As poorly booked and overall boring that I thought the WWE Payback pay-per-view was, last night’s episode of WWE Raw was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. From the moment the show kicked off with CM Punk interrupting new World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio, to Mark Henry announcing his retirement in a tearful and heartfelt speech only to provide the biggest swerve of the year and attack WWE Champion John Cena, to the surprise and welcome returns of both Christian (who defeated Wade Barrett) and Brock Lesnar (who attacked CM Punk), the show was fun, exciting and downright entertaining from start to finish. This time of year has always been when something spectacular and surprising happens on WWE television (e.g., Vince McMahon’s limousine blowing up, the debut of Nexus, CM Punk’s pipe bomb) and it looks like that trend is bound to continue.
WWE Raw kicked off with the new World Heavyweight Champion, Alberto Del Rio, in the ring to talk about defeating Dolph Ziggler for the title the night before. From the second Ricardo Rodriguez came out to announce Del Rio and all throughout Del Rio’s promo until CM Punk interrupted him, the crowd rained a chorus of boos down on him. The question, however, is whether the boos are standard heel heat or go-away heat. Del Rio’s face turn can be described as nothing less than an epic failure and so a heel turn is certainly the way to go, and Dolph Zigler has always been a heel we love to cheer (akin to CM Punk) so turning him face makes sense if done right. But as I said last night, taking the title away from Ziggler after just a two-month reign (half of which was spent at home with a concussion) was one of the worst world title booking decisions in the history of sports entertainment. And there is no way the title was taken away from Ziggler because of any lingering effects from the concussion because later in the night he flew off the stage and attacked Del Rio, something a man with said lingering effects would not do. My hope is simply that the payoff to this double-turn with Del Rio and Ziggler leads to another world title reign for Ziggler and that it lasts much longer than his last two (the first lasting mere minutes if you even remember).
Anyway, Del Rio came out to say that he was turning his back on the fans because we had turned our backs on him, which is totally true because I had no interest in him whatsoever when he was a face and only mild interest in him a mere couple of months after his much heralded debut. He says that for months he has been doing everything for the fans, but the first night he does something for himself, he won the world title. At this point, Del Rio is interrupted by CM Punk, who reminds Del Rio that the last time he was a world champion, CM Punk defeated him for the title and then held it for a record 434 days. Punk starts to challenge Del Rio to a match at the end of the night but Paul Heyman interrupts him and tries to explain that his “client” is still banged up from the night before and does not fight for free. Punk cuts off Heyman and says that if Del Rio wants to claim to be the best then, as the best wrestler in the world, he is going to face him. This brings out Vickie Guerrero, who makes the match official.
Bckstage, Punk explains to Heyman that he is not his client but his friend, that he can speak for himself and make decisions for himself, and on top of that he nearly cost Punk his match against Chris Jericho the night before. Punk says that they will always be friends but that he no longer wants Heyman to accompany him to the ring. Later on, Heyman finds Punk and gives him a big hug, telling him that he understands his decision and that he loves him.
This takes us to the main event of the evening and it is decent enough, with Del Rio deciding to take his title and leave the ring and get counted out instead of continuing to fight. But it is after the match is over that the real surprise happens, as Brock Lesnar’s music hits and the Next Big Thing makes his way to the ring. He grabs a microphone and goes face-to-face with Punk, but before saying a word he grabs Punk and hits him with the F5! The show goes off the air with Punk laid out cold in the middle of the rind and Lesnar smiling from the ramp.
Did Paul Heyman send Lesnar to attack Punk? Is this going to lead to an obvious dream match between Punk and Lesnar, most likely at SummerSlam in August? Either, my attention has most certainly been grabbed.
As surprising as Lesnar returning to F5 Punk was, it was not the only surprise of the night. All last night and throughout the day it was teased, by Mark Henry himself, that he would be announcing his retirement on Raw. Sure enough, after John Cena came out to cut a surprisingly serious promo about defeating Ryback at Payback and looking forward to his next challenger, Henry came out and gave an emotional, tearful and heartfelt speech about having no regrets about his career and going home to spend more time with his wife and kids, even placing the symbolic pair of wrestling boots at the top of the stage. But as John Cena got in the ring to celebrate with Henry, even letting Henry hold up the WWE Championship, Henry suddenly turned on Cena and hit him with the World Strongest Slam! Backstage, Henry said the fans were gullible idiots for believing that he was retiring and not only did he still have plenty of fuel left in the tank but he was challenging Cena for the title at the Money In The Bank PPV in four weeks.
