We're on the Road to Wrestlemania.  Last week, John Cena did something that everyone raised eyebrows over.  He challenged CM Punk to a match this week, with his coveted Royal Rumble win on the line.  If Punk wins, he goes on to face The Rock.  If Cena wins, Cena holds on to his title opportunity against Rock.  It's a high-stakes showdown in Dallas, live tonight.

Vince McMahon will be on hand to address Paul Heyman.  Rumors are flying that the Deadman might make an appearance.  Brock Lesnar is in the mix, as is Triple H.  What will go down tonight?

Show Open:

They open with a recap of Brock Lesnar's attack on Paul Heyman, selling it as a "tangled web of deceit becoming unraveled."  They move on to the Cena/Punk promo from last week that established their match tonight. 

Justin Roberts introduces Vince McMahon to the ring. He hobbles out on crutches as Cole tells us Raw is sold out in the American Airlines Arena in Dallas.  He introduces King and says we're starting off with a fight.  King asks how smart this is for Vince, being 21 days removed from "hip replacement surgery."

Vince says he likes to do things in a big way and since we're on the road to WrestleMania he says something big should happen every week on Raw.  He calls Paul Heyman to the ring, calling him the "ultimate fighter."

Heyman comes out in a jogging suit.  He calls Vince the ultimate showman and puts himself over.  "You have as much chance against me as Tony Romo does of leading Dallas to a Super Bowl."  Heyman says he won't take it easy on Vince.

Heyman talks about how Vince ran every promoter out of business, including him.  He says he watched him take on the government and win too.  He says he is coming after him and has something to say to his face.

Heyman takes down Vince and goes for a crutch.  Vince holds his hip as Heyman prepares to swing.  He swings and connects while Vince struggles to his feet.  King asks if theres no depth this walrus will sink to.

Vince mounts a comeback and beats Heyman with the crutch.  Lesnar's music hits and here comes Brock to the stage.  He does his pre-fight dance and heads to the ring.  Vince stares a hole at him while King recaps that Brock's F5 brought this on.

Lesnar gets in the ring and stalks Vince, but Triple H's music hits.  Vince escapes, and all eyes are on the entrance.  Triple H emerges to a big reaction.  Slowly, Trips makes his way to the ring and the brawl is on.  They exchange blows and Trips throws Lesnar into the ring post twice.

Lesnar ends up in the timekeeper area, but then comes back and throws Trips on the announce table.  He takes a couple shots then throws Trips in the ring.  Lesnar goes under the ring for a chair.  He gets in the ring with it, but Trips counters with a spinebuster then hits Lesnar in the back with the chair.  Trips stands tall in the ring while Lesnar recovers on the ramp.

Intense and memorable.  A good, hot start to the show.  They kept the Vince/Heyman fight short given the situation there and they really loaded it up with the Lesnar/Trips showdown.  I smell Mania match...

The announcers hype up the Miz TV segment with Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger.  They show Ryback walking to the ring to face Dolph Ziggler next.

The announcers recap what just went down with Triple H, Lesnar, and Vince and Heyman.

Match #1 - Ryback vs. Dolph Ziggler (w/ Big E Langston and AJ)

Ryback controls the early going.  He works a series of power moves, including driving Ziggler into the corner turnbuckle.  Cole talks about the sellout attendance and the crowd starts a "Goldberg" chant.  Ryback dumps Ziggler to ringside as the show goes to break.

Out of commercial, Ryback is holding an insanely long vertical suplex.  Ryback continues to control the action until Big E Langston flattens him at ringside.  This gives Ziggler an opening to get in some offense.

Ryback eats the ring post on a charge but tries to slam Ziggler out of it.  Ziggler counters to a DDT, then locks on a sleeper.  Ryback slams him down to break it.  AJ tries a distraction but Big E eats a clothesline for his troubles.

Ziggy charges and eats a shot from Ryback.  The finish comes when Ryback hits a spinebuster, followed by Shellshocked for the win.  Team Ziggler recovers at ringside.

Decent enough opening match.  Ziggler continues his losing ways but at least he looked legit.  Just not sure how much longer he can go on losing and be taken seriously as a title contender.

We get a trailer for a movie called "The Call", produced by WWE Studios.

CM Punk's music hits and here he comes.  Cole hypes that we'll hear from him about his match with Cena after the break.  After a recap from last week's exchange between CM Punk and John Cena, we get Punk's promo.

Punk says tonight's a night that people will talk to their grandchildren about.  He says viewers will witness the end, and a beginning.  He says people would have you believe this is about an epic match between he and Cena, but it's not.  It's an epic night, but it's not about Cena or Rock.

