"There's no drama like wrestling." - Andy Kaufman
Monday night showed us something the WWE doesn't do very often.
It showed us was Raw, as a program, could be.
"One of the best Raws ever, I mean, at least since when I am watching, which is roughly more than 15 years."
Why was the program so good and what was so special about it? The WWE usually cranks the creative factor to eight or nine during the run to WrestleMania, because of the sheer importance of the "Showcase of the Immortals."
Monday felt a little different, though. Something about the booking made it click on a special level that drew raves from fans. There were several things that seemed pronounced as the program unfolded to create something that couldn't be described as anything less then a "Home Run" for the WWE.
There were four noticeable things during the program that made it a memorable one.
The Code Of Honor
"Life every man holds dear; but the dear man holds honor far more precious dear than life." — William Shakespeare, "Troiles and Cressida"
The "Code of Honor" is what helped make Ring Of Honor unique from other independent wrestling promotions. Simply put, the code was three simple rules when Gabe Sapolsky took over their booking.
1. Shake hands before and after the match—if you respect your opponent
2. Keep the playing field level
3. Respect the officials
Simple enough, right? Ring Of Honor was always noted as having a lot of talent and a strong in-ring product. That hasn't changed to this day. Some of this generation's best noted names like Punk, Bryan and Samoa Joe had extremely notable stints in the promotion.
CM Punk and Daniel Bryan are the "Indy Schmucks." Punk coined the term after putting up a twitpic of him and Bryan holding the WWE Championship and World Heavyweight Championship respectively. Both men came from similar roots and made names for themselves in Ring Of Honor.
It was announced in the opening segment that Punk would face Bryan in a "Champion vs. Champion" match. Hardcore wrestling fans who are familiar with the history of both men had a collective orgasm. They shook hands in that segment as well in a shout out to the famous "Code of Honor" from ROH.
A backstage segment played upon the fact that they've known each other for years and neither was a hero or role model. They were just underdogs who made it to the top.
Before the match began, both men shook hands again and then laid out a clinic of ring work that drew raves from the likes of Bret Hart, Lance Storm and Jim Ross. The match couldn't have a legitimate finish for a number of reasons. While it lasted, though, Punk and Bryan simply tore the house down.
Fans got a reward, though, with the pronounced start of the big Punk-vs.-Jericho feud and Bryan got more ammunition for his effective gimmick.
In some ways, it felt like the WWE was working on future pay-per-view main events. The match itself was high quality and felt like it belonged on a "Big Four" pay-per-view. Monday's "main event" match showed the future of the WWE remains bright and the rumors of it's lack of roster depth seems to be greatly exaggerated.
“Power doesn't have to show off. Power is confident, self-assuring, self-starting and self-stopping, self-warming and self-justifying. When you have it, you know it.” — Ralph Ellison
Orton himself made a return to Raw after six weeks. Orton took on Dolph Ziggler in another strong affair that usually isn't given away on TV. While not on the level of Punk vs. Bryan, the match itself featured strong ring work from both men that neither should be ashamed of.
Ziggler deserves special mention here. After pulling double duty on the Royal Rumble pay-per-view including a long stint in the main event match, he put on a strong show in a long match with the WWE's "Apex Predator."
Orton picked up a clean victory over rising "Show Off," but Ziggler looked strong in defeat and lost little in the way of momentum. In 24 hours, Ziggler competed in a great match for the WWE Title, looked strong in the Royal Rumble's namesake match, and got a good showing with Orton. Long story short, Ziggler is firmly back in the upper echelon of the WWE's roster, where he deserves to be.
Welcome back, Dolph.
The Return of Kofi
"And though they tell you I am lost
and their words report my death is come,
the fates have left me breathing still
very much alive." — The Cruxshadows, "Return"
For a while in 2009, Kofi Kingston seemed on the verge of a breakout into the upper echelon of the WWE's talent pool. While the push petered out, Kofi remained a strong wrestling talent and a highly charismatic individual.
Kofi teamed up with Evan Bourne in the second half of 2011 to form the tag team of Air Boom. They held the Tag Team Championship belts for months, defeating the likes of Awesome Truth (who later defeated the team of Punk and Triple H, then main evented Survivor Series) and Ziggler & Swagger before Bourne's noted suspensions for Wellness Policy violations happened, derailing their push and greatly hurting the WWE's tag team division.
