In my opinion, this week's Raw was one of the best episodes, not only since the show went to three hours, but quite possibly of all time. WWE’s booking was extremely competent throughout the show and with a number of good segments thrown in, it made for some entertaining television.
CM Punk vs. World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio with Ricardo Rodrigues
We kicked off the show with New World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio with his personal ring announcer Ricardo Rodriguez, continuing Del Rio’s good work at Payback with a very strong promo which cemented his heel turn well, as well as feeling like a natural progression for the character. Del Rio plays the heel role much better than he handled his face run, but that’s mainly due to the character being easier to hate than it is to love. Del Rio was interrupted by a newly face CM Punk, who had another good promo in response to Del Rio, claiming Del Rio might be World Heavyweight Champion but Punk is still best in the world. A split between Heyman and Punk was teased with Punk cutting off Heyman, to challenge Del Rio to a match on Raw. The match was eventually made by Vickie Guerrero, in start of an angle with Vickie trying to impress the McMahon’s (more on that later)
In the build up to the match, there were a number of backstage segments involving CM Punk and Paul Heyman. The first saw Punk tell Heyman he didn’t want him to be at ringside in his match against Del Rio or any matches going forward. Although, the Punk-Heyman partnership has been entertaining throughout it’s tenure in WWE, it felt like a good time to split these two up, especially with Punk now working as a face. Matt Striker also attempted to get an interview with Heyman, with Heyman saying he was still “the Best friend of the Best in the World”. Finally, as Punk was preparing to walk out for his match, Heyman turned up to wish him look, revealing he loved him and then there was an awkward hug between the two. You could feel that something was building between the two and the payoff of these segments would occur later on.
The match between the two was a very good television main event bout, with the both Punk and Del Rio working hard throughout the match to create an enjoyable contest. A number of times Del Rio went to the outside for a breather, usually to be answered by a flying CM Punk. Del Rio and at the same time the World Heavyweight Championship, were certainly elevated from this match and the story with Punk throughout this show, as Del Rio matched Punk for most of the contest and a near fall after a Superkick looked like it might have given Del Rio the upset win. However, after a GTS from Punk, Del Rio escaped the ring and decided to give up on the match heading to the back with Rodriguez and the World Heavyweight Championship. It was a good ending for these two as it played up The Mexican Aristocrats turn and allowed Punk to look strong on his television return match.
The match might have been good but the aftermath was insane. As Del Rio was heading out of the arena, Dolph Ziggler leapt of the entrance stage and went on to beat down Del Rio as Rodriguez and some officials tried to pull The Show Off away. It was another great Raw moment, with everyone thinking Ziggler wouldn’t be there that evening, so it stirred genuine emotion from the live crowd and myself to see Ziggler get one back for the night before. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, with CM Punk standing in the ring confused, the recognisable sting of Brock Lesnar’s theme music hit. Lesnar stalked Punk, before the two had a stare down, before Lesnar asked for a microphone. With Lesnar about to talk, he changed his mind and hit Punk with an impressive F5. It will be interesting to see how Paul Heyman is involved in this feud over the coming weeks, I see him playing up that he is still Punk’s friend whilst actually plotting his revenge for the break up, either way I’m sure it will make superb television over the summer.
Mark Henry Retires?
Before Mark Henry came out to make what was expected to be his retirement speech, John Cena came out to the ring to talk about his victory of Ryback at Payback. The promo that Cena cut was your generic John Cena promo, with Cena talking about how different areas of the “WWE Universe” had different feeling about him and how he will do everything for his fans. He also talked about the Money in the Bank pay-per-view, explaining that it would be impossible to cash the briefcase in on him, seemingly forgetting when both Edge and Rob Van Dam did exactly that! It wasn’t a bad promo by any means, it just seemed a little out of place and for a while I wondered what exactly the point of it all was.
The point of it, it would seem was to have Cena in the right place at the right time, with Mark Henry interrupting Cena to begin his retirement speech. He put over Cena as the Greatest WWE Champion of all time, which didn’t go over well with the live crowd! What did go over well with the crowd was Henry’s retirement speech as the World’s Strongest Man talked about his career and thanked a number of people, including his family, whilst the crowd chanting things like “Thank You Henry”, “Sexual Chocolate” and “One More Match”. When Cena handed Mark the WWE Title it seemed like Henry was about to turn on The Champ, however that was not to be the case with The Silverback simply handing the title back to The Face of the WWE, and this moment really helped to make it seem like Henry might be retiring for real.
With Cena entering the ring to shake Henry’s hand however, it was finally revealed to be a ruse by Henry as he delivered a World’s Strongest Slam. It was a really well played moment by Henry, with the length of retirement speech and numerous opportunities to take down Cena really helping to sell the idea that this was the last time we’d see him in a WWE ring. I know a lot of Twitter believed it was the end of the line for Henry, and the fact that the segment got even the smartest of wrestling fans should be applauded as it’s not easy to get these hardy wrestling fans.
