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RICHMOND, Va. – With WWE Payback only six days away, it appears that Triple H’s own payback against Curtis Axel will have to wait a little while longer. The erstwhile COO of WWE has been spoiling for a fight against Paul Heyman’s protégé ever since Axel’s dubious debut under the Heyman banner, where lingering injuries from another Heyman client forced The King of Kings to forfeit his bout against Mr. Perfect’s preening son.
But it appears that, despite the iron will of The King of Kings, the billion-dollar edict of Mr. McMahon still trumps all. The Game-Axel tilt barely even began before The Chairman made his presence known. Mr. McMahon promptly stopped the match and (despite Triple H’s numerous attempts to subvert the power chain and reverse his father-in-law’s decree), declaring Axel the winner via Disqualification and, later, Forfeit before absconding with the bell and microphone so as to prevent any technicality-fused resumption of the match by The Game, whose final attempt at initiating a 60-Minute Iron Man Match was dismissed with one brusque command from The Chairman's tongue.
Despite the lingering family strife from the previous week, however, a tentative rematch was ultimately offered for next week by Mr. McMahon, though The King of Kings had yet to accept by night's end.
Playlist: Family values take over Raw
After Daniel Bryan engaged in a bizarre battle alongside a new partner on SmackDown, it fell to his brawny buddy Kane to dish out some solo hurting on The Shield’s resident U.S. Champion, Dean Ambrose, on Raw. And while The Big Red Monster certainly left the Cincinnati scrapper worse for wear, it was all in the name of a Pyrrhic victory when The Shield themselves interfered in the match and awarded Kane the win by DQ.
Kane dominated the scrappy Ambrose for most of the contest, but an intrusion by Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns cut the bout short before The Big Red Monster could cement his victory wit the Chokeslam. Thanks to help from Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton, Kane was able to send The Shield into retreat, but the uneasiness between the three sometimes-allies was still palpable throughout the entire state of Virginia. And Vickie Guerrero's proposed solutions to the problem may not make much of a difference.
The three-way dance for the Intercontinental Title may have become a two-way rumba between The Miz and Wade Barrett following Fandango’s injury, but that didn’t mean The Miz was in a mood to wait for the pay-per-view to get his hands on the English champion. Squaring off against Cody Rhodes on Raw while Barrett perched at commentary, The Awesome One put on a strong performance and seemed more than prepared to challenge for the title, countering Cody’s game plan and trapping “The Taped Fists That Don’t Miss” in the Figure-Four Leglock for a submission triumph.
Watch: Heyman flips the script
Not one to settle for his in-ring win, Miz beckoned for Barrett to step through the ropes and dance, but an unlikely third party soon emerged to upend the status quo once again: Paul Heyman. And it just so happens he had a ready-made replacement for Fandango in the Triple Threat Match at Payback … Curtis Axel.
Leave it to The Showoff to show up Chris Jericho six days before one of the most anticipated rematches in WWE history. With Y2J preparing for a still-MIA CM Punk at WWE Payback (and coming off a nasty embarrassment from Paul Heyman on SmackDown), tensions were running high in Richmond and Jericho had a few respectful – if forceful – words for the man he named as his greatest opponent.
Unfortunately for him, Dolph Ziggler chose that moment to make his own grand return from injury, hijacking the spotlight (par for the course) and leveling a few choice words at those he claimed tried to take his World Heavyweight Championship from him. But despite Y2J’s attempts to rile up The Showoff into a fight, Ziggler wouldn’t budge with Alberto Del Rio coming down the pike to challenge for the World Title. But, with Big E Langston at his side, Dolph did have a consolation opponent for Jericho to face in Big E Langston.
A good bodyguard protects his charge at all costs, but Big E’s attempts to secure Dolph Ziggler’s safety led to a personal shortcoming when it cost him the impromptu bout against Chris Jericho that Ziggler had tossed him into on Raw.
With a series of victories over Alberto Del Rio under his belt, Langston had been giving the former Undisputed Champion all he could handle and then some in their inaugural tussle on Raw. Attempted interference by Ziggler tossed the bout into turmoil, however, when Alberto Del Rio arrived to even the odds. The interference threw Langston off his game just long enough for a reeling Y2J to execute the Codebreaker and hand Big E a shocking upset loss.
It’s been some time since the WWE Universe saw Antonio Cesaro in action on Raw, but the Teutonic titan seems to have been using his time wisely, as his homecoming to WWE’s flagship show not only earned him a high-profile win, but the attention of an unlikely fan. With Cesaro set to face Sin Cara, the two international Superstars put on a thrilling show of dueling styles. For a while, it seemed as though The International Sensation’s high flying would get the better of Cesaro’s throwback, power-oriented move set, but the former U.S. Champion cut his foe down mid-flight, swinging Sin Cara like a rag doll and unleashing the Neutralizer to secure a forceful statement victory.
