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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: A model employee is, erm, forcibly terminated by his employer, only to return with an understandable grudge against those who sent him packing. Cooler heads prevail and he’s allowed to return, though it took literally tripping up Public Enemy No. 1 to cement his allegiance for The Authority to allow him back with open arms.
Only, in Randy Orton’s case, his re-induction into The Authority wasn’t without its hiccups. The Viper responded to his official welcome back with a “joke.” That is to say, he roasted Big Show, Kane and J&J Security before foretelling a rather gruesome dismantling of Seth Rollins, before playing the whole thing off for yucks at the end. About the only members of The Authority who bought the joke were Rollins and Big Show, though the results of Raw’s main-event Handicap Match would truly determine if Orton’s future in The Authority was a laughing matter.
If all the hullaballoo surrounding the Intercontinental Championship hasn’t officially roped in Daniel Bryan just yet, it’s at least gotten The Beard to dip his toes into the game of hot potato surrounding the storied title. In fact, The “Yes!” Man got his paws on reigning champ Bad News Barrett for a non-title match with R-Truth presiding, once again, as guest commentator. Not that the title could be up for grabs if Bryan wanted it to be, considering Stardust currently has it.
In what’s become a recurring bad dream for Barrett, the champion managed to brawl his way into the advantage, only to be blasted in the face with a sudden Running Knee that added a few more degrees to Barrett’s already crooked nose. Barrett retaliated by Bull Hammering the beard off The “Yes!” Man, only to be taken out himself by a clothesline from Dean Ambrose on the ramp. Bad news, indeed.
Too bad for Bad News Barrett that a Dean Ambrose clothesline knocked him loopy, because The Lunatic Fringe squared off against the Intercontinental Title’s current (illegal) possessor, Stardust, moments after said sneak attack on Raw. And it’s too bad for Stardust that Ambrose’s own psychosis eclipses his identity crisis by a country mile. Even after tweaking Ambrose’s knee by tripping him up on the apron, the Fifth Dimension’s favorite son ate a rebound clothesline and Dirty Deeds while “Cody” chants rained around him all the same.
True to form, Ambrose took that opportunity to pickpocket Stardust’s “ivory enterprise” once again, and that brought out Barrett, Daneil Bryan, Luke Harper and Dolph Ziggler for a Pier-Six Brawl around the fallen title. R-Truth took advantage of the chaos to stash Barrett’s title in a burlap sack, though JBL was quick to give him up once Barrett cleared the ring of his potential usurpers. Truth surrendered the bag under threat of a Bull Hammer, only to pull the switcheroo on an elated Barrett moments later by revealing he’d only given the Brit a replica title, only to keep the real thing for himself. That’s what’s up.
He’s back. And he’s not impressed. The first Raw appearance of Brock Lesnar in a month was largely used as an opportunity for The Beast Incarnate to react, along with Paul Heyman, to a video hyping the rise of Lesnar’s No. 1 contender, Roman Reigns. That Heyman placed the hype on par with the leavings of a bull was unsurprising, especially with Lesnar standing by his side. But the degree to which Heyman predicted The Anomaly’s triumph at The Show of Shows was the most surprising: pinning Roman, tearing Seth Rollins limb from limb and putting any Montreal-like co-conspirators in their graves were all on the table. Getting his mic shut off again only kicked Heyman into overdrive. By the end of his missive, any title in the world was in play, Brock Lesnar was poised to conquer the world itself, and you could have heard a pin drop in Pittsburgh.
As Ryback learned on SmackDown — and as The Big Guy used to say himself — two is greater than one. The Authority’s two-on-one beatdown of The Human Wrecking Ball on SmackDown forced Ryback to recruit some muscle for a tag-team throwdown against Kane & Big Show on Raw. And who better to fill the role than The Big Guy’s old running buddy Erick Rowan?
Good thing Ryback had him, too. The big man’s overzealous lead-off in the match got him smacked around by the former WWE Tag Team Champions until Rowan tagged in for the save. And Rowan, as we know, is smarter than the average sheep. Even though Kane took advantage of a distracted ref to force Rowan’s throat against the ropes, Rowan writhed loose just as Big Show came in with an illicit KO Punch. That left The Devil’s Favorite Director of Operations to eat the knuckle sandwich and Rowan's pin. On top of all that, “the monster and the giant” were sent packing by an irate Stephanie McMahon moments later. Bad night for business.
Even a posse of mean girls at ringside couldn’t save Summer Rae from comeback kid AJ Lee, whose official, in-ring Raw return ended with a victory at the expense of the "Total Divas" veteran. With her “frenemy” Paige at ringside and The Bellas crowing in Flintstones cosplay backstage, AJ showed she’s more than ready for her trip back to WrestleMania by submitting Summer with the Black Widow despite catching a series of kicks to the face. Not bad for her second week back. Whether her friendly terms with Paige will hold up through The Show of Shows, well, that's another matter.
The #AxelMania movement has given new life to the man known as Curtis Axel. But the Superstar who calls himself the most dominant Royal Rumble Match competitor of all time didn’t exactly get the Hogan-esque victory he’d been clamoring for when he called Rusev out on SmackDown. In fact, Axel was summarily dismantled by The Super Athlete’s powers of pain before their match even began, and a gritty rally didn’t save him from a brutal Accolade moments later.
