Last night’s Raw from the Verizon Center in Washington, DC was a phenomenal go-home show. It seemed as if everyone was on their game when it came to putting the finishing touches on the big programs. Rock vs. John Cena and Brock Lesnar vs. HHH are clearly the two biggest matches. They’ve had the most consistent build from week to week and it feels like everything has been done as good as possible to garner interest.
I’m a bit more skeptical of Undertaker vs. C.M. Punk. The last few weeks of their build was lackluster to say the least, but they got it back on track with an excellent show- closing angle that did wonders in making Punk seem like a legitimate threat to end the 20-0 streak. However, I have little doubt they will produce a great match. Undertaker has been in the best match at every WrestleMania of the last five years and Punk always delivers on the big stage.
Of the undercard matches, I’m looking most forward to Chris Jericho vs. Fandango. Fandango is one of the more unique characters to be brought up to the main roster and I really like his cocky effeminate gimmick. The fans genuinely despise him and it’s a major feat for a new wrestler to get the fans to care about them that much. Jericho is the perfect opponent and has been great at putting Fandango over in key angles for the last couple of weeks. There must be big plans underway for Fandango because it’s not every year that a newcomer works their first major match at WrestleMania against an opponent of Jericho’s caliber.
Jack Swagger vs. Alberto Del Rio for world championship is a bit trickier. It’s universally acknowledged that Del Rio is a bust in his current role as a babyface. He’s just not the type of guy fans are willing to get behind. A large part of the blame must go to the writers who script him to deliver the lamest babyface lines I’ve heard in years. WWE has high hopes of him becoming next Eddie Guerrero/Rey Mysterio- level hero for the Hispanic audience, but it doesn’t appear to be working. At this point it may never happen.. Many feel the Swagger/Del Rio feud hasn’t reached the level where it should be at for a WrestleMania championship match, and Del Rio is completely at fault. If you replaced Del Rio with Mysterio then it would be one of the hottest feuds heading into WrestleMania. Del Rio’s lack of charisma has hurt every facet of this program and it’s my hope that a hostile crowd (as NY/NJ is sure to be) will be the impetus for WWE to drastically revamp his character.
The Shield vs. Big Show, Randy Orton, and Sheamus has the potential to be great. The Shield have been impressive in every PPV outing they’ve had and I have no doubt they will be at their best come Sunday. A big part of the intrigue to this match is the possibility of seeing the much anticipated heel turn of Orton. Whether he’s revealed to be The Shield’s leader or transitions into a feud with Sheamus, he needs to turn quickly.
That leaves Dolph Ziggler and Big E. Langston vs. Kane and Daniel Bryan for the tag titles as the final big undercard match. I think it’s the right time for Kane and Daniel Bryan to lose the belts. Ziggler and Bryan are two of the best workers in the company and I expect them go all out for however much time they are given. The match will also hold the distinction of being Langston’s first televised match since becoming part of the main roster. I like Langston and hope he has a strong outing. He was heavily cheered last night when he did a post-match beatdown following Ziggler’s match with Bryan.
The remainder of the show will consist of Mark Henry vs. Ryback; Brodus Clay, Tensai, Campell, and Naomi vs. Team Rhodes Scholar and the Bellas Twins, and AJ Lee vs. Kaitlyn for the Divas championship. Last night, it was announced that Miz vs. Wade Barrett for the U.S. championship will be on the 6 p.m. preshow.
As with every WrestleMania, there will be a segment where the new Hall of Fame inductees are introduced to the crowd. I expect the fans to go crazy for Bruno Sammartino and Mick Foley. Aside from that, we’re guaranteed to see some celebrity cameos and about a million repetitive video packages. They should seriously consider cutting out these unnecessary videos so they can give more time to the matches. The wrestlers work hard all year just to get a spot on the card and it’s not fair to have their big matches for another Lesnar vs. HHH or Rock vs. Cena recap.
