WWE's first Payback pay-per-view was a mostly masterful event, a night of new champions, stunning stories and memorable moments and matches.
Three Superstars walked out as new champions. CM Punk made a triumphant return to the ring. The Divas gave us fantastic theater.
WWE failed to capitalize on the tension between Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton and the event had its other negatives as well, including an up-and-down main event, but the highlights were many.
Beginning with Curtis Axel mirroring his father's career to Chicago's fervent reaction to CM Punk, here are the most memorable and thrilling elements of WWE Payback 2013.
Curtis Axel ended his match with the Intercontinental title in his grasp, looking up at the sky in a poetic and emotional moment of symmetry.
Axel's father, Curt Hennig, was one of the great IC champs in WWE history and for Axel to win the same title on Father's Day was a great move.
Paul Heyman urged Axel on throughout his battle against The Miz and Wade Barrett. He told him to pick his spots and directed and motivated his protégé. Heyman and Axel would end the match in a tight embrace.
The Miz seemed to have the match won.
He clamped on the Figure-Four Leglock and Axel slipped into the ring, climbed atop Barrett and pinned him to become the new champion. Fandango's absence provided Axel an opportunity that turned out to be a golden one.
Axel's push continues with the added momentum of a championship.
Curtis Axel follows in his late father Curt Hennig's footsteps,claiming Intercontinental title at Payback PPV.#NiceFathersDayGesture— Mauro Ranallo (@mauroranallo) June 17, 2013
The Divas title match built on their story of revenge with fantastic results.
Given ample time to tell a compelling story in the ring, AJ Lee and Kaitlyn did just that. Their match was the clash that most utilized the pay-per-view's theme of payback.
After being catfished and humiliated by AJ, Kaitlyn went into this match enraged. She pounded on the devious AJ, slapping her around and at one point, tossing her over the announce table.
The match featured AJ selling the spear like a boss and the challenger pulling an Eddie Guerrero by cracking Kaitlyn over the head with a belt buckle and then feigning that she was hurt in front of the referee.
Kaitlyn had the match won, but too caught up with the personal nature of their feud, with seeking revenge, she took too long to pin AJ and it led to her eventually watching her former friend walk away with the Divas title.
AJ slipped on the Black Widow submission and the first time around, Kaitlyn countered it. Later on, it proved to be just as responsible for the title changing hands as Kaitlyn losing focus in a haze of rage.
That was a great divas match with two solid false finishes. Kaitlyn and AJ have some great years ahead of them #WWEPayback— The History of WWE (@TheHistoryofWWE) June 17, 2013
Dean Ambrose was one of the few champions to walk out of the Allstate Arena with his championship, and it took a moment of cleverness to do so.
While he and challenger Kane fought outside, Ambrose angered the Big Red Machine by slapping him in the face and laughing about it. This insulting act led to Kane snapping. He tried to send Ambrose through a table, but Ambrose was ready for him.
The United States champ hit a DDT and slipped back in to the ring just in time to gain a count-out victory.
This win is a way to make Kane look strong in spite of the loss, while keeping Ambrose's momentum going. Ambrose added a big win to his growing resume and awaits his next challenger.
WWE announced during the pay-per-view that former WWE champ Rob Van Dam would return during next month's Money in the Bank. For a man so adept at using ladders, there couldn't be a better time to bring him back.
The Chicago fans were so pumped about the announcement that they took to chanting Van Dam's name during slow points in matches. Several audience members did the trademark self-pointing gesture made famous by Van Dam.
Whichever Money in the Bank Ladder match that has Van Dam involved is going to see a lot more chanting come July 14.
In case you missed it earlier, here's the video promoting RVD's return at Money in the Bank http://t.co/5OWnD32uFv
— Ringside Xcess (@RingsideXcess) June 17, 2013
Dolph Ziggler lost his World Heavyweight Championship to Alberto Del Rio at Payback, but the bigger story is that we may have witnessed a double turn.
By attacking Ziggler's head and preying on his recent concussion, Del Rio looked overly aggressive, even vicious. He mercilessly stomped on Ziggler's head, headbutted him and focused nearly all of his offense on Ziggler's temples.
On the flip side, the fact that Ziggler held on for so long made him look rather heroic. The Show-Off was extremely gutsy, refusing to give in even as Del Rio's attacks wobbled his legs and had him seeing stars.
If this was indeed a means to have Ziggler go from bad guy to good guy and have Del Rio take the reverse journey, Chicago was the perfect place to do it. The fans were already behind Ziggler and went with the story WWE was telling, booing Del Rio after his title win.
Monday's WWE Raw is going to be very interesting with these two men slipping into new roles.
The Wrestlemania 13 double turn is legendary. This match will go down the same way. Be patient, be positive, they won't let Dolph disappear.— Breaking Kayfabe (@BreakingKayfabe) June 17, 2013
WWE couldn't have better timed having CM Punk return to action, having him go up against longtime rival Chris Jericho in Punk's hometown of Chicago.
The Chicago fans roared as Punk's music hit and grew even louder when Punk came out sporting mutton chops and Chicago Blackhawk-themed wrestling trunks.
The crowd ate up everything the two stars had to offer from a standing version of the Anaconda Vice to several near-finishes. It was Payback's best match and stole the show as many expected.
Another excellent battle between Jericho and Punk had the fans energized and loud, especially when Punk hit Jericho with two GTS finishers in a row for the win.
During John Cena's successful WWE title defense, one surprising moment stood out amidst a series of ambulance-centered violent spots.
In the first fall of Cena and Ryback's Three Stages of Hell match, the lumberjacks began to brawl with each other. Ryback ignited the incendiary tension between them by pushing someone trying to help him up and soon found himself under a pile of humanity.
The WWE champ took the opportunity to climb to the top rope and fly into the fray.
It was a surprising move from a man whose offense so often centers around power. It will certainly provide an image for WWE to reuse again and again.
The result of the match may have been predictable, but the action did provide a number of memorable spots including Cena sending Ryback through the roof of the ambulance, both of them using every part of that vehicle as a weapon and Cena's impression of Rey Mysterio from the first fall.
— 11 Years Strong (@TeamCenaNation) June 17, 2013