It was a blast from the past in Buffalo, N.Y., as Raw went "old school" in front of more than 16,000 fans. From the cheesy graphics package and less than impressive pyro that opened the show to Michael Cole's hideous mustard-color jacket, it was a night to celebrate Raw as longtime fans remember it.
Sometimes, like when the New Age Outlaws came out and showed that they still had it, at least for three minutes, it was a lot of fun. On other occasions, like the ridiculous waste of Dusty Rhodes, Sergeant Slaughter and Hacksaw Jim Duggan, it felt like it was nostalgia hammered into a spot it didn't quite belong.
But forget Ric Flair and the Honky Tonk Man. The "old school" legend who stole the show, of course, was the one we've been waiting for since Royal Rumble—the Undertaker. He came out twice, both times doing no more than showing the world he was still alive. He didn't talk. He didn't hit the ring. He didn't do anything but stand there. And, really, that's all we needed from him.
At WrestleMania, Taker will hit the ring for the 21st time. Facing him, with an opportunity to end the most important streak in sports, is CM Punk. But we'll get to how that happened in a minute.
First let's go through every segment of the show, grading from A-F to see who passed and who failed, old school style. That means no curve, people, so watch out.
Did you know Punk was champion for 434 days? I don't think they've mentioned that. They should bring it up more often.
Punk comes down and says he was thinking of not showing up at WrestleMania. But then he thought a little deeper and figured, if he wasn't in the main event, the next best thing would be screwing the fans. And what better way of doing that than beating the Undertaker and ending the streak?
Of course, he wasn't the only one with that idea. Not the screwing of fans. The beating the Undertaker part. Randy Orton, Big Show and Sheamus all want a shot at the dead man.
Vickie Guerrero, she of the shrill voice and annoying "Excuse me" catchphrase, has a brilliant solution—a four-way dance for a shot at ending the most important streak in sports.
Key Quotes: "I should be main eventing this year's WrestleMania. I should be defending my championship in the main event of this year's WM. And I'm noooot. Not because of anything I did or didn't do. I'm not in the main event of WrestleMania because of you....you screwed me. You did. You did. And in screwing me, you only screwed yourselves. Because if I cannot be in the main event of WrestleMania I see no reason in being at WM. I see no purpose, no point." —CM Punk
"I'm going to beat the Undertaker at WrestleMania. You like your streak. You like those numbers 20-0. So bad. Yet you roll your eyes when I mention a 434-day title reign?" —CM Punk
"You steal from me, I steal from you." —CM Punk
"I've got a new number for you. 20-1." —CM Punk
"At WrestleMania I beat the streak. Deal with it." —CM Punk
"I'd like to ask the WWE universe who they'd rather see face the Undertaker at WrestleMania. CM Punk? Or Randy Orton?" —Randy Orton
"This Giant is going to knock that 20-0 Undertaker streak right into oblivion." —Big Show.
"Fellas, when you've got the luck of the Irish on your side, anything is possible." —Sheamus.
Grade: B. Punk was strong, but everyone else was giving a paint-by-numbers performance. I hope that means we'll see Punk-Taker at the big show.
Solid match between Cesaro and Ryback. It wasn't a squash or anything, after all, Cesaro lasted through one commercial break. But I don't think there was any doubt of the outcome. That didn't stop Cesaro from doing everything in his power to make Ryback look like a total stud.
Now the second match of the segment? That was a straight squash. Before Henry can get to the ring, however, he has to cross paths with Ryback. Now that would be a worthy matchup.
Key Quotes: "Neanderthal." —Antonio Cesaro on Ryback.
"It's the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object." —Jerry Lawler on Henry and Ryback.
Grade: Cesaro vs. Ryback: B+; Henry vs. Ryder: C-. Cesaro's work is a breath of fresh air. No one is even remotely similar and I like it. Henry is such a unique physical specimen. There's something special about him and he'll always matter. But right now all four of these guys are just treading water, waiting for their chance to shine.
In the battle of corners, Miz believes he has the clear advantage. He's rolling with the Nature Boy, the great Ric Flair.
Ziggler? He's got A.J. Lee and "Big E" Langston.
