Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Raw Drives Me Insane - 1/26/09

Date: 01/26/09 from Cleveland, OH.

The Big News: TNA Impact ain’t got nothing on this shit.

Show Analysis:

Randy Orton came out with Legacy, lawyers and a therapist. Yes, you read that right. He first wanted to discuss what happened last week on Raw. Apparently what happens with the McMahons is more important than the title and the WrestleMania main event. Orton says that he has IED, and read a statement explaining what that is. It was totally goofy to the point it was like comedy.

Orton blamed what happened to Vince on IED and said he isn’t responsible. He said his therapist appraised WWE of this condition and WWE did nothing. Orton said that if he’s fired he will sue Stephanie and WWE. He then threatened a second lawsuit, where he will sue for breach of contract if he isn’t put in the Mania main event. He then read a statement apologizing to Vince.

This segment was such an utter disaster on every level. Orton was working phenomenally as a heel because he was this evil, manipulative viper character. It fit him perfectly and was clicking like no other character he’s ever portrayed. So what do they do? They turn him into a chickenshit heel that hides behind lawsuit threats. Besides being a complete 180 to anyone who has watched the show for the last six months, it’s all wrong for Orton. This is what they were doing with Jericho. Orton is not Jericho. He has different skills as a performer. And Jericho as champion drew poor business, so it’s not like this is a glory period we’re trying to recreate.

The only possible explanation I can come up with for this nonsense (other than incompetence or a desire to hold Orton down) is that they’re worried Orton is becoming too much of a face. What is so wrong with some fans cheering him? That’s just the nature of wrestling in 2009, and Orton is able to combat it better than most. And their solution is a failure on every level. It makes him significantly less effective as a heel right now, it will make him even less effective as a face if and when he turns, and it’s so inconsistent with the way he has behaved for months that it’s like he’s not even the same character.

Miz and John Morrison beat Cryme Tyme. The heels worked over JTG, who got the tag to Shad. Shad came in with clotheslines and punches. He gave Morrison a power slam and STO, but Miz broke up the pin. Shad gave Miz a big boot, but Morrison used the opportunity to hit the moonlight drive for the pin.

They announced an elimination chamber match for the Raw title at No Way Out. The idea of elimination chambers at No Way Out is a great one, but it should be for the unclaimed title shots at WrestleMania, not the actual titles. It makes no sense that the challenger is in a better position going into the most important show of the year than the champion, and that’s precisely the situation here.

I’ve never really liked the idea of ostensibly stripping the champion of his title and putting him in a six way match without a very specific and well explained reason, but it is particularly absurd in the final buildup to the biggest show of the year. It makes the title feel like a prop as opposed to a symbol of the best wrestler. Particularly when the participants end up qualifying in a series of nothing three minute TV matches against midcarders.

Moreover, a big match benefits from longer build, and trying to create five title challengers at the same time necessarily creates a gigantic distraction from what you ultimately plan to be your money match just a month later. Having an elimination chamber to fill the vacant title shot augments the benefits of the Rumble; having one for the title undermines the benefits of the Rumble.

Kofi Kingston beat Kane to earn a spot in the elimination chamber. Kane went for a choke slam but Kofi worked his way out and rolled up Kane for the quick pin. Again, this doesn’t do wonders for the significance of the title a month before WrestleMania.

Chris Jericho came out and they aired a clip from The Wrestler. Idiocy then commenced, as Jericho complained about what Mickey Rourke said on the red carpet. They aired a clip of an entertainment reporter asking Rourke about doing something with WWE. Rourke then alluded to coming for Jericho at WrestleMania and cut a comedic promo. I can’t believe they aired this.

The Rourke clip was not him providing any motivation to explain him coming for Jericho. He was just acknowledging he would be doing a wrestling angle. Rourke, the interviewer and anyone watching with a brain knew that he was talking about this program as fake, and I can’t recall a successful wrestling angle that ever started with one of the participants acknowledging that they were about to embark on a fake wrestling angle.

