Tuesday Morning Backlash: WWE Monday Night Raw Review 3/28/11 (John Cena/The Rock/Miz, Triple H/Undertaker/HBK, Wrestlemania 27 Build)

We finally had the Go Home Raw before Wrestlemania last night featuring numerous confrontations, some good wrestling and a show that felt quite fast-paced and fresh building up to the biggest show of the year. You can get recap of the show from Paul Marshall, and commentary from Andy Wheeler, so here’s my review.

The big angle of the show that everyone’s talking about is The Rock, John Cena confrontation that The Miz interrupted. Give it a watch and we’ll discuss below.

The Rock’s promo was more of what he has been doing lately. His Team: I Bring It phrase is a stark reminder of the one thing from the Attitude era that WWE dropped without good cause: the crowd interaction. Giving the crowd a way to interact is a great way to keep them energetic and that makes the show seem better. Rock is an absolute master at it and even tonight, when his promo was more of a re-hash, the playing off the crowd makes it seem like more.

Cena, tonight, took a bit out of the Rock’s playbook, using crowd interaction to get across his point. He also, for the first time, seemed like the face, portraying Rock as a bully who wouldn’t accept Cena’s individuality. Rock had absolutely no answer for this except to fight, which makes it seem a lot like Cena is right.

Miz came out then to escalate this to violence, but his interaction here lacked the emotional gravitas of the Rock-Cena confrontation. It’s interesting to note that Miz still feels like a big deal and Miz-Cena feels like a big match while Rock-Cena feels like another entity all its own. I’m not sure how they pulled that off, but it is, of course, logical that more than one person can have an issue with one another at a time. Perhaps our acceptance of that all is just an innate recognition of that, or maybe it’s just well-written.

Rock-Cena-Miz has a strong symbolic component to it, as well. The Rock is the Attitude Era fan, annoyed that the Cena era is too kid friendly, pretending to be something it isn’t. Cena, meanwhile, gets to be the voice of WWE – standing up and proud of what he and the product have become. Just because he and the audience are smaller than the Rock and his audience doesn’t mean they’ll backdown and be bullied. The Miz, meanwhile, comes in as the IWC. He hates everyone and knows everything, but really is just crying for attention. He can affect Cena, after all, Cena is the current product and much of the crowd turned on him, but he cannot affect the Rock – nostalgia isn’t clouded by this historical retrospective. That is why Miz can easily vanquish Cena and has for weeks, but the Rock took him out. Meanwhile, the Rock can’t handle Cena, who has the moral high ground on him, but can’t handle the criticism and attacks of the Miz. They’ve set up a Rock-Paper-Scissors between the three perfectly and the skill put into the build of this feud is absolutely worth buying Wrestlemania.

The other top Raw feud actually features announcers and is still working. Jerry Lawler has been abused and embarrassed by the Miz week in and week out for months now. Going into Wrestlemania, Jack Swagger had dominated Lawler at every turn. This week, he showed there is hope for him to get revenge on the toad-like Michael Cole by going crazy with a chair. It was an excellent moment and I can’t wait to see how overbooked this mess is at Wrestlemania, as it will almost certainly involve the Divas, along with Stone Cold, Jack Swagger and perhaps JBL. The build has been pure Memphis, with the smarmy manager who could easily have been Jimmy Hart or Jim Cornette, constantly torturing the retired hero until he has to fight all odds to defeat him. Perhaps Stone Cold here was then a miscalculation?

Stone Cold’s inclusion serves three purposes. The first of these is that it promotes Tough Enough. The show is obviously a big deal for WWE and they want to ensure people care. The second reason is that Wrestlemania 27 has become a tribute to the Attitude Era. From The Rock, to Austin, Trish, to HBK and Sunny, to Triple H vs. Undertaker, to Jim Ross potentially calling the show, since day one the supposed WCW themed show has been more about the product that killed WCW. Finally, the Austin presence helps give hope for Lawler. Lawler vs. Cole, JBL and Swagger would be absurd. There was simply no way to book that so Lawler could win. Austin has no tie to Lawler and no reason to really push things his way, but he ensures Swagger has to actually cheat to be involved and thus provides the match with a structure.

