January 23, 2012
Raw: Punk and Laurinaitis face off in Phoenix
By NICK TYLWALK - SLAM! Wrestling

It's almost Rumble time! And by that, I mean the Royal Rumble, probably the second-best pay-per-view of any WWE year. Before we get to that, though, we've got business in the desert. Let's head to Raw, live in HD from Phoenix.

WWE Champion CM Punk is the first person to hit the ring tonight, ready to have a seat and discuss his title match this Sunday at the Royal Rumble. Though he admits that challenger Dolph Ziggler has beaten him several times in recent weeks, he says that all of the wins were gift-wrapped for him by John Laurinaitis. Calling Johnny Ace a failure in every aspect of life, he rolls footage from last week's show that features Laurinaitis admitting to Mick Foley that he's anxious to get back at Punk when he serves as guest referee on the 29th. Punk wants to hear some of that tough talk in person, so he calls Laurinaitis out. When the interim GM doesn't show, the champ threatens to go looking for him, but he's halted by the entrance of Mr. Polarizing himself, John Cena. After exchanging pleasantries, Cena declares that Laurinaitis will appear momentarily to give him and Zack Ryder the chances they deserve against Kane and Jack Swagger, respectively. Oh yeah, and Cena promises that Johnny Ace will resign his interim GM position. Laurinaitis does make an appearance, saying that he stands by his words from last week and that he won't be intimidated by anyone. Ryder will get a match with Kane tonight, and Laurinaitis stipulates that if Cena interferes, Zack will never get a U.S. Title shot ever again. John wants Cena and Punk to compete in a tag team match right now, but against who? Perhaps Swagger and Ziggler, who come to the stage to lob some verbal threats.

Match 1 – CM Punk and John Cena vs. Dolph Ziggler and Jack Swagger

Well, this is a little better than what we get from some big pre-PPV shows, but still not super creative. All four men get in the action early on, and we head out for a word from our sponsors. Cena is isolated after the break, with Swagger and Ziggler working well as a unit. Dolph is looking more and more like a modern day Jeff Jarrett (and I mean that as a compliment) as he struts and shows off. Naturally, Cena finally makes the hot tag to Punk, who delights the fans by unloading on Ziggler. Cena gets Swagger into position for an STF on the floor. Back in the ring, Punk is prevented from dropping his big elbow by Laurinaitis hopping up on the apron. That distracts the champ enough for Ziggler to roll him up and barely get the three count by grabbing the tights. Punk is ticked off, grabbing the microphone and telling Laurinaitis that he's still going to receive a beating on Sunday. He also tries to goad the interim GM into facing him in a match tonight, and Laurinaitis says he accepts. Jerry Lawler claims that Johnny Ace hasn't competed in a match in over a decade.

The ring is set up for a new edition of Chris Jericho's Highlight Reel, though that means he'd actually have to, you know, talk. Instead, he goes and gets a t-shirt gun, teasing the crowd without actually firing any shirts. He also grabs one of the handheld cameras and pans the crowd for a while. A video package plays showing, well, highlights of Jericho's entire time in the WWE. And then he speaks! Jericho promises the end of the world as we know it on Sunday.

Time to hype up the Royal Rumble. It's a look at some of the significant numbers from the history of the actual Rumble match, which I always enjoy since it makes the event seem more like a “real” sport. Meanwhile, Foley gives Ryder (still sporting taped up ribs) a pep talk. Eve doesn't want him to face Kane, and Cena comes by to offer some help. Zack tells him not to intervene because he doesn't want to miss out on a chance to get his belt back.

Match 2 – Zack Ryder vs. Kane – Falls Count Anywhere

Unfortunately for Ryder, Kane has no qualms about targeting his already damaged midsection, both in the ring and out on the floor. A concerned Eve slowly comes over to the announce table just as we head out to commercial. The squash is still in full effect when we return. Kane batters Ryder up to the stage even as the fans try to inspire their man to rally. Zack mounts a short burst of offense that is snuffed out when Kane choke slams him through the stage. The Big Red Machine turns to menace Eve just as Cena pops out from the back. Cena and Eve watch as Ryder receives medical attention. And Kane? He's walked off through the crowd. Ryder eventually gets the full back board and stretcher treatment. As Zack is being loaded on the ambulance, Cena promises he'll “take care of it.” Eve blames Cena for the whole thing, and Josh Mathews stops by to put a microphone in his face. John smacks it away and turns menacingly toward the camera. Ooooohhh!

