Can you feel it in the air? Are you getting a sense of the intangible? Are you generally in a better mood than normal without any real explanation?
It's WrestleMania season, folks. For the true professional wrestling fan, the excitement, anticipation and adrenaline permeate your entire being. From the outermost layer of your epidermis to the blood running through your veins to the very marrow deep within your bones, WrestleMania should be inside you at this time of year.
This isn't just true for the diehard fans like you and me; it's true for the WWE Superstars as well. From living legends like The Rock and The Undertaker to guys like Yoshi Tatsu and Zack Ryder, everyone has their eyes set on WrestleMania 29.
But for those guys who haven't cemented their spot in this year's spectacle, Michael Cole summed it up best on Main Event this week: "As we move closer to WrestleMania each and every week, every one of these matches becomes so important for all of these competitors. Victories may get you into the show, losses may keep you out of WrestleMania."
So, once again, I bring you What You Missed Since Last Week's Raw.
We take a look at NXT, Main Event, Superstars and Saturday Morning Slam to see how the mid- and lower-card performers are doing. After we review everything that happened on these shows, we'll decide who benefited the most last week and who may end up on TNA or ROH before long.
My "highlights" version of all four shows is below.
If it piques your interest enough to read on, this slideshow breaks down the shows individually, segment by segment, complete with my questions, predictions and/or honorable mentions.
If you disagree with my selections of who benefited/suffered the most, there's a comment section below.
On NXT, Adrian Neville defeated the team of Judas Devlin and Scott Dawson in a handicap match after the NXT Tag Team champion's partner, Oliver Grey, was taken out prior to the match by the Wyatt Family. Leo Krueger got a quick win over Yoshi Tatsu, and the team of the Funkadactyls and Sasha Banks defeated Aksana, Alicia Fox and Audrey Marie in a six-Diva tag team match.
In the main event, Conor O'Brian defeated Bo Dallas and Cory Graves in a No. 1 contender's triple threat match for the NXT Championship. Bo Dallas took the fall after being distracted by Bray Wyatt in what was a rematch from last week when The Shield interfered.
On Main Event, Randy Orton defeated Intercontinental champion Wade Barrett in the marquee matchup of the night. That was followed by Cody Rhodes getting a win over Zack Ryder, partially redeeming himself after a loss to Sheamus last week.
After a few Raw Rebounds, we were also treated to a very solid match when Sin Cara pulled out an upset victory over the United States champion Antonio Cesaro.
Per usual, this week's Superstars featured two original matches and three Raw Rebounds. Team Rhodes Scholars reunited to defeat The Usos, while Layla managed to get a victory over Tamina Snuka.
Finally, on Saturday Morning Slam, they prolonged the angle of Booker T naming a new general manager for the show by one more week. Natalya defeated AJ Lee in Divas competition and Daniel Bryan defeated Intercontinental champion Wade Barrett in a non-title match.
Now, if you care to read more about any of these happenings, please enjoy the slideshow.
This week's episode of NXT begins in the arena with commissioner Dusty Rhodes. After last week's main event was interrupted by The Shield, he has rescheduled the match for tonight. That means a Triple Threat match to determine the No. 1 contender for the NXT Championship, featuring Bo Dallas, Cory Graves and Conor O'Brian. He says the security has been beefed up to prevent The Shield from interfering again.
Tony Dawson and William Regal are on commentary as we head into the opening match.
Adrian Neville vs. Judas Devlin and Scott Dawson
The newly-crowned NXT Tag Team champions were scheduled to compete as a team, but as Neville explains when he gets to the ring, he doesn't know where Oliver Grey is. The match goes on as a handicap match.
Devlin and Dawson don't use as many double-team tactics, as you'd expect, and although Neville isn't in control of the match, he's keeping up with his opponents.
As the match nears its end, the Wyatt Family emerge at the top of the ramp, dragging Oliver Grey along with them. They leave Grey and his NXT Tag Team Championship belt laying on the ramp as the match continues.
Neville is clearly distracted by this and tries to escape the ring to check on his partner more than once but is stopped by his opponents. Neville is forced to focus on the match and wins using his brilliant top-rope corkscrew before rushing to the aide of Grey.
Winner: Adrian Neville (match length: 3:21)
Renee Young is backstage for an interview with Kassius Ohno, who is looking at pictures of William Regal on his smartphone. She pronounces his name "Kass-i-us" and he corrects her with the pronunciation "Kash-us."
