WrestleMania XXVIII is only six short days away and tonight’s Raw from Atlanta is the last chance to sell us on the biggest pay-per-view event of the year (although a surprising number of announcements have been coming on Smackdown). The last Raw before WrestleMania should be the best show of the year, at least until the night after WrestleMania which has it’s own history of making history. Before we get to tonight (and the one-hour documentary on the Rock and John Cena airing before Raw that no one was asking for), we have our last Warm Up before WrestleMania featuring a look back at last week’s show from Philadelphia.
PTB: I thought about going to last week’s show and was initially disappointed that I couldn’t make it. After watching it, I had no regrets about missing it at all. It was a fun show, but I there wasn’t one match that I really needed to see live.
C.M. Punk’s opening for the show was outstanding. His feud with Chris Jericho is what I really want to see develop each week and this segment was good enough to overcome the fact that one of them wasn’t at the show. I don’t know that I would have felt that way if I’d been there, but I enjoyed watching from home. Bringing up Punk’s family history with drugs and alcohol has certainly added fuel to the fire, but I still feel like they pulled the trigger on that a little too early.
THE JASON: I thought both guys just killed it here. The way Punk played it in this promo was Babyface 101. He put forth the perils of addiction and then brought up the fact that his father beat his issues and that he is proud of him. If he said “I’m so proud, so very proud to be called his son” (David Marcus™) I would have jumped off the couch. Really great stuff that didn’t make him seem preachy or pandering in the least. In the hands of a lesser performer this could be some really rocky terrain to traverse. I tend to think you can come off really disingenuous with this kind of storyline, but Punk made it work and I feel like this really provided a lot of momentum to the feud.
Jericho was masterful. He’s tweaked his character a little, so he’s got a little more personality and swagger than during his last run. I loved, loved, loved the line when he apologized about going too far with talking about Punk’s father and wouldn’t do it again (AGAYN!)… and then said “but as far as your sister goes.” The crowd audibly gasped after that. In contrast to Punk’s Babyface 101, Jericho came in with his “How to Be A Heel,” expert seminar.
THE JASON: I think it actually worked to the angle’s advantage that Jericho wasn’t there. This has fast become a personal feud and keeping them apart until WrestleMania is important to build the interest.
Hands down, this was my favorite part of the show. After that…
PTB: Last week wasn’t a great show after the opening, particularly in the ring. Big Show versus Kane is something that would have once been a big deal, but this match was just there to allow Cody Rhodes and Randy Orton to take shots at their WrestleMania opponents. I wasn’t crazy about Rhodes plot here. It’s a total heel move for the smaller guy to shackle the giant to beat him down, but it didn’t play out too smoothly. I did like Show telling him to “run.”
THE JASON: I didn’t mind this, but I’m not sure I get the point of Cody using the boxing gloves. How is punching a guy with gloves more injurious than hitting a guy bare-fisted? Maybe it was to protect his perfectly manicured nails? Oh yeah, I guess we dropped that part of his gimmick. Maybe this leads to a boxing match! Because boxing matches in pro wrestling always work out well. Mr. T and Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania 2! Johnny B. Badd vs. Scotty Flamingo! Piper vs. Buff Bagwell! Classics! Can Big Show vs. Cody be added to this list?
PTB: Don’t forget the “Brawl for All” and Butterbean vs. Bart Gunn! The only way a boxing match adds anything to this match is if it leads to Cody using loaded gloves to take down the Big Show. Bringing that in with under two weeks until WrestleMania makes no sense, especially when this was one of the few match ups on the undercard that had a story behind it already.
Another undercard match that has a story behind it is the Team Johnny Laurinaits versus Team Teddy Long 12-man tag team match to determine the new General Manager. This match got a lot of screen time last week, and has technically been building since last Summer even though it feels like it’s being thrown together now. The thing I’ve enjoyed least about it is seeing David Otunga rolling over guys. A few weeks ago it was Ezekiel Jackson and now it’s Santino Marella. I can only hope this means an embarrassing loss is coming for him at WrestleMania.
