Tonight was not just the last episode of WWE Raw before Wrestlemania, but the last television broadcast of any WWE programming before the pay-per-view since Smackdown on Friday will be devoted to build up for the big show with no matches or storyline advancement. So, with this being the last chance for the WWE to convince anyone who has not yet decided to purchase the pay-per-view to do so, I had extremely high expectations as I sat down on my couch at 9pm. By 11:15, my expectations were mostly met.
The show kicked off with a tag team match featuring Wrestlemania opponents on each team – Randy Orton & Sheamus vs. Kane & Daniel Bryan (with AJ). I like having matches like this before a pay-per-view because it allows opponents to be in matches against each other without giving away the pay-per-view match for free, plus the tension between the opponents only builds anticipation for that match. And this particular match managed to do just that, with each man facing off against his respective Wrestlemania opponent for just enough to whet the appetite and an ending that makes you want to see the show – Sheamus was about to hit the Brogue Kick on Bryan but AJ got in the way and while the referee was distracted Kane hit Sheamus with a chokeslam and Bryan pinned him for the win.
By the way, I found out the other day that Bryan is dating Brie Bella. That lucky son of a bitch.
The next match of the night featuring Michael Cole introducing John Laurinaitis and his team captain David Otunga and Booker T introducing Teddy Long and his team captain Santino Marella. Santino Marella won the match for his team when Otgunga got distracted trying to attack Hornswoggle and Marella hit him with the Cobra for the win. After the match, Laurinaitis got in Long’s face and Marella went to hit him with the Cobra, but The Miz hit the ring and attacked Marella for the save. Laurinaitis then grabbed a microphone and announced that The Miz is going to Wrestlemania as a part of Team Johnny! Finally, after weeks and months of me writing, blogging and tweeting that The Miz had to have a match at Wrestlemania, it has finally happened. This now probably negates my prediction on what his role at the show would be which makes me glad that I decided to wait to post it until after the last show before the PPV. (By the way, that prediction was costing John Cena his match against The Rock and then starting a feud with Cena. I like this better because I think the Rock/Cena match has to end cleanly no matter who the winner is.)
I liked the video highlighting the careers of The Undertaker and Triple H and the buildup for their match. The clips, the music and the production were all very well done (which is always the case with these videos from the WWE production crew) and definitely increased my anticipation for this epic match. I do with that, on the last show before Wrestlemania, they had been on TV, but I guess there is nothing more to add to what was already said that last three weeks.
The third match of the night featured Eve Torres (with Divas Champion Beth Phoenix) against Kelly Kelly (without her Wrestlemania tag team partner Maria Menounos). Like the first match of the night, I like this one because it builds anticipation for the Wrestlemania match without giving it away. Plus, given the fact that neither of these three Divas (or Menonous) were on Raw last week, at least the WWE is using some time on Raw tonight to hype their match.
My friend Pete texted me during the show to express his opinion that WWE botched the Divas match at Wrestlemania, because no one cares about the host of Extra and using a female celebrity in a match didn’t go well last year. I could not disagree more. Lots of people watch Extra, it happens to be one of the highest rate shows of that type on television today, Menounos has a lot of respect for WWE and is actually training for the match and using any kind of celebrity (especially one who hosts her on show and is also part of the hugely popular Dancing With The Stars, or is on the hugely popular Jersey Shore like last year) gives mainstream publicity to the WWE and Wrestlemania. The idea is to get the idea of Wrestlemania out there to an audience that doesn’t watch WWE every week, either because they are not a fan at all or not a fan anymore. To use a celebrity from a show or sport that we regular viewers watch anyway (like Floyd Mayweather or, if it had happened, Shaq) does not do the WWE any good. Plus, with no legitimate contender yet for the Divas Championship, I would rather see this match than someone thrown into title contention with no legitimate buildup or, worse, no match at all. Plus, the match last year with Snookie was actually quite enjoyable and WWE got a ton of mainstream attention, not just on MTV but also all of the entertainment news shows.
The next match featured Christian (marking his return to the ring for the first time in four months) versus CM Punk. I’m not sure why this match was put together for tonight, because it does not advance each man’s Wrestlemania storyline. Christian is a part of Team Johnny and CM Punk is defending the WWE Championship against Chris Jericho. It would have been better to have CM Punk in a tag match with Jericho on the other team or, if Punk had to have a singles match, put him against someone who does not have a match at Wrestlemania while Christian faces a member of Team Johnny. But, this is the match we were given, and before the match Jericho appeared on the TitanTron and reiterated his news of Punk’s father being an alcoholic and sister being a drug abuser, adding tonight that he found out Punk’s parents were married after he was born. Personally, I still feel that their match should have been left at fighting for the claim of being the best wrestler in the world and did not need all of these personal attacked from Jericho against Punk’s family, but it is what it is and at least the match itself in Miami will be one of the best of the night and probably steal the show. As for tonight’s match, it ended in a no contest when Punk assaulted Christian outside the ring and locked him in the Anaconda Vise outside the ring.
Later in the show, it was announced that Christian had reinjured his neck, taking him out of the Wrestlemania match. It was later announced on Twitter that Drew McIntyre would replace Christian. Unless the injury is legitimate, which I certainly hope it isn’t, what was the point of bringing Christian back and putting him in the match if they were just going to take him out three weeks later?
