With a different match order, this could have been a super-hot edition of Monday Night Raw. The Canadian crowd is always willing to do their part, and the WWE gave them two matches to savor—tremendous bouts featuring members of the Shield.
First, Dean Ambrose showed why the internet is buzzing about his potential, going hold for hold with Kofi Kingston in a really solid technical display.
Then, against all odds, business picked up even further for a legitimately great match between Ambrose's teammates Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns and Team Hell No.
Unfortunately, these matches were all in the middle of the show. Nothing could follow them, and the remainder of the show felt like nothing but filler. Even the main event, with John Cena and Curtis Axel, failed to match the action and excitement from earlier in the evening.
But a show like Raw shouldn't only be judged as an overall product. It's also a collection of segments, each worth considering on its own merits. I've graded them all. Disagree? Let me know in the comments.
John Cena is back, and he's apparently still shocked and bemused by the crowd's mixed response. You'd think he'd be used to it by now, making his "surprise face" even less believable that Taylor Swift's.
He's out to up the ante of Ryback, changing a mere ambulance match to something even more gimmicky. Ryback accepts. That business taken care of, Paul Heyman comes out to talk Cena into a match with Curtis Axel. Feeling generous, the champ accepts.
John Cena proposed a Three Stages of Hell match for Payback. Ryback accepted. Paul Heyman then challenged Cena to a match with his client Curtis Axel. Cena agreed after some words were exchanged.
"Seems like there's a lot of unrest in here tonight. A lot of unrest, a lot of anxiety. Maybe a little bit of anger." John Cena, referencing the mixed crowd.
"We're here tonight in Calgary, the home of Bret 'The Hitman' Hart. And justifiably, his people want to pay homage to their hero. And that time will come." Cena, recognizing "We want Bret" chants.
"Ooh, pretty bright lights." Cena, imitating Ryback.
"A match so violent, there have only been three in the history of WWE." Cena announcing a Three Stages of Hell match. It combines a lumberjack, a tables match and an ambulance match.
"I actually agree with you John. Payback should be deliberate. Payback should be definitive. Payback should be hell." Ryback.
"I tried taking you to hell. Say hello to Beelzebub. Say hello to Lucifer. Say hello to Stan. John—say hello to Ryback." Ryback, accepting the match.
"You, John Cena, are a fighting champion. Which is why sir, I know you won't back down from a little challenge of my own." Paul Heyman proposing a match between Cena and Curtis Axel.
"Wooah, wooah, wooa, wooah, wooah Johnny Boy. We didn't ask for your opinion. We asked if you're looking for a fight." Curtis Axel.
I'm not sure that three bad gimmick matches combine to form some kind of super gimmick match. A gimmick match Voltron, if you will. Instead, I think the result is just three bad matches in a row.
Langston is filling in for an injured Dolph Ziggler and making quite an impression in his stead. Langston is coming into his own, even if his ring gear rides a little tight on the "little Langston."
AJ Lee's interference backfires when Langston collides with an exposed turnbuckle.
"At what point does he start thinking he should be the champion?" JBL, asking the question about Big E that I posed last week.
"I got diagnosed with AJHD. Every time I see AJ in HD, I can't focus on anything else." Jerry Lawler. Man, I love King's terrible jokes.
"I don't think your body popped out like that when you pulled down the strap King. No offense." JBL comparing Lawler's physique to Big E's.
"I was trying to help you!" AJ Lee to Langston
Del Rio and Langston have a solid physical chemistry. Langston's impressive size and bulk make him a perfect foil for Del Rio, allowing him to look like an outmatched babyface relying on technique rather than strength. I'd like to see what these two can do in an extended match.
Dean Ambrose is getting a test run as a singles star—and so far, so good. The Shield has proven to be a great team. Now Ambrose is proving he can work a really, really good one-on-one match too.
Ambrose pinned Kingston with his Bulldog Driver finisher.
"Think about the night the Shield had at Extreme Rules. This could be just as bad as that was good." JBL on the potential of the Shield losing all their gold.
"They carry them off like cord wood." JBL on the Shield.
