Tonight's Raw marked a milestone -- episode 1,001.
In many ways, this show was more important than last week's historic 1,000th episode. The legends are gone, the big names have disappeared and the anticipation of John Cena cashing in his Money in the Bank is gone. The real tests of the three-hour Raw era would begin tonight, as the company had to rely on its everyday amenities to create a compelling beginning to the next 1,000 episodes.
And much of the weight would fall on one man -- WWE Champion CM Punk, who shocked the wrestling world by taking out both John Cena and The Rock at the end of last week's show, turning his back on the WWE fans in the process.
Punk did a tremendous job maintaining a week of silence, keeping an aura of mystery about his character. In the days of Facebook, Twitter and Tout, that's not an enviable task. The result, though, was that fans of all degrees were eager to hear what the champ had to say.
And when Punk emerged for his quasi-show-opening promo, he delivered. No, the promo wasn't anything as memorable as last year's infamous "pipe bomb" speech, nor did it need to be.
Punk simply spoke the truth. That's what makes Punk -- as a babyface or a heel -- so entertaining; he simply tells the truth and can draw the necessary reaction from the crowd. After all, this is the man who got the drug-free messiah over as the villain against the drug-addicted good guy.
But tonight, the champ climbed on the announce table, sitting Indian-style and directing his remarks toward Jerry "The King" Lawler, who started the accusations that Punk had turned his back on the WWE Universe.
But Punk disagreed, delivering one valid point after another. The most poignant of his comments was that the 1,000th episode of Raw ended the way it should: With the focus on the WWE champion.
But, of course, there were others who disagreed, and both Big Show and Cena hit the ring to round out the segment, which ended with AJ's first task as general manager. She set up a match between Show and Cena for the main event, with the winner earning the right to challenge Punk at SummerSlam.
During that match, Punk joined the commentary team and continued to espouse truth on the microphone. It's going to be extremely difficult for WWE to turn the Internet fanbase against their champion, especially when he's working with material like this.
Cena and Big Show worked the match you would expect them to have. It was good for what it was, but it wasn't much we haven't seen before. Near the end, they began fighting near the commentary table, where Punk was accidentally taken out.
Punk interjected himself near the end of the match, causing AJ to predictably make the SummerSlam title match a triple threat.
This match has been brewing for some time and will be a good match for a "Big Four" pay-per-view. Hopefully Punk is allowed to retain, pinning Show to protect Cena and continue his great reign.
Overall, Punk played his role well, walking the line that splits fans as to whether they should cheer or boo him. It will be interesting to see if he continues the move toward the full-fledged dark side in the coming weeks.
Raw episode 1,001 is in the books, and Punk remains on top. But just how long will he be able to stay there?
• Sheamus and Daniel Bryan brought some life into the show after a rather uneventful first hour. They worked a very stiff street fight that saw them use chairs, kendo sticks and the steps as weapons. These two had a feud a few months ago, but this may have been a more fun match than any of their previous encounters. One issue, though, was the Raw Active voting to choose a stipulation. Viewers were presented with three choices: street fight, falls count anywhere and no holds barred. All three match types essentially have the same rules, which makes the result rather insignificant. For this "interactivity" to mean something, fans are going to have to at least feel as if their input means something. I'll let it slide this time, as they're still working out the kinks of the Raw Active gimmick and we got a really good, fun match out of it.
• Christian used some less-than-honorable tactics to help Team Canada defeat Team Cleveland, as he and Chris Jericho battled and put away Intercontinental Champion The Miz and Dolph Ziggler. The match was really good and a fun ride, which is to be expected with four performers of this caliber. These types of matches that cross rivalries are standard fare, but in cases like this, they work out well at promoting two individual matches. This one has a lot of potential, too, especially if Christian is embracing his dark side again.
• Santino Marella continued to be the butt of a very-extended bad joke, as he was once again destroyed by Alberto Del Rio. Yes, the number-one contender to the World Heavyweight championship should be able to defeat the United States champion, but a win over Marella means nothing, as he hasn't won a significant match in ages. It's been said time and time again, but the belt needs to come off him. Post-match, Del Rio cut a promo refusing to compete in any match between now and SummerSlam if the world title isn't on the line. His argument makes sense, and it will be interesting to see if he manages to make it to the pay-per-view without another televised match. I'd bet no.
• The match between Titus O'Neil and Kofi Kingston wasn't anything too special. O'Neil seems like he may be better suited for tag team competition at this stage in the game. The match was also short and ended with shenanigans with Abraham Washington, so it never got much of a chance to develop. Also, WWE was promoting video of the Prime Time Players interrupting a Rosa Mendes photo shoot, so it seems O'Neil and Darren Young are feuding simultaneously with Kingston and R-Truth and Primo and Epico. A three-way tag would have potential to be quite good if given the proper time and attention.
• Damien Sandow jumped Brodus Clay after an awful dance segment that also featured Vickie Guerrero. Sandow got more offense on Clay than anyone other than Big Show ever has. This is a program I can get invested in, so long as it doesn't result in quick squash victory for Clay. Their characters make sense to pair against each other, and this could be a good rivalry for both men, at least for the short term.
• Tensai defeated Tyson Kidd to avenge a loss very few people probably even remembered happened. The match was quick and saw Tensai dominate, but he didn't stop the assault afterward, forcing the referee to reverse the decision. He then took it out on Sakamoto. These would be fine storyline advancements, except for the fact it's been several weeks since any of this story has played out on television. But if it gets Kidd on television, it at least has a silver lining.
• Daniel Bryan punting Little Jimmy from the ring brought back memories of Snitsky and Lita's baby. Too bad Bryan's breakdown led to the nice men in white suits coming to take him away -- at AJ's request. The backstage segments with Bryan and the therapist were entertaining, and continued to hint at some kind of tension brewing between the superstar and Charlie Sheen.
• Randy Orton returned from his suspension to squash Heath Slater. He's now in the elite company of Lita, Bob Backlund and Diamond Dallas Page. It's almost a shame to know Orton will get pushed almost immediately, as it kind of lessens the gravity of his suspension.
• A new Smackdown general manager will be named on Friday's show. Please not Teddy Long; please not Teddy Long; please not Teddy Long...
Alberto Del Rio d. Santino Marella Sheamus d. Daniel Bryan in a street fight Titus O'Neil d. Kofi Kingston Randy Orton d. Heath Slater Chris Jericho and Christian d. The Miz and Dolph Ziggler Tensai d. Tyson Kidd John Cena and the Big Show wrestled to a double victory
Tonight's episode of Raw seemed to drag on. That's not to say it was bad by any means. There were many positives on the show, but there was also room for improvement. Many people were expecting more - and longer - matches on the show, and we got that to a degree, but there's still room for more. It was also surprising to see no divas on the show, even in backstage vignettes. Overall, Raw was a solid effort, but WWE needs to focus on keeping the show engaging for its new full three-hour duration.
Ring Posts' Adam Testa has teamed up with My 1-2-3 Cents (www.my123cents.com) and All American Pro Wrestling (www.aapwrestling.com) to bring you From the Rafters Radio,(www.facebook.com/RaftersRadio) a weekly pro wrestling talk radio show airing from 8-10 EST every Thursday on Monster Radio 1150 AM in Southern Illinois and streaming worldwide on wggh.net (www.wggh.net).Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times