Tuesday Morning Backlash: WWE Monday Night Raw Review 4/4/11 (Post-Wrestlemania 27, The Rock and John Cena, Triple H, Sin Cara Debuts)

WWE Raw followed Wrestlemania and it looks like this year we’ll be skipping the post-Wrestlemania lull… by pretending Wrestlemania never happened. More on that at the end of the column, but for now, let’s review Raw!

WWE knows exactly how to give the fans just enough to keep them intrigued. With an angry fan base after a sub par WrestleMania, WWE opens Raw with Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, immediately signaling that everything will be okay (we may have lost a million men, but we’ve got a million more). This is seriously the kind of subtle touch that keeps long-time, disgruntled fans tuned in. The pure, young fans will tune in just to see what happens next, but the other group, the ones that seemingly make up the IWC, have been turning away slowly, but surely. Such a weak WrestleMania probably cost WWE some fans, but any who tuned into Raw, even if just for a moment, were reassured.

Triple H then marched out to the ring and set up another match with Undertaker, essentially putting over the match the two had at WrestleMania. Despite some clamoring about it being too slow, the majority opinion seems to be that this was among the few Wrestlemania bright spots as WWE continue to highlight the good. The rumor was that John Cena would get to be the 20th loss in the Streak, but as later developments put the kibosh on that, Triple H and Undertaker can engage in a more personal battle next year. I thought their match fell short of Undertaker-HBK by only being about ****, which is to say excellent, but not without flaws and not as memorable as intended; however, since Taker was clearly knocked loopy, they could easily have an even better match next year.

Michael Cole really needed out of this Jerry Lawler feud. His newly minted bad guy act is really working, but the focus on Lawler is now past its expiration date. Having cost Lawler his first WrestleMania match and the WWE Title, there is no way Cole can further elevate this feud. He even already involved Lawler’s family. Continuing this feud will just turn Cole’s excellent crowd response into them wishing he would go away and get something new to do in short order. Had he instead focused on a new target, or even just transitioned away from Lawler by involving another good guy, he could have, as Ross called him, become a modern day Weasel, leading a group of heels who could dominate WWE by using his heat.

Jack Swagger, meanwhile, is doing well in his silent killer role. He was unable to be Kurt Angle, for entirely obvious reasons, but as a big, athletic bully, he’s more able to get over how dangerous he is while saying less. Even in ring, he appears more serious and focused. Surely, having Lawler to help structure the matches helps, but the improvement is obvious and Swagger may just reach his potential yet.

Our obligatory wrestling of the evening was Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio vs. CM Punk and Cody Rhodes. I have no idea what the point of this was. Clearly, we’ll be continuing the pre-WrestleMania feuds with these two pairings, but I’m unsure why. Orton wanted to get revenge on Punk for his assaults and dismantle Nexus – mission accomplished. Cody wanted revenge and humiliation on Rey for breaking his face – mission accomplished. Much like the Cole angle, there’s nothing really left for these storylines to explore, unless they become warped somehow by a twist, but then that twist needs to occur immediately, not just have them fighting one-another again for no reason in the meantime. Luckily, everyone in the ring is more than competent enough to tell this simple tag formula match and it got time to shine as the only straight wrestling match given any time tonight.

Tough Enough was excellent, but it’s segment on Raw did it no favors. Steve Austin, seemingly, unlike Rock, unlike even Hogan, is a product of his time. There’s a full article in this I’ll explore at a later date, but Austin just hasn’t maintained his heat as well as the others. His act was cycled through so fast thanks to the Attitude Era’s more is more outlook, that now fans just don’t care to see the same thing. This one week pit stop with The Miz and Alex Riley was no different – merely an excuse to let Austin stun someone and keep Miz in a prominent segment, yet not involved in the Rock – John Cena Segment. Austin is far more interesting when he has actual personality, as he showed on Tough Enough, than just going through the motions of his act like he did on Raw. The former will keep me watching Tough Enough; the latter will keep me dreading his Raw appearances.

