With only six nights left until Payback in Chicago, who will gain the advantage?  John Cena got put through a table last Monday night on Raw by Ryback.  They get ready for Three Stages of Hell on Sunday for the WWE Championship.  Who will get a leg up on the other man heading into this dangerous showdown?

Also, Triple H promised he would be facing Curtis Axel tonight.  Will he, or will one of his family members beg him off of that match one more time?  Friday night, we got just a small taste of CM Punk getting involved in Jericho's match.  Will Punk appear tonight?  Will he simply interject his music again to cause a distraction?

Show Open, live from the Richmond Coliseum, Richmond, VA

The show opens with a recap of Stephanie's promo from last Monday, overlaid by video footage from the Extreme Rules match between Brock and Triple H, as well as the Curtis Axel v. Triple H situation.  They continue to recap the McMahon saga from last Monday.

Cole welcomes us to Raw, and Triple H's music hits.   He comes out prepared to wrestle to a big reaction.  This is our first match.

Match #1 - Triple H vs. Curtis Axel (w/Paul Heyman)

Cole tells us that Trips is blatantly rebelling against the wishes of Vince and Stephanie while H goes through his full entrance.  Cole poses that H wants retribution and JBL says "heck yeah, let's start Raw with a fight."  Axel comes out with Heyman.

As Axel comes to the ring Cole reminds us that he has a win over Triple H already from the night he collapsed.  Cole also mentions the wins over Cena and Jericho, calling them technicalities.  H attacks Axel in the corner as soon as the bell rings, stomping him down and hitting a suplex.

Vince's music hits and here he comes strutting to the ring while the action sort of continues in the ring.  Axel shoulder blocks H down, then H throws him out of the ring.  Vince gets a microphone and the bell rings.  Justin Roberts says Curtis Axel won by disqualification, and Vince leaves.

Triple H is irate.  Axel and Heyman gloat, and Triple H demands the match be restarted.  He gets a few shots in then Vince comes out and declares the match over due to a forfeit.  Triple H restarts things, demanding it be a 60 minute Ironman match.  Vince comes back to the ring again.

Vince demands Axel and Heyman leave.  He then commandeers the bell and microphone, and exits.  Triple H is seething in the ring while Cole and King call it surreal.

Cole, King and JBL talk about just what went down.  JBL calls the McMahon family nutty.  They move on to hype up Kane vs. Dean Ambrose, Cena and Ryback going face to face, and Dolph Ziggler being back on the show.

Axel gained zero from this.  It did, however, paint Vince as a heel figure and put some heat on him.  I'm guessing this leads to a Payback match, but right now Heyman and Axel need to find a way to get Vince's heat onto Axel to make it mean anything.

Out of commercial, Triple H and Steph are arguing about what just went down. H is upset and says he's embarrassed about what just happened.  Stephanie pleads with him to not hurt Vince and recounts the kids playing with Vince in the pool.  H calms down a little but tells Steph to go talk to him.  She leaves and H throws his towel.

Match #2 - Kane vs. Dean Ambrose

Kane comes to the ring, and they recount the Miz TV segment where Daniel Bryan flaked out on Kane.  Dean Ambrose comes through the crowd, with Rollins and Reigns.  After a fist-bump exchange, Ambrose heads to the ring alone.  Cole puts over that Kane has had issues with the Shield since the end of last year.

Kane controls the early going of this one.  An official runs the ring bell out to ringside and gets some applause.  The action continues to ringside.  Ambrose jumps off the steps and ends up eating an uppercut from Kane as they go to commercial.

Ambrose is now in control after the break.  He uses a leg lock to control Kane, but Kane breaks free.  Ambrose goes up top for some offense but Kane catches him and grabs him by the throat.  Ambrose battles out, but Kane flings him off the ropes.

Late in this one, Kane teases a choke slam following the top rope clothesline.  Ambrose slides out, but the other members of The Shield hit the ring to attack Kane for the DQ.  The three on one assault starts, but Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan hit the ring for the save.

A slow, plodding and somewhat forgettable match.  No signs of the heel turn from Orton hitting an RKO on Bryan here.  Looks like it might just have been because Bryan hit him with a drop kick..

Cole hypes up voting for Daniel Bryan's opponent, between Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns of the Shield, on the WWE App.  Whichever member of The Shield gets chosen to face Bryan, the other will face Randy Orton.

Jerry Lawler gives us the results after the break, with 66% of the voters giving the vote to Rollins.  Rollins will face Bryan, and Orton will face Reigns.  Cole hypes up the fact that it will be the first singles matches for each man of The Shield.

