On a day where champions bask in the glory of their triumph, it was a not a freshly crowned conqueror but a former champion who made the most noise when Raw rolled into Atlanta's Philips Arena.
Just make sure you don't call him “former” to his face.
The individual in question was, of course, CM Punk, who remained steadfast in his assertion that the WWE Championship should remain his and that, despite Paul Heyman's apparent collusion with The Shield, he wasn't ready to take Mr. McMahon at his word that the video was genuine. “If Vince McMahon wants to paint this picture that Paul Heyman and myself are horrible human beings and are in collusion with The Shield and Brad Maddox, he is going to doctor a video and play it on his television show,” Punk said.
With all said, Punk still deemed Mr. McMahon's maiming at the hands of Brock Lesnar — regardless of whether Heyman was involved — last week as “karma” for robbing The Straight Edge Superstar of his championship. But right as Punk began to roar that it was day 442 of his championship reign, he was interrupted by none other than ...
Yes, Booker T. With Managing Supervisor Vickie Guerrero otherwise occupied by the Heyman-Lesnar situation, the SmackDown General Manager was summoned to Raw to help her handle things for the evening. And his first order of business was finding an opponent for CM Punk, though that decision ended up ultimately being left to the WWE Universe. Via a WWE Active vote, the fans would select Punk's foe for the evening from a crop of his previous three WrestleMania opponents: Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton and Chris Jericho.
The United States Champion's woes against Ryback continued this week, as Antonio Cesaro went up against the mighty Royal Rumble Match runner-up and found himself turned to mincemeat by the powerhouse despite a stout, well-scouted performance in the ring. Ryback has dominated Cesaro on numerous occasions on WWE Main Event, but Cesaro didn't seem interested in being similarly defeated on Raw and drew on his numerous experiences with Ryback to keep the contest at an even level. The Swiss Superman took the fight right to Ryback, hammering the body of the beast with European uppercuts in an attempt to stop Ryback from gaining steam. The strategy seemed to pay dividends for the first half of the match; Cesaro was ready for each of Ryback's attacks and kept his head level as he cut the monster off mid-strike.
Ryback would not be held down forever, though, and slowly muscled his way back into the contest with a sequence of bone-shattering power strikes. Cesaro regained his bearings long enough to attempt a victory via count-out, but Ryback made it back at the count of nine and mounted a monstrous second wind, plastering Cesaro with a pair of Meathook Clotheslines and snatching him up for Shell Shocked, feasting once more on the mighty champion in victory.
A few months before his self-imposed exile, Jack Swagger surrendered the United States Championship to Santino Marella in one of the more memorable upsets in WWE history. It appears that “The Real American” has not forgotten the defeat in his long months away from the squared circle. Swagger took Santino to the woodshed in his return to Raw, handily dismantling The Italian Stallion by targeting Santino's knees and midsection. And just as it looked like Santino was ready to pull off a comeback, the former World Champion sprung into action and struck with a Swagger Bomb, finally applying the Patriot Act (formerly the Ankle Lock) to Marella and forcing his former tormentor to cry uncle in agony.
Swagger's biggest statement came after the match, though, when he made his way to Booker T on commentary and asked if the SmackDown GM was impressed with his performance. Is a placement in the World Heavyweight Championship No. 1 Contender's Elimination Chamber Match forthcoming?
Hell hath no fury like Alberto Del Rio, who apparently wasn't remotely done with Big Show after attacking the giant in the parking lot last Friday on SmackDown. Still stewing over Big Show's mauling of Ricardo Rodriguez last week, The Essence of Excellence was still hungry for payback one week later ... but first came the matter of Cody Rhodes.
Rhodes faced Del Rio in singles competition and gave the World Heavyweight Champion a struggle from the get-go, looking to bounce back from his loss to John Cena the previous week. Unfortunately, while Cody may well be “Groomed For Greatness,” chance was not in his corner against The Essence of Excellence this night. Although Cody came out swinging against Del Rio and even landed a wicked Disaster Kick on the champion's chin, Del Rio rallied and forced Rhodes into submission with the Cross Armbreaker.
With Rhodes dispatched, Del Rio next demanded Big Show be brought before him so the giant could answer for what he did to Ricardo, but The World's Largest Athlete was prepared. No sooner had Del Rio demanded the giant's presence than Big Show appeared on the TitanTron via satellite, safe in the comfort of his hotel room, ostensibly to stop himself from tearing Del Rio apart. Del Rio attempted to tantalize Show with the revelation he had a contract drawn up for a World Title Match at Elimination Chamber, and all Big Show needed to do was show up and sign the papers. The giant wouldn't have it, though, refusing Del Rio's offer and demanding the deal be sent to him instead.
