We're just six days removed from WWE's first of the "Big 4" pay per view events, Royal Rumble. 30 men will compete in a battle royale style match for the opportunity to go to WrestleMania and challenge the champion of their choosing. The build so far has been a bit lackluster, but how will WWE establish the Rumble match tonight?
The main event, though, has gotten plenty of shine. CM Punk is going to go one on one with The Great One, The Rock. Last week, Rock put on a concert but ended up brawling with the champion as the show went off the air. With one last Raw broadcast to go before the Rumble, how will these two bring their feud to a head?
After the WWE programming intro, they air a "Long live the dream" tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. We go right in the arena.
Vickie Guerrero comes out with her "excuse me" bit, with Paul Heyman on her arm. She says it's her job to bring an entertaining show to the fans, whether they like her or not. She adds that doing the right thing isn't always the same as doing the popular thing, especially with The Rock.
Heyman introduces himself and the crowd boos some more. Vickie smiles and gives a golf clap and Heyman says he is there as a show of solidarity. Heyman says The Rock defamed Vickie and him last week. He puts Vickie over as the best and sexiest GM of the show and Vickie feeds it to the part of the Rock Concert last week where Rock says Heyman hasn't seen his penis in years.
After the clip, Heyman says it's one thing to pick a fight with him because Rock will answer to CM Punk on Sunday. But to pick a fight with a poor defenseless widow like Vickie is vile and contemptible. He feeds it to the "Wonderful Tonight" parody from the Rock Concert.
Heyman consoles Vickie and she says Rock won't do that again this week. She says The Rock is there, but he is barred from the building. She says if he enters, the police will arrest him. A crew member at ringside tells her Rock has arrived.
Rock is backstage with the cops (a trio of indy wrestlers). Rock says he knows they have a job to do but nothing will stop him from electrifying the fans tonight. One of the cops says he's sorry, but they will arrest him if he enters.
Rock tells the cops they should arrest Punk, saying Punk is like Manti Te'o, only he doesn't have an imaginary girlfriend, he has an imaginary nutsack. Rock says Heyman should be arrested for not wearing a bra in public.
Rock tells the third cop to ask Vickie what her intestines look like. Rock adds that if she thinks Rock won't appear in front of the people she has her head up her ass. Rock says it's not a question of if, but when, he appears in front of the people.
Vickie says if Rock enters, the only song he'll sing is Jailhouse Rock. Heyman says that was clever. Vickie closes with "If you smelll what the Vick is cooking."
Rock was good, but a little bit over the top. He was yelling a bit much backstage.
At ringside, Cole and Lawler talk about what just went down, then swing into talking about the Beat the Clock challenge Vickie established for tonight. Six men will compete and the best time will get to pick his Rumble entrance number. They hype Randy Orton vs. Antonio Cesaro for the first match.
Cole gives us some hype for John Cena addressing the fans about Royal Rumble later tonight.
Match #1 - Antonio Cesaro vs. Randy Orton; Beat the Clock Challenge
Cole points out that either man will try to win this match as quickly as possible. Cesaro works his slow style with a headlock. Orton takes charge of the match going into the commercial. Not much sense of urgency though early.
After commercial, the action picks up and Cesaro shoves Orton from the top rope. He goes out to the ringside area to bring Orton back in. Lawler points out the increased sense of urgency now.
Late in this one, Orton tries to go for the elevated DDT but Cesaro counters to a jackknife cover. The finish sequence happens when Cesaro runs Orton through the rope to the ring post. They end up outside, and Cesaro goes out to retrieve him. He checks the clock, and Orton hits the RKO to get the win.
King did a good job there calling the action and talking strategy. He needs to do more than that regularly. He also sold Cesaro taking his eye off the ball, which cost him the match.
The announcers feed it to a video package highlighting Mick Foley's career and his induction to the WWE Hall of Fame. It contained a number of career highlights and closed with his backstage moment with The Rock last week.
They give us a camcorder promo from The Shield. They close with "believe in the Shield and we're just getting started."
The sit-down promo was the best, but it's good to hear out of The Shield.
Match #2 - Big Show vs. Zack Ryder
They show highlights of Alberto Del Rio winning the World Heavyweight Championship. Brad Maddox hopped the guardrail and joins the commentary. King tells him not to do that because he has a heart condition. Cole points out Maddox pulled this same stunt on Main Event.
In the ring, Big Show takes out Ryder with a WMD Punch.
