For the first time since November 2010, WWE Raw went "old school" last night, featuring the returns of the Undertaker, New Age Outlaws, Honky Tonk Man and more. Not only that, but the show did a terrific job of building toward WrestleMania 29, which is a little less than five weeks away.
Here, I will analyze each significant segment presented on the show. I will also provide a combination of prediction and wishful thinking about what I hope to see in the coming weeks.
The Undertaker Returned; Fatal 4-Way Scheduled for Later in the Night
Solid opening segment featuring the returning Undertaker, CM Punk, Randy Orton, Sheamus and Big Show. The return of Undertaker kicking off the show was a pleasant surprise, aside from the fact it felt a bit brief.
Everyone else played their respective roles well and made good points as to why they should be the one to challenge Taker's streak at 'Mania. It set up the main event nicely and gave viewers something to look forward to later in the evening.
Ryback def. United States Champion Antonio Cesaro (non-Title)
Nice match between Ryback and United States champion Antonio Cesaro. Sure, we've seen it a number of times in the last few months, but these two always seem to work well together.
The finish was well done and Cesaro scored enough offense throughout the bout to look strong in defeat. However, I'm still disappointed that WWE continues to have their secondary champions lose for no apparent reason, as it does critical damage to both the champion and championship.
Mark Henry def. Zack Ryder
Basic match with Mark Henry quickly defeating Zack Ryder. It showcased Henry's domination and continued the strong momentum he's had going in recent weeks.
Furthermore, it was nice to see Ryder on television, especially since the show was on his home turf of New York. The pre-match staredown between Ryback and Henry was what really caught my attention, however, as that's a match I've been hoping to see at WrestleMania for quite some time now.
The Miz with Ric Flair def. Dolph Ziggler with AJ Lee and Big E Langston
Entertaining match between The Miz and Dolph Ziggler. These two have great chemistry with one another and once again didn't disappoint in the squared circle.
The near-falls down the stretch created nice suspense and Miz's win was logical with his new movie The Marine 3 being released this week. Ric Flair was an awesome addition at ringside and really helped Miz get over with the live crowd.
That being said, I can't help but think that Flair would be much better paired with Ziggler, but I can understand why he's not due to Big E Langston and AJ Lee already being a part of Ziggler's act.
John Cena Confronted WWE Champion The Rock
Strong segment featuring WWE champion The Rock and John Cena. I was afraid going into the revival of this feud that these two would produce another month of terrible television by taking shots at one another, but this promo surely proved me wrong.
Unlike last year, Cena and Rock brought incredible intensity to their respective promos and really had this viewer invested in what they were saying. If both Rock and Cena can stay at the top of their game going forward, then I'm highly anticipating the rest of this rivalry.
Jack Swagger Attacked "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, Sgt. Slaughter and Dusty Rhodes
Effective segment with Jack Swagger attacking "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, Sgt. Slaughter and Dusty Rhodes. All three legends have patriotic gimmicks, so Swagger ambushing them felt fitting.
It didn't generate much heat, but Swagger did the best he could to get over with his ruthless antics. It was also a smart way of cramming three notable names into one segment and having it make sense.
WWE Tag Team Champions Team Hell No with Ted DiBiase def. Prime Time Players (non-Title)
Fine match with WWE Tag Team champions Team Hell No defeating the Prime Time Players. We've seen this match a number of times in the past, so the action was nothing out of the ordinary.
It's a shame the Prime Time Players continue to lose, as they have true potential as a tandem and should be the next tag champs. Sadly, Team Hell No is hindering the division more than it's helping it at this point and should really disband sometime soon.
On a more positive note, Daniel Bryan taking Ted DiBiase's dollar bill from Darren Young's mouth was hilarious.
Brodus Clay and Tensai with Honky Tonk Man def. 3MB
Meaningless match with Brodus Clay and Tensai defeating 3MB. The match didn't even last a mere minute and served no purpose whatsoever.
Nonetheless, it was still nice to see The Honky Tonk Man for the first time since late 2008. Where's the Honk-a-Meter when you need it?
Fandango Refused to Compete Against Kofi Kingston
Smart booking by holding off on the debut of Fandango. His mic skills were average, but I have a feeling that Johnny Curtis could make the gimmick work.
It's certainly something different, and the fact he refused to wrestle generated some impressive heat. Damien Sandow did something similar last year, so I hope it's not a compete retread of that.
Also, I liked how the commentators hyped Fandango's debut as a big deal, which was a nice touch.
Triple H Challenged Brock Lesnar to a Match at WrestleMania 29
Standard promo from Triple H. He rehashed his feud with Brock Lesnar from last summer, explained his reasoning for coming back and issued the challenge for WrestleMania 29.
It achieved everything it needed to and HHH's delivery of it was solid as well. I can't be the only one who finds the Game much more intimidating with his head now shaved, right?
World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio def. Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett (non-Title)
Good match with World Heavyweight champion Alberto Del Rio defeating Intercontinental champion Wade Barrett. The bout had a nice flow to it but could have gone much longer.
Jack Swagger's appearance at ringside was logical and helped further their feud. As noted earlier, it's disappointing to see the midcard champions treated so poorly as of late.
I'm not saying Barrett needed to win this match, but at least make the champion vs. champion stipulation feel important.
New Age Outlaws def. Primo and Epico with Rosa Mendes
Fun tag team match with the New Age Outlaws defeating Primo and Epico. For a team that hasn't wrestled on Raw in nearly 13 years, they hardly showed any signs of ring rust.
They scored some impressive offense and were one of the most over acts of the night. Part-timers shouldn't be defeating young stars regularly, but Primo and Epico haven't meant anything in forever, so I'm fine with it.
I look forward to their match with Team Rhodes Scholars on next week's Raw, which has the potential to be great.
CM Punk def. Randy Orton, Sheamus and Big Show to Earn the Right to Face Undertaker at WrestleMania 29
Enjoyable Fatal 4-Way with CM Punk defeating Randy Orton, Sheamus and Big Show to earn the right to face Undertaker at WrestleMania 29. The match itself was very well wrestled, with each individual getting their signature spots in.
Fatal 4-Way matches are typically hectic, but this specific bout did a good job of being consistent throughout. Punk scoring the clean win was great to see, which will help him look strong going into his 'Mania match with Taker.
We haven't seen a qualifying match for the Deadman's streak in years, so it was a refreshing change of pace this time around. The staredown to close the show between Punk and Taker was also a cool visual, to say the least.
Overall, an extremely entertaining show that featured a number of memorable moments and strong build for WrestleMania 29. There were a handful of quality matches, the promos were equally as excellent and the various returns from the legends were fun.
I appreciated the effort WWE put into making the show feel as "old school" as possible with the classic barricade, intro, commentary table, set and more. I was a bit skeptical of the 'Mania card going into this show, but this week's extraordinary edition of Raw did more than enough to get me excited for the rest of the road to WrestleMania 29.