After last week’s incredible post-Wrestlemania episode of WWE Raw, one which featured tons of surprises, lots of action, the best live crowd in WWE history, introduced a new worldwide phenomenon (“Fandangoing”) and was largely considered across the board to be the best non-special WWE Raw (e.g., Raw 1,000) in years, expectations among fans for this week’s show were just too high to be met. I count myself as someone who sat down on the couch at 8pm last night with extremely high expectations, but I knew deep down there was no way the WWE could put together a show as great as last week on a regular basis. I mean, they could, because they did in the 1990s at the peak of wrestling’s popularity, but in this era it just will not happen. Sure enough, not only were my extremely high expectations met, but the show could not even be considered “good” as a result of inexplicably booking up and down and all throughout the three-hour show.
Before I get to the inexplicable booking that permeated the entire episode of WWE Raw last week, let’s first review the highlights from the show. While last week there was one huge surprise after another – The Shield trying to attack The Undertaker, only to be saved by Kane and Daniel Bryan; Dolph Ziggler cashing in the MITB contract and winning the World Heavyweight Championship; Ryback attacking John Cena; and even the rumored last-minute absence of The Rock – there was only one water cooler moment on this week’s show, and while it was quite a surprise, the result is not something to which I am looking forward. I speak, of course, about the return of Brock Lesnar. It had been rumored (so take it for what it is worth) that the plan last week before The Rock was “injured” and did not show up for Raw, that he was supposed to be attacked by Lesnar after cutting a promo and setting up a match at Wrestlemania 30. When The Rock no-showed, Lesnar was kept off TV because he has a fixed number of appearances on his contract. So imagine my surprise when 3MB was in the ring calling out The Shield for the attack on them on Smackdown last week and Lesnar’s music played instead. When Lesnar hit the ring, he demolished Heath Slater, Jinder Mahal and Drew McIntyre, even hitting three F5s on Slater, all onto the crowd barricade, before Paul Heyman came out to stop the assault. In the ring, Heyman congratulated Triple H for defeating Lesnar at Wrestlemania, saying that Triple H is the only man in WWE or UFC history to actually knock Lesnar out, and for that reason Heyman has respect for him. But, unfortunately, Lesnar doesn’t feel the same way, and as far as Lesnar is concerned, he and Triple H are at 1-1 and need a rubber match to finally settle the score. With the Extreme Rule pay-per-view coming up in May, Heyman challenges Triple H to meet Lesnar in a steel cage match that night.
So with Lesnar’s WWE record already at a paltry 1-2, with two of those matches against Triple H, it looks like we are now going to get a third Lesnar/HHH match, albeit this time with a new stipulation. If Lesnar loses that match, and his record drops to 1-3, he should just void the rest of his WWE contract and go home because there is no way that he can be billed as an unstoppable monster of a fighter with that kind of a record. However, if Triple H puts his ego aside for one night and does what it right for business (i.e., let Lesnar win), then all will be right with the world. Frankly, if I had been in charge, I would have left the retirement stipulation off the Wrestlemania match and had Lesnar win, then have Triple H challenge Lesnar to the rubber match with his career on the line and have Triple H win. Lesnar would still be 2-2, the same record he will have if he beats Triple H next month, but it would be Triple H chasing Lesnar instead of the other way around.
The other semi-big news coming out of WWE Raw last night was the push of Ryback into the main event and the WWE Championship picture. I know of one friend who is probably practically giddy over this news, but I would warn him and any other Ryback fans not to get too excited. After all, John Cena didn’t “get his redemption” and win the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania in a match against The Rock just to drop it five weeks later to Ryback. John Cena is going to hold onto that title for quite some time, I would not be surprised if it was even as long as a year or more, and when he does finally drop it, it certainly won’t be to Ryback. My feelings about Ryback and his inclusion in main events and world title pictures is well known by readers of this blog, but he could have completely changed my mind with a good promo last night explaining why he attacked Cena last week on Raw. Instead, Ryback cut a promo that was pre-recorded, way too long and tried too hard. I even noted on Twitter that if the WWE had to try that hard to get Ryback over and make the fans interested in his character and a world title match, it is not worth the effort. Getting a Superstar over should be effortless and seamless, but you could tell from last night’s promo that they are desperate for fans to care and, for me at least, it did not work. Basically, the promo was a series of highlights showing how Cena once backed Ryback and even gave him his title match when Cena was injured, but then later on Cena was nowhere to be found when he was being repeatedly attacked by The Shield and Mark Henry. Basically, Ryback came off sounding like a big crybaby, as Superstars are attacked all the time without anyone coming down to make the save and you never hear them complain.
