Welcome to another installment of Raw Afterthoughts, where we dissect last night’s show in more detail.  Feel free to add your questions and comments below!

Getting On Track...

CM Punk came out firing on all cylinders with a sound promo.  He made his one key point clear:  He will beat Undertaker at Wrestlemania.  He brought this all back to where it needed to be focused all along.  He portrayed himself the cocky “best in the world” and “one in 20-1” guy that he claims.  One segment didn’t fix everything, but it went a very long way to righting the wrongs of this feud.  I think they found a better balance between establishing Punk as the guy who can beat Taker and getting people to want to pay to see Taker smack him around.

Punk is still playing the pest, which is fine.  He keeps doing things to get under Undertaker’s skin.  Being honest, he isn’t the kind of legendary threat that Shawn Michaels or Triple H was to Taker’s streak.  Combining that with the fact that Punk is playing the heel side, this isn’t a shock.

I am numb with the urn stuff.  To see Heyman and Punk chuck it around like a football in the ring and Heyman tuck it and run like a running back when Taker appeared actually drew a laugh.  I was also surprised that Taker got physical here.  It added to the segment though and added some needed intensity.

The Panel Asks…

The panel question and answer session that ended last night’s program was a very good segment.  Rock is playing it as the very confident champion after last year’s win over Cena.  He was able to goad Cena into being frustrated when he said that Rock didn’t beat him because he beat himself last year.  Rock is great in that mode and he seemed to pick his work up when it seemed like the segment might be dragging as well.

John Cena came off well too, with some good intensity.  He even seemed heelish at times.  He played it downtrodden, but obsessed that he wants to get the championship back again.  Even bringing up the spot last year where Cena tried to mock the People’s Elbow was a nice touch.  The feud has the intensity it should have had last year as a whole and in part because Cena is doing business here.

It seems like they could be cuing a Cena heel turn.  He said “the face of the WWE changes forever win or lose…” and some of his words in the segment planted that idea.  I’m not predicting – but I think WWE is smart to leave that door open to get some intrigue going.

The segment could have been a bit shorter, but it was great business.  I’m not opposed to Cena taking the Rock Bottom at the end either.  It ends up working effectively after a solid verbal segment.

Is This It?

Triple H cut a short, simple, and effective promo.  I think his entrance and the lead-in video package took longer than his promo did.  I like that he went with the “I’m going to kick your ass” promo.  His words got to the point and he picked wisely in such a way to put over Brock Lesnar as a monster.

The first minor issue that I had with this segment is that the show was in a place where it really could have used some strong and a bit more prolonged star power.  Leaving Triple H out there a bit longer with a bit more material might have helped.  Also, Trips didn’t really sell the retirement side of this match.  That is a big stipulation for this match and it needed more than just “being forced into retirement is always a possibility when facing Lesnar.”  Maybe we get more sell on that next week.

The Big Picture:

They really did a better job than the past two weeks of building up the top of the Wrestlemania card.  Really just about every segment pointed to something at Mania.  This three hour format though is killing things.  It keeps leading back to a lot of filler, slow overall segments and a plodding show.

When Wrestlemania is this close, it feels much more special every week on television.  Right now, the match that has gotten the most attention is Rock/Cena.  Everything else is…well…everything else.  We just don’t have that big Wrestlemania vibe going right now.  We shall see what the go-home edition of Raw brings us.

Quick Hits:

  • Paul Heyman, again associated with Punk this week, holding up the urn like it’s some sort of championship was a unique touch to Punk’s entrance.
  • We’ve found a longer entrance than Undertaker!  Fandango.  Need a nap?  Cue the salsa music.
  • I’m into the idea of Fandango vs. Jericho.  Jericho is so good at putting over talent, so I’m willing to be open-minded to this and see if it works.
  • The Shield vs. Khali, Gabriel and Ryder lacked punch until Khali took the big triple powerbomb spot.
  • I’m guessing we get Rhodes Scholars and the Bella Twins vs. Brodus, Tensai, and the Funkadactyls in an 8-person mixed tag.
  • They could really make some good storytelling out of Dolph having limited time to cash in his briefcase.  One of the Twitter feeds says he has 110 days left.  That might invigorate the MITB story.
  • Antonio Cesaro is really hurting for some sort of direction.  He’s a guy with a good look and good ring work, so hopefully they’ll move him on after Mania.
  • I enjoyed seeing the legends – Dusty Rhodes, Bret Hart, Mick Foley – in that closing segment.  We get a lot of Booker T but he was a nice addition in that particular group also.

That’s all for this week.  Join me next Monday for the “go home” edition of Raw heading into Wrestlemania 29 here on Ring-Rap.com.