By Graham "GSM" Matthews
The Authority Addressed the Intercontinental Championship
I know The Authority in its original form of Triple H and Stephanie McMahon has been gone from Raw for a few weeks, but it clearly hasn't been long enough. You obviously don't need me tell you this, but having them kick off Raw almost every single week is beyond the point of formulaic. Thankfully, most of the segment was focused on the Intercontinental Championship being in a state of abeyance (yeah, I went there). It really made the title feel more meaningful in the process, and both Ryback and Sheamus played their roles well and made this a better opener to Raw than usual. It was also refreshing to see someone (Ryback) actually stand up to Stephanie for once. Why can't all of the roster have balls like he does?
Ryback def. Sheamus
We haven't much of this match over the years, so it felt fresh and they showed they work well together. It was a nicely paced matchup and it was impressive to seeing Ryback get in as much offense as he did considering he legitimately broke a rib during his match with Bray Wyatt at Payback the night prior. That said, the injury was his out for losing and this was another nice win for Sheamus, who is looking like the heavy candidate to become the new Intercontinental champion.
King Barrett def. Neville
All of the matches these two have had together have been a blast and this one was no exception. Did anyone else find it odd that we got the count-out finish on pay-per-view and the blow-off on Raw the next night? That aside, I liked the match and the end result of Barrett going over since he needed the win more in my opinion. What I liked even more was the apparent start of a program because it gives both guys something to do. Dallas mentioning how he lost the NXT Championship to him last year was a great touch and it's encouraging to see them finally doing something with Dallas after marginalizing him for so long.
Rusev Confronted Lana
I still maintain that Rusev will be dead in the water without the undefeated streak, Lana and a championship, but this was an excellent segment. The rage he showed toward Lana and the delivery of his lines was absolutely awesome. Maybe it was just me, but it sounded like both of them were losing their accents a bit the more they talked. A sign of things to come, perhaps? I may not like where this is going, but it's so far so good with these two.
Bray Wyatt def. Dean Ambrose
Honestly, I enjoyed this match more than any other encounter they had late last year and early this year. I don't know what it was, but they just clicked on this show. It might have been due to the lack of stipulation because all these guys need is time and they can knock it out of the park as they did here. It was a highly competitive, back-and-forth bout that saw the right person go over but only after The Authority cost Ambrose the win, furthering his feud with Seth Rollins.
Cesaro and Tyson Kidd def. WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day by Disqualification
I was surprised to see them go back to this match so early considering they already had three matches over the straps prior to this point. Of course, there was controversy at the end of their Payback match, but why not wait until Elimination Chamber to give them their rematch since they'll be involved in the tag title match anyway? Regardless, it was another enjoyable matchup between the two teams that didn't cease to amaze me, though the disqualification finish felt weak and unoriginal (unlike the night prior). At the very least, the brawl with all the tandems afterward was well-received by the live crowd and set the stage for the WWE Tag Team Championship Elimination Chamber match.
NXT Champion Kevin Owens Attacked United States Champion John Cena
Man, and I thought the Raw debut of Sami Zayn two weeks ago was perfect! I don't want to gush all over this segment, but it was pretty phenomenal. Owens came off like a total heel denying the match with Cena, hyped his title defense against Sami Zayn at NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable, and laid out the face of the company in his arrival on Raw. It's since been confirmed they'll be facing off at Elimination Chamber and I couldn't be any more excited. And most of all, Cena's U.S. Open (which has been the highlight of the show since the night after WrestleMania) continues to switch things up. One week he has a straight-up match, the next the match ends in a disqualification, and the next the match doesn't even happen at all. They just keep finding new ways to make things interesting with the U.S. Open, and I love it.
Dolph Ziggler def. Stardust
The two minute match was inconsequential and a further burial (and yes, I do understand the meaning of that term) of Stardust. I don't blame that on Ziggler, obviously, but rather WWE. How is this the same guy who took John Cena to the limit for the U.S. title a month ago on Raw? Unless they intend to kill off the Stardust gimmick soon, his recent losses make zero sense. As for the Lana-Ziggler stuff, I really liked that. Ziggler and Rusev need dance partners for the summer and it's a nice feud to do for the time being. I just hope Rusev doesn't come out of it looking weaker than he did going in. An Intercontinental title win might change that.
Luke Harper and Erick Rowan def. Zack Ryder and Fandango
I was initially angered by the fact that Harper and Rowan weren't included in the Elimination Chamber over Los Matadores of all people, but in retrospect, I understand why the move was done. If they aren't going to win, why have them get pinned so early into their reunion? That doesn't change the fact that I love how they're back together and it adds quite a bit to the tag team division. Their dominance was showcased very well here and it was good they went over strong.
Divas Champion Nikki Bella def. Naomi by Disqualification
It's a shame, really, that WWE doesn't put more effort into make feuds and storylines in the Divas division matter. Personally, I was looking forward to this match because I figured there was a legitimate chance Naomi could win the belt (especially with Brie banned from ringside), but the live crowd sat on their hands for most of it. I also wasn't a fan of the disqualification finish since we had just seen one in the tag title match. The return of Paige was expected (though welcomed) and I liked how she laid out Nikki as well. There was no reason for her to save her for everything they've done to each other in recent months.
WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins Attacked Dean Ambrose
While the segment dragged on a little longer than it should have, it succeeded in establishing Rollins vs. Ambrose for the title as the main event of Elimination Chamber which should be nothing short of stellar. I had a bad feeling Kane was going to cement his turn here and set himself up as the next contender, but thankfully, that didn't come to fruition. Speaking of Kane, how are fans supposed to feel about him these days? They've been teasing a split from The Authority for well over a month and have yet to deliver, and the longer they wait to pull the trigger the less the fans will care. Nevertheless, I didn't have a problem with Rollins closing the show as the last man standing because he was laid out on every Raw going into Payback, so he needed this more than Ambrose did.
As I've said several times over the last few weeks, the quality of the product has been consistently entertaining (for me, anyway) since the amazing WrestleMania 31 spectacular, and this show was a prime example of that. It wasn't a home run of an episode, but it definitely had more good than bad. The biggest highlight was undoubtedly Owens' WWE debut, but there was also a ton of strong build for Elimination Chamber. I'm thoroughly impressed with how they've managed to make everyone buzzing and excited about an event that takes place in two weeks, and with what's being advertised, it shaping up to be something special.