After a strong January, the WWE's post-Royal Rumble momentum came a crashing halt in Atlanta with a mediocre edition of Monday Night Raw. For better or worse, it was the CM Punk show. With the Rock missing in action, promoting a movie or pumping iron or whatever it is he does when he isn't wrestling, it was left to Punk to carry their feud forward solo. And, unfortunately, it wasn't entirely a success.
Punk fell down on miserably in the show opener, failing to capture the promo magic he used to make the build up to Rumble so memorable. But his tremendous match with Chris Jericho, best of the year so far on Raw, made up for the lackluster mic work.
Punk of course, wasn't the only star on the show. Brock Lesnar was back and Daniel Bryan got the opportunity to work a long match with Rey Mysterio. Did they deliver? Let's look at each segment in chronological order to see who gets a passing grade and who needs some remedial study.
Disagree with my letter grades? Let me know in the comments.
CM Punk is angry and CM Punk is walking with a purpose.
Yelling at people.
He's still angry about losing the WWE title to the Rock, but now he's got a new reason to be incensed—Vince McMahon's video evidence showing Paul Heyman in cahoots with Brad Maddox and the Shield. Punk points out, rightly so, that he is never pictured in the video. Additionally, Vince has the money and motivation to fake a video if he so chooses.
Punk gets increasingly irate, going after people in the crowd and challenging his detractors to step in the ring if they have a problem with what he has to say. Eventually Booker T comes out as the power figure of the day. He gives WWE fans to choose the opponent for Punk tonight—Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio or Chris Jericho.
Key Quote: "Did I overreact last week when I came out here and yelled and screamed and threw a tantrum. If you think I overreacted, it's clear to me you haven't held something as special as the WWE title. In fact, I doubt anyone in this building has done anything special in their lives." —CM Punk.
"You're telling me you believe Vince McMahon?...That wasn't Paul Heyman. That was CGI."
"All of you losers in life get what you deserve. Because you get out of it what you put into it. Which is nothing."
Grade: C+. This fell flat. Punk wasn't on his A-game and Booker T came out and botched all his lines. After a strong month, this doesn't seem like it was worthy of the flagship show's opening segment.
Antonio Cesaro is one of the most promising wrestlers to hit the WWE in quite some time. I'm excited to see how the promotion will go about cutting off his legs and making him just another guy!
Was that too cynical?
A good, long match to open the show properly. Three times Cesaro lured Ryback out of the ring. Three times he caught him coming back in. It was a very cerebral performance, but in the end, Ryback gets a clean three count with the Shell Shock.
Key Quote: "I'm not going to say I'm not believing what I'm seeing, but I have to say I'm surprised. I'm not sure if Ryback is going to get up." —Jerry Lawler on Cesaro's success.
Grade: B. Solid and hard hitting action. I'm not a fan, though, of positioning the Intercontinental or US champion below even the promotion's secondary superstars.
Jack Swagger is back. He's got a new terrible haircut and a new attitude. You can tell, I suppose, by the grimace permanently etched on his face. But the moves are all the same. An ankle lock is still an ankle lock—even when you decide to call it the "Patriot Act." So, that's a thing.
Key Quote: "This is a new Jack Swagger. No playing. No jiving. Just business." —Booker T
Grade: C. Your garden variety squash match.
Del Rio is furious after his "partner" Rodriguez was once again abused at the hands of the Big Show. If this is their latest gay character, I think the WWE has finally gotten it right. If not? They've still gotten it right. Just two Mexican bros who are tight pals.
Del Rio needs a victim. Luckily the WWE has Cody Rhodes on the roster expressly for this purpose. Del Rio wins with the cross armbreaker. Del Rio grabs the mic but is eventually interrupted by Show, who tells him the only reason he hasn't ripped him to shreds is because that wouldn't get him what he wants—a shot at Del Rio's world championship.
Key Quote: "He probably needs to find out if they make Rogaine for facial hair." —Jerry Lawler on Cody's mustache.
