What a difference the Road to WrestleMania makes.
Executive Vice President of Talent Relations, Interim General Manager of Raw and Assistant to the Regional Manager, Mr. John Laurinaitis, kicked things off to tell us what a fun and exciting show we had in store for us, featuring matches like Daniel Bryan vs. CM Punk (!!!) and Randy Orton vs. Dolph Ziggler. And you're really going to boo this guy? He also announced a very impressive line-up for Raw's Elimination Chamber, with CM Punk defending the WWE Championship against The Miz, R-Truth, Kofi Kingston (handstands = title shots), Dolph Ziggler and Chris Jericho. That should be a hell of a match.
I assume Bryan will have to defend the World Title in the Chamber as well, which is kind of a bummer, I liked the set-up last year where the guy who wouldn't be defending his title against the Rumble winner didn't have to get in the Chamber and his brand's match was to determine its #1 contender. I realize that can get complicated when the Rumble winner wants to tease which brand he's going to, but two title matches in Chambers can be a bit exhausting.
Anyhoo, CM Punk interrupted Johnny Ace, singing "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," and I still wonder if WWE has to pay a royalty check to Paul Leka's estate every time they do this. These two argued about who owed who an apology and luckily, Daniel Bryan made the save and dropped a pipe bomb of his own, "no one cares about your little soap opera." Ouch.
Punk and Bryan traded barbs while remaining somewhat friendly with each other, although Punk couldn't resist "what do you eat?" when Bryan bragged about not eating meat. C'mon Danny, the proper comeback to that is always "your mom!"
Sheamus made his way to the ring to wish both Punk and Bryan could luck on the Road to WrestleMania and wished Laurinaitis well in his future endeavors. The more I think about it, the more excited I get for this guy as the poster boy for WWE. I don't know if he'll ever have the crossover appeal of The Rock or even John Cena, but he's unique enough that he could still become a household name based on appearance alone. I look forward to the day when "Sheamus white" is sold in the paint department of Home Depot.
Randy Orton vs. Dolph Ziggler was our opening contest and was just a hell of a match. I also dug the constant shifting from commentary to Josh Mathews, who was in a "luxury skybox" with Wade Barrett. Since they did a guest commentary bit later in the night, they tried something different here and it worked well. Not something they should try with everyone, but Barrett's good enough to pull it off. I'm a little iffy on them running Orton vs. Barrett on Smackdown though, seems too soon. Hopefully there will be some shenanigans, maybe Orton's not quite 100% and Barrett can put him back on the shelf until WrestleMania? This feud has legs and I can't see either guy doing anything more interesting in the next two months.
As for this match though, mucho kudos to Dolph Ziggler for making Orton look really, really good. I know I give him a ton of shit and Orton's no slouch, but Ziggler definitely brought out the best in him. Though I did see a clown on Yahoo! Sports say Ziggler was "jobbed out" here and that he'll be "overlooked now." Oh for fuck's sake. I'm trying to be the kinder, gentler Razor in 2012 and not worrying as much about what people on the internet say, but come on. Ziggler has quietly become the best wrestler in the World [Wrestling Entertainment] and will certainly be presented as one of the bigger threats in the Raw Chamber match. WWE has enough wishy-washy booking as it is and Ziggler lost a match to a guy who never loses, so what's the problem? Unless we're really at the point where not being in the WWE Title match at WrestleMania constitutes being overlooked? Sigh.
Brodus Clay vs. Tyler Reks was next and while I was somewhat mesmerized by Clay's jiggly thighs and my wife calling him "The Dinosaur Guy," I just don't care. Again, it's a harmless and cute character, but there's nothing here that's going to get Brodus above Santino territory.
There has to come a point where you have to let all that built-up smarkitude go and you just give WWE credit. Normally, I'd say something like "if four years ago, I told you CM Punk and Daniel Bryan would be main eventing Raw in a WWE vs. World Champion match, would you believe me?" but moments like this have become so common that it's time to just admit that WWE has thrown you a bone, cynical internet wrestling fan. Does that make them immune to criticism? Of course not, but here are two guys that have gone way further up the card than anyone expected when they signed, making the whole "WWE will ruin my ROHero!" thing beyond cliché. It's time for all of us to agree that if WWE drops the ball on Daniel Bryan or CM Punk, it's because they can drop the ball on everyone equally... just ask Mason Ryan.
