Last week on Raw, Curtis Axel picked up his second win - this time by count out over the champion, John Cena. In that match, Ryback ran a distraction with an ambulance to draw Cena from the ring, giving Axel the win.  Will Cena try to get some revenge on Ryback for that loss?

Also, during the course of the day, Jim Ross has teased on his blog about a hot opening to the show tonight.  Rumor has it Triple H is going to be there - and he may have revenge on his mind for Curtis Axel beating him by stoppage in his debut.  Will the Cerebral Assassin get his, or is there something else in mind by Paul Heyman and his client?

Show Open, Live in Hartford, CT at the XL Center

We get a recap of Cena announcing the Three Stages of Hell match early in the show.  They move to the end of the show when Ryback brought out an ambulance to distract Cena and cost him his main event match with Curtis Axel.  They show video of Ryback destroying Kofi Kingston with three table shots.  They also recap the Triple H/Curtis Axel saga from two weeks ago.

Justin Roberts introduces Stephanie McMahon, who makes her way to the ring to cut a promo.  The announcers check in and ponder what it is she has to say.  Cole says it's been nearly a year since Stephanie has been on television.  She says it feels great to be on Raw again, but wishes it were under better circumstances.

She recounts Triple H facing Brock Lesnar in the cage match, then competing against Curtis Axel the next night.  "My husband couldn't even finish the match.  Even though Triple H has been medically cleared to wrestle, I've made the executive decision to not allow Triple H to compete."

The fans don't like it and boo.  She says she made the decision as an executive, wife, and mother.  She tells the fans to not be selfish.  Vince McMahon's music hits and he gets a big ovation.  Vince does his grapefruits walk and hugs Stephanie once he gets to the ring.

Vince says "it seems like you're happy to see me, and I'm happy to see you as well."  Vince asks the fans to not boo Stephanie, which draws more boos.  Vince and Stephanie agree that they care more about Triple H than the fans do.  Vince points out that Triple H is the father of his grandchildren, and he says Trips will not compete.

The fans chant for H, and Vince asks if the fans want his heart, liver, and soul.  "What the hell do you want from that man?  WWE is family entertainment, not a bloodsport!"  He recounts Kofi Kingston being put through a table last week and the fans chanting "one more time."  Kingston ended up eating two more tables as a result.

Vince says there's not going to be "a one more time" for Triple H tonight or any other night.  Vince echoes Stephanie's comments that Curtis Axel is beneath Triple H, just as  the fans are.

The Shield's music hits.  JBL implores the McMahons to get out of the ring as they make their way through the crowd.

I guess this is WWE's way of "coming out swinging" against the Pacers/Heat NBA Conference Finals Game 7.  Good appearances, and decent promo work from the McMahons.  Some may enjoy the Shield's entrance as a good hook, but I'm ready to see more from this group as everything feels very formula anymore.

Match #1 - Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan and Kane vs. The Shield (Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns)

As they come back The Shield is in the ring, watching Orton's entrance.  The announcers tell us we could watch the McMahons leave the ring without incident on the app during the break.

Early on, WWE App users were encouraged to watch Tons of Funk watch the match we're presently watching.  Seth Rollins gets the better of Kane heading into the commercial break three minutes in.

After commercial, The Shield keeps up the offense on Kane.  Orton takes a hot tag and runs some offense, hitting a double elevated DDT on Ambrose and Rollins.  The crowd is white hot for Orton, as he sets up the elevated DDT on Reigns but Rollins cuts that off with a kick.  The Shield works over Orton.

Bryan gets the crowd going by clapping, and they chant yes in response.  Rollins tags in and goes up top.  Orton counters his dive by hitting a big drop kick.  Orton gets the hot tag to Bryan and Bryan goes off on a run.  He hits Ambrose with a series of kicks to the head and chest.

Bryan catches Rollins on the ropes and hits a huracanrana that sends Rollins onto Ambrose in a neat spot.  Bryan hits Reigns with a suicide dive then hits Ambrose with a missile drop kick for a good two count.  Bryan goes for the No Lock but it gets broken up.