Overall, I have a feeling this will go down as one of the better WrestleManias of all time. My gut feeling tells me everything has peaked at just the right time. Aside from the individual performances and the time allotted for every match, the crowd will be most responsible for putting the show over the top. There is no more perfect location to host a WrestleMania than in the NY/NJ market. No other market on earth is as intelligent and vocal when it comes to going against the grain. For that reason alone I fully expect it to be the most hostile environment Cena has ever competed in front of. I also expect Rock, Jericho, Ziggler, Bryan, Punk, Paul Heyman, Rhodes Scholars, Mark Henry and even Swagger to be heavily cheered in their matches. It may be the one night of the year where more heels are cheered than faces.
This is the time of the year that wrestling fans live for and I’m confident this year’s show will not disappoint. Now hurry up and get here Sunday!
After watching last week’s C.M. Punk /John Cena classic on Raw, I was inspired to present a list of my favorite matches involving Cena. While Cena will never be remembered as the smoothest in-ring performer of his generation, it’s impossible to deny the fact he’s been involved in many of the best matches of the last decade in WWE. The man knows who to deliver the goods in a big match situation.
Like any great wrestler, he perfected his craft by working with some of the best in the business. The matches on this list are just as much of a testament to the opponents who helped him to produce such classics. Speaking of the word classic, it’s a term I don’t throw around lightly when it comes to wrestling and every match included is a bonafide classic in my opinion.
While Cena has been involved in many memorable bouts I decided to narrow it down to five. Why five you ask? Simply because there are enough top ten, fifteen, and twenty lists saturating the world wide web as we know it, so I wanted to try something different and really narrow down the five matches that best defined the essence of what Cena is all about. So without further ado enjoy!
5. Vs. Edge, Last Man Standing Match, Backlash 2009
What better way to start things off than with an Edge match. These two wrestled one another on numerous occasions during their on and off again feud from 2006-2009. A strong argument can be made that Edge was Cena’s best opponent and vice versa. Cena has publicly stated that he learned more from working with Edge than anyone else. I consider that to be high praise of Edge’s abilities since Cena has worked with every major name in the company over the last decade.
I’m typically not a fan of the last man standing stipulation because I find it too predictable. However, they used every trick in their arsenal to make it an entertaining spectacle from start to finish. The story of the match is that it was their last major encounter. Edge was at the peak of his heel persona at that point in time and Cena had his usual never give up mentality.
The first half of the match was heavily wrestling oriented before they began using every means at their disposal to kill each other. It featured one death-defying spot after another and was the very definition of two men leaving everything they had inside (and outside) of the ring. Both took inhuman amounts of punishment and the ending is as good as you will ever see for a match of its kind.
4. Vs. Shawn Michaels, Raw 2007
Cena had a lot to prove in early 2007. Although he was clearly established as the top guy in WWE, many critics questioned his lack of actual wrestling ability. It was on this night that Cena silenced everyone by putting on a 45-minute clinic against Michaels.
Fresh off their stellar main event at WrestleMania 23, they treated fans to an even better match. There aren’t too many instances where a WrestleMania rematch on free television eclipses the original. It was the definitive WWE match of 2007.
3. Vs. Brock Lesnar, Extreme Rules Match, Extreme Rules 2012
My personal pick as the best match of 2012 was as close to a shoot-style match as you will ever see in WWE. Lesnar, the former king of UFC, had returned to take out the leader of the Cenation and the result was nothing short of a brutal masterpiece. In addition to taking unheard of punishment, Cena also delivered the best pure babyface performance of this career. By the time it was over the Chicago crowd (a traditional anti-Cena market) was ecstatic that he overcame his most dangerous threat yet.
2. Vs. CM Punk, Raw 2013
There may be a kneejerk reaction on my part to placing this at such a high position, but it deserves the spot for being so darn good. You had the two biggest full-time stars in WWE today fighting for a shot at the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 29. While I expected a good match, I did not expect it to wind up as the frontrunner for the best WWE match of the year. It was one of the truly great matches in the 20-year history of Raw. Unfortunately WWE removed the full length match off their You Tube channel, but this clip of the finish gives you a feel for the intensity of the match. Please seek out the full match if you have not done so. You won’t regret it.
1. Vs. CM Punk, Money in the Bank 2011
The match that established Punk as the #2 guy next to Cena was one of the great matches in wrestling history. It was a rare occasion where the right guy won the right way on the right night in front of the right audience against the perfect opponent. It ranks alongside seminal WWE classics as Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin and the first Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon ladder match.
