More than 18,000 fans gathered in Philadelphia to watch the penultimate WWE Raw on the Road to WrestleMania 29. Can that be right?
It feels like just yesterday the Rock was pinning John Cena at WrestleMania 28, a moment that haunts Cena to this day. Has it truly been nearly a full calendar year? Time flies when you're too busy watching suplexes and body slams to mark the calendar properly.
Unfortunately, the WWE didn't give fans much to be excited about tonight. There were no stellar matches. Besides CM Punk's now-routine excellence, there were no great promos either. The most exciting wrestler on the show was Dusty Rhodes, and he was in his prime in the 1970s.
Despite the presence of Rhodes and a host of Hall of Famers, the final segment dragged for what felt like hours. Formatted like a debate, it was really 20 minutes of Rock and Cena enunciating dramatically to diminishing returns.
Not everything, of course, failed to live up to the high expectations we have for the flagship before the biggest pay-per-view of the year. Who delivered? Who missed the mark? Click on to find out. Disagree with my grades? Let me know in the comments.
Think it was bad last week when Punk accidentally dropped the Undertaker's urn? He upped the ante dramatically here, playing catch with Paul Heyman and even doing the Heisman pose with the most golden of receptacles.
He goes on and on until the lights go out. When they pop back on, Taker isn't on the ramp or on the mic. He's in the ring. And he's opening a can of expired "whoop ass" on Punk. Heyman, however, saves the day by running up the ramp with surprising speed, keeping the urn for Team Punk. And that, folks, is why I am a Paul Heyman guy.
"They say that the Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania will never be beaten. They say that this dead man is unstoppable on the grandest stage of them all....'They' certainly say a lot of stupid things, don't they?" - CM Punk
"The only opinion that matters, because when it is spoken it becomes indisputable fact, is mine." - CM Punk
"You can boo me all you want. But blame the Undertaker for this because it's his fault. This urn, I did not take to disrespect Paul Bearer. I did it because of what it means to the Undertaker. This means everything to the Undertaker—and it doesn't mean a damn thing to me." - Punk, who then drops the urn callously to the ground.
"For the first time in his life he is at a psychological disadvantage and he is scared." - Punk
"Undertaker, at WrestleMania, you and your perfect record shall rest in peace." - CM Punk. And then the lights go out.
"The Undertaker is here!" - Michael Cole.
"There is going to be hell to pay for CM Punk in two weeks at WrestleMania." Cole
The crowd was electric for this, especially when the Undertaker showed up to punish Punk for his temerity. One note—at this point, I think it's pretty clear the urn is actually empty. Has it been empty since 1991? I need answers.
The match was supposed to be Fandango's long-awaited debut against an unnamed and unmentioned opponent. Instead, Chris Jericho ran out like a ball of fire to put the boots to Fandango, who wisely took off to the back.
Dolph Ziggler came out for his match with Jericho, which we are told was originally scheduled for later in the evening. Okay then. As per usual, when it comes to Ziggler's crew, it was a one-on-three handicap match for Jericho. That was the bad news. The good news? The three were Ziggler, AJ Lee and Big E Langston, so Jericho won with the Walls.
After the match, Langston laid Jericho out, leaving an opening for Fandango, who came in and danced all over Jericho's face, eventually finishing him off with a leg drop off the top rope.
"This is exciting." - Jerry Lawler. It was more believable when he got excited by puppies.
"Fandan..." - Fandango couldn't even get his own name right thanks to a Chris Jericho interruption.
"We knew from the get-go tonight that Jericho was fired up." - Michael Cole
"Say my name! Say it! Say it!" - Fandango
"It's Fandaaaaaango." - Fandango
Grade: (Match: C, Angle: B)
I'm digging the Fandango angle now that Jericho is involved. Y2J has the right kind of goofy energy to help make the ridiculous at least a little palatable. I'm tapping out on Ziggler, though. AJ Lee needs to be paired with a talent worthy of her.
After the Shield interrupted a Sheamus interview, allowing Big Show to come out and prove his loyalty to the WWE side, it was Mark Henry's turn to show what he was capable of.
Henry dominated both Uso brothers, but not before getting hit with a Superfly Splash. I guess that makes up for the two men getting squashed by a single wrestler? Whatever, I'm all about the battle of the behemoths at WrestleMania.
"These Uso's are no slouches." - Jerry Lawler, correctly predicting the Uso tag team would give Henry some trouble.
"It looks like they just made this monster mad." - Lawler, as Henry proceeded to squash the team.
"That's what I do." - Henry, after multiple slams. It kind of is.
"Nobody splash me." - Henry.
Loved the Superfly Splash, if only for the great Henry response line, "Nobody splash me." Hope the boys in the back were watching, because Henry seemed pretty serious about it.
