The Allstate Arena in Chicago, Illinois last night played host to the long-awaited return of Chicago’s own CM Punk. The Second City Saint, absent from WWE television since April 15th, took to the stage with the ever-reliable Chris Jericho for the third time in just over a year, and the two put on a clinic (there will probably be a lot of wrestling clichés in this).
In one of the most enjoyable Pay-Per-Views of the year, if not thee most enjoyable, we were treated to seven matches (plus a pre-sh… kick-off match), three title changes, a double-turn and one massive Attitude Adjustment.
This is my first wrestling review of any kind, so bear with me. Here we go!
To ‘kick-off’ proceedings, we get the show-formerly-known-as-the-pre-show, featuring an expert panel consisting of the Big Show, R-Truth and Cody Rhodes, and hosted by Josh Matthews. The quartet start by discussing the upcoming Three Stages of Hell match for the WWE Title between John Cena and Ryback.
Seeing the world’s largest athlete (who is currently out injured) was quite cool, but I cannot help but feel a little annoyed that Cody Rhodes is being wasted on a panel when he really should be on the card. Also, I do not mind Josh Matthews, but where on earth was Renee Young?!
Kick-off. Sheamus defeats Damien Sandow, in a singles match.
The crowd is lively as Sheamus makes his way to the ring (Sandow was relegated to no entrance status, which is a shame). The match starts off in a physical manner, which the two maintained throughout, and was probably one of the better pre-show bouts since the introduction of the concept. Chicago is firmly behind Sandow throughout, cheering loudly every time he gains some offence. Sheamus hits White Noise, closely followed by a Brogue Kick and picks up the victory.
A good match which allowed to fans to get warmed up for the night ahead.
Match Length – 10:25
Just as soon as the kick-off finishes, Payback gets underway with commentary from the usual trio of Michael Cole, Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler and JBL, who hype up the night ahead.
1. Curtis Axel defeats The Miz and Wade Barrett (c), in a triple threat match for the Intercontinental Title.
Up first is the triple threat match for Wade Barrett’s Intercontinental Title, which originally included Fandango who had to pull out due to a concussion. His replacement, Curtis Axel receives a significant cheer upon his entrance, whereas the crowd are indifferent towards Miz and Barrett (which is unsurprising considering where both men are at).
The three competitors trade time in the ring to begin with, before some standard triple threat action. The match begins to pick up as soon as Axel (who is accompanied by Paul Heyman) hits his father’s PerfectPlex on Barrett, much to the delight of Chicago, only for Miz to break-up the pinfall. Miz then locks Barrett in the Figure-Four Leg Lock and looks destined to pick up the win, however Axel inventively covers Barrett’s shoulders to the mat for a three count and wins the title.
This was a very nice moment, seeing Axel win the IC Title on Father’s Day. Also, a good opener to the show.
Match Length – 10:36
We get a Mark Henry promo conveying his return on the upcoming Monday Night RAW (17th June). Interestingly, it appears Mark Henry is thinking about announcing his retirement on RAW, however this could be some sort of swerve. I am a big fan of Henry, especially in a monster heel role, so I hope he sticks around.
Axel and Heyman are seen celebrating backstage, before being interrupted by Triple H who stares down Axel. Vince McMahon appears and congratulates Axel on his win, ushering him and Heyman away in the process. McMahon plugs Triple H vs. Curtis Axel live on RAW, but HHH claims he is not feeling it and walks away, much to McMahon’s dismay. It will be interesting to see where this goes — I am still clinging to the very minute chance that Shane-O-Mac will return. Here comes the moneeeeeey…
2. AJ defeats Kaitlyn (c), in a singles match for the Divas Title.
After some very decent build-up (something out of the ordinary for a divas match these days), these two former best friends are set to meet for the Divas Title. Michael Cole mentions on commentary that Kaitlyn was fined ten thousand dollars for slapping a referee on Smackdown — hey, at least it was not half a million… I wonder if Sheamus has squared that up with WWE yet.
