Hello, wrestling fans, and welcome to this latest article in my long-running WWE vs. TNA series in which each week I watch, review and analyze the main output of the two promotions and pick the best.
This week was the final week before the WWE's Royal Rumble, which has boundless, exciting potential. Meanwhile, TNA offered us a TNA Championship match on Impact.
Let's see how they got on.
Raw opened by reminding us of Martin Luther King Jr., for those who haven't heard of him.
The show properly opened with Paul Heyman and Vickie Guerrero complaining about The Rock. Not on the quite legitimate grounds of last week's Rock Concert being embarrassing—and about as funny as losing a £20 note—but on the kayfabe grounds of being insulting to them.
We were treated to more of Dwayne's comedy as he was prevented from entering the building on Vickie's orders. For a man who quite famously had surgery on his breasts, you'd think he'd leave Heyman alone that way.
Matches don't end during commercials, so the excitement of a Beat the Clock challenge (seeing which match will end first) is subdued when they cut to ads. As the clock was over seven minutes before the show returned, you could be sure the one to select their place in the Royal Rumble wouldn't be Randy Orton or Antonio Cesaro.
Sadly, Orton won that match, thanks to an RKO anyone could have seen coming from a mile off. Considering how long Cesaro dominated beforehand, it was very much a one move of doom.
CM Punk delivered a typically engaging promo, which, without breaking or even pushing kayfabe, still had a slightly shooty aspect. I've had cause more than once recently to point out that heels are often good just by telling the truth, and such was the case here.
CM Punk's been putting on great shows every time he steps in the ring and has earned his current position over his career. The Rock, in contrast, has had two matches within the past eight and a half years, and is in the position he is on account of crowd reaction rather than wrestling skill.
I did say I would last week, so here I may as well address the issue of The Rock's in-ring ability: he's terrible.
He has a moveset so limited that he makes John Cena look like AJ Styles, his two finishers are rubbish (an elbow drop with silly hopping around and an unspecial-looking slam), he's a theatrical overseller, he does nothing especially athletic or technical and he doesn't take many bumps.
It's the issue of the bumps that, since hearing in July about his challenging at the Royal Rumble, sewed a seed of doubt in my mind about his winning the WWE Championship.
The pay-per-view following the Rumble is the Elimination Chamber, which is one of the bumpiest PPVs around due to the metal floor around the ring. If The Rock is competing for the WWE Championship there, you can bet he'll be entering the chamber last.
Dolph Ziggler defeated The Miz more quickly than Orton's earlier win, though not by a great deal. It's good to have such long matches. There doesn't seem to be much point in Ziggler winning, as no one could expect him to win the Rumble unless there's a plan to unify the world titles. He is, after all, still Mr Money in the Bank.
Some churls booed Dr. Shelby at the start of one of the silliest things we've witnessed in recent times: Team Hell No's graduation. That said, what kind of anger management course has a graduation? Perhaps there was cause to boo Dr Shelby after all.
Silly though it was, I did laugh at the end as the three in the ring hugged while jumping in rhythm to Ride of the Valkyries.
In an unclever twist that simultaneously was easy to see coming and makes no actual sense, The Rock gained legal entry to the arena with the policeman's spare ticket.
It makes no sense because if the general manager banned him personally then a ticket should make no difference, but also, no one else with a ticket is allowed to stroll right up to the ring. Paul Heyman himself started to hang a lampshade on the fact before The Rock discourteously insisted that he leave.
The Rock claimed he'd worked his posterior off over the past 10 years to earn his title shot—if someone could explain this to me I'd be grateful—and tastelessly invoked Martin Luther King Jr., too.
The Shield then did their most welcome attack since Orton on The Rock, as if to try and disprove what I wrote earlier by delivering a solid bump. The Rock went down so hard that it made his jaw clamp down on a blood capsule inside his mouth.
Sheamus and Wade Barrett put on a terrifically well-balanced match that kept me guessing all the way to the end. I think we could have had the same result without Team Ziggler's interference, and it would have been better, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.
The crowd saying along with Ricardo Rodriguez's ring announcement was quite fun. It's an absolute joy to see what an exceptionally over face Alberto Del Rio is. Tensai briefly looked like a danger to Del Rio, but not for long. Del Rio then taught us to count to 10 in Spanish, taking over Antonio Cesaro's long-discarded language-tutor mantle.
John Cena delivered one of the most contemptuously bad promos I can recall, and then Raw ended with the typical pre-Rumble mass of wrestlers talking and brawling.
Raw wasn't as good as the first two of the year, but I enjoyed it overall. The Royal Rumble might be the easiest PPV to get excited about anyway, but Raw certainly didn't diminish that excitement.