Later on in the show Henry was interviewed by Renee Young as he was attempting to leave the arena, with Henry putting over his hatred for Cena, as well as the audience and making some bizarre reference to shoving a boot up The Champ’s backside. Later on in the show Vickie Guerrero, under orders from Vince McMahon, made Cena vs. Henry for the WWE Title for the Money in the Bank Pay-Per-View. Already this rivalry feels like it has more behind it in one week than John Cena vs. Ryback had in over two months, hopefully the strong build continues in the PPV and we get an entertaining story-based match between these two.
The Power Struggle Continues
Firstly, apologies for the title of this segment but with WWE given me nothing, it really does describe what is going on with Vince McMahon, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon with Vickie Guerrero and Brad Maddox caught in the middle. It’s a good job Booker T isn’t on television at the moment as things would’ve got very confusing at this point. The story is currently focusing on Vickie trying to impress the McMahon’s who are each after different things. Firstly we had Vickie’s big surprise (more on that later!) and then Triple H went to visit Guerrero in her office. Triple H basically made Vickie look like a fool, as Vickie and Brad tried to claim they came up with number of ideas, like the return of Rob Van Dam, before Triple H told them he’d set up Van Dam’s return. It’s a nice piece of development for Vickie and she plays the role well, although I do miss the power hungry and manipulative Vickie Guerrero seen during her time with Edge.
One thing Triple H told Vickie she had to do was make an example of The Shield, so when The Shield interrupted another United States Championship Match between Dean Ambrose and Kane, it would seem like Vickie would be forced to act. The match itself once again never got going in terms of a contest with Kane hitting a number of signature moves before building for the chokeslam before Rollins and Reigns interrupted, leading to a Triple Powerbomb on the Big Red Monster. It’s a shame really as I think Kane and Ambrose could have a great match, but there three contests over the last two weeks have had disappointing and frustrating endings. With The Shield winding up Vickie after the match, it seemed like Vickie might act until Vince McMahon appeared to congratulate The Shield on their recent string of matches. It was nice to see The Shield interacting as regular people and felt very fresh for the three, even the silent Roman Reigns.
The payoff for the story, at least for this episode of Raw, saw Vince telling Vickie she was doing a good job of running the show, before Stephanie turned up to reprimand Guerrero for the show being out of control. It was pacey segment as Triple H turned up to ask Vickie why she didn’t do anything about The Shield, leading to a nice moment with Vince acting like he wasn’t aware of The Game’s order. With each member of the McMahon-Helmsley group telling Vickie to listen to them before leaving, and a hilarious looking hug from Stephanie, I actually began to feel sorry for the Vickie character for the first time, as surely no one deserve to get caught in the middle with the McMahon’s even the heat magnet that is Vickie Guerrero.
Where is this storyline going? I honestly don’t quite know, hopefully there’s some kind of match based pay off, not that I want to see Triple H vs. Vince McMahon again, as without out a match it would feel a little pointless to have the three battling for power. This is may be an entertainment product, but it’s still a wrestling product as well, and any storylines should influence the wrestling we see in the ring. I might not know where it’s going but for the time being I’m happy to go along with The McMahons on this ride.
Daniel Bryan vs. United States Champion Dean Ambrose
WWE Championship Match: John Cena (c) vs. Mark Henry
Best of the Rest
Team Hell No appears to be over, with Daniel Bryan and Kane both agreeing they wanted to go after the WWE Championship in a backstage segment. It was another fascinating conversation between the two that started with Kane attempting to get Bryan to re-join Hell No and once again go after the Tag Team Championships. Bryan refused saying he was going to be all about himself from now on, and there was lovely moment with both men saying they didn’t know if they would ever team again, it felt like a high school couple breaking up! Will we see anymore of Team Hell No? Hell yes, we will!
Bryan was in action against another former partner Randy Orton, as the “WWE Universe” got to vote on the match type, which was slightly more interesting than usual with the options being No Disqualification, No Countout or Two out of Three Falls. Whilst I was hoping for Two out of Three Falls, it was No Disqualification that the majority of the fans at home wanted and that was the match we got. It was a good contest between the two, with some nice classic wrestling and an interesting face versus face dynamic. The match was unfortunately cut short with when Bryan took his usual dive to the outside, but didn’t connect fully with Orton and ended up smashing his head hard of the floor. For the rest of the match, it was clear Bryan wasn’t quite all together, as he was a lot slowly than we have come to expect. It’s commendable that Bryan went as long as he did, with what is apparently a legitimate injury or “stinger” with WWE sending a Doctor down to the ring who eventually had the contest called off. Although a frustrating ending, I’d much rather see Bryan protected by WWE ahead of his major push, than see Bryan continue and get a further injury.
I mentioned Vickie Guerrero’s big surprise earlier and it came when Wade Barrett was expecting to get a rematch for the Intercontinental Championship. However, Vickie came out to announce Barrett’s opponent had changed and was her big surprise. The surprise? A returning Christian who hadn’t been seen in about a year. It was great way to build on the success of the opening Del Rio/Punk segment and kept Raw’s momentum rolling along well. It was great to see Christian back on WWE TV, as his performances since his WWE Return in 2009, have included some of the best matches in WWE over that period and he is a consistently good in ring performer. Although, it would be great to see Christian in a high spot on the card, I imagine he will be used similarly to Chris Jericho in an attempt to help younger members of the roster get over with the crowd.
