The stars of Raw are touring the globe, but the longest episodic program in television history rolls on with a pre-taped show tonight.

Daniel Bryan really showed up last week.  He signed the contract for the SummerSlam match with John Cena, then proved his worth to General Manager Brad Maddox, beating Jack Swagger, Antonio Cesaro, and Ryback in a gauntlet.  But that didn't seem to be enough for Maddox and the puppet-master Vince McMahon - as they set up Bryan to face his former tag partner Kane tonight.

John Cena didn't appreciate Ryback putting Bryan through a table to end last week's show though.  He challenged Ryback to a tables match, and we'll get that tonight on Raw too.

Show Open - Taped in Laredo, TX on 7/23/2013

They open with a recap of John Cena being able to select his opponent, Daniel Bryan, at SummerSlam.  We roll into a recap of the gauntlet match story from last week's main event segment.  They show Vince and Brad Maddox setting up the Kane vs. Daniel Bryan match for tonight.  The announcer asks how Bryan will fare.

They also recap John Cena challenging Ryback to a tables match.  The video package ends with Bryan and Kane facing off in the ring.

Vince McMahon's music hits and he and Brad Maddox make their way out to the ring.  Cole introduces Lawler and says JBL won't be there but he'll explain later.  Lawler says that Maddox looks like Pinocchio.

Vince says we're going to have fun tonight and hands the mic off to Maddox.  He gets some boos.  Brad apologizes for his boneheaded decision to allow Cena to pick his opponent at SummerSlam.  Vince refers to Maddox calling Bryan a troll and repeats the various accusations about Daniel Bryan.  Vince asks for Maddox's real feelings, but Daniel Bryan's music hits.

Bryan gets a great reaction as he comes to the ring.  Bryan tells Vince that "with all due respect, the words came from Brad Maddox, but I believe they were dictated by you."  Vince takes objection to Bryan interrupting.  Bryan says that he has given of himself night after night but doesn't get respect from Vince.

Vince asks Bryan if he respects Cena.  He tells the crowd to quiet down the "Yes!" chants.  Bryan says he respects Cena as a human being, a champion and that Cena picked him for SummerSlam.  Vince asks if Bryan will still respect Cena if he were lying with all the positive compliments.  Vince paints Cena as a manipulator and didn't mean anything he has said.

Vince tells Bryan that Cena is lying and trying to make him look foolish. Vince asks if Bryan is a fool.  "John Cena knows what I know, that you can't beat John Cena.  You can't beat Kane tonight.  The reason you can't is because you don't have that intangible quality; you don't have ruthless aggression."

Vince says that Cena doesn't have ruthless aggression like he once did and he's ripe to be picked.  Vince admits he doesn't want Cena to win because he walks around like he owns the place.  Vince says the only one who wins in this situation is him.  He says he wants to get to Bryan's level and crouches down to tell him that he wins at SummerSlam when Bryan and Cena lock up and spontaneously combust.

Bryan says if Cena is lying, he will have hell to pay.  Bryan says there are things he likes about Vince and gets up on his tiptoes in order to talk "on Vince's level."  He tells Vince that he is honest and tells him what he thinks.  "But in your own words, it doesn't matter what you think, it matters what (the fans) think."

Bryan says he thinks the fans want a new champion at SummerSlam.  Bryan tells Vince to take his own advice and listen to the fans.  Bryan poses the question to the fans, and they answer with a resounding "YES!" chant and cheers.  Bryan heads to ringside and leads the chant as he backs up the ramp.

A strong opening segment.  Audibly, it sounds as if no one was really against the idea of Bryan beating Cena as the cheers sounded pretty universal.

The Shield's music hits and they head through the crowd to the ring.  Justin Roberts introduces them as Vince leaves the ring.  The announcers hype up the opening six-man tag match.

We get highlights of The Usos and Mark Henry battling with The Shield last Monday.

Match #1 - The Shield (Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns) vs. Mark Henry and The Usos

Henry works Reigns in the corner during the early going.  He asks "who wants some?" as he tags in one of the Uso brothers.  As action continues the Usos hit a simultaneous suicide dives out onto the Shield.

Late in this one, the Usos go on an offensive run.  Ambrose gets his knees up when one of the brothers goes for a top rope splash.  Ambrose hits his finisher to pick up the win.  Afterward, Mark Henry clears the Shield from the ring and yells at them.

That was an entertaining match opener.  I thought they might save this for SummerSlam, but we might still see it in some form.

Cole sets up a video from earlier in the day.  Ryback harasses a guy in catering by backing him against the wall for looking like he was going to say something to him.  Ryback throws some food in his face then picks the man up and slams him through the catering table.