"You, you, you, all of you. You make me open my eyes. Now I am the world heavyweight champion. Not just for me. But for all of the people." —Alberto Del Rio.
"You are in a hotel room because you are a coward. You have no cajones Big Show." —Alberto Del Rio
"You think I'm afraid of you because you had a little stick in the parking lot? You've got it all wrong. The only reason I left was to keep myself from tearing you limb from limb. I did you a favor." —Big Show.
Grade: C+. Del Rio is a really good babyface but Rodriguez's "damsel in distress" role works better if its played by an actual, you know, damsel.
Booker T is scouting former world champions to see who deserves a shot at the Elimination Chamber match at the next pay-per-view. Rey Misterio and Randy Orton are in. Bryan is looking to earn his shot too and wants Kane to stay out of his way.
This is building into a pretty good match when they cut to commercial. Why can't the ever cut to commercial during one of the skits that seem to go on forever? The finish of this is great stuff. There are counters back and forth before Bryan finally makes Rey tap out to the No Lock.
After the match, Mark Henry comes out and wrecks everyone. Bryan and Mysterio both fall quickly, so Sin Cara came out so the soul crushing could continue. It was an ugly scene, the very heart of workrate destroyed by one man's enormous midsection.
Key Quote: "You are not doing your part, partner." —Daniel Bryan to Kane.
"That beard is not going to impress anybody. I've seen better hair in my shower drain." —The King on Daniel Bryan's facial hair.
"Oh my God. Did you see the way that Mysterio's body was twisted?" —Michael Cole.
"That's what I do! That's what I do!" —Mark Henry after destroying all the promotion's top hands.
Grade: A. Dear midgets, thanks for saving this boring show. And Dear Mark Henry, thank you for being awesome.
Earlier Kane told Daniel Bryan that his angry words hurt him because their friendship was the most important thing in the world to him. Momentarily touched, Bryan asked him if that was really true.
"Hell no," Kane said with a laugh. Awesome.
We found out that Bryan had earned a chance at the Elimination Chamber, which is pretty cool. That should mean Kane goes over here in order to bring the dueling partners gimmick into the Chamber. Instead, they played that gimmick out early, with Bryan running out to cost Kane the match and a shot at the Elimination Chamber.
Key Quote: "There's never been anyone quite like Kane in the history of the WWE." —Michael Cole. Dr. Isaac Yankem reminded me of him for some reason. Can't put my finger on it.
Grade: C+. Hard to follow the Bryan-Mysterio match, but this was perfectly acceptable pro wrestling.
Heyman comes out to join the Miz, who is way out of his league here. Can you imagine Roddy Piper being blown off the set of Piper's Pit like this? They are trying hard to find a role for the Miz, but he may not have what it takes to be a legitimate star in this sport.
The segment is going nowhere fast when Vickie Guerrero comes out and screeches at the top of her lungs. She reveals that she, and not Heyman, brought Brock back. She did it to impress Vince, but I don't think that it's going to end up being one of the boss's favorite moments.
The Miz insults Vickie and Heyman, fearless in his physical superiority. Too bad for him Brock Lesnar comes out to the ring to more than even the odds. For some reason, Miz shoves him. That wasn't one of the 10 smartest things he could have done. I would have led with apologizing on my knees.
Of course, it's BROCK SMASH time after that. Lesnar does Mark Henry one better, not just destroying Miz, but tossing the set's furniture out of the ring on top of him.
Key Quote: "Stop, stop, stop. Please stop now Mr. Mizanin. Don't say another word." —Paul Heyman.
"You actually think that we are going to believe that you care what happened to Vince McMahon?" —Miz.
"I did not know that Brock Lesnar was in Las Vegas. I did not know that Brock Lesnar was going to attack Mr. McMahon. I did not order Brock Lesnar to attack Mr. McMahon...I tried to stop Brock Lesnar. I tried to back Brock Lesnar down." —Paul Heyman.
