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!
In eleven months when we look back at the year that was 2013, Rock’s WWE Championship win over CM Punk may stand out as the most important story in all of wrestling. Rock defeated Punk at the Royal Rumble on last Sunday to capture his eighth title. When Rock returned in 2011, I never thought he’d be champion again.
As with anything involving wrestling, there are differing camps of opinion regarding his win and what it means for the direction of the company heading into WrestleMania.
Rock’s win was likely the most important championship victory of the last several years. The match itself came across as an historic occasion. I will never forget the eruption of the crowd when the referee counted to three. In many ways it was similar to his win over John Cena at last year’s WrestleMania in Miami.
With him as champion, the WWE will be treated with a level of prestige and mainstream recognition that has eluded the company for years. Never before in history has a major star in Hollywood ever held the most important title in wrestling. The plan is for Rock to promote himself as WWE Champion in all media appearances over the next couple of months.
On the flipside, some believe the way Rock won hurt Punk. One of the main arguments is that he pinned Punk following the people’s elbow instead of his signature rock bottom. I think it was a miniscule point because the match was excellent either way. There will be rematch at next month’s Elimination Chamber PPV where Rock could win with his preferred finishing maneuver.
There is no question that the championship means more on today than it has in a long time. Aside from Rock’s stardom, the biggest reason is because of Punk’s legendary reign. He held the championship for 434 consecutive days, making him the longest reigning champion since 1987. He did that while having great matches against an assortment of talent. His matches against Cena, Chris Jericho, and Daniel Bryan were among the best of 2012 and he’s already had two of the best matches of this year against Ryback and Rock. Punk brought a level of credibility to the championship that made it more than just a storyline prop and he should be commended for that.
Any fan that seriously follows the business should’ve expected Punk’s reign to end at the Rumble. While Rock could’ve won at Elimination Chamber, it wouldn’t have made good business sense. The Rumble is the second biggest show of the year and if I were Vince McMahon I’d want Rock to be champion for as long as possible heading into WrestleMania. This brings me to the most heated point of discussion—was Punk’s title reign little more than a means to an end to get a Rock vs. Cena rematch?
Yes it was. There is no other way around it. However, the scenario isn’t that simplistic.
I originally had reservations on that direction as you can read in my previous post. I’m more open to it now because it’s clearly the biggest money match possible. With Brock Lesnar programmed against HHH, Rock vs. Cena is the only other main event that could fit the bill. While last year’s match was great, there is a chance that this year’s encounter will greatly surpass it.
For one, it’s in the hottest venue possible at MetLife Stadium. The NY/NJ market has always been a WWE hotspot and the crowd for this WrestleMania should be like very few we’ve seen. The atmosphere alone should ensure it goes down as a match for the ages. On top of that, they should have a technically better match than last year. While their clash was memorable, there were notable points where Rock got exhausted. It stemmed from him not working a match of that caliber in nearly eight years. His match against Punk was tremendous and there were no points throughout where he lost his steam athletically. I have little doubt that the quality of the match will be superb.
I expect the championship to be a huge draw of the match. If they had fought over it last year, there is a good chance it would’ve come across as secondary. The big story of their rematch, aside from Cena going for revenge, should revolve around the importance of the title to both guys. We have Punk to thank for that.
I don’t think Punk has been hurt in the slightest. He is a legit main eventer and is guaranteed to be in one of the major matches at WrestleMania. Just working with Rock has elevated his status to the casual wrestling fan. Those casual fans are vital to the success of the company.
Is it accurate to label Rock as a transitional champion?
If you look at it from a traditional perspective then the answer is yes, but traditional is not a word commonly associated with him.
Last night’s edition of WWE Raw didn’t emanate from Miami, but the heat was definitely in the building as Rock and C.M. Punk kicked off the build to their Royal Rumble encounter. That’s right. On Sunday, January 27, Punk will defend his WWE Championship against Rock in match that should be among the biggest, and best, of the year.
It’s been a long time since there was a Royal Rumble with this level of interest. Similar to last year’s Rock vs. John Cena match, Rock vs. Punk is a dream match with an entirely different dynamic.
With Rock vs. Cena, there was a large portion of the audience that wanted to see Rock emerge victorious. In their minds Rock represented the glory days of WWE while Cena embodied the current kid-friendly product. There is a significant segment of fans that respect Punk, even if they don’t necessarily like him. Punk overcame prejudices and the glass ceiling of company politics to emerge as the longest reigning champion of the last 25 years. Rock is a movie star who drops in a few times per year, whereas Punk is the guy on the road carrying the company every night. For them it would be a great disservice for Rock to take the title from the guy who has done more than anyone to make it important.
As many of you have probably read all over the web, there are differing opinions of last night’s closing segment. Some criticized Rock for his lack of seriousness and not making a strong enough argument as to why he wants to be champion. Others felt Punk did a bit too much rambling. This is what I love about wrestling. There is no other form of entertainment where fans are so passionately divided.
I felt it was a great segment that was epic in scope. I was glad they gave Punk time to talk before Rock. Even if he went a bit too long and lost some of his edge, it was still the best promo he cut in a long time. It may have been his best work since his original “pipe bombs” in 2011. In many ways, much of what Punk said was the truth. WWE has always been a company that favors a certain type of individual and there is an abundance of great talent not properly underutilized.
Rock was excellent, but I wish he would’ve toned down the comedy. He’s a legend and can always get away with it, but there comes a time when you have to switch things up. However, the final minutes were spectacular as both let loose before Punk received a vicious rock bottom.
