Daniel Bryan has a ladder to climb now. Last week, we saw the McMahon family essentially re-form the Corporation of the late 90's, or so it would appear. It started at SummerSlam, where Randy Orton was given a wide-open opportunity to regain the WWE Championship as a result of a Pedigree from Triple H on Bryan after he pinned Cena clean. At the end of last week's show, Triple H explained his actions, saying he did what was right for the fans and business by screwing over Bryan.
Tonight, we get to see the follow-up. Will Daniel Bryan end up in ridiculous handicap matches against the Shield (and others), face crazy stipulations, and seemingly insurmountable odds to get back that title he held for just a few moments at SummerSlam?
Show Open, Live from the US Airways Arena in Phoenix, AZ
Cole introduces the show with The Shield standing at the bottom of the ramp. Justin Roberts introduces them, and Triple H's "King of Kings" theme hits. Phoenix gives him that "big star" pop.
Trips says he wants to take us back to an epic moment that, if witnessed in person, one would never forget. He calls it the beginning of the future and feeds it to what happened at the end of SummerSlam with Triple H hitting the Pedigree on Daniel Bryan to set up Randy Orton's cash in.
Back live, he says it was just business and not personal. He then feeds it into a clip of what happened at the end of last week's show when Bryan came to the ring but got attacked by the Shield. Cole reminds us that no one on the stage got involved for fear of repercussions. Orton then hit Bryan with the RKO.
Triple H admits that was personal. He says that he did this because of Bryan's actions. Every action has a consequence. He recalls Bryan insulting Stephanie and the rest of the family at the beginning of the show. He says he's willing to be the bigger man as if nothing happened. He says he's willing to be a business man.
Trips then talks about the ratings. He says the indicators were through the roof and business is booming. He claims it is all due to one man, the new face of WWE. He asks for the fans to show respect for him, "your champion, your future, what you deserve, the new WWE Champion, Randy Orton."
Orton's music hits and he makes his way to the ring. Triple H puts him over and says he bought him a gift. A black Cadillac Escalade rolls out from the side of the stage.
Orton tells Triple H he doesn't know what to say. He thanks Triple H for the gift. He goes on to thank him for having the business acumen to make him the champion and face of the WWE. Triple H encourages him to go look at the Escalade but Daniel Bryan's music hits.
Daniel Bryan gets a decent reaction and some "yes" chants as he stops at the stage. He credits Orton for the "sweet ride" and tells him how much he deserves it. "You worked so hard for the WWE Championship." Bryan rolls into his own list of thank-yous.
He thanks the fans for their support. "I'm not the biggest, the strongest, or the prettiest like Twinkle Toes...". He offers thanks to John Cena for giving him the opportunity to wrestle in the main event of SummerSlam to wrestle for the WWE Championship. He says Triple H would not have given him the chance.
He lastly thanks Triple H for ending the charade and showing his true colors. He thanks him for showing that his view is as narrow minded as Vince McMahon's. He recalls Triple H being a leather-jacket wearing rebel that thumbed his nose at authority. He says he's now a sellout in a suit and thumbs his nose at the fans.
Orton gets involved and says Bryan should remember who he's talking to. He tells Bryan to show him and Hunter respect because H is the COO and Orton is the face of the company. Bryan mocks that idea and says that he will get his rematch and rearrange that face of the company and take his title back. He will then rearrange Triple H's vision.
Trips tells Bryan that's a nice fairytale and sings a horrible rendition of "When You Wish Upon A Star." He tells Bryan it does matter who you are and Bryan is only a B at best. He tells Bryan he is all about opportunity, so he will give Bryan a chance to prove himself. He books Bryan in a gauntlet match against The Shield, saying it's because he believes in Bryan and it's good for business.
A good segment. I could have done without the "when you wish upon a star" thing from Hunter. Bryan is way over and he's strong on the mic right now.
The announcers hype up CM Punk vs. Curtis Axel and sell a poll for the fans to vote on the stipulation of this match. They can pick from Paul Heyman being banned, a guest official, or be forced to get in the ring if Punk wins.
