Twelve months ago, fans asked the question, "Can WWE maintain the momentum for a match between John Cena and The Rock for a whole year?"
On Monday night, the answer resounded with a definitive yes.
Almost one year after the epic showdown between the biggest star of an era past and the current generation was announced, the two men stood together in the ring on Raw in their final showdown before Sunday's WrestleMania.
But that wasn't all. The duo was also the focus of a special one-hour documentary, "Once in a Lifetime," that aired on USA before Raw.
It has been said before, and it deserves to be said again: The WWE video production team excels at its job. This program was extremely well directed and produced and helped strengthen both men's images going into the big show.
The match between The Rock and Cena has never been about who was the better in-ring competitor; it's always been a clash of personality, and this special further established the out-of-the-ring lives of both stars.
Whether on Team Cena or Team Rock, it has to be hard to walk away from this documentary without an increased sense of respect for the dedication and accomplishments of each man.
When it came to the live show, Cena and The Rock stood in the ring together, trading verbal jabs one last time. Both men were on top of their game, and the closing scene of them standing eye to eye was expected but poignant.
This match will one talked about for years to come. The power is in the hands of Cena and The Rock to decide whether people will be raving about vivid memories or adding this match to the biggest letdowns in WrestleMania history.
After a year, the moment of destiny has arrived. On Sunday, only one man can stand tall, but who will it be? The icon of an era past or the top star of today’s generation?
* On what was expected to be a promo-heavy Raw, the show started with a lengthy tag team match pitting WrestleMania opponents against each other as World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan and Kane faced Sheamus and Randy Orton. The match was good, and the finish that saw AJ distract Sheamus long enough for Bryan and Kane to steal the win plays well to all the characters. Sheamus has become an honorable man, who would worry about striking a woman, while Bryan proved once again he'll do whatever it takes to win.
* Sacrificing Christian for the sake of CM Punk was a baffling decision. Yes, Punk looked great in the assault on Christian, provoked by Chris Jericho revealing Punk's parents weren't married when he was born, legally making him a bastard. But why did it have to be Christian? Apparently, the story being told is that he re-injured his neck, which will keep him off WrestleMania. If he wasn't ready to return to the ring, why did they even include him in this angle? Drew McIntyre has been announced as his replacement. Talk about a downgrade for Team Laurinaitis.
* To show just how much the WWE Tag Team Championships mean these days, Primo faced Big Show on the WrestleMania go-home Raw. The match lasted all of about two minutes, and the tag champ obviously didn't win. Intercontinental Champion Cody Rhodes cut a funny promo after the match, but I'm becoming very fearful of Rhodes' chances of walking out the title Sunday.
* Brodus Clay's match against Curt Hawkins seemed like it went longer than most of his others, but that's not saying much. Hawkins took the big man off his feet and landed some offense, but in the end, he became the next victim of the Funkasaurus. If Clay doesn't begin doing something of substance after WrestleMania, I may stop using time and words to write about him.
* Seeing Michael Cole in a Team Laurinaitis shirt had me worried he'd be announcing himself as the sixth member of the team at WrestleMania. Fortunately he simply announced himself as the team's official commentator. Wait, maybe that's not much better, after all...
That set up a match between Santino Marella and David Otunga, the captains of Team Long and Team Laurinaitis. Well, you can't really call what happened much of a match. Otunga accidentally hit himself with a flag, allowing Marella to get the win. Shenanagins ensued, The Miz hit the ring and attacked Marella, John Laurinaitis welcomed Miz to the wrong WrestleMania team and then corrected himself. This was a cluster of an angle, and the payoff to Miz's recent angle will likely disappoint many people.
Later in the show, Mark Henry made quick work of The Great Khali. Short Khali matches are the best Khali matches, but once again, this became more of an angle than a match, as a brawl erupted between the teams. As Henry had Long set up for a World's Strongest Slam, Booker T made the save. In exchange, Long offered him the sixth spot on his team. At least Team Long now has some star power.
* Kelly Kelly beat Eve in a preview of the tag match at WrestleMania, in which they will team with Maria Menounos and Divas Champion Beth Phoenix, respectively. The match was short and not too bad. It didn't stand out either, though, and Kelly won when Eve missed a moonsault. The two things that are bothersome here are 1) the fact Eve isn't allowed to show off her ju jitsu skills and 2) Natalya's disappearance from the divas division.
* As mentioned in the intro, the WWE production team continued to earn props. The video package that aired hyping the Hell in a Cell match between Triple H and The Undertaker was more appealing to me than the promos they've cut in recent weeks. I'm fairly confident they could produce a quality video on any topic at this point.
Daniel Bryan and Kane d. Sheamus and Randy Orton
Santino Marella d. David Otunga
Kelly Kelly d. Eve
CM Punk vs. Christian went to a no contest
Brodus Clay d. Curt Hawkins
Big Show d. Primo
Mark Henry d. The Great Khali
I went into Monday night's Raw expecting it to be very talk-heavy. It proved to really be anything but. Sure there were a lot of video segments and vignettes, as well as the show closing promo with The Rock and John Cena, but the show also featured seven matches. None of them went tremendously long, but WWE still crammed a lot of action into the show.
At first thought, I was disappointed in the show, as I felt it did little to truly hype Sunday's show. Part of that, I believe, stems from some of these matches being announced earlier than normal. There has been a lengthier-than-normal break between pay-per-views, so that was necessary to build momentum and interest toward the show.
The other aspect of the build to this year's show that could be problematic was the high volume of matches built around competitors being kept apart physically. The Rock and Cena, Triple H and Undertaker and, to a lesser extent, Punk and Jericho have had limited physical interaction, if any, in the build to their matches.
This show kept that strategy alive, focusing on building the battle of the general managers, the World Heavyweight Championship the and Kane-Orton match through physicality, while keeping the other components apart. While viewing the show, it aggravated me a little, but after some reflection, I see it as being the right call.
The structure of tonight's show kept all the WrestleMania competitors safe heading into the big show, while advancing stories in different ways. This wasn't a perfect show by any means, and things could have been differently, but it's not a show worth throwing under the bus either. The hype has been established for WrestleMania; now it's up to the men and women on that show to deliver a memorable evening like we've been promised.