THE JASON: I didn’t care too much about the win a few weeks ago with Bowtietunga’s win over Ezekial. Big Zeke isn’t bringing much to the table, but they were beginning to hit on something with Santino, and having one captain pin the other captain before WrestleMania makes the match mean absolutely nothing. You know what would have been great? If Otunga clocked Santino with his coffee thermos leading to the pin. I would have found that infinitely more satisfying if for nothing else than giving him a reason to be carrying a stupid coffee cup (in colors that match his outfit!) around at all hours. And it would go down in history as possible the worst illegal object of any wrestler to use. HHH has the sledgehammer, Hacksaw Duggan has the 2 x 4, Chavo Guerrero had Pepe the Stick Horse, Hulk Hogan had the YAPPAPI STRAP, BROTHER! and Otunga would have the coffee thermos. He could also pour boiling hot java on his opponents eyes when the ref’s back is turned. That I could get into. Posing like you’re a reject from Pumping Iron – not so much.
PTB: Much like the show in Boston, we got a some pretaped stuff from the Rock tearing into John Cena, but it sounded like the Philadelphia crowd wasn’t so into it. Of course, he pulled every Philly card he could think of and got them behind him. I’m not a typical Philadelphian, but invoking Rocky only serves to aggravate me.
THE JASON: I liked that the Rock showed a bit of unexpected and uncharacteristic self-deprication here making fun of what he looked like as a kid. The whole thing about the cheesesteak place was beyond me since I’m neither from Philly or a meat-eater, so I didn’t really care too much about that.
PTB: He didn’t even go with the best steak place in town, which for the record is Jim’s on South Street.
PTB: The Rock eventually moved from fictional characters and started digging into quotes from all time wrestling greats. It felt like lowest common denominator stuff to me, but he sort of got into your point about it being important for him to beat Cena to become the greatest of all time.
THE JASON: Did he get there? I just thought it was kind of interesting that he invoked Mick Foley’s catchphrase, who seems to be persona non-grata with WWE these days and Ric Flair’s, who works for TNA.
PTB: Foley is an odd case. He’s still featured on WWE.com, but clearly he hasn’t been on any of their television programming for weeks now. Flair is still with TNA, but I expect we’ll see him as the Four Horsemen are part of this year’s Hall of Fame class.
At one point last week we were told that Flo Rida would be “singing” the Rock to the ring at WrestleMania. Having a band play at a wrestling event is almost always awful, but why is this guy gonna play for the Rock?
THE JASON: I have to agree with you here. The only times that this kind of performance has made any sense is when the band actually performs the wrestler’s actual entrance theme. Motorhead doing HHH’s theme, or as much as I hate to say this Limp Bizkit playing “Rollin’” for the Undertaker. They should have shelved Flo Rida and brought in Living Colour to do “Cult of Personality” for Punk. Those dudes haven’t played a stadium since opening for the Rolling Stones in ’89. They can probably play the song in their sleep. They would have done it for a box of munchkins and a 6-pack of PBR.
But I’m gonna go out on a limb here and guess that Flo Rida may just be from Florida, and they want to pack the show with as much hometown hype as possible. I don’t know what Flo Rida sings besides that song about “Shorties” getting low, which I totally relate to.
PTB: If there was any question, old school Cena was a one week thing as he was back to his usual entrance music and appearance following the “Rap vs. Rock concert” in Cleveland. Cena’s car accident was big local news, but he was available for his tune up match with Mark Herny that featured a quick in ring appearance from the Rock.
THE JASON: This is when the show really started to go downhill for me. What was this? Again, just a waste of Mark Henry. And he actually was looking like a credible threat again in this match until all of the post-match shenanigans. At first when Rock came out I was thinking maybe he and Mark could reform the Nation Of Domination. Then I was thinking that at this point that may be more appropriate for Cena. Or maybe they could have Rock, Henry and Flo Rida reform The Nation and Cena could dig Master P out of the mothballs and they could reform the No Limit Soldiers. Isn’t Brad Armstrong an agent with WWE?
Yes, that idea sucks, but the way that they are just cruising through weeks with basically no development with their top angle sucks nearly as much.
PTB: I’ve seen more than enough of the Rock and Cena and I know they’re going to be all over tonight’s show. An hour-long documentary on their match before Raw isn’t going to help either.
Zach Ryder’s first match in weeks is against Daniel Bryan. The crowd got behind him even though there was no chance he’d win. I did like the mention of last time in Philly after the TLC pay-per-view when Ryder, Bryan and Punk were all carrying gold and the crowd went wild. I don’t know how well the parking lot rally went over for Ryder before the show, but he was added to the 12-man tag match (along with the Great Khali and team mascot Hornswaggle) on Smackdown last Friday.
