Weekly Wrestling Recap 1-3-12
Say what you want about last night’s episode of Raw, but one thing that it certainly was not was uneventful. The first show of 2012 opened up with a John Cena promo that unnecessarily reinforced and summarized the events in his life over the past few months. Yes, we know that Cena is being booed more loudly than ever and that he is perfectly ok with it. Yes, we know that his feud with Kane is at its core a chance to freshen up the main event scene and let CM Punk become a full on baby face without interference. Yes, we also know that John Cena still equals ratings and love him or hate him we’re going to see him all the time or at least until the WrestleMania showdown with “Dwayne.” Cena coming out and killing 10 minutes of TV time that could have been used for the long promised Brodus Clay debut just showed how WWE still puts the traditional ratings model first. Open the show with your top guy, who cuts about as milk-toast of a promo you can do, with some ominous Kane pyro at the end is certainly not reinventing the wheel in the New Year. Fortunately, WWE was able to find some innovation in the second hour as the biggest event of the night took place in the return of Chris Jericho.
For weeks the “It Begins” teaser videos have picked up steam with a palpable buzz surrounding Monday’s event and the internet community cleverly tried to guess just who this mystery person might be. Everything was suggested from Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, Vince McMahon, Stephanie, John Bradshaw Layfield and even Jericho (who vehemently denied any involvement on Twitter). Then yesterday morning a camera phone picture of Chris Jericho at Nashville International Airport surfaced and it seemed like the mystery had not only been solved but spoiled in advance. Jericho still denied involvement on Twitter, but at this point it was clear that the jig was up and he was the most obvious candidate. Yet when the debut happened live on Raw, there was still plenty of hype surrounding it and the excitement was rabid. Jericho did indeed re-debut wearing a light up sequined jacket reminiscent of something one of his icon’s Rob Halford from Judas Priest would wear. The internet community exploded in excitement feeling redemption for not only solving the puzzle far in advance but with thoughts of what a potential WrestleMania match against CM Punk could bring. Jericho’s reinventions in the past have been legendary and yet formulaic – teaser videos, countdowns, pyro displays, and of course epic promo’s on the microphone always showing how the comedic performer never quite loses a step no matter how many times he steps away.
This return like its predecessors had all the elements of the typical Jericho, the Memphis fans knew that entire time that Jericho pandered to them that they were in store for a promo that would both harken back to the attitude era while instantaneously placing itself amongst the legendary promo’s we’ve come to know and love from the WWE history. There was only one problem, that promo never came. Jericho kept the Memphis fans on their feet and cheering for nearly five full minutes with victory laps around the ring, playful toying with camera men, and every other bad cliché we’ve seen from an ‘80’s hair band trying to get the fans awake before they inevitably play their one hit wonder single. Except for the fans watching Monday’s Raw, that hit single never came, and the excitement and anticipation was left to hang in the air as Jericho walked to the back and the segment unceremoniously ended. For the most part, the internet “smark’s” instantly saw what the WWE had done and threw their unbridled praise at Jericho for having pulled the wool over their eyes and turning a predictable return into a brilliant play on the fans. The WWE did exactly what they successfully did between Triple H/Undertaker last year, let the emotions of their audience tell the story without having to use any words themselves.
Jericho’s return to the WWE was obviously going to be well received and his pop was going to be deafening regardless of how many camera phone pictures may have leaked in advance. We wanted Jericho, we dreamed up scenarios for him to wrestle in, we waited out his side projects and saw through any of the misdirection’s and red herrings he may have tried to lay on us. Our minds were made and we were going to cheer when he finally became back in his full glory and we would cheer loud. The only problem is that the Jericho we know now has created a character for himself as a quintessential heel. To lose that would almost be like losing his identity. What was done last night not only kept the Jericho character in tact as full heel but fully tricked the audience along the way building a level of heat that no promo could have done. What happens next is certainly a mystery, but last night Jericho played an experiment on the fans that worked in spades. His return is the most talked about thing in the WWE universe right now and while we know how it predictably will end with a WrestleMania match, the road to get there at least won’t be as straight as we had thought it would be.
The WWE Championship match last night was overshadowed by a lot of this stuff and I guess the WWE itself anticipated this by putting it at the top of the 10 o’clock hour. CM Punk is way over as the new face of the WWE, but Dolph Ziggler is in a grey area that I think the WWE needs to improve immediately. Ziggler reminds me a lot of how Cody Rhodes was about four months ago. While his potential and talent are undeniable, he just hasn’t had a good feud to let his character resonate with the audience and grow into something they care about. Rhodes didn’t achieve this until he feuded with Orton, lost his mask, and now started the feud with Booker T. These rivalries helped legitimize him in the eyes of the audience and helped him outgrow his gimmicks and safety nets. Handing out paper bags and wearing a mask was a stepping stone, but to be a character that draws emotion is the end game. Ziggler meanwhile is using the show off gimmick and Vickie Guerrero to build his cheap heat, but has to resonate more with the crowd to fully get over. His wrestling ability itself unfortunately will not do it alone, as his reaction from the Memphis fans was borderline silent. I think Ziggler has everything it takes to become a main star though and hopefully the announcement of this Royal Rumble WWE Championship match against CM Punk will be just the feud that he needs to fully get him to the next level.
Meanwhile the angle with Kane and Cena got even stranger last night as Kane emerged from inside of the ring to attack Zack Ryder and Cena. Kane then tried to drag Ryder down into the hole in the ring that he came out of until Cena saved Ryder in a scene reminiscent more of an Indiana Jones movie than professional wrestling. The whole then exploded in flames as Raw went off the air. This was maybe the biggest head scratcher moment of the show for me, but did solidify some sort of friendship or bond between Ryder and Cena. I had commented on Twitter that the two would make a perfect buddy cop movie after this segment and I think the WWE intends to use Ryder as comedic material and to help Cena get some more likability. It’s actually quite ironic that Cena is now using the guy that he gave up his World title shot for to get some babyface rub again. It goes to show how fickle the audience can be and how nothing can ever be thought of to remain the same. Overall the show was entertaiing although certainly not great from a wrestling standpoint outside of Punk/Ziggler. It’ll be interesting to see where things go from here as the Road to WrestleMania seems to be going full speed from here on out.
Adi contributes regular columns on the world of Pro-Wrestling, Tech, Video Games, and Movies. You can follow him on Twitter @adiraval