Daniel Bryan continued to rage against the machine as the September 2, 2013 edition of Monday Night Raw hit the USA Network airwaves.
Triple H and WWE champion Randy Orton would continue their reign of terror over the company, targeting several young Superstars as they did what they believe was best for business. Cody Rhodes, The Big Show and Dolph Ziggler were all targets of the new regime.
Elsewhere on the show, CM Punk offered harsh words for Paul Heyman and Curtis Axel and warned fans about the type of violence they would be exposed to if they watch his match at Night of Champions.
The Miz and Fandango took their rivalry to the next level in singles action while top contender to the World Heavyweight Championship Rob Van Dam was showcased. The Prime Time Players surged, and Rhodes and Orton stole the show in a hot, emotion-filled match.
What was good, great and awesome about this week's episode of Raw?
Find out inside.
The Miz vs. Fandango
The latest development in the entertaining, if unimportant, midcard feud between The Miz and Fandango took place Monday night as they met one-on-one in the night's opening contest.
It was a fine way to start the night's show and, if it was the end of their brief angle, it ended with Miz applying the Figure Four and forcing Fandango to tap out. The win allows the babyface to come out on top in the rivalry, and the loss is yet another in a long line of them for the once-hot young heel.
Where either goes from here remains a mystery. Fandango is a solid midcard heel and will likely remain in the same spot he is currently in. Miz, on the other hand, has the opportunity to become mixed up in the Corporation story and serve as more babyface opposition for the power-hungry Triple H.
The Prime Time Players vs. 3MB (Slater and Mahal)
The rapid rise of the Prime Time Players up the tag team ranks continued Monday night as Titus O'Neil and Darren Young took on 3MB's Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal.
Young and O'Neil picked up an impressive win over the promotion's established rock and roll jobbers when Titus delivered a sit-out spinebuster to Mahal for the win.
The Prime Time Players have done an excellent job in recent weeks of showing great energy and keeping the crowd on their side, all the while amassing a solid winning streak that has them in contention to challenge Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns for the tag team titles in the near future.
Rob Van Dam vs. Damien Sandow
To say that the Rob Van Dam-Alberto Del Rio World Heavyweight Championship feud is not exactly setting the world on fire would be an understatement. Fortunately, Monday's Raw featured a solid wrestling segment to help build to their upcoming showdown at Night of Champions.
In the night's penultimate match, Van Dam took on Money in the Bank winner Damien Sandow in singles action. Midway through, however, Del Rio nearly threw off "Mr. Monday Night's" concentration by making his entrance. Van Dam, perhaps more focused than ever, was able to overcome the distraction and finish Sandow moments later with the Five-Star Frog Splash.
After the bout, Del Rio stood atop the entrance stage holding the World title high overhead as Van Dam and former Del Rio associate Ricardo Rodriguez watched from the squared circle.
Like the majority of the angle thus far, the booking on Monday was nothing spectacular, but it spotlighted the match and reminded fans that Van Dam and Del Rio were, in fact, feuding over the title.
Dolph Ziggler feels the wrath of The Shield
One of the most consistent targets of the Triple H regime has been Dolph Ziggler, and that did not change Monday night. Sent to the ring for a match against a competitor he was not made aware of, Ziggler watched the entrance from inside the squared circle, impatiently waiting for the challenge his boss would put in front of him.
Then, United States champion and Shield member Dean Ambrose attacked from out of nowhere. He threw Ziggler shoulder-first into the steel post and told WWE's resident Show Off that he would teach him respect for the business.
The most recent interaction between Ziggler and Ambrose would seemingly point to a U.S. title match between the two at the upcoming Night of Champions pay-per-view on September 15. While most would not have seen Ziggler back in that position on the card given the fact that he was World champion just over two months ago, it keeps him involved in the most high-profile storyline in the company.
The beating suffered at the hands of Ambrose would not spell the end of Ziggler's night, however.
Ziggler vs. Ryback
As it turns out, Ambrose was not the hand-selected opponent for Dolph Ziggler. With the former World champion still lodged in the corner, his shoulder meeting steel, Ryback's music played and things became significantly worse for Ziggler.
Ryback dominated early, tossing his injured opponent around the ring with much ease. The big guy became too overconfident, however, and allowed the resilient Ziggler to catch him off guard. As Ryback exploded across the ring for his trademark Meat Hook clothesline, Ziggler delivered a dropkick that caught him underneath the chin. A big splash in the corner and a flurry of rights and lefts to the head followed, but Ryback would end Ziggler's comeback with the aforementioned Meat Hook, followed by Shell Shocked for the win.
The match gave Ryback a much-needed win and added another layer to Ziggler's involvement in the overarching Triple H storyline, which will likely end with Ziggler eventually standing beside Daniel Bryan, and others, in their fight against the boss.
CM Punk addresses Heyman, Axel and Night of Champions
Even when he is not as great as he typically is, CM Punk is better than most. Monday night was no exception, as he cut a passionate promo about Paul Heyman and Curtis Axel following the kendo stick attack from last week.
He reiterated his intentions to get his hands on Heyman, even if he had to go through Intercontinental champion Axel to do it.
