To highlight the struggle some of the WWE Superstars face to earn a spot at WrestleMania, look no further than Matt Striker's first comments on this week's WWE Superstars.
"Well, we can talk about Zack Ryder later. The important thing is that WrestleMania is going to be a night to remember," Striker said as Ryder was in the ring, ready to face off against United States Champion Antonio Cesaro.
If The Rock had been in the ring, would Striker want to wait until later to talk about him? Are the commentators ever talking about anything other than CM Punk when he makes an appearance?
If a wrestler can't even hold a commentator's attention at the very beginning of a match, what chance does he have of grabbing WWE Creative's attention as it puts the final touches on the WrestleMania 29 booking?
I'm always interested in what's going on with those Superstars who are still struggling to make names for themselves, and I'm especially interested to see what they do to try to make it to the biggest show of the year.
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. 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, Leo Krueger got a submission victory over Justin Gabriel in what appears to be a program that will continue for at least a little while. William Regal and Kassius Ohno continued their unique feud, as Regal tried to apologize for punching Ohno last week, only to be verbally berated by Ohno to the point that he punched him again. Audrey Marie gave a quick interview to continue her feud with Sasha Banks.
Paige was in action this week, defeating Bayley before scaring Summer Rae away from the ring post-match. In the main event, Adrian Neville lost by pinfall to Luke Harper. Before the show ended, all members of the Wyatt Family were in the ring with Neville, Oliver Grey and Bo Dallas, setting the scene for a six-man feud.
On Main Event, Wade Barrett got a non-title victory over R-Truth. Post-match, he confronted The Miz, all but ensuring a match at WrestleMania. Sheamus gave a brief interview about not trusting The Big Show.
It looks as though a program may develop between Natalya and Alicia Fox, as Natalya and Layla defeated Alicia Fox and Aksana. In the final match, The Usos got a victory over The Prime Time Players.
Per usual, this week's Superstars featured two original matches and three Raw Rebounds. Antonio Cesaro got a win over Zack Ryder, and Brodus Clay and Tensai defeated Michael McGillicutty and JTG.
Finally, on Saturday Morning Slam, The Great Khali defeated Primo and Epico in a handicap match. After being featured as this week's "Saturday Morning Spotlight," The Miz got a victory over Damien Sandow.
Now, if you care to read more about any of these happenings, please enjoy the slideshow.
NXT opened with a brief recap of the dispute between the Wyatt Family and the NXT Tag Team Champions Adrian Neville and Oliver Grey. Neville would be taking on Family member Luke Harper that night.
In the arena, William Regal and Tony Dawson were on commentary. Justin Gabriel made his way to the ring as they continue to build a feud between the Cape Town Werewolf and fellow South African Leo Krueger.
Justin Gabriel vs. Leo Krueger
It appears as though NXT Has dropped the idea of Krueger being the psychotic acolyte of Kassius Ohno, as Krueger seemed fully focused on Gabriel (and presumably Tyson Kidd upon his return) while Ohno is busy dealing with Regal.
In the opening minutes of the match, as both men tried to set the pace, Gabriel was not his usual, in-ring technician-self. Instead, both men were brawling, more akin to Krueger's style. Predictably, this worked to Krueger's advantage. He grounded the high-flyer as we headed to our first commercial break.
Krueger was still in control when we returned, working an arm submission that kept Gabriel on the mat. After several minutes of taking a beating, Gabriel reversed a submission hold to give himself another shot at some offense. Gabriel was allowed the opportunity to really show off some of his exciting offense, but he couldn't keep Krueger down for a three-count.
As Gabriel got to the top rope for the 450 Splash, Krueger rolled out of the ring to the apron. Good in-ring psychology by both athletes, as Krueger continually attacked Gabriel's left arm and elbow, and Gabriel continually sold his opponent's offense. Krueger locked in his inverted key lock submission once again, and this time Gabriel tapped.
Winner: Leo Krueger (submission; televised match length 9:54)
Prediction: Krueger will continue to get the best of Gabriel until Tyson Kidd can return to action.
