Friday, 26 July 2013

WWE Raw 22nd July 2013 Review

Raw this week had a number of big names missing from the broadcast, with Randy Orton, Kane, Curtis Axel, an announced Big Show, Brock Lesnar, The Wyatt Family and a departed Chris Jericho all absent. However, this didn’t really seem to matter that much, as this Raw belonged to one man and one man only. That man is of course, Daniel Bryan.

Gauntlet Match: 

Daniel Bryan


Jack Swagger, Antonio Cesaro & Ryback

We kicked off the show this week with my all time favourite wrestling cliché, the contract signing. Any regular reader will know that last line was some nice British sarcasm. However, as contract signings go this one, between WWE Champion John Cena and Daniel Bryan, actually wasn’t too bad. There was enough talent in the ring to make it entertaining for the amount of screen time it was given. John Cena’s promo ability seems to have returned for the first time since post-Wrestlemania as he delivered a believable promo on why he choose Daniel Bryan for his Summerslam opponent. However, it would have been nice to hear more from Daniel Bryan on the situation, as Cena did the lion share of the talking, which Bryan is more than capable of doing on his own. The other thing that brought the segment down was the involvement of Brad Maddox. Now, I’m a fan of Maddox, and enjoy his delivery on the microphone which couldn’t really be faulted here, and he did play his role well, but he just felt surplus to requirements, being overused in a storyline between Cena and Bryan that really only needs two people to tell. Maddox went on to place Bryan in a Gauntlet Match, as the night’s main event.

As the show continued we got a number of backstage segments, hyping the match and developing the story. Firstly, John Cena went to visit Daniel Bryan in the locker room. Bryan told Cena to stay out of his Gauntlet Match, because he wanted to prove he belonged in the Summerslam main event. I like the dynamic between Cena and Bryan, both clearly have a mutual respect for each other, but bring something totally different to the table of WWE. Elsewhere, it seems the McMahon family can’t help but get involved when a wrestler begins to spike in popularity, we saw it in 2011 with CM Punk and now we’re seeing it with Daniel Bryan in 2013. Both Triple H and Stephanie McMahon visited Brad Maddox, wondering if he was being control by someone else, obviously referring to Vince McMahon’s apparent dislike of Daniel Bryan. I don’t understand why WWE thinks the John Cena-Daniel Bryan match, needs Vince, Triple H, Stephanie and Brad Maddox all involved, as if this will somehow sell the match more!

Now for the Gauntlet match, Bryan started off against Jack Swagger, who of course had Real Americans Antonio Cesaro and Zeb Colter at ringside. This was fairly good match, with Swagger dominating for most of the contest, before hitting his signature Swagger Bomb for a near fall. With Swagger taking time to gloat, Bryan caught him in the No Lock for the Submission victory. It was a good warm up match for what was about to come as Bryan’s second opponent was Antonio Cesaro. The two went back and forth with a number of interesting submission holds and vicious strikes. The match had me glued to my screen from start to finish, knowing exactly when to up the pace and when to bring things back in again, each man brought they’re “A game” and told a great story in the ring, that really helped to sell Bryan as someone with absolutely no quit. This is the closest I’ve seen to a Ring of Honor style match in WWE, typified by the repeated uppercuts that Cesaro used on Bryan for a near fall, it would seem that the two had a lot of free-reign when putting things together, which can only be a good thing. The ending was also clever, with Bryan jumping over Cesaro from the top rope, and with Cesaro about to launch Bryan into an uppercut, Bryan reversed into a small package to pick up the victory. If WWE still doesn’t believe Antonio Cesaro has what it takes to be a top star in their company then they probably never will.

