The last time WWE visited Chicago was for the Money in the Bank pay-per-view in July, which saw hometown hero CM Punk topple John Cena for the WWE championship in a gripping main event. Five months later WWE returned for a Boxing Day edition of RAW, headlined by the now two-time WWE champion hometown hero. Could WWE put on another show that flattered ‘The Second City Saint’ and gave the always raucous Chi-town something to shout about? Let’s find out...
The show kicked off with John Laurinaitis coming out to CM Punk’s music and wearing a CM Punk T-shirt. The pop was tremendous at first, and turned into solid heat when the people realised they’d been duped by the dastardly GM. Laurinaitis said that’s the sort of excitement that’s become the norm since he became RAW GM. Yes, he thinks people walking out to music to fool an audience is exciting. So do the writing team. It didn’t take long for the music to hit again, this time signalling the true arrival of the WWE champion. The crowd gave a huge pop and ‘The Straight Edge Superstar’ was permitted to play up to it for longer than is normal. That was nice to see. They had a little back and forth which included the strange moment of Laurinaitis telling Punk he had the night off, only to laugh and reveal that he was joking. “Who says I can’t be unpredictable?” asked the Marty Funkhouser-esque GM. It was painfully unfunny, but that’s what Laurinaitis does best .
Laurinaitis revealed that Punk would wrestle a gauntlet match against three opponents. If Punk got beaten then whoever scored the pinfall would get a WWE title match on next week’s RAW. If Punk beat all three men he’d receive a fourth match against John Laurinaitis. This prompted a “You can’t wrestle” chant from the audience. Punk made a joke about how they’d been watching All Japan tapes. It was a nice touch, but would have sailed over the head of most viewers.
The segment ended with Punk posing on the turnbuckle, encouraging fans to cheer for him. We were then treated to another one of the “It Begins” promos. Creepy kids, swings in a children’s play area and a minimalistic schoolroom. They’re weird videos alright. The general consensus seems to be that they’re for Chris Jericho. I think he or the Undertaker are the likeliest candidates (and I’ll remind you that ‘Taker returns have often been accompanied by videos of creepy kids). The promo reminded us (as if we could forget) that the mystery returnee will appear next week.
After the break we got the first match of the night: Booker T v Cody Rhodes in a TLC rematch. The two men got an impressive amount of time for a non-main event match on RAW and put on a good show. It’s another example of how much Cody has improved this year and how talented Booker T is. He’d be a great addition to the full time roster again, and could easily have one more full time run before retiring. The former King of the Ring picked up the clean win with a Scissor Kick and celebrated with his trademark random-point-to-someone-sitting-in-the-bleachers and a Spineroonie.
Backstage Ryder and Cena had a chat with one another about how ‘Long Island Iced Z’ has gotten himself over and how Cena wants to deal with Kane. It was one of those painfully unnatural backstage conversations that WWE does so well.
Back at ringside Jerry Lawler announced that Punk’s gauntlet match opponents would be Jack Swagger, Dolph Ziggler and Mark Henry. All three men got booed by the Chicago crowd as they were shown on the Titantron. Backstage in a hallway we saw Kelly Kelly giving Big Show beauty tips. Why and how this situation had come about was left unexplained. That’s probably for the best. Show was told by a ref that Laurinaitis wanted to see him in his office so Big Show lumbered off to see him.
Laurinaitis was shown in his office with David Otunga, talking to Brodus Clay on the phone. His re-debut will now happen next week apparently. The storyline is still that Laurinaitis keeps postponing Clay’s return to keep him keen. The reality is that the writing team change their minds on a weekly basis with regards to Clay, who has a lot of positives and deserves to be on weekly TV. Show wandered in and bickered with Otunga about what happened on last week’s SmackDown (Show knocked out Otunga with a punch to the face), with Laurinaitis eventually booking the two in a match. The obligatory whacky stipulation? Show would have a hand tied behind his back.
Following an amusing Ziggler and Swagger argument session the new United States champion Zack Ryder teamed up with Eve Torres to take on Tyson Kidd and Natalya. Yes, that’s Tyson Kidd on RAW. How often do we get to see that? Ryder won via Broski Boot and Rough Ryder. It was a decent filler bout.
Cena was up next, receiving his usual anti-pop from Chicago. As ‘The Doctor of Thuganomics’ made his way to the ring a graphic came up of the latest WWE Magazine, with a Team Bring It v Team CeNation article being highlighted. Cole mispronounced “CeNation” as “Cena Nation”. It’s not a big thing, but it is a simple thing, and a mistake WWE’s lead announcer shouldn’t be making.
Cena acknowledged that he’s been to Chicago many times and he often receives a “salty” reception. Salty is a word I’ve not really heard before in that particular context. That’s Cena for you: he’s an educator. He rambled on about Chicago for a while, failing to make any sort of point, before calling out Kane. Instead he got The Miz.
Miz told us that 2011 has been the year of The Miz but that one thing bothered him. He’d beaten Cena at WrestleMania but it was a tainted victory because of The Rock’s interference. Miz challenged Cena to a match to prove that he could beat him by himself and Cena accepted. After a few minutes of duelling chants directed at Cena and some lacklustre exchanges Miz rolled to the outside (which was loudly called by Cena in the ring) and told the fans they were chanting for the wrong guy. As Miz wittered on about beating Cena at WrestleMania (despite having just admitted it was a tainted win) he got counted out and was then set upon by a returning R-Truth.