The announcers recap Smackdown footage from the main event match, where Bryan drop kicked Orton and then Orton hit Bryan with the RKO.

Backstage:

Bryan argues with Orton about the RKO being intentional.  Orton says it was, and talks about Bryan's drop kick.   Kane gets in Bryan's face and tells him to back off.  He says each of them have matches against Shield members, and they need to focus on that instead of each other.  They bicker some more.

Vickie Guerrero interjects with her excuse me bit.  She says she's booked Reigns and Rollins vs. Bryan and Orton for the tag team championship at Payback.  Kane objects, but Vickie says Orton and Bryan won their match by DQ, which entitled them to that shot.

Kane is disgusted, but Vickie tells him he will get a shot at Dean Ambrose for the US Championship at Payback as well.  Kane smiles, then gives her a hug and tells her he always liked her.

Match #3 - The Miz vs. Cody Rhodes 

Miz comes out to the ring before commercial.  Cole says there is big news about the Intercontinental title match for Payback and we'll find out after the break.  After commercial, Cole tells us that Fandango was pulled from the match at Payback due to a concussion.  The match is now a singles match between Barrett and Miz.

Barrett sits in on commentary for this one.  He applauds that Fandango was pulled and that his odds of winning are much better.  He says Fandango didn't deserve to be in the match anyhow.

The announcers spend more time talking about Sunday than this match.  Miz eventually wins with the Figure Four.

Barrett approaches the ring to attack Miz, but here comes Paul Heyman again.  He says that Vickie Guerrero has ruled there will be a Triple Threat match on Sunday for the Intercontinental championship.  He introduces Curtis Axel as that third man in the match.

Axel comes out and cuts a simple promo.  He says that the perfect ending to the match Sunday will be him becoming the Intercontinental Champion.

Interesting switch.  I figured for Fandango to get the IC title, but now it looks like it might just be Axel.  He either will win, or not factor.

Cole sets up a hype video for the return of Mark Henry, which is expected to be next Monday.

Henry ranted on Twitter about retirement rumors earlier today.  This should put things to bed in that regard.

We get a recap of the show opening and the McMahon family saga that ensured.

Backstage:

Steph approaches Vince.  She says she knows he's trying to protect Trips, but he needs to respect how proud a man he is.  Vince turns around finally and says H made Steph cry.  Stephanie says that Vince did.  Vince says that business always comes first and you have to do the right thing for business every time.  Steph asks Vince to talk to H, but Vince says he wouldn't like what he says or how he says it, pointing out H said the same thing earlier.

The live crowd didn't react to this at all.  Stephanie was much more sympathetic last week playing a bit more "heelish".  The voice of reason thing isn't working.

In-Ring Segment:

Chris Jericho comes to the ring, dressed to wrestle.  He welcomes us to "Raw is Jericho" and talks about the big names he faced through the years.  He says the man who takes him to the limit like no other is CM Punk, and he makes him a better performer.  We get a light CM Punk chant.

Jericho says we can say what we want about Punk's opinions or attitude, but the reason he is so good is that Punk believes he's the best in the world.  Jericho it's the same as him believing he is the best in the world at what he does.  Jericho says they came into the business the same way and have the same chip on their shoulder.  They expect nothing more than the best.

Jericho promises Punk will get his best.  "You will get my best because I need to beat you, CM Punk.  I have to beat you at Payback.  No matter what happens at Payback, neither of us will ever be the same."  Dolph Ziggler's music hits and the trio comes out to the stage.

Dolph says he heard Jericho talking about being the best, and figured it'd be the right time to make his triumphant return.  Ziggler talks about how the title was nearly taken away from him before the nameplate even went on the championship.

Ziggler talks about his match against Alberto Del Rio at Payback.  Jericho cuts him off and says Sunday is a long time away.  Jericho challenges Dolph to face him in a tune-up match to knock off the ring rust.  Ziggler agrees...to put Big E in the ring against Jericho.  Big E heads to the ring as the show goes to commercial.  Dolph ends with "I'll be at Payback."

The hype for Punk/Jericho is forgettable, despite good mic work from Jericho.  I wish they'd have made a bigger deal of Punk's return than they have.  Also, Dolph's TV return was met with crickets.  Looks like we're on track for Dolph vs. Del Rio at Payback.

Match #4 - Chris Jericho vs. Big E Langston (w/Dolph Ziggler and AJ)

The match is joined in progress, with the two men battling outside the ring.  Jericho is limping.  Langston hits a series of backbreakers for a near fall.  Jericho fights back with a cross body block from the top.

