Writer's Note: I'm really shocked at the mixed reaction from last night's RAW. I've seen countless people swear it was a trainwreck of a show, but I've also seen lots of praise for last night's episode. Quite the mixed bag for a show that featured Daniel Bryan vs. CM Punk, no Triple H or Undertaker, and a loooooong promo from The Rock. Personally, I really enjoyed the show, and here's why.
First and foremost, RAW did an excellent job of both starting and continuing storylines heading into Wrestlemania 28. In fact, everything that took place on RAW - besides that waste of time match between Kelly Kelly and Nikki Bella - happened for a reason. Rather than focusing on only the main-event, top-attraction matches, WWE allotted time to promote other, unannounced Wrestlemania matches (Epico & Primo vs. ??, Cody Rhodes vs. The Big Show potentially happening, The Miz's losing streak, etc.). In other words, some people may not agree with some of the booking decisions, but there was very little filler on last night's show.
Speaking of odd booking, I totally understand why people would be upset about the way Bryan/Punk III took place. Not only was the match barely advertised in advance, but the commentary was more focused on the Teddy Long/John Laurinaitis squabble, and Punk vs. Bryan wasn't the main-event, or even the 10pm main-event, despite it being world heavyweight champion vs. WWE champion. But still, we got Bryan vs. Punk for free, and once again, we got no clear winner. I have nothing to complain about.
As for Punk, words cannot describe how amazing his verbal exchange with Chris Jericho was. WWE actually gave them a good fifteen minutes to go out there and rip on each other. I find it so typical of the IWC that for so long they begged WWE for a Jericho/Punk feud, and now that it's finally happening, the majority of them aren't fully invested in the rivalry. Well, too bad for them, because I LOVED their mic work last night. Punk had me laughing with his jokes, Jericho had me in stitches with his facial expressions, and unlike Rock/Cena, neither one dominated the other, they were pretty evenly matched on the microphone. Kudos to both Punk and Jericho for bringing their A-game so early in the feud.
I hope I'm not the only one enjoying the Battle of the GMs because it has the potential to be one of the more interesting stories going into Wrestlemania. Honestly, on a card stacked with the likes of Rock vs. Cena, Punk vs. Jericho, and Triple H vs. Undertaker, who would have guessed a storyline involving Teddy Long and Johnny Ace (two guys who weren't very popular among the IWC not too long ago, and weren't on anyone's radar a year ago) would end up flowing so nicely. I still don't think having Teddy, Santino, Johnny, and Otunga ringside during Punk vs. Bryan took focus away from the match between champions. Instead, it told three stories at once - Punk vs. Jericho (who assaulted Punk with a wicked Liontamer post-match), Sheamus vs. Bryan, and the two GMs going at it. All in all, a very entertaining first hour of RAW.
Another bright side (no mizfan plug) of RAW was the surprising focus on in-ring action. Sure, the show may have started with a promo and ended with a really long one, but in addition to Punk vs. Bryan, we were also treated to a quick and fun match between Cena and The Miz, as well as an exciting triple threat match for the tag team championship. Normally, the Road to Wrestlemania is anything but filled with above-average matches on RAW or Smackdown!, but we got three good ones on the same episode. Once again, I can't complain.
I'm really curious to see what WWE has planned for The Miz at Wrestlemania. He's on quite the losing streak, but continues to compete in high-profile matches. Hell, Miz has been in the main-event of three of the past four Pay-Per-Views! I don't really see any superstar on the roster worthy of The Miz facing one-on-one at Mania that doesn't already have other plans, unless John Morrison is about to make a surprise return to the company? Yeah, probably not. I would love to see Miz find a way to insert himself into the Sheamus vs. Bryan match, but in all likelihood, Miz will compete in Money in the Bank (if it happens). Either way, Miz's Road to Wrestlemania is anything but certain, which makes it so exciting.
But alas, I'd be lying if I said RAW was a perfect show, because it wasn't. In addition to enduring Kelly vs. Random Bella Twin, we had to see poor Mark Henry get buried by Sheamus and Big Show (again), and of course, listen to The Rock cut one of the worst promos he's ever done.
Look folks, I'm not on TeamBringIt or TeamCena. I'm a fan of both men for different reasons, but come Wrestlemania, I don't care who wins and who loses - I just want to see a great match. One that's never been done before and should never be done again. Cena has his faults, and so does Rocky. While their feud has been anything but legendary, as a wrestling fan I can't complain. We're getting a dream match, so let's see how it turns out rather than analyze every little thing...
...Unfortunately, I threw that mentality out the window last night after hearing Dwayne ramble for fifteen minutes about God-Knows-What. I'm sorry, but after all the hype, all the anticipation, The Rock had no business closing the show and going on super-overrun with the promo he cut. Dwayne was more focused on getting stupid terms to trend on Twitter (as if there aren't enough already) than build heat for his upcoming match with Cena.
