Happy Memorial Day to those of you in the United States of America! I hope you've had gorgeous weather and enjoyed it with your favorite barbecue or grilled items, and a nice cold beer (or soda)! And once the party is over, come join me, Drew Koscelek, over at Ring-Rap.com to help you party the night away with another riveting episode of Monday Night Raw!
WWE is in Canada tonight, so they're playing up a huge after-show Bret Hart Appreciation Night, which is only viewable on the WWE App. They're really pushing the hell out of this thing. I'm skeptical on downloading it, personally. But, if you've checked it out, let me know how it is, and maybe you can do a better job of selling it to me than WWE does.
Also on the card, it looks like Curtis Axel will be sitting down for a chat with Chris Jericho in the "Highlight Reel" segment. It will be a great opportunity for Axel to get over with the crowd and I look forward to seeing if he gets a chance to talk, or if Heyman takes the reigns.
Will Triple H show up? Will John Cena appear? Will The Shield continue to dominate the mid-card landscape?
Join us LIVe tonight starting at 8pm EST for WWE Raw coverage!
We kick things off with a recap of the highlights of last week's episode. After the highlights, John Cena hits the ring. Mixed reaction from Canada, mostly boos. He says there's a lot of unrest there tonight, maybe anxiety and anger. He understands, because of the Last Man Standing match at Extreme Rules. He says it's most remembered for its controversy - neither man stood for the 10-count, so both men think they deserve the WWE Championship.
Mid-promo, a "We want Bret" chant breaks out. Cena acknowledges it, but continues with his promo. He thinks Ryback is easily distracted. He says Payback should be Hell - he wants to defend the title in a 3 Stages of Hell match: 2 out of 3 falls match with each fall with a different stipulation. Stage 1 will be a Lumberjack Match, Stage 2 will be a Tables Match (he leads the crowd in a "We want tables" match). Stage 3 will remain an Ambulance Match. Cena says after he beats Ryback in the first two falls, he's still gonna lug him into the ambulance and send him off for medical attention.
Ryback comes out to a Goldberg chant. One day, this will get old. Ryback says he agrees with Cena about Payback being definitive, deliberate, and hell. Ryback drove Cena through the LED board not caring what was on the other side. He said he tried to bring him to hell - "Say hello to Lucifer. Say hello to Belzebub. Say hello to Satan. Say hello to Ryback."
Ryback leaves and the WWE Raw music kicks in, but Paul Heyman interrupts - while Cena is saying "Hello" to everyone, Heyman wants him to say hello to a future Hall of Famer, the guy that took out Triple H - Curtis Axel.
Axel comes out to the stage. Heyman tells Cena he's a fighting champion, and says he won't back down from a little challenge of his own - WWE Champion John Cena vs. Curtis Axel.
Cena says Axel has guts, but advises him to stay away from Heyman. Axel says he never asked for advice - he asked if Cena was looking for a fight. Cena agreed to the fight.
They're pushing Axel to the moon here, by putting him in a match with Triple H, then John Cena. However, if they don't give him any credibility in the match, it won't mean a single thing.
Alberto Del Rio and Ricardo Rodriguez head to the ring after the commercial break!
Back from the commercial, Ricardo Rodriguez introduces Alberto Del Rio. I'm surprised at the reaction the Canadian audience gives him, truthfully. Very nice pop. Maybe they just like announcing him with Ricardo. Anyhow, he's facing Big E Langston, who's joined by AJ Lee. Still no Dolph Ziggler.
Alberto Del Rio vs. Big E Langston
Langston goes in for early knees and shoulder blocks in the corner. Del RIo with a dropkick. He pulls the rope as Langston charges and sends Langston outside. Del Rio dives through the ropes to join him.
Outside the ring, Langston tosses Del Rio face-first into the steps, then goes for a pinfall inside the ring. 2-count.
Big E gets the advantage as WWE advertises a promo that Ziggler cut from home, available only on the WWE App! Oh boy. Here we go. Langston misses a shoulder block in the corner and hits the ring post. Del Rio gets some offense, hits a back stabber, and the fans start chanting "Si!" Kick to the face and 2-count.
