Monday, March 26, 2012

WWE Raw Report

Date: 03/26/12 from Atlanta, GA.

The Big News: WWE concluded what had been a very good WrestleMania build with a perplexing go home show that fizzled in front of an underwhelmed audience.

Show Analysis:

Daniel Bryan and Kane beat Sheamus and Randy Orton. The heels were in control for a bit on Sheamus when Orton got the hot tag. He hit clotheslines, a powerslam and a draping DDT on Bryan. He set up for the RKO but Kane pulled Bryan out of the ring. Orton went after Kane and posted him on the outside, but Bryan then cut off Orton with a baseball slide. That allowed the heels to work over Orton, who eventually got the tag back to Sheamus.

A brawl quickly broke up. Sheamus set up for the Brogue kick but A.J. got in the ring to stop Sheamus. When A.J. was finally removed, Sheamus missed the kick and Kane gave Sheamus a choke slam. That allowed Bryan to cover for the win. That finish suggests they may be switching directions. Bryan bullying the sympathetic A.J. isn’t going to work very long as a dynamic if A.J. is interfering in matches for no good reason.

Santino beat David Otunga. Michael Cole and Booker T are now the official commentators for John Laurinaitis’ team and Teddy Long’s team, with Vickie Guerrero and Hornswoggle the flag bearers. Otunga was waiving the Laurinaitis flag in the match when Hornswoggle came in and waived the Long flag. Otunga took it and tried to hit Hornswoggle with it but the flag bounced off the ropes and hit Otunga in the face. Santino then hit the cobra for the pin.

After the match, Long shoved Laurinaitis down. Miz then ran in with a skull crushing finale on Santino. Laurinaitis congratulated Miz on being the final member of Team Teddy. He immediately had to correct himself and say Team Johnny. So that’s the culmination of the Miz angle. Everything about this segment was complete and utter shit.

Kelly Kelly beat Eve Torres. Jerry Lawler wondered what Rush Limbaugh would say about Eve Torres, which was quite the line. Torres missed a moonsault and Kelly rolled her up for the win. That was a little surprising since Torres had Beth Phoenix and Kelly didn’t have Maria Menounos.

Christian was going to wrestle CM Punk, but the match didn’t take place. Chris Jericho appeared on the screen to say that he will beat Punk and expose Punk’s character at Mania. Jericho said Punk’s parents married after his birth so he is a bastard. That doesn’t exactly feel like the most sensitive of subjects in 2012. Christian jumped Punk from behind, but Punk flipped out and beat the hell out of Christian. Punk slammed Christian into the announce table, gave him a head kick, repeatedly elbowed him, dropped him on the steps and applied the Anaconda vise on the floor. Punk refused to break the hold and yelled that this was what he would do to Jericho. They later announced Christian wouldn’t be able to compete for Laurinaitis’ team at WrestleMania.

Brodus Clay beat Curt Hawkins with an overhead throw and splash.

Big Show beat Primo with a choke slam. He gave Epico a choke slam after the match as well. Cody Rhodes then came out and made fun of Show. He basically tried to link Big Show’s name to failure, like the pulling a homer episode of the Simpsons in 1991.

Backstage, the Bellas and Zack Ryder argued about Laurinaitis and Long. Eve came in and asked what hotel Ryder is staying at for Mania. Eve suggested he stay at her hotel. Ryder was smitten. Elsewhere, CM Punk said he’s not off limits but his family is. Punk said he is not a bastard but the best wrestler in the world. Good thing too, because I can’t associate with anyone who was born out of wedlock.

Mark Henry beat Great Khali clean with the world’s strongest slam. After the match, Laurinaitis threw Long into the ring. Laurinaitis’ team blocked off the ring, with Drew McIntyre apparently taking the final slot. Mark Henry teased attacked Long for seemingly 10 minutes, nicely deferring until finally Booker T made the save. Teddy Long asked Booker to join his team.

