This is it! Six nights from tonight it will be the biggest spectacle in all of professional wrestling - WrestleMania 29. The Rock is set to defend his WWE Championship against John Cena. Rock got the better of the debate last week - will Cena get his back tonight? Also, Triple H is set to face Brock Lesnar with his career on the line. Is this "game over" for the Game?
All this and more on the go-home edition of Monday Night Raw, in minutes.
Show Open - Live from the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
They open with a video package that highlights the Brock Lesnar/Triple H feud. They point out that Shawn Michaels will be on the show tonight. They move into a recap of the Punk/Taker exchange from last Monday and the Rock/Cena exchange. They ask if this is the last Raw for Triple H and how Cena will respond to Rock getting the better of him. Seven of the biggest stars are on Raw, live, tonight.
Cole introduces the show as a sell-out in DC as John Cena's music hits to a strong chorus of boos. Cole says it's a mixed reaction but it's a strong negative. Cena makes his entrance as Cole tells us there's over 16,000 and his cohorts JBL and Jerry Lawler check in on commentary. They hype up Rock vs. Cena.
Once the music stops Cena soaks up the reaction and says he stands in the middle of a house divided. He says it's ironic that it's in Washington, D.C. Cena says all eyes are focused on WrestleMania.
Cena says it's no secret that he and Rock don't like each other, but he respects Rock. He says last year he'd have made some rude, over the line comment about Rock and questioning his passion and allegiance. He says Rock would have come back out and made some comment about his mother and personal life.
Cena declares the games are over because "we know this is much, much bigger." He says Rock is holding the WWE Championship and he has done everything he said he would. "You name it, Rock has conquered it." Cena says he won't waste his breath talking about Dwayne's Johnson.
Cena says he steps in the ring Sunday with the man he believes to be the greatest WWE Champion of all time. He says that paints victory for himself at WrestleMania impossible. Cena compared it to the odds of winning the Royal Rumble and then beating CM Punk to seal his trip to face The Rock. He says The Great One will fall. "The Rock's time is up and my time is now." The DC faithful get all over him and Cena pauses.
Cena says the fans might get a moment they never thought possible in their lifetime. The Rock says he can cope with failure, but this one will not be like his previous failures. Cena talks about having to deal with the Wrestlemania loss for a year.
Cena complains about having to sit behind the curtain and watch Rock debut a WWE Championship that was designed for Rock and defines his legacy. He says Rock told everyone he will be champion for as long as he wants. He says Rock stuck his foot in his mouth because "I, we, will get absolute redemption." and says Rock will definitely lose the title on Sunday.
"The People's Era will remain, and the WWE Universe will remain. But the mighty Rock will experience failure." He says Rock will have to wake up and talk to the millions and millions and deal with failure knowing the WWE Championship designed for him will be defended by Cena.
Cena says he won't replace the WWE Championship. He will hold it as a symbol. A loud boring chant gets going and Cena waits it out. Cena says he will hold it as a symbol that his not only the Rock's equal but he is better than The Rock. The fans get all over Cena again and he says he will shock the world. "You will not believe your eyes, jack." He says on Sunday even The Rock will know "the champ is here."
The announcers talk at ringside and Jerry Lawler records a Tout with Michael Cole manning the phone. He predicts Rock will win. They show Randy Orton, Big Show and Sheamus backstage and they're in the first match.
The DC fans are ALL OVER Cena. I think mostly because they're bored with his character and bigger Rock fans. The promo wasn't a bad one, and it was littered with more talking points that could point to a possible heel turn for Cena.
Match #1 - Randy Orton, Big Show, and Sheamus vs. 3MB
3MB gets some early offense in. They try to isolate Sheamus but it doesn't work. Show gets a tag, then Orton hits the RKO and Sheamus hits the Brogue Kick. Show hits the WMD Punch on Mahal to get the win.
The Shield's music hits afterward and they head through the crowd. They stop though to cut a promo. Dean Ambrose congratulates them on their win. He tells them to do their song and dance because they won't have anything to celebrate Sunday.
Seth Rollins tells the three that justice doesn't lie and they know the truth. Roman Reigns is last to speak and says that Orton, Sheamus, and Show are not a team. "You three on the same page? Come on." Another brief "boring" chant gets going before Reigns says "Believe in the Shield."
This is a hot crowd but a touchy one. They're not going to get a lot of ring work tonight, so if that's what they wanted...well...sorry. Most of the TV matches tonight will be predictable, but it's the talking that will sell Sunday's big event. If done right, I actually really enjoy it.
Cole hypes Shawn Michaels' appearance and asks how he thinks and feels about Triple H putting his career on the line. They also hype up a Jack Swagger/Zeb Colter package in DC after the break.