Of course, Del Rio would eventually do just that, sending a courier to the giant's hotel room with contract in hand. Once pen had been put to paper, Del Rio made his move and struck The World's Largest Athlete in the halls of the hotel itself, bashing the giant with a fire extinguisher as an opening salvo on the road to their rematch.
Well, Booker T wanted to see the best of his potential Elimination Chamber participants, and Daniel Bryan certainly delivered in a one-on-one contest with Rey Mysterio that the submission technician clinched without the help or presence of his partner, Kane. While friction between Team Hell No led Bryan to demand Kane remain in the locker room area, it appeared the former World Champion had no problem venting his frustration on The Master of the 619. Bryan was well-prepared for Mysterio's frenzied offense, countering The Ultimate Underdog at every turn and using Mysterio's own momentum as a weapon against him. And even though Rey fought back enough to hit Bryan with the 619, the submission technician dodged Mysterio's attempt to Drop the Dime and applied the “No!” Lock for the win.
But “YES!”es soon turned to “NO!”s when familiar theme music boomed over the loudspeakers and Mark Henry stalked down the ramp with Bryan and Mysterio square in his sights. Bryan bravely made a beeline for The World’s Strongest Man, and found himself introduced face-first to the barricade for his efforts. This left Mysterio to the mercy of Henry, and even an attempt by Sin Cara to save his tag team partner wasn’t enough to staunch Henry’s wrath. Both Superstars soon found themselves the recipients of World’s Strongest Slams and, in Mysterio’s case, a splash from the second rope that that shook the arena — and the WWE Universe — to its foundations.
Consider the Hall of Pain reopened for business and accepting inductees.
With partners like this, who needs opponents? Daniel Bryan was evidently so insulted by Kane’s refusal to help him evade Mark Henry that he went and paid The Big Red Monster back the only way he knew how: costing him a match against Sheamus.
With Kane’s spot in the Elimination Chamber potentially up for grabs, The Devil’s Favorite Demon certainly wasted no time in his game plan against The Celtic Warrior. Kane matched Sheamus blow-for-blow, powering out of the forearm clubs and catching the Brogue Kick, but Sheamus answered right back by hauling Kane up for the Irish Curse and wiggling out of the Tombstone. Kane fought his way back into control with a monstrous DDT, but right as he was about to strike with the Chokeslam, Bryan made his move. The submission expert sprinted down to the apron, distracting Kane and turning his partner’s attention from the task at hand. Bryan’s presence momentarily drove Kane into a rage and ultimately spelled his doom, giving Sheamus an opening to plant a Brogue Kick on the demon’s masked mug only moments later.
Who needs Oprah when you’ve got The Miz? The former WWE Champion continued his foray into hard-hitting journalism with yet another episode of “Miz TV,” this time with Paul Heyman as the guest of honor. And with the amount of questions hanging over the mad scientist's head, it was no surprise Heyman embraced the opportunity wholeheartedly to clear his name of any and all accusations thrown his way. No, he was not the man who re-signed Brock Lesnar; no, he did not orchestrate any attack on Mr. McMahon; and no, no, 1,000 times no, he had no idea Lesnar was going to fell The Chairman of the Board with an F-5 at the end of Raw.
Vickie Guerrero, however? That turned out to be another story.
The Managing Supervisor made her unannounced entrance to absolve Heyman of at least one count: She was the one who rehired Lesnar, having negotiated with the former WWE and UFC Champion in secret in an effort to impress The Chairman and, perhaps, secure the Raw General Manager position for herself. But Vickie admitted tearfully that she had no idea Lesnar would attack Mr. McMahon upon being re-signed. Heyman took advantage of the situation to call a moment of silence in Mr. McMahon's honor, but Miz put a stop to the dog and pony show immediately.
“Paul, you’ve hated Mr. McMahon ever since he squashed your little company. … Vickie, how many times has Mr. McMahon dangled the carrot of permanent Raw GM only to snatch it away at the last minute? … You two are bottom-feeders. You live and breathe off the misery of others.”
Enter Brock Lesnar. The former champion had apparently had enough of Miz, and wasted little time in getting right in The Awesome One's face. Miz, showing no absence of gall, put hands on Lesnar and received an almighty beatdown in return. Lesnar tossed Miz from the ring and hauled furniture at the former WWE Champion, executing a furious F-5 when Miz made one last attempt to take Lesnar down amid Heyman's completely ignored cries of protest.