Though the buildup to the encounter was brief, it was among the best and most believable storylines the company produced in many years. Punk’s contract was set to expire on the day of the show and he vowed to leave the company with the championship. It also helped that Punk delivered some of the most off the cuff promos to ever air on WWE television in the weeks leading up to the event.
It had the drama, intrigue and on the edge of your seat suspense that few matches ever have and fans were guessing to the very end as to who would emerge victorious. Did I mention it was in Punk’s hometown of Chicago? To both their credit, they lived up to a match that was worthy of the hype and the consensus best match held anywhere in 2011.
The WWE’s biggest event of the summer is officially over and the following are my thoughts on last night’s SummerSlam PPV from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Overall, it was a very lackluster card. The crowd was dead for so much of the show, and it ended up hurting the quality of the matches. With the exception of the main event (Lesnar vs. HHH) and Chris Jericho vs. Dolph Ziggler, the rest of the show came across as filler. A hotter crowd would have certainly helped matters. I think it’s time for WWE to seriously consider moving SummerSlam out of Los Angeles. Even though L.A. is a major media market, the lack of crowd reaction may have been a message that it’s time to relocate. I can only imagine how much hotter the show would’ve been had they been in a city like Chicago, Boston or Miami. Heck, I guarantee that any other city in America would’ve been better than the Staples Center crowd.
The opening bout of Jericho vs. Ziggler was awesome and one of the better opening matches I’ve seen this year. These two have been locked into a great feud for the least several weeks and I was honestly surprised that Jericho came out with the win (being that he’s leaving soon for another tour with his band Fozzy). Then again, it was poetic justice since their entire storyline revolved around Jericho never being able to win the big one. Ziggler is one of the best young talents in the business and Jericho proved, even at 41, why he is still in the upper echelon of great workers on a worldwide basis (with TNA’s Kurt Angle, AJ Styles, and Austin Aries along with New Japan’s Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito and Kazuchika Okada). The two most memorable spots of the match were Jericho’s huracanrana off the top rope and the old school version of the Lion Tamer submission he used to score the win
Kane vs. Daniel Bryan was nothing special, but I was glad to see Bryan come out with the clean win.
Miz vs. Rey Mysterio for the Intercontinental title was also nothing special. This was the first sign of the crowd losing major interest as the show went on. Mysterio did come out in a cool Batman costume.
Sheamus vs. Alberto Del Rio for the world title was a very boring. Unless Sheamus is in with a wrestler the caliber of Jericho or Bryan, I tend to find his matches difficult to watch. He’s a hard worker, but he just doesn’t do anything for me. And Del Rio is worse than that. Sheamus got the pin while Del Rio’s foot was on the rope so I’m pretty sure their program will continue. Crowd continued to be mostly dead.
Kofi Kingston and R-Truth beat Darren Young and Titus O’neal to retain the tag titles. The match was well worked and all four deserve credit, particularly O’neal, but the lack of crowd reaction didn’t help them. I also noticed something interesting. Even though Young and O’neal lost their manager A.W., they still seem to possess some degree of charisma. I think they still have a reasonable shot at getting the belts sooner than later.
C.M. Punk defending his WWE title against John Cena and Big Show was exactly what I expected as far as the body of work was concerned. The match ended in a double submission on Show until AJ came out to restart it. Cena laid out Show with an Attitude Adjustment before Punk pushed him out and stole the pin. Pretty good finish for continuing the Cena vs. Punk storyline, but there was nothing special about the match from any of their similar encounters on Raw. The audio in the restaurant where I watched the show was acting up at this point and I couldn’t really tell how hot or cold the crowd was. I heard Big Show got more cheers than Cena.
There was a performance by Kevin Rudolf (who sang the SummerSlam theme song) which was just an excuse to have all the Divas on stage dancing around in their short dresses. I assume this will become an annual tradition since the same thing happened during Cee Lo’s performance last year.