The match between Barrett and Christian was good but short. Christian has been around WWE long enough to know how to put together a good match with only four minutes of TV time and it showed here with Barrett. The two seemed to have genuine chemistry as they put on a hard hitting battle with Christian reminding us of what we’d missed over the last year with an impressive dive of the top rope to the outside. Captain Charisma wound up getting the victory when Barrett headed shoulder first into the ring post and Christian hit a Killswitch for the win. Hopefully WWE has something for Barrett as it would be a shame to see him slip back down the card when he should be moving upwards, a feud with Christian would certainly go some way to doing that.
The New Diva’s Champion AJ Lee also made an appearance with heavy Big E Langston to gloat about her victory the night before. AJ continues to cut impressive promos, and when she offered up an open challenge and it was answered by Stephanie McMahon, we got some great television. Seeing these two confident women go face to face was certainly refreshing for the Diva’s division, with AJ being helped by holding her own against Stephanie. Once Kaitlyn and a host of face Diva’s interrupted Stephanie and AJ, they got a bit of a reprimand from McMahon, who seems to be getting further involved with the Diva’s division on television at the moment. A brawl ensued between Kaitlyn and AJ with Big E having to remove AJ and take her backstage. It was a nice segment and built the hatred between the two further, it’s great to be able to discuss and actual storyline in the Diva’s division after it was stagnant for so long. All WWE needs to do now, is build up a few more of the Diva’s and we’ve got a competitive looking division that’s worth keeping an eye on.
The previously teased partnership between Zeb Colter and Antonio Cesaro finally came to fruition, with Colter announcing Cesaro as his newest convert in a nice introduction. Cesaro saying “We the People” certainly topped of the speech. The hypocritical nature of the pairing makes for a great partnership and will probably garner more heat than the Swagger/Colter partnership as certain pockets of America still wanted to blindly chant “USA!” for the xenophobic tirades. Cesaro faced a returning William Regal, who has been seen on regular WWE programming since Smackdown in London. It was a mouth-watering prospect of a match for the wrestling purist, and although it was a solid contest between the two, it was the kind of match that would have benefitted from having a lot more time to play with. Cesaro picked up the win with The Neutralizer, it’s good to see Cesaro getting a supposed push and some creative direction and hopefully this doesn’t end up on the pile of failed Cesaro gimmicks.
Sheamus was also in action, in a Handicap Match against Team Rhodes Scholars. The match was another good television contest, with Rhodes Scholars playing the good heel duo beating down Sheamus, although I still found it hard to get behind Sheamus as he really isn’t a sympathetic character. With Sheamus turning things around and doing some mild goofing around in a build to a Brogue Kick on Cody Rhodes, Sandow sneaked in behind with roll up, stealing the victory for his team. It was nice to see Sandow get one over on Sheamus in this rivalry, even if it was in a handicap match, hopefully he’ll get another shot at Sheamus soon. After the match, Sheamus took out Rhodes with a Brogue Kick. It didn’t seem like a something a face should be doing and basically showed Sheamus as an unsporting bully, he is in desperate need of a change of direction soon.
New Intercontinental Champion Curtis Axel was involved in another contest with Sin Cara, with The Miz joining the commentary team. I still think Miz is an awful baby face character, as he is simply just unlikable even when put up against someone like Paul Heyman he manages to make you want to hit him in the face, rather than cheer him on. The match between Axel and Sin Cara was similar to the matches they’ve had on Smackdown in the last month, with Axel finally debuting a new finish, a strange looking DDT, not too dissimilar to Drew McIntyre’s Future Shock DDT. If WWE are going for a feud between Axel and Miz, it isn’t something I particularly want to see, preferring to see Axel up against a more likeable face, possibly Christian, as The Miz will do little to help Axel get over as a heel.
In strange throwaway contest for Chris Jericho he faced 3MB’s Heath Slater. Jericho and Slater had a fairly entertaining bout although Y2J dominated for most of it. Personally, I’m a fan of Heath Slater and think he is an underrated member of the current WWE Roster and is more than capable of having great matches on WWE TV. Jericho picked up the win with a Codebreaker and although it was decent match, it was difficult to see what exactly the match did for either man.
What have we learnt from this week’s Raw?
1. CM Punk, Christian and Mark Henry are all back to stay, and we'll get to see Brock Lesnar for the meanwhile anyway.
2. Mark Henry is probably one of the greatest actors WWE has ever seen!
3. WWE has stopped referring to the App every five minutes and the show was all the better for it!
Announced for Friday's Smackdown:
Daniel Bryan vs. United States Champion Dean Ambrose
Announced for July 14th's Money in the Bank 2013:
WWE Championship Match: John Cena (c) vs. Mark Henry