Lawler hypes up Colter facing Alberto Del Rio later. They show a video package of Colter and Swagger in front of the Capitol. They run through their usual discussion. Swagger says he will break Del Rio's ankle and the spirit of those who abduct the American Dream. He says anyone who doesn't like that doesn't deserve to be a real American. We the People.
Matt Striker interviews Del Rio backstage for a response. Del Rio says Jack Swagger has the right to say what he's saying under the First Amendment. He says he has no idea why Colter challenged him to a match. He calls Colter a pinata with a mustache.
I cannot possibly care less about this World Heavyweight Championship feud.
They hype Daniel Bryan up against Dolph Ziggler after the break.
Match #2 - Daniel Bryan (w/Kane) vs. Dolph Ziggler (w/Big E Langston and AJ)
Early on, Bryan ends up outside and has a staredown with Langston. Bryan rolls back in but eats a Fameasser from Ziggler.
After commercial, Bryan hits Ziggler with a series of kicks but can't catch the big finale. Ziggler shoves Bryan off the ropes but Bryan catches him with a big kick. Bryan tries to follow with the top rope headbutt but Ziggler moves. A little bit later, they try simultaneous cross body blocks but smash together.
AJ makes her way over to Kane and skips around him. Big E uses the distraction to hit Kane with a clothesline. Bryan hits a sliding kick on Langston but gets rolled up by Ziggler for the loss.
Afterward, Langston hits the ring and slams Bryan with the Big Ending. Kane gets back in the ring and throws hands at both heels, and locks Big E with a chokeslam hold. Langston uses his strength to break the hold then hits Kane with the Big Ending.
AJ hands her men the belts to celebrate over the fallen face team.
This was a good match that wasn't a predictable squash. Langston looked like a serious badass by hitting both with the finisher.
Cole hypes up Undertaker "eviscerating" CM Punk later in the show, and Lawler hypes HBK making an appearance after commercial.
Shawn Michaels' music hits and he comes out to a big reaction from the DC fans. He does his full normal ring entrance. They run through highlights of Brock snapping Triple H's arm last year twice.
"Now you didn't think we could have WrestleMania without Mr. WrestleMania, did you?" Michaels says he loves this time of the year.
HBK runs through the WrestleMania card and says the fans know that's why he's there. He says there's one match he is interested in and that's the one between Brock and Triple H. Shawn says there's a ton of history between Brock and Hunter and his own arm is a part of that history. Shawn says he became concerned when Triple H put his career on the line and now has doubts and questions.
Triple H's music hits and he interrupts. Cole says that this could be the last time we see Triple H "in this capacity" on Raw and stresses the retirement stipulation. Trips makes his full entrance. He hugs Shawn once he gets in the ring then says he knows what HBK is doing and it's the same situation Shawn was once in.
HBK says H believes the situations are the same but they're not. He says when his career was on the line he looked across the ring and saw an opponent he has the utmost respect for and knew respected him. He says his opponent never bragged about ending his career because of that respect.
HBK says Lesnar isn't the same way because he doesn't respect anyone. Brock does what he does for money, to hurt people, and because he likes creating havoc. Shawn talks about how Trips has poured his life into the business and this was more about his life being on the line than his career. Triple H tells Shawn he won't talk him out of this.
HBK says Trips is mistaken and HBK came to tell Hunter that at Wrestlemania, "you better kick Brock Lesnar's ass." HBK says that unlike Summerslam, he will be in Triple H's corner to watch him do it. They cue the DX catchphrase, but Brock Lesnar's music interrupts.
Lesnar and Heyman come out, with Heyman sort of holding Lesnar back. JBL calls Heyman the greatest manager ever. Heyman talks Lesnar out of going to the ring and starts to talk. He says that for the record his client has two words but it's not the two words they're looking for.
Heyman says that Lesnar plans to beat Triple H into retirement this Sunday. He says Hunter will have to live with disappointment. H will disappoint Vince McMahon because he won't be able to fight Vince's battles. He'll disappoint the board of directors because he won't be able to fulfill his duties.
"You're going to disappoint your wife, but you're probably used to that anyway." OUCH! Heyman goes on and says he will disappoint his friend Shawn Michaels too. They goad on a fight but Heyman calls himself an expert negotiator and says his client gets paid to fight. He asks if Shawn if he wants to be so close to Triple H when Lesnar destroys H again and possibly breaks HBK's arm.
Heyman says that H and HBK fight from emotion and that's why HBK had to retire. Heyman says Trips should have walked away, 'but now I assure you you won't be able to walk away." Heyman says when Brock is done with Trips he will crawl away with his tail between his legs a beaten, battered, emasculated retiree that has disappointed the fans.
Heyman says H was never man enough to beat Lesnar and it has forced Triple H to commit professional suicide. Lesnar's music hits and they exit while Cole ponders if Heyman is indeed right. H gives a crotch chop for a minor reaction.
