Hot off the final PPV broadcast of the 2013 calendar year, WWE took to the airwaves last night in what, for many of us, is now the unofficial start of the Wrestlemania season. Before long, The Royal Rumble will be upon us, and with it comes it’s crowned champion who will have earned the right to challenge for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania XXX in April. But before we fast forward to the Grandaddy Of Them All, we must first set off on the Road to Wrestlemania.
And this is my favorite time of year for the WWE. Unexpected twists and turns are the norm, with the occasional return of a legend or two in order to build the anticipation for the years biggest event. Following the TLC PPV where we saw a unified and undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Champion crowned in Randy Orton, and another defeat for John Cena, we also had a mixed bag of matches that were, for the most part, the same thing we see week in and week out on WWE television. WWE has time to get it together, and what better time to start than last night on RAW. Here are 5 things we learned as we take our first steps towards The Royal Rumble:
The WWE World Championship Era Begins
With little fanfare, WWE kicked off RAW this week with the much expected “coronation-style” segment of their new, unified champion Randy Orton. With the majority of the entire locker room watching from the RAW stage, Randy Orton delivered a nice, heated promo about how he is now above everyone else: with his place last night being in the ring in celebration, and everyone else on their own, far away from him and watching him be celebrated. It was a nice, effective exchange that sets up Orton as an arrogant but deserving champion who firmly believes that he has earned this new accolade.
What was missing from this segment was a new, unified title belt. WWE has always done a terrific job when unveiling a new title belt, but this time they really dropped the ball. No new unified title belt leaves the door open for another separation of the titles down the road, and it made the entire opening scene of RAW feel a bit less important. Had we had a new title belt, Orton’s unified coronation ceremony would have felt much more important.
But the WWE has done a really nice job of putting the unification of both titles together with nearly flawless execution in a matter of mere weeks. The event itself feels huge, for the most part and like it should, and the new title being called The WWE World Heavyweight Championship feels just right. We all know that follow-up is key to the success for these hug, landscape changing events, but WWE seems to be on the right path as we head towards The Royal Rumble and possibly having learned from their past mistakes.
The Tag Team Division Continues To Take Shape
For all the negative things we have seen from the WWE in the past 6 or 8 months, from dropping the ball on the title contract cash-ins, to ridiculous wastes of talent in the like of Bad News Barrett and so on, they are finally working hard at fixing their tag team division. Things are starting to really shape up nicely with the current and deserving champions and a talented batch of contenders to challenge for the straps in the weeks to come.
By all counts, there are no less than 7 viable tag teams at this stage who the WWE can choose from in order to keep this division hot and on track. With the Rhodes Brothers being at the top of their game, and a pending breakup and Wrestlemania singles match on the horizon, the WWE needs to do what they are doing now in order to ensure the survival and continues success of this division. Young talent like The Uso’s, The Shield, The Primetime Players, Axel and Ryback, The Big Show and Rey Mysterio, and now Mark Henry and Big E Langston are all highly capable of carrying this division when the Rhodes Brothers separate, and the WWE continues to do right by their tag team talent. The sky is the limit for the future of this division.
The Mid-Card Round-Up
In a new weekly entry, part of the 5 Things We Learned column will now look a little closer at the WWE mid-card. So much of this talent is used as “filler” for the 3 hour RAW broadcast, and much of the time we are seeing no development with what should be the promising future of the company.
This week we saw Dolph Ziggler defeat Fandango. We also had the demise of the Tensai / Broadus Clay tag team, with Clay turning on Tensai and leaving The Funkadactyls to dance the night away with Xavier Woods and R-Truth. The Divas continue to try and get over but for whatever reason the live crowds stand mostly silent as the girls work hard to advance their storylines.
We all know the mid-card can suffer, and this week was no exception. It’s on rare occasion that the mid-carders deliver something special on RAW, such as Ziggler’s contract cash-in or Sandow’s match against John Cena several weeks ago. Most of what we saw this week from the talent were matches that should either be given more time (Ziggler/Fandango), or matches that would be better served on Smackdown!. All in all, it’s still a division in limbo, and it feels like time filler for the bigger stars and their opening and closing show segments on RAW. WWE, you can do better!
CM Punk and Shawn Michaels Have Words
In a surprise appearance this week, Shawn Michaels interrupted CM Punk last night mid-promo and the two men had a discussion that was long overdue. Last week at the conclusion of RAW Punk attacked Triple H, and subsequently HBK superkicked Punk right in the face. Since then, that angle had been buried and nothing discussed on the topic, and last night it was nice to see that open thread taken care of.
However, it wasn’t a great segment; it didn’t have the impact that it should have had. This segment should have been tense and full of intrigue, but recently HBK just hasn’t been bringing his A-game, and last night was a prime example. Maybe they put this issue on the back burner for the time being, or maybe that’s just it, who knows. What we do know is that last night’s confrontation was a greatly missed opportunity for the WWE and both men to have a great promo segment.
Orton and Bryan Have a DQ Finish
In the “wow, I’m shocked” department, Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan fought to a DQ finish in the main event of RAW last night. In the hot opening segment of the show, this match was made and the crowd was on fire for the decision. The match itself delivered, with both men putting on a greater outing than they have done so recently, but the big DQ finish was a heat-killer. The match itself was also a non-title affair, with The Authority pushing Orton into the match to prove that he is worthy of the unified title, something they insist he will now have to do each and every week since he is the champion.
Daniel Bryan, while still getting much of the spotlight although John Cena has returned, still deserves better. These false finishes and slimy endings do nothing for his character at this point. He is as over as any one Superstar can be, and unless they play to the “you are holding me back” angle, all of this big time match making for Bryan will start to feel unimportant. He needs time to cut that one promo that will put him on top of the faces, and he needs to do it on RAW on live television. Maybe not now, but it has to come soon: his time with the fans will start to run out eventually.
What say you, fans? Sound off below in the COMMENTS section, and let me hear you on Twitter: @davyshrader.