By: Travis Thayer ( Follow @TheTravisThayer)
A little more than a year ago, Monday Night Raw switched from a two-hour show to a three-hour program. For a majority of that year the WWE struggled to put together a good three-hour show, and there was some critics who suggested they go back to the two-hour format. That argument should be laid to rest after what occurred on our television screens last night. Raw had everything from heel turns, to babyface turns, to surprises, to retirements, to other surprises, and the matches were solid. The WWE finally got the three-hour Raw right, and it had all of us wrestling fans clamoring for more.
The night started off with the newly crowned World Heavyweight Champion, Alberto Del Rio. Del Rio was in full fledged heel mode from the onset. He had started his heel turn at the Payback pay-per-view a night earlier, where he used a brutal attack on the earlier concussed Dolph Ziggler to capture the World Heavyweight Title. He continued his heel turn by telling the fans that he fought for them the last five months, but they never really appreciated him. He went on to say that the fans cheered for Ziggler when he cashed in his Money in the Bank contract, and won the Heavyweight Title from a defenseless Del Rio. Del Rio claimed that Ziggler was a coward attacking a defenseless man, but Del Rio did the same exact thing to win the title back from Ziggler at Payback. At this point the crowd was fully against Del Rio, and he goes on to say he is the “best”, and most of you could guess what happens next. CM Punk‘s music hits to a huge pop (Punk is now a babyface) from the WWE Universe. Let’s be real, CM Punk is the “best in the world”, and he proved it at Payback when he and Chris Jericho had the “Match of the Year”. Punk then challenges Del Rio to a match much to Paul Heyman‘s chagrin. Heyman’s clients don’t fight for free, but CM Punk isn’t Paul Heyman’s client, he’s his friend. Del Rio and Punk is set in the Main Event, and Punk asked Heyman to not be at ring side.
SURPRISE NUMBER ONE: Wade Barrett was set for his Intercontinental Championship rematch against Paul Heyman’s newest client, Curtis Axel. However, Vickie Guerrero had other plans. Wade Barrett’s new opponent was none other than the returning Christian. Christian had been gone for almost a year, and his win against Barrett puts him right back in the Intercontinental Title picture. The WWE is trying to restore the prestige of the IC Title, and having Christian in the fold helps that cause. Don’t forget about The Miz and Fandango, as they are also after Curtis Axel’s championship gold.
The next bout wasn’t the most intriguing part of the show, but Sheamus vs. Team Rhodes Scholars was a nice handicap match. Sheamus and Damien Sandow have been in a battle of wit vs. braun. After fending off both Rhodes and Sandow, Sheamus was outsmarted once again by Sandow, furthering there feud. This one seems to be far from over.
RANDY ORTON vs. DANIEL BRYAN! Need I say more? The match stipulation was up to the WWE Universe, and they got it wrong. The WWE Universe chose a No DQ match over a 2 out of 3 falls match. Are you kidding me people? Don’t get me wrong, the No DQ match was great up until it was called off by what ended up being Triple H‘s call. The fact of the matter is that Bryan is the hottest thing going right now, and seeing him and Orton in a 2 out of 3 falls match would have been pure gold. Regardless, the match was excellent and it even set up an angle between Bryan and Triple H after Bryan sold an upper body injury causing the match to be called. It won’t be long before Daniel Bryan is the WWE Champion. You heard it here first.
Let’s not forget about the Divas. A.J. Lee is the new Divas Champion because of the mind games see played with Kaitlyn. She was very proud of her action, and she was certain there was no Diva in the back that could do anything about it. Well, there is one and her name is Stephanie McMahon. Stephanie wasn’t pleased with A.J’s actions, and she let A.J. know that she needed to start acting like a champion. I highly doubt that Stephanie will get in the ring with A.J., but the interaction between the two was very interesting to say the least. One thing is for certain, Kaitlyn is out to make A.J.’s life a living hell, just as A.J. did to her.
For those that have been paying attention, The Shield have been dominating WWE TV. Week in and week out they cause damage and destruction to all comers. This week Triple H demanded that Vickie Guerrero get control of The Shield by punishing them for any wrongdoing. Well, wouldn’t you know it The Shield got involved in the United States Championship match between Kane and fellow Shield member Dean Ambrose. The interference allowed Ambrose to retain his title against Kane for the second consecutive night (once by count out, once by DQ), and The Shield continues to run untamed. Vickie Guerrero was in the process of punishing The Shield when Vince McMahon shows up, and basically forces her to do nothing. Soon after that Triple H comes on the scene, and asks why nothing was done. Vickie has been placed between a rock and a hard place with Mr. McMahon and Triple H. The power struggle continues between the McMahon family, and I can’t wait to see what happens with the always crazy McMahon family.