Chris Jericho then said that it’s one thing to pretend to be a wrestler in a movie and it’s another to be a wrestler, which I took to mean Jericho is annoyed that Rourke is coming in to do a program with him. Maybe Jericho can promise to shoot on Rourke and the announcers can talk about how unprofessional Jericho is for not working with Rourke like Vince Russo did in the dying days of WCW at New Blood Rising.

I mean, seriously, this is how they are starting what could be a big program with Mickey Rourke? By airing footage of Mickey Rourke acknowledging that he’s doing a wrestling angle? There are a million fascinating ways to use Rourke, and this is the best they could do?

Backstage, Shawn Michaels and JBL spoke. JBL didn’t like being given the superkick at the Rumble. Michaels said he had to lower John Cena’s guard, and that he did everything he could to help JBL win. JBL said that was a false assumption, but that there was still business to be done. JBL told Michaels to be the showstopper one more time, and earn him a spot in the Elimination Chamber.

John Cena beat Shawn Michaels, so JBL didn’t qualify for the chamber. Michaels and Cena traded punches. Cena went for a bulldog but Michaels avoided it and slapped Cena. Cena slapped him back. Cena went for the FU and STFU but Michaels escaped. Cena hit shoulder blocks and the Cena slam. He went for the five knuckle shuffle, but Michaels grabbed him in the crossface. Cena powered up and tried the FU but Michaels grabbed the ropes.

Cena then applied the STFU, but Michaels got to the ropes. Michaels hit a slam and went for the elbow off the top, at which point JBL inexplicably distracted Michaels by repeatedly telling at him to superkick Cena. When Michaels continued for the elbow, JBL got on the apron to distract him some more. Cena then shoved JBL into Michaels, who fell off the ropes. Cena hit the FU for the pin.

Beth Phoenix and Jillian Hall beat Melina and Kelly Kelly. Santino did commentary. The heels worked over Kelly. Kelly was going for the tag when Rosa came out of nowhere to pull Melina off the apron. Kelly couldn’t make the tag and was given the glam slam for the pin. I liked the clever and unexpected finish here.

Rey Mysterio beat William Regal to qualify for the chamber in a brief match that was good while it lasted. Regal brawled for most of the match with punches and kicks. Rey came back with a 619 and springboard splash for the pin. Backstage, Rosa told Santino she needed to do something for Beth after what happened at the Rumble. Beth teased anger, but instead said that they could keep her.

Chris Jericho beat CM Punk to qualify for the chamber. Punk hit a springboard clothesline and huracanrana off the top. Punk went for the GTS but Jericho rolled through. There was a series of pinning attempts. Jericho went for the Walls but Punk escaped. Jericho then hit a botched code breaker for the pin. The match, other than the finish, was good despite being too short.

That brought us to the final segment, and what a segment it was. Stephanie came out, and she’s a bad ass. She said she’s not backing down to Orton, and called him out. Orton isn’t as tough as Stephanie, so he came out with Legacy, his lawyers and his therapist as backup. Orton’s lawyer stood up to Stephanie, but she stared him down and he backed off.

Orton told Stephanie that if she continued, he would lay her out like he laid out her dad. No, actually, that’s what a tough main event heel would do. Instead, he threatened a lawsuit. He said he would get an injunction and have WrestleMania cancelled. All the wrestlers appeared on stage, but Orton said he would take all of them down with him. Orton then begged to be fired so he could file this lawsuit.

Stephanie, of course, stared him down like she was Wanderlei Silva and he was Alexander Otsuka. Stephanie said that firing him would be too easy, and said they had bigger plans. She smiled, and revealed that it wouldn’t be Wanderlei Silva beating up Orton. No, it would be Fedor. Here comes the money! Shane McMahon came out, and all the wrestlers parted so that their savior and last great hope could preserve WrestleMania for them.