Rock came out for the final segment of the show. He said that since WrestleMania 20, everyone always asked him when he would come back. He waited a while for a boots to asses chant to take off but it was just a few people and it eventually fizzled out. Rock said the answer was Survivor Series. No, wait, he didn’t say that. He said he was just waiting for one guy, John Cena. Rock put over Cena, saying that Cena has transcended the business, become the heartbeat of WWE and one of the biggest stars in the industry ever. However, he said that Cena has never faced anyone like Rock.

John Cena came out smiling. He joked that Rock is his movie star arch nemesis. He said that Rock has never faced anyone like him. He was in his smarmy, joking mode. He said that he is here every week unlike Cena. He noted Rock isn’t the first to go after him, because whenever anyone wants to make a name in the business now they go after Cena. He cut a corny promo about rising above hate and winning. He smiled obnoxiously and pointed out that everyone hates him and he wins anyway. He said that even the people who hate him know he’ll win at Mania.

Cena said that this is what he loves and people know that regardless of whether they like his character. And yes, he said that in precisely those words, referencing his character. Cena said Rock will be in G.I. Joe this summer and Cena will be in WWE so Cena has to win. Rock can’t come in and take Cena’s life.

Rock replied that he helped build Cena’s house. Rock said Cena has never had an opponent he couldn’t overcome until Rock. Rock said he has come back to beat Cena because if he beats Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and John Cena at Mania he will be the greatest WWE superstar of all time. He added that on a personal level he doesn’t like Cena. He thus vowed to give Cena the ass kicking of a lifetime. Cena said it doesn’t matter what Rock thinks because at the end of the night his hand will be raised over Rock’s body. And with that, the show cut out.

Final Thoughts:

It appeared as if the mentality for this show was that they only wanted you to remember the Rock/Cena build at the end, so basically everything else was filler. To me, that’s a mistake. You want people to be excited about various different issues, so that throughout the show fans are thinking, “Wow, we’re going to get to see that! And we’re going to get to see that! And we’re going to get to see that!” Plus, if you deliver 100 minutes of monotony, you run the risk of having people lose interest by the end. That certainly seemed to be the case with the live crowd.

It’s not like that approach can’t work, however. The benefit of planning one big crescendo at the end is that it will stand out even more and can feel particularly important. It is imperative, then, that the final segment has to deliver big. And unfortunately, I just don’t think it did.

The dynamic between Rock and Cena has been well established for over a year. Cena represents his fans who love him and the wrestlers who stick around all year against the Hollywood interloper. Rock gives voice to a lot of fans who like wrestling but don’t like John Cena and the wrestling landscape he symbolizes.

Rock beating Cena isn’t about one wrestling icon beating another wrestling icon. It’s about the type of wrestling a lot of people love beating out a type of wrestling a lot of people hate. That is a real life situation, as Ric Flair once said. Thus, the go home segment for WrestleMania should have featured Rock and Cena making their final go home point of why people need to pay to see their match at WrestleMania. But they only let one guy do it.

Cena made the same basic point he always has. He sticks by wrestling. He needs to win because wrestling is his life and it isn’t Rock’s. But when it came time for Rock to cut his promo about why he wants to kick Cena’s ass, they got gun shy. They didn’t let him do it. He spent more time putting over Cena than knocking him. He in fact didn’t voice one substantive criticism of the man. He said he doesn’t like Cena but didn’t spend a word explaining why.

The fun of Rock-Cena for a lot of lapsed fans is that they can tune in to see a guy they always liked beat up the guy who symbolizes what they don’t like. But if Rock won’t even put into words why he dislikes Cena, he isn’t fighting for any such cause. He’s fighting for some sort of amorphous sense of legacy, which would have worked in another generation when fans were seriously invested in wins and losses but means little in today’s WWE where everyone has wins over everyone else. Rock was respectful towards a man his fans don’t want him to be respectful towards. A repudiation of Cena himself was taken off the table.

It’s understandable why WWE wants that off the table. They ultimately want fans to be behind Cena and Vince McMahon thinks that he can get his audience to believe anything if he tells them enough times. That lack of respect for the audience is a big reason why WWE draws such an undesirable demographic and why it has such a negative stigma with so many people. Rock laid off what has been the heart of the Rock-Cena feud on the go home show for the match because Vince felt if Rock didn’t get to make his point the people would be more likely to side with Cena in the end.

