The Good, the Great and the Awesome from May 20's Raw
One day after Extreme Rules delivered hard-hitting, violent hardcore matches, Monday night's Raw featured great professional wrestling matches, solid story development and the return of a young Superstar with the potential to be an impact player for World Wrestling Entertainment in the years to come.
Ryback made his presence felt, issuing a challenge to John Cena for an Ambulance Match at WWE's next pay-per-view offering Payback before making an example out of Cena's friend Zack Ryder.
The Shield, Team Hell No and Kofi Kingston delivered one of the best matches of 2013 while Randy Orton continued his roll of solid in-ring outings with a hard-fought win over Jack Swagger.
Alberto Del Rio was celebrating his win over Swagger at Extreme Rules and the realization that he was the number one contender to World Champion Dolph Ziggler when he ran into the physical specimen that is Big E. Langston and suffered a surprising loss.
AJ Lee continued to pick up steam heading into an eventual showdown with Kaitlyn for the Divas title while Sheamus rolled over Titus O'Neil in a physical match that showcased the potential major star WWE has in O'Neil.
What was good, great and awesome about Monday's Raw?
Find out inside.
Sheamus vs. Titus O'Neil
Just 24 hours removed from a strap match victory over Mark Henry at Extreme Rules, Sheamus squared off against the Prime Time Players' Titus O'Neil in singles competition. O'Neil showed great intensity throughout, using his power to toss Sheamus around the ring in a manner that only competitors such as Henry and The Big Show have been able to do in the past.
Despite his body being wrecked with pain from the previous night's pay-per-view bout, Sheamus dug deep and fended off the challenge of his determined opponent. A Brogue Kick finished Titus and delivered "The Celtic Warrior" a second consecutive victory.
Titus O'Neil continues to be impressive in the few opportunities he is given to perform in singles action. Couple that with his ability to entertain on the microphone and WWE may have a potential breakout star on their hands if and when they decide to split him away from Darren Young.
Fandango abandons his partner, dances instead
The first "match" of Monday's Raw featured Chris Jericho and The Miz teaming up to meet Intercontinental champion Wade Barrett and Fandango. The match, for what it was, was fine but the real gem came when Fandango abandoned Barrett and the match, opting to dance at ringside with Summer Rae.
It was a beautiful development for the character because it was exactly what someone like Fandango would to. The flamboyant, egotistical Superstar is all about himself and bringing attention to himself. His persona does not allow him to work well with others so the fact that he left Barrett to go it alone, all the while grabbing the attention of everyone in the arena and all the fans watching at home by tangoing with Summer Rae.
The icing on the cake was Fandango, again thinking of himself above anyone else, leaving Summer Rae to deal with Jericho and The Miz while escaping through the crowd and to the back: A textbook heel maneuver if there ever was one.
AJ Lee unleashes her Black Widow on Layla
Continuing to build momentum for herself heading into an inevitable Divas title match against Kaitlyn, AJ Lee took on former champion Layla on Raw.
The match was a typical short Divas match but AJ continued to remind fans that she is an experienced in-ring competitor who poses a real threat to Kaitlyn when they finally do clash for the gold. She controlled the majority of the match but did leave herself open for a comeback from Layla. Unfortunately, the 2006 Diva Search winner wasted time mocking AJ and eventually fell prey to the Black Widow submission hold.
AJ continues to be a tour de force, one of the best all-around female performers to enter WWE in quite some time. Her feud, as well as the impending title match against Kaitlyn should provide for some entertaining television.
Alberto Del Rio vs. Big E. Langston
The newly crowned number one contender to Dolph Ziggler's World Heavyweight title was tasked with meeting Ziggler's bodyguard Big E. Langston on Raw, one day removed from an "I Quit" match that wrecked Alberto Del Rio's body.
Many were unsure of what kind of performance they should expect from Langston, whose in-ring resume since being called up to the main roster is somewhat limited. The current NXT champion, Langston impressed fans across the country, proving to have solid chemistry with the former World and WWE champion. When the match's pace was increased, he managed to hang with Del Rio and when it slowed down, he used his power to combat his opponent's technical wrestling and speed advantages.
The biggest surprise of the match was the finish, which saw AJ Lee provide a momentary distraction, allowing Langston to rake the eyes of Del Rio before delivering the Big Ending. Three seconds later, to the shock of many, he would pick up a fairly decisive win.
Langston is a physical specimen who also has demonstrated tremendous athleticism and a distinct personality in the few times he has been allowed to showcase it. By the end of his career, he may prove to be everything the company had hoped they had had in Bobby Lashley some five years ago.
