Curtis Axel is already leaving a strange impression. The writers want us to believe he’s ‘lucky’, but scoring fluke victories over successive big names across two episodes suggests that either a) the stars won’t job cleanly to Axel or b) WWE don’t want to jump the gun with him just yet. Either way, nothing Axel has done so far is making much of a statement. Cena upgraded his Payback match with Ryback into a 3 Stages of Hell, adding a Tables and Lumberjack bout to the Ambluance stipulation, though it’s become clear that Axel is the man in need of a few lumberjacks after his second count-out victory in two weeks.
Another force in need of a jumpstart is The Shield. No one can deny their talent, but after watching all three members retain their titles this week, JBL’s statement of “It’s déjà vu all over again” felt very much on the money. Ambrose, Reigns and Rollins are exactly where they aimed to be, triumphantly raising their midcard and tag championships above their heads. Where next for the hounds of justice?
Contrasting The Shield’s unity were ripples of tension felt throughout a number of partnerships in the WWE locker room. This began with AJ Lee losing her temper at Big E Langston – a sure sign that without Ziggler to steer the ship, these two just don’t have all that much in common. Elsewhere, Kane and Daniel Bryan teased unease, with Bryan informing his partner, “You’re just Kane.” All tag teams naturally outstay their welcome in time, and with the limited number of truly decent partnerships currently competing in the division, Kane and Bryan have more or less fought everyone about fifteen times over. There’s nothing much left for them to do; but then again, what is the alternative? A solo Kane would be at risk of devolving into the boring shadow of a monster he was during his bald era, which began almost ten years ago. Bryan may fare a little better, though there’s always the frightening possibility that he’ll be given the poisoned chalice of televisual entertainment: feuding with Sheamus.
Bret Hart popped up to soothe the tension between the former tag team champions. While it’s amusing to think that he showed up just for this, his presence was in fact required as part of the Bret Hart Appreciation Night set for after Raw. Michael Cole told us we could follow the show exclusively through the WWE App. Is everything now migrating to the app? Soon WWE.com will be but a 404 error page. Shawn Michaels was also on hand to give sage, old man advice, looking as if he’d aged 20 years since leaving the company. His shtick, as ever, is to warn people about fighting each other despite this being an industry centred on fighting.
But the best moment of tension was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, a long-term seed planted between two individuals – one of whom wasn’t even in attendance. On the Highlight Reel, Jericho burrowed under Heyman’s skin by implying that Punk’s walkout was even a surprise to his own manager. It threw Heyman off-guard a little; could there be cracks forming in this presently non-existent business relationship? As with Kane/Bryan, these things run their course, and with the amount of heels from Ziggler to Ryback to The Shield (and purportedly, Orton’s impending turn), could it be time for Punk to return as a face, and go up against his former manager’s new client, Curtis Axel? I’d bet my bottom dollar on it.