The funniest and somewhat coolest segment of the show occurred when they introduced the various celebrities in attendance on the front row. David Arquette was shown proudly displaying a replica of the WCW world title belt. This was very funny since Arquette actually held the WCW title in 2000. Maria Menunous sported a cool Bob Backlund shirt (Backlund is the second longest reigning WWE champion in history). Music mogul Rick Rubin was shown and Fred Durst shocked everyone, especially WWE officials, by flipping the middle finger right in front of the camera. Talk about an unpredictable moment!
HHH vs. Lesnar was the only thing that felt like a big time match. It was way better than I thought it would be and featured some of the best storytelling of any match I’ve seen this year. It was excellent from a psychological standpoint. Both guys deserve credit for going out and doing an extremely physical match. Unlike Lesnar vs. Cena, this match was more wrestling oriented. The story was Lesnar continually working over HHH’s arm to set up the kimura lock. Lesnar kicked out of two Pedigrees and made HHH tap out to win.
The finish was shocking for the mere fact HHH rarely taps. The only three instances I can ever remember him tapping, since being a major star, was at Wrestlemanias 20 and 27 and an episode of Raw in 2005. The match went a long way towards establishing Lesnar’s credibility as a legit monster. So far, he’s lost to Cena, but gave him the worst beating of his career and now he’s beaten another of the biggest stars in company history. I felt it was an excellent match that could’ve been a classic in front of another audience.
Afterwards, HHH and the announcers played it up like it was his farewell match. Unfortunately for him, the fans ended up chanting “you tapped out.” I’m sure he didn’t expect that.
I know it’s late for a midyear report, but I don’t care. I’m doing it anyway! The following are my thoughts on a few things that have stood out to me so far this year in WWE.
Breakout Star of the Year- Tie between Daniel Bryan and AJ Lee
It’s only fitting that the top two performers in WWE are two people whose careers have been linked together for the better part of the year. It’s also fitting because both represent what the top brass in WWE has traditionally shied away from in terms of appearance.
Bryan is far from the being the most physically imposing specimen, but when he gets inside the ring and on the microphone, he brings level of intensity and psychology that few possess. His yes chants have become the most recognizable one word catchphrase in all of wrestling, even being mentioned in other promotions. He’s been in the some of the year’s best matches and angles and even stood toe-to-toe (and verbally held his own) with the Rock on last week’s 1,000th episode of Raw. It looks like the current direction is for him to engage in some kind of confrontation with Charlie Sheen at Summerslam. Though, I’d rather see Bryan compete for the WWE Championship, I have no doubt he will make his program with Sheen as entertaining as possible. In 2012, it seemed like WWE finally realized what many in the business had known for years: Bryan is great at everything he does.
AJ, without question, is one of the most important women in the history of WWE. Only three others come to mind that could compare with her. Elizabeth was the first major valet in WWE and was involved in storylines with the big stars of her day. The popularity of Sable changed the way WWE would market their women to the masses, while Trish Stratus became the best in-ring performer they ever had.
But AJ has done something that none of them ever did and that was to become a fixture of the main event scene. For the last several months, AJ has been all over WWE television. She started out the year as the bashful sidekick of Bryan before she became a star in her own right. She played major roles in WWE Championship matches at the No Way Out and Money in the Bank PPVs. One could argue that the buildup to those matches was more focused on her than the actual participants. There were weeks on Raw when she was featured in more segments than John Cena. That just doesn’t happen to anyone.
There have been so many memorable AJ moments that it would take me an entire post to write about. If I had to narrow it down to two, they would be the time she pushed C.M. Punk off the top rope into a table and last week’s wedding segment with Bryan where it was revealed by Vince McMahon that she would be taking over as the new general manger. Regardless of what she does next, I’m sure she will make it as entertaining as possible.
Most Boring Performer- Tensai
This guy just sucks the energy out of me, and fans in every arena, each time he steps into the ring. He joins a select list of guys who I actually ignore every time they’re on the television screen. Once I hear his theme music, I know it’s time for me to get up and grab a snack. If he doesn’t do something soon to improve upon his character or ringwork then WWE should really consider firing him.
Most Underutilized Performer- Wow. The vast majority of the roster fits into this category. If I had to choose one then I would say Drew McIntyre. The man has a perfect look and the ability to back it up. It’s as simple as that.
