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Chair Shots: 3-hour Raw nicely sets stage for Extreme Rules

With a three-hour pay-per-view on Sunday, having a three-hour episode of Raw less than a week beforehand -- especially with WWE's recent track record of three-hour programs -- seemed like it could be a disaster. Instead, the show was well-paced, featured a remarkable amount of good wrestling, a set the stage masterfully for Sunday's show. Maybe not having a theme to all of these things is the way to go after all.

Obviously, the focus of the night -- as it has been since WrestleMania -- was the feud between John Cena and Brock Lesnar. WWE pulled an apparent bait-and-switch by announcing on their website that the announced contract signing between the two would kick-off the show, likely as a way to ensure people tuned in at 8 (traditionally, the first hour of the three-hour broadcasts pull the worst ratings). John Laurinaitis appeared to announce that Lesnar hadn't arrived, but once he did, they'd do the contract signing. Before people could flip the channel, Raw got Rated-R.

Newly minted WWE Hall of Famer Edge made a surprise appearance in the opening segment to an incredible pop, confronting his rival John Cena in what was the must-see segment of the night. The Rated R Superstar cut a promo as only he could, and managed to get the fans in attendance on John Cena's side -- even the adults males. He did so by explaining that despite he and Cena being great rivals, that Cena needs to beat Lesnar on Sunday because Lesnar only cares about the wrestling business and the fans if it can line his pockets. That was reinforced later in the show.

Edge effectively painted "this version" of John Cena as someone who is scared of failure who needs to "wake up" and be the guy who beat him at TLC in his hometown of Toronto. He closed by saying he's not asking Cena to win Sunday, he's telling him to win. Cena never said a word.

We wouldn't see Cena again for almost three hours, when the contract signing actually took place. Despite Edge's pep talk, Cena again looked timid. He brought his metal chain from his Thuganomics days with him (a nod to his first match with Lesnar at Backlash in 2003) but again, didn't say a word. He actually seemed reluctant to sign the contract at first, and didn't until Lesnar called him out for being scared. The two teased getting physical before Lesnar exited the ring.

From Cena's perspective, the two segments were excellent. For the first time in a long while, Cena doesn't seem like a superhero who can "Rise Above." It's character development the hardcore fans have been clamoring for without turning Cena heel. And, if you listened carefully, there were adult male voices chanting for Cena last night.

Of course, a lot of that had to do with the heat Lesnar got on himself. While it wasn't the smoothest promo, Lesnar was effective in putting forward a list of demands to John Laurinaitis before he signed the Extreme Rules contract. In a way, I wonder if those demands didn't somewhat mirror the actual negotiations between Lesnar and Vince McMahon himself. After all, it's already been revealed that Lesnar managed to get himself a deal where he could have sponsors on his T-shirt and ring gear.

Lesnar made outrageous demands to Laurinaitis that all ideas about Lesnar -- or anything -- from Laurinaitis go through Lesnar first. He demanded he get to take Vince McMahon's private jet "when I decide to show up to Raw" (a nice storyline way to explain his absence, since his contract is for a limited number of dates) and he said he couldn't be fined like the way Laurinaitis did Sheamus. He last demand was to have Raw add the tag line: Starring Brock Lesnar. It generated a ton of heat on the former UFC Champion. Laurinaitis seemed taken aback at first, but ultimately agreed to all of those. I'm curious how this plays out, as I think this could be the beginning of Laurinaitis' fall from his position of power.

Fortunately, WWE seems to have written into the storyline a capable replacement in Eve Torres. Laurinaitis welcomed her aboard as the "Executive Administrator." I think they were trying to get across that this was a glorified secretary position, but I could be wrong. Eve didn't seem too happy at first, but noted the key word was "executive." Laurinaitis offered a congratulatory hug, but Eve opted for a more professional handshake. Right now, this seems like an innocuous move putting Eve in an authority figure role, but I think we'll ultimately see her running Raw before the year is over.

