Previously on Monday Night Raw
Ryback announced his new gimmick as a paramedic, or it might have been to tout his slightly better than Mr. "I only needed to borrow that stretcher" John Cena's performance in their last man standing match at the Extreme Rules pay-per-view (PPV). Either way, it seems we're getting at ambulance match between the two at Payback.
Chris Jericho and his good buddy(?) Miz defeated Fandango and Intercontinental champion Wade Barrett in a tag team affair. After the bell, Fandango bailed and left his dance partner Summer Rae to be Jeri-trolled.
In one of the more anticipated announcements in quite some time, Paul Heyman unveiled his latest "guy": The third generation superstar who will henceforth be known as Curtis Axel. HHH heard more than enough from Heyman though, and came out to ruin the party and make a main event.
World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler was still home recuperating from a concussion, but his running buddies had a good night. Big E Langston defeated the #1 contender Alberto Del Rio after AJ Lee created a distraction. Lee went on to use her Black Widow submission to earn a victory over former Divas champion Layla.
The Shield delivered another match of the year candidate when they defeated Team Hell No and Kofi Kingston. Kane ate the pin, but it didn't quell Daniel Bryan's fears of being thought of as the weak link on his team.
HHH threatened his medical staff's livelihood, and didn't do Axel's any favors when he used the main event to sell the damage from his steel cage match against Brock Lesnar from the night before. If a woozy King of Kings was the cliffhanger you've been waiting for, last Monday was the night for you.
Last week's show was conspicuous for the absence of one man: John Cena. How will the WWE champion respond to the noises being made by Ryback following their brutal war from May 21st?
Dean Ambrose has successfully defended his new title in the rematch the former champion was entitled to...Shield-mates Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns are still waiting to be able to say the same thing. Team Hell No could conceivably exercise their right tonight, but can Kane focus his partner on the task at hand? Or will Bryan's drive to prove to everyone how aggressive he can be cost the duo their chance to regain the belts they held for so long?
Chris Jericho's Highlight Reel returns to Monday Night Raw! His guest Paul Heyman will undoubtedly be looking to sing the praises of his new client, Curtis Axel. Could the status of a man with back-to-back run-ins with Heyman guys last week, the Game, also be discussed?
And the show comes to us live from Canada. No need to wonder if one of Canada's favorite sons will be there. The best there is, the best there was...the Hitman will be in Calgary, Alberta with the rest of the WWE Universe tonight!
Expect to pop for:
Curtis Axel. I respect and admire perseverance. In large part, none of us has control over what we look like, how athletic or smart we are, or how things break to provide or not provide us with opportunities. But we can all "suit up and show up" - out of respect for ourselves and to influence and make the most of opportunities that do come our way.
I have no idea what goes on behind the scenes at WWE; it's possible that a main event push has been promised to Joe Hennig from birth due to a blood pact between his grandfather and Vince McMahon, Sr. But what I have seen over the last few years has been a hard-working, talented guy who could have coasted on his legacy status or gotten whiney about his position in the company. Hell, I probably would have - I've gotten whiney on his behalf.
But The Rock doesn't tweets about how you're his preferred training partner, nor does HHH pick you to help kickstart his big meta-public service angle, if you take either one of those approaches. Forget about Paul Heyman making you the third guy he's worked with in the last seven years. So, however this push turns out, as I was discussing with Damien Sandow's career the other day - good for Perfect, Jr. for sticking with it and getting this shot.
If you haven't seen much of his work or only ever made fun of his old ring name...give the dude a shot. He's got nowhere to go but up with the microphone, but he commits to his character 100%. It adds to his in-ring performances a great deal. You can already see the flourishes with the Axel character when he leans out of the ring to consult with Heyman on breaks at the outset of matches.
He is a very skilled worker inside the ropes, capable of getting good matches out of almost anyone (he's spent a lot of time on Superstars, so he has literally worked with "almost anyone") and executing moves from basic to WOW with the kind of crispness and attention to detail for which his father was known.
I'm ready to join the Axel Axis - who's with me?
WWE App. Haven't used it myself. I am old and the new fangled technologies of you young'ns confuses me. But I've heard Cagesiders say that it has its purpose - match footage from those damned commercial breaks, for one thing. Tonight it gets a big chance to shine when they roll out the first App-exclusive post-show for "Bret Hart Appreciation Night". I don't know how Google Play app usage is tracked, but if they have social media scores, I'm sure they'll have some stat to throw at us in a "Did you know?" about how it was the highest ranking app show/thing ever.
Just be sure to plan your bathroom breaks around the segments dedicated to Jerry Lawler's in-depth tutorials (delivered as he chows down a side of tater tots).
The heat is on:
HHH. I'd love to give the Chief Operating Officer (COO) a pass on the usual "he buries guys" and "he always makes it all about him" critiques - that's not even the reason I put him here to begin with. But then I saw a replay of the show closing angle from last week, and it all came flooding back.
This has been picked apart a great deal, and Heyman is already doing his usual good work turning the concussion story into a figurative win for his new client. The element of it that really sticks in my craw, though? When Haitch begins experiencing "concussion-like symptoms" - who is in control of the match? Does the Game become woozy and dehydrated, does he need to roll out of the ring, because Axel is really taking it to him?
No, HHH has to take a break when he is kicking Curtis' ass so much that it wears him out. CA gets some offense in, for sure. But the show closes after Triple H has mounted his comeback and looks ready to finish the kid. There is nothing on screen to say that Curtis Axel did Hunter in. Just proof that the concussion did.
If anybody can make Larry the Axe's grandson look like a star in this, it's Heyman. But there were about six different small touches they could have used in that segment that would have made it a little bit more about the newest PH guy, and they bypassed all of them to put over the Chairman's 43 year old son-in-law.
Makes me so mad, I've run out of room to talk about how risky this concussion storyline is - both in terms of hitting way too close to home for an entertainment that most of us turn to to forget about real world issues, and in drawing attention to a very real problem that your product is still figured out how best to address.
But luckily for me, since it's a Triple H angle, I can probably look forward to it staying on my screen for the next six months minimum. So I'll have plenty of time to rant about it later.
Raw had some really hit some great notes last week, but there were also a few head scratchers. What kind of tune will the Memorial Day show play?
Take a break from hot dogs and hamburgers to chat about pro wrestling with all your favorite Cagesiders. You can start here, and then jump over to the live blog at 8PM Eastern for Monday Night Raw.