Yes, Cena did save the promo, and that's because he showed something that Rock didn't. To Cena, their match at Wrestlemania means the world to him, and he showed that intensity both last week and last night. But Dwayne, Dwayne cut a promo like he was promoting a movie, not one of the biggest matches in wrestling history. That's why Cena now has me solidly in his corner. Rocky may have been the most electrifying man ten years ago, but Dwayne sure isn't. Love him or hate him, Cena is THE man right now, and last night, he proved it.
Thank you WWE for putting on a great episode of RAW that did a fantastic job of hyping Wrestlemania next month.
BUT fuck you WWE for letting Rock cut that looong and boring promo. It turned an A show into a C show all by itself.
Oh, well. At least next week's show will be Rock-free, or Bringin' It Via Satellite. That's something to look forward to.
2. Day 2
Writer's Note: I have Thursday off work again (siiiiick) which means I get to watch Impact tonight, and in turn, put out a Pros & Cons for the show tomorrow afternoon. Therefore, I'm bumping this week's What If... column up a day sooner.
Today's topic comes at the request of several different people, and is one of my most requested scenarios to date. I can't please everybody, but I'll give it my best shot.
Triple H. The Rock. Mankind. Stone Cold Steve Austin.
What do these guys all have in common? Other than being future (and current) WWE Hall of Famers, as well as being some of the biggest names to ever lace up a pair of wrestling boots, these men were all key players in what many fans consider the "Golden Age" of professional wrestling - The Attitude Era. Obviously, these four men didn't produce three-four years of mind-blowing, shocking television all by themselves. Guys like Kane, The McMahon Family, Right To Censor, The Undertaker, The Brood, The Dudley Boyz, and even more characters helped make The Attitude Era a "must-see" generation of wrestling. It did not contain the highest quality of in-ring performances, nor was the booking perfect, but it was a good time to be a wrestling fan between 1998 and 2001.
You may have noticed the exemption of one name in particular from the above paragraph, that being The Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels. That's because in early 1998, fresh off the heels of The Montreal Screwjob which saw Michaels defeat Bret Hart for the WWF Championship, Michaels found himself in a feud with The Undertaker. At that year's Royal Rumble, Michaels and Undertaker would compete in a Casket Match, when tragedy struck, as Michaels badly smashed his back against the casket. Michaels was somehow able to finish the match, and would then compete in the main-event of Wrestlemania XIV, where he dropped the WWF Championship to Steve Austin. When Wrestlemania went off the air, the fans were greeted with the arrival of The Attitude Era as well as the end of an era, for HBK was forced into retirement immediately afterwards. Many people believed Shawn Michaels would never wrestle again - including HBK's very own doctors! - but he would shock the world by returning to WWE in 2002 as an active competitor, and would put on some of the greatest matches of his career.
However, the timing was bitter-sweet. Michaels was able to return at a time when a lot of big stars were retiring and provided a veteran presence the WWE badly needed from 2002-2010. Unfortunately, Michaels' injury also caused him to miss out on The Attitude Era, which saw many wrestlers take their career to new heights. Fans often wonder what would have happened had HBK been a part of The Attitude Era.
And so I ask, what if Shawn Michaels was never forced to retire in 1998?
I'm sure the answer most people would lean towards would be Shawn Michaels becoming an even BIGGER star than we view him today. After all, guys like The Rock and Stone Cold became household names during The Attitude Era. It wouldn't have taken much effort to make HBK (who was already one of the company's biggest stars since 1995, if not earlier) on par with those two greats. I mean, every single title was being passed around like a hot potato between 1998 and 2001. There's no doubt in my mind Shawn would have won the WWF Championship at least a few more times during that time period. In fact, the argument could be made that had Michaels remained as an active competitor from his wrestling debut until 2010, he may have become THE greatest superstar of all-time.
Unfortunately, it's not that easy. Shawn Michaels is not superman, after all. To assume that Michaels would have remained medically cleared to compete from the 1980s until 2010 is a bit of a stretch, don't you think? Hell, before Michaels retired, he was already dealing with personal demons. He was a spoiled brat backstage, and was going through a lot of issues in real-life. It was only during his retirement that Michaels took religion seriously and became a born-again Christian. To this day, there are many people who claim that finding God helped change Michaels' life for the better.
But Michaels wouldn't have only hurt himself had he not gone down with a major injury. I have a feeling his constant presence would have hurt the company and it's growth/transition period. When Michaels dropped the WWF Championship to Steve Austin at Wrestlemania XIV, it really was a changing of the guard. Stars of the late 80s and early 90s like Hulk Hogan, Bret Hart, and Diesel (Kevin Nash) had left for WCW. HBK was among the last of a dying breed. His retirement in 1998 almost forced WWE to push Stone Cold, The Rock, and even HBK's good buddy, Triple H, to the top of the card.
