With just two episodes to go before this year’s SummerSlam, tonight’s Raw will hopefully see the stakes get raised even higher as the final lineup for the Pay-Per-View becomes clearer. The biggest storyline going into it right now is definitely Daniel Bryan’s underdog shot at John Cena’s WWE Champion Belt, not to mention CM Punk’s grudge match against Brock Lesnar (and by extension Paul Heyman).
Things kick off in Green Bay with Stephanie McMahon coming out to present a video of title contender Daniel Bryan. It shows him going through with a “corporate sponsored” makeover to make the bearded, vegan, goat-faced man more palatable for mainstream audiences. Bryan comes out to the ring with a slick backed hair-do and business suit looking more like a company-minded Damien Sandow than a former Ring of Honor champion.
Bryan talks for a bit about the upcoming match until Mr. McMahon comes out to convince him that in order to truly be WWE Champion material he’ll have to shave off his scraggly beard. He invites Wade Barrett out to give him the shave, but Bryan surprise attacks Wade and wind up shaving some of his beard off instead. Bryan becoming WWE Champion will clearly incense the McMahon family as well as humiliate John Cena, two things I am very much in favor of.
Rob Van Dam vs Alberto Del Rio
Even at his advanced age of 42, RVD still has the high-flying moves and endurance of a man half his age. His backflips and somersaults prove effective enough to throw Del Rio headfirst into a metal bucket placed at ringside by Ricardo Rodriguez, dizzying him and giving Van Dam enough time to pin him and win the match. Del Rio is angry enough with his loss that he vents his anger out on Rodriguez, tossing his personal ring announcer around like a rag doll and finally smashing his head on the metal steps.
After stealing and throwing his Money in the Bank contract into the Gulf of Mexico last week, Cody Rhodes announces he has a gift for Damien Sandow tonight, the seaweed ridden, still soaking wet briefcase he managed to salvage from the ocean. Sandow does of course come out to retrieve his briefcase, but he and Cody wind up fighting over it for a quick second before he gets kicked out of the ring. The fight between former friends Rhodes and Sandow over the Money in the Bank briefcase has a ton of potential, so much in fact that once one of them finally gets full control over the title-shot contract at SummerSlam, the normally exciting Money in the Bank storyline might seem dull by comparison.
Ryback vs Mark Henry
In their first match against each other since this year’s Wrestlemania, the two largest men in the WWE seek to settle any unfinished business from this past April. The match ends incredibly quickly though as Ryback intentionally backs out of the ring and lets himself be counted out.
Had I blinked I might have missed this entire segment, and I’m pretty sure Ryback and Henry exerted more energy walking out to the ring than when they were in it.
Bella Twins and some of the other WWE Divas show up to slap each other around for a quick piece about WWE Total Divas. I hope that show bombs faster than a Sin Cara backflip.
John Cena takes to the ring to rant and rave about how Daniel Bryan’s Ring of Honor accomplishments mean nothing in the grand scheme of the WWE, and earns the scorn of the Wisconsin crowd by way of rousing chants of “BORING”. Even though Cena is an unpopular man, he is still a smart man and I very much aware of his status among wrestling’s diehards and plays up to the fact that he keeps on finding his way back to the Championship Belt after all these years. Thing get interesting as Randy Orton comes out with his Money in the Bank briefcase and gives a short speech to Cena before they are both surprised by The Shield. Surrounded by the threesome, Orton and Cena are suddenly joined by Daniel Bryan rushing out to get in on the action. A standoff is in progress when Raw General Manager Brad Maddox comes out to calm things down and proposes a triple-threat tag team match between The Shield and the trio of Cena, Bryan, and Orton.
Brodus Clay/Tensai vs Luke Harper/Erick Rowan
The fun-loving duo of Tensai and Brodus Clay are having a funky dance party in the ring when the lights go out and the creepy Bray Wyatt leads his two brothers to the ring. The match is a quick squash of Clay and Tensai, but I love the atmosphere the Wyatt family exudes so much I don’t really mind. The idea of a cult-like faction trying to attack wrestlers like Kane to further their cause is a clever storyline, although after tonight it looks like their plan has backfired. Kane sends them a message after the match letting them know that he intends to finish them off once and for all at SummerSlam.
