-I think the best way to describe last night’s WWE WrestleMania would be like this: the wrestling portions were fine, in some parts, even phenomenal, but the booking and structure were just awful. When Daniel Bryan lost the opener, it had the unfortunate ripple effect of angrily astonishing the crowd, to the point where Kane’s slow offense, and the Deadliest Catch free commercial were just piling more and more molasses onto the race track. Matches like HHH/Undertaker, which was pretty damn good, but needed time to slowly tell the story, couldn’t quite bring the crowd out of the funk except for the high spots, after which they’d go quiet again.
A match like Punk and Jericho wasn’t going to be an ROH/strong style war as many dreamed, but featured exertion of hatred and malice that wasn’t going create for a raucous atmosphere, save for those tense final minutes. It was still a great match, but it needed the crowd to be buzzing beforehand. Cena and Rock was pretty good, but it just didn’t have the urgency I was hoping it would have. For a yearlong build, it felt a bit flat to be honest. And did we need that many commercials on the biggest show of the year?
Call it a thumbs up for the hard work of the talent, but a thumbs down for the production. Overall, it’s a thumbs in the middle.
– WWE Monday Night RAW is live from Chokeville
Opening Segment: The Rock
Remember when “IF YA SMELL” would kick off Raw and we’d love it? Yeah, great times. Didn’t have commercials on a $55 PPV either. Huge hometown chants for Rocky. “YOU STILL GOT IT!” If they read WrestleChat, they’d know to chant “THANK YOU HAWKINS!” Rock then thanks John Cena, who, surprisingly, gets booed. Dwayne on the STF: “Jesus H CHRIST get this guy off me!” Rock puts Cena over for their efforts last night, and for making history. More thanks go around, and Rock makes me laugh for the first time in months (“Do you KNOW how much you have to SUCK to get kicked out of the Canadian Football League?!”). Rock then makes another shaky promise, saying this is just the beginning. Crowd chants “YES!” in the hopes that Rock will put Daniel Bryan over. However, Rock had a vision: to once again be WWE Champion! Oh man, give me Punk over Rock at Summerslam and I’m a happy guy.
Segment Rating: 10/10. Rock’s best WWE moment since his return in February 2011. No corny phrases, just a great performer entertaining. And the lure of Rock/Punk is incredible. Great stuff.
-To the converse of that, as Cena’s fall from grace is hyped.
Match 1: Santino Marella vs. Jack Swagger vs. Dolph Ziggler (WWE United States Championship)
I think blue is Vickie Guerrero’s color. However, Jack Swagger’s outfit makes him look like an inbred dolphin. Smarky crowd rallies behind Ziggler as the heels mug Marella. Situps from Dolph, followed by ass pushups from Swagger, but Marella manages to rally valiantly. Swagger lands a big shoulder block as we hit commercial. We reset with Jack-Dolph (which should really be their name) stomping away, but Santino again fights back, landing a nice back suplex on Dolph. The Cobra comes out, but Santino is swarmed again, as the heels hit a SICK wheelbarrow fameasser. Dolph tries a pin but he and Swags have dissention. They get into it and Santino manages the comeback, pinning Swagger with the Cobra to retain. The losers go after Santino in the aftermath, but he manages to escape. As he’s chased up the ramp, Brodus Clay comes out to even the odds. FINALLY, something for Brodus to do! Dolph charges and leaps, but flies into Clay’s head, taking a deadly bump on the ramp. Ouch. Marella, Clay, and the Funkettes get funky to celebrate a new idea.
WINNER: Santino Marella via Cobra
Rating: 6/10. Good match, with the added benefit of giving Clay a push.