Now, by no means am I implying that The Rock and Stone Cold wouldn't have become mega-stars had Shawn Michaels stuck around for The Attitude Era - of course not. These guys were destined to break out and become huge names. But I do believe that if WWE had another main-eventer to use on television every week, we might not have seen as many guys given the ball to run with as much as we did.
The same logic applies for today's wrestling scene. If guys like Brock Lesnar or Batista were hadn't retired, they'd still be big stars. WWE would still use them as draws and feature them in prominent storylines. John Cena and Randy Orton would still be two of the biggest stars today with or without Batista and Lesnar on the roster, but chances are, we wouldn't see guys like Dolph Ziggler and Wade Barrett get as many whiffs at the main-event as they have recently.
Finally, if Shawn did not retire in 1998, I don't think he would have enjoyed the lengthy career that he did. He might have, since guys from the 90s like Triple H, Kane, and The Undertaker are still around, but can we know for sure that HBK would have been a member of the main roster from 2002-2010? No,we can't. In all likelihood, Michaels would have kept on wrestling, but on a limited power supply. By 2007/2008, Michaels could have been burnt out and demanded a schedule similar to that of Undertaker's in recent years. Instead, that 1998-2002 hiatus gave Michaels plenty of time to recharge his batteries, and do what many wrestlers are unable to - retire on his own terms.
I know a lot of people will argue that HBK would have been even more successful had he not missed four years of his career. While I see some truth in that, I can't agree whole-heartedly. The Shawn Michaels who was forced to retire in 1998 was not the same Shawn Michaels who returned in 2002 for one final and awesome run. Over a four-year span, Michaels had matured and became a better man, both inside and outside the ring. It's a shame Michaels wasn't given a chance to show what he can do during The Attitude Era, but in the long-run, that might have helped more than it did harm him.
What do you think? Do you agree that HBK's injury and premature retirement in 1998 was a blessing in disguise? Or did it leave a stain on one of the greatest careers in professional wrestling history?
3. Day 3
Writer's Note: Just a warning, today's column will be shorter than you're used to reading from me. I originally planned on doing a Pros & Cons for Impact, but I'm short on time. Besides, fellow Main Pager The Crow posted his Impact review, and his thoughts on the show are quite similar to mine. I highly suggest you give his column a read.
If someone at the start of the 21st Century told me that one of the Dudley Boyz would go on to have an amazing singles career in another company, I would have laughed in their face. Bubba and Devon were one of my favorite tag teams of all-time, no doubt about it, but as singles wrestlers? Get outta here. But I had to admit, if one of them had a chance of breaking out his own, it would have been Bubba. No offense to Devon, but I could never picture him with a singles championship around his waist.
Fast-forward to the present day, and we now have Bubba Ray Dudley (or Bully Ray, as he now calls himself) making waves as one of TNA's top heels. Folks, I'm not kidding. You've probably heard Crow, Hustle, or any columnist who follows TNA praise Bully Ray's character development in recent months. Well, seeing is believing. On a roster stacked with top-level heels like Kurt Angle, Jeff Jarrett (currently out of the storylines) and the world heavyweight champion Bobby Roode, Bully Ray is easily my favorite heel in TNA right now.
For those of you unfamiliar with TNA and their current storylines, shame on you. I mentioned it at the end of my Impact review last Friday, and I'll say it again. If you're not watching Impact on a semi-regular basis, you're really missing out. What they lack in star power and production they make up for in good matches and interesting characters. Unlike WWE, TNA devotes a decent amount of time into their Knockouts and tag team divisions. Hell, take last night's show for example. We got not one, but TWO Knockout matches, and the tag team champions (Samoa Joe & Magnus) competed in the show's main-event. How often does that happen on RAW or Smackdown!? Could you imagine Epico and Primo teaming with Chris Jericho to face CM Punk and two other superstars in the night's final contest? Probably not going to happen.
If you're still not convinced, then I suggest you make an effort to at least YouTube specific TNA wrestlers' promos and/or matches. Bobby Roode, Austin Aries, AJ Styles, James Storm, Christopher Daniels, and many more are carrying the show to new heights. But personally, Bully Ray is becoming the star of Impact. He's just an awesome heel. When he's in a match, for example, he's always yelling at the referee, or taunting his opponent. Not calling out moves, but being obnoxious. It's also the little things that make Bully so damn good. Last night, while Jeremy Borash was doing the main-event, in-ring introductions, Bully channeled Mr. Kennedy/Anderson and stole the mic from JB's hands to introduce himself. But that's not what made the segment great. Rather than giving the mic back to JB, Bully threw it on the floor, and JB had to bend to pick it up. It's little things like that which makes Bully Ray so hateable, so different, yet so good.
