Aside from The Rock's mediocre return, there is not a lot to complain about when it comes to WWE. The company is fresh off an above-average Elimination Chamber Pay-Per-View (PPV) (Feb. 17) and an impressively executed edition of Monday Night Raw (Feb. 18).
We are around seven weeks away from WrestleMania 29 (Apr. 7) and the company is not resting on its laurels, rather they are experimenting with the main event storyline and keeping things fresh. However, unlike in years past, they did not drop a huge bombshell. Instead, they are taking their time in building toward this year's WrestleMania.
If they keep this up, they will no longer appear to be perplexed on what to do when WrestleMania is around the bend, due to angles being developed too quickly (similar to last year, where they did Sheamus (c) and CM Punk (c) vs. Daniel Bryan and Chris Jericho in a tag-match -- since they had nothing else from them to do).
Truth be told, it is almost as if they have learned from their past mistakes for once, as they are gradually cultivating the angles heading towards WrestleMania. After all, this week's Raw was nearly textbook. Up to this point, they are almost batting 1.000 when it comes to building up WrestleMania 29.
Furthermore, I cannot recall the last time WWE promoted matches for the upcoming week's Raw. (They usually never tell the fans what to anticipate the subsequent week.) Instead, Monday Night Raw frequently ends the show with no cliffhanger, or reason to tune in next week either. This week, however, a couple of marquee matches were promoted.
CM Punk vs. John Cena
The winner goes to WrestleMania to face The Rock
Somehow, CM Punk was able to goad Cena into putting his golden ticket to WrestleMania on the line. Even though Cena has beaten CM Punk several times before, they are building up CM Punk's "undefeated" streak against John Cena. Nevertheless, WWE usually does a good job of making the fans wonder what direction they are heading in towards WrestleMania, and this is no exception.
Although John Cena against The Rock (c) seemed to be guaranteed for WrestleMania after the Elimination Chamber ended, they now have the fans trying to guess what is going to happen. Many fans actually think CM Punk will find his way into the match, making it a Triple Threat at WrestleMania, seeing as Undertaker's status for the PPV is currently nothing more than a question mark.
In all honesty, I believe The Undertaker is healthy. It is just WWE trying to make us speculate about what might happen next. If that truly is the case, no one can deny that it is working. After all, people have little idea how CM Punk against John Cena is going to turn out and, more importantly, people are talking about it.
I expect Undertaker to become involved, planting the seeds for his feud with CM Punk. If this is true, WWE needs to convince the fans that CM Punk and Undertaker are on the same pedestal. Otherwise, the match runs the risk of coming off as an extended squash, and thus it will lack heat and the belief Punk has a chance to win. I have to admit, I am engaged with this whole saga, though.
Sierra. Hotel. India. Echo. Lima. Delta.
Speaking of being engaged, the Shield has won all three of their matches in WWE. It feels like WWE is learning from their mistakes yet again. They realize that if they want to build up a dominating stable, they should allow them to win matches at the start (unlike Nexus).
I must say, The Shield has one of the attributes that has been lacking in the tag-division--they work as a team. They also have an eerie mystique to themselves. Nobody knows what their purpose is (besides "justice"), nor their upcoming plans. My theory is that they will arrange an anti-establishment alliance with Paul Heyman, Brock Lesnar, and perhaps even CM Punk, that is trying to obliterate Vince McMahon and his company. Whatever their plan may be, they are doing a fine job planting the seeds for it.
That, of course, leads me to the second match for next week:
Paul Heyman against Vince McMahon
Well, McMahon actually never stated it was "a match". He just said it was going to be "a fight". Since Brock Lesnar is announced for next week's show, you can just anticipate that something captivating is going to happen, and chances are it will not be good for Vince McMahon.
The Swagger Sanction & The Hall of Pain
It is well worth pointing out several of the other key factors WWE has gotten right lately. First, Jack Swagger has been unable to connect with the audience because of his difficulties talking on the microphone. Therefore, the addition of a mouthpiece was obviously a good idea, particularly Dutch Mantel who is an old-school wrestler who understands both the elementary and subtle techniques needed to make the audience loathe you.
However, this racism angle has just felt awkward up to this point. I do like that they are building up Jack Swagger, because he has a lot of potential. He is a good athlete and hard worker -- but he just needs to have a grasp on crowd psychology and learn how to connect with the fans, both in and out of the ring. I am sure Dutch Mantel can teach him about those things, though.
Yes, this racism angle is peculiar, and I think it is because the crowd does not know how to react to it. The Hispanic culture is predominantly a minority in the United States, so it is not exactly Hulk Hogan against The Iron Sheik or anything. I hope that when Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger start interacting, the angle will become more interesting. Actually, I do not believe Del Rio personifies that sympathetic babyface role to the point where people will become livid that Swagger and Mantel are maliciously picking him apart on the microphone. I could be wrong, though.
I actually thought WWE would build Jack Swagger's new gimmick up more due to it being so new, and as a result allow the more reliable Mark Henry to face Alberto Del Rio instead. I am just very neutral on this angle so far. One thing I do like, though, is how Dolph Ziggler is playing the wildcard, as he could cash in any minute.
The other thing WWE is determined to do, is to keep Mark Henry dominant. Henry's "Hall of Pain" gimmick has personified his career, and in reality, he is performing the best work of his career. I mean, they should have pushed Henry like this almost from the get go. He is frightening looking, and has this definite aura about him that makes you feel certain that he is going to break his opponent into smithereens, and conceivably even eat him too.
I feel as if Henry should be pushed into the main event scene soon. Whether you agree with me about him is irrelevant, because ratings have already shown that people's eyeballs are drawn to him. That is what he does!
Filing International & Domestic Complaints - no amnesty
Well, there was a reason I said before that there was *almost* nothing to complain about right now. That is because Antonio Cesaro's feud with The Miz has not been good. Their matches are lacking something, but I cannot quite put my finger on it. It could be lack of chemistry, Cesaro being held back (because we all know what he is capable of), or the Miz being downright bad as a babyface in-ring performer. I think Miz's two main problems in the ring are -- his offense lacking credibility, and his matches having a hard time shifting into the next gear.
In addition, what is up with the "PG" psychology used by both The Miz and Daniel Bryan as they taped up their injured body parts? I know it has been used in the past, but do they really have to tape the injured body part to spell it out for the kids? Or, are the announcers incapable of telling the story being told in the ring?
Aura of Uncertainty unveils satisfied smarks
That leads me to this: I am enjoying WWE's matches, but one thing I have realized lately is that the midpoints of the matches have little narrative. In most matches, both wrestlers are pretty much trading moves until they reach the climax. I wish more wrestlers could tell compelling in-ring stories. That way the mid-points of the matches do not feel useless.
Overall, though, Raw was exceptionally booked. Sure, nothing blew us away, but nothing had to this early. With WrestleMania about 45 days away, the best thing to do is slowly develop all the WrestleMania storylines. That way, they do not encounter the problem they had last year; everything having been booked to its peak, with just a few weeks remaining on the road to Mania.
Long story short, Monday Night Raw correctly did the following: (1) It accomplished its goal of making you want to tune in next week. (2) It gave you enough material to be entertained. (3) It gave you newsworthy material to talk about; for example, the debut of the new title. (4) It planted the seeds for the upcoming feuds. (5) It created an aura of uncertainty as to what is going to happen next. (6). It helped build up the wrestlers that should look strong heading towards WrestleMania.
Editor's Note: This FanPost has been mildly edited for promotion to the front page and various sections within Cageside Seats for your enjoyment, Cagesiders!