Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A RAW REVIEW (1/20/14)

THIS WEEK'S EPISODE: #emmataining?
The final RAW before The Royal Rumble saw the return of Batista, a couple of good matches, and an exciting finale (for Cena fans, that is), all of which coalesced into an adequate, albeit forgettable broadcast. 

The Royal Rumble build has been somewhat lackluster this year, given the big matches involving the usual suspects, and the title-scene having become so diluted.  The wishy-washy stories of late have left very few superstars with much momentum, particularly CM Punk.  Perhaps my perception is slightly skewed, because I remember so vividly the beautiful feud that went down around this time last year:

CM Punk: I just found out I'm putting you over tonight, isn't that funny?
The Rock: I'm sorry, I can't hear you, I'm listening to my song 'Pie' and it's f'ing hilarious.

But we all know how the initially stellar CM Punk/Dwayne Johnson feud turned out.  So perhaps things will go down better this year, considering how it feels like anyone can win anything and no one (save Daniel Bryan) is massively over with the crowd.

(To read my thoughts from last year's RAW-before-Rumble, click here: The 1/21/13 episode, strangely the most-viewed RAW Review in RAW Review history.  Perhaps it has something to do with the instructional sex-positions pic.  Who said wrestling can't teach you things?!)

I realized whilst watching RAW tonight that I don't even consider the outcomes of matches in a wish-fulfillment way anymore.  I don't really have hopes with wrestling anymore, just predictions.  My predictions result from a potpourri of internet gossip, cynicism, and the always fun, mind-bending cat & mouse game of figuring out what the WWE brass will choose on a whim.  They've demonstrated a willingness to bait and switch us in a kind of destructive way - for example, if we all know Jericho is going to win The Rumble and we all think that's the best possible decision to make, Sheamus will win.  Going against logic and quality in the pursuit of keeping us off guard (or just slapping us in the face for being smarks) is ultimately detrimental to the stories the WWE can tell.  Many feuds over the past several years, particularly the CM Punk/Jericho story, as well as the final match between The Rock & Cena, could have certainly benefited from more development.

That's what's so great about the title unification, however, and why this Rumble is significant (even if you wouldn't know it based on the TV broadcasts).  We will know who the main event title-challenger will be come Sunday, and creative can appropriately build a focused story around two competitors.

In my dream-world, the one I no longer entertain really (not on purpose, it's just been sneakily ripped out of me over time), John Cena will reclaim the title, defeating Randy Orton in what will hopefully be an exciting match.  I'd like to see a surprise run-in.  Perhaps Hogan or someone like that, to attack Orton while the ref is down, perhaps costing Orton the title.  Orton will then have a reason to request a rematch, and would also be able to begin a feud with whoever interfered, effectively taking him out of the title picture come 'Mania.

Considering The Elimination Chamber is still listed on the WWE website as the PPV before Wrestlemania, it will be interesting to see if any changes are made to that particular event.  Previously, the chamber matches acted like The Rumble in determining who would earn the remaining no.1 contendership for the World or WWE Champion. 

Now that there's one title, does that mean there will simply be a single Elimination Chamber match for the belt, a last chance for someone to earn a ticket to the 'Mania main event?  I certainly hope not, as this means the title could change hands one-month before 'Mania, which means the title-story likely won't receive the build it deserves.  I would like to see this ridiculous pay-per-view stricken from the record entirely, for the WWE to simply take a month off from now on so as to slow-build Wrestlemania.  In good hands, such a build would be riveting.

As far as The Rumble match itself goes, CM Punk succeeds in my fantasy.  He then goes on to have his own dream-match and main-events Wrestlemania with John Cena for the undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Championship.  The pieces are all in place for this particular main event (a main event that should have happened two or three years ago already), so I don't know why I'm so utterly resigned about the possibility it could happen.  I honestly don't think I'll ever get to see this particular match, and that's a bit painful.

I'm optimistic my wrestling hero (Punk) will have one or two more moments in the sun before he eventually departs for greener pastures (and, like most legends, one day returns for a high-profile match to put over a rising star).  Punk is the first wrestler I've followed consistently as an adult (apart from Cena), so I'm excited to see what happens to him, how his life turns out, where he'll be in five years.  At the moment he's muted and lost all his teeth.  He is as good as his goal, his opponent, and right now he just seems to be having insignificant, albeit excellent, matches with The Shield to tide him over and give him something to do.

He's been so neutered and the spotlight been so firmly focused on Bryan and Cena, that it's not clear where Punk could even fit into the title picture (and now with Batista and Brock in the mix, two viable main-eventers, it's hard to imagine the brass would support Punk).  We all know the best CM Punk is a heel CM Punk, but given his current position as an uber-face and the shoots he's already given in the past, I'm not sure how he could conceivably turn heel in a new, interesting way.  This posturing likely doesn't matter, however, as it results from my fantasy of a face Cena and a heel Punk headlining 'Mania, and while, as stated earlier, the pieces are there, it just doesn't seem likely.

