Raw was live in Pittsburgh with WrestleMania 29 just three weeks away. More than 15,000 Steel City fans had to be intrigued to see what Undertaker was going to do to the dastardly CM Punk or whether or not Triple H would sign the dotted line to fight Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania.
The crowd had to wait for either of those hot angles to continue, though. The show opened, not with any of the central figures, but rather with John Cena.
Of course it did!
He had nothing of import to say and ended up in a squash match, but even when he's not, Cena has to appear to be the show's central figure. Must be in his contract or something.
In the end, Punk was smart enough to keep his distance from Undertaker, and of course, Triple H would risk anything to get his hands on Lesnar, even sign a contract that would end his career if he loses.
Was I kind to HHH? Which segment stole the show? You won't get spoilers on this slide. Click on to see how I graded Cena and every other segment on the show.
John Cena runs to the ring and when he runs he actually runs. He's no Ultimate Warrior, who took roughly 10 minutes to run to ringside.
Cena, inexplicably, gets into an extended conversation with the Primetime Players. This is what happens when one of the major players can't make it to every show. Cena is left messing around with jobbers. Eventually John squashes Darren Young to put us all out of our misery.
Key Quotes: "I sense there may be some Rock fans in the audience tonight." John Cena
"You've got 20 days left to pick a side." Cena
"Your time is up. Our time is now. I know that's a bitter pill to swallow." Cena
"I am focused and I am ready for WrestleMania." Cena
"My name is Rufus 'Pancake' Patterson. They call me pancake because I flattens fools." Rufus Patterson (AKA Titus O'Neill).
"You on the cover of Fruity Pebbles so there's no reason my nephew Darren shouldn't be on the cover of Cocoa Pebbles." Rufus Patterson.
Grade: C. I was actually amused by "Pancake" Patterson, but this wasn't the right time or place to add a new character to the show. Pure filler, and I don't know that the open of the show is a good place for it. I expect something with more gravitas there.
David Otunga vs. Ryback. Hmm. Is Vegas taking bets on WWE results? I'm thinking Ryback would be at least minus-5000 here.
Ryback wrecks Otunga and then, after Mark Henry comes out and angers up his blood, wrecks him a second time for good measure. As the legend Stone Cold would say, time for the bottom line: Ryback is out of the match with The Shield. Instead, he'll be taking on Henry!
Yes! Yes! Yes!
Key Quotes: "It is indeed feeding time." Jerry Lawler on Ryback.
"At WrestleMania, myself, Randy Orton and Sheamus are going to tear The Shield apart." Ryback.
"You see Henry walk through the entrance and it looks like an eclipse of the sun." Michael Cole.
"This is you." Ryback to Henry as he slams Otunga.
Grade: B. The match was nothing at all. I can't remember it moments later. But the potential for a Henry vs. Ryback match at WrestleMania? Count me in!
Fandaaaaaaaaango is back. Of course, he doesn't actually wrestle. Just another week between this poor guy and his opportunity to be repackaged as a character that might actually work.
Key Quotes: "Wow, looks like a Lite-Brite." Michael Cole on Fandango's entrance lights.
"Stretch, it is quite obvious that you are far too stupid to pronounce my name correctly. So I was thinking, tonight, why don't we let the beautiful, sensual, Canadian slice of heaven Natalya try." Fandango.
"Don't be afraid of all this masculinity, my lady. It's okay." Fandango.
"Fan-Dang-Go get him Khali, now." Natalia.
"Tonight was the night when you almost got to see the debut of Fandaaaaango." Fandango.
"No one cares." Fan in the audience heard clearly on camera.
Grade: D. So guys, looks like they may try to ride this debut out all the way to WrestleMania. I look forward to five minutes in order to get a sandwich every week.
Now this is interesting. Instead of an established star in with enhancement talent, we get two enhancement talents in the ring at the same time. At least we don't know who will win as soon as the guys hit the ring.
Of course, with our first competitive match, we get our first screw job. Damien Sandow bails on the match and heads to the back for a countout loss.
Key Quotes: "Silence the music. I am about to speak. Henry David Thoreau once said rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth...He is rolling over in his grave right now, with that man in the ring right now calling himself R-Truth." Damien Sandow
"I got a little poetry of my own. Your beard is weird and you talk a lot. I got four sweet words for you. You gonna get got." R-Truth
Grade: C. This was heading toward "all right," but instead we get no finish and no match worth speaking of. Almost an hour in and nothing resembling a good wrestling match.