Because this is wrestling, glorious wrestling, the sidekicks got involved, first in the match, then with each other. Flair's chops had no effect on Langston and Miz had to come to the rescue.
That's not really how a good manager works. Flair shouldn't be a distraction to Miz, rather the other guy or the ref. But it didn't really matter. Miz was able to secure the figure-four leglock and the tap anyway.
Key Quotes: "He makes my corner look a lot better than yours." —The Miz on Ric Flair.
"Woo." —Ric Flair.
Grade: B. Very solid match. I still don't quite get what the plan is for Ziggler. He's walking around with a title shot, but at some point soon he's going to be laying down for Hornswoggle clean. Even if he succeeds and wins the strap, he's doomed.
The Rock comes out first to jibber jabber with the people, do his "Finally..." schtick and generally make people feel good. But just as he's really getting into it, John Cena comes out and ruins everything.
The crowd was not happy with Cena, but eventually they settle in for some good old-fashioned back and forth. And one thing is clear right away—this is a classic babyface match.
The Rock doesn't hate John Cena and John Cena doesn't hate the Rock. That's not what WrestleMania is about, And, as much as they respect the belt, they aren't battling for the WWE title either. This is all about pride. These two aren't battling for the now. They are fighting for their places in history.
Key Quotes: "Who you think you're talking to Sally? She said 'My name's not Sally, it's Donna.' And the Rock said it doesn't matter what your name is, woman, the Rock doesn't need a jacket." —The Rock
"The Rock looked down and he had icicles growing on the people's nipples." —The Rock
"You are Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson....you don't fail at anything in life. So you don't know what it feels like to tell the people you care about that you needed to do something—and then failed." —John Cena
"That moment, that match at WrestleMania, that moment sent my life into a tailspin." —John Cena
"You were responsible for my collapse. But through failure, I became stronger." —John Cena
"This is more than just a match for me. This is a shot at redemption...I have been gifted the chance to right the biggest wrong of my life...and I am not throwing this chance away." —John Cena
"As much as it matters to you, it matters so much more to me." —The Rock
"When I step in this ring and I connect with evrry single person in this arena from top to bottom...John Cena, it matters to me." —The Rock
"You ain't getting redemption, jack. You're getting your ass kicked." —The Rock
"In order to be the greatest who ever lived, you have to beat everyone living...I have jumped every roadblock my entire career...except for you." —John Cena
"I will become the WWE champion." —John Cena
"Lance Armstrong was full of crap and so are you." —The Rock to John Cena.
Grade: A. This is a match about legacy. Two of the best of all time deciding whose name gets written first in the history books. I like it.
The match doesn't ever get started as Swagger lays out all the legends with Duggan's two-by-four and then walks off.
Key Quotes: "Put the board down." —Hacksaw Duggan to Swagger. He did not.
"I want no part of any of this." —Michael Cole.
Grade: D. What was the point of that? Even cheap heat requires a little more set up than that. At least do a segment earlier in the night to set this up and make us care.
Daniel Bryan and Kane may be cliched "feuding tag team partners" but they haven't sunk low enough to lose to the Prime Time Players.
Ted DiBiase is ringside scouting the PTP's, but wasn't impressed. After the match he stuffed a $100 bill in Darren Young's mouth and laughed maniacally.
Key Quotes: "He actually straightened me out today. That's not a beard, it a Goat-tee." —Jerry Lawler on "the Goat" Daniel Bryan's beard.
Grade: C+. Say this for Daniel Bryan—no matter where he is on the card, no matter the opponent, he always does whatever he can to take a match up just a notch. I would have gone lower, but after the match, Bryan snuck back down the ramp to steal the cash from an unconscious Young. That made me laugh.
This segment was designed with the sole purpose of letting Honky Tonk Man hit Heath Slater with a guitar.
Key Quotes: "You need to go back to Elvis with all the other Elvis impersonators."—Heath Slater to Honky Tonk Man.
"He doesn't have an enemy in the world. He's outlived them all." —Jerry Lawler on The Honky Tonk Man.
Grade: D. Moving on.
The ring announcer just can't seem to get Fandango's name right, so Fandango refuses to come to the ring for his match.
