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CLEVELAND, OH – More than a few people were not happy that Daniel Bryan didn’t get to throw his hat into the Royal Rumble Match last night. Among them – unsurprisingly – was Daniel Bryan himself. The Superstar who normally lets his skills do the talking for him instead and bared his fangs to The Authority on Monday night, taking both Triple H and Stephanie McMahon to task for refusing him entry into WWE’s 30-man melee. He even so far as to threaten Triple H if he was also denied the opportunity to compete for the WWE World Heavyweight Title in the Elimination Chamber.
Even with the WWE Universe roaring its approval, though, speaking up against the corporate power has never done anyone much good in WWE, and so it was that Bryan was soon besieged by The Shield, who The Authority was all too happy to sic on the besieged fan favorite. It took Sheamus to help give Bryan a fighting shot, and, finally, John Cena to even the odds enough that The Hounds of Justice beat a hasty retreat. To top it all off, Bryan might get what he wants yet: As a result of the melee, he, Cena & Sheamus were confirmed to face The Shield in Raw's main event, and the winners would be headed into the Elimination Chamber.
Zeb Colter and his signs were among the unsung MVPs of the Royal Rumble Match, yet it was one of the obvious workhorses of the scramble – Antonio Cesaro with his two Cesaro Swings – that carried The Real Americans to triumph the next night over the reformed team of Rey Mysterio & Sin Cara. With the mighty Jack Swagger added into the mix, the match was a four-way fray between human highlight reels. None more so, initially, than Sin Cara, who ran roughshod over The Real Americans to such a degree that Zeb Colter had to literally slap some motivation into Jack Swagger.
Shocking or not, Colter’s tactics seemed to do the trick. The Americans took control and didn’t let up, despite a late-game push by a fresh Rey Mysterio. The Ultimate Underdog connected with the 619, but Sin Cara missed the follow-up senton that would have sealed the match. Cesaro didn’t wait to see what came next, countering The International Icon’s springboard off the ropes with a European uppercut and finishing the job with the Neutralizer.
R-Truth’s bid for a Royal Rumble Match victory didn’t even get out of the blocks, but it was Fandango who felt the consequences of the former U.S. Champion’s frustration the next night on Raw. In a bit of vindication, both from the night before and in the name of his defeated protégé, Xavier Woods, Truth defeated the dancing sensation in short order on Raw. Fandango was in such trouble he used Summer Rae as a decoy to reclaim the advantage with a brutal clothesline. The match stayed on an even keel for a few minutes after that, though Truth’s dodge of Fandango’s top-rope leg drop gave him the window he needed to seal the deal. With Woods watching on commentary, Truth sprang into action and administered the Lie Detector, leaving Fandango to stumble to the showers in defeat.
It ain’t easy being The Face of WWE: Lots of people are looking to give you a big black eye. That’s the lesson Randy Orton was reminded of on Monday night, when the Champion of Champions found himself in the sights of both his current No. 1 contender, Batista, and Brock Lesnar, his self-proclaimed No. 1 contender. With both The Animal and The Anomaly laying claim to Orton’s WWE World Heavyweight Championship, it was Raw GM Brad Maddox and The Authority who were ultimately left to make the impossible choice of informing Lesnar whether or not his demands for a title match would be honored … or if Lesnar would be placed into a match against Batista. Judging by his reaction Orton seemed to figure he'd get the worst of that arrangement either way.
Cleveland may not have LeBron James anymore (too soon?), but they do have Dolph Ziggler. One night after making an explosive return from injury in the Royal Rumble Match, the former World Heavyweight Champion did his hometown proud in a match against The Miz with the very soul of Cleveland at stake. The action was fast and furious as Dolph – rocking a custom Cavaliers jersey – and Miz – outfitted in Browns threads – traded offense like a pair of wild things, though The Showoff seized control with a dropkick and sleeper hold.
The Awesome One, though, would not be kept down and rallied to slap on the Figure Four Leglock, which Dolph managed to break by hauling himself to the ropes. After a second attempt at the hold led to a trading of would-be roll-up pins, Ziggler sprang up with a pounding Zig Zag to put Miz down for three. Somewhere, Lou Brown is smiling.
With the crowning of new (age) Tag Team Champions at Royal Rumble Kickoff, the field of play is wide open for the twin titles. The Usos, never ones to wait, were the first to throw their hats into the mix, which they did in typical astounding fashion against a narrowly-outmatched Ryback & Curtis Axel on Raw. “Narrowly,” that is, because The Human Wrecking Ball and his better-than-perfect partner battered Jey Uso into a stupor for the majority of the match.
