Breaking Down the Best and Worst of the WWE for Week of March 3
World-class villainy and intensity furnished the best that WWE delivered in the first week of March.
Batista successfully rediscovered his bad-boy ways, Triple H remained a generator of hatred and The Shield and The Wyatt Family strove to outdo their instant classic from Elimination Chamber. Adam Rose earned his way onto the list of the week's highs as well, thanks to an infectious, fun-filled entrance.
The week's letdowns include the swirl of disappointment, misinformation and misguided frustration that was CM Punk's non-return on Raw.
That story dominated the headlines, Punk getting more press for doing nothing than many wrestlers got for toiling in the ring. The action on Raw, SmackDown, Main Event and NXT offered plenty to pick apart and plenty to praise.
The following is a plunge into the most entertaining performances and least successful offerings of the week.
Best: Batista the Villain
One of the beautiful things about pro wrestling is that when fans reject a wrestler or when they have nothing but vitriol for a character, the folks in charge can channel that negativity into a valuable commodity with a heel turn.
WWE walked that path with Batista after fans had essentially spit on his return.
On Friday's SmackDown, Batista's smugness sizzled on screen. He said that he didn't care about pleasing the fans. Only winning the world title matters to him.
"The Animal" took shots at Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Daniel Bryan and a roster that he claimed had no real men left. He hit every note perfectly, churning up animosity from the audience.
The switch to the dark side has allowed Batista to express his frustrations and play a character that better suits him. He's always been a better heel than face and he showed that with a standout promo.
WWE just has to solve the issue that there are two villains and no hero in WrestleMania's main event.
Worst: CM Punk Situation
Chicago fans starred in their own version of Waiting for Godot, watching all of Monday's Raw pass with no sign of CM Punk.
A source told Dave Meltzer, via WrestlingInc.com, that Punk would end his sabbatical and return to WWE. Buzz about that possibility choked the Internet. This was going to be an unmissable Raw as Punk would come back to greatly alter the WrestleMania card, perhaps becoming the third man in the WWE title bout.
As David Shoemaker said on the Cheap Heat podcast, we wanted to believe he'd be back.
Punk didn't appear. Raw opened with his music and Paul Heyman came out to explain that Punk wasn't around and that the fans had driven him away.
He was masterful on the mic, but the disappointment still stung. WWE seemed to be toying with the audience, trying to quell a fervent fanbase so they wouldn't take over the show with chants.
It worked to a point, but anticipation for Punk still ruled the night. Punk chants overshadowed much of the action.
There is a lot of finger pointing to go around with this situation.
Fans chanting for a guy who quit and isn't coming back is misguided. WWE wants him back as badly as the fans do. He left and he had every right to do that, but he shouldn't be seen as some kind of martyr.
WWE went an irksome route in handling this. With teasing Punk's entrance, it felt as if the company was either trying to teach Punk fans a lesson or at the very least screw with them.
The circumstances aren't easy for a company trying to please its paying customers, but it should have addressed this a long time ago and not waited until Raw traveled to the famously loud and pro-Punk city of Chicago.
It's unfortunate that talk of a man who wasn't around dominated so much of the week's conversation, stealing away spotlight from the hard-working members of the roster still around.
Best: The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family II
The Shield and The Wyatt Family's rematch on Monday's Raw was by far the best match of the week.
The intense, chaotic clash is the kind of bout fans can present as evidence of WWE's present-day greatness to those pining for "the good old days." For all the stumbles and misreads of the audience WWE has, when it gets things right, the results are electric.
That has been the case with The Shield and The Wyatt Family from their first staredown to this latest collision.
Their match on Raw was more out of control, more brawl-heavy than their Elimination Chamber match; it was nearly as thrilling as that longer contest. WWE wisely didn't have a repeat of the squads' first meeting; the narrative shifted here.
The story focused on Seth Rollins' frustrations with his teammates. Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns being out of position for a tag angered him. He later left them to fight Bray Wyatt's crew alone.
The Shield isn't officially done yet, though. Regret hung on Rollins' face as he watched The Shield lose.
The match provided entertainment for the now, and the uncertainty about The Shield gave fans reasons to keep tuning in going forward.
Worst: The Usos' First Challengers
Road Dogg's injury prevented The New Age Outlaws from cashing in their obligatory rematch against the newly crowned Usos. That forced WWE to change the scheduled title match for Tuesday's Main Event.
Their choice of replacement challengers was baffling.
Los Matadores ended up giving The Usos a good match, but how could the audience take the bullfighters seriously after they have accomplished so little? There was little suspense, as Los Matadores didn't come off as much of a threat.
In terms of storyline logic, how did Fernando and Diego leapfrog teams like The Wyatt Family and Cody Rhodes and Goldust? It would be like Big E's Intercontinental Championship foe backing out, only to be replaced by Zack Ryder.
The bigger issue is that with The Shield and The Real Americans seemingly splitting up any day now, WWE's tag team division needs more heels. The Usos' title reign will suffer unless they regularly get worthy opponents.
Best: Adam Rose's Entrance
Adam Rose's career may fizzle in the long run, but the first look at his entrance was one of the most entertaining things on WWE programming this week.
The man formerly known as Leo Kruger made his NXT debut on March 6. He shed his previous hunter gimmick and bounced to the ring accompanied by a throng of wild party-goers. It's as involved an entrance as one will see, but it achieved the ultimate stamp of approval, fans chanting "This is awesome!"
Rose's exuberance compelled. His transformation is a lesson to young wrestlers about how diving into one's character is a surefire route to success.
The party won't last, though. Rose's best in-ring traits are his aggression and brawling ability. He used little of those strengths with his new character, instead flittering around the ring for much of the bout.
Kudos to Rose for rocking his character, but it's not the right fit for him, just like playing the cowboy Skip Sheffield was not the best way to get the most out of Ryback.
Worst: Adrian Neville's Struggles on the Mic
For fans wanting to push Adrian Neville to the main roster right now and make him a champion on the level, his performances on the mic after winning the NXT title showed why he's still in WWE developmental.
His mic work has always been second to his fantastic in-ring ability, and that was even more obvious when Renee Young interviewed him on the March 6 edition of NXT.
Neville did show a bit of personality, pointing out that he looks like an elf and making fun of his own accent, but there wasn't much spark to his speech. Much like in the interview above, he failed to grab fans the way WWE's best talkers do.
Being the NXT champ is going to give him added opportunities to work on this part of his game, currently the cement block tied to his foot.
Best: Triple H, King of Condescension
When a fan looks around the living room for something to stab the TV with, you know a heel is thriving.
Triple H has been magnificent in angering the audience. WWE knows that fans adore Daniel Bryan, that they feel as if he's being cheated out of high-profile opportunities.
The COO is playing into those feelings by dismissing Bryan as a wrestler below his level. He continues to say that Bryan is living in a fantasy world.
In his weekly interview with Michael Cole, Triple H was at his best as an irritating villain. He claimed to be trying to protect fans from themselves by not accepting Bryan's challenge for a match at WrestleMania. Every word reeked of patronization.
"The people love the little guy," he said.
This story only works, though, if Bryan faces and beats Triple H at WrestleMania. If that's the ending, all this insulting and scoffing Triple H has done will only add to the joy fans experience when he falls.
Otherwise, it will all be pointless.