During the Royal Rumble match, Kofi got a memorable spot. He managed to stave off elimination in a brilliant interpretation of the rules by actually hand walking on the floor outside the ring back to the steps.
Monday saw him announced for Raw's "Elimination Chamber" match at the next pay-per-view and get a match with The Miz. Keep in mind The Miz is a former WWE Champion and competed for the title a one month ago.
The match was quick but fun. The ending sequence saw Kofi nail a quick Trouble In Paradise to get the pin fall. Kofi did the same thing against Michael McGillicutty on Superstars last week.
It seems that Kofi is getting a push after Bourne derailed Air Boom due to his suspensions. 30 days is one thing that can be waved away on TV as an injury. 60 days is a different matter altogether.
One subtle thing is that Kofi's gimmick and ring work seems to be getting retooled. Kofi's Royal Rumble spot and the new quick hit nature of his finisher seems to speak to this. Normally, Kofi telegraphs Trouble In Paradise before attempting to nail it. For the past few weeks, the WWE has gone out of it's way to show how fast he can execute it.
Fans tend to love finishers that are quick to hit and have tremendous impact. A fast kick to the temple invariably will put someone on their behind and how quickly he's able to hit it from the previous incarnation is impressive.
His clean defeat of a upper echelon heel in the form of The Miz and his involvement in the probable main event at Elimination Chamber seems to portend good things for the Happy-Go-Lucky Kingston in the near future.
With the rumored return of the Money In The Bank match to WrestleMania 28, there might be no bigger chance to showcase Kingston. His victory over The Miz put him back on the same level as Miz and Truth and reminded fans of exactly who he is and what he can do.
The Game of the Dead Man
"All your strength, all your power, all your love. Everything you've got. Right now!" — Tony Burton, "Rocky IV"
While Triple H laid out a humiliation conga line for John Laurinaitis, the end segment was building up to an expected result that some fans longed to see.
"John, I wish you best of luck in your future Endeav...*
He never finished.
The arena went black and fire shot from the entrance ramp as "The Phenom" sauntered down to the ring as only he could. Fans everywhere rejoiced while Undertaker didn't say a word. He didn't need to. Bathed in a brilliant blue light, Undertaker simply stared up at the sign for WrestleMania 28. Everyone knew, for good or for ill, what it meant.
One. More. Round.
Triple H declined the offer, patting Undertaker on the shoulder and walking away. Undertaker stood stunned as Triple H paused at the entrance for a second as if contemplating the offer. He then left the arena.
The segment was brilliant for two reasons. The first was it never resolved the plot hook of that show. Was John Laurinaitis relieved of his duties or not? They never directly answered that question.
The second, and more subtle reason was the open ended booking of storyline. What are Undertaker's intentions? Does Triple H want to retire? Does 'Taker for that matter? Is the Dead Man simply looking for someone with the stones to face him?
There is a certain mystique about the Undertaker that transcends all cliques and all levels of wrestling fans. Regardless of whether you are a hardcore or casual fan, whether you are a WWE, ROH, or TNA fan, people seem to hold The Undertaker in high regard. In some respects, The Undertaker is one the pure ideals left in wrestling.
He's a zombie mortician with supernatural powers. But something about the gimmick and the way Mark Calloway portrays him that makes the persona larger then life.
Hearing the gong and seeing the man walk down to the ring makes even the most hardcore fans wet themselves with glee. This will never change. Whatever happens at the "Showcase of the Immortals" that is WrestleMania, it is legitimately the home of The Undertaker.
The Streak is arguably the biggest prize in the WWE. Never has The Undertaker lost at WrestleMania. Title reigns come and go, but the one who breaks The Streak is gains that singular distinction that no one could ever replicate.
Will Triple H be the one, or will someone else? Will anyone ever break it?
That's the question that remains open.
Last Monday's Raw was one where everything that could go right, in fact, did. Dynamic storytelling and strong ring work were rewarded with a massive 3.6 rating. Whether the WWE could do it again remains to be seen. But taking it back in, Monday's broadcast was nearly perfect.
That's how you start the "Road to WrestleMania." More than that, that's how you do a wrestling show.
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