QUESTION OF THE DAY: What needs to happen on the 1,000 episode of Raw for it to be successful?
Doctor's Orders: The Money in the Bank Report (Preview, Review, and Aftermath)
By The Doc
Jul 21, 2012 - 11:47:18 PM
Preview Watching based on reputation, not hype
Review The Money in the Bank Report
Aftermath 1,000 Episode Needs to be More Than Nostalgia
Finally, The Rock will come back to Monday Night Raw (again). Brock Lesnar will give an answer to Triple H’s Summerslam challenge. John Cena will cash in Money in the Bank to try and take CM Punk’s WWE Championship. Degeneration X will have a reunion to open the show. Christian will defend the Intercontinental title. The new Raw General Manager will be revealed (though, admittedly, I couldn’t care less about who the authority figure ends up being, as it’s a played out angle and I don’t think it’s necessary to have a television character play the role of GM). And to top it all off, Daniel Bryan will attempt to marry AJ Lee…
That last part just puts the icing on a very historic cake, doesn’t it?
The 1,000th Raw episode will feature quite a few of the personalities, angles, and championships that have allowed Raw to have a near 20-year history. It’s amazing to think that it’s been that long – almost 20 years. I remember watching that first episode and, while I can’t stake a claim to have watched every single one of the 999, I’ve definitely seen most of them. If you strip all of the internet negativity surrounding the move to three hours (which is warranted) and the general malaise of the product in recent months (that’s typical for this time of year), then you have to sit back and appreciate the WWE’s accomplishment, here, don’t you? ONE THOUSAND episodes? It’s astounding. I had one of my casual fan friends over the other day to catch up and we got to talking about Raw’s 1,000th. He asked if that was more than Seinfeld, the Simpsons, Friends, etc. When I told him to remember that those shows only had 20 some odd episode seasons every year – and he started to do the math – it dawned on him and me that 1,000 was an incredible number…an amazing feat.
With that being stated, I’m pretty excited about this show. I’m certainly more engrossed in it than I have been the last three PPVs, in terms of the hype. My hope is that the WWE can deliver. It’s that simple and that complicated. The theme that I would like them to take that would differentiate this year’s “special” milestone Raw from so many of the others dating back to Raw’s Homecoming in 2005 is a focus on using the special appearances to build interest in current characters. Most nostalgia shows on Raw are, in all honesty, some of the worst television produced all year by the WWE, especially in recent years. Those shows have been completely lacking in forward-thinking. I don’t believe Raw 1,000 can afford to repeat that mistake. The WWE is in a sticky situation right now, in that ratings are actually pretty lousy. I don’t care about ratings that much, but a colleague brought up earlier in the week a point about football season being on the horizon and the drop in viewership that comes with it. Well, as long as I’ve been on the net, Raw has averaged above a 3.0 rating. With NFL coming back soon and the WWE barely holding onto what I’d consider it’s “bottom line” rating, it’s going to be a tight race to see if the WWE can maintain its minimally acceptable average. Thus, this cannot be just a fun, one night nostalgia act. Instead, every piece of nostalgia needs to build to something – like Summerslam (or at least getting people's interest up).
Refocusing on Summerslam would be smart. The WWE has been so lax in the last few years in putting something BIG together for its second biggest event. The Royal Rumble thrives because it’s associated with Wrestlemania, so the lack of hype they put toward that event doesn’t have too big an impact on the buyrate. Summerslam stands alone, though, and they’ve got to work harder. Recent years have seen feuds be rushed, mishandled, and poorly developed at the top of the card and the storylines be virtually non-existent in the mid-card. What once was a destination event for major happenings second only to Mania in stature is on a four-year hiatus of any such occurrence being historically relevant when put into the Wrestlemania era context.
