I’ve talked up past Raw’s in the past only to be disappointed, but I really think this is going to be a good show. With it being an “old school” Raw we have plenty of special guests already confirmed in Ted Dibiase, Ric Flair and the New Age Outlaws to name a few. The Rock and Triple H are billed as well. Oh and the UNDERTAKER WAS SEEN IN THE AREA! Each week has been labeled as the week he officially comes back, but with the Cena/Punk stuff out of the way and making an appearance at a house show last weekend, the time really does seem perfect. Plus, its “old school” Raw, and he has a move called “old school.” Right? Right?
The show kicks off and its the old style Raw set with 90s era ropes and aprons and HOLY MOTHER OF HELL IT’S THE UNDERTAKER! They wasted no time building up the suspense on this one. His music hits, the crowd goes nuts and the dead man strolls out in full S&M attire with fire coming from the stage and a giant WrestleMania sign behind him. Then we got the opening montage, narrated by “Mean” Gene Okerlund and the original Raw music. Pretty sweet for an old timer like myself. Even the graphics and announcers are throwbacks.
CM Punk is the first to show up after the intro. With Paul Heyman by his side, the first thing Punk said was that he should be main eventing WrestleMania specifically as the WWE Champion, but he is not and blames the fans for it. He then says that if he can’t main event then he has no reason to be at WrestleMania. However the seeing the Undertaker gives him a reason. Since the fans took from him, he is going to take from the fans and end the Undertaker’s undefeated streak. He criticizes the fans for honoring the 20-0 streak but not respecting his championship streak, declares that he’ll beat the Undertaker and hand him his first WrestleMania loss. After he’s done Randy Orton comes out, brings up how he beat Punk at WrestleMania and talks about his match against the Undertaker 8 years ago. He says that he was a rookie then and almost beat him, and says he wants another shot. After he’s done the Big Show comes out to make his case. He says that when he faced the Undertaker at WrestleMania he didn’t have his KO Punch (which makes no sense) and that you need to be a giant to beat him. Then Sheamus comes out and is all “hey fella, I’ve never faced him and I love to foyte blah blah blah.” Long story short, all four guys want to face the Undertaker. Out comes Vicki Guerrero to declare that they will compete in a fatal four-way match to determine the Undertaker’s opponent. We all know Punk is going to be the guy, but having him earn it is a lot better than having him just get chosen because Undi didn’t like how he calls himself a god. I’m all for things being earned in the ring.
The first match of the night puts United States Champion, Antonio Cesaro against Ryback. I feel like Cesaro only faces four people since he first arrived. Kofi Kingston, R-Truth, Miz and Ryback. Ryback’s tights say “unlimited energy.” I think he is promoting a new energy drink. In classic Ryback/Cesaro fashion, Cesaro (sporting new blue ring gear he claims to have made) starts off by attacking Ryback with a flurry of moves, only to be driven into oblivion by Ryback. The crow chanted “Goldberg” as Ryback performed a very Goldberg-y move, flipping Cesaro onto his shoulder and slamming him onto the mat. All of Antonio’s offense comes at the expense of the surroundings. Driving Ryback’s throat into the rope, head into the post, and a boot kicking his face into the outside railing finally put Cesaro in control for a little bit. Antionio called Ryback stupid however and Ryback immediately came back to beat the snot out of Cesaro. What followed was the greatest sequence of Ryback’s still early career. He set Cesaro up for the meathook clothesline, but when he ran in Antonio countered and clocked Ryback with an uppercut. Cesaro then went for the Neutralizer and almost got it up, but Ryback fought it off and lifted Cesaro into position for Shellshocked, landing it and winning the match. A very strong ending for what seemed like every other Ryback match ever until then. Step forward for Ryback. As Ryback is leaving up the ramp, Mark Henry comes out and the two stare each other down. Henry eventually moves on and makes his way toward the ring. I had thought Big Show would make a good opponent for Ryback at WrestleMania, but Mark Henry might just as good if not better. I assumed he would just take on the Shield again but I’m happy to see someone else get in his way.
Henry would go on to face Zack Ryder, and it must be new ring gear day because he has red attire tonight with a “push me” button in the rear. He also looks a little feistier, which is interesting because he has been talking about ditching the comedy relief gimmick and becoming more serious. Cole also had to mention how pissed he is about not being booked for WrestleMania, especially since it’s in his native tri-state area. Ryder gets a knee up in the corner but that’s pretty much all the offense he musters. Irish whip in the corner, clothesline and a Worlds Strongest Slam is all it takes to put Zack out for the count. Henry gets the pin, yelling “That’s what I do!” I really want that to be a t-shirt. I might even buy it.