And who, exactly, seemed to walk away the most impressed with Cesaro’s win? Why, the very man who had taken to the mic and lent his, erm, strong opinions to the commentary table during the match itself: Zeb Colter.
With Daniel Bryan set to battle Seth Rollins following a WWE App vote, it fell to Randy Orton to square off against Rollins’ fellow Tag Team Champion, Roman Reigns, in singles action. And if the results of Raw’s bout were any indication, The Apex Predator is in for a tough test when he challenges for the Tag Titles at Payback this Sunday.
The Viper came out swinging against the imposing Reigns, grounding The Shield’s resident bruiser and putting an early hurting on Reigns. But a big right hand sent Orton spilling off the turnbuckle and gave Reigns room to work on the dazed former World Champion. Orton rallied and prepared to administer the RKO, but interference from Seth Rollins and Daniel Bryan (who had both been at ringside) cut the contest short and ultimately left the WWE Universe with a No Contest verdict.
The WWE Universe selected for Daniel Bryan to face Seth Rollins, and Daniel Bryan vs. Seth Rollins is what they got: An instant-classic tilt between two of WWE’s most energetic Superstars that ended in the most old-school fashion possible.
Firing on all cylinders, Rollins attempted to prey on the psyche of the former Tag Champion by aping the submission technician’s signature maneuvers. But for the second time in two weeks, Bryan would not allow himself to be put away, countering each of Rollins’ stolen strikes with excruciating holds and borderline-reckless top-rope maneuvers. Roman Reigns nearly sealed the bout when he crept up on a winded Bryan, but thanks to some quick thinking from Randy Orton, Reigns was defused and Bryan was able to roll Rollins up for a rousing victory. Kane may hate to hear it, but that’s some good teamwork right there.
Somebody get Nev Schulman, and somebody get him fast: We got ourselves a Catfish. For weeks, Kaitlyn has fielded amorous texts from a mystery paramour who admired the Divas Champion from afar, spouting “Simpsons” quotes and slowly winning the “Hybrid Diva” over with general geek street cred. And, of course, who better to know the inner workings of a geek’s mind than the onetime Geek Goddess of the Divas division, AJ Lee.
Yes, AJ was the secret admirer all along in an elaborate ploy to worm her way into the champion's psyche. And she broke the news in as brutal a way as possible, first setting up Big E Langston to pose as the mystery suitor before revealing the truth and berating Kaitlyn with a tirade that left the champion a furious wreck, lashing out at AJ before breaking down on the canvas. Suddenly, the Divas Championship Match at Payback just became a whole lot more personal.
Damien Sandow finally got the better of Sheamus on SmackDown following weeks of embarrassment at the hands of The Celtic Warrior, but even an impressive in-ring win by The Intellectual Savior of the Masses didn’t dissuade the Irishman from making a move against his Payback Kickoff opponent. Sandow had been battling R-Truth on Raw and doing a formidable job of it, taking the former U.S. Champion to the limit and finally dooming “Suntan Superman” with a new maneuver he dubbed the Silencer.
Photos: The Truth gets Silenced
But Sandow wouldn’t waltz off into the Richmond night without a few parting words from Sheamus, who told him in no uncertain terms that the Payback “kickoff” would end in the most literal fashion possible for The Enlightened One.
With a wall of humanity separating them, John Cena and Ryback met for the last time before WWE Payback, and laid all their issues bare just days before they step into Three Stages of Hell. In a pair of heated, emotional addresses to each other, the rampaging Ryback spoke about how he felt he threatened Cena ("I got too good, too fast"), and Cena retorted against Ryback's accusations of abandoning him ("You're a man, what did you expect me to do, hold your hand?"). In the end, though, Ryback delievered a final, ominous warning to the man he once called friend and now counted as most hated foe: "Eight months ago, John, you gave me your spot. This Sunday ... Ryback takes your spot."
Things got very chaotic very quickly after that, as Ryback stormed the ring and brawled with Cena despite the efforts of the Lumberjacks, who inadvertently gave the "Human Wrecking Ball" an open shot at Cena when they left a gap in their ranks surroudning the ring. It ultimately took 10 Superstars to pry the two away from each other. It was a heated preview of what the WWE Unvierse can expect Sunday ... or at least the first third of what they can expect. Beyond that it's all tables and ambulances, with one man standing tall at Hell's bitter end.