I was bouncing around on YouTube this past weekend and I don't know how I ended up watching the videos I did, but it reminded me of something I had really buried way down deep. I loved the Attitude Era, early nWo, DX, Austin, The Rock, especially Taker, and so many other things from that time. But then the industry started to change. After the Invasion things quieted down a bit, the WWE got the F out, and tried to find themselves in this new era. Wrestlers who had been around grew and changed as new young wrestlers came in and found their way in this crazy industry.
Ten years ago was when Cena came in being all Thug Live and acting like he didn't grow up in the lovely small town of West Newbury, MA. I've been there, quite a number of times, there's nothing urban about it, not even on its toughest days. Okay, it's not far from Boston, but I've been all over Boston, and I have to say it's not the toughest of bigger cities in the USA. Sorry, it just isn't. But there was Cena, being all tough and bad ass.
I know that most people who read my RIB are long time wrestling fans. Most everyone remembers the Montreal Screw Job, Hall and Nash jumping ship to WCW, Hogan turning heel, and Big Show with hair – back in his days as the Giant, but I know there's some who only know Taker as that quaint scary guy who shows up only rarely and is really cool, but what's the big deal? I know there's some who only know DX from after HBK found religion and stopped being the angry young man he was. Those who don't understand what the big deal about Triple H wearing a suit and cutting off all his hair, he's more corporate than wrestler anyway!
And then there's those like me. The people who just don't have the memory we used to have. The ones who have loved wrestling for as long as we can remember, but certain details slip our mind due to age, or brain cells killed by doing this or that. Those who remember the things that mean the most to them – Kane pulling out both Rocky and Hogan's catchphrases from behind a mask and so obviously giddy through the whole segment, that scrawny one legged kid Zack Gowen winning our heart with his unbreakable spirit, "Austin 3:16 says, I just whipped your ass!" - but things like that annoying guy in the jerseys who came to the ring acting all tough didn't exactly stick until he really started to stick in the WWE. For me it was WrestleMania XX when he said something to Big Show about smuggling plums in his singlet and then pulled off that sick FU that no one thought he'd be able to hit.
But there was a Cena before that night, and that's the Cena I had forgotten about. I don't know how as he had a rap battle with Kurt Angle! I have to fully admit that I had forgotten, or blocked out, that Cena. He still didn't really cuss much, and let the crowd fill in those words that would have been bleeped out anyway, but he was still edgy and worth the time. He kept his mic time short, and usually interesting – that thing that works so well for Team Hell No backstage. Honestly, looking back at the videos I saw this weekend and I was reminded that Cena really can be edgy and newsworthy, not corny and boring, the way he's been for so long. Honestly, it seems as though Cena's been this character for so long that it's all he's been. Even the greatest characters grow and evolved, even Taker, sadly Cena's grown boring and evolved into a corny mess. He has it in him to make it work, and make it work well. I think he's been a good guy for so long, and has the following of the children that's strong enough that Cena can go back to having a bit of an edge without hurting all the great work he does, but how to get that past VKM is the problem. The AJ affair thing almost hinted in that direction, but then pulled way back. There's so much in Cena that they're not tapping into because VKM is afraid to do so, and I find that very sad coming from the man who changed sports entertainment from a regional thing into the glory it became. I know it's not there now, but the potential is there.
So, did they tap into that potential with this loaded episode of RAW?
Video > B
I didn't think the opening video was too bad this week. I actually like the way they started off with The Rock's return and slid into Punk, his WWE Title and his TLC Match with Ryback later in the show. I didn't feel that The Rock overshadowed Punk in any way, but I worry that too much of the show will be focused on Rocky and not on the WWE Champ, Punk.
In Ring Segment > B+
I love the chemistry between Cena and Ziggler! I love the chemistry between AJ and Cena, and between AJ and Ziggy! Sadly I can't say the same for Big E. He really struggled on mic, and he had all of one line to say. I cannot understand how nerve wracking it must be to be in his shoes, but that's what he's signed on for, and he needs to find a way around his obvious nerves. I don't know what he's like when he's not under the bright lights, but he needs to step up and ask someone who is solid on mic – Ziggler, AJ, Cena, etc.