Nothing crazy needs to take place at Raw 1,000. We’re past the point where shocking everyone works. We just need logical, reasonable things to happen to advance and enhance a story. For instance, Brock Lesnar needs to come out and maul the entire Degeneration X stable by catching them by surprise. Like Bane in the outstanding Batman trilogy’s conclusion, Lesnar needs to be presented as an unstoppable force that Triple H will ultimately rise up to try and stop. Imagine everyone being so excited as not only Trips and HBK, but Road Dogg and X-Pac (maybe even Mr. Ass?) reunite for a seemingly special reunion, only for Lesnar to come out of nowhere and destroy them all? That opens the show – that sets the tone – that sells tickets and PPV buyers for Summerslam (or at least gets some people to tune in the following week – and Lesnar better be there!)
I imagine that Steve Austin will be on hand, probably to end the Heath Slater angle. If that’s the case, please allow some fresh, young talent like Dolph Ziggler to get some shine from him. Or, if Austin does intend to get back in the ring at Mania 29, then let’s get CM Punk out there to test the waters and gauge the fan interest in that match. There’s not one legendary figure on the show this Monday that should not be seen on-camera with a newer, current superstar. Ziggler, Punk, Sheamus, Del Rio, Cody Rhodes, etc. All of them should be involved in a segment with a star from the past. Ziggler made a claim about Bret Hart last week; perhaps those two could have an in-ring segment and perhaps Jericho can get involved given his relationship with the Hitman from years past? The wedding also provides a great opportunity to get many legendary figures on television, but all in the context of making Daniel Bryan out to be a bigger star.
These are simple, no-brainer ideas.
The main point of interest, for me, on Monday will be the WWE Championship situation. The Road to Wrestlemania featured many columns building up The Rock as an all-time favorite of mine. Anything that he’s involved in will grab my attention, but especially when it involves him gearing up for another potential match down the road. John Cena has already announced his intention to cash in his Money in the Bank contract on CM Punk. Such an occasion seemingly calls for a title change, but I’m hoping that isn’t the case. Punk could use some more rub from Cena…and he could really benefit from doing something with The Rock. I am unsure how Rocky factors in, here. I’d like to see the second hour of Raw open with Rock-Punk-Cena in the ring, jaw-jacking and jockeying for their respective positions, to be defined by their words that night. Is Punk vs. Rock on the horizon at some point? That would be one of the best options, in my opinion. Punk could use a big name putting him over to get to the next level in his career…or to at least have the chance.
CM Punk is in a unique position right now. He is not the face of the company, but he is the long-reigning champion. Can he be what John Cena has been, only to the next generation of fans? That’s a legitimate question. It wouldn’t hurt the WWE to have two guys at or near the same level to appeal to multiple sects of the fan base. Cena can continue to play his role to the kids, but Punk can be “The Man” for the rest of us. In a Rock-Austin-lite kind of way, that is a scenario that might prove financially fruitful and help the WWE take things in a different direction. In order for that to happen, though, Punk needs to catch up to Cena. He obviously is not viewed as the top guy, given that he has main-evented just one of the eight PPVs in which he has defended the WWE Championship during his current run with the title. Beating Cena again is a good thing, but imagine if Rock were to put him over? That takes Punk to another level.
You see, CM Punk is right about where Edge and Randy Orton have been at their heights, even though he isn’t a heel like they were. He’s playing second fiddle to the real star of the show. He’s a very important second fiddle, but that’s still his place. Batista’s level would be his next hill to climb. The Animal was the type of star for which an argument could be made for his being on a level playing field with Cena. If he can get there, he’s in a good spot, but don’t we want him to be at Cena’s level? Or at least close to it? He needs to beat Cena to do that. He can’t have his title reign end on television to the one guy his biggest fans least want to see him lose to and it not knock him down a few pegs, can he?
Yet, it would seem logical for Cena to regain the strap, wouldn’t it? He’s the WWE’s golden boy and nearly a year of not being champion has done little to change that. Why wouldn’t they just put the belt back on him, stamping him as the leader of this generation for any unique viewer tuning in to see stars of the past? It has been done before, but the WWE doesn’t seem to mind reminding everyone that it’s the “Cena Era.” Plus, does it not seem that a Rock vs. Cena rematch is on the horizon? Remember the rumored scenario of Rock vs. Cena facing off in a three-match series? Wrestlemania 28, Summerslam, and then Wrestlemania 29? That’s still viable, based on both of them being in the title hunt on Monday.
