This week’s episode of RAW was hot. It showed perfectly how a great crowd can make for great action, and the fans, mixed with some big re-debuts, made for one of the best RAW’s in recent memory. Hey, i’m writing about it, aren’t I!? I really only write about specific shows when they feature something notable these days. Speaking of which, I will be ATTENDING the RAW taping in London on the 16th, so i’ll be writing about that and the live experience soon after. Now, to business …
John Laurinaitis Heralds a New Era of ‘People Power’
The opening shots of RAW struck me as very fresh-looking. When HHH, Shawn Michaels, and The Undertaker soaked in their deserved applause and adulation at WrestleMania XXVIII, it really felt like an era was ending, and I had speculated that, to even my surprise, that strapline might carry some significance for the WWE. Since the ‘Summer of Punk’, there has been a lot of talk about a ‘Reality Era’, and there was something more consciously realistic about the way the opening backstage segment was shot. It’s hard to approximate, but it reminded me somewhat of the way Curb Your Enthusiasm is shot – a sort of glossy realism. Not only that, but booking CM Punk against Mark Henry in front of the whole roster, and showing both men’s reaction also offered a strange emotional realism to the shot. Speaking of Punk, I liked the mischievous way he delivered his ‘toolbox’ line, though perhaps would have wished something a bit more meaningful. As for ‘People Power’, i’m sure Big Johnny will offer us quite the opposite, but that is exactly what we would expect from him. It felt like, perhaps we had a new era, one with Punk and Laurinaitis as it’s players. As you’ll soon see though, that fate remains up in the air.
Era’s Collided as The Rock Vowed to Become the WWE Champion Again. Yes! Yes! Yes! He Did
Rock’s promo was a lot of recycled goosebumps for quite a while, though at least he had the good grace to put Cena over in so far as saying he was the biggest challenge Rock has had to date. All pretty standard, but then two remarkable things happened; one intentional, and one unintentional. The first thing was most remarkable, unintentional thing to happen in wrestling in a long time. The Rock was talking away about an impossible dream, but when he asked the WWE universe whether they wanted to hear it, something unexpected happened and Rocky was no longer the centre of attention; the crowd started chanting the Daniel Bryan trademark ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ Like the chanting during the Orton-Kane match at WrestleMania, I believe this was being done in part as a show of solidarity for the apparently wronged Bryan, but more than that, it was a pure, organic show of support for Bryan, not just because he was ‘wronged’ at WrestleMania, but because he has captured their hearts. For that moment, Bryan, a full-time wrestler, was more over than The Rock, and this chant only got louder, and more spirited as the night went on, to the point where if Bryan would have come to the ring, the crowd would have full-blown Austin popped for him! Remarkable!
I’m sure The Rock wasn’t annoyed at what happened, but it can’t have been planned, and it slightly distracted from the second remarkable moment of the promo: Rock vowing to become WWE Champion again. Now this may be all smoke and mirrors, like it was when John Cena suggested that Rock vs Cena might be of the right stature if it was for the WWE Championship. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, and allowed Punk-Jericho to fight over the title, and hopefully this vow will be treated similarly. I understand the value of The Rock, but he starts to depreciate the value of the rest of the roster when he becomes their part-time champion. Think of it this way: CM Punk is our current champion, and in order for The Rock to get the title back, Punk is going to have to drop it for him, or even worse, to him. While The Rock facing Punk or another WWE star would be good for them, losing to The Rock doesn’t help them that much. What is worse is the person who would later re-debut, and the person rumoured to be Rock’s prospective opponent for the title at WrestleMania 29 …
Santino Marella def. Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler to Retain the United States Championship; Brodus Clay Backs Him Up
This match was a fun match, and designed to show Big Johnny’s abuse of power as well as babyface’s striving against their stacked deck to win through. All three are good workers, and so the match was technically good, but not allowed to get any better because of lack of time and commercial interruption. Santino prevailed via the classic triple threat story of the two heels being unable to cooperate, allowing the face to take advantage for the win; a win good for his, and the Championship’s credibility. This in itself wasn’t too noteworthy, but it became so when Ziggler and Swagger started to beat the United States Champion down. They chased Santino up the ramp, but then suddenly, as if from a nature documentary, THE FUNKASAURUS! We’ve been waiting for Clay to do something new for ages, and it seems that he’s been slipped up a gear following WrestleMania. Ok, so he only headbutted Ziggler (a headbutt which led to a sickening Ziggleresque bump on the steel ramp, no less!), but it is a signal that Clay could get involved in some sort of storyline with possibly Ziggler or Swagger, a prospect which is certainly interesting. Let’s hope the Funkasaurus can really bring the funk going forward.