Watch: Usos soar against "Rybaxel"
It was Ryback’s own unlimited energy that came back to haunt him when he missed an attack into the corner and Jey was able to reach his brother in the aftermath. Jimmy took care of business handily from there on out, much to the misfortune of Axel. Ryback tagged in to turn the tables and set Jimmy up for Shell Shocked, but a timely tag by Jey, a pair of superkicks and a top-rope splash put “Rybaxel's” efforts to an abrupt, agonizing end.
For weeks, Alberto Del Rio vowed to humiliate Batista in the Royal Rumble Match. Given the shortcomings of that endeavor (The Animal actually tossed Del Rio from the bout himself), The Essence of Excellence was left to take his frustrations out on whoever dared face him on Monday night. Enter Kofi Kingston, fresh off not one but two miraculous escapes in the Rumble Match, though The Dreadlocked Dynamo’s skillz weren’t enough to carry him to victory against a fuming Del Rio.
Photos: Del Rio vents his fury on Kofi
That said, he did give The Essence of Excellence a hell of a fight. The former Intercontinental Champion held Del Rio to a dead heat before suffering a thundering German suplex that left him staggering. Kofi took advantage of Del Rio’s frustration to brawl his way back into the match and hit the S.O.S., though Del Rio countered with the Backstabber, ultimately putting things to an end with a superkick to Kofi’s jaw.
Given that Cody Rhodes & Goldust attacked The New Age Outlaws before their WWE Tag Team Championship rematch even got going, it’s safe to say “The Brotherhood” was a little miffed at losing their titles to the Attitude Era mainstays. Not, it turns out, as miffed as Brock Lesnar being denied a WWE World Heavyweight Title Match, but hold that thought a moment.
The Rhodes Brothers were, in any case, spoiling for a fight immediately, unloading so much offense on the Outlaws that Billy Gunn literally called for a time out at one point. Things settled into a rhythm when Cody & Road Dogg squared off, trading holds and jabs, respectively, across the ring. Goldust took the brunt of the Outlaws’ comeback, though Cody rallied with a springboard double-missile dropkick to both champions. Gunn countered the Disaster Kick with a monster clothesline when, suddenly, Brock Lesnar made his entrance and – having been denied a match against either Randy Orton or Batista – decimated both “Brotherhood” members with F-5s and a torrent of strikes with a steel chair.
That’s two for Naomi. The longtime Funkadactyl and “Total Divas” fan favorite got the best of Divas Champion AJ Lee for the second consecutive time on Raw, pinning the record-setting titleholder to earn a win for herself, Cameron & The Bella Twins. AJ allowed Aksana and Alica Fox to do her dirty work initially when they softened Nikki Bella up for a sleeper hold-neckbreaker combo from the champion.
Tamina piggybacked on some more handiwork from Aksana to trap Nikki in the Tree of Woe, though the former champion escaped the position with a timely kick to the head. Nikki reached Naomi at the exact moment Tamina tagged in AJ, but the match quickly turned into a Diva melee when Naomi began to roll. The Total Divas quickly dispatched their foes, however, turning a Diva scrum into a giant triple suplex, while Naomi struck AJ with the move she calls the Rear View for the win.
The #YESMovement rolls on: Danel Bryan, John Cena & Sheamus punched their tickets to the Elimination Chamber by beating The Shield to earn their way into the match, though they do owe the win to a surprising, DQ-inducing interference.
After a tight back-and-forth in the opening, The Shield trapped Cena in the numbers game, and Roman Reigns providing the exclamation point via Superman punch; Seth Rollins followed up by knocking Bryan off the apron and attempting to bait Sheamus into an illegal bum-rush of the ring. Cena managed to create separation with an Attitude Adjustment to Dean Ambrose, at which point he finally – finally – found Bryan for the tag. The submission master immediately went to work, hacking away at Seth Rollins until Reigns and Ambrose tried to instigate a brawl to throw off the match.
Cena & Sheamus neutralized the threat, leaving Rollins and Bryan to brawl it out. Which they did, extensively, to such a degree that Cena and Reigns had to tag in. The big man immediately fell to the STF and was about to break the hold when – they’re here – The Wyatts crashed the party for the second time in consecutive evenings. Without warning, the outlandish trio laid into Cena, delivering the win to his squad in the process. In other words, "YES!", WWE Universe: Daniel Bryan is headed to the Elimination Chamber. As for The Shield? Their road to WrestleMania just got a little bit rockier.