To the credit of Vince McMahon and the WWE, we were next treated to the fifth match of the night (to one video package and no long in-ring or backstage segments). Unfortunately, that match was Brodus Clay against Curt Hawkins. I say unfortunately for two reasons – neither man has a match at Wrestlemania and, as I wrote last week, “having [Clay] continue to wrestle low-card jobbers does not do Brodus Clay any good. At some point, he is going to need to either face real competition or get a new gimmick.” Of course, he beat Hawkins tonight in a very quick match.
I feel bad for anyone who does not get to go to the WWE Hall of Fame. Not only do you have to wait until two nights after the event actually takes place to see it on TV, but you have to see a three-hour event edited down to one hour (until you buy the Blu-Ray and get to see the entire thing). If the WWE were smart, they would show the event live on Saturday night. The ratings for it can’t be worse than what the edited version has gotten the past few years and I bet fans who cannot make it to Miami (which is all but 70,000 of the tens of millions of WWE fans) would actually be more likely to watch a live version than something edited down to an hour two nights after the fact.
The sixth match of the night (yes, you read that right, I wrote six) featured The Big Show against Primo, one half of the WWE Tag Team Champions, being accompanied by Epico and the always vivacious Rosa Mendes. For me, this match has a ton of problems. Let me list them in bullet format to make it easier to read:
• Big Show outweighs Primo by about 300 pounds. Beating him does not impress me.
• Primo, despite being a champion, is only on TV every few weeks and holds a championship that (unfortunately) has been devalued by Vince McMahon and the WWE. Beating him does not impress me.
• Neither Primo or Epico currently have a match at Wrestlemania and at best, as of now, they might get the dark match. No reason to put them on TV tonight when you haven’t the last two weeks.
• Primo and Epico are the Tag Team Champions. If you are going to finally put them on TV, it should be in a tag team match against a tag team that might one day challenge them for said championships.
Anyway, Big Show won easily, then took out Epico when he tried to avenge his partner’s loss and both men were saved from further attack when Rosa got them out of the ring. After the match, Cody Rhodes came out to make fun of Big Show and his dubious Wrestlemania record even more, deciding to turn “Show” into a verb for when someone royally screws up.
We were treated to another vignette for Lord Tensai next and this time it was made obviously clear that Lord Tensai is the returning Albert. I have only one hope for his return – that the WWE takes five seconds to allow “Lord Tensai” to explain why he changed his name and does not insult our intelligence by pretending that it is not a Superstar who we all watched throughout the late 90s and early 00s.
Three backstage segments were next – one featuring the Bella Twins arguing over which GM team at Wrestlemania would win, one featuring Eve Torres convincing Zack Ryder to stay at the same hotel as her instead of the rest of her team and one featuring CM Punk talking about his feud with Chris Jericho.
The seventh (seventh!) match of the night was another Team Johnny vs. Team Teddy match, this time featuring each team’s largest member – The Great Khali vs. Mark Henry – a match that Mark Henry quickly and easily won. After the match, Laurinaitis threw Long into the ring to face Henry, which prompted the members of both teams to storm the ring and all fight outside it. With all of the members busy outside, Henry picked Long up for the World’s Largest Slam before Booker T came in to make the save, after which Long chose Booker T as the final member of his team. So with both teams set, the final rosters are:
Team Johnny – Jack Swagger, Dolph Ziggler, Mark Henry, Drew McIntyre, David Otunga and The Miz
Team Teddy – Santino Marella, Kofi Kingston, R-Truth, Zack Ryder, Great Khali and Booker T.
Advantage: John Laurinaitis (by a landslide).
If anyone is curious, here is what I predicted the rosters would be when the match was first announced (keep in mind I was hopeful that Kingston and R-Truth would be competing for the Tag Team Championships):
Raw – Alberto Del Rio, David Otunga, Dolph Zigger, The Miz, Christian, Mark Henry (5-1 before Christian was injured)
Smackdown – Alex Riley, Brodus Clay, Rey Mysterio, Zack Ryder, The Great Khali, Booker T (3-3).
The final segment of the night fittingly featured The Rock and John Cena. The Rock kicked things off saying that ever since his last Wrestlemania match in 2004, everyone has asked him when he would come back and he never knew when it would be until Wrestlemania last year when he hit the Rock Bottom on John Cena and knew the wait was over. The Rock started to say that at Wrestlemania Cena would never see anything like the energy when The Rock hits the ring, but John Cena came out and told The Rock that at Wrestlemania he would never again see anything like the energy (good or bad) when Cena hits the ring. Cena went on to say that no matter the opponent, no matter the trash talking, no matter the stage, he has always won (ahem, this is part of the reason why we hate him so much) and that at Wrestlemania he will win again and, like it or not, the fans know it (again, that’s true, but that’s another reason why we hate him so much). John Cena went on to note that he’s been an active WWE Superstar longer than The Rock and that after Wrestlemania, while The Rock goes into star in more summer blockbusters, Cena will be right back in the ring doing what he does and that’s why he has to win, because there is no way he allows a visitor to come in and beat him. The Rock countered Cena’s “visitor” comment by pointing out that Rock helped build the house that Cena calls home and that he is no visitor to the WWE. Not just that, but the match is just as important to him as it is to Cena and that the reason he came back, the reason he is stepping back in the ring, is to beat John Cena. On a professional level, The Rock has to beat Cena in order to be forever known as the greatest WWE Superstar of all time, but on a personal level, he just does not like Cena. The show ended with the two men face-to-face, with just six days to go until the once in a lifetime epic encounter between them.