My overall feeling coming out of this week's Raw was that the show was saved by a few star performances, as whilst the direction for the main storylines, like Daniel Bryan vs. The McMahons and CM Punk vs. Paul Heyman, have been incredibly strong, a lot of the rest of the show has lost direction, for example guys like Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow suddenly feel lost after a very strong build into SummerSlam. Let's take a look at how it all broke down...
So the build up to this bout began at the start of the show, with WWE Chief Operating Officer Triple H in the ring, delivering a surprisingly succinct heel promo, once again patronising Daniel Bryan, before going on to talk about how the ratings are up with Randy Orton as WWE Champion. I'm not a massive fan of on screen characters references ratings in WWE, but it worked here to further Triple H's heel turn, because we as fans know that people aren't tuning in specifically to Orton as WWE Champion, they're tuning into see Bryan get his hands on the belt once again. What had up until that point been a good opening segment, took a turn for the worse when Triple H presented Randy Orton with a car (I'm not saying the brand unless they wan't to pay me) and Orton didn't really know how to react, it was all a little awkward, and everyone knew what was going to happen to the car later in the show. Of course Daniel Bryan came out to reply to Triple H and Orton, thanking the fans for supporting him, it was clear that he meant what he was saying and was enjoying the fans response to him, so it was strange that the second part of the prom felt so forced as Bryan thanked John Cena, which felt as forced as the first time on Smackdown, unless this is leading to a Cena ambush a few months down the line, it's pretty pointless. Bryan went on to insult both Orton and Triple H, with Triple H placing him in the Gauntlet Match against The Shield as punishment in the main event of the show. The opening segment didn't really draw me into the show at all, whilst I was excited for the main event, the story was a bit of repeat of last week's Raw and Smackdown.
So after Orton's match with Christian (more on that later), Daniel Bryan appeared on screen next to Randy Orton's car. Bryan did his best with some awkward lines of dialogue about Orton being the face of WWE, before posing the question of if Bryan wins the title at Night of Champions would he be the new face of the WWE? Of course, the answer was YES, and was revealed by Bryan as being spray painted all over Orton's new car. I like the original reveal, and Bryan through in a nice little ad lib half way through, but again this segment didn't quite work. Mainly, because it felt too similar to when Kofi Kingston destroyed Orton's gift from The Legacy, another car on Raw in 2009, and it was so clear the Bryan was destroying the car, that the whole set up felt ridiculously contrived. With Triple H and Raw General Manager Brad Maddox surveying the damage, we found out that The Game doesn't know how presents work, and the same goes for the WWE Championship, as he still believed both the car and the championship to be his personal property. Triple H went on to tell Maddox that every WWE personality had to be out on the ramp for Bryan's Gauntlet match and if anyone did interfered they would be fired, and interesting addition to the match, and a good way to involve more wrestlers in the McMahon feud. Some really poor lines of dialogue throughout these segments.
Luckily, the final portion of the show was able to repair the damage the had been done earlier in the show. Whilst Renee Young interviewing Big Show and Dolph Ziggler on the ramp was a nice addition and some good follow on from last week, the interview with The Miz felt completely random and out of place, I couldn't see The Miz being someone to stand up to the McMahon's anyway. The opening bout of the gauntlet saw Bryan take on Tag Team Champion Seth Rollins. Now anyone that's been watching Raw since this years WrestleMania, will now that when you put Bryan and Rollins in the ring together you some incredibly good television wrestling. The pacing was great, with both men knowing when to raise it up and bring back down, including a nice little moment with Rollins imitating Bryan. The crowd, of course, lapped up every second of Daniel Bryan's now familiar comeback, before the two launched into a nice series of pinning combination, which when done properly like this is always a joy to watch. The ending saw Rollins attempt a Superplex, only for Bryan to slip free and hit a German Superplex that turned Rollins inside out. Unfortunately, the WWE crew missed the ending as they panned the crowd, but apparently Bryan got the win with the same version of the Knee Trembler he's been using since SummerSlam. It would have been a nice ending if we'd had seen it! United States Champion Dean Ambrose was up next, but the bout ending quickly with Bryan locking in the Yes Lock, only for Tag Team Champion Roman Reigns to make the save, giving Bryan the disqualification victory. They played out the same ending again for Bryan's match with Reigns, with Ambrose making the save this time. It was a good way to keep both The Shield and Bryan looking good.