Shane McMahon came to ringside, and it was time for an ass whipping. Shane speared Orton, and laid in on him with punches. Legacy tried to hold Shane back, but he fought them both off on his own. He then went back to work on Orton. Rhodes and DiBiase came back into the picture, so he beat them up three on one. Shane then gave Orton this long series of punches and just beat the crap out of Orton. He mounted Orton and fired in more punches. Orton was done, so DiBiase carried Orton to the back.

Shane wasn’t having that. He beat up Rhodes in the ring, and pursued Orton to the stage, where he commenced once more with the beatdown. He kept beating up Orton on the stage. Kofi tried to stop Shane, so Shane beat up Kofi for good measure. And that was the show. I swear to God. I couldn’t make this stuff up. It seriously happened. Oh, and I should mention that Shane gassed about 30 seconds into this beatdown, and his punches looked absolutely dreadful from then on. And also that the crowd didn’t react to this at all. No cheers. There was just a whole lot of collective disbelief at just how egotistical and insecure the McMahons are.

Final Thoughts:

This was the worst booked episode of Monday Night Raw that I can ever recall: a perfect storm of incompetence and egotism run amok.

Monday, January 19, 2009

WWE Raw Report

Date: 01/19/09 from Chicago, IL.

The Big News: Vince McMahon returned, but it doesn’t look like he’ll be back next week.

Show Analysis:

Randy Orton won a six man battle royal over Ted DiBiase, Cody Rhodes, Kofi Kingston, Kane and Santino Marella. Santino thought he was on the same side as the Legacy, but they dumped him. They then took out Kofi. Kane sent Rhodes and DiBiase over the top rope, but DiBiase landed on the apron. Kane then went to eliminate Orton, but DiBiase took out Kane from behind and tumbled out with Kane. That made Orton the winner. This was a weird start to the show. I guess the idea was to get over that the Legacy may be a dangerous team in the Royal Rumble, but the match was so short and obviously stacked in their favor that it didn’t really serve that purpose.

Beth Phoenix beat Kelly Kelly in a brief squash with the glam slam. Randy Orton backstage then told DiBiase that if Orton wins, they all win. Rhodes said that there was a problem. Sim Snuka and Manu were in Stephanie McMahon’s office earlier and the rumor was that Stephanie was going to fire Orton. I heard that one too on MMA Bay. Backstage, Santino presented Rosa Mendes as a gift to Beth. He said that she would be an intern for them. An excited Rosa said she wants to learn from Beth and that she’ll do whatever Beth says. Santino comically closed, “Please? Can we keep her?”

Randy Orton met with Stone Cold Stephanie McMahon backstage. Stephanie said she wouldn’t fire Orton, and told him to stop sucking up to her and get out of her office. Orton said that he wasn’t worried and if anything Stephanie should be worried about Vince. Orton added that nobody respects Stephanie, she only has her job because she’s Vince’s daughter, everyone laughs about her behind her back and if her last name wasn’t McMahon she would be a complete nobody. Stephanie slapped him and starred him down.

Why in the world is Stephanie McMahon of all people standing up to Randy Orton, completely unintimidated by him? What possible good does it accomplish, other than soothing her insecurity and arrogance? He is a 245 pound WrestleMania main event heel and she is a 135 pound female non-wrestler. Getting him over as a threat will help draw money. Getting her over as a threat will draw none. There’s absolutely no justification for this pathetic, nepotistic nonsense.

CM Punk beat William Regal to win the Intercontinental Title. Punk hit some kicks, sent Regal into the post and scored with a snap suplex. Regal retaliated by supposedly kicking Punk’s head full on into the ring post. To me, it’s pretty hard to suspend disbelief on that one. Regal and Punk traded kicks and punches. Punk hit a high kick and high knee. Regal responded with an exploder. Punk missed a crossbody off the top but quickly followed by getting Regal up for the GTS. Regal tried to fight out with elbows, but Punk hit it anyway for the pin. This was a fun match and the hot crowd really helped. Delaying the title switch until Punk’s hometown paid off.

