Previously on Monday Night Raw
The most pertinent issue hanging out from last Monday is how HHH is getting along with his father-in-law. The Game was bound and determined to get some revenge against Curtis Axel (who has some familiar family treasure around his waist now - more on that in a moment), but Vince McMahon was going to protect his wife's husband and his granddaughters' father by any means necessary. Including stealing the ring bell and giving Axel two wins for his burgeoning undefeated streak.
Stephanie McMahon was able to broker an uneasy truce between the chairman and the chief operating officer (COO). Mr. McMahon was even willing to give HHH his shot at Axel this week on Raw, but Hunter, er Paul, or whatever his name is, says "nope".
Most of the important stuff you need to know for tonight's show happened last night on pay-per-view (PPV).
The son of Mr. Perfect snuck out a win over Intercontinental champ Wade Barrett and The Miz and is now wearing the white and gold belt his father made famous.
He wasn't the only new title holder, either. AJ Lee defeated her former friend Kaitlyn to capture the butterfly belt, while Alberto Del Rio got "payback" of his own when he targeting the head of recently returned Dolph Zigger as the means of re-capturing the World Heavyweight Championship (WHC).
The Shield held off the challenges to their throne. Dean Ambrose defeated Kane to keep the United States championship. Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns kept their tag team titles, but that almost seemed more a matter of Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton not being able to capitalize or communicate than anything else.
Ending weeks of speculation, CM Punk did in fact return to his hometown last night at Payback. In a match that had to shake off most of the Best in the World's ring rust, he defeated Chris Jericho. And he tried to do it the right way, rejecting Paul Heyman's offered interference.
Live from Grand Rapids, MI!
Hope the janitorial crew at the Hall of Pain has been keeping the place tidy...because it re-opens for business tonight when its proprietor, Mark Henry, returns!
Speaking of returns, Punk's return from exile may have resulted in a hard-fought victory, but his interactions with Heyman seemed a little tense. Backstage video from Payback saw him explaining the differences between himself and Paul's other "guys". What's next for Punk and his partnership with the founder of Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW)?
HHH remained insistent last night that he would not take Vince's offered match against Axel on tonight's show. As we learned last week, Mr. McMahon doesn't like to be told "no". Will the COO take to the ring against the third generation superstar? If not, what will the new Intercontinental champion be up to?
The wrestling world is buzzing about the elusive "double turn" executed in the WHC match last night in Chicago. There's still a rematch clause in play...but will the suddenly fan favorite Ziggler be able to take advantage even if his new "fighting spirit" dictates it? And will new champ Del Rio continue to try to rationalize and justify his despicable behaviors?
Former Divas champ Kaitlyn slipped further into madness last night following her defeat. What's next for her, and the women's division? And now that AJ holds gold while her man does not - will their love stay strong, or is a split between the trio of Lee, Langston and Ziggler in the cards?
Speaking of trios, The Shield kept their belts, but continued to be a subplot in the Daniel Bryan story. Now that they have defeated Bryan and a new partner, what more can the hounds of justice inflict on DB and his allies? And given their misfires last night, will the long rumored break-up angle be between Daniel and Randy Orton rather than his Hell No partner Kane?
WWE Champion John Cena's victory over Ryback in the three stages of hell seemed pretty decisive last night. Big hungry will certainly still be lurking, but does he have any claim to another shot at the company's main title, or is it time for the champ to move on to his next challenger?
And, will anyone give us any cause to...RUN?
Expect to pop for:
AJ Lee. She's been one of the most prominent characters in the company since last Spring. But that has largely been for her character work as a valet - a term that she has redefined for the 21st century, but still the most apt description of her role. Now she is getting accolades for her ring work (her selling is being praised by even her critics) and has the title...what can't the pint sized powder keg do?
The biggest question might be what's next for the black widow's latest partner. Wrestling teams start breaking up the second they're formed. The way WWE has depicted Lee's relationship with Dolph Ziggler has been almost stable, maybe even healthy. But with the Show Off going the way of the righteous, will AJ join him when creative has been most comfortable with depicting her as unhinged, leaning toward evil? Or will her title and his lack of one be the thing that drives the pair apart?
Given AJ's following and success, it probably shouldn't be a surprise that her next move is such an interesting part of the story. It certainly bodes well for her continued success that she's a topic of conversation following a widely praised PPV.
Dr. Michael Sampson. Forget ref marks. We're gonna have whole mess of medical staff marks now that WWE is putting Sampson front and center in a couple of major angles. Plus, I can't be the only comic book nerd snickering that his name is Doc Samson, right?
The heat is on:
Concussion Safety. Will we get "Don't Try This At Home" bumpers before every segment featuring HHH and Dolph Ziggler? Because, they may want to think about it.
I loved the psychology of the WHC match last night. I'd rather Del Rio have gotten more chances to get (and keep) the old-fashioned babyface character from his January face turn over, but I realize I'm in the minority on that and I don't know that WWE will allow anyone to work a Ricky Steamboat/Tito Santana kind of character ever again. But a real life concussion was central to that match, and many of the spots could have been disastrous in the hands of less skilled workers.
I hate just about everything about the McMahon family drama we've been subjected to since Extreme Rules. Another "your mileage may vary" storyline - folks who think the internet wrestling community (IWC) in general or Cageside Seats (CSS) specifically have a specific set of agreed upon opinions should look at the reactions to this love it or hate it program. Regardless, it's a fact that the powers-that-be have decided to make a make believe concussion a plot point in the saga of HHH vs Heyman's guys and the wishes of his family.
The common denominator is that both stories depict the men who have suffered brain trauma as being heroes for battling through the concerns of loved ones and medical staff. In the so-called reality era, that's a dangerous line to tread. Public backlash about treatment of head injuries has shifted away from wrestling in the years since the Benoit tragedy and more toward pro football, as countless present and former NFL players exhibit troubling and dangerous behavior following concussions.
Why WWE is risking drawing attention back to their own spotty track record is a mystery. Vince is known to try and chase the "hot" story, but the potential for negative publicity - and real injury to a solid hand like Ziggler - doesn't seem worth a little buzz among diehard fans. Especially with rising star Fandango the second worker recently sidelined with a shoot concussion, is depicting "fighting through the fog" any kind of example to set?
Payback has fans buzzing like no non-big four PPV since Money in the Bank 2011. Can WWE keep things going tonight on Raw?
Get ready for tonight and the live blog madness we all love so much by chirping back and forth right here about all the hot angles, characters and stories WWE currently has cooking!