Ziggler gets up on the apron to distract Jericho.  Langston hits Jericho from behind.  He teases the Big Ending, but Alberto Del Rio charges the ring.  He attacks Dolph and throws him against the ring apron.  Langston turns his attention to what's going on at ringside.

The finish comes when Langston turns around from the distraction.  He walks right into the Codebreaker from Jericho.  Jericho picks up the win.

Afterward, Cole hypes up the World Heavyweight Championship match at Payback, with Del Rio challenging Ziggler.  Ziggler sits on the floor and jaws at Del Rio while holding his head.  Jericho is playful with the fans and the announcers.

Lawler hypes up Orton vs. Reigns and Bryan vs. Rollins for later.

I wonder - are we heading for a double turn on Sunday?  Jericho turning, joining Heyman, and Punk ending up turning by default?  With Jericho being so playful, despite saying how he needed to win on Sunday, is this a sign?

Match #5 - Antonio Cesaro vs. Sin Cara

Zeb Colter sits in on commentary for some reason.  He complains about Sin Cara being an illegal and sneaking across the border wearing a mask. He credits Cesaro for doing things the right way and legally coming to the country by following the proper channels.

In ring, Sin Cara gets some flashy offense in and gets a near fall.  Cesaro catches Sin Cara off the ropes though and hits him with a backbreaker.  He finishes off Sin Cara with the Neutralizer.  Colter says he's impressed by Cesaro and how he does things the right way.

Sin Cara looked good on offense, but the announcers took over the story with Colter putting over Cesaro.  Makes one wonder if Cesaro will join up with Colter?

We get a video package for the Wyatt Family.  JBL tells us to get ready because they're coming.  Cole hypes up the Cena/Ryback exchange to come up later.

Backstage:

Vickie is chowing on a Hardee's Thickburger with bacon.  Brad Maddox wants some, but she isn't sharing even though she has three.  Vince walks up and Brad greets him, but Vickie has a mouth full of sandwich.  Vince tells her to chew and swallow.

He complains about John Cena and Ryback  going face to face because one of them might get hurt and put the pay per view main event in jeopardy.  Vickie insists it'd be good TV.  Vince agrees, but says it can't be done.  Vickie mentions canceling it, but Vince says since she announced it, it has to happen.

Brad Maddox speaks up and says they could have the lumberjacks come out and keep the two men apart.  Vince likes the idea and lets it go forward.

Match #6 - Randy Orton vs. Roman Reigns

Randy Orton comes out, then Daniel Bryan comes out as well.  We get another runthrough of the highlights from Smackdown that caused friction between Orton and Bryan.  Orton and Bryan look at each other as the show goes to commercial.

After the break, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins come through the crowd.  Things get underway with Reigns and Orton exchanging strikes.  Orton hits a nice looking drop kick then methodically stomps on Reigns.  A bit later, Orton gets up on the second rope but eats a big punch from Reigns that knocks him to ringside.  They go to commercial.

After commercial, Reigns has Orton locked in a chinlock.  Reigns continues to control Orton with rest holds.  Orton begins his comeback. He hits the scoop slam, then the elevated DDT.  Orton's hearing voices, but Seth Rollins gets involved.  He takes out Bryan, then tries to attack Orton.

Rollins goes into the ring, but Orton nearly gets him in the elevated DDT.  Reigns pulls him from the ring.  Bryan charges across the ring and hits a suicide dive on both men.  The referee throws it out as a no contest as the fans chant "yes!"

Match #7 - Daniel Bryan vs. Seth Rollins

We go right into this one.  Bryan gets the better of Rollins with a series offensive moves and strikes and kicks.  Rollins ends up getting shot to ringside, and Bryan hits a dive off the apron onto Rollins.  Orton keeps Reigns at bay with his presence.

Rollins gets some shoulder blocks in the corner, then hits a DDT right into the turnbuckle.  Rollins gets two out of it.  He begins to take control of the match by cueing up a surfboard.  Bryan counters and begins to work on Rollins' leg, then puts Rollins in a surfboard for some retribution.

After commercial, we get some great sequence work with Rollins going for a spinning kick.  It looks like he missed, but this was by design. Bryan locks on a hold after avoiding the kick.  Rollins gets to the ropes to break the half crab.  Bryan hits a huge dropkick on Rollins sitting in the corner.  He gets two.

Bryan fires off a series of kicks but misses the last one.  Rollins ducks and catches Bryan with a big kick.  Rollins hits a bucklebomb a little bit later to get two.  Bryan backdrops Rollins to the floor.  He tries a suicide dive, but Rollins is waiting and counters with a shot of his own.