Next up was a contract signing for JBL vs. John Cena. Shawn Michaels came out with JBL. JBL said that Cena’s title run is almost over. Cena called JBL a scumbag, and said he wanted to talk to Michaels. JBL responded that this was about him and talking about Michaels was just Cena making excuses in advance. Cena put over Michaels and said he shouldn’t be JBL’s puppet. JBL said Michaels is an employee, and Michaels will collect what is important to him: a large paycheck, not Cena’s opinion.

Michaels at this point grabbed the microphone and told JBL to shut up. Michaels said it makes him sick to take money from JBL, but he does it and will continue to do so. He told Cena that he is not a kid any more and he has obligations and pressures that Cena can’t understand. Michaels talked about his wife and children, and said that Cena doesn’t know him. Michaels said that people can judge but he will do what he has to do. Cena said he doesn’t believe Michaels and that when the chips are down Michaels won’t help JBL. Michaels then grabbed Cena and JBL hit Cena from behind. Michaels went for sweet chin music but missed, and JBL landed a big boot and clothesline from hell on Cena.

Overall, I liked this angle. However, I liked the first part a lot better than the second. Michaels looking sad and JBL doing all the talking works well. But Michaels’ rant made me dislike him. Michaels crying about not being able to support his family on a main event wrestler’s salary is just obnoxious. His character is Latrell Sprewell, not Bob Cratchit.

Rey Mysterio beat Mike Knox via DQ. Prior to the match, Knox said that he doesn’t have a reason for repeatedly attacking Rey. This was another really brief match. Rey hit a huracanrana and went for the 619 but Knox caught him. Knox used a slingshot to send Rey into the ropes and repeatedly stomped, kneed and punched Rey in the corner until the referee called for a DQ. I usually don’t like this type of finish, but I thought it worked here. Knox was bleeding from the mouth, and laid out Rey with the Knox out. Chris Jericho was in Stephanie’s office backstage. Stephanie told him to leave, but Jericho said Vince was going to allow him to plead his case.

Cryme Tyme beat Miz and John Morrison to earn a tag title shot. If Miz and Morrison won, Cryme Tyme would leave them alone for good. Shad scored the pin with the STO. This was one of those matches that are so unbelievably short it just makes matches feel like pointless contrivances. Raw has had way too many two minute matches in recent weeks.

Mickie James and Cody Rhodes spoke backstage. Cody didn’t want to listen to her advice. Goldust approached Cody. He had advice for Cody: to watch the WWE’s Starrcade DVD collection. He said Cody would learn a lot from the legends. Cody said that he has heard this has Dustin Rhodes vs. Steve Austin. He then gave back the DVD and said he planned to live up to his talent unlike Dustin. He added that when they make the Cody Rhodes DVD he will send Goldust and Dusty the DVD. This was a good segment and effective product placement as well.

Melina beat Jillian Hall. Jillian attacked Melina with punches and a side slam. Melina then hit the last call (and I think Melina should consider getting a better looking finisher) for the pin. Santino, Beth and Rosa came to ringside. Santino whispered something to Rosa, and she ran into the ring and attacked Melina. Beth came in and laid out Melina with the glam slam. Dolph Ziggler and Candice Michelle were speaking backstage when Vince McMahon arrived. Dolph went to introduce himself but couldn’t remember his name. Wow, they actually found a way to pay off that gimmick.

Vince McMahon came out for the final segment of the show. He immediately brought out Chris Jericho. Jericho asked to be brought back and put in the Royal Rumble. Vince then brought out Stephanie McMahon. Vince said he wouldn’t reinstate Jericho, and that he would run Raw together with Stephanie. He asked Stephanie if she wanted to give Jericho a second chance. Stephanie wanted an apology. Jericho apologized three times to Stephanie and once on his knees to the fans. Stephanie reinstated him.