"Re-signing Brock was a chance for me to impress Mr. McMahon." Vickie Guerrero. I think that isn't going to work out that way when Vinny Mac gets back.
"Really? Really? Really? Really? You two are lying through your teeth." —Miz on Heyman and Vickie.
"That man is a merciless assassin." —Michael Cole on Brock Lesnar.
Grade: B. As much as I loved the end, it doesn't make up for the horror show that preceded it. That was "F" level work before Lesnar came out and saved it. This night may not be remembered for much, but to me, it will always be immortalized as the evening Brock Lesnar threw a coach out of the ring. That is a thing that really happened. You've got to love wrestling.
This match was nothing special. But Wade Barrett's life story is. As told by Michael Cole, Barrett's every moment before joining the WWE sounds like it could double as a scene from a Jean Claude Van Damme movie.
Barrett has been in a real funk since being eliminated by rookie Bo Dallas at the Royal Rumble and then getting pinned by the upstart on the subsequent Raw. Barrett's head doesn't seem to be in it, at least according to the storyline, and he needs to get Dallas out of his system once and for all.
Key Quote: "This underdog has a bite." —Bo Dallas to Wade Barrett.
"He can already open the mail with that nose." —The King on Wade Barrett. His nose has apparently been broken 12 times. That's a lot.
Grade: C. I don't understand the purpose of second tier champions if you are just going to use them to put over random upper midcarders. Let them be kings of the undercard and keep them away from the established players, please.
WWE opened up the matchmaking here to the fans and Jericho was handily selected over Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio. A product of Jericho's long absence? Or an indication of star status?
Fans chant "Y2J" for Jericho.Wow, is that gimmick ancient or what?
Soon the fans are going back and forth between "CM Punk" and "Y2J" chants.
And why not? It's a solid match between two of the sport's biggest stars. At one point Punk grabs an armbar and yells "ask him! Ask him!" delighting hardcore fans who remember Jericho doing the same in practically every cruiserweight match he ever wrestled.
There were too many false finishes to keep up with, but suffice to say that this was a match that could have easily stolen the show on pay per view. Punk seemed close to giving in to the Walls of Jericho, but had the fortitude to make it to the ropes. After failing in his first attempt, Punk was finally able to put Jericho away with the GTS.
Key Quote: "What a battle back and forth. Both of these guys are pulling out all the stops and trying to figure out "What's it going to take?" —The King, summing it up nicely.
"I thought Jericho was knocked out." —Michael Cole. Punk hit Jericho with a super hard kick and he miraculously kicked out at two.
"Sit down marks." —CM Punk to the fans in midmatch.
Grade: A+. What a tremendous match. These guys both wrestle with chips on their shoulders, trying to prove to the critics that they belong. We know they do, but they seem harder to convince. At the end of the day, it's this insecurity that drives them to greatness.
Big Show finally gets a signed contract to meet Alberto Del Rio for the strap at Elimination Chamber. Del Rio is in the hallway waiting and after a brief brawl gets the best of Big Show with a fire extinguisher.
Brad Maddox is in the ring when we come back to Atlanta, going on and on about last week's big reveal. The Shield comes down and delivers a whooping. That was certainly pointless.
Finally Cena comes through the crowd. For some reason all three members of the Shield feel the need to retreat from one man. Oh WWE, your love for Cena is touching. Unfortunately for The Shield, the WWE locker room has had enough, coming down en masse to drive the Shield back to the ring where Cena, Ryback and Sheamus give them a whooping.
Key Quote: "We are smack dab in the middle of whoop ass season....last week the Shield pushed. This week, I push back." —John Cena.
"My friend had some bad Mexican food. He'll be fine. I'll go downstairs and get him some Pepto." —Del Rio after knocking out Big Show.
"Justice awaits you." —Brad Maddox to the Shield.
"It looks like John Cena wasn't crazy after all." —Jerry Lawler.
Grade: C. This show should have gone off the air with Punk and Jericho. This just doesn't get the job done for me.