Before Maddox leaves he says he has other opportunities to check out and crawls over the guardrail. In the ring, Show says he wants to give a preview of what will happen to Del Rio on Sunday. He starts to count but the fans "what" him out of the ring.
The announcers hype Ryback vs. Heath Slater, next.
Interesting use of Maddox there...
Heyman is on the phone telling someone that Rock won't get in the building. He gets interrupted by Maddox and his cameraman. Maddox hangs up the phone and says he is like a young Paul Heyman and there's nothing he won't do to keep his dream alive.
Heyman tells Maddox he respects his ambition and initiative. Heyman says he's a big enough man to admit when he's wrong. He tells Maddox to stick with him and he will make Maddox's dreams come true. Heyman shakes Maddox's hand and mugs for the camera. Heyman goes back to his phone call.
Match #3 - Ryback vs. Heath Slater (w/Jinder Mahal and Drew McIntyre)
This is all Ryback. He hits a spinebuster, then the Meathoook. He gives Drew McIntyre one on the apron for good measure, then throws Jinder Mahal into McIntyre to take those two men out. He hits Shellshocked on Slater for the win.
After the match, Ryback says his job is fun. He says Sunday is his first Royal Rumble and it's a match he is made for and he will thrive on. He says it will lead him to the main event of WrestleMania. He starts a "feed me more" chant.
Rock complains to the cops about being stuck outside the arena for an hour. He needs to get to the people. He talks about how the people have paid their hard-earned money to see him. He tells the cops they know what it's like when he enters the building, and it's a lifetime experience. He tells them to listen as 15,000 people chant "Rocky."
One of the cops says he has tickets for the show and his wife and child are in the arena. Vickie enters and demands Rock be arrested. One of the cops says Rock hasn't done wrong, but Vickie says their superior told her they would do what she wanted or be suspended. Vickie turns to Rock and tells him CM Punk will address the people next.
Vickie says she might change her mind if Rock apologizes. Rock says there's two problems; first, he will get in the ring tonight on his terms, and two; "bitch, you still look horrible tonight." Vickie storms off. Rock asks the cops who they serve and says he has an idea.
They advertise Raw Roulette for next week.
The Roulette gimmick gets kinda lame after a while, I'm sorry.
CM Punk and Paul Heyman come to the ring. Punk says he holds the title more dear to his heart than most men hold their families. Punk says that for 428 days, he has proven he is the man. He says it's a fraction of the time it took him to get to this point, though. He has worked half his life to attain the most prestigious title WWE has.
"And I will not allow The Rock or any man to take this from me." Punk talks about how The Rock is there to entertain, electrify, sing songs and tell jokes. "I am here to hurt people and be the champion." Punk says the title is important and prestigious because he made it so.
Punk says the most insignificant thing imaginable is the people. He says Rock is almost as proud to be the people's champion as he is to be a real champion. Punk says he was forced to make a choice between hypocritical humility and honest arrogance. He chose honest arrogance, while Rock chose the People.
Punk says you can call Rock the Brahma Bull, or the Great One, but you can't call him champion. Punk earned that right and the right to be the man. Punk says in six days, this is what Rock is on a collision course with. Punk tells him to enjoy being the people's champion, the signs, the hand slaps, the cheers. He wants Rock to see every hopeful look the fans give him.
Punk says he learned a long time ago that the people don't matter; the WWE Championship does. He says it doesn't matter if he smells what the Rock is cooking, all that matters is that the people can't give him what will remain around his waist of your undisputed WWE Champion, best in the world, CM Punk.
The announcers hype John Cena addressing the fans later in the show.
A good, intense promo with no "cool play" from Punk. I hope we get one more exchange from Rock and Punk, but we'll see how that plays out.
We get a storyboard for Raw being the #1 Show on cable last week. Cole hypes up that it's show 1,026 as we get entrances for the next match.
Match #4 - Dolph Ziggler (w/AJ and Big E. Langston) vs. The Miz; Beat the Clock Challenge
The announcers point out Randy Orton's time to beat and the clock counts down from there. Ziggler jolts his knee and Miz targets it then tries for the Figure Four. Ziggler kicks Miz away and Miz ends up outside the ring. Langston roughs him up and throws him in as the show goes to break.
Ziggler briefly gets control but Miz gets some rapid-fire pins. Each man tries to get pinfalls. Miz locks on the Figure Four, horribly. AJ distracts the official and Langston pulls Ziggler to the ropes to get a break.
