Dean Ambrose def. Seth Rollins to Enter the Payback Main Event
Although the tension between Randy Orton and Roman Reigns occupied the nominal main event slot, two other matches stole the show. When Rollins called Kane a moron for putting him in a rematch against Ambrose, Kane punished Rollins by adding the stipulation that Ambrose could earn his way into the Payback title match with a win over Ambrose. As I have long expected, the fans reacted like crazy for Ambrose as soon as he got the chance, even after months of questionable booking.
Rollins and Ambrose proceeded to put on one of the best matches of the year. Ambrose dominated the early part of the match with stretches on the mat that would have made Stu Hart proud 100 years after his birth. Rollins took over until Ambrose hit a tornado DDT and a bulldog. He followed it with a suicide dive, an atomic drop facebuster, and an elbow drop for a near fall.
Ambrose slapped Rollins and Rollins finally responded with a superkick. An Ambrose clothesline sent them both to the floor, where Rollins frighteningly powerbombed him into the barricade. Rollins thought he had won, but Ambrose made it back into the ring at the count of nine. Another Ambrose clothesline encouraged J&J Security to break the “banned from ringside” stipulation and try to save Rollins. Instead, they distracted him long enough for Ambrose to roll him up with a school-boy and get the very surprising pin.
While there was never a chance to forget how good Rollins is, the match served as a reminder of how great Ambrose can be. Rollins helped Ambrose by taking a ton of punishment in the match and selling for him like few others would. Moreover, it’s encouraging to see the supremely talented Ambrose back on the right track.
Montreal Hijacks John Cena Promo
The recent Cena resurgence around his US Open Challenge apparently did not make its way north of the border. The boos and “Cena sucks” chants were so loud and persistent that Cena could not get through his speech about his passion and ideals. He finally got them on his side with a cheap pop for the Canadiens. He worked hard to make the best of a bad situation to give way to the Open Challenge.
John Cena def. Sami Zayn to Remain U.S. Champion
The pop of the night- and one of the biggest of the year- came when Bret Hart’s music hit for the Open Challenge and the Hitman actually returned to the ring in Montreal. As he started to introduce Cena’s challenger, Heath Slater interrupted him and insulted the fans. As he continued to complain, Hart smashed him with the microphone and brought out Sami Zayn to a reaction that arguably matched Hart’s.
Very shortly into the match, Zayn fell badly on his left shoulder in a side suplex. The ringside doctor checked him out and it appeared that the match might end prematurely. Given Zayn’s persona as the ultimate underdog, it was hard to tell how much of the pain on his face was a work and how much was the result of what seemed to be a legitimate injury.
In spite of the pain, Zayn countered the Five Knuckle Shuffle into a rollup. He followed it with a springboard cross-body and a tope con giro to the floor. Cena locked in the STF back in the ring. Zayn reached the ropes and responded with a Koji Clutch. When Cena rolled through, he tried an AA, but Zayn flipped through and sent Cena to the floor. He hit his DDT through the corner ropes and pulled Cena back into the ring.
As soon as they reentered, Cena hit an AA, but Zayn kicked out at two. Cena paused in stunned disbelief and Zayn hit a Blue Thunder Bomb for a near fall of his own. Zayn and Cena exchanged punches until Cena came off the ropes with the springboard stunner and a second AA to get the pin. Cena classily held Zayn’s arm up after the match and left the ring to let him take in the cheers from his fans.
All credit goes to WWE for getting this decision exactly right. Zayn could not have had a better debut than one against Cena, introduced by Hart, and in front of an adoring home crowd. It was the type of synergy between a wrestler and the fans that make matches like Cena-CM Punk at Money in the Bank 2011 so memorable. Some may say it was an easy decision, but sometimes the easy decisions are also the best possible ones. Zayn gets plenty of credit, too, as he fought through a tough situation and reinforced the idea that he’s incapable of having a bad match.