I disagree. I think at the end of the day if you want to draw any sort of broad based, discerning audience, you need to let them make the decision for themselves. Let Rock say his piece and let Cena say his piece and if Cena is ultimately right, fans will over time gravitate towards him. But only letting one guy at the end speak to the real issue underlying the feud is dishonest and isn’t going to win Cena any fans. Worse, it held back on the biggest hook for the match at the time it was most needed.

Rock rather than saying “Cena, you’re a corny, annoying phony dressed like an idiot and at WrestleMania I’m coming back to finally give you the ass beating you’ve had coming for years and for all the people who can’t stand you” said “Cena, you’re a transcendent star and the heartbeat of WWE who’s beaten them all but I don’t like you and I need to beat you to prove how great I am.” It’s not what supporters of one person want to hear in a heated grudge confrontation. He has spent all year talking about how Cena is the worst thing in wrestling and now the week before the payoff he’s putting over Cena as the best thing in wrestling. It’s completely backwards.

The response to this point is obvious. “Well you can’t have Rock say that, because Cena’s your top star and you’d be burying him.” But I’m sorry, that’s not much of a justification. For one, Rock has already said those bad things about Cena over and over again. If you didn’t want to make that point, you should have decided that a year ago. Deciding it now when the cat’s already out of the bag and this is the time to capitalize on the sentiment to get people to pay to see Cena get his ass beat is foolish. If there were ever a week Rock shouldn’t have been backtracking and putting over Cena, it was this one. Moreover, that negative view of Cena is what people are thinking anyway. So let those people get excited about how at Mania Rock is fighting for them. The week before the match is not the time to drop the real hook for the angle.

Ultimately, WWE has built up Cena vs. Rock long enough and well enough that one week isn’t going short circuit everything else. But this go home show was not at all what it should have been. Too bad.

Monday, March 19, 2012

WWE Raw Report

Date: 03/19/12 from Philadelphia, PA.

The Big News: WWE continued the build for WrestleMania’s top matches.

Show Analysis:

CM Punk came out to start the show. He said that Chris Jericho wouldn’t be there. Punk said his father being an alcoholic isn’t a big secret but it’s not Jericho’s story to tell and none of his business to share in front of the world. Punk accused Jericho of making light of a serious subject just to get under his skin. Punk claimed that backfired because if there is a monster inside of him he will let it out and make it Jericho’s problem.

Punk said that the finish of the story was that his dad worked hard to overcome addiction. Punk noted he is proud of his father and proud of straight edge. He said he will go through Jericho to prove he is the best in the world. This was ultimately a good promo, if a bit trite.

Jericho appeared on the screen via satellite. Jericho said he was out of line and that he was sorry. Jericho vowed to never say anything about Punk’s father again. He then quickly added that Punk’s sister is a different story. Jericho said Punk’s sister is a drug addict and that’s a pattern. Jericho said Punk will end up like his father and sister. Jericho concluded that substance abuse can be overcome but Punk will never overcome Jericho beating him for the title. Punk responded with remarks that were muted out. This segment worked well again, with the audience audibly gasping when Jericho referenced Punk’s sister.

Kane beat Big Show. Show hit a spear but Rhodes got on the apron as Show was on the middle rope. That provided a distraction for Kane to hit a choke slam for the pin. During this Shane Douglas tried to bring attention to himself in front of the camera but was completely thwarted in an unintentional manner by WWE’s quick camera cuts, an abrupt finish to the match and WWE security. This match was too short.

After the match, Cody Rhodes gave Show the beautiful disaster kick. He then handcuffed Show to the ropes, put on boxing gloves, and repeatedly hit Show with them. That came across rather silly when there are about 500 ways of more brutally attacking an incapacitated person than with padded gloves.

