WWE returned to the USA network for Monday Night Raw last night (March 25, 2013) from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, featuring a show devoted to filling out the remainder of the WrestleMania 29 match card.
And it was a real nice improvement from last week.
Click here for full results and the live blog from the show if you missed it. Let's get right to reactions, with the new set up and formula. Remember, these were written as the show moved along with real time reactions to everything that occurred hour-by-hour.
- Far prefer CM Punk opening the show to John Cena, at least after last week. So we get Punk and a promo, but not before Paul Heyman goes throwing the urn around for some shock value. After a few weeks, though, it's lost a lot of that. Call it exposure but it just doesn't have the same impact. I did like that Punk took the time to say he didn't take the urn to disrespect Paul Bearer, he took it because it means something to Undertaker. It's a good storyline arc, and Punk is working strong as a dastardly villain here. For that matter, 'Taker is really good as the super pissed babyface out to avenge his fallen father and friend.
- I absolutely did not expect that these two would get physical before they meet in New Jersey for the actual match but I'm glad they did, both because it makes sense that Undertaker would use whatever powers he has to just show up next to Punk so he can beat the shit out of him and because it allowed us to see that hey, "The Deadman" is moving really, really well for having just turned 48-years-old. Like, shockingly well. Small sample size aside, how can you not be encouraged by what we saw here?
- GIF of Paul Heyman fumbling to grab the urn and hauling serious ass, please.
- Quick story on Fandango and what his apparent appeal is, since I can't seem to figure it out. I'm speaking with my brother, whom I haven't seen in some time, and we start talking about WWE and Raw being on after a while. He tells me what he's digging and what he's despising and the first name that comes up on the latter list is Fandango. He starts to tell me he hates "FAN-DANG-GO" and while doing so, he does the entire spiel, trying to say the name just like the man himself. And he couldn't get through it without smiling. "Okay, the name thing is slick, but I hate that guy." Smile never left. I guess there's the appeal.
- Chris Jericho attacking him last night gave us a chance to see him in the ring and selling offense on a much bigger stage than NXT, where he languished for what felt like forever, and he actually looked just fine in there with a veteran hand like "Y2J." Made me excited for more, even. Also loved his yelling for Jericho to say his name as he walked out. If you think of it, the pairing is perfect. Fandango isn't doing anything more than some heavy duty trolling with the name schtick. He says he won't wrestle until someone gets it right but that's the thing -- no one is going to get it right, even if they do. He'll just act like they're way off, even when they're not. It's brilliant in its simplicity, mostly because it's so maddening. And goofy. Goddamn is it goofy.
- This also led to a Jericho vs. Dolph Ziggler match, which has never once been a bad thing, even when they aren't given the most time to work with and half the match is broken up by a commercial break. Two things I noticed, one I liked and one I didn't: Michael Cole calling the Liontamer the Walls of Jericho and Cole reminding us that Ziggler still has the Money in the Bank briefcase.
- Oh shit, another attack from Fandango? He even got real heat for it too. The advantages of working with Jericho over Great Khali. Loved how vicious Fandango was during his attack, delivering a ton of stiff shots.
- That entire 25 minutes or so was booked wonderfully. Really strong sequence of events with a full 20 minutes remaining in the first hour. After last week's abysmal start to the show, this was refreshing as all get out.
- It's nice to see The Shield actually bother to attack someone somewhere other than the ring immediately after a match. One complaint with Sheamus: If you've been jumped by three men at the same time, and those three men are as big and powerful as the collective known as The Shield, you don't spend 10 seconds valiantly fighting back. You go down and cover up because there's nothing else to do. The idea that Sheamus looks better as a babyface, or stronger or whatever they do this for, by having him fight back at least a little bit is silly. This goes double when the attacking force has the element of surprise and uses it. You can fight back once reinforcements arrive, as they inevitably did. No issue with that and no issue with how WWE is getting Sheamus and Randy Orton to trust Big Show enough to let him partner with them at WrestleMania. At least they're bothering to make sure it's all explained instead of just running with it.
- Good to see Mark Henry isn't seriously injured and the HOSS FIGHT at WrestleMania against Ryback is still on. Question: Did Ryback destroy any tag team as big as the Usos while he was running through every jobber or local athlete WWE could find? Either way, this is more simple but solid booking. Have the two big strong men try to outdo each other.
- The first hour was a big win.
- I like Ricardo Rodriguez, but his constantly getting his ass kicked doesn't make me want to see Alberto Del Rio beat up Jack Swagger any more than I did already, which wasn't much. Actually, I'm having a really hard time staying interested in this feud at all. And Del Rio attacking Antonio Cesaro after he got counted out for chasing after Swagger? Not a fan of anything this program has brought to the table. The only good thing Swagger has done since coming back is that video response to Glenn Beck but that died in a hurry and so has all the heat for this angle.