I was trying to think of a word to describe how The Undertaker looks. Being the wordsmith I am, I found the perfect one—old. He looks dirt old.
Taker's message is simple. He wants Paul Bearer's urn. CM Punk answers from backstage—he's not going to make this easy. On The Undertaker or himself. After taunting The Undertaker, he actually drops the urn. Allow me to repeat—he dropped the urn! Oh boy. It's on now.
Key Quotes: "Punk, last week you sealed your own fate when you decided to make this personal....I'm going to hurt you and I'm going to hurt you bad." Undertaker
"You have one chance to save your own soul. I want that urn back." Undertaker
"No disrespect intended. I never could hit the high notes." CM Punk after botching a Paul Bearer impression.
"At WrestleMania, you're the best in the world. But you've never faced anyone like me at WrestleMania. I'm the best in the world 365 days a year." Punk
"I don't answer to a higher power. I am a higher power." Punk
"I will beat the streak. I am the one...hell, I am the one in 20-1." Punk
Grade: A. Wow. Punk is going to get physically destroyed at Mania, isn't he? Intense stuff here. Any one else starting to think that these two may just go ahead and steal the show?
This is a classic "Nitro match." On the WCW Monday night classic, solid matches between midcard stars would be totally ignored while the announcers discussed main-event angles. Picture Eddy Guerrero wrestling his butt off while Tony Schiavone talks endlessly about the NWO getting out of a limousine.
A little of that happened with this match as the announcers couldn't let the Undertaker-Punk angle go. Solid tag match before AJ Lee runs out in an attempt to distract Bryan and Kane. It doesn't quite work, but the near-shock causes Kane to turn it up a notch to secure the win.
Key Quotes: "I'm searching for worse than disrespectful. But that's what CM Punk has been...it's almost diabolical." Jerry Lawler.
Grade: B. Some pretty nifty work here by Primo. It was overshadowed by the hot angle between Taker and Punk, but this was the first solid match of the night.
Funny skit with Jericho intentionally botching Fandango's name and pretending he thinks Fandango works for the movie-ticket site of the same name. I laughed. That's a good spot for someone feuding with Fandango. I'm not sure using it in a throwaway interview like this was wise.
Del Rio comes out to take on Rhodes, just a week removed from a brutal Jack Swagger assault on his knee. The two end up having a really, really good match. Del Rio eventually pulls it off with the armbar but is immediately attacked by Swagger.
Rodriguez buys Del Rio some time and is tossed from the ring by Swagger, flying what looks like a good 10 feet. Outside the ring, Del Rio lands an awesome high kick, but he is distracted by Zeb Colter and pays the price, getting tossed into the ring steps and over the announce table.
Del Rio is hurt badly, but Swagger is not done. Before he and Zeb leave, he breaks Rodriguez's ankle for good measure. Business, as they say, is picking up with this feud.
Key Quotes: "Fan-Dingo Ate My Babyo." Chris Jericho attempts to pronounce Fandango.
"Fan Dunghole." Jericho.
"Fan Dumbo." Jericho.
"You will learn to pronounce my name properly." Fandango.
"Del Rio with the roll through." Michael Cole. Del Rio actually did a La Magistral cradle. We are about a week away from Vince McMahon's classic "What a maneuver!" being brought back.
"Beat the world heavyweight champion here tonight? That's got to put me in contention." Jerry Lawler trying to put himself in Cody Rhodes' head.
"Welcome to Jack Swagger's America." Jack Swagger.
"USA, USA, USA!" Audible fan chants for Rhodes. That doesn't say much for Del Rio as a babyface.
Grade: Jericho: B, Rhodes vs. Del Rio: A Man, that was a super match, but one almost immediately overshadowed by a tremendous angle. You do have to disconnect your brain at times. Did Del Rio really not expect Swagger to make an appearance? Why did Rodriguez's ankle supposedly break after a short ankle lock by Swagger? Because he's not a wrestler, his ankle breaks easily? Off brain! This is solid stuff!
Sheamus and Randy Orton get a surprisingly stiff test from 3MB, but the outcome is never in question. Everyone is waiting for the aftermath. Shield comes out and surrounds the ring. Who will come out and even the numbers up after Ryback was pulled to fight Mark Henry?
It's Big Show. And The Shield bails. Show points to the WrestleMania sign and walks off.