David Otunga beat Santino Marella. Santino had abs drawn on his chest like Kazushi Sakuraba once did. Otunga and Santino had a pose off. Santino went for the cobra but was distracted by John Laurinaitis. Santino attacked Laurinaitis’ phone but that allowed Otunga to hit a spine buster for the win. Laurinaitis mocked Teddy Long after the match so Long slapped him and ran away. Santino was funny here like usual. But this match was too short.

They showed a vignette for the debuting Lord Tensai (Giant Bernard/A-Train). It was basically close-ups of tons of tattoos, many of which appeared fake. The name is cool. I guess we’ll see what they have planned for the gimmick.

Rock appeared on the screen in front of the Rocky statue. He showed a photo of himself at age 12 in front of the statue and cited it as an inspiration. He then talked about Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior as further inspirations. He mentioned that his first WrestleMania main event was in Philadelphia against Steve Austin. Rock said in order to realize his dream of being the greatest of all time he has to beat Cena. Rock said he would send a message to Cena later in the arena and then whip Cena’s ass at Mania. This was a good promo.

Daniel Bryan beat Zack Ryder. Prior to the match, they showed a Zack Ryder rally before the show with Ryder lobbying to be a part of Teddy Long’s team at WrestleMania. Bryan worked over Ryder briefly. Ryder hit a kick and went for the Rough Ryder but Bryan countered into the LeBell lock for the submission. This match was too short.

They announced Flo Rida will be performing Rock’s entrance at WrestleMania. I know they want people to cheer for Cena, but that’s almost unfair.

John Cena beat Mark Henry. Henry beat up Cena for a while around ringside. Henry missed a corner avalanche. Cena hit a suplex and the five knuckle shuffle. He went for the FU but his back went out. Henry went for the world’s strongest slam but Cena got out and hit the FU for the pin. This match showed the importance of giving matches time to breathe. Henry worked over Cena long enough that it felt like an actual contest rather than a contrivance and thus when Cena prevailed it felt like he had actually accomplished something.

After the match, Rock came out. He ran down to the ring teasing a physical confrontation with Cena but then instead gave Mark Henry a rock bottom. That’s no way to treat a fellow Nation of Domination member. Rock stared down Cena briefly and left.

They showed an angle from the Grove in Los Angeles with Beth Phoenix and Eve Torres challenging Kelly Kelly and Maria Menounos to a match at WrestleMania. It came across like even the people who were attending there live didn’t care in the slightest.

Sheamus beat Miz. Before the match, Miz cut a promo talking about how King Kong Bundy going from the main event of WrestleMania II to wrestling little people at WrestleMania III was the biggest drop off in WWE history until Miz now. Miz said he would prove he belongs on Laurinaitis’ team at Mania. Miz went for a DDT on Sheamus but Sheamus countered into a rolling fireman carry slam. Miz hit a back breaker/neck breaker combination but Sheamus kicked out at one. Sheamus then came back with kicks and a powerslam. Sheamus missed the Brogue kick once but then hit it moments later for the pin.

Randy Orton was briefly interviewed on the stage behind the ring like they used to use in the 80s and early 90s. Orton said the question isn’t how he plans on beating the monster but how the monster plans on beating him. Orton noted he beat the monster so badly last summer that Kane shook his hand and became human. Now Orton thinks Kane’s humanity is gone. Orton said he couldn’t care less about Kane’s identity crisis. He concluded that he is not Kane but rather Randy Orton, a point I didn’t realize was in dispute.

Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler beat R. Truth and Kofi Kingston. The heels worked over Kingston. Truth came in with clotheslines on Ziggler and Swagger. Truth missed an axe kick and Ziggler hit a famouser. Truth got his foot on the ropes but Vickie Guerrero shoved it off and the referee counted three. Afterwards, Aksana and Vickie Guerrero got into a fight over that. They showed footage of HHH in MSG hitting Undertaker’s moves at a house show.

The final segment started with Shawn Michaels coming out. He said that people are asking his prediction for WrestleMania but that they will have to wait until WrestleMania. Well, that’s not much of a prediction. Michaels said that people are also questioning whether he can be impartial given his relationship with HHH. Michaels said the end of the era is basically just the end of the streak as we’ve seen Undertaker beaten up badly in recent years.