Ambrose has star potential—I think we all see it at this point. The question is how well he will be able to navigate the WWE's brutal backstage politics. It will be fun to find out.
Listen, I love the Shield as much as anybody does. But Seth Rollins does not have main-eventer hair. In the business world, a man can be held back because he doesn't have "management looks." Seth Rollins does not have a money draw's looks.
That doesn't stop him from being a top worker, a huge asset to the show or a guy who entertains us for a decade non-stop. But I don't see him main eventing WrestleMania for the WWE title anytime soon. At least, not without a haircut.
Rollins pinned a distracted Kane with a knee to the head off the top rope.
"Being tough has nothing to do with your size." Kane, in a pep talk to Daniel Bryan.
"Ah hah! I knew it. You think I'm going to screw it up tonight. You think I'm the weak link." Daniel Bryan, taking the pep talk as a condemnation.
"You two are one of the best tag team partnerships I've ever seen." Bret Hart, encouraging Bryan to think positively.
"Because that's Bret Hart. The best there is the best there was. The best there ever will be. And you? You're just Kane." Daniel Bryan explaining why Bret's pep talk worked where Kane's failed.
"Did you ever think you'd see a match where Kane was the voice of reason?" Jerry Lawler as Kane tried to calm Bryan down.
"You are the weak link." Rollins to Daniel Bryan.
"There was a classic case of taking your eye off the ball." Lawler on Bryan trying too hard.
This was a great professional wrestling match. There's not much more to say than that. It's my job, however, to try.
Daniel Bryan was in rare form tonight. First he and Kane hit the Shield with a "Hart Attack," an homage to the Hart Foundation in their home territory. A shout-out, of course, that the announcers completely missed.
But Bryan was just getting started.
He was on fire throughout the match, and he and Rollins are really special when in together. Spectacular spots abounded, and Kane and Reigns played their roles well and then got the heck out the way as two astounding workers put on a clinic.
So, last week the Miz beat Barrett in a tag match when Fandango abandoned his partner. Thus—this.
Fans were presented three options for the Miz: guest ring announcer, guest commentator and guest referee. If only there had been a fourth option—TNA superstar.
Just kidding. That one is coming soon enough on its own.
Fandango pins Barrett after Miz laid him out. Miz proceeded to take Fandango out for good measure.
"What did you vote WWE Universe?" Jerry Lawler, as the fans voted Miz the special guest referee.
"It's times like this I wish I was a wrestling ring." Lawler as Summer Rae did the splits in the ring.
"Miz is a horrible referee." JBL. No need to add the "referee" qualifier John.
That was the definition of "filler." I've already forgotten it. I hope you do in time.
A birthday cake in Jim Cornette's face once led to a hot feud in Mid South with the Rock and Roll Express. Somehow I don't think this angle with Hornswaggle and 3MB is going to light the WWE territory on fire.
Brodus Clay pinned Heath Slater with a splash.
"Hornswaggle should have accepted a cake more his own size. A cupcake." Lawler on the cake that started this epic feud.
"Happy birthday to you." Khali, singing to Natalya as only Khali can.
This kind of stuff is supposed to be funny. It's not.
Paul Heyman comes out to chat with Jericho, who got his big U.S. break in Heyman's ECW before moving to WCW as the man of 1,004 holds. Let the talking begin!
Jericho books a match with CM Punk for Chicago.
"I love the word bulbous." Jerry Lawler after Jericho referred to Heyman as such.
"Arguably the greatest." JBL on Heyman's skills as a manager.
"You have been called many thing over your career, from a genius to a walrus." Jericho to Heyman.
"It's not just that I align myself with great talent. It's that I discover and develop great talent....like you...Paul Heyman gave Chris Jericho his very first big break." Heyman spitting truth.
"You still owe me money." Jericho. Touche.
"Paul, would you please shut the hell up....I don't want to talk about Curtis Axel. I don't care what Brock Lesnar is doing on his spring break." Jericho, bringing the conversation around to CM Punk.
"Monkeys, roll the clip." Jericho. I like that line.
"The thing I noticed about that video clip, besides you wearing the exact same suit you had on then...is that Punk surprised and shocked you as well." Jericho.
