Going in to RAW last night, I was worried about the Viewer’s Choice aspect of the episode, given the car crash that last year’s version was; but was excited because I heard that Punk was going to make a huge ‘monumental’ announcement, and I knew Punk would deliver in some way. Having just finished writing up Capitol Punishment, i’m going to try and keep this one a bit more brief. It should be noted that, despite my previous skepticism, the ‘formerly creative’ guys (i.e. people who used to be on WWE Creative) have made it clear that these votes are legit, which is interesting and worth noting.
Punk came out first and simply told he truth: that he has beaten Cena and Rey Mysterio clean, and that he is the best wrestler (yes, he said wrestler!) in the world, which may actually be true. For this reason, he demanded to be named the #1 contender right then and there, and until he did, he was holding ‘an old fashioned sit in’ which evolved in to a snow angel, until an irate GM made him wrestle for it, and in a triple threat match. Great stuff, and there was more to come.
The first match saw the WWE Universe pick Kelly Kelly to take on Brie Bella for the Divas title. Now Cole made a seemingly small but actually big mistake in referring to Kelly as a former champion; this was so bad because a lot of the drama of this match was based on Kelly having never won the title before. Anyway, despite the relatively short length of the match, it was packed with action, and the Bellas again showed me that they are underrated as wrestlers, while Kelly is always improving. The finish came after a reversal of a victory roll from Kelly which was a nice progression and was a good way for Kelly to win the title. And, despite what hardcore wrestling fans might feel, it’s clear that Kelly really cares about her role and loves the business now. In fact, here’s a tweet from former head writer of Smackdown and ECW, David Lagana: “Congrats to @realkellykelly – who started in #ECW as “the dancing girl” and this actually means something to her.” So major props to Kelly Kelly, she’s worked hard and deserves this. She’s the top diva in WWE and if she keeps working, she could be a big big player.
Evan Bourne was out next, which I was excited about because following his outing at Capitol Punishment, he could be at the beginning of a push, and I was even more excited when I saw that Sin Cara was an option. Unfortunately, the Universe picked Mason Ryan (God know’s why!), which may not bode well for Cara, but also didn’t for Evan, as with Ryan being a future major player, he couldn’t lose and couldn’t really show off that much. Evan tried his best with Ryan, and it wasn’t that bad, but just a disappointment given the prospect of Bourne-Cara which I think WWE were pushing.
I have nothing to say about Kane and Mark Henry in an arm-wrestling contest, but I was interested and impressed by Henry’s initial promo, which was competent, confident, and threatening, and secondly, his World’s Strongest Slam to Kane through the announce table, again showing off his dominance. Now Henry goes through phases of being pushed as a monster, and it’s never really worked, so i’ll take it with a pinch of salt, but I think he’d work well at a higher level as a monster.
I was pleased to see a 2 out of 3 falls match on the card because they always have unique stories, and this one was Kofi’s rematch. This was nice, but it being on TV hurt it a little. For one thing, time restraints meant that the first fall was won during the commercial break, which I didn’t like because I think a fall should be shown, especially seen it was done in a nice way with a Zig Zag to the concrete. After a nice bit of back and forth and some nice progressions, Kofi maneuvered in to an SOS for the second fall. For the third fall, Dolph played a classic chickenshit heel nicely, escaping Kofi and going for his belt and the like. I didn’t like the finish though as Ziggler continued in this escapism and eventually coaxed Kingston to a position where he could hit him with a mic and gaining a DQ. Not only don’t I like it because while a DQ usually keeps the title with the champ, it is surely more complicated in a 2×3 falls match; but also because Kofi and Ziggler, good as it is, is getting a bit old, and with this ending, it’s probable that he will have another Kofi-Ziggler title match. I would much rather have seen Dolph win clean, though with dastardly tactic from Vickie, and move on to another challenger. If not Evan (coming off a loss to Ryan), why not bring out a brash Zack Ryder talking about his popularity and that he should have a title shot. I know a lot of people wont have heard of Ryder’s show, but to them it would draw heat because of his arrogance of assuming they know him. One final thing: it is now ridiculous that King continues, as a babyface, and representing a company that supports Be a STAR, to berate Vickie Guerrero for being ‘fat’. While Vickie is on record as saying she is ok with the jokes leveled at her because she is a professional, it is patently ridiculous to stick with the fat jokes. She is now almost as slim as the other divas, and to make that seem not good enough could have bad ramifications for impressionable female viewers.