Undertaker came out and reiterated that the match has to remain pure. Undertaker said that before Michaels and HHH start making plans, but was cut off at that moment by HHH’s music.

HHH said that as much as Michaels’ ego wants this to be about him, it is about HHH and Undertaker. HHH said they have two parallel legendary careers, connected by Hell in a Cell. He noted there have been 24 HIAC matches and HHH and Undertaker have been in 19. HHH called it his proving ground, where he ended careers and where he thrives. HHH said this was all for one moment: this Mania where he ends Taker’s era.

HHH said he knows what it will take to end the streak. Undertaker asked if HHH is sure and if he is ready. HHH said he is sure and that he will end the era. Undertaker started to leave but then came back and repeated that Michaels is better than HHH. Michaels smiled and HHH stared down Michaels to close the show. That was kind of a strange ending.

Final Thoughts:

I didn’t think this show was as good as shows in recent weeks, as they didn’t have a lot to advance what has already been done. With that said, it was still overall a good show and everything seems ready to peak next week in the final build.

Monday, March 12, 2012

WWE Raw Report

Date: 03/12/12 from Cleveland, OH.

The Big News: Rock and John Cena exchanged more barbs on the road to WrestleMania.

Show Analysis:

Jerry Lawler introduced the rock and rap concert to start the show. John Cena came out to his old music with a Mark Price throwback and chain. Cena did a rap. He said Rock is like LeBron James, taking his talents to South Beach. He went at Rock for the wrist thing again. He called him GI Joke and said both Rock and Dwayne Johnson are jokes. He referenced Rock’s gyno surgery and interestingly they replayed just that line later in the show. Cena brought up the Tooth Fairy chants from last week again and called him Miami Fried Chickenshit. He closed by saying he will beat Rock and put his nuts in Rock’s face. Cena got a positive reaction for this whole thing.

Overall, this segment worked well. Given Cena’s biggest issue has been authenticity, putting on a different outfit and playing an obviously different role was a risky decision. But the material was very strong and Cena’s seriousness and anger in delivery put it over the top.

Sheamus beat Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler worked over Sheamus and cut Sheamus’ back sending him into the announce table. They cut to Daniel Bryan watching in a luxury box with AJ. Bryan was asked about telling AJ to shut up. Bryan got angry and asked AJ if that bothered her. She hesitantly said no. In the match, Sheamus caught Ziggler coming off the top and went for the schwein but Ziggler countered into a rollup for two. Sheamus went for the schwein again but couldn’t get it. Sheamus charged and ran into the post, allowing Ziggler to hit a famouser for two. Sheamus then hit the Brogue kick for the win.

This was yet another very good match from Ziggler. His work is sort of becoming a curse in that they see him as a reliable guy to put over top guys in an impressive fashion, when he should be beating other guys in the midcard in shorter matches while they wait for the opportunity to elevate him to the top.

Mark Henry and David Otunga beat Santino in a handicap match. They acted like this was going to be a mixed tag involving Aksana but John Laurinaitis came out and announced the handicap match. Teddy Long went to ringside and shoved Laurinaitis. Santino was running wild on Otunga when Henry tagged himself in and hit a head butt and world’s strongest slam for the pin.

After the match, Kofi Kingston ran in to try to make the save but he was caught with a world’s strongest slam. R. Truth came in moments later but was taken out by an Otunga spine buster and Henry splash. Laurinaitis then announced Mark Henry would on his WrestleMania team, which is captained by Otunga.

They aired a vignette on Maria Menounos and her involvement with WWE, as they’re building to another angle with her. The only notable moment was when she asked Alicia Fox what Alicia is doing to prepare for WrestleMania and Alicia responded that mostly she’s just planning her outfit. What a great answer.

Backstage, Zack Ryder complained to Eve that she isn’t responding to his texts and calls. He asked if Eve is playing him. Eve said no and that they can be friends with benefits. They agreed to grab dinner after the show. Beth Phoenix came in to complain about Maria Menounos. Eve was on board with doing something to her. Zack left. Beth said she was amused by the way Eve manipulates Zack. Beth asked if Eve would mind if Beth did the same thing. Eve said she would mind.