I could go on, but like I said, I'm short on time. The purpose of today's column was to get you to realize how good of a job Bully Ray has done since splitting with Devon last year. No one expected much from The Dudleyz the day they eventually split, but Bully is making a strong case that he's the Shawn Michaels of the duo every week he shows his face on Impact. Bully may not be a Daniel Bryan inside the ring, but he's decent, and his promos are amazing to watch and listen to. Seriously, if you've never heard Bubba cut a promo as 'Bully Ray', you owe it to yourself to YouTube it. I guarantee you won't regret it.
The bottom line is, Bully Ray is the shit. He is THE guy in TNA right now. If Roode wasn't doing such an amazing job in his own role, I would have ripped the company for not putting the world title around Bully's waist by now.
But don't worry. Bully Ray will one day become the TNA World Heavyweight Champion. It's just a matter of time.
4. Day 4
PRO: The Celtic Warrior, The Show-Off & The Cougar
Smackdown! begins with a promo from the 2012 Royal Rumble winner, and the man who sadly thinks he will main-event "main-event" Wrestlemania, Sheamus. I know a lot of people are still not impressed with Sheamus' mic work, but I can't understand why not. He comes across as a lovable guy, and very down-to-earth. I thought it was cool that he mentioned why he was a heel for the first half of his career, as you don't hear that too often. Anyways, I'm sure most people were expecting Daniel Bryan to come out and confront his Wrestlemania opponent, but instead we got Dolph Ziggler and Vickie Guerrero, which again proves the brand split is just about dead.
Now, I enjoyed the back-and-forth between both parties, but it's really time for Ziggler to ditch Vickie. He got a chance to cut a promo of his own, and a good one at that. I say keep Vickie away from Ziggler and let her focus on managing Jack Swagger and other people who need her in their corner, because Ziggler has out-grown her.
All in all, a good back-and-forth segment, which unsurprisingly led us into our first match of the evening...
PRO: Sheamus vs. Ziggler
Whenever Ziggler's in the ring, you can pretty much guarantee a good match is about to go down. Well, Sheamus was on fire last night as well, as the two worked hard to put on the BEST match of the evening. Seriously, this was a great TV match, and showed why both men are going to be major players in the near future. Of course Sheamus got the win with Finlay's Celtic Cross (that Michael Cole explained is now called 'The White Noise'), but Ziggler got in so many near-falls that he wasn't really hurt by the loss. It sucks that Ziggler is yet to make the Wrestlemania 28 card, but WWE would be fools to not give him a match at the big show for his constantly awesome work. Kudos to both men for putting on a great match.
PRO: John Laurinaitis
I'm really digging the backstage interactions between Teddy Long and Otunga/Laurinaitis. They're short, entertaining, and keep their feud from losing steam. Anyways, the reason Big Johnny gets a pro is because he continues to be the star of these segments. I don't know who's feeding Teddy these AWFUL one-liners, but Johnny plays off them brilliantly. He's just so smug, and with Otunga by his side, he has no trouble putting Teddy in his place. Seriously, Laurinaitis is quickly turning into one of the best non-wrestling personalities the company has seen in years. If Teddy comes out of this feud victorious, I'll be very disappointed (but I doubt WWE will go in that direction).
CON: Santino vs. Heath Slater
My patience for Slater is wearing thin. I understand somebody has to be the resident jobber, but why does Slater have to keep getting the nod? Can't they keep this fucker off television and use another low-level talent who's actually talented? Trent Barreta hasn't been on Smackdown! for months, neither has Tyson Kidd, and Yoshi Tatsu should be used more often. Each one of those guys are more talented than Heath Slater. Yet, they're forced to job on NXT and Superstars, while Slater and Jinder Mahal get to appear on Smackdown! almost every week. I just don't get it.
The only positives about this match were that it was short, Santino won, and he remains over. Good for him, but not good enough to make this match worth anyone's time.
PRO: Eve vs. Natalya
If you didn't watch the show, you're probably shocked I'm listing this as a pro, so let me explain.
By the looks of it, Natalya has turned face (or is in the process of turning). First, she stood up for Zack Ryder in the locker-room, then she wrestled the newly-turned heel Eve Torres (who is actually playing her role quite well, might I add). That being said, this was not awful, considering it was a divas match. Natalya is obviously no slack in the ring, and despite her faults, Eve can put on a decent showing when she wants to. Of course Eve got the win, via the most dominant finisher in the divas division, the roll-up, but like I said, there was nothing to make your scratch your eyes out.
It was also good to hear those "We Want Ryder" chants make their return. WWWYKI!