Rollins goes up top, but Bryan counters.  He tries a roll-up but Rollins rolls it through.  Bryan rolls it through with a suplex.  Bryan hits a kick to get two. 

 

Bryan goes up top but gets cut off.  He slips under Rollins, and sets up a German, but Rollins counters by shifting his weight over a little and turns it into a crossbody.  We get a small "this is awesome" chant.

Late, Reigns climbs up on the apron and tries to stick his nose in things.  Orton trips him down to the floor.  Bryan rolls Rollins up in a small package to get the win.  Afterward, Bryan celebrates, but Rollins tries to stick his nose in that.  Bryan hits a big kick and Orton lands Rollins with the RKO.  They celebrate as the fans chant "Yes!"

The early call of this match sucked.  But the crowd finally started getting into it.  Best match of the night - and by far and away the bright spot looking into WWE's future.

We get another recap of what happened at the beginning of the show.  They include the various stops and starts of the match, then Trips interacting with Stephanie.  They go to the locker room where Vince says "it's best you keep him away from me."

Kaitlyn gets ready to meet her secret admirer next.

Secret Admirer Reveal:

Kaitlyn is in the ring and she asks for the secret admirer to reveal himself.  She admits to feeling silly.  Big E Langston's music hits, and here he comes all dressed up and with flowers in his hand.  Kaitlyn questions, saying "it's you?" once Big E gets to the ring.

Langston says it's hard for him because people see him as a big tough guy or Dolph's heavy.  He says people think he only cares about beating people up. "I care about more than that, I care about you."  He says he knows she's skeptical and should be, but she's all he could ever think of since he met her, and he didn't know how to tell her til now.

He leans in for a kiss, whips her head back and leans in, then he drops her.  Langston chuckles and leaves.

AJ's music hits and she comes out with a microphone.  She asks Kaitlyn how it feels and compares it to how she felt when Kaitlyn abandoned her.  Kaitlyn tells AJ she's crazy.  AJ says no, she's smart.  Kaitlyn might be able to beat her in the ring, but AJ can beat her in mind games.  She calls Kaitlyn pitiful, weak trash.

AJ tells Kaitlyn she has no friends and the fans don't care.  She says the only thing Kaitlyn has left is the Divas Championship and on Sunday AJ will take that also.  AJ says Kaitlyn's story ends Sunday with her losing and returning to whatever trailer park she came from.  AJ ends by calling her an unloveable cow.

Kaitlyn snaps and punches AJ, then mounts and rains down more shots to AJ.  She had to keep trying to hold her skirt in place though.  AJ rolls out and laughs.  Kaitlyn goes back to a sad stare as AJ skips to the back.

Add the Divas to the Payback card.  They're trying with the story here, but man, I just can't get into AJ's character anymore.

We get another vignette for the Wyatt family.

Creepy and disturbing.  This could be fun.

We get highlights from Smackdown, where Damien Sandow actually got the better of Sheamus after Sheamus kicked the "supercomputer."

Match #8 - Damien Sandow vs. R-Truth

Sandow cuts a promo as he comes to the ring to hype up the pre-show match he has against Sheamus on Sunday.  Sandow controls things early, beating up Truth and pulling the ring skirting over his head at one point.

Truth gets in a shot, but Sandow goes back on offense.  He locks on a chinlock.  Truth catches Sandow with a kick and a couple clotheslines.  He hits a huracnarana and a front suplex for a near fall.

In the end, Sandow hits The Silencer to get the win.

Afterward, Sheamus comes out and cuts a promo.  He says he wants to congratulate Sandow.  Sheamus puts over the match the two will have on Sunday.  He says "what better way to kick off the night in Chicago by kicking Sandow's head off.  See ya in Chicago, fella."

Backstage:

Stephanie McMahon is walking the hall.  She crosses with a crew member, and tells him to go find Vince.  "It's about business, it's urgent, and I'll meet him in our office."  She keeps walking and comes across another crew member.  She tells him to go find Triple H, and tell him it's personal, urgent, and to meet her in his office.

We get a video package featuring Ryback's path of destruction leading into Sunday's Three Stages of Hell match against John Cena.

Vickie Guerrero leads the locker room out to serve as lumberjacks for the face to face segment between John Cena and Ryback.  Lawler wants to know just how many lumberjacks there are.

Backstage:

Stephanie is talking to Vince, who is cranky about what she wanted and what business was so urgent.  Triple H walks in and immediately he and Vince start arguing.  Finally Steph has had enough and yells at them both to work it out because she's sick of it.  H says he's not going to apologize.  Vince says he won't apologize because he doesn't do that.  Vince goes on to tell H that he's bigger than Curtis Axel and doesn't need the match.  He says "the kid is good, but you're bigger than that.'