The final opponent for Bryan was Ryback. Now after the classic contest we’d just seen between Bryan and Cesaro, it was clear that this match with Ryback would never live up to the technicality that we had just seen, however it was still a pretty decent contest, that had a good story to tell and worked well enough in telling that story. With Bryan exhausted it would appear the Ryback would simply come and pick the bones of a victory, however the heart of Bryan kept him going, as he frustrated Ryback at every turn. With Ryback unable to pick up a regular victory, he ended up powerbomb Bryan through a table that he had previously set up at ringside, after already delivering a powerbomb onto the floor. It made sense as a finish for the Ryback character, but was a frustrating one for Daniel Bryan, especially with what was to come. John Cena came out to make the save for Bryan, albeit a little bit too late, before challenging Ryback to a Tables Match next week. It was frustrating for me, as it felt like Cena and Ryback had attempted to steal the spotlight off of what should have been Daniel Bryan’s moment.

Punk Rocked

Some of the most epic story telling WWE has ever seen continued this week, with two masters of the microphone, CM Punk and Paul Heyman, duelling once more with some excellent promo and character work to build for Punk’s match with Heyman’s client Brock Lesnar at Summerslam. It was then however a little frustrating that the Beast Incarnate was only referred to and never actually seen onscreen. It’s been great to have Lesnar back with WWE over the last year and a half, but at times his contract does do more harm than good, with Lesnar only contracted for a certain number of appearances, WWE has to be extremely careful on which shows to place Lesnar. Whilst this can be effective, it does remove a certain gloss from the situation.

Punk started off proceedings by talking about the altercation between he and Lesnar the week previously. Punk somehow managed to put over both Brock Lesnar’s power and strength and his own ability to get back onto his feet. It’s a skill that not a lot of WWE wrestlers have on the microphone, they can easily talk about how good they are, but to build to a big match you need to have your opponent look good as well. Punk went onto talk about how Lesnar’s strongest weapon was fear, but he wasn’t afraid of Lesnar. It’s a idea we’ve seen before, Punk himself used the idea in his feud with The Undertaker, but it works here, as long as it isn’t pushed too hard, I’ll accept it being used again. Where the promo really hit its stride was towards the end with Punk talking about how he would slay the beast at Summerslam, the delivery was spot on, helping to show the emotion of Punk and making me want to see him get his hands on Brock Lesnar even more.

With Punk’s promo finished, Paul Heyman turned up on the tron, with the classic “Live Via Satellite” caption in the corner of the screen. Heyman did a good job of talking up Brock Lesnar and the story that he’s had with Punk over the last year or so, even stopping off on the way to get some cheap heat from the Texas crowd. With Punk desperate to find out where Heyman was, Heyman agreed to the match at Summerslam, with the nice touch of referring to Brock Lesnar as his “Best friend in the entire world”, a status once held by Punk himself. Heyman finished by saying that Punk should stop calling himself the Best, because The Beast is the Best. It was a strong segment that kept the momentum off the feud rolling as we head towards Summerslam, hopefully we’ll get to see the Beast next week on Raw.

So far, the story between Punk, Lesnar and Heyman has worked extremely well. The history between Punk and Heyman has really helped to push the story along in the times when Lesnar wasn’t scheduled to appear. However as we get closer to SummerSlam, it becomes more important that we do begin to see Lesnar more, as whilst the history between Heyman and Punk is rich, there is only so much for them to play with without going over old ground and becoming repetitive. All the players are currently in place for an epic encounter at Summerslam, WWE just have to keep that anticipation running over three more episodes of Raw and along with Bryan/Cena they could have a very successful SummerSlam buyrate.



World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio

The opening match of Raw this week pitted World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio, against long time rival Sheamus. It’s a match we’ve seen multiple times before including match at last year’s Money in the Bank, SummerSlam and Night of Champions, as well as episodes of Raw and Smackdown. Therefore whilst WWE attempted to push this match as a major contest on Raw, it was harm a little through over familiarity with Sheamus and Del Rio, and didn’t quite have the big match feel that WWE clearly wanted it to have.

