Hello, and welcome to the latest article of my ongoing and long-running WWE vs. TNA series, in which each week I recap, review, analyze and judge the main output of both promotions.
Regular series readers will be well aware of the lag that set in around Christmas with this series. Rejoice, therefore, because this article marks the point of being caught up completely, and so from now on we'll be back to one of these articles every weekend.
What a week it was, too. The WWE made no secret that we should expect big things of Raw, promising a WWE Championship Tables, Ladders and Chairs match and the return of The Rock.
With this guaranteed excitement, could TNA hope to compete? And could SmackDown? Let's take a look.
John Cena opened Raw on the mic, playing full-on compere and telling us what was ahead. This was a Raw big on promise at the start, giving it all the more to live up to. As per his current feud, Dolph Ziggler and AJ intervened (with Big sillE-name Langston standing there just looking tough).
Dolph revealed he'd be entering the Royal Rumble, with no reference made to the fact that he's still carrying a Money in the Bank briefcase. Cena made a very rude joke, and then Big E killed off a large portion of his mystique by opting to talk as well.
This immediately led into a match between Cena and Ziggler. There's a real flow when two great wrestlers work perfectly together—in recent cases, Cena and CM Punk have it, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan have it, Sheamus and The Big Show have it (to my absolute astonishment when I first saw them face off), and Ziggler and Cena have shown beyond a doubt that they have it.
My main criticism of the match is the same as applies to almost every Cena match—that there's clearly no chance of him losing. Here he kicked out of the Zig Zag, a superkick, a big DDT and a Namedropper (you may know it as the Fame-Ass-er, though having looked it up, as Dolph's signature it's called that despite never ever hearing it referred to such by commentary).
SuperCena performances, as we know and loathe them, are anti-wrestling. No matter how good the action was and how well it flowed, there was no chance of Cena losing, and there almost never is. I can accept Cena winning, but I detest him being hit by multiple finishers only to just spring up and hit the Attitude Adjustment.
The Rhodes Scholars defeated Team Hell No, owing to a slightly rarer device used to give the undefeatably strong losses: that of accidental injuries sustained in the match and not by the opponent.
Most recently, it's how Beth Phoenix lost the Divas Championship to Nikki Bella and how Christian lost the Intercontinental Championship to The Miz. What stood out most to me, though, was Michael Cole saying this would put The Rhodes Scholars back in the title hunt. As I recall, they're meant to be the No. 1 contenders after defeating Rey Mysterio and Sin Cara at TLC.
Heath Slater looked reasonably credible against Randy Orton, though not nearly as much as he did against The Miz on the previous SmackDown. It lasted four minutes at least, whereas a year ago you'd expect Slater to last about 10 seconds. You could say he was even deemed special enough to pull double-duty, as 3MB were later squashed by Sheamus, but that might be a stretch. If nothing else, they're the jobbers of choice.
The exceptional Antonio Cesaro defeated The Great Khali, including a fantastic Neutralizer showcasing his amazing strength. Next up for a shot at his US Championship appears to be The Miz, and love The Miz though I do, I'm hoping we're getting near the point where Cesaro becomes a permanent fixture higher up the card.
On the Raw Christmas episode a fortnight previously, Sheamus vs. The Big Show was a bit of a shocker to me, providing a clean main-event level result on TV. I can understand the reluctance to give that kind of thing away on TV too often, but it's rare to the point of being about once a year in the WWE, whereas TNA is better at sprinkling in the occasional one (especially during the yearly Bound for Glory series).
Just happening occasionally would keep a level of unpredictability in the TV shows that's almost always completely absent.
This therefore brings us to the CM Punk vs. Ryback TLC WWE Championship match. It seems from what I know that its occurrence on Raw is a bit of an accident—we were meant to have the match at TLC, but with Punk's injury and The Rock locked in for the Royal Rumble since July, Ryback having his title shot on Raw is the only way to satisfy kayfabe justice.
This particular chain of events therefore gifted us something quite special on Raw, and a few more things like this every so often would raise the excitement and the feeling that anything really could happen on WWE TV by a long way.
Meta circumstance aside, however, the match was absolutely thrilling and pay-per-view quality. The vertical suplex onto a ladder and throw over the ropes through a table made me gasp audibly. The result was in no doubt, even if The Shield's interference didn't mark the complete break with result mitigation I'd have preferred. Judge it by the action, and this match was incredible.
Usually it would be premature to nominate a match of the week at this point, but realistically, the TLC match would likely be unbeatable. The Big Show vs. Kofi Kingston, though, any other week that would have taken it.
Even ahead of the TLC match, the ending promo was the main event, and rightly so. CM Punk's promo, which is so often the single oasis of entertainment on Raws that have been mediocre to downright awful, was here as brilliant as he's ever been.
I've been a lot more philosophical than usual in this recap of Raw, and there'll be ample opportunity in the coming weeks to expound my view on The Rock and his place in the current WWE, so I'll stay brief.
The Rock's schtick is old, but not necessarily in a bad way. Hearing his unique mic skills now is akin to hearing Hulk Hogan's routine complete with "brother" every sentence. The Rock as a wrestler and character aside, his status as a classic figure right up against CM Punk's unbeatable eloquence and crowd manipulation is what made things buzz, at least for me.