Lord Tensai def. Alex Riley
Our first re-debut came from Lord Tensai, the former Prince Albert/A Train. There was a lot of anticipation about Tensai, being as he is a decorated Japanese veteran with a cool gimmick. Now don’t get me wrong, his power and his moves (especially the Double Underhook Stalled Suplex) gave him a unique, Japanese flavour, but I found something about Tensai a little unsettling, and not in the way that was intended. He was, perhaps, a little too gimmicky, a little goofy even, especially if his rumoured feud with gritty realist CM Punk is to go ahead. I don’t want to get ahead of myself though, Tensai is fresh and deserves a chance. He is what the nixed big bad Brodus Clay would have been, right down to the post-match head crush, but obviously more proficient. This is definitely a better version of that character. And oh yeah, Alex Riley deserves this.
Mark Henry def. CM Punk, Allowing CM Punk to Retain the WWE Championship
When this match was booked, I thought it was about repositioning Punk at the top of the card. What actually happened was it was top of the second hour; still decent positioning, but not the spotlight I thing was required. What was required, for both me, was a good match which made them both look good, and broadly, this achieved that. This match had a good story of Punk using his skilled strong style to try and chop the monolithic Henry down. It was the unstoppable (but believeable) force meeting the immovable object. The action wasn’t spectacular, but it was very well thought out, with Punk sometimes besting Henry with momentum, but Henry often being able withstand Punk’s attacks, and in moments of domination, we got the best of Henry’s scary unstoppable force persona characterised by his blunt, brutalist barks: “Who told you to move!? You move when I tell you!” Henry really is the scariest heel in recent memory. The crowd really added to all this, loudly supporting Punk (and, again, Daniel Bryan) with “Yes!’s” after every Punk strike and oohing after Henry’s knock-downs. This gave the match a feeling of building momentum, and the crescendo came when Punk seemed to be getting the best of Henry after a Macho Man elbow and a running knee. Punk sold the size of Henry’s threat by going after a second knee to further weaken him, but when he went for his customary bulldog, the World’s Strongest Man overpowered him and threw him over the top rope on to the champion’s back, which had been under attack since the night before. This final, shocking fall on his back was enough to keep Punk down for ten seconds and the count-out. Initially I was a little disappointed in this, thinking that it made Punk seem a little weak, but soon after, I realised the righteousness behind it all. Punk just won a classic title match on the grandest stage of them all against Jericho at WrestleMania, and so there’s no way he can realistically be described as weak; and on the other hand, I have been, like many, begging for Mark Henry to return to his days of unstoppable heel, and beating Punk this way is another step in that direction. Really good match.
Chris Jericho Assaulted the Downed CM Punk With Alcohol and an Alcohol Bottle
After the match, John Laurinaitis came out to add further insult to Punk, saying he will be giving the people what they want, CM Punk defending his championship on a regular basis, and that he sees dark clouds in Punk’s future, a natural disaster. Now, ironically, this is both what Punk, and what the fans will want, though Big Johnny is only doing it to try and get the title off of Punk. Apparently, this is supposed to relate to Lord Tensai, but I had thought after Henry’s win, he would be owed a title shot. And now, another contender entered the scene. Chris Jericho, the loser at WrestleMania, and he began to berate Punk, sarcastically referring to him as the winner at WrestleMania, and the WWE Champion before calling their match a classic, and saying he wanted to celebrate with a drink. Well, we knew where this was going, but it played out more effectively than I could have imagined. Jericho went and got a bottle of Jack Daniels (well, probably not real Jack Daniels) and poured it all over Punk and in to his mouth. After this, Jericho put the boots to Punk and, unfortunately, slipped in the puddle of alcohol. This was embarrassing, but Jericho covered it up as best he could on twitter saying he was impersonating the drunk CM Punk. All this was shocking enough, but it was about to get worse as Jericho got another bottle. Instead of pouring it all over Punk, he smashed it over Punk’s head, totally incapacitating him, leaving him in the care of medics, aand taking this whole feud to the next level. I said in my WrestleMania review that I kinda wished the Jericho-Punk feud would have been Best vs Best up until WrestleMania, and then progressed post-Mania to the Drunk ROH inspired stuff. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the power behind what happened on Monday, and thought it a good way to forward the Punk-Jericho feud, which could be a classic overall. Meanwhile, i’m sure Punk will have to defend his title almost every week against people like Henry and Tensai, and this will be great for Punk and the Championship as Punk continues to overcome the odds. If there is a new era of WWE, a huge Punk reign (already standing at 133 days as of WrestleMania), would be a great way to christen it. At the moment, however, there seem to be countless suitors, and that can only be a good thing.