This begins with a trip to the outside, where Kaitlyn throws AJ over the announce table (guess which one?). After regaining control, AJ hits Kaitlyn with various kicks, followed by her belt, which Kaitlyn had removed earlier. Kaitlyn has the opportunity to win the match after a spear, but takes too long taunting AJ, resulting in AJ locking in the very cool looking Black Widow submission to win the Divas Title for the first time.
This was by far the best divas match seen on WWE television for a long time, and these two work well together. Hopefully this program continues for a while.
Match Length – 9:56
After the match ends, Kaitlyn remains in the ring visibly upset, to which the ruthless Chicago crowd boos loudly. Layla then comes out to comfort Kaitlyn, only for the ruthless Chicago crowd to boo at even louder (this was quite funny actually).
Backstage, a group of divas attempt to console Kaitlyn but she ignores them and walks away.
The first Money in the Bank promo airs — Sunday, July 14th in Philly!
Cole then sends us back over to the Payback panel. Big Show puts over Heyman’s alliance with Axel, whereas R-Truth believes Axel stole the victory. Big Show then blames Kaitlyn for “taking her eye off the ball”, to which the others agree.
This is followed by another Wyatt Family promo. I cannot wait.
3. Dean Ambrose (c) defeats Kane, in a singles match for the United States Championship.
These two, along with Orton, Daniel Bryan and the other members of The Shield, have been having tremendous matches on both RAW and Smackdown over the past month. This looked like an interesting match-up on paper, but I do not think the two very different styles quite meshed together as well as we all hoped.
Ambrose is going into the match as US Champion, and commentary states that he will hope it is not three-for-three in terms of title changes thus far tonight. Ambrose seems to be favoured among the crowd as he enters the ring, but Kane has some fans too. Ambrose works on Kane’s leg, which is always nice to see — targeting an opponent’s body part has become something of a lost art in recent years. After a slow start, the match begins to pick up after Ambrose slaps Kane a number of times across the face, angering the Big Red Machine. Kane loses focus as a result, which allows Ambrose to hit a DDT on the outside to which Kane cannot recover from. Ambrose retains the US Title by way of a count-out.
This one was a slow-burner for the most part, especially after the opening matches. It will be intriguing to see what happens with The Shield after their first pin-fall loss as a team on Smackdown this past week.
Match Length – 9:34
Out of absolutely nowhere we are shown a video package signalling the highly-anticipated return of the whole f’n show ROB VAN DAM! And better yet, he will return at MONEY IN THE BANK! And even better yet, Money in the Bank will take place in none other than the home of ECW — PHILADELPHIA! The crowd in Chicago love it, and begin the first of many “RVD” chants which continue throughout the remainder of the show. I did not think I would be this happy to see RVD return to WWE, but I love that it caught me off-guard and also the circumstances surrounding his impending return.
4. Alberto Del Rio defeats Dolph Ziggler (c), in a singles match for the World Heavyweight Championship.
With Jack Swagger out of the picture due to a hand injury, that triple threat Ladder match is looking less and less likely to happen. Ziggler is about to wrestle his first match back since receiving a concussion at the, well, feet of Swagger. This one is for the World Heavyweight Championship. Ziggler receives a huge ovation from the Chicago crowd which, if it is not obvious by now, is made up significantly of ‘hardcore’ wrestling fans.
The match gets underway with the crowd chanting loudly for Ziggler (and RVD, by the way). Del Rio spends a lot of the match doing damage to Ziggler’s head after his concussion, another instance of wrestlers taking advantage of a body part. Ziggler, the referee and the commentary team continue to play up the fact that the match may need to be called off, however Ziggler refuses to let that happen. Big-E then gets ejected from ringside after an altercation with Del Rio, who continues to work on Ziggler’s head and upper back, seemingly getting more aggressive as the match progresses.