Tensions Escalate between Randy Orton and Roman Reigns
Orton and Reigns exchanged insults to open Raw and the fans heartily backed Orton. New Day interrupted them and announced that Kane scheduled them in a 3-on-2 match to open the show. New Day looked good in the match and benefited from their brush with the main event. Orton hit Xavier Woods with an RKO, but Kofi Kingston dodged a spear and Reigns hit Orton. Kingston took advantage of the situation and covered Orton to get the upset win and create more animosity between Orton and Reigns.
After the opening match, Kane scheduled a singles match between the teammates as the show’s main event with The Authority surrounding the ring. They wrestled a phyical match until Orton countered a spear with a snap powerslam and a hangman’s DDT. Reigns avoided the RKO and hit a Superman Punch to put Orton down, but Kane decked Reigns and The Authority started to gang up on both Reigns and Orton.
The fans chanted for Ambrose until he finally ran to the ring and cleared J&J Security and Kane to leave the Fatal Fourway participants in the ring. Reigns speared Orton, Orton RKO’d Reigns, and Ambrose hit Dirty Deeds on Orton to end the show standing as tall as he ever has. It was a stunning reversal from the losing streak for Ambrose that ended only a week ago.
Ryback and Bray Wyatt Exchange Words
Ryback showed how far he has come in his interactions with the crowd when he good-naturedly squashed a “Goldberg” chant and got the fans back on his side. He gave a heartfelt promo that harkened back to prime Hulk Hogan corniness, but at least he sold it well. At the end, he said that the time for talk was over. Unfortunately, Wyatt immediately answered with more words. Once again, for Wyatt less is often more. I think he would have been better served to remain quiet after his recent attacks on Ryback.
King Barrett and Sheamus def. Dolph Ziggler and Neville
Two of the more enteratining mid-card programs joined into a high octane tag match. Neville rekindled the King of the Ring final with Barrett with a plancha and a standing shooting star press. Ziggler and Sheamus brawled on the floor where Sheamus bodyslammed Ziggler into the time keeper’s area. Sheamus got in the way of a Red Arrow and Barrett caught Neville with the Bullhammer as he leapt back into the ring. Barrett needs wins like this one and an elevation to higher-profile matches if his KOTR victory is to mean anything.
Naomi and Tamina Attack the Bella Twins
During the Bellas’ ring entrance, Naomi and the returning Tamina jumped them and left them laid out on the entrance ramp. The pairing makes sense, as Tamina is the cousin of Naomi’s husband. The pairing and her new braids also make Naomi even more intimidating.
Tyson Kidd and Cesaro def. The Ascension
In spite of great evidence of failure, the Ascension continued with their same attitude in a pre-match promo. They had some success early, but Cesaro got a big reaction on a hot tag. He plowed through Viktor with eight running uppercuts to set up the Swing into Kidd’s dropkick to win.
While Kidd and Cesaro will have to defy recent history to maintain relevance outside of the Tag Title picture, their organic face turn is off to a good start. It helps that they don’t have to change their behavior much to get there.
Rusev def. Fandango
Rusev was angry at Lana when Fandango hit on her backstage before their match. He got even more angry when she responded to his prompts to dance with him outside the ring during the match. Fandango sidestepped Rusev’s charge and sent him into the ring post to briefly control the match. Rusev’s rage overwhelmed Fandango, though, with a leaping superkick and the Accolade to make him tap out. Rusev celebrated by himself with Lana sent to the back.
Even though he lost, at least Fandango didn’t look like a complete joke. The fissure between Lana and Rusev makes me think that they will reconcile to beat John Cena at Payback.
Stardust def. R-Truth
Although Truth controlled the match, he could not help but look in the bag Stardust brought with him to the ring. The bag was full of toy spiders, which scared Truth enough that Stardust got a pin. The only redemption in the segment was the acknowledgment by the announcers that it was as stupid as it sounds.