THE JASON: Well, at least Bryan and Punk are still champs. You know, I was going to go off an a tangent here about Long Island having no great claim to fame as far as wrestlers go, but I just mentioned Mick Foley. But does Philly have anyone to hang their hat on? Kurt Angle and Shane Douglas (who made his presence known in the crowd last week) were from Pittsburgh, Billy Kidman was from Allentown. Was Steve Blackman from PA? My memory is failing. But seriously, that’s pretty dissapointing if the Lethal Weapon is the best we can think of.
PTB: Steve Blackman is from Annville, PA , which is a little further West and closer to Harrisburg. The real Philadelphia claim to fame is ECW and three of its top products, Stevie Richards, Raven, and the Sandman. I think they’re actually from the surrounding counties, but it totally counts and I think everyone else would embrace them as hometown products. Tom Brandi (Sal Sincere) is from Philadelphia but was often billed as being from Norristown. That’s close enough to count too, but he always opted to go with Norristown over Philadelphia. And lest we forget S.D. “Special Delivery” Jones was often called “Philadelphia’s favorite son” despite being originally from Antigua in the West Indies.
THE JASON: Man, I loved S.D. Jones. I was particularly upset though that my LJN action figure had a red shirt and not the Hawaiian shirt that he wore to the ring and was pictured on the package with. False advertising! I feel like they gave him a red shirt as some connection to Star Trek. The dudes with the red shirts were always the first to get killed by some alien on a poorly planned away mission. I never realized that while Hogan got Captain Kirk’s yellow gear, S.D. was getting the red shirt treatment of the WWF back in the day.
PTB: That explains so much of the booking around Hulk Hogan. Getting back to Ryder, it makes sense for him to be on Team Teddy since he was the assistant to the General Manager on Smackdown at one point. The “social media pressure” angle to get him on the team is just silly though, especially when they’re claiming it was how Truth got on the team and now using it again for Ryder.
THE JASON: I don’t think you should really try to figure out the logic that the WWE uses for the architecture of conceptualizing this match. It will make your head hurt. It will probably last all of 5 minutes. I’m going on record right now and saying the introductions will be longer than the match.
PTB: Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger were also added to Team Johnny last week. That whole line up actually makes sense and Alberto Del Rio will be the final member. Does all the lobbying to be in this match add to its legitimacy?
THE JASON: Hahahaha, what legitimacy? “We legitimately couldn’t think of anything better for these 12 guys to do.”
PTB: A guy I’m still expecting to find himself in that match is the Miz, but his bit from Philly needed to happen the week before.
THE JASON: You mean the bit where Sheamus beat him? He lost last week too! I don’t really know if they are going to rehabilitate him at this point or not. It’s sad, because he basically said in his promo he’s worse off than when King Kong Bundy wound up wrestling midgets at Wrestlemania III after being in the main event the year prior.
PTB: Who thought Bundy-Mania would be running wild in 2012? He’s all over this post.
I don’t really mind seeing him getting squashed in these matches, but if you’re going to let him go off about not being on the card this year it makes no sense not to do that in his hometown. Miz did have a face-off with the Rock after Raw went off the air in Philadelphia.
PTB: Interviewing Randy Orton at the top if the ramp shaved 6 minutes off of his entrance time. There’s nothing behind this match with him and Kane at WrestleMania.
THE JASON: I feel like Kane is the go to guy when they don’t have something of substance for someone. Need a mystery opponent on Raw? Call Kane. Guy is coming back from an injury and needs a feud? Call Kane. We have nothing for one of our main eventers at WrestleMania? Hey, Kane… what do you think about working with Randy this year? This feud is pointless. You’re right, there’s nothing behind this. They did the same thing (I think it was WrestleMania 19) with Kane and Angle.
This type of slapdash matchmaking makes me pine for the days when Booker T and Edge were feuding over a shampoo commercial.
PTB: The final big draw for last week was the “End of an Era” match confrontation. When we got to Triple H, Shawn Michaels and Undertaker together in the ring, I just kept waiting for Michael Cole to say “face to face to face first.”
