It is often said that the live crowd at a wrestling event can make or break said event for both the wrestlers in the ring and the viewing audience at home. I have always believed this to be true, having been a part of some very memorable audiences, but never before has it been as true as it was at WWE Raw in New Jersey last night. Last night’s crowd was incredible and the joke on Twitter that they should all be inducted as a collective group into the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2014 goes to show how impressed all of us at home were with that crowd. They created their own chants, chanted for wrestlers who are not even with the company anymore, chanted for the announcers and vendors in the stand, told the Superstars exactly how they feel, went wild when Dolph Ziggler succesfully cashed in the Money In The Bank briefcase to become the new World Heavyweight Champion, ignored matches they thought were boring and spent the last hour of the show (and I’m told in the parking lot after the show with their car horns) singing and dancing Fandango’s theme music. The crowds at the first WWE Raw after Wrestlemania are always on top of their game because it is mostly fans who were at Wrestlemania, and not just fans who live in the area, but last night’s crowd took it to a whole new level and set the bar quite high for every live wrestling crowd in the future. As for the show itself, WWE Raw last night was the best show of 2013 by far, if not the best show since Raw 1,000 last July (which was a special episode and should be put in its own category), thanks to total unpredictability from start to finish and matches, segments and the advancement of storylines that were a lot of fun.
Before WWE Raw could even begin, news was spreading online that The Rock was not backstage and was nowhere to be found. Now, while I do find it hard to believe that The Rock would just go home and not tell anyone, I am not at all surprised that he went home in the first place. Apparently he went home because he is seriously injured, reportedly tearing his abductor muscle off the bone during Sunday night’s main event, which could be true and, if so, I certainly hope he gets better soon. But how many times have wrestlers shown up to live shows hurt to actually wrestle, let alone just cut a promo in the ring, which was apparently what The Rock was scheduled? to do I can remember times when CM Punk, John Cena, Chris Jericho, The Undertaker and others all wrestled while seriously hurt so the fact that The Rock went home instead of showing up to Raw, for which he had been heavily advertised, just solidifies my happiness that he is no longer the WWE Champion, even if it means that John Cena is. And apparently the plan last night was for The Rock to cut a promo and then get attacked by Brock Lesnar (which is exactly what I fantasy booked on the bus ride home yesterday aftenoon) thus setting up a match down the road, so I am curious to see what happens with The Rock, his technical rematch for the WWE Championship and a potential feud with Brock Lesnar in the near future.
WWE Raw kicked off with the new WWE Champion, John Cena, in the ring, and while I had begrudgingly accepted the fact that he won the title at Wrestlemania because I seriously felt he was the lesser of two evils between himself and The Rock, he wasted no time at all in reminding me why I hate having him as the champion in the first place. From the start he was telling jokes and literally dancing for the crowd, and his new shirt made me want to vomit, but the New Jersey crowd was on him from the start with chants of “Boring” and “Same Old S**t.” Cena responds by saying that he is going to be a fighting champion and wants to defend his title that night against anyone who wants to stop up the plate, and while he lists of names like Dolph Ziggler and CM Punk, Mark Henry’s music hits and the World’s Strongest Man makes his way to the ring. Henry notes that he also won his match last night by soundly defeating Ryback and he wants a shot at the title, to which Cena agrees. But Smackdown GM Booker T comes out and says that technically The Rock is the #1 contender since he just lost the title and so no one else can challenge for the title until The Rock gets his rematch (that should be interesting, especially if The Rock is as seriously hurt as he claims to be) so instead Henry can face Cena in the main event with the stipulation that if Henry wins, he will get a future championship match. As a side note, Cena did have one funny line during Booker T’s announcement when he asked if facing The Rock again meant it would be a “once in a lifetime best two out of three” match.
The first match of the night is Daniel Bryan (with Kane) versus Big E Langston (with Dolph Ziggler and AJ Lee) in half of a rematch from the Tag Team Championships match from Wrestlemania. Bryan fights his heart out but Langston is just too big and strong and ultimately defeats Bryan for his first singles victory on the main roster after AJ Lee distracts the refree and Ziggler knocks Bryan off the top turnbuckle which allows Langston to hit his finisher.
The second match was a rematch from the Intercontinental Championship match that took place on the Wrestlemania pre-show, which saw The Miz win the title from Wade Barrett, and while I felt bad for The Miz that his title win last night was on the Internet before the big pay-per-view, I felt worse for him last night when, just 24 hours later, he lost the title back to Wade Barrett. If The Miz was going to only have the title literally a day, and if the match on Sunday night was going to take place online so really only the live crowd and the few people who went online at home saw it, what was the point of having him win the title on Sunday night in the first place? And now that he lost the title in just 24 hours, where does he go from here and who challenges Barrett for the title next?
Backstage, Sheamus demands that Vickie Guerrero give him a match against Big Show so he can get his revenge for Big Show turning his back on their team during their match against The Shield at Wrestlemania. Vickie agrees, but later on backstage, Randy Orton successfully lobbies Booker T to grant HIM a match against Big Show. Sheamus and Orton then argue backstage before both men head to the ring for the match, and while the announcers ask the fans to take to Twitter to vote for the winner (a vote which Orton resoundingly wins), Vickie and Booker T come out together to announce that instead, Orton and Sheamus will face each other with the winner facing Big Show another night. So aside from the fact that the fans were asked to vote in something that never counted or mattered, I do see a small power struggle brewing between Vickie and Booker T and, if that is indeed the case, I like it. As for the match, this is the one where the fans in attendance just did not care about it at all, and when Big Show came out to interfere by knocking out Sheamus and absolutely destroying Orton (who got it way worse than Sheamus), the crowd actually chanted “Thank you Big Show.”
