The post-Elimination Chamber Raw that we deserved

Following the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view on February 23, the WWE Universe expected a spectacular Raw. With the WWE Network launching, Hulk Hogan returning, and the rumored return of The Undertaker (which came true), there was no way that the post-Elimination Chamber Raw could not be a fantastic show. Unfortunately, as you might gather by the title of this column and my leading phrasing, it was boring and uneventful despite the three aforementioned ratings boosters. However, this past Monday, exactly one week after a lackluster follow-up Raw to the pay-per-view, WWE delivered one of its better Raws in months.

Before I dive into Raw, however, a fraction of you (which is a fraction of a fraction of the readers of The Stute) might be wondering why SmackDown and NXT were not reviewed in the last issue. The reason for this is scheduling. SmackDown is taped on Tuesdays and airs on Fridays, while NXT is taped on Wednesday, airing Thursday. This column is completed before Thursday night, leaving no way for me to view this week’s SmackDown or NXT without reading the spoilers and killing the show for me. However, fear not readers of “The Stute Smackdown”, your weekly dose of professional wrestling only in The Stute; I have decided to, henceforth, watch the European edition of SmackDown which airs before Thursday and review NXT on a one-week delay. This week, I’ll mention SmackDown and NXT briefly, as Raw is the focus, but the format of the column will officially change in two weeks.

This past Friday’s SmackDown, coincidentally or not, was also one of the better SmackDowns in recent memory. That WWE is stepping up their game at last is remarkable, especially after months of television which had many good moments but ultimately can be characterized by the word “meh.” Essentially, SmackDown showcased Batista as “The Animal Unleashed” with Batista addressing the WWE Universe’s rejection of him since his return to Raw two months ago. His promo was great, as he is defining his uncaring, “deal with it” character very well, akin to his work in 2010 as a heel. Dolph Ziggler, who mocked Batista, challenged him to a match, then hit Batista with an unsuspecting dropkick, after which he interrupted Batista. Ziggler looked strong. In the match that would occur later in the night, Batista beat Ziggler in a solid contest, establishing his dominance by hitting Ziggler with three spinebusters to end the match. Other notable events included the confrontation between The Wyatt Family and The Shield, which set up the two teams’ match on Raw, and the beginning of the break-up between The Real Americans, as Jack Swagger and Cesaro began showing some tension. Overall, it was a good show which continued developing numerous characters and storylines.

Upon NXT ArRIVAL, an event that I would like to spend more time reviewing, the NXT Superstars and Divas put on a five-star quality show from start to finish. The pinnacle of the night was the match between Cesaro and Sami Zayn, a rematch from their “match of the year”-worthy two-out-of-three-falls match some months ago. If you are not interested, jaded, or curious about wrestling, this match is the epitome of what professional wrestling is about. I cannot recommend this match enough – and won’t, because I have to move on – but this is a match that will be recorded in history as one of the best in the professional wrestling industry, and that is not an understatement. NXT Women’s Champion Paige defeated Emma to retain her title in a well-fought contest, Too Cool returned, Scotty 2 Hotty and Grandmaster Sexay falling victim to the NXT Tag Team Champions, Konnor and Viktor, The Ascension, and Adrian Neville defeated NXT Champion Bo Dallas for the NXT Championship. This was the first-ever ladder match in NXT, and Neville and Dallas put on a great show, putting everything they had into this match, taking risks that paid off immensely, creating a memorable main event for the first NXT pay-per-view. With last week’s SmackDown and NXT being excellent, it is certainly fitting that WWE continues their streak of quality television with Raw (hopefully this continues with this week’s NXT and SmackDown).

Raw began with the sound of static, a guitar riff playing throughout the speaker system as “Cult of Personality” filled the arena. The Chicago crowd, home to the recently departed CM Punk, was buzzing from the get-go with “CM Punk” chants before his signature entrance music interrupted them. After a few moments, Paul Heyman walked out instead of Punk. Sitting cross-legged in the center of the ring, mimicking Punk’s style of promo delivery, Heyman began to tell the WWE Universe that it was their fault that CM Punk left. Not before long, Heyman explained that Punk’s downward spiral began when The Undertaker defeated him at WrestleMania 29, immediately relating the real-life events of Punk’s departure to the storyline with the Heyman-managed Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker for WrestleMania 30. Soon, Lesnar made his way to the ring, stating that the crowd can chant for their “baby boy,” but Lesnar will defeat The Undertaker at WrestleMania. Mark Henry interrupted Lesnar, heading down to the ring to attack Lesnar, Henry soon being crashed through a table with the F5. The Heyman-Lesnar segment, next to having CM Punk himself at Raw, was the best way to begin Raw and was only the beginning of the great things in this Raw.

A rematch from Elimination Chamber, The New Age Outlaws, WWE Tag Team Champsions Road Dogg and Billy Gunn, defended their titles against Jimmy and Jey, The Usos. It was a solid contest, the usual excitement brought to the show by The Usos, but the end of this match was not the same as that at Elimination Chamber, for The Usos won their first WWE World Tag Team Championship. It was an exciting moment, as The Usos have been the best non-Shield or Wyatt Family tag team in WWE. The Usos are young, extraordinarily talented in the ring, and have proven that they can speak when it counts, so the future is undoubtedly bright for the sons of WWE Legend Rikishi.
Next, Intercontinental Champion Big E took on Cesaro. This is a repeat of last Raw, when the same events occurred, as fellow Real American Jack Swagger interfered in Cesaro’s match, attacking Big E and costing him the victory. Swagger’s interference is a continuation of the tension between The Real Americans, a theme that will play out later in the night again.