With Axel felled, Rusev took the opportunity to trash the U.S.A. once again, despite John Cena’s previous warnings not to do so, and for the first time, he got an appropriate response. The Cenation leader took The Super Athlete down and locked him in the STF until he passed out, revived him with a bottle of water and locked the hold in again, even forcing Rusev to tap for mercy. As Rusev slipped into unconsciousness once again, Lana saved the Russian’s skin, giving Cena his U.S. Title rematch at WrestleMania in exchange for Rusev’s release.
It might actually be a new day for the tag team division, if The New Day’s victory over WWE’s reigning title-holding tandem, Tyson Kidd & Cesaro, is any indication. “The Professionals” have been stomping their way through the tag ranks since claiming the titles at WWE Fastlane, but Big E & Xavier Woods cut the champs’ momentum short moments after declaring their intentions to challenge for the WWE gold at WrestleMania.
Far from an empty boast, the guys’ bravado turned out to have some legs, despite a two-on-one attack that saw Cesaro & Kidd twist Woods’ leg into a pretzel. Cesaro & Kidd were so focused on keeping Big E out of the ring, in fact, that they wrote the tweaked Woods off entirely, and that came back to haunt them when Woods rolled Kidd up for a surprise pin. Cue the well-earned celebrations.
The rough night for the WWE Tag Team Champions continued even after their own match finished, when unofficial third member Natalya once again found herself pinned by The Usos third, Naomi, in a Divas grudge match. Yet again, Tyson Kidd didn’t help his wife’s cause any by barking instructions at her when she locked in the Sharpshooter, causing Natalya to loosen the hold and Naomi to take advantage by kicking Natalya into the turnbuckle. The Usos neutralized (no pun intended) Cesaro at ringside, Naomi pounced with her self-proclaimed Rear View, and that was all she wrote for a very frustrated Queen of Harts.
The Tag Team Championship makes teams do funny things. Moments after hungrily eyeing Cesaro & Tyson Kidd’s titles, Los Matadores pulled out all and we do mean all of the stops to beat The Usos. And not just in terms of their signature tandem maneuvers, although those were certainly in play. Usos and bullfighters flew left and right throughout the evenly matched contest, until Fernando decided to use an overzealous El Torito as an unwitting distraction, shoving Jimmy Uso into the bull and rolling him up with an unusually underhanded handful of shorts for the win. Well played, hermanos.
Streak or no Streak, the guardian angel of WrestleMania is coming home. After weeks of dispatches from Bray Wyatt, The Undertaker finally responded from the great beyond to The Eater of Worlds’ challenge for The Grandest Stage of Them All, and he did it in the ghoulish fashion The Deadman is best known for. As The New Face of Fear preached into the darkness with The Phenom’s urn in hand, smoke rose from the jar’s mouth and Wyatt’s own talisman, his rocking chair, emerged reformed in the ring. With “The Man of 1,000 Truths” paralyzed, The Deadman’s voice boomed over the loudspeakers, a message of acceptance appeared on the TitanTron and a bolt of lightning set the rocking chair ablaze. That, in other words, is a “yes.”
Is it possible to end up a loser twice in the span of one match? If you’re Seth Rollins, the answer is yes and yes. First, Mr. Money in the Bank took a loss in the traditional sense to Roman Reigns, who avenged his loss to Rollins last week by Spearing The Architect out of his boots. And then he lost in another sense to Randy Orton, who, after subtly manipulating The Authority all night – allowing Kane & Big Show to get themselves ejected, and convincing Rollins to send J&J Security packing as well – finally had Rollins alone in the ring after said Spear.
All jokes aside, the double-bird that Orton flipped Rollins at the moment of truth turned out to be the least painful thing The Apex Predator subjected his prey to. The Viper chased Rollins throughout the entire arena, whispering venomous nothings into his ear all the way, culminating in a final RKO through the announce table. It wasn’t outta nowhere per se. In fact, it was a long time coming. But there was still nothing Rollins could do to stop it, which made it all the more satisfying.
If nothing else, he'll certainly have something to talk about come his SmackDown return Thursday.
- Numbers in parentheses indicate the length of the match.
- (c) refers to the champion(s) heading into the match.
- Daniel Bryan defeated Bad News Barrett (7:05)
- Dean Ambrose defeated Stardust (7:28)
- Ryback & Erick Rowan defeated Kane & Big Show (3:25)
- AJ Lee (w/ Paige) defeated Summer Rae (w/ Cameron & Eva Marie) by submission (3:12)
- Rusev (w/ Lana) defeated Curtis Axel by submission (0:26)
- The New Day (Big E & Xavier Woods) (w/ Kofi Kingston) defeated Brass Ring Club (Cesaro & Tyson Kidd) (w/ Natalya) (3:46)
- Naomi (w/ Jimmy & Jey Uso) defeated Natalya (w/ Cesaro & Tyson Kidd) (1:45)
- Los Matadores (Diego & Fernando) (w/ El Torito) defeated The Usos (Jimmy & Jey Uso) (w/ Naomi) (8:04)
- Roman Reigns defeated Randy Orton & Seth Rollins (w/ Jamie Noble & Joey Mercury) in a Two on One Handicap Match (4:07)
Other on-screen talent