Like Rock vs. Cena, there is something very tangible about this feud that makes it seem bigger than anything else happening in wrestling. Regardless of the outcome, it’s crucial for Punk to emerge on an even playing field with the “most electrifying man in all of entertainment.”
Aside from Vince McMahon, the wrestlers and fans, the people who deserve the most credit for the success of the WWE are the production gurus who make the excellent video features. Many of these videos are used to build up a particular wrestler’s match or to let you into the personal life of a performer. I have selected 10 videos that I feel are the best they have ever produced. Hope you enjoy!
10. Randy Orton vs. Ric Flair- Taboo Tuesday 2004
Though they only had one PPV match, Orton vs. Flair told one heck of a story. The nice instrumental track and fantastic interviews from both really gave their encounter a solid and realistic build.
9. Edge & Rey Mysterio vs. Los Guerreros vs. Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit- Survivor Series 2002.
Oh the days when the tag titles actually meant something. This was during the period in late 2002 when these three teams were fighting over the newly created Smackdown tag titles and having classics on a weekly basis. The feud climaxed with a triple threat match at that year’s Survivor Series. Good stuff.
8. Jeff Hardy- Rooftops
This video aired during the buildup to Jeff Hardy’s WWE Championship match with Randy Orton at the 2008 Royal Rumble. Jeff’s career was really beginning to take off at this point.
7. Chris Benoit Tribute- Monday Night Raw
The most emotionally conflicting tribute WWE ever produced. Very hard to watch when you take into consideration the way his life ended. At the same time, I still have a deep appreciation for what he accomplished inside the ring.
6. HHH Desire
What do you get when you combine one of the most enduring stars in company history with one of U2’s biggest hits—pure magic. This is exactly what this video was. HHH was on the shelf for most of 2001 after suffering a quadriceps tear. Though he was one of the best heels (bad guy) in the business at the time he left, this video made him into a super babyface (good guy) upon his return. His return in January 2002 was such a success that many consider it the greatest comeback in WWE history.
5. Ric Flair Farewell
This originally aired in the weeks leading up to Ric Flair’s final WWE match against Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 24. The musical selection and the variety of clips used is just further evidence of why Flair is considered by many as the greatest of all time.
4. Randy “Macho Man” Savage Tribute
Randy Savage will forever be remembered as one of the most intense and charismatic performers to ever grace the squared circle. Following his untimely death last year, WWE delivered one of its most beautiful tributes ever.
3. Rock Comes Home
The big story of WWE in 2011 was the return of the Rock. To celebrate his 39th birthday, Monday Night Raw was transformed into a 2-hour celebration of his life. On a show featuring appearances from singers Pitbull and Mya, and pre-recorded birthday shout outs from a plethora of celebrities including LeBron James and Samuel L. Jackson, there was little doubt that the most memorable moment of the evening occurred when Vince McMahon came out and offered a sincere thanks to the Rock for all he had done for the company and for finally coming back home. This video followed and truly showed how far the Rock had come as one of the biggest stars the industry ever created.
2. Jim Ross- WWE Hall Fame Induction
Jim Ross is by far the greatest commentator in the history of pro wrestling. The sincere compliments he received from his peers, not to mention the prolonged standing ovation he got from the fans, shows why J.R. is held in such high esteem and will forever be known as the voice of WWE.
1. Edge Career Retrospective
This video originally aired on the edition of Friday Night Smackdown following Edge’s retirement. In my opinion, Edge is vastly underrated when it comes to being considered as one of the best all-round talents the industry has produced over the last 20 years. This video really gives you a feel for the performer he was and all the sacrifices he made to entertain the fans.
As a wrestling fan, I tend to glamorize the period of the mid ’90s- early ’00s. Those were the days when you had two evenly matched wrestling promotions, WWE and WCW, along with a strong #3 promotion, ECW, offering their absolute best and taking the industry to record levels of business, popularity and mainstream visibility that it may never see again. This list shows some of the more memorable moments that have transpired from 2004 up until a few weeks ago. As cyclical and predictable as wrestling can get, there is never a dull moment.
Nexus invaded Monday Night Raw and just about killed John Cena.
Shawn Michaels and Undertaker had back-to-back classic matches at Wrestlemania 25 & 26.
HHH and Undertaker did the same thing at Wrestlemania 27 & 28.
Ric Flair had his big retirement sendoff.
Brock Lesnar returned after being gone for eight years.
John Cena and Shawn Michaels had a 45 minute classic in London.
Ric Flair and Edge tore the house down in their TLC match from 2006.
Rock pinned John Cena in the main event at Wrestlemania.
Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels had one of the all-time best feuds in 2008.
C.M. Punk beat John Cena in his hometown of Chicago.
Edge unexpectedly retired.
Miz won the Money in the Bank ladder match and became a main-event level star in the company.
The guest host era of Monday Night Raw came to an end.
Jeff Hardy won the WWE title.
Edge beat John Cena for his first WWE title.
John Cena made a surprise return to win the 2008 Royal Rumble.
Daniel Bryan and C.M. Punk simultaneously held the major titles.
Bret Hart returned to a WWE ring for the first time in 12 years to bury the hatchet with Shawn Michaels.
WWE had its first ECW One Night Stand PPV. What a show that was!
Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit celebrated in the ring together as champions at Wrestlemania 20.
Shawn Michaels cut a totally unprofessional promo on Hulk Hogan following their Summerslam match.
Daniel Bryan became an overnight sensation after losing to Sheamus in 18 seconds.
Trish Stratus won her final women’s title in Toronto.
Edge became the youngest person ever inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.