Wade Barrett has not been a happy man of late. The Intercontinental Champion has been in a mood ever since WWE NXT underdog Bo Dallas eliminated him from the 2013 Royal Rumble Match and pinned him on Raw the next night. Barrett's malaise seemed to have spread to the ring when he faced off against longtime rival Randy Orton in Atlanta. The Apex Predator and Barrett are extensively familiar with each other and experience favored Orton early on, as The Viper wasted little time in unloading on the Englishman, specifically targeting Barrett's knee. The champion did not go easily, clawing and scraping his way to an advantage by hitting Orton with a Winds of Change that nearly put Orton away. But The Viper toughed his way to a kick-out at two, and he capitalized on Barrett's frustration by lashing out with an RKO to end the champion's evening.
It's an old, though timeless, question: Who exactly is “The Best in the World”? Well, almost one year after their clash to determine just that at WrestleMania XXVIII, CM Punk and Chris Jericho stepped between the ropes to reopen the argument in a WWE Active Match. And although there was no WWE Championship at stake this time around, both Superstars certainly battled as though it was. Jericho opened the contest like a house on fire, raining chops upon Punk's tattooed torso, but the furious Straight Edge Superstar refused to let Jericho pull too far into the lead that he could not claw his way back into the bout. While the two remained neck-and-neck in the bout's opening minutes, Punk battled his way into control and attempted to ground Y2J with a series of torturous submission holds.
Jericho quickly powered back, though, forcing Punk into a defensive mindset and nearly putting the bout to bed by dodging Punk's flying elbow and executing a Lionsault to the prone former champion. The move seemed to take something out of The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla, though, as Jericho immediately clutched his chest in pain. With Jericho slightly slowed down, Punk was able to keep the contest on even ground, and it wasn't long before the two were trading submission maneuvers — first Punk with the Anaconda Vise and then Jericho with a painful-looking Walls of Jericho that nearly forced The Straight Edge Superstar to submit. It was a last gasp effort that ultimately decided the bout, as Punk tossed Jericho shoulder-first into the turnbuckle and unleashed the Go to Sleep on a stunned Y2J to bring the contest to its epic conclusion.
The match was over, but as for that long-enduring question? Well, perhaps this one was a bit too close to decide that particular quandary.
John Cena vowed to take his grievances to The Shield, but what the WWE Universe got instead was ... Brad Maddox?
Brad Maddox it was, then. The disgraced former referee was the one who took to the ring to summon The Shield for a lesson in so-called justice, revealing in the process that he had turned over the footage of Paul Heyman's confession to Mr. McMahon the previous week and also christening himself the “hero” of the WWE Universe for exposing the heinous plot of the men in black to help keep CM Punk as WWE Champion. And then, in a maneuver that was perhaps short on sanity but not on courage, Maddox called The Shield out himself.
To put what happened next simply: They obliged him.
Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns materialized from the crowd when Maddox laid down his challenge, slandering him as a “rat.” As for their dealings with Heyman? Well as Ambrose said, “No one ever said justice was free.” The trio slowly surrounded the ring and struck in unison, physically dismantling Maddox before unleashing the triple powerbomb on the overmatched ex-official.
That, it seemed, was Cena's cue. Emulating The Shield's time-honored tactic, the 10-time WWE Champion struck from the crowd, with Ryback and Sheamus entering through similar routes to surround The Shield in the ring. With a crew of The Shield's old victims blocking any escape up the ramp, the trio had no choice but to mix it up with the triumvirate of powerhouses. It wasn't long before they found themselves driven back from whence they came while Cena smirked in the ring, having finally given his tormentors a taste of their own medicine.
But Cena wasn't done there: After Raw went off the air, the 10-time WWE Champion laid down a jaw-dropping challenge before the WWE Universe: At the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, Cena demanded The Shield answer to himself, Ryback and Sheamus in the form of a Six Man Tag Team Match.
Bourbon Street, we hope you're ready for this one.
- Numbers in parentheses indicate the length of the match.
- (c) refers to the champion(s) heading into the match.
- Ryback defeated Antonio Cesaro (9:45)
- Jack Swagger defeated Santino Marella (1:25)
- Alberto Del Rio defeated Cody Rhodes (2:45)
- Daniel Bryan defeated Rey Mysterio (8:35)
- Sheamus defeated Kane (3:50)
- Randy Orton defeated Wade Barrett (5:00)
- CM Punk defeated Chris Jericho (15:00)
- Dark match: John Cena & Ryback defeated CM Punk & Dolph Ziggler (w/ AJ Lee & Big E. Langston)
Other on-screen talent