John Cena goes to work on Payback opponent Ryback.
By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Convoluted opening segment featuring Triple H, Curtis Axel and Mr. McMahon. The matches between Axel and HHH were fine for what they were, but weren't long enough to truly mean anything. McMahon restarting the match got old rather quickly, but I appreciate the effort in attempting to do something different. I had my hopes up at one point that we might actually see a 60-minute Iron Man match between the two, but sadly, it was too good to be true.
Decent match between United States Champion Dean Ambrose and Kane. This wasn't one of Ambrose's better matches, but it was passable for what it was. I was initially upset with Ambrose losing via disqualification, but it made sense it settling up the U.S. title match between the two at Payback. Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan fending off The Shield was a nice way of building towards their respective matches for later in the night.
Brief match with The Miz defeating Cody Rhodes. We've seen these two clash multiple times in the last few months, so this bout was nothing out of the ordinary. Wade Barrett was good on commentary and helped hype the Intercontinental Championship match for Payback. Although I wanted Fandango to capture the title, Curtis Axel is a great consolation prize. Hey, it's better than seeing Barrett face Miz in singles action for the billionth time.
Nice match between Chris Jericho and Big E Langston. Jericho's pre-match promo was solid and was effective in building towards his upcoming match with CM Punk. His verbal exchange with Dolph Ziggler was pretty good, but it makes me wonder if we'll be seeing them feud over the World Heavyweight Championship down the line. As for the match, it was mere minutes long, but at least it tied into Ziggler's feud with Alberto Del Rio, which will culminate on Sunday.
Fun match with Antonio Cesaro between Sin Cara. I enjoyed this bout more than most Sin Cara matches and they managed to work well together. I'm glad to see Cesaro score a rare victory on Raw, which he was in desperate need of. I hope to see him join forces with Zeb Colter, who is currently directionless due to Jack Swagger getting injured a few weeks back.
Solid match between Randy Orton and Roman Reigns. It didn't live up to my lofty expectations, but it was still well wrestled. We haven't seen much from Reigns as a singles competitor up to this point, so it was good to see him hold up his own here against Orton. However, he finish was awkward and unnecessary following the disqualification finish we got in Dean Ambrose's match earlier in the evening.
Great match with Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins. As noted by the commentators, this was the first ever one-on-one meeting between Bryan and Rollins in a WWE ring, so it was certainly something special. The action was excellent and the live crowd was outrageously hot for Bryan throughout the bout. Needless to say, this was the match of the night and I hope them cross paths again at some point down the line.
Good segment featuring Divas Champion Kaitlyn, Big E Langston and AJ Lee. I was worried that Langston being revealed as Kaitlyn's secret admirer meant that he was due for a face turn in the near future, so I'm glad that ultimately wasn't the route they ended up taking. AJ humiliating Kaitlyn made sense and only added fuel to the fire that is their broken friendship. This is the most intriguing Divas feud in recent memory and I look forward to them facing off for the strap at the pending pay-per-view.
Fine match with Damien Sandow defeating R-Truth. It was nothing more than a glorified squash, but it was beneficial in giving Sandow momentum going into Payback. Not only was Sheamus' subsequent promo short and sweet, but it was one of the few times Sheamus didn't revert to corny jokes during a promo, which was reassuring to see. Some may see Sheamus vs. Sandow on the Payback pre-show as an odd move, but it's the first time in a good while that a pre-show match has an actual story behind it.
Strong promo between WWE Champion John Cena and Ryback. Their past promos were cringe worthy, but this was surprisingly a nice change of pace. Both competitors remained serious throughout the segment and even touched upon their history together (Hell in a Cell 2012, Survivor Series 2012, etc.). The breakout brawl was well done and it also managed to establish the Lumberjack stipulation for their upcoming Three Stages of Hell match, which didn't receive much focus up to this point.
Overall, a solid show that was successful in building towards Sunday's Payback event and delivering enjoyable action and promos throughout the night. However, I couldn't have cared less for the McMahon family drama and found the pay-off to be quite lame. Aside from that, a number of new matches were confirmed for the pending pay-per-view and given respective focus on this show. WWE should do a better job of confirming matches beforehand, but at least most segments on this edition served a purpose and hyped the upcoming event.