Miz wanted to be on John Laurinaitis’ WrestleMania team. Laurinaitis got angry with Miz because Laurinaitis was talking on the phone at the time Miz came in to lobby. That was rude, honestly. Laurinaitis said Miz would be put in a match on Raw and if Miz won he would be on the team.

The returning Brodus Clay beat Jinder Mahal. The act was basically the same as before. It did seem like they were in a little bit of a hurry to save time between the entrance and match. Clay won quickly with a head butt, over the top throw and splash.

Shawn Michaels came to the ring. Michaels’ storyline logic was kind of lacking here. He took HHH’s word that people are calling him a loser behind his back. He said that nobody has been saying that to him backstage but Undertaker hasn’t been on Raw the past couple weeks so it must be Undertaker. He called Undertaker to the ring. Michaels accused him. Undertaker basically pointed out the obvious that HHH might have just made that up.

Undertaker mentioned Michaels having insecurities, at which point Michaels cut him off. Michaels said Undertaker is the one with this long streak still looking for validation because last year HHH beat him up so bad. Undertaker said win or lose he will accept the outcome but he can’t accept Michaels sticking his ego in the matter. Undertaker said win or lose the outcome has to be pure and if it isn’t pure there will be hell to pay.

Michaels labeled it ironic that the guy who Undertaker finished could now count Undertaker’s shoulders down and show Undertaker can’t it done. He added that he could still be the guy to end the streak. Undertaker said that if Michaels doesn’t do the right thing, he will end Michaels. Michaels backed up into position to go for sweet chin music but then patted Undertaker on the shoulder and left. HHH appeared on the stage and gave Undertaker the crotch chop. This was a very good segment. It’s interesting to see Michaels play such a heelish character.

CM Punk beat Miz. Miz actually got some support in his hometown. Punk hit a neck breaker and high knee but Miz escaped the GTS. Miz hit a DDT but Punk avoided the skull crushing finale and applied the anaconda vise for the submission.

After the match, Chris Jericho appeared on the screen and called Punk a fraud. Jericho said Punk is straight edge because his father is an alcoholic. Jericho said Punk doesn’t want to end up like his father but will because alcoholism is in his genes. He suggested that gives Punk nightmares and it’s why Punk turns to tattoos. Jericho vowed to take Punk’s title and leave him a broken man, at which point Punk will hit rock bottom and turn to alcohol. It will taste so good, he’ll want more. Jericho will be best in the world and champion while Punk will be a pathetic drunk. Punk acted like this really got to him. They aired a parody personal injury ad for David Otunga directing people to his Twitter account.

Randy Orton beat Jack Swagger. Swagger worked over Orton and applied the ankle lock but Orton escaped. Orton hit a superplex, clotheslines, powerslam, draping DDT and RKO for the pin.

Rock concluded the show with his concert. He had his guitar and played his own version of Jailhouse Rock mocking Cena. He started by sucking up to Cleveland. He mocked Cena’s attire in the opening segment. He said that’s not Cena and that Cena is the guy who looks like the offspring of Vanilla Ice and a Teletubby. He then started to sing and the crowd was totally with him.

Rock called Cena an Eminem wannabe. He sang about Cena going to a doctor and begging for a rectal exam. He then sang about Cena kissing Eve while having a wife. He sang about Cena being born with lady parts. He asked if there were any grown men who were Cena fans in the arena. That got loud boos but Rock found a few and then sang about Cena male fans being 40 year old virgin geeks. He then sang about getting together with Cena’s mom. He then tried to get people to sing we will rock you but Rock couldn’t keep up with the altered lyrics and fans didn’t seem into it.

Rock was so entertaining here with the songs. Crowd was loving it and it was so much fun to watch. We Will Rock You was a flat ending because the delivery wasn’t working and the song is well past played out anyway, but that wasn’t nearly enough to outweigh the strength of the rest of the segment.

Final Thoughts:

This was another fun and productive edition of Raw. I actually thought on the whole it was even better than other recent editions, which were carried by opening and closing segments. This show by contrast was consistently entertaining from beginning to end. I wish the show was basically like this 52 weeks a year.

