Welcome to this week's edition of WWE Monday Night Raw: Buy or Sell.
Every Tuesday, Buy or Sell will examine the hottest angles from the latest episode of WWE Monday Night Raw and tell you what WWE is doing right (buy) or wrong (sell).
Some angles and matches won't be covered, as some things on every show don't really warrant a comment. Buy or Sell will stick to the parts of the broadcast that truly matter to WWE fans.
Feel free to comment on what you'd buy or sell from the latest episode of Raw. Let the world know if you agree with the choices or if you think they're off the mark.
Let's start out on a positive note, and give a Buy to Big E Langston.
The current NXT Champion and bodyguard to Dolph Ziggler was actually allowed to speak on last night's show. Those who haven't watched NXT may not have been aware that Langston was capable of speech.
Not only did Big E verbalize, but he showed some personality while interfering in Ziggler's match with John Cena. After climbing to the apron to cheap-shot Cena, Langston hopped back down and leaned insolently against the retaining wall. It was a solid heel move, and his ability to portray both disdain and nonchalance while on camera with the likes of Cena and Ziggler bodes well for the newcomer.
Langston also looked outstanding in his last interaction with Cena. His over-the-shoulder cutter at first appeared to have jolted Cena's shoe off. (Though the replay later revealed that Cena lost the shoe just as Langston was picking him up.) The move looked smooth, powerful and absolutely devastating.
Unlike Mason Ryan and Ezekiel Jackson, Langston appears to be more than muscle.
The first Sell goes to the opening segment of the live show.
The New Year's Eve edition of Monday Night Raw ended with John Cena dropping a load of what appeared to be feces from the ceiling onto Dolph Ziggler and AJ Lee. That was bad.
What's worse is that Cena started the live show with a poop joke. There's just no delicate way to say it. It wasn't even a new segment, but a rehash of the debacle from the week before. The only bright side is that the segment seemed to have nowhere to go but up.
Wrong again. Cena moved from potty humor to crowing at AJ for making a "sixth-grade wiener joke." There is no way on Earth that John Cena should belittle anyone's level of discourse. (Particularly when using the word "weiner.")
Cena went on to try and top AJ's joke with some juvenile humor of his own, and then went back to the original bathroom humor. The entire thing drug the show down from WWE's PG-13 model to the neighborhood of PG 6.5.
The entire opening segment was juvenile and almost embarrassing to watch. That's 11 minutes of their lives that the WWE Universe will never get back.
As bad as the opening segment was, Cena redeemed himself in his actual match with Dolph Ziggler.
The conflict was a definite Buy, as Cena and Ziggler put on a show. The crowd, which vociferously booed Cena when he first appeared, was cheering him wildly by the end of the match. It was a pure demonstration of star power by the top dog in WWE.
Critics of Cena have a valid point. His moveset is very limited. Even Cena admits to having only the "Five Moves of Doom" at his disposal. However, he knows how to tell a story in the ring, and sucks even a reluctant crowd in eventually.
Cena and Ziggler battled back and forth, and Ziggler looked strong. That's another thing to like about Cena. He's willing to put his opponents over and make them look good during matches. Ziggler and Cena exchanged offense and went through several believable near-falls at the end of the match. Each time Ziggler came close to pinning Cena, and Cena kicked out, the crowd got louder.
The WWE creative team should get some credit too. When Ziggler's entourage was dismissed from ringside, the script seemed to call for Cena to dominate Dolph, and win easily. Instead, Ziggler held his own, and even dominated Cena until Langston ran back down to the ring and decimated Cena.
Of course, Cena did his typical superhuman comeback to win the match, but by then the crowd was utterly behind him and willing to accept the outcome.
Okay, we get it. WWE is the biggest social media force since Mark Zuckerberg put Facebook on the map. There is no need to continually remind the audience of the company's dominance in cyberspace.
A big Sell to the WWE Twitter feed running across the bottom of the screen during matches.
The first time it appeared Monday night was during the Divas Title match between Eve and Kaitlyn. Divas matches aren't generally taken very seriously by the WWE Universe. Part of the reason for that is because WWE does things during the matches like run a Twitter scroll across the bottom of the screen.
Nothing says, "ignore what's happening in the ring" more than a scroll of Tweets. Former Diva Gail Kim criticized WWE's use of the entire women's division after leaving the company. She complained that fans don't take the female wrestlers seriously. If WWE isn't going to, why should the fan base?
Worse, WWE ran the Twitter feed again during a match featuring U.S. Champion Antonio Cesaro. (More on that later.)
Taking certain wrestlers, or entire divisions, lightly on television has a trickle down effect. The crowd, lively through most of Monday night's show, was absolutely dead during the Diva's Championship match, as if they were just waiting for it to be over. Years of watching the women's division get poor treatment on television has taught crowds that Diva matches aren't important.
Tag team matches used to be a high-profile staple of WWE programming. Then, for some reason, the tag division was relegated to the back seat. Recently, WWE has been re-establishing the Tag Team Championship belts as something noteworthy.
That trend continued on Monday night, when Team Hell No faced off with Team Rhodes Scholars at the end of the first hour of the show. A Buy to WWE's booking team for placing a tag match in a high-profile spot on the show.
The commentary was even quite good. At one point, Michael Cole compared Daniel Bryan to Don Quixote. That has to be the first time that Cervantes and Twitter were mentioned in the same conversation. The highbrow reference tied nicely into Damien Sandow's intellectual character, and was a fun moment for the literati in the audience.
Giving Rhodes and Sandow a win over the tag champs makes them seem relevant again, and possibly sets up a title match for the Royal Rumble pay-per-view. Putting top stars in the tag division and using them to make the titles relevant is a good trend.
