Opening segment: The first public acknowledgement of CM Punk by the WWE, save for Vince McMahon in addressing investors in a conference call, couldn’t have been any better or more powerful. It paid homage to the man as the Chicago crowd, Punk’s hometown, went absolutely bananas when his music hit. Where WWE could have buried him, washed their collective hands of him (remember, his contract is set to expire in a few months’ time) and moved on, instead they left the door open to anything and everything. If that weren’t enough, they had Punk’s mentor and friend, Paul Heyman, come to the ring and delivery a heartfelt address that touched on the situation, his absence and his importance, before, naturally, spinning it into part of the Heyman-Brock Lesnar-Undertaker WrestleMania situation. That the WWE chose to handle this seemingly delicate situation with tact and “kid gloves” is significant, even out of character. That is, unless you are like me and still believe the entire thing is a work and this has been part of the plan all along. Either way, WWE deserves praise for this decision.
The Wyatts vs. The Shield: A better match on Raw you’ll be hard-pressed to find. These guys have absolutely torn it up for weeks now. Way back in 2013, I fantasized about this feud, then dismissing it as all but fantasy. Even in my wildest dreams, I never imagined it would be this good. Forget how amazing the actual wrestling is, and how incredible the promos have been, just look at how it has helped each member of both factions individually. For the Wyatts, we’ve seen the emergence of Bray Wyatt as a bonafide superstar (more on him later), we’ve seen Harper and Rowan emerge as legitimately fearless “big” men. And The Shield, we’ve seen each member given the freedom to show us what each brings to the table individually. When The Shield debuted, Dean Ambrose was clearly its leader, and the guy many pegged to be the next big singles talent. Over time, we saw Roman Reigns emerge as the new leader, culminating with a dominating performance at the Royal Rumble that will be remembered for a long, long time. And most recently, we’re seeing Seth Rollins show us that he too is capable of being of a big-time player, and an absolutely fearless high-flyer to boot. Where normally watching six-man tag matches isn’t all that interesting, these stables have taken it to new heights. I can honestly say in many ways, I never want to see this rivalry end, yet in other ways, I can’t wait for it to end so I can see what each will do on their own.
Usos: If you didn’t smile from the inside out when Rikishi’s boys won their first WWE tag titles, check your pulse. These kids are likable, super talented and helping restore the tag-team division to glory. While I’ll always be a New Age Outlaws guy, I legitimately raised my arm skyward when the Usos won the gold. I’m eager to see what these youngsters can do with the belts. Expect even bigger and better things.
Batista’s promo: Sometimes, less is more. Since returning to WWE, Dave Batista has been trying hard to win back fans that are ornery for a number of reasons, none of which he is personally responsible for. CM Punk went away, Daniel Bryan continues to be denied inclusion in the WWE World Heavyweight title picture … fans are not too happy. So Batista simplified his approach, delivering a short, heartfelt and honest promo, which worked well. Batista is too talented to not overcome the early adversity he’s been facing.
Dolph Ziggler and Aaron Paul: In some ways, Ziggler has been the Jesse Pinkman of the WWE, one week he’s on top of the world, the next he’s buried in a wrestling’s version of a meth lab dungeon. Ziggler roared back onto our TV sets alongside the Breaking Bad star, getting a much-needed win over another of the WWE’s proverbial whipping boys, Alberto Del Rio. Here’s hoping Ziggler’s future is more like Pinkman’s and less like Walter White’s.
Chicago crowd: While I sometimes believe WWE crowds try too hard to be part of the show, I thought the Chicago faithful were very successful in supporting their M.I.A. superstar and sending the message to WWE that this is not acceptable.
Cesaro: This guy continues to win over the WWE faithful with his incredible feats of strength and his fearlessness matched only by his skill. Pulling him away from Zeb Colter and Jack Swagger will complete his transformation from super talented mid-carder to main event megastar. Should he and Swagger lock horns at WrestleMania, they could well steal the show.
Christian: The great Tommy Dreamer said it all when he tweeted the following during Christian’s match versus Sheamus: “Does @Christian4Peeps ever have a bad match? Answer is no. Always entertaining. 1 of the best in ring ever.” Dreamer knows what he speaks. Technically, Christian, trained by the great Ron Hutchison, has no equal. He’s a fantastic wrestler, and now that he’s again healthy, fans can enjoy what will surely be the final stages of his hall of fame career.
Bray Wyatt: If there is anyone better today at cutting a promo, or understanding their character and the psychology of wrestling, they haven’t been introduced yet. This. Man. Is. Gold. Pure. Gold. Wyatt is the best thing in pro wrestling today. Forget Bryan. Forget NXT. Anyone wanting to cut their teeth as a sports entertainer should “follow the buzzards” and watch this man. Entertainment at its best.
Triple H-Daniel Bryan build: Like many fans, I’m in the camp that feels that Bryan deserves to be the (bearded) face of the company, to see if he can carry the ball. The notion that he’s too small is crazy. See Punk, CM. I do believe that WWE has had to be delicate with the whole Bryan thing, and that not all of what we’ve seen has been in the plans all along. So yes, in some ways, I’ve been annoyed by Bryan’s failed plight. But now, WWE takes it even further, having Triple H refuse to even fight him at WrestleMania. I’m all for a good slow build, but this is getting insane. All I can say is I hope the payoff is worth the wait, which has been, frankly, torturous and frustrating.
No Undertaker, no Hogan: From where I sit, with WrestleMania a month away, the key players need to be there week in and week out. Last week, Undertaker stabs Brock Lesnar with a pen, chokeslams him through a table and a WrestleMania XXX match is emphatically in the books. This week, nothing. Ditto for Hogan. Last week, he celebrates his long-awaited return “home” by opening Raw and this week, nothing. Unacceptable. The company just launched its own network, practically staking its future to it while ostracizing pay-per-view partners and advertisers. The 30th anniversary of its main attraction is mere weeks away. The least guys like the Undertaker and Hogan (AND CM PUNK) can do is show up each week leading up to the big day.