PRO: Cody Rhodes Awakens The Giant
When the Intercontinental Champion Cody Rhodes came out to cut a promo on The Big Show, it was pretty obvious Rhodes vs. Big Show was going to be officially announced for Wrestlemania. Lo and behold, that's just what happened, but not before Rhodes got in some shots on the big man. Fleeing into the audience was a nice touch, and I'm actually happy they'll be squaring off for the IC Championship at Mania. In fact, it's win-win any way you look at it. Cody gets another Wrestlemania match against a big star, the Intercontinental Championship will be defended at the show, and above all, we're being spared from seeing Show vs. Shaq. #ThankYouWWE
PRO: Mark Henry vs. The Big Show
I know it feels like we've seen these two behemoths face off one-on-one a dozen times since last summer (that estimate is barely an exaggeration), but I have to give them credit, they are yet to have a bad match. There's just a chemistry that exists between them that cannot be denied, and last night was no different. I was surprised that Big Show kicked out of Henry's World's Strongest Slam, but I understand Show has to look strong going into Wrestlemania, while Henry is being punished for wrestling injured (try and figure that one out). A good match and fitting conclusion to their epic feud.
CON: Drew McIntyre vs. Justin Gabriel
I wish I didn't have to list this as a con, as I'm a fan of both McIntyre and Gabriel, but this match was booked terribly. I know McIntyre has been on a crazy losing streak, but for someone whose job was on the line (for real this time), he lost pretty easily to a guy who is on TV every other week. I mean, where was the urgency from McIntyre? Where were the near-falls? WWE should have given this match much more time, because it felt like every other match McIntyre has competed in over the past year.
With McIntyre officially 'fired' after the loss, you can't help but wonder what's next for "The Fallen One". Does Laurinaitis re-hire him next week? Does McIntyre turn face? At least this storyline has FINALLY advanced.
CON: The RAW Rebound & Triple H vs. Undertaker Re-Visited (Again)
I never understood why WWE constantly replays the same video packages from RAW on Smackdown!. The blue brand draws just over half of RAW's regular audience, so chances are, most people have already seen these highlights on Monday's show. I know it's Wrestlemania season and WWE wants to push the rivalries on both shows, but at least cut them down or something. The two video packages took time away from both McIntyre vs. Gabriel as well as the main-event.
Obviously it's more important to promote the upcoming Wrestlemania main-events than give extra time to a midcard contest, but WWE could have balanced it out a lot better, if you ask me.
PRO: Randy Orton vs. Daniel Bryan
It was good to see The Viper back in action, and he looked great (#pause), which really makes me believe the concussion storyline was a work to get Orton off television and let him recover from his December injury that he returned too early from.
As for the match, it was short, but action-packed, and both men got in lots of offense. I was surprised to see Kane interrupt the match, as I was sure Orton would have been added to Sheamus vs. Bryan at Wrestlemania instead. However, it looks like we'll be getting Orton vs. Kane, and you know what, I can live with that. Orton keeps having awesome matches with pretty much anybody, and Kane rarely wrestles a bad match. If WWE can make this feud interesting - and I think they can - Orton vs. Kane should be a really good Wrestlemania match.
Oh, and Daniel Bryan continues to excel with his heel persona. From turning his hometown crowd against him to not bothering to get Aj out of Kane's path, Bryan is just so much fun to watch. I really hope Bryan and Sheamus get a chance to steal the show on April 1.
Youtube Worthy: Sheamus vs. Ziggler...Show vs. Henry...Orton vs. Bryan
Grade: B+ Very good show this week. In addition to the three great matches listed above, we got a new Wrestlemania match between Big Show and Cody Rhodes, Drew McIntyre finally got 'fired', and a new feud erupted between Orton and Kane. The only thing that hurt the show was the Santino vs. Slater match and the long video packages. Other than that, not much to complain about.
5. Day 5
When I woke up this morning, I was sure I would have to bust out a Pros & Cons for last night's episode of RAW since Hustle is still on hiatus. Fortunately, both Al Laiman and mizfan beat me to the punch by giving two different, but entertaining, RAW reviews. I suggest you check out both guys' thoughts on the show as they're both worth a read.
This welcome change of plans allows me to talk about something that the IWC has been buzzing about for weeks now. What, you ask? None other than the age-old rumor about a superstar or diva being "in the doghouse". For those of you relatively new to "smark talk", being in the doghouse means an employee is at the very bottom of a company's food chain. He/she is constantly losing matches, being booked horribly on television, and/or is suffering from a severe lack of TV time. This demotion or "de-push" may have resulted from something the worker did, something he/she didn't do, or could be happening for no obvious reason at all. Today, we're going to look at a bunch of names who seem to have found themselves inside WWE's dreaded doghouse and I'll decide whether they truly are in trouble or not.
Drew McIntyre: Let's kick things off with a guy who's so low on WWE's pecking order that he's actually been fired in the storylines. Honestly, I have no clue what they're doing with McIntyre. The guy has improved so much since his run as Intercontinental Champion in 2010, yet the company is letting a great talent go to waste (and robbing us of epic entrance music in the process). I know some people think McIntyre was initially punished because of his real-life girlfriend Tiffany's departure from the company, but a year-long backlash is a bit too much, if you ask me. Before McIntyre moved to Smackdown!, he was definitely in the doghouse, but not anymore. I'm still a firm believer that McIntyre's storyline with Teddy Long will end with 'The Fallen One' either turning face or reviving his career (as long as WWE doesn't give him that rumored Orlando Jordan gimmick).