Best Moment- Tie between Rock beating John Cena at Wrestlemania and Dolph Ziggler winning the Smackdown Money in the Bank ladder match.
In my 20 years as a fan of this great business, there are only a handful of moments that gave me the feeling of sheer elation of Rock beating Cena. I watched the show in a sports bar and the place went absolutely nuts when the referee counted to three. Words could not adequately describe the atmosphere that night. For many older fans, it was as if his win was vindication that the Attitude Era was better than the current Cena-dominated era of WWE.
On the other hand, Ziggler’s win was a moment fans desperately craved. Ziggler has been great for such a long time, but after losing so many key matches to Sheamus, I was worried he would end up losing MITB too. Much to my surprise (anytime something good happens in wrestling today, I consider it a surprise), Ziggler won a tremendous match and will likely win the world title down the road. His win was the just an outward symbol of what everyone knew he was capable of. I have no doubt he will be a major player in the WWE for years to come.
Top Five Matches of the Midyear
Rock vs. John Cena, Wrestlemania 28- It was a clash of two of the biggest stars in wrestling history in Rock’s hometown. The yearlong build to this match paid off, as it had the atmosphere of a big time sporting event. Rock winning was the cherry on top, but make no mistake about it, both guys worked hard to make it into a memorable encounter.
John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar, Extreme Rules- This was a match unlike any I’ve seen. It was more of a real fight than a regular match and Lesnar dominated Cena in a manner no one ever has. Cena took an insane amount of punishment (being willingly busted open at the beginning and taking numerous stiff blows) to make Lesnar appear like a monster. It worked because there was a level of suspension of disbelief that seldom occurs in wrestling. Despite the outcome, it was still one of the best matches presented anywhere this year.
Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan, 2/3 falls, Extreme Rules- This was the type of match they were robbed of having at Wrestlemania. It was the first time Bryan was really allowed to showcase his talents in a main-event level capacity on PPV and the match told a tremendous story. Sheamus deserved equal credit for holding up his end as well.
Undertaker vs. HHH, Hell in the Cell, Wrestlemania 28- This match was far superior to their encounter from last year. The beauty of any Undertaker match at Mania (particularly the past six) is that everyone knows, deep down, he will always come out on top, but the real fun comes in getting to the conclusion. This was a story-driven match as you had Shawn Michaels as the guest referee. You had two best friends, one whose career ended as a result of Undertaker, teaming up to bring an end to the streak. It was a brutal confrontation with more chair shots than any match I could recall in years. The picturesque ending of all three men embracing on the stage was a classic moment for three standard bearers of the company. When it was over, Undertaker extended his legendary streak to 20-0 and most important, he and HHH brought some much needed prestige back to the Hell in the Cell concept.
C.M. Punk vs. Daniel Bryan, Over the Limit- Who would’ve imagined these two former Ring of Honor standouts would ever compete for the WWE Championship on PPV. Even though it didn’t go on last, this match was considered by wrestling purists as the real main event that evening. They went nearly 30 minutes in one of the more technical matches I’ve seen in quite some time. A fantastic match.
There are plenty of other categories I could write about, but I think this is a good place to stop. I will do a comprehensive year-end review of multiple categories in early January. Hope you enjoy and feel free to share your thoughts.
Writer’s Update: It just occurred to me that I forgot to mention the return of Brock Lesnar as one of the big moments of this year. The ovation he received from the Miami crowd the night after Wrestlemania was one of the loudest pops of the last decade in wrestling. It was comparable to Hulk Hogan, Rock or Steve Austin during their peak of popularity.
I just got back in from watching the WWE Extreme Rules PPV from Chicago. The following are my thoughts from the show:
I felt this was an excellent show overall. The three main matches delivered huge and everything else on the show was pretty good.
The show opened with Randy Orton beating Kane in a falls count anywhere match. It was better than I would’ve imagined going in. Both guys worked hard and had a fun little match that set the tone for the rest of the evening.
