Break the rules. Be a fighter. Any dream is possible if you are brave enough to do it YOUR way. Thank you all. pic.twitter.com/qu7bBOMFdu
— A.J. (@WWEAJLee) April 5, 2015
BREAKING: AJ Lee (April Mendez) has decided to retire from in-ring competition with WWE. We wish AJ the very best.
— WWE (@WWE) April 3, 2015
This isn’t shocking by any means, but it’s still sad to see someone retire in the prime of their career. AJ had only been on the main roster for 5 years, but her impact was enormous. She fought, scratched and clawed her way to the top, managed multiple World Heavyweight Champions, found and got married to the love of her life and achieved her ultimate dream of being a Diva’s champion. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but that’s not how life works. Plainly put, the WWE Divas division is a better place because of AJ Lee, and I hope the higher ups continue to focus on the division as an important part of their shows. AJ wasn’t always happy with her position in the company, or the Divas in general, and much like her husband CM Punk, she wasn’t just going to sit there and take it. She was outspoken in promos and on Twitter when she felt like things weren’t happening fairly, and even though she’s leaving, she’s a big reason why Give Diva’s A Chance even started. She was selfless, an excellent role model to younger girls and did everything she could to differentiate herself from the “norm” of what a WWE Diva should be like. She’s inspired women like Paige, Bailey, Charlotte and Sasha Banks, all of whom will be the center pieces of the WWE Diva’s division for years to come. If I had to sum up AJ Lee in one story, it would be from this Monday’s Raw. In what ended up being her last televised match, AJ wore a Bailey T-shirt to the ring. She knew this would be her final time on WWE television (for now, hopefully) and wanted to go out helping out whoever she could. The WWE Universe will miss AJ Lee, but I’ll find comfort in knowing she’s going to be bad ass in whatever she does next.
What a difference a week makes. While Raw was again short on the wrestling, the majority of the promos were excellent, and the matches we did get, especially Harper/Bryan and Reigns/Rollins, were very good. Jon Stewart showed up to confront Seth Rollins, Bray Wyatt lit a casket on fire and AJ Lee returned to help out the enemies of her enemy. Just another Monday night in the WWE Universe. Now, let’s get to the 5 stars from last night’s Raw.
1. The Intercontinental Championship
The best thing about titles in wrestling is that they can justify any storyline. The IC belt hasn’t been relevant in quite awhile, but it’s still the second most important title in the WWE, so six different guys going to extreme lengths to obtain it makes sense. The championship is scheduled to be defended at WrestleMania in a ladder match, but the only two participants that have been announced are actual champion Bad News Barrett and R-Truth. As much as I’d LOVE to see a one on one match for the IC title between Barrett and Truth at Mania, it seems as if the WWE has other plans. Last night, we had two matches that centered around the belt: Dean Ambrose vs. Barrett and Daniel Bryan vs. Luke Harper. During both matches there were outside shenanigans with various people sneaking in and stealing the belt, but in the ring, both matches were pretty good. While Barrett has taken a slide in the wrong direction since winning the belt, he and Ambrose can still put on a good match, and Daniel Bryan vs. Luke Harper is incapable of being bad. Ziggler sneaking in at the end to super kick Harper and take the belt was just the icing on the cake, and it looks like a MITB style ladder match is going to determine the new IC champ at Mania. If the WWE is trying to solidify the secondary titles heading into Mania, then they’re doing a great job. With Cena most likely challenging for the US title and a bunch of stars headlined by Daniel Bryan going for the IC gold, the WWE could have some seriously interesting mid card feuds post Mania.