After the bout, The Shield decimated Bryan with their usual pack mentality finishing him off with a spear from Roman Reigns, whilst the rest of the WWE roster looked on. Triple H then made his way back out to the arena, starring down with Big Show and Dolph Ziggler, before indicating to The Shield to hit the Triple Powerbomb. Randy Orton then entered the arena, and with Triple H's blessing headed down to the ring. With Rollins and Ambrose holding up Bryan for Orton, the WWE Champion hit an RKO on The Submission Specialist, closing the show up on the ramp with Triple H. I really enjoyed this ending, it once again put Daniel Bryan in an empathic role, we can see his fight, but the odds stacked against him are too great, we know he can beat Randy Orton one on one, but will he get that opportunity at Night of Champions? Bryan is someone who will get more over when he loses, he works tremendously in an underdog roll, and with Triple H and Randy Orton on the opposing side, it's shaping up really well at moment, as long as they stay away from bizarre segments with cars.
So whilst the main storyline was thundering on Raw, WWE Champion Randy Orton took a nice Captain Charisma shaped detour. With Christian being interviewed by the ever annoying Josh Matthews, Christian's promo about living through the McMahon-Helmsley era felt a little nervous, I'm not sure if this was intentionally, but it certainly what we've came to expect from Christian. With Orton turning up, talking about how Orton had won at SummerSlam and Christian hadn't, before claiming history would repeat itself tonight. I thought with the history between these two they could have done a hell of a lot better with this promo, which never really clicked which was a real shame.
Fortunately, the two continued to click in the ring, and made up for a rather dull contest they had on the 5th July edition of Smackdown, as they returned to their usually form when going head to head. It was interesting to see the dynamic switched here as we had previously seen a face Randy Orton against heel Christian, or both men going in as faces. After a shaky start, Orton quickly ground Christian working him over well, with Christian's impeccable selling helping to keep the crowd interested in the bout. Now with Orton back to being heel, his use of the headlock as a rest hold makes a lot more sense, as it allows him to show of a nice array of facial expressions, whilst building for a comeback for the face. The moment when Orton foiled a Christian comeback with Christian selling as if he was out cold, lying in Orton's lap as the WWE Champion laugh was an especially poignant moment.
The final few minutes saw Christian and Orton launced into a top notch back and forth section of the match, with numerous near falls for Christian, his closest coming from Spear. The match however was of course, Randy Orton's as after reversing a Killswitch attempt, by sending Christian into the referee in the corner, Orton hit a thumb to the eye, allowing him to capatialise easily with an RKO for the pinfall victory. Whilst the ending screamed “I'M HEEL NOW!” it worked well enough to end the bout. This was a really strong television match that could easily have been the main event on a regular Raw, when Orton and Christian get enough time and enough story to tell they are a great pairing in the ring, with Christian quickly becoming WWE's go to guy for great television matches.
This match really got me thinking, WWE truly missed the boat in terms of giving Christian an extended main event push and run with the ball. Whilst, this would not be the right the direction for Christian now, I truly feel he could have made more of an impact in WWE when he returned to WWE in February 2009, with WWE missing out on a number of rivalries that could have resulted in successful programmes, Christian vs. CM Punk jumps instantly to mind. He is definitely in the right role now though, helping to get over talent that WWE needs to get over, similar to the role we've seen Chris Jericho in, but able to step into a big match spot if needs be, and always deliver.
with Paul Heyman
(If CM Punk wins, Paul Heyman will be forced to get in the ring with CM Punk)
This match was made on last week's Smackdown, with the stipulation been added just prior after receiving over 80% of a WWE App vote (with the other options being Paul Heyman being banned from ringside and Paul Heyman as Special Guest Referee). Talking of the WWE App, we got was apparently a WWE App “Exclusive” segment shown on Raw, which 1. Proved that WWE don't know what exclusive means and 2. Gave us a nice short CM Punk promo about how much he wanted to get his hands on Paul Heyman. I don't understand why WWE think I would download the app, when anything worthwhile is shown on the show anyway! We then got Paul Heyman and Intercontinental Champion Curtis Axel's reaction to the segment, with Heyman twisting Punk's words superbly, and Axel's over-inflated ego being shown once again. Whilst I'm still not a fan of Axel using varations of “Perfect” as a catch phrase, the ending of the segment where Axel asked Heyman if he trusted him and Heyman replied with “As if my life depended on it” were very well written and worked as a good piece of build up heading into the bout.