Randy Orton then came out and said he’s owed an apology by Stephanie. Orton pointed out people pay to see him and not Stephanie. Orton said since Stephanie popped out a couple grandchildren she has become worthless. Vince escorted an angry Stephanie out of the ring. Vince then told Orton he made Randy and his father and told Orton to apologize or he would terminate Orton on the spot. Randy told Vince that Vince didn’t want to do that. Vince was going to fire Orton, but Randy slapped him, kicked him in the head and punted him. Orton then acted like he was scared by what he did while Stephanie shrieked.

Final Thoughts:

I know a lot of people like the McMahons as performers, but I typically dread their appearances. It has nothing to do with their performances, but rather the way they are portrayed. Wrestling is fundamentally about building up wrestlers and then getting fans interested in seeing them collide. The McMahons almost always hinder this goal, because shows are built around their self-aggrandizement even if it weakens the top wrestlers who are expected to carry the product.

This week was the perfect example. Two of the top three heels on Raw are Chris Jericho and Randy Orton. Jericho’s character can get away with being humbled, but if he is going to lose his heat, he should be losing it to the top faces, not to Stephanie McMahon. Then there is Orton, who is supposed to be this ultimate evil diabolical heel, but who Stephanie and her 63-year-old father aren’t concerned by in the least. Orton was significantly more afraid about what they would do to him for attacking Vince than they were of this guy who is concussing and laying out people left and right.

Raw left you with the impression that Vince and Stephanie are the real stars of the show. They are the ones who call the shots. They are the ones who control the main event wrestlers. And what purpose does this serve, other than to feed their egos?

As for the show on the whole, it was another mixed bag. I think as a general rule on Raw lately the build has been good, the talk hit and miss, and the wrestling underemphasized.

I will be interested to see the Royal Rumble buy rate. The Rumble itself always helps a lot, but I don’t have a lot of interest in this show. The buildup has been fine, but there isn’t anything I’m dying to see. I think part of the problem is that both of the major champions are faces. The Rumble works better to me when fans are anticipating that one of their favorite faces will beat the odds and earn the opportunity to overthrow the heel champion at Mania. There’s less interest to me when there isn’t that chase.

Finally, please check out CBSSports.com over the next couple weeks for a lot of MMA content from me. I’ll be providing live coverage of Affliction Day of Reckoning this Saturday in Anaheim, then WEC Varner vs. Cerrone this Sunday in San Diego, then UFC 94 next Saturday in Las Vegas. I’ll be at each of the shows and I’ll have live results, analysis, and backstage notes. It should be a fun couple of weeks for MMA.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

WWE Raw Report

Date: 01/12/09 from Sioux City, IA.

The Big News: Shawn Michaels defeated John Cena in a long main event that was billed as Michaels’ WrestleMania.

Show Analysis:

JBL and Shawn Michaels were in a limousine to start the show. JBL said that unlike himself, Michaels would now only be fighting for paychecks rather than titles. JBL said that fighting Cena for him would be Michaels’ WrestleMania. Michaels was sad. This was a good start to the show.

Stephanie McMahon came to the ring and said she couldn’t wait for the return of Vince. Chris Jericho joined her and called her a liar. He said she’s scared of her father’s return because her time running the show will be over. Jericho was ecstatic about the return of Vince because Vince will right her wrongs and put Jericho in the title match at the Royal Rumble. Stephanie said that the contract is done for the Rumble and JBL vs. Cena will be signed next week. Stephanie told Jericho to worry about winning the Rumble and said he had a match for Raw.

Jericho refused to compete unless a title was at stake. He said he wouldn’t lower himself to that and called Stephanie a lame duck. He said next week nothing she says will mean anything. Stephanie said that this week she was still in charge and announced Jericho was out of the Rumble and won’t ever have another shot at the title. Jericho didn’t care, so Stephanie fired and escorted Jericho out of the building. I pretty much universally hate WWE angles built around getting over that the McMahons are powerful. They are passe and counterproductive.