Logical as it may seem, I just don’t want to see Cena regain the title. I don’t want to see Punk lose that title until he has been built up to Cena’s level. Fans of all sports, wrestling included, have a short memory. Punk beating Cena twice last year isn’t on anyone’s mind if Cena beats him in two days. No way, no how. I think Punk has to win, even if they plan to go with Rock-Cena II. We know Rock vs. Cena can sell tickets without the title, so it’s focusing on the short-term at the expense of the long-term if they rush the belt onto Cena just so that he can face Rock with the strap on the line. Punk remaining champion still gives us hope that something might change for the better in the not too distant future; something that will infuse the product with a breath of fresh air that we initially took in a year ago. If Cena wins, nobody will be surprised and the product will suffer for it. That’s one man’s opinion, but it’s a man’s opinion who is teetering on the edge of not caring to watch until later in the year when the focus shifts back to Wrestlemania season.
The WWE has a chance on Monday to present a product that is moving forward into the future, even in using superstars from the past to help get it there. There is certainly a lot of intrigue and much speculation stemming from what they COULD do. What will define the success of the 1,000th episode of Raw is what they end up doing. For once, I’m going to make a leap of faith and state that they will rise to the occasion for this special television event.
Match 1: Dolph Ziggler won the World Heavyweight Championship Money in the Bank contract in 18:30 (***1/4) (A couple of early botches provided these seven guys something to overcome. I dislike Sin Cara. The experiment has failed and he does not appear willing to improve. Let’s move on from him. A lot of guys were sloppy throughout the match, so it wasn’t the usual clean and crisp stunt match that we’ve grown accustomed to. Ziggler and Rhodes were clearly motivated to act the part of the favorites that they had been pegged as, pre-match. I was impressed with Tyson Kidd. He worked his ass off and tried to pull off some innovative spots. I’m not sure if it was the type of performance that will get him more time, but the WWE needs a replacement for Evan Bourne and Kidd seems to have a better head on his shoulders. Guys like that will always find a place. “You can’t hold down talent.” I was happy to see Ziggler win the match. Here’s hoping he can be the type that cashes in, wins, and makes such a strong impression on the higher ups that it solidifies his place at the main-eventers table rather than just allowing him a chance to sit at it for a few months)
Match 2: Sheamus retained the World title in 14-minutes (***) (Good match for the WHC between Sheamus and Del Rio, who worked over the champion’s arm as per the storyline. I thought the crowd was interesting, as they were chanting for Del Rio in spurts and Sheamus in others. I thought they had a few uncharacteristically sloppy moments, as well. The opening match always sets the tone and apparently tonight it the tone for people to screw up. Here’s hoping the match that follows will stop that dead in its tracks. Sheamus needs a feud he can sink his teeth into a bit more. Maybe Orton turning heel on him would get the job done - or maybe ruin the Celtic Warrior’s face run, depending on how it plays out. I am happy for the guy to be doing so well, in the ring, as champion. I hope he hangs onto the belt for a long time and gets more and more over, but I think it’ll take him doing more on the character-side to really get over to the point that they’d like him to be. His pre-match promo was just more of the same, solid interview work he’s done for months. I want to see more, though; and he’s capable of more. I wonder how much longer Del Rio will maintain his headlining spot)
Match 3: Primo and Epico beat the Prime Time Players in 7:30 (**) (It’s a shame that the WWE doesn’t feature tag teams on TV so that their PPV matches might get a reaction instead of the other way around. Yet, I guess we’ll take what we can get, as both teams bring something good to the table. I like the dynamic of AW and the PTP-ers. Primo could be a star if he could talk like his brother could, but I’m not sure if he can or can’t. Surprise to see the #1 contenders lose. Kofi started off promising as a guest commentator, but he and Truth were mostly forgettable out there at ringside)
