RAW was always going to have a difficult task following Money in the Bank. There were certain things it had to achieve, and for the most part it did, closing on one of the more emotional scenes in WWE history.
The opening followed on well from the PPV in many ways. McMahon was out first, flanked by John Laurinatis, to discuss the state of the WWE. The crowd wanted CM Punk, but it was right that they didn’t get him; if he’d have shown up, it would have undermined the story completely ruined any future pay off. It also made sense that McMahon wanted to remove any mention of his name from the product, just like he would (and has done in the past) with departed stars. The problem with this was that perhaps the spectre of Punk was too absent. The week after his initial shoot, Punk wasn’t at RAW but he was at the forefront of conversation, making him seem like an important force. This week, we had neither Punk, or the mention of Punk, and as a result, perhaps RAW lost some of the sting it should have had coming off MITB. All the while, Punk was working from away from the arena, tweeting dryly about the show, and showing off the WWE Championship, just to reiterate that whatever hapenned, he is the WWE Champion., even tweeting “New champ? How can that be, when the champ is…here” and then posting a picture of him at the Cubs game (and wearing a Satoshi Kojima t-shirt). This was great and just showed how entertaining Punk is, and is a good sign for the gonzo style way people want to see Punk before Summerslam. Another thing that made sense was McMahon setting up a tournament to find a new WWE Champion, trying to cover up his loss of the company’s historic title. While people generally don’t seem to have liked the tournament (I think because of the absence of Punk), I think the drama and importance of it grew nicely, it’s importance being cemented by the fact that it took up the whole show.
The matches were of a consistently high quality and good storytelling. First up was Miz vs Alex Riley. This match was all about Miz’s knee injury from Money in the Bank, and the story around it was excellent, with Riley obviously targeting it with more than submission moves, a half Boston Crab, and the worst Texas Cloverleaf i’ve ever seen (though both names seem to suit his Irish-American schtik). Eventually though, Miz managed to capitalise on some inexperience from Riley taking his eyes off him for a Skull-Crushing Finalé for the clean pin. I’ll tell you what, since Money in the Bank, i’ve noticed Miz behaving more like a face, and surging to a clean win on a bum leg is a sure-fire face characteristic. Perhaps he’ll be turning? It’s too early to really tell, but it could be a counterpoint to Cena turning heel? We can only see …
R-Truth vs Jack Swagger was some awkward booking in the sense that it was difficult to know who to back. It was pretty obvious that the recently heated Truth would go over Swagger, but nonetheless, it was a nice enough match with a cool finish of Truth missing his Bicycle Kick, allowing Swagger to lock in the Ankle Lock, only for Truth to reverse it in to a roll-up for the win. Maybe would have been better with Bourne, as a face, taking on Truth, but then again, that would have hurt Bourne and might not have gone down well in the new Age of Punk, with Bourne being an ex-ROH guy.
Really nice match between Kofi Kingston and Alberto Del Rio in the next match of the tournament, which also saw the return of Ricardo Rodriguez; something that really makes Del Rio better! The match was fast paced and exciting. The finish produced a surprise winner in Kofi as he reversed the Cross Arm-breaker in to another roll-up for the stereotypical underdog victory. This made me almost sure Del Rio would cash in at the end of the night – a prospect I wasn’t happy about, but luckily that didn’t happen. Seen as Kofi beat Del Rio, it made me think he would capitalise and go all the way to the final at least.
Though the matches were all, through necessity, little more than five minutes each, Rey Mysterio vs Dolph Ziggler was a real stand out. The two engaged in a ridiculously fast-paced match around chain-wrestling, and there was an awesome sequence especially where the two were flawlessly chain-wrestling at high speeds, resulting in a missed 619 attempt which Dolph ducked and reversed into a reverse slam for a nice near-fall. Mysterio eventually managed to hit a 619 for the win and advance, much to the crowd’s delight. Indeed, the reaction to Rey was the opposite of the heat he had at MITB, drawing one of the pops of the night after his win and really brought some excitement to the tournament.
I wouldn’t usually talk about the divas match, but it bears repeating that there is just a ridiculous lack of imagination in these entire divas tag matches. I know they were against time, but i’d rather they didn’t book it than waste their time and ours – seriously, it lasted about a minute and not even all the divas got any action. Just give them a story! At least Beth Phoenix won, so maybe she’ll be getting to challenge Kelly Kelly next?
The first semi-final saw The Miz take on Kofi Kingston, and this time Miz’s knee was huting him even more! Kofi looked good again, but Miz managed to hang in and take advantage of Kofi getting in to a bad position with the referee and allowing Miz to take advantage with the Skull Crushing Finalé for another win. Crucially, this wasn’t Miz winning dirty, he just took advantage and survived, making him seem more tough, and a more likely winner. As for Kofi, I was surprised he didn’t make the final after beating Del Rio, which makes me think there was a reason for Del Rio losing, maybe he’ll be feuding with Kofi until Summerslam. That would be a pretty cool, fresh feud for RAW.
