Welcome to the newest column on The Void, The Raw Report.
Every week I’ll be dissecting WWE’s Monday Night Raw and analyzing what worked, what didn’t work, and what left audiences scratching their heads. In the United States, traditional report cards use a standard A through F system, which can often be dismissive when discussing art.
In order to avoid simply prescribing a dismissive letter grade, I’ll be adopting my own rubric inspired by my fellow WWE fans. If a segment works, it will receive a resounding YES!, Daniel Bryan style. Conversely, if a segment just didn’t pan out, it will receive a CHANGE THE CHANNEL!, which was one of the best ECW chants of all time. In keeping with tradition of WWE audience participation, a grade of WHAT? will accompany any segment or match that was downright confusing in the broader context of the show itself (while also giving a subtle nod to the lovely Steve Austin).
I will not be touching upon every segment or match on Raw. Instead, I’ll discuss what I saw as an essential component in moving along the current storylines in the WWE. Enjoy!
Punk vs. Mark Henry (WWE Championship match): Yes, please. These two guys are both great athletes who rarely fought each other, except for the past two weeks. Henry doesn’t get enough due in the WWE. Mark has been with the company for 15 years and was my favorite World Heavyweight Champion in years until Daniel Bryan grabbed the belt. Henry is a beast and this match focused on that factor. He came off like a legitimate monster by manhandling Punk and tossing him around the ring. Henry is slow moving, but between his firm movements and Punk’s brilliant selling, the match looked like more of a street fight than a wrestling match. Punk’s spot where he ran along the barricade was entertaining and came off better than a similar move performed by John Morrison at the 2011 Royal Rumble. Punk seemed to be really feeing off the crowd and looked absolutely exhausted by the end of the match.
A title match opening Raw is always a nice treat. Cole mentioned that its been nearly a year since a title changed hands on Raw (presumably when Mysterio won it briefly following Money in the Bank). The UK crowd was superb, almost as energetic as the Miami crowd for the Raw following Wrestlemania 28. The near constant “YES!” chants were spellbinding and added a new level of excitement to this match.
Chris Jericho promo with CM Punk in the ring: This feud is extending beyond Wrestlemania, which is fantastic. The number one complaint among a lot of older wrestling fans is that feuds abruptly end after major pay-per-views. I’m surprised by how many wrestling fans seem bored by this feud. I attribute this lackluster response to the fact that fans aren’t used to seeing feuds extend well before and after Wrestlemania. Often times, Wrestlemania offers a time to wrap up a storyline in a nice little package. It was revealed that Jericho and Punk’s match at Extreme Rules is going to be a Chicago Street Fight. I’m totally okay with this stipulation. The news that Punk’s family will be in the crowd created an added sense of tension that we’re sure to see on display at the pay-per-view.
This feud starting to remind me of Shawn/Jericho from 2008 since it’s grounded so deeply in who Punk and Jericho are as people. Punk exploited Jericho’s Hollywood aspirations prior to Wrestlemania, and Jericho has been steadily trying to prove that Punk is not straightedge. The footage Jericho showed of Punk going into a bar, which Punk argued was to just eat fish n’ chips with his friends, was so dastardly that it felt like something out of a bad detective movie. This feud is building strong and is no longer about who is best wrestler in the world. Instead, the feud seems to be debating who is the better person. Is Punk a phony (e.g. alcoholic)? Is Jericho a bully? I can’t wait to find out.
Santino Marella vs. David Otunga: The multiple football jersey gimmick Santino did at the beginning was cute. Although, I would’ve preferred it if Otunga purposefully wore the rival football team’s jersey to the ring in order to get some heat. I know nothing about football, but Santino conveyed the message of what he was trying to do perfectly. Again, this crowd was in the pocket the entire night and elevated what would be an otherwise typical Santino match to a new level of excitement. This may be a surprise, but I really dig David Otunga. I think he’s a solid athlete with a great look (although, a bit too much oil these past couple weeks!). Otunga is a great lackey to Johnny but needs a distinct feud. This match did what it was supposed to do: Santino entertained the crowd, kept things hot, and Otunga got solid heat. Did Otunga botch the pin? Who cares, it was still a decent match; a simple match. I want more Otunga, if nothing else than to prove to others that he can actually wrestle in addition to having a terrific personality alongside Johnny Ace.
R-Truth Sherlock Holmes segments with Teddy Long: R-Truth wants to help find Teddy Long a job. I wish R-Truth would find a way to be interesting again.
Grade: CHANGE THE CHANNEL!
