WWE hit right note after right note on Monday's WWE Raw, following up Payback with a number of surprises, returns and Mark Henry's teased retirement.
One of the better episodes in recent memory impressed from start to finish. WWE definitely knows how to maximize momentum after a pay-per-view.
The show featured a swerve, feuds new and continued, and Superstars shifting roles.
Thanks to Monday's events, the Money in the Bank card already has some intriguing options in the works. Alberto Del Rio made his heel turn official. Christian and Brock Lesnar came back. Henry pulled a Ric Flair and turned a fake retirement speech into a show-stealing performance.
Here are the segments and matches from the June 17 edition of WWE Raw, complete with kudos, analysis and grades.
Alberto Del Rio and later CM Punk opened the night with confirmations of their switched allegiances.
Del Rio came out to the buzz of boos. Apparently, the audience has fully accepted Del Rio's return to villainy.
Before he even uttered his first words of the night, it was clear there was a change in him. He now donned a black scarf and his smile was far more vicious than it was during his face run. Even Ricardo Rodriguez’s normally endearing charm has been washed away by an air of wickedness.
Del Rio asked why anyone would care about the Man of Steel when they can watch him, "a man of gold."
He grumbled about how Ziggler attacked him and cashed in the Money in the Bank contract on him. According to Del Rio, who won a title the same way, that makes Ziggler "a pig and a coward."
"I guess that's what America is all about: pigs and cowards," Del Rio said.
The crowd chanted "U-S-A!" and Del Rio egged them on. He was convincingly indignant, slipping back into his snake's skin with ease.
Also interesting to note that Alberto Del Rio's face run lasted exactly six months (December 16, 2012 - June 16, 2013).
— Graham Mirmina (@SAVE_US_GSM) June 17, 2013
Chicago's favorite son limped down to ringside complete with Wolverine-like mutton chops and the crowd lit up.
CM Punk talked about how the last time he and Del Rio met was Survivor Series 2011 when Punk's lengthy WWE title reign began. Del Rio had claimed to be the best in his promo and Punk took offense to that.
He challenged Del Rio, but Paul Heyman said that his clients don't fight for free. Punk was clearly annoyed with Heyman, doing some major foreshadowing.
Vickie Guerrero came out and made the match official as the night's main event.
Del Rio's promo cleared up any doubts about his heel turn at Payback by fully embracing his dark side. Though the Mexican aristocrat was improving as a face, he's a natural heel and showed it here in a powerful performance.
It didn’t take long for WWE to further Paul Heyman and CM Punk's tension.
Backstage, Heyman apologized for overstepping his boundaries. Punk, though, was done with him.
Punk told him, "I don’t need your help to win matches."
Though he promised to always be a Heyman guy, Punk didn’t want him at ringside at any of his future matches. That news stunned Heyman and he seemed to be holding back anger.
This relationship teased on full-on disintegration and served as the precursor to the night's final showdown.
The segment was just a tease for the night's later developments and a narrative that should continue in the coming weeks.
What looked to be Wade Barrett getting his rematch against Curtis Axel for the Intercontinental Championship turned into a welcome party for Christian.
Barrett awaited Axel in the ring when Vickie Guerrero interrupted and promised a surprise opponent instead. Christian looked to be in great shape, delivering his trademark quick offense.
Christian tossed Barrett out of the ring and soared onto him. Barrett responded later by kneeing and grinding down on Christian's previously injured shoulder.
The crowd buzzed for Christian throughout the match, especially when he hit a tornado DDT for a two-count.
Word is that WWE creative has been waiting for the right story to have Christian return. This particular return seemed like something they could have done at any point in the last month.
Hello my friends, we meet again it's been a while, where should we begin? #RAW— Christian (@Christian4Peeps) June 18, 2013
Christian gets the pinfall victory via the Killswitch.
A solid, short match was used as a way to announce and highlight Christian's return. It lacked a standout story, but seeing Christian back in a WWE ring is a welcome sight nonetheless.
WWE Raw featured two additional Wyatt Family vignettes.
Each of them seemed to borrow footage from previous editions and added a few new lines and images. Bray Wyatt grinned in the forest saying, "I'm going to pry their eyes open and force them to watch."
He later sat in a rocking chair with Luke Harper and Erick Rowan standing by his side.
It would be nice to see the setting change and for these videos to feature all new material, but as compelling and creepy as these bits are, it's hard to complain too much.
Bray Wyatt is ONLY 26 years old and this kid has SCARY talent. You all will see. #Raw
— The Brain© (@TheBrain_922) June 18, 2013
Reused footage and lines aside, these are fantastic promos that are both visually stunning and emotionally unsettling. Wyatt's debut is going to be awesome.
Sheamus took on both members of Team Rhodes Scholars in a handicap match, and it was mostly realistically booked.
Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow pounded on Sheamus to open the match.
The Celtic Warrior fought them off for a moment or two, but eventually the Rhodes Scholars become jackals on a fallen antelope. They stomped and elbowed Sheamus in an exercise of cohesive brutality.