Ok so the next segment wasn’t great. Antonio Cesaro squashed William Regal, and has officially joined Zeb Colter, Jack Swagger, and “We the People”. It might just be me, but the “We the People” campaign is down right unwatchable.
SURPRISE NUMBER TWO: Mark Henry interrupts John Cena‘s speech about having a better 2013 than 2012…Bore me some more John. Henry comes out in a sweet Craig Sager looking jacket, and drops his boots at the top of the stage. Henry has come out to announce his retirement, and he asks that John Cena stays to hear what he has to say. Henry shows as much emotion as I can ever recall anyone showing during a retirement announcement. He talks of his accomplishments, and how he’s coming home to his kids that miss him so dearly when he’s on the road. The crowd chanted Henry’s name, and chanted one more match as they usually do during a retirement. John Cena even let’s Henry hold the WWE Championship, the only title Henry never won. Henry of course gave the title back, and said that was something you have to earn. After telling Cena he would be the greatest WWE Champion of all-time, Henry and Cena embraced. The “World’s Strongest Man” was now eamusthe “World’s Best Actor” because it was a big ruse. Henry delivered the “World’s Strongest Slam” to Cena, and declared he had plenty more in the tank. Mark Henry tricked us all, and he is now on a collision course with John Cena for the WWE Championship. If you missed this live, you won’t feel the same emotions as everyone else did, but it’s still worth the watch.
I think we can skip the next match. Chris Jericho was relegated to wrestling Heath Slater after having the “Match of the Year” with CM Punk a night earlier. Jericho went over Slater and the rest of 3MB, and it appears that Jericho will be staying a babyface for the rest of the summer before touring with his band Fozzy.
Curtis Axel vs. Sin Cara wasn’t a great match by any means, but Axel did get his first clean win on Raw. The new Intercontinental Champ and son of Hall of Famer Mr. Perfect is on the ascent to the top of the mountain. He has almost automatically legitimized the IC Title, and it appears a feud with The Miz is on tap. Axel is a star in the making, and it’s no surprise to me that the new blood on Raw has made wrestling cool again.
Now for the Main Event. Del Rio vs. CM Punk was an excellent match filled with fast- paced, hard-hitting action. Del Rio has never looked so vicious, and Punk hasn’t missed a beat after being off for the last six weeks. The match was great, but what happened after the match is what everyone is talking about. After CM Punk hit the GTS, Del Rio decided he had had enough and got himself counted out. Little did Del Rio know that Dolph Ziggler was there, and he launched himself of the stage and attacked Del Rio from behind. Ziggler got a huge pop when he raced out from the back, and he is definitely turning babyface. Ziggler and Del Rio fought their way to the back as Punk stood in the ring and shrugged off what just happened. That’s when SURPRISE NUMBER THREE HAPPENED: Brock Lesnar‘s music hit and the “Beast” was making his way to the ring. Lesnar circled the ring like a shark stalking it’s prey. Punk was confused as to what was going on, and that’s when Lesnar grabbed a mic. Lesnar was about to speak his peace, but instead he lifted Punk onto his shoulders and delivered a devastating F-5. Raw goes off the air with Lesnar standing over Punk, setting up a potential match at Summerslam.
There is so much going on right now that the three-hour format is much needed. Everyone should be excited for the present and future of the WWE. Here are the programs I am most excited about, and things I would like to see happen:
- CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar at Summerslam. Contrasting styles and a personal issue makes for intriguing television. I’ll predict CM Punk gets the best of Lesnar in the long run, but more vicious attacks on Punk are on the way.
- Dolph Ziggler and Alberto Del Rio look as if they are trying to seriously injure each other. The physicality of this feud really brings out the best in Dolph Ziggler, as he can sell with the best of them. Ziggler will once again be World Champ, but it may likely come without the help of Big E or A.J.
- Triple H and Vince McMahon continue to try and one up each other. I’m not really sure how this one will play out, but it is funny as hell watching the two go at each other in a non-physical way.
- Anything The Shield does is great. Ever since they arrived on the scene, Raw has been better. Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, and Roman Reigns are superstars. Believe in The Shield.
- Curtis Axel and his defense of the IC Title. With The Miz, Wade Barrett, Fandango, and Christian in the fold, the IC Title is being revitalized.
- Mark Henry vs. John Cena for the WWE Championship will be good if not for the fact that Henry had everyone tricked. Cena will ultimately defeat Henry, and continue his bounce back year.
- Last but not least, Money in the Bank is rapidly approaching and the MITB match itself is always a must see. I’m sure I’ll become more excited about this match upon learning who will compete in it. Early candidates include: Chris Jericho, Fandango, Christian, Ryback, Sheamus, Sandow, RVD. Should be a fun few weeks leading up to MITB.