Chair Shots: WWE Raw advances top storylines, but suffers from lack of action

(Carroll County Times)

On the heels of a tremendous Raw last week, WWE seemed to mail it in on this week's episode, which was really light on in-ring action and really heavy on video packages. There was some good storyline advancement with Undertaker-Triple H and Chris Jericho-CM Punk, the two "other" WrestleMania main events behind John Cena vs. the Rock, but the episode struggled to keep my attention.

The big question answered was the motivation behind the face-off between Undertaker and Triple H last week. The Game opened the show (no surprise, but warranted) to address him walking away from the Undertaker's challenge at the end of last week's show. Essentially, Triple H stayed that course that he beat Undertaker so badly last year that he had to be carried out and that if he did face Undertaker again, he'd have to finish the job. He doesn't want to do that because he respects him too much. (If that's the case, why did he want to end the Streak so badly last year?)

Cue our first video package of the night, which showed the Undertaker sitting in a chair, watching replays of last year's match with cutouts of Triple H and a WrestleMania XXVIII logo on his wall. It was a pretty cool video package, and told the story that Undertaker is obsessed with proving to Triple H and the world that he's still the force that has reigned over WWE for two decades.

What I find most intriguing about this is that the roles have been reversed for the first time in a while. In recent years, the storyline has been trying to end Undertaker's Streak and him being the favorite, whereas he's being portrayed as the underdog this time. Triple H is honestly the only guy who could pull this off and still kind of remain a babyface. He's always been an arrogant, cocky son-of-a-gun and when he says he ended the Undertaker's Streak last year, despite losing, you kind of believe him because he says it with such conviction. And then you really want to see Undertaker come back and kick his butt. So, congrats Hunter, you're really good at what you do.

Another wrinkle was added to the fold here when John Laurinaitis told Hunter his long-time buddy and two-time victim to the Undertaker's Streak, Shawn Michaels, would be on Raw next week. While I personally don't believe Michaels will return to the ring (although I'd love to see Triple H vs. HBK vs. Undertaker in a Triple Threat match) I do think he'll be involved in convincing Hunter to accept the Undertaker's challenge and possibly being involved as the guest referee. ...

Laurinaitis, by the way, gets to keep his job as interim GM of Raw. Because Triple H didn't get around to firing him last week, he made a last-minute plea to the Board of Directors, who decided to give him one more chance, WWE.com announced this morning.

This is a good thing. The Laurinaitis character has definitely grown on me over the past few months -- as I think it has many wrestling fans -- and he's found his voice. I do think there eventually needs to be some resolution to his ongoing feud with CM Punk, and I figure that will resume being a top storyline after WrestleMania, when Raw will need an interesting angle such as "Who is the next GM?" to get through the often dull spring months that follow the biggest event of the year. ...

Meanwhile, Punk seems to have his hands full with Chris Jericho. For the first time since his return, Jericho spoke at length, and continued the storyline he started on Twitter months ago by calling several wrestlers Jericho rip-offs and wannabes. He mentioned all of his opponents at Elimination Chamber and how they ripped him off -- Miz wearing a suit and Punk calling himself "Best in the World" were on point, the rest were kind of reaches -- but really focused on Punk. He said it's the end of the world as we know it, because he's come back to claim what's his -- I assume that means the WWE Championship and the title of "Best in the World." Punk came out to respond, and instead copied Jericho by saying nothing and simply holding up the WWE Championship.

By the way, what I really loved about this was how Jericho acted like he basically invented pro wrestling. But nothing he mentioned during his promo was something that hasn't been done before him. It's like when fans get worked up over Sheamus "stealing" Findlay's moveset or Swagger ripping off Kurt Angle's ankle lock. There are very few things that happen in pro wrestling that are original. You just have to kind of tweak stuff and make it your own. Jericho knows this well, and that's why this is so good.

This set-up a six-pack challenge featuring the six participants in the Elimination Chamber match competing to determine who would get to enter last, and thereby get an advantage. It was an entertaining match that probably saved a show that was really short on actual wrestling. Punk hit the GTS on Dolph Ziggler, then Jericho pulled Punk out of the ring and covered Ziggler to win, earning the last spot. After the match, he sat cross-legged in the ring with the WWE Championship over his shoulder, mocking Punk.

Because there were four other men in the match (well, three after R-Truth got hurt, more on that below) Punk and Jericho never got physical with each other until the very end, and even that was brief. They teased a face-off between them, but Ziggler and Miz broke it up. This is a good thing. I don't want to see Punk and Jericho fight before WrestleMania. It needs to be fresh. Unfortunately, I think WWE screwed that up when they went with Sheamus over Jericho to win the Rumble for the sake of a swerve.

I love that Sheamus is getting a push, but that could've been achieved at Elimination Chamber. Punk-Jericho is going to be more important than the World Championship match at WrestleMania, and Jericho needed the momentum that comes with winning the Rumble. It also would've kept Jericho out fo the chamber match and really made the match with Punk have a first-time ever feel. Now, we are going to have seen them in the same match at least twice (last night and at Elimination Chamber) before we get to 'Mania. Still worse is Punk is probably going to drop the title at Elimination Chamber. I just can't see how they get to the 'Mania match now without Jericho walking out with the title. That means either he pins Punk at the end or one of the other four eliminate Punk early on. Either way, it stops someone's momentum before we get to 'Mania. ...