Backstage, Audrey Marie was interviewed by Renee Young. Regarding her feud with Sasha Banks, Young mentioned that we haven't heard much from Marie since Banks distracted her during a six-Diva tag match, causing her to lose. Audrey simply said that it's always quietest before the storm, and that Sasha knows Audrey is coming after her but can't do a thing to stop it.
After a commercial break, we returned to the arena where Regal had left the commentary booth and was in the ring with a mic. He said that attacking Kassius Ohno last week was unprofessional and asked Ohno to come to the ring so he can apologize.
These two put on a great segment in which Ohno made reference to the fact that he used to look up to Regal, that he and Punk used to take Regal's advice while they were in the indies, that Regal was a major part of the reason that Ohno has a career within the world of WWE.
Then he said that Regal keeps giving him advice, but that Ohno doesn't want a career like Regal's. He began to say that the only thing people will remember about Regal's long and storied career was the time he got on his knees to literally kiss Vince McMahon's...
But before he could finish his sentence, Regal struck him with a left hook. Just like their last confrontation, Ohno simply left the ring, and Regal was left looking remorseful.
Question: Before we headed to a commercial break, we got a Raw Rebound (unannounced) regarding Punk and 'Taker. They did the same thing with the HHH/Lesnar drama earlier. Is this just for WrestleMania season, or is this a slow, watering down of the NXT product? Will it eventually look just like Superstars and Main Event, barely more than a commercial for Raw?
After the break, we were set for some Divas action, as Bayley (who, to my knowledge, I've never seen before) was in the ring, waiting for her opponent.
Paige vs. Bayley
The match was short, but Bayley was given the chance to show that she can handle herself in the ring with a true professional like Paige. Matches like this make me really optimistic about the future of the WWE Divas division. Perhaps this class of NXT female grapplers can return things to a legitimate "Women's" division.
In the end, Paige made Bayley tap with her version of the Cloverleaf submission, with her knee in Bayley's back.
Winner: Paige (submission; match length 2:19)
As Paige celebrated her victory in the ring, Summer Rae came down to attempt another sneak attack. Paige was one step ahead of her, however, and invited her into the ring. Summer Rae left without any physical confrontation.
After another commercial break, we were set for the main event.
Adrian Neville vs. Luke Harper
Early in the match, Harper used his power to take control, the advantage coming without any assist by the rest of the Wyatt Family at ringside. After a quick commercial break, Neville was still suffering a beatdown by his much larger opponent.
Around the five-minute mark, Neville finally started to mount a comeback, getting in more than one offensive move at a time. This was also the point at which Bray Wyatt gave instruction to Erick Rowan, who moved closer to the ring.
Neville anticipated Rowan's assumed attack, however, and did a flip over the top rope, landing on Rowan. As Neville lured Harper outside the ring and to the floor, he nailed him with a springboard moonsault.
As the action returned to the ring, Harper was down and looked to be out. Rather than go for the pin, Neville went to the top rope, which would be the beginning of his end.
Bray immediately hopped up on the apron, distracting the referee, Neville realized that Rowan was coming over him and fought him off without leaving the top rope. He successfully fended off Rowan, but just long enough for Harper to throw Neville to mat, followed by a discus clothesline to end the match.
Winner: Luke Harper (pinfall; televised match length 7:32)
Post-match, the assault continued. Harper and Rowan held Neville as Wyatt prepared to attack. Before that could happen, however, Oliver Grey rushed the ring. With Neville still out of commission, the three members of the Wyatt Family easily handled Oliver Grey. This brought out Bo Dallas, who has his own issues with Bray Wyatt.
Eventually, the good guys rid the ring of the cult, and the six-man feud appeared to be solidly in place as NXT went off the air.
Main Event opened up in the arena with Michael Cole and The Miz on commentary. R-Truth was on his way to the ring for the opening matchup.