THE JASON: And then the show just ground to a halt. I did not like this segment. I get that they were trying to create more doubt if Shawn is going to be impartial or not, but it’s tricky that in trying to tell that story their losing the thread between Undertaker and HHH, which I thought was “Does Undertaker still got it?”
PTB: There’s a lot at play here and I agree that the point has been muddied. I was also found it remarkable that 19 out of 24 Hell in a Cell matches have featured Undertaker or Triple H. I don’t know if it more shocking that they’ve been in so many or that there have been so many total.
THE JASON: Well, it’s been 15 years since they introduced the gimmick and that number got bolstered by the super lame Hell in the Cell PPVs they’ve been doing the past few years. I wonder if they included the god-awful Kennel in a Cell match with Bossman and Al Snow?
The thing that stood out most to me from last week’s segment was that this is now possibly a career ending match for Triple H? Undertaker 20-0 it’s happening.
THE JASON: I didn’t catch that mentioned. Maybe I dozed off during this? It’s quite possible Did they come right out and say that? Because if they didn’t, this goes back to what I was saying a few weeks ago about Cena and Rock’s program where they dance around the issue with buzzwords and misused terminology. I was watching the show “House of Lies” a few days ago and at one point Don Cheadle is doing a presentation and he breaks the fourth wall, addresses the audience and holds up a sign that says “USE INDECIPHERABLE JARGON.” Well, that’s what I feel like WWE is doing. It annoys me because an “era” doesn’t really apply to an individual. If it is the end of an era, then it’s an end for all 3 guys. No? And Rock was part of their era too, so at the end of the show are they all going to retire? Are they all going to become extinct? They just keep grinding it into the ground over and over again that it makes my head hurt. Granted, it’s not quite as egregious of an error as calling the 25th Wrestlemania “the 25th anniversary” (that would be WM26) or in 1999 when both WWF and WCW misspelled Millennium over and over again that it made me wonder if there was anyone proofreading anything before it went to air, but the fact that they keep hammering at this instead of HHH just saying “I’m ending your career. The streak dies, you go home, this is your last hurrah” is bewildering to me.
PTB: It wasn’t as clear as the Michaels / Undertaker career versus streak match a a couple of years ago, but Undertaker asked if Triple H was willing to “put it all on the line” and that included his career. Of course it also included Triple H’s mind, body, soul, life, wife and kids. So who knows?
THE JASON: We haven’t mentioned what may have been one of the more interesting bits on the show. The showed a promo for a new character called “Lord Tensai”. I’m not sure we want to spoil it here, but there’s only a few big, bald tattooed guys who I’ve heard are rumored to be coming on board. Sure it may be someone in developmental, but I’m fairly certain it’s not. In any case – I like that their doing this. I feel like they used to do these shorts for guys whether they were brand new, carryovers from another company or re-debuting. It gets people over so much quicker. I’m sure it helped Brodus Clay (who I shed a tear at not seeing this week). It’s so simple, gets a guy’s persona over with the audience, and it is far preferential that shoving a faceless guy out there one week and expecting the audience to take any interest in them. Regardless of who it is ultimately promoting, I like that they are utilizing this tactic again.
PTB: The last person I recall them doing extensive videos for prior to his debut was Alberto Del Rio on Smackdown.
PTB: Mahal certainly wasn’t helped by the way he was introduced, but Ryan was thrown in with Punk’s version of the Nexus. That was pretty high profile, but it’s clear that the best guys should be able to distinguish themselves for something other than being than being big or from another country. Case in point, Yokozuna, who was announced as the final member of this year’s Hall of Fame class on last week’s Smackdown.
With only six days until WrestleMania XXVIII, here’s the card we’ve seen announced so far:
- Chris Jericho challenges C.M. Punk for the WWE Championship
- Sheamus challenges Daniel Bryan for the World Championship
- The Undertaker vs. Triple H (Hell in a Cell Match with special referee Shawn Michaels)
- The Rock versus John Cena
- Intercontinental Champion Cody Rhodes versus The Big Show
- Team John Laurinaitis vs. Team Teddy Long 12-man tag team match to determine the new General Manager of Raw and Smackdown
- Randy Orton vs. Kane
- Kelly Kelly and Maria Menounos vs. Divas Champion Beth Phoenix and Eve
2012 Hall of Fame inductees announced to date:
- Mil Mascaras
- The Four Horsemen
- Mike Tyson
- Ron Simmons
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