Anyway, Ryback cut his pre-recorded promo and then at the end of the night Cena made his way out to the ring and demanded that Ryback come down and face him in person. Ryback agreed and Cena actually cut a pretty decent promo on him, one with a number of good points and hardly any comedy. Cena noted how Ryback had declared himself the greatest threat to Cena’s title, but Cena has defended the title against men like Randy Orton and Triple H in the past. Cena says that Ryback caught him off guard with the attack last week but this week things are doing to be different because he is ready and dares Ryback to make the first move. Instead, Ryback leaves the ring and heads up the ramp when suddenly The Shield’s music plays and Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns make their way through the crowd. Once in the ring, they surround Cena and beat him down while Ryback looks on from the ramp, refusing to go back to the ring to make the save.
CM Punk made his return after being absent last week and it seems like the rumors of him taking some time off after Wrestlemania were true. Punk cut a promo talking about how when he was champion for over 400 days, he was never able to enjoy it because he was always striving to be better, so first he beat John Cena and then he beat The Rock, but when he lost the title to The Rock, he had no idea where to go from there. He said he decided to go after the one thing that is bigger than the WWE Championship, and that is The Undertaker’s streak at Wrestlemania. He then started to talk about the Wrestlemania match against The Undertaker but could finish, instead handing the microphone to Paul Heyman, giving Heyman a hug and leaving the ring without ever looking back. So it looks like Punk is taking some time off to heal up and it will be very interesting to see what he does and who he feuds with when he returns.
Now, with the hightlights out of the way, here are my thoughts on the rest of the show and the inexplicable booking that took place throughout:
Inexplicable Booking #1: WWE Raw kicked off with a handicap match with Randy Orton and Sheamus teaming up to take on Big Show, a rematch from Smackdown when Big Show walked out of the match and got himself intentionally counted out. Last night, the match came to a conclusion, but not in the way I would have liked. Since Randy Orton did not turn heel at Wrestlemania, as everyone had hoped and predicted, I was hoping it would happen last night, that he would turn on Sheamus and cost him the match. Instead, Sheamus and Orton worked together as Sheamus hit Big Show with the Brogue Kick, followed by an RKO from Orton, to get the win. So after turning on his team at Wrestlemania and then walking out of a match on Smackdown, Big Show was cleanly defeated in the middle of the ring, albeit in a handicap match that is not fair odds no matter how large the single Superstar is. So now what for all three men? Are Orton and Sheamus a tag team? Because if so, it would be a shame because you know they will be successful, and probably hold the titles, at the expense of established teams like The Shield, Prime Time Players and Team Rhodes Scholars. And now that Big Show turned on his team but was then soundly defeated by them, who does he feud with next? Later in the night, Sheamus was conducting an interview backstage when Mark Henry attacked him for the second week in a row, so it seems like the two of them are going to feud next, leaving Orton and Big Show with practically nothing to do (other than continue to face each other).
Inexplicable Booking #2: After months and months and months and months of doing nothing but jobbing to other Superstars and losing match after match after match after match, Kofi Kingston inexplicably was just handed a United States Championship match against Antonio Cesaro. Now, for the few people who match WWE Main Event on Ion Television or Hulu Plus, Kingston did upset Cesaro in a match last week, but no footage was shown and no mention of it was made on Raw before last night’s match, so as far as the casual viewer is concerned, the match came out of nowhere. Heck, even with Kingston’s win last night, the match came out of nowhere. But as much as the match itself came out of left field, the fact that Kingston defeated Cesaro and won the title, ending Cesaro’s title reign of over 200 days, was the biggest surprise of the night, and not in a good way. Cesaro was a great champion and is a great wrestler and if Vince McMahon felt like Cesaro wasn’t getting over with the crowd than it is no one’s fault but Vince McMahon for not putting Cesaro on TV enough, not putting him in good feuds the few times he was on TV, not giving him any match or even backstage presence at Wrestlemania and a few weeks ago sidling him with a yodeling gimmick. Now, instead of a great wrestler and character like Cesaro holding the title, it is being held by a Superstar who has been nothing but a glorified jobber for the last year and who had no feud with Cesaro before earning the title match last night.