Rey Mysterio beat Miz in a brief match. Miz worked over Rey’s back, but Rey came back with the 619 and a springboard splash for the pin. Mike Knox jumped Rey after the match but Rey fought him off this time. Rey and Knox will wrestle next week on Raw. Backstage, Candice was trying to speak to CM Punk, but Punk was listening to music and focusing on his match. He basically blew her off.

William Regal beat CM Punk via DQ in another nothing match. Regal was attacking Punk in the corner, and as Regal turned around Punk threw a punch that landed low on Regal. The referee called for a DQ. They would have been better off just making the title match for the Rumble, because these faux matches are making me less, not more, interested. Stephanie later announced a no-DQ title match for next week.

Backstage, Manu and Sim Snuka were annoyed at Cody for joining Orton last week. Cody said that they would have done the same thing. Manu warned Cody that they were coming after Orton, and Cody would either be with them or against them. Sim added that they would be bringing second generation backup. They then announced Steve Austin for the Hall of Fame. JBL and Shawn Michaels spoke backstage. JBL told Shawn that he can’t lose with JBL in his corner. Shawn said he doesn’t need JBL to win and that he would prove he’s still the main event and the showstopper.

Randy Orton beat Kane. Cody Rhodes was at ringside. Orton controlled the match with knees, kicks, punches and stomps. Kane came back with punches of his own, clotheslines and a side slam. Surprisingly, the crowd was with Kane. Kane went for the choke slam but Orton fought out and hit a neck breaker. Orton went for the RKO but Kane avoided that. The finish appeared to be botched. Kane went to the top for a clothesline but was caught with a dropkick. The referee counted three even though Kane got a shoulder up. There may be another second generation burial coming, this time for one Scott Armstrong.

After the match, Manu and Sim came out. Manu asked Cody if he was with them or against them. Manu and Sim had backup, Ted DiBiase. The three came to the ring and surrounded Orton. Cody came into the ring as well. A fight then broke out, with Orton, Rhodes and DiBiase laying out Manu and Sim. So there’s your Legacy group. The basic idea here was right but the execution left something to be desired.

John Cena backstage talked about how anything can happen at the Royal Rumble. He said that he would be competing against Shawn Michaels in Shawn’s WrestleMania. That sounded familiar. There was to be a women’s tag match, but Rosa Mendes jumped Melina coming to the ring and Beth and Jillian then joined in to lay her out.

Backstage, Randy Orton congratulated Ted DiBiase and Cody Rhodes on forming the Legacy. Orton noted, however, there could only be one winner of the Rumble. Elsewhere Jamie Noble, Santino, Dolph Ziggler, Goldust and Cryme Tyme were waiting outside Stephanie’s office to lobby for a spot in the Rumble. Santino succeeded.

Shawn Michaels beat John Cena in the main event. They gave them a ton of time and the match was good, but it was missing something. I think part of the problem was the crowd reaction. Crowds don’t know how to respond to Michaels right now and this crowd didn’t like Cena for the most part so there wasn’t a lot of heat.

Cena and Michaels shook hands, and started with some chain wrestling. Cena whipped Michaels into the turnbuckle, hit a back drop and dumped Michaels to the floor. Michaels responded by snapping Cena’s neck and applying the figure four. Cena went for a top rope rocker dropper but Michaels caught him in the crossface. Michaels followed with a flying forearm and body slam but Cena caught him on the top rope.

Cena went for the FU off the top but Michaels escaped and hit a power bomb off the top for two. Michaels went for a top rope elbow but missed. Cena hit the five knuckle shuffle but Michaels countered an FU attempt into a DDT for two. Michaels hit an elbow off the top and went for sweet chin music. Cena ducked under and hit the FU, but Michaels kicked out at two.

Cena went to lift Michaels up but Michaels hit sweet chin music. Cena kicked out at two. Cena went for the FU again but Michaels rolled him up for two. Cena then caught Michaels into the STFU. Michaels eventually got to the ropes. Cena went for the FU again but Michaels got out and sent Cena towards the ropes. Cena was distracted by JBL and Michaels hit sweet chin music for the pin.