Orton hits Rollins with the RKO, then tries it on Reigns.  Reigns pushes him off and Orton and Bryan collide.  Ambrose hits his finisher to get the win for The Shield.  The announcers play it as "unfortunate circumstances."  Bryan sells frustration afterward by shaking his head.

The live crowd ate up Orton and Bryan's offense and the match was well worked.  I just feel like The Shield needs to start moving beyond the same 3-1 endings to these matches.

The announcers hype up a contract signing for the match between CM Punk and Chris Jericho at Payback, as well as Big E Langston facing Alberto Del Rio in a "rubber match" of sorts.

Backstage:

Bryan rants about Orton colliding with him in the match.  Orton says he is sorry and reminds Bryan anything can happen in the ring.  He tells Bryan to drop it.  Bryan says he knew Kane felt BRyan was the weak link, and now it's clear Orton thinks the same.  Bryan says Orton can't apologize because it's is fault they lost.

Kane tells Bryan they respect him, but Bryan has lost touch with reality.  Bryan says the reality is that he's the weak link.  Bryan yells about having one match to solidify he's the weak link, and it didn't happen.  Bryan says he will have another match and beat the respect out of someone else so Kane and Orton respect him.

Elsewhere...

Triple H arrives and asks where Vince's office is.  He enters and Stephanie is there with Vince.  He asks them what's going on and says he will face Curtis Axel tonight.  Stephanie objects and reminds him what happened two weeks ago.  It left his kids crying and Stephanie calling H's mom.

Trips says he's cleared to wrestle and would tonight.  Vince steps in and asks what happened to the Cerebral Assassin.  He tells H to keep his ego out of it.  Trips says he will go to the ring and face Axel.  Vince objects and Trips asks who will stop him.  Stephanie steps between them.  Vince tells Trips to not do something he would regret and slaps some rolled up papers at him.  Trips takes the papers as Vince leaves.

Match #2 - The Uso Brothers vs. The Prime Time Players

Before commercial, the Usos do their war dance entrance.  Cole points out their war paint and says they will explain after commercial.

The match is joined in progress.  Cole puts over that a win for either team may bring them into contention for a tag title shot.  Cole also explains the war paint, saying that on the App the Usos say it is a rebirth of sorts and it gives them an edge.

The crowd is fairly quiet.  Titus locks in a chin lock.  One of the Uso's gets the hot tag and works Darren Young over.  Late, one of the Uso's hits a superfly splash on Young to get the win.

Little interest from the live crowd for this one after the hot start.

We see split screen shots of Big E and Alberto Del Rio as we go to break.  Their match is up next.

They hype up that New Jersey will be hosting the USA Special Olympics Games, and show some of the athletes and executives at ringside.

Match #3 - Alberto Del Rio (w/Ricardo Rodriguez) vs. Big E Langston (w/AJ)

Cole hypes up that this is the rubber match in their series.  He also points out that Dolph is not in attendance, but did give an interview on the WWE app. Langston shows off his power early on, hitting a big shoulder tackle outside the ring, then hitting a series of backbreakers on Del Rio.  They go with a split-screen to show Zeb Colter giving an interview on the app.

Did you know?  WWE has an app!

In the end of this one, Alberto Del Rio locks on the Cross Arm Breaker.  Big E rolls it through then counters by picking Del Rio up and dumping him outside.  Del Rio locks on the Cross Arm Breaker again, and Big E rolls through.  This time, Del Rio locks his leg and holds him for the pinfall.  Big E disputes it as Del Rio and Ricardo celebrate.

A good finish to a decent match.  I like how Del Rio used the Cross Arm Breaker to set the roll-up up.  I wonder if they're trying to protect Big E with the pin being in question.  If this was intended to be a best of seven, I wish they'd have set that story up from go.

They show Sheamus walking backstage, and he has Cody Rhodes up next.

They recap Damien Sandow getting the better of Sheamus in a "shell game" segment on Smackdown.  Sandow was the worst for the wear though as he got hit with a Brogue Kick.