Whilst I can't really fault the action that happened in the ring, I never really felt drawn into the match. I think this is because at no point during the bout did it feel like Curtis Axel was going to win, and I was more interested in seeing the aftermath between Punk and Heyman and how that would play out. One thing that worked for me during the bout, was Heyman's constant presence at the top of the entrance ramp, it gave Punk a reference point and constantly reminded the viewer what the match was really all about. There were some nice spots like Punk trying to run after Heyman only to to stopped by Axel, and a nice section with a number of reversals resulting in a neckbreaker from Punk. Axel's closest opportunity in the match was a Running One-Armed Swinging Neckbreaker (formerly known as the McGillicutter) but we've seen so many wrestlers kick out of that now that we know Axel isn't picking up the victory with that one.
The ending saw Axel taunting Punk with a slap to the back of the head, after his near fall, only for Punk to react with an instant GTS to pick up the pinfall victory and the opportunity get Heyman in the ring. It was a decent ending, but nothing particularly out of the ordinary. Now, however, was where the real fun started. After Heyman had tried to escape twice, only to be dragged to the ring by security, it looked like Punk would finally get his hand's on his former best friend. This was not the case, however, as Heyman had another ace up his sleeve. With Punk pushing Heyman into a corner, Axel recovered hitting Punk vicious low blow. Heyman handed Axel some handcuffs and things were about to get a little uncomfortable. I really enjoyed this swerve, as it felt like they might have been blowing off the angle on Raw at one point, but really I should have known better from the dastardly Paul Heyman!
Despite a brief fight back from a no armed Punk, a steel chair and a singapore cane allowed Heyman and Axel to take advantage. With Axel holding Punk again the ropes, Heyman delivered a series of vicious shots with the cane, whilst saying things like “You broke my heart”, this whole story has had shades of a dumped girlfriend, and this segment hammered it home. It was beautifully uncomfortable, and really made me sit up and take notice. What worked so well for me, was the amount of depth in the story. Yes, Paul Heyman is clearly a bad guy with twisted morals, but you can't help but feel for him at times, even as he beats his former best friend with a singapore cane! Later on, Renee Young caught up with Heyman and Axel, and Heyman once again delivered a superb promo, as close to tears, he discussed having to punish his “prodigal son” repeatedly for crossing him, Heyman is far and away the best actor in WWE and this proved it for me. Punk later went to see Brad Maddox, with Maddox making a Elimination Handicap Match between Punk and the team of Heyman and Axel at Night of Champions, which without sounding smug, I predicted before SummerSlam.
Best of the Rest (In The World)
Elsewhere, Rob Van Dam took on World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio, in a match where if Van Dam won he would get a World Heavyweight Championship match at Night of Champions. With Van Dam being accompanied by Ricardo Rodriguez, WWE have still failed to explain how the two became acquainted, with Michael Cole's explanation that the are “both cool dudes” only making it seem like Rodriguez has been joining in with Van Dam's favourite pass time (I'm saying nothing, but if you guessed the numbers I were thinking of as Four and Twenty, you'd be correct). All it would have taken was some mic time from either guy before the bout to give us a little explanation.
The match itself was pretty rotten, from the opening it was filled with botches, like Van Dam struggling to set Del Rio up on the top rope, before missing a diving side kick by a country mile, but Del Rio still selling liked he'd had a brick thrown at his head. For me this was Van Dam's worst match since returning to WWE, and the first he looked genuinely old in. Del Rio didn't really help either with a nasty double stomp to Van Dam's back that looked simply careless, and some awful looking headbutts, it really was a challenge to get into this bout. The ending saw Rodriguez get on top of the announce table, getting the crowd to chant “RVD”, before RVD used a leg scissors roll up to get the pinfall victory and a World Heavyweight Championship match at Night of Champions. Whilst Christian's matches prior to facing Del Rio at SummerSlam were solid television bouts, this didn't really fill me with hope for Night of Champions, hopefully they'll both return to form, but this bout wasn't a great sign.
The opening contest of the night saw Cody Rhodes go up against Fandango. I was actually interested in seeing this one, and with World Heavyweight Championship Money in the Bank Winner Damien Sandow providing hilarious guest commentary, I thought we were in for a decent opening contest. This was thrown out of the window barely two minutes into the contest, when The Miz came out to Fandango's music, dressed as Fandango and dancing with a returning Rosa Mendes. Obviously they were looking for a counterpart to Summer Rae, but I have no idea why Rosa Mendes, who was last seen as a heel manager to Primo & Epico was chosen. The Miz's dancing made me want to punch him in the face, if WWE are trying to get him over as a face, it really isn't working. The distraction allowed Rhodes get a pinfall victory via a School Boy Roll Up and I was left simply scratching my head.