The next match a fantastic, fantastic match for the #1 contendership between Punk, Del Rio and Mysterio, which was Falls Count Anywhere. Sometimes triple threats can be formulaic, with one guy being down while the others fight, and while that was the case here, the falls count anywhere stip allowed this to be more believable. The real quality of the match was simply on the fast-paced, unpredictable nature of the action, performed by three great wrestlers. I liked the new moves performed by some of the guys: Punk using a powerbomb, and Del Rio using a beautiful German Suplex with a bridge, something i’d like to see him incorporate to his move-set. As a lucha, Mysterio really turned it on, performing lots more exciting and varied lucha spots than usual. My favourite spot though was when Punk ran in to Rey’s lifted feet in the corner and fell, which led to Rey hitting a senton on Punk right up his body from head to toe before getting right to his feet and charging to the other side of the ring before hitting a suicide dive to Del Rio outside the ring. The action was great and surprising, but the drama was really well realised as part of a triple threat match with some pins or submission attempts seeming like sure things, only for the third guy to break it up, from nowhere. The end was like this after Rey hit a 619 and a springboard splash in what seemed like leading to a shock win for Mysterio. At that point, Punk entered the ring, again from nowhere, to send Rey in to the post and steal the pin for major heat and a major victory.
After his victory, Punk went back to his sitting position (which I love!) to speak again. He said that his contract was up, coincidentally, on the 17th July, the night of the Money in the Bank PPV, in his home town of Chicago and threatening to make yet another shocking impact on the WWE Universe by beating John Cena and taking the title with him, out of the company. This was absolutely fascinating for several reasons. First of all, it toyed with the rumours surrounding his genuine contract status (as of now, it is not clear whether he has renewed his WWE contract), and so has an instant ring of truth to it, if not to the casual viewer (who may well believe it anyway given the legalistic way he talked about it: ‘On the 17th of July, my contract with World Wrestling Entertainment expires’ (there’s the W-word again!), than to those who follow his career and frequent the dirt-sheets. Now I doubt his contract does expire on that night, but it would be a good time to go if it is about to expire. It is also interesting because of what could happen if he does win and leave. Could he return with a new belt? Could it signify title unification? It’s impossible to tell right now, but it’s certainly a fascinating dynamic he (and WWE) have created, and it’s built a great deal of interest in the MITB PPV already, which can only bode well for the PPV. I hope he doesn’t go, and WWE and Punk will sure as hell not let any information about his status slip if possible, and they might even slip out some mixed red-herrings to throw us off the scent and make the whole thing even more fascinating.
Our penultimate match featured the exciting new feud of Daniel Bryan and Cody Rhodes, who, as it turns out, were very nearly the guys to wrestle the ‘bonus’ match at Capitol Punishment. Both of these two are top notch, and hopefully future champions, but for the mean time, they managed to put on a nice little match. In the ring, the two darted around, showing off great timing, innovative offense and the sort of energy which makes them great to watch. This match was made different to their recent encounters too by the people’s vote, which made it a No Count match, giving them free reign to grapple outside the ring. Though this wasn’t utilized to its entire potential, it is forgivable given the fact that they had to prepare for 2 other possible stips the Universe could have chosen. What they did do outside the ring was pretty cool, grappling up the ramp, and Bryan hitting a sick looking suplex on to the steel part of the ramp. Back in the ring, Bryan managed to out-wrestle Rhodes to a pin-fall, before countering an attempted attack from Rhodes in to the LaBelle Lock. It was at this point that DiBiase rushed the ring to help Rhodes, apparently solidifying his association with his former Legacy brethren (which had until now remained unclear). This is great because those guys worked together so well in Legacy, and also because it signals a maturation in terms of storyline. Indeed, while these guys are great performers and underrated talkers, what this really needs to explode is a compelling storyline. Rhodes has great heat and Bryan terrific potential as a big-time babyface, so with some sort of personal issue between them, I could see them being a highlight for Summerslam if built properly.
The prospect of appearances from Zack Ryder or Drew McIntyre faded quickly once it was announced that Vickie Guerrero would face off in a dance contest against Cole. This has been criticized because commentators have rightly said that people would rather see Ryder especially than this, and while I agree, I understand why it happened. 3 hour specials are meant to be exactly that: special, and so they are treated as such and feature segs that you wouldn’t usually see on regular RAWs or Smackdowns. Not only that, but comic relief is incredibly important in wrestling, and this certainly provided that. So while I missed Ryder and McIntyre, I appreciated the need for this, especially in a show which lasted 3 hours. Not only that, but I did find it very funny I have to say. So while I would never pick it as a particular thing I want from wrestling, I’m not going to blast it.