Match #4 - Cody Rhodes (w/Damien Sandow) vs. Sheamus

Damien Sandow sits in on commentary and says he's reading "Fate of the States", which is written by JBL's wife.  Cody gets some offense in early on, hitting Sheamus with a knee to the head at ringside.  Cole asks what's with Rhodes Scholars and their facial hair.

Sheamus starts a comeback.  He hits his running senton and the Battering Ram from the top rope.  Sheamus tries to hit White Noise but Cody rolls him up and holds the tights for two.  Sheamus teases the Brogue Kick but misses, and Cody gets a two count that the crowd really didn't care about.

Cody teases the Cross Rhodes but Sheamus flips him out of it.  Cody tries a moonsault but Sheamus moves.  Sheamus loads White Noise and hits it.  Sheamus waits and hits Cody with the Brogue Kick to get the win.

Afterward, Sheamus goes over to Sandow at ringside.  Sandow tells him no one wants to see him and he needs to go.  Sheamus offers a handshake but Sandow slaps it away.  Sheamus slaps Sandow in return and knocks him to the floor.  Sandow seethes as Sheamus celebrates.

The match was fine, but the after match stuff was silly.  Makes Sheamus look more like the heel than the heels do.

The announcers hype up the Jericho vs. Punk contract signing.  We get an ad for the Total Divas show during commercial break.

Backstage:

Triple H throws his bag in the trunk of a waiting limo.  He tells Stephanie that he's leaving for her sake and so that he doesn't have to beat their kid's grandfather's ass.  He tells her to go back and tell "that crazy old man" that he'll be facing Curtis Axel to open Raw next week.

The announcers recap Ryback beating the daylights out of Kofi Kingston and putting him through three tables on Smackdown. Cole says that Kingston needed elbow surgery and will require two months of healing time.

Elsewhere, Daniel Bryan kicks over a cart and comes across Ryback.  Ryback tells him to watch what he's doing.  Bryan asks him if he plans to put him through three tables like eh did to Kofi.  Ryback puts over that Kofi had to have surgery as a result of what he did.  Ryback talks about having a stomach virus last year and vomiting something bigger than Bryan.  Ryback challenges Ryback to get in the ring. Bryan tells Ryback to underestimate him and see what happens.  Ryback calls Bryan the weak link, and will become the missing link tonight.

Ryback's delivery was annoying and robotic.  Bryan was good as always though.

Backstage:

Vince McMahon visits Paul Heyman and Curtis Axel.  He shakes Axel's hand and says he has a hell of a future ahead of him.  He says it's too bad Axel won't be facing Triple H tonight, or next week.

Heyman tries to walk away, but Vince tells him that Axel has a match tonight with John Cena.  Vince says the match is no DQ and both men look frustrated.

So, Ryback interferes and Axel gets the win...

They show Fandango and Summer Rae walking toward the ring.

Match #5 - Fandango (w/Summer Rae) vs. Great Khali (w/Natalya and Hornswoggle)

Khali chops Fandango then mocks his dancing.  Khali stays in control until Fandango sees Khali setting up for his finisher.  Fandango takes Summer and heads up the ramp.

Miz comes out to stop him.  From behind, Wade Barrett attacks Miz with the Bull Hammer elbow then taunts Fandango with the belt.  Fandango heads to the back with Summer.

Match #6 - The Miz vs. Wade Barrett

This is joined in progress.  Barrett controls the offense in the early going.  He hits Winds of Change for a two count.

Late in this one, Fandango's music hits and he and Summer come back out to the stage to dance.  Miz uses the distraction as an opportunity to trip Barrett down and lock in the Figure Four.  Barrett submits and Fandango stares on in approval.

So, let's recap this.  Barrett hits Miz with his finisher in Fandango's match, only to have Fandango interrupt Barrett's match with Miz to give the win to Miz?  That wasn't making much sense.

After commercial, we get a recap of the McMahon family situation that opened the show, culminating with Triple H leaving the arena and promising to fight Curtis Axel next week.

Contract Signing:

Jerry Lawler is moderating.  He reminds us that Jericho issued the challenge last week and Paul Heyman accepted on Punk's behalf.  He introduces the principles - Jericho first, then Heyman.