In the end, Langston distracts Miz, which allows Ziggler to hit the Zig Zag for the win. Cole points out it was a team win for Ziggler, who now has the lead on the clock.
That was a terrible display of the Figure Four by Miz. Good commentary work by Cole to point out the "team effort" win.
The announcers talk about the fanfest event this weekend at Royal Rumble and the panels that will talk about DX and the Montreal Screwjob. They hype up Kane and Daniel Bryan graduating from anger management tonight.
They show highlights of Dr. Shelby flipping out and siccing Team Hell No on Team Rhodes Scholars last week at the mention of Dr. Phil's name.
Anger Management Graduation
They play Pomp and Circumstance and focus on Dr. Shelby in the ring. He introduces himself and welcomes us to the graduation ceremony. Kane and Daniel Bryan come out, in graduation robes. Shelby presents their diplomas and caps, then turns their tassels.
Shelby talks about the best student being valedictorian, but in this case asks them to decide among themselves. Kane wanted it to be Bryan, Bryan wants it to be Kane. They had a "you're the valedictorian" argument. Shelby screams and asks if they want to hug it out. Shelby asks what if everyone hugs at the same time.
They ask for Cole and Lawler, and Cole has a dopey grin and they hug. Then Justin Roberts and Dr. Sampson. Lawler says he would rather hug Sampson since he saved his life. They point out various fans to hug and some comply, then they call for a group hug that gets a mediocre response.
The segment started out fine, but jumped the shark.
We get highlights of Kaitlyn beating Eve last week for the Divas Championship.
Match #5 - Kaitlyn (c) vs. Alicia Fox
Tamina watches from backstage. Kaitlyn sells for a bit but finishes Alicia with a spear.
Paul Heyman tells Punk he's been working too hard and says he has a skybox seat for him. He's going to deliver a personal message to The Rock, and it's dedicated to Punk.
Heyman heads to the ring for his promo. He points out that it's for Punk, who is shown in a skybox. Heyman says the People were confused by what Punk said, so he would interpret. "I will keep it simple for you."
Heyman says Vince is desperate to get the WWE Championship off of Punk and Rock is the "flavor of the month." He says Rock was singing about Heyman, when he should be thinking about Punk. Just like the people, Rock is stupid.
Rock's music hits and here comes the Brahma Bull. Cole and Lawler say that Rock has been banned, but Rock flashes up a ticket. Rock thanks the police for the ticket. Heyman tells Rock that the ticket doesn't entitle him to be in the ring, but Rock tells him to shut up. Rock tells Heyman to get out of the ring before he slaps the taste out of his mouth. Heyman gives way.
Rock turns to the skybox and Punk. He says Punk has been champion for 428 days and it's both incredible and historic. He says he knows Punk is a badass and how tough he is. Punk has earned the right to call himself best in the world. Rock says that does not change the fact that it's Punk's last night as WWE Champion on Raw.
Rock says that just like MLK, he has a dream. Punk mocks with a laugh. Rock says his dream is to become WWE Champion one more time. Every woman and man and child will be saying "free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last." Rock closes with his "If you smell..." line.
The lights go out, and when they come back up, The Shield is beating down Rock. He fights back but loses out to the numbers game. They hit the triple powerbomb on Rock and leave.
Punk has a mic and says there's only room at the top for one man, and you have to pay a price for your freedom. He calls Rock's dream cute but eventually you have to wake up. Punk says that Rock will figure out the truth that the Great One wasn't quite great enough to beat the best in the world. Punk holds the belt up high as Rock struggles to his feet.
The ticket nonsense aside, a solid segment for their match. The Shield getting involved is a good touch. It gives the impression that the odds are against Rock going in.
They show another MLK video, then recap the segment we just saw. Cole says Rock did get to his feet and walked out on his own.
Match #6 - Sheamus vs. Wade Barrett; Beat the Clock Challenge
Cole says this is the last BTCC match for tonight. Barrett works the arm in the early going and clotheslines Sheamus to ringside as the match goes to commercial.
Barrett keeps working the arm after the break. Lawler points out the clock running down. With 90 seconds to go, Sheamus hits White Noise, then stares at the clock. He cues up the Brogue.
Ziggler, AJ, and Big E run to ringside. AJ distracts Sheamus and Barrett gets a side slam as a result. Sheamus hits the Brogue, but there's no time for the cover. Ziggler gets to pick his number.
