WWE Raw Report
By: Todd Martin
Date: 07/23/12 from St. Louis, MO.
The Big News: Raw celebrated its 1000th episode with a star studded collection of returning wrestlers and a memorable CM Punk heel turn.
They premiered a new WWE logo video to start, reading “then,” “now,” and “forever.” The show then featured video of Raw moments throughout the years. There was plenty of good stuff in there, but also a heavy emphasis on the ridiculous and on celebrity guest hosts. They have a new set on the stage too. It looks good and is basically the same as before.
Vince McMahon came out next and thanked the fans for 1,000 episodes of Raw. The crowd chanted “thank you Vince” back. Vince then did the old “Welcome to Monday Night Raw” line that he used at the start of all the early episodes of the program. It was an appropriate start as I always liked that intro. He introduced DX.
Shawn Michaels and Triple H came out, doing the more recent version of DX with the glow sticks and merchandise. Michaels said it felt like they were missing something. HHH pointed out there used to be more of them. That got a big crowd reaction. HHH and Michaels pointed to the entrance way and X-Pac, Road Dogg and Billy Gunn came out in a jeep like the Norfolk WCW invasion. They all looked good.
Road Dogg did the old New Age Outlaws intro but wouldn’t say ass. HHH then did the old Are you Ready routine. HHH made a crack about being the only one left with a full head of hair, which broke up X-Pac. HHH said he’d see everyone for Raw 2,000. Billy Gunn and Shawn Michaels disagreed about who would get to get their spot in next. HHH said they didn’t want Shawn to lose his smile and pose in Playgirl. Michaels responded that he needed the money. Gunn and Michaels were about to do it again when Damien Sandow interrupted.
Sandow belittled DX. Michaels said he would go to a church and beg for forgiveness. Sandow said he knew DX could kick his ass, but that would make him a martyr for everyone who appreciated a sophisticated mind. DX huddled to decide what to do. Michaels then gave Sandow sweet chin music and HHH gave him the pedigree. Gunn said if you’re not down with that, they have two words for you. This was a very fun segment. It was funny and you could tell everyone was having a blast.
Sheamus, Sin Cara and Rey Mysterio beat Alberto Del Rio, Dolph Ziggler and Chris Jericho. Jim Ross came out commentate for this match but then unfortunately left. The heels worked over Cara, who tagged Sheamus. Sheamus avoided attempts at the Walls and code breaker but Jericho avoided the Brogue kick. Ziggler then took a cheap shot on Jericho and Sheamus hit the Brogue kick on Jericho for the pin. Clearly, Chris Jericho vs. Dolph Ziggler is the next program and hopefully it helps take Ziggler to a higher level.
After the match, the announcers spoke with Charlie Sheen via Skype. He appeared a few times during the show, putting over the things that happened. Backstage, A.J. told Layla she doesn’t know why people call her mentally unstable when the whole place is nuts. She opened a door to Jim Duggan, Roddy Piper and R. Truth jumping rope with Truth’s imaginary friend, and Mae Young with a guy in a hand suit claiming to be Young’s grown up son. Michael Cole did the exaggerated fake laugh for the lame comedy.
Brodus Clay beat Jack Swagger immediately with a splash. Dude Love cornered Clay and danced with him after the match. They cut to backstage, where Trish Stratus was trying to talk HHH into yoga. HHH was bending over with Stratus behind him when DX came in. This appeared to be playing off a similar gag HHH and Stratus did years back, but they seemed reluctant to be overt with the gag.
The 9PM hour featured the A.J.-Daniel Bryan wedding. Slick was the reverend for the ceremony but didn’t get much of a reaction. The crowd chanted what at him and then no at Bryan and A.J. They both said yes, but A.J. said she wasn’t saying yes to Bryan but to someone else who made a proposal to her earlier in the night. Vince McMahon’s music hit but Vince said it wasn’t that kind of proposal. Vince said he made A.J. a business proposal and she is the new permanent GM of Raw. A.J. skipped around and left. This wasn’t the best of payoffs.
After a commercial break, Bryan was flipping out in the ring. CM Punk came out to make fun of Bryan and say that he’s still the best in the world. Bryan said not only is he better than Punk, but he is the greatest WWE superstar of all time. That brought out Rock. Rock said Bryan doesn’t get to say who the greatest of all time is because the people do. Bryan started to interrupt Rock. Rock stopped him and pointed out he won his first WWE title in St. Louis.