Just who is in charge of placing participants in the Royal Rumble? If you've been watching WWE TV for the past week, you have no idea. Apparently, just about any wrestler can declare that he's entering the Rumble simply because he wants to.
For the utter lack of logic involved, the Royal Rumble selection process earns a Sell.
There are only 30 spots available in the Royal Rumble match, with the winner guaranteed a title shot at Wrestlemania. This is a big deal. Speculation about who might enter, and who might win, runs rampant in the WWE Universe. Shouldn't there be some sort of process to decide which superstars are allowed to compete?
Over the past seven days, John Cena, Sheamus, Randy Orton and 3MB have all declared that they will compete in the match. While it's logical that Cena, Sheamus and Orton would be in the Rumble, what qualifies 3MB for inclusion? All they do is get beat up, individually and en masse, on TV every week.
WWE needs to establish some criteria for entering the Rumble. The past 10 winners could have automatic entry, with the other spots established through a tournament or some other rigorous selection process. Since WWE loves to have a surprise entrant or two every year, some slots could be saved for wild card entries, to be determined by the Raw and SmackDown general managers.
Otherwise, wouldn't every wrestler on the roster that isn't involved in a match for the WWE or World Heavyweight title be smart to declare for the Rumble? What do they have to lose?
The featured matches on Monday night were all very good.
As previously mentioned, John Cena and Dolph Ziggler put on a great show in the first bout of the night. The tag team match between Hell No and Rhodes Scholars was also very good.
The match of the night was the TLC tilt between WWE Champion CM Punk and Ryback. The brutal and well-paced showdown gets a Buy as the best conflict between the two thus far.
Both men seemed intense and un-intimidated. Both men seemed to grasp the gravity of the TLC concept. It was Ryback's best showing since his TLC match with Team Hell No and The Shield last month. It might have been his best individual showing ever.
There was a contrast of styles in the match. Punk used the various tables, ladders and chairs as implements of torture. At one point, he placed Ryback's foot in a chair, then stomped on it. Ryback, as befits his character, simply used the tools as bludgeons, pounding on Punk at every opportunity.
With a title match vs. The Rock at the Royal Rumble at stake, there was never any doubt who was going to win the match. WWE wasn't going to try and sell Ryback vs. Rock. It was even fairly predictable that The Shield would run in at some point, and that Punk would win because of their interference.
Even with the predictable outcome, Ryback and Punk delivered an entertaining, fast-paced match. At one point, it even seemed possible that Ryback, rose-colored singlet and all, was going to get the belt down from the ceiling before Punk could stop him.
The match had to happen, and it had to turn out the way it did. Even with those constrictions, Punk and Ryback delivered.
Until last night, WWE seemed to be treating its secondary titles, the Intercontinental and U.S. championships, much like the tag team belts. The titles had been placed on strong stars (Wade Barrett with the IC title and Antonio Cesaro with the US belt) and their matches have been put on television in featured time slots.
That all came to a screeching halt on Monday night's show. A Sell for devaluing the secondary titles.
Wade Barrett faced off with Santino Marella and Cesaro took on The Great Khali. Marella and Khali should not be in the ring with any type of title at any time, even if the belts aren't at stake. It tells fans that the belts aren't that important.
While Marella can actually wrestle, his character has been booked as a comedic figure for so long that it's unlikely he will ever be taken seriously by fans. Khali is possibly the worst big man of all time in WWE. It's almost painful to watch him attempt to move around the ring. Neither should be in a match with anyone who holds a title.
Hopefully, WWE has plans for Cesaro and Barrett, and each will find himself in a meaningful feud in the near future. Here's hoping that last night was an aberration, not the beginning of a new trend.
Have there ever been two wrestlers more stylistically different than CM Punk and The Rock?
Both are effective in the ring, but in vastly different ways. Punk utilizes some martial arts moves, some traditional old-school wrestling moves and his athleticism to best his opponents. Rock is pure power and persona. He seems to defeat foes simply by his mere presence.
On the mic, the two are even more disparate. Rock is a catch-phrase machine. He belts out the same ten lines over and over again, to the point where the audience chants along. No one gets tired of it, and he's become iconic for his wit over the years. Punk's delivery is more subtle and ultimately just as effective. He says the things that "smart" fans are thinking, and doesn't care what the consequences might be.
Normally, WWE tends to avoid these style clashes. A huge Buy for allowing Punk and Rock to be themselves.
Punk started out by defining the term "pipe bomb" as simply telling the truth. He went on to explain that talent and skill aren't what's important in WWE. It's popularity that matters. He used the example of imaginary Little Jimmy getting more TV time than outstanding grappler Tyson Kidd to make his point.
He went on to say that his 400-plus days as WWE Champion are akin to "30 years" of title reigns by the likes of Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan, since they only wrestled "once a month at Madison Square Garden."
Then came Rock. He worked the crowd and Punk at equal intervals. He got the fans chanting "Cookie Puss" at Punk, thus proving that he can get live crowds to chant anything in the world. He explained to Punk that the fans matter, and that Punk doesn't, spewing catchphrases all the while.
Instead of trying to hide the differences between Punk and Rock, WWE is embracing the disparity. It's a smart move. These are two of the greatest talkers in wrestling history. To make one change his style would lessen the impact of the upcoming match between the two.
Rock called Punk a punk, and Punk called Rock lame. Both seemed valid and the two came out roughly even in the exchange.
While Rock and Punk may not have the selling power that Rock and Cena did, WWE is doing the smart thing and allowing each man's strength to show through.