This was arguably one of the strongest episodes of Raw since the show went to three hour format last July. Although it still featured the regular drag in the second hour, the majority of the show was exciting and well-paced.
Triple H vs. Curtis Axel
With a Curtis Axel vs. Triple H rematch being teased in the opening video, Stephanie McMahon made her first appearance on Raw since last July, as she came out to reveal Triple H would not be competing tonight, despite being medically cleared by doctors. With Stephanie playing a seemingly heel role, this was interesting development, as she called the crowd selfish for chanting for Triple H. Cue Vince McMahon making his Raw return, having not appeared since March, who joined Stephanie in berating the crowd. Bringing up the crowds chants of “One More Time” from Smackdown whilst Ryback power bombed Kofi Kingston through three tables. It was some nice work by both McMahons and was getting legitimate heat from the Connecticut crowd. That was until they were interrupted by The Shield.
Unfortunately, once we came back from commercial break it was explained that the McMahons left the ring without incident. It was frustrating that we were teased such an epic confrontations only for it to be removed straight away, something WWE has been doing a lot of lately. This story continued later in the show with a number of backstage segments, firstly we saw Triple H arrive and confront his wife and father in law in what was strong segment which built in a new dynamic between the McMahons showing a conflict in the family that we haven’t seen for a while. Before Triple H left in a limousine The Game told Stephanie that he would start next week’s Raw in the ring wrestling Curtis Axel. Hopefully this isn’t another teased from WWE and we get what was originally advertised this time around.
No Disqualification Match John Cena Vs. Curtis Axel w/Paul Heyman
With Paul Heyman thanking Vince for allowing Axel to have the night off, Vince revealed Axel would be in action tonight, in a rematch of last week’s main event. Vince added a No Disqualification stipulation, which for some reason scared Paul Heyman. Surely the man who pioneered ECW should not be scared of a No Disqualification stipulation, especially when it allows him to interfere in the match without fear of DQ?
The match mainly revolved around the use of a steel chair with each men spending their fair share of time with swinging around the object. Cena managed to pull of an awkward looking drop kick onto the chair, personally when Cena attempts moves like this it doesn’t add much to the match and simply throws him open to criticism about his in ring ability, he should definitely stick to what he is good at instead of going for the more high flying moves. With Cena later sent head first into the chair set up in the corner, we were treated to regular John Cena spot, with Cena looking to be counted out only to leap into the ring at the last moment. Axel even hit his Neckbreaker finisher on a Steel Chair on Cena only for him to kick out, with Cena kicking out of the Perfect Plex last Monday, is Axel going to have any finishing moves left to actually win matches with? Cena teased an Attitude Adjustment through a table on the outside, instead turning his attention to Paul Heyman, this lead to a reappearance of Ryback who sent Cena crashing through the table with a huge spine buster. With Axel getting the Countout victory and going 5-0 after joining with Paul Heyman, he’s looking good on Raw but really needs a Pinfall victory over a big name soon if he’s going to remain in a top spot on the show. The Cena-Axel contest was good for the majority, but just couldn’t compete with what had gone before.
The Shield vs. Team Hell No & Randy Orton
After The Shield had had their “Non Incidental” confrontation with The McMahons, they entered into a contest with Team Hell No and Randy Orton. This contest had to work extremely hard as it had to deal with the reaction to the disappointing ending to the opening segment. The opening was slow, with the faces dominating The Shield. The real turning point where this match turned it up a gear was a great jumping kick from Rollins whilst Kane was perched on the top rope. The Shield then worked on Kane keeping him in his corner, as we built to a hot tag. This came when Rollins and Ambrose were unable to suplex Kane and Kane reversed into a suplex of his own, get in the hot tag to Randy Orton.
Orton showed a passion and speed that hasn’t been seen from The Viper for a while, it seems he’s really getting his teeth into this rivalry with The Shield and the crowd could sense it as they were red hot for Orton as he planted a double rope hung DDT. WWE cleverly held off the hot tag to Daniel Bryan who is uber-over at the moment and you could feel the anticipation rising as The Shield turned the tide once more with Orton doing a great job selling as he reached for the tag. And once that moment came it was electric with Bryan looking every inch of the star that many knew he would become all those years ago. Bryan took out every member of the Shield, including a beautiful top rope Hurricanrana that sent Rollins crashing onto Ambrose. The finish came with a flurry of finishers from both teams, with Orton attempting an RKO on Roman Reigns who sent Orton into Bryan leading to Ambrose to hit his Headlock Driver for the victory. It was fantastic opening contest to Raw, and WWE continues to put on some great longer contests with the pacing being spot on once more.