They show a graphic that touts the number of WWE Twitter followers.
Dolph boasts to Vickie about winning the challenge. He and AJ kiss and he sings that AJ looks wonderful. Ziggler picks 30, but Vickie says he doesn't get to pick his spot. He only gets to pick between #1 and #2. The three sell disgust as Vickie walks off.
So the challenge was pointless?
Paul Heyman and CM Punk talk about Rock knowing his role when they cross Vince McMahon. Vince guesses they think they're clever, but Punk and Heyman deny having anything to do with what the Shield did. Vince says that there will be consequences if the Shield gets involved on Sunday. Heyman runs down a list of people the Shield has attacked and says there's no clear evidence against Punk. Vince reiterates that there will be consequences, and Punk will be stripped of the title if the Shield gets involved in the WWE Championship match.
I guess that's a clear sign there will be a clean finish. What about Maddox? Well, I guess Rock will dispose of him easily enough.
Match #7 - Alberto Del Rio (w/Ricardo Rodriguez) vs. Tensai
Ricardo has the Mexican flag and a Mexican colored bow tie on. Del Rio makes fairly quick work of Tensai, hitting a belly to back suplex, then the running enzuigiri kick. He follows with a moonsault to get the win.
After the match, Del Rio gets a mic and says he will be the one counting to 10 on Sunday, in Spanish. Some fans join in the count and Ricardo leads a "si!" chant.
They're in official overkill mode to emphasize Del Rio's heritage.
Cole and Lawler talk about WrestleMania Axxess tickets going on sale on Saturday, then feed it to the video package for the second Hall of Fame inductee. It's Bob Backlund.
Cena's music hits and he comes out to more boos than cheers. He calls the fans a lively bunch and says it's because they got rested up over the weekend. He says on the seventh day there was rest and it's a day to rest and recuperate.
He points out a young boy and says it's a day off from school. He talks about him having his homework done and going outside to play, then corrects himself and talks about video games. He says the kid is keeping Cena at noob status in Black Ops II and reveals his screen name as Skidmarks 187. Ugh.
Cena points out a female fan and speculates that she posted pix on Facebook from Saturday night, but only the ones she looks good in. She also daydreams about the guy she met last night. He points out a guy next to her and says it was him, and he spent $167 on shots and two blow up dolls, and can only find one of them. He also Brett Farve'd himself on Facebook and not for throwing touchdowns.
Cena says this week is different because it's Royal Rumble. He says everyone is picking who they think will win. Cena says there's a golden ticket to WrestleMania on the line and a star could be born. All eyes will be on the Rumble. Cena says the world will find out what he knows, and that is that he will win the Rumble. That gets booed.
Sheamus comes out and calls Cena's speech "passionate and bizarre." Cena has it wrong though because the guy who won last year will win this year. The Prime Time Players come out and start to talk but are cut off by Randy Orton. Orton says he didn't come to dance or talk deja vu even though he could. He puts himself over as winning the Rumble.
Miz comes out and does his "really" routine, saying he will win the Rumble and go back to WrestleMania again. Kane and Daniel Bryan come out and interrupt, and they can't believe all the arguing over who would win. They proceed to argue amongst themselves as to who will win.
Antonio Cesaro comes out and says he will win and dedicate the victory to his home away from home, the United States. Three Man Band comes out and says one of them will win. The locker room begins to empty and a brawl ensues in the ring. Ryback didn't get an entrance and he clears several from the ring. The show goes off the air with Cole giving a final pitch for the Rumble.
This was very generic hype for the Royal Rumble. Every year, WWE seems to do a good job of making this feel special, no matter what else is on the card. But they really dropped the ball this year. They would have been better off to close with the Punk vs. Rock hype.
Cena was horrible here. Corny humor not withstanding, he never could tie anything together and it just didn't work.
This show didn't do me any favors for considering buying the Rumble this year. Rock felt off to me a little tonight and Punk didn't really pack a big go-home punch in his promo either. The Shield was well placed, and Vince's ruling was logical and helps us know we'll get a clean finish, we think.
I'm not less excited, but as a viewer who was on the fence about buying the pay per view, I'm still holding on to my money right now.
I'll have more to say tomorrow evening in Raw Afterthoughts. Thanks for following along tonight and be sure to watch for our live Royal Rumble coverage Sunday night.