It's worth noting that the show was decidedly lacking in star power. Yes, The Rock was there, but he's set to be a regular for the next three months. His contribution is welcome but it doesn't necessarily equate to being special. It's more that it's not yet stopped being novel.
The real disappointment was that more stars didn't join him. Mick Foley and Ric Flair showed up, but neither did anything particularly noteworthy. Foley was there as part of his Hall of Fame induction announcement (which is richly deserved) and 'The Nature Boy' was there to up the number of former stars and attempt to give a rub to The Miz.
I got the feeling that WWE beefed Flair's part up partially because they had no access to 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin or Shawn Michaels. They were at some sort of hunting convention, and that they were signed to appear there several months ago could be another reason why WWE chose not to make a bigger deal of this show.
As far as I'm aware there's no prior engagement to explain why the Undertaker wasn't present. Perhaps he was omitted from plans so that he can be used to boost viewership in a few weeks’ time. Or maybe the booking team just couldn't come up with anything worthwhile for him to do. If the rumours are true and he’s going to be facing CM Punk at WrestleMania then holding off his return would make sense: there’s no need to have him interact with Punk until his programme with The Rock is done.
The result of all this was that the twentieth anniversary did not have the Big Event feel it was expected to a few weeks ago. The mildly understated nature of the hype doesn't seem to have hurt WWE though, the show got its best viewing figure since RAW 1000 last July.
Despite not being deemed especially important the episode still managed to muster together an above average number of memorable segments. The first was Vince McMahon opening the show. It was a nice touch and served as confirmation that fans still react to the boss. Things deteriorated after Vince had made his speech: Big Show shuffled out to complain about losing the World Heavyweight championship. Vince cracked jokes, Show demanded a rematch. You all know the routine.
Memorable Moment Number Two was Randy Orton's surprisingly clean loss to Intercontinental champion Wade Barrett. The champ went over with his Bullhammer Elbow. Not only was this a nice thing for Barrett it will also apparently play into 'The Viper's' heel turn. I'm beginning to think he'll turn based on people having forgotten how dangerous he can be, having become distracted by playing to the fans. Or something along those lines.
CM Punk’s promo was not the third highlight of the show. It was good, but it was standard Punk fare and wasn't as impactful as his main event segment with The Rock on January 7th.
No, the next big moment of the show came directly before Punk's promo when he wrestled Brodus Clay. It was a short television match that was, in the grand scheme of things, pretty generic. What grabbed me about it was Punk's wild bumping, going out of his way to make 'The Funkasaurus' look like as much of a threat as possible. Two weeks away from a match with The Rock Punk could easily have played things safe (or asked not to wrestle at all) to protect the main event of Royal Rumble. That he wrestled and did such a good job of elevating Clay shows why he's in the spot he's in.
For his part, Clay wrestled with a vigour that has deserted him in some outings over the last year. It goes to show what a higher spot on the card and a chance to stand out can do for someone's confidence and their willingness to perform at a higher level than usual.
The brief exchange between The Rock and Mick Foley (which took place backstage) was nice to see too. The Rock 'n' Sock Connection was a short but enjoyable part of the careers of both men and it was nice seeing it referenced on the 20th anniversary show. The seemingly adlibbed two lines about Rock giving Foley a Rock Bottom last year was a great comedy moment.
The next notable in-ring segment was Miz TV. I'm not usually a fan of 'The Awesome One's' alleged chat show. This week's instalment proved an exception for two reasons. Firstly the guest was Ric Flair. Secondly Antonio Cesaro interrupted.
I am not actually the biggest Flair fan. I appreciate that he was once a great wrestler and that he's still a solid promo when he has someone to give him direction (which he didn't have in TNA). I don't begrudge him a spot on RAW, especially on any sort of anniversary episode. Just because I'm not wild about him doesn't mean other people aren't.
The reason I point this out is because Flair alone wouldn't have been enough to make me interested in Miz TV. What saved the segment, in my view, was Antonio Cesaro. His recent decision to wave the US flag as he enters arenas is priceless, as were the trunks he debuted on RAW that are very clearly based on said flag. His anti-Flair comments, which included a dig at the man's four failed marriages, were brilliant too. In short Cesaro is a riot. He understands how to portray himself as a menacing threat whilst also sending himself up.