Match 4: CM Punk retained the WWE Championship in 28-minutes (****) (You had to expect going in that there would be a lot of storyline-driven stuff going on, but I still expected that it would be a great match. I thought it was a very good match, bordering on fantastic. These two guys just know what to do and when to do it. I ended up ordering this PPV to support CM Punk and Daniel Bryan with my dollars and cents. I just feel like Punk, in particular, is on a roll like we don’t get to see very often. I’ve been watching old HBK and Bret Hart matches in preparation for a major writing project down the road and I remember how consistent that those guys were in putting on four star matches. That’s what really hooked me for life, was matches of their caliber. Punk has been doing that during his entire title reign, continuing with his performance tonight. They beat the hell out of each other tonight. AJ was solid in her role and she continues to shine in the facial expression department. A lot of the guys could learn from her, in that regard. The drama was there during the climax and I thought they all did really well to play into the storyline leading in, while also making sure that the title was in focus. If this was a test given to all three of them to see if they could pull this off, then I think that they all passed with flying colors. This was an engaging piece of work that the crowd was into throughout. It is a testament to their work that pretty much nobody got a reaction anywhere close to what they’d got when they all came out and performed this match. Memorable, entertaining, and 4-star)
Match 5: Ryback defeated Reks and Hawkins (“Sin City Cyborg” is a good nickname for the already nicknamed Ryback. It was the most competitive match that he’s had, yet. He did alright selling until he made his comeback, but there’s just not much to comment on. He is getting the “Feed Me More” catchphrase over with the audience, but the people were mostly dead for this)
Match 6: The Divas had a match (n/a) (Why not just let Beth and Layla continue their series? Most of these other girls aren’t even on TV, so why should anyone care if they’re on the PPV? I certainly don’t)
Match 7: John Cena won the WWE Championship contract in 20-minutes (***3/4) (You know, this just wasn’t your typical MITB ladder match, by any means. The players involved all had experience in ladder matches, but all of them are past the point where they need to be risking their bodies to get noticed. So, this was more like the TLC match we saw between DX and JeriShow from a couple of years ago. It was a damn good match, with solid pacing and well-timed sequences. Jericho provided yet another classic ladder match moment when he got knocked away from Big Show’s giant ladder – a sight in and of itself that we first saw two years ago – while hanging onto the cable attached to the briefcase. It was a smart ladder match. Each guy got their face time, Miz included. Miz, by the way, looks right at home with those guys. Push having been up and down or no, I think he just fits in. I hope his push resumes. Anyhow, little touches like trying to bury Show under a bunch of ladders, Show retrieving his mega-reinforced ladder, and the manner in which most of the false finishes were handled made this match quite good. What it did lack was someone willing to do something like we from Tyson Kidd in the opener, but that’s OK. I liked the strategy of making the two matches different in their general approach. Cena winning is not surprising. I’ll be curious to see how he does the cash-in. That’s the main reason I thought it’d be good for him to win. It’s not in his nature to be cheap, so I envision that he may perhaps hang on to that contract for a dance with Rock down the road or a scenario where he challenges Punk at Summerslam to boost the Lesnar-Trips match with a big babyface rematch from a year ago)
Money in the Bank 2012’s Final Score: **3/4 - I enjoyed watching some wrestling tonight. We’ve had a lot going on, personally and professionally, so it was good to view something that didn’t warrant me fast-forwarding through the majority of the show to actually see some professional wrestling. The Punk-Bryan match was worth seeing, mainly. The ladder matches are always fun in their own, unique way. I’m very happy for Dolph. I hope he can make the most of that opportunity. I’m glad to see Miz back with a bit of a fresh look in his grooming style. I don’t think this was anywhere near the level that the first two MITB PPVs were, mainly because the quality of the two MITB matches in 2010 and 2011 were just so much better. These weren’t bad, but they were more like Wrestlemania 22 and 26 matches, respectively, whereas 2010/2011 each had great ladder matches akin to Mania 23 and 24.