Match #1 - Cody Rhodes vs. Fandango (w/Summer Rae)
Damien Sandow is on commentary for this one. We get a recap of Fandango hitting a leg drop on Miz last week as he makes his entrance.
Cody sends Fandango to the floor early, but Fandango returns a kick while getting back in. Fandango's music hits again and he looks confused. Here comes The Miz and Rosa Mendes playing the parts of Fandango and Summer Rae. Rhodes gets a roll-up win.
Damien Sandow hits the ring and eventually all four men scrum. Brad Maddox comes out and stops things. He tells the four of them to "keep their dancing shoes on" because he books a tag match for the four men, next.
Match #2 - Cody Rhodes and The Miz (w/Rosa Mendes) vs. Damien Sandow and Fandango (w/Summer Rae)
In progress, Rhodes sells for the heels. Sandow hits the Elbow of Disdain on him. They follow up with clotheslines on each other. Rhodes gets the hot tag to Miz and the crowd reacts momentarily then dies off.
Fandango walks off with Summer Rae. Cody trips Sandow and Miz cues up the Skull Crushing Finale to get the win.
Fandango pauses at the stage to do his name gimmick, despite the loss.
This is proof that the mid card is pretty weak right now. These guys need some fresh stories to work...it's time.
We get a hype package for the Los Matadors (or the repackaged Epico and Primo).
Christian is with Josh Mathews. Josh asks Christian what he thinks of the current situation with Triple H in charge. Christian calls it a dangerous question and says that bad things happen when the new authority is questioned. He says that he lived through the Attitude Era and has the scars of the McMahon-Helmsley Era. He continues to speak but Randy Orton interrupts. He asks Christian if he questions the new authority, then says he won at SummerSlam while Christian lost. He tells Christian he will beat him tonight just like he had before. Christian says he knew Triple H liked sledgehammers, but Triple H now has a new tool.
The announcers hype the WWE App and talk about an interview that Paul Heyman had done, as well as showing an interview Punk had done on there also.
Good line by Christian. We know who wins that match though.
In one of the locker rooms, Heyman is watching a monitor and is upset. Axel tells Heyman he has nothign to worry about, because the only way Punk could get his hands on Heyman was if Punk outwrestled him, and that won't happen. He tells Heyman the situation is beyond perfect. He asks Heyman if he believes in him and Heyman says "like my life depended on it."
The announcers hype up the voting results and the match for next.
Axel can work, but he really lacks charisma.
Match #3 - Curtis Axel vs. CM Punk
Axel is already in the ring, without Paul Heyman. The announcers sell it as Heyman waiting for the results of the poll vote. Punk's music hits and he comes out to a strong reaction. After Punk finishes his entrance, Paul Heyman comes out to the stage to see the vote results. It's a landslide, as Heyman will have to face Punk if Axel loses.
Punk goes on offense fast and tries the GTS early. Axel escapes to the floor and Punk gives chase. Punk goes after Heyman, but Axel attacks from behind. Axel starts beating up on Punk and Heyman makes his way down from the stage to the ringside area. Punk makes a comeback and Heyman backs away. Axel rolls out to the floor to avoid a top rope move, but Punk dives out on him on the floor anyhow.
Punk continues to sell, but he gets another comeback spot. In the end, Punk is able to hit the GTS on Axel to get the win.
Heyman looks shocked. He tries to leave, but two referees bring him back out. Heyman and Punk stare each other down a bit, then he tries to run again. This time, security brings him back to the ring. Punk palms him and throws him in the ring, then Punk backs Heyman to a corner.
Axel swoops in for a low blow to save Heyman, then locks Punk up with handcuffs. Heyman paintbrushes him and yells a bit. Punk is able to get to his feet and hit an enzugiri on Axel, then kicks Heyman a bit. Axel with the save a second time, this time with a chair. Axel gets a kendo stick out from under the ring and gives it to Heyman, yelling "teach him a lesson"
Heyman unleashes the stick on him, yelling "I murdered myself for you, you were everything to me" as Axel holds Punk at the ropes. Axel throws him into the announce table then throws a couple hands at him. Heyman hits him a couple more times with the kendo stick and yells "you broke my heart!" Trainers and referees intervene and stop the beating at that point. Axel backs off smiling, but Heyman looks conflicted.
