There were a number of things that could have gone wrong for the WWE on Monday during Raw. WWE was in Chicago, the home town of CM Punk. People were taking to the Internet to lobby for a way to hijack the show with “CM Punk” chants. Then there were reports that Punk would return to Raw in his hometown.

Regardless, the WWE knew it had to prepare itself for Monday. Punk walked out on the WWE the night after the Royal Rumble for personal reasons that are rumored to have to do with his involvement in Wrestlemania. And whether Punk returned or not, the WWE needed a way to counter how the crowd was going to behave.

After Monday’s show, the WWE couldn’t have handled it any better. Static followed by Living Color’s “Cult of Personality,” the entrance theme of Punk, hit the sound system. The crowd erupted, waiting for their hometown hero to make his way to the ring. Anticipation turned to disappointment as it wasn’t Punk who walked out to the ramp; it was Paul Heyman.

Heyman walked down to the ring, microphone in hand. While the crowd chanted for Punk, Heyman held the microphone out to the crowd, begging them to chant louder. Heyman then firmly planted himself, cross-legged, in the middle of the ring much like Punk did on June 27, 2011 during his infamous “Pipe Bomb.”

Heyman delivered a pipe bomb of his own. He talked about how the WWE has never wanted Punk, and right now they still don’t. The crowd ate it up, thinking that Punk was going to come out. Instead, Heyman broke the bad news that Punk was not there - Punk never showed up - and that the reason he was no longer in the WWE was the fault of each and every person in attendance.

Brilliant. Paul Heyman is one of the greatest managers in the history of the WWE. He knows how to take something so personal and so real and use it as his ammunition in his promos. A year ago, Heyman dressed up like the late Paul Bearer in Punk’s feud with Undertaker, striking a nerve with the WWE Universe.

And speaking of Undertaker, Heyman segued right into the feud between Undertaker and his client, Brock Lesnar. Heyman put blame on Taker for beating Punk, which resulted in the falling out between Punk and Heyman. He then vowed that Lesnar will beat the streak at Wrestlemania, ruining Undertaker’s perfect record of 21-0.

Heyman’s ability to segue not only quenched the thirst of the fans but it shifted focus back onto the show and how the current stories are shaping up for Mania. But Heyman wasn’t the only one referencing CM Punk during Raw. During their respective promos, Daniel Bryan and John Cena made references to Punk to help promote their agendas and acknowledge to the crowd that they are aware of what they want and what’s going on.

Unfortunately, the crowd never actually got what they wanted. Punk never showed, and all throughout Raw they chanted his name, hijacking some fantastic matches in the process. The Shield and the Wyatts battled in a supreme match filled with Punk chants. Christian and Sheamus also had a great battle that got the “boring” treatment from the partial crowd. By the third hour it got extremely stale, and many viewers on Twitter were frustrated with the crowd’s lack of respect for the performers in the ring.

With Punk not returning on Monday, it looks like his sabbatical will continue past Wrestlemania. With Monday’s major speed bump surpassed by the WWE, they can get back to focusing on what really is important: Wrestlemania XXX.

Usos Win Tag Titles

WWE was trying desperately all night to get the crowd’s minds off CM Punk. What better way to do that then to kick off action with a Tag Team Championship match between the Usos and the New Age Outlaws.

The Usos wound up winning the match in exciting fashion. They were bound to be the next tag champions in the WWE, and deservedly so. Between the high flying, the “Us-Oh” call with the crowd and the family history, the colorful tag team is the future of the tag division for the WWE.

The sons of former wrestler Rikishi were quick to show gratitude to their fine heritage, which includes Rikishi as well as the late Yokozuna (grandfather) and Umaga (uncle), on Raw’s Backstage Pass following the show. They have a rematch with the Outlaws on Main Event, which airs on Wednesdays.

Cracks In the Shield

The Shield may very well be done... finally! Don’t get me wrong, I love the Shield and all three members, but it’s time for all three to have incredibly successful solo careers. Seth Rollins, who played peace keeper during the early parts of the split, finally had enough. In the Shield’s rematch with the Wyatt Family, Rollins walked out on Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose, watching them being dismantled from the top of the ramp. Ultimately, Bray Wyatt pinned Ambrose, and WWE Creative finally crossed the point of no return in its plans to break up the Shield.