Cole points out that it's a no holds barred match that is right up Lesnar's alley. Lawler calls it a good fight but it's not up anyone's alley.
Heyman was gold here. I welcome seeing HBK at WrestleMania and it's a nice last-minute addition. Triple H needed to address the retirement stipulation harder, though. Last week would have been ideal, but this week would have been helpful too.
We get highlights of Cena's opening promo and Lawler hypes up that Rock is in the building. We also get some highlights of the Shield promo also.
Miz joins at the commentary position for this next match. They say that Miz will face Wade Barrett on the pre-show for the Intercontinental Championship. Miz hypes the first and last matches being important at Mania.
Match #3 - Wade Barrett vs. Zack Ryder
Miz talks quite a bit on commentary about scouting his opposition. Barrett controls until he allows Miz to distract him. Ryder gets a run of offense in. He hits the Broski Boot and gets a near fall. Barrett comes back with the Bull Hammer for the win.
No one reacted to Barrett coming out, and Ryder just doesn't get a reaction these days.
Vickie and Brad are talking. Santino Marella comes into the picture and says Vince is in the building. He got out of his limo and is storming mad at the two of them. Vickie and Brad show concern then Marella says it's a joke. Marella says he should have seen Vickie's face and Brad crapped himself. After a moment Vickie tells Marella he's in a match and Maddox says they will pick his opponent for him and we'll find out who the biggest fool is.
Match #4 - Santino Marella vs. Mark Henry
Not much to see here. They first show highlights of the bench press competition from Smackdown on Friday night. Mark Henry hits a clothesline then the World's Strongest Slam to win.
Afterward, Ryback hits the ring. Henry tells him to hold on. He knows Ryback is upset because he didn't break the bench press record. That doesn't give Ryback the right to come out and threaten him. Henry reminds Ryback of the no-contact clause.
Henry says he wants to get his hands on Henry and "I know you want to put yours on me." Henry says the only thing that will happen tonight is his smile. Henry goes to leave but Ryback picks up Marella and rams him into Henry. Ryback presses Marella and throws him onto Henry on the floor. The announcers point out that Ryback didn't touch Henry.
The crowd was a bit dead for this but picked up for Ryback using Marella to get to Henry. Henry's promo was a bit tough.
The announcers hype up Vince McMahon being on Twitter and getting 53,000 followers in 90 minutes.
Matt Striker interviews CM Punk. He asks if he feels he is disrespecting the memory of Paul Bearer. "I think the better question is do I give a damn if I am disrespecting the memory of Paul Bearer." Punk says he's trying to get in the head of Undertaker to end the streak.
Punk mentions the possibility of Taker getting angry and the match ending in disqualification or getting counted out. Punk says whenever someone thinks about WrestleMania, they will think about CM Punk.
Not the greatest of promos from Punk but it was what it was. The whole feud hasn't been what it could be.
Match #5 - Zeb Colter (w/Jack Swagger) vs. Alberto Del Rio (w/Ricardo Rodriguez)
Colter makes his entrance before the break. Del Rio comes out after. He attempts to shoo Ricardo backstage, but Ricardo doesn't listen and comes to ringside anyhow. Colter and Del Rio stalk each other, but Swagger stalks Ricardo.
Colter reaches over the ropes and gets a crutch. Swagger takes down Ricardo and tries for the Patriot Lock again, but Del Rio kicks Swagger into the security railing. Colter hits Del Rio with the crutch to get the match thrown out.
Colter hits Del Rio again with the crutch, but Del Rio recovers and goes after Colter. Swagger attacks from behind and the two beat Del Rio and Ricardo down. They wear Del Rio out with the crutch and leave red marks on his back.
Predictable trap move by the heels here.
We get another highlight of Cena's opening promo and they hype up that The Rock is up next.
The Rock's music hits and he comes out to a huge reaction. He does his full entrance and poses on the ropes. He soaks in the reaction before starting his promo.
Rock starts with the word "connection." He says the connection between him and the People is the only reason he's in the ring. Rock says that Sunday isn't about redemption for Cena, but it's about the will of The People. "and this Sunday, the will of the People isn't for Cena to find redemption," before adding he will take his boot and curb stomp Cena's monkey ass all over WrestleMania.
Rock says if the People will it, "we can change the world." Rock says maybe instead of visiting he will have to live in this town. He goes on to say if the people will it, he would live "in a big white house" up the road. Maybe we go from President Barack to President The Rock. He delivers his "Finally" line.
He talks about putting Cena down with the Rock Bottom last week. He says Cena's time won't be now, but his time is never.
Rock says it's not about redemption "and it's damn sure not about passing the torch." Rock says the only way it would be a torch is if he set the belt on fire and stuck it straight up Cena's candy ass. Rock says Cena isn't facing The Rock, he's facing a connection that Cena doesn't realize how big it is.
