When the announcement was made on May 20th that Paul Heyman would be taking on a new client in the absence of CM Punk and Brock Lesnar, quite a few names circulated around the IWC as to who might be the latest wrestler to join Paul E's stable. Rob van Dam, recently released from TNA, was a favorite. Long shots like Christian or John Morrison were mentioned. The WWE, however, gave us all a surprise that no one saw coming. They pulled a former NXT rookie, Michael McGillicutty, from the depths of jobbing and obscurity, rechristened him with a name that reflected his substantial pedigree, and gave us the third "Paul Heyman guy," Curtis Axel. They gave him a modernized version of his father's entrance theme, and decided to let Heyman work the mic in his favor. At first glance, the WWE deserved a round of applause for this new character, not only for completely surprising the audience, but for saving the career of a young, third-generation wrestler who had been floundering for over a year without a gimmick, storyline, or quality camera time. When Triple H interrupted Heyman to suggest a match between himself and Axel later that night -when The Game hadn't wrestled a match on Raw in over 3 years- it became obvious that Axel had become the WWE brass' new pet, and that fans should expect to see a lot of him over the coming weeks.
Subsequent episodes of Raw showed Axel "defeating" both Triple H and John Cena more than once, although each victory came by disqualification, count out, or his opponent's inability to finish the match. It was all starting to seem a little premature; after all, this is the man who merely a few weeks ago was parading around as Michael McGillicutty, confined to Superstars and NXT. Any time he appeared on Raw or Smackdown, it was to participate in lumberjack matches and battle royals. It was too soon, and it showed. Fans failed to boo or cheer Axel; they hadn't forgotten his McGillicutty character, and they weren't too quick to jump on the bandwagon and support him. Axel's fortune, and apparently his standing with the higher-ups, would continue to turn.
While Axel hadn't yet been booked for a match for Payback, the Triple Threat for the Intercontinental title between Wade Barrett, The Miz and Fandango had been brewing for some time. Barrett and Miz had bad blood between them dating back to their preshow match at WrestleMania, and Fandango was thrown into the mix after defeating Barrett in a non-title match on Raw, in which Miz acted as the referee. When the match was announced for Payback, many assumed that Fandango would leave the pay-per-view as the Intercontinental champion due to his rise in popularity since his clean defeat of Chris Jericho at 'Mania. A botched Broski Boot from Zack Ryder on Smackdown less than two weeks before Payback would give Fandango a concussion, rendering him unable to compete in his first title match. The correct course of action for WWE would have been to rewrite the match as a one-on-one bout, billing it as a rematch of 'Mania's preshow. Instead, preposterously, Curtis Axel was chosen as Fandango's replacement in the match, despite having no recent history with either of the two men involved. In fact, Axel's dealings with both Miz and Barrett came when he was working under his McGillicutty gimmick in NXT, and as a member of The Nexus. It was during this time period that Miz called McGillicutty "mediocre," a rookie and a "wannabe."
The thrusting of Axel in this match is outrageous because not only is he failing to garner any type of crowd reaction at all, but there are a handful of more deserving candidates to act as Fandango's replacement. Neither Antonio Cesaro nor Cody Rhodes have matches at Payback, and both of them have been booked horribly the past few months. Cesaro didn't even have a match at WrestleMania despite holding the United States title at the time, and Rhodes' tag team match against Tons of Funk was scrapped mid-show due to time constraints. Clearly Triple H is a fan of Axel, but shoving him down the WWE Universe's collective throats when they have failed to develop any type of connection to him at all is not the way to earn his popularity. And though it's true that Paul Heyman does have a way of promoting a wrestler and putting the focus on his positive characteristics, even he can't elevate a former jobber to a main event star overnight. Axel's association with Heyman, and his favor with Triple H behind the scenes, has served as the golden ticket to push him above other wrestlers and helped him to obtain a title match, less than a month after he was relatively unknown and forgotten by the average fan. Politics, in its purest form, and unless handled with care, it will backfire.
Though the name Curtis Axel was created to pay homage to both his father and grandfather, Axel has yet to show a sliver of Mr. Perfect's charisma. Mr. Perfect had been wrestling for nearly a decade when he won his first Intercontinental Title; the win came in his second WWF tenure. Certainly Axel deserves a push and a title shot eventually, but he needs to get there on his own. His placement in the Triple Threat makes no sense from a storyline standpoint or even a fan's standpoint; Zack Ryder suggested that since he was the one to injure Fandango, that he ought to take Fandango's place in the match. Callous? Yes, but it would have made more sense.
Curtis Axel should absolutely not win the Intercontinental Title on Sunday at Payback. Though Fandango was the projected winner, Axel should be used as a replacement and nothing more. Having him win the title, especially when he lacks that familiarity and visibility of someone like Fandango, will only serve to send the former McGillicutty and his new gimmick backpedaling. If Axel were to emerge victorious, it would be an enormous affront to Wade Barrett, who, though he has all the potential in the world, has been booked far too horribly for far too long. He's held the Intercontinental Title for over 6 months, but he isn't lauded or treated as the champion. He's constantly losing matches and pinfalls. He's even had his entrance theme revamped to some generic jobber rock that was better suited to one of Ryback's local opponents than a bareknuckle fighting future World Champion. Barrett deserves better than to lose the title to someone who was thrown in the match simply because he was repackaged and joined with a large mouthpiece as a manager. If the writers have determined that Barrett must lose the title, have him lose to The Miz. It is much too soon for Axel to even be participating in a title match, but since it's already been booked, the smartest thing for the WWE to do would be to keep the championship off his waist.