For the first time in months, maybe years, we have three straight matches in a row as the Miz takes on everyones favorite (but mostly mine) Dolph Ziggler. It just wouldn’t be the Miz though if he didn’t grab the mic and talk some smack. He introduces Ric Flair, who will be in his corner. Flair does the same thing he’s been doing whenever he shows up lately, act like he’s high on paint fumes. He’ll spend the majority of the match dancing around and “wooing.” I’m not complaining, just stating the facts. Ziggler has enough of it, gives Miz a big chop and struts around until the Miz knocks him out of the ring with a boot to the face. Back in the ring, Ziggler landed a standing dropkick and followed it up with his head stand headlock (he’s soooo dreamy). After trading blows, Miz rolled up Dolph for a two count and followed it up with a back breaker into the neck breaker. Ziggler then countered with a small package for a near fall and kept the momentum with a jumping DDT. Miz then fought off a sleeper hold attempt but Dolph ducked under a boot to the face, this time locking in the sleeper in the middle of the ring. Miz eventually fights him off however, connects on the jumping clothesline in the corner and the top rope axe handle, setting up for the Skull Crushing Finale (remember that move?). AJ starts to enter the ring however, and with the ref distracted with her (can you blame him?), Big E takes out Miz with a clothesline. Flair then wakes up from his trance and starts slapping Langston’s chest like it owed him money. It has no affect of course and Flair starts to retreat, but Miz saves Ric with a kick through the ropes to take Big E out. Dolph rolls up the distracted Miz for a two count, then Miz deflects Ziggler’s standing drop kick, applies another fairly sloppy figure four and gets Ziggler to tap out. How many people does Dolph need in his corner to win a match these days? Unbelievable. After the match, Flair and Miz strut around like psychos, with Ric flopping and elbow dropping the air. Good match, just can’t get over how Dolph never wins anymore.
Seeing three consecutive matches makes me worry that we aren’t going to see wrestling for a while. My suspicions are confirmed when the Rock comes out. The WWE Champion will engage in an all out, no holds barred, point/counterpoint discussion with John Cena. ANYTHING GOES! Verbally. Rock spent about five minutes explaining to us that it’s cold in Buffalo (and that he had ice on his nipples) before John Cena interrupted. Is he going to counter the Rock’s point about Buffalo being cold? They agree that WrestleMania is 34 days away. Cena says that the Rock doesn’t know what it’s like to need to win and fail, like Cena does after losing to the Rock. As “Cena sucks” chants start, Cena talks about how that loss made him feel worthless and sent his life into a tailspin. He’s making it sound like he was a drug addict. He says the Rock is the reason for Cena’s collapse last year, and why he has turned it around now. Cena says that Rocked pushed him to win the Royal Rumble and beat finally CM Punk. Cena sees this match as a shot at redemption to right the biggest wrong of his life and that he won’t throw this chance away. Rock says he’s happy to see that fire from Cena because he wanted to face him at WrestleMania, and that is because he knows how important all of this is to him. Rock says that no other superstar has that fire, except himself. He adds that John Cena won’t be getting redemption, he’s going to get his ass kicked. Cena responds by quoting Mike Tyson, first by yelling “I’m going to eat his children” in his Tyson voice. Then he quotes him seriously, saying “in order to be the greatest that ever lived, you have to beat everyone living.” Cena then says that he has accomplished everything he has ever set out to do in the WWE, except defeat the Rock. He then says that the Rock’s time is up, and his time is now. Rock then says his time is just starting and quotes Lance Armstrong, saying “Winning is all about heart. You just have to have it in the right place.” He says “Lance Armstrong was full of crap and so are you.” (Rock’s best line in a while) Cena can’t help but laugh, finally pulling it together to again say that he will beat Rock. Rock responds by saying that the difference between the two of them is that Cena think he can beat the Rock, and the Rock knows he can beat Cena, and will beat him again. They gaze into each other’s eyes for a while (or had a stare down, your choice) as the went to break. I thought Cena was much better than Rock (for the same reason’s Punk was better as Rock has nothing new to offer) for the majority of the segment. Rock evened things out considerably with that last line and Cena’s reaction to it. Solid stuff.
This is followed by what looks like a wrestling match at a distance, as the real American Jack Swagger goes against Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Sgt Slaughter and the American Dream Dusty Rhodes. It pro-America faces against the American heel. I dig it. Swagger slides out of the ring and grabs Duggan’s 2×4, hitting Jim with it when he went in to grab it. Swagger then knocked out Slaughter and Rhodes with it before applying the Patriot Act on Duggan. It’s a non match, which is for the best considering Duggan was wearing gym shorts and a tank top, and it was meant purely to give Swagger more heat. That’s good because right now people only care about Zeb Colter. Backstage, Josh Matthews is asking Swagger why he acted like such a bitch. He was about to say something about how this is Jack Swagger’s America, when Alberto Del Rio attacked him from behind. Security steps in between them and Swagger is prevented from speaking again.