Verdict: Escaped from the doghouse
Natalya: The only female to grace this not-so-awesome list just happens to be one of the best workers in WWE’s women division - go figure. While it appears that Nattie has turned face in recent weeks, her jobbing days aren’t behind her yet. If you remember the last time Natalya won a singles match, please let me know, because that losing streak of hers is almost as big as her behind (sorry, I had to say it). Now, if WWE had turned Natalya face sooner, they would have had enough time to build her up and book her against Beth Phoenix at Wrestlemania 28 in a dream match. Instead, it looks like she’ll keep putting over other less talented divas instead. I don’t think Natalya's in the doghouse - I’m pretty sure WWE just has no clue what they’re doing with the divas division, and they don’t care either way.
Verdict: Not in the doghouse
Mark Henry: If you’re Vince McMahon, how do you reward a fifteen-year employee who re-invented himself in 2011, helped carry Smackdown! through some dark times, and worked through not one, but two injuries? Simple - you job him out. You take all the credibility he built in the past six months and throw it out the window. I don’t know what Henry did to piss off the old man, but he’s paying for it. Since returning to action a few weeks ago, Henry has done nothing but lose. He lost to Sheamus, he’s lost to The Big Show - two guys who couldn’t get a clean victory over him less than a year ago. From the looks of it, Henry might not even be on the Wrestlemania card; the best he can hope for is to be included in the yet-to-be-announced Team Teddy vs. Team Johnny tag-team match. What a shame, considering so many people were predicting he’d be fighting for the world title at Wrestlemania instead. *sigh*
Verdict: In the doghouse
Brodus Clay: This one’s a bit tricky. In fact, a solid argument could be made for either side, especially since The Funkasaurus has been off TV for over a month now. However, I’m going to keep my optimist shoes on and predict Brodus Clay’s gimmick isn’t extinct, but simply hibernating until Wrestlemania is over. In a way, it makes sense. Clay isn’t quite ready to compete at the biggest Pay-Per-View of the year, especially with the card looking exceptionally strong this year. I don’t blame WWE for putting the character on hold for the time being. If guys like Dolph Ziggler and Kofi Kingston can’t get a match on RAW on the Road to Wrestlemania, then a squash match starring Mr. Clay shouldn’t make the cut either. I’m fine with WWE putting Clay on the backburner, just as long as they don’t leave him there.
Verdict: Not in the doghouse, but on a leash instead
The Miz: Last, but definitely not least, is the man who won’t be main-eventing this year’s Wrestlemania, The Miz. The IWC has turned on Mizanin so quickly since the R-Truth ‘accident’, it’s not even funny. People are so convinced Miz is in the doghouse that some are even predicting he’ll be released sometime this year.
Ummm, are you people serious? There’s no denying The Miz has been on a losing streak almost as long as Natalya or McIntyre’s, but de-pushed? How? I hate to sound like a broken record, especially if you follow my columns on a regular basis, but here’s a quick recap of Miz’s resume since late last year:
*Main-evented Survivor Series 2011 against John Cena and The Rock
*Main-evented TLC 2011 and competed for the WWE Championship against CM Punk and Alberto Del Rio
*Lasted longer than every other superstar in the 2012 Royal Rumble match
*Was the final superstar to be eliminated in the RAW Elimination Chamber match for the WWE Championship
Now, he may have lost all of those matches, but does that resemble someone who’s career is on a downward spiral? It’s not like Miz has been jobbing to Alex Riley again or competing on Superstars. Miz keeps putting over other big names. In fact, the only time Miz has truly been “squashed” was last night on RAW by The Big Show. He may not be winning his matches, but Miz remains in the spotlight, even to the point that he may ‘shock the world’ and do something huge at Wrestlemania, kind of like the way JBL promised he would make Wrestlemania history three years ago at WM25. Unlike JBL, I don’t think Miz will quit at WM28, but rather do something that puts these doghouse rumors to rest once and for all.
Verdict: NOT in the doghouse
What do you think? Am I right about who’s in and who’s out of WWE’s proverbial doghouse, or am I losing my marbles? Did I forget to mention someone, anyone?
6. Day 6
Every year, wrestling fans find a reason to get excited for Wrestlemania. Whether it's a dream match-up like Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant, Stone Cold vs. The Rock, or Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle, Wrestlemania almost always features a top attraction. This year, John Cena vs. The Rock is one of THE matches to order Wrestlemania for, since it's the first time it's ever been done, and is one of the few remaining match-ups longtime fans have left to see. However, if you're not feeling Cena vs. Rock (which is understandable), maybe you're more interested in seeing Chris Jericho and CM Punk steal the show, or watching Daniel Bryan and Sheamus make WWE regret bumping them off last year's card.
