Welcome to this week's edition of Raw Afterthoughts, where we break down last night's show in more detail than we can in a normal live recap. Got questions, comments, or thoughts of your own? Feel free to respond below, or send them to us via Twitter so we can talk about them on this week's RingRap Audio. Be sure to flag them with the #AskRingRap hashtag!
1. End this Fantasy Crap!
I can't say enough about how well WWE is building to the assumed Triple H/Daniel Bryan Wrestlemania match. For most Bryan fans, it's Wrestlemania or bust for their man, so to have Bryan be the one to demand that Triple H face him makes it look like this is the match that Bryan wants. Hunter refusing to grant the match is a great play, because it helps to build the desire to see this match. It's the right storyline, and it's working. Naturally, they won't make everyone happy with this situation, but they will get most people to buy in to this philosophy. Once Hunter agrees to it, I believe that will get a big reaction, and they can always play in a title shot stipulation should Bryan be successful.
2. Masterful Mic Work.
Paul Heyman was so good last night. I alluded to this in my piece about how WWE controlled the crowd last night. He let them get their Punk chants out, but had them hanging on his every word. Heyman has handled stuff like this before, and he has history with Punk, so it made sense for him to be the one to go out there and face the crowd. Was it a tough spot? Sure, but Heyman loved it and it showed.
The promo itself hints at Punk reuniting with Heyman if he comes back. As great as that is, and how many other fantasy booking scenarios we all could dream up would be, it's not looking like the Straightedge Savior will be back any time soon now.
3. But as Good as Heyman Was...
John Cena was WWE's other ace card in Chicago last night. Don't get me wrong, I thought the segment was solid, but it lacked the pop of Heyman's promo. Cena felt more like he was repeating a number of his "greatest hits" lines and his attempt to win over Chicago, while successful, seemed like a repeat of his past promos. He just didn't come across as genuine as he has in these situations in the past. Bray Wyatt's part of the promo, however, was very good and helped give the segment an overall boost.
4. Armageddon has Come to Us...
I personally didn't enjoy the Shield vs. Wyatt match last night as much as I did their Elimination Chamber effort, but none the less last night brought some good energy in a different way. Seth Rollins really showed off his ability, drawing a smile from Roman Reigns at one point. And the finish makes sense with Rollins walking out. This is a good swerve, and something Rollins actually needs to make him something more than the guy pleading for his teammates to play nice and make amends.
5. Brothers Strike Gold...
We have new tag team champions in The Uso Brothers. Last night they worked hard with the Outlaws to create a good match that worked and it did. The Outlaws probably turned in their best performance since they returned last night to help make the title change click. The Usos will be defending tonight on Main Event, and I don't suspect we'll get a title change tonight because that will just be stupid to have a one-night reign for the first-time champions.
I still think it's stupid that Cody Rhodes and Goldust are on the outside looking in. Perhaps we see them get back in the picture in a multi-team Wrestlemania match for the titles.
6. Bork Lasered Again!
Mark Henry is apparently now Brock Lesnar's whipping boy. The problem here is that the segment had no impact. Lesnar needed a big bounce-back week after being handled by the Undertaker like he was last week, but this wasn't the way to do it. Henry had been destroyed previously by Lesnar, so this didn't work for me. Had they built Henry back up a bit before that moment, it might have worked better. Henry came away looking weak.
On a side note, Lesnar tossed a monitor that ended up in the 4th row of the live crowd. That got more of a reaction than his beatdown of Henry did.
7. Boo This Man.
Batista set the stage for this much more heelish side of his run well on Smackdown last Friday. That said, WWE missed here by not establishing Bryan vs. Batista as a bigger match. This is a bigger deal than WWE made it feel. Hunter vs Bryan is the most likely Wrestlemania match, but they could have made this more must-see.
Batista in a heel role though is his comfort zone. I think we'll see an improvement in his run now that they've turned him.
8. Workrate Good, Story Bad...
WWE just hasn't given us any reason to care about Sheamus or Christian since their returns from injury. As a result, fans don't connect with their program. That said, the two are working hard and they're putting on good matches technically. Creative gets the blame for this one - the two were paired up cold on their returns and it's not working.
9. We're Real Americans...We Think...
Even though it all seems really predictable, the tension between Jack Swagger and Cesaro is working. I loved them teasing Cesaro hitting the Swing on Swagger before Colter stepped in and played his best Dr. Shelby impersonation. They have material there, and when Cesaro hits Swagger and (possibly) Colter with it, fans should react big to that moment.
10. Don't Do That...
Stephanie McMahon is one of the nastiest heels right now in WWE. So, what does WWE have her do? Film a Network advertisement gushing over watching the new Network with her daughters, showing them their grandfather (Vince) and father's (Hunter) best moments. This turned me off. It's like having heel characters be the focus of the Be A Star packages.
Overall, this was a hot WWE show last night. Everyone was watching to see how the CM Punk dynamic would affect the show, and WWE delivered. Heyman opened it up strong, and the fast pace kept fans engaged early. This really felt like a Wrestlemania season show, and Chicago's fans really added to the show.
Join us next week for more Road to Wrestlemania coverage on Raw here on Ring-Rap.com.