Curtis Axel takes control of WWE Champion John Cena.
By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Effective promo to kick off the show featuring WWE Champion John Cena, Ryback, Paul Heyman and Curtis Axel. Cena kept the comedy to a minimum and remained serious throughout most of his promo, which is always good to see. His proposal of the Three Stages of Hell match at WWE Payback was nicely done, as was Ryback's subsequent rebuttal. We haven't seen a Three Stages of Hell match in nearly four years, so it feels fresh and I'm certainly excited for it. Heyman and Axel's interruption was oddly timed, but it effectively set up the main event between Axel and Cena for later in the show. Axel showed more promise on the mic in this segment, so it's nice to see he's already improving.
Nice match between Alberto Del Rio and Big E Langston. While I didn't mind the bout given the fact these two work well together, I didn't understand the point in having his match if Del Rio avenged his loss to Langston on last week's edition of WWE Main Event. Not only that, but this contest received much less time than their rematch from last Wednesday night, so I was a bit disappointed by the brevity of the bout. It seems that a Langston face turn might be in the works, but I still thoroughly believe that it's too soon for that to happen. As annoying as the WWE App has become, it was nice to see World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler make an appearance for the first time in weeks.
Fun match with Dean Ambrose successfully defending his United States Championship against Kofi Kingston. It didn't receive much more than their initial bout together at the Extreme Rules event, but it was still enjoyable while it lasted. Ambrose winning in clean fashion was a nice touch in making him look like a credible champion. On a side note, I'd like to thank Brandon Duke for holding up the "Save Us GSM" at ringside during the match, which was visible on television. Nothing cooler than seeing your name get on Raw!
Great match with Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns successfully defending their WWE Tag Team Championships against Team Hell No. Having Daniel Bryan and Kane run down to the ring to fend off The Shield was a smart way of leading into the matchup. The contest received an awesome amount of time and managed to outlast their previous match together at Extreme Rules. Once again, Bryan was the MVP of the bout with his exciting, aggressive antics that the Canadian crowd was undoubtedly hot for. I expected this match to occur at next month's Payback pay-per-view, so I'm interested in what role Bryan and Kane will play at the event now that they've invoked their rematch clause.
Brief match between Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett and Fandango with The Miz as special guest referee. Since both Fandango and Barrett are heels, it was smart to position Miz as the referee in order to give the fans someone to cheer for. While I'm disappointed Barrett continues to lose meaningless matches, Fandango's win allows him to enter the Intercontinental title picture. A Triple Threat for the belt at Payback seems rather likely at this point.
Throwaway six-man tag team match with Tons of Funk and The Great Khali defeating 3MB. Why WWE wastes time with such pointless matches is absolutely beyond me. I think a better question to ask is why this put on television over Bret Hart's appreciation night. If nothing else, at least they acknowledged it was Natalya's birthday (which would be ruined later on in the broadcast).
Excellent Highlight Reel segment featuring Chris Jericho and Paul Heyman. I was pleasantly surprised to see the focus on CM Punk rather than Curtis Axel, who was originally advertised to appear. Personally, I would have rather seen Punk make a shocking return to the ring this summer and not as soon as June, but I will admit that it's an intriguing angle. I don't expect Punk to show up in Chicago, but if he does, his match with Jericho won't disappoint.
Fine tag team match with The Bella Twins defeating Divas Champion Kaitlyn and Natalya. The in-ring action wasn't atrocious, but it consisted of the basic botches you would see in any other Divas match. Natalya locking in the Sharpshooter in her hometown on her birthday was a special moment, but having her lose somewhat took away from that. It's possible they're setting up for a feud between Natalya and Kaitlyn, but Natalya being bullied by the Bellas is an absolute asinine angle.
Good tag team match with Randy Orton and Sheamus defeating Team Rhodes Scholars. While it the match itself was well wrestled, it was hard to get excited about it after seeing it countless times. Neither Cody Rhodes nor Damien Sandow haven't meant anything in the longest time, so a win over them doesn't mean much. Nonetheless, one would assume that this means Orton and Sheamus are now setting their sights on the WWE Tag Team Championships.
Solid match between WWE Champion John Cena and Curtis Axel. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary, but at least Axel was able to hold his own against Cena more than last week. Would a Scott Steiner return be too much to ask for? I'm sorry, but I instantly think he's coming back to the company whenever I hear the ambulance sirens. Regardless, a count-out victory doesn't necessarily launch Axel into super stardom, but it's still ten times better than having him lose to The Champ in clean fashion. Furthermore, this effectively furthered Cena's feud with Ryback going into their Three Stages of Hell match at Payback.
Overall, an enjoyable show that provided plenty of entertaining matches and moments that made it feel worthy of watching. There was also a significant amount of build towards the pending Payback pay-per-view, so it was successful in that aspect as well. The Canadian crowd made for an electric atmosphere and was hot for the entire broadcast. Here's hoping WWE can continue the strong streak of great shows as we quickly approach the summer season.