King says both men have read the contract, and all that's left is to sign.  Heyman says this could have been done in private in the back.  He says this public signing is meant to feed Jericho's ego.

Heyman starts to run down CM Punk's highlights but Jericho interrupts.  He runs through some highlights also but adds some over the top stuff at the end.  "I don't give a damn about any of these things, Mr. Walrus.  I only care about you delivering CM Punk to me in Chicago on June 16."

Heyman signs the contract and says it's signed, sealed and delivered.  "Your turn, Mr. Jericho."  Jericho goes to sign, but Heyman stops him.  He asks if Jericho is ready to face Punk in Chicago.  He says the building tonight is filled with Jerichoholics, but that won't be the case in Chicago.  Heyman says Jericho will face a partisan biased crowd in a town where Punk can do no wrong.

Heyman says Punk makes liars out of people who think they can lay claim to being best in the world.  Jericho looks thoughtful. "You know, Paul, you might be right.  CM Punk is from Chicago and Payback is in Chicago, so maybe we should have this match at Summerslam in Los Angeles."

Heyman declines, so Jericho suggests Madison Square Garden.  Heyman again declines.  Jericho suggests Hartford and the crowd goes nuts.  Heyman again declines and the fans boo.  "Well, I guess we'll have to have it in Chicago then."  Jericho signs and tells Heyman that when you act like a jackass you get treated like a jackass no matter where you're from.

Jericho grabs the contract and ponders where to file it.  He suggests several locations, then stands up and walks over to Heyman and says he has a good idea where it should go.  He tells Heyman to stand up and unbutton his jacket.  He rolls up the contract and stuffs it in Heyman's pants.  Jericho says "see you in Chicago" and leaves the ring.

This fell flat, and the whole segment was really kind of forgettable.  They did emphasize the match being held in Chicago so I wouldn't expect the bait and switch to someone else.  If we got a teaser that was "Heyman produced", that might be better for Punk's return. 

The feature this week on WWE Main Event will be Sheamus vs. Antonio Cesaro.

Match #6 - AJ Lee and The Bella Twins vs. Kaitlyn, Cameron and Naomi

Cole mentions that the secret admirer situation for Kaitlyn has created some friction with her tag partners.  Naomi hits a nice drop kick on one of the twins.  Late, one of the twins gets knocked off the apron.  The one in the ring goes for the tag to AJ, but she ducks out.  Kaitlyn hits the spear to get the win.

No one really cared about this one.  No story advancement with Kaitlyn and AJ for the title either.

The announcers hype up Daniel Bryan vs. Ryback, coming up soon.

Backstage:

Kane tells Daniel Bryan he's crazy for facing Ryback.  He says he's never seen someone with Bryan's heart, desire, or will to fight.  He tells Bryan he doesn't have to prove anything to him or anyone else.  Bryan tells Kane he's wrong and beating Ryback will prove it, without Kane.  Bryan yells as he tells Kane he doesn't want Kane near him tonight.  Kane says he's leaving and Bryan should call when he finds his mind, as he has clearly lost it.

That was bad.  And I still see Bryan turning, which is a mistake in my mind.

We get a setup for the latest Wyatt Family video package.  We see a couple more followers and a woman in the video.

They may have been extras and not wrestlers.  Hard to tell, and in a live recap it's hard to study the video closely.

Match #7 - Daniel Bryan vs. Ryback

Daniel Bryan comes out before the break.  Ryback is brought out in an ambulance by the stage to make his entrance.  As Ryback comes to the ring, the announcers describe the Three Stages of Hell match stipulations for the Ryback/John Cena match at Payback.

Ryback dominates in the early going.  Bryan fires back, and attacks the legs with a Half Crab then a standing leg lock.  He drops down and throws some punches at Ryback.  Ryback is able to regain control and knocks Bryan to ringside with a clothesline as the show goes to break.

After commercial, Ryback stays in control and takes a slow pace.  He talks smack at Bryan and throws him across the ring.  Ryback charges, but Bryan moves and Ryback crashes into the ringpost.  The crowd starts to wake up as Bryan hits a series of dropkicks to get a two count.