CM Punk vs. Randy Orton is another huge Mania match and this one was, perhaps, the one most affected by Raw. Punk, who WWE should concede is a face in Chicago the way Bret Hart was a face in Canada, cut another startlingly good promo, revealing he didn’t care about New Nexus (and really, duh) only to be confronted by Orton. Orton got the advantage, as faces are wont to do one-on-one, but his hurt leg killed the punt and let Punk defeat him. Orton fought for weeks to take away all of Punk’s advantages, only for the week before Wrestlemania Punk to find a new advantage to equalize him. These two have played their roles to perfection and it is a testament to the strength of the build on the whole show how little attention they’ve gotten.

Edge and Christian teaming up is another sign we’re paying tribute to Attitude. Their match against Alberto Del Rio and Brodus Clay was quite good. Clay isn’t that skilled, but he’s huge and can take a beating. He works in that he then allows Del Rio to use his girth as a distraction to gain advantage himself. It’s an out of the ordinary move for a bad guy, as was Del Rio’s post match retreat and re-emergence to beat on Edge. He’s putting a new spin on a lot of heel clichés and that will get him really over. Christian and Edge together are extraordinarily hard to boo – constant reunions haven’t taken the shine off of the pairing like it did the Hardyz – but the fact remains both are better as bad guys. I expect Wrestlemania, or the shows that follow at the very least, to rectify that situation for one of the two.

Corre vs. Kane, Big Show, and Borscht Marinara is just one of those “get them on the card” matches that’s a big thank you for Wrestlemania. As such, I can’t complain. Corre, when they were Nexus, helped carry Raw for most of the year and clearly deserve their payday in a way New Nexus did not. Kane and Big Show were both World Champions this year and have to be on the card as upper-carders. Finally, we have Santino and Kozlov. Not only did Corre cost them the tag titles, but Santino had been a huge Raw focal point all throughout the guest host era. While many fans didn’t enjoy that, clearly a portion, including Vince McMahon himself, did enjoy those segments, as they just kept appearing. Kozlov benefits from being Santino’s partner. I would have been more satisfied if Kofi Kingston, as rumored, was in the match, but his year was relatively uneventful and I can see why the others were chosen.

The Snooki-Trish pre-taped segments were pretty horrible, but attempting to do a wrestling angle at a bar will often cause that. The hype for their match was instead carried by John Morrison, who teamed with Daniel Bryan against Dolph Ziggler and Sheamus. This match got the most time tonight and didn’t disappoint. Ziggler and Morrison have had excellent chemistry since their feud a year or two back over the Intercontinental Title, while Bryan can have a good match with anyone. Morrison isn’t an office favorite all the time, but he clearly has supporters given he was paired with Kevin Federline, Snooki and had his own DVD set. Ideally, this match gets more of a focus on him and he can finally have his breakout feud. It’s a sad commentary when it takes Snooki to make one of the best talents on the roster a star, but that’s the landscape. Bryan, meanwhile, has been dominated for three weeks by Sheamus. He’s either winning the title back in a great match at Wrestlemania or this is the start of a long, dominant run with the IC title for Sheamus.

Finally, we come to the Triple H-Undertaker-HBK confrontation.

This was a master-class in building proper motivation. Triple H thinks Shawn Michaels couldn’t beat the Undertaker because Shawn doesn’t bring it every night, but Taker knows it’s because Taker is just too tough and humbled Shawn. Triple H thinks he’s the best, the new Undertaker who will take the old man out, but Shawn knows better, and can’t back his friend dishonestly, having seen what Taker can do at Wrestlemania. This is as straightforward as it gets for wrestling, especially WWE – The Streak operates, in this situation, like a hugely important title. It defines Undertaker and his legacy as, in story terms, the toughest man of his generation. Triple H respects Undertaker and that he has that title, but he wants that title for himself, and seeing the Undertaker as weak and not up to what he was, plans to take that title. Adding Shawn Michaels to this was a stroke of genius. First, from a technical standpoint, Hunter and Undertaker have a tendency to get long-winded. Shawn’s involvement kept things fast-moving and, moreover, let the confrontation occur without getting physical. From an emotional standpoint, Shawn has had such a strong, cocky character for so long that his broken man routine, his being humbled at Undertaker’s hands is truly powerful. While it makes Undertaker seem invincible, it also adds motivation to Triple H who is just angrier at what the dead man has done to his friend. I fully expect this match to deliver on its amazing build and equal the Undertaker-Shawn Michaels classics of the past two years.

Damn, I’m looking forward to Wrestlemania. See you all Friday for another Morning Backlash, until then, enjoy all the wrestling coverage at InsidePulse Wrestling, including the Morning Backlash’s of Penny and Ziegler on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.

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