WWE Payback: Winners and Losers from Sunday's Pay-Per-View
Sunday night, World Wrestling Entertainment unleashed Payback on a hot, energized and excited Chicago crowd. Championships switched hands, the "Best in the World" returned and John Cena and Ryback brought their two-month rivalry to its conclusion in the rare Three Stages of Hell match.
Who would be left standing at the end of the night? Which Superstars would experience the crushing defeat and the tremendous loss associated with losing not only a match, but also a coveted title? More importantly, which Superstars would experience the sheer ecstasy that comes with capturing a title on the big stage of WWE pay-per-view?
With Payback in the record books, here are the winners and losers from Sunday night's show.
WINNER: Curtis Axel
The third-generation Superstar continued his meteoric rise Sunday night by capturing his first singles championship, defeating The Miz and Wade Barrett in a Triple Threat match to win the Intercontinental title.
The finish of the match, a brilliant one that was unmatched by any the rest of the night, saw The Miz apply the Figure-Four to Barrett, only for Axel to sneak a quick pinfall over the champion and be declared the victor.
Axel's win immediately elevates a title that has been devalued severely in recent months. With an impending showdown with Triple H on the horizon, and Axel's place at the center of the McMahon family dissension, this is only the beginning of what could be a very successful summer for the former Michael McGillicutty.
WINNERS: The Divas
The second bout of the night pitted Divas champion Kaitlyn against AJ Lee in a match between two former best friends.
In what was the best Divas title match in recent history, both champion and challenger delivered solid performances, told their story and kept the fans entertained en route to AJ's first championship win.
The crowd applauded the win, despite AJ being the villain in the rivalry, while they booed a heartbroken Kaitlyn, who was left crying and needed to consoled by fellow Diva Layla.
AJ's win was the culmination of both a year-long push for the New Jersey native, which saw her become the hottest performer (male or female) on WWE programming throughout the summer of 2012, and a months-long storyline that saw a once-strong friendship crack and crumble before the WWE Universe's eyes.
The fact that the match exceeded expectations and resulted in a finished product that both performers should be proud of only helped to wrap up the story nicely.
WINNER: Dolph Ziggler
It may be difficult to sell to fans that the guy who lost the World Heavyweight Championship at Payback, after working so hard for so long to win it, is actually a so-called "winner."
But Dolph Ziggler, despite seeing his title slip away following a succession of kicks to the head that exploited his very real concussion, left the Allstate Arena in far better shape than he entered. That is because WWE, intentionally or not, executed a double turn that should help to propel Ziggler to heights he has not yet reached.
The victim of a brutal beating that turned even the strongest Alberto Del Rio supporters to his side, Ziggler showed tremendous resilience by kicking out of nearfalls and repeatedly extending the match.
The pure emotion he showed after the match, realizing his dream had been taken away from him because of an injury that did not allow him to perform up to his standards, was excellent and only helped to win him sympathy from those who, otherwise, would not have supported him.
Once the replays are shown over and over (and over) again on Raw, and the story of the match is told, there will be no way Ziggler can continue as a heel.
And, for the sake of his title prospects and win-loss record, that may be a good thing.
LOSER: Alberto Del Rio
The heel Alberto Del Rio who crowed about his destiny did not work.
The pandering babyface who defended his race against loud-mouth antagonists Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter failed.
Now, Del Rio once again finds himself changing characters, despite a World Heavyweight title win in one of the great wrestling cities in the world.
In what was presumably a rare wrestling double turn, Del Rio savagely and mercilessly assaulted the head of Dolph Ziggler, exploiting a concussion that had kept the WWE's resident Show-Off sidelined for over a month.
Del Rio's title win and character shift signals yet another change for a performer who has received chance after chance, but has yet to click with the audience in any role.
WINNER: CM Punk
"The Best in the World" returned after a three-month hiatus and barely missed a beat, working with Chris Jericho to deliver a Match of the Year nominee and the night's best bout.
The crowd in Chicago welcomed their favorite son with a reaction typically reserved for local iconic figures. The match that followed the goosebump-inducing entrance only made matters better, as it built and built before a hot finish that saw Punk deliver two consecutive Go to Sleep finishers to secure the win.
In most cases, a Superstar that sits on the sidelines for any extended period of time returns with a certain degree of ring rust to knock off. Punk, on the other hand, picked up right where he left off with a show-stealing performance, a reminder that he is among the premier performers of this generation.
WINNER: Daniel Bryan
The former World and Tag Team champion rode a wave of momentum into Payback and delivered another tremendous performance in a long line of them.
Proving to be nearly as popular as CM Punk in front of the Chicago fans, Bryan introduced excitement and energy into the tag team title match unlike anyone else could. Throwing his body around with reckless abandon, Bryan assaulted both Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns with dropkicks and dives before unintentionally catching partner Randy Orton.
Another accidental run-in with his partner would ultimately cost the challengers the match.
There is little doubt that Bryan is in the middle of the biggest, most sustained push of his career. He has done all that he can do in a tag team environment, at least for now. As the hottest star in the sport, it is time for him to split off on his own and achieve the singles success he deserves.
If that happens sooner, rather than later, the tag team title match at Payback was a hell of a conclusion to a hot run as a duos competitor.
LOSERS: John Cena and Ryback
The Three Stages of Hell match at Payback was a really good main event. The fact that both John Cena and Ryback find themselves as "losers" here has nothing to do with their individual performances or the quality of the match.
No, Cena and Ryback are losers because they were forced with the task of following what had been a hell of a pay-per-view up to the point of their main event title match and had almost no chance of living up to the standard set by the likes of CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, who are not only two of the best in-ring workers in the sport but were also the most over stars in Chicago.
The crowd remained hot for the main event, but a combination of poor booking leading into it and chemistry between the two performers that just never really formed, hurt the bout as a whole. As a result, there was that feeling of excitement missing from a match that, from a quality standpoint, had every right to go on last.
Cena and Ryback should be happy with the match, as should management and fans, but the lack of a truly great story behind it prevented it from being as memorable as it could have been.
WINNER: Rob Van Dam
Midway through Sunday's pay-per-view, a video package aired that hyped the return of Rob Van Dam to World Wrestling Entertainment at July's Money in the Bank pay-per-view.
The announcement was big enough that it would be considered huge news in any city. The fact that the fans in Chicago erupted in the manner they did made the return seem that much more important. Now, younger fans unfamiliar with Van Dam's work understand he is a big deal, while those who remember the former WWE and ECW champion from his stints in both companies can be excited for his impending return to the sport's top company in just under a month.
The subsequent video packages that will air on Raw and SmackDown, as well as potential footage from classic RVD matches, could go a long way in making it a truly special return on July 14.