It’s going to be a great thing for all three members. Dating back to Survivor Series, Reigns has been put on display. Many say 2014 is going to be the year of Reigns. With him broken away from the other two, he can pursue his first singles title, which will likely be either the Intercontinental belt (Big E), the United States title (Ambrose, which would be fitting) or even the World Heavyweight Championship (Randy Orton) if they ever decide to split the titles.

Rollins has been under the spotlight the past month. He was impressive in both Shield matches, but he hasn’t gotten any singles action in ages. He has put on great matches in the past, especially one with Daniel Bryan in 2013. He is the architect of the Shield. He’s a high flyer, a submission specialist, and has a handful of devastating signature moves that excite the crowd.

Ambrose is the current United States champion, but that is a forgotten fact about him because he has only defended the title once since Oct. 28. With the Shield’s split not being the focus anymore, Ambrose will be able to defend the title and act like a champion again. He’s held the title since May 18, 2013, and Reigns could be the next person eyeing his title. Either way, people will remember he’s the champion and it will bring legitimacy back to that title.

NXT Arrival

As I said in my blog post a couple weeks ago, probably the biggest winner in the new WWE Network, which by the way is now available on Apple TV, was going to be performers on WWE’s developmental show, NXT. A two-hour show this past Thursday on NXT titled Arrival became the first live show to air on the network.

The show kicked off with WWE’s Cesaro renewing a feud he had on NXT with Sami Zayn. The match went nearly 30 minutes, and was a spectacular battle for both performers. Zayn got the biggest push in it despite losing, and he is close to breaking through to WWE.

Four other performers really stood out on the show. In a Diva’s match, Paige successfully defended her title against Emma, who broke through to the WWE. Both Divas looked phenomenal in the ring, putting on a classic Divas match that encourages the future of the Divas division.

For the superstars, Bo Dallas lost his NXT Championship to Adrian Neville, an incredible acrobatic high flyer that resembles Justin Gabriel and Kofi Kingston. With Dallas dropping the belt, he could potentially see a second chance jump to the WWE after a very short unsuccessful trip a year ago. Neville still has some fine tuning, but the excitement he brings to the ring could mean the WWE isn’t that far off from bringing him to its shows.

WWE Hall of Fame

The WWE announced its fourth member to be a part of the 2014 class inducted into the Hall of Fame. The Ultimate Warrior, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and Lita have already been announced. Joining them will be the late William Moody, or as everyone knows him, Paul Bearer. Bearer died in January 2013 before Wrestlemania 29.

Bearer is considered one of the greatest managers in WWE history, famously escorting the Undertaker, his son Kane, and at times, Mankind to the ring. Bearer is also certainly the most unique. Without Bearer’s spooky pale appearance, high pitched voice, and obsession with death, the Undertaker’s character probably never would have taken off the way that it has. Congratulations, Paul. May you rest... in... peace.

Three Questions for Next Week

-Will Triple H accept a match against Daniel Bryan?

-Is the Shield done?

-Will the Undertaker respond to Heyman and Lesnar?

Power Rankings - The best performers of the past week - March 3

1 Randy Orton (1) - Cost Batista a victory at the end of Raw.

2 Batista (2) - The Universe booing him doesn’t phase him.

3 Bray Wyatt (5) - Imploded the Shield and has the upper hand on John Cena.

4 Big E (7) - Earned a pair of DQ wins over the Real Americans.

5 The Usos (UR) - Won their first tag title by defeating the Outlaws.

6 Cesaro (3) - His NXT match on Thursday with Sami Zayn was spectacular.

7 Daniel Bryan (9) - Finally got under Triple H’s skin, which he wanted.

8 Seth Rollins (10) - He is sick of the Shield.

9 Brock Lesnar (UR) - He put Mark Henry through a table to kick off Raw.

10 John Cena (4) - He’s beaten up, but has his sights on the Wyatts.

Started at The Press in 1993 as an Ocean County reporter. Moved to the copy desk in 1994 until taking over as editor of At The Shore in 1995. Became deputy sports editor in 2004 and was promoted to sports editor in 2007.