Cena looked giddy when he was talking about AJ's wiener joke. My daughter Ellie was here watching that part of the show with me and she was roaring at Cena's exuberance over AJ's comment. I was floored that Cena started a wave! I can't tell you the last time I saw a wave, they just don't seem to happen these days. Not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. I do want to mention Ziggler for two things. First, how long before we hear 'Ziggy' chants? 'Mr. Ziggles' didn't catch on, but will Ziggy? Also, I have to say I'm thrilled to see that he bleached his hair for the new year. As I've said before, I understand how hard it is to keep up with blonde hair when your natural hair color is dark, but I'm not on TV! Actually, as of the other day I threw my hands up at the whole matter and dyed the blonde back to my 'natural' color, but I'm still going to see how long Ziggler goes between bleaching. I know it's rough on your hair, but he needs to keep up his look. To me it's just one of those things that is part of his character and it seems as though he's been lax about it.
Cena vs Ziggler w/ AJ & Big E > A-
I have to admit that I was rather upset about Cena going over Ziggler in this match. Ziggler absolutely deserved to win this match, and win it cleanly. I hate to ask who's bum he has to kiss to win a match against Cena, but I'm starting to wonder. I'm willing to be that all Cena said last week about Ziggler blaming everyone else and whining about not getting the big push has a root in some reality, but Ziggler has really been working hard, growing and has really proven to the fans that he deserves the push. I don't know who he is backstage, but I haven't heard any horror stories.
I have to say that I was very impressed with the work of both Ziggler and Cena in this match. For once Cena hit some different moves, changed things up and made his ring work look both viable and somewhat creative. That delayed vertical was something we've not seen from him, at least not in quite a while. And the way Cena handled not being able to hold Ziggler coming off the corner was creative and worked really well. And Ziggler, as usual, did a great job of keeping in character while working his moves. He looked effortless in the ring with Cena, as if he's a top star who's been at the top for quite a while. While some could say that Ziggler hooking his toes under Cena's side to do situps in the ring is reminiscent of Steiner, I think he takes it to a whole new level with his head stands while keeping Cena in a hold on the mat. I love that move, but will say that the way Ziggler gracefully laid down on top of Cena on the mat looked a bit sensual. I know some people can see something dirty everywhere, but I'm not one, and I still got that vibe from that move, though I know there's nothing to it. That Ziggler cut Cena off before his 5 knuckle shuffle, and then wiggled free of the AA and fought back was just great! Things like that added so much to this match. I'm impressed with the time they were given to work this one, and how they used that time. Sometimes starting RAW with such a match as this, the rest of the night goes downhill, but they were just the start of a great night.
Again, I don't like that AJ and Big E helped Ziggler, a couple times, and still Cena came out with a clean win. I'm loving this feud and their chemistry, and think this could be great for Ziggler, but when is he going to get his clean and solid win? I think it's about time. Maybe they have something in the works, some sort of plan, but I'm not big on patience and I want to see Ziggler win!
Also, Cole lost any heel cred he might have had when he was all smiles catching Cena's sneaker. And I'm wondering if Cena's most recent wish that he granted wasn't along the ramp as he specifically stopped to see someone on his way up the ramp.
Winner – Cena (17:13)
Divas Championship Match – Eve (c) vs Kaitlyn > D-
It looks as though they're setting up for a big match between these two, possibly at the Royal Rumble, but if they don't let them have some really solid matches, not just longer, then the fans won't care. I'm not saying many people care about the Divas these days, but it would be nice to see the WWE utilize the Divas who actually have skills, such as Eve and Kaitlyn. At first I was frustrated with the Divas, now I just think the whole thing is sad. That the arena was dead during this match* should show TPTB in the WWE that the Divas Division really is right now. That the top Divas are not working the ring, but working the mic and bringing the fans to a fever pitch that way shows they need to do something about the Divas Division.
