We'll have the weekly "Raw Afterthoughts" piece for you later this evening, but here's some random thoughts regarding how WWE kept Raw on track last night in the face of a possibly hostile crowd in Chicago.
Chicago deserves a lot of credit for their passion for wrestling. They definitely will let you know where they stand on a lot of issues, and last night was no exception. There was a lot of talk throughout social media channels on Monday that encouraged that passionate fan base to hijack last night’s Raw broadcast. Even this flyer made it onto the social media airwaves with the hashtag #hijackRaw
From the time the doors opened during the pre-show until Raw started, they were in full throat calling for CM Punk. Then a funny thing happened. One well-spoken man with a microphone changed the entire direction and dynamic of the show. As a result, the effort to hijack Raw got cut off at the knees.
Paul Heyman opened the show, coming out to CM Punk’s entrance music. He delivered a masterful promo that pointed the finger of blame for Punk’s absence at the fans, and turned it into a sell for Brock Lesnar’s pending showdown with the Undertaker at Wrestlemania 30. Everything then took another turn when that promo became an angle, with Mark Henry again being destroyed by the Beast Incarnate.
It was at that point that the hijack-minded crowd was overrun by (and possibly converted to) wrestling fans. According to one on-site report, they were loud wrestling fans.
Throughout most of the show, WWE gave us compelling television to watch. The Usos captured tag team gold for the first time and the fans popped for that title change. The impending break up of the Real Americans had fans reacting for Cesaro. And while a markedly different type of energy and excitement from their Elimination Chamber showdown, Shield vs. Wyatts II got a great response from the fans.
Even the Daniel Bryan segment captured great energy. WWE is smart – they know fans couldn’t take over the show for both Bryan and Punk like the flyer that surfaced suggested. They would have to choose one over the other and during that in-ring segment fans rallied to Bryan and left Punk out of it. Stephanie also let a truth slip out in her words that trolled the would-be “hijackers” again: “We don’t listen to these people.”
Then WWE marched out their final ace card: John Cena.
It’s no secret that Chicago and John Cena don’t get along. Last night, Cena left them have their moments to chant for the hometown Punk, but turned the heat into support through crediting Chicago for their energy and passion. A segment that started off with mega-heat on Cena ended with fans cheering him, reluctantly or otherwise. Like him or not, Cena is as good at playing the crowd as anyone else in the business.
Ultimately, what WWE did last night on Raw is take ownership of the situation with CM Punk rather than let the hometown fans take over. Had WWE tried to dodge the Punk situation and ignore it as they have on past shows, it would not have worked. Instead, they embraced it, played into it, and in turn handed fans things to react to. It made for a lively crowd that really energized the overall show.
In the end, everyone in that arena paid for a ticket, even those fans who thought they were going to take over the show last night. In return, the only hijacking that took place was the wallets and credit cards of those who thought they would take over the show. No matter how loudly fans chanted for CM Punk during slow points in the show, there was never a real threat of a takeover.
Just as WWE has leveraged the behind-the-scenes business with WWE Network and the possible new television deal, they leveraged the CM Punk “walkout” to their own benefit. One more time, WWE showed they still own most wrestling fans, whether they want to admit it or not.