Throughout the day yesterday, and even last week as a result of an article on WWE.com, it was speculated that Paul Heyman was seeking a new client for his stable. Just before WWE Raw went on the air last night, Heyman took to the WWE app to announce that he was, if fact, in negotiations with a new client and that this Superstar would be revealed during the show. The Internet practically blew up with this news, because as one of the best managers in the history of professional wrestling, anyone who aligns himself with Paul Heyman is given instant credibility and an instant push to the top. The big question was whether it would be an established Superstar returning to the WWE (e.g., Rob Van Dam, Batista, Goldberg) or one of the NXT Superstars making their main roster debut. At 9:00pm it was revealed that the new client being aligned with Paul Heyman was a little from Column A (although not as big a name as those previously mentioned) and a little from Column B (although technically not a true rookie) – Joe Hennig.
As the son of “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig and the grandson of Larry “The Ax” Hennig, Joe Hennig was actually a participant on the second season of NXT when it was still a competition show and made the main roster as a member of the Nexus stable but, despite having a historic lineage, was saddled with the terrible name of Michael McGillicutty (apparently an inside joke among the WWE creative team which was a problem in and of itself) and never really connected with the fans. McGillicutty was sent down to NXT and started appearing frequently as a member of that roster as it was re-branded as its own division within WWE before making his re-debut on WWE Raw last night with the new name Curtis Axel. Heyman actually explained that the name was in honor of his family, with his first name being taken from his father and his last name from his grandfather, and that the reason for it was because WWE had refused to acknowledge his heritage by giving him his first name. But while anything is better than Michael McGillicutty, calling Joe Hennig by his real name would be the real way to honor is family.
In terms of him being chosen as Paul Heyman’s new client, I am a huge fan of that move. It signifies that Paul Heyman is not only finally being recognized for what he can do in terms of making new Superstars but it also looks to the future of the WWE much more than bringing back a veteran Superstar like RVD or Batista. Also, I watch NXT every week and there are very few people who I would have called up to the main roster before Hennig and he is easily one of the top two or three choices among those Superstars to be aligned with Paul Heyman. But do you know what’s better than coming up with a convoluted reason for calling Joe Hennig Curtis Axel? Calling him Joe Hennig.
After Heyman introduced Axel as his newest client, the two were quickly interrupted by Triple H, who admitted that Lesnar had beaten him the night before at Extreme Rules but that instead of kicking Heyman’s ass for interfering in the match, he’s going to kick Axel’s ass first and then come after Heyman. Of course, my first thought when this match was announced was that there was only there ways this match could end – Triple H defeats and subsequently buries Axel less than two hours after making his debut, Axel defeats Triple H cleanly and is instantly skyrocketed to the main event or there is outside interference that causes Axel to defeat Triple H while still makes Axel look strong but does not take anything from Tripel H. After the smart booking that took place at Extreme Rules I was praying for one of the latter two scenarios but WWE did it again and came up with a fourth scenario that I had not foreseen but was the best possible outcome for the match.
Earlier in the night, after the match was announced, one of the trainers found Triple H and told him that the WWE doctors were not clearing him to compete after taking a sledgehammer to the head from Brock Lesnar at Extreme Rules. Triple H told the trainer to tell the doctor that if he liked being employed he would clear him for the match, which ended up being a bad mistake (and is a terrible example to set for kids watching the show). During the match, Triple H dominated for most of what little match there was before starting to act weird and stumbling around the ring. When Axel rolls to the outside, Triple H follows him and sends him back into the ring but starts to get wobbly and falls down into the announce table. The referee quickly calls over the medical staff who, after checking on Triple H, call the match as a “no contest” and work to revive The Game. The show goes off the air with medical personnel trying to help Triple H stand up but being able to do so, and while footage from after the show revealed that he eventually made it to his feet, he did not leave the arena under his own power. My only problem with this storyline is that it took too much of the focus away from Axel and his debut, but that can easily be rectified next week. In the meantime, we now have the big question of what the future holds for Triple H and his wrestling career.
