So this was the Raw most people have been waiting for. Reports abound all week long that Chicago’s own hometown rebel, CM Punk, had finally reconciled his differences with the creative team and a deal was stuck. Meanwhile, the rabid, passionate fan base of the All-State Arena had created Twitter accounts, clothing, and even blueprints on how to “hijack Raw” to support the guys they wanted to see given a bigger push. Only time would tell if either of these things would happen. So lets get right into it…
As the CM Punk chants rage through the arena at the start of the show, Punk’s music hits, and the crowd erupts. Though it was only Paul Heyman, who cuts an excellent promo about how the fans and the Undertaker were the ones who drove Punk away. Then he transitions that into the upcoming Taker-Lesnar feud at Mania. Incredible, smart booking by WWE and a superb job by Heyman on the mic (as always). Lesnar comes out and babbles for a few seconds, then Mark Henry interrupts as they try to leave. The segment ends with Lesnar F5’ing Henry through the announce table. Great job neutralizing the crowd, staying entertaining, and putting Brock over as a beast.
Usos vs. New Age Outlaws for the Tag Team Titles are next. Another solid match between these teams. The crowd really picks up in the second segment of this and gets behind the Usos. Hats off to the NAO for hanging with the young blood, and the Usos looked great here as they won the belts to a thunderous ovation. It would be cool to see them retain in a rematch or gauntlet tag match at Mania. Nice job here. Cesaro vs. Big E is next, and the crowd seems VERY much behind Cesaro. About 3 minutes in though, Swagger runs in and attacks Big E, just like last week. Not very creative, and a gross misuse of Cesaro in front of a “wrestling crowd”. Later in the night, they randomly had Swagger vs. Big E, when Cesaro jumped in and attacked Big E at the bell. It all felt very forced and like a waste of time, but it does tease the Real Americans’ split. I’d like to see these 3 in a three-way at Mania for the IC belt.
Shield vs. Wyatts is up next. WWE really took zero chances here with the Chicago crowd and made sure to put a ton of favorites up there right in a row. Very smart booking. This match was excellent again, although not as long or thought out as their Elimination Chamber classic. What I like about this feud is that the matches don’t feel like cheesy, predicable wrestling shows. They feel like old-school, drag-out brawls where the guys legitimately want to kill each other. This was very physical, the crowd was hot the whole time, and it benefited every one of the six men involved. Seth Rollins stood out yet again, and I really hope they have something good for him once the Shield splits. Rollins walks out this time and says he’s tired of being the peace maker, and he’ll let Reigns and Ambrose figure it out. Ambrose falls to Bray’s “Sister Abigail”. He’s on a roll towards Cena, and the Shield has major issues.
The second hour fell off ferociously. First we had Santino/Emma vs. Fandango/Summer Rae in a short, seemingly useless match. Emma beat Summer with her “Emma Lock”, but not much else happened. Then we got Sheamus vs. Christian part 1,000. These two always have solid matches, but this is the forth time they’ve fought in 6 weeks, and they seem to be fighting again at Mania. This was way overbooked and way too long (went about 20 minutes). Not as good as their previous matches together, and chants of “this is awful” and “end this match” popped up. Sheamus wins, Christian attacks him backstage after. I’m growing tired of this same story. Then the Bellas beat Aksana/Alicia Fox in a very sloppy match. The crowd was dead for the entire hour, and did anything but “hijack” these poor segments.
The third hour improves, opening with a HHH/Steph/Bryan promo. Tons of furious “CM Punk” chants directed at HHH, and the crowd booed so loudly when HHH/Steph spoke that you could barely hear the promo. Bryan cuts a decent promo about how he’s been held down and he wants the people to have a voice. HHH blows him off and says without him, there’d be no Daniel Bryan. Standard stuff, but pretty good. Aaron Paul comes out next with Dolph Ziggler, and actually distracts Alberto Del Rio (Ziggler’s opponent) so Dolph can get a rare Raw win in 3 minutes. A few “Jesse Pinkman” and “Lets Go Ziggler” chants from Chicago, but nothing super noticeable. I wish they’d been louder in support of Ziggler. The way this guy gets used is criminal. Then Cena comes out next to the usually barrage of boos, again talking about how the future goes through him. I really like that gimmick, but it will only work if he creates new stars by having guys like Wyatt and Reigns beat him. Bray cuts him off with another masterful promo about how he’s the truth and he’s going to end Cena. Bray’s mic work is so polished and his stories are great. He’s ALREADY a top 4 promo guy in WWE. Good segment.
The main event is Bryan vs. Batista (or “Bootista” if you prefer), and the match doesn’t start until after 11. Major overrun tonight by Raw. The match is OK, nothing special but nothing bad either. Batista looks lost a lot and is very choppy in the ring. But the crowd was more worried about the possibility of Punk coming in. The Authority and Corporate Kane come down and cause a DQ. Bryan takes out Kane but gets leveled by Batista. Bryan kicks HHH, so HHH pedigrees him. It would be the perfect time for Punk to come out, but alas, he doesn’t, and Raw goes off the air with HHH standing over Bryan. You have to thing this was a direct shot at the fans. They wanted Punk and Bryan standing tall, and got HHH standing over Bryan once again. If Bryan doesn’t beat HHH at Mania, this is all for nothing.
Anyway, a very good overall show, that was carried by the Title match and the six-man tag in the first hour. The crowd gave a nice effort, but was nowhere near as altering or imposing as they’d promised. Also three great promos (Heyman, Cena/Wyatts, HHH/Bryan) setting up their respective Mania matches and getting the crowd involved. My guess is, if CM Punk wasn’t back tonight, he won’t be back for Wrestlemania. So now the Mania success or failure is based on who wins the matches. If the young guys (Bryan and Wyatt) win, then the people will be happy. If the old guard does the same old thing and buries the up-and-coming talent, this angry demand for change will just keep growing. Until the next opening bell, valued readers…