He says he's been gone from NXT because he's suffered an illness of the subconscious, causing him to see and hear William Regal everywhere. He's disappointed that one of the villains he looked up to as a youngster is now trying to play the part of a hero. Richie Steamboat tried to be a hero, he says, and look what happened to him.
He's scheduled for a match with Derrick Bateman for next week's NXT.
Before heading to a commercial break, we get a short, pre-taped Conor O'Brian promo, complete with smoke/fog and creepy blue lighting. He simply says he'll win the match tonight and go on to take Big E. Langston's NXT Championship.
After the commercial break, we get another short, pre-taped promo, this time for Cory Graves. It appears to have been shot in a building that is still being constructed, the walls still incomplete. He says he'll take out both of his opponents this week, just like The Shield did to them last week.
Back in the arena, Regal refuses to comment on Ohno's interview from earlier.
Yoshi Tatsu vs. Leo Krueger
Yoshi is very over with the NXT crowd, but Krueger is being pushed as one of NXT's top heels, so Tatsu's odds aren't looking good for this match.
Yoshi actually gets in some offense very early on, but it doesn't last long. Krueger shows an impressive mix of his brutality and some technical wrestling skills. He gets Tatsu down on the mat and forces him to tap with a submission move applied to Tatsu's arm.
Winner: Leo Krueger (match length: 3:03)
After the bell, Krueger attempts to put the hold on Tatsu again, but it's broken up when Justin Gabriel makes his way to the ring, continuing the feud between the two South Africans. (Strange note, the save by Gabriel was shown when you watch this on NXT, but not when I watched an international version I had downloaded.)
Sasha Banks, Cameron and Naomi vs. Alicia Fox, Aksana and Audrey Marie
Next up, a six-Diva tag match in which two-thirds of the competitors are already making regular appearances on WWE programming.
Prediction: Once Cameron and Naomi are no longer used as the Funkadactyls, they'll have a brief stint as a tag team (with a relationship similar to Lay Cool) before it dissolves into a feud as Naomi climbs in the Divas rankings, leaving Cameron in the dust. If Sasha Banks ever makes it to regular WWE programming, her gimmick will be very reminiscent of Alicia Fox as a face, leaving her with little chance to truly succeed. Audrey Marie will be the second Diva from the current NXT roster to make the transition to the "big leagues," preceded by Paige.
The match was quick, so much so that Alicia Fox and Sasha Banks were never even tagged in for their respective teams. Naomi, who is quickly becoming my favorite Diva, stole the show with her impressive, athletic offense after receiving the hot tag from Cameron. She pinned Audrey Marie after landing her Nightfalls leg lariat.
Winners: Sasha Banks, Cameron and Naomi (match length: 4:24)
Question: Why doesn't Tony Dawson use the names wrestlers give to their signature moves? That seems like a pretty standard practice for any commentary team, and neither Regal nor Dawson generally tell you what someone's finisher is called, either the personalized name ("Nightfalls") or the technical term (leg lariat).
The Divas match is followed by an interview with Bo Dallas backstage, conducted by Tom Phillips. As he begins to talk about his accomplishments and dismisses the accusations that it was simply luck, Bray Wyatt interrupts. Wyatt simply criticizes Dallas for refusing to join the Wyatt family. I'm not sure if it was supposed to be an ironic moment when Dallas says to his real-life older brother, "I want nothing to do with your family." Have they acknowledged their familial ties on NXT?
They make an announcement that Alberto Del Rio will be present for next week's episode, but they don't tell us in what capacity he'll be used.
Summer Rae is backstage for an interview conducted by Renee Young. Rae still demands to be referred to as "The First Lady of NXT" and claims that she has rid NXT of Paige. She also implied that she'll be in action next week.
Before the main event, we get a trademark shaky-handheld-camera promo from The Shield. They want everyone to know that just because they're taking care of business on Raw and SmackDown, it doesn't mean that they are done with NXT. They want the NXT Championship back.
Cory Graves vs. Conor O'Brian vs. Bo Dallas - No. 1 Contender's Match for the NXT Championship
The buildup to this match gave no real indication as to who should be considered the "favorite," and the opening minutes of the match makes all three contenders look like they have a fair shot at winning. I never read spoilers and don't pay a lot of attention to "dirt sheets," so whoever wins this match will be a surprise to me.