Later, an angered Sheamus fought back and tossed Rhodes out of the ring and began to clobber both his foes in turn.
“If you can't stand the heat, don't tickle the dragon," Jerry Lawler commented during Sheamus' flurry.
Sheamus geared up for a Brogue Kick on Rhodes, but Sandow rolled up the Irishman from behind for the victory. A grinning Sandow then had to watch as Sheamus let out his frustration by kicking Rhodes right in the lovestache.
You're right Diddy, Cody Rhodes should use his words against Sheamus for that unwarranted Brogue Kick #Raw— Jonathan Rosado (@jmrosad) June 18, 2013
Sandow gets the pin on Sheamus in fluky fashion.
A fun burst of action to keep Sandow and Sheamus' feud going. The only bad news is that Sandow may not be getting a spot in one of the Money in the Bank matches if their rivalry is still going on in mid-July.
Vickie Guerrero struggled to make decisions about the show because Vince McMahon was telling her one thing and Triple H instructed her differently.
Triple H told her she needed take control and make an example of The Shield. McMahon praised them instead.
Vickie ended up in the center of this family dissension in several segments throughout the night. Her job doesn't look safe, but perhaps McMahon and Triple H will be too busy clobbering each other to take notice of her.
I actually feel sorry for Vickie Guerrero. Being in the middle of the McMahon/Triple H power struggle. #Raw
— Kevin Jack (@kevinmjack) June 18, 2013
Being able to create sympathy for Vickie has to be applauded. These bits also worked to ease toward a major Triple H and McMahon-centered feud. The foreshadowing is just right at this point.
Team Hell No argued backstage and teased that perhaps their alliance isn't officially over.
Bryan is still worried about proving himself, still dealing with a set of loose screws in his head.
"You're glad that Team RK-No didn't win," he told Kane.
Bryan said that he needs to focus on winning the WWE title and accomplishing things on his own. He needs to focus on Team Daniel Bryan or Team D.B.
"That makes sense because you're acting like a d.b.," Kane replied.
It seems as if the team is over, but there still may be hope for Team Hell No fans that this pairing lasts just a bit longer.
Facebook alert: Daniel Bryan and Kane just changed their relationship status to "it's complicated." #Raw
— Zack (@KojiClutch) June 18, 2013
The entertainment value of Bryan's paranoia is still high. Kane's punchline was the highlight of an effective, efficient segment.
Fans chose the stipulation for this match and went with the one that most allowed the two men to get things started for a potentially bitter feud.
Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton's bout opened with mat wrestling as Bryan tried to keep Orton grounded. This was an intense version of Bryan, but one more controlled than in his matches against The Shield.
Bryan slipped through a potential Lou Thesz press for a single-leg Boston crab. Orton furiously raked at Bryan's eyes.
If WWE chooses to run with this feud, the two stars showed off some excellent chemistry together.
The match was highlighted by the usual Bryan dangerous boot-first flights to the corner and Orton launching a flying Bryan into the barricade. The story soon became about an apparent injury to Bryan.
Doctors checked on Bryan, but he refused help to continue his frenzied attack. Eventually, the match was called as the medical staff led Bryan away.
Regardless how kayfabe or how real this injury was, this was an interesting way to avoid a definitive finish between them so early. Does the injury cause Bryan further frustration and further motivation to prove himself, or does it lead to Orton and Bryan working things out?
— John Canton (@johnreport) June 18, 2013
Randy Orton wins thanks to a doctor's stoppage.
Their singles match outdid their tag match at Payback. Bryan and Orton delivered the best bout of the evening and created a ton of intrigue going forward. Only the lack of a true finish held this back from an even better grade.
AJ Lee got a chance to shine on the mic after her title win at Payback.
She talked about how she was an ideal example to women everywhere. She called herself, "strong, brilliant, courageous."
After issuing an open challenge, Stephanie McMahon came down to the ring.
The two displayed strong chemistry in a segment that had Stephanie looking intimidating and in charge at times, but also had AJ looking like unstable and defiant.
Her calling Stephanie "boss lady" was a great touch.
Kaitlyn soon entered and told AJ, "You broke me and now it's my turn." Big E Langston had to break up the ensuing catfight. Clearly, this feud is just getting rolling.
That was awesome. AJ/Kaitlyn are making the Divas division interesting again! It's amazing. #RAW
— Ryan Frye (@HAILFRYE) June 18, 2013
This showcased good chemistry between Stephanie and AJ. Kaitlyn and AJ's feud got continued momentum as well. Props to WWE for continuing to give the ladies their share of the spotlight.
A United States Championship rematch ended after a few blinks and a handful of wrestling moves.
Before Kane and Dean Ambrose could get anything going, The Shield got involved. Seth Rollins attacked Kane and Roman Reigns followed up with a spear.
Kane didn't get his title shot in earnest and The Shield continued their bullying ways.
Backstage, The Shield intimidated Vickie Guerrero.