At no point was Raw bad or unsuccessful. It was the best episode for as long as I can recall. Of course, with the TLC match and a history-in-the-making promo, what else would you expect?
Impact opened with the confirmation that Mr. Anderson has joined with the Aces and Eights. So that's a development. He and Angle cut a pretty good promo, whetting my appetite for a match between the two later.
Two new Gut Check contenders wrestled a match competing for one contract. This brings me back to the ongoing question of how much of a work Gut Check is. Kayfabe-wise, it would be silly to have the losing guy in the match win the contract, but with wrestling (spoiler alert) having predetermined outcomes, doesn't that make it a done deal from the outset?
I enjoyed Jeff Hardy and James Storm vs. Bobby Roode and Austin Aries while it lasted, though a proper win for team heel would have built some decent momentum before Genesis' TNA Championship Triple Threat. Also, the referee counted Storm's pin attempt on Roode when Aries was the legal man. Unforgivable.
Based on what I've read in the comments here on past articles, people are disappointed that Storm isn't in the title running now. His feud with Christopher Daniels might just be filler for the Cowboy, but personally I'd prefer Daniels to win and step up to title contention.
Mr. Anderson vs. Kurt Angle had been very well built-up to during the show, to the point I was very excited during the entrances. And then it didn't go ahead. I often make a point of talking about clean finishes, but here I'd have been happy for some good, close back-and-forth with no conclusive finish and then a match at Genesis. They're both good and would work very well together in a feud based around TNA vs. Aces and Eights.
Very quickly, the match then became the much less exciting prospect of Sting vs. Mike Knox instead. Sting won.
My interest did pique again thereafter, as the Aces and Eights took Brooke Hogan hostage while Sting was about to clock Knox with his own hammer. Bully Ray rescued her, proposed with Hulk Hogan and Sting looking on, and she accepted. It just about stayed on the right side of farce (or at least the right kind of it), enjoyable for the absurdity of it.
Impact was about average. There was nothing so bad that it stirred any negative response from me, but there wasn't much all that praiseworthy either. TNA feels like it's in a rut, and has been for a while.
How could SmackDown top Raw then? Should it even try? Well, it would try, as Booker T announced a Last Man Standing match for the World Heavyweight Championship, as well as The Rock being on the show.
Randy Orton vs. Antonio Cesaro didn't result in a win for Cesaro, but on the upside, it didn't result in a loss for him, either. I'm getting a bit bored of The Shield's antics again now. They interrupt so many matches, and we still don't really know what they want.
Isn't biting meant to be a disqualification? That's my only question regarding some absolute filler of a match.
Raw's promos between CM Punk and The Rock spilled over into SmackDown, with Punk delivering a video segment. The Rock instead appeared live, to be interrupted by The Rhodes Scholars. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth, someone coming in and dominating all comers with ease as though he's plainly above them, but The Rock's good for business, I suppose.
I remember quite clearly the last time Alberto Del Rio faced The Big Show. It was 2011, and Del Rio was WWE Champion, while Show was the No. 1 contender for Mark Henry's World Heavyweight Championship. It stands out in my mind for the fact it typified how glaring and unchanging the WWE formula of all heels being weak and cowardly while the faces are strong and can only be cheated out of victory is.
This is reversed if the wrestler is big enough to be a monster, in which case as a heel they're unstoppable and as a face they're a lovable loser.
It typified the formula because Del Rio, the WWE Champion, lost cleanly on Raw because he was a such weak heel. For the most potent example in recent times, look at how CM Punk was unbeatable as a face, whereas since turning heel, he can't win cleanly.
Now, though, Alberto Del Rio has very recently (and my feeling is, still tentatively) turned face. The Big Show, who has been a dominant monster heel since Over the Limit last year, has recently had elements of cowardice creep into his character.
The match itself was a massive surprise. The action was fascinating, but the real surprise was, of course, the result. I suspect the main reason for it is so Dolph Ziggler can realistically cash in his Money in the Bank and then win the subsequent rematch, which seems a lot less realistic against The Big Show—not to mention they're both heels, whereas Del Rio vs. Ziggler fits the standard face vs. heel when it comes around.
As a moment, though, it was great. I've always liked Del Rio, and the surprise of his winning the title on SmackDown added to the impact of it. Terrific stuff.
SmackDown as a show, really, was just the last match and filler. But for that great match and a great moment, it was a great show that capped off a great week for the WWE. Great.
Show of the Week: WWE Raw
No surprise here with the winner—it promised and it delivered. The whole week was fantastic for the WWE, and it's clear why.
The real question is whether they can keep it up. They can't have a world title match every week, after all, so is there enough else up their sleeves to keep this run of great 2013 shows going?
Match of the Week: CM Punk vs. Ryback
I thought after seeing this that nothing in the world could beat it as a TV match, but then the World Heavyweight Championship match on SmackDown came close. Still, this is the undoubted winner, and well represents just what an unusually great week this has been for the WWE.
Thank you for reading, and all comments, views and opinions are appreciated.