Kaitlyn vs Layla
I’d like to go out on a limb here and say that AJ Lee has the best stage presence of any WWE Diva in the past decade, possibly even the last two. Her appearance halfway through this Diva’s match made it infinitely more interesting despite the fact all she did was prance around the ring to distract Kaitlyn on behalf of her new friend Layla. This sidetrack couldn’t salvage the rest of the match though as Layla defeats Kaitlyn in a snoozefest.
Christian vs The Three Man Band
The middle hour of Raw is always the toughest to slog through, and things get no better here. Seeing Heath Slater and the rest of the Three Man Band get tossed around and pinned by Christian is always a nice cathartic experience. But after a Diva’s match and a couple of quick squash matches, it would have been nice to have something with a bit more meaning behind it…
CM Punk vs Curtis Axel
…like this! Punk is unquestionably my favorite wrestler, and his feud with former manager Paul Heyman has the makings of an all-time great storyline. Just like his match against Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam, Punk isn’t fighting Axel tonight so much as he is fighting the idea of the Paul Heyman-bred superstar. Heyman is a man who molds and modifies wrestlers to make them do things that are in his best interest as a manager, something Punk bought into completely for a while before realizing how much more he could be doing when he didn’t have to fight another man’s battles. Punk dominates the first half of the match, but after a commercial break Axel makes a comeback and the match evens out considerably. Heyman comes out to taunt Punk a bad idea as he channels his rage to defeat Axel and goes after Heyman. All of a sudden Brock Lesnar comes out to defend his manager, and he and Punk are locked in a SummerSlam preview. Go to Sleeps and F5s are exchanged throughout as Lesnar and a gloating Heyman are able to eventually stand victorious over CM Punk.
Fandango vs Kofi Kingston
When Kofi Kingston is at his best he is arguably one of the most acrobatic wrestlers in the WWE stable, and luckily tonight he was in full-form as he takes on fan favorite Fandango. Fandango was very shaky his first few months in the WWE with more than a fair share of missteps in the ring, but a match like tonight shows that he is definitely more acclimated to the speed of the WWE and is a physically more capable wrestler than before. These improvements don’t matter much tonight though as he can’t handle the high-flying heroics of Kingston and is pinned to end the match.
The USOs vs Jack Swagger/Antonio Cesario
The Real American’s manager Zeb Coulter kicks off this match by insulting the Green Bay Packers in front of the Wisconsin crowd and does not get any beer bottles thrown at him, thus making him the luckiest man in WWE history. Their match with the USOs goes much smoother as Cesario takes the lead and they cruise their way to a win against the sons of Rikishi.
Dolph Ziggler vs Big E Langston
Former friends Ziggler and Langston put on a great show for this match, with Ziggler’s agility proving to be a nice match-up against Langston’s pure strength. Langston’s intimidating stature is as always in conflict with the fact his pecs look like two chocolate cakes were staples to his torso. Towards the end the intense match got even more hectic as Kaitlyn ran out to attack Langston’s ringside mate AJ in a futile effort to enact some revenge from before. Kaitlyn is chased away and in the chaos Langston manages to overpower Ziggler and claim the match.
Cena/Bryan/Orton vs The Shield
Triple threat matches involving The Shield never fail to entertain, and tonight’s was no different. Each wrestle used their time in the ring to their advantage to show off what they do best. The Shield’s shady tag-team ways wound up catching up with them however as they were disqualified for ganging up on a vulnerable Daniel Bryan a few minutes into the match. With Bryan indisposed and The Shield out of the ring, Orton and Cena began to trade blows before Cena fell to the ground out cold. Orton seemed like he was going to take this opportunity to cash in his Money in the Bank contract and steal away the Championship Belt from Cena, but The Shield re-emerged and gave Orton second thoughts before ending the night by repeatedly abusing the damaged Daniel Bryan.
Next week should be tons of fun with all the storylines for SummerSlam in full-throttle, as well as an interesting match between CM Punk and a suspiciously willing to wrestle Paul Heyman.