A new era began on tonight's Raw.
With Team John Lauriniatis' victory at WrestleMania, Laurinaitis officially launched his reign of control in WWE.
His first orders of business? Rewarding the men who helped land him his position of power. Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler were granted shots at Santino Marella's United States Championship; Mark Henry was awarded a chance to dethrone CM Punk as WWE Champion; and The Miz was placed in the main event against Zack Ryder.
The members of Team Johnny found a mixed degree of success.
Swagger, Ziggler and Marella worked a decent triple threat match that teased tension between Vickie Guerrero's clients. A split between Ziggler and Swagger has been teased and not followed through in the past, but it does seem the time has come.
Ziggler is poised to move up the card on a permanent basis this year, and to do so, he needs to become his own man. He showed signs of wanting to do so during this contest, and the progression of the issues between he and Swagger will likely continue to elevate in the coming weeks.
Henry actually defeated Punk, albeit via countout. The two worked a really good match and Henry especially was in top form. Given the ending of the match, the big man has a rightful claim to a rematch, but it seems as if Punk may have someone else continuing to keep him busy for a while.
As for The Miz, he found himself back on the right path, picking up a clean victory over Ryder. Granted, a win over "Long Island Iced Z" isn't necessarily a valuable commodity, but a win is a win and hopefully this will propel Miz back toward the upper midcard or main event.
I personally had hoped Team Laurinaitis would win, so I'm pleased with the result, and I like the direction the story is headed. Laurinaitis needs to continue rewarding his team, while punishing those who helped his opponent Teddy Long.
That alone could result in a few midcard feuds through at least Extreme Rules, if not longer.
There's potential in this new Laurinaitis-run WWE, and I, for one, am looking forward to seeing where it goes.
WrestleMania seemed to be a turning point and the foundation of many new stories to be told in 2012, and Raw built a sense of momentum and positive vibes. Hopefully WWE can keep the train rolling.
John Cena's show-closing promo was good but nothing too special. He did a great job playing off the crowd, but it didn't matter what he said because as soon as Brock Lesnar's music hit, the crowd went nuts, as their pleas of "We want Lesnar" had been answered. Lesnar didn't say a word, just grabbing Cena and hitting his signature F5. Lesnar's tenure was during my off-period from wrestling, so I honestly don't know much about what can accomplish in the ring, but he's a fresh face, and I hope he can bring out the best in Cena. I'm looking forward to seeing where things go from here.
After losing to Henry, Punk was attacked by Chris Jericho, who poured "alcohol" all over him, forcing the WWE Champion to break his straight-edge vows. Yet another chapter of Punk's career is being rehashed from Ring of Honor. That's not a bad thing at all, but it's surprising to see WWE adapting so much from that company. The segment did have an unintentionally funny spot, as Jericho slipped on the wet mat while attempting to kick Punk. Laurinaitis promised Punk would be defending his championship more often, and it now seems he might have to deal with Henry and Jericho simultaneously.
Lord Tensai, whose debut has been teased in recent weeks, made his debut on Raw, making quick work of Alex Riley, who was given a complete jobber entrance. For those who don't know, Tensai formerly competed in WWE as Prince Albert and A-Train in the late 90s and early 2000s. He's spent time in Japan, where he became one of the most over superstars in Pro Wrestling NOAH. He looked good in this squash match, which he won by referee stoppage. After the match, he continued to assault Riley. It was a strong debut, but hopefully he moves to something meaningful rather than an extended series of squashes. As for Riley, his fate is unfortunate, as he had potential and was getting over with the crowd. Hopefully if he sticks with the company for a few more years, he'll get another, more serious opportunity.
After successfully retaining the United States Championship, Marella was joined by Brodus Clay at the top of the ramp. Marella, hiding behind Clay, taunted Swagger and Ziggler, who had chased him up the entryway. Ziggler charged Clay but got bumped for his troubles, which led to Marella and Clay dancing together in a pretty funny segment. A Clay vs. Ziggler match would be interesting, as it would certainly be Clay's biggest challenge to date and his first real test at doing more than a squash match. At least I hope it would be more than a squash match.