‘Silent Rage’ sucks. Boring guy, boring story, boring name.
The second semi was a longer match between Truth and Rey. Nice back-and-forth, but not as exciting as the others (perhaps because the others were more packed in to less time). Rey went over, again to a nice pop. He waited in the ring to wrestle in the final, but instead of Miz’s music, we heard McMahon’s music as he informed Rey that he would have to wait until next week because he had a big announcement and Rey Mysterio, the same as everyone else, is not bigger than WWE. This small nugget I liked as it seemed to fit in with the whole Punk/Cena story of late, it also gave it a more unplanned feel than usual which is stylistically in tune with what could be WWE’s new direction. If people found this RAW a bit of a downer, which I didn’t really, this final segment redeemed it.
Vince told us that no one, including John Cena, is as big as WWE, and that he had a piece of business he needs to do – a piece of business that was obviously firing Cena – and he called Cena out. Just as he went to fire Cena, Cena launched in to a rant of his own, not in the style of Punk, and not as enrapturing, but with the same candid tone. Cena seemed to accept his firing, but wanted a parting shot at McMahon for trying to do the same to him as he did to Shawn Michaels in 1997 by using him as a stooge to screw Bret Hart and make the title meaningless, that he’s going out with his head held high, and that seen as he loves wrestling so much, he might go to another wrestling organisation, brother (a thinly veiled reference to TNA). He then addressed Punk and thanked him for a great match at MITB before telling Vince that he’s sure he’ll be able to find another star of his calibre to take on The Rock at WrestleMania. After all this, an embarrassed McMahon attempts to progress with the firing of Cena, though it hurts him personally, and in business (though, at the minute, Cena is a slightly edgier face, this close relationship with McMahon may provide the currency for a future heel turn). Just as McMahon is about to fire his top star, Triple H’s music hits! Out comes ‘Corporate HHH’ in a suit, not posturing, and looking rather troubled. McMahon was blissfully unaware of why he was here, and treated him warmly like a son in law (as of course he is and was acknowledged as), but Trips was all business. Hunter acted this quite well; he looked more sheepish and troubled than he ever has, with his head down a lot of the time. Despite wanting to talk to McMahon in private McMahon’s ousting unfolded before our eyes. Hunter informed McMahon that Cena would, in fact, not be fired, and repeating McMahon’s own mantra that noone is bigger than WWE, Hunter told him that the board had decided and ‘the family’ agreed that, in the wake of his reckless judgement with CM Punk which led to the loss of the WWE title, that it was time for him to stand down, and that he, himself, had been nominated to replace him. Like at MITB, McMahon acted this very well, and it did feel like, before our eyes, we were seeing an old man, the man who created sports-entertainment as we know it, losing his empire before us. This had more credence because it is widely reported that Trips is being groomed for exactly that position, continuing the new WWE direction of storylines that blur the lines between reality and work. Though Hunter’s ‘pops’ line went too close to melodrama, it was striking to see these two businessmen standing in this emotional setting while having to mask it in a business shell. The fickle crowd change from ‘na na na na’ chants to ‘Thank You Vince’, which is more appropriate, as a more humble Vince is the last shot of the night.
While this wasn’t explicitly linked to Punk, it will clearly be related, and there is lot to be said, and even more, surely, to be speculated upon. My first comment is that HHH replacing Vince as the authority figure is potentially a genius move; as my title suggests, this is simply a sign that change is continuing, and if this is the dawning of a new era, than a new authority figure makes a lot of sense. Triple H, however, will need a new or tweaked character – the Corporate Hunter is a cool idea, but he’ll need new music etc. But what does this mean for Punk? Well, I think Hunter will be pursuing Punk in a much more aggressive way. It is still the plan that there will be a new WWE Champion crowned next week, and it seems clear to me that Punk will need to show up or do something impactful. His profile will need to be on RAW in some way, but without just turning up and wrestling. There CANNOT be a new champion crowned unless it is noticeably in an unsatisfying way; either the match is interrupted, or when the new champion is crowned, Punk chimes in and talks about being the real champion, and that he is out of WWE’s bubble, before proceeding (if all our dreams come true) defending the title away from the WWE, confident that he wont lose because he’s ‘the best in the world’. Embarrassed, Triple H, who saved Cena’s job, sends Cena after Punk (which either works because Cena realises the importance of the belt, feels he owed HHH a favour, or is threatened with being fired if he doesn’t). Another option, or possibly related is that HHH himself calls Punk out, saying he’s not as good as the Game, and challenges him to a match at Summerslam personally. Those ideas are admittedly quite thin, but it’s clear that Hunter will probably turn heel at least. Again, like in the past month’s RAWs and the PPV, we were left with more questions than answers, and questions that were exciting and interesting. Facsinating stuff, lets just hope the potential logistical problems with involving Punk and getting him to Summerslam in a believable way don’t hurt this astounding story.