Winner – Kaitlyn via countout (4:40)
Backstage Segment > B-
As much as I adore Ricky 'The Dragon's Steamboat, I have to say this wasn't the best segment. I guess I was a little confused about why it came about. I know Dragon works for the WWE and is around a lot of the time, but why suddenly is he on RAW? Don't get me wrong, the last time we saw him in the ring he was awe inspiring in how little his abilities have diminished. It's that this segment seemed to come out of the blue. My only thought is that we're going to see Dragon in the ring at the RAW 20th Anniversary show next week. I'm all for that!
Backstage Segment > C
Orton is so robotic on mic, then you add in Striker and it's an automatic mess. I can't say Slater was much better, but at least him and his 'band' were somewhat animated!
Team Hell No vs Team Rhodes Scholars > B+
All four of these men are great in the ring. Actually, they're great all around. There's some rough edges, but there's always some rough edges. I love the way these two teams work as teams, and against each other. They have this chemistry that no other teams have right now. I think with Bryan's well sold, but not at all obvious, knee tweak, we're seeing the beginning of the end of THN as TTC, and possibly before too long them breaking up and a feud?
I have to admit I was shocked at Kane stumbling up top. It's not Kane's norm, but it could happen to anyone. He's such a work horse that I'm always shocked at the tiniest bobble from him. The other thing that jumped out at me during this match was Rhodes yelling 'Goat Face!' at Bryan while they were working. I think it's a great idea for him to make facial hair comments because of all the abuse he's getting for his pseudo-stache.
Winners – Team Rhodes Scholars (7:10)
Video > C
I would have skipped right over this video from Cena beating Ziggler, but then, upon re-watching the show, I noticed that Cena appeared to throw at least one of his sneakers into the stands. I'm torn on this. On one hand, I'm sure someone would love to have Cena's sneaker. On the other hand, there's part of me that would want nothing to do with Cena's smelly sneaker.
Orton vs Slater > B
I have to say that I'm pretty impressed with how Slater held his own in the ring with Orton. I was pretty impressed with the control Slater got over Orton in a corner with that reverse DDT. Orton looked his normal self, but impressed me in his work with Slater, and how he hit a couple moves. First off was the way he his his father's superplex. Orton made it look effortless and graceful. The other thing I noticed was how gingerly Orton pounded the mat before his RKO. Maybe he's finally learned his lesson that he's not going to have any arms left by the time he's 40 if he keeps that up.
I will say I'm a bit confused about both Orton and Sheamus facing 3MB if they're going to be heading into a feud. Honestly, I think, if Orton can keep his ego in check, a feud between the two could work fairly well, but that remains to be seen.
Winner – Orton (4:27)
Santino w/ Dragon vs Barrett > B-
Barrett didn't even get his entrance televised, and he's the IC Champ! That's the type of thing that really has been rubbing me the wrong way with the WWE. Beyond that, I was pretty impressed with Santino's ring work in this match. I know he's a good wrestler, it's just rare that he's able to show his moves in the ring. Of course Santino didn't have a chance in this match, but the way Barrett fled from the Cobra had me smirking. So it was a short match that didn't seem to fit into the whole scheme of things, other than to possibly set up for Barrett to face Dragon next week on RAW. That has to be it, and I'm really looking forward to it.
Winner – Barrett (2:22)
Backstage Segment > B+
When Sheamus is on a role, he's fantastic. Between the 3MBeaver comment and singing Danny Boy, he's just so relaxed on mic, so it flows well. He's better than a lot on the roster when he's on, but when he's off, he's way off.
Cesaro vs Khali > D+
That the fans were chanting, "Miz is awesome!" when he wasn't even in the match, but on announce, should show just how bad this match was. Honestly, other than Miz on announce, the only reason not to fail this match is because of Cesaro's neutralizer. That man has hit that move on such a variety of people, and always makes it look great. He obviously struggled with hitting it on Khali, not because Khali was sandbagging – like Albert did – but because Khali is so strangely shaped, so long waisted, that Cesaro had trouble reaching down through Khali's crotch to execute the move. That he managed to hit it on Khali and make it look so strong is just one more testament to Cesaro's abilities.