Truth, still working the schizophrenia gimmick, smashed Miz into the commentary table and the ringside steps before telling him he could finish him right then and there but that wouldn’t be fun. Truth told Miz he’d take his time getting to him, because Little Jimmy said it would be okay. “This New Year, may old acquaintance be forgot? Naw... they gonna get got” was Truth’s best line.
I think R-Truth could enjoy great success as a babyface if he’s booked correctly. His gimmick has been making people laugh since its introduction (and being able to make fans laugh is rarely a bad thing for a babyface) and if Truth’s booked sympathetically and his opponents chosen wisely he could be a big star. It’s not a gimmick that will ever take him to the WWE championship, but I don’t think that was likely anyway. We’ll probably get a Miz v Truth match on RAW in the next few weeks and then see them go after one another in the Royal Rumble match. Booked correctly that could be good.
Where did Cena go during all of this? I’ve no idea. I don’t really care either.
After the break it was time for the gimmicked up Otunga v Big Show bout. Show made his trademark Smiley Babyface Entrance while Otunga changed it up by wearing Harvard colour trunks and having himself announced as “a graduate of Harvard law school.” That was a nice touch. I like the Otunga character more every week. There’s a lot of potential there for heel heat. He could be an asset to WWE programming if used to make unpopular decisions and work occasional gimmick matches on RAW and SmackDown. It’s a character with a very ECW feel to it. That’s a good thing.
Big Show was easily handling Otunga until Mark Henry waddled to ringside. The crowd immediately broke into a “Sexual Chocolate” chant. That will plague Henry for the rest of his career. ‘The World’s Lardiest Man’ barged Show to the ground before Daniel Bryan showed up at ringside to provide a distraction. That allowed Show to get back to his feet to attempt a choke slam on Henry, only to be thwarted by Otunga. Show blasted the lawyer with a choke slam as Henry rolled to the outside. My guess is that we’re going to get a Bryan v Show v Henry triple threat match at the Royal Rumble. If that’s kept relatively short and Bryan’s allowed to do most of the work I think that could be a good match.
Alberto Del Rio made his first and last appearance of the night riding in a stylish gold plated wheelchair, pushed by Ricardo Rodriguez. ‘The Essence of Excellence’ told us he tore his groin but that he’d come back stronger than ever. The Bella twins randomly came out to argue with one another over who would throw ADR a party once he’s recovered but Del Rio ordered them to the back before vowing that he’d be back stronger than ever and that he would recapture the WWE championship. I can’t see that happening for a considerable amount of time: WWE appear to have lost faith in him over the last few months and he doesn’t appear to be under consideration for a prominent spot at WrestleMania. That could change over the next few weeks but I doubt it.
Main event time. Swagger was out first, Punk second. They worked a brief but enjoyable match, with Punk going over following a roundhouse kick to the head of ‘The All American American’. Next up: Dolph Ziggler!
Swagger chop blocked Punk before Ziggler was in the ring so the story of Punk’s second match of the night became an injured ankle. Ziggler went after the leg with punches, single leg crabs and stomps. Punk sold well. The finish came when Vickie grabbed Punk’s leg as he went for a GTS on ‘The Show Off’, which brought out Laurinaitis to eject her from ringside (the ref had missed her interference because he was distracted by Swagger). Laurinaitis’s presence distracted Punk (mainly because the GM directly addressed Punk as the match was ongoing), which allowed Ziggler to connect with the Zig Zag and win the match.
Ziggler ran around ringside with the championship and posed at the top of the ramp. He looked elated and Punk looked irked, both of them really put over the importance of the victory well. Next week’s RAW will play host to a WWE championship match between Ziggler and CM Punk. That is a great main event to kick off the year.
Is this a sign of things to come for 2012?
Just when you thought the fun was over Cole and Lawler reminded us that Kane would be out next to explain exactly what his problem is with John Cena. ‘The Big Red Machine’ begun to tell us that we’re the ones wearing masks (metaphorical ones presumably) but was interrupted by ‘The Leader of the Chain Gang’. Kane stopped him with a fireball to the ramp. Yes, he can still do that stuff apparently.
Apparently Kane’s problem is with Cena’s “Rise Above Hate” slogan rather than Cena himself. Kane did a lot of talking, basically telling us that hate is a natural emotion and should be embraced. I remember the days when he was a mute character. The crowd, clearly bored, amused themselves with duelling chants of “Let’s go Cena” and “Cena sucks”. That even a deliberately boring and depressing promo couldn’t get fans to rally behind Cena should tell WWE that they need to do something with the Cena character, not his opponents.
Kane ended his nonsense by trying to start a “Cena sucks” chant but couldn’t get it going. Instead the fans talked amongst themselves for a bit before returning to the duelling chants. Cena didn’t say anything. He simply stood on the stage looking thoughtful and depressed (or how he imagines these emotions look, at any rate) as the show went off the air.
And that was the final RAW of the year. It was a slightly depressing ending (especially when you remember that WWE is supposed to be escapist television) but the overall show was good. They did a surprisingly good job of building up next week’s episode. With the Brodus Clay debut (they really mean it this time, I’m sure), the revelation of the “It Begins” videos, and Ziggler v Punk all happening the first RAW of 2012 looks promising.