Punk says he can point to the WrestleMania sign (and does) because the winner goes to Mania.  But this night isn't about WrestleMania.  Punk says it's not about the people or the WWE Championship either.  He says this night is about something more important - the future.  "Tonight is about me."

Punk says the night is about him taking his place among the showcase of the immortals in the main event of WrestleMania.  Punk says he has held the WWE Championship longer than anyone in decades.  He says he's the best in the world and has earned the right to go on to the main event of WrestleMania.  "I am an icon among superstars," he says.

Punk calls himself an immortal and the greatest of all time.  "The legend, the greatest, the best, the greatest and in this world you all inhabit, I am God."  Punk exits.  Cole and Lawler talk about what Punk just said.

All the "greatest", "icon", and "God" talk could play right into an Undertaker feud...just thinking...

Hall of Fame Package

We get a hype package for Donald Trump, who is the celebrity addition to the WWE Hall of Fame.  It encompasses the back-to-back hostings of WrestleMania 4 and 5, and his appearance at Wrestlemania 23 in the "Battle of the Billionaires."

We get a split screen shot of Mark Henry and Great Khali walking to the ring.  They're up next in what Cole calls a "battle of Leviathans."

Match #2 - Mark Henry vs. Khali

No televised entrances for either man.  After some typical big man offense, Khali gets Henry down for a moment.  Henry though finishes him off with the World's Strongest Slam.

Khali's walk to the ring looks painful.  His in-ring work even more so.

The announcers feed it to a trailer for "Marine 3 - Homefront" featuring The Miz.  Just before break, Miz comes out for a Miz TV segment with Jack Swagger and Alberto Del Rio.

We see a vignette for Fandango, who will debut on Friday's Smackdown

Miz TV:

We come out of break with Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter in the ring, along with The Miz.  Alberto Del Rio and Ricardo Rodriguez are finishing their entrance.

Miz introduces the four men.  Miz opens it up by asking Colter to speak his mind to Del Rio rather than hide behind YouTube videos.

Colter says he wanted to talk to Glenn Beck but that won't happen.  He says there's 11 million undocumented illegal workers in the US.  He says there's a push in government to give those workers a pass and make them citizens.  "You and your people drain us!"

Miz turns it over to Del Rio and asks how hard it is to become a citizen in Mexico.  Colter tries to interrupt but Miz stops him.  Del Rio says Colter can talk.  Colter asks what Del Rio is afraid of.  "What is wrong with you, and your people?"

Del Rio tells him to not disrespect his people.  Colter says when he speaks, Del Rio listens, then tells him it's not personal.  It's what Del Rio represents.  Del Rio represents success and the American Dream and encourages millions to sneak across the border in search of the dream.  Colter says there's millions of failures for every one Del Rio.  Colter says those who stay illegally are criminals.

Del Rio tries to talk again but Colter says he's not done.  Del Rio says the US is the greatest country on earth because all are equal.  Del Rio says if you work hard in America, anything is possible.  Del Rio says he's living proof.  Del Rio says he didn't know anything about Colter a couple weeks ago.  He says he has heard about people like him but now he has met one and wishes he hadn't.

Del Rio says he doesn't like bullies and challenges Colter and Swagger to make them leave right now.  Swagger takes the mic and says "We will see you at WrestleMania.  We the people."  Swagger throws the mic down and he and Coulter leave.

Swing and a miss.  This jumped the shark.  Colter is one-dimensional, but Del Rio's response should have been more spirited than it was.  It felt very cliche, which it shouldn't have been.

We get a shot of Randy Orton walking backstage.  We'll see him in action against Antonio Cesaro next.

After the break they show us some "second screen" experience where Miz gets confronted by Zeb Colter.  Jack Swagger attacks him from behind.

Match #3 - Randy Orton vs. Antonio Cesaro

Cole and Lawler spend a part of the match talking about Social Media Smackdown.  Cole asks Lawler if he has been watching (since Lawler claims he'll be on the show).  Lawler says he has.

Orton starts to cue up some of his trademark offense.  Antonio Cesaro goes up top for an uppercut, but Orton counters it with the RKO for the win.

Same old, same old in terms of secondary title action.   The RKO out of the uppercut was a neat spot.

Backstage:

Kane and Daniel Bryan are watching a monitor and say Randy Orton is great.  Then they bicker over how they can beat their opponents later (the Prime Time Players) without help from the other.  Vickie and Brad Maddox enter the frame.

Vickie would go to say something, but Maddox will talk over her.  Kane and Bryan will face the Prime Time Players, with Kane having one arm tied behind his back, and Bryan blindfolded.  Bryan complains about not being able to see.

