Last night’s RAW featured a lot of online buzz going into it thanks to rumors (coming from Dave Meltzer) that CM Punk would be returning to WWE after walking out of the company. Taking place in Punk’s hometown of Chicago, the crowd was insanely hot all night and chanting loudly throughout the night for CM Punk. Amidst all the speculation that the fans would hijack the show if Punk weren’t there, WWE did damage control by teasing Punk at the beginning and then letting the fans know he wouldn’t be there. They kept the fans interested in the show and tried to take ownership in a “hijacking,” and in the process delivered one of the best RAW’s in a long time.
Now on to what worked and what didn’t in this edition of RAW: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down.
- Paul Heyman / Brock Lesnar Opening Promo: WWE took a calculated risk by acknowledging CM Punk for the first time since he walked out and playing his music to troll the Chicago crowd by having Paul Heyman come out to it. Heyman’s promo was masterful work at working the crowd by blaming them for CM Punk not being here and then blaming the Undertaker to switch the attention from CM Punk to Brock Lesnar. Just an all around hot opening segment which ended with Brock Lesnar looking like a beast by once again demolishing Mark Henry.
- The Uso’s Win Tag Titles from New Age Outlaws: This gets a thumbs up simply for being a good match, and easily the best match the New Age Outlaws have had in years. So it’s the overall work involved that puts the match here, as I wasn’t the biggest fan of the titles changing hands. Don’t get me wrong, I want the Uso’s to be champions, but it felt too much like it was done to try and appease the Chicago crowd some. I would have preferred the Uso’s win the titles for the first time at WrestleMania. As is, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Outlaws win the titles back tonight. Still, good almost 10 minute match.
- Build Towards The Real Americans Splitting: For the second week in a row, Jack Swagger has gotten Cesaro DQ’d in a match against Intercontinental Champion Big E. Later in the night, Cesaro attacked Big E while he was wrestling Jack Swagger to return the favor. This time, Swagger pushed Cesaro who was going to lock him in the Giant Swing before being talked down by Zeb Colter. I don’t like Big E being wasted here, but the crowd is dying for Cesaro to break free and when he finally does snap the place will go wild. Cesaro is going to be a huge star.
- Wyatt Family vs. The Shield: This wasn’t the classic that their match at Elimination Chamber was, but it was effective at moving forward. The action was hot and these six men work well together, but the real story here was Seth Rollins walking away and leaving Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns to get beat. We’ve seen the friction between Ambrose and Reigns for over a month now, with Seth Rollins always being the peacekeeper. Last night, Rollins said he couldn’t be the glue that kept them together anymore. It appears we’re heading towards a triple threat match at WrestleMania between the Shield members, but after last night I kinda want to see Seth Rollins join the Wyatt Family.
- Daniel Bryan / Triple H / Stephanie McMahon Segment: This entire segment was gold. For the hate it gets, WWE is actually doing a really great job at booking Daniel Bryan going into WrestleMania. Triple H continues to deny Bryan a match, but of course we all know it’s going to happen. Triple H and Stephanie can really do some great work when it comes to getting under the crowd’s skin; the Chicago crowd even brought back the old classic “asshole” chant for Triple H.
- Batista vs. Daniel Bryan / Post Match Beatdown: Okay, the match itself wasn’t good but it was as good as Daniel Bryan could get out of Batista at this stage of his return and in the length of time they had. Batista was able to hit a few of his moves, but Bryan took it to him. As far the viewers are to believe, Daniel Bryan could have very well defeated Batista had Randy Orton not RKO’d him leading to Bryan winning via DQ. The post match stuff with Bryan fighting off Orton, Batista, and Kane before finally getting put down by Batista and then Pedigree’d by Triple H was well done. The ending seemed to point towards Bryan being added to the WrestleMania main event (if he can beat Triple H), which is what the crowd really wants. Great way to end the show.
- Overall Show: I have to give WWE a lot of credit. They went into a show that could have been entertaining and memorable for all the wrong reasons and totally took control of the situation and delivered one of the best RAW’s in recent memory. In the era of three hour RAW’s it isn’t common that the show flies by, but last night WWE really did give a three plus hour show that just flew right by. Yes, as you continue reading you’ll see some things in the “Thumbs Down” section, however there was nothing bad with the show last night. It was a strong show from start to finish and even helped to set the stage for tonight’s LIVE presentation of WWE Main Event on WWE Network.
- Santino/Emma vs. Fandango/Summer Rae: This was more or less comedy fodder to kill a couple of minutes and allow the crowd to come down a bit. I don’t care for Santino and his act, and I don’t want to see Emma hanging around Santino. The positive thing with this match though is that Emma was able to showcase a little more of her NXT offense than she was last week. Hopefully WWE can get past this comedy stuff soon and allow Emma and Summer Rae to have a real wrestling match.
- Christian vs. Sheamus: This match went about 15 minutes and was solid. It gets a thumbs down though because we’ve seen this same match several times now. If Christian and Sheamus are going to meet at WrestleMania (and they are, even though it hasn’t been announced), then I really don’t want to see them wrestling every week. After all, Christian and Sheamus don’t work so well together where they are able to have a different match every time; it’s pretty much the same every time. Christian brutally assaulting Sheamus backstage after the match was more in line with what I want to see going forward to WrestleMania between these two.
- The Bella Twins vs. Aksana/Alicia Fox: The match was okay, but pointless and we saw these four ladies hanging out backstage earlier in the night watching a preview of Need for Speed. Alicia Fox deserves better than wrestling in meaningless tag matches given how much she has improved.
- Dolph Ziggler vs. Alberto Del Rio: This match didn’t even last three minutes. It was complete throwaway to get Aaron Paul on the show and plug his Need for Speed movie. We’re a little over 30 days from WrestleMania, how about doing something with Ziggler and Del Rio that builds to their respective WrestleMania matches instead of doing nothing with either. Ziggler got the win, but who cares?
- John Cena Promo: Look I respect John Cena and all that he does. But his promo last night was one of the prime reasons why I dislike his character. His pandering to the crowd and “future goes through me” routine was basically the exact same thing we always get from Cena; like his greatest hits in one promo. Bray Wyatt’s promo on the Titantron helped save the segment, but not by much. Bray is one of the best promo guys WWE has had in years, and could be the biggest villain WWE has had in a long time. The Wyatt/Cena build needs to be kicked into high gear because right now it’s wasted time.
That does it for this week’s RAW: Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down. I’ll be back later tonight with the first Main Event: Thumb’s Up, Thumb’s Down.