Winner – Cesaro (3:23)
Backstage Segment > B
Heyman is so great! His obvious disdain for Maddox mirrors all of us, but there's more to it. There's so much more and I'm just waiting for it all to come out. I'm not sure Punk's in the know, but Heyman is in the middle of something with Maddox and The Shield. I really like how they're building this one, and I wonder how it will all erupt, and when.
Sheamus vs Mahal w/ 3MB > B
3MB didn't get a televised entrance for either of their matches, but I'm not surprised or bothered by that. I can't say that I've ever been a fan of Mahal, but I thought he handled himself pretty well in the ring. This was the first time that I saw him as anything more than an obnoxious stereotype, and he looked decent. He worked well with Sheamus, stayed in character, and handled the humorous sides of this match well. I honestly didn't think he had any of that in him, but he surprised me. He went from being nothing to being the possible dark horse of this group, someone to be watched. He won't ever be a main eventer, but he could go a lot further than I previous thought, and I think this character change might be a good thing for him.
So, all three of 3MB took RKOs and brogue kicks. Sheamus and Orton are evenly matched after that, but what does that mean for their burgeoning feud? Will they keep matching each other on every show going into the Royal Rumble Match, then have a big explosion there? While I know my blogs are not read the way Richard's are, I sometimes get worried about writing things like that because they're so adverse to doing anything that the IWC expects of them. But if I didn't write about my ideas about wrestling and where things were going, then I'd have nothing to write about.
Winner – Sheamus (6:07)
Video > B
I actually really liked this video. WWE's production crew did a great job of showing the build between Punk and Ryback going into this huge match. This is the type of video the WWE need to play, but not over play.
TLC WWE Championship Match – Punk (c) vs Ryback > A
Cole made a comment that Punk didn't limp at all to the ring, and he really didn't show any issues with that knee, other than when he was supposed to act like there was something wrong with it. I have to say that I'm glad VKM didn't let Punk jump right back in the ring after his surgery. It gave him extra time to heal up, and gave us a great free match like this – even though we all knew that there was no way Ryback was going to win this match.
Of course there were 'Goldberg' chants from the fans, but Ryback really stepped past anything we saw from Goldberg. I don't think Goldberg would have been able to handle a match like this, even in his prime. The first time I watched Ryback's delayed vertical I thought he had turned to check where the ladder was so that he could land Punk on it. The second time through I realized that Ryback actually spun in a circle, which showed off his control, and was a very graceful and creative way of making sure he was in the ring spot before planting Punk. I'm even more impressed this second time through! I know a lot of you don't think that Ryback has what it takes to be at the top, but I disagree. Ryback has been in the industry since 2004, and was close to winning the first season of Tough Enough. I thought he was impressive back then, but he's grown so much since then. He's dealt with injuries and more false starts than many, and I think he was a bit screwed over when he was saddled with the Skip Sheffield, but he was able to return to the character he first created and it works. Yes, the character has been tweaked over the years, but even Taker's been tweaked. Ryback has been pushed a bit fast for my liking, but others could say that he's been working for quite a long time to get to this point. I'm still a firm believer in the man and expect a lot from him in coming years. He's not just a beefy flash in the pan.
I was told that when the lights went out during this match that quite a few in the arena thought it was Taker.* While I can understand that thought as it's been his calling card for so many years, it didn't even cross my mind that it could possibly be him. In reality I shouldn't be surprised that it was The Shield, but for some reason I was hoping it was The Rock. I had it in the back of my head that The Rock would make sure Punk retained the WWE Title so he could beat him and take it at Royal Rumble, but that could also set up Ryback being rather disgruntled about the whole thing. Not saying I think Ryback should face The Rock at WrestleMania, or even that he should turn heel to be mad at The Rock. Okay, I hadn't really thought it through past The Rock making sure Punk retained the strap. When it was The Shield up there with Ryback it made a lot of sense, just wasn't the sense I was thinking about. Goes back to wondering who's behind the whole thing and when it will all come to light. Have to love this time of year in the wrestling business, when all storylines start getting more interesting!