They got some temporary heat on Axel by doing this. WWE needs to find a way to make this stick now. The ending went on a bit longer than it needed to, but it was effective. I still think they need to get more Heyman Guys.
The announcers narrate a video recap of what just went down between CM Punk, Paul Heyman, and Curtis Axel. They show footage of Punk walking out with some bloody marks on his back from the kendo stick.
Justin introduces JoJo as the special ring announcer for the next match.
Match #4 - Natalya (w/Cameron and Naomi) vs. Brie Bella (w/Nikki Bella and Eva Marie)
The announcers hype up that this is a SummerSlam rematch between the members of the Total Divas cast. Cole says that it's the highest rated debut on E.
Natty drives Brie to the corner, but Brie reverses it and leans into her back with a knee. Natalya counters a hold with a Black Hole Slam, then locks on the Sharpshooter. The other ladies interfere and cause a distraction. Brie hits a move to get the win.
AJ comes out afterward and insults all the various segments on Total Divas, insulting all the ladies by the ring. The fans actually start an "AJ" chant...odd. AJ calls them all cheap, interchangeable, useless women for turning to reality TV because they couldn't be actresses and don't have the talent to be champion.
She says she's done more in one year than the rest of them have collectively. She talks about breaking ceilings and opening doors for plastic mannequins to waltz on through. She didn't get there because she was cute or from a wrestling family or from sucking up. She tells them they will never be able to lace her Chuck Taylors.
She again calls them worthless excuses for women and they will never be able to touch her. "That, is, reality." AJ skips around the stage while JBL says "crazy just spoke some truth."
The match was just there - as are most Divas matches. AJ is not high on my list of favorite talents, but the promo was effective to establish her as the champion and such, but I am guessing they turned the entire Divas division face with that promo.
The announcers recap the exchange between Alberto Del Rio and Rob Van Dam on Smackdown that set up the match that will take place next. RVD is walking to the ring, air-boxing with Ricardo Rodriguez as we go to break.
Match #5 - Rob Van Dam (w/Ricardo Rodriguez) vs. Alberto Del Rio; non-title match
Justin Roberts introduces Ricardo, who introduces RVD. He has an RVD t-shirt on under his tux jacket.
RVD goes right at Del Rio at the bell. He puts Del Rio on the top rope and tries a kick but he misses. Del Rio ends up selling it anyhow and falls out to the floor.
Del Rio controls out of break, and the announcers reveal that if RVD wins, he gets a title shot at Night of Champions in three weeks. RVD hits a superkick as Del Rio comes off the ropes and goes on a run. He hits Rolling Thunder for two then hits the split leg moonsault. Looks like the two banged knees together.
RVD tries the Five Star Frog Splash but Del Rio knocks him to a seated position and hits the step-up enzigiri for two. He teases the cross arm breaker, but Ricardo gets involved and starts an "RVD" chant from the announce table. Del Rio yells at him, but the distraction allows RVD to roll him up. RVD gets a title shot.
The match was fine, but I hope we get a better effort at the pay per view. We also need a good story for these two beyond Ricardo and Del Rio, because there's nothing between RVD and Del Rio yet.
We get a recap of John Cena announcing his departure for the next four to six months. They show some still shots of his arm and some tweets about his recovery getting started.
They hype up the gauntlet match for later.
Josh Mathews interviews Ryback. He asks Ryback about some who are referring to Ryback's actions as bullying. Ryback chokes him out and says "now we figured how to shut you up."
They run a video recap of the Punk/Axel match ending.
Renee Young catches up to Heyman and Axel. Axel says that what happened to Punk is something he will never forget. Heyman says he feels like a man at the moment. He says he feels like a man who disciplined his prodigal son. He tells Punk that he should learn that Paul Heyman is not a man you should go up against. They get in a car and leave.