Vince puts H over as an icon and legend, but he wants him to be more than that.  "I want you to be the man.  I want you to sit behind the desk with the pencil and eraser.  By God, you tell people to go to hell when they need to.  You do the right thing every time.  That's what I want from you.  It's bigger than a match with Curtis Axel.  You get it?  I'm trying to do the right thing.  I'm a giver, that's what I do."

H says he gets it but isn't going to apologize.  Vince tells him he can have the match with Axel next week.  On second thought, Triple H says Vince is right and he doesn't want the match.  Vince says that on second thought he would like to see that match.  They bicker again over it and Stephanie re-enters the frame.  She encourages them to hug it out.

Vince says he doesn't hug other men.  She tells Vince to hug her, and he says he will.  Hunter takes offense to it, and asks what's wrong with him.  They eventually all hug, with H and Vince exchanging hard back-slaps.  Steph smiles at Hunter and he retorts with "don't give me that...whatever."

Stephanie is channeling her inner Dr. Shelby.

In-Ring Segment:

Cena comes out first.  He looks to the camera and says payback is coming.  Ryback gets his normal ambulance entrance, and emerges.  He starts to walk down to the ring, but then backs off up to the stage.  Cena is incredulous, and asks Vickie "face to face?"  He says that face to face means Ryback is to come to the ring and face him.

Ryback makes fun of Cena's notion that he's afraid of him.  Cena cuts him off and explains that the role of the lumberjacks is to make sure that Ryback doesn't stand on the stage, afraid.  Ryback says he can tear through all the lumberjacks and the fans if he wants.

Ryback says he's standing on the stage for Cena's benefit.  Cena says this is another one of those times where Ryback stands over there and sends a message.  He says Ryback has done that a lot lately.  He recounts being put through the LED wall, through a table at ringside.  He says it's impressive and painful and he got the  message.

Cena starts with the point that Ryback doesn't deserve to be champion.  Ryback says he does.  He talks about having his fingers on the belt at TLC, but The Shield got involved and stopped him.  He mentions Hell in a Cell and Cena blurts out that Cena gave him the spot.

Ryback agrees, but goes on to say that when he became a threat to Cena, Cena went into damage control.  Ryback says Cena only had his back when it suited him, and Cena left him high and dry. 

Cena gets fired up and asks if Ryback wants someone to change his diaper or wipe his nose.  Ryback starts to say something but Cena yells at him to shut up.  He says he's never had a guardian angel, nor has any man who has held the WWE Championship.

Cena says Ryback can have his theories and excuses.  He is willing to walk through hell and will walk out saying "The Champ is here!"  Ryback says his eyes are open and he can see Cena (complete with handwave).  "I can see you, you're full of crap, John."

Ryback says Cena has lost his mind if he thinks he will back down from him on Sunday.  He says the legend of John Cena doesn't get to grow; it will end when Ryback beats him in a lumberjack match, puts him through a table, then stuffs him in an ambulance to become WWE Champion.

Ryback says Cena gave him his spot eight months ago.  On Sunday, he will take Cena's spot.  Cena pulls of his hat and shirt.  He says Sunday that payback will be a bitch for one of them.  Cena tries to go after Ryback.

The first group of lumberjacks at ringside stop Cena and throw him back in the ring.  He tries again, but another group stops him.  By this time, Ryback has hit the ring.

He charges Cena but Cena pulls the top rope down.  Ryback crashes outside and the lumberjacks feed him back in.  A pull-apart brawl closes out the show.

Decent mic work, and not a lot of clowning.  There were some times where we saw Cena smirk and a couple of the lines he put out there could be construed as his usual "poopy jokes" that he would throw out there in some feuds.  I'm just surprised WWE didn't make a bigger deal of the match throughout the night.

Off-note:  Cena isn't on TV as much right now, if you've noticed.  That's actually a good thing (and not a snarky anti-Cena comment).  This keeps his fans wanting to see him and it bodes well that WWE is producing a decent rating without him.  It shows some roster depth now.

We got a lot of stuff thrown at us for Payback tonight.  Several new matches were set up, and they gave us some consistent hype.  I'm disappointed with the lack of hype for Punk returning on Sunday and making that a big selling point of the event.  I was also very let down by the McMahon drama ending up in being a Dr. Shelby rehash.

I'll have more to say on this show tomorrow in Raw Afterthoughts.  Thanks for watching along tonight.