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Raw preview: Punk speaks, AJ general manages. Who watches?

 It may not have received nearly as much hype as last week’s show, but the 1001st episode of Raw tonight is, in some ways, even more important. That’s in large part because it marks the true beginning of the 3-hour era, and will not have the Rock, the Undertaker or a reunited D-Generation X to prop it up in the ratings.

 As it will on most Monday nights going forward, WWE will have to rely on its own talent roster to carry 180-minutes plus of programming tonight, and it’s sure to be quite a challenge. Even during last week’s loaded episode, there were times I caught myself looking at my watch, and being surprised by how much time was left on the show. Tonight, it may get downright tedious at moments.

 That said, WWE does have a few tricks up it sleeves, not the least of which is the follow-up to C.M. Punk big heel turn at the end of last night’s show. Punk already Tweeted that he’ll open up tonight’s show on the mic—presumably offering some explanation for his actions.

 WWE will, no doubt, also begin building the SummerSlam card in earnest tonight, perhaps by announcing a Punk-Cena match, or possibly a three-way match that will include The Big Show. I’d also look for some response from Daniel Bryan to Charlie Sheen’s challenge last week.

 I don’t expect Brock Lesnar to be at Raw tonight, but I do expect some advancement of the storyline leading into his match with Triple-H at SummerSlam, even if it’s video package.

 All that plus AJ’s first night in charge of the show as general manager.

 But will it be enough to make three hours fly by? I’d guess not. But at the very least, I hope makes the best use of its three hours, and doesn’t fill it with obnoxious fan “Tout” videos, or meaningless bouts featuring the NXT and Superstars crew.

 It’s anyone’s guess how many people will be watching tonight. On one hand, raw had its highest rating in ten years last week, and you’d think some of that audience would carry into this week. On the other hand, I’d bet there’s still a sizable portion of the audience that doesn’t realize Raw starts at 8 p.m. tonight. What’s more, the show will face stiffer-that-usual competition this week in the form of the Olympics.

 I’ll be watching—if not tonight, then with my finger on the fast forward button tomorrow morning.

New York Sports