Back in the ring the Prime Time Players, who are all about “millions of dollars” are trying to get Ted DiBiase, the million dollar man, to be their manager. So he is ringside as they take on Team Hell No. Kane takes control early against Darren Young, tagging in Bryan who keeps it going with a dropkick. Titus O’Neil evens things out with a big clothesline on Bryan, following it up by slamming Young onto Daniel. Young then tributes DiBiase by doing his trademark fist drop. A “we want Virgil” chant gets going. Somewhere Virgil is smiling in his box. Bryan gets Kane in on a hot tag and unleashes the beast on Young. After hitting a sidewalk slam, O’Neil breaks up the pin attempt. Titus then goes after Bryan on the apron, but Daniel lowers the rope and O’Neil falls out of the ring. Bryan keeps him out with a jumping knee off the apron, and Kane catches Young off a top rope axe handle to land a chokeslam and win the match. After the match, DiBiase shoves a hundred-dollar bill down Young;s throat, laughs and walks out. Awesome. As they are leaving, Bryan runs over and takes the money from Darren’s mouth. Awesomer!
The tag team action continues as Brodus Clay and Tensai now (Sweet T) are out against 3MB. Before the match starts, the Honky Tonk Man comes out! He is introduced as the greatest Intercontinental Champion in WWE history. I might go with Randy Savage but he did hold the belt longer than anyone else. Slater grabs the mic from Honky, telling him that he needs to go back to Vegas because 3MB is the biggest musical act in the WWE, and makes him leave the ring. Drew McIntyre starts against Tensai, and after Drew misses on a dive in the corner, Tensai rolls him up from behind and gets the pin. Perfect! Tensai and Clay start to dance until the Honky Tonk Man stops him, gets his music to play and they all do the Honky dance until Swagger comes out to stop them. He gets hit a guitar to the face courtesy of the Honky Tonk Man and the dance party continues. Big pop.
Have you been as excited for Fandango’s debut as I’ve been? Well then you’ll be disappointed to know that he’s making his debut tonight against Kofi Kingston. It was supposed to be on Smackdown but Matt Striker couldn’t say his name right. After a woman best described as a 6 dances, Fandango says that Justin Roberts, the ring announcer, didn’t say his name right, and won’t wrestle until his name is said correctly. He makes him repeat it over and over until he finally decides that he just isn’t going to wrestle tonight. I’m not nearly as disappointed as Jerry Lawler is. Lawler was not happy with Roberts. I’m left trying to figure out why this character is a good idea. Brodus Clay started as a beast who debut as a dancing clown. Maybe Fandango will be a dancing clown that debuts as a beast.
So even though we should have had four matches after the Rock and Cena came out, only one of them actually resembled a match. We continue the non-wrestling portion of the program with Triple H coming out to address the crowd regarding Brock Lesnar. He starts by talking about how the last time he spoke on Raw it was after losing to Lesnar at Summerslam and thinking about retirement. He says he’s been working out and training every day but with no actual reason to do it. Lesnar gave him that reason when he attacked Vince McMahon. He says that Summerslam was just the beginning between him and Lesnar, and calls him out for WrestleMania. He also calls himself the ass-kicker again among his usually list of nicknames. Weird thing to call yourself. Triple H keeps it pretty short and heads out. He made a big deal about how he made Lesar bleed. He didn’t really have anything to say about how Lesnar was smiling afterwards. Oh well.
The Shield had a video promo about what happened on Smackdown with Orton, Sheamus and Big Show. Shield came out to attack Orton during his match against Show, but Sheamus came to assist. As they fought, Show got bumped into and knocked out Reigns, causing them to retreat. Shield brings up that while the Undertaker has an undefeated WrestleMania streak, the Shield has also never been beaten. They also now have beef with Big Show, along with Sheamus and Orton. The same men who are in the Fatal Four-way match with CM Punk for the right to face the Undertaker. Hmmmmmm. Things seem to be taking shape.