"He didn't have to come out here and say stupid things like 'I'm the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.' He was the best in the world." Heyman, not making fans in Calgary happy.
"Hi Punk. Hey buddy. Hi Punk. How's the family? You know what else is in Chicago? The next pay-per-view—Payback." Jericho, trying to set up a match with Punk.
"Don't say it. It's not yours to say." Heyman.
"It's not Punk's either. Unless he decides to come to Payback and face me one on one once again." Jericho.
"Chris Jericho is the best in the word at what I do." Jericho, stealing Punk's thunder.
"I guess that's called pulling my Punk card?" Heyman.
"You Chris Jericho want a match with CM Punk in Chicago, his hometown, on pay per view? Well, on behalf of my client CM Punk, I accept." Heyman.
"Tell Punk after Payback he will never, ever, be the same again." Jericho.
These guys are both excellent on the mic, but that segment just didn't work. It meandered all over the place before finally arriving at Jericho vs. Punk.
Bizarre wrestling logic here. How is Jericho competing for the title of "best in the world" after coming up short against the likes of Fandango? I don't want to overthink it, but really?
Intrigued by the "secret admirer" mystery?
Me too. We aren't any closer to an answer about who has the hots for Kaitlyn, though. Stupid wrestling match on a wrestling show.
Bree pinned Natalya after an accidental Kaitlyn spear.
"Happy birthday." Crowd chanting for Natalya.
"It's no secret, I admire all of the divas." Jerry Lawler on rumors he is Kaitlyn's secret admirer.
"Khali might have been a better singer." Lawler after a horrible rendition of the birthday song by the Bellas.
This was a pretty sound five-minute tag match. Nothing special, but nothing to boil the blood either.
The WWE isn't quite sure what to do with Randy Orton. He's an established talent, good in the ring and solid on the mic. He has charisma for days. My wife tells me he's good-looking—so do my eyes.
So why is he hanging around the midcard?
There are a lot of answers to that rather simple question. The bottom line? He can't be trusted to stay focused and on the straight and narrow long enough to make it worth the risk to devote a lot of television time and promotional power on his push.
He's already 33 years old. Will Orton ever get it together long enough to live up to his potential? Stay tuned!
Sheamus pinned Sandow with White Noise followed by a Brogue Kick.
"Almost knocked the mustache off Cody Rhodes." Michael Cole.
"Are you implying that's not a real mustache?" Jerry Lawler. Mustache jokes. They've got them.
"I'm just looking at Cody's tan. It's the same color as Sheamus's hair. Where do you go to get an "orange burn" like that?" Lawler.
"As Cody's dad would say, 'We's about to go clubbering.'" JBL. #Bringbackthesonoftheplumber
These guys worked hard. They got a lot of time to work. And it was, in a vacuum, perfectly good wrestling.
But I just couldn't get past the fact that Rhodes and Sandow are glorified jobbers. I never thought for a second they would win—and that hurt the match for me.
Last week Axel, fluke or not, beat Triple H fair and square. Tonight it was John Cena's turn to play the unlikely victim.
Nothing builds a lasting star like a series of weak wins!
John Cena was counted out when an ambulance was driven ringside and Ryback jumped Cena.
"Paul Heyman's last four clients have been world champions." JBL, standing up for Heyman.
"He's got all the tools. He has all the talent and credentials." Jerry Lawler on Axel.
"These are the type of guys Heyman preys on." Michael Cole on Axel's status as an underutilized talent.
"Is it enough to put Cena away?" Cole. After a dropkick. I'm going to go ahead and say "no." It's not 1951.
"Perfect." Cole after Curtis hit his father's old Perfectplex finisher.
Something strange was going on during this match. The camera angles were odd and the shots kept very tight. A fight in the stands, maybe?
Whatever it was, it hurt the bout as they spent an extended period in rest holds that didn't really tell a story. Axel did hit a tremendous dropkick and a Perfectplex. Other than that? Not much positive to say about the action in the ring.
I don't like this storyline for Axel either. Sure, it's cheap and immediate heat. But is it lasting?
I'm determined, however, to look on the bright side. Just because it's never worked before doesn't mean it won't miraculously work for Axel here in 2013.