No punches were thrown and no furniture was overturned, but even the most civil contract signing in recent WWE memory didn't unfold without its fair share of controversy. Daniel Bryan seemingly had no ill will towards WWE Champion John Cena when they came out to put pen to paper. However, Raw GM Brad Maddox, who stood ceremony over the whole thing, wasn't about to let the submission master walk away cleanly.
With minimal regard to his own bodily safety, Maddox first gave voice to the concerns of “some” that Bryan was an insufficient challenge for Cena at the summer classic before Bryan himself arrived to put those worries to rest. Yet, even a glowing endorsement from Cena himself didn't stop Maddox from organizing a particularly grueling gauntlet for the former World Heavyweight Champion: A back-to-back-to-back series of matches that would either show the WWE Universe what Bryan was made of ... or expose him for the weak link that "some" apparently believed him to be.
The irony, it is thick: Alberto Del Rio tried in vain for much of 2012 to defeat Sheamus in his pursuit of the World Heavyweight Championship, but now armed with “Big Gold” around his waist, The Essence of Excellence finally got his long-awaited licks in against The Celtic Warrior in a match on Raw. Sporting a gruesome bruise on his thigh from Money in the Bank, Sheamus was both sporting more color than usual and seemingly, savagely rejuvenated after a two-week siesta from in-ring competition. But Del Rio, still fighting mad at the WWE Universe's rejection of his World Title win, matched the Irishman shot-for-shot with pure ruthlessness.
The Essence of Excellence struck early, wrapping Sheamus up in a ring-rope-assisted Cross Armbreaker and targeting the brawler's wounded leg while Damien Sandow observed from the locker room area. The tough-as-nails native of Erin's Isle brawled his way back from the deficit to punish Del Rio with the forearm clubs, following up with a debilitating Irish Curse. Del Rio countered with a kick to Sheamus' gimpy thigh, weakening the Irishman enough that when he went for White Noise, his legs collapsed under him and the champion capitalized with a roll-up pin.
Christian may have missed out on Money in the Bank, but he's apparently still worthy of Prime Time. Captain Charisma continued his recent surge of victories since his return, following his defeat of Damien Sandow with a win over Titus O’Neil, the bulky bruiser of The Prime Time Players. “The Big Deal” toyed with Captain Charisma out of the gate, mocking Christian's crowd-pumping hand claps before pulverizing the former World Champion with a series of backbreakers and tossing him across the ring.
Christian showed his spirit, however, by slowly chopping the big man down with fists and dropkicks. Despite a last-minute surge by O’Neil, Captain Charisma cemented his comeback with a rocket-like elbow off the top rope and a Killswitch that left Titus pancaked on the mat.
The Shield made an example of The World's Strongest Man last week, but can they do it again now that he's expecting it? That seems to be the prevalent question when Mark Henry got an uncanny assist moments after his address to the “Hounds of Justice” this week in his home state. Henry, for his part, showed no fear after his Triple Powerbomb at The Shield's hands, and dared the NXT veterans to try their hand against him for the second week in a row.
Henry's braggadocio brought out The Shield themselves, although the cavalry quickly arrived in the form of The Usos, who sprinted to the aid of the former World Heavyweight Champion without so much as a word. After the fracas that ensued, particularly the flattening of Roman Reigns by Henry, the “Hounds of Justice” understandably decided that, all things considered, they’d take a mulligan on this particular ambush.
It was a rough night for The Prime Time Players when, just a few minutes after Titus O’Neil fell victim to Christian, Darren Young met a similar fate against Dolph Ziggler. All the brash aggression of “Mr. No Days Off” wasn't enough to knock off The Showoff, who blasted D. Young with a dropkick to the face that left him reeling. Young countered with a brutal-looking inverted facebuster, but he spent more time taunting the prone Dolph than pinning him, giving Ziggler an opening to administer a match-ending Zig Zag.
The Showoff's night almost ended on a similar down note when Big E Langston thundered to the ring and attempted to administer a beating to his former mentor. Ever the master of quick thinking, Ziggler hurled the big man over the ropes, a retaliatory move that left Langston fuming in the ring ... though not so much that he elected to give chase, preferring instead to bide his time.
Despite escaping his former student's attack, however, a potential confrontation isn't exactly weighing light on The Showoff's mind.
The claws came out on “Miz TV” when the “Total Divas” cast dropped by The Miz's couch to chat up the premiere of their brand-new reality show, premiering this Sunday at 10/9 CT on E! But The Awesome One, clearly sensing an impending outburst of aggression among the freshly-minted reality stars, invited Jerry “The King” Lawler to emcee the proceedings.
Of course, that meant “The King” would feel the wrath of flame-haired newcomer Eva Marie, the flame-haired beauty who has caught the attention of the WWE Universe and made her play on Raw by slapping Lawler square across the face. Fellow newbie JoJo was much more cordial towards “The King,” but as introductions go, these were certainly among the more memorable in WWE history.
Turns out Cody Rhodes isn't one to let betrayal keep him down for long. The mustachioed son of a son of a plumber may have hit his lowest point when Damien Sandow betrayed him and seized the World Title Money in the Bank contract for himself (to say nothing of the "Protector of the Case" debacle), yet Rhodes found his footing on Raw at the expense of both his former friend and current foe.
