By Graham "GSM" Matthews
John Cena Addressed the WWE Universe
Cena standing inside the Steel Cage was cool a nice touch given that he'll be fighting Bray Wyatt in the same structure at Extreme Rules, but I couldn't take some of his early mic work seriously. Trust me, folks, that's the closest we'll ever get to seeing a heel Cena, as I don't think any of this leads to him turning. Nevertheless, I figured he'd go from being somber to being fired up and confident going into Sunday, but that didn't end up being the case. Wyatt coming down with the chorus of kids was eerie and straight up awesome. The visual of them all wearing sheep masks as they went to commercial gave me goosebumps. I really hope this doesn't mean Cena wins the rematch, as WWE has struck gold with Wyatt and another loss could really damage his act.
WWE Tag Team Champions The Usos def. Curtis Axel and Ryback
The crowd was flat for the matchup early on (and I don't blame them given that Axel and Ryback hardly have any heat on them), but they came alive down the stretch. It was a well-worked match and the final few minutes were very fun. I expected the match to have some sort of a wacky finish to set up a gimmick match for Sunday, but apparently not. I'm glad The Usos went over without any shenanigans, but why not save this match for the pay-per-view instead?
Sheamus def. Titus O'Neil
I initially got my hopes up when O'Neil first attacked Sheamus, thinking that he might finally be getting his due. But then the match began and it was over no more than a minute later. I guess it was something out of the ordinary and I appreciate the effort into switching things up a bit, but how much did this really do for O'Neil? I like that he's showing more of an aggressive side and that he only lost because he was caught off guard, but this feud doesn't continue past this point, then this was pointless.
Damien Sandow Interrupted Hugh Jackman and Dolph Ziggler
Jackman was definitely one of my favorite guest hosts when he first appeared on Raw back in September 2011 and he did another great job here. He delivered his lines well (he is an actor after all), didn't look after his element and had good chemistry with Ziggler. Speaking of whom, I'm glad they acknowledged their past from their last encounter and buried the hatchet. Granted, Sandow is being highly underutilized at the moment (as is Ziggler for that matter) but he takes anything he is given and runs with it big time. He looked hilarious in his Magneto costume and was comedy gold here. Granted, the segment was one giant plug for Jackman's upcoming X-Men movie, but they promoted it nicely and I, personally, throughout enjoyed it for what it was.
Cesaro def. Jack Swagger
You know the drill: Anything on SmackDown must be repeated exactly three days later on Raw! The only issue was that this wasn't nearly as good as their match from last Friday night. It obviously due to the fact that their time was cut short here, but the finish felt abrupt and I didn't see the purpose in holding a rematch to begin with. Cesaro's face/heel status is still unclear and isn't he supposed to be in a rivalry with Rob Van Dam?
Alberto Del Rio def. Cody Rhodes
Both Del Rio and the Rhodes brothers have been misused for so long that the fans didn't have any incentive to care about the action. They tried hard and had a nice match while it lasted, but it was ultimately forgettable. Of course, the focus of the bout was on the dissension between Cody and Goldust, and I imagine their split is coming sooner rather than later. As stated last week, I'd rather see Goldust as the heel if only because Cody has a lot left in the tank as a babyface, but I'm happy that they're finally feuding.
Alexander Rusev def. Xavier Woods by Disqualification
We've seen this match countless times before, so I was glad to see it not last long at all. Never have I been happier to see a match go to disqualification. I'm fine with R-Truth and Woods getting the upper hand over Rusev this one time, as it was important to give viewers a sense that they might actually win on Sunday (though we all know they won't). That being said, this didn't make Rusev look weak at all. I'd love to see Truth go heel on Woods during the match by walking out on him. Hey, a guy can dream, right?
3MB def. Los Matadores
You've seen one match between these two teams, you've seen them all. Thankfully, it was kept short, sweet and relatively harmless. However, most of the match was focused on El Torito and Hornswoggle at ringside and not the actual action. The only saving grace to this segment was that 3MB finally beat Los Matadores and JBL's announcing of it was priceless. How does Hornswoggle vs. El Torito at the pay-per-view have a stipulation when most of the other matches don't? That's one pre-show I'll be sure to miss.
Stephanie McMahon Apologized to WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan
I usually dislike it when the McMahons pander to the crowd instead of being straight forward heels, but it was so obvious how disingenuous Stephanie was here that the live crowd booed her regardless. I would have liked to see Bryan a bit more intense, but at least he stayed serious and didn't break out into a smile. I actually like the fact Brie Bella's involvement in the angle since it's been acknowledged they're now married and it's not like she was doing anything else at the moment anyway.
Divas Champion Paige vs. Brie Bella Ended in a No Contest
Paige has been highlighted nicely in the last few weeks, so I didn't like how she took the back seat here to the Kane-Bryan story. Plus, the live crowd was more in the corner of Paige than they were of Brie, but they were quiet for the most part because they expected interference. Kane attacking Bryan yet again made Bryan the underdog going into Extreme Rules and I'm glad Kane didn't go through with kidnapping Brie. All it would have set to was a bunch of goofy segments. Speaking of goofy, how weird did it look when Kane came out through the canvas? It wouldn't be the first time for the Big Red Monster, I guess.
Bad News Barrett def. Rob Van Dam in the Finals of the Intercontinental Championship Tournament
Barrett did a nice job of garnering heat in his pre-match promo, but part of the crowd still cheered him regardless. They had a solid match and worked well together. The interference from Cesaro and Jack Swagger was logical, but was necessary to further the feud between them and RVD. Barrett going over was the right move and here's hoping his predicted IC title reign will be better than his last three. Based off the brawl that occurred afterward with Cesaro, RVD and Swagger, expect to see a Triple Threat between the two at Extreme Rules.
Roman Reigns def. Randy Orton by Disqualification
It was strange to see Ric Flair's appearance not advertised in advance despite being heavily rumored for the show and even being confirmed by Triple H on Twitter. I guess they wanted to keep it a surprise, which worked because the crowd popped big for him when he showed up. This was the best way to go about it, however, as turning Flair heel would've been useless and his endorsement of The Shield gave them credibility. The actual match was good, but the non-finish saved it for a later day. The post-match brawl between the two factions gave a nice preview of what's to come at Extreme Rules. The Shield standing tall to close out the show also made them look strong.
The first hour of the show was very entertaining and held my interest, though there was a stretch in the second hour that dragged and stayed that way for the rest of the show. Nonetheless, there were a lot of strong segments throughout the night including Cena and Wyatt, Evolution brawling with The Shield, Kane and Bryan, and more. There wasn't much filler, but at least most of it was geared toward hyping the pay-per-view, which is what this show succeeded in doing. Speaking of such, the Extreme Rules card has the potential to be great and I look forward to Sunday.