Miz TV ended with Flair blasting 'The Swiss Superman' with some chops and then encouraging Miz to slap a figure four leg lock on him. Miz did so, making a poor stab at impersonating Flair along the way. With that done 'Naitch' threw his jacket to the mat and elbow dropped it. From anyone else that would be absurd. From him it works.
Things then went quiet until the final match of the evening, a cage match between rivals Dolph Ziggler and John Cena. Sadly that was memorable, at least in part, for the wrong reasons.
The match itself was good. It was on par with most Ziggler outings and far better than the average Cena bout. The crowd were into it and there were numerous well planned and executed spots, such as Ziggler's standing drop kick on the top rope. That said the wrong man won and 'The Show Off' was not protected in defeat.
Had Ziggler won, with a large audience watching it would have been a huge boost for him. Even if it hasn't been a clean victory it still could have raised his status in the eyes of fans.
Ziggler threw everything he could think of at Cena, progressively upping the stakes. A surprise super kick earned 'The Sole Survivor' his first convincing near fall. He reversed the No Pressure STF into a sleeper only for Cena to power his way out and climb the cage with Ziggler on his back. Big E cracked the cage door onto Cena's head for another close two count. Moments later 'The CeNation Leader' was distracted by a chair wielding Langston, allowing Ziggler to sneak in a Zig Zag. That only got him two as well. Finally Ziggler connected with a DDT from the second rope for yet another two count.
The finishing sequence then kicked in, with Big E getting into the ring and being accidentally hit with the Money in the Bank briefcase by Ziggler. Cena then effortlessly hoisted his foe onto his shoulders for the match winning Attitude Adjustment.
Cena withstood an onslaught from two men. Ziggler went down to a single AA. There could be no doubt who the bigger star was.
Cena has to be the only guy in wrestling who wrestles cage matches in trainers
What's so frustrating is that spectators clearly wanted Dolph to win. That in and of itself is not usually enough of a reason to have somebody win, but it does indicate who fans want to see more of. WWE didn't have to book a clean Cena loss. In fact this is at least part of the reason cage matches were invented: to give a rising star a win over a headliner without the headliner having to take a pinfall loss. The rising star simply escapes the cage instead.
Even if they were intent on having Cena win he could at least have let Dolph put up more of a fight. Even having Big E ejected from ringside would have helped. At least it would have seen Ziggler losing with the odds even. As things stand he couldn't even beat Cena with a two-on-one advantage.
Ziggler's popularity is clear and WWE squandered an excellent opportunity to advance him. This is nothing new, but it never gets any less disappointing.
The evening concluded with The Rock giving a Rock Concert. Each entry into this series (this was the fourth) seems to get shorter. Perhaps that’s just me. After singing a few lines directed at Paul Heyman 'The Great One' called Vickie Guerrero out onto the stage. Oblivious to the laws of wrestling logic that governed her fate (basically that she is a heel and Rock, as a face, would provide her with her comeuppance) Vickie smiled away as Rock started rewording an Eric Clapton song, addressing her as he did so.
Rock called Vickie a bitch probably around a dozen times, then Vickie left. It was amusing, but not uproariously so. The audience disagreed with me. They thought it was one of the greatest things ever.
Rock then called out CM Punk, who came out onto the stage alongside Paul Heyman. Rock referred to the latter as Twinkie Tits. The crowd lapped that up too. Perhaps they were just big fans of American snack brands. Rock certainly seems to be.
Rock told Punk that he'd beat him for the WWE championship at Royal Rumble. The champ then charged the ring and the two had a believable brawl until they were separated by referees and officials, including luminaries such as Finlay (he loves to fight!) and Arn Anderson.
With two weeks to go before they face one another on pay-per-view it made sense for Rock and Punk to close the show. Having them fight was a smart move too, it provided a taster for what is WWE's most hotly anticipated match since last year's WrestleMania. This is likely the image we'll think of when we think back on RAW's 20th anniversary.
Overall it wasn't a bad show. There was more filler than I'd expected but they were accompanied by a greater number of enjoyable segments than I’d expected, so it balances out. All things considered I think that's an accurate reflexion of RAW's twenty year history: mostly good with a bit of bad mixed in.