QUICK PLUG: My Extreme Rules booking revealed! Tell me this isn’t what WWE is going to end up doing (Not safe for work language) http://bluebarcage.blogspot.com/2012/04/wwe-extreme-rules-mad-libs-edition.html
Match 2: Lord Tensai vs. Alex Riley
Preceded by a man in all black throwing salt, Tensai arrives in a plus sized Kwang outfit. Cole hints that he’s a former WWE Superstar. The hood comes off, and it’s clearly A-Train, although Cole never says the name. Can’t have marks looking him up to see him job to Test or Rikishi or anything. Tensai dominates with ease, as expected. Lord Trainsai lands a delayed underhook suplex, followed by a series of elbows and a layout senton. Crowd’s into his strikes, and Riley merely drops dead. The old Baldo Bomb connects, and the ref….stops it? A-Ry can’t even stand up, which is fine, but what a weird time to finish. Tensai then applies the Von Erich Claw for added insult.
WINNER: Lord Tensai via stoppage
Rating: 4/10. Spirited squash, and it could be fun to see someone with a different style working with the usual upper card/main event suspects. Punk/Tenai? Sheamus/Tensai? Both seem appetizing.
-More previous footage of Cena discussing his need to win, and speculation on the psychological damage he may have from losing. They better go all out with this.
Match 3: CM Punk vs. Mark Henry (WWE Championship)
I never get tired of the Mark Henry entrance shot. It’s simple, yet unique. Punk still sells his back injury, but manages to get control with right hands and dropkicks. Henry takes Punk down and stomps the back in a way that’d make Andre proud. Punk tries to fight back, but eats a clothesline. Henry’s trash talk while he grounds Punk is great because it’s unique. Punk kicks back, but Henry catches him in a bear hug, which Punk counters into a DDT. Crowd chants “YES! YES!” and I wonder if Vince will buy the Yankees network as a result. Henry goes to the middle rope, but Punk forces him down with strikes. Corner charge gets him kicked down, though. Henry ends up missing the Vader Bomb. Punk tries for the springboard, but Henry gets a midair strike to take him down, as we go to commercial. Once we return, Punk comes off the top, only to eat a knee to the abdomen. Henry works a nervehold, and we get more Dan-YUL BRY-in chants. Henry misses and avalanche and Punk lands a strike flurry (“YES! YES! YES!”). Punk lands the high kick and Henry drops like a falling tree. Macho Elbow connects, but Punk is too hurt to cover. Champ gets the high knee in the corner, followed by another, but Henry dumps him to the floor on the bulldog attempt. That’s enough for the countout. I’m cool with that; gives Punk someone new to feud with, hopefully. Henry mauls Punk afterward, hitting the World’s Strongest Slam on the floor.
WINNER: Mark Henry via countout (CM Punk retains WWE Championship)
Rating: 9/10. Mark Henry’s best match ever; an easy ***3/4-**** big man/little man match, with shades of Vader/Sting.
-Afterward, John Laurinaitis promises more tough hurdles for Punk, and Jericho comes out of the crowd to pile on. With Punk laid out, spitting up blood, Jericho brings a booze bottle over and pours it all over Punk’s face. Jericho stomps Punk and, humorously, slips on the booze. A second bottle is broken on Punk’s head, but breaks prematurely. Still, a killer segment, and now Punk will REALLY kill Jericho in his hometown (so much for Henry for now, I suppose). Tremendous stuff.
In-Ring Segment: Sheamus
Yeesh, shoulda just saved him for Smackdown; this pro-Bryan crowd won’t be all that receptive to him. Sure enough, here’s the boo-birds. Two words out of his mouth and here comes Alberto Del Rio, and RICARDO is back too! Crowd then chants “Si! Si! Si!” Brilliant. HUGE “Daniel Bryan” chant again. Crowd isn’t happy that Del Rio is usurping Bryan’s chance at a rematch. Sheamus tries to remain a babyface, but it just isn’t working. It’s Sheamus-Del Rio for a title shot on Friday, and the mic cuts out twice on Alberto. He gets a new one, but Sheamus Brogue Kicks him. Bryan/AJ watch backstage, to a NUCLEAR reaction. Mathews tries for an interview, but gets the death glare from D-Bry.
