Thumbs Up: Setting the Table for the Show In the three consecutive weeks that I’ve enjoyed Raw, I also happened to like the opening segment. See how that works? Laurinaitis makes his way to the ring, promptly reminding us of the show’s main event, the entire card of matches and the participants in the Raw portion of the Elimination Chamber. That’s killing a lot of birds with one stone, Big Johnny. WWE was also smart in bringing Sheamus out amidst the promo work of Laurinaitis, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, so as to make sure he doesn’t quickly become forgotten for his triumphs at the previous night’s PPV. This was all-around a very strong segment, so you’ll find no complaints from me just yet.
Thumbs Up: A Viper and a Show-Off I’m not exactly the biggest endorser of Randy Orton, but even I feel the need to praise him for the full year of great work he's put in. Orton has consistently entertaining matches (regardless of the times when it’s obvious he’ll win) and has really helped get over Mark Henry, Wade Barrett and even — to an extent — Cody Rhodes, as credible heels. From what I’ve seen of Orton in the last 12 months or so, the guy just doesn’t have very many flaws. That’s not to say I’m a fan of Orton occasionally being another version of SuperCena, but I can absolutely appreciate a good worker in the ring. Now on to Ziggler, who may be the most talented superstar on the roster. Talk about someone who consistently has entertaining matches; Ziggler is in a zone right now. He seems incapable of not looking incredible in the ring, and his mic skills have dramatically improved to boot. Ziggler is one of the athletes who will undoubtedly be the future of WWE. He and Orton put on a very solid match that lasted a full two segments. It's a shame, however, that the Show-Off had to lose this one. After losing to Punk at the Rumble on Sunday, Ziggler really could’ve used a big win. One of the major problems with WWE right now is that aside from Kane (who is tied up in an angle with Cena, and only Cena), there are no legitimate heel threats. I’m not too worried about Ziggler in particular, because he’s still young and immensely talented, but I want to see him in the main event picture more often than not — and sooner than later while you’re at it, please.
Thumbs Up: Creating a Full Package Josh Matthews interviewing Wade Barrett in the stands during the Orton/Ziggler match was like a must-read sidebar to a really good newspaper article. It made the whole thing come full circle, with the interview complimenting what was going on in the ring. It kept the Barrett/Orton feud fresh in our minds, and continued to help get Barrett over as the intelligent, methodical bad guy.
Thumbs Down: Ah, Funk Me This Brodus Clay stuff need not be spoken of too much more in this column, because there’s really not much left to say. It was bad enough that WWE gave us a PPV match featuring the Funkasaurus squashing Drew McIntyre (who, in the storyline, should’ve been fired like last year), but they follow it up with another week of no feud and no point to this character. And yes, just to reiterate — on arguably the second biggest WWE PPV of any year, they decided to give us a squash match.
Thumbs Up: Brodus’ Lady Friends Hey, at least they’re nice to look at. Their attractiveness also serves as a nice juxtaposition against Brodus’ oafish gyrations. Keep dancing, ladies — it helps make our eyes bleed less.
Thumbs Down: Two Ignorant Champions Backstage CM Punk is my favorite wrestler in current WWE. While Daniel Bryan doesn’t share this esteemed honor, I do acknowledge that he is an absurdly gifted technical wrestler. On top of that, I have been enjoying his current, insidious turn as a heel. But the backstage segment (which you can find toward the end of the video posted above) between these two was filled with ignorance. Mr. Punk, I think I’d know what the word “vegan” meant without Daniel Bryan having to explain it to me. And Mr. Bryan, thank you for further insulting everyone’s intelligence by doubting that we know what being "straight edge" entails. This segment did nothing but hurt both of these guys' images. Side note regarding the Rumble: the World Heavyweight Championship three-way steel cage match was weak sauce. I realize Mark Henry is working through injury (seriously, god bless that man because he needs to be back to full strength already), the Big Show is boring and Bryan is less than half the size of these men, but there wasn’t any drama here. Bryan climbed out of the cage as Show chased him… We see that in every cage match. If you’re strapped with a feud between two slow-moving giants and a guy who could never be able to pick either one up, then yeah, that sucks for you — but then at least attempt to give us something different and remotely exciting.
