Last night’s episode of Raw was a bit of a mixed bag by all accounts, with WWE presenting some very good contests, unfortunately a number of bizarre booking decisions were also present throughout the show.
WWE Champion John Cena Vs. Curtis Axel w/Paul Heyman
For the second time in as many weeks Curtis Axel main evented Monday Night Raw against a bona fide future Hall of Famer. However once again it was more about the other people involved than it was about Mr. Perfect’s son. The match was made at the top of the show, just after John Cena had decided he had the power to alter his WWE Championship with Ryback at Payback. The match was changed from the Ambulance Match as previously booked into a Three Stages of Hell Match, with the first fall a Lumberjack Match, the second a Tables Match and finally finishing with the Ambulance Match.
For me, this is sign of the once again chaotic nature of WWE’s recent booking strategy. We saw this late last year with the Survivor Series PPV and even around the usually long term booked Wrestlemania. This makes for an awkward product on television that is constantly changing direction. Personally, I don’t feel this rivalry warrants a Three Stages of Hell Match, especially when you look at the rivals we’ve seen do battle in this type of match before, but that’s a problem to do with WWE’s gimmick Pay per views, after a Last Man Standing match for their first contest, WWE really booked themselves into a corner on this one.
After Ryback had accepted the challenge, Paul Heyman and Curtis Axel came out to throw down the gauntlet for Cena later in the night. Of course, Cena accepted and the match was set for the Main Event. As the show continued we saw both Cena and Axel preparing for the contest backstage, talking to WWE Hall of Famers Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart respectively, in nice segments which helped build the contest well. Axel’s conversation with The Hitman was particularly interesting with Bret attempting to convince Curtis to dump Heyman as his manager, with some nods towards the matches Bret had with Axel’s Dad, Mr. Perfect.
The contest itself was an okay, if unmemorable TV contest, with Axel getting in a surprising amount of offence in against the WWE Champion, including a near fall with Perfect Plex where the crowd thought it was over. However just as Cena was getting his usual comeback in and it looked like we were heading to our finish, sirens began to blare through the Saddledome and no it wasn’t Scott Steiner, it was Ryback and his newly acquired ambulance. This lured Cena to the entrance ramp for an attack with Ryback eventually running off after pushing Cena off the stage. With Axel picking up the victory via Countout, he is now 3-0 after opting to side with Paul Heyman, however WWE is going to need to give him a Pinfall victory over a big name soon if they wish to keep any momentum with this character going forward.
It was another busy night for Paul Heyman. WWE seems to have recognised what an asset Heyman is to the company and how he can be used to get talent over with the fans, even when the talent themselves is unable to appear on the show, as was the case here. However, they are going to have to be very careful that Heyman doesn’t end up over exposed especially when the inevitable happens and all three of his clients are appearing on television at the same time. As much as we love Heyman here at Across the Pond, we don’t want Raw to turn into the Paul Heyman show.
Another star who WWE have used to help get talent over lately is Chris Jericho. Jericho’s ability to make his opponent look a million dollars has done wonders for Dolph Ziggler and Fandango recently as well as a number of other wrestlers throughout his career. In our Smackdown review, we hinted that we thought WWE might be going with a Chris Jericho Vs. Big Show match for Payback after their involvement with a steel chair on Friday Night, however that has either been dropped or was simply a way to write Show off of WWE Television for the time being as he made no appearance on Raw.
The Highlight Reel was entertaining as always, with the Calgary crowd lapping up everything Y2J had to say, joining in with catchphrase and chanting “Walrus” at Heyman. Somewhat surprisingly, Jericho would go on to challenge, Paul Heyman’s client CM Punk to a match at Payback. We haven’t seen CM Punk since the night after Wrestlemania and it was expected that Punk would be taking much longer off than a few months.
With Jericho berated Heyman that Punk was no longer the “Best in the World” after not being on Television for six weeks, and that Jericho was truly “The Best in the World at What I Do” and if Punk had a problem with this he would turn up in his hometown of Chicago for Payback. This led to Heyman crumbling and agreeing to the contest. Although we’ve seen this match before with a similar storyline based around “The Best in the World” gimmick, with the roles now being reversed and with the addition of Paul Heyman it can be believed that this new contest will bring something different to the table and definitely injects some needed star power onto the Payback card.
United States Championship Match: Dean Ambrose © Vs. Kofi Kingston
Tag Team Championship Match: The Shield © Vs. Team Hell No
Tag Team Championship Match: The Shield © Vs. Team Hell No
The disintegration of Team Hell No continued this week starting with a backstage segment where Bryan talked to himself about not being the weak link whilst Kane tried to convince him he wasn’t. This was until Bret Hart made his first appearance of the night and managed to convince Bryan that being the smaller man in the team didn’t make him the weak link. This upset Kane, with Bryan explain that Hart was The Best There Is, Best There Was and The Best the Ever Will Be and he was just Kane. It’s been really enjoyable to watch this story unfold and if done correctly could end up being a very memorable feud for WWE.
Before Hell No got there rematch for the Tag Team Titles, Kofi Kingston got his for Dean Ambrose’s United States Championship. This match was a hell of a lot better than the contest they had on Smackdown and was more up to the standards of their Extreme Rules outing. However the two still managed to bring a different kind of contest with a number of different spots, including a rather nasty looking trip from Ambrose which led to Kingston’s head hitting the steel steps. Ambrose seems to bring out the best in Kofi creatively and two clearly enjoy being in the ring together, bringing a nice intensity that is rarely seen on WWE Television. A few moves need to be worked on including Ambrose’s finish which looks difficult to get into and slightly awkward, as well as Kofi’s SOS move which I have never seen delivered in a convincing manner. It’s probably time for Kofi to drop this move from his arsenal. Ultimately Ambrose won, it being the right decision to keep the title with the Shield as they look to push further up the card in WWE.
