When bookended properly, I can forgive a show that takes a l-o-o-o-o-o-o-n-g time to get to the point. A good beginning and a good ending is what people remember, and while I don't advocate this kind of storytelling as the accepted norm, it can take a bad wrestling show and make it good. Or in the case of last night's Raw, an okay show that becomes spectacular.
We began the evening with Paul Heyman & Vince McMahon fighting. We all knew this was going to turn into shenanigans, but I can't believe it went as far as it did, that tackle made me uncomfortable. Obviously it was all to set up Brock Lesnar and the returning Triple H, which I have to admit I was dreading after the SnoozeFest at SummerFest, but their brawl last night was instantly better than anything they did last year, from the second Triple H did the most extreme Thesz Press ever. Lesnar busting his head open on the turnbuckle post (and getting 18 stitches) shows he's ready to go fucking crazy again and Triple H looks like he's in the best shape he's been in in years. Although that might just be the long overdue haircut talking.
By the way, doesn't SummerSlam feel like eons ago? Maybe it's because I tuned out for so long, but that's another reason why the rematch doesn't bug me, that somehow seems not as recent as Rock vs. Cena. I'm probably just a weirdo though. Anyhoo, as long as we get more of that at WrestleMania, let them kick the shit out of each other. Screw it, just put them in Hell in a Cell.
Ryback vs. Dolph Ziggler was fun, if for no other reason than to see Dolph Ziggler be bounced around like the world's most unfortunate pinball. I'm sure people are upset that Ziggler lost yet another match, but at this point, Ziggler somehow comes out of every loss looking even better than when he went in. Anyone can look good when they win, but when you can Lose Like Ziggler (worst Maroon 5 song, ever), you're something special.
CM Punk hyped the main event of the evening by coming to the ring and declaring himself "God." Well that's hardly a fair comparison since I've actually seen CM Punk perform miracles - get a good match out of Randy Orton and make me want to cheer for Jeff Hardy - that qualifies him for (Second City) sainthood!
Mark Henry vs. The Great Khali is when the show started coming to a halt. Nothing wrong with this match, it did what it needed to do, cap off their little mini feud, but I want to see Henry doing more. Break necks, split wigs, etc.
Signs of life were still present in the surprisingly effective Miz TV segment with Alberto Del Rio, Ricardo Rodriguez, Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter. Not only effective, but well executed and actually... kind of... smart? I know, I still can't believe it, but WWE has not only managed to make a batshit teabagger an effective bad guy, there is a layer of nuance to his character. It doesn't make him likable, mind you, but it's at least less cartoonish than I anticipated the Zeb Colter character to be. You know you're in some weird (and sad) reality when the wrestling spoof character is more rational and informed than the real-life villains he's spoofing. Zeb Colter is an awful person, but he's still better than Rand Paul, a democratically-elected sitting Senator of the United States. That's terrifying.
It's probably no secret by now that I'm a flaming liberal, so if you want to go a little deeper down that rabbit hole with me, I suggest reading Oliver Willis's fantastic piece today about the angle. Pretty cool to see wrestling used in a legitimate media context without being embarrassed to be a fan. A quick sample:
On Monday’s edition of WWE Raw, Colter and Del Rio had a debate about immigration that really could have been ripped right out of cable news. Colter again complained that undocumented workers were taking American jobs and weren’t hard workers, while also whining about it being politically incorrect for him to refer to “illegals.”
He was booed. Loudly.
Del Rio responded by describing America as “the greatest country in the world,” which was the motivation for immigrants coming here to seek a better life for themselves.
This argument from Del Rio, coming from the Latino character in response to the right-wing xenophobe, was roundly applauded and prompted a “USA” chant in the arena.
Well done, WWE. Pat yourselves on the back with this one, you earned it.
