The Road to WrestleMania

John Cena will have a "hardcore" referee when he defends the WWE Championship against Edge on a special Thursday Night RAW next week.

On RAW, Mr. McMahon ordered a mixed tag-team match pitting John Cena & Maria against Edge & Lita. On the line was the right to pick the special guest referee in the WWE Championship Match scheduled for the next edition of RAW. The Champ came out strong, but Edge forced a tag from Cena to Maria. Immediately afterward, he connected with an Impaler DDT that sent Cena sprawling to the outside. With Cena momentarily out of commission, the former Women's Champion had her way with Maria — choking her out while Edge mocked the torment. But Lita got a little too cocky, attempting and missing her version of Edge's signature spear. By that time, Cena had recovered and came to Maria's rescue. Lita tried to stop the momentum with a Litacanrana, but she inadvertently connected on her partner by accident.

In the chaos that followed, Edge mistakenly returned the favor by missing his intended target for a spear and instead driving Lita into the canvas. Seeing what had transpired, an opportunistic Maria pounced on a dazed Lita and picked up the three-count. Edge and Lita were shocked, while Cena looked ready to lay a second kiss on Maria after she grabbed The Champ a big RAW victory with a crucial stipulation attached. Cena wasted little time, naming none other than Hardcore Legend Mick Foley the special referee for a special Thursday Night RAW WWE Championship Match next week.

Meanwhile, the Road to WrestleMania officially began on RAW. In the first match of Round 1, the Big Red Monster battled "The Masterpiece." After some early power offense by Kane, the key to the match became Chris Masters' Master Lock finisher. On Masters' first two attempts to lock in the submission hold, Kane escaped before Masters could lock his fingers together. On the third attempt, it looked like Kane had the answer again, dropping down and slipping out of Masters grasp. But Masters seized the opportunity, dropping down on top of Kane's shoulders and pinning him to the mat. With the leverage of a handful of ropes, Masters picked up a shocking three-count to advance.

In the semifinals, it'll be Masters against Rob Van Dam, who bested Carlito in another first-round match. RVD finally got his chance at revenge against the man who aggravated his knee injury back in June. And despite the lengthy layoff, RVD went immediately back to his risk-taking, high-flying ways. "The Whole Dam Show" started things off with a corkscrew leg drop off the ring apron to Carlito on the outside. Later, RVD hit consecutive rolling thunders, but his split-legged moonsault attempt went straight into Carlito's elevated knees. Carlito then busted out some aerial moves of his own, hitting a summersault senton off the ropes. He followed that with a backcracker and seemed to be in solid control. But Carlito got too brash in grabbing a steel chair from the outside, which the referee attempted to pull from his grasp. It was just the opening RVD was looking for, and he immediately connected with a Van Daminator. That led to a Five-Star Frog Splash and the win, as RVD took a big step toward his first world championship.

On the other side of the brackets, Triple H battled longtime friend and rival Ric Flair. It seemed that "The Nature Boy" might pull out a huge victory when he successfully cinched in the figure-four leg lock, but a pained Triple H barely made it to the ropes to force a break. Later, "The Dirtiest Player in the Game" managed an undetected low blow, but when he went for a back body drop, the Cerebral Assassin quickly reversed into a Pedigree. Just like that, Triple H ended the match and the "King of Kings" marched closer to returning to his throne.

In the semifinals, he'll face Big Show, who had a surprise Tournament opponent on RAW. When Shawn Michaels took to the ring for his scheduled match against Big Show, Mr. McMahon instead put a halt to things. McMahon declared that HBK was being replaced because he's being forced into retirement. According to Mr. McMahon, Thursday Night RAW will featured the mandatory "Shawn Michaels Retirement Party."

In the substitute match that followed, Shelton Benjamin suffered two crushing blows. He lost to Big Show via a chokeslam, and his momma left the arena on a stretcher attended to by physicians after collapsing. The episode seemed to occur after Big Show yelled at Shelton's momma for involving herself in the match, and as momma received medical attention, Big Show looked on concerned at the role he may have inadvertently played in her failing health.

In addition, Mickie James looked furious after her loss to Ashley on RAW. But she wasn't upset because of the in-ring result; she couldn't believe that special ref Trish left the arena with a dinner date named Jack.

Also, the Candice commercial that ABC refused to air during the Super Bowl was shown as a part of the RAW broadcast.

Remember, next week's RAW will air a week from Thursday at 9/8 CT on the USA Network.

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