Ryback sends Zack Ryder to the hospital
Earlier in the evening, Ryback delivered a promo atop an ambulance that we will discuss in a moment. Later in the show, with the ambulance still parked beside the entrance ramp, Ryback stalked towards the squared circle just seconds after Cody Rhodes' victory over Zack Ryder and appeared to have "Long Island Iced Z" in his sights.
Ryback patiently waited for the former US champion to get to his feet, then flattened him with the stiff Meat Hook lariat clothesline. He followed with a power bomb and Shell Shocked before carrying Ryder's unconscious carcass to the ambulance and carelessly tossing him inside.
The assault on Ryder further cements the full heel turn for Ryback. He bullied the already-beaten Ryder in an attempt to send a message to the WWE champion, John Cena. Whether the attack on Ryder was on purpose, a callback to the fact that he and Cena had been portrayed as friends, is unknown, but the beating did its job in making Ryback look like a ruthless, vicious and violent villain that will stop at nothing to achieve his goal of becoming WWE champion.
Randy Orton vs. Jack Swagger
A match voted on by the WWE fans, Randy Orton and Jack Swagger delivered a pay-per-view quality match in the semi-main event of Raw.
Swagger wasted little time in targeting the leg and, more specifically, the ankle of his opponent in hopes of eventually applying the Patriot Lock and forcing a submission. Orton, conversely, spent a lot of time trying to fight off submission attempts by Swagger, punching and kicking the hands of the former World champion in an attempt to break his grasp on "The Viper's" lower limbs.
A hot finishing sequence, involving the aforementioned Patriot Lock, eventually lead to Orton dumping Swagger outside of the ring, the self-proclaimed "Real American" charging back in and eating an RKO from Orton. Randy would pick up a second consecutive victory over a top SmackDown star.
After their performances on Raw, an actual feud between Orton and Swagger may not be a bad thing.
Paul Heyman reveals his new client
For years, fans have begged and pleaded with WWE to utilize some of its young talent, to put them in position to succeed. On Monday's Raw, they did just that when Curtis Axel (formerly Michael McGillicutty) was revealed as the latest so-called "Paul Heyman Guy".
Axel has long been a very solid professional wrestler, capable of delivering a solid match with nearly any opponent. His one noticeable weakness, however, has been his lack of microphone skills. With Heyman as his new manager, the third-generation Superstar has been given the mouthpiece he needs to connect with the audience.
What makes the revelation of Curtis Axel as the latest Heyman client so awesome is that there was no shock or surprise associated with it. WWE did not dig deep into a bag of old and worn out toys to find a surprise Superstar to re-sign and trot out on Raw. Instead, they stayed in-house and chose a guy with great potential who was missing one key element of Superstardom to receive a rather substantial push.
Whether it works out for Axel is irrelevant. The fact that Vince McMahon and his creative team took the initiative to pull the proverbial trigger on a push for one of its talented young stars is a breath of fresh air.
The beginning of Monday's Raw featured the most organic and natural promo any Superstar has delivered this year. The fact that said promo was cut by Ryback is a nice surprise.
Was his promo, during which he challenged John Cena to an Ambulance match for the WWE title at WWE Payback, the most original of the year? No. But Ryback demonstrated great command over what he was saying and even better confidence in the way he delivered the promo. He believed what he was saying and, as a result, it came across so much better than some of his more recent mic work.
The improvement should not come as a surprise. Like him or not, Ryback has shown an ability to constantly improve since returning to WWE last year. Monday night, he was at home with his new persona and his performance benefited significantly because of it.
Team Hell No & Kofi Kingston vs. The Shield
Not only was the six-man tag match from Raw the best match of the night or better than anything from Sunday's Extreme Rules, it was also one of the best matches of the year. A classic tag team bout strengthened by the intensity provided by Daniel Bryan and the tremendous tag team wrestling by the heels, it made a "very good" episode of Raw a "great" one.
The Shield brings to every match a dynamic that almost guarantees a high quality showing.
Dean Ambrose is the street fighter who will do any dirty, underhanded thing within the confines of a match to wear an opponent down.
Roman Reigns is the explosive power wrestler who utilizes his strength and size advantage to wear the opposition down.
Seth Rollins brings with him a death-defying attitude that allows him to make the leap of faith or endure a high risk bump all in the name of victory.
The Babyface were, on this night, every bit as good. Daniel Bryan performed with a fire that had been missing since the CM Punk series of matches last summer. He and Kane demonstrated a phenomenal chemistry with The Shield, their most consistent rival.
Kofi Kingston was his typically solid and exciting self, as well.
The high energy finish only served to put a bow on the gift that the match was for WWE fans.