The main event was an elimination tag team match pitting Cena, Orton & Alex Riley against R-Truth, Christian & The Miz. Depending on whether you include Miz in this (him being a pretty well established main event star now), there were four ‘new’ main eventers in this match, showing just how hard WWE is working to build future stars. One thing I still hate about Riley is that they’re still dressing him as a heel, him wrestling in his old ‘Varsity Villain’ trunks. The guy’s having no trouble getting over, but don’t hamper him by making him look unlikeable! While I like elimination matches, this one was a little uninspired. Of course, they suffered from the same problem as Rhodes and Bryan, but it was a little uninspiring. I was pleased to see Miz gain the first pin-fall as he’s been getting beat a lot recently, the only problem was that whoever was to lose from the face team, it would be damaging; obviously Cena and Orton, both World Champions and top talents, would have lost out by being pinned, especially seen as neither will be battling him in the future, so it had to be Riley, who can do without any derailments to his push right now. At least it was done after Miz managed to take advantage of Riley being distracted (I suppose mostly neutralizing the derogatory effect on Riley’s rep). Miz himself was next to go, solidifying his recent slump somewhat, but then again, whoever was to go from the heels would have been damaged, and I suppose Miz is the most resilient, being as I say, firmly established at the top, while Christian and Truth are genuinely on the bubble between top and upper-mid card. As is so often the case with these matches, they accelerate incredibly at the finish, and after Truth fell to Orton, Christian capitalized with a Spear to earn a very dear pinfall against the World Champion, supporting even further his claim to another title shot at Money in the Bank. Unfortunately for him, his elated showboating allowed Cena to position himself well to beat Christian which he did soon after with an AA. This led to a ‘feel good’ ending with Cena and Orton together again on RAW, celebrating together with their respective championships. Now Christian pinning the champ was something I really approved of, as it gave Christian a really good foothold to demand another shot at Orton’s title while reinforcing that he can beat the Viper. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much for Truth, who was not even mentioned in the #1 contender’s picture and so is between feuds; as well as the close of the show not seeming very interesting, either in surprise value, or with regard to the MITB PPV. I think I would have preffered it if the match was the same up until Christian pinning Orton. Then, with Cena readying himself for the AA, I would have had the disgruntled Truth come out and hit Cena with his finisher with the ref distracted by Christian/Orton, allowing Christian to pin Cena too (making him look great and also shocking the crowd). Then, after celebrating, Truth and Christian start to beat down the champs. Riley returns to the ring and fends off the heels briefly when Miz appears and finally nullifies him (making both look strong). They beat them down for a while before the faces recover somewhat. Punk’s music hits again, and here comes Nexus. Punk watches as the faces, now completely outnumbered, are destroyed. Christian Killswitches Orton and throws him out while Miz hits another Skull Crushing Finale to Riley and throws him out. This leaves only Cena, who receives a scissors kick from Truth before the Nexus guys pick him up and hold him up in a crucifix-like pose. Punk enters the ring and Nexus place Cena on his shoulders for the GTS before Punk kicks Cena out of the ring and sits down, smirking like he does and the rest of the Nexus salute while the other heels, though visibly a little nervous remain, standing tall. Not only would that make pretty much everyone (and especially the up-and-comers) look strong, but it would create or deepen the personal issues before, which would only bode well for the MITB build, and make Punk seem like an important, dangerous man – as he deserves.
All that aside, I did like RAW, especially given my wariness about P2P. Some nice matches and decent storyline progression, even if the end was a little cookie-cutterish. But again, a 3 hour RAW that didn’t feature Zack Ryder (ridiculous given that he’s proved to be popular with ‘the people’ when given a voice) or Drew McIntyre. Now I realize there are time restraints, especially, funnily enough, for 3-hour dual branded shows, but these guys are being left to stew on their considerable talent at the minute and it must be as demoralizing to them as it is to their fans. In fact, I recently wrrote an article for the Bleacher Report about the problems with 3 Hour RAW, which can be found here: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/736815-wwe-why-3-hour-raw-specials-are-usually-bad-and-the-brand-extension-is-good Looking on the bright side, I know Drew has been working on a tweaked gimmick recently while Ryder is apparently turning face – so perhaps they are just being given time to experiment with their new selves before debuting them on RAW. Luckily, RAW is back to just its own roster next week, so they should have a better chance at getting on.
As always, if you liked what i’ve written, check me out on twitter @RTVWOW for opinions on pro-wrestling and live-tweeting of RAW and PPVs.