A new era began on tonight's Raw.
With Team John Lauriniatis' victory at WrestleMania, Laurinaitis officially launched his reign of control in WWE.
His first orders of business? Rewarding the men who helped land him his position of power. Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler were granted shots at Santino Marella's United States Championship; Mark Henry was awarded a chance to dethrone CM Punk as WWE Champion; and The Miz was placed in the main event against Zack Ryder.
The members of Team Johnny found a mixed degree of success.
Swagger, Ziggler and Marella worked a decent triple threat match that teased tension between Vickie Guerrero's clients. A split between Ziggler and Swagger has been teased and not followed through in the past, but it does seem the time has come.
Ziggler is poised to move up the card on a permanent basis this year, and to do so, he needs to become his own man. He showed signs of wanting to do so during this contest, and the progression of the issues between he and Swagger will likely continue to elevate in the coming weeks.
Henry actually defeated Punk, albeit via countout. The two worked a really good match and Henry especially was in top form. Given the ending of the match, the big man has a rightful claim to a rematch, but it seems as if Punk may have someone else continuing to keep him busy for a while.
As for The Miz, he found himself back on the right path, picking up a clean victory over Ryder. Granted, a win over "Long Island Iced Z" isn't necessarily a valuable commodity, but a win is a win and hopefully this will propel Miz back toward the upper midcard or main event.
I personally had hoped Team Laurinaitis would win, so I'm pleased with the result, and I like the direction the story is headed. Laurinaitis needs to continue rewarding his team, while punishing those who helped his opponent Teddy Long.
That alone could result in a few midcard feuds through at least Extreme Rules, if not longer.
There's potential in this new Laurinaitis-run WWE, and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing where it goes.
WrestleMania seemed to be a turning point and the foundation of many new stories to be told in 2012, and Raw built a sense of momentum and positive vibes. Hopefully WWE can keep the train rolling.
John Cena's show-closing promo was good but nothing too special. He did a great job playing off the crowd, but it didn't matter what he said because as soon as Brock Lesnar's music hit, the crowd went nuts, as their pleas of "We want Lesnar" had been answered. Lesnar didn't say a word, just grabbing Cena and hitting his signature F5. Lesnar's tenure was during my off-period from wrestling, so I honestly don't know much about what can accomplish in the ring, but he's a fresh face, and I hope he can bring out the best in Cena. I'm looking forward to seeing where things go from here.
After losing to Henry, Punk was attacked by Chris Jericho, who poured "alcohol" all over him, forcing the WWE Champion to break his straight-edge vows. Yet another chapter of Punk's career is being rehashed from Ring of Honor. That's not a bad thing at all, but it's surprising to see WWE adapting so much from that company. The segment did have an unintentionally funny spot, as Jericho slipped on the wet mat while attempting to kick Punk. Laurinaitis promised Punk would be defending his championship more often, and it now seems he might have to deal with Henry and Jericho simultaneously.
Lord Tensai, whose debut has been teased in recent weeks, made his debut on Raw, making quick work of Alex Riley, who was given a complete jobber entrance. For those who don't know, Tensai formerly competed in WWE as Prince Albert and A-Train in the late 90s and early 2000s. He's spent time in Japan, where he became one of the most over superstars in Pro Wrestling NOAH. He looked good in this squash match, which he won by referee stoppage. After the match, he continued to assault Riley. It was a strong debut, but hopefully he moves to something meaningful rather than an extended series of squashes. As for Riley, his fate is unfortunate, as he had potential and was getting over with the crowd. Hopefully if he sticks with the company for a few more years, he'll get another, more serious opportunity.
After successfully retaining the United States Championship, Marella was joined by Brodus Clay at the top of the ramp. Marella, hiding behind Clay, taunted Swagger and Ziggler, who had chased him up the entryway. Ziggler charged Clay but got bumped for his troubles, which led to Marella and Clay dancing together in a pretty funny segment. A Clay vs. Ziggler match would be interesting, as it would certainly be Clay's biggest challenge to date and his first real test at doing more than a squash match. At least I hope it would be more than a squash match.
Cody Rhodes dominated Kofi Kingston in a short match, but he failed to capitalize on the opportunity to pin his opponent. Rather, Big Show emerged, taunted him with photos of last night's match, and allowed Kingston to hit Trouble in Paradise for the victory. Rhodes looked strong by making quick work of Kingston early on, and the Big Show spot was a fun way to keep their feud going. I expect Rhodes to get a rematch, fall short and hopefully move up the card.
One night after defeating John Cena, The Rock took over the beginning of Raw, cutting one of his signature lengthy promos. The Rock vowed that he would walk down the ramp to the ring one last time as the WWE Champion. I'm not sure a title run should be in The Rock's future, but I'm not opposed to seeing him wrestle a few more times through the next year, preferably culminating in a Hall of Fame induction and official retirement next year. As for tonight, though, the crowd bought into every word he said, and the promo came across as one of the strongest since his return last year.
Newly crowned World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus' attempt to address the crowd was cut short by Alberto del Rio, who announced Laurinaitis had granted him a title match on Smackdown Friday. Del Rio vs. Sheamus has potential, but Bryan really needs his rematch and to wrap up his feud with "The Great White" first. The crowd, which was amazing all night, came to life in this segment with chants of "Daniel Bryan" and the chant of the night, "Si! Si! Si!."
Abraham Washington made his return to WWE television, trying to sign Henry as his client. Washington will likely be better suited as a manager than a talk show host. The only confusing thing is Henry being so upset; he won the match and has a rightful claim to another title shot. Hopefully he'll take Washington's advice and get what's coming to him. If not, maybe there's a Harvard Law grad lurking in the hallways somewhere.
The "Yes! Yes! Yes!" chant popularized by former World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan has become the new fad for wrestling fans. It made its presence known at both Ring of Honor and Dragon Gate USA shows over the weekend, as well as at WrestleMania - even long after Bryan's match - and tonight on Raw. Hopefully it doesn't become old, stale and misused like the "What" chant has in recent years.
WWE aired a one-hour Hall of Fame special before Raw. It was great seeing even clipped versions of speeches, but judging from comments of friends and fans who were at Saturday's ceremony, this condensed version didn't do the ceremony justice. One of these days I'll make it back to WrestleMania and take in all the glitz and glamour.
Santino Marella d. Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger to retain the United States Championship
Lord Tensai d. Alex Riley
Mark Henry d. CM Punk by countout
Kofi Kingston d. Cody Rhodes
The Miz d. Zack Ryder
Coming out of WrestleMania, WWE presented a heck of a Raw. The show featured good in-ring action, particularly the Punk-Henry match; two re-debuts in Lord Tensai and Lesnar; and some strong storyline progression. This was one of the best Raws in recent memory, and if this momentum can continue, we're in for a strong post-Mania season of wrestling.
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