The content of the match was also harmed because of the overfamiliarity the audience had with this match. Whilst the action was technically sound, there wasn’t really much difference in what was being presented to what we’ve seen from these two dozens of times before, therefore making it a frustrating encounter to watch. Whilst Del Rio works well in his heel role, I find it difficult to get behind Sheamus in his current face role, distancing myself from this match even further. I think Sheamus is capable of playing a believable face, but just not in the current character, there’s too many inconsistencies, between him being a hard-hitting no-nonsense competitor and the goofish Guiness drinking, potato eating, Irish stereotype.

Del Rio spent a lot of the time working Sheamus’ arm to soften it up for the Cross Arm Breaker, as well as Sheamus’ injured leg, which had a huge bruise from the All Stars Money in the Bank Ladder Match. The ending saw Del Rio miss a Cross Arm Breaker attempt, but with Sheamus going for White Noise, his injured leg buckled allowing Del Rio to take a roll up victory. I actually quite enjoyed the ending as it used the story that was being told throughout the match well. It was also good to see Del Rio pick up the victory, as mentioned in my Smackdown review, I hate it when champions lose on television.

Now, the main talking point for me coming out of this match was who will be Alberto Del Rio’s SummerSlam opponent. WWE seems to have missed the boat by not having a final blow off for Del Rio’s feud with Dolph Ziggler, instead opting to enter Ziggler into a feud with Big E Langston. Looking at the WWE roster left, they don’t really have a lot of options in terms of opponent for Del Rio. It has to be someone who has been booked strongly over the last few weeks, and someone who has yet to show signs of a feud heading into SummerSlam, they must also of course be face. Looking at the WWE roster, it would seem Rob Van Dam, Christian and outside bet of Randy Orton (who already holds a victory over Del Rio from Smackdown) would be the best options to pick.

Best of the Rest (In The World)

Elsewhere this week, Mark Henry came out to call out The Shield. Henry’s promo ability has certainly got better over the last few years and this was another strong performance. He seems to know how to work the crowd either way, whether getting them to boo him or cheer him. People will always cheer for someone who shows bravery and heart, as well as someone from their state, all of which Henry drew upon in his promo. Once The Shield were down, similar to last week, Henry fought valiantly against United States Champion Dean Ambrose and Tag Team Champions Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns, but of course the three man advantage was too much with The Shield eventually gaining the upperhand.

It was then that The Usos returned the favour from Smackdown, coming out to even the numbers for The World’s Strongest Man. With the fight then even, Mark Henry even threw The Usos out of the way to get at The Shield again building the intensity of the rivalry well. It was Roman Reigns who took the brunt of the attack, taking a Superkick from an Uso and then a Stinger Splash in the corner from Henry, before The Shield managed to pull Reigns to safety and live to fight another day. I’m interested to see where this feud is heading into SummerSlam, as WWE have a number of options to run with, but if they keep going like this WWE could have another big match to help sell SummerSlam.

Dolph Ziggler was also in action this week, against Darren Young of The Prime Time Players. Interestingly, Young’s tag team partner Titus O’Neil was not at ringside, although this could be to do with a bout against Christian earlier in the night (more on that later). Young’s run against a number of top WWE stars continues, after recent bouts with John Cena, CM Punk and Rob Van Dam, across WWE programming, it has to be wondered if WWE has bigger plans for Young than his current tag team role. The match didn’t particularly set the world a light, but it was solid and set up well for what was to come. With Young having control for most of the match, Young took time to gloat over Ziggler, allowing the Show Off to sneak through and hit a Zig Zag for the victory. I enjoyed the ending and it continued the character development for Ziggler well, as someone who may take a beating but always manages to get a victory.

After the match, Divas Champion AJ Lee and Big E Langston came down to the ring, with Big E attempting to take out Ziggler again. This time however, Ziggler was able to get the upperhand using his speed and brains to throw Langston out of the ring, before getting away from his larger opponent. Seeing as Langston got the better of Ziggler last week, it was important to keep Ziggler looking good here by returning the favour. We’ve also seen very minimal actual competition between the two, therefore making their inevitable SummerSlam contest even more anticipated as we really don’t know how it will play out.