Segment Rating: 5/10, just for the crowd reaction.
Match 4: Cody Rhodes vs. Kofi Kingston
Big pop for Cody as well. Rhodes and his magical underwear tights take aggression out early, but Kofi manages a crossbody for 2. Disaster kick responds for Rhodes, and here comes the new IC Champion, Big Show. You can see where this is going: the embarrassing WrestleMania moment for Cody is aired on the titan tron, driving Rhodes to a near coronary. Trouble in Paradise on a stunned Cody, and we’re out.
WINNER: Kofi Kingston via Trouble in Paradise
Rating: 4/10. The payoff to the angle was nice, I’ll say that.
-Cena’s downfall, part trey. I really do wonder where this is going, because they’ve never portrayed Cena as an out and out loser before.
Match 5: The Miz vs. Zack Ryder
Miz should challenge Undertaker next year, streak vs. streak, just for the Hell of it. Lawler compares Ryder to Tim Tebow. No, King, thinking people LIKE Zack. Ryder takes his recent frustrations out on Miz, smashing him into the rail. Oh, and Cena has just arrived for the big finish. Ryder gets aggressive, but the Broski Boot is aborted, and Miz clubs away. Ryder regains the edge with a faceplant, and then gets the Broski Boot for 2. Miz manages to send Ryder into the post, and a clean Skull Crushing Finale to win. Well, there goes Miz’s burial. Cole: “What an awful 24 hours for Zack Ryder!” There’s more than 24 hours in a three month span, Mike.
WINNER: The Miz via Skull Crushing Finale
Rating: 4/10. It was a match.
QUICK PLUG II: My experience backstage an independent event this past Saturday night. Eric Gargiulo gets name-dropped, so he’ll be happy to post it I’m sure. http://bluebarcage.blogspot.com/2012/04/behind-mysterious-curtain-my-night.html
-Mark Henry throws a fit backstage, and he runs into Abraham Washington, who offers to manage him. The funniest part is the crowd not remembering him from ECW at all.
-End of an Era picture show, and it might be the most divisive match from a criticism standpoint of all time. Then we get pictures of Orton/Kane and the 12 Man Tag, just to make sure we covered everything.
-Eve comes out to try and talk. Crowd wants Ryder. Vince must have his earplugs in tonight. Eve quickly puts over Laurinaitis and…..that’s that. Okay then!
-Orton/Kane and Sheamus/Del Rio on Friday, for those of you who love canned crowds.
No exuberance from Cena. Guess that means no poop jokes. Cena: “I never thought of losing” There’s something that could be fun out of context. Cena gives a stern, proud speech about losing with dignity. Cena gets to the speculation over how he’d react to the defeat, and the crowd chants “YOU’RE A LOSER” as Cena teases lashing out at the WWE Universe. Crowd wants it, resurrecting the D-Bry chants, but Cena rebuffs the request. Cena does admit defeat, however. Cena says he won’t be quitting, and promises to come back stronger. Cena says he’s not here to call Rock out, because the war is settled. Crowd: “WE WANT LESNAR”. Cena DOES call Rock out, but wants him here out of respect. Cena keeps reiterating Rock being the better man, and then indulges the crowd by doing the YES! chants with them, giving D-Bry a shout out. Cena calls Rock out…..AND IT’S BROCK! Crowd goes INSANE. Lesnar goes through the old taunts on the stage and then approaches, circling the ring like a giant shark. We get the big staredown, and then…..F5 ON CENA! Well, that was certainly emphatic.
Segment Rating: 10/10. Cena could have talked about Lincoln Logs for 10 minutes and Lesnar still would have gotten a perfect score for returning.
OVERALL: Best. Raw. In. Ages.
Justin Henry is a freelance writer whose work appears on many websites. He provides wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture columns for CamelClutchBlog.com, as well as several wrestling columns a week for WrestlingNewsSource.com and WrestleCrap.com. Justin can be found here on Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/notoriousjrh and Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/cynicjrh.