After a number of close two counts and a very nice looking reverse superplex from the top rope, Del Rio begins to get frustrated at his inability to gain the three-count. Ziggler then hits the Zig-Zig out of nowhere, but is unable to capitalise due to his head injury. This allows Del Rio to deliver a swift kick to Ziggler’s head and pin him to become the new World Heavyweight Champion.
I enjoyed this match because it told a story and was consistent throughout. It appears that WWE are looking at a double-turn with Ziggler becoming a babyface and Del Rio returning to his heel persona, which I reckon is for the best. Del Rio did not really work as a face, and Ziggler could go over huge as one. I expect Dolph to regain the belt at Money in the Bank.
Match Length – 13:49
The panel begin to discuss Del Rio in heel terms. Del Rio then comes back out onto the stage and cuts a promo with heelish tendencies, putting over how he deserves to be World Heavyweight Champion. The crowd progressively become hostile towards him. Interestingly, this is the same building where the Austin/Bret Hart WrestleMania 13 double-turn occurred.
5. CM Punk defeats Chris Jericho, in a singles match.
The return of CM Punk is what everybody has been waiting for. After a two month lay-off, the crowd in Chicago are itching to see their home-town anti-hero make his entrance. But first, Chris Jericho makes his way to the ring to a decent reaction — nothing as hostile as what John Cena received at Money in the Bank two years prior. Cult of Personality then rings out around the Allstate Arena, and after twenty seconds of waiting, the crowd erupts at the sight of The Best in the World.
It’s clobberin’ time.
The atmosphere is incredible and “CM Punk” chants are thrown batted the arena with impetus. Punk, incidentally, is sporting Hugh Jackman’s sideburns. The match begins with various mat-wrestling moves and lock-ups which I am not qualified enough to describe. The Chicago Black Hawks logo dawns on Punk’s trunks (that rhymed). “Let’s Go Black Hawks” chants right on cue. Jericho locks in the Wall of Jericho, with Punk managing to reverse it into a standing Anaconda Vice, before dragging Jericho to the mat. Heyman screams “TAP!” but Jericho makes it to the bottom rope. Punk sets up the Go To Sleep, but is inadvertently distracted by Heyman, allowing Jericho to counter into another Walls of Jericho.
Punk escapes, and Jericho follows up with a Code-Breaker out of nowhere, forcing Punk to kick-out at two. The crowd is eating up everything these two do, particularly Punk. After a flying Macho Man elbow off the top rope, Punk signals for the GTS and hits it, but Jericho kicks-out. Chicago wants another! We then see a suicide dive to the outside from Punk on Jericho, and Punk climbs to the top rope. Jericho catches Punk mid-air with another Code-Breaker but Punk manages to kick-out at two and nine-tenths! Tremendous action! Punk punches his way out of a Walls of Jericho with brute force, before hitting two GTS’s and picking up the victory in his hometown. Chicago explodes.
This was match of the night by far, and will quite possibly pick up the Match of the Year nod at the Slammy’s in December. These two are two of the best in the business right now, and this was their best outing together. My money’s worth and more.
Match Length – 21:21
After the match, Punk seems to be a little frustrated with Heyman who almost cost him the victory at one point. It appears as if the two are separating, especially after this video on WWE.com.
6. The Shield (Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns) (c) defeat Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton, in a tag team match for the Tag Team Titles.
We are thrust straight into the Tag Team Title match. The Shield enter first. Daniel Bryan gets a large pop accompanied by sea of “YES!” chants. Daniel Bryan is probably the most over and most entertaining performer on the planet at the moment.
Bryan begins with Reigns at a quick pace. The Shield perform a number of quick tags and double-team moves, highlighting their teamwork. Michael Cole says Orton and Bryan are “the oddest couple since Daniel Bryan and Kane”. I laughed. The crowd is right behind Bryan, who tags in Orton. Orton hits his mid-rope DDT on Reigns and Rollins, and performs a mid-air powerslam on the latter. We hear more “RVD” chants as the crowd do not seem too burned out from the previous bout, which is a testament to them.
