Last night’s RAW, a free show, was far better than the previous evening’s Royal Rumble, a pay-per-view event. That says a lot about the way WWE’s creative team currently approaches their job. That the two highlights picked from the PPV were a shot of the Rumble winner celebrating and a man doing a handstand tells you all you need to know about the levels of excitement that were achieved on Sunday evening.
RAW, on the other hand, was packed with exciting moments. It was the show the Rumble should have been.
The opening segment, which kicked off the show-long story of John Laurinaitis’s performance review, was a rare example of a promo segment starting the show the right way. Laurinaitis stumbled even more than usual (the highlight was when he referred to Daniel Bryan as “Dangly Bryan”) but that only added to the fun. The interim RAW GM is at his best when making us laugh unintentionally.
He was joined by CM Punk, who sang the “na-na na-na, hey hey hey, goodbye” song and encouraged the fans and ringside staff to join in. He then went through his usual routine of trying to sound cleverer than he actually is by being sarcastic and smug at his on- and off-screen boss’s expense. Thankfully Daniel Bryan came out after a few minutes. He told Punk that he was the better champion as he had gone through bigger challenges than his straight edge counterpart.
Whether or not they end up continuing this storyline it was nice to see Bryan and Punk interact in such a believable, relatable manner. Their exchange was one of the show’s many highlights.
Just as Bryan and Punk had agreed to give viewers “the best match in the world” by facing each other in a champion versus champion bout (title defences were not brought up and won’t be for some time if the story gets going) they were joined by Sheamus. He was basically there just to remind people that he’d won the Rumble and establish that he hadn’t yet made up his mind as to whom he’d face at WrestleMania XXVIII.
The show featured five matches. Divas’ champion Beth Phoenix v Eve Torres was kept short, existing mainly to set up a brawl between Kane and John Cena. For what it was the match was fine. The brawl between Cena and Kane was spirited and engaging, but ate up such a large chunk of air time I ended up hitting fast forward. I imagine I’m not the only one who did that. I will say that the brawl was more entertaining than their match at the Rumble and a strong argument for any further matches they have (and presumably they’ll have one at Elimination Chamber) being fought under a gimmick that lets them roam around the arena.
Bryan and Punk hsanke hands, just as they used to in Ring of Honor
The other filler match was Brodus Clay’s win over Tyler Reks. It was the usual Funkasaurus routine, which I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of. WWE are doing a good job on the character. I expect he’ll keep being fed enhancement talent for the next few weeks before getting into his first meaningful feud. I think he’d be a good choice to take the Intercontinental title from Cody Rhodes. The two could have a very good match and it would be nice for Rhodes to elevate somebody to the mid-card level before his promotion to the main event happens.
The other three matches were Miz v Kofi Kingston, Dolph Ziggler v Randy Orton and CM Punk v Daniel Bryan. All three were great matches. The only match that bettered any of them from the Rumble was Punk v Ziggler. Kingston and ‘The Viper’ both won clean. In the case of Kingston that could indicate a renewed push as a singles star. WWE could do far worse if they’re looking for new men to elevate: ‘The Dreadlocked Dynamo’ works hard, is over and looks the part of a WWE superstar.
Although the Punk v Bryan match was good it’s ending left a little to be desired. Just after Punk had catapulted Bryan into the ring post (which seems to be his new favourite trick) Bryan was pulled from the ring and thrown into a barrier by Chris Jericho. ‘Y2J’ then slid into the ring, hit a Codebreaker on Punk and left. He did his creepy smile at the top of the ramp as Bryan was announced as the winner by disqualification (because he’d been attacked first).
It looks as though the Punk v Jericho feud is going to happen. That’s a very good thing.
There was also big news on RAW: WWE champion CM Punk will defend his belt against Dolph Ziggler, the Miz, Kofi Kingston, R-Truth and Chris Jericho at Elimination Chamber. That’s a very impressive line-up that shows WWE’s focus on younger talent isn’t going to fade away as WrestleMania gets closer (not yet anyway). It’s easily my favourite EC gang for years. There are only two guys I can imagine leaving the Chamber as champion (Punk and Jericho) but that won’t detract from match quality, and the fact that Sheamus won the Rumble shows that WWE aren’t afraid of doing the unexpected. Perhaps Miz or Ziggler will capture the gold on February 19th.
In the main event spot was the John Laurinaitis performance review. Yes, two men talking about a fictitious job went on after a champion versus champion match. You can tell this is WWE can’t you? In fairness both Triple H (who made his first appearance on camera since TLC in December) and John Laurinaitis were on top form. Laurinaitis has become a far more reliable promo man than I ever would have expected. Even when he bungles his lines (which is often) it’s not bad because it’s been made part of his character.
Both men presented their cases: Laurinaitis said he’d done a good job, been creative and achieved higher ratings than RAW was getting this time last year. Tripper said that Laurinaitis had used the position to accomplish what he’d never managed during his active wrestling career: become a superstar. His numerous All Japan tag title reigns were not acknowledged.
‘The Game’ tricked the former Johnny Ace into getting onto his knees and puckering up to become the first member of the Triple H Kiss My Ass Club. The audience (and Vince too, I would imagine) found that hilarious. I found it tedious, partly because the PG rating meant it was never going to happen and they were clearly wasting time.
Back on his feet Laurinaitis was about to be wished “all the best in his future endeavours” when a gong rang out and the Undertaker (wearing a shoddy wig) made his return to TV. That I was not expecting. While it made for great television I can’t help but wonder why ‘The Phenom’ wasn’t brought back one night earlier at the Royal Rumble. That would have made the show far more memorable and given it the dash of spectacle that it sorely needed.
Having ‘Taker return, unadvertised, in the overrun of RAW didn’t improve buy rates or ratings because nobody knew it was going to happen. The argument will be that WWE advertised the return of Triple H, but he’s never going to create the ratings spike a properly advertised Undertaker return can.
Predictably ‘The Dead Man’ looked purposefully at the WrestleMania sign hanging from the rafters and then to Triple H. Yes, he wants a rematch at this year’s show! What a shock. Tripper, surprisingly, just touched ‘Taker on the shoulder and left the ring. There was no confirmation of a match. That will come in the next few weeks. It looks as though ‘Taker will go on a quest to have ‘The Game’ accept his challenge, just as Shawn Michaels did with the Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI in 2010.
With free television shows this good who needs pay-per-views?