With about four or five minutes of programming remaining and the match still anybody's game, Bray Wyatt strolls out to the ramp, meandering his way to the ring. As the match nears its ending, Dallas sends O'Brian to the outside of the ring and has Graves under his control. Dallas goes for a pin near the ropes, but Wyatt pulls Graves out of the ring before the three-count.
As Dallas begins to argue with Wyatt, O'Brian comes up behind him, hits him with a full nelson slam (which Dawson did call, but didn't mention that it was a move O'Brian had renamed the Roof Top Drop under a former persona) and becomes the new No. 1 contender to end the show.
Winner: Conor O'Brian (televised match length: 12:10)
The show opens in the arena with Michael Cole and The Miz on commentary as Randy Orton makes his way to the ring for the first match of the evening.
Barrett comes out to the ring next and has them replay the video package from Raw that showed the red carpet premiere for Dead Man Down. The Intercontinental champion then approaches The Miz, implying that his role in Dead Man Down makes him more important than Mike's role in The Marine 3.
Orton leaves the ring to throw Barrett back in so that the match can begin.
Randy Orton vs. Wade Barrett
Orton has control of the match early on, tossing Barrett over the top ropes to send us to the first commercial break. When we return, Orton remains in control, both men back in the ring. After four or five minutes of televised action, Barrett still hasn't delivered much offense, and he rolls outside the ring to regroup.
Although Orton is right behind Barrett, the Intercontinental champion turns the tides and begins to dominate the Viper. Barrett delivers a vicious kick to Orton as he stands on the apron, sending Orton to the floor and the program to another commercial break.
The final few minutes of the match shows the momentum shifting back and forth. In the end, Orton thwarts Barrett's finisher attempt and lands the RKO for the win.
Winner: Randy Orton (televised match length: 10:47)
After a commercial break, we return with both competitors in the ring for the second match.
Cody Rhodes vs. Zack Ryder
Rhodes suffered an embarrassing loss to Sheamus last week as he tried to impress Kaitlyn, so he is looking to redeem himself this week. The story with Zack Ryder is that he's still trying to earn a spot at WrestleMania, the event being held in his backyard this year.
The match went quick, with Rhodes dominating most of the action. Ryder did get in a brief flurry of offense, just long enough to set Rhodes up for the Broski Boot. But Goldust's little brother managed to avoid the Boot and followed up with a Disaster Kick and Cross Rhodes for the win.
Winner: Cody Rhodes (match length: 3:05)
Prediction: Ryder will get the call for a match at WrestleMania. It will be last-minute, and it won't be a big match, but that's what his character will be focused on until WWE arrives in East Rutherford.
After this match, we are shown Triple H's challenge to Lesnar from Monday Night Raw.
Sin Cara comes to the ring before the break to set up for his match against Antonio Cesaro. The United States champion is in the ring when we return and the match is ready to go.
Antonio Cesaro vs. Sin Cara
This match has no storied background, there is no history between these two international stars. Both men bring offensive styles to the ring that are unique among their WWE peers. Sin Cara takes a great deal of heat from the IWC, but at the very least, he must be seen as someone with great potential.
In my book, this was the second-best match of the week for all WWE programming (Ziggler vs. Del Rio from SmackDown being the first). It wasn't a terribly long match, but if you haven't seen it, you really should.
The upset victory came when Cesaro was sitting on the top turnbuckle and Sin Cara was standing in the opposite corner. The luchadore sprinted toward Cesaro, attempting a hurricanrana, but the United States champion over-powered Sin Cara and set him up for a second-rope powerbomb. As Cesaro lifted his opponent above his head, Sin Cara re-reversed the move and ended up hitting the hurricanrana after all. That was enough to score a win.
Winner: Sin Cara (match length: 4:14)
This match was followed by a replay of the Undertaker's presence at Raw and the Fatal 4-Way to determine his WrestleMania opponent.
Question: Is WWE finally listening to its fans about the format of its programming? Main Event has been booking three matches per episode lately, as opposed to only two, which is what generally happened in the beginning. Sure, WWE still ended the show with a Raw Rebound, but with there officially being more matches than replays from Raw, perhaps things are moving in the right direction.
The show ends with the Point-Counterpoint segment from Raw featuring The Rock and John Cena.