...OR maybe you want to see The Streak increase to 20-0 on April 1. After all, that's a foregone conclusion, isn't it? Even with the deck drastically stacked against him this year, The Undertaker will find a way to defeat Triple H at Wrestlemania, right? I mean, it's The Streak. It's untouchable, immortal, it can't be broken...right?
Well, says who? For years, the Internet Wrestling Community has never been fooled into thinking The Streak is in any real danger at Wrestlemania. There have been moments when we doubted ourselves for a split second (see: Undertaker vs. Randy Orton at Wrestlemania 21, or Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 25), but at the end of the night, we realized how foolish we'd been for letting the thought creep into our mind. The Streak is what makes The Undertaker a true phenom. As I mentioned in my "What If" column a few weeks ago, Taker is simply not the same without that mind-blowing Wrestlemania record.
But allow me to play devil's advocate and remind you of a certain newsbit from last week:
"Triple H has reportedly signed a new contract to remain as an in-ring WWE competitor until 2015." (or something along those lines)
Now, most people probably read that report and laughed out loud. I mean, come on - it's Triple H, the husband of Stephanie McMahon, and a leading candidate to take over WWE when Vince McMahon eventually steps down. What's the point of making him sign a contract if he's clearly not going anywhere?
Well, keep in mind that the report states that Triple H has signed on to continue wrestling for at least three more years. In all likelihood, he'll wrestle a schedule similar to Undertaker's, in which he only competes a handful times a year. But what if that's not the case? What if Triple H believes he has enough gas left in the tank to remain a full-time wrestler (minus live events) until 2015? If that is The Game's true intention, then you know what?
The Undertaker just might lose at Wrestlemania 28.
Think about it. Triple H is still in top shape, and Shawn Michaels may be retired, but if given the right incentive, he might be willing to come back for one last run. In case you haven't already guessed, I'm talking about Degeneration-X reforming and turning heel at Wrestlemania 28 to screw The Undertaker out of The Streak.
Obviously, the chances of that actually happening are slim to none. HBK is happily retired, and Triple H is getting used to his backstage duties. Not only that, but WWE's roster is stacked with amazing heels at the moment, and a heel DX at the top of the card would only take time away from the up-and-coming villians. Furthermore, Michaels and Triple H have already feuded with the likes of John Cena and Randy Orton. The only "fresh" feud for a heel DX would be against CM Punk, but they can't stretch that out forever.
Still, it's a theory worth considering. We "smart" fans have grown to expect the same thing from Undertaker since his epic battle against Batista at Wrestlemania 23 - a good match with plenty of near-falls, but there can only be one winner, that being the man with the Wrestlemania streak. However, WWE have never been afraid to take risks and "swerve" their fanbase, but would they go as far as to have HBK screw Taker at Wrestlemania? Such a move would get both guys an immense amount of heat, and they'll probably be booed for the rest of their lives for it. If you thought Canadian fans hated HBK after The Montreal Screwjob in '97, that's nothing compared to what would happen if DX re-unite and end The Streak on April 1.
What do you think? Is this nothing more than foolish fantasy booking on my part? Or is WWE actually crazy enough to have Taker tarnish his legacy by losing to Triple H (of all people) at Wrestlemania 28?
Only on The Road to Wrestlemania can we even begin to ask ourselves such questions...
7. Day 7
The date: July 17, 2011
The venue: The Allstate Arena (Chicago, Illinois)
The event: Money in the Bank
What's the best way to introduce arguably the best wrestling Pay-Per-View of 2011? You'll have to tell me, because I don't have the slightest clue. Going into the event, WWE had done a pretty good job in promoting the card. Big Show and Mark Henry were prepared to do battle in the first of what would later become many excellent matches; Christian and Randy Orton were trying to find a way to make their world title match as memorable as their earlier contests; the RAW and Smackdown! Money in the Bank ladder matches sold themselves, and each featured an interesting mix of competitors. Oh, and there was also a match between Brie Bella and Kelly Kelly scheduled to take place (whatever).
But any fan of the product last July was not buying the PPV for a surprisingly decent undercard. The match EVERYONE was talking about was WWE Champion John Cena vs. CM Punk. In fact, the match was built up so strongly, you'd think Money in the Bank was one of WWE's 'Big 4', and would eventually go on to overshadow the following month's SummerSlam (but that's a topic for another day). What made Cena vs. Punk a must-see match? It was without a doubt the sense of urgency that was built around the feud. You see, CM Punk's WWE contract was legitimately set to expire the same day as the MitB PPV, and WWE turned this into a full-blown storyline. The result? Wrestling fans (marks and smarks) had no idea what would happen at the PPV. Would Punk be used to put Cena over before leaving the WWE? Was the storyline a work? Was it real, with Punk seriously considering leaving the company as the WWE Champion? Would Cena be 'fired'?