So those were the big takeaways on Raw for me. A lot happened on the rest of the show, so here are my thoughts in chronological order.

As I wrote Monday, Chris Jericho desperately needed to get back in the ring and wrestle before his WWE Championship match at Extreme Rules on Sunday. Kofi Kingston seems to be his hand-picked opponent. That's who he's been wrestling on house shows, if not CM Punk, and who he wrestled on the final Smackdown before WrestleMania. They have incredible chemistry, and that showed in this match. Jericho won clean after nearly 15 minutes of fast-paced action. It was a good, much-needed showcase for Jericho heading into Extreme Rules. ...

Jericho's post-match promo was basic, but it, along with a backstage segment featuring a gift of booze he sent to CM Punk, were a catalyst for an angle later in the show. Punk cut a promo, then gave the basket to Josh Matthews, but noticeably kept a bottle of Jack Daniels. ...

Kingston might not be beating Jericho, but he's getting a nice rub from being in the ring with him. Kingston seems to be settling into a role as the mid-card babyface who beats everyone except the very top heels. He very well may still kick in the glass ceiling one day, but it's not a bad spot to have. It's essentially the spot John Morrison had occupied. ...

Lord Tensai was back to his squashing ways coming off his huge victory against Cena in the main event a week ago. This time, R-Truth was the victim. Truth seemed to get a little more offense in than his first few opponents, and was actually pinned rather than the match going to ref stoppage. Tensai will probably have an unannounced match at Sunday's pay-per-view, possibly against the aforementioned Kingston. ...

While I'm probably in the minority here, I like the Kane-Randy Orton storyline. Kane's promo about Orton and his dad was on point, and led to a mark-out moment when Orton showed up saying he returned the favor and had Kane's storyline father, Paul Bearer with him. I assume Edge has had him all this time, tied up in the wheel chair and feeding him pizza and buffalo wings. He just dropped him off to his old Rated RKO partner before Raw. Good times. Kane said he didn't care, Orton locked Bearer in a freezer, then the two brawled before Orton hit him with a metal pipe and Kane ran off. Their match Sunday should be good if they let them do some good brawling under the Falls Count Anywhere stipulation.

I'm skipping ahead, but I did find the later segment where Kane pulled Bearer out of the freezer, then put him back in there, to be kind of pointless. Unless of course the next time WWE returns to Detroit, they pull him out of the freezer again. That should nicely preserve his body, right? Paul Bearer cannot die! ...

Big Show and Great Khali had a shockingly good 10-minute tag match with Cody Rhodes and Alberto Del Rio. They set this one up nicely on Smackdown, where Del Rio beat Show with an assist from Rhodes, then Rhodes took out Khali's leg in a six-man tag, leading to Show replacing him. Awesome vintage spot with Rhodes putting Show in a figure four at one point. Ultimately, Show recovered (and didn't sell the knee at all during his comeback, my lone nitpick with the match) and Del Rio bailed, leaving Cody to eat a Khali chop and a choke slam. I smell money with a Show-Khali tag team. ...

Rhodes, by the way, will get his Intercontinental Championship rematch against Show on Sunday, with a stipulation to be determined at the pay-per-view. I like the ambiguity. I assume it's by design, and you know that Laurinaitis will make sure it absolutely favors Rhodes. ...

A United States Championship match was also announced for Extreme Rules ... in the pre-show, which will air on YouTube. Another interesting concept, with WWE promoting what has traditionally been the dark match of a PPV. Actually, it's more like the Free For All back in the day that was used as a last-minute tactic to sell the PPV. Of course, you get a pre-show when you order a PPV anyway, why wouldn't WWE just air it on TV for those that order the PPV, but also show it for free on YouTube? Oh, the match is Santino Marella defending against some guy called The Miz. I don't know who The Miz is either, I haven't seen him on Raw recently. ...