The show opens immediately in the arena with The Usos headed to the ring for some tag team action. They're facing Team Rhodes Scholars. Tony Dawson and Matt Striker are on commentary.
Team Rhodes Scholars vs. The Usos
The commentary team highlighted the fact that we haven't determined the challengers for the WWE Tag Team Championship at WrestleMania, and that's what both of these teams are focused on today.
The Usos dominate the beginning of the match. Both teams have great in-ring chemistry, reminding me of the emergence of "tag team specialists" from the early '90s when the division was stacked with teams like The Rockers, The Hart Foundation, Orient Express, Legion of Doom and Demolition.
Question: Does it seem strange that WWE is already putting Rhodes and Sandow back together after spending weeks reminding us that they are focusing on their singles careers? Was this part of the plan all along? Are they building them for a Tag Team title match at 'Mania?
After a commercial break, the Scholars regain control of the match. Sandow dominates Jimmy for a few minutes before the Uso manages a flying chop to Sandow's head. Jay and Cody both get hot tags, but Jay takes charge.
As the match winds down, all four men are in the ring. Sandow tosses Jimmy over the top rope. Jay superkicks Sandow and sends him rolling out of the ring. Rhodes hits the Disaster Kick when Jay turns around and Team Rhodes Scholars get the win.
Winners: Team Rhodes Scholars (televised match length: 6:01)
We're sent to commercial break after this match. When we return, all we get is a replay of The Rock and Cena from Monday Night Raw.
After another commercial break, we're treated to a video package catching us up on the recent drama involving Triple H and Brock Lesnar.
After one more commercial break, we return to the arena for some Divas action.
Layla vs. Tamina Snuka
As far as Divas matches go (meaning specifically the WWE's Divas division, not women's wrestling as a whole), this one was above average. Snuka has to be considered one of the top two female workers currently employed by WWE, along with Natalya.
Prediction: The Divas division can only go up from where it is currently. Snuka will play an important role in rebuilding the division to a respectable manner, but because she doesn't have the same sex appeal as someone like Layla or AJ, she'll never get the push she truly deserves.
Snuka was in charge for most of the match, showing off her ability to dominate most of the Divas she competes against. In the end, however, Layla managed to reverse a Samoan Drop and rolled Snuka up for the win.
Winner: Layla (match length: 4:24)
This match is followed by a replay of the Fatal 4-Way from Monday Night Raw, which brings an end to this week's Superstars.
This week's show opens with a video package reminding us of the drama leading up to the big announcement: the new general manager for Saturday Morning Slam.
Backstage, Teddy Long is talking to Natalya, praising her for the interview skills she's demonstrated on SMS. She lets Long know that she would like to be general manager. They're interrupted by AJ Lee, who claims she would be a better option.
Question: What advantage will it be for a Superstar to be named the general manager of Saturday Morning Slam? I've noticed Cole talking about it briefly on Raw and SmackDown. Could they use this to draw more attention to the show? Will they be grooming a someone to give them more options within the company down the road? Will more stories from SMS be continued on Raw and SmackDown?
Long lets them know that he and Booker T haven't made their final decision. Then he tells them to settle their differences in the ring. The match is set, and we're also told that Daniel Bryan will face Wade Barrett in the main event.
AJ Lee vs. Natalya
AJ makes her way to the ring alone, as Dolph Ziggler joins Josh Matthews on commentary.
As demonstrated in this match, Natalya has almost every advantage over AJ: She's stronger, she has more in-ring experience and she's clearly the better technical wrestler of the two. She even upped her head games by teasing AJ for being so tiny and mocking the way she skips around the ring.
But the fact that AJ has a gimmick that people like and is generally preferred to Natalya in terms of physical attractiveness make her an even match in the world of WWE.
AJ didn't get much of an opportunity to truly showcase her offense. The match came to an end when AJ attempted a high cross body from the top rope. Natalya used the momentum to roll AJ over and picked up the win.
Winner: Natalya (match length: 4:01)
Before the main event, they show a brief video package of former Superstars that have had a chance to take on a leadership roll, including Roddy Piper, Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels and Mick Foley.
The also run a Saturday Morning Spotlight segment for Daniel Bryan, highlighting his relationship with Kane, his beard, the "Yes!" chants and his desire to be called "The Dazzler."