- Also finding it difficult to care much for Team Hell No vs. Ziggler and Big E. Langston. The match should be entertaining enough but there's no real story heading in and building to it by having one team watch the other team beat another team and the teams start screaming at each other and pointing at things from a distance just isn't sufficient to excite me. Could just be me, though, you decide that for yourself.
- Big props to the guy who shouted "FINALLY" in response to Triple H saying "for the first time ever, I find myself walking to the ring at WrestleMania this year with my career on the line." Good stuff, Philadelphia fan who attended Raw and made his presence known at the best possible time. "The Game's" promo was lame anyway.
- What wasn't lame was Wade Barrett interrupting his exit -- and remember, Triple H always gets his exit, folks -- and the "King of Kings" responding to it by kicking Barrett straight in his Barrage. This was great if only because it was Barrett getting kicked in the nuts and if you're a pro wrestling fan worth his salt, you should want Barrett to get kicked in the nuts. Triple H was just in the right spot at the right place and time to be the one delivering said kick.
- Why does The Miz walk like his upper thighs are chafing? That's a mystery for another day, I suppose. After last week's match, I thought a Miz vs. Barrett program wouldn't be the worst thing but it didn't take long to realize why last week saw the two have a good match -- Chris Jericho was involved. Absent "Y2J," I was underwhelmed and I'll absolutely cop to my bias here and reveal what most of you already know: I'm no fan of Miz's work and I'm no fan of Barrett's work.
- The Shield doing their thing in the ring is always good to see. Still wish there was more to the story, though, and the lack of depth WWE is willing to explore with these issues is always troubling. Plus, Sheamus, Orton, and Show have become the worst offenders of just staring at the WrestleMania sign, even worse than Triple H and that's saying something.
- Hour two slowed down quite a bit from hour one.
- The Bella Twins are looking just too damn good. So are the Funkettes for that matter. With the four ladies hooking up with the respective men in WWE, we might have a legitimate women's feud for the first time in months. That's cool. Actually, in a bit of a surprise, there was more heat on the ladies than there was on The Rhodes Scholars, or Brodus Clay and Tensai.
- Henry had to squash the Usos while Ryback got to throw around 3MB. With respect to Jimmy and Jey, who tried their best, they simply can't bump as well as Heath Slater, probably combined. Add in Jinder Mahal and of course Ryback would come away looking better. The saving grace for Henry? "THAT'S WHAT I DO" is far more intimidating than "FINISH IT."
- The replays; dear god, the replays.
- What's this? A Divas match on Raw? This is the first in weeks, no? They even set it up earlier in the night with a backstage segment that saw AJ listening in on Kaitlyn and overhearing her call AJ crazy before attacking like a rabid dog. "She's four quarters short of a dollar" was a good line from Kaitlyn, too. Ending it by way of countout kind of sucked but Kaitlyn put her own finisher over in doing so, I guess. Spearing a barricade probably would put you down for 28 seconds or so (let's be real, that's about how long a typical 10 count takes).
- Like the general idea of having a panel of legends grill The Rock and John Cena. I get it that WWE wants us to know that, well, the match itself is supposed to be legendary in what it represents. The problem with that has been the build to this match hasn't exactly done a great job of bringing that across in recent weeks. Yes, when looking back over the past two years, that should be build enough, but memories are short and need facilitated by creative minds. WWE has failed in that regard. Then again, that was the point of this segment, so again, I can see the reasoning behind doing it.
- I loved Cena bothering to explain why they used the "Once in a Lifetime" marketing gimmick for their last match. "I thought we would work the show and he would bail" is a great explanation. This is why the build to WrestleMania is almost always better than the build to every other show. Normally, Vince McMahon couldn't care less about tying up a loose end like that, even if it only requires a throwaway line during a routine segment like this.
- I absolutely LOVED how they finally brought up Cena having gotten cocky at the end of the match and that being what cost it for him. What made it even better was that Cena admitted that it was because the fans and Rock managed to get to him after such a long time of relentlessly beating him down with their chants and what not. This was also a magnificent sell job for the match itself. Cena has a legitimate point in saying he got cocky and it cost him, therefore he beat himself, but Rock has just a legitimate a point to say if Cena could have beaten him, he would have. It perfectly sets up the next match, so they can settle with a cleaner victory.
- Why was Jerry Lawler asking the two not to get physical? Meanwhile, four legends are just chilling in chairs behind a desk a mere two feet away. Once they did, it was fine for a second but the Rock Bottom was awful in execution. At least Cena bothered to sell it this time, which probably means he's going over at WrestleMania, if we didn't already know as much.
This was a pretty good show that advanced things towards the common goal while strengthening that which had already been set in stone. Jericho vs. Fandango looks like it could be far better than it has any business being while Rock vs. Cena is actually worth the time now. Undertaker looks like he can really go and Wade Barrett got kicked in the nuts. Things are looking good again.
That's it from me, Cagesiders. Now it's your turn to sound off with all your thoughts in the comments section below. How did you feel about this one?