Rock says you cannot deny the will of The People, and Cena "cannot beat The Rock." Rock closed with his "If you smell..." line. The announcers debate and say it's a tale of two different superstars. Rock seems confident, while Cena believes it's his last chance.
Rock was good, but not "go-home" great. Cole pointing out the differences between Cena and Rock was a good touch.
We see Jericho walking backstage and he's up next.
Match #6 - Chris Jericho vs. Antonio Cesaro
Jericho controls this one, with the commentators talking about Jericho's appearance on Dancing with the Stars. Prior to commercial, Fandango's music hits to cause a distraction. His dancing lady comes to the stage first, then Fandango follows suit. They stare at the ring and Jericho stares back as they go to commercial.
Cesaro hits a sit-out slam and yodels. He hits an uppercut then Jericho hits him with a double axe handle off the ropes. Fandango is scoring the match with score cards from the stage. He was throwing out low scores.
Fandango finally wanders to ringside while still scoring the match. Jericho hits him with a dropkick to get a pop. Jericho locks Cesaro in the Walls for a submission win a short time later.
After the bell, Fandango attacks. He gets some loud "you can't wrestle" chants. He roughs Jericho up then hits the top rope leg drop. He demands Jericho say his name then hits him with the leg drop a second time before saying his name on the mic and leaving.
A decent match, but Jericho missed a drop kick and the double stomp looked pretty bad by Cesaro.
The announcers hype up the Undertaker/Punk segment to close the show.
Cole hypes up that Trish Stratus asked Stephanie McMahon to induct her to the hall. Stephanie accepted that invitation.
We get the touts people sent in predicting the Rock/Cena outcome.
Match #7 - Naomi and Cameron (w/Brodus Clay and Tensai) vs. The Bella Twins (w/Rhodes Scholars)
Tensai and Brodus pound on the mat with pompoms to encourage their ladies on.
Late in this one the action breaks down. After some selling from Naomi, Cameron gets a hot tag and gets the better of one of the twins. Once things break down one of the Bellas wins on a roll through. The heel team gloats from the stage.
No one really cared about the match.
WWE must have forgotten WrestleMania is Sunday.
Cole hypes up the Undertaker segment that is coming up next.
The gong sounds. Undertaker's music plays and he makes his entrance to the ring. Typical long Taker entrance. He gets a mic.
He says Punk's WWE title run lasted over 400 days, but the pain he will endure after Sunday will last an eternity. Taker says Punk decided to make this personal, and he will suffer. He says beating Punk at WrestleMania Sunday is no longer good enough.
"The disrespect you showed Paul Bearer will cause you to pay the ultimate price." Taker concedes that the Streak may come to an end on Sunday due to his current state of mind, but Punk will never live to talk about it.
The music that is traditionally reserved for the Druids plays. The lights go down and druids walk out and line up down each side of the aisle. Cole says this is strange and Lawler says Taker didn't have this in mind.
"Ohhhh yeeesss..." in Paul Bearer's familiar voice is heard. Paul Heyman walks out, dressed up as Paul Bearer, and holds the urn up on the stage. There's an audible groan in the audience. Taker rips off the long coat and heads up the ramp. He pauses among the druids, and takes a shot at one of them.
The rest scatter, but one of them IS Punk. He attacks Taker from behind. The crowd is split around 50/50 between Undertaker and Punk chants. Punk hits Undertaker with the urn repeatedly yelling "I did this to you!"
After he beats Taker down, he opens up the urn and pours out some of the ashes in his hand. He throws them at Undertaker. The crowd boos and groans. Punk then rubs some of the ashes on himself as the show ends.
I'm sure a number of folks found this tasteless and offensive in concept, and some who have no issue with this whatsoever. Where I think they'll miss it is that now WWE is the bad guy for booking this angle. Nothing about what I saw made me want to see Punk get his ass kicked.
Just gauge that statement by the reaction in the live crowd. There was a pretty strong mix of groans, boos, and of course the CM Punk chants. On paper, this match looked good. This build, however, has been pure crap - I've got no better way to put it. It's been tacky and poorly done and while I still have match interest, this hype has done zero to sell me on it.
I believe the hype for Mania peaked several weeks ago. This show was a plodding, slow attempt at big hype but it fell short. There have been good moments in the past four weeks but in an overall view, the build to WrestleMania has been very lackluster. The three-hour show format has done them no favors, either.
WrestleMania comes Sunday, and not a moment too soon for me. I will try to enjoy the event, but I'm looking forward to what is beyond Mania already. Raw just hasn't gotten the job done on building my interest.
I will have a lot more to say tomorrow evening in Raw Afterthoughts. Thanks for watching along tonight.