Daniel Bryan Vs. Ryback
One fantastic contest wasn’t enough for Daniel Bryan. As after a backstage argument with Kane and Randy Orton, Bryan announced he would have another match tonight to prove once and for all that he is not the weak link of the team. Later in the show, Bryan bumped into the Number One Contender for the WWE Championship Ryback. With Ryback awkwardly spouting dialogue like he was reading the phone book and Bryan trying his hardest to keep the segment alive with a nice speech about how size doesn’t matter, Ryback Versus Daniel Bryan was set up for later in the evening.
With Bryan leading Ryback to one of the best match of his career and a classic David and Goliath story running throughout this match as well as an air of unpredictability as with both men getting pushes as of late, it was difficult to pick a winner. This really could have been a Pay-Per-View contest, given a little more build up. Daniel Bryan’s selling throughout kept Ryback looking strong, whilst the fight and determination of Bryan gave the crowd something to get behind. It’s been a long time since the entire WWE Universe has had someone to get behind like this and in what feels like a truly transitional time for WWE will it be long before we have a new face of WWE in Daniel Bryan? The ending although a little disappointing, allowed both men to stay strong heading into the Payback event, with Ryback power bombing Bryan through a table for the Disqualification ending. With Ryback setting up another table on the outside, John Cena stormed down the ramp to make the save, starring off with Ryback. The ending opened up the question as to why Cena wasn’t around to save Kofi Kingston on Smackdown. It seems odd for him to make the save for some competitors and not others, just because Cena rarely appears on Friday nights.
Chris Jericho and Paul Heyman Contract Signing
This was a strange segment with Jerry Lawler introducing each representative to ring. Earlier in the evening, it had been teased that CM Punk might have been there to sign the contract. However anyone on Twitter could see the Punk was nowhere near Connecticut. It seems strange that WWE would continue to tease various appearances only to let down the fans, surely any extra viewers gained by the tease wouldn’t stick around after the disappointment. WWE needs to look for more long term plans, rather than the quick fix ratings jump.
I wouldn’t say I am a massive fan of the contract signing segment. As Heyman pointed out, it could easily be done in the back and we don’t really need to see this at all. It’s used when WWE is struggling for ideas and trying to fill time, and although Heyman and Jericho are doing a fantastic job trying to get this rivalry going, it’s difficult to do without Punk being present. Although, the reaction Punk gets in Chicago at Payback might register on the Richter scale.
In terms of content, this segment was similar to what we received last week with The Highlight Reel. With each party laying out their claim to being the “Best in the World” We also saw Jericho apparently seem to back out of the contest being in Chicago, by naming an number of other places were the match could take place. This seemed a strange thing for Jericho to do as he supposed to be playing the face here, he even teased the match could take place on Raw, another case of WWE teasing it’s live crowd, who seem frustrated with this segment.
The end was also strange with Jericho eventually shoving the contract Paul Heyman’s trousers. Jericho seemingly bullying Heyman to stand up and un button his jacket didn’t quite work for me as it was uncomfortable moment and I found it hard to get behind Jericho who basically played a school bully. Yes, Heyman at times can be cowardly but this moment was over played by the usually spot on Y2J and it left the whole segment feeling flat. The sooner CM Punk is back to give this feud somewhere to go the better.
Best of the Rest
Elsewhere, we also saw the supposed rubber match between Alberto Del Rio and Big E Langston. Both men have two victories over the other in the past two weeks as WWE awaits the return of World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler. Although it is obvious WWE is treading water with this rivalry, the contests between Del Rio and Langston have been entertaining and well worked. Langston is beginning to look incredibly competent in the ring and has been helped a lot by this series with ring general Del Rio. With Langston looking strong by spending a large amount of time in the Cross Arm breaker and a number of tremendous shows of strength, it was the crafty Del Rio who managed to get a nice roll up victory. Surprisingly there was little outside interference from Ricardo Rodrigues or AJ Lee which gave this contest some nice finality.