Final Thoughts:

This was an average edition of Raw. It was heavily built around the main event, which, while good, didn’t deliver as strongly as they probably expected. The rest of the show was mostly built around the Royal Rumble and the return of Vince McMahon next week.

I’ll be on Fight Network Radio tomorrow talking Raw and other wrestling/MMA news at 3PM Eastern/12PM Pacific, so check that out here:


Tuesday, January 06, 2009

WWE Raw Report

Date: 01/05/09 from New Orleans, LA.

The Big News: Shawn Michaels is doing his best to resist the negative influence of JBL.

Show Analysis:

The show began with a phenomenal video package on Shawn Michaels vs. JBL. These packages are always great to the point it pretty much goes without saying, but this week’s package was particularly effective in putting over last week’s angle.

Chris Jericho and Randy Orton were in the ring to protest what happened last week. They complained that Michaels, in allowing JBL to kick him, compromised the integrity of the match. What, Jericho asked, is the world coming to when we can’t rely on the integrity of pro wrestling results? Okay, that was actually more my question. In any event, they filed a protest requesting JBL’s title shot be taken away, Michaels be refused any future title shots and a match between Orton and Jericho to determine the Royal Rumble title contender.

JBL’s limousine pulled up, and Michaels and JBL arrived together. JBL said that Orton and Jericho could protest all they want but that he has the title shot. He said that they would do the same if they had the same resources. The self-righteous Jericho responded that he doesn’t deal with dishonest and disreputable people. He added that Michaels’ actions have proven him right about Michaels. Michaels said that if he has any solace, it’s that he prevented Jericho and Orton from receiving a title shot. Orton called Michaels a weak, pathetic sellout.

Stephanie came out and said that she wouldn’t do anything, since Michaels didn’t lie down. He just purposefully allowed himself to get by the clothesline and then was pinned. Stephanie needs to be arguing on MMA message boards about whether Ken Shamrock vs. Rich Franklin or Hidehiko Yoshida vs. Naoya Ogawa were works. Hell, with logic like that she probably already is. Stephanie said that Jericho and Orton will be in the Rumble. Jericho said Michaels shouldn’t be in it as punishment. JBL said he would take Michaels out and make sure he is just at the Rumble to assist JBL. Stephanie said that we would see about Michaels’ integrity in Raw’s main event: Michaels and John Cena vs. Orton and Jericho.

Goldust and Melina beat Beth and Santino. Goldust is looking in better shape and was moving better so good for him. He hit an arm drag, clothesline and butt to the head. He tagged Melina, who hit a top rope face buster and used the jackknife cradle to pin Beth. After the match Rosa jumped the barricade to attack Melina. Melina followed her back into the crowd for a fight.

CM Punk was interviewed backstage. He put over the Intercontinental Title and champions like Ricky Steamboat, Bret Hart and Mr. Perfect. He said that he would like to add his name to that list. Punk added that he hasn’t forgotten William Regal beating him in the King of the Ring finals last year or the cheap shot last week. He ended up shaking hands with Todd Grisham. Grisham looked so extraordinarily pleased to be paid this attention, like a dog that has been locked indoors all day with nothing to do.

CM Punk vs. William Regal for the Intercontinental Title was basically just an angle. Punk went for the GTS, but Regal grabbed the referee and was disqualified. Stephanie announced a rematch for next week where the DQ rule will be waived. I don’t remember that gimmick being used all that much in WWE, but it was a WCW staple including when Regal was WCW World Television Champion.

Backstage, JBL told Michaels to attack Cena and promised him a huge bonus if he took out Cena before the Royal Rumble. Elsewhere, Orton said that Cody Rhodes and Sim Snuka would have another match and if they won they would be in the group. Manu came in and wanted another shot. Orton buried him. He said that he gave Manu the opportunity to be associated with him, and he’s done nothing. Orton said Manu and Afa are nothing compared to the Ortons, and half the fans don’t even know his name. He said Manu would never be a part of his group. Okay, it’s time to just dump this angle. The idea should be to get over the young guys, and instead they’re all being buried miles underground.