Champion versus champion, and it was everything I wanted it to be—at least until Jack Swagger ran out to attack Rodriguez. Not only did he toss him into the steel ring steps, but he also put an ankle lock on Rodriguez's mangled leg. Dastardly.
Del Rio, of course, came to his friend's rescue and was eventually counted out. Cesaro celebrated like he had won the world title and not a TV match by a fluke count-out. A furious Del Rio came back to the ring and took out his Latino Heat on Cesaro to end the segment.
"That's how important his relationship with Alberto Del Rio is." - Michael Cole. Just how important is it? Rodriguez and Del Rio are awfully close. Just saying.
"You have to wonder what goes through the twisted, xenophobic mind of Zeb Colter as he stands at ringside." - Cole on the nefarious mentor of Jack Swagger.
"He's got that broken ankle." - Michael Cole as the heinous Jack Swagger attacks Rodriguez
This was looking like a really special match before it was abruptly ended. Gone too soon. Ring the bell 10 times for that match, please. Cesaro is the best in-ring wrestler in the world, or at least in the conversation.
The WWE seems to have abandoned the feuding tag team gimmick for Daniel Bryan and Kane, at least for the time being. The two are on the same page and gearing up for a WrestleMania confrontation with Dolph Ziggler and "Big E" Langston.
The Prime Time Players were little more than a tune-up for the champs, but they made them work for it in a fun back-and-forth match.
"There's no doubt that Daniel Bryan still has a hard time adjusting when AJ Lee is around." - Michael Cole, referencing Bryan's romance with the former commissioner.
"She's been around more than a carousel." - Jerry Lawler on Lee. Zing!
"I hope Dolph and Big E were taking notes." - Lawler.
Surprisingly competitive match here. PTP are a decent team when given half a chance. Too bad the WWE seems to push every tag team as a pairing of jobbers rather than an entity worthy of respect.
What does HHH have to say about the retirement stipulation in the WrestleMania contract he signed last week? Turns out not much. You see, he's been wrestling every night for 20 years like his livelihood depended on it, so this is nothing different for the Game.
For some reason, after HHH said his piece, Wade Barrett came out to smirk at him. That didn't go so well for Mr. Barrett. More to the point, it didn't go so well for his testicles.
"Is it the end of the Game?" - Michael Cole.
"The evolution of Degeneration X. The evolution of...Evolution." - Cole. What a wordsmith.
"How long do you think the sick mind of Paul Heyman laid awake at night to come up with those stipulations?" - Jerry Lawler. I'd guess five minutes tops.
"Brock Lesnar is a destroyer. A machine that can end your career in this ring at any moment. And that is a fact." - HHH
"I have fought in this ring every night like my life has depended on it." - HHH
"Brock Lesnar, I have advice for you. Show up to WrestleMania like your career is on the line...show up at WrestleMania ready to fight like your life depends on it. Because it very well might." - HHH
I am tempted to give this a B+ just because it didn't go 25 minutes and bore me to death. I have low expectations for a HHH promo, so short and sweet works for me.
In the old days, wrestlers used to work the arm. They'd go from arm bar to hammerlock,to arm drag and back again to weaken their opponent and make it easier to win. Miz did the same thing here, only his body part work was on Barrett's unmentionables, punishing the little Barrett in a quite unsportsmanlike manner.
This was slotted as the long match and the two put on a solid show. Eventually, the low blows took their toll on Barrett, who became one of the only people to actually tap to the figure-four leglock in 30 years.
"Speaking of bruising and swelling. Poor Wade Barrett may need to sit in a tub of ice water this evening." - Jerry Lawler as Miz hit Barrett with multiple inverted atomic drops.
"Miz may have worked his way right into the Intercontinental title talk." - Michael Cole. In my day, beating the champion in the ring did more than that.
Something was missing here. There was nothing technically wrong with the match, but there wasn't the kind of spark you need for greatness. Or even goodness. After all these weeks, Miz still looks awkward trying to apply the figure-four leglock. What a disgrace to Buddy Rogers, Jack Brisco, Ric Flair and a host of others.
Great to see the Shield in action, even if it's a non-competitive match with the dregs of the roster. The team works well together, tagging in and out and hitting all of their spots.
When the match was over, Sheamus, Randy Orton and Big Show all hit the ring to clean house for the second time in a single evening.
"This is a Raw rarity. The Shield in six-man action." - Michael Cole.
"He is scary out there." - Jerry Lawler on Seth Rollins.
"Talk about impressive." - Cole after the Shield triple powerbombed Khali.
"How good does it feel to see the Shield get a taste of their own medicine?" - Lawler.
I feel really good about this match at WrestleMania. I hope they resist the urge to blow off the Shield program in one night. I'd like to see them win at Mania and come back for a gimmick match later this year.
Sometimes the three-hour Raws grind away at your soul. This is one of those times.
