Surprisingly, the opening shot of the night was CM Punk sitting cross-legged in the ring in spotlight. It amazed me how Punk managed to make a warm, home-town crowd, turn on him almost instantaneously. Punk could have been describing the early build for his match with Randy Orton when he called Orton complacent after punting the New Nexus in the head. Indeed, it seemed that way last week when Punk managed to trap Orton, and again this week, Punk’s comments drew an injured Viper to the ring to face his antagonist. Orton got the upper hand initially, but when attempting to repeat another punt on Punk, his knee gave way (sold very well) and saved Punk. Looking back at the ring, the conniving Punk realised that Orton was vulnerable and re-entered the ring, attacking the bullseye on his knee and hitting a GTS to him before leaving the ring with a new confidence and a definite swing in momentum.
I have been saying it was a mistake to not make the most of the Edge and Christian reunion since it began at Elimination Chamber, so I was pleased to see them tag again on RAW. I would have thought it obvious, however, to have them enter the ring to their old music, so I was a little disappointed. Now my stream cut out lots during this match, so I can’t really say that much about it, but it seemed suitably lively to build well for Edge-Del Rio at WrestleMania. At first I was annoyed that the Canadian duo prospered 3 times in a row over Del Rio, but given that it was Clay, and not him, that got pinned, it didn’t seem so bad. Not only that, but Del Rio got the final word, locking in his brutal arm-breaker to the recovering Christian before laying out the World champion next to him. This has been one of those tit-for-tat rivalries, and will make for a good atmosphere in Atlanta.
There isn’t much to say about the Gabriel-Santino match. Wrestling, rightly, takes something of a back-seat to heat creating angles in the weeks before WrestleMania, and this match was simply an angle to set up a four on four match at WrestleMania between Corre and Santino, Kozlov, Kane and Big Show, which will add some much needed diversity to a WM card consisting mostly of one-on-one encounters. Well, you couldn’t have a ‘Mania without Kane, Big Show and Wade Barrett!
The next segment was fantastic. I expected the face-off between Undertaker and HHH to be compelling, and i’m sure it would have been anyway, but when Shawn Michaels involved himself, it became absolute gold. After some classic supernatural flexing from ‘Taker when he interrupted The Game’s entrance with a gong, I was wondering what could possibly happen between these two; they couldn’t fight, and it seemed like they might simply stare at each other in a flacid refrain to the chilling 2 21 11 promo. Then, Shawn Michaels hit. The Showstopper is obviously one in a million, and he injected yet another emotional context in to this rivalry. Before, it was hard to see HBK as impartial, but he seemed to challenge HHH at every turn, asking what makes him think he can do what he couldn’t against The Deadman. HHH responded by repeating one of the major stories of this feud, that he is calculated and remorseless where Shawn got ‘soft’. Undertaker said Trips’s confidence would be his downfall, and Michaels seemed to agree after Taker blocked an attempted Sweet Chin Music after things started to get heated. Obviously seeing this as telling, Shawn literally, ran away from HHH’s request to tell everyone why he would win, mouthing ‘You can’t win’ back to his friend. Fantastic promo, and fantastic build. My only problem with it is that I would have liked it to have been swapped with an earlier promo. Deep down, we all are sure Taker will win, so the most pro-HHH promo the better, and one where Trips seems vulnerable in the go home show was perhaps not best advised. Nonetheless, spectacular stuff, and proof of the power and talent of all involved!
I would have liked to have seen a longer Swagger-Lawler match, as it could actually be excellent, but time constraints were obviously a problem on Monday. It was all pretty standard build, but the bit I really liked was at the very end when Cole provoked Lawler, ran to his ‘Cole Mine’ leading to Lawler clawing at Cole while being held back by security and allowing Cole to throw his drink in The King’s face, further establishing his pettiness. This was a great way to make the moment when Lawler finally does get his hands on Cole even more satisfying.
Bryan and Morrison vs Sheamus and Ziggler was in theory a great way to build both of the matches those guys are involved in, and I suppose it was somewhat successful in that, but it was too short to build anything impressive. It makes me wonder whether the final RAWs before Mania should be 3 hour affairs … There might be a post in that. Elsewhere, we had a field segment between LayCool and Trish & Snooki which was obviously cut short, causing it to lose some of it’s impact. Nonetheless, I like angles away from the arena. It adds to the ‘big deal feel’ of WrestleMania for me.
The final seg was the long-awaited, much-anticipated, showdown between The Rock and Cena (and Miz, of course). Great choice by WWE to tape in Chicago as they go nuts for The Rock, and shouting loud that they are part of ‘the millions’. Rock cuts a classic ‘Rock’ promo, expertly mocking Cena (who looks like a homeless power ranger) while making himself seem like an irresistible force. Then we hear Cena’s music and it’s on! The two exist together in the ring in a vision that is amongst the most eagerly desired in wrestling history. The Rock paces the ring like he used to, showing just how much he wants to get at Cena. Cena’s rebuttal was strong and suitable not in the form of rap; he asked Rock what exactly his problem is with Cena, and build’s it to the highly intense question: Who the hell are you? Who is the Rock to question Cena’s lifestyle and character? This is crucial. After all of the jokes, Cena did what Rock asked, and addressed him and his issues man-to-man, and just as Cena’s invitation to a fight was about to taken up by Rocky, who said that even the good lord can’t save him from having his ass whipped all over Chicago, out came Miz (with Alex Riley) for their rub off the two. Miz largely holds his own with Rock and Cena, calling them the two O’s: Overhyped and Overrated. Crucially again, Miz says that at least Cena will ‘go down swinging’ whereas Rocky will not risk his post-wrestling acting career by actually acting physically. Then, after Cena has left the ring and Rock tells Miz that it doesn’t matter what he thinks, Riley cheap-shots Rock and a beat-down begins while Cena stands outside, unlike a hero, not intervening. Rock recovers and lays the smackdown on Riley over the top rope in classic fashion before a characteristic DDT and finally a People’s Elbow to Miz. Then, from behind, Cena picks up Rock and hits an Attitude Adjustment to the Great One. This was again crucial. After explaining how he was facing Rock face-to-face, an attack from behind is hardly an act of a hero, and was met with a huge chorus of boos as Cena gave a self-congratulatory ‘You Can’t See Me’ taunt to the fallen People’s Champ. What am I saying? That this wasn’t far from a heel-turn in itself. It’s difficult to see how we can have what would be many people’s nightmare scenario of Rock and Cena palling up at Mania. It was more physicality than I expected, but it certainly left a lot of huge questions for Sunday.