These questions were so compelling, it made the seemingly thrown-together Punk vs. Cena feud an extremely hot commodity, and many fans listed it as their favorite rivalry of the year. Not only that, but it instantly put Punk back in the main-event spotlight, and many fans truly believed 'change' was coming to the WWE.
Unfortunately, despite a spectacular PPV showing, WWE dropped the ball on this storyline HARD the very next night on RAW. Instead of treating the new WWE Champion CM Punk as an outsider and having Vince McMahon lose his marbles over his top prize leaving the company, they immediately held a lame tournament to crown a "new" WWE Champion. Not only that, but Punk never had a chance to feud with Vince as he was brought back less than two weeks after MitB and feuded with Cena until SummerSlam, and later Triple H and Kevin Nash. Punk 'leaving the company' could have turned WWE upside down, but they took the safe route instead. Punk may be one of the top faces on the roster AND the WWE Champion today, but it's no thanks to the WWE writers and officials, that's for sure.
And so I ask, what if...CM Punk was kept off TV for two months after MitB?
Keep in mind I said "kept off TV" and not 'ignored'. This means Punk would have been able to do stuff such as 'invade' the WWE press conference at Comic Con (which was really cool, by the way). Actually, that's the direction WWE should have went right off the bat. Instead of rushing Punk back to television in order to drop the WWE title to Alberto Del Rio at SummerSlam, WWE could have held off on the Del Rio experiment and let Punk make headlines outside the company. Let Punk go to ROH and indy shows and flaunt his WWE Championship. Let him do interviews with the media and have him present himself as a 'man on the run'. Hell, Punk could even defend the title every 30 days at an indy show or school gymnasium in order to keep the title defense rule in effect. Meanwhile, WWE still could have held their stupid tournament and crowned a fake WWE Champion, except the "title unification" match would have happened at Survivor Series, not SummerSlam.
I mean, think about it. What did Punk returning to WWE television two weeks after MitB really accomplish? Sure, it gave him a huge win over John Cena at SummerSlam, and he was given another chance to main-event a PPV, but so what? Cena could have dropped the fake WWE Championship to Del Rio at SummerSlam, regained it at Night of Champions, Vengeance, or Hell In A Cell, and then put over a returning CM Punk at Survivor Series. Instead, we were left with a rushed Punk/Cena feud, a horribly booked Punk/HHH/Nash rivalry, and about a million title swaps between July and November. Oh, and who can forget that "amazing" main-event at Survivor Series between Cena/Rock and Awesome Truth, when we could have got Punk/Cena II instead.
In case you're getting the wrong impression, let me just say that in no shape or form do I think Punk was *BURIED* after MitB. Was it stupid to bring him back to television so soon? Yes. Was it stupid to take the title off him at SummerSlam? Yes. Was it stupid for him to lose to Triple H at Night of Champions? Yes. But like I said earlier, that did not stop Punk from rising back to the top and regaining the WWE Championship at Survivor Series. Somehow, Punk found a way to convince company officials to take a chance on him and push him as the new face of the WWE. Despite some bad booking, Punk now finds himself heading into Wrestlemania 28 as the WWE Champion.
However, Punk could have become an even bigger star than he is today had he not returned to RAW less than two weeks after MitB. I mean, the guy was 'gone' for one whole week - big deal! Punk returning so soon pissed fans off, and for good reason. They felt cheated out of the storyline going into the MitB PPV. Punk threatened to leave WWE with the championship and he did - for one whole week. That's like your parents taking away your driving license and saying you'll never drive again, only to return it one week later - what's the point? Had WWE taken a chance and done something a bit out of left field by making the fans truly believe Punk was no longer a WWE superstar, he could have returned as an even bigger star than before he left. But no, WWE was more concerned with pushing Del Rio and Triple H in their new roles, and we all know how well that turned out, don't we?
WWE screwed up with CM Punk between July and October, but fortunately, they made things right by booking him like a true champion since Survivor Series. He may be taking a backseat to Rock vs. Cena and Triple H vs. Undertaker going into Wrestlemania, but he's still the WWE Champion, and there's been no signs of him dropping back to the midcard when he finally loses the WWE Championship. 2011 was a rollercoaster ride for "The Best In The World", but Punk found a way to land on his feet.
Without a doubt, Punk should have stayed off TV for AT LEAST two months after his epic victory at MitB. Instead, WWE got anxious and rushed their storylines, and in the process, almost ruined Punk's monster push. Thankfully, Punk was able to overcome the bad booking and keep his name in the headlines. That being said, it would have been a lot more exciting had Punk not returned so soon. But that's WWE for you, always scared of taking chances when they have no competition.
What do you think? Would Punk be even more popular today had he remained off television after MitB? Or is his current position the best he could have ever hoped for?
Thanks goes out to everybody who submitted a topic for this week's "What If..." scenario, and as usual, don't be discouraged if I didn't pick yours. I don't plan on giving up this gig anytime soon, so just be patient, I'll answer your question - one day.