Del Rio goes for a cross arm breaker, but Langston hits a Belly to Belly Suplex. Langston drops the arm straps, but Del Rio takes out his arm. AJ interferes and tries to strip the turnbuckle. The ref goes to put it back on as Del Rio locks in his arm breaker. Langston starts to power out of it, but Del Rio reverses it and sends Langston into the exposed turnbuckle. He rolls up Langston for the pinfall victory.
Winner: Alberto Del Rio
Post-match, AJ goes into the ring to apologize. Langston eyes her and walks away. She's yelling that she tried to help him as she chases after him.
Solid match from these two. Too early to sew the seeds of disdain between Langston and AJ, in my opinion.
Later tonight, Team Hell No gets their WWE Tag Team Title rematch against The Shield, plus Kofi Kingston gets another US Title rematch against Dean Ambrose!
Backstage, Kane watches Daniel Bryan pacing back and forth. Kane tells him to stop with the "weak link" association. The only one that thinks Daniel Bryan is a weak link is Daniel Bryan. Kane eventually says something that makes it seem like he's agreeing with DB, and they argue back and forth NO YES NO YES. Well, until they spot Bret Hart standing there, watching them make asses of themselves. Hart tells them to take it easy. He tells them they're one of the best tag team partnerships he's ever seen, and tension will tear them apart.
Bryan pushes Kane out of the way to get closer and asks Bret if he was ever told he was the weak link in the Hart Foundation. Hart tells him that being tough has nothing to do with size, and tells him he's one of the best, toughest, WWE superstars of all time. Kane is upset that Bryan will listen to praise from Bret Hart, but not him. Bryan says it's because Bret is The best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be, and that Kane is "just Kane." Kane is not amused.
They plug Bret Hart Appreciation Night on the WWE App before introducing Dean Ambrose and The Shield, for Ambrose's US Title Match. We go to break
After the break, a reminder that John Cena will face Curtis Axel later tonight.
Kofi Kingston comes out for his match against Dean Ambrose.
Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Kofi Kingston for the United States Championship
Ambrose pushes Kofi into the corner, but Kofi pushes back. Kofi hits a series of arm drags. Ambrose gets some offense in, but Kofi hits a series of kicks. Ambrose sweeps the legs and runs the ropes. Nice series of moves between the two, with Ambrose ducking Kofi's finisher and backing out of the ring. Kofi feigns diving head first out of the ring. We go to break as Ambrose stares him down.
Dean Ambrose is in control after the break. He stomps on Kofi, then hits an elbow. Kofi takes out the legs and hits a slingshot. Kofi runs up the ropes and hits a splash for a near fall. Boom drop! Well, maybe not. Ambrose rolls away. Kofi and Ambrose hit a nice series of near falls. Ambrose barely kicks out of an SOS from Kofi. This is a hot match so far.
Baseball slide to Ambrose and Kofi follows him out. He climbs back into the ring and hits a springboard clothesline for two. Ambrose rolls out of the ring. He sweeps Kofi's feet out from under him and Kofi goes head first into the steps. Kofi is out cold. He pushes Kofi back into the ring and hits his finisher and picks up the win.
Winner: Dean Ambrose
A great match showcasing Ambrose's unique offense. Kofi got in a lot of offense and looked very strong in defeat.
The rest of The Shield join Ambrose in the ring, but Kane and Daniel Bryan's music hits and they clear the ring. Kofi Kingston is still selling Ambrose's finisher. Or possibly, he's really out. It was pretty convincing, honestly.
We go to break.
Back from break, we join our Tag Team Title match in progress.
The Shield (Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns) (c) vs. Team Hell No (Kane & Daniel Bryan) for the WWE Tag Team Championships
Rollins and Bryan are in the ring. Rollins is in control with a headlock. Bryan gets shoulder blocked, but hits a running knee on Rollins. He starts hitting kicks to Rollins, and the fans are eating it up. Kane tags himself in.
