CM Punk confronts new World Champion Alberto Del Rio.
By Graham "GSM" Matthews
CM Punk Interrupted Alberto Del Rio's Championship Celebration
If there were any doubts that Del Rio is a heel after WWE Payback on Sunday night, they were put to rest in this segment. One of the reasons Del Rio grew stale as a heel in his previous run was because he had nothing substantial to work with. However, since he slowly won over the fans and turned his back on them, the turn was much more effective. His explanation of his actions was logical and planted the seeds for Dolph Ziggler's pending face turn as well. I enjoyed CM Punk bringing up his history with Del Rio from late 2011 as well as teasing tension with Paul Heyman. This was a great start to the show that help set up the main event match for later in the night.
Christian def. Wade Barrett
To say that I'm excited that Christian has finally returned to the ring would be a massive understatement. He's been missing from action since last August, so it's great to finally see him back. The crowd reacted accordingly and it was certainly a pleasant surprise. He and Barrett produced a nice match, but it definitely could have gone on a bit longer. Christian spoke of getting his "one more match" on the WWE app, so is it safe to say that a World Heavyweight Championship program might be in Captain Charisma's future?
Team Rhodes Scholars def. Sheamus in a 2-on-1 Handicap Match
The match itself was nothing out of the ordinary, but the finish took me by surprise. Not only did Sandow score the victory over Sheamus, but he did so in clean fashion, which certainly is a big boost in momentum for him. If they intend to continue this feud between the two, it's crucial that they continue to make Sandow look like an equal to Sheamus before being ultimately squashed by The Celtic Warrior.
Randy Orton def. Daniel Bryan by Forfeit in a No Disqualification Match
I definitely would have rather seen this match happen later down the line, but the action was enjoyable, nonetheless. These two work very well together and both competitors made good use out of the extreme stipulation. I don't believe Bryan's injury is legitimate, so having him lose via forfeit made for a weak finish. However, it's understandable given the fact that it protects both guys. If they are supposed to be teasing an Orton heel turn, they didn't do a good job of it here, as having the two shake hands afterwards foreshadowed Bryan turning more than it did Orton. As I've said in the past, Bryan is too over with the crowd right now to be turning heel.
Stephanie McMahon Confronted Divas Champion AJ Lee
AJ's promo was fine for what is was, but Stephanie McMahon's interruption was what really caught my attention. The back-and-forth banter between the two didn't make sense, but at least it makes AJ look like an equal to Stephanie, who AJ has resembled quite a bit in the past. Kaitlyn's attack on AJ was well done and furthered the feud between the two. I'm happy to see a real rivalry developing in the Divas division for the first time in a long while. I look forward to the next chapter in this on-going story featuring these lovely ladies.
Kane def. United States Champion Dean Ambrose by Disqualification
This match didn't last a mere minute before the other members of The Shield interfered. This is the third time we've seen this match in the last week, and all three times the contest has had a non-finish. What happened to the days of The Shield winning their matches clean? With The Shield targeting just Kane this week, I want to believe that it will lead to The Brothers of Destruction challenging The Shield for the WWE Tag Team Championships at SummerSlam.
Antonio Cesaro w/Zeb Colter def. William Regal
I'm loving this newfound alliance between Cesaro and Colter. Cesaro hasn't had direction for the longest time and it gives Colter something to do for the time being with Jack Swagger out with an injury. Sure, the fact Colter is aligning with a Swiss citizen doesn't make much sense, but they addressed that logic in Cotler's promo and on commentary. Being the massive Regal fan that I am, it was nice to see him make an appearance on Raw, even if it was in losing fashion. The bout was hard-hitting and physical while it lasted and it was the first step in rebuilding Cesaro. With Money in the Bank right around the corner, one has to wonder if this is being done to build the former United States Champion up as a threat to the opportunistic briefcase.
Mark Henry Attacked WWE Champion John Cena
Going into this story, I thoroughly believed that Henry's retirement (which he teased on Twitter) was an angle. However, after Henry cut that extremely emotional promo, I doubted myself and thought it was indeed real. Having Henry fake his own retirement was pure brilliance and it garnered major heat from the live crowd. I'm very high on the idea of Henry challenging for the WWE Championship at the Money in the Bank event, as he truly deserves it and it feels like a fresh feud.
Chris Jericho def. Heath Slater w/3MB
Well, this was one random match. It hardly served a purpose, but I didn't mind it. It was fun while it lasted and it got Jericho on the show. I was anticipating The Wyatt Family to debut at this point, but no such luck. I'm intrigued as to where Jericho goes from here after losing to CM Punk at Payback. Anyone remember when Slater beat Jericho on an episode of WWE NXT a few years back? Yeah, me either.
Intercontinental Champion Curtis Axel w/Paul Heyman def. Sin Cara (Non-title)
We've seen this bout two times prior over on SmackDown, so this was nothing out of the ordinary. If anything, it was designed to showcase Axel's abilities, so it was successful in that aspect. The Miz seemed to struggle on commentary, but I still anticipate his apparent feud with Axel over the Intercontinental Champion. If Payback was any indication, those two can have some solid matches together.
CM Punk def. World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio w/Ricardo Rodriguez by Count-out (Non-title)
Given the fact we haven't seen this match since late 2011, it felt fresh and had a nice pace to it. Punk and Del Rio have enjoyable chemistry together and I wouldn't mind another feud between the two down the line if it ever came down to it. The count-out loss protected Del Rio while also furthering Punk's recent momentum. The crowd popped nicely for Ziggler's attack on Del Rio, so it's good to see he's already getting over as a face. I had a feeling they were going to eventually embark on a Punk/Lesnar story-line, but not as soon as last night. However, I'm not complaining, as Lesnar's attack on Punk was picture perfect and was an unexpected ending to a phenomenal show. I assume this match will be going down at SummerSlam, so I can't wait until next week to see what happens next.
In my personal opinion, I thought this was the best edition of Raw of the year thus far. There was absolutely nothing to complain about. Sure, some may argue that the McMahon family drama grew tiresome over the course of the evening, but I found it to be more strange than I did annoying. There were several segments and matches on this show worth watching and made the episode as a whole feel memorable. Not only that, but the live crowd was surprisingly awesome and made for a fun environment throughout the show. There are plenty of intriguing angles in WWE at the moment and I surely hope they can continue this strong momentum going forward in order to produce an exciting summer season.