That's quite a team. But Big Show is totally turning on Team WWE. It is known.
Key Quotes: "Drew won't be singing any songs. He'll be sucking soup through a straw after that." Jerry Lawler after Sheamus nails Drew McIntyre.
"Here comes the Viper. He's going to that place where the RKO lives." Michael Cole.
"What are Big Show's intentions?" Cole.
Grade: B-. Well, that was just sad. For a moment, 3MB was channeling the old Midnight Express and we had a glimpse of what we are missing. This could be a really good tag team. Instead, they are glorified job guys. That's kind of too bad.
Solid TV match. Ziggler needs help from "Big E" Langston and AJ Lee to do it, but he manages to dispatch with Kingston, who acquits himself well.
After the match, Kane and Daniel Bryan come out and a bout is made for WrestleMania.
Key Quotes: "That may be it." Jerry Lawler after Ziggler nails a standing dropkick. Come on, King. No one has won a match with that move since the 1960s.
"Talk about a drive by." Lawler on Langston's sneaky attack on Kingston.
"Congratulations, Dolph. Not on your victory, of course. But on being the only one to get me and Kane on the same page." Daniel Bryan.
"Let me think about that...Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!" Daniel Bryan responding to AJ Lee's challenge to a title match at WrestleMania.
Grade: B-. That's a decent WrestleMania match. I have no complaints about this segment whatsoever. And I like complaining!
The Intercontinental title is on the line, and these three guys are the only people in the world who seem to still take that belt seriously. They must, right? Why else would they work so hard for it?
I'm not a big fan of this style of match. Normally, it devolves to two guys working while another lays around outside. But despite these limitations, I enjoyed this and was glad to see Barrett live to fight another day.
Key Quotes: "C'mon Baby!" Chris Jericho doing his best Chris Jericho impression.
"All three men with a super superplex." Michael Cole after a ludicrous spot off the top rope.
Grade: B. Pretty exciting match for the Intercontinental title. Fast paced, as this kind of bout should be, and no one really failed to live up to expectations. Coolest spot was Jericho breaking up a figure-four attempt by The Miz with the Lionsault. Barrett, however, ended up sneaking up on Miz to escape with his title belt.
Triple H comes out complete with his buzzcut. I still miss his wonderful, luxurious hair. I'll bet it smelled like coconuts.
Heyman waddles down with a cut-rate security staff to gloat. HHH doesn't seem too worried about the stipulations. I guess when you're wife is heir to the entire company, it can only be so bad, right?
Paul E goes too far, as is his way, and HHH whoops his entire security staff and then attacks Heyman. He draws blood the hard way then opens Heyman's shirt and signs the contract on his belly welly. Then he tosses him out of the ring and throws a chair on him for good measure.
Lesnar comes out with a chair, but Triple H has a surprise for him. A sledgehammer.
Heyman convinced Brock to back off. They got what they wanted. Triple H signed to face Lesnar, no holds barred, with his career on the line.
Key Quotes: "It's almost suicide to go in and sign without knowing what the stipulation is going to be." Jerry Lawler.
"I'm afraid Triple H, of you. Because I'm afraid you realize the predicament Brock and I have placed you in." Paul Heyman.
"I think you don't know what to do yet. I think you're a very frustrated man." Heyman.
"Let's do this. Give me the contract." HHH.
"You won't mind if I take a moment to really enjoy this?" Heyman.
"Brock Lesnar doesn't want you to have any excuses." Heyman.
"The winner of the match gets your wife, Stephanie. But since we're talking personally, wouldn't it be more fitting if the loser got Stephanie?" Heyman. After that, HHH ran roughshod.
"Brock, help, Brock." Heyman.
"Want to make it official? Here you go. Now go call your monster." HHH, slamming the pen into Heyman's chest.
"I hate you." Heyman.
"Man, that beating was worth it to get you to sign this contract...it will be HHH vs. Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. No countout, no disqualification, no stopping the match for any single reason...because your match at WrestleMania will be No...Holds...Barred." Heyman.
"The added stipulation that we picked is that your career is on the line." Heyman.
Grade: B. I don't like to see so much Heyman and so little Lesnar. And, for all the build up, this seemed a little anticlimactic. No holds barred? Really?
This segment worked, just not as well as I'd hoped. Would HHH go out on a job to Lesnar? Or will he prefer his final match to be a feel-good win? Pretty interesting stuff behind the scenes here for the ultra-hardcore fans. I'm intrigued.