2. Stephanie McMahon & #Axelmania
This was all one segment, so I’m lumping them together. Cena came out and cut the same old promo (more on that in a second) and entered himself into the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, but was thankfully interrupted by Stephanie McMahon, who absolutely annihilated him. If this was any other wrestler I’d feel bad, but it’s Cena, and he deserves to be put in his place from time to time. Stephanie told Cena he can’t just enter himself into a WrestleMania match, and that maybe WrestleMania would be better off without John Cena this year (this is when the world’s biggest YES chant should have erupted). After Steph runs down Cena for not getting the job done against Rusev, Curtis Axel comes out, and I’m all in on Axelmania. It’s probably not going anywhere, but it should. What’s the difference between what Curtis Axel is doing and what Damien Sandow is doing? They’re both talented guys who were given throw away gimmicks who are making it work, and the crowd is taking notice. I know he got fed to the Cena monster last night, but that still doesn’t change the fact that the crowd is eating this Axelmania thing up. The best part is that Axel is consistently changing things up. When he first came out after the Rumble, he started the hash tag Axelmania. The next time, he had a hash tag Axelmania shirt. Now he comes out with a clock on the Titantron of how long he’s been in the Royal Rumble, and announces himself as the longest entrant in Rumble history. That’s great, and it’s a simple change that not enough wrestlers do. You want to know why people really hate John Cena? Because when his music hits and he’s going to the ring, whether it’s for a promo or a match, you know what you’re going to get. He never changes things up, or adds a new dimension to his character. If it’s a match, you know he’s going to do his five moves of doom, maybe throw a dropkick or a bad Frankesteiner, and that’s that. If he’s cutting a promo, he starts it off by saying the crowd is LIVE tonight, then depending on his mood or current feud, he’ll either make fun of his opponent or put on his super serious face and say this is the most important fight of his life. When Curtis Axel is more organic and over than your top guy, I think it’s time to switch some things up.
3. Paul Heyman
Paul Heyman makes every show he’s on better. Paul Heyman when he’s ON makes a good show great, and a great show must see. Last night, without his Beast, Heyman cut one of his best promos in years. He quickly addressed the elephant in the room of Lesnar walking out of Raw last Monday and then appearing at UFC the following Saturday by simply telling everyone that Brock Lesnar will do whatever the hell he wants. Then he turned his attention to Roman Reigns, and it was a different message then the one a week ago where he basically gave Reigns a verbal blow job. This time, Heyman sent out a warning to Reigns: if he shows up to fight Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania, one of two things will happen: Brock will systematically dissect Reigns and beat him or Brock will ‘Ronda Rousey’ his ass and beat him quickly. I’m glad that when Reigns’ music hit, Heyman left the ring and we didn’t have a one on showdown between the two, because last night Paul Heyman had the ability to clip Reigns’ wings with just a few words. As great as Heyman is, the lack of good managers in the WWE is being exposed with this feud. If Reigns had a mouth piece to counter Heyman, and Roman could just beat the crap out of people in the ring, this feud would be significantly better. He’s probably not the answer, but Jon Stewart did cut a hell of a promo on Seth Rollins last night. I’ve seen crazier things happen in the WWE.
4. Bray Wyatt
Speaking of doing something different every time you’re out there, how great has Bray Wyatt been? Ever since the beginning of his Ambrose feud, Wyatt has been money both in the ring and on the microphone, and he’s single handedly carried a WrestleMania feud with The Undertaker. Has anyone ever done that? Taker hasn’t been on TV consistently for the last couple years, but he’s always shown up on Raw before Mania to address his challenger. This year, the burden has been put squarely on the shoulders of Bray Wyatt, and he’s more than delivered. I’m glad he’s getting some freedom to do different things, because his promo at Fast Lane and his promo last night were great both verbally and visually. I’ve heard and read a lot of talk about what the outcome of Wyatt and Taker’s match at Mania will be, but I think we need to appreciate the journey Wyatt is taking in this case, and watch a future main eventer spring to life right before our eyes.
5. AJ Lee
I’m hoping this ends up being a Fatal Four Way match for the Diva’s Title, but even if it ends up being a tag match, I’m glad AJ Lee is back for the WrestleMania build. She’s cuts the best promo of any Diva, and she has a different in ring style that I believe is heightened when you haven’t seen it in a while. One of the toughest things for a WWE superstar or Diva to accomplish is to avoid becoming stale. Unlike every other professional sport, the WWE has no offseason, and unless you’re injured or filming a movie, you’re going to be on every show. Everyone is forced to keep reinventing themselves, but even if they’re successful at that, certain stars can get complacent (see Cena, John). The best thing that could’ve happened to AJ was her time off, because now not only is she coming back recharged, but she’s in a main event Divas storyline with a worldwide hash tag that she can get on the microphone and promote. Nobody wants the Divas to get a chance to shine more than AJ Lee, and I’m glad she’s back.