In the days leading up to RAW, the buzz was about the upcoming crowd in Chicago, and the possible return of CM Punk. By the end of the night, the talk was mostly about Daniel Bryan and Triple H.
The two advanced their storyline Monday night, starting with a verbal rundown by Triple H and culminating in Triple H hitting a Pedigree on a motionless Daniel Bryan.
Earlier in the night, Bryan came out to call out Triple H once again. He appealed to the crowd, even saying that they would "hijack RAW" together (which is what a movement in Chicago had said they would try to do). Regardless of whether, if WWE is encouraging the fans to hijack the program is it really hijacking, the crowd was as loud as it was all night.
Triple H came out with Stephanie McMahon and the two of them proceeded to run down not just Bryan, but the crowd and, indirectly, CM Punk. He ran down the notion that people were buried, and said if they didn't make it, it was their fault, not the WWE's fault. Both then channeled Vince McMahon at his best, claiming that anything Bryan was at this point was because of them, and that they owned everything in the WWE, including Bryan and the fans.
Later in the night, Bryan faced Batista, with Orton at ringside. Eventually, Triple H, Stephanie and Kane came down to ringside as well. The match ended in a DQ as Randy Orton attacked Bryan, and then tried to attack Batista.
Bryan ended up hitting Orton with a knee, and then when he turned his attention to Kane and the Authority, Batista hit him with a spear. Triple H leaned over Bryan to continue to run him down on the mic, when Bryan kicked him from the prone position. Batista then hit Bryan with a Batista Bomb, and Triple H hit the pedigree on him.
The question remains what happens at Wrestlemania with Daniel Bryan. In the span of 5 minutes, the WWE had set up two potential matches, both with Triple H and in the title match with attacks by Orton and Batista.
There are three possibilities I can see: The first is to simply have Daniel Bryan face Triple H at Mania, and then use that to springboard him to the title match at Extreme Rules or beyond. It would be the cleanest at this point, but would still leave Wrestlemania with a Batista/Orton match between two heels that the fans don't want to see.
The second is to ignore the Triple H match, possibly having it later, and then just stick him in the title match. I think this is incredibly unlikely at this point. While many people earlier didn't necessarily want to see Bryan/H, by the end of RAW, it seemed like they were frothing at the mouth to see Bryan get a piece of Triple H.
The third possibility has major pros and cons, but it almost seems like they're setting it up: have Daniel Bryan face Triple H early at Wrestlemania, with the condition that if he wins, he's either inserted into the title match in a triple threat, or he faces the winner in the main event.
I think this could certainly work, and keep the crowd buzzing during Wrestlemania, however, it would push a match with Triple H down to the point of a simple roadblock for Bryan.
This feud, which has highlighted the continuing blur between reality and storyline in the WWE more than any in the past (including anything with CM Punk), has captured fans' attention. Now, the question is where they will go with it.
The rest of RAW
- As I mentioned before, the crowd was a big worry to the WWE before RAW. I thought the WWE worked the crowd perfectly to keep the chants from becoming too overbearing or disrupting the show. From Paul Heyman's speech (more on that later) to the pacing of the matches, the CM Punk and Daniel Bryan chants, while prevalent, weren't disruptive in the slightest, and there were many times the crowd was simply quiet.
- If there was doubt as to whether CM Punk's walkout was legit, and I certainly was one who doubted, I think those doubts are put to rest. On Sunday, Dave Meltzer reported that CM Punk was expected back on Monday. Obviously he didn't show up. Whether that was a WWE-planted rumor, or simple miscommunication, we may never know, but it certainly heightened the tension in Chicago on Monday.
- Speaking of CM Punk, that was brilliant to have Paul Heyman come out to Punk's music to start the show. Heyman showed once again why the manager role can be so important, and why he's still one of the better mic men in the business. He propped up CM Punk to the crowd's delight before turning it around on the crowd, doing a rant both in character, and seemingly somewhat out of character, that the crowd cheering for heel CM Punk helped contribute to Punk leaving. He then took the "pipebomb" part of the promo and turned it to the Undertaker, bringing it back to the storyline. Few people do that as well as Heyman can. Lesnar later came out, and in an impressive feat of strength, F5'd Mark Henry onto the announcing table.
- One thing the WWE didn't do right in my eyes was having the Usos beat the New Age Outlaws for the titles on RAW. That was clearly done to get a pop out of the crowd, and keep them placated, but it might have taken a great moment at Wrestlemania away from the Usos. Granted, there's no promise that the Mania moment would have been any better than winning it in Chicago, but in this instance, just waiting and doing the natural thing is the better move, rather than simply trying to placate a rowdy audience.
- The Shield breakup finally took the next step on Monday, as Seth Rollins walked away from a match between the Shield and the Wyatts. This was a stroke of genius by the WWE. Many people thought it would be Reigns being the one responsible because of his growing popularity, or Ambrose because of his jealousy of Reigns. To have Rollins be the one to first splinter away, while saying it's because the other two are bickering too much, allows Rollins to be on the same level as the other two, as opposed to a lackey of whichever side he chooses. It was just a great next step to a storyline, in the midst of another good match between the two teams. In the future, larger teams need to watch the pacing of this match, as well as the one from Elimination Chamber, to really show how a 6-man tag can elevate all six people involved.
- Speaking of breakups, the Real Americans moved toward a separation as well. Big E was supposed to face Cesaro in a rematch from last week, but early in the match, Swagger attacked Big E and got Cesaro disqualified. Later in the night, Swagger faced Big E as well, and in retribution, Cesaro jumped in immediately to get Swagger disqualified. Cesaro was about to give Swagger the Giant Swing before Colter talked him down, and got the two to hug. It seems like this will almost certainly be a match at Wrestlemania.
- Sheamus and Christian fought once again, and for whatever reason, the crowd doesn't seem to be getting behind this feud at all, despite some very decent matches. Something is not quite clicking, and after the match, which Sheamus won, Christian attacked Sheamus again backstage. I'm not sure if extending this feud when they've fought in singles matches three times in the past two weeks is the correct move, but it seems like they're going to continue this through Wrestlemania.
- Paul Bearer was announced as the next inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame. It was a matter of when, not if, this happened and he's certainly deserving. The only question that remains is if they'll let Undertaker break character to induct him, or if they'll have Kane do it.
- Dolph Ziggler beat Alberto Del Rio. Nice job of the WWE to pair the guest host, Aaron Paul, with another one of the "smart crowd" favorites.
- Emma and Santino beat Summer Rae and Fandango as Emma got Summer Rae to tap out.
- The Bella Twins beat Aksana and Alicia Fox