Here are my quick thoughts on the rest of the show:
WWE Raw kicked off with an ambulance being driven into the arena and Ryback getting out and climbing to the roof. Ryback cut a pretty terrible promo (as he is Exhibit A as to why a lot of WWE Superstars need managers to cut promos for them) about the fans being stupid, lazy and unhealthy and about how John Cena may have walked out of Extreme Rules with the WWE Championship but hardly “walked out” of Extreme Rules. He then challenged Cena to an Ambulance Match at the next pay-per-view, WWE Payback, in June. Thankfully, despite refusing medical attention and walking away from medical personnel under his own power after the Last Man Standing match, Cena did not make an appearance on Raw last night. My biggest concern was that he would not only show up, but run down to the ring and start telling jokes, but not having him there did more good by selling his injuries, the match from Extreme Rules and any future match with Ryback than being there in front of the live crowd would have done. Instead, Ryback showed up again later in the night to attack Zack Ryder after he had lost a match to Cody Rhodes and beat him up all around and outside the ring before putting him in the ambulance and having it drive away. It was not officially announced that the match between Cena and Ryback would take place at Payback, but I imagine that is just a formality that will be taken care of next week.
The first match of the night was a tag team between pitting Chris Jericho & The Miz against Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett & Fandango. I assume this means that The Miz will now start to feud with Barrett and challenge for the Intercontinental Championship which I am definitely a fan of since both Barrett and the title have been more or less forgotten recently. As for the match, it was decent but made all the more better by Fandango deciding to dance with Summer Rae instead of continuing the match, which led to The Miz pinning Barrett to secure the win for his team. After the match, Jericho and Miz started to approach Fandango, who fled through the crowd, leaving Summer Rae behind. Jericho invited her to dance with him and she reluctantly agreed, but then just as he started putting the moves on her and she went in for a kiss, he put his hand in her face and walked away laughing.
Sheamus defeated Titus O’Neil in a match that was a complete waste of time for two reasons – first, I am tired of Sheamus being put in matches that have no rhyme or reason and, even worse, feuds that go nowhere and have no point and second, if you are going to put Sheamus in matches that mean nothing, there is no reason to have him wrestle one half of an established tag team. While O’Neil certainly held his own in the match, there are plenty of singles wrestlers on the roster that Sheamus could have faced so O’Neil and his partner, Darren Young, could actually be focused on the rejuvenated tag team division and its titles.
Big E Langston surprisingly defeated Alberto Del Rio, albeit with help from AJ Lee when she distracted the referee. While I am happy to see Langston win or Del Rio lose, and it’s even better when they are connect, the match made no sense; Del Rio just won an I Quit match against Jack Swagger at Extreme Rules to become the #1 contender for the World Heavyweight Championship but then lost to a rookie less than 24 hours later. Not only does it bury Del Rio, but technically Langston has now earned himself a world title shot as well. Frankly, I hope Dolph Ziggler recovers from his concussion and returns soon so we can wrap all this up and have him move on to a new opponent.
AJ Lee defeated Layla in a very quick match with her new Black Widow submission move. I was happy to not only see a backstage segment involving Kaitlyn and the mystery of her secret admirer but an actual Divas match as well.
The Shield, fresh off a clean sweep of their matches at Extreme Rules and now holding both the United States and Tag Team championships, teamed up in a six-man tag team match to take on the men who they had respectively defeated to win the titles – Kofi Kingston, Daniel Bryan & Kane. You will not find a bigger fan of Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins or Roman Reigns than me, and having them hold multiple titles is just icing on the cake, but I do hope that holding those titles while remaining a three-person team does not distract from the titles themselves. Having them hold the titles bring instant credibility to them, and vice versa, but for this to work the titles need to be the focus of any feuds going forward and regularly defended.
The best match of the night by far was Jack Swagger vs. Randy Orton, a match created by the fans when they overwhelmingly chose Orton as Swagger’s opponent via the WWE app. Of course, when the other two choices were Great Khali and R-Truth it pretty much stacks the deck towards Orton (I doubt Khali and R-Truth even changed out of their street clothes while the voting was taking place) but I was still surprised to see 18% of fans (approximately 27,000 people) actually vote for Khali. Shame on all of you. As for Swagger/Orton, the match was phenomenal and while the ending was practically telegraphed given the direction that Orton and his character are heading as of late (Orton won with an RKO) the match gave me high hopes for what each of these two Superstars could do if given a real chance to be a part of the world title picture in the future.