Monday, March 05, 2012

WWE Raw Report

Date: 03/05/12 from Boston, MA.

The Big News: The positive alterations WWE has made to John Cena’s character are starting to pay dividends when it comes to crowd reactions.

Show Analysis:

Shawn Michaels came out to start the show and was acting kind of heelish. He basically pointed out all the bad things he said about HHH, after which HHH still wouldn’t accept the match with Undertaker. Michaels called HHH to the ring to ask HHH what made HHH accept the match later on. Eventually Michaels just had the footage rolled himself, where Undertaker suggested HHH didn’t want the match because HHH knew he couldn’t get it done since Michaels couldn’t and Michaels was always better than HHH.

An angry Michaels wanted to know why HHH considered it such an insult that Michaels might be better than him. HHH said it wasn’t about that, but rather people were saying Michaels couldn’t get it done against Undertaker and wasn’t good enough. HHH said he thinks Michaels was the greatest in ring performer of all time and it pains him to see people think of Michaels as a loser. Thus HHH needs to end the streak to prove Michaels isn’t a loser. HHH said he will do it for both of them.

Michaels sarcastically thanked HHH. Michaels said last year it hurt him to say he knew Undertaker would win. HHH looked like he had it, but Michaels in the end was right. This year, Michaels said he knows who will win again and he will be right again. He added that’s because he is the special referee. This was a good segment with an intriguing storyline. It’s interesting they introduced Michaels as the guest referee by teasing he will screw HHH, given the natural expectation would be Michaels screwing Undertaker. I assume in the coming weeks Undertaker will bring up the possibility that Michaels and HHH are in cahoots.

Santino beat Jack Swagger to win the US title. The story is Teddy Long was made GM for this show so he made the match. John Laurinaitis came to ringside to complain. Santino went for the cobra but Dolph Ziggler attacked Santino behind the ref’s back and Swagger hit a gut wrench power bomb. Santino kicked out at two, at which point Teddy Long, Aksana and Kofi Kingston came out. Long argued with Laurinaitis.

Santino again gained control and Ziggler again attacked him. Santino gave Ziggler the cobra. Vickie Guerrero got up on the apron but Aksana pulled her down. Santino went for the cobra but Swagger ducked down and applied the ankle lock. Long shoved down Laurinaitis on the outside and Santino rolled up Swagger for the pin. Long had Laurinaitis ejected after the match and the faces all celebrated. This feud between Long and Laurinaitis is so annoying. They’re both irritating with their bickering and to say they distract from the wrestlers is an understatement.

They really should get rid of the US title as it means nothing and just makes titles in general seem less meaningful. Fun US title fact: Jack Swagger lost his previous nine singles bouts on Raw before winning the title from Zack Ryder and hasn’t won a singles match on Raw since.

Rock was shown at Boston Harbor for the first of his history lessons. He talked about the Boston Tea Party and then threw John Cena merchandise into the harbor. Rock was hilarious here making fun of Cena’s crappy merchandise and this was the best of the history lesson vignettes.

Eve Torres beat Alicia Fox. Kelly Kelly was on commentary here and was in exquisite form. She opened by giggling and no selling any anger at Eve. Then she said Eve has been trashing her for years, in direct contradiction to the story they’ve been telling in recent weeks that Eve has changed. Alicia missed a kick and Eve pinned her with a leg sweep basically immediately. After the match, Zack Ryder made his return looking like a goof with a walking stick. He said broskis before hoskis, but then Eve kissed him backstage and Ryder was smitten with her again. What a fool.

They showed John Cena speaking to the camera in an empty arena before the show. Cena put over the importance of his match with Rock. He said Rock is the most successful wrestler in the history of WWE but Cena won’t be happy to just be there at Mania. Cena said he needs to win because nobody remembers second place. He said if he loses to Rock he is just another name but if he wins he wins the big one. He said it will be the biggest event in WWE history and reiterated that nobody will remember second place. He called it an all or nothing opportunity of a lifetime. This came off hokey. It sounds like a good idea in theory but it just didn’t work. The verbiage hurt.

Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan beat CM Punk and Sheamus. The heels worked over Punk early. Sheamus got the tag and hit a powerslam and back breaker on Jericho but Jericho caught him with a springboard dropkick and the heels took back over. Sheamus eventually got the hot tag to Punk. Punk hit a springboard clothesline, swinging neck breaker, high knee, body slam and elbow off the top on Jericho. Bryan broke up the pin and a brawl erupted. Punk went for the GTS on Jericho but Jericho escaped and went for the Walls. Punk reversed with a rollup but Jericho countered with an inside cradle of his own for the pin. This was a good match and the finish was ideal.

Rock was shown standing in front of a statue of Paul Revere. Rock said if it was Cena rather than Revere we’d still be ruled by the British because Cena would get shot for his stupid attire and the people would be sick of him. Rock did a goofy routine about going back in time to beat up Cena. Rock said if Revere was around now, he’d be saying the Rock is coming to kick Cena’s ass.

Big Show beat Miz very quickly with a spear and knockout punch. Before the match, Cody Rhodes highlighted Big Show simply appearing at the WWE restaurant for WrestleMania 18 rather than performing. That actually is pretty embarrassing in hindsight.

Rock was shown at Boston Common. He talked about the overthrow of the British and compared it to the overthrow of Cena by Rock. He concluded that the history lesson was over and now he would make history. He vowed that Cena will fall to the Rock at Mania. They announced Undertaker will appear next week on Raw.

Kane beat R. Truth. Truth missed a kick and Kane hit a choke slam for the pin very quickly Orton came out after the match and gave Kane the RKO. Orton told Kane that it was good to be back.

John Cena came to the ring for the final segment of the show. Cena told people to look behind the Rock’s showmanship and look at his material. Cena said Rock is trying way too hard and is close to a midlife crisis. He added that Rock was shook up after Cena’s entrance last week. Cena said Rock was making a bunch of stupid twitter references and all of a sudden he was stuttering because of this guy Rock is always ridiculing. Cena admitted he looks ridiculous, including wearing knee pads out just to talk. Hopefully this leads to Cena switching up his look or least wearing less tacky t-shirts.

Cena noted Rock was threatening to come out but said that was a bad idea because Rock’s best stuff is pre-recorded or via satellite. Cena wanted Rock to come out so Cena could see if he’s wrestling the guy who spends 20 minutes talking about Chinese takeout or the greatest superstar in WWE history. Cena said he wants Rock, not Dwayne Johnson.

Rock came out and said that he sees fear in Cena that Rock will take everything away from him. Rock starred down Cena while Cena grinned at the crowd. There were some light Cena chants. Rock said he has never been more confident than about getting Cena. At that point there were Tooth Fairy chants. Rock said when you strip away the catchphrases and gimmicks, he is 6’4”, 265 and will rip out Cena’s throat. Cena grinned. Rock said Cena is a little boy who will go down as Rock’s bitch and left.

Cena scribbled on his wrist as Rock left. Cena said Rock has other options but if Cena loses he will lose everything. Cena said he is not afraid and if Rock thinks that Rock has lost his damn mind. Cena said at Mania he will make history by whipping Rock’s ass. He then dove into the crowd, celebrated with friends and family, and drank some beer. This was a strong segment with Cena getting the best of the Rock in the verbal duel.

Final Thoughts:

This show was a heck of a lot like last week’s show. It was a good show carried by the beginning and the end. The middle again wasn’t much, although the middle of this show was a little better than the middle of last week’s show.

It’s gratifying to see that fans are reacting a little more positively to Cena after they made much needed changes to his character. I hope WWE doesn’t forget this after Mania and bring back the material that made Cena so unlikeable. The goofy jokes have been minimized, it seems like he is taking a match seriously, and he’s self-aware of the criticisms people have of him. Cena, who has frequently struggled with authenticity, is now flipping that and effectively going after Rock’s authenticity. The Rock-Cena feud that for a year was a slaughter is now actually turning into a competition.