Money in the Bank, one of the WWE’s best PPVs of the year in its two year history, is upon us. As Raw prepares for its likely ill-fated change to 3 hours per week later this month, we can only hope that MITB delivers as it has in the past. The line-up looks like it will, though there is not a match like CM Punk vs. John Cena or even the pair of ladder matches from the year prior (which were loaded). Unlike last month, my interest is strong enough to still want to see this PPV. The WWE knows how to book multi-man ladder matches. The quality of those bouts has become as automatic as any gimmick that they have to offer. The title matches this year aren’t quite the pair that we saw in 2011, but they’re still going to be good to great in their own right.
Admittedly, if I choose to order or go to the bar to see this, it will largely be based on the reputation of the event rather than the hype. Raw, as of late, has been full of filler that can be expected from the non-Wrestlemania months. I feel as though I have had to fast forward through most of both shows, actually – like 60% or more of each. Michael Cole has been getting a lot of TV time, for instance, and that’s just not something I have any interest in seeing (75% of the fans wanted to see Cole vs. Lawler?). All that backstage hoopla during the Great American Bash Smackdown didn’t do anything for me either. In general, I’m having a hard time getting invested in a lot of the characters and feuds. It seems to me that almost everyone is just going through the motions. I usually get the feeling, around this time of the year, that the WWE would benefit from some sort of off-season in the late spring and early summer. I’m definitely back on that bandwagon right now.
Take Big Show’s character – there’s nothing wrong with what he’s saying or doing, but his being in a top spot is like Ohio State being in college football’s national championship a few years back. That Buckeyes team was good and you could argue that they deserved to be there, but you pretty much knew how it would all play out in advance. LSU waxed their behind to confirm it. It’s only a matter of time before Show goes back to the mid-card. The only feud I might get interested in with Show is if he were to face Punk and put him over. For now, I’m just bored with the guy. I’ve got a lot of respect for him, but I’ve seen him at the top and I know what’s likely to happen. Cena is spinning his wheels, Jericho has nothing to sink his teeth into, and most of the guys in the mid-card that I want to hear speak are wrestling throwaway tag matches twice a week, replaced by Santino looking for a leprechaun under the ring or other such drama surrounding the ridiculously played out authority figure role.
Again, this is to be expected of the WWE during these months, though. Years ago, I would have been far more upset about it than I am today. There’s literally nothing within my power to stop it other than to point it out to you and encourage us all to do what is so difficult – not watch and not buy (and if you’re there live – don’t react; sit on your hands). However – and I’ve been saying this for a long time now – everything in the WWE these days that doesn’t take place during Wrestlemania season or some random hot angle that gets going in spite of the WWE decision makers…happens on PPV’s like Money in the Bank. The sports bar has become the wrestling safe haven, for me. It’s where I actually get to watch professional wrestling instead of the mindless, discombobulated drivel on TV.
So, this Sunday what I want to see is the rematch of the Judgment Day bout between Punk and Daniel Bryan that I was fortunate enough to see live two months ago. Punk and Bryan tore the house down in Raleigh at Over the Limit and their story has blossomed ever since. I criticized the WWE like crazy back then for not hyping that match, but nowadays it is that match (and that match only) that seems to be getting any kind of significant promo time. Every week, Punk and Bryan are out there talking and it’s one of the few redeeming qualities of the shows. AJ Lee has been a surprise hit in this whole scenario. She has worked her way from backstage segments to an every week interview on Raw and Smackdown and, as my wife aptly put it last weekend when we were watching Smackdown, “She’s the most interesting thing on there.”
AJ is someone I’ve taken a “wait and see” approach with. To be critical, I think she takes too long to make her verbal points. I cannot tell if she’s acting like she’s conflicted or if she’s trying to remember her lines. I will give her a ton of credit, though, for her facial expressions and her ability to stay calm under the pressure of performing with two of the WWE’s most over acts. She has the demeanor of a star that reminds me of Trish Stratus. Not since Trish has there been a female personality capable of being featured in so many live segments. She has an unpredictability about her that has helped take the Bryan-Punk feud from getting pushed aside by whatever boring segment Cena and Big Show were conjuring up to two consecutive Raw main-event time slots. Interesting that a female that was jobbing to all the divas eight months ago is doing what the WWE Champion and his top challenger couldn’t do in two months of feuding.
