The debuting Curtis Axel takes control of Triple H.
By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Great promo from Ryback to kick off the show. This was the best mic work Ryback has shown since turning heel and garnered good heat from the live crowd. He challenged WWE Champion John Cena to an Ambulance match a WWE Payback next week while also targeting the audience, which was long overdue. The feud between Cena and Ryback was lacking something prior to Extreme Rules, so here's hoping this segment was a sign that the rivalry will be improving from this point forward.
Throwaway tag team match with The Miz and Chris Jericho defeating Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett and Fandango. If my memory serves me correctly, this was the first time Jericho and Miz have teamed together in over three years, so I was excited for their pairing. However, the in-ring work left a lot to be desired, as Fandango's distraction at ringside was more obnoxious than it was effective in getting him heat. Miz pinning Barrett was logical in putting him back in title contention, but the thought of Barrett being buried and treated as an afterthought once again this week is disconcerting. Speaking of Barrett, the intro to his new entrance music is awesome, but the rest of the theme sounds rather generic.
Nice match between Sheamus and Titus O'Neil. It looked like it was going to be a squash match from the start, but O'Neil more than held his own against Sheamus. Not only that, but the fact that O'Neil also received an entrance made him look like an equal to The Celtic Warrior. Sure, the former NXT Rookie ultimately came up short, but he definitely had an impressive showing against the former World Heavyweight Champion.
Brilliant booking with Paul Heyman revealing Curits Axel as his latest client. I realize that many people (myself included) were hoping that the newest client would be a returning Rob Van Dam, but what good would that have done? As great as that would have been, RVD is a veteran and doesn't need Heyman to get over in WWE. There's always another place and time for RVD to return, whereas putting Axel in this role helps build towards the future. The repackaging of the former Michael McGillicutty has been highly anticipated for a number of years now, so I'm happy to see it finally come to fruition in such a fashion. We weren't able to hear from Axel all that much during his confrontation with Triple H, but any issues he has on the mic (similar to Brock Lesnar) can be covered by Heyman.
Decent match between Big E Langston and Alberto Del Rio. The match wasn't anything special, but highlighted Langston's in-ring abilities nicely. I was pleasantly surprised to see Langston score the upset victory over Del Rio, which should be treated as a major deal. Being a former World Champion, Del Rio loses nothing from losing to Langston and has enough to credibility to quickly rebound from it.
Typical Divas match with AJ Lee defeating Layla. There were a few clunky spots, but they were able to put together a nice matchup as a whole. Both woman are two of the best in the division at the moment, so I would have liked to see the bout go a bit longer than two minutes. Of course, it seemed as if the sole focus of this match was to put over AJ's new devastating finishing maneuver. When should we expect to see AJ finally receive her shot at Kaitlyn's Divas Championship?
Brief match with Cody Rhodes defeating Zack Ryder. Neither Superstar received an entrance, so that alone showed that the bout was insignificant before it even started. It was nice to see Rhodes score a rare win on Raw, but any momentum he gained from the victory was quickly overshadowed by Ryback's decimation of Ryder moments later. However, I'm not complaining, as I found Ryback's ambush of The Long Island Iced Z to be very well done and established him as a legitimate threat that should not be reckoned with.
Excellent match with United States and WWE Tag Team Champions The Shield defeating Kofi Kingston and Team Hell No. They kept a consistent pace throughout the bout and provided plenty of exciting spots. The true MVP of this bout was clearly Daniel Bryan, who showed aggressive antics for the first time in a great while. The Shield victory helps rebuild the prestige of the belts they now hold while also teasing tension between Kane and Bryan. I wouldn't mind seeing Bryan turn heel, as long as he doesn't feud with Kane for the millionth time shortly thereafter.
Solid match between Randy Orton and Jack Swagger. These two have worked with one another countless times before, but the match doesn't enough to feel overexposed. Their good chemistry led them to a well wrestled match that received a substantial amount of time. I could have done without Orton winning yet again, but Swagger still managed to look strong in defeat after controlling most of the match.
Good match between Triple H and Curtis Axel. Axel didn't get in enough offense against HHH to look like his equal, but the fact he was chosen as The Game's opponent for his first match on Raw in over three years made the match feel somewhat special. Admittedly, I was a bit intrigued by Triple H's apparent health issue and it was a good cliffhanger to close the show, but it's hard to get excited about another Triple H return. He gets injured, returns, wins a match, loses a match and then leaves again. It's the same cycle over and over again, so it's safe to say that he'll be back by SummerSlam. Some may same that the angle surrounding HHH took focus off of Axel, but I was completely content with it, as it was a unique way of allowing Axel to defeat The Game while also saving the actual finish for a later date. However, officials should have made it clear on television that Axel was awarded the victory rather than force viewers to visit the website in order to find out for themselves.
Overall, a great show that provided plenty of aftermath from Extreme Rules while also moving forward with the build to next month's WWE Payback event. That being said, it would have been nice for WWE to address some of the unanswered angles (the controversial finish to the Last Man Standing and "I Quit" matches) from this past Sunday's pay-per-view. Nonetheless, this was probably the best episode of Raw in recent weeks that gave me hope for future editions. Surprisingly enough, the absences of World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler, Big Show, Mark Henry, CM Punk and even WWE Champion John Cena actually worked to WWE's advantage and allowed some of the other rising stars (Ryback, Curtis Axel, Big E Langston) to steal the spotlight for a change.