By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Stephanie McMahon Returned to Confront Shane McMahon
There have been rumblings for weeks that The Authority was on their way back to WWE TV, but I hoped it wouldn't be this soon despite the show emanating from Connecticut, the home state of the McMahons. Granted, Triple H was nowhere to be seen, but you have to know he isn't far behind and we could see him on Sunday at Payback. Is the reveal of Raw's official authority figure really a hook at this point? I'd rather see no one in charge at all, or at least what we've had in recent weeks with Shane. At any rate, he and Stephanie have good chemistry together (obviously because they're siblings), so they made this segment somewhat entertaining with their back-and-forth on the mic.
AJ Styles def. Sheamus
Just imagine how much more this match would have meant a few years ago when Sheamus was still relevant. But hey, I can't complain about fresh matchups. They actually contested a well-wrestled match, but the crowd didn't buy into any of Sheamus' offense and it's hard to blame them because he hasn't been a legitimate threat in some time. Nevertheless, good work from these two and another nice win for Styles en route to his upcoming WWE World Heavyweight Championship match.
The Vaudevillians Interrupted WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day
I've been skeptical since their arrival on the main roster as to how The Vaudevillians would get over, but similar to their showing on SmackDown last week, they did well for themselves here. Enzo, Cass and The New Day were enjoyable on the mic as always, but The Vaudevillians were surprisingly pleasant, and hopefully that continues going forward. This was a simple, straightforward segment to hype the finals of the No. 1 Contender's WWE Tag Team Championship Tournament, though I question why the tag title match isn't being held at the pay-per-view as well.
Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson def. The Usos
Did anyone else find it strange that The Vaudevillians decimated The Usos in a matter of minutes last week yet it took Gallows and Anderson significantly longer to put them away? I guess you could say The Usos were selling their shoulder injuries last week, but either way, this was an extended squash match designed to get Gallows and Anderson over as a dominant duo and it did so successfully. I could have done without Roman Reigns attacking them afterward, but it was a logical move storyline-wise for Reigns to wanting to exact revenge and save his cousins.
Sami Zayn def. Rusev
Similar to Sheamus, it's a shame Rusev isn't as threatening of a heel as he was one year ago, but I liked this contest more than Styles vs. Sheamus because it wasn't as much of a mismatch. Zayn always works best from underneath and that was the case in this match with Rusev on offense for the better part of the bout. Zayn winning was the right move because he can't lose every match he's in (although he typically looks strong in defeat) and Rusev was the perfect opponent to beat given he's not doing anything at the moment. By the way, when did Lana start managing Rusev again? And why did they ever split up a few months ago to begin with? Kevin Owens' post-match attack furthered their feud nicely, and that video package highlighting their feud from over the past two years was absolutely excellent.
Apollo Crews def. Stardust
Well, at least it wasn't another member of The Social Outcasts, even though Stardust means just as much (or less) as they do. I liked the backstage segment that set up the match with Crews saying Stardust's father Dusty Rhodes played a part in his development in NXT. And no, the Cody Rhodes name drop does not mean the character is returning any time soon, so don't ask. This was a step above Crews' last few squashes, but I'm ready for him to settle into his first feud sooner rather than later.
Dean Ambrose Called Out Chris Jericho
When Ambrose isn't trying to be too cute with his comedy, he's fantastic on the mic, and I'm glad we got that serious version of Ambrose in this segment. Jericho was equally awesome in his response, and I'll never get tired of him taking jabs at the crowd whenever they attempt to cheer him. This was what I was waiting for all along throughout this rivalry and this was a fitting time for it considering their match is coming up in six days. Their subsequent brawl was a solid sneak peek of what to expect at Payback, and the Walls of Jericho on the announce table was a cool visual as well.
Natalya def. Emma
I distinctly remember these two having a hell of a match on NXT a few years back. Of course, this is Raw and not NXT, so I didn't expect them to get the time they deserved, but they made the most of what they were allotted. I was also happy Emma was able to shine at some points in addition to receiving an entrance, but I didn't like how the finish seemingly came out of nowhere. Charlotte did well on commentary and the presence of Bret Hart in Natalya's corner at Payback should be interesting.
Baron Corbin vs. Damien Sandow Went to a No Contest
To my knowledge, this marked (or would have marked) the first time Sandow wrestled on Raw in close to a year. How sad. I was fine with Dolph Ziggler attacking Corbin before the bout because he was simply repaying the favor from SmackDown, and Ziggler needed to get the upper hand over Corbin before he presumably gets beaten by Corbin in their Payback match (as he should).
Cesaro Interrupted Intercontinental Champion The Miz
I think the writers are trying too hard with Miz's character by having him recite memorable lines from famous movies. I thoroughly enjoy his pairing with Maryse, but the segment jumped the shark once he and Cesaro started imitating movie characters. Nevertheless, I remain optimistic regarding their pending title match, and if nothing else, it's refreshing to see a midcard title feud receive promo time for a change. Speaking of which, where the hell has Kalisto been lately?
WWE World Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns def. Alberto Del Rio
Who did officials honestly expect fans to cheer for in this match? Del Rio has never meant less and Reigns received loud boos earlier in the evening, so they knew what they were getting themselves into by the time the main event came around. Regardless, Reigns and Del Rio deserve credit for contesting a decent matchup and the crowd sided with Reigns when he hit signature spots. The match didn't do much for me, but the post-match angle with Reigns, Styles, Gallows and Anderson going at it was strong. The apparent (or not-so-apparent) alliance between the former Bullet Club members is the most intriguing factor going into Payback and I can't wait to see how it plays out.
If you were expecting anything exciting from this show, you were likely disappointed, but I thought as a go-home show, it was effective in boosting or at least maintaining my level of anticipation for the Payback pay-per-view. The McMahon family drama was thankfully kept limited to the opening segment and the Styles and Reigns narrative was the focus of the evening as it should have been. Payback has plenty of potential on paper to deliver and there are several matches on the card, including the main event, that I am very much looking forward to.