This feud will end up being a good thing for CM Punk, I think. It is not the typical thing that we’ve seen of Punk. Instead, it’s allowing him to branch out and do more of the “sports entertainment” that will show the higher ups that he’s capable of being a long-term player at the top. Sunday, he’ll get a chance to add his professional wrestling touch to it all, but he’s done pretty well with the challenge of acting and reacting (emphasis on pretty well). Daniel Bryan continues to deliver. He’s done a better job than Punk through all of this. In a million years, I’d never have guessed that there was such a good sports entertainer (I went back and deleted that term twice before I decided to keep it and mini-rant on doing so) underneath the surface of the consummate professional wrestler. I hope Bryan is not just a flash-in-the-pan main-eventer…I really enjoy the hell out of Daniel Bryan’s character. It’s nice to have two top talents that can talk and then steal the in-ring show every night. Guys like them have been missing since Eddie Guerrero died and Kurt Angle retired (he may as well have, to me).
The match for the World title should be good. I think Del Rio is better off staying mostly on Smackdown, where he can be hidden from the lukewarm crowd reactions that he often gets live. He is a capable headliner who can be relied on to have good matches with the champions, even though I don’t think he’ll be getting the belt back anytime soon. I am mildly looking forward to Del Rio vs. Sheamus on Sunday, just as I was last month when plans got changed at the last minute. When put in title matches on PPV, Del Rio delivers every time – against Edge, Christian, Cena, and Punk. Sheamus is working hard to get over and he should have another strong title match on his resume by the time MITB is over. I question, though, whether or not his push can last if he doesn’t start getting more chances to talk. The babyface character is hiding his ability to cut a promo, which I always thought he did very as a lead heel. I would like to see them give Sheamus a feud that he can really sink his teeth into. Notice how he has not once been given a storyline of any substance. We won’t know how good he can be as a top babyface until he gets a major story to work with. Perhaps a long program with Randy Orton can give him that for Summerslam and beyond.
The two MITB matches each look promising for different reasons. I’m intrigued by putting four guys of extensive main-event pedigree into the ladder match for the WWE Championship contract. Cena, Show, Kane, and Jericho have a not-so-interesting dynamic going with their halfhearted attempt at a feud, but they each know how to turn up the heat when match time comes. I think we can expect that they’ll deliver a near-four star match to further the legacy of the gimmick. I expect that Cena will win, for some reason. He doesn’t need it, but neither do the other two. I think Show winning would be interesting since that’s how he lost the World title in 45 seconds last December. That’s certainly another legitimate option. I do not think Kane or Jericho has much of a chance, but I’d say Jericho has an outside shot.
The more exciting of the two should be the other one. What we know is that somebody that could use the MITB match to springboard their career to the next level. A guy like Dolph Ziggler is right on the precipice of consistently being a major player, taking small steps each of the last few years and passing each test. The question is whether or not he needs MITB. I don’t like the cash-in concept and haven’t liked it since Punk did it twice. I thought it was stale after Edge doubled it up. So, it’s been a long time since I’ve liked the payoff for MITB. Nevertheless, if he does win and does cash in then that means he’s World Champion – and that is something I’m ready to see and that I think he’s ready to be. Cody Rhodes is another option. Perhaps the most character-driven star, potentially, of all the young guns, Cody has the ability to do something different with the briefcase than any of the others. He has the ability to speak in a manner that can alter the surface perception of what it means to hold the contract. If there is a creative way to cash in that nobody has thought of, yet, then I’d put my money on Cody being the one to execute it. There’s some untapped potential for the moniker of “Mr. Money in the Bank” and I’m betting on Cody to do the untapping.
I think it’s clear that one of those two will win, but I wouldn’t count out Damien Sandow as one of those “The IWC knows the outcome, so we’ll prove we can shock them” type deals. I like Sandow…a lot. I think he is an entertaining character with something to say and a unique way to say it. He is not just the average new guy, in that regard. His winning would then require an immediate monster push, in my opinion, but it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they rolled the dice on someone completely new and different.
Should be a good night for WWE…