I’ll have the decency to put this behind a cut for those fo you who don’t want to endure one of my rare, but oh-so-fanboyish descents into wrestling commentary.
The night after the Royal Rumble kicks off my favourite part of the year in the WWE. It’s like playoff season, the pieces start to move into place leading into the biggest show of the year. It’s the one time of the year where they actually give these storylines a couple of months to develop aside from a brief detour to the Elimination Chamber PPV. And the RAW the night after the Rumble is the first chance we as fans get to see how these things might shake out. To my surprise, I really liked RAW last night, I thought it was a strong show overall, despite one mind-boggling decision that would have ruined the whole endeavour for me had the show’s final segment not occurred. Let’s chat.
Daniel Bryan vs. CM Punk
Champ v. Champ matches are not exactly rare [despite what John Laurenaitis might have us believe], but the thought of two guys who can actually wrestle [gasp!] getting into the ring? If the thought of a Punk v. Bryan match didn’t get you at least a little excited last night, you need to ask why you watch.
I expressed my concerns on Twitter before the match started that the bookers wouldn’t give the pair much time to show us anything, what with most TV matches being in the neighbourhood of four minutes anymore. But to my utter delight, Punk and Bryan got a full 15 minutes of TV time to ply their trade for the audience in-house and at home, complete with the old “Code of Honor” handshake at the start, not only a sign of respect to each other, but a nod to their time spent in the indy company Ring of Honor. It’s enough to make an old fan squee like a teenage girl, I tell you.
The match itself was a great example of what Chris Jericho once talked about as a sort of “athletic jazz.” Bryan and Punk knew the finish, they knew a couple of spots they wanted to hit, but the rest of that match they called on the fly, in the ring. That they can make the entire thing look like it was planned move for move beforehand is the truest sign of a great wrestler.
Speaking of great wrestlers, Mr. Jericho finally did something after the slowbuild of his return all January. The dirt sheets suggest the only reason Jericho didn’t win the Rumble on Sunday is because everyone expected him to win the Rumble on Sunday, and the WWE likes to keep things unexpected, so Sheamus wins the battle royale. With Jericho’s involvement in the match last night taking out Punk, it’s safe to say we’ll see those two tear the house down for the WWE Title at Wrestlemania. What’s more, everyone stayed protected in the finish: Bryan “wins,” but continues to do so in his weaselly fashion [not a character development I’m hugely fond of, but the whole “I’m a role model” angle makes it a little more palatable]; Punk loses through no fault of his own, and Jericho inserts himself squarely back in the title picture. Have Sheamus pick Bryan for his WM match and fans get the pleasure of watching Punk and Jericho, two of the best on the mic ever, cut promos on each other for the next two months. Sounds like a dream to me.
Best moments: The brutal looking double cross-body collison midring; Bryan’s crucifix reversal out of the GTS. The sort of simple move that makes you go, ‘now why hasn’t anyone else ever tried that?’; Michael Cole not being Michael Cole while calling the match. Well, not too much, anyway.
Whither Dolph Ziggler?!
They were actually making me a believer. After months of effort, either pinning CM Punk clean or at least getting the better of him and laying him out, I actually started to feel Dolph Ziggler as something other than a US Champion, a legitimate threat to Punk’s title with or without John Laurenaitis’s interference.
So how do they build him back up after he loses to Punk at the Rumble? Feed him to Randy Orton. Yes, that makes complete and total sense.
The way I see it, every wrestler in a company is like a stock, and the market is the crowd, a handful of them reach blue-chip status, their value will never depreciate during their careers in the company. Despite whether or not I think he deserves it [he doesn’t], Randy Orton has achieved that level of value. Title or no-title, win or lose, Randy stays loved by the fans.
A guy like Dolph Ziggler, the market’s a little more volatile for him. He needs to be taken care of, he needs to be guided into main event status. He definitely always had potential [still the only guy besides Kenny remembered from the Spirit Squad], but his moves aren’t quite flashy enough, he doesn’t quite have enough charisma yet. But he was getting there, and definitely raised the bar for himself during his feud with Punk.
So a night after he fights for the title, he has a match with the returning Randy Orton where he gets his ass handed to him for ten minutes. No real offense to speak of, no post-match beatdown assisted by Wade Barrett, just look at the lights, kid. He was absolutely buried, for no reason. Even if this leads into an ongoing feud with Randy, it’s going to take a while get his heat back with the audience. Because who’s going to believe Ziggler can do anything to Orton after getting beat down so handily.
Whether Randy wins or loses, the outcome does nothing to his standing with the fans. But Dolph loses all credibility in their eyes with a loss like that, and it’s the sort of shortsighted booking I see the WWE pull all the time.
Best moments: None to speak of. Maybe the groan I made from the couch watching this bullshittery unfold.
The Undertaker Returns
Full disclosure: I am an Undertaker mark from waaaaay back. He’s got just as many terrible moments in his career as highlights, but he is the consummate professional, the soul of the company for over a decade. There’s no one like him in wrestling, and after being MIA since he was stretchered out of Wrestlemania 27 following his match with Triple H, he appeared on television again.
While I admit to marking out when the bells tolled, I wasn’t really surprised. If he was going to show up, it would be the night after the Rumble, and if he was going to want a word with anyone, it was going to be HHH. Taker came out as Trips was in the process of firing John Laurenaitis, did his whole ‘cut throat, stare at Wrestlemania sign as way of challenge’ thing that he’s done in years past, and Triple H did something I’ve never seen anyone do before.
He looked at the Undertaker with pity. He gave him a patronizing pat on the shoulder, and left.
I’ve seen some discussion suggesting people think what happened last night was a riff on HHH’s lecture to Laurenaitis about letting personal issues get in the way of doing business as the GM, therefore he won’t agree to a rematch. I don’t think that’s where they’re going at all. I think what we’ll see is, despite what the records show, HHH feels like he beat the Undertaker already, which is the story they told in that match. HHH beat Taker within an inch of his undead life. Taker endured it, refusing to back down, Triple H blinked for a second and got caught in the Hell’s Gate submission. But he also walked out of the ring, while the Undertaker was driven out on his back and wasn’t seen for almost a year since. I think the angle they’ll work is one where Taker chases HHH, who just feels sorry for the old dog who doesn’t know his day is over. It could be a nice flip on the usual “Break the Streak,” storyline they toss together for him at Wrestlemania, with some young buck who wants to make a name or a legend with nothing left to achieve looking to be the one to beat Taker at Wrestlemania. Here we have Taker demanding his match and not getting it, and I don’t think they’ve done that with him before.
Most are speculating that his WM match this year will be his last, and I’m inclined to agree. Going 20-0 at the biggest show of the year and calling it a career would be a hell of a high note to go out on, and one he deserves after everything he’s done for the company, but I still get nervous like a little kid when I think, “he might actually get beat this year…” I’m not thrilled with HHH being his last opponent, but I acknowledge there’s no one really left in the company deserving of being his final opponent besides Trips.
However it shakes out, it’s the start of what should be a crazy fun angle going into Mania, and hopefully, if it is the sunset of my favourite wrestler, an angle deserving of telling the story of his last dance.
Best moments: The sound of the bells; the look on HHH’s face as he walked away.