Wade Barrett vs. R-Truth
The emphasis of the match was on anything but R-Truth, especially during the opening minutes. The commentary team did acknowledge that Truth was actually on the offensive as the match got under way, but their conversation mostly evolved around Monday Night Raw's Triple Threat Intercontinental Championship Match.
After taking a break outside the ring, Barrett was able to regroup and take control of the match. Meanwhile, The Miz went on and on about the IC strap and Barrett winning Monday's title match by simply being an opportunist, pinning The Miz with a school-boy after he had nailed Jericho with his Skull-Crushing Finale.
Barrett maintained control, continually beating R-Truth down, shining a light on his size and strength advantage. Truth rolled to the outside after a brutal boot, and we headed to a commercial break.
When we returned, the action had returned to the ring, but Truth made a comeback, utilizing his speed and lucha-like offense. The action went back and forth for a few more minutes before Barrett connected with the Bullhammer elbow for the win.
Winner: Wade Barrett (pinfall; televised match length 5:54)
Post-match, Barrett grabbed a mic with the classic Intercontinental Title draped over his shoulder. He talked about his recent success on Monday Night Raw and the victory he just had over R-Truth, claiming this as evidence that the Barrett Barrage is in full-effect.
As he talked, he left the ring and headed towards The Miz, saying that no one can take the IC Title from him. Things got physical, Barrett headed to the back, and it looks like we're going to see these two face off at WrestleMania.
Question: As it seems clear that Barrett will be facing The Miz at WrestleMania, is Barrett being set up for a win against a credible opponent, to continue his reign as the IC Champ? Or will The Miz continue his WrestleMania success and run with the prestigious mid-card title for the third time?
After a commercial break, we were treated to a video package recapping the contract signing between Brock Lesnar and Triple H from Monday Night Raw.
Before Sheamus was interviewed backstage by Matt Striker, Cole reminded us (with the help of some video footage) that Ryback has been removed from the six-man tag match at WrestleMania, and that it's obvious The Big Show still wants that spot.
Sheamus essentially said in the interview that he realizes Show has all the credentials for a perfect tag team partner but says he'll consider Show "when sheep fly out of my arse."
Aksana and Alicia Fox make their way to the ring, and after a commercial break, they're prepared for tag team action against Natalya and Layla.
Alicia Fox & Aksana vs. Natalya & Layla
Just before the match begins, they show a clip of Alicia and Natalya working with the Nothing But Nets campaign. Tasteful or not, WWE uses this as part of an angle, too, when Alicia gets on the mic to say that she feels she got more out of the trip than Natalya, because all that Ms. Neidhart could do was talk about missing her boyfriend Khali.
This match drew attention both to the newfound drama between Natalya and Alicia, as well as the ongoing story of Layla claiming she wants to help WWE Divas Champion Kaitlyn. Aksana and Alicia Fox both seem to be improving their in-ring skills, which really added to this match.
As the match began to wind down, Natalya got the hot tag and took control of things. Alicia fended her off temporarily, but eventually Natalya locked in the Sharpshooter for the victory.
Winners: Natalya & Layla (submission; match length 4:11)
After a commercial break, we got a Raw Rebound updating us on all the drama surrounding CM Punk and The Undertaker. Then we were set for more tag team action.
The Prime Time Players vs. The Usos
Now that Ziggler and Langston have been named as the challengers for Team Hell No at WrestleMania, the commentators can't pretend like these types of tag team matches have any sort of Mania implications.
Nothing spectacular happened in the ring; even Cole and The Miz struggled to stay on topic, often going on about WrestleMania matches that had absolutely nothing to do with the match happening in the ring. Despite the fact that the match went long enough to need a commercial break, it just wasn't very engaging.
Prediction: The only action either of these teams will see at WrestleMania will be in some sort of battle royal or Lumberjack Match.
Towards the end, both teams began to show good in-ring psychology and double-team moves, but from a technical standpoint, that was the highlight of the match. In the end, Darren Young suffered the top rope Superfly Splash and The Usos took home the win.