Bryan hits a missile drop kick then goes back up top and hits a really long distance headbutt.  Good near fall that got the fans into it.  Bryan slaps his own face and kicks Ryback.

Ryback catches Bryan's leg on a kick and slams him with a powerbomb.  Ryback is dazed, but then gets cocky and recovers.  He walks over to Bryan but gets caught in the No Lock.  Bryan really cranks it in and the crowd pop big.  Ryback eventually reaches the ropes.

Bryan tries a suicide dive but Ryback sidesteps it and throws Bryan to the announce table.  Ryback picks up Bryan and drives him to the ring post.  Ryback throws Bryan back in the ring and goes for a table.

Ryback sets the table up and hits a powerbomb on Bryan through it.  That throws the match out.  Cole says Ryback doesn't care about the result because he wants to send a message to Cena.

Afterward, Ryback goes for another table.  As Ryback gets the table out, Cena's music hits and he runs out for the save.  He stands over Bryan with the title belt to protect him.  Ryback gets up on the apron and teases that he will fight Cena, but Curtis Axel's music hits.  He and Heyman come out and make their way toward the ring.  Ryback backs off and exits through the crowd.

This was a fun match.  Bryan looked strong, and Ryback looked like a monster both on offense and holding on during some submissions.  That might be odd, but both men looked good here.  Cena also looked good in taking Ryback seriously in the staredown.

Match #8 - John Cena vs. Curtis Axel (w/ Paul Heyman); No Disqualification Rules

Heyman trips Cena early on.  The announcers are sure to point out it's legal.  Axel gets the early advantage as a result.  He calls for a chair from Heyman.  Heyman gives him the chair and Axel swings and gets blocked.

Cena gets the chair and slams Axel with it then throws him to ringside.  Cena throws Axel over the announce position next.  Cena rips the table apart, but throws Axel in the ring with the count at eight.  Axel stabs Cena with a chair to the gut.

Both men are in the ring and Axel has the chair.  He swings and misses a couple times, then takes a chair to the face by a Cena drop kick.  Cena puts the chair in the ropes in the corner.

Axel takes control a bit later.  He goes for the chair again, and he slams it on Cena's back then stabs him in the gut.  JBL puts over Axel, saying he's really making a statement in this match.  Axel hits a neckbreaker on the chair and the live crowd gasps.  He gets only a two count for his effort.

Cena fights back, locking in the STF.  Axel yells and cries out to Heyman and struggles for the ropes.  Heyman takes the iPad from ringside and gives it to Axel and he hits Cena with it. 

Beating him with the App - it's what WWE does every week to fans.

Axel is able to break the hold.  They fight to ringside and Cena cues up the AA.  Heyman begs Cena to not do it, yelling "he's a human being" and blocking the way to the table set up by the timekeeper's position.

Cena lets go of the AA and goes after Heyman.  Axel attacks from behind but Cena sees him coming.  Cena and Axel battle at ringside.  Ryback rushes to ringside and attacks Cena from behind.  The two men brawl briefly, then Ryback pitches Cena through a table set up at the timekeeper's area.  Cena is out, and Ryback stands over him.  You can hear him say "get up John" as the official counts to ten.  Axel is awarded the match on a count-out.

Ryback tells Cena at Payback, Ryback Rules.  That's the show.

We got a strong finish to tonight's show with the Bryan/Ryback match then the main event.  Axel looked good in this showing, I thought.  The live crowd reacted to some of his offense.

The Ryback run-in was predictable, but it was effective.  I would have preferred to see Axel get a cheap pinfall win here though as it would have meant more to the new Heyman Guy.

Ryback continues to show inconsistency on the mic.  I thought he took a step back tonight.  He and Bryan had a great match though where neither man came out looking bad.  Add in the replay footage of what Ryback did to Kofi, and he looks like a badass as a result.

Overall, however, this was truly a book-end show.  We got a hot start with the McMahons' appearance and the solid six-man tag match and we got the hot close, but everything else in between felt meaningless and forgettable.  Rarely does WWE string together a solid three hour show and it definitely struggled to keep my interest throughout.

I'll have more to say on this show tomorrow in Raw Afterthoughts.  Thanks for watching along tonight.