Kane catches Rollins in the corner and hits a slam for a 2-count. He tags Bryan back in and sets him up for a Hart Attack. Nice homage. The fans appreciated that. Bryan starts elbowing Rollins on the side of the neck. He goes for a pin as the fans chant Daniel Bryan. Tag to Kane.
Kane goes for a chokeslam, but Rollins reverses it and kicks Kane in the head. Tag to Roman Reigns. Reigns comes in with the fury. He dominates Kane, tags in Rollins again. Rollins climbs up on the turnbuckle and punches Kane repeatedly. Rollins goes for a suplex, but Kane easily counters with one of his own. Tag to Reigns. Reigns knees Kane's face before Kane can get up.
Kane is taking an extended beatdown, meanwhile the Primetime Players vent their frustrations on the WWE App.
Hot tag to Daniel Bryan. He dropkicks Roman Reigns off the apron, then hits a nice German Suplex on Rollins. The fans are into this. Dropkick to Rollins, 2-count. He unloads kick after kick ending with one in the back of the head. 2-count. Bryan goes to the top rope, but Rollins catches him before he could do more damage. Rollins climbs up to the top rope. Bryan ducks underneath Rollins and crotches him, then hangs him up and hits some more kicks. Running dropkick to the corner. He sets Rollins up on the top for a top-rope German suplex. He hits it! Both men sell the move as we go to commercial.
We come back and Bryan has recovered, and is kicking Reigns. Reigns charges him in the corner, but Bryan flips out. He runs the ropes but gets punched in the jaw. Tag to Rollins.
Rollins sets up Bryan for one of own signature spots, and goes for the surfboard. Bryan shakes his head and powers out of it. He kicks the hell out of Rollins leg but Rollins reverses it and tags in Reigns. Reigns plows Bryan over with a sick tackle. Two count, followed by a tag to Rollins. Rollins taunts Bryan and headbutts him. He sends Bryan into the corner. Nice takedown face first into a turnbuckle. Two count.
Reigns tags in and starts his offense. Byan hits a running kick out of nowhere and both men are laid out. Hot tag to Kane. Tag to Rollins. Kane is on fire (very punny). Back body drop and sidewalk slam to Rollins. Two count. Reigns barely breaks it up. DB on the top rope and hits a missile drop kick on Reigns. He charges through the ropes and takes out Reigns. Kane and Rollins inside. Boot to Rollins. Bryan and Reigns are going at it outside. Kane climbs up to the top and tells Bryan to get back in the corner. Bryan has other matters in mind, and runs after Reigns. Reigns catches him and slams him outside, meanwhile Rollins hits a top rope boot to the face to get the pinfall victory on Kane for the win.
Winners: The Shield
Excellent, excellent match. The fans were into it the entire time. It does seem that Team Hell No is going down the breakup path, but Bryan is so over at this point he can stand on his own if need be.
For what it's worth, the past two matches combined have been better than nearly all of Raw this year.
Back from break, a recap of Triple H vs. Curtis Axel.
Michael Cole updates us on Triple H's condition, and tells us he should be here next week. Thank the lord.
The Miz comes out to the ring. He's going to have a role in the next match, but we don't know what. Hmm. Oh, ok. We can vote on the App for him to be the guest Ring Announcer, Commentator, or Referee.
Jerry Lawler wants him to be the guest commentator. He will be the only person making that vote. We go to break.
Back from break, Lawler announces The Miz's role in Fandango vs. Wade Barrett. Looks like he will, overwhelmingly, be the Guest Referee. Wade Barrett comes out first. Fandango and Summer Rae dance their way to the ring.
Wade Barrett (c) vs. Fandango in a non-title match
This is an interesting match-up, heel vs. heel. The two lock up, but Fandango wrenches his arm. Barrett grabs the ropes and yells at Miz to get him off of him. Miz doesn't. It's going to be THAT kind of match.
Calgary is more interested in singing Fandango's tune than watching the match. Barrett is yelling at Miz quite a bit here. Miz hits Skull Crushing Finale on Barrett and gives the victory to Fandango.
As Fandango and Summer Rae pose, The Miz kicks Fandango in the face. He puts Summer Rae on top of him and counts her to victory. She's not amused.