The main event the people seem to want certainly involves Daniel Bryan.  He's earned a main event spot, for sure, but I'm unconvinced a truly captivating narrative can be told around him - either because the writers don't know what to do with him or his lackluster mic work.  The best we've seen thus far was his tag-team with Kane, and his feud with Cena about wrestlers versus entertainers.  While I know it would be vindicating, and exciting for most to see a Cena/Bryan main event at 'Mania, I'll always long for my own fantasy card. 

Or, better yet, how about a Bryan/Punk main event title Iron Man match?!

Ah well...I should probably review Raw right?

The night began with Orton whining to The Authority for not fully supporting him as The Face of the company by inviting back Batista and Brock.  The Authority's relationship with Orton has been odd from the beginning.  It feels more like bad writing, continual course-correction than a fully-conceived idea.

Eventually Batista came out, hugged Stephanie and Triple H (perhaps I'm a simpleton, but I'd really enjoy it if The Authority was just good or bad, because this shade of grey is so murky it's irritating), and then The Animal stood on the turnbuckle for many, many minutes.  The crowd didn't even seem that into it, their obligatory chants needing to be culled out of them - the ingrates.  Batista was never known for his mic work, and nothing has changed.  He's come back for the title, blah, blah, you've heard it all.

I enjoy Batista, mostly for his entrance music, but his return doesn't excite me in the least. It's just yet another in a long series of distractions that makes it impossible for the cream to rise to the top.

The highlight of the evening was a match between The Rhodes Brothers, Big-E, and The Shield.  The Shield, like D-Bryan and CM Punk, are modern wrestlers.  They adopt personae's and mannerisms similar to what we see in comic books and blockbuster films, their moves extravagant and brutal.  They emit a powerful, crazed machismo that is truly unique, and I look forward to watching each individual member evolve in the coming years.

Bryan broke his silence and explained why he infiltrated The Wyatt Family.  Apparently he did so to destroy the evil that is Bray, and claims to have "exposed" him.  What does this mean?  I'm honestly asking that question.  What did Bryan mean when he shouted, enthusiastically, as though he had succeeded at something, that he had "exposed" Bray Wyatt?  Didn't we already know that Bray was a maniacal backwoods prophet, the sort of character one would find in The Hills Have Eyes or Deliverance?  How does kneeing him in the face expose anything?

Being that Bray and Bryan will be in a needless singles match at The Rumble, does this mean Bryan can still compete in the Rumble itself?  That hasn't been made clear (unless I've missed something).  Because the most logical Rumble winner is Bryan.  That will earn the biggest pop and be the most exciting thing to see, especially if he knocks out Punk to win (setting up that fantasy 'Mania main event).

The next mark in my notes is "#emmataining"?  An NXT female wrestler has taken to holding up a sign of her twitter account and the commentators are commentating on it.  Why?  Please stop.

Speaking of Twitter, and all its evilness, be sure to follow my other favorite wrestler @MaximusWrestler.  Or else!

Just kidding.  I just wanted to use that gif.

Anyway, the rest of the night can be summed up as follows: Kane is boring, Punk won an entertaining match against Billy Gunn, there was an earnest tribute to Mae Young that was awkwardly followed by Rey Mysterio's entrance music (let's mourn the honored dead...okay now let's have fun again!), Del Rio got Batista-bombed (apparently he and Batista have been engaged in a manly), Big Show came out to zero-pop and had a tedious spot with Brock, AJ & Tamina lost to tons of funk, and I have no idea why anyone likes The Usos.

Me...watching The Usos.
The night ended with a decidedly dull contest between Orton and Kofi (Kofi's tights are the worst tights to ever tights.  I know that's a small gripe, but gear is a major factor in a wrestler's success and Kofi will never get over looking like that).  Orton's slowness has been problematic for a while now.  He takes methodical-pace way too seriously, to the point where, whilst watching the match, I forgot I was watching something. 

It was funny seeing Cena's arrival via backstage parking lot cam.  He looks like, and runs like, a little boy, and there's something very awkward about seeing him in his colorful gear outside of an arena or wish-granting scenario.  It's as though he ran from last week's RAW all the way to this week's in a Forest Gump-like jogging adventure.

I enjoyed his brawl with Orton, how it continued all the way up through the bleachers, through a skybox, and out onto the street where Orton apparently commandeered a vehicle and took off into the night.  Add car thief to his long list of evil deeds.

Perhaps my cold heart is melting, but I actually enjoyed watching Cena come back inside and shake people's hands.  It was fun to see how excited the kids got if they were lucky enough to get patted on the head - as though they've just met Santa Clause and their lives are made.  I did happen to notice that he paid particular attention to those kids confined to wheelchairs or afflicted with a syndrome, which is cool, but I couldn't help but feel bad for those overlooked kids who watched with envy and dismay as their idol passed. 

"Nope.  No head-pat for you."
The Royal Rumble is this Sunday, and with any luck, The Road To Wrestlemania will be paved with style and smarts.  This is an exciting time in wrestling, the beginning of the best time of the year, in fact, so let's pick our favorites and act accordingly!  The super bowl of wrestling awaits!

I know who I'm rooting for, against all odds:

Feel free to comment below with your own hopes, dreams, thoughts, and predictions.  Live long and prosper. 

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