Cody Rhodes was in action, in his first match as face in over five years for WWE, he took on Fandango, who was accompanied to the ring by Summer Rae. With Damien Sandow at commentary it was pretty clear we were going to get some involvement from him during the match from the outset. The contest was short, the content within the match was good, but it was clear it’s going take a little bit more time for Cody to get used to playing a face. As expected, with Cody just about starting to role, pulling out moves from his father and brother, as well as mentor Hardcore Holly, it didn’t take long for Sandow to get involved with his briefcase. What was nice however was Rhodes getting the better of Sandow taking out both he and Fandango with a Disaster Kick, before hitting Cross Rhodes for the pinfall victory. A decent enough contest, which would have benefitted from having an extra five minutes, but it didn’t do much to advance the Rhodes and Sandow feud heading into SummerSlam.

Rob Van Dam was also in action, this week against Wade Barrett. These matches are basically being used to refresh the WWE fans memory of what Van Dam can do in the ring and what he brings to the table that is WWE. It’s a shame then that Barrett has dropped so far down the WWE pecking order, since losing the Intercontinental Championship to Curtis Axel at Payback, I’m starting to think we may never see Barrett get pushed any further than this. The match was fairly good, with Van Dam getting a lot of his signature offence in, before hitting a Five Star Frog Splash for the victory. It’s still to be seen where Van Dam is heading into SummerSlam, although we should find out more on Friday as he faces World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio on Smackdown.

Whilst Darren Young had a losing effort to Dolph Ziggler this week, his tag team partner Titus O’Neil was in action against Christian. I couldn’t say I was particularly excited about this contest, as although I like both Christian and Titus, I wasn’t quite sure how they would gel together in the ring. I was pleasantly surprised, as the match told a good story and the action was solid throughout. O’Neil controlled throughout most of the contest, a role he certainly seems comfortable in due to his size and presence, with Christian working a natural underdog role. With Christian’s comeback building to a Killswitch attempt, Darren Young caused the distraction allowing for a near fall for Titus. It didn’t take much longer for Christian to hit the Killswitch and pick up a pinfall victory. Christian’s picked up a number of victories since Money in the Bank, could he be next in line for a shot at Alberto Del Rio’s World Heavyweight Championship?

Before taking out Daniel Bryan in the main event, Ryback was interview by Josh Matthews regarding his attack of Chris Jericho on Smackdown. I was relatively impressed with this promo from Ryback, he seemed to have gained an ability to show emotion in his speech and told an interesting story, comparing himself to a school yard bully. Even if it was a little bit Bully Ray, it was a vast improvement on Ryback’s previous offerings. It would seem like when Jericho makes his return to WWE, he will re-enter his feud with Ryback, or at least the door has been left open. 

We were also treated to the worst edition of Miz TV we had seen, with The Miz presenting us the cast of Total Divas. We got a clip from the new show, which premieres this Sunday, and it certainly didn’t make me want to sit down and watch the show, although I guess I’m not it’s target audience. There was even more debacle with The Miz getting Jerry Lawler into the ring, who ended up in an altercation with new Diva Eva Marie. I don’t understand why WWE, after having a fairly exciting and heated Divas feud between AJ Lee and Kaitlyn have gone backwards in presenting this on Raw, that really did go nowhere. Yes, they need to promote the show, but that’s what adverts are for.

There was another bizarre segment, with Renee Young interviewing Teddy Long and Hall of Famer Booker T backstage, about Vickie Guerrero being named the new General Manager of Smackdown. Booker and Teddy got into a war of words, with Long eventually saying he was glad Booker didn't get the General Manager job. I'm really not sure where WWE are going with Long and Booker arguing, are we going to see Booker T vs. Teddy Long at SummerSlam?


What did I learn from this week's Raw?

1. Daniel Bryan is the star of the show, no matter how much WWE wants it to be John Cena and Ryback.

2. I could listen to Paul Heyman and CM Punk verbally joust for most of Raw.

3. SummerSlam is shaping into one hell of show.

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