Match 3 – Jinder Mahal vs. Sheamus

Wade Barrett joins Michael Cole and Lawler on commentary, quickly pointing out how he put Sheamus through a table last week. He also declares himself the favorite to win the Rumble. Mahal escapes the Irish Cross but can't dodge a Brogue Kick, and that's all she wrote in this one. Sheamus wants Barrett in the ring, but Wade won't give him the As with just about everyone, Sheamus vows to be the last man standing at the end of the Rumble match.

The Miz tells Mathews that everyone who crosses him ends up irrelevant. He, too, says he will win the Rumble and go on to headline WrestleMania for the second straight year. R-Truth interrupts with some market research that has named Miz the WWE's number one jackass. Laurinaitis is upset that the two of them end up in a yelling match, and he tells the two former friends that the loser of their match tonight will enter the Rumble first on Sunday.

Somebody call someone's momma! The Funkasaurus, Brodus Clay, dances his way out to the ring. Say what you want about this gimmick, but it's certainly given us more to talk about than if Clay would have made his return as just another monster-style big man.

Match 4 – Brodus Clay vs. Heath Slater

Slater has himself a hearty laugh at Clay's entrance, but he doesn't last any longer than anyone else. Brodus wins with his finisher, now apparently dubbed the What the Funk. #badpun

Match 5 – The Miz vs. R-Truth

Truth gets extra points for his new “Little Jimmy” t-shirt, but that doesn't help him much as he's strung up on the top rope and dropped painfully out to the floor. Oops, have to get in another commercial break. Truth has rallied somewhat in the interim, and he picks up the pace with a series of forearm shots and a facebuster that make Miz scramble to kick out. Miz uses his backbreaker/neckbreaker combo to score his own near fall. A series of counters leads to a Miz DDT, but it's still not sufficient to win the match. That's bad for him, as Truth puts him away with his next move meaning Miz will be facing the longest odds possible to win the Rumble. Enjoy!

Cole and Lawler warn us about the graphic nature of the Kane-Ryder footage they are abut to show. Alas, Ryder's diagnosis is a broken back. In wrestling time, that means he may be out for several weeks.

Laurinaitis is warming up for his match when David Otunga hands him a fax. Otunga tells him he's not going to like it, and his scrunched-up face suggests that he doesn't. The full card for this Sunday's big show is run down by Cole and Lawler before we get to the nominal main event.

Main Event – CM Punk vs. John Laurinaitis

Before they start swapping holds, Laurinaitis has to share the fax with everyone. Turns out the Board of Directors is unhappy that Johnny declared his intentions to screw over Punk at the Rumble, and his position as interim GM is officially under review. He's going to get a job evaluation next week to determine whether or not he'll get a chance to continue or be terminated... and his appraisal will be performed by COO Triple H. Punk wants to knock his teeth out before Trips shows him the door, but Laurinaitis is now in the mood to apologize. He also puts Foley in the Rumble match and claims he was always going to call the Punk-Ziggler match right down the middle. Unamused, Punk says he hopes Triple H follows in Mr. McMahon's footsteps and tells Johnny he's fired. Laurinaitis says their match isn't going to happen, but he has an adequate replacement in the form of David Otunga. Johnny's henchman gets the drop on Punk, but the WWE Champion has him tapping out to the Anaconda Vice in a matter of seconds. Spurred on by the fans, Punk turns to stare down Laurinaitis. The interim GM extends his hand, but all that gets him is a GTS. It looks like Punk will end the night on a triumphant note, but that goes out the window when Ziggler drops him with a Zig Zag. The pieces are all in place for Sunday. See you in six!

Nick Tylwalk has been at this for a long time, but he's still never had a chance to enter as a surprise contestant in the Royal Rumble. Console him on Twitter, on Google+ or by email.


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