Facing Fandango in a singles contest, Cody showed some signs of hesitance at the start, seemingly feeling his way back to a secure footing in singles contest after such a long stint in a tag team. Fandango's aggression didn't help, yet Rhodes rallied with a moonsault that left Fandango dazed on the outside. Sandow attempted strike from his post at commentary and Fandango moved to capitalize on the distraction, but Rhodes saw the sneak attack coming and unleashed a Disaster Kick to both men before felling Fandango with Cross Rhodes for the win.
One would think that CM Punk wasn't feeling particularly talkative after his thrashing at the hands of Brock Lesnar last week, one would be right. Punk didn't want to talk, he wanted to fight. Speaking of Lesnar's true secret weapon – not his power, but the fear he inspires – Punk addressed The Anomaly's mystique head on with his boldest proclamation yet: “WWE.com, here’s your headline … I am not afraid of Brock Lesnar.”
Vowing to leave Lesnar as beaten as he was, Punk demanded a SummerSlam match of “The Best vs. The Beast,” and his fiery rhetoric summoned Paul Heyman, via satellite and apparently next to Lesnar himself (The Anomaly remained offscreen), to offer a rebuttal. In short, Heyman's response was thus: “If it’s a fight you want, CM Punk, your challenge at SummerSlam is accepted.”
The victorious comeback tour continues for Rob Van Dam, who followed up a pair of victories on Raw and SmackDown with a third win, this time over former Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett on Raw. The Brit swarmed the Battle Creek, Mich. Native early out of the gate, blasting RVD with fists to the back of the head while Mr. Monday Night struck his signature pose for the WWE Universe.
Barrett's hard-brawling style kept RVD on the defensive even after a kick to the chin left the Englishman's mouth bloody. A pair of lightning-quick kicks from Van Dam restored Mr. Monday Night's momentum enough for a Rolling Thunder. Even though Barrett fought to stay in the game, the high-flying veteran chopped the big Englishman down with another flurry of kicks, sealing the victory with a soaring Five Star Frog Splash.
First up in Daniel Bryan's three-stop tour of hell through the WWE locker room? A couple of Real Americans. With the submission master facing three unknown Superstars at the command of Brad Maddox, Zeb Colter's pair of patriots were the first to emerge in opposition of the No. 1 contender. Specifically, Jack Swagger stepped up to battle the “Yes!” man and ran Bryan ragged immediately, punishing the submission technician early and often after the opening bell.
A lengthy “OU sucks!” slowed Swagger down enough for Bryan to get a few licks in, but Swagger regrouped fast and struck with the Swagger Bomb. It was then that Bryan let loose with a last burst of energy and tripped Swagger up, applying the “Yes!” Lock and forcing a tapout while Antonio Cesaro and Zeb Colter were at ringside. Happily for Colter's acolytes, they’d soon have a chance to rectify the defeat, because Antonio Cesaro was announced as Bryan's next foe.
It was out of the frying pan and into the fire when Daniel Bryan clashed with Antonio Cesaro as the second opponent in his Brad Maddox-mandated gauntlet. It seemed, once again, that Bryan was destined for defeat early on when the Über-American let loose with the Very European Uppercut and even mauled Bryan's beard in a bid to physically and mentally dismantle the No. 1 contender.
What ensued was a thrilling war of attrition; each time Bryan began to roll, Cesaro would cut the submission technician down with a headlock, yet Bryan somehow regained his strength and blast Cesaro back into a defensive position again. The two eventually reached fever pitch and Cesaro very nearly captured the win with the Swiss Blade, a barrage of uppercuts and a clothesline that sent Bryan into a backflip, yet Bryan persevered and reversed a second Very European Uppercut into a roll-up pin, sending the mighty challenger home after a very hard-fought battle.
The gauntlet was run, but Daniel Bryan wasn left among splinters after facing Ryback in the final of three bouts orchestrated by Raw GM Brad Maddox. The “Human Wrecking Ball” already declared he preys on the weak, and even though Bryan fought back valiantly by countering a Thesz press into a half-Boston Crab on Ryback's injured leg, the big man continued his onslaught by simply out-muscling the submission master with power moves that landed with atomic force. Ultimately, much like their last confrontation, Ryback went for the statement over the pinfall when Bryan proved too stubborn to lose, powerbombing Bryan through a table he had erected at ringside.
With Bryan's bouts ended, John Cena was free and clear to come to his challenger's aid; The Champ chased Ryback from the ring and challenged him to a Tables Match the next week on Raw. Ryback happily accepted, but it's unsure if Bryan will be so eager for his opponent next week, as mandated by Maddox and Mr. McMahon: Kane.
- Numbers in parentheses indicate the length of the match.
- (c) refers to the champion(s) heading into the match.
- Alberto Del Rio defeated Sheamus (13:25)
- Christian defeated Titus O'Neil (w/ Darren Young) (4:40)
- Dolph Ziggler defeated Darren Young (4:20)
- Cody Rhodes defeated Fandango (w/ Summer Rae) (4:10)
- Rob Van Dam defeated Wade Barrett (4:15)
- Daniel Bryan defeated Jack Swagger (w/ Antonio Cesaro & Zeb Colter) (3:00)
- Daniel Bryan defeated Antonio Cesaro (w/ Jack Swagger & Zeb Colter) (20:00)
- Daniel Bryan defeated Ryback by DQ (9:20)
Other on-screen talent