Quick question: Can the Bellas really be identical twins when one of them has much larger boobs than the other? Identical in every way except cup size? I am not convinced this is natural. This seems like shenanigans of some kind.
Team Rhodes Scholars won when the ladies started mixing it up. Let's all pretend this never happened, shall we?
"They are hot-looking." - Jerry Lawler on the Bella Twins. Did he have a heart attack or eye surgery?
"I heard Cody Rhodes' mustache sent a fan letter to Zeb Colter's mustache." - Lawler
Welcome to the "filling time" portion of the card.
Ryback isn't content to match Mark Henry's feats. He wants to do him one better. So while Henry impressed with a handicap match, Ryback wants to add one more to the equation, taking on all three members of 3MB.
Ryback stumbled at times but managed to pick up two members of 3MB to nail a Shell Shock. That was wild. Count me among the impressed.
"That was Ryback's own March Madness." - Michael Cole as Ryback bounces Slater's head off the canvas.
"3MB may have taken it as an insult...they are taking Ryback to the limit." - Jerry Lawler. As if on cue, Ryback starts to clean house.
"Finish it." - Ryback. Then he did a double Shell Shock. No, seriously.
Redeemed by the cool finish. Otherwise, this was a complete waste of time. What was beating 3MB supposed to prove? Everybody beats 3MB!
Earlier in the evening, AJ caught Kaitlyn talking smack about her to Daniel Bryan and Kane. She handled her business physically. The result was this "match." Lee won when Kaitlyn missed a spear outside the ring and was counted out. Someone up there hates me.
"It's time for a little bit of tough love from Kaitlyn to AJ." - Michael Cole. Hold up, Cole, this is a family show.
"She's a fry short of a Happy Meal." - Lawler on AJ.
At 20 breaths a minute, that was 100 or so wasted. Life is too short for this nonsense, WWE. Better use of five minutes? AJ Lee skipping backstage—on a loop.
John Cena and the Rock answering questions from a panel of former WWE superstars and Hall of Famers? Can't possibly miss, right? No way these old wrestlers will all try to mug it up for the cameras and take the heat off of the actual match they are promoting?
That would never happen!
Actually, the panel is fairly subdued, yielding the stage to this generation's top stars. Bret Hart, Dusty Rhodes, Booker T and Mick Foley all got a good reception from the crowd, but nothing compared to the huge pop both Rock and Cena got.
After an endless debate-style interview with no one but Dusty Rhodes really on his A-game, things finally got physical. The Rock challenged Cena to bring it, then planted him on the mat with the Rock Bottom. The People's Champ left the ring with a disdainful look on his face, the same look I had on my face through much of this terrible episode.
"If you were to talk to me last year about losing, I wouldn't even speak of it. Because I said losing was not an option. And then the Rock defeated me." - John Cena.
"If I lose April 7, I will carry the legacy of Donovan McNabb....because statistically I may be good, but I will never be able to win the big one." - Cena, drawing boos from the local crowd.
"This man right here, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, knows nothing of failure. Well, not yet. But he soon will." - Cena.
"Let the Rock tell you something. When I was 23 years old, I was so broke I had to get my mattress out of a dumpster in the back of an hourly motel." - The Rock, on his own failures.
"I said, 'Just give me a mic.' Two years after that, the Rock became the youngest WWE champion." - Rock.
"Those failures led me to become the man that I am today. And that man is going to whip your ass at WrestleMania in 13 days." - Rock, after bringing up cheese steak and popping the crowd.
"I started this years ago. The Rock would say, 'I love WWE,' and I simply said, 'Prove it.' And he did. - Cena.
"I appreciate you saying I took my loss with class and dignity. In two weeks, we'll see how you're going to handle yours." - Cena.
"Because I have to." - Cena answering Booker T's question about how he's going to beat the Rock.
"How about you wipe a monkey's ass with, 'I have to.'" - Rock.
"You didn't beat me. You cannot beat me. I beat me. That's the first time I've said that publicly. But it's a fact." - Cena.
"You want a reason? I know I am better than the Rock. More importantly? The Rock knows I am better than the Rock." - Cena
"There's another legend, and when I was young, I wanted to be just like him. And he has a saying, 'To be the man, you have to beat the man.' And you aren't the man." - Rock, referencing Ric Flair.
"I want to win the big one. Not only win the big one. I want to dominate the Rock." - Cena.
"I want to prove the Rock wrong." - Cena.
"How about you prove me wrong right now?" - Rock.
That sound you hear? That was millions for dollars being burned. Look at Bret Hart in the photo above—that look is exactly how I felt about this angle. WWE has one more week to sell WrestleMania, and they have a lot of ground to make up after this dud of a segment.
Earlier in the show, even earlier in the month, I would have given this a different letter grade. There was nothing wrong with it. I didn't hate it. But you have different expectations for a show closing segment, especially one this close to WrestleMania. This just didn't do it for me.