Backstage, Tony Dawson interviews Bryan, asking why he thinks he should be the SMS GM. Bryan says that he's intelligent, level-headed and well-groomed. He also makes a point that a GM needs to be decisive, and Bryan will always deliver a clear "Yes!" or "No!" and never a "maybe."
Wade Barrett interrupts to say that Bryan won't be able to beat him in their upcoming match.
Wade Barrett vs. Daniel Bryan
Ziggler has left the commentary booth and is replaced with Kane. This champion vs. champion match starts right after a commercial break.
Kane does a good job on commentary. When asked about what he would do if named the SMS GM. He says he would change the color scheme to red and black and would book more Inferno matches. He officially gets my vote.
A match between Barrett and Bryan could headline a pay-per-view a year from now, and considering this is a match being aired on Saturday morning, it's an indication that a marquee match between these two would completely deliver.
Prediction: Based on his recent lack of big wins and little to no angles or feuds being built around him, Barrett will be lucky to get a match at WrestleMania 29 and even luckier if he leaves with the IC strap.
The end looked a little messy, leaving me to think that one of the guys botched something. Barrett had Bryan ready for what looked like a Samoan Drop, but the Tag Team champion reversed it and rolled the Intercontinental champion up for the victory.
Winner: Daniel Bryan (televised match length: 5:09)
After the match, we didn't get an announcement about the new SMS general manager. That's two weeks in a row in which they acted like they would make the announcement but just postponed it instead. Hopefully the Vortex crowd isn't offended.
After taking a look at all four of WWE's "other" shows from last week, which Superstar came away the biggest winner? Who came away the biggest loser? Who looks like they have a promising future with Vince's company, and who looks like they'll struggle to be more than a jobber on Superstars?
Biggest Winner: Cody Rhodes
Rhodes was an easy pick this week. Not only was he the sole Superstar to pick up two victories, but the victories were a part of two different storylines that Rhodes is currently involved in.
His appearance on NXT was a follow-up to the loss he suffered against Sheamus last week, all while trying to impress WWE Divas Champion Kaitlyn. Sure, a victory over Zack Ryder isn't a huge accomplishment these days, but it showed that Rhodes will get right back up after being knocked down. There was nothing to complain about regarding their match, and his continued pursuit of Kaitlyn is interesting.
Then on Superstars, he teamed up with Damien Sandow for a reunion of the defunct Team Rhodes Scholars. Their victory over The Usos would seem to indicate that the Scholars will somehow be involved with the WWE Tag Team Championship at WrestleMania, or at least they'll be an important part of the buildup for the title match in East Rutherford.
Will the momentum he gained this week translate into a continued push toward WrestleMania 29?
Biggest Loser: Wade Barrett
I'm going to be honest: I don't understand what WWE is doing with Barrett lately.
He currently holds the third-most important singles title in WWE. They're making a big deal out of his small role in Dead Man Down. He's getting a lot of exposure, but it doesn't feel like they're building him toward being a main event competitor anytime soon.
He was the only guy with two losses from these four programs this week. Is that really how you want to book your Intercontinental champion? To his credit, both matches were solid, and losing to either of the competitors he faced isn't anything to be ashamed of. But why bury a champion when you still haven't even booked him a match for WrestleMania?
His loss to Randy Orton was understandable. Orton is clearly at a different level than Barrett, and WWE wants to build Orton to look like he can stop The Shield at WrestleMania. But why not give him a victory over someone like Kane, a main event wrestler who isn't currently focused on his singles career?
A loss over Daniel Bryan on Saturday Morning Slam is more puzzling. Daniel Bryan's current gimmick is so over that a loss to the Intercontinental champion would barely phase him, especially on a show like Saturday Morning Slam that very few hardcore fans ever watch. When you consider the fact that Bryan isn't even worried about his singles career at this point, it makes even less sense to give him the win.
Barrett's feud with Bo Dallas seems to have faded and the champ isn't booked for WrestleMania. As far as I can tell, he's not even working a program with anyone right now. Things don't look great for the former bare-knuckle brawler. He'll be lucky to get anything other than a dark match at 'Mania. And if his matches that we just looked at are any indication, he'll be even luckier to leave Mania with the IC strap.
Do you think someone else had a better week on these shows than Cody Rhodes? Do you think someone took a bigger hit than Wade Barrett? Please, let's discuss!