A huge letdown of a segment after the excellent last couple of matches.
Backstage, John Cena is starting at his WWE Title when a voice asks him "Are you sure you wanna do this?" The camera pans back to show Shawn Michaels standing there. He has a full-on beard, so it takes the audience (and admittedly, me) a moment to figure out who he is. John tells him he doesn't back down from challenges. HBK says it makes him brave, but not smart. "I am the voice of reason but you never, ever listen." John Cena says that reminds him of HBK, and he walks away.
Back from break, Tons of Funk is dancing in the ring with Khali, Natalya, and Hornswaggle. Thank god they're here too. They're about to face 3MB. Apparently, this feud started over a piece of cake that got thrown in Hornswaggle's face.
Tons of Funk & The Great Khali vs. 3MB
Khali does his one move. Tag to Sweet T. Now the real match begins. 3MB gets a surprising amount of offense, but Brodus gets the tag and talks trash. Now everyone is in the ring. Somehow, Khali does his one move again. Brodus gets the pin to mercifully end this.
Winners: Tons of Funk & The Great Khali
Brodus wants them to chill on the music, so he can talk about how tonight is Natalya's birthday. Brodus introduces The Great Khali to lead the audience in a stunning rendition of Happy Birthday. He doesn't even say Natalya's name right. Not. Even. Close.
My girlfriend, who has largely ignored the show thus far, stopped what she was doing and stared at the screen. That's how bad this was.
Chris Jericho hits the ring to host The Highlight Reel. His guests tonight, Paul Heyman and Curtis Axel. Canada loves them some Chris Jericho. He introduces Paul Heyman, who comes out to the ring with no music.
Jericho says Heyman has been called many things, from a genius to a walrus. He gives credit where it's due - Heyman has an uncanny knack for aligning himself with great talent. Heyman corrects him - he discovers and develops great talent too. He says Jericho was one of the guys he helped. He gave Jericho his first break, but Jericho says Paul owes him money. Heyman says he waived his standard fee to appear on Jericho's show. He talks about Curtis Axel's greatness.
Jericho says he doesn't wanna talk about Curis Axel - he wants to talk about his other client. Heyman immediately starts talking about Brock Lesnar. Jericho interrupts him, and says he wants to talk about his "other" client, CM Punk. Jericho says he's been absent from Raw for six weeks. They show Punk's words from the last time he appeared on TV.
Jericho says Heyman had the same suit on six weeks ago, and the same look on his face then that he does now, and that Punk's words shocked him. Heyman dodges the real question and says this is his favorite suit.
Jericho prods, and Heyman asks what should he say? He goes into a rant, and Jericho stops him with some goofy crap. Heyman says he and his client will have an announcement in the next few weeks regarding his return. Heyman says Punk is watching at home, and Jericho says hi. He says that the next pay-per-view is in Chicago, and wants Punk to come to Payback and prove to the world that he is the best in the world - and face Chris Jericho. Heyman tells him Jericho can't dictate terms.
Paul Heyman accepts the offer on behalf of CM Punk, and it looks like it's official - Jericho vs. Punk at Payback.
Not really crazy how the match came about, because it doesn't feel like it has much juice behind it, but we will see. Bringing Punk back anywhere other than Chicago doesn't feel right, anyhow.
Already in the ring, Natalya and Kaitlyn, they're teaming up against The Bella Twins.
Natalya & Kaitlyn vs. Nikki & Brie Bella
Kaitlyn sells for most of the match. Nattie gets the hot tag and locks in a Sharpshooter, but all hell breaks loose when the other twin interrupts. Kaitlyn goes to take out Brie and spears Nattie by accident. Brie gets the easy pinfall victory for the win.
Winners: The Bella Twins
The Bellas sing Happy Birthday. Unsurprisingly, they're better than Khali.
Backstage, Curtis Axel gets ready for his match. Bret Hart approaches him. He says he looks alot like his father. Axel says they had some legendary matches back in the day. Axel asks if he saw what he did to Triple H last week. Hart advises him to ditch Heyman. Axel says just because Hart knew his dad doesn't mean he knows him. He doesn't know anything about him. He said until last week, noone believed in him except Paul Heyman. He tells Hart to enjoy his appreciation night, cause he's gonna go beat the WWE Champion.
