful rebuttal to Stephanie’s Monday “2:15” remark, as it makes us only wish someone not named McMahon was actually capable of saying that. There’s so many things wrong with WWE’s product right now, but Stephanie is one that really sticks in my craw, and not in the “I’m being worked” way, because guess what? There’s no payoff at the end of this booking rainbow.
Rich Swann: Remember back when wrestling wordsmiths like The Rock or Flair would shake their opponent’s confidence by calling them *gasp* a “sourpuss”? Who could forget Austin’s infamous promo at King of The Ring 1996 when he told a Freebirdin’ Doc Hendrix to get “that sourpuss” Jake Roberts “out of his ring”? I think no word forms a faster line at Space Mountain, honestly. Keep promos like that up Rich and Neville’s bitter bad guy act doesn’t stand a chance.
Nobody else really let me down this week, but with Smackdown beating Raw in the ratings, who knows who will start 2017 off on the wrong foot.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: RISING STAR & FADING STAR OF THE WEEK: Neville, Nikki Bella, Mojo Rawley, Miz, Swann, Perkins, The Shield