Cole feeds it to the Oscar movie parody stuff from Wrestlemania 21.  John Cena and JBL did a parody of the movie "A Few Good Men."  They hype up Sheamus doing an Oscar snub segment.

This show is really filled with garbage tonight.  We got such a hot opening, I figured it would go hot all night.  Not so much.

We get hype for a match signed for later in the show - Miz vs. Swagger.  We get a recap of the show opening as well.

Sheamus' Oscar Snubs Segment:

Sheamus comes out in a tux.  He says Sheamus is upset about the Oscars.  Lawler puts Sheamus over as a better host than Seth McFarlane.  Sheamus stands at a podium and says the Academy overlooked Wade Barrett for a nomination.  He feeds it to a clip of Dead Man Down.

Sheamus feeds it to another clip and has the truck focus on a still of Barrett appearing in the background.  He gets a laugh out of Barrett being out of focus.

Barrett interrupts and says Sheamus loves green.  Sheamus can make all the jokes he wants and idiots would laugh it up, but it won't hide that Sheamus is jealous.  Barrett says he will become a global movie star and won't need a fake red carpet like what's in the ring.  He says he will have the real thing when the movie premieres tomorrow.

Sheamus tells Barrett to be sure the paparazzi gets his good side.  On second thought, Barrett doesn't have a good size, given that nose.  Barrett charges, and Sheamus cues a Brogue Kick but Barrett bails.  That ends the segment.

The latest installment of "why does a main eventer care about a secondary belt?"  Why is this "movie trailer" night?  This is ridiculous.

Match #4: R-Truth vs. Cody Rhodes

Damien Sandow sits in on commentary.  The announcers refer to Cody Rhodes' mustache as a lovestache.  Cole talks about Sandow and Rhodes having a Bromance, but Sandow has no idea.

Late in this one, Cody takes Truth's finisher for the loss.  Sandow goes for an attack but Truth clears him.

We get another YouTube video from Colter and Swagger.

We get it, these two don't like illegals.

Match #5 - Kane and Daniel Bryan vs. The Prime Time Players

Daniel Bryan's blindfolded, and Kane has his hand tied behind his back.  Bryan starts off and he's feeling his way around.  He attempts to lock the referee in the No! Lock but the official's able to stop him.  He keeps feeling around to find his way.

Bryan takes a shot and ends up outside the ring.  He hits Kane with a forearm when Kane offers help.  He gets back in the ring.  Kane eventually tags in and goes to work.  He finishes off the PTP with a chokeslam for the win.  Bryan and Kane celebrate after the match.

There's some bad gym class jokes in here.  This isn't that "renewed focus" the tag division was to get for sure.  Kane and Bryan did have a couple fun moments, though.

Show Reset:

Cole feeds it to a video package that recaps the hot opening of the show between Triple H and Brock Lesnar.

The Shield Speaks

The Shield comes through the crowd to the ring.  Ambrose says that things will get a lot worse before they get better.  Roman Reigns says no matter how the odds get stacked against them, they will win every time.

Rollins talks about their wins at TLC and Elimination Chamber and says they solved the John Cena problem by their win at Elimination Chamber.  He says no team can beat them, and Sheamus' music hits.

Sheamus asks if they want to fight, and challenges them to come fight him.  Ambrose and Reigns leave the ring to go attack Sheamus, but Orton hits the ring to hit the RKO on Rollins.  The other members of the Shield run back to the ring but Orton has escaped through the crowd.  They stare him down.

Solid work here, especially from the Shield.  Ambrose and Rollins sound a bit similar, which they need to watch since they're in the same act.

They hype Miz vs. Swagger for after the break.  Out of commercial, we get another tease for next week's Old School Raw.

Not for nothing, but why are they running Old School Raw on the road to WrestleMania?

Match #5 - Jack Swagger (w/Zeb Colter) vs. The Miz

Miz dumps Swagger to ringside.  Swagger yells "we the people" to motivate himself (apparently).  Del Rio watches on a monitor backstage.  Colter twists at his facial hair while Swagger takes control of the match.

Swagger hits a Swagger bomb to get two.  Miz hits Reality Check in a hope spot.  Swagger hits a big slam before Miz tries to come back again.  Swagger pushes him into the ropes and Miz gets tied up.  Miz sells a knee problem.

The finish comes when Swagger clips Miz's leg. He locks on the Patriot Act to get the win.

Swagger's legal issues aside, he keeps his momentum going toward Wrestlemania.

Cole talks about being hungry and they move to a shill for Sonic.  Jerry Lawler is partaking of this fried food...really interesting after a heart attack.

They show highlights from the end of last week's show where Rock revealed the new WWE Championship.  Cena came out to express his challenge to Rock, but Punk attacked him from behind.