Another Elimination Chamber rematch, The Shield took on The Wyatt Family again. I could spent countless paragraphs describing just how great this rematch was, Seth Rollins continuing to amaze with his flips out of the ring, still landing on his feat, and Bray Wyatt proving why he is undeniably main event material. The key storyline element of this match came after Rollins tried to tag in Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns, both of them missing from the apron because they were occupied elsewhere. When Ambrose was crawling to tag in Rollins, Rollins dropped down from the apron and walked away to the ramp, leaving Ambrose and Reigns for dead against The Wyatt Family, Wyatt pinning Ambrose for the victory. This is the first marquee development in The Shield break-up storyline, and it was a good one. The inevitable inter-team match for The Shield at WrestleMania 30 will be historic for so many reasons, namely because The Shield has been arguably the best faction in professional wrestling for several years, perhaps only outpaced by the recent Wyatt Family.

With some events of lesser importance, Emma and Santino Marella defeated Summer Rae and Fandango in a mixed gender tag team match, and Sheamus defeated Christian, furthering their feud.

Daniel Bryan enters the ring to thunderous cheering, saying that he won’t leave the ring until Batista or Triple H fights him tonight and at WrestleMania 30 respectively. Triple H’s entrance music hits, and he and Stephanie McMahon, The Authority, comes to the ring and begin to berate Bryan. McMahon claims that The Authority “made” Daniel Bryan, and that he would not be where he is today without them. Triple H reminds Bryan that being a “B+ player” isn’t bad, and that he shouldn’t be angry. Bryan and Triple H begin to get in each other’s face before McMahon calls out Kane to diffuse the situation, only to be knocked to the floor by a dive by Bryan. Security takes Bryan away, and The Authority states that Bryan will face Batista tonight in the main event.

In a match to promote guest host Aaron Paul, who is promoting his film Need for Speed, Dolph Ziggler enters the arena with Paul in a Shelby Mustang. In a match against Alberto del Rio, Ziggler picks up the victory via distraction from Paul, continuing to make Ziggler look strong for the second show in a row, a sign of good things for his future.

One of the more exciting moments of the night, the late Paul Bearer was announced as the fourth inductee in the WWE Hall of Fame. For those of you who don’t know, Bearer was the manager of The Undertaker in the 1990s, at the beginning of his career. Bearer used to look like a corpse with his pale white make-up and carried around an urn, which was the source of The Undertaker’s strength. Many in the industry believe that The Undertaker would not be the legend he is today if it were not for Bearer. His death last year was the driving force of the CM Punk/Undertaker feud, and while he was not alive to see it, it was some of his best work yet.

In his second match of the night, Big E now took on Jack Swagger as a result of Swagger costing Cesaro the match. Unsurprisingly, Cesaro cost Swagger the match this time, hitting Big E with the Neutralizer, Swagger losing by disqualification. Perhaps nothing at face value, this segment was key in the Real Americans feud, as Cesaro and Swagger exchanged shoves with the confrontation ending with Cesaro holding Swagger in position for the Cesaro Swing. The two made up at the begging of their manager, Zeb Colter, but the job was done as tension continues to be teased for this tag team break-up, a match that will almost certainly happen at WrestleMania 30.

The final point of development before the main event, John Cena came out to the ring to call out Bray Wyatt. Wyatt appeared with Luke Harper and Erick Rowan and the TitanTron, and Wyatt said that he was going to “put Cena down,” telling him to “follow the buzzards” before disappearing. Now, for the main event of the night, about 1,800 words in, this Raw was capped off with such a rich close, really rounding out the excellence of this Raw. The first two-thirds of the match were great, as Bryan dominated Batista in a believable fashion. As Bryan was on the cusp of winning, The Authority and Kane made their way to the ring, giving Batista time to take advantage of the distraction and throw Bryan into the steel steps. Batista then threw a lifeless Bryan into WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton, who was sitting ringside watching the match. Batista threw Bryan back into the ring, trying to win the match, but Orton entered and interfered. Then, chaos ensued.

Orton attempted to hit an RKO on Batista, but Bryan hit his finishing maneuver, the running knee, taking out the champion. Bryan then attacked a lunging Kane, knocking him into Triple H who was outside of the ring. Triple H enters the ring to a downed Bryan, telling him he was tired of his fantasy before being nailed in the face with a sharp kick by Bryan. In a rage Triple H picks up a lifeless Bryan, having just been hit with the Batista Bomb, and hits him with the Pedigree. McMahon mocks Bryan with a “Yes!” chant, Triple H’s music plays, and Raw ends.

I understand this was an extraordinarily long piece, and I won’t pad it any further. The sheer amount of words that can describe this event suggests two things. This Raw was excellent; it should be watched. The “Road to WrestleMania” was beginning to get exciting after the Elimination Chamber, but it finally feels like WrestleMania season at last. With four Raws left before WrestleMania 30, I speak on behalf of every fan of the WWE and professional wrestling when I say that I hope WWE continues its trend of quality, because 2014 can be the year of the WWE.