He's gone from Ryback to Cryback to Bully Ry?  Huh?

The announcers talk about our military watching and ponders what they think about the Wyatts.  They set up a video package that highlights the actions by the Wyatts over the past few weeks.

Backstage:

Kane enters Brad Maddox's office.  He demands to know where the Wyatts are, and Maddox says he knows Kane has been looking for them but they're not at the arena yet.  He tells Kane that if he wants to send a message, he should show his killer instinct in his match with Daniel Bryan.

Rob Van Dam gets his entrance.  He's got Fandango, next.

Match #2 - Rob Van Dam vs. Fandango (w/Summer Rae)

Fandango comes to the ring after commercial.  During his entrance, Cole hypes the "Battleground" pay per view (Formerly Over the Limit) that will happen in Buffalo, with tickets going on sale Saturday.

After some early action, RVD hits a moonsault off the apron on Fandango, who is on the floor.  RVD goes through his signature spots after commercial.  He hits Rolling Thunder and a spinning kick.  He looks to go for the Five Star Frog Splash, but Fandango bails.  He backs up the ramp with Summer and gets counted out.  Fandango is sure to announce  himself after the match, and RVD looks bewildered.

This is a cop-out finish that's getting too overused.

Backstage:

AJ is complaining about Kaitlyn hitting her with the spear and Big E not doing something about it.  AJ starts laughing and says she knows what it is - he watches because he likes her.  AJ says he never knows what she will do next and skips off.  Lawler says "coo-coo, coo-coo!" going into commercial.

Match #3 - Kaitlyn vs. AJ (w/Big E Langston)

Lawler makes a reference to Carlos Danger.  AJ works the early offense and controls the match.  Late in this one, Kaitlyn hits a clothesline then follows up with a spear to get the win.  Cole puts over that the win puts Kaitlyn back in the title hunt.

Afterward, Dolph Ziggler's music hits, and he walks to the stage. He congratulates AJ on her loss.  He tells her she can cry on her  new friend's shoulder (referring to Big E.).  He then says as best she can she can be there for Big E because Dolph wants a match with him right now.  Big E motions that he accepts and Dolph heads to the ring as we go to break.

Match #4 - Dolph Ziggler vs. Big E. Langston (w/AJ)

Big E controls the opening of this match.  Dolph sells for him and ends up in a corner.  Big E charges, and Dolph moves out of the way.  Big E eats the ring post.  Dolph tries a move coming off the ropes but Big E catches him and tries to set up the Big Ending.  Dolph slips out.

Big E charges and ends up going over the ropes and to the floor.  AJ jumps into the ring and attacks Dolph, throwing the match out.  Dolph eventually escapes after some hair pulling from AJ.  AJ throws a tantrum in the ring while Big E asks why she did what she did.  Dolph re-enters the ring and hits him with the Zig Zag and taunts as he walks away.

Unless they're building a story to an eventual SummerSlam match, I'm a bit surprised they gave this away on TV.  Cheap outcome, but more reasonable than what Fandango did earlier.

Backstage:

John Cena is on the phone with someone when Daniel Bryan walks in.  He says he figured Bryan would show up.  Bryan asks if what Vince said earlier was true.  Cena calls Vince the consummate promoter and says he's not telling the truth.  Bryan says that Vince has always been honest with him.  Cena puts his hat on and says "well, Daniel...are you calling me a liar?" and walks off.

Match #5 - Christian vs. Alberto Del Rio

As Christian comes to the ring, Cole and Lawler tell us that JBL is climbing in the Alps to raise money for his Seven Summits for Kids charity.  As Del Rio comes out, they hype up that Del Rio gets to choose his opponent and will reveal that decision on Smackdown this week.

Christian controls this one early.  He sends Del Rio out to ringside.  He tries a slide kick to Del Rio, but Del Rio ducks out of the way.  As we head into commercial, Del Rio throws Christian into the ring steps.

Del Rio controls the action out of the break.  He works Christian's arm, setting up for the Cross Arm breaker.  He gets Christian tied up in a Tree of Woe spot, and they end up on the ropes.  Christian gets out of it, then hits a tornado DDT for two.

Christian clotheslines Del Rio out of the ring, but Del Rio comes back with a backbreaker.  He stands on Christian, then tries a move off the ropes.  Christian moves out of the way.  He tries a spear but Del Rio rolls out.  Christian gives chase but eats a superkick on his return to the ring.

Del Rio tries a step-up enzugiri but Christian ducks and Del Rio air mails it.  In the end, Christian tries to set up the Killswitch.  He can't get him turned over because of his arm that Del Rio worked over.  Del Rio tries to lock on the Cross Arm Breaker, but Christian rolls through it and (sort of clumsily) rolls Del Rio into a small package for the win.

This was a good match that ended up eating some TV time up.  Good back and forth.  I'd like to see Christian cut a promo though.

Cole and Lawler give some hype to John Cena facing Ryback in a tables match.  They feed it into a video package of the gauntlet match from last Monday that established the tables match later tonight.

Match #6 - Cody Rhodes vs. Wade Barrett

As Cody makes his entrance, we get a recap of the Money in the Bank Briefcase shenanigans that went down between Cody and Damien Sandow on Smackdown.  Cody tossed the briefcase into the Gulf of Mexico, and Sandow gave chase in the water only to fail.

After a series of back and forth offense by each man, Barrett tries to set up a pumphandle move.  He gets Rhodes up, but Cody falls down behind, right into position for Cross Rhodes in a nice counter.  He hits Cross Rhodes to win.

Afterward, Damien Sandow comes out. He complains about Rhodes throwing the MITB briefcase into the Gulf of Mexico.  He says he filed a complaint with WWE Management over that.  Sandow says he tried to bring Rhodes to his level while they were together as a team. He says that he enlightened the masses while Rhodes only grew a mustache.  Sandow says he came from a family of scholars, while Rhodes came from a family of clowns.  He says he should send Rhodes back to the circus, but carney folks are below his constitution.

I'm baffled that Barrett continues to be treated like a jobber.   That said, this did a good job of continuing the Sandow/Rhodes story.

We get a shot of Kane and Daniel Bryan backstage, heading for the ring.  Their match is next.

Match #7 - Kane vs. Daniel Bryan

Bryan comes out to another good reaction.  The announcers reset what happened with Vince and Bryan at the beginning of the show, and between Bryan and Cena partway through the show.

The two stare at each other then exchange some blows.  Bryan locks on a half crab that Kane kicks his way out of.  After a corner strike, Bryan gets tossed to the opposite corner by Kane.  Bryan flips over Kane and tries for offense running the ropes but eats a big boot from Kane.  Kane takes control, stomping Bryan down in the corner.

The announcers talk about the Cena vs. Bryan SummerSlam match.  Lawler says Cena will win but Bryan has a chance and won't embarrass WWE if he wins.  Lawler puts over Bryan as a "hell of a competitor."  Bryan flips Kane to the floor, then hits a running knee on Kane as the show goes to commercial.

The back and forth keeps going, with neither man really taking control.  Kane teases the chokeslam, but Bryan counters and tries to get the Yes! Lock.  Kane powers out and shoves Bryan aside.  Bryan hits repeated kicks, but Kane catches his leg on the last one.  Kane tries the chokeslam again, but Bryan counters into a roll-up to get the win.  After the match, Kane hits Bryan with a chokeslam out of frustration.

Kane goes for his pyro after the match, but the lights go out.  Bray Wyatt and his followers appear, and we get their full entrance.  Bray sits in the rocking chair and blows out the lantern, and Rowan and Harper hit the ring to attack Kane.  Kane slides out and goes right after Wyatt though.  The other two attack Kane from behind.

Kane holds his own in the early going as the scrum starts.  The numbers become too much though after he takes a big boot from Rowan.  The two take control and hit Kane with a clothesline.  Bray comes to the ring and hits Kane with his finisher.

Wyatt cuts a promo, talking about how Kane used to call himself the "devil's favorite demon."  He tells Kane that he should be more careful who he says that to because you never know who might be listening.  He laughs, then hits the crucifix pose and yells "follow the buzzards" over a fallen Kane.

Pretty much business as usual with Kane and kept Bryan's momentum moving.  I am still wondering where they're going with the Kane/Wyatt thing...this could be fun.

Cole recaps what just happened for us with video.

Match #8 - Natalya vs. Brie Bella (w/Nikki Bella)

Before the match, we get a video clip of what set this match up backstage earlier.  Natty throws Brie down by the hair and hits a suplex.  Brie gets in the ropes but then drapes Natty across the ropes and hits a kick.

Natty fights back with a clothesline and a series of slaps and strikes.  She sets up to lock Brie in the Sharpshooter, but Nikki comes out with a duck call and makes fun of Natty.  She creates the distraction for Brie to get a roll-up win.

I long for a day where women in WWE wrestle on ability - not with duck calls and catfishing gimmicks.