I know I said a lot about Ryback and little about Punk her, but it's Punk! Those who love him, myself included, will appreciate the serious work Punk put into this match. Those who don't like Punk will do everything in their power to shoot down what he did in those twenty minutes. While I know Punk's knee surgery wasn't a biggie, that he was so spry in this match, and hit the moves he did, I'm quite impressed. Punk is a work horse and continues to impress the heck out of me. I do have to admit that I'm wondering what we might have seen between the two of them in a PPV TLC Match, but that was pretty sick for one they gave away for free.
Winner – Punk (18:52)
Backstage Segment > B+
Punk was just wonderful in this little segment. Right after he was just in a long and very physical match, and still breathing heavy, and he sold it better than most on the roster could on their best days.
Backstage Segment > A
Speaking about great on mic! Even after what I just said about Punk, there two were better. Punk is a great heel who emotes passionately interview style. These two have such amazing chemistry together and working vignettes. This is where they're at their best, when not in the ring. I'm continuously blown away by these two and how great they work together.
Kofi vs Big Show > C-
This really confused me. Why was Kofi taken down so quickly and violently? Did he piss someone off? Does he have an injury? Was it just a way to fill a few minutes before Punk headed to the ring? And if it was just a time filler and a way to set up for Big Show facing ADR on Smackdown, then why Kofi and not someone really stuck in mid-card purgatory.
Winner – Big Show (0:20)
In Ring Segment > A
Punk really hit the fans with a bang, and I have to say I was shocked at how much of it rolled off their backs. Maybe there were a lot of people who were there just to see The Rock, and weren't solid wrestling fans, but I'd have thought Punk would have received more heat than he did for certain things. I was told that a lot of reactions I didn't hear on TV were wild in the arena.* I was really wondering why I wasn't hearing as much reaction as I was seeing, as it obviously wasn't a dead crowd, like we've seen too much of lately, so it had to be how the house audio was rigged for the night. It was obvious enough to me that the fans were reacting, but I didn't hear most of it.
I have to say I really enjoyed one certain part of Punk's diatribe. Richard stated that the Bryan part was a shoot, and I can understand why TPTB in the WWE wouldn't want them aligned together, but I really liked that Punk stood up for his friend and and former foe. Bryan is a serious grappler who is being a total goofball right now, but he's also seemed to blossom into something that many of us – myself and Richard included – thought Bryan wasn't capable of. His personality is quirky and unique, not at all like the accountant I used to say he reminded me of. And then there's Clay, who says all huge guys have to be monsters? Both Tensai and Big Show are big and scary heels right now, so why not a silly face, it seems to suit the Funkasaurus. Okay, that was bull Albert is barely more than a footnote in WWE's monsterdom right now, but you know what I'm talking about. Honestly, those two didn't surprise me as much as the third name mentioned. I completely agree that Tyson Kidd is getting the short end of the stick and really deserves the push that he isn't getting, as does his girlfriend, being that she's one of the strongest, most talented Divas on the roster and she's stuck following around Khali! It was nice to hear Punk giving these guys the props they very obviously deserve.
I almost spit out my juice at my computer when Punk went off about the WWE making shirts out of everything, all the while he was standing there in his Boots 2 Faces shirt. The Sammartino comment really brings me hopes that trip has convinced him to be inducted into the WWE HOF. I think that would be amazing, and something I didn't think I'd see anytime soon, if at all. It was any time after this that I was expecting The Rock to break in and cut Punk off. I won't say Punk was getting boring – absolutely not! - and the way he got so cranky about getting cut off for the commercial worked well, but I was more than ready for The Rock to come out and change things up.