After the match, Fandango went to attack Rhodes, only to end up in a Cross Rhodes, with Sandow making the save for the Ball Room Dancer. With Sandow and Fandango beating down Rhodes, The Miz finally got to the ring and the four men engaged in a brawl, with Miz and Rhodes coming off better, sending Fandango and Sandow to the outside, with Miz almost knocking out Summer Rae by throwing his jacket dangerously close to Mrs. Fandango. Brad Maddox turned up channelling Teddy Long and making a tag team match. The tag bout was actually better than I had imagined with Rhodes and Sandow having the majority of the match with some nice action between those two, finishing with a well worked double clothesline spot, to allow Rhodes to get the hot tag to The Miz. Whilst some of the moves used by The Miz (Big boot? Really?) didn't look great, the overall comeback was done well with Miz raising the pace, and after Fandango had left his partner high and dry, the double team effort of Rhodes and Miz allowed Miz to hit a Skull Crushing Finale on Sandow for the victory. Whilst the tag team match was surprisingly good, I'm not sure where it leaves anyone in the match, I'm not enjoying the Fanango vs. Miz rivalry and Rhodes and Sandow's feud seems to be treading water with nothing really happening for those two this week.
There was also a SummerSlam rematch pitting Brie Bella against Natalya. It was a pretty forgettable contest, with Bella picking up the victory after some distraction from Nikki Bella and Eva Marie allowed Bella to escape the Sharp Shooter and with Natalya distracted hit the Bella Buster to pick up the pinfall victory. I'm pretty sure a one point Eva Marie ran into the ring post after being chased by The Funkadactyls, why she is anyway near a wrestling ring I have no idea. After the bout however hope was restored by the saviour of WWE's womens division Diva's Champion AJ Lee, who delivered a deliciously sweet promo about Total Divas and talking about how she had to work for everything she has received, rather than “sucking up” to people. If you haven't seen the promo, go and watch it now, nothing I can type here will do it justice. The fact that it's been compared to CM Punk's infamous “Pipe Bomb” promo should tell you all you need to know. The Bellas however were however intent on ruining the excellent promo as they talked the whole way through, like some annoying kid in the cinema, someone needs to tell them to stay quiet until someone else is speaking. Hopefully, WWE will have Natalya take on AJ at Night of Champions, instead of Brie Bella, because I'm pretty sure Natalya vs. AJ could be a potential show stealer if given a good amount of time.
Ryback continues his bullying backstage, this week working his way up as high as Josh Matthews, as Matthews once again felt the brunt of Ryback's offence. With Matthews interviewing Ryback backstage, the Human Wrecking Ball quickly became bored with the conversation, squashing Matthews' face, before throwing him to the floor. To be quite honest, I fairly enjoyed Matthews being pushed around, at least I didn't have to listen to him talk for too long. I'm guessing WWE has plans for Ryback going forward, as they are deliberately keeping him out of the ring, I wonder if they'll keep this going until Chris Jericho returns to the company after his tour, it could be a push but the moment a returning Jericho halts Ryback's bullying could work very well.
Also on Raw, Titus O'Neil of The Prime Time Players took on Jack Swagger of The Real Americans. With Swagger's “Founding Father” Zeb Colter cutting his best promo in a long time on The Prime Time Players, even if it was a bit uncomfortable, it looked like Colter could have finally found the creativity he has been lacking in recent months. The bout itself actually surprised me, it was of course short, but was actually an enjoyable contest, with the two working well against one another. Swagger dominated the early going with some well applied submissions, before O'Neil got his comeback, including an impressive fall away slam. With Swagger turning his focus to O'Neil's leg, in an attempt to soften it up for the ankle lock, Swagger attempted to get a pinfall victory with his feet on the ropes, only for Darren Young to know them off. With Young and Antonio Cesaro squaring off, Swagger was distracted an walk straight into a Clash of Titus to give O'Neil a pinfall victory, definitely the biggest singles win of his career. I'm over Prime Time Players impromtu face turn now, I'm beginning to wonder what the next step is for the talent duo...
There was also another Los Matadores vignette, in fact it was the same vignette they showed last week on Raw and they showed it twice. It's a little bit frustrating after seeing WWE show multiple Wyatt Family promos only few months ago building up there debut, which were all entertaining and offered us something new about the stable, that WWE has came back to doing these kind of vignettes. Whilst the Wyatt Family felt incredibly fresh and exciting, this gimmick feels like a step backwards, and I'm really not sure the fans will take to it, but I could be wrong and I hope for the talented Epico and Primo that I am.
My final thoughts on this week's WWE Raw....
1. Raw ended stronger than it began.
2. Christian still deserves "One More Match" for a major championship in WWE, even if it's just to get a heel over with the crowd.
3. Punk vs. Heyman continues to be the most consistently fascinating story on WWE television.