Thumbs Up: Hey, More Wrestling Fortunately, that backstage segment didn’t ruin what was the second phenomenal match of the night. Without the screwy ending, this could’ve been an early contestant for Match of the Year. If you watch wrestling, you should know how great Punk and Bryan are in the ring. They pushed their talents even further here. This match was not staged under the epic circumstances (it was on TV instead of PPV, wasn’t for a title, whatever), but it still made me want to not complaining about anything wrestling-related for, I don’t know, a few paragraphs. I’m going to impatiently wait for the Raw viewership numbers to come out for this week’s episode. If it turns out that the viewership during this match dropped, then I guess the joke is on me and every member of the Internet Wrestling Community. If the average fan can’t back a match like the one Punk and Bryan gave us, then maybe I should just stop typing and wallow in pity.
Thumbs Up: Break the Walls Down Who didn’t expect Jericho to make a run-in at the finish of this match? As predictable as it was, this was the correct way to go. No way could they could have ended the champion versus champion match cleanly. The disqualification gives Bryan yet another cheap victory (and those are what his character is all about), and now finally the pieces are falling into place for the coveted Punk/Jericho title match at Wrestlemania.
Thumbs Down: Care to Explain? So I guess WWE Creative will just ask us to forget that Jericho promised the world as we know it would end at the Royal Rumble. He did his thing tonight, but didn’t say a word and certainly didn’t change the world. Not only did he fail to deliver on his promise (and when I say “he”, who I’m really blaming is WWE for cheaply trolling fans to buy their product, then just not making good on shit they more or less guaranteed will happen), but he didn’t even explain why there was no causing mayhem on Sunday. How are we to take this guy seriously if he’s losing matches against a non-champion? He’s supposed to be ushering in whatever “the end of the world as you know it” entails, so now where does he go from here?
Thumbs Down: Ruining R-Truth I was afraid of the WWE ruining R-Truth’s momentum by switching him from heel to face. I wanted them to go the route of keeping him a guy with heel tendencies that the crowd can still be very much in favor of. Actually, they could’ve done nothing with his heel character, and I’m pretty sure he still would’ve gotten cheered as long as he was feuding with the Miz. But now he’s out at ringside doing commentary and goofing it up. Wasn’t he insane a couple months ago? Now he can have coherent conversations and is right-minded enough to call out Michael Cole for legitimate errors in commentary? In a nutshell, what’s going on here is that instead of being the likeable, insane character who teeters on the line of good and bad, he’s just this goofy and normal comedian who plays to the audience.
Thumbs Down: The Miz is No Longer Important It was difficult to decide whether Kofi Kingston or Miz needed this win more. Sure, Kofi being added to the Elimination Chamber main event evokes a response of “heh, he won’t win,” so a few wins for him leading into the PPV will go a long way. But then looking at the Miz, he's in a greater predicament. Since losing the WWE Championship last year, he jobbed to Alex Riley (who is now lucky to even get TV time in any given week), failed to regain the “vacant” title versus Rey Mysterio, was an afterthought to The Rock and Cena’s Survivor Series rendezvous, came out on the losing end of a feud with a guy who just returned from his synthetic marijuana-related suspension (seriously, Truth gets suspended but comes out looking stronger than Miz, who is a clean company guy? What kind of ass backwards way of booking is that?) and now he loses to mid-carder Kofi. I will mention this again — WWE is really lacking credible heels. Even more upsetting was the non-existent commentary during this match. I forget what our fantastic commentating duo were arguing about throughout most of this match, and I don't care enough to re-watch it to find out. I just know it was deplorable and made me mash my fingers into my cellular device as I angrily texted fellow wrestling fans to complain. There was a time when Cole would fawn over the Miz. It got annoying, but it assisted in getting people to hate Miz more. Now Cole cares so little that he barely even comments on the supposed most must-see WWE Champion in history.
Thumbs Up: Go Watch Drive Completely unrelated to wrestling, but I can’t ignore that a commercial aired for Drive coming out on Blu-Ray/DVD. It was my favorite movie of the year. A definite must-watch (never mind what the Academy says).
