With less than seven weeks until the "Showcase of the Immortals," WWE has planted seeds for a rivalry between John Laurinaitis and Teddy Long, the general managers of Raw and Smackdown, respectively.
The two men agree on the issue at hand: That power within WWE should be consolidated, and one sheriff should preside over both shows. But, of course, each man believes he is the right one for the job.
As the story advances, it's likely fans will be treated to a number of challenge matches and segments organized by the two, and that started on Monday’s Raw.
Two matches on the show fit the mold that will inevitably expand in the coming weeks. First, Laurinaitis' assistant David Otunga challenged any Smackdown superstar to a match.
Long selected Ezekiel Jackson as his representative, possibly a bad choice considering Jackson's momentum as of late consisted of losing to Jinder Mahal in a singles match and to Santino Marella in a battle royale.
The match was short and nothing special, but Otunga emerged victorious in the end, giving Team Laurinaitis an early lead in the battle. Otunga still looks out of place in a WWE ring, as a competitor at least. He'd be best used as a character rather than a wrestler, while working house shows to improve in the ring.
The other bout included the 10 losers of the WWE and World Heavyweight Championship matches at Elimination Chamber competing in a battle royale, with the winner receiving a shot at CM Punk's WWE title at WrestleMania.
Chris Jericho won the match, last eliminating Big Show with an assist from Cody Rhodes. There was little doubt about the outcome of the match, as Punk vs. Jericho has been the speculated - and obvious - WWE title bout for weeks.
With Jericho being a Raw superstar, this win also places Team Laurinaitis' record at 2-0 over Team Long.
As the WrestleMania card continues to take shape, it will be interesting to watch where this "war of the general managers" goes from here.
If one of the two is going to be featured as an authority figure on both shows, I personally would prefer Laurinaitis, as his dry sense of humor and subtle heel tendencies are more enjoyable than Long's comedy antics.
- The battle royale itself wasn't a bad main event, but it seemed like several of the eliminations ended badly. Wade Barrett appeared to be legitimately and seriously injured; Jericho was even seen asking the ref, "What happened to Wade" after the end of the bout. Dolph Ziggler, Kofi Kingston and Rhodes also looked like they took potentially bad bumps.
- Triple H and the Undertaker made their WrestleMania match official, and it will be Hell in a Cell. The stipulation will allow them to cover shortcomings in their work, and if this is the end of Taker's career, it's possibly the best way to go out. As for their promo on Raw, something about it seemed off. That could be attributed to the very weird Minnesota crowd showing an ultimate sign of disrespect for the legendary superstar by chanting "What?" during his speech. With the Hell in a Cell stipulation, it seems less likely Shawn Michaels will have an official role in the match, but there's still time to develop that angle if WWE chooses to go that route.
- One night after Marella, who worked double duty on Raw, earned the respect and adoration of the WWE Universe at Elimination Chamber, he was back to jobber status, tapping out to World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan in what seemed like less than two minutes. Most of Monday's matches were short, but this one was the only one to be completely void of competition. Those fans hoping for Marella to be taken a little more seriously had to feel let down.
- Kingston and R-Truth also pulled double duty, as they not only competed in the battle royal but also defeated Tag Team Champions Primo and Epico in non-title action. The match wasn't bad, and it was designed to make Kingston look like the star. After his performances at the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber, fans have been clamoring for Kingston to receive another push, but very few wanted to see it happen in the tag team division again. Hopefully in a post-WrestleMania environment, he will have the chance to finally break out as a singles star.
- Sheamus defeated Mark Henry in a decent match. It was good to see Sheamus start off the final stretch of the Road to WrestleMania in dominant fashion, felling Henry with a Brogue Kick. Also nice to see someone like Henry, who has a history with both Sheamus and Daniel Bryan, used in this role.
- While John Cena rose the hate -- as expected -- it appears Eve has chosen to embrace it. In a show-opening segment with the Bella twins, who were showing surprising sympathy for Zack Ryder, Eve admitted she used Ryder and that now people around the world are talking about her. She said she planned on using Cena in the same way, which led to an in-ring segment where she tried thrusting herself upon Cena, who responded with some of the best lines he's used on the microphone in years. People have begging Cena to show more edge with his promos, but who would have ever guessed Eve would be the one to bring it out in him?
Later in the show, Cena received a second promo slot, this time to resort to his same old complaints about The Rock. Cena showed more intensity and seriousness in this promo than he has in the recent past, but he really needs to find something other than the "I'm here every week and you're not" argument to ride this feud out for another six weeks. The Rock's appearance on next week's Raw will be a telling sign for what's to come.
- The Bella twins beat Kelly Kelly and Aksana in a tag team match. Like everything else on the show, this was kept short. It wasn't anything special and just felt like an ordinary divas match. People were asking where Divas Champion Beth Phoenix was to begin building a WrestleMania match, but with six weeks until the show, not everything needs to be rushed.
- Ron Simmons was announced as the latest inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame. He definitely has a place in wrestling history and fits in well as one of the secondary inductees. I have fond memories of the Acolytes and the APA from my early years of watching wrestling, so it pleases me to see this induction. Hopefully JBL will re-emerge to handle the induction, as there's no one more fitting for the honor.
Sheamus d. Mark Henry
Kofi Kingston and R-Truth d. Primo and Epico
David Otunga d. Ezekiel Jackson
Daniel Bryan d. Santino Marella
Nikki and Brie Bella d. Aksana and Kelly Kelly
Chris Jericho won a battle royale to become the No. 1 contender for the WWE Championship
The biggest complaint with tonight's Raw would be that all of the matches were kept short. From a storytelling perspective, the show successfully advanced numerous WrestleMania feuds and may have planted seeds for others. Six weeks is a long time in the WWE calendar. During some parts of the year, there are two -- if not close to three -- pay-per-views in that time frame, so it will be interesting to see how the company handles the extended build to WrestleMania. I would consider tonight's episode a fairly successful start.
Comment of the Night
"HHH/Taker are going all the way? I hope Taker buys HHH dinner first, and they remember to use protection." - Chad Smart of My 1-2-3 Cents, @my123cents (http://www.twitter.com/my123cents)
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