Miz and John Morrison beat Rey Mysterio and Kofi Kingston. The heels worked over Kofi’s leg. Kofi got the tag to Rey, who came in with a huracanrana and dropkick on Morrison. Kofi took out Miz with a crossbody but hurt his leg. Rey used the 619 on Morrison but was slowed down by Miz and his springboard attempt into the ring was met by a Morrison kick for the pin. It is nice to see them putting Miz and Morrison over so strong. It helps get over tag team wrestling in general. Mike Knox jumped Rey after the match.

John Cena came to Shawn Michaels backstage. Cena wanted to know what to expect, and whether he should be preparing for three on one. Michaels said that he isn’t a puppet, but then asked Cena what history suggests to expect from him.

Kelly Kelly beat Jillian Hall. Jillian worked over Kelly, who came back with a crossbody off the top and clotheslines. Kelly went for a victory roll but Jillian dropped down for two. Kelly hit a leg drop for a pin. The announcers are pushing hard how much Kelly has improved, but I’m not buying it. Jillian jumped Kelly afterwards, but Kane made the save. Kane noted Orton rejected her like she rejected Kane, and that doesn’t feel very good. He’s right, you know. Kane the moralist. Kane said next week he will go back to what he likes to do by annihilating Orton. Okay, that’s not quite as morally righteous.

Cody Rhodes and Sim Snuka beat Cryme Tyme. They worked over JTG, who eventually tagged Shad. Shad came in with a back drop and elbow drop on Cody, but crashed into the ring post charging Cody. JTG tagged in and used a sunset flip, but Cody kicked out and hit the roll of the dice for the pin. Backstage, Orton congratulated Cody. He then said that Sim was out. Sim pointed out they won the tag match and only one guy could score the pin. Orton said that was exactly it, and Sim proved he was the weak link by not getting the pin.

Backstage, Stephanie told Santino that Rosa is banned. Santino was upset, and said it’s not her fault she’s attracted to his irresistible self. Jericho then came to Stephanie, and wanted to know why JBL was leaving her office earlier in the day. Jericho said that he protested to both Stephanie and Vince. Stephanie said Vince is out of the picture, but Jericho said he got a call from Vince’s office and in two weeks Vince will return to Raw. Stephanie was shocked.

John Cena and Shawn Michaels beat Randy Orton and Chris Jericho. The heels worked over Michaels, who tagged Cena. Cena hit the Cena slam and five knuckle shuffle on Orton. He went for the FU but Orton went to the eyes. A disoriented Cena nearly gave Michaels the FU. The heels then got the heat on Cena. Jericho sent him into the announcing table and hit a DDT. Cena used a top rope rocker dropper and made the tag.

Michaels hesitated but then came in with a flying forearm, inverted atomic drop and slam on Jericho. He went for the elbow off the top but Jericho got his knees up. Michaels came back with sweet chin music for both Orton and Jericho. Cena was ready for an attack but Michaels instead just covered Jericho to win the match. JBL backstage said that next week it will be Michaels vs. Cena with JBL in Michaels’ corner.

Final Thoughts:

Shawn Michaels and JBL are doing such a tremendous job as performers that they are turning their issue into a hot angle in spite of the gaping logic holes. It really is a testament to both of them, and the angle seems perfectly paced for a WrestleMania payoff.

On the flip side, they really should be doing more right now to start building Orton for a WrestleMania shot against Cena. Right now he’s constantly being bested and it’s taking down his star a little bit. Moreover, the Legacy group should help to boost his character but they are burying all the other guys in the group so hard that it just makes Orton look bad to be associated with these geeks. Of course JBL is the next challenger for the belt but in wrestling you should always be setting up what is coming next so it is more meaningful when it arrives.