Key Quotes: "No, no, no. That is inappropriate. I will not make my debut until you learn how to pronounce my name. Fandaannnngo." —Fandango
"You've got to feel it. Let the A's breathe." —Fandango
"Tonight was the night that you almost, almost, got to see the debut of Faaaaandaaaaaango."—Fandango
Grade: D-. Let's just go ahead and start this guy on his next gimmick already. Save us six months.
Triple H, minus his gorgeous locks, hits the ring to officially challenge Brock Lesnar to a match at WrestleMania. He explains why, after considering retirement, he decided to come back to the WWE. It's all about family and defending the "crazy-ass old man" who started all this.
The WWE, family friendly as it is, has decided to make the most of Lesnar's bright red blood, as Triple H brings it up over and over again. He actually asks Lesnar at one point if he's going to show up at WrestleMania or just sit home and bleed.
Well then. What say you, Mr. Lesnar?
Key Quotes: "The second that cast was off, I was back in the gym, training like always. Tearing it up." —HHH.
"I was just waiting. Waiting for a reason." —HHH.
"When Paul Heyman did what he does and turned to Brock Lesnar, I was ready." —HHH.
"I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out why I'm standing in this ring today. Five weeks until the big dance. Here we go, Brock. I'm calling you out." —HHH.
"I split you wide open." —HHH.
"The Game is back and he's calling you out for WrestleMania." —HHH.
Grade: B. In the old days, you would pray that Raw would start with a long Stone Cold interview. A long Rock interview. A long Mick Foley interview. You were getting a long interview one way or another. You were just hoping it wouldn't be HHH. Ten years later, he's still no Rock. But at least he knows when to wrap it up.
Earlier in the night, Del Rio got into it with Jack Swagger backstage. I was sure that would come back to haunt him here. How wrong I was!
Swagger hit the ramp early, but was content to simply watch Del Rio eventually finish Barrett with the cross armbreaker.
Key Quotes: "Come on, Swagger. Come and get some." —Michael Cole.
Grade: B-. I guess sometimes the swerve is that there is no swerve. Del Rio beats Barrett clean while Swagger watches from one of the best spots in the house. I'm glad he didn't interrupt the match—I just wish it was a better match.
Poor Billy Gunn. Someone forgot to tell his stringy, long, bleached-blond hair, the hair that hangs to his shoulders, that the rest of his head is pretty darn bald. He looks like Theon Greyjoy's dad Balon.
But Billy Gunn and the Road Dogg were major players in the Attitude Era WWE. And even old players are better than young jobbers. No matter how old. That's an immutable law of the universe, allowing Gunn to get the win with the "Fame-Asser."
Key Quotes: "If you're not down with that. We've got two words for you..." —Billy Gunn
"...Suck it!" —The Crowd.
"Can this really be old school if I don't say 'Puppies' at least once?" —Jerry Lawler
Grade: B. This is the kind of nostalgia segment that works on "Old School Raw." Nothing special, but in a three-minute match, these guys aren't embarrassing or anything.
CM Punk is a jerk. How big a jerk? Big enough that he would interrupt MaeYoung's 90th birthday party. Not cool, Punk, not cool.
The announce team is hard selling this as one of the biggest matches in Raw history. But we could look up at the clock and see that, with introductions and various tomfoolery, it just didn't have the time to be great.
Everyone looked strong at various points, but Punk looked both strong and smart, waiting for his moment and striking hard and fast with the GTS on Orton to earn his shot at the Undertaker.
As he celebrated in the ring, his music was cut and a new song played. It was the Undertaker and the two stared at each other as the show went off the air.
Key Quotes: "What are you going to do about it, woman?" - CM Punk to Mae Young.
"He's an egomaniac." —Michael Cole on CM Punk.
"What a match. So much at stake here." —Jerry Lawler
"Punk is going to WrestleMania." Lawler
"CM Punk now has a chance at immortality. A chance to take out Undertaker at WrestleMania." —Cole
"There's an old expression. Be careful what you wish for." —Lawler.
Grade: B. Very good match. Everyone was working hard. I wish they had cut a couple of skits and given this one the 10 additional minutes it needed to be great.