Punk was on RAW in spirit though. I don’t think there was a single segment that didn’t feature his name being chanted. And he was also acknowledged for the first time on-screen since his departure. The man who had the honour of doing that was Paul Heyman in his show-opening promo.
After entering the arena to Punk’s music (which received a booming ovation before turning to boos) the former ECW boss sat cross-legged in the ring talked about Punk. He mentioned that when they were together Punk has a record setting WWE championship reign and was on top of the business. Heyman blamed the fans for taking Punk away from him, and from themselves.
He also blamed The Undertaker for Punk’s disappearance. Punk’s downward spiral started when he failed to end The Streak at WrestleMania XXIX. Heyman said he wanted revenge and that he’d take it in the form of denying ‘The Dead man’ his undefeated record. He then introduced the only one man who could help him in his quest: Brock Lesnar.
|Is Brock Lesnar the man who'll end The Streak?|
Lesnar sauntered to the ring and, for once, did some of his own talking (sadly it wasn’t to tell Heyman to say something stupid). Lesnar started off by saying that he doesn’t make claims he can’t back up, presumably some sort of reference to Punk’s recent attendance record. He also said he thought ‘Taker attacked him on the previous week’s RAW because he was scared of him. He named Shawn Michaels, Triple H and CM Punk as men who had tried and failed to end The Streak and said he wouldn’t be like them. He’ll conquer The Streak.
I’ll be amazed if he’s right.
As they left the pair were confronted by Mark Henry. That resulted in a short exchange which ended with ‘The Beast’ dropping Henners through the announce table. The crowd were only briefly awed by that, starting a chant for Punk almost immediately after it happened.
The chants reared up again later in the evening when Daniel Bryan and The Authority hit the ring for a verbal showdown. Pleasingly Bryan heard some of the heartiest “Yes!” chants of recent times when he entered, showing that the Chicago crowd weren’t exclusively about Punk. They were willing to support his spiritual equal too.
|Triple H doth protest too much|
The purpose of the segment was to continue teasing a Triple H versus Daniel Bryan match at WrestleMania XXX. Stephanie and ‘The Game’ were booed continuously whenever they spoke for the first three quarters of the segment. There was no quietening down in order to hear what was being said. Nobody cared: they were more interested in making their feelings known to the on- and off-screen bosses. Interestingly Stephanie coped with the treatment really well, not letting it phase her delivery in the slightest. The usually reliable promo man Triple H, on the other hand, stuttered and opted for odd phrases, a sign that the crowd was throwing him off. Both members ignored the pro-Punk chants they were pelted with throughout their performance.
‘The Cerebral Assassin’ once again refused Bryan’s request for a WrestleMania showdown. His reasoning remained unchanged: he did not consider the “B plus” Bryan worthy of facing him. After telling Bryan that everything in the arena, including Bryan and the fans, belonged to him ‘The King of Kings’ ordered Bryan out of the ring. ‘Mr Small Package’ refused and, when pressed, told Tripel H to make him.
Bryan and the boss went nose-to-nose as Stephanie called out Kane. He was wiped out with a suicide dive before he could clamber into the ring. Bryan stayed on him with punches as Stephanie screeched for security to separate them. When that happened it was chants of “CM Punk!” that were echoing through the arena. As good as the segment was it wasn’t enough to convince fans to forget their hometown boy.
|It's taken years but the Usos have finally won the tag team championships|
In the ring there were only three matches worth mentioning on RAW. The first was the opening meeting between the Uso brothers and the New Age Outlaws, and that was only noteworthy because it saw Jimmy and Jey finally capture the tag team titles. That in itself was interesting as much for the fact that it occurred on RAW when WrestleMania’s only a month away as for being the first title reign of the Uso brothers.
The best match of the night was the Elimination Chamber rematch between The Shield and The Wyatt Family. ‘The Hounds of Justice’ got an amazing babyface reaction when they entered for the match, and that only increased when the match started and Seth Rollins spent the first minute wiping out all three Wyatt members singlehanded.
That didn’t last. Eventually Rollins (who Michael Cole is still pushing as ‘The Architect’) was isolated by Bray’s lads. He tried several times to tag out but always found an empty corner waiting for him as Ambrose and Reigns had left to rumble with their foes. When Rollins did eventually get the tag he left and watched the match from the aisle, telling his teammates to sort it out between themselves.
They couldn’t. Ambrose fell to Sister Abigail.
The match was great but not quite as enjoyable as their original Chamber meeting. It wasn’t intended to be though. It wasn’t just a six man tag team match, it was also a chance for the splintering of The Shield to be referenced again. WWE are doing a great job with that, taking their time to ensure it means something when it comes.
|I like Batista's colourful boots. That is all|
The final match with some meaning behind it was the main event, which saw Daniel Bryan taking on Batista. While it was far from Bryan’s best work it was easily the best performance ‘The Animal’s’ had since his return to the company. He was, as usual, dreadful when required to go on offence but deserves credit for his credible selling, in particular when absorbing Bryan’s kicks. He didn’t make the best use of the crowd though. If he were smart he’d have played up to the CM Punk chants by performing the Go To Sleep taunt and going for, perhaps even hitting, the move.
In addition to being Batista’s best performance in a month and a half it was also a good night for Randy Orton. He was required to sit at ringside and look thoughtful while watching the two men wrestle. He managed the sitting part fine, but his attempts to look like he was gaining insight into Batista by watching him compete were laughable. As was the way he had his two title belts slung over his shoulders even while sitting down.
There was another reason for ‘The Viper’ to be sat at ringside of course: he had to play a part in the finish. As they battled around ringside Batista tossed Bryan into Orton, then dragged him back into the ring. Bryan floored him with a kick to the temple and then got floored himself when ‘The Apex Predator’ entered the ring and hit him with a clothesline. An RKO attempt on Batista was countered with a shove, which propelled the WWE champion into Bryan’s running knee.
Not done there Bryan drop kicked Batista and knocked Triple H and Kane (who had appeared at ringside during the match’s closing moments) off the apron. A suicide dive attempt was not to be: he was met with a poor Batista spear in the middle of the ring. ‘The Game’ stood over the fallen Bryan and told him that he was tired of his fantasy world. Then he got booted in the head. Bryan didn’t have enough left in him to make it to his feet though, allowing the only slightly dazed Tripper to make the grand, dramatic gesture of taking off his jacket and tie before pulling D-Bry and planting him with a Pedigree.
|WrestleMania: Bryan v Triple H or Bryan v Kane... place your bets now!|
Stephanie joined Trips and Kane standing over Bryan after that, performing a mocking “Yes!” chant. She stopped after a few goes but started up again when her husband audibly told her to. And that was how RAW went off the air. Bryan lying at the feet of The Authority. It was like last autumn all over again.
In fairness, as much as it was pretty unoriginal the ending to Monday Night RAW did make sense. Bryan was painted as the underdog; people were left desperate for him to gain retribution on Triple H; there was a little interaction between ‘Mania foes Orton and Batista; and Bryan was subtly moved into the orbit of the WWE championship. The final point may not mean anything, but it could be used by WWE to have Bryan not only wrestle Triple H at WrestleMania but also compete in the main event. It’s a long shot and not something I’m convinced they’re going to do at this point. But the option’s there. That’s the important thing.
It was one of the best RAWs of the last few months. Notably it was better than the previous week’s which saw the return of Hulk Hogan, Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker. And WWE managed it without CM Punk. That’s a positive thing to notice, because right now it doesn’t look like they’re going to have their second most popular man back any time soon.