We're getting closer and closer to the biggest show of the year, and last night's Raw took several more steps toward WrestleMania XXVII.
Here are some thoughts:
. I very much enjoyed the hype for the big Undertaker - Triple-H showdown. A lot of people assumed that Shawn Michaels would be the lynchpin for the feud, with the storyline of Triple-H looking to avenge the defeat of his best friend. But WWE writers apparently concluded that there is enough of a backstory between Triple-H and 'Taker that Michaels' involvement is not necessary. I agree. Triple-H did a nice job selling the idea that he has accomplished everything a WWE wrestler could possibly dream of, except one thing: ending the Undertaker's streak. Doing so would cement his place as the greatest of all time (according to the storyline). The video package with Shawn Michaels weighing in on the match was a really nice touch, and an adequate acknowledgment of his history with both men. In fact, I may have held it off for another week, and let Triple-H's promo at the beginning of the show be the only bit of hype for the match on Raw this week.
. The Rock did another nice job on the mic last night responding to John Cena's rap last week. It wasn't as good as his first promo a couple weeks back, and probably went on a bit too long. But the Rock brought home something that's been missing from the Rock-Cena interplay so far: some real passion and even anger. The best part of the promo was where Rock said that Cena disrespected his whole family by questioning his devotion to WWE. There were no cute jokes there, no clever puns. Just somegenuine fire. One of these guys needs to communicate to the other that he wants to beat the heck out of him.
. That said, WWE needs to be careful not to giveaway too much of the Rock before WrestleMania. With four weeks left to go before the show, fans have already seen a combined 40 minutes of first-run Rock promos. WWE needs to leave fans wanting more and give them a reason to fork over $60 bucks to watch The Rock and Cena have their first face to face. They should learn from last year's lost opportunity with Bret Hart and Vince McMahon. The first showdown between those two men after their falling out 12 years later should have been huge. But by the time WrestleMania came around, the two had been on TV several times beating each other up. It wasn't special anymore. WWE needs to keep Rock-Cena special, even if it means keeping the Rock completely off of TV for the next month.
. What about the Miz? Inevitibly, as the junior member of the Cena-Rock-Miz storyline, he was bound to be overshadowed a bit. But, make no mistake, The Miz only benefits from being part of such a blockbuster angle. I wouldn't be surprised if WWE originally put the world title on the Miz with the thought of him being involved in this angle, which would feature three of the best talkers in the industry over the last decade. Whatever the case, you can be pretty sure that WrestleMania will close out with the Rock and Cena joining forces to beat the stuffing out of the loathsome Miz. As bizarre as it may sound to non-wrestling fans, that's quite the honor.
. I'm less excited about Randy Orton vs. CM Punk at WrestleMania. It just comes off of as the product of writers wondering, "What do we do with these guys?" The Orton-babyface experiment, in my eyes, has been a failure, as he is just not the kind of guy that fans of the PG-era WWE can get behind. He's cold, creepy and has no personality. Punk is great, but The Nexis has lost a lot of steam since Wade Barrett, Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel left the group.
. It also seems like something that was thrown together at the last minute, but nevertheless, I'm glad to see Jack Swagger get a semi-prominent role as Michael Cole's trainer and designated bump-taker in his match against Jerry Lawler. Swagger has had a steep fall from grace after being rapidly elevated last year to world champion. He's better than the treatment he's received. And while standing in a scrawny wrestling announcer's corner during a match, and presumably getting beaten up by a 61-year-old man, probably isn't his WrestleMania dream, it's better than nothing and it gives him a chance to have a role on the biggest show of the year. I assume Alex Riley will be special guest referee of the bout.
. In case you missed it, after Raw went off the air, WWE announced on its web site that "Bullet" Bob Armstrong will be inducted into the Hall of Fame the night before WrestleMania. Armstrong is an important figure in Georgia's wrestling tradition, and the patriarch of a fairly-successful wrestling family that includes "Road Dogg" Jesse James and current WWE referee Scott Armstrong. He's a fine choice to go into the Hall, although I think WWE should be aware of the repercussions of open up its Hall to wrestlers who achieved most of their fame outside WWE. In doing so, they're essentially rebranding it the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, which is fine. But it also increases the number of glaring omissions. It’s one thing not to have WWE legends like Bruno Sammartino and Randy Savage inducted. It’s another thing to be missing such giants as Lou Thesz and Rikki Dozan. Perhaps it’s a task that WWE is up for, as evidenced by the inductions in recent years of such non-WWE icons as Verne Gagne and Antonio Inoki. Perhaps opening up the Hall to non-WWE figures is an acknowledgment that the pool of WWE alumni deserving of Hall of Fame honors is getting more shallow by the year. Still, there are some big WWE names left to induct, especially when you move into stars from the 1990s and early 2000s, including some who are still active today.