Thumbs Up: The Diva’s Match “But Daniel, surely you can’t be serious,” is what I assume you’re thinking with this one. I actually liked a diva’s match? Not exactly, but I liked how it was booked. Beth Phoenix needs to be crushing the competition on a regular basis, and that’s what she did last night against Eve. I was expecting to see Kharma make her re-debut on TV (I marked out really hard when she returned at the Rumble and eliminated Hunico), but I’m not bitter that it didn’t happen yet. Because when it does, we may (key word: may) get some actual quality wrestling matches from the female roster.
Thumbs Down: Eve is Incapable of Sufficient Movement Because she really is. For about the umpteenth week in a row, Eve's response to Kane's music playing was slow backwards walking down the entrance ramp and into the ring. From there, all she does is wait for Kane to come destroy her. I understand that this routine is a simple and convenient way for Kane to do his weekly stalking, but can't they just for once have this scene take place elsewhere? Backstage? Into the crowd? Literally anywhere else?
Thumbs Up: Less Hate, More Intensity An intense, pissed off John Cena is one that I can tolerate. Look, if they decide to not turn him into a heel, I’m completely fine with him showing a more vicious side and raging on guys every week. That’d also be much more believable than him completely turning on fans after already being booed for approximately three years. Speaking of which: Did I actually hear the vast majority of the crowd cheer Cena last night? Hmm, maybe people are liking this new side of him. Too bad that for most Cena-haters, the change in character direction is about two years too late.
The Final Segment While Triple H was burying John Laurinaitis — which led to Laurinaitis’ contrived apology — the boo birds really let him have it. People booed because that is what they are supposed to do when a guy they don’t like is speaking. But these boos didn’t seem like they were just for the sake of being good fans and doing their job. They were boos to the point where it made me think that the fans in attendance actually would’ve been pleased to see Laurinaitis fired right then and there. And that’s the catch. The progression of Laurinaitis’ character over the past several months has undoubtedly been one of the best things WWE has got going. I hope people realize that and can appreciate it. I also would hate to have Triple H back as an authority figure. Triple H as a heel back in the late '90s is on my top three list of favorite bad guy characters in wrestling, but the crowd-pandering, smiley faced, suit-wearing Triple H does absolutely nothing for me. In time, maybe I can accept him in a different role. But right now, having him back as a full-time presence in a strictly authoritative capacity would do little good. Anyways, let me get back on track here. Without Laurinaitis, there would have been absolutely nothing for Punk to do for the last few months. Without Johnny Ace, we have nobody to passionately boo. He is the character that the company desperately needs right now, and I honestly got scared for a minute (good job on their part for getting me hook line and sinker) that Triple H would give Laurinaitis the good ole’ “future endeavored” line until…
The bells chimed, the crowd popped and I started screaming "YES! YES! YES!" as the Undertaker’s music hit. Perfect timing, and good God was it great to see him back. I'm actually surprised at how ridiculously happy am I about his return. It's just one of those moments where you realize the power these guys sometimes hold over the fans. This will come off as cliche, but there's no a better way of describing his return (not just this time, but really any time) than calling it "larger than life". It was a nice touch to add the swerve of Triple H walking away from the dead man, essentially declining his offer to square off one more time at Wrestlemania. Don’t tell me you saw that coming. In the end, I think the two will still have their match. For at least one night, however, WWE goes off the air (and 10 minutes late, mind you — I miss those days when you never knew how late Raw would stay on) with a cliffhanger worthy of giving a second thought to: if not Triple H, then who will Undertaker face at Wrestlemania?
Here are a few points to keep in mind before we begin:
• While mainly focusing on Raw, I have also included my thoughts on Sunday’s Royal Rumble. In case you can’t tell after reading the column, I was disappointed in the pay-per-view. I wouldn’t call it horrible, but it wasn’t very good either. • I’ve been writing this column for three weeks now, and have liked each episode of Raw that I've reviewed. I find that particularly interesting for some reason. What can it mean?!