After a missed dive to the outside which hits Orton, Bryan executes an awesome looking double-arm superplex off the top rope on Rollins who manages to kick-out at two. Bryan and Rollins in particular seem to work exceptionally well together. Reigns breaks up a No Lock and attempts to spear Orton, who jumps out of the way causing Bryan to take the hit. Orton then RKO’s Reigns, but Rollins throws him out of the ring and delivers a mid-air foot-stomp on Bryan to retain the titles for his team.
These guys always put on entertaining matches and this one was no different. It looks like Bryan is moving on to a WWE Title program soon, but I would not be surprised if we see Bryan vs. Orton at Money in the Bank first.
Match Length – 12:10
7. John Cena (c) defeats Ryback, in a Three Stages of Hell match for the WWE Title.
This is a Three Stages of Hell match for the WWE Title. The first stage is a Lumberjack match, followed by a Tables match, and then an Ambulance match if need-be (but only if needed remember). The lumberjacks make their way to the ring and everybody from Antonio Cesaro (that is correct, as a lumberjack) to JTG is present. Both Cena and Ryback receive boos during their introductions.
— Stage 1: Lumberjack match
This is essentially your bog-standard Lumberjack match. Ryback dominates the majority of the bout, throwing Cena to the outside numerous times for the lumberjacks to attack him. The audience appear a little bored, or maybe just extremely (pun intended) excited to see Rob Van Dam return, as there are more “RVD” chants. Eventually, Ryback is thrown to the outside and all the lumberjacks begin a massive brawl, before Cena executes a flying star jump off the top rope onto them all — the crowd like it. Ryback gets Cena back into the ring and hits the Shellshocked to take fall one.
— Stage 2: Tables Match
The lumberjacks disappear and we won’t see JTG until next January (does he even get a slot in the Rumble?). Ryback goes for a table straight away and brings one into ring. He takes Cena out with a spear and is graced with “Goldberg” chants, which are becoming more common than “What?” chants these days. Cena manages to get Ryback on his shoulders for the Attitude Adjustment, but Ryback flips the table before Cena can put him through it. After numerous failed attempts to kill Cena by throwing steel steps at him, Ryback receives the AA through a table and the match is tied at one a piece (I did not see that one coming).
— Stage 3: Ambulance Match
Ryback no-sells the AA through a table and even forgets the table match has ended as he slams Cena through the announce table. He does not even send Cena through the correct one, as Carlos Cabrera and Marcelo Rodriguez are so delighted at the survival of their table that they throw a fiesta in the background. That did not really happen. The third fall gets underway and Ryback carries Cena towards the ambulance, before the following series of events take place: Ryback is pushed head-first into the ambulance, Ryback punches through the ambulance window, Ryback is slammed into the ambulance again, Ryback is Irish-whipped into the ambulance door which falls off, Ryback is hit by Cena with said door, Ryback begins tearing apart the ambulance, Ryback is back-dropped (almost fatally) onto the ambulance hood, Ryback is hit with the ambulance lights, Ryback receives the AA through the ambulance roof. Moral of the story? Ryback sucks.
Cena wins the final ‘fall’ and retains his WWE Title. I would absolutely love to see him defend the title against Daniel Bryan in the near future. Hopefully, the Cena/Ryback feud is over and both men can move on to other things.
Match Length – 24:38
After match Cena celebrates with the WWE title and the ambulance drives away to conclude the show. I guess there was a post-show afterwards, but I fell asleep — the cons of watching in the United Kingdom.
Overall, I thought the show had more ups than downs — in fact, it was void of downs almost entirely. CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho was just about the perfect match, the tag team match was entertaining, RVD is returning and we got a better-than-normal divas bout. I really liked the double-turn too. Another huge plus was that each match received a decent amount of time to breathe and develop — the shortest contest was just under 10 minutes. And regardless of all of that, the Chicago crowd were tremendous and really added to the show as a whole.