Rock said he wasn’t there to talk about Frodo (Bryan) but the title. Rock announced that he will challenge the WWE champion for the title at the Royal Rumble. This got a shockingly non-existent reaction and I don’t really have any explanation why. It’s smart that they announced this on a heavily viewed show to get people thinking about ordering the Rumble next year. Punk vowed to be champion at that point and beat Rock at the Rumble.Bryan flipped out again and said this was supposed to be the greatest night of his life. He said he will be champion at Rumble and the face of WWE. Rock made fun of Bryan’s height some more, calling him an Oompa Loompa and Hobbit. Rock said he got Bryan a wedding gift and gave Bryan the rock bottom.
On the one hand, you could argue this segment elevated Bryan by having him interact with Rock and thus presenting him as someone important. On the other, you could argue Bryan was presented as a joke and mocked for his height. I guess I’m somewhere in between. I think they could build on this in a way to make Bryan more important but it also could end up more of a negative than a positive.
Bret Hart came out to introduce the Intercontinental title match. He mentioned that one of his greatest moments was winning the IC title from the great Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig. Miz then beat Christian to win the IC title. Miz avoided the kill switch but Christian hit a sunset flip off the second rope for two. Miz went after Christian’s leg. Christian went for the kill switch but Miz avoided it again. Miz went for the skull crushing finale but Christian avoided that and tried the kill switch a third title. Miz avoided it yet again and Christian landed gingerly on his leg. Miz then hit the skull crushing finale for the pin. Miz sold winning the title big, which was a nice touch.
The 10PM hour break featured the HHH-Brock Lesnar angle. HHH came to the ring. He said he wants to fight Lesnar at SummerSlam and wants his answer. Paul Heyman came out. HHH said he wanted to speak to the horse’s head, not the horse’s ass. Heyman said Lesnar’s answer is no. HHH threatened to go find Lesnar. Heyman said that would mean a third lawsuit against WWE. HHH suggested Lesnar is a coward. Heyman mocked HHH for name calling and asked if he teaches his kids to do that.
HHH knocked the microphone from Heyman’s hand and told Heyman not to talk about his kids. Heyman said he shouldn’t talk about them because the sins of the father will be visited upon the children. That brought out Stephanie McMahon. They openly acknowledged her as HHH’s wife and the mother of his children. Stephanie told Heyman not to speak about her kids. Stephanie said the lawsuits aren’t about Lesnar but Heyman’s business failings in WCW, ECW and WWE. Stephanie said compared to Vince, Heyman is in the rearview mirror. Where does that leave Stephanie? Stephanie added that at least Vince had the guts to wrestle HHH, which isn’t true of Lesnar.
Stephanie went further, saying that Heyman’s children are ashamed of him because their father is a professional parasite. She slapped Heyman. Heyman got mad and said Lesnar-HHH is on. Heyman realized he had been baited and said Stephanie always gets what she wants, just like Vince taught her and she teaches her children. Stephanie attacked Heyman. Brock Lesnar finally came out and fought HHH. HHH knocked Lesnar from the ring. I didn’t care for this angle. To me, HHH and Lesnar fighting is a perfectly effective direction and instead they’re building it through Stephanie vs. Heyman and lawsuits. Lesnar-HHH at SummerSlam just doesn’t seem like a big deal at all. Heyman was really great, though.
Lita beat Heath Slater. Howard Finkel introduced Slater. Slater challenged anyone to a no-DQ, no-COR match. Lita came out but said she brought protection. The APA joined her. Slater went to leave but all the legends Slater has fought brought him back to the ring. Lita hit a twist of fate on Slater. Bradshaw gave him a nasty clothesline from hell. Lita then gave him the moonsault for the win. Ron Simmons said damn. This was fun. Slater is perfect for this sort of foil role. There’s something annoying about him that makes it fun to see him get beat up and it isn’t like he has upper card potential.
Sean Mooney of all people interviewed Daniel Bryan backstage. Bryan was angry about the night’s events and complained. He was particularly angry at Charlie Sheen for making fun of him via Skype and said if Sheen were there he would put Sheen in the yes lock. Later, Sheen said he’d be happy to confront Bryan any time in Los Angeles. They teased an appearance by Sheen at SummerSlam, but it didn’t seem like they had a deal for that. I guess we’ll see.
John Cena, Zack Ryder and Gene Okerlund were talking backstage. Ryder thought Okerlund was behind GTV. Rock showed up and Okerlund left. Rock wished Cena good luck. Cena said he wanted another shot at Rock at the Rumble. Rock said he looks forward to that.