"What are you going to do, spank us?" Ambrose said. Not sure if Ambrose remembers that this is a PG program.
Despite Triple H's instructions, despite their insolence, Vickie didn't punish The Shield for their actions.
— Arya Stark (@prettyheartless) June 18, 2013
Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins attack Kane, getting Ambrose disqualified.
The match was clearly not meant to go long, but having it end as quickly as it did had it feeling hurried. The post-match segment brings this grade up, though, the tension between Vickie and The Shield could have been played up a lot more.
Zeb Colter announced that Antonio Cesaro would be joining him in his war against "rats in the streets."
It's an unusual alliance considering that Cesaro is foreign-born, but one that should be beneficial to Cesaro and should create some tension and drama going forward.
The move makes Colter's doctrine a little less clear, but this feels like the right move. It gives Cesaro something to do and gives the WWE writers some interesting scenarios to toy with.
The match against William Regal was essentially a squash.
It had some good mat work and Regal selling like a boss, but was a short, one-sided match. Cesaro displayed some Killer Kowalski-type movements during this that were intriguing.
He draped a "Don't Tread on Me" flag over Regal. A flood of questions are sure to follow this moment.
Zeb Colter now aligns himself with Antonio Cesaro! Amazing combo! Perfect! #RAW— WrestleChat.net (@WrestleChatNet) June 18, 2013
Cesaro wins with the Neutralizer.
The match was nothing memorable, but aligning Cesaro with Colter is an exciting prospect and was an entertaining moment. It may not help Colter's dogma remain consistent, but it screams intrigue in the weeks ahead.
It seemed strange at first that John Cena was such a prominent part of Mark Henry's moment, and then The World’s Strongest Man announced his attention to seek the WWE title in surprising fashion.
Cena delivered his standard promo, talking about the division of fans for and against him and how he isn't going to be an easy target for the winners of the Money in the Bank matches next month.
Henry then gave what seemed to be his retirement speech.
It was funny and genuine and Henry was surely not the only one with tears in his eyes. The fans chanted, "Thank you, Henry" as the big man talked about being at home more with his family and how much he has accomplished.
A World's Strongest Slam revealed that the speech and the salmon-colored suit were just a ruse. Henry shouted, "I got a lot left in the tank."
He's going after Cena’s title and somebody's going to get their wig split.
The moment suckered fans in and delivered the unexpected. Henry followed up his heartfelt speech with the shock of attacking Cena, creating a startling juxtaposition of emotion.
Chris Jericho made quick work of Heath Slater and 3MB and made them look pretty good in doing so.
Slater got a few shots in before Jericho took control. Jericho stirred up the crowd after each of his trademark moves.
Jinder Mahal got in a cheap shot which nearly cost Jericho the match. Jericho came back with a flurry of offense including a Lionsault and a Codebreaker.
The other 3MB members tried to attack Jericho, but he fought them off with little effort.
That speaks volumes about Chris Jericho that he got a good match out of 3MB #raw
— The Length (@FFCImp) June 18, 2013
Jericho gets an easy win with a Codebreaker.
This was a decent match for being quick filler.
With The Miz at ringside, Curtis Axel battled Sin Cara again.
Axel smashed Sin Cara, who later came back with a nice reverse DDT. He got in a few kicks against Axel, but this was the new Intercontinental champ’s night.
The last few moves, a countered senton and a DDT, were far too awkward. Prepare for a flurry of Sin Cara botch jokes on the web.
— Kirby_Fett (@Kirby_Fett) June 18, 2013
Axel wins by pinfall after a DDT
This was a squash match to build up Axel with enough offense from Sin Cara to not get too buried.
The main event seemed to end on an odd note, but two Heyman guys clashed in a stunning way to end the night. Heyman, you’re the best in the world.
Alberto Del Rio was clearly back to his cowardly ways, slipping out of the ring at every chance he got.
Del Rio was extra aggressive once he got the advantage, though. He yanked on Punk's arm and kicked with echoing impact each time. He controlled much of the match, punishing Punk with the Backstabber and the superkick.
Punk countered with a GTS, but Del Rio rolled out of the ring. Wobbly, leaning on Rodriguez, Del Rio decided it was time to fold.
He looked to be awaiting his count-out loss when Dolph Ziggler jumped out and attacked him. The attack of note, though, happened moments later.
Brock Lesnar prowled around the ring before slipping between the ropes and laying Punk flat with the F-5.
It looks like Heyman wasn't happy with Punk leaving him or else Lesnar took it upon himself to punish Punk. Either way, Money in the Bank appears to have a compelling clash added to the mix.
Absolutely amazing Raw! I am so excited for wrestling right now, it's addictive. Punk/Lesnar build!— Zack (@KojiClutch) June 18, 2013
Punk got the count-out victory, but Lesnar soon had him writhing on the mat.
A well-worked match ends with a shocking moment sure to stir up some interesting discussion for the next few days. Rather than wait until right before the pay-per-view to start building feuds for the pay-per-view, WWE appears to be setting up the Money in the Bank card right away.