They show Triple H's first tout, which is essentially a challenge to Brock Lesnar for a fight.  He asks Brock if he's going to stand around and bleed or do something about it.

Backstage:

Josh Mathews interviews John Cena.  He says it's time for CM Punk to step up or step aside.  Cena says he asked for the match to prove he's back.  He says he doesn't care what The Rock is cooking and hopes his critics are hungry because he's serving up humble pie.  He wraps up by saying "my time is now."

They show a clip of Robot Combat League, hosted by Chris Jericho.

Raw feels like such an infomercial tonight.  Hyping everything but wrestling.  Still five Raws before Mania, but I guess I just expected more.

Cole and Lawler talk at ringside.  They feed it to a Tout that showed Undertaker's return at a house show in Waco.  Lawler says rumors run rampant about Taker about this time of year and whether or not he will be at  WrestleMania.

I don't think they'd tease this house show return if Taker wasn't working Mania.  Will it be tonight, or next week?

Match #7  - John Cena vs. CM Punk; Winner goes on to face The Rock at Wrestlemania 29

CM Punk out first, without Heyman. Cena comes out second. Justin Roberts handles the in-ring introductions to add to the big fight feel.  Cena gets the early advantage going into the first commercial break.  Punk sells at ringside.

Punk catches Cena in a hold after commercial.  Cena stands up with Punk on his shoulders, and Punk hits him with elbows.  Cena falls backward and slams Punk in a nice spot.  Cena hits the first of his two shoulder blocks, but he misses the second one.  Cena tumbles to ringside, then takes a suicide dive from Punk.

After commercial, Punk is able to lock on the Anaconda.  Cena rolls it over into a pinfall to force Punk to break.  Punk hits a swinging neckbreaker for two.  Punk calls for the GTS but Cena counters.  Punk tries a springboard move moments later but Cena counters to the STF.  Punk counters it back to the Anaconda.  Cena counters again to the STF.  Punk rolls over on top of Cena, forcing the break.  Good sequence.

Cena calls for "you can't see me" and teases the Five Knuckle but Punk counters and goes for the GTS.  Cena tries a roll-up, but Punk ends up on top for two.  Cena hits the Five Knuckle a little later and tries for the AA.  Punk counters to the GTS again but Cena counters then hits a Batista Bomb for a good near fall.

Cena goes up top but Punk catches him.  They battle back and forth and Punk gets knocked to the mat.  Cena hits the top rope leg drop for a good near fall.  Crowd is pretty into it at this point.  Punk hits the running high knee, but Cena counters the running bulldog into the AA for another near fall.

Punk rolls out to ringside.  Cena chases him, but Punk makes him eat the ring post.  Cena is down and motionless at eight but somehow gets in the ring at the very last possible moment.  This looked awkward.  Punk hits him with the GTS for a good near fall.  He cues it again, but Cena counters to the STF.  Punk teases tapping out, but he crawls to the ropes instead.

Punk hits a piledriver, which drew an audible gasp from the live crowd - and shocked this writer.  Punk says it's over and covers but Cena kicks out.  Punk gets a couple more covers in there for two counts, then goes up top.  He goes for the Macho Elbow, but Cena rolls out of the way.

Cena pulls a huracanrana out of his bag of tricks.  Yes, you read that right.  He follows it right away with the AA to pick up the victory.

The announcers recap the match, showing various highlight clips.  They say it's absolutely official that The Rock will defend the WWE Championship against John Cena.  They show a congratulatory tweet from Rock and Cena poses and says 'Cena is back" as the show ends.

That was a good match, especially once they came back out of the last break.  Cena's gotta never use a huracanrana again - that looked terrible - but to see them pull out stuff they've not used in a long time (or at all) to try and put the other guy away made sense given the high-stakes matchup.

If you're worried about Punk losing steam - don't.  He came out of this match strong and he'll fit right into a post-Mania feud well.  The TV audience got a taste of how good these two can work together too, so it was a real treat to close out the show.

As a whole, this show was a bookend type show.  Hot start, hot finish, lame middle.  I could have done without all the movie trailers, Oscar snub segments, and other garbage we saw tonight.  Yes, there's five weeks to Mania and you don't want to run out of gas early.  To the same end, they should do more to really help every show feel important and this wasn't it.

And the $50-million question:  "Where was Undertaker?"  This makes sense to bring him out on another show.  It protects him a little given his injury status, and with five Raws to go you can let Cena/Punk have the  main spotlight tonight and bring out Taker on another show.  I presume it will be next week - we shall see.

I will have more to say on this show in Raw Afterthoughts, sometime tomorrow evening.  Thanks for watching along tonight.