Randy Orton's music hits. He's teaming up with Sheamus. They'll be facing Rhodes Scholars.
Before Raw continues, we get a vignette for NXT standouts, The Wyatt Family.
Randy Orton & Sheamus vs. Team Rhodes Scholars (Damien Sandow & Cody Rhodes)
Rhodes and Orton start it off. Rhodes has Orton under control, but Orton hits a shoulder block. He starts working Rhodes' arm and tags in Sheamus, who launches himself over the top rope for a shoulder.
It's a pretty typical match so far between these four. Rhodes distracts Sheamus, allowing Sandow to get a top-rope arm drag. We go to break.
Back from break, Sheamus and Sandow are still mixing it up. Hot tag to Orton and he hits his powerslam on Sandow, then on Rhodes. DDT to Sandow. The action spills outside and Orton goes face first into the ring post. Sandow makes the cover and gets two. Sandow with a series of knees, a Russian leg sweep, and his fancy elbow.
Orton and Rhodes are laid out. Hot tag to Sheamus. He attacks Rhodes immediately. Sandow tags himself in. Sheamus clubs the hell out of Sandow. Rhodes kicks Sheamus in the face. Nice move. Sandow almost gets the pin. Orton sends Rhodes outside. Sheamus hits White Noise on Sandow. Brogue Kick for the win.
Winners: Sheamus & Randy Orton
As I mentioned before, typical match between these four.
Looks like Randy Orton will face Dean Ambrose on Smackdown this week. Also, we get a quick rundown of the WWE Payback Ryback vs. Cena match.
John Cena hits the ring to a mixed reaction. I just noticed he threw the belt into the ring (it almost sailed out of the other side) and he threw the belt to the referee after posing with it. Not a fan of that sort of behavior. Anyhow, Curtis Axel comes out next.
John Cena vs. Curtis Axel (w/ Paul Heyman)
Axel gets a headlock early on, but Cena hits a hip toss and Axel bails out. Heyman gives advice as they go to commercial.
Back from break, Axel is in control outside the ring. He tosses Cena into the steps and breaks the count. Cena is laid out. I like how Heyman is actively coaching Axel. Cena rolls in at 9, and Axel immediately begins stomping him. Boots in the corner. Axel is showing nice intensity. Suplex to Cena, meanwhile, something happens in the audience, and everyone is paying attention to that. I wanna see too!
Axel works the armbar, but Cena gets his momentum. Five Knuckle Shuffle. He goes for an Attitude Adjustment, but Axel gets free and hits a stellar dropkick. Double Axe Handle from the second rope. He does it again, but he misses it the second time. Cena hits a bodyslam and gets a two count.
Axel goes for a Perfectplex, but Cena reverses it. Cena goes for an STF, reverse. He hits the Perfectplex for a 2-count. Axel misses Cena in the corner. Cena starts to catch his breath, when the sound of am ambulance siren kicks on. An ambulance drives in. Cena approaches it cautiously and leaves the match unattended. He gets counted out.
Winner: Curtis Axel
Cena opens the front door, noone inside. He opens the back door, empty. Ryback ambushes him from behind and sets Cena up on the ramp for a spear through the lights. Cena dodges it and goes for the AA. Ryback pushes him off the ramp and ducks backstage. Cena sits on the floor, unamused.
Back in the ring, Curtis Axel's music kicks in and he's officially declared the winner.
Cena gave Axel a ton of offense in the match and Axel certainly performed well. His in-ring work has never really been in question, but he's always been missing that certain something to get him to the next level. I like what they're doing with him and Heyman, and I like his intensity. It was definitely lacking in his previous run.
Overall, a newsworthy show. CM Punk's return, the first signs of The Wyatt Family, new stipulations to the WWE Championship match, and two excellent matches including The Shield. Unfortunately, the second half of the show really dragged.
Thanks to everyone who followed along live. Keep your eyes open for a poll later tonight, and give your feedback!