Jericho is tattling on Punk drinking to Laurinaitis, Eve and Teddy Long. Apparently, Eve's been reading the rulebook, and apparently, Superstars can't drink within 12 hours of a WWE event. I assume that means before an event, otherwise, well, let's just say no one has followed that rule ever (except CM Punk). Jericho demands Punk take a field sobriety test and, if he fails, he'll hand over the title. Laurinaitis makes Teddy Long handle that, because he learned from Jim Ross not to deliver bad news personally. ...

Lesnar arrives. Josh Matthews tries to interview him. Lesnar chokes him against a wall, but let's go. A bitter Matthews says he was "just trying to do my job." So Lesnar starts doing his. He's an ***-kicker, remember? He throws Matthews through the interview set, prompting medics to respond and Cole and Lawler to freak out. They bring up Sheamus getting fined for kicking a referee, foreshadowing for one of Lesnar's new contract demands later. ...

Nikki Bella has a Divas title match with Beth Phoenix, which Eve turns into a lumberjill match (since, in her words, "we have a bunch of Divas sitting around doing nothing"). The match was decent, but got kind of awkward when Beth legitimately injured her left leg getting out of the ring. The Divas outside piled on her, which couldn't have been good for the injury, and ultimately Nikki rolled her up in the ring to win the Divas title. Apparently, the title change had been planned, but the injury made you wonder if it wasn't an on-the-fly booking decision. The Bellas' contracts are rumored to be coming up soon. However, popular belief now is that the title was put on Nikki so she could drop it to a returning Kharma, saving a match with Beth for down the road. ...

Punk did the field sobriety test, or at least WWE's version of one. The "cops" asked him to recite the alphabet backward, then walk a line in the middle of the ring. He failed them both, and kept blaming it on Jericho distracting him. Long took the belt after it was determined he failed, but Punk asked for one more chance. He started reciting the backward alphabet (although he mixed up the order of S and T still) and walked the line forward and backward, before he popped Jericho with a microphone. In of itself, the segment was fine, but I could punch a lot of logic holes in it. No point in doing that though. I just hope their match Sunday is better than the build. ...

Mark Henry beat Sheamus in a nontitle match with Daniel Bryan as the guest referee when Bryan made a fast count. It was booked effectively, as Bryan tried to get Sheamus to attack him while he was in a referee capacity. Because he's under "permanent probation," if Sheamus touches a referee he is fired. After the match, Bryan symbolically took off his referee shirt and threw it at Sheamus, a sign he was no longer an official and Sheamus could beat him up. Bryan ultimately got the upperhand after Sheamus Brogue-Kicked Henry, putting him in the Yes! Lock. It was a good an effective segment. A rematch of Henry vs. Sheamus was announced for Smackdown. ...

Tag Team Champions Primo and Epico got jobbed again, this time to the comedy combo of Zack Ryder and Santino Marella. It was fun, but I don't really like the pairing of Santino and Zack. Primo and Epico spoke backstage with AW, who asked them about their recent failures and gave them his card. They seemed intrigued. I think it's weird that, with so few Superstars having a manager, that AW would target the tag champs, who already have Rosa. Kind of defeats the purpose, doesn't it? ...

The tag team match sponsored by Doritos Locos Tacos from Taco Bell sucked as much as the Doritos tacos do. A lot. Brodus Clay and Hornswoggle (ugh) beat Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler by disqualification when Vickie got in the ring and slapped Brodus. Hornswoggle bit her on the butt. Yup, that happened. No Taco Bell/Vickie fat jokes? I'm impressed WWE; way to take the high road. ...

Lesnar videos played throughout the show building him up for the show-closing contract signing. They played last week's UFC style promo twice. It was good, WWE, but seriously, we didn't need it a third time. I loved that his career highlights were basically beatdowns of the "Best of TNA" -- Jeff Hardy, Hulk Hogan and Kurt Angle. Perhaps WWE is serious about resigning Rob Van Dam at some point, otherwise, they should've used Lesnar defeating him in the King of the Ring finals in 2002.

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