Heyman still delivering the goods here. I'm just concerned that Axel might not be able to hold up his end of the bargain. He sticks out like a sore thumb against Punk and Heyman when it comes to the mic work. This might hurt him in the long run.
Match #6 - Randy Orton (c) vs. Christian
Christian gets his entrance before the commercial break. JBL says it will be a great match. Orton comes out after commercial.
Early on Christian dumps Orton to the floor and hits him with a dropkick through the ropes. He hits a reverse DDT and gets a near fall. The crowd seems to have fallen off. Orton hits a drop kick and starts working heel. The announcers debate what happened at SummerSlam and whether or not Triple H did the right thing. Orton puts Christian up on the top rope then shoves him in the chest. Christian takes a nasty tumble going into commercial.
Later, Orton tries the elevated DDT but Christian counters to try the Killswitch. Orton counters then eats two feet to the face on a charge. Christian gets a tornado DDT for two. Christian slides out and hits an uppercut, but eats the elevated DDT from Orton.
Orton's hearing voices and tries the RKO. Christian counters by shoving Orton off and sets up for the spear. Orton jumps over, but Christian gets him on the rebound for a near fall. Orton shoves Christian to the corner and tries the RKO again, but can't. Christian tries the Killswitch again but gets shoved off to the corner.
The referee is in that corner, and doesn't get bumped but does get distracted enough for Orton to thumb Christian in the eye. Orton follows with the RKO for the win.
Daniel Bryan appears on the Tron. He congratulates Orton on the win and says "bravo" from a "B-plus" competitor, calling it an A-plus effort. He talks about the car that Triple H gave Orton earlier, and realizes he's sitting in front of it. He ponders if he beats Orton for the WWE Championship, then that would make him the face of the WWE. He steps aside to reveal the word "Yes" painted down the hood. He walks around the vehicle, and "yes" is painted all over it. Orton is upset in the ring.
The match was good, but we've seen better from these two. The "spray painting" thing was coming a mile away, but it surely got a reaction from the average fan.
Triple H, Randy Orton, and Brad Maddox survey the situation with the Escalade. Brad says that the fans are laughing, as is the rest of the locker room. Triple H says the Escalade is his personal property and he gave it to Orton. He says the WWE Championship is also his property and Randy Orton carries it for him. He tells Maddox to go get the roster and tell them they are to go out to the stage for the main event and watch what happens to Bryan. He adds that if anyone gets involved, they'll get fired and he will laugh while he does it.
Match #7 - Titus O'Neil (w/Darren Young) vs. Jack Swagger (w/Zeb Colter and Antonio Cesaro)
The Players come out first, then the Real Americans. Colter cuts a promo, saying that a Prime Time Player is a person that acts like a hoodlum and barks like a dog. He says people in welfare lines should get jobs, saying "if you can't feed 'em, don't breed 'em." He says if Mrs. O'Neil and Mrs. Young would have taken that advice we'd not have to deal with the Prime Time Players. He says the Real Americans are what's right with America.
Swagger tries a pin partway through this one with his feet propped on the ropes. Young pushes his feet off. Swagger argues with him about it. He turns around into O'Neil's finisher for the win.
The Players keep their momentum going but these characters are not compelling. The crowd was dead for this.
We get still shots of the Kane vs. Wyatt match from SummerSlam. They hype up a WWE.com segment for next.
They air the video promo from the Wyatts. There's interspersed shots of the SummerSlam match while Bray talks. He closes by mentioning "Sister Abigail." A very surreal video package. The announcers just look at each other, then move on.
That was surreal. He is all in with this character and it's working for sure.
We get a recap of Hunter giving Orton the Escalade, and the post-paint job segment backstage.
In Maddox's Office...
