In contrast to the goofiness of a Fandango and Great Khali dance-off, a tug-of-war and a segment that saw Jerry Lawler order a pizza on the air, WWE gave fans a number of entertaining, quality in-ring battles.
Alberto Del Rio and Antonio Cesaro, Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler as well as The Shield, Team Hell No and John Cena all did great work on Monday night, but Rhodes and Orton looked born to fight each other. They delivered the episode's highlight in their relatively lengthy bout.
Mick Foley gave it high praise.
Mick Foley @RealMickFoley
Great match from @RandyOrton and @CodyRhodesWWE - loved Cody's emotion and intensity. Hopefully just shades of great things to come.4/30/2013, 12:44:53 AM
The action opened with Rhodes using his speed to evade Orton. He darted from rope to rope until Orton clobbered him an elbow.
With every small bit of success, Rhodes stopped to gloat. Orton took advantage by nailing him with his gorgeous dropkick.
Orton was dismissive of his opponent early, but as Rhodes survived his assault, The Viper seemed to grow more sadistic. He grinned after clotheslining Rhodes on the outside of the ring. He stomped on Rhodes, relishing the violence he was dishing out.
When it was Rhodes on the offensive, he was especially aggressive. His viciousness buzzed on the screen. Rhodes scraped his forearm against Orton's face with every pin attempt.
Fans chanted "RKO!" early, but this would neither be a hurried match nor a formulaic affair leading to an expected finish. Orton and Rhodes had excellence on their minds.
Perhaps playing up Rhodes' familiarity with Orton as former Legacy teammates, Rhodes kept seeing Orton's attacks coming. He fended off the rope-hung DDT and two RKO attempts. Rhodes came off as the highly prepared foe chugging along with momentum.
Rhodes landed a Disaster kick while Orton stood on the apron. He dropped down to the mat to deliver his brother's famous uppercut. Orton was soon dazed, loopy, vulnerable. The Team Rhodes Scholars member looked to finish the match off with a top rope move, but only got a superplex for his troubles.
These two performers lifted the crowd's energy, pushing beautifully to the climax.
Orton tried an RKO but Rhodes countered it into the Cross Rhodes. When the mustachioed one hit that move in the center of the ring, it looked like he might pull off the upset. It looked like he'd defy fans' expectations. It was just a count of two.
Rhodes proceeded to lose his mind in front of all of us. He pulled his hair and slapped himself in the face. He showed us a glimpse of how chilling he could be when playing a psychotic character. When he wore his protective mask he excelled as the calculated sociopath, but clearly Rhodes can play the enraged lunatic as well.
The fantastic match ended when Orton turned a potential Disaster kick into an RKO.
Monday's WWE Raw went on to give us more high-quality matches in between some unimpressive segments. Orton and Rhodes, though, stole the show early on.