The Big News: Randy Orton vs. John Cena is coming early. Too early.
John Cena came out to start the show. He got roundly booed again. I’ve seen wrestling fans turn on a lot of people over the years, but never has that sentiment seemed dumber, less deserved and more pathetic than with Cena. He said that the doctors told him he would be out for 12 months and that he would have to watch WrestleMania at home. With a new champion and contenders, Cena made a gamble and risked his career for a chance to go back to WrestleMania. He challenged Randy Orton for Raw.
Orton came out, and said that everyone challenges him, and everyone loses. Cena said that Orton is smart, and that he’ll take the match on Raw because Cena isn’t 100 percent yet. Orton said that he has become a bigger deal than Cena ever was. He said that he won’t defend his title unless people are paying to see it. That’s a good thing to say. Orton suggested they wrestle at No Way Out, and Cena agreed. Cena then said he would get some on Raw.
Beth Phoenix and Jillian Hall beat Ashley and Mickie James. Beth mocked Mickie for crying. Mickie came at Beth with punches. Beth gained control, hit a side slam and fisherwoman buster, and pinned Mickie again. Ashley never tagged in, thankfully.
William Regal came out to announce that there will be an Elimination Chamber at No Way Out with the winner getting a title shot at Mania. Regal stumbled over his words and went blblblblbl with his lips, which was great. The wrestlers in the Chamber will be Umanga, Shawn Michaels, Jeff Hardy, Triple Haich, Chris Jericho and JBL.
Carlito beat Cody Rhodes in a bad match. They managed to blow an arm drag, which is quite the feat. Cody went after Carlito’s arm. Santino distracted Cody, and Carlito hit the back stabber for the pin.
HHH and Shawn Michaels beat Umaga and Snitsky. Triple H took a shot at Michael Buffer for stealing “his” material before the match, which was funny. Shawn hit chops and a flying forearm on Snitsky, but was knocked off the top rope by Umaga. The heels worked over Shawn. It was the first match in a while where both members of a tag team used a lengthy bear hug. Umaga missed his running butt drop, Michaels hit a tornado DDT, and made the tag. HHH came in with a high knee and face buster for Snitsky. Michaels hit sweet chin music and a somersault plancha on Umaga. HHH then gave Snitsky the spine buster and pedigree for the pin. This was a good match for the audience.
Randy Orton and JBL had harsh words backstage about WrestleMania, but agreed to team up. Elsewhere, Jeff Hardy said that he is at a crossroads. He noted that he needs to win the Chamber and go to WrestleMania. He asserted that last night was just the beginning, not the end, for Jeff. We’ll see about that. Vince McMahon was angry at Hornswoggle for not winning the Rumble. Vince said he’s ashamed of Hornswoggle and ordered him away.
Mr. Kennedy beat Brian Kendrick. Kennedy jumped Kendrick coming into the ring. Kendrick came back with an enzuigiri, but Kennedy hit him with the mic check for the pin. This was an effective squash. Afterwards, Kennedy said he wants to end Ric Flair’s career. Backstage, Chris Jericho said a new Jericho emerged when he choked JBL and he likes that Jericho.
Maria beat Melina, in one of the rare editions of Raw with two women’s matches. Maria used a bronco buster, spinning head scissors, and gut buster. Melina tried to roll up Maria. Maria grabbed the ropes, so Melina pulled down her pants. Maria dropped down for the pin. Santino after the match was angry that the audience got a shot of Maria’s bikini bottom. Maria’s hair and makeup reminded me way too much of Christy Hemme this week. That’s a very bad thing.
JBL and Randy Orton beat Chris Jericho and Jeff Hardy. Jeff hit the swanton early on Orton, but JBL pulled Orton out of the ring. The heels worked over Jeff. He tagged Jericho, who went after JBL. He hit a springboard drop kick to take out Orton, and hit the lionsault on JBL. Jericho applied the Walls on JBL, but Orton hit an RKO on Jericho. JBL covered for the pin. John Cena came out after the match. JBL left Orton on his own, and Cena gave Orton the FU.
We still won’t have a perfect idea of WWE’s WrestleMania plans for a few weeks, but I’m not a fan of what is shaping up. Randy Orton vs. John Cena should have been the big match. It has the perfect story of the champion who never lost his belt coming back to defeat the man who has dominated in his absence.
That should be a big match, both on pay-per-view and in terms of making the title really mean something. It’s easily the best candidate for WrestleMania main event. Only, that’s not the main event now. Instead, we’ll likely get HHH vs. Cena, HHH vs. Orton or HHH vs. Cena vs. Orton. None of those has the same dynamic as Orton vs. Cena with the proper buildup.
You could theoretically justify this by saying you can pop two buy rates rather than one. However, there are two problems with that. One is that the Elimination Chamber is likely to boost No Way Out above the normal B numbers as much as is possible. Two is that they don’t have enough time to properly build this match for No Way Out.
Wrestling is fundamentally about making fans want something badly, teasing it for a long while, and finally delivering. Orton vs. Cena should be a big payoff. But the problem is over the past few months, they haven’t been planting the seeds for it. They haven’t been talking about how Orton never beat Cena for his title, or about how Cena is training to recapture his title from Orton.
Instead, Cena returned and the next night he’s already wrestling the champion on the next pay-per-view. Orton vs. Cena, which should have felt like a major culmination, instead feels just like any other pay-per-view main event. It’s almost an anticlimax with WrestleMania coming up the next month. It’s like they’re undermining that program out of fear of how well it could do, when a properly paced Orton vs. Cena program over the next three months would make HHH vs. Cena for the title all the bigger in the summer.
With Orton involved, this makes me flash back to Orton/HHH in 2004. That should have been a big WrestleMania program, but they rushed it. The result was the match which should have been huge meant very little, and it took Orton years to recover from that. Pacing is of paramount importance in pro wrestling, and this whole thing feels way off. It’s like they’re booking just to keep fans on their toes, when a slow, predictable build would be so much more profitable.