To me, the big thing about this week would be the TNA Championship match. To TNA, it clearly wasn't, as they opened with five minutes recapping last week's wedding and the hilarity of Taz's heel turn.
Taz's opening promo displayed no really explanatory rationale, but "I'm teflon Taz!" got a chuckle out of me. His return to commentary during the night yielded some entertaining put-downs and banter with Mike Tenay, livening up the dynamic quite a bit.
The non-kayfabe intent behind Taz's defection seems to give the Aces and Eights a permanent voice, and if it elaborates their aims, then I'm pleased with that.
Tara defeated Velvet Sky with the obligatory Jesse-based skullduggery. Of course, I followed it, but in my head was the thought that with no title change there, maybe it's a little more likely that Christopher Daniels would win the world title. What a Daniels mark I am.
Zema Ion and Kenny King defeated Rob Van Dam and Christian York. I'm not sure why the most X-Divisiony ones are the heels, but it's probably just a coincidence.
Austin Aries and Bobby Roode had a very funny promo deciding who ought to face Hernandez. They're a fantastic pairing.
My only issue is that we already have a brilliant heel team in Christopher Daniels and Kazarian—but then, if Aries and Roode are effectively filling that niche, then perhaps that's another indication that Daniels will be taking up residence in the main event.
Bobby Roode went on to defeat Hernandez, but it did keep me guessing—after all, Hernandez defeated AJ Styles on Impact not so very long ago.
Kurt Angle and Mr. Anderson's feud was restarted. I'm not sure there's really much they can offer in the way of further buildup, I'm just looking forward to the match itself, which we're promised in a steel cage next week.
My being a Daniels mark kept me a lot more engaged in the TNA Championship match than the commentary and promotion of it indicated I should be. It was a great match.
It got a couple of audible gasps out of me, the biggest being for the top rope front-face suplex (I'm pretty sure that's what it's called, though if you know better then let me know in the comments). Daniels losing felt like a tragedy and a waste of the momentum he'd gained. But then, I'm a mark.
There's not much to fault about Impact. It was a bit quiet in places, but overall, a great wrestling show.
SmackDown opened with a version of the same sequence that's opened hundreds of SmackDowns: a group of wrestlers give promos, then Teddy Long or Booker T makes a tag team match.
The promo itself was among the more entertaining variants of the form, but more interesting still was that it was made an elimination match.
Sheamus and Wade Barrett put on another great, balanced contest. They really click together, and it was great fun to watch. Wade Barrett adding some kicks to the head to his arsenal is also good.
Natalya, easily the best Diva left in the WWE, is now wholly a part of the Hornswoggle/Great Khali stable, to the point that she no longer has her own theme. At least she hasn't fallen quite so low that she'd be beaten by Rosa Mendes, in Rosa's first match on one of the WWE's main shows for as long as I can remember.
SmackDown tonight had the feeling of classic, pre-brand extension SmackDown that would feature most of the main stars every week, as we had the presence of both CM Punk and The Rock.
With its status as the "B" show that fewer people watch, it's nice to see some late developments before the Royal Rumble, as CM Punk called out The Shield and then The Rock popped in for a quick chat.
The story that Alberto Del Rio and Team Hell No versus The Big Show and The Rhodes Scholars told was very creative, tying it in to the 10 count of the coming Last Man Standing match.
There's a genuine David versus Goliath feel with Del Rio versus the Big Show, whereas Sheamus versus Show was more like Goliath versus bigger Goliath. The Big Show pushing the announcers' table over Del Rio after the match was genuinely quite monstrous.
SmackDown was great all-around. A couple of high quality matches and some great promos. Solid fare.
I'll take a moment to give my thoughts on who'll win the Royal Rumble. I predicted Sheamus last year, because he was being completely protected for a long time without going anywhere. There's not really anyone who matches that this year.
I've noticed how Kane has seemed protected compared to Daniel Bryan, which gives me suspicions that they may drop the tag titles and then Kane could win the Rumble. But, as if to contradict that, he then certainly wasn't all that protected on SmackDown. It would tie in with Raw's graduation possibly signalling the end of their story arc as a team.
Of course, with no one obvious, maybe a returning Christian or Mark Henry could do it. Or, God forbid, John Cena.
Show of the Week: WWE SmackDown
It was close this week, but SmackDown takes it. All three shows were great, with Raw slightly behind the other two. The WWE delivered some solid matches and hype for the Rumble, and Impact lived up its post-wedding promise. If they stayed this good, I'd be a happy wrestling fan.
Match of the Week: Jeff Hardy vs. Christopher Daniels
There were some other good matches, especially the two Sheamus versus Wade Barrett encounters, but as I expected, this took the crown. Just a shame about the result.
Thanks for reading! All comments, thoughts, opinions and diatribes are welcome and appreciated.