WWE Building Momentum After Strong Payback and RAW
The Big Lead – 1) From the moment my friend Brandon and I arrived for the pre-show, it was evident that the crowd was frenetic. Kalisto versus Ryback, which we’d initially been ambivalent about even seeing, was actually a fantastic match. The stylistic and size differences between the wrestlers worked out, and it should be noted that both of them were over as hell. You can tell Kalisto is athletic on television but it’s a whole other ballgame to see his rapid footwork and leaps through the air in-person.
It kind of seems like they are trying to phase Ryback out of the storyline and either get him to quit, or snap and go balls to the wall to add more depth to his character. The status quo hadn’t really been working, but last night was the first evidence I’d seen that he might be on a path toward becoming a pretty money heel.
2) New Day (who were spectating the first match) and Enzo and Cass came out to GIGANTIC pops, and the scary Enzo Amore injury really changed the tenor of the evening for a little bit. It’s been well documented that WWE has been bit by the injury bug over the past year. Losing Enzo, who’s already as charismatic on the microphone as anyone on the roster, for a prolonged stretch would’ve been devastating for the program.
When abrupt head injuries halt other sports, you immediately begin hoping that the athlete can walk and ideally play again. When it happens in WWE, you can’t help but wonder if it’s part of the storyline, and this leads to a very strange set of emotions. Thankfully, Enzo was diagnosed with just a concussion (not that that’s wonderful or anything, but it was the best case scenario here), and appears to be in good spirits:
3) Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens was, predictably, a stupendous match. It must’ve been hell for Owens to go out there immediately following the injury of his close friend. (Zayn is presumably close with him too, but it’s known that Owens, Enzo, and Cass are carpool buddies.)
It feels like a relatively new development that WWE is now acknowledging that its wrestlers have histories that predate their time there. They still largely ignore TNA, but the indies and New Japan are now fair game in storytelling. This adds some cool wrinkles in this feud – Owens and Zayn traveled the world for over a decade together in comparative* obscurity before the former turned on the latter in NXT – as well as wherever the Bullet Club angle heads with AJ Styles, Luke Gallows, Karl Anderson, and eventually Finn Balor.
AJ Styles has better matches than Kevin Owens, but, no pun intended, in terms of well-roundedness in the ring and on the mic Owens is the best guy WWE’s got today. He’s entertaining every time we see him. By virtue of that fact that almost everybody else is not, this is no easy endeavor.
*Comparative essentially meaning non-WWE; devout wrestling fans have known about these two for some time now.
4) Cesaro-Miz got interrupted by more Owens-Zayn beef, and it appears that there’ll be a four-way contest at Extreme Rules, which is already on the horizon, less than three weeks away. I’m all in favor of that. Miz is up there with Owens in the sense that he’s never not interesting. Every time he and Maryse are on-screen it’s funny. It really is exquisite performance artistry:
5) Ambrose-Jericho was a snoozer. There was no cohesive story, and it went on way too long. This match was probably elongated because of the injury-shortened match at the beginning, but it just wasn’t that interesting.
Headed into WrestleMania, Dean Ambrose might’ve been the most over face there was. After getting squashed by Brock Lesnar (who needs to add to his arsenal if he’s gonna be useful going forward) Ambrose has been passed by perhaps half a dozen others, and it’s unclear what’s next for him.
6) Charlotte Flair vs. Natalya (with Bret Hart in her corner) was a strong match. Reenacting the Montreal screw-job at the end was silly, but overall fun. They’ve presumably got another match coming. However, this is a good time to point out that any proclamation of the Divas Revolution is based on potential, but not WWE’s execution of it yet.
Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks had a great match at WrestleMania, but as a division there was only one match on last night’s card, and there has not been much airtime over this past month. For example, Sasha Banks’ only appearance on the PPV last night was briefly talking to Shane McMahon in the back. In one promo, Shane took credit for new wrestlers like her. Since he’s nominally been in charge of Raw, she’s had like 20 minutes of time on-screen, and isn’t in a real feud. It’s almost certain that they are saving her for a big angle headed into SummerSlam, but that’s in July. Her last four weeks were squandered.
7) I know that a lot of people online are tired of the McMahons. Since the Montreal screw-job, they’ve constantly inserted themselves into the storyline, and thinking about the ego that goes into that can be unsettling.
That being said, they were quite entertaining last night. Vince and Stephanie are maestros. They know exactly where the crowd is going, and lead them there. Even though Shane is the one being built up as the reason Raw Is Better Now, he’s by far the weakest link of the three of them in promos.
It’s strange that Triple H has been disinvested from this angle. For all the credit Shane gets for being the guy who makes the matches, it’s Hunter that has been largely responsible for the procurement and training of the influx of fresh talent. (One random fun wrinkle is how mainstream websites basically cover along with kayfabe, and then their headlines get referenced on-air as evidence the story is working.)
Anyways, Triple H will eventually make his presence known in this feud. Also, maybe Linda McMahon as well, because why not?
8) The main event between AJ Styles and Roman Reigns was incredible. Lots of people are clamoring for Reigns to turn heel, but that’s what he is now. