Welcome to The Raw Report.
Every week I’ll be dissecting WWE’s Monday Night Raw and analyzing what worked, what didn’t work, and what left audiences thinking wtf by breaking the show down into three categories: YES!, CHANGE THE CHANNEL! or WHAT?
Let’s get it on.
John Cena promo with Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, Chris Jericho, Kane, and Big Show: While some fans felt that this opening was congested, it instantly transported me to openings of Raw a decade or so ago. During the Attitude Era, you’d have a Raw open up with one superstar, say The Rock, in the ring cutting a promo. Soon enough, other men like Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Kurt Angle, or Triple H would make their way down to the ring. The solution to all these dudes arguing? Tag match! That’s the exact formula we saw this week and it worked perfectly.
Interestingly enough, there seems to be two feuds brewing concurrently during this match. There’s the explicit feud between Punk vs. Bryan, and as of late Jericho vs. Cena. However, there were hints at an implicit feud between Punk/Cena and Jericho/Bryan. This single segment helped push the tension between CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, while equally paying mind to the potential for John Cena and Chris Jericho to jump in the mix.
When Kane came out to the ring, I was elated to see how he was going to fit into the promo, but Big Show’s subsequent entrance made everything feel chaotic. The brawl which erupted left only Big Show seeming strong much like recent weeks.
This was some of Chris Jericho’s best mic work since his return this past winter. His critique of Bryan’s “Yes!” catchphrase phenomenon was hilarious. I love how Jericho instantly got the crowd to go along with all of his wonderful catchphrases from over the years. In a sense, we saw Jericho acting as the veteran in this scenario, schooling the younger talent in the ways to work a crowd. Obviously, Bryan already knows how to work a crowd perfectly. Therefore, there was a hint of jealousy in Jericho’s teasing of Bryan. While I certainly would love to see the Daniel Bryan vs. CM Punk feud continue into SummerSlam, I’d be really pleased with a Chris Jericho vs. Daniel Bryan match at the big pay-per-view.
Paul Heyman (via sattelite): Heyman continues to prove why he’s one of the best talkers in the wrestling world. His style of speaking slowly and relying heavily on eye contact reminds me a lot of Jake Roberts or even Chris Jericho during his last run. The Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar match at SummerSlam is sure to be great match and Heyman’s involvement was truly taken it to the next level. In this promo we also saw Heyman continue to brilliantly analyze Triple H’s motives for wanting to face Lesnar at SummerSlam. It would have been difficult to sustain interest without having Brock on every week. Heyman fills that void perfectly and provides fans with weekly reminds of the SummerSlam match, while maintaining the right sense of mystery. We now know that Brock is going to give his answer to Triple H as to whether or not he’ll face him at SummerSlam during the 1000th episode of Raw. I’m really happy with the way the WWE is building towards the 1000th episode of Raw and am confident that it’s going to be a very memorable milestone in WWE history.
Sheamus and AJ vs. Vickie Guerrero and Dolph Ziggler: Vickie garners heat in the WWE like few other performers and it’s always a delight to see her in a match. Ziggler and Sheamus had a fantastic main event match, alongside Del Rio, on Smackdown the week prior, which had me looking forward to seeing them work together again on Monday. Ziggler seems poised for main event greatness this year, and will hopefully use the Money in the Bank ladder match as the chance to grab the briefcase and transform his career.
Of all the Diva storylines of recent years, none has captured the attention and excitement quite like the one revolving around the complex personality of AJ Lee. A lot of time was devoted to AJ during this episode of Raw, and the decision to place her in a match at the beginning of the 10:00pm (EST) hour must suggest that the company is confident in her abilities to help draw attention and viewers to the show. More than anything else, this match was a great way to see AJ function outside the realm of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, while highlighting her fantastic wrestling skills in the process.
Heath Slater vs. Doink the Clown: Okay, Doink the Clown was a bit of a letdown given the superstars we’ve seen in recent weeks (Psycho Sid, Vader). However, fans really had the opportunity to mark out when Diamond Dallas Page appeared and took out Slater (after his win against Doink) with a Diamond Cutter. DDP has always been a really underrated talent with superb mic skills and solid wrestling skills. It was a real treat to see him step back in a WWE ring, even if only for a quick segment.
Tensai vs. Tyson Kidd: Two wins for Tyson Kidd in one week? This is fantastic news. I’m excited to see that Tyson Kidd is going to be involved in the Money in the Bank ladder match for the World Heavyweight Championship. He’s a really talented wrestler who has been overlooked for far too long in the WWE. I have high hopes that Kidd has the chance to steal the show at Money in the Bank and put on a phenomenal high-flying performance in the ladder match. I’m hoping that we see far more of Tyson Kidd in the coming weeks on both Raw and Smackdown.
AJ backstage segments with CM Punk and Daniel Bryan: Raw is AJ happened again this week and I didn’t mind at all. We saw a lot of time devoted to AJ, both in the ring and backstage. Backstage segments airing earlier in the night focused on AJ’s relationship to both CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. When Bryan tried to impress AJ with rose, she scoffed at him, bit off the top of the flower, and spat it in Bryan’s face. This obviously led fans to think, “well, as special guest referee at Money in the Bank, she’s definitely favoring CM Punk.” However, WWE wonderfully challenged that assumption by having AJ storm off from a conversation with CM Punk after learning that he missed her match because he was calling his sister. AJ’s continued mocking of Daniel Bryan with her own “yes!” chants are superb and add a sinister edge to her already multidimensional character.
AJ’s jealousy over Punk and dismissal of Bryan left fans confused about where her allegiances lie looking ahead to the pay-per-view at the end of the month. This is the perfect state of mindset to send fans into a pay-per-view with. Whenever a special guest referee is involved, fans always immediately assume a single-scenario playing out where the ref will favor one opponent over another. In this case, it’s truly impossible to predict whom AJ will favor since her mental state is so unstable. AJ is a wonderful character with limitless possibilities in the WWE right now. No matter what happens at Money in the Bank, I have a feeling that she will remain a focal point of Raw or Smackdown for some time to come.
CM Punk and John Cena vs. Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan: We saw a great match between all four men, but the real action came once John Cena and Chris Jericho brawled to the backstage area. This is not to discredit Cena or Jericho, who both fought excellently and kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. However, their exit was obviously done on purpose, since with only CM Punk and Bryan left in the ring, the focus seemed to shift solely to these men. Then AJ came out. AJ’s mysterious behavior continued as she set up a table ringside and climbed the turnbuckle above. As both Bryan and Punk tried to talk AJ into getting down from the turnbuckle, AJ pulls Punk in for a kiss and then knocks him down on the table below. As he fell down, Punk crashed into Bryan and both men ended up on the broken table. All the while, AJ stood above and began chanting “YES!” while pumping her arms.
The ending of Raw was almost cinematic in its approach to add another layer to the CM Punk and Daniel Bryan storyline with AJ. This love triangle continues to remain bizarre, but it’s also fascinating in the sense that fans truly never know what’s going to happen next. I was suspicious when I saw AJ setting up the table and shocked when both Bryan and Punk went through it. AJ’s allegiance to either man seems questionable at this point, which is making me even more eager to see how her role as special guest referee in their match at Money in the Bank plays out.
I’ve complained in the past about the fact that ending Raw with Big Show and Cena seemed to leave fans on a sour note. Many allowed that one mediocre segment to negate the superb matches that came before it. Instead, this week we left Raw on a high note with a lot of ambiguity to be answered in the coming weeks. I truly miss the days when Raw used to end on a cliff-hanger, leaving me and my friends insanely excited to see what they were going to do next week. It seems like this week’s episode was a return to form and I couldn’t be any happier with the way both the CM Punk vs. Daniel Bryan storyline and AJ Lee character are progressing.
David Otunga, Cody Rhodes and The Prime Time Playas (w/ A.W.) vs Kofi Kingston, R-Truth, Santino Marella and Christian: This match could have been a fantastic opportunity to highlight some of the bright, young talent hidden within the WWE roster. Otunga, Rhodes, and Kingston are all immensely talented performers. Likewise, The Prime Time Players remain one of the most interesting tag teams to watch due to their unique personalities. However, when Rhodes left the match in protest, I soon lost interest when Brodus Clay arrived and the bout ended in a dance party. I understand why Rhodes left, especially as a means to build towards his protests on Smackdown, but it would have been great to see more work by Otunga and Kofi.
Alberto Del Rio vs. Sin Cara: Del Rio is an exceptional wrestler. Since he is going to be facing Sheamus at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view for the World Heavyweight Championship, I was hoping to see him a match that would test his abilities. Instead, this bout was an opportunity for Del Rio to prove his strength since it was just a quick beatdown. I’m confident that Sin Cara could have had a great match with Del Rio, and it’s a shame that we didn’t see a longer bout.
Big Show vs. Kane: I love Kane, but it was hard for me to get excited about this match. After seeing Big Show dominate John Cena, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Chris Jericho, and Kane earlier in the night, I wasn’t too convinced that Kane might come out on top. Kane’s feud with Daniel Bryan and CM Punk proved that he’s a versatile competitor who is able to adjust his wrestling for each opponent. I’d love to see Kane get more opportunities to show his skills.
Overall, I’d give this Raw a very confident YES! AJ has transcended the CM Punk and Daniel Bryan storyline in ways that few thought was possible. This program is no longer about the WWE Championship. Instead, the AJ, Punk, Bryan storyline is now about maintaining AJ’s sanity. With both Punk and Bryan focused so heavily on AJ being the referee for their match, I can’t help but wonder what’s going to happen at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view. Will Punk lose his grip on the match, focus too much on AJ, and ultimately lose to Bryan? Will Bryan become jealous with AJ’s closeness to Punk and slip-up? The possibilities are staggering and this WWE Championship match is sure to be one of the best of 2012.
Beyond the AJ, Punk, Bryan storyline, this Raw featured a lot of solid build towards the Money in the Bank PPV. The tension between Cena and Jericho continues to grow, while Big Show remains a dominant force in the company. These three men are certainly going to be in for a strong battle in the Money in the Bank ladder match at the PPV. While lots of fans are predicting Cena’s victory, I’m curious if we’re going to see Jericho slide in with a win due to Big Show taking down Cena.