While in-ring action wasn’t the top priority for Raw this week, the number of great surprises and unexpected returns worked together to create a noteworthy show. Payback’s momentum carried over here in a good way.
Opening Segment with Alberto Del Rio: Really liked this opening segment because it worked on multiple levels. Del Rio came out and cemented his heel turn with a great promo that saw him change from tweener to full-on bad guy, and he feels much more authentic because of it. I also appreciate that he pointed out Ziggler’s controversial win with the MITB contract, and used it as a reason to turn against the fans (because, let’s be real, the WWE Universe is anything BUT fair).
Punk’s surprise appearance was also a great way to capitalize on his return. I liked the dissention with Paul Heyman (“my guys don’t fight for free”), and his challenge to Del Rio that set up a hot main event.
Punk – Heyman Backstage Segment: Punk complained about Heyman almost costing him the match at Payback, and told Paul Heyman he doesn’t want him at ringside anymore. While I’m slightly confused about Punk’s sudden change of heart after all this time (pro wrestling logic, I know), both men did a great job of selling it.
Christian def. Wade Barrett: Christian’s return was a fantastic surprise, and a great way to keep viewers after the opening segment. Important stuff CAN happen in this first hour, folks. These two put together an entertaining, albeit short, match. While I hate to see Barrett get buried – again – I’m hoping this means bigger and better things for Christian.
Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton no DQ ends in… uh… Count Out?: Brutal match. There’s been an edginess missing from No DQ (or ‘hardcore’) matches in WWE for the last few years that seems to finally be returning. You don’t need blood to make an impact.
While I disagree with the decision here of letting the referee/doctor call off the match (what’s the purpose of a NO DQ stipulation? also, Ziggler looked a LOT worse at Payback and the match continued)), it works to carry their feud ahead. Of course, Randy Orton helped Bryan up at the end of the match in a decidedly non heel-like fashion, so who knows what the creative team is planning.
Zeb Colter’s New Client: I’m glad that WWE paired Cesaro up with Coulter – because of the indignation over Colter picking a “non-American” here, it gives people even more reason to hate them both. WWE just needs to strike a better wrestler/manager balance than they did with Swagger.
Oh, and Cesaro beat William Regal, but it didn’t last long enough to even matter.
John Cena segment/Mark Henry’s “Retirement” : Cena’s promo was just more of the same – “some people don’t like me, blah blah blah, but this is for my real fans (all five of them)”
Then Mark Henry came out. Not enough can be said about the way Mark Henry sold this moment. His tears and emotion came across more genuine than any speech Cena has EVER given. The subtle mentions of him never winning the WWE championship by the announce team, and the way Henry said “you have to earn this” while holding up the title, all culminated in a fantastic, historic, Monday Night Raw moment. When Henry gave Cena the “world’s strongest slam,” nobody saw it coming. Henry is a scary man, and I am more than on board with this feud. I just hope it results in a WWE Championship reign for Henry. The man continues to do his best work at this late stage in his career.
CM Punk def. Alberto Del Rio by Count Out: Paul Heyman thanked CM Punk backstage before the match for letting him be a part of everything, and even though they’re no longer business associates, he told Punk that he loved him. Touching.
Once things got underway, Del Rio played the heel here, running around the ring while Punk chased him down. They scrapped inside and outside the ring. Fun match while it lasted. Things almost felt like a let down when Del RIo chose to leave the match… but then…
First, Ziggler attacked Del Rio at the top of the ramp, to the audience’s approval. Then Brock Lesnar made his way down to the ring to greet Punk (let me just say that I called it). Punk did a fantastic job of selling this moment. The F5 from Lesnar was an exciting moment, and a great way to end the night. Who says Pro Wrestling can’t still be surprising?
Team Rhodes Scholars def. Sheamus: Handicap match? Really? While I hate how foolish Cody Rhodes and Sandow looked in this match, I’m glad Sandow scored the pinfall here. Unfortunately, it does little to raise their stock (and Cody Rhodes especially got buried even further near the bottom of the mid-card pile).
Team Hell No backstage segment: This segment dragged. I liked that Bryan told Kane he needed to win the WWE Championship in order to reestablish himself, and the tease of a possible feud between these two was intriguing. But I’m tired of seeing these guys bicker backstage. And, Kane sounded like a complete pansy.
AJ Lee Promo/Stephanie McMahon Interrupts: AJ came out and cut a great heel promo on being the new Diva’s Champion. Her open “challenge” was answered by Stephanie McMahon, who told her to start acting like a champion. But then, the power-struggle here seemed somewhat artificial – would Stephanie actually fire one of her champions for being rebellious? – and when Kaitlyn came out, I lost all interest. The fans in attendance couldn’t even bother to react. Unfortunately for WWE, I don’t think people are actually pulling for Kaitlyn to get her revenge on AJ.
Dean Ambrose vs. Kane for the US Championship: I was okay with this return match, since their PPV battle ended in a count-out. But then The Shield interfered. As a way to lead into the Vickie Guerrero segment, I guess it was okay, but it just felt like a letdown overall.
Chris Jericho def. Heath Slater: I like to hate on 3MB quite a bit, but keep this in mind: Heath Slater got a chance to step in the ring with a legend here. Not only that, he looked…halfway decent. But the match was a throwaway, the entire segment was a blink-and-you’d-miss-it moment, so it really felt like a waste of time.
Curtis Axel vs. Sin Cara: Curtis Axel has been around like, two days, but he’s still wrestled Sin Cara a dozen times. Is this a match anybody wants to see? The Miz did a good job on commentary here, but the rest of this segment was pointless. Also, why does Curtis Axel debut a new finisher every week?
The McMahons: This Vince/Triple H feud just feels like a peeing contest between two overgrown children, and I could really care less. Plus, Stephanie McMahon seems out of place here. They’re all messing around with Vickie Guerrero – so what? This doesn’t create any real tension or drama. Instead, it just makes me feel like three adults would rather abuse their power than try to actually improve the company.WWE would be smart to rethink this storyline, or put somebody new in there (that the fans actually care about) to give it a little life.
“Vickie’s been very active” – Seriously, Michael Cole said this a few dozen times. Not only do I hate the mental image it conjures up (*shudder*), Cole should be able to come up with at least ONE synonym here. He’s a broadcast journalist.