Rant out of the way, Daniel Bryan vs. CM Punk in a Champion vs. Champion match was the 10pm main event and I think these fellers may just have what it takes to put on an entertaining wrestling match. They got enough time, the match was balanced well and the crowd was into it, don't know what else you'd want out of a free-TV main event. Oh, how about Chris Jericho? Yes, looks like "the end of the world as you know it," may just mean "the end of the Best in the World" as Jericho set his sights on the WWE Champion. Bryan stole another win since Jericho attacked him first to get to Punk, but the bigger story here is the fact that these two are going to blow the roof off Miami. I have a feeling Rock & Cena will have a couple tough acts to follow.
Mike Tyson was announced as the next inductee into the Celebrity Wing of the Hall of Fame and I'm legitimately shocked that people still don't understand what the purpose of the Celebrity Wing is... it's to get ESPN and TMZ to talk about WWE and have a fun moment with a celebrity at WrestleMania. Not unlike every WrestleMania, ever.
I was also a little surprised to see people furious about Tyson due to his criminal past. I totally understand a continued dislike of Tyson over his 1992 rape conviction, some crimes are unforgivable... but it is weird for a section of wrestling fans to get upset about it now when he's been featured prominently in WWE programming as recently as 2009 and had a four-month storyline in 1998. I'm not here to delve deep into the societal questions of when, or if, a debt to society has truly be paid, but I just found the reaction surprising.
But don't worry, I have it on good authority Mr. Dream will take Tyson's Hall of Fame spot in three years.
Moving along, Kofi Kingston vs. The Miz was an Elimination Chamber preview match and wound up being quite good. With Kofi's big Rumble moment and impressive performance in this match, I can't help but hope big things are on the horizon for him. I'd like to see him get new music and get rid of the "I'm pretty sure that's kinda racist" logo on his trunks to freshen up his character though. I'm all for a big Kofi push, even if it means losses for The Miz, which always make me sad.
Beth Phoenix vs. Eve was over in seconds since it was really just a reason for John Cena to save Eve from Kane, but I was actually kind of interested in this. Yeah, Eve is distraught over Ryder, but I like Beth just plowing through people. Surely this has to end with her saying there's no one left for her to beat and then she meets Kharma, right? Speaking of which, apparently Kharma gave birth on New Year's Eve and then made it to the Rumble less than a month later. If that is the case, she is officially tougher than any man in wrestling... except maybe Haku. But seriously, looking that impressive just weeks after having a kid? Kharma is more badass than any of us will ever be.
I knew something was up when the Triple H/John Laurinaitis employee review was closing the show, but I had no idea it would mean the return of The Undertaker!!! I need The Undertaker for my next yearly review, just when the boss is about to criticize or fire me, the lights go off in his office, The Undertaker arrives and whatever he's talking about is instantly forgotten. Talk about letting personal issues cloud your judgment, HHH! There you were, about to fire a guy and you get distracted by some fog and the funeral march? Mitt Romney would've been able to layoff an entire company's workforce and stash the savings in a Swiss bank account in the time it took Taker to get to the ring.
Okay, so it's no surprise the Undertaker vs. Triple H rematch is on for WrestleMania. They've been teasing it since the night after Mania and HHH all but guaranteed it when he claimed he "effectively" ended the streak, which is kinda like saying you retired a quarterback when his final game was a winning appearance in the Super Bowl and you were on the losing team. But hey, that makes a great story, Triple H runs his mouth, The Undertaker comes back to finish the job.
The shoulder pat at the end of the stare-down was interesting though. It says to me that Triple H almost pities The Undertaker, which would certainly be a new direction for his character. There's definitely something there with Triple H trying to get out the match with a "c'mon old man, you don't want to do this," kind of reaction, but I don't want to speculate too much.
Much like when HBK/Undertaker II was teased before WM26, I didn't want to see the match again, but as things were heating up, I got more and more excited, I hope that's the case here. I didn't want to see the match again once Triple H started teasing it, but I was pretty stoked when Taker interrupted last night. Now, the big challenge here is we all know Undertaker is held together by duct tape and magic and Triple H is no Shawn Michaels, but I'm still optimistic. I loved the match last year (though I'm aware that's a divisive opinion) and I think with a year's rest for Taker (and essentially HHH too), they could be another tough act for Cena and Rock to follow.
Maybe WWE should have an off-season and just run shows from January-April and July-September. I've always been skeptical of the idea, but when you see such a dramatic improvement in quality the minute they get on the Road to WrestleMania, it's hard to argue against it. Fantastic Raw from top to bottom.