What you need to know
There were two kings in the ring, but it wasn't Game of Thrones. The King of Memphis wasn't even able to get a question out before the King of the Ring was issuing edicts and making demands. When Jerry Lawler wouldn't comply, he was about to end up on the receiving end of a Bullhammer, but Dolph Ziggler appeared with jokes about Bad News Barrett's regalia and we had Thursdays first match.
A bout that saw Barrett get back to the losing ways he had in his latest reign as Intercontinental champ, and most of the times he held the belt before that, too. But it was only because Sheamus broke up a cover by The Show Off after a Fameasser. Before Dolph was overcome by the numbers game, Neville ran in and we had a Teddy Long special AND a rematch from Monday night! Switching up feud partners a tad, The Jumpin' Geordie took out The Celtic Warrior with a dive to the floor, allowing Ziggler to hit another finisher out of nowhere on the King for the 'W'.
All three challengers for Seth Rollins' WWE World Heavyweight Championship spoke to Renee Young throughout the night in advance of signing the contract for their Fatal 4Way at Sunday's pay-per-view (PPV). Randy Orton told her he'd be RKO-ing someone, Roman Reigns BELIEVES DAT he'll bring the fight to...the fight and Dean Ambrose told his special lady friend that his odds of winning the belt at Payback are better than they were before last week's Raw (The Lunatic Fringe is a a graduate of the Scott Steiner School of Multiplying by Zero).
The champ also chatted with RY, for the purposes of reminding us all that Kane and he might not be on the same page (DUNH-DUNH-DUH).
With all three member of The Shield hanging around each other in the main event, Erick Rowan must have thought it was February 2014 or something. After Luke Harper made quick work of Fandango, the Redbeard appeared to hit the dancing Superstar with a Full Nelson Slam and tease getting The Wyatt Family back together...even if Harper didn't get the memo.
Not that Bray will need the help in dealing with his latest target. Ryback was Tyson Kidd & Cesaro's mystery partner for their six-man tag against The New Day, and the faction that Freebirds the tag belts scored a victory thanks to a roll-up, a rare technical misstep involving The Swiss Superman, and a TitanTron distraction of Big Hungry. That rarest of creatures, a third over tag team, also got some storyline traction. While we wait for Lucha Dragons to get actual characters, it looks like they might be getting a mascot. After Kalisto & Sin Cara beat them, Los Matadores tried to pin the blame for latest loss on El Torito.
She might be undergoing a rebirth as a heel on NXT, but on the main roster, Emma is still a jobber. She got a little offense in, but got no entrance, a loss, and a post-match beatdown from Naomi and her enforcer, Tamina. The recently turned Divas champ and her twin were not available for the save. In other setbacks in women's lib, Lana just wants the fans' adoration, but Rusev is a big old meanie, and...does it count if I say "I Quit" in the whole Bulgarian Beast/Ravishing Russian/United States Championship angle?
In the main event spot, Ambrose says what we were all thinking, and tries to call dibs on the table in the inevitable brawl. After some Justin Beiber jokes at the champ's expense, the violence occurs. If you're scoring at home (or even if you're by yourself), the finisher parade saw Kane taken out by Dean, who got RKO'd before Roman Supermanned that Viper leaving Rollins to hit his old Flying Knee and a Superkick on Reigns to stand tall.
What to look out for
With under a week to Payback, tonight's episode gets the Pre-Show treatment over on WWE Network at 7:30PM Eastern before the regular broadcast kicks off at 8PM on USA. Both come your way from the former Jon Moxley's hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio - so he'll get a chance to practice for taking the pin in Baltimore on the 17th.
When he wasn't busy CRUSHing Lana's dreams of being the sweetheart of millions of Americans, the former U.S champion was calling the man who took the red, white and blue belt from him. That guy, John Cena, has said he'll answer the call tonight, en route to what is his fourth and presumably final showdown against Rusev at Payback.
We'll continue marching toward the Fatal 4Way and teasing Kane's involvement. In fact, that's almost guaranteed to take up a lot of time tonight, because Triple H and Stephanie have supposedly been rushed back as an answer to a couple weeks of low ratings - and that means at least one twenty minute segment of Hunter talking about The Authority and what's B4B.
They'll have to find some time to address the rest of Sunday's card, though, because right now, the WWE and U.S. title matches are the only ones announced.
Are Rowan & Harper getting back together? Will Erick still make that delicious cabarnet he was famous for, and amaze the boys in the locker room with his puzzle solving acumen? More importantly, is Bray really feuding with Ryback and, if so, can someone make their match official for the PPV?
After two straight shows featured Barrett & Sheamus vs "the underdogs" Neville & Ziggler last week, that program will likely be either a tag or a pair of singles' matches at Payback. They're probably not giving the women the weekend off, so expect either another round of Nikki vs. Naomi, or perhaps a Divas tag of Bellas vs. Samoans-in-law.
Is now the time to introduce the Dragons into the tag title program, or should the Brass Ring Club get one more straight-up shot at the Kofi Kingston & Big E (with Xavier Woods)? And remember when we were all pumped for a renewed Intercontinental title scene? It'd be nice to even know where that thing is...maybe Daniel Bryan will carry it with when he's pretending to be CeeLo on Tough Enough.
What they should do
Since it appears that WWE's strategy for dealing with the Intercontinental title during Bryan's injury will be the same one they took for the WWE championship while Brock Lesnar held it last fall - pretend its absence is normal and hope everyone goes along with it - it's worth asking if we really miss it anyway.
Yes, most of us miss The Beard. But has the storytelling quality suffered for a lack of the white and gold belt? Has it changed in any significant way? I'd argue that it hasn't., except to maybe improve things by forcing Creative to actually come up with a reasons why Sheamus and Ziggler want to kill each other, why Barrett and Neville are rivals, or even why Curtis Axel and Damien Sandow don't like one another.
At least one of those feuds would probably be "because the IC strap" if it were floating around, and whoever held it would lose a lot unless it was on the line at a PPV. It's sort of like the "sexy lamp" question when analyzing the Divas' stories. If you can replace a secondary belt with NOTHING and not notice the difference in WWE's booking...what's its justification for existing anyway?
John Cena is making the U.S title fun again. Only time will tell if it will remain relevant when someone other than the Face the Runs the Place is holding it. But doesn't it stand a better chance if it's the only non-world singles championship in the company?
WWE already likes to tell us that the titles are just props. Maybe this is the perfect opportunity to mothball one of those to the costume warehouse.
What we're afraid they will do
Find a way to put the Intercontinental championship on Neville and promptly start booking him the way they did Big E, Curtis Axel, Cody Rhodes and countless guys before - most of whom only got storylines and characters that helped them gain prominence once they were well and truly away from that strap.
Can Raw deliver again tonight and drive fans toward Payback this Sunday?
Find out if we get two really good Monday night shows in a row, and make sure you do it with the gang right here at Cageside Seats!