Before WWE Raw went on the air last night, it was announced on the WWE app, Tout and the WWE text messaging service that Triple H would be returning to WWE Raw, and the ring, to face Curtis Axel in a rematch from two weeks ago. The show kicked off with the return of Stephanie McMahon and Vince McMahon. Soon after the show started a graphic was displayed regarding a contract signing between Chris Jericho and CM Punk for their match at Payback (although Punk’s image was later removed). My first thoughts regarding these three events was that the very poor television rating for WWE Raw last night could be quickly, albeit most likely only slightly, by advertising events such as these well in advance of the show (a message on the WWE app 30 minutes before showtime does not count). However, while the return of Stephanie and Vince was a lost opportunity to promote the show in advance, the WWE did a good job of turning their other mistakes into opportunities to do so for next week and beyond.
WWE Raw kicked off with Stephanie McMahon coming to the ring and announcing that she was putting family ahead of business, but using her authority in the business, to not let Triple H wrestle that night due to the injuries he suffered at the hands of Brock Lesnar last month and the lingering effects from them. Predictably, the live audience booed her decision, which brought out WWE Chairman Vince McMahon. Vince asked the crowd not to boo his daughter, because while he knows her decision is an unpopular one, he agreed with it. He noted that WWE is family entertainment, not a blood sport, and despite the fact that the fans want Triple H to give everything he has, including potentially his life, for their entertainment, that was not going to happen. For some reason, Vince also remarked that Curtis Axel was beneath Triple H, a point he repeated again later backstage in a conversation with Stephanie, and I’m not sure why he felt it was necessary to bury a Superstar who is quickly rising the ranks and getting over with the fans. Thankfully, he must have realized the same thing because even later in the night, in a conversation with Triple H, Vince put Axel over, noting that he was a dangerous competitor after technically beating Triple H and John Cena in consecutive weeks.
That conversation with Triple H took place at around 8:40pm, which I note only because it was preceded by HHH entering the building. As both an active competitor and COO of the company, shouldn’t he be arriving at least a couple of hours early for a live broadcast, not 40 minutes after the show started? Anyway, he went straight to Vince’s office and demanded that the match between him and Axel take place, but Vince refused. Triple H said he was going to do it anyway, asking who would stop him, and Vince told him not to do anything he would regret. Stephanie got between them to break things up and Triple H stormed out of the office, followed by his wife. Later, he told Stephanie that he was leaving not because Vince wanted to cancel the match but because he didn’t want to beat up their kids’ grandfather on live TV, but that his match with Axel would take place next week on Raw no matter what. All in all, the segments featuring Triple H, Vince and Stephanie were very entertaining and engrossing and have me really looking forward to next week (where I hope Axel somehow defeats HHH instead of losing and being unceremoniously buried).
While the original graphic for the contract signing between CM Punk and Chris Jericho for their match at Payback featured CM Punk, that was later removed and the contract signing took place between Jericho and Paul Heyman instead. It was a very good segment, as all of the segments between those two have been (no surprise given how good both men are on a microphone), with Heyman warning Jericho that he would be facing the best wrestler in the world in his hometown of Chicago no less and Jericho saying he didn’t care where he faced Punk, that he would beat him at any PPV in any city. Agter the contract was signed, Jericho made Heyman unbutton his suit jacket and stuffed the contract down his pants.
There were nine matches in total last night, as there should be every week on a three-hour wrestling show but unfortunately is not the case. Surprisingly, of the nine matches, eight of them actually came to legitimate conclusions and two of them were great, three o of them were very good and the other three were not bad at all. Here is a quick rundown of all eight matches:
The first match of the night was Randy Orton, Kane & Daniel Bryan vs. The Shield. While some people online are getting six of The Shield always competing in six-man tag team matches, I think it is good for the majority of their matches to be as such with singles and tag team matches sporadically taking place. While it’s important for the United States and Tag Team Championships to be defended, just having them around the respective waists of Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns elevates them to a new level. Plus, the entire point of The Shield is that they are a dominant, cohesive unit, so you want to showcase that as much as possible and leave the singles and tag team matches to special occasions. As for last night’s match, it was one of the two great matches of the night (a description could not even do it justice here). In the end, Bryan went on a tear, taking out all three members of The Shield by himself, before finally putting Ambrose in the No Lock. Then, in a flurry of offense, Reigns breaks up the hold, Kane goes to try and help Bryan but Reigns spears him, Orton hits Rollins with an RKO, Reigns throws Orton into Bryan and then Ambrose hits a headlock driver on Bryan for the win. After the match, an irate Bryan claims that both Kane and Orton think he is the weak link. Despite both men trying to convince him that not only do they not think he’s a weak link but that they think he is, in fact, one of the best wrestlers in the world today, Bryan says he is going to do something that will force them, and the rest of the locker room, to start respecting him again.