Match #9 - Curtis Axel (w/Paul Heyman) vs. R-Truth

Truth is already in the ring when Axel comes out with Heyman. Heyman cuts a promo that says being a Paul Heyman Guy means that you're among top tiered talent.  He puts over Brock Lesnar and says that Lesnar will destroy CM Punk at SummerSlam.  Axel gives a short promo talking about his father winning the IC title in Texas.  He says that despite that, he went on to become Mr. Perfect, but he is already more perfect than perfect.

Truth gets a fast start but misses his scissors kick.  Axel gives him a shot to the back of the head.  Axel works Truth over with boots and Truth fires back.  He gets a short comeback against Axel going but Axel hits a dropkick.  Axel hits Truth with his finisher.

CM Punk hits the ringside area.  Axel goes out to take Punk on, and Punk gets the better of him.  Punk stares through the ropes at Paul Heyman and charges after him.  He grabs Heyman at the barrier, but Axel distracts Punk and Heyman get away to backstage.  Punk disposes of Axel and stands on the announcer's table and stares up the ramp.

Axel showed more poise in his short promo, but the lines were campy.    I like that Punk got close, but did not actually get, Heyman.  Hoping they hold off on that payoff.

Backstage:

Triple H asks Vince if he's done jerking Daniel Bryan around.  Vince says he might be trying to use reverse psychology on Bryan and maybe deep down he wants Bryan to be champion.  Trips says Vince can't even say that with a straight face.  Vince says that he wants someone like Triple H, but 20 years younger, to beat Cena.

Stephanie pipes up and says Vince can't throw stones regarding age.  She says maybe the solution is to give Daniel Bryan a corporate makeover.  "Good luck with that one." Vince says and walks off.  Trips shrugs and says "worth a shot..."

Keep in mind - Randy Orton looks like Vince's champion....

Match #10 - John Cena vs. Ryback; Tables Match rules

Ryback gets the better of the early part of this one.  He runs Cena to the ring post after working him on the floor.  Ryback picks a table up and charges at Cena, who is leaning against the ring post, but Cena ducks.

After a rough cut to commercial, Ryback throws Cena to the ring steps.  Ryback jaws at the official.  Cena fights back by throwing Ryback to the barricade then the apron.  Cena sets a table up on the stairs and ring steps and tries a suplex.  Ryback blocks and hits Cena with a suplex on the floor.

Cole gives us a reset as we hit the overrun.  Ryback tumbles to ringside after escaping the STF from Cena.  He lays there and Cena goes to toss a table down at him.  Ryback crawls under the ring to avoid it, then pops out the other side.  He hits a spear on Cena then hits him with the steel steps.  Ryback sets another table up between the apron and the steps.  Cena kicks Ryback away to the announce table, then the two knock a table over and exchange strikes by the other.

Cena tries the AA but Ryback escapes.  Ryback presses Cena overhead and tries to throw him through the table setup but Cena floats over and lands on his feet.  Ryback and Cena end up in a standoff with steel steps.  They throw them at each other.

Cena gets back in the ring and yells at Ryback to join him.  Cena gets the better of their exchange and slams Ryback on the other base of the steps which was still in the ring.  Cena hits him with the Five Knuckle Shuffle.  He sets up a table, but takes a jaw-jacking from Ryback, who follows that up with the Meathook.  Ryback tries for a move, but Cena counters and gets the AA through a table in the corner for the win.

Daniel Bryan comes out, pumping his arms in the air and chanting yes.  He goes to the timekeeper and claims the WWE Championship from him and gets in the ring.  He holds it, and he and Cena have a staredown.  Bryan offers the belt, but when Cena goes to take it he yanks it back quickly.  Cena eventually gets the belt from Bryan and tells him that he has to earn it.  Bryan begins a "YES!" chant that the fans pick up on as the show ends.

A decent main event from these two guys.  They worked hard, and if you read the house show reports here or on other sites you'll know they do a lot of these in dark matches and such.

The show was pretty wrestling heavy tonight, and the work was generally good.  The one thing that's always missing on a night like this is that feeling that anything can happen live, since this was a pre-tape.  With how they mixed in footage from Smackdown and so forth, it seemed to help mask that but the energy just didn't feel the same.

The big story of the night is Vince McMahon's role in the Cena/Bryan match.  That feels forced and awkward to me.  I really am hoping they focus solely on Cena and Bryan from here on, and not the whole "image" plot that got teased throughout the night by Vince.  If I had to guess, it's leading to a Randy Orton cash-in around SummerSlam somewhere...and I don't feel that's where they need to go with Bryan right now.

Apologies for the slow updates tonight - seems we had an issue with the host site that kept bogging us down.  Be sure to watch for Raw Afterthoughts tomorrow sometime, and thanks for following along tonight.