For me the tag team contest was the best of the night. Going a solid twenty minutes, all four men proved why they deserve the accolades which have been bestowed on them in recent months. Daniel Bryan’s hot tag is probably one of the best in the business as he manages to change the pace of a match in seconds, allowing for the contest to feel fresh once again and keeping the audience glued to their television screens. It can only be hoped that Bryan’s work within the Team Hell No storyline, as well of that of partner Kane, is being recognised by those higher up in WWE and will be rewarded with stronger solo pushes once the story has been tied up.
The match finished with Bryan ignoring his partner’s argument and diving onto Reigns on the outside only to be driven into the mat, allowing Rollin’s diving knee attack to take out Kane for the pin. With both teams looking to be moving into separate stories at the next Pay-per-view, this was fantastic way to close out their long running rivalry. We here at Across The Pond Wrestling are interested to see how WWE will go with a Kane/Daniel Bryan feud and what kind of role each wrestler will play within it.
Best of the Rest
The continued absence of World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler was once again evident as Number One Contender Alberto Del Rio took on Ziggler’s “confidante” Big E Langston in a re-match from last week. The match was short and didn’t really do much for either man, apart from allow Del Rio to get his victory back as WWE continues to tread water with the Ziggler/Del Rio feud. The finish however was interesting with Langston’s manager AJ Lee removing the turnbuckle pad only for Langston to go crashing head first into the turnbuckle to the closing stages.
It will be interesting to see if WWE decides to break up this new faction so early after its formation, as it seems like it would still have some legs once Ziggler is back on Television. However, it’s clear that someone high up in WWE, is high on Big E and he has the look that Vince McMahon tends to go for, as well as being entertaining with a microphone and competent in the ring, I would suspect it’s only a matter of time before Big E breaks out on his own and possibly gets a shot at Ziggler’s championship.
Randy Orton and Sheamus teamed up once again, with Michael Cole continuing to use the hideous name “Celtic Vipers” to refer to the team. This time they squared off against Team Rhodes Scholars in a brief continuation of the bemusing “Gordian Knot” segment from Smackdown. In another case of WWE creative lacking direction, Sandow and Rhodes returning as a Tag Team every few weeks after retiring more time than Terry Funk, is wearing thin, with both men being talented it’s time to either push them as a Tag Team or allow them to continue solo paths.
The match was a strong contest as to be expected with these four competitors, however I found myself uninterested throughout as WWE has given me very little reason to care about Orton and Sheamus as a Tag Team, with both The Celtic Warrior and The Apex Predator looking stale in their face roles and needing a desperate change of scenery. With Sheamus picking up the win for his team with the Brogue Kick, the logical next step would be a feud with The Shield, and some entertaining contests with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns will hopefully reignite a bored looking Randy Orton.
WWE Active made a return this week and this time WWE actually took notice, with The Miz being chosen as Special Referee for a contest between Wade Barrett and Fandango. However, with the other options of Guest Commentator and Guest Ring Announcer it was always clear what the WWE Universe would choose. I find it insulting as a fan that WWE attempts to make itself look interactive when the options are so clearly weighted in favour of what WWE wants to go with. With The Miz costing Barrett the contest with a Skull Crushing Finale, only to attack Fandango as well after the match, and counting a goofy “pin fall” involving Summer Rae, it looks like WWE is cementing a Triple Threat contest at Payback for the title, which could be a very entertaining contest.
Elsewhere there was a number of throwaway contests that we’ve got used to since Raw went to three hours. Firstly, a six man tag team contest pitting Tons of Funk and The Great Khali, with more managers than you can shake a stick at, against 3MB. The match was quick and fun but has no real consequence on the wider picture of WWE. It’s interesting that none of the six in this match have really been involved in any feuds or storylines in well over a year. After the contest we got treated to The Great Khali singing happy birthday to his “Punjabi Princess” Natalya, whilst Khali’s singing is undeniably funny, it’s not something I’d want to see every week on Raw.
Natalya’s birthday celebrations continued as she teamed with Diva’s Champion Kaitlyn to take on the Bella Twins. The match was strong for a short diva tag team contest, with Natalya proving why she should appear on Raw more often, only to lose to an accidental Spear from Kaitlyn. Cole’s line of “So Natalya got beat in her hometown on her birthday” pretty much summed up my feeling towards this finish as WWE clearly doesn’t see in Natalya what the majority of the WWE Universe and what felt like the entire of Calgary does. And then the Bella’s started singing…
We also received a very good vignette hyping the debut of Bray Wyatt and his family including current NXT Tag Team Champions Eric Rowan and Luke Harper. It was creepy, unnerving and different from anything else on the show. It felt fresh and sent a decent amount of buzz over Twitter as people seemed genuinely excited to see this debut.
What was learnt from this week’s Raw?
1. Curtis Axel needs a Pinfall win on Raw soon to keep up any form of momentum.
2. Chris Jericho vs. CM Punk is set to be match of the night at WWE Payback.
3. WWE needs to stop pushing the App every five minutes.