Maddox is talking to the doctor about someone needing care but refusing it. In walks CM Punk. He says he doesn't need help from the doctor, but from Maddox. He demands to have a match against Heyman where he can't get away. Maddox sets a match for Punk vs. Heyman and Axel in an elimination handicap match at Night of Champions. He says if Heyman tries to get out of it, Punk will never see Heyman again. Punk says if Heyman tries to get out of it, they won't see him again, but if he does get out of it, no one will see Maddox again.
The roster begins to file out to the stage for the main event gauntlet match.
They have got to be careful with the "no one gets involved" thing. That could blow up in their faces if they're not careful.
Match #8 - Daniel Bryan vs. The Shield; Gauntlet Match
Daniel Bryan gets his entrance, then The Shield through the crowd. Renee Young asks Big Show about being forced to face The Shield last week in a handicap match. He has no comment. She poses the same question to Dolph Ziggler, and he also has no comment. She poses Miz a question and he starts to answer, but tails off before he says anything critical.
Rollins is first, and takes a clothesline out over the top rope. The other two close in, and that opens the door for Rollins to attack Bryan. He slams Bryan on the floor. Bryan mounts a comeback with a running clothesline. Bryan locks on a single leg crab, but Rollins manages to get to the ropes. Bryan hits a dive that takes Rollins clear over the announce table and almost kills Cole. The fans roar "Yes!" chants for Bryan.
Out of commercial, Rollins works a rest hold and the announcers give us a recap of Rollins driving Bryan to the safety railing to get the advantage during commercial. Bryan hits a string of kicks, then the men work a series of roll-up pinfall reversals. Rollins nails a standing kick and a reverse driver for a near fall. Rollins sets Bryan up on the ropes, but Bryan counters, hitting a big super German suplex in a crazy spot.
Bryan hits his big running knee, and he does away with Seth Rollins.
Daniel Bryan pins Seth Rollins
Dean Ambrose wastes little time getting into the fray. He attacks Bryan and stomps away on him. Bryan counters his attack and locks on the Yes! Lock. Roman Reigns charges the ring and breaks things up, throwing the second match out.
Daniel Bryan beats Dean Ambrose by Disqualification
The third match really never gets started. Bryan tries for the Yes! Lock on Reigns, but it's broken up by the rest of the Shield.
Daniel Bryan vs. Roman Reigns is a no-contest
The Shield continues to put the boots to Bryan and beat him down. Reigns hits a spear as Ambrose and Rollins hold him up. Triple H's music hits and he walks out through the roster. He eyes everyone up, especially Dolph Ziggler and Big Show. He then nods to the ring and The Shield hits the triple powerbomb.
Randy Orton's music plays and he walks out. He stands with Triple H momentarily, then Trips moves out to the front of the roster. He eyes them up, then pats Orton on the chest. Orton goes to the ring and after talking something at Bryan that I couldn't make out, he hits him with the RKO.
Orton leaves, and Triple H tells the roster "go ahead, laugh now, it's funny isn't it?" Cole questions if there's a different set of rules for the face of the company. He leaves, with Orton in tow. Orton looks back at the ring and smirks as the show ends.
There are a few problems with this story, in my opinion. Right now, one of the most glaring is how badly they're making the faces of the roster look. It's natural for a heel to get his advantage, but this punking out that's going on really makes the faces look silly. I mean, Big Show allegedly signed an iron-clad contract that he can't get fired from (in storyline). How does that reconcile when he can just do what he wants with no repercussions? Or is that only when he's a heel?
All it would take is one counter attack to get the shine back for the faces, I'd think. That said it will have to be carefully laid out. We will see how they do it here. The most important is that Bryan lost nothing by what went down here, given he was in essentially a four on one situation.
We got good promos from the Wyatts and from AJ, and the story between Bryan and Orton and CM Punk and Heyman seem to be heating up nicely. Let's see how they begin to fill out the rest of the Night of Champions card and where it goes from here. The rest of the show was just kind of "so-so".
I'll have more to say on tonight's show in Raw Afterthoughts tomorrow and we may have a staff roundtable as well. Thanks for watching along tonight. Be sure to also join in the conversation on Twitter as well!