And yet, Brock Lesnar Lesnar returning to F5 CM Punk and Mark Henry providing the swerve of the year were not the only surprises of the evening, as Christian finally made his triumphant return to the ring and defeated Wade Barrett in his first match back! Christian has actually been medically cleared to wrestle for months but the rumor online was that WWE Creative had nothing for him, which is nothing short of ridiculous if true, and Triple H even had fun with that later in the night when Vickie Guerrero was trying to brag about bringing Christian back and HHH asked her why it took so long.
An ongoing storyline throughout the night, a continuation from the past couple of weeks, was the interesting dynamic between Vince McMahon, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. First, Triple H told Vickie that she needed to take action of The Shield ran roughshod over Raw yet again. When they did and she was about to reprimand them, Vince showed up to say that he loved what The Shield was doing and sent them on their way. Later in the night, both Vince and Triple H were giving Vickie their very differing opinions on how to run the show when Stephanie interjected and said that if she were Vickie, she would not follow either one of them, but her instead. As for Stephanie, she made an already intriguing Divas division and storyline even better earlier in the night during AJ Lee’s promo. After winning the Divas Title the night before, AJ came out to say that no woman in the back was as smart, strong or sexy as she was and that there was no one who could take the title from her. This brought out Stephanie, who asks AJ she she is perpetuating the stereotype that all women hate each other and to start acting like a champion. AJ tries to insult her but Stephanie reminds her that she is her boss and then Stephanie is interrupted by Kaitlyn, who is surrounded by the other WWE Divas. Kaitlyn says that she may have been beaten but is far from broken and runs into the ring to attack AJ, who is saved by Big E Langston.
After spending a month building up a Divas storyline that culminated with a fantastic ending and then following it up with the best women’s wrestling match in recent WWE history at Payback, the momentum for the Divas division certainly continued full steam ahead last night. But while I am definitely intrigued by the dynamic and storyline between AJ and Kaitlyn, and how Stephanie McMahon might play a part in all of it, having the entire Divas division (minus The Bella Twins) on the ramp at the same time did show how weak the division is overall. It might be time to bring up some of the Divas from NXT, especially Paige. Oh, and also, for those who missed it, Kaitlyn popped out of her top while attacking AJ and the screen momentarily went to black, but if you paused your DVR and moved forward in slow-motion, you got to see it all.
Here are my quick thoughts on the rest of the show:
Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan faced off against each other after each won blamed the other for their team’s loss the night before, but the match was cut short when Bryan seemingly injured himself and the referee stopped the match. After the match, Bryan and Orton shook hands as the referees helped Bryan up the ramp, and then it was announced online that Bryan blew up at Triple H backstage for stopping the match, so I’m not sure if the injury was legitimate or not. In related news, Kane got another shot at Dean Ambrose, but Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns interfered and got Ambrose disqualified before Kane could hit Ambrose with a chokeslam. Kane and Bryan also had a heart-to-heart backstage where they agreed that the status of Team Hell No was still up in the air but definitely on tenuous footing.
Antonio Cesaro defeated William Regal, but the noteworthy news from that match is that Cesaro has now aligned himself with Zeb Coulter. Yes, it is completely hypocritical of Coulter to align himself with Cesaro after all his xenophobic rants since his debut, but he explained that Cesaro had come to the country legally and so he may be an immigrant but is the right kind of immigrant. After the match, Cesaro laid a Don’t Tread On Me flag over Regal’s body as he and Coulter chanted “We The People.” More importantly, however, where is Jack Swagger and what does this mean for him?
Sheamus thankfully lost to Damien Sandow and Cody Rhodes in a handicap match, and I say thankfully because I was all but convinced that Sheamus would win the match, which would have just been absurd and a complete burial of Sandow and Rhodes. Unfortunately, despite Rhodes and Sandow winning the match, doing so does nothing for them or Sheamus in terms of a future storyline or feud.
New Intercontinental Champion Curtis Axel defeated Sin Cara and, a night after tearing the house down and blowing the roof off in his match against CM Punk, Chris Jericho wrestled Heath Slater in a match that lasted about a minute.