Randy Orton vs. Antonio Cesaro again... with Orton beating Cesaro again. I just don't get the constant need to pair these two up and have Orton win decisively each time. It does nothing for Cesaro and Randy Orton continues one of the biggest slides down the WWE mountain I've ever seen, so it's clearly not helping him either. I will say this, the Dallas crowd was very into Orton last night, so there's still hope for the guy, I suppose. I still don't get it though, never will, but if they don't figure out where he fits in 2013 WWE, I don't know if the audience will keep chanting "RKO!"
I do not understand this Sheamus/Wade Barrett storyline at all. I get that they're promoting a new WWE Film, that's fine, but surely there's someone else they could pair Barrett with than Sheamus? Are they setting up a Mania feud? If so, it's the weakest prep for a WM feud since Edge and Booker T battled over a fake Japanese shampoo commercial (BTW, did we ever get to see that commercial?) and if not, what's the fucking point?! Also, Sheamus is still neck deep in a feud with The Shield, so I don't know what the hell is going on with this. Seriously, even Brodus Clay could be playing Barrett's foil here, just not someone that has three other things going on.
R-Truth vs. Cody Rhodes was entirely forgettable, but at least Damien Sandow provided some entertaining commentary.
Continuing out screeching halt, Team Hell No vs. The Prime Time Players, featuring a blindfolded Daniel Bryan and a one-armed Kane, was another "oh... okay" segment. Nothing wrong with it, I guess, the stipulations provided a little comedy, but... I don't even have anything to finish this sentence with because it was just "oh... okay." Get these two prepped for their inevitable Mania match, already.
There is something "off" about Dean Ambrose. I'm not sure what it is, he could either have a truck filled with semiautomatic weapons or kittens that he loves dearly, but nothing in between those two extremes. Roman Reigns might just be the breakout member of The Shield though, as I grow to enjoy him more and more each week. Still not exactly sure what the goal of The Shield is, you can't say you "solved the John Cena problem" when the dude is literally headlining the biggest show of the year, but I'm always happy to see them. Not so much Sheamus & Orton though, who are just ruining everything lately. When The Shield issued their challenge to "anyone," I was hoping for something new and exciting, instead we got two dudes we'd already seen and already sucked the fun out of the night.
Jack Swagger vs. The Miz made perfect sense to do with Zeb Colter accusing Miz of liberal media bias earlier in the evening, but it was just another one of those "oh... okay" matches. Nothing wrong with it, both guys performed well, Swagger looked diabolical, but you could probably do play-by-play for the match without even seeing it.
But then it was time for our main event, yes Raw ended with an actual match for once, John Cena vs. CM Punk for the #1 contender spot at WrestleMania. While I can be a bit hyperbolic at times, I try to avoid phrases like "instant classic" except when they're deserved, but this match deserves it. Wow. Just wow.
Yes, there were commercial breaks, yes it means Rock vs. Cena II, yes it means Punk doesn't get final match honors at WrestleMania, but this match was damn near perfect. The only bad thing I can say about it is Rock and Cena have to somehow follow it and I don't know if they have it in them. This is a match I would've gladly paid for and very likely will when it makes it onto the Best of Raw & Smackdown 2013 DVD.
Dude, CM Punk busted out a goddamn piledriver!
It had everything you want in a WWE match and epitomized the notion of that frequently said, but hard to define phrase: "main event style." When you can make every move, no matter how common, feel like a match-ender and reel a red-hot crowd into buying it? You're doing something right.
And no griping about Undertaker not showing up, you don't overshadow a match like that. He can still set up his all-but-confirmed match with Punk next week, right?
So yeah, a kick-ass opening segment, a shockingly good bit with Zeb Colter and a jaw-dropping main event was about an hour's worth of great content spread out over three hours and fifteen minutes, but I'll gladly take the journey with WWE every week if I'm going to get stuff like this. If you watched this morning on DVR, your fast-forward button surely got a workout, but I don't regret staying up past my bedtime for Cena vs. Punk... I just hope the show I pay $60 for on April 7 can live up to the hype they just gave it.