Winners: The Usos (pinfall; televised match length 8:45)
The Usos celebrated in the ring as the program went off the air.
Per usual, Superstars kicked off in the arena with Matt Striker and Tony Dawson on commentary. Zack Ryder made his way to the ring for a non-title match against United States Champion Antonio Cesaro.
Antonio Cesaro vs. Zack Ryder
Not surprisingly, Cesaro dominated the opening moments of this match. Good in-ring storytelling, as Cesaro focused his offense on Ryder's left knee, taking away much of Ryder's offense (Broski Boot, Rough Ryder, etc.).
Every time Ryder looked to have a chance at some offense, Cesaro stopped it. Cesaro dumped Ryder from the top turnbuckle to the floor outside of the ring as we headed to a commercial break.
When we returned from the break, Ryder was still suffering. It wasn't until Ryder reversed a suplex into a neckbreaker (very impressive, visually) that he finally got an offensive run. Striker reminded us that part of Ryder's in-ring strength is his ability . But the best Ryder could come up with was a long two-count after hitting the Broski Boot.
Cesaro would turn things around shortly thereafter. Rather than his trademark Very European Uppercut, Cesaro nailed Long Island Iced-Z with an uppercut from outside the ring as Ryder's head was draped over the middle rope. He followed that up with the Neutralizer for the win.
An interesting note: When discussing Cesaro's unique look and skill-set compared to others within the world of WWE, Striker made mention of the influence of the "Chikara-style" in the Swiss Superman's technique. I guess I always assumed the commentators weren't allowed to mention any of the indie promotions on WWE television.
Winner: Antonio Cesaro (pinfall; televised match length 7:21)
Prediction: Zack Ryder needs to undergo a gimmick makeover ASAP. Despite the fact that he built his own following and essentially forced WWE to start putting him on television, WWE still doesn't seem that interested in him. He will either make a significant upgrade to his character, or he won't be around much longer.
After a commercial break, we got the same Rock/Cena video package that's been shown all week. This was followed by another commercial break and a recap of the Punk/Taker saga. Another commercial break after that, and we were ready for some more action.
Brodus Clay & Tensai vs. Michael McGillicutty & JTG
Sweet T started the match for his team, forcing JTG to tag very early on. He had his way with McGillicutty at first, but eventually the underdogs got the upperhand, using quick tags and double-team moves, as well as cutting the ring in half.
Question: As they were making their way to the ring, the commentary team noted that McGillicutty and JTG refer to their tag team as "The Perfect Crime," stemming from McGillicutty's father and JTG's supposed background. Is the WWE tag team division finally returning to the days when almost every team actually had a team name?
The action returned to the favor of the funky team when Tensai caught McGillicutty in his arms after an attempted cross-body. Soon after slamming Perfect, Jr. to the ground, Clay and JTG are tagged in. It's all downhill for The Perfect Crime from that point on. A minute or so later, Clay and Tensai hit JTG with the double big splash and took home the win.
Winners: Brodus Clay & Tensai (pinfall; match length 3:40)
They danced in the ring to celebrate their victory, and we were sent to another commercial break. Upon returning to the show, there was a video package of Helmsley and Lesnar from Raw, and Superstars was off the air for the week.
As Saturday Morning Slim kicked off, we learned that new General Manager Mick Foley has scheduled The Great Khali to face Primo and Epico in a handicap match.
Before the match started, we saw a quick video package that explains the concept of a handicap match. It also plays up the Colons as former WWE Tag Team Champions with the number-game advantage and Khali as a giant who is also a former World Heavyweight Champion.
Brad Maddux joined Josh Matthews on commentary this week.
The Great Khali vs. Primo & Epico
In this handicap match in which the Colons are not required to tag, Khali fended off the cousins at first. But less than a minute into the match, the tag team took Khali down. Eventually, however, Khali sent Epico out of the ring to the floor, allowing him to concentrate on Primo inside the ring. The match lasted less than three minutes.
