Welcome to this week's edition of Raw Afterthoughts, where we break down last night's show in more detail than can be done during a normal show recap. Got questions, comments, or opinions of your own? Feel free to weigh in down below in the comments!
The Puppeteer Works His Magic:
I have to admit, I got sucked way in on the Mark Henry retirement angle. Since Drew was doing live coverage for us last night, I was getting ready to post the official “retirement” article for the site. It’s a good thing I held off!
Henry delivered a fantastic performance. He got the retirement speech down just right with the mix of tears, light humor, and serious moments involved. The fans bought it, and I’m sure like me many viewers bought in as well. The way he delivered this, despite a couple small cues from his Twitter account and things that the announcers said, really allowed people to suspend disbelief and enjoy the moment.
Credit is due to John Cena as well for his part. He stayed on the apron of the ring, which kept everyone’s guard down about whether or not Henry would strike. He kept the smirking and such to a minimum and sold the moment seriously. And when Henry hit the World’s Strongest Slam, it was a great moment.
There is some good work to be had here in this angle. I’m not overly thrilled over the prospect of these two wrestling, but I’m more excited about this feud than I thought I ever would be. It’s all contingent on whether or not the two can keep the energy they had last night.
Best In The World vs. Beast Incarnate:
When Brock Lesnar returned to WWE, there were a number of opponents that people immediately seemed to call for, like John Cena, Triple H…and CM Punk. We’re now going to get the Lesnar/Punk feud from all appearances.
This is the right time for this feud to happen. Punk is back now and slowly transitioning more into a babyface character after his lengthy title run as a heel. Punk is going to need that strong heel to go against as he makes that transition, and Brock (along with Paul Heyman) can help him get there. I’m looking forward to the interactions that lie ahead.
Heyman was great last night. He didn’t wait to orchestrate his attack on Punk for dismissing him. That makes him seem vindictive – despite telling Punk “I love you…you’re the best in the world.” I am looking for the spin that Heyman had nothing to do with Lesnar’s attack and how that plays out.
All in all this feels fresh and more like a dream match to me. I only worry that WWE will think Lesnar to be more “Teflon” than Punk and have him absorb an early loss in the feud. Lesnar needs wins, and I think there’s money in delaying the gratification of a Punk win.
The Mexican Aristocrat Returns to His Heelish Ways:
For this viewer, Alberto Del Rio’s face run just wasn’t working. His promos felt very forced and out of synch to me. Last night, he slipped back into a comfortable place and showed the characteristics that people were high on when he came to WWE.
Del Rio did a good job of setting up sound heel logic as to why he targeted Dolph’s head the way he did at Payback. He reminded us that Dolph went after his injured leg in the Money in the Bank cash-in the night after Wrestlemania, which was an excellent tie-in of that part of the story. He showed aggression and a vicious side without all the “destiny” baggage he carried early on in his WWE run, and he dropped the cookie-cutter fake smile face act.
I thought it would have been better to let Dolph completely off the show to sell what happened to him at Payback. But the short, intense attack he executed on Del Rio was good. It clearly established the title feud as being between him and Del Rio, and not Punk and Del Rio. One small drawback is that this story got overshadowed by Brock Lesnar’s return moments later, but Dolph established himself as a face character and got a pop.
There is the oddity of Dolph being paired with heel AJ and presumably heel Big E Langston. I’m looking forward to see how they handle this character transition for him.
Stock in Decline:
I have to piggyback on my concerns last week that the Shield is losing ground just a little bit.
They lost their first six-man tag on Smackdown, but that isn’t what’s really doing it to them. The group just feels like it’s in limbo right now. WWE hasn’t really done substantial damage to the Shield yet, but there is more for this group to do as a heel trio. If WWE is holding out to have The Shield feud with the Wyatt Family, that will end up turning the group prematurely.
WWE needs to move these guys on to some new opponents not from Deliverance and restore their purpose sooner than later. There is still money left on the table with these guys as a heel faction.
WWE had a good 48 hours with Payback and Raw. We saw good booking (the Henry angle, Punk/Heyman breakup, the double turn of Del Rio and Ziggler), and less mindless filler.
It was so good to see Christian return last night. His return played well to keep the hot opening of the show moving along as well.
Stephanie McMahon managed to crap on an entire division of wrestlers in one fell swoop last night. Her appearance really seemed to overshadow the AJ/Kaitlyn story.
Speaking of the McMahon Family Saga: this power struggle seems like a lot of self amusement. I’m not opposed to their appearances on the show, but I’d rather see them in spots that really pack a punch.
Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan win the “most awkward booking of the night” award. A no disqualification match between two face characters? An awkward referee stoppage? This made little sense to me, despite the fact that the match was good.
I am not calling 1-800-Fella, for any reason.
I’m encouraged that WWE found ways to perk up a few acts and make them feel fresh. Here’s hoping that the positive momentum continues on throughout the summer months.
That's it for this week! Be sure to join us next Monday night for more live Raw coverage. In the meantime, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to keep up with the latest on the site as well!