WWE RAW HITS:
Overall show: For this viewer, this episode felt the most like a “Road to WrestleMania” episode yet this year, and certainly the best episode of RAW in recent memory in terms of storyline development, and a clear focus to where they are headed. There were still some problems, but this was largely an enjoyable episode of RAW.
Build towards HHH/Bryan: This is a double-edged sword for me. Triple H spent the majority of his opening promo burying both Randy Orton and Batista, and talking down about Daniel Bryan. I get that Triple H is the bad guy, and he’s not supposed to say “nice things” about his opponents either, but remember Randy Orton and Batista are still going to be around after WrestleMania. Largely, Triple H will not be. So it’s important that your top draws remain looking strong, and not inferior to your part-time worker. That aside, the build towards the final segment involving Bryan and Triple H was excellent, and the large part of the beatdown angle in the final segment (with one really glaring exception) was well executed. It was intense, it was gritty, and it was raw (no pun intended). For the conspiracy theorists out there, now there’s a “chance” Triple H could main event WrestleMania, and not Daniel Bryan (of course, you’d have to be crazy to believe that would actually happen, but there are people out there who believe it might). This added a new wrinkle to a marquee match-up on the biggest stage of them all. Can’t fault that.
The Usos vs. The Real Americans: I don’t think it’s much of a secret that I’m a huge Real Americans fan. Maybe it was damaging to send the Usos out to a televised loss this early in their run as champions, but it was at the behest of Antonio Cesaro getting a big win, and the crowd reacting accordingly. Cesaro received a superstar’s reaction on RAW, and that made this match a lot of fun to watch.
Cena/Wyatt Build: It’s a shame we didn’t skip last week’s hokey-pokey John Cena promo, and get right to this instead. When Cena takes his opponents seriously, he builds an incredible amount of intrigue to his matches that is usually lacking because of the childish often underwhelming approach he usually takes. Both the in-ring promo, and video packages for this match were top notch and highly enjoyable television. Again, a clear focus toward building a marquee match-up at WrestleMania.
Paul Heyman builds Undertaker/Lesnar: Here’s a challenge. Find me a better person to build a match between two part-time wrestlers who only appear on a half a dozen shows per year. Find me a person who can build intrigue, desire and a sense of urgency better than Paul Heyman. Such a man does not exist. Nobody grabs my attention by the way he speaks more so than Paul Heyman. He wove a beautiful story of Brock Lesnar not just destroying prior victims of the streak, but turning focus on the fact that the hands of time are ticking, and the Undertaker becomes more and more vulnerable with each passing match. Masterful storytelling that may have otherwise been lost leaving Lesnar/Undertaker to their own devices. Another reason managers are as important as ever in professional wrestling.
Kane vs. The Shield: If I told you this time last year that the Shield would be of the biggest babyfaces in the company by this year’s WrestleMania, you wouldn’t have believed me (and I wouldn’t have believed myself). Not that they didn’t have the talent (because they do), but because they were so hot running roughshod on the WWE throughout the spring and summer of 2013. But here we are. And the key to an excellent turn is by keeping the characters true to their origins (see failed Del Rio/Ziggler turns for examples of not staying true to your characters origins), but tweaking the specifics to allow it to apply to the opposite scale. The Shield are still the Shield, still acting as the Shield does. But now their focus is on the heels of the company, instead of the babyfaces. Any signs of separation have cooled (likely because WWE sees the ridiculous amount of money to be made in Wyatts/Shield through the spring and summer of 2014), and I’m more than okay with that. The Shield’s attack and subsequent triple powerbomb in Kane was an excellent cake-topper to a highly anticipated turn that I foresee creating a lot of great match-ups in the coming months.
Monday Night RAW MISSES:
Triple H’s chair shot on Daniel Bryan: I’ve gone off on this before, but this was absolutely inexcusable. I need some kind of a reasonable explanation here. Explain to me how the Chief Operating Officer of World Wrestling Entertainment, a publicly traded company on the New York Stock Exchange, can go on their most viewed weekly program, and recklessly endanger not just the career but the life of any performer within his employ (without even considering that employee is one of his most valuable assets)? I’ve heard every excuse in the book, and they’re all unacceptable. “It furthered the angle”; “It got great heat on Triple H”; “It makes you hate him more”; “It’s just like the Attitude Era”; “It’s no different than any other beatdown angle”, etc. etc. etc. Not one of those excuses is good enough for me. Paul Levesque decided to ignore his own company’s policy banning simulated or actual chairshots to the head. I don’t care how much “heat” it got him, or how many “buys” it generates. It’s absolutely the wrong message to send. Furthermore, another excuse I’ve heard is that the angle may have been suggested by Bryan himself, and that they likely practiced the spot in question 100 or more times. I don’t care. If Bryan suggested the angle himself, Levesque should have had the good business sense (and personal moral value) to tell him no, it wasn’t safe, and they weren’t doing it. If Triple H came up with the idea himself, a writer, an agent, Vince or Stephanie McMahon or anybody else should have done whatever they could to prevent it from making it to television. And I don’t care if they practiced it 1,000,000,000,000 times. Tell me how WWE would explain, today, that Daniel Bryan was missing WrestleMania and his foreseeable future commitments as he suffered a concussion because the chair slightly slipped out of Triple H’s hands, and did some real damage? Lets not ignore the fact that not only was it a simulated unprotected chairshot to the head, but Bryan’s hands were handcuffed behind his back, and his head was pressed against a ring post. There are FAR too many variables there for this stunt to be performed ensuring the safety and long-term well-being of Daniel Bryan. The beat-down angle was violent enough as it was. Numerous times I winced over the fact that Triple H was really going to town and teeing off on Daniel Bryan. I felt uncomfortable watching the beat down, long before the chairshot (but not so uncomfortable that I felt what was happening was wrong). That chairshot went WAY WAY WAY over the line, however. The COO of a publicly traded company risking the well-being of one of his biggest stars so he looks ruthless leading into a match where the winner is already a foregone conclusion. I guess WWE’s concussion and chairshot policy is only enforceable so long as Triple H doesn’t feel as though it interferes with his ability to get heat, and sell a match. I guess the well-being of their performers is only important when it doesn’t interfere with selling WrestleMania (or WWE Network buys). A questionable and blatant display of poor judgement by one of the company’s highest ranking officials, from where I sit. Even writing all of that, I’m at a loss for words.
Bad News Barrett: Sucks. I mean….I just…..I have nothing.