World Heavyweight Champion in action next against Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett. Del Rio takes control early as Swagger and Colter come out to the stage to watch. Alberto moves in on Wade but Barrett counters with a swinging side slam. Del Rio gets tossed on the outside of the ramp and applies the cross arm breaker on Barrett while hanging on the top rope. Barrett then comes back with a big boot to the face to knock him off the apron onto the floor. Barrett then suspends Del Rio’s head on the apron and nails him with boots and kicks to the head. Back in the ring Barrett goes for an elbow from the second rope but misses, giving Del Rio the opening to come back. A tiltaworld back breaker leads to a sidekick to the face, setting up an enzigui in the corner but Barrett steps aside, hitting a side kick to the gut. Wade then goes for a pump handle slam but Alberto escapes, applying the cross arm breaker and getting the win via submission. Very solid match. When there have been actual wrestling matches they have been quite good. The rest has been acceptable. Swagger and Colter never move from the stage, just looking angry the whole time.
The New Age Outlaws in the house and they do the whole entrance shtick that they did all those years ago and it still pops. I also have to give it to Billy Gunn, he may have lost some hair up top but he still looks pretty good. They go against Epico and Primo. The Road Dogg gets his shimmy moves going early with “You still got it” chants going. Epico and Primo gain control for the middle of the match, with the Road Dogg telling the crowd to get loud while he’s in a head lock. He finally gets Gunn for a hot tag and hits the swinging power slam before eventually connecting on a somewhat sloppy fame-asser to get the win. They did pretty well considering they hadn’t performed on Raw in 13 years.
On the main stage the full roster is out celebrating Mae Young’s 90th birthday. Mean Gene Okerlund calls out Mae, who is le out by the Divas. I know you were wondering and yes, Mark Henry is out there to celebrate with his former lady. In the middle of the birthday song however, CM Punk’s music hits and he walks right through the celebration on his way to the ring for the Fatal Four-way match against Sheamus, Orton and the Big Show.
When the bell rings Punk immediately slides out of the ring to let the other’s fight it out. Sheamus and Orton then do the same, cornering Punk who then slides back into the ring only to get knocked down by Big Show. Show then goes after Orton outside the ring, and Randy avoids being dropped onto the railing by pushing Show into the ring post, temporarily knocking him out. Sheamus and Orton then go at it and as soon as Orton hits Sheamus witha back breaker, Punk runs in and covers Sheamus for two count, immediately leaving the ring again after he kicks out. He tries it again after Sheamus hits Orton with an Irish Curse back breaker, but Sheamus keeps him from escaping the ring and he and Orton throw CM over the top rope. Meanwhile Big Show gets back up and takes down the two faces. During the break, Orton DDT’d Show from the top rope, taking him out of the match again. He tried the same trick on Punk but gets tossed out of the ring just as Sheamus comes up to pummel his chest from the apron. Show then hits Sheamus with a final cut, but the pin gets broken up by Punk. Show then hits Punk with a KO Punch but Sheamus attacks Show before he can cover. Sheamus lands a flurry of attacks to take him down, but Show gets back up quick and regains control. Show goes for the second rope splash but Sheamus moves away. He then lifts up the Big Show for White Noise but only gets a two count. Sheamus calls for the Brogue Kick but Orton runs in and power slams him for a two count. Show then moves in to choke slam Orton, pushing away Sheamus before throwing down Randy. Show then blocks a Brogue Kick before choke slamming Sheamus for a two count. Show calls for the KO Punch on Sheamus, but Sheamus ducks under it and lands a Brogue Kick (after Show seemed to wait forever for it) knocking him out of the ring. Orton then hit Sheamus with an RKO and Punk tagged Orton with a roundhouse kick straight into a GTS to win the match. Very entertaining and everyone played their parts well, although the result was never in question. The best thing is that it was a clean win for Punk. I don’t think that’s happened in a big match since he turned heel.
The crowd goes nuts as Punk secures the match against the Undertaker at WrestleMania. He does a great job not pointing at the WreslteMania sign as the lights go dark and the Undertaker’s music hits. Undi steps out again to the stage and the fire erupts behind him as the two stare at each other to end the show. Plenty of action in what was the best Raw with regards to promoting WrestleMania. Hard not to be pumped after all that. We also have a clearer picture on the card. Based on everything we’ve seen it looks like we can almost count on the following matches:
Rock vs John Cena for the WWE Championship
Undertaker vs CM Punk
Brock Lesnar vs Triple H
Alberto Del Rio vs Jack Swagger for the World Heavyweight Championship
Ryback vs Mark Henry
Randy Orton, Sheamus and the Big Show vs the Shield
That still leaves some people who still needs to find their roles (most notably Jericho, Ziggler, Kane and Daniel Bryan) but the main card looks set and it’s pretty good aside from Del Rio/Swagger. That could even be a good match, I just wouldn’t pay to see it. Everything else is looking pretty solid at the moment. Just under five weeks to go.