The gem of the entire segment was Punk warning the fans in attendance that he could live with what he would do to Axel and Heyman on September 15, but he was not sure that they, his fans, could. It was a strong statement from someone who, although he is technically a babyface, has never pandered to fans nor asked for their support. Giving those people a warning like that was an excellent example of how a few words can change the intensity of a rivalry and take it to an entirely new level.
The promo was nothing fans have not heard before, but Punk executed it with such conviction and such belief in what he was saying that it elevated the entire segment.
That is what separates the great performers from the really good ones.
Daniel Bryan vs. The World...also starring The Big Show and Cody Rhodes
The headlining angle in today's World Wrestling Entertainment, featuring Daniel Bryan's war against the all-powerful Triple H and his hand-selected champion in Randy Orton, has resulted in some of the most focused, interesting and entertaining booking from the promotion in years.
Monday night's episode of Raw continued The Game's reign of terror across the entire three-hour broadcast of the company's flagship show, as no less than four different Superstars felt the wrath of the COO.
Dolph Ziggler's continued punishment has already been discussed in this article. New to the equation this week was Cody Rhodes, who had the audacity to speak up to Triple H about the boss' determination to keep Bryan away from the WWE title. Rhodes, who is days away from his wedding, was punished with a match against Orton in which the young second-generation star's career would be in jeopardy.
Rhodes and Orton had an outstanding match that had the crowd eating out of the palm of their hands late. The WWE champion fired up the crowd, inciting a chorus of boos as he signaled for the RKO. He grabbed Cody around the head, but Rhodes countered into the Cross Rhodes and appeared to be seconds away from the biggest win of his career.
Then Orton kicked out. Seconds later, Rhodes missed with a Disaster Kick and injured his own knee, making him prone for the RKO. As Orton celebrated his victory, Triple H appeared on the ramp and fired Rhodes, much to the dismay of fans and announcers alike.
The career of one of the company's brightest young stars was brought to a premature end in a bit of booking brilliance that allows the COO to look like a heartless, vile businessman and also sets up the eventual triumphant return for Rhodes, who suddenly finds himself the object of fan support, something he was having trouble obtaining in the first month of his babyface turn.
Later in the night, Triple H and his wife, Stephanie, set their sights on making Big Show's life miserable after the giant refused to face Bryan in the night's main event. During an in-ring promo in which she was the perfect, disingenuous "friend" to the giant, she exposed his personal business, revealing that the World's Largest Athlete had a number of bad business decisions cost him millions and that now he needed his job with WWE to support his family (despite an iron-clad contract that awards him his guaranteed money even if he is fired, but really, who's keeping track?).
Show turned on the waterworks and sobbed as he was faced with doing something he did not want to do, for people he did not want to be associated with. As the main event approached, something would have to give.
Bryan was tremendous in the role of determined babyface, unaffected by his friendship with Big Show, his sights set solely on continuing his quest back to the WWE title. Big Show pleaded with him, telling the tenacious-yet-smaller star that he did not want the fight and that Bryan could walk away and end it.
That did not go over well.
The match went on as scheduled. Later on in the contest, Big Show was poised to deliver the knockout punch and pick up a huge win over the top contender to the sport's most coveted prize. Instead, he walked away and climbed over the ropes, drawing Triple H and The Shield to the ring. Ambrose, Rollins and Reigns triple-teamed Bryan while Show watched from the aisle.
This brought out Stephanie, who reminded Show of everything he had to lose. Tears poured down the face of the giant as he re-entered the ring and teased hitting Triple H before finally knocking Bryan out and leaving to a chorus of "you sold out" chants.
Orton made his way to the ring and posed over his fallen top contender to close out the evening's broadcast.
The main storyline on Raw is a layered one that has, in recent weeks, built up the evil empire as a dominant and corrupt force that will, eventually, be defeated by a triumphant hero. Bryan is that hero and, with the inclusion of Big Show, Cody Rhodes and Dolph Ziggler in fringe storylines, will potentially lead a group of surging babyfaces into battle against the proverbial machine.
It is a war the likes that have not been seen since the glory days of the National Wrestling Alliance, when the Four Horsemen would target top threats to their dominance. Eventually, men such as Dusty Rhodes, Magnum TA, Barry Windham, the Road Warriors, Nikita Koloff and Lex Luger—men with little or nothing in common—would band together to battle their common enemy. Jim Crockett Promotions made a lot of money settling those rivalries in War Games, a two-ring steel-cage battle between teams.
While it is unlikely WWE will ever bring the fan-favorite match out of mothballs, it has crafted a storyline that takes the best of the 1980's NWA and the 1990's Attitude Era and has molded it together in one of its best angles in years.
Cody Rhodes' exit interview
One Superstar deserving special mention after Monday night was young Cody Rhodes, who delivered the promo of his career as he was escorted out of the building by security following his loss to Orton earlier in the evening.
Rhodes, with passion in his voice and tears in his eyes, discussed how WWE has made a mockery of his family in the past and how the loss adversely affects his impending marriage.
Like CM Punk earlier in the evening, Rhodes showed real emotion and conviction, and it was not difficult for the audience to believe every word he said. It was the type of promo everyone believed Rhodes was capable of cutting but, for whatever reason, was never given the opportunity to.
It was a star-making two minutes that hopefully will be followed up on in a satisfying manner.