A mysterious notification went out on WWE social media just before Raw hit the airwaves: “I have risen.” The mystery was solved with a long-awaited appearance by the Undertaker as Raw kicked off. It was the first of many captivating moments on the “Old School” episode of Raw, which nicely blended nostalgic silliness with pre-WrestleMania buildup. WWE has is finally barrelling straight down the Road to WrestleMania, and this week’s Raw saw several intriguing angles take shape. Here’s a look at the highlights, lowlights and old-school oddities of an entertaining, if erratic, episode of Raw.
Best Match: In a night full of quickie squash matches, a couple of competitive showdowns stood out. The Miz and Dolph Ziggler put on a surprisingly entertaining and evenly matched bout, despite some silly antics from The Miz and his “mentor” Ric Flair, and plenty of interference from Big E Langston and AJ Lee. Later on, Wade Barrett and Alberto Del Rio battled in a compelling match with some quick back-and-forth action. These undercard matches upstaged the much-hyped four-way main event, which quickly served its purpose of landing CM Punk a ‘Mania match against the Undertaker.
LOL Moment of the Night: Ring Announcer Justin Roberts, clad in a ridiculous baby blue tuxedo, struggled valiantly to properly pronounce “Fandango.” But despite some vocal coaching from Fandango himself, Roberts failed to utter the name with the right breathy gravitas, and the prancing rookie once again refused to make his in-ring debut. On a night dedicated to “old school” wrestling, Fandango’s silly schtick resonated with classic heelishness. Also, Daniel Bryan snatching a 100-dollar bill from the mouth of Darren Young was a true laugh-out-loud bit of comedy.
Holy Sh** Moment of the Night: Randy Orton managed to deliver his rope-assisted DDT to the Big Show, but with even greater impact than usual, since the giant was slung from the top rope rather than the usual middle one. An impressive feat of strength by Orton and a nasty face-first fall for the Big Show.
WTF Moment of the Night: The Honky Tonk Man, the self-professed greatest Intercontinental champion of all time, sheepishly fled the ring after being insulted and berated by Heath Slater. The man who once prided himself on being “cool, cocky and b-b-b-b-bad” was completely meek, mild and m-m-m-mousey. At least he got some post-match revenge by delivering one of his patented guitar-to-the-head clobberings.
Corny Commentary Line of the Night: When it comes to lame puns, Jerry Lawler and Michael Cole outdid themselves after Daniel Bryan stole a 100-dollar bill stuffed in Darren Young’s mouth by Ted DiBiase: “You know what you call an outlaw goat?” asked Lawler. “Billy the Kid!” It was a terrible groaner, to which Cole felt compelled to add an even lamer one: ”He’s a baa-aaa-aaad man.”
“Old School” Moment of the Night: WWE didn’t miss a trick with their “old school” schtick, from the dated attire of referees and commentators to the vintage onscreen graphics and music. Even the ring apron and ringside barrier looked like remnants from a Titan Tower garage sale. Cameos from the likes of Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Mean Gene Okerlund and the Honky Tonk Man gave the show a playful sense of nostalgia. Perhaps the best “old school” moment, however, came from Ted DiBiase stuffing a greenback into the mouth of a fallen Darren Young, just like he did in his heyday. And that evil cackle — DiBiase still performs it to perfection.
Logic Fail of the Night: The WWE audience — both in the arena and around the world — went collectively bonkers when The Undertaker appeared at the outset of Raw, amid much fog and fire. And then, smack dab in the middle of the triumphant return of one of WWE’s most important and elusive figures, the show went to commercial. When Raw returned two minutes later, the Undertaker was nowhere to be seen, with no explanation as to where he went.
Jobber of the Night: It should come as a surprise to no one that Zack Ryder was squashed like a bug by the marauding Mark Henry. If you blinked you might have missed Ryder’s attempt at an offensive maneuver. Of course, the members of the 3MB didn’t fare much better later on — but that’s nothing new either.
Mic Work of the Night: Regardless of how you feel about a Rock-Cena rematch at WrestleMania, there’s no denying that the duo know how to build a match through verbal sparring. Cena passionately explained his his need for a “chance at redemption” to “rewrite history” at WrestleMania.”You were responsible for my collapse,” he told The Rock, “but through failure I became stronger because you were also responsible for my turnaround.” The Rock retorted: “As much as it matters to you, John, it matters so much more to me.” Although the segment dragged a bit after that (and included a questionable Lance Armstrong wisecrack), it built solid momentum for the much-derided “Twice in a Lifetime” rematch.
Crowd Sign of the Night: “Rick Rude Lives.” If only that were true. The Old School Raw could have used a dose of the Ravishing one.
Best Road to WrestleMania Developments: It seemed as if WWE’s creative team suddenly realized that WrestleMania is only a few weeks away, and decided to book practically the entire card during a single week on Raw. The Undertaker emerged from the shadows and got a WrestleMania challenger in CM Punk. Triple-H called out Brock Lesnar for a ‘Mania grudge match. It also became abundantly clear that WrestleMania will feature a battle of the behemoths, given the staredown between Mark Henry and Ryback.
Chant of the Night: While Ted DiBiase was watching over the match between the Prime Time Players and Team Hell No, a small but vocal faction of the audience began chanting “We want Virgil! We want Virgil!” DiBiase struggled to suppress a smile.
Worst Match: In true “Old School” fashion, Raw included a lot of lightning-quick squash matches, just like on the old Saturday afternoon WWF shows. Mark Henry’s decimated of Zack Ryder in what can barely be called a match. Fun while it lasted, but hardly a wrestling clinic.
Tweets of the Night:
@WWECreative_ish: “Nothing quite as Old School as Tweets scrolling on the bottom of the screen. #RAWTonight”
Overall Lowlights: Amid all the old-school playfulness and WrestleMania hype, there was relatively little actual wrestling; it seems a bit late in the game to start promoting major matches like Punk vs. Undertaker and Lesnar vs. Triple-H.
Overall Highlights: A nice mix of goofy “old school” nostalgia and forward-thinking matchmaking; the Undertaker finally made his Raw return and got a worthy contender for his WrestleMania streak; other key pieces to the WrestleMania puzzle fell into place.