R-Truth seemed to suffer a head injury during a botched spot in the main event. R-Truth attempted a sommersault plancha onto Miz, who didn't quite catch him and break his fall, causing Truth's head to snap back onto the mat. Raw went to commercial and Truth was being carried backstage when it returned. Apparently Miz is taking a lot of backstage heat for this. Fair or not? I don't know. It certainly seemed like Miz screwed up (he later seemed to botch a double clothesline spot with Jericho, too) but there is a reason those types of manuevers are called "high risk." WWE.com is reporting that Truth is OK and won't miss any time, although I'd expect him to not wrestle again until Elimination Chamber as a precaution. ...

During the final seconds of the main event, with Jericho sitting in the ring and Punk looking on, you started to hear a lot of screams. At first, I thought it was just some female fans who got a little too close to the camera microphones and were way too excited. Then we cut backstage and saw Kane stalking Eve Torres. He talked about embracing the hate, that Cena is close to doing that, but he fears for what will happen to Eve if he doesn't. Kane says that, for the first time, he's starting to be afraid of himself. I have no idea what that means. I guess he's afraid of what evil he's capable of?

It was weird that Cena wasn't on the show. I guess, technically, he did the backstage segment with Carl Edwards where it was announced that Cena would drop the green flag at the Daytona 500. I'm not a NASCAR fan, but that's a pretty good gig. That segment was allegedly taped last week though. Kinda pokes at Cena's claims that he's there entertaining the WWE Universe every night when you leave him off a show, doesn't it? The video package we've already seen half a dozen times doesn't count. I did see some speculation that a backstage segment with him and Eve Torres was scrapped because Eve suffered a broken nose during the Divas match, but it looked fine during the closing angle with Kane, although that was probably pretaped.

Oh, Cena and Kane will wrestle in an Ambulance match at Elimination Chamber. That's the other announcement Laurinaitis made. Essentially, it's no count-out and no DQ, and you need to incapacitate your opponent long enough to put them in the back of an ambulance backstage. Eh. I would've rather had Last Man Standing, as was rumored, but the IWC hated on that idea. I don't know if that influenced the decision for an ambulance match or not the way it might've influenced the decision to have Sheamus win the Rumble over Jericho. If it was, it's another bad decision made simply to spite fans for claiming the product is too predictable. Sometimes, it's best to just stay the course. ...

The afforementioned Divas match -- an 8-Diva tag rematch from the Royal Rumble -- saw Tamina picked up the win for the babyface squad after Beth Phoenix hard tagged one of the Bellas into the match. Despite the team's loss, Beth looked on excitedly, as I think she viewed Tamina as a worthy challenger for the Divas title. During the introductions for the match, they ran a WWE.com segment that ran over the weekend about Beth saying she didn't have any legitimate competition (although this is clearly leading to Kharma vs. Beth at WrestleMania).

By the way, I don't mind Kharma not being around right now. She gave birth on Dec. 31. The fact she was in the Rumble was amazing less than a month later. No reason for her not to take the next two months off. The seed was planted and Beth is carrying it out on television. Make us wait for the big payoff. That's smart booking. ...

The Smackdown portions of Raw were pretty forgettable.

Big Show vs. Daniel Bryan in a nontitle match was the first in-ring action of the show. It ended when Show nearly ran over AJ again, but pulled up before she was smashed between him and the ring steps. Bryan grabbed her and walked backstage, losing by count-out, then cut a promo on Big Show saying that just proved the first time he ran over AJ it was on purpose. I'm curious how they end up resolving this. ...

Great Khali and Randy Orton beat Cody Rhodes and Wade Barrett in a short tag team match. Orton and Khali ripped off Beth Phoenix (see Jericho, it's not just you!) by exchanging hard tags with each other. The match was designed to highlight four of the participants in the Smackdown Elimination Chamber match, get fans re-introduced to Khali, and show that he and Orton aren't exactly friendly. It accomplished all that, I think. A few folks on Twitter were upset Rhodes got jobbed to Khali, but I think Khali will ultimately put Rhodes over in his feud and Cody will be better for it. Let it all play out first. ...

Sheamus squashed David Otunga (although he lasted longer with the Celtic Warrior than Jinder Mahal) after he came out to "say a prayer" for John Laurinaitis, then "Tebowed" in the middle of the ring. Apparently Triple H made the match and sent Sheamus out to take care of Otunga. Ho hum. I'm glad Sheamus keeps winning, but I think he's going to need a credible, quality opponent and match at Elimination Chamber to get fans to really buy him as a threat to win a championship at WrestleMania. I'm assuming they are saving Christian for this, since he has unfinished business with Sheamus and could make his plea for "one more match" for a title if he were to beat the Great White. Alberto Del Rio, who also has to be due to return from injury soon, would be an equally good option here, since he won last year's Rumble. ...

Missing in action, in addition to John Cena, were Funkasaurus Brodus Clay and United States Champion Jack Swagger. Clay was edited out of Smackdown as well this past week, and I'm hoping WWE hasn't already given up on him. Perhaps they just need to think up a good program for him, now that he's squashed all the jobbers on the roster. Swagger has an amazing ability to win a championship and immediately get de-pushed. I swear, I've never seen anything like it. It happened when he won the World Championship then started losing in 2010 and since winning the U.S. title, he's had the crap kicked out of him by Cena and wreslted on Superstars twice (he faced Santino at last night's tapings). To make things worse, last night Raw was in Oklahoma, his home state. Maybe WWE didn't want him to Raw because he might get cheered, but they've worked around that before.