Alberto Del Rio Confronted Sheamus
This saw the next stage of the remarkable Daniel Bryan Superova Express Train, as the fan’s embracing of him became a weird, and as far as I can tell, unprecedented double-turn based in no way on personal character traits. Sheamus, who had been super babyface, and had put down the weasily heel the night before was surely expected to come out to a chorus of cheers. Instead, he was met as if he was the top heel in the company! The smiling Irish giant was left in a very difficult position by this, having to act as if he was a man of the people, while the people were obviously not willing to support him. This was downright surreal, especially given how over Sheamus was before WrestleMania. If Bryan would have come out at this point, the roof would have come off the place! This phenomenon almost overshadowed the presence of ADR, who was entering the World Heavyweight Championship picture, and was given an awful lot of exciting fanfare to make his return seem significant, but which was forgotten amongst the Bryan support. With the crowd in sheer support of the American Dragon, they were left in the strange position of kinda having to prefer Del Rio to Sheamus, and this led to the best chant of the night: “Si! Si! Si!” God I love wrestling, and wrestling fans. Sheamus then got on the mic – big mistake as the fans booed him down, yet he tried to keep up the babyface pretense, saying that they wanted to see a Brogue Kick to someone. The camera, out of necessity, cut to Bryan, to show that he was still involved in the title picture, and eventhough he wasn’t even on stage, this led to a huge pop. They had to do it, but it only added to the fan-led undermining of each character’s role. Then, in a weird set up, Del Rio’s mic started cutting out, and when he got a new one, he turned round in to the foreseen Brogue Kick! I mean what can you say about this? I like the prospect of Del Rio entering the picture, but especially now, Bryan has to be a part of this, and maybe even the main bit. Could the unthinkable happen, and WWE be forced to officially double-turn on Sheamus and Bryan? I don’t think so, partly because a face Bryan chanting “Yes! Yes! Yes!” changes the dynamic of everything, so not yet at least.
Kofi Kingston def. Cody Rhodes
Not too much to discuss with the actual match. Cody looked good and strong, and looked to be heading for a relatively quick win, when Big Show came out and confronted Rhodes with an embarrassing WrestleMania moment of his own. Now I know turnaround is fair play and all that, but if it’s douchey when Cody does it, it’s douchey when you do it too, Show – and Cody’s the one who is supposed to be douchey, Show. You’re doing it wrong. Obviously, Cody then turned around in to a Trouble in Paradise for the lost. The upside of the this kinda mailed in story was that it gave Kofi an impressive win over Rhodes in a way that didn’t make Cody look bad and showed that his feud with Show would be continuing. Fine, but a little unspectacular.
Abraham Washington Offered Mark Henry His Managerial Services
The second re-debut of the night went to Abraham Washington, and he seemed to be setting up for becoming Mark Henry’s manager. Now, I see the potential in Washington, and I love the ideas of more managers kicking around, but I strongly feel like giving one to Henry is a bad idea! Henry is an almost unstoppable force, and the way he talks is more believeable and intimidating than any other heel on the roster. It suits him, and giving him a polished mouth-piece will detract from his image. With that in mind, i’d rather they left Henry alone, and gave Washington to someone who does need a mouthpiece, perhaps a newly heeled Ezekiel Jackson?
The Miz def. Zack Ryder
I usually don’t write about everything from RAW in my reports, but in this RAW, this is the only match that I don’t really have much to say about, but seen as it’s the only part of RAW without much to talk about, I feel bad leaving it out. So this wasn’t that long a match, but it was an entertaining brawl between the two more than anything. Miz continued his momentum from WrestleMania with another clean win, and seen as it was again against Ryder, perhaps those two will begin feuding. I quite like the sound of that actually.
John Cena Addressed the WWE Universe, Was Interrupted by the Returning Brock Lesnar
This was an odd segment. Cena came out to address his loss at WrestleMania to The Rock, and in the wake of that event, I was sure that we’d have to see some sort of change out of Cena; not necessarily a heel-turn, but some sort of change, leading to his return match with The Rock. What we got was an almost characature of SuperCena – humble, even thankful to The Rock for having the match with him, and promising to come back stronger and ‘Never Give Up’. He addressed fans like me who wondered how he was going to react to his loss, breaking the 4th wall somewhat to suggest that he might finally lash out at the fans, but again, reiterating that he would ‘Rise Above’ all of that. This was met, again, with “Yes! Yes! Yes!” By this point, Bryan was more over and important than everyone! Crazy! At first I thought Cena was getting a little repetitive and boring, possibly intentionally so, but as it turns out, John was stalling for the man who would returning to face him. Although he asked for The Rock, to congratulate him and tell him that the better man won (more “Yes! Yes! Yes!”), what he got was the returning Brock Lesnar! See that exclamation mark there? It was exciting, I did pop, but mainly for the surprise of it (I had avoided the spoilers), and his return is certainly intriguing. There’s no denying the huge pop. Lesnar was over and when Cena (kinda goofily) offered Lesnar his hand, and Lesnar punished him with a huge (if kinda sloppy) F5, they loved it even more, and with Lesnar walking off without saying anything, he certain left a lot of mystique behind him. That’s the good news.