The Rock, as usual, brought a star power that the WWE just doesn't have right now. It's not that everyone in the WWE is so bad, but they just don't have the glitz and all around star power that The Rock does. Talking about someone who's a driven work horse and you've got The Rock. The number of movies he makes, and now the time he's taking to work an almost complete WWE TV schedule, that takes a lot of time, work and dedication. Sometimes I wonder how people like that actually sleep.
Of course he came out to almost complete adoration, as expected – even my youngest, Sam, was thrilled when she heard The Rock was returning and watched his segment this evening before bed – but I was rubbed the wrong way by The Rock saying that the chant he set up was going to follow Punk for the rest of his life. The Fruity Pebbles chants for Cena felt natural, organic, but this felt forced to me. They needed to find an ice cream name for Punk, and all they could come up with was Cookie Puss. I know there's not a lot of ice cream oriented characters, but Cookie Puss? I have to admit that I'll be surprised if it sticks, but if anyone can make it happen, it's The Rock.
Punk said he doesn't care about whether The Rock is there for a day, 16 days or 365 days a year, he will be there to kick his ass. Was that just a line for the storyline, or has he gotten over The Rock coming in and taking someone elses space on the roster. Does it change things now that it's Punk who's working the interloper and not Cena? Once an interloper always an interloper, or if the interloper is working with him than it's acceptable?
I know that The Rock brings a whole flavor and spice to the shows, something a lot of the Superstars can't get away with doing on their own because they're there on a regular basis, but I was shocked at Punk saying, "Arms are too short to box with God?" That was quite the line! I was impressed at that one in this PG Era, but when The Rock is back, it seems as though much of the PGness of it all flies out the window – at least for himself and those working with him. There's no way that The Rock can be PG, and he's really helped get rid of the worst of the sticky sweet corny crap. Even though Cena's not working with The Rock, I'm hoping some of that attitude and vocabulary will rub off on him. He knows how to use it, that's how he got noticed and pushed in the first place, he now has to use it!
That was a really sucky rock bottom! I didn't notice that the first time around, but Punk landed badly. Hopefully the second and third rock bottoms were better. I have to admit that I wish those were shown live, but then I'd have really had to listen to my friend complain about RAW running over into NCIS:LA on her DVR. I'd have willingly put up with the complaints to see The Rock work the ring just a little more.
All in all I think The Rock and Punk worked off each other beautifully, and I can't wait to see what they have for us next. I will admit to having one worry, and that is that The Rock won't get in the ring enough while he's back. I really feel that he needs to mix up the mic and ring time. I can't come up with anyone he should face before the Royal Rumble, but I feel he needs to get in there and warm up in front of the fans. This is his time to prove he hasn't lost it, can work more than a WrestleMania here or there, and that he really is The Great One. I'm not even saying he should win all his matches, but he needs to get out there and work it hard, and not just at the PPVs.
One of the things I noticed about this episode of RAW was that I really didn't hear a lot of reactions coming through my TV. Yes, I heard cheering, booing and chants, but not to the levels I expected with how solid the show was and The Rock's return, especially now knowing that the arena was actually sold out. But I spoke with a friend, Charlie Hannesson (*) online after the show and he said the arena was crazy loud for most of the night, minus the obvious exceptions – Khali and the Divas. So either the volumes were off, or something happened with the audio because it seemed quite off last night.
I will say that the WWE started off 2013 with a bang. As I said, it's that time of the year, heading for the Royal Rumble, starting the Road To WrestleMania, things will be building and shows will be more finely crafted to draw in the fans for the big PPVs. The way they've set things up there, bringing The Rock back early and having him scheduled to work most of the TV dates between now and WrestleMania, there should be some great WWE TV, and a lot of crazy twists and turns. I'm really excited to see which direction they take The Rock, Punk, Ryback, Ziggler, The Shield and all the other bigger name players. There's so many ways they can take thing, and right about now all I can think about is the possibilities coming our way as fans.