Believe it or not, there existed a time when WWE built anticipation for pay-per-view matches by keeping the competitors separated prior to the big show.
In today's era of WWE, however, the philosophy seems to be aimed at attempting to build excitement by having the competitors share the ring reguiarly on free weekly television.
A prime example can be seen in the build of the Royal Rumble collision between WWE Champion CM Punk and his challenger Dolph Ziggler, who have squared off in four matches through the past five weeks.
Granted, each of those matches has been used to also set up the role of Interim General Manager and Executive Vice President of Talent Relations John Laurinatis as the special guest referee for the bout.
Laurinatis has now cost Punk each of those matches, including tonight's tag match where Punk teamed with John Cena to face Ziggler and Jack Swagger, driving Punk to the point of issuing a challenge to the executive officer to return to in-ring after a decade away later in the show.
The match, slotted as the main event, of course never materialized. Laurinatis weaseled his way out, trying to apologize to Punk and anyone else he wronged in the wake of a notice from the Board of Directors.
Laurinatis ordered his lackey David Otunga to take his place in the match, and jumping Punk from behind, Otunga - dressed in business casual attire - actually got in brief flurry of offense before being dominated by Punk.
The show closed with the champion nailing his signature Go to Sleep on Laurinatis and then being sneak-attacked by Ziggler.
As the go-home show for the Royal Rumble, this show seemed to put more emphasis on the Punk versus Laurinatis issues than the actual title match with Ziggler.
Given the tendencies of WWE booking and the fact Ziggler has come out on top in every encounter, it seems obvious Punk will retain the title. But there's a shadow of doubt cast by the brewing Laurinatis-Punk saga.
Many are hoping to see this star-versus-authority figure become this generation's Austin versus McMahon, but the magic of that feud can never be recreated – nor should it be.
There's no doubt Punk and Laurinatis can find success of their own in a long-term program, but for now, on the road to Wrestlemania, it would be preferable to see Punk focus on in-ring competition of a more serious nature.
* For more evidence of the over-pairing of superstars together, look no further than tonight's match between Sheamus and Jinder Mahal. These two, who have no apparent reason to be feuding, have now faced each other on either Raw or Smackdown for several weeks running. The match itself was nothing special, and the worst part is that this "feud" is that it seems to only be a vessel building to Sheamus versus Wade Barrett.
* Laurinatis received a message from the WWE Board of Directors informing him his position as interim general manager was under review and would be evaluated next week on Raw by WWE COO Triple H. Resurrecting that story just in time for Wrestlemania? Is Hunter trying to take the focus away from Punk as champion once again?
* The Cena-Punk versus Ziggler-Swagger match looked pretty good as a television match. Putting Swagger in the ring with performers the caliber of Punk and Cena and not having him look like a complete joke will help his momentum as United States Champion. Hopefully they can rebuild Swagger after he suffered seemingly irreparable damage since his world title reign.
* The Miz lost clean to former tag team partner R-Truth to "earn" the spot of No. 1 entrant into the Royal Rumble. One must wonder why this match happened without any advance promotion, as the feud between these two deserved at least an undercard bout on pay-per-view. Maybe Miz will be built dominantly, lasting throughout the Rumble until the final four. If WWE is serious about pushing Miz again, this is the way to do it.
* Cena's best bud Zack Ryder found himself paired off against Cena's Rumble opponent Kane in a falls count anywhere match, and if Cena got involved, Ryder would never receive another United States title match. The masked monster destroyed Ryder for an extended period before choke slamming him through the stage. Kane then chased Eve, who had accompanied Ryder to the ring, before Cena made an appearance on the ramp to check on an injured Ryder, who was taken out on a stretcher. Kane is much more believable as a brute force than he is a mystical creature, so it was refreshing to see him resorting to pure brutality rather than magic. This angle, explained as Ryder suffering a broken back, also seems to be writing him off TV for a while, so hopefully when he returns, it will be with a more serious and much less goofy persona. Ryder has potential, and he's proven his ability to get fan support, but his gimmick has him stuck beneath a glass ceiling.
* After watching Ryder taken away in an ambulance, Cena smacked the microphone out of Josh Matthews' hand. This will certainly fuel the Internet's speculation that Cena is, in fact, "embracing the hate." I wouldn't bet my house on that yet, but the storyline is certainly getting more interesting.
* Chris Jericho finally addressed the live crowd. After more pandering - this time on the set of the Highlight Reel - he said Sunday's Royal Rumble would be "the end of the world as you know it." I personally was hoping he wouldn't speak until at least next week; I thought taunting the fans with the T-shirt cannon would have been the ideal next step in his trolling activity.
* Brodus Clay brought the Funkasaurus a step up the food chain, as he went from squashing straight-up jobbers to defeating a glorified jobber in Heath Slater. With William Regal on commentary - and the replaying of Smackdown's dance-off - it seems that Clay-Regal may be brewing. With the latter clamoring for one last main event run, this doesn't seem the way to get there, but knowing Regal, he'll make the most of the opportunity and at least provide an entertaining few weeks of television.
* It was announced that for the first time ever, any WWE superstar is eligible to enter the Royal Rumble match. I'm not really sure how this is any different than before? Does it just mean people who competed in other matches on the card can also take part in the big battle royale?
Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger d. CM Punk and John Cena
Kane vs. Zack Ryder went to a no contest
Sheamus d. Jinder Mahal
Brodus Clay d. Heath Slater
R-Truth d. Miz
CM Punk d. David Otunga (possibly not an official match)
To me, there was a lot of interesting developments on this week's Raw, but it didn't feel like the go-home show to the second-biggest event of the WWE calendar. Perhaps that lackluster feel can be attributed to a relatively poor card for the pay-per-view - at least on paper. Punk and Ziggler will pull out all the stops, and Laurinatis' involvement adds intrigue, but the Kane versus Cena match seems to leave a lot left to be desired. I'm still excited for the pay-per-view, as I will be live in the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, but hopefully speed picks up as the road to Wrestlemania continues.
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