Kane came to the ring. He was interrupted by Jinder Mahal, Hunico, Camacho, Curt Hawkins, Tyler Reks and Drew McIntyre. Memo to WWE prelim guys: don’t band together to rise up against main event talent. I’ve seen this one before and it always ends so poorly for you. Mahal said they haven’t been given chances and now they are taking one. They surrounded the ring to attack Kane when Undertaker’s music hit. Undertaker and Kane laid out the other six. They did a double throat slash and double tombstone on Hawkins and Hunico. There was a weird delay for a while, they finally rolled Hawkins and Hunico out of the ring, and they posed together.
In an interesting bit, they asked people on Twitter whether they’d rather see Rock-Cena, Rock-Punk or Rock-Big Show at Rumble. Rock-Punk won handily. I don’t take a Twitter survey to mean much of anything, but I would have expected Rock-Cena to win big and it lost decisively 55-35 (with 10 percent for Show). Rock-Punk interests me more too but Rock-Cena is probably a bigger PPV draw. They’ll probably do one at Mania and the other at the Rumble anyway. Maybe Rock-Punk at Rumble and Rock-Cena plus Punk-Austin at Mania.
John Cena beat CM Punk via DQ. There was a long mat wrestling sequence early. Punk set up for the GTS but Cena shoved Punk into the referee. Cena hit the FU and covered, but there was no referee. Big Show came out and speared Cena. Show then set up for the KO punch with Punk sitting in the corner watching. This was subtle at first, as you could see Punk was conscious and aware of what was going on but wasn’t doing anything. But he was just sort of watching without any facial expression selling what was going on. He let Show hit the KO punch on Cena and Show then left.
At this point, Punk got up and was left with the decision of what to do. He seemed conflicted and seemed to be going back and forth in his head about whether to take advantage of the situation. Punk revived the referee while still seeming torn. Finally, Punk made the decision to go for the pin. He covered Cena, but Cena kicked out. Punk then went for the GTS but Cena reversed into the STF. Show came out and attacked Cena for the DQ.
Show continued beating up Cena after the bell as Punk just watched. Punk finally decided to turn his back and leave. At that point, Rock ran out for the save. Rock went after Show and hit a spine buster. He went for the people’s elbow but Punk ran back in and cut off Rock with a clothesline. Punk looked at his hands intently and then gave Rock the GTS to close the show.
This was a phenomenal heel turn. I’m not sure yet whether this story is a money direction, but Punk was so awesome doing this. Even more so, the writers really deserve credit here. This was just a wonderfully told story, with a man confronted with a tricky moral decision and showing his true character by making the easy wrong move rather than the more difficult right move. He wasn’t a cartoonish villain just being bad for the sake of bad either; he recognized that he was doing the wrong thing but retaining the title meant too much to him to resist. That story is enhanced by the fact Punk has often sermonized over the years in a self-righteous manner, only to have done the wrong thing when the chips were down. It’s one of the better heel turns WWE has ever done, and Punk is better as a heel than a face anyway.
As expected, this was a fun show. It’s hard to bring back all the stars they did and not have it be entertaining. I thought the show was good but kind of underwhelming going into the final segment, but the CM Punk heel turn was a memorable and very well executed finale that elevated the rest of the show.
And that will do it for these reports. It’s really amazing to me how many doors opened up on the writing front since Dave asked me to write more for the Observer website so many years ago. Thanks first and foremost to Dave for the opportunity and more so just for putting out such a phenomenal product that I’ve been reading well over half my life now. My primary motivation for starting to write about wrestling was a simple desire to be associated in some way with Dave.
Thanks also to Bryan for bringing me on board and being so supportive over the years. If it hadn’t been for that support, I would have stopped a long time ago. He’s one of the most genuinely good people I’ve ever known.
Special thanks to Houston Mitchell, who was more supportive than anyone and so important in opening doors for me.
Thanks very much to everyone for reading over the last decade or so and to everyone who has written over the years to say positive things. I appreciate the support.
And finally, thanks to WWE for producing a show that has presented so many great moments over the years. It’s no secret that I have a lot of problems with the current direction of WWE. The years I’ve been writing about the show have coincided with what in my opinion has been a downturn in the quality of the show. But nobody would care about that downturn if it weren’t for the years of goodwill WWE had built with its core audience. Long term fans that have stuck around to this point badly want to like the product and there’s another large group of people that monitor the product on the outside, hoping to hear things have gotten better and it’s worth diving back in. Hopefully sooner rather than later WWE can reengage those fans with an exciting and improved product.