Now for the bad news, and there’s a lot of it. I wont go too much in to my personal feelings about Brock Lesnar; i’ll set out what I see to be facts about him, and leave it there. When he arrived in WWE originally, he was a beast, genuinely intimidating like few others, and made to feel significant because of who he beat, which was basically everyone. He became the youngest ever WWE Champion and was only getting bigger – he was getting pushed to the stars. And then he apparently decided he wanted to reject all that and throw it all back in our face for a career in the NFL. The fans realised what he was doing, and realised that he wasn’t worth their attention at WrestleMania XX where they booed him and Goldberg out of the building. He failed in the NFL, broke a no-compete clause at New Japan – a further finger to the WWE, and went to UFC for years; a move which I can’t criticise other than saying that I hate the UFC and think it’s the stupidest, most needlessly sadistic sport in the world. People hurting each other artistically while trying to protect each other > People trying to kill each other. Brock Lesnar has now come crawling back to WWE for a paycheck following his UFC retirement, and that’s fine, I guess, but I don’t want to see him.
The guy is a good wrestler, fine, but he’s by no means the best, and the guy simply cannot talk charismatically or captivatingly. He simply doesn’t fulfil the characteristics of what makes someone a top wrestler, and I don’t understand why people liked him so much then, and are so excited about him now.
In recent months, i’ve been critical about The Rock as something of an asshole towards the incredibly genuine, if imperfect, Cena. Well, Lesnar is seemingly fulfilling the same role now as The Rock with the downside of absolutely not being in Rocky’s league. Even that, in itself, is ok, because I see the attraction of Lesnar facing Cena again, but here’s the problem with that: The point of The Rock returning, surely, was for Cena eventually to go over, but all of a sudden, Cena has to deal with Lesnar, and it is being rumoured that Lesnar will be taking on The Rock at WrestleMania 29. When is Cena going to get his moment!? At the very least, not to bury the whole full-time WWE roster, Cena nees to beat Rock still, and preferably twice!
I hinted there that Rock could be facing Lesnar at WrestleMania 29 in the main event. So, now that Lesnar’s back, are we seriously going to get a main event between two part time wrestlers who may instantly disappear? Apparantly, yes. And it gets even worse when you remember Rock’s vow to become WWE Champion again. Could that be out championship match!? Surely not! That’s the most misguided idea i’ve ever heard from the WWE! Two part timers fighting over the most prestigious title in the business, featuring none of the people who will be building the company once they leave, with-holding the star-making main event slot from the full-timers that really need it!
Indeed, to those of you that chant CM Punk, that chant Daniel Bryan, to those chanting “Yes!” who also chanted for Lesnar, do you not see what’s going to happen this year? Lesnar showing up every couple of weeks (admittedly more than Rocky, but still not full time), and stealing the show (not in an HBK way!) whenever he does, and being the main focus of the show; and where will that leave Bryan and Punk? Significant, but not as significant as they should be. To be fair, Punk is being given some mic time and a good reign, but he should be the company’s #1 focus right now for the future. Treat him right, and he’s going nowhere but the top! What i’d want at WrestleMania 29 is any of the following:
Cena-Rock III rubber match, second or third from last on the card
Punk-Bryan main event
Punk-Stone Cold for the WWE Championship – Punk over
Punk-Rock for the WWE Championship – Punk over and Bryan-Lesnar for the World Championship – Bryan over (WrestleMania 21 thematic replay)
But no, once again it seems that the full-time future stars of WWE (Punk, Bryan, Rhodes, Ziggler etc) will have to wait to be fully invested in, and it sucks. The nights started off feeling like one era had ended and another started. Perhaps that is true, but if we are entering a new era, it’s one that’s a lot like the one from around ten years ago …
This should, of course, come with a caveat that i’ve obviously seen nothing of what will happen with Rock, Lesnar, Cena and our favourites, and I am being too quick to condemn. I just have a bad feeling about this … Still, you know what makes me feel better? THE UNDENIABLE FACT THAT DANIEL BRYAN WAS MORE OVER THAN PRETY MUCH EVERYONE IN THE WORLD ON MONDAY!
If you agreed, or disagreed but was intrigued, by what I wrote, then come to @RTVWOW on twitter for more thoughts and livetweeting!