|Bret Hart gives this line-up of former champions 4/10|
The closing segment was WWE’s final push (Main Event and SmackDown don’t count) at convincing people that the title unification match happening at TLC really means something. It saw Triple H and Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley joined in the ring by numerous former WWE and World Heavyweight champions. This led to a situation where genuine greats such as Shawn Michaels, Mick Foley and Booker T were, on some level, presented as the equals of The Great Khali and Jack Swagger.
‘The Game’ kicked things off by talking up the importance of world championships in wrestling, to ever increasing chants of “Daniel Bryan!” from the Washington (Bryan’s home state) crowd. Triple H waited it out, allowing the crowd to have their fun. Mark Henry raised Bryan’s hand, hoping that that would provide a culmination point for the fans. But it didn’t, they just carried on. Home state crowd or not, this was a perfect illustration of how popular Bryan remains with the people who buy tickets to WWE events, an excellent reason for his push to continue.
Eventually Tripper resumed his speech and brought Randy Orton and John Cena to the ring. The idea was that both men would, to use wrestling parlance, talk people into the building. Each would cut a promo about the importance of the match, the concept of title unification and their dislike for each other so that punters would be convinced they’d be missing out on something if they fail to order this pay-per-view. If that’s what WWE were going for, and the approach taken as well as Triple H’s proclivity for old school antics makes me think it was, then they failed. I don’t think a significant number of people will have been convinced to order TLC based on the performances on RAW alone. But I do think both Orton and Cena did a great job.
Orton started things off with what was, by his standards, a great piece of mic work. Gone was the stilted, drawn out delivery of hollow nonsense, replaced by passion and a man who wanted to show that being a world champion means something to him. Perhaps more significantly this was a man ho wanted to show that he’s the equal of John Felix Anthony Cena.
Orton commented that Cena had lost the “ruthless aggression” (remember that “era”?) he’d claimed to have when he first debuted in WWE. Then he put himself over as the greatest superstar of this or any other generation and mentioned some of the other men in the ring. He reminded us that he’d taken years off of Mick Foley’s career and life and that he’d embarrassed Shawn Michaels numerous times, before saying that had he been around for Survivor Series ’97 the Montreal Screwjob wouldn’t have needed to happen. Naturally Bret Hart did not look happy at that.
Unfortunately Orty let himself down at the last minute. He said that everything Cena’s worked so hard for will come crashing down around him on Sunday. It was a shame that such a passionate speech was closed by such a generic comment.
Cena began his response by bringing Daniel Bryan into the centre of the ring to illustrate that people like him because he works hard. In truth he didn’t actually need to involve Bryan at this point. He did so partly to get the audience on side and partly to give them another chance to cheer for Bryan, something they all clearly wanted to do. There was nothing wrong with either reason. It demonstrates how good Cena is at reading situations and crowds.
Cena went on to talk about how Orton has had everything handed to him during his WWE career because his father was a wrestler. In fairness to Orton this is rubbish. WWE has hired people based on family names in the past, and probably will in the future, but nobody would get to Orton’s level based purely on their name. Orton, Rock, and Eddie Guerrero, all second or third generation stars, reached the top of WWE because on their hard work. By Cena’s logic Ted DiBiase, Chavo Guerrero (Junior) and Natalya are all major stars.
If Cena really has an issue with third generation people in the wrestling business he should have been looking at the only woman in the ring with him. She is the greatest beneficiary of nepotism in WWE history.
Cena talked about Orton being bulletproof during their time together in developmental because management liked him. That was a state of affairs that continued when the two moved to the main roster and Orton was sheltered by “the best performer in the business” (Triple H, apparently). Cena’s point was that all Randy does is hide behind the McMahons.
The mention of Triple H being the best performer in the business is interesting. It’s yet another tantalising hint that Cena and The Authority are closer than they appear to be. It wouldn’t be the last of the show.
Cena reminded us that Orton feels he’s better than WWE in its entirety and that he’s had in-ring behavioural problems in the past. Smashing kayfabe, he also brought up Orton’s behavioural problems outside the ring. Engaging hyperbole mode the World Heavyweight champion said Sunday’s TLC match will be the biggest in company history and that it will change the direction of the organisation.
Still not done Cena said he’s always been a fighting champion and gave himself credit for giving Dolph Ziggler, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan chances to main event pay-per-views and wrestle for top titles. Judging by his reaction this infuriated Punk. Understandably so because it’s only part true: Cena did main event pay-per-views against all three men (and others) but the men themselves had earned those opportunities with years of work. They didn’t need Cena’s blessing to succeed, which was how it seemed to presented on RAW.
|Title unification in WWE was always going to involve these two|
Cena ended his promo by saying that the TLC match will be physical and he wants to know that ‘The Apex Predator’ will be at his very best. The last thing that anybody wants, he said, his another Randy Orton excuse. The two shook hands as the belts were raised up to the ceiling. Then Orton cheap shotted Cena and everything kicked off.
Cena took Orty down and pummelled him. The more physically able world champions in the ring swarmed around the two and pulled them apart. As the two men were held in separate corners Punk approached Orton , presumably to try talking some sense into him, and got a slap for his trouble. His response was to punch Orton repeatedly.
‘The Game’ intervened, easily flooring Punk and then yelling at Orton. He was pulled around to take a retaliatory right from Punk. HBK super kicked Punk. Bryan hit a running knee on HBK. Orton attempted an RKO on Bryan but got shoved off into Stephanie McMahon. Triple H checked on Steph and then dropped a distraught Orton with a Pedigree.
Cena and Kane then helped Triple H get Stephanie to her feet as the fans basically ignored the events they’d just witnessed and chanted for Bryan again. The show went off the air with Triple H, Stephanie, Kane and Cena looking down at Orton.
I don’t think Cena’s going to align himself with The Authority at TLC but I do think there’s an argument to be made for it being the long-term plan. And if it is it’s a good one. It could give the Cena character the refresh it needs without being an all-out heel turn. Cena could still be marketed at kids but adult (more specifically hardcore) fans would have more reason than ever to dislike him because he’d be aligned with the promotion’s lead heel group.
As pre-pay-per-view RAWs go this show as a whole was not great. But its main event segment was an absolute classic. It’s set up multiple possibilities for future storylines. In addition to Cena potentially joining The Authority the issues between Bryan and Michaels were revisited and CM Punk was drawn further into conflict with The Authority. It looks like WWE are setting up a very strong WrestleMania Season.