Inexplicable Booking #3: Dolph Ziggler came out to cut a promo with Big E Langston and AJ Lee about how his world title win last week was the single greatest moment in the history of WWE Raw and how he is the single most athletic and greatest world champion in WWE history. He says that no one will ever take the title away from him, which brings out Alberto Del Rio, who demands his rematch right then and there despite the fact that he had to limp his way to the ring. Ziggler refuses but Vickie Guerrero comes out and makes the match official. However, before the match can even begin, Jack Swagger comes out and attacks Del Rio, repeatedly slamming his injured leg into the steel ring post and then locking in the Patriot Lock. With the Ziggler/Del Rio match obviously off, Teddy Long suggests to Vickie that Ziggler face Swagger in a non-title match, but that if Swagger wins, he earns a spot in the world title picture. That match took place towards the end of the night and while the match itself was just incredible (no surprise when the two Superstars are among the best amateur wrestlers in NCAA history) and makes me hope that it is Swagger, and not Del Rio, who Ziggler feuds with first over the world title, the finish to the match was even more inexplicable and confusing than Kingston winning the US Title earlier in the night. I say this because in Ziggler’s very first match after winning the World Heavyweight Championship, he lost. Cleanly. As a result of a roll-up. Yes, Swagger’s win earned him a spot in the world title picture, but did the win have to be clean? Couldn’t someone have interfered and cost Ziggler the match, or better yet, caused a double disqualification? Couldn’t Langston have tried to interfere but accidentally cost Ziggler the match instead? Couldn’t Ziggler have gotten himself intentionally disqualified or counted out or, best of all, actually won since he is the World Heavyweight Champion? Sometimes the way Vince McMahon books matches and promotes his champions and other Superstars makes me want to throw my computer at the TV.
Inexplicable Booking #4: Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett had a match against R-Truth, and if you have been paying attention to the theme of last night’s show, I bet you can guess in one try who won. That’s right, R-Truth, who is rarely on TV these days and when he is on TV is more of a comedy act than a wrestler, beat the Intercontinental Champion cleanly, and with just a DDT at that.
There were, however, three other matches that were actually booked correctly:
WWE Tag Team Champions Kane & Daniel Bryan made quick work of the Prime Time Players, but more importantly, it was announced that next week’s main event will be a mega match featuring The Undertaker, Kane & Daniel Bryan vs. The Shield.
Team Rhodes Scholars (Cody Rhodes & Damien Sandow) thankfully beat the comedy team of Great Khali and Santino Marella (with Hornswoggle and Natalya “It’s Just A Matter of Time Before I Give Up On Being Stuck With Flatulence Gimmicks and Escorting A Giant Who Can Barely Walk To The Ring Let Alone Actually Wrestle And Go To TNA” Neidhart at ringside). Frankly, not only should Khali and Marella not actually be a tag team, let alone win, but the two of them should probably be kept off TV all together (especially Khali, I could tolerate Marella because I’ve seen his matches from the minor leagues and he is actually very good).
In a miracle of all miracles, Divas Champion Kaitlyn was not only featured on Raw last night but actually had a match, a non-title contest against Brie Bella. And while I would normally not advocate for a champion to lose a match, it actually made sense for Brie to win last night (although technically Nikki Bella got the pin when she and Brie switched places while the referee was distracted in a bit of “Twin Magic”) because now Kaitlyn actually has someone to feud with over the title, which means actually being booked on Raw, Smackdown and maybe even a PPV.
Sigh. Vince McMahon, Triple H, Stephanie McMahon – if any of you or anyone at WWE Headquarters is reading this, PLEASE hire me to run your creative team. Give me free reign and total control for 12 months and I guarantee that both Raw and Smackdown will see ratings not seen since the Monday Night Wars era and the buy-rates for every PPV between now and then will double when compared to the previous year. Heck, I couldn’t do much worse than the people you already pay.