By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Roman Reigns and Kane Brawled
Reigns' promo skills are still a bit shaky, but it's amazing to see how far he's come both on the mic and in the ring. The crowd popped for his jabs at Kane, Randy Orton and John Cena and he did a nice job of hyping the Battleground main event. The crowd was also hot for the subsequent brawl, especially when Reigns took out Finlay (sweet cameo) and Kane. That said, any Raw that doesn't kick off with The Authority is a good one in my book.
Luke Harper and Erick Rowan def. WWE Tag Team Champions The Usos (Non-title)
While I've grown tiresome of seeing these two teams face other week after week, I haven't grown tiresome of the great matches they produce. Much like their Money in the Bank encounter, they kept the pace consistent throughout and the crowd was invested in the action. The nearfalls down the stretch were very suspenseful and the final few minutes were fantastic. The Wyatt Family winning leads me to believe that a tag title rematch is in their future. Could it be then that they finally capture the straps?
Nikki Bella vs. Alicia Fox Never Went to a No Contest
The stipulation seemed strange at first since both Divas having one hand tied behind their backs would still make it a fair fight. It made more sense when Fox eventually attacked Nikki while her hand was still tied, but it came off awkwardly. I realize The Authority is out to get Nikki, but the booking of this "match" in particular felt pointless. I know what it was trying to accomplish but it all just fell flat.
Rusev def. Rob Van Dam
Rusev has faced nobody of note since his debut several months ago, so to learn his opponent on this show was Rob Van Dam was a pleasant surprise. The match wasn't anything out of the ordinary, but it was fun to see Rusev against someone who is actually over, so therefore they cared when RVD lost. I hate to say it, but isn't RVD higher up on the card than Swagger? Wouldn't a win over RVD mean more than a win over Swagger at this point? A match against Swagger will feel like a step backward, but not if they book his face turn properly. Say what you will about RVD's losing ways, but at least he's helping put young talent over.
Randy Orton def. Dean Ambrose
Ah, the latest SmackDown match to be held again days later on Raw. Their SmackDown clash ended without a decisive finish, so I guess I understood the need for a rematch in that case. I've always enjoyed seeing these two work together because their gimmicks are so similar. Their in-ring styles meshed very well and it made for a great match. The finishing sequence was well done and I was surprised to see Orton win clean. I initially assumed it'd do damage Ambrose's strong momentum but it's so rare in wrestling for heels to win clean that I didn't mind it. It's nothing Ambrose can't bounce back from with a strong promo anyway.
Alberto Del Rio def. Dolph Ziggler
Despite their respective low standings on the card at the moment, Del Rio and Ziggler are still great workers and still have great chemistry together. They may not have been given much time to shine, but they managed to make the most of the time they were allotted. I have no desire to see Ziggler and Fandango rekindle their feud from last December, but it makes sense coming off their match last week. The match also helped establish both men as participants in the Intercontinental Championship Battle Royal at Battleground. I was nearly ecstatic thinking the love triangle was over since neither Layla nor Summer Rae came out during the match, but any hope of that happening was tarnished afterward during the backstage segment.
Damien Sandow Interrupted Bret Hart
It's always cool to see Hart make an appearance in Canada. Even though his promo was nothing of note, the crowd was still happy to see him. I haven't been high on Sandow's impersonation gimmick and still find it stupid, but his impersonation of Hart was hilarious. It was a nice rub for Sandow, but it's not like he'll be getting pushed coming out of it. It was a segment that won't mean anything in the long scheme of things, but it was fun.
United States Champion Sheamus def. Damien Sandow (Non-title)
Sheamus hasn't had much direction as of late, so I expected this nothing more than a squash match for him. It was a glorified squash for Sheamus, but at least Sandow was able to score some offense. It was a decent enough bout, but I'm ready for Sheamus to move into a substantial feud with someone soon. As for Sandow, his latest loss comes as no surprise and it's a shame WWE continues to waste his talent.
Chris Jericho def. The Miz
This was a match I've been highly anticipating for a long time and I was glad to finally see it come to fruition. The crowd absolutely loved Jericho and got behind every one of his offensive manuevers. I don't think Miz gets enough credit for being a very good in-ring worker and this match was proof of how much he's improved in the squared circle. The match was enjoyable, but most fans figured Bray Wyatt and/or the rest of The Wyatt Family would be showing up at some point so that's what they were focused on. The post-match verbal exchange between Jericho and Wyatt was excellent and had me looking forward to the rest of the feud.
Divas Champion AJ Lee and Paige def. The Funkadactyls
Paige didn't get much of a reaction when she made her entrance, but that's probably because fans don't know how to react to her following her pseudo-heel turn last week. That said, I really like how WWE is slowly building toward the moment when she eventually turns on AJ so it will have a bigger impact. Not only did this match further the story between AJ and Paige, it also all but cemented the split of The Funkadactyls. Cameron is much off as a heel, it was time for them to go their separate ways and I'm glad to see a story in the Divas division that isn't over the title.
Kofi Kingston def. Cesaro
Kingston and Cesaro had another nice match together that built hype for the upcoming Intercontinental Championship Battle Royal. I assumed Cesaro would get his win back here, but apparently not. The crowd once again popped big when Kingston won again. I don't see it as a push for Kingston but rather a way to make Cesaro look vulnerable going into Battleground so his rumored Intercontinental title win is a bigger surprise. Big E coming to the aid of Kingston sets up a mini-feud between him and Cesaro which could benefit both guys for now.
Bo Dallas def. El Torito
This was a logical follow-up to the events from SmackDown and this ended up being funnier than that. The win continued Dallas' winning streak and it was hilarious to see him treat it like the biggest victory of his career to date. The funniest part came during his post-match celebration when he jogged around the ring, knocked over El Torito and just kept going. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to see Dallas as purely a comedy character, but he's hitting it out of the park right now.
WWE World Heavyweight Champion John Cena def. Seth Rollins via Disqualification (Non-title)
This wasn't the show-stealing match I expected it to be, but it was still a strong matchup from both competitors. Rollins did a great job of teasing that he could cash in his Money in the Bank contract at any time during the match if he pleased even though it was predictable that Cena wouldn't be dropping the strap before Battleground. It was an impressive outing for Rollins against The Champ and the disqualification loss protected him in defeat. The post-match chaos hyped the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match as well as the pending match between Dean Ambrose and Rollins. Cena and Reigns closing out the show was an interesting sight and sold viewers on the fact that it's every man for themselves at Battleground.
I hoped last week's amazing episode of Raw would be a turning point for WWE programming going into the summer and it turned out it was. Bret Hart's appearance, Chris Jericho's first match in nearly a year, the announcement of a new Battleground match and more made this a newsworthy and entertaining edition as a whole. There were several strong matches as well, making the three hours fly by quicker than usual. The absence of The Authority was also a plus. Here's hoping WWE can continue to ride this massive wave of momentum over the next few months.