Brock Lesnar taped interview: “I’m not a superstar, I’m an asskicker.” This was the most honest promo in recent memory, perhaps only second to Punk’s amazing promo last summer. Brock confirmed everything that die-hard wrestling fans secretly knew all along: Brock isn’t here to change the face of wrestling. Brock isn’t back for fans or because he misses wrestling; he’s back to cash in and legitimize the company by taking out John Cena. Brock said nothing about him is fake, which was poignant and cutting against Cena’s one-dimensional character. The interview had a strong pace and was shot like a UFC style interview, from what little I’ve seen of UFC. Brock easily conveyed a very simple message: he is here to fight and nothing more. He doesn’t want to tell a story, he doesn’t want to have fun; he just wants to fight. That’s all I needed to hear. The video managed to successfully show us everything great about Brock. The video footage highlighted Brock’s many talents, including his amateur career, WWE time, and even his tenure in UFC. WWE has brilliantly made people excited to see the Extreme Rules pay-per-view, a show that has been overlooked in the past.
Ryder vs. Kane: No, thanks. I love Kane, but can’t understand how to get invested in this feud with Ryder. It’s flat and nobody seems into it. Ryder is slowly losing ground with fans and this isn’t helping.
Grade: CHANGE THE CHANNEL.
Kofi backstage segment with AJ and Bryan: Bryan is downright evil in his treatment of AJ. Somehow, the WWE has managed to get fans to fall in love with a misogynistic, arrogant pig who just happens to be one of the finest wrestlers in the business. Bryan is a perfect heel because he’s so easy to hate on every possible level. This backstage promo perfectly highlighted that aspect to his personality. The incessant “YES!” chants by Bryan himself were perfect. The decision to rename the LeBell lock the Yes Lock is amazing as well. Furthermore, Bryan explaining that Kofi will be screaming YES! once he’s in the Yes Lock added a sense of logic behind both the maneuver and the chants. Now, when fans chant Yes during a Bryan match, it will hopefully indicate that they’re hoping the opponent taps out. This entire segment showed brilliant work on both Bryan’s and the WWE writer’s parts.
Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan: Very solid wrestling match through and through. My only gripe with this match was that the crowd babyfaced Daniel Bryan, which wasn’t a total surprise given the sheer amount of Yes chants throughout the night. The problem is that Kofi was booed as a result. I’m hoping Bryan remains a heel and the WWE doesn’t allow responses like this to turn him babyface. This match had a very strong back and forth, which is exactly what you’d expect from Kingston and Bryan.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Brodus Clay: Both Vickie and Ziggler deserve more than a Funkasaurus squash match. Brodus was very over, which isn’t too surprising given that he’s meant for comic relief. However, Dolph Ziggler is one of the most talented wrestlers in the company and certainly worth more than a squash match. I’d love to see Ziggler and Swagger take over the tag team division and legitimize those belts.
Grade: CHANGE THE CHANNEL!
The Great Khali and Big Show vs. Primo and Epico: This match didn’t need to happen. Give the tag titles to Khali and Big Show, they’re basically children anyway. The crowd seemed completely bored during this segment.
Grade: CHANGE THE CHANNEL!
Lord Tensai vs. John Cena: I was extremely surprised by Tensai’s win. Cena has been on an unprecedented losing streak as of late. After losing to the Rock earlier this month, he’s spent each Raw getting absolutely pummeled by Brock Lesnar. I really enjoyed the backstage segment with Tensai earlier in Raw. His demeanor and look remind me of a great 1980s WWE character. I could have sworn I was watching an old Gene Okerland interview at times. Say what you want about Tensai, he’s kayfabe through and through which is pretty interesting these days. Cena’s promo earlier in the night paled in comparison to Brock Lesnar’s exquisite backstage interview, which might have been unfair to Cena in the long run. Having Brock do his interview on tape was a brilliant decision, which entirely eliminated any chance for screw ups.
Cena’s recent string of losses seem to make him a bit vulnerable going into his contract signing live next week on Raw. I’m looking forward to see how they handle this, especially given that Lord Tensai was supposed to feud with Cena prior to news of Lesnar’s return. Perhaps this match was meant to test the audience and see how well they’d respond to a Tensai vs. Cena feud sometime this summer?
Overall, I enjoyed the 4-16-12 episode of Raw. It wasn’t the best Raw episode, but it was far, far from the worst. It’s very simple to wait until Raw ends and trash the entire show. However, this week’s Raw had one thing that smarks are often yearning for: matches. More time was devoted to matches than promos this past Monday. I think the WWE did a decent job of building up the Punk/Jericho and Lesnar/Cena matches for Extreme Rules, while also helping to enhance the personalities of people like Daniel Bryan. In the end, I’ll gladly take a Big Show/Khali tag match if it means I get to see Daniel Bryan fight Kofi Kingston and CM Punk once again surprise everyone by having a spectacular match with Mark Henry. In the end, I’d give this Raw a very resounding YES!