The Good, the Great and the Awesome from Raw 9/23/13
With only two weeks until WWE Battleground, Monday Night Raw hit the USA Network airwaves from the historic Allstate Arena in suburban Chicago, Ill.
Eight days earlier, hometown boy CM Punk suffered the most humiliating loss of his career when he was pinned by Paul Heyman at Night of Champions. What would the Second City Saint have in store for his former friend in front of friends and family?
More importantly, what role would new Heyman associate Ryback play in the night's festivities?
Elsewhere on the show, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon vowed to address the locker room revolt from last week. What punishment, if any, would they have in store for the men that came to Daniel Bryan's aid? How would they attempt to quell the potential uprising?
Would Bryan step up and lead the locker room in raging against the all-powerful, corrupt and unjust machine?
And finally, after being brutally and viciously assaulted in front of his mother and father last week, what would The Miz have to say in his first televised appearance since the beating?
From a storytelling and quality standpoint, would the company continue to deliver a compelling product or, in much of the same way Night of Champions proved to be, would it take a step back with the rise of Bryan storyline?
How would the company continue to keep CM Punk vs. Paul Heyman fresh? What would the Wyatt Family be up to?
Why is Justin Gabriel suddenly relevant again?
The answers to all of those questions, and more, were revealed Monday night.
This is the good, the great and the awesome from this week's Raw.
Alberto Del Rio: Great, if Unspectacular, Wrestler
The opening contest of the evening saw world heavyweight champion Alberto Del Rio take on Kofi Kingston in non-title action. In what seemed like the 10,000th meeting between the two this year, they had one of their better matches. Del Rio targeted the left arm of his opponent, while Kingston made the spirited and exciting comeback that he has become famous for.
The outcome was never really in doubt, though, as Del Rio locked in the cross armbar and picked up the submission victory.
If the match had served any other purpose than to get Del Rio yet another televised victory over a perennial midcard talent like Kofi, even if he is one of the most decorated performers in the company, then the quality of the match alone would have landed it in the "great" section of this article.
Unfortunately, a lack of intrigue surrounding the outcome devalues what was really an above-average match.
The Wyatt Family Keeps On Keeping On
The pop for Bray Wyatt and Co. as they entered the Allstate Arena was outstanding. The fact that Luke Harper and Erick Rowan were very impressive in defeating the very hot Prime Time Players in a rather one-sided match only helped build on the momentum they entered with.
Though the trio has not consistently appeared live before the audience in recent weeks, the pre-taped promos help to develop the background while the aura around them and the goosebumps-inducing entrance help to keep them over.
The gimmick allows them to mask whatever in-ring deficiencies they may have, which were on display ever-so-slightly Monday night as they did battle with Titus O'Neil and Darren Young.
Luckily for Harper and Rowan, their mere presence is strong enough to keep audiences entertained while they continue to develop as in-ring performers.
Still, a very impressive win over a team involved in the company's main angle and a team that was still fresh off of a tag team title match at Night of Champions.
The Stephanie McMahon-AJ Lee Backstage Confrontation
Sign me up and take all my money for AJ vs. Stephanie right now.
The BIGGEST Miz TV Ever
One week after being absolutely destroyed in front of his own parents by Randy Orton, The Miz returned to Raw for an edition of Miz TV.
His guest? The World's Largest Athlete, The Big Show.
Miz was as good as he has ever been on this night, taking a more serious tone and really laying into the giant about the way he has allowed Stephanie McMahon and Triple H to humiliate and manipulate him over the past few weeks.
The former WWE champion came off as more genuine, less scripted than usual and it helped the overall quality of his work.
Stephanie's arrival only added to a strong segment as she brought up Miz's very real failings, including the idea that he may have peaked way too young. It was the hint of reality, of truth, that helped sell her words.
Big Show knocking Miz out on command, with little hesitation as opposed to previous weeks, was a nice wrinkle as well. Perhaps the giant did not like being told the truth about his situation. Perhaps he simply does not like Miz.
Whatever the case may be, what should have been a pedestrian segment on a stacked edition of Raw was, instead, an interesting angle development.
Kudos to Stephanie for facetiously fixing Miz's jacket as he laid unconscious in the center of the ring. Little things like that add to the fans' distaste of the character in the long run.
Rocky Rhodes for The Shield
As Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins made their way to the ring for the night's main event, they were attacked from out of nowhere by Dustin and Cody Rhodes, to the delight of the Chicago crowd.
Clad in black, they jumped the guardrail and took out Triple H and Stephanie's hired henchmen before security grabbed a hold of them and escorted them to the back.
It was a great payoff to a story that began several weeks ago when the COO publicly fired Cody, who had the gull to stand up to him and speak his mind, after a loss to Randy Orton.
The reaction the Chicago audience gave once it realized it was Cody and Dustin (in complete Goldust makeup) is exactly what one would have hoped it would be given the build and execution of the story.
The only thing keeping the short, yet intense, segment from landing in the awesome portion of this article was the fact that it may have been a bit early to take the latest step in the angle. With a show as packed with story advancement and development, there is always a risk that throwing too many key events at the audience will cause one or two to slip through the proverbial cracks.
It remains to be seen if that is the case.
The good news for now is that the crowd erupted for the appearance of the Rhodes brothers and, if the company plays its cards right, Cody may soon be joining Bryan as a young breakout star.
The Entire Show
Everything on Monday's show served a purpose. It was a very focused three hours of wrestling in which everything that happened meant something, whether it be the advancement of top angles or an occurrence that directly affected the night's main event.