In the end, Epico slid under the bottom rope, in between Khali's legs. He grabbed Khali's thighs along the way, trying to pull the big man down for a pin. Khali simply sat on Epico's chest and gets a three-count.
Winner: The Great Khali (pinfall; match length 2:28)
Post-match, Natalya joined Khali in the ring for a celebratory dance, while Rosa Mendes collected her tag team and heads to the back.
Prediction: Although slow and indirectly, they are building Natalya for something. In a year or less, I predict she'll be heavily involved with the WWE Divas Championship.
After a commercial break, Natalya was backstage to interview the SMS General Manager. After complimenting The Anvil's daughter on her trip to Rwanda and Khali's victory over the Colons, they were interrupted by Damien Sandow. He claimed to be offended that he wasn't chosen as the General Manager.
The Miz interrupted this conversation, saying that Foley makes good decisions, such as making The Miz the star character of his most recent Christmas book. Foley set up today's main event, The Miz vs. Damien Sandow.
Before we got to the action, we got a Saturday Morning Spotlight starring The Miz. It focused primarily on MizTV and the recent influence of Ric Flair on the "most must-see Superstar" in WWE.
The Miz vs. Damien Sandow
After a few minutes of feeling each other out and trying to gain the upperhand, Sandow avoided being clobbered by The Miz when he simply rolled out of the ring to regroup. This sent us to a commercial break. When we returned from the break, The Miz appeared to be in control inside the ring.
Moments later, however, Sandow managed to toss Mr. Mizanin over the top ropes to the floor. Sandow remains in control for several minutes until The Miz reverses an abdominal stretch. Shortly thereafter, despite being able to avoid it after one attempt, Sandow falls victim to the Figure Four Leglock and has to tap.
Winner: The Miz (submission; televised match length 5:49)
Question: How is it that Damien Sandow is already on seemingly permanent jobber duty? When was the last time Sandow won a singles match? He's solid in the ring and gets a great reaction from the audience. I don't understand why the WWE isn't using him more properly.
After the match, we went backstage, where Foley was talking with Brodus Clay and Tensai. As they discussed dancing moves, they were interrupted by The Prime Time Players. After some jaw-jacking by all parties involved, a tag team match was set for next week's SMS, Brodus and Tensai against PTP.
And with that, the show was over.
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: Natalya
Although she's still being incredibly misused, Natalya had a pretty strong showing this week on these four programs.
The WWE is really milking her trip to Rwanda for all that it's worth. The video package has been on at least a couple of times via Raw and SmackDown, and it was referenced two times this week on these shows. Before her tag team match on Main Event, Alicia Fox accused Natalya of talking too much about Khali while they were in Rwanda.
She picked up the fall for her team when she made Fox tap out to the Sharpshooter. Along with potentially starting a new feud with Fox, Natalya's in-ring career seems to be headed in the right direction.
Then, on SMS, she helped manage Khali to a victory against the Colons and got the chance to dance in the ring afterwards. She continued her role as backstage interviewer, at which point Foley again commended her for her work in Rwanda.
Things are going well for Natalya. How long before she's a legitimate contender for the WWE Divas Championship?
Biggest Losers: Primo and Epico
Oh, what a fall from grace it has been for the Colon cousins. One year ago, these guys successfully defended the WWE Tag Team Championship at WrestleMania in a triple threat tag match.
Granted, the match was non-televised. But they were the champs and they retained their gold at WrestleMania. They lost the straps at the end of April to R-Truth and Kofi Kingston, ending a 280-day reign.
And now they're jobbing to The Great Khali.
Does much else need to be said? A few weeks ago, they lost in the first round of the NXT Tag Team Championship tournament. I can't remember the last time these guys had a win that mattered.
Now, the best exposure they can get is losing a handicap match to someone who barely qualifies as a mid-card performer. This week's loss was a horrible sign of how things are going for these underappreciated stars.
Do you think someone else had a better week on these shows than Natalya? Do you think someone took a bigger hit than the Colons? Please, let's discuss!