Cody Rhodes regained the Intercontinental title from Big Show in a tables match. Being they were in Chicago, the crowd was very into Rhodes. Show accidentally cost himself the match when his foot went through one of the tables on the outside. The crowd was very hot when Rhodes won. Afterwards, Show put him though two tables including throwing him through one on the outside of the ring. It was funny to see the crowd boo Show, who is one of the top fan favorites in the company. Referees and trainers came down to tend to Rhodes who refused their help and walked away on his own accord. The crowd cheered him big time as this was happening and it almost seemed this was a perfect setup to switch both guys. Rhodes could definitely be a fan favorite in the future.
Broadus Clay beat Dolph Ziggler in the exact type of match you would expect from these two. Nothing special, but Cameron and Naomi wore cool outfits and danced with more intensity than usual.
Sheamus retained the world title against Daniel Bryan in a 2 out of 3 falls match. This was excellent and was the type of match they were robbed of having at Wrestlemania. Bryan did a pre-match interview where he got easy heat on the Chicago audience, but was still cheered. AJ was shown in the background immediately following this, leading one to think she would play a role in the finish of the match. The two wrestled a very physically intense and technical contest.
Bryan got himself disqualified in the first fall by repeatedly kicking (I think they were kicks instead of punches, but I can’t recall) Sheamus after the referee had made the five count. Bryan worked on his arm and won the second fall with the Yes Lock. After some great teases, Sheamus won the deciding fall with the Brouge kick. This description doesn’t do justice to how good this match was. This was one of the first instances where Bryan got a chance to showcase his technical and submission ability in a long main event caliber match. And to his credit, Sheamus kept up with him every step of the way and did a great job of selling the effects of his arm being injured throughout the match. I know the plan is for Alberto Del Rio to start a program with Sheamus, but this match was so great that I would love for the feud to continue. Besides, I seriously doubt Del Rio and Sheamus could have a match of this quality.
C.M. Punk retained the WWE title against Chris Jericho in a Chicago street fight. Super hardcore match as there were a ton of kendo stick shots in addition to other weapons used. Both wore jeans which gave it a more realistic edge. Crowd was 100 percent behind Punk since he was the hometown hero. His family was at ringside and their reactions were featured on camera constantly throughout. The big spot was Punk doing a flying elbow onto Jericho though the Spanish announcers table from the top turnbuckle. There were many awesome spots in this match and both guys took some serious punishment. Punk pinned Jericho after a GTS and celebrated in the front row with his family afterwards. Tons better than their Wrestlemania match.
Layla returned and defeated Nikki Bella for the Divas title. A few spots were off, but Layla did some great athletic stuff and was moving really quick in just about everything she did. She won with a good looking neck breaker.
John Cena beat Brock Lesnar in an Extreme Rules match. Best match on the show and one of the best matches of the year from any promotion. The heat was unbelievable. The bar I watched the show in was so loud, but I could tell that Lesanr was heavily cheered. Not sure if there were a lot of Cena chants, but there may have been from the women and children. This had an atmosphere that few matches in recent history have had. A large part of it was that this match was worked totally unlike a traditional match, even by Extreme Rules standards.
The match started with Cena getting destroyed by Lesnar on the ground. This repeatedly happened and Cena was busted open in no time. Lesnar dominated Cena in a way no other wrestler ever has. The match was so believably worked that it was one of those rare moments where it seemed like the line between reality/storyline was blurred. The key spot came when Lesnar jumped from the ring steps (inside the ring) onto Cena who was on the apron. Lesnar overshot himself and ended up flipping over the ropes into a nasty landing on the floor. They redid the spot with Cena nailing Lesnar with his chain. Cena won after an Attitude Adjustment on the steps.
Even though Lesnar lost, I don’t really think the wrong man won. Any person watching this match came away with the conclusion that Lesnar was, by far, the toughest challenge Cena has faced in his eight years as the face of the company. The story of the match was that Cena had no real chance and was basically beat at nearly every turn, yet was able to capitalize on one advantage and win. Cena emerged victorious, yet Lesnar was the better man. I have no doubt there will be a rematch somewhere down the road. Contrary to the opinion of the internet wrestling community, I don’t think this loss hurt Lesnar at all. Cena did an interview after match putting over Chicago and the brutality of the match. This was a match of the year candidate and well worth going out of your way to see.