For some reason, despite retaining the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania against Jack Swagger, Alberto Del Rio was forced to complete in a handicap match against both Swagger and Zeb Coulter. Of course, just like at Wrestlemania, the crowd was chanting for Dolph Ziggler the entire time, but this time we all got what we wanted. After Del Rio forced Swagger to tap out to the Cross Armbreaker for the second night in a row, the doctors hit the ring to check on Del Rio, who had severely hurt his ankle during the match. Suddenly, Dolph Ziggler’s music hit and as he made his way to the ring with the MITB briefcase in hand, not only did the live crowd but I literally jumped off my couch and remained standing (and jumping up and down and rocking back and forth) during the entire next match. As soon as the referee rings the bell to officially start the match, Ziggler goes to work on Del Rio’s ankle and then hits the Zig Zag but Del Rio kicks out at two. Del Rio then hits Ziggler with an enzuguri kick to the head and goes for the pin but Ziggler kicked out at two (as I was holding my breath during the entire pinfall). Del Rio then locks in the Cross Armbreaker and Ziggler is about to tap out (as I again hold my breath) but Ziggler twists Del Rio’s hurt ankle to force him to break the hold, then gets up and hits the Zig Zag again and pins Del Rio for the three-count to become the NEW WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION as both the live crowd and me by myself in the basement go insane!
Continuing to ride the high from Ziggler’s world title win, the next segment features The Undertaker coming out to the ring to talk about defeating CM Punk at Wrestlemania to keep The Streak intact and how he dedicated the match to the memory of Paul Bearer. Suddenly, The Shield’s music hits and Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns make their way through the crowd to the ring. Talk about making a statement, trying to take out The Undertaker, and I thought for sure that this was how Undertaker would get written off TV for a while (possibly all the way until the Road to Wrestlemania 30 officially begins). Instead, however, as The Shield surrounded the ring, Kane and Daniel Bryan ran do the ramp and stood side-by-side with The Undertaker as The Shield retreated back through the crowd. If this means a six-man tag team match down the line, I am all for it.
Unfortunately, despite 90 minutes of pure adrenaline pumping action, the show started to go downhill next as the next segment was a six-man tag team match featuring Santino Marella, R-Truth & Zack Ryder vs. the members of 3MB. Thankfully, the match was quick and ended when Marella hit Heath Slater with the Cobra, but the momentum of the show was completely derailed by the match and I have no idea why it was put on in the first place. I mean, seriously, the show was so incredibly awesome up to that point but putting on that match after Ziggler’s world title win and The Shield trying to attack The Undertaker was like driving 100 miles per hour into a brick wall. But thankfully, as I said, the match was quick and the next match was the aforementioned Sheamus/Orton contest, which wasn’t necessarily a great match in and of itself but the live crowd more than made up for it.
Fandango, fresh off his in-ring debut and victory over Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania, was supposed to face Kofi Kingston next (who has very quickly become a jobber), but Jericho interrupted the match and beat down Fandango all over and around the ring, only stopping after locking in the Walls of Jericho and then hitting a Codebreaker. Fandango did get some of his heat back after the match though as he technically won the match via disqualification and then corrected the ring announcer on how to pronounce his name (and, of course, the crowd spent the rest of the night humming and dancing to his entrance music).
Paul Heyman is shown backstage next and the raucous crowd suddenly goes dead silent and hangs on his every word, which goes to show how much respect wrestling fans have for Paul Heyman (who made his Wrestlemania managerial debut last night, something I didn’t realize until after the fact). Josh Mathews tries to ask Paul Heyman about poorly his night went since both of his clients, Brock Lesnar and CM Punk, lost their respective matches, but Heyman notes that it was Triple H who took over 20 minutes to finally beat Lesnar and had to have his arm x-rayed after the match, it was Shawn Michaels who took an F5 and had to be helped out of the arena and it was CM Punk who may have lost but took The Undertaker to his limit. Heyman says that while Triple H is nursing his injury, Lesnar is ready to fight but he will not let his client fight for free. As for CM Punk, he will address his match against The Undertaker next week on Raw.
Next up is the mixed tag team match that was cut from Wrestlemania due to time constraints, a match featuring Brodus Clay, Tensai (now known as Sweet T), Naomi & Cameron vs. Damien Sandow, Cody Rhodes, Brie Bella & Nikki Bella. Predictably the former team one, which is a real shame because Team Rhodes Scholars is, by far, the better tag team and the Bella Twins are, by far, the hotter Divas.
The final match of the night was the main event between new WWE Champion John Cena and Mark Henry, where if Mark Henry won, he would earn a future title shot. Well, Mark Henry completely dominated the match from the start and it looked like he would coast to victory, but after he threw Cena into the announce table, Cena recovered and threw Henry into the steel ring steps and made it back into the ring just as the referee was finishing his ten-count, giving the technically victory to Cena via count out. This obviously infuriated Henry, who got back in the ring and hit Cena with the World’s Strongest Slam. Henry looked like he was about to do it a second time when Ryback ran down to the ring and hit Henry with a spine buster, knocking Henry out of the ring. Ryback then goes to help Cena get up as the crowd boos him for the move, then suddenly hits Cena first with a clothesline and then the Shell Shock out of nowhere. The show ends with Cena on the mat and Ryback standing above him holding the WWE Championship above his head.
Suffice to say, after witnessing the events and crowd of last night’s WWE Raw, I will never be going home the day after Wrestlemania ever again. When Wrestlemania 30 rolls into New Orleans next year, you had better believe I will be at Raw that Monday night. As for the future of WWE Raw and WWE programming, I hope Vince McMahon and everyone else in charge in Stamford, CT took note of how awesome the show last night was and puts forth the same amount of effort every single week from here on out.