This leads to the second great match of the night, as Bryan challenges Ryback to a match that takes place towards the end of the night. While it’s no surprise that the two best matches of the night both featured Bryan, I think this is the first (and last) time that any match labeled even a good one will feature Ryback. Obviously, all of the credit for that goes to Bryan, who clearly is one of the best wrestlers on the WWE roster (and in all of professional wrestling), highlighted last night by carrying the plodding Ryback through his match. Unfortunately for Bryan, he was rewarded for his efforts with a DQ victory as Ryback put Bryan through a table to end it. Just as Ryback is about to put Bryan through a second one, John Cena comes out to make the save. Ryback teases getting in the ring but decides to leave instead, which brings out Axel for his match against Cena (when HHH left the building, Heyman tried to do the same with Axel but Vince booked a No Disqualification match between Axel and Cena instead).
Thankfully, and surprisingly, this was the first time we were seeing Cena all night. No in-ring promo, no backstage interview and, best of all, no terrible jokes. But while I always feel that less is more when it comes to John Cena, I was a little surprised that the WWE Champion, who is defending his title in the main event of a PPV in less then three weeks, was featured so minimally. As for his match with Axel, it had a weird ending because one of the stipulations in a No DQ match is that it is also supposed to feature no count-outs, but that was not the case last night. After a great match in which Axel really shined against the WWE Champion for the second week in a row, Cena goes to put Axel through a table with an Attitude Adjustment whey Heyman interferes and pulls Axel out of harm’s way. Suddenly, Ryback appears out of nowhere and spears Cena through the table. Then, interestingly, Axel gets back in the ring while the referee counts to 10 and awards Axel the victory. So yes, technically it is with two count-outs and a no contest, but Axel has defeated Triple H once and John Cena twice in three consecutive weeks. Now the big questions are what happens next week when he faces Triple H again, how long will this momentum continue and where will he go from here?
The Usos defeated Prime Time Players in a good tag team match with the announcers noting that whoever won should be considered for a Tag Team Championship match in the future. I’m just happy to see a match between two tag teams that are actually established tag teams and not just two Superstars thrown together. Once The Shield is done feuding with Team Hell No, I’m excited for them to turn their attentions to the rest of the tag team division.
Alberto Del Rio and Big E Langston wrestled in what was being called the “rubber match” between the two Superstars, although I consider the rubber match to be the third match in a series, not the fifth. So now that Del Rio won the fifth match, will Langston win the sixth and there be another rubber match for the seventh? Sigh. When does World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler return?
With his best friend Damien Sandow at ringside, Cody Rhodes lost to Sheamus in a hard-fought contest after Sheamus hit the Brogue Kick. The match was fine but I have three big problems with it – Rhodes and Sandow should be competing as a tag team, not singles wrestlers; if they are not going to compete as a tag team then both men (especially Rhodes) should be in title pictures and feuds that actually mean something and will go somewhere; and I’m tired of Sheamus (and really Orton too, who keeps bouncing back and forth between opponents each week) being put in storylines and feuds that mean nothing and are going nowhere. After all, the week after WWE.com posted an article about the ten worst rivalries in WWE history, they continue a feud between Sheamus and Sandow that started because Sandow insulted Sheamus’ intelligence.
Fandango and Great Khali were scheduled to fight, but after Khali got in some offense, Fandango decided to grab Summer Rae, leave the ring and get counted out (which is fine by me because if we really absolutely have to have a Khali match, the shorter the better). Unfortunately for him, he was met on the ramp by The Miz, but before Miz could attack, Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett attacked him from behind. Barrett and Miz were scheduled to face each other later in the night but Miz wanted the match to start right then and there, and he ended up pinning the IC Champion when Fandango came back and interrupts by dancing on the stage, distracting Barrett long enough for Miz to put him in the Figure Four and force him to tap out. Obviously, this is all leading to a triple threat match for the title, which is great because it puts focus on both the title and three great Superstars and hopefully takes place at Payback and not on Raw.
AJ Lee & The Bella Twins faced Divas Champion Kaitlyn & The Funkadactyls in a Divas tag team match which was fine but not great and maybe good. Really I have no interest in The Funkadactyls so they ruin any Divas match for me and I’m ready for WWE to reveal Kaitlyn’s secret admirer already and for them to book a title match between AJ and Kaitlyn as AJ earned the #1 contender spot in a battle royal well over a month ago. As for the match, Kaitlyn won for her team when she pinned Nikki Bella after AJ refused to accept the tag and left Nikki and Brie to fend for themselves.