The sole exception being the match between Santino and Fandango, which meant nothing and existed only to get both guys on television.
WWE has always been at its best when it was focused on a specific goal and crafted a very coherent show to get there.
That was the case with this week's episode.
Main Event Angle Booking
Raw's main angle, involving Triple H and Stephanie McMahon's abuse of power and the manner in which they handled a revolting locker room, was a thing of beauty.
At the top of the show, the COO and his wife thanked the Superstars for standing up to authority last week, then questioned whether those 10 men were really fighting on behalf of Bryan. When Rob Van Dam confirmed that they were, Triple H demonstrated why he earned the nickname "the Cerebral Assassin" all those years ago.
He began planting seeds of dissension among the group of Superstars, questioning why they are fighting for Bryan when they should be fighting for the WWE title. He asked Dolph Ziggler if he is okay with Bryan getting another title shot while he watches from the sidelines again.
R-Truth was asked about the last time he had a title shot, while Zack Ryder was asked why he is not the face of WWE right now.
It was excellent foreshadowing to something that may come a little further down the line, when one of those Superstars supporting Bryan now suddenly realizes he has a lot to gain by siding with Triple H and doing what is best for him at the expense of everyone else.
From there, Triple H announced an 11-on-3 Elimination Handicap match featuring the babyfaces against The Shield. Rollins, Reigns and Ambrose seemed a bit taken aback by the announcement, while the COO advertised it as a way for the frustrated workers at the top of the stage to get revenge on the trio for weeks and months of beatings.
While it initially looked as though The Game had put his henchmen in an unfavorable position, it took only a few moments to figure out that the good guys may not have that large of an advantage after all.
Throughout of the night, Triple H booked the majority of the Superstars in other matches, making sure they were worn down, beaten, battered and bruised heading into the night's main event.
Kofi Kingston, Rob Van Dam and the Prime Time Players are all Superstars who had been beaten up prior to the handicap match and, consequently, they were all ultimately eliminated from that match.
The main event would accomplish several things, the most important being the continued growth and evolution of Bryan. He starred, tearing through Roman Reigns en route to a top-rope splash by the Usos to eliminate him.
Ziggler got a measure of revenge on United States champion Dean Ambrose, whom he pinned following the Zigzag.
The final fall would come when Bryan delivered the running knee to the face of Seth Rollins for the win.
Bryan celebrated the win in front of a very enthusiastic Chicago crowd, who relished in the opportunity to repeatedly point to the sky and chant "yes."
From the very beginning of the night, when the match was booked, through the matches involving the babyfaces scheduled to compete in the main event suffering injuries or beatdowns to the main event itself, the major angle in today's WWE was advanced brilliantly with logic and intelligence.
Most importantly, Bryan took another major step in proving himself as a legitimate headline star for a company seriously in need of one.
The Prodigal Son Comes Home
The pop for CM Punk as he entered the site of his five-star classic against John Cena at Money in the Bank two years ago was as loud as any in recent history. The Best in the World stood in the center of the ring, wearing his Chicago Blackhawks jersey in honor of the Stanley Cup champions, and he seemed legitimately happy.
He expressed how sorry and embarrassed he was for losing to Paul Heyman, then launched into a hockey comparison that only those who watch the sport and/or live north of the border could understand.
This brought out Heyman, complete with a motorized wheelchair that looked strangely familiar (Big Johnny on line one). Heyman called Chicago by its nickname, the Second City, before running it down as a second-class town with second-rate citizens and second-place teams.
Punk eventually made a beeline for Heyman but was jumped by Ryback and intercontinental champion Curtis Axel. Punk put up a valiant fight but soon found himself on the receiving end of a two-on-one assault.
The segment allowed Heyman, Ryback and Axel to get more heat on themselves in front of Punk's hometown, all the while fueling the fires for an eventual moment in which the hero vanquishes all of the villains.
It also begs the question of whether Punk will be able to go it on his own or if he will have to recruit help.
Real-life friend Kingston would be an excellent choice.
A Word on Stephanie McMahon...
It would be a major mistake to not mention just how awesome Stephanie McMahon has been in recent weeks.
Triple H has been the focus of the abuse of power storyline since the beginning, and it seems as though the delightfully evil, vindictive and manipulative Stephanie's outstanding performances every week have gone underappreciated.
Formerly the whiny, spoiled little brat would oftentimes border on annoying. She was the type of character fans wanted to see get shut up. She was phenomenal as that character, especially during the McMahon-Helmsley regime angle that dominated the first half of 2000.
That character, however, had a shelf life on it, and as the Billion Dollar Princess got older and began assuming more power behind the scenes, it was only a matter of time before her on-screen character underwent change.
She became the SmackDown general manager, but it became more and more clear that she thrived in situations where she was the villain. She left television for quite some time, giving fans a break from McMahon family drama, making occasional appearances when necessary.
She devoted her time to being a mother and serving as head of WWE creative.
Over the past three months, however, she has returned with a vengeance, as evil as ever. She has been so great, in fact, that she has made all of the wrongdoings Triple H has been guilty of seem like mere child's play.
Stephanie has brought a giant to tears, forced said giant to do her dirty work, perpetrated the assault of Hall of Famer Dusty Rhodes and was brutally honest in her disparaging remarks toward The Miz on Monday night.
Eventually, the good guys will overcome the power-hungry Stephanie and Triple H, but hopefully, that is only after fans are treated to more of Stephanie's matured, evolved and awesomely despicable character.