Despite Del Rio being extremely competent in the ring, his character is floundering as of late, struggling to find the right ground after the feud with Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter. The crowd has little reason to get behind Del Rio, with Ricardo being the most over member of the duo, bringing the crowd into the match on numerous occasion. The ending though clever also suited a more heel Del Rio, with a crafty victory that he didn’t exactly deserve. It will be interesting to see how the dynamic of Dolph Ziggler and Del Rio fits once the World Champion returns to action.
The Intercontinental Championship picture continued to unravel with Fandango facing the Great Khali, in what was an awful in ring contest. Khali really adds little to the WWE product and this contest brought down the entire feel of the show. With Fandango getting little from running away from the Punjabi Playboy, The Miz appeared to be about to send Fandango back into the ring, only for Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett to turn up and hit Miz with a Bullhammer Elbow on the entrance ramp, leading to a contest between the two.
We’ve seen Miz and Barrett face off on a number of occasion, but there was little reason for this match which made it difficult to get into. The fact that we’d already seen Barrett hit his finishing move made it a little less believable, and diminished what before has looked a fairly devastating move. Barrett and The Miz went through the motions for two minutes, before Fandango returned to dance at the entrance ramp with Summer Rae, distracting Barrett and allowing Miz to lock in a Figure Four Leg Lock for the win. To be fair to The Miz, it is clear he has worked hard on the Figure Four Leg Lock and has a number of interesting ways to get into the hold. With both Miz and Fandango holding wins over the Intercontinental Champion, surely a Triple Threat match will be booked for Payback?
On the back of the awful segments on Smackdown featuring Damien Sandow and Sheamus, there was a match between Sheamus and Cody Rhodes. It seems like Cody Rhodes’ main event push may never come, with him mainly being used as a “Jobber for the Stars” and this contest was no different. The match was solid television contest, with a nice section based around the ring post the highlight of the contest. It was shame that Sheamus was given such a decisive victory, hitting the Brogue Kick after White Noise, as Cody really deserves better than his current position. After the match, Sheamus confronted Sandow and punched him in the face, Sheamus is another face who seems to be going round bullying heels at the moment, with certain elements of WWE logic no quite fitting together.
The Usos finally got a victory on Raw as they brought a contest seen numerous times on other WWE programming to Monday’s Nights with a win over The Prime Time Players. With both teams working hard to build the chemistry over these matches over the last year, it’s finally payed off with a fantastic tag team battle, with both teams proving why they deserve to have the spotlight shone on them more often. The Usos picked up the victory with an exciting end sequence finished off with the Superfly Splash on Darren Young. I’m not a massive fan of The Usos new face paint, but if it’s what needs to be done for them to be featured more often on Raw, it’s fine by me. A rivalry with The Shield is sure to follow if The Usos continue this upward trend, in what could be, if built properly a classic tag team battle.
There was also a six diva tag team match, pitting The Bella Twins and AJ Lee against The Funkadactyls and Diva’s Champion Kaitlyn. Although this match wasn’t awful and at times showed some signs of good ring work from all six competitors, WWE needs to work hard on the characterisation of its Diva’s division as there really isn’t that much difference between the majority of the current divas roster, with some Diva’s looking interchangeable which will never help get the crowd involved in their matches. As TNA has proved it’s capable to get the crowd into women’s matches on the scale, if the competitors are given strong characters, storylines and enough time to get these over with the audience. The ending came when AJ Lee refused to tag into the match and Kaitlyn speared Brie Bella for the victory. If WWE gives the AJ and Kaitlyn storyline a little more time to breath, it could build into an interesting PPV contest.
There was also another vignette for the debut of The Wyatt Family, which was another creepy change of pace for the product. It was also teased that there may be some new members joining The Family, two other member seen without showing their faces and an appearance from released Diva Audrey Marie. The Wyatt Family certainly are reminiscent of CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society, hopefully they receive better booking once they arrive on the scene.
What have we learn't from this weeks episode of Raw?
1. WWE needs to build for Payback quickly, with just one Raw left before the show we only have two matches set.
2. Daniel Bryan is the true best in the world at the moment.
3. WWE needs to stop pushing it's App every five minutes (and this will remain as Number Three for every Raw until it stops)
Announced for Wednesday's WWE Main Event:
Sheamus Vs. Antonio Cesaro
Announced for Friday's WWE Smackdown:
Chris Jericho Vs. Curtis Axel w/ Paul Heyman
Miz TV: With Team Hell No & Randy Orton
Teased for Next Monday's Raw:
Triple H Vs. Curtis Axel