KFR Heat Lamp: WWE kicks off 2011 with strong January 3 RAW
I enjoyed tweeting during Monday’s live RAW with several KFR readers–enjoyed reading/exchanging off-the-cuff opinions (and insults) throughout the broadcast. (On that note, for those of you who have not checked out Jason Mann’s Wrestlespective site and podcasts, do yourself a favor and click here. Join us both on Twitter during next week’s RAW as well.) This was a strong effort by McMahon & Co., with Miz successfully defending the WWE title against John Morrison in a good opener to start the show. Miz is settling nicely into his role as the unlikely heel champion who bends but doesn’t quite break with a win over his former tag partner. Jerry Lawler likes to tell the story of how veteran Tojo Yamamoto stressed the importance of facial expressions to the young rookie in the early ’70s, going so far as to administer serious pain to the man who would be King until he displayed the proper anguish. Miz has clearly worked on this subtle part of wrestling psychology as he was in good form Monday in selling Morrison’s offense to the point that the hot Phoenix crowd believed the challenger had a chance to win the belt. (Ironically enough, Lawler missed RAW’s show because he was actually taking a week to sell injuries sustained in an ambush by Miz the previous week–a novel approach in today’s WWE. Even though I’ve seen Lawler attacked from behind approximately 2,347 times over the years, this ambush remains my favorite.)
Morrison looked as good as I’ve ever seen him as well–the guy’s missing something charisma-wise, but with the right opponent, he could shine. Really, he’d be a great heel with the right mouthpiece (manager)–the guy has one of the best heel entrances of all time…too bad he’s a babyface. I guess sticking him back with a heel Melina is out of the question right now.
For that reason, I couldn’t help but think that given the history between Miz and Morrison–former tag champions who really hit their stride together as hosts of the Dirt Sheet a few years ago–this could have been built up much better. But like most angles nowadays, it was rushed. I’m all for heel champions winning convincingly–and Miz certainly needs the credibility–but I think they pretty much killed what could have been a fresh, interesting short-term feud between two former partners. (Some of the best feuds ever in the biz were between former team members.) I hate new champions losing non-title matches (which greatly hindered Jack Swagger’s run as World champion), but in this case, it might have been the right move to build to a rematch, possibly on PPV.
Instead, we get Randy Orton as the next challenger to the Miz at the Royal Rumble. As was reported on the Wrestling Observer site yesterday, every WWE PPV since 2008’s Cyber Sunday has featured Orton or John Cena in WWE championship or World title match. For a company supposedly committed to young talent, that’s not a promising stat, especially with buy rates down (of course, several other factors enter that equation). Kevin Sullivan (not the wrestler but the author of the recently released History of the WWE Championship book, available below) tweeted that it appears Orton would be winning the title at the Rumble, speculating that perhaps the company doesn’t yet have enough faith in Miz to carry the belt into WrestleMania. Very well could be. But given Orton’s interview Monday saying he was “too nice” last year, I think Miz screwing his challenger at the Rumble could serve as an effective catalyst for a heel turn afterward for Orton, who is so much more effective as a heel. Or maybe Orton settles into a ‘tweener role a la “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s early run–no friends. (For example, Orton and Cena on the same side just doesn’t work.) Either way, Orton coming up short at the Rumble would be a nice way to push him over the edge and return to his snakelike ways that we all love to hate. Plus, it gives us a fresh champion headlining Mania and allows Miz a real chance to get over in the role. (I suppose some old-school fans would drool over the possibility of a Lawler vs. Miz title bout at Mania–which would be the King’s first match ever on the biggest show of the year–but I’d be stunned if that happened. The old legend going after the title one last time be wonderful storytelling–which Lawler and Miz pulled off weeks ago–but I can’t see Vince having faith in that bout to help carry the show.) You have to figure the returning Triple H will take on Sheamus at Mania to determine who is the King of Kings, which has the potential to be a hot match.
I also love the angle with CM Punk taking over as the leader of Nexus, dumping Wade Barrett, who will be moving to SMACKDOWN! to feud with the Big Show. Apparently, they believe Barrett has developed into such an effective heel personality that he doesn’t need the”N” gimmick, which is probably the right move. He’s still got a ways to go in the ring (doesn’t bode well for his bouts with the Show), but there’s no denying his timing and natural heel charisma in his promos. Plus, you have a tailor-made angle down the road if Barrett returns to RAW for revenge. Punk desperately needed a change of scenery, and his presence gives RAW a personality to replace the sorely missed Chris Jericho. It’s intriguing: Is Punk merely assembling his latest group of minions to carry out his wishes…or, in the end, will it be revealed that Punk is infiltrated Nexus to destroy the group at its core. After all, Punk and Cena were the first WWE stars attacked when the Nexus debuted last year. (I think I’m giving WWE Creative far too much credit: There’s no way they remember that far back.) Either way, Punk serves as the perfect new mouthpiece for the group, since most of the guys still can’t cut a promo to save their lives. Nice to see Joe Hennig in a key spot early in his career–hoping he develops into the wrestler his father was.
By the way, I understand WWE’s stance on trademarking names in theory, but having the son of the legendary Curt Hennig give up his surname is ridiculous, especially after Mr. Perfect’s induction into the Hall of Fame and DVD release. And Michael McGillicutty? That sounds so much like something Vince Russo would come up with. At one point, the plan was for Joe to mimic his father’s gimmick (hey, that’s catchy) and mannerisms and play him up as the perfect son. Clearly, that’s been scrapped. (By the way, I picked up Mattel’s Mr. Perfect figure last night–it lives up its name. Couldn’t ask for a better figure. And the old-school painted IC belt looks fantastic.)
I’m hearing the SMACKDOWN tapings were really strong last night as well. WWE desperately needs to shake things up in 2011, so they’re off to a good start.