We can take the two squashes together. Alberto Del Rio beat Evan Bourne who the WWE have given up on. He’s a good worker who’s job is to make others look good. Del Rio lost at Wrestlemania and will continue to hunt the title surely, but first he needed a big, public win to help rebuild and Bourne provided that. He’ll have the title in no time. Sheamus lost far more than Del Rio, but has won quite a bit lately. He got to crush Daniel Bryan tonight mostly to show he’s still important after being left off WrestleMania all together. That had the dual effect of building Sheamus up for Sin Cara, but where does this leave Bryan? Bryan is in serious danger of ending up in a role similar to that of Bourne. At first, I thought this would merely be the “how do you react” de-push everyone gets, but Bryan entered WWE to that de-push. Is being the best worker on the roster enough to save him from becoming enhancement talent? I’d guess no, since heels will need a guy to teach them how to work and make them look good. Bryan, in a serious feud, can not only do that, but also get them over, so he should be safe. And there are worse uses than to prepare Sheamus for the top new talent in WWE since… well, in quite a long time. Sin Cara immediately gets to feud with Sheamus, going to war with a top guy who has the ear of those in power. How he fares there will go a long way in determining how serious his push is.

John Morrison and Trish Stratus are apparently continuing with Vickie Guerrero and Dolph Ziggler, merely taking out the Snooki component, which takes out LayCool for numbers purposes. Are we sure WrestleMania actually happened? Oh, wait, the celebrities are leaving, it must have. Trish has also very quietly returned to full-time active duty. You’d think there would be more of a hoopla for the greatest Diva ever, but apparently paying tribute to Jersey Shore was more relevant. Honestly, this probably should have been a regular Diva’s spot (Kelly Kelly making the most sense) anyway, with Trish doing something separate and Diva focused with Eve, but WWE doesn’t take the mix and match Divas seriously enough, even Trish and it’s a shame.

Finally, we come to The Rock and John Cena. Their interviews establish mutual respect, which is absolutely terrible logic given that Cena was just cost the title on the biggest show of the year, what he supposedly “lives for.” Gaping hole of logic aside, this segment puts a huge highlight on the problem with this week’s Raw and the night prior’s WrestleMania. The Corre, sent out to make the crowd happy by giving Rock and Cena someone to hit their moves on, don’t warrant any analysis. The titles they hold are just there to distract you from the fact that they’re utter jobbers now.

There were two segments on the entire show that couldn’t have been done before WrestleMania. The entire mid-card, and I mean every single storyline other than those that book ended the show, Triple H vs. Undertaker and John Cena vs. The Rock, showed no sign that WrestleMania had occurred, even when all logic suggested that they should, like Lawler vs. Cole given that the story was built around Cole crushing Lawler’s dreams (the title, WrestleMania) and those are clearly no longer issues Lawler can correct. Still, the story goes on, past its logical conclusion. Cody Rhodes and Randy Orton got what they wanted at WrestleMania in their matches, but are still fighting the same opponents, nary an explanation in site. Dolph Ziggler and Vickie Guerrero showed up on Raw weeks ago in a match with John Morrison and, Snooki or not, they’re going to continue to battle Morrison. Alberto Del Rio is sure to still be chasing the Smackdown title and Sheamus, well, he got a new story, but that’s only because he gets to face a new talent.

Now we come to the main two feuds. Triple H vs. Undertaker seems likely for next year’s WrestleMania, while The Rock vs. John Cena is now set in stone. Both of those are progress from WrestleMania. Undertaker won with a desperation move, so it’s logical for Triple H to think he can get him with one more try, while Rock and Cena have to have their Icon vs. Icon Battle. The problem, though, is that this makes WrestleMania 27 nothing but an advertisement for Raw on the undercard and, atop the card, an advertisement for WrestleMania 28. WWE’s buys aren’t going to improve long-term with that strategy. If nothing matters but the storylines on Raw, as I argued yesterday, then there is no reason to pay out to see mediocre matches whose results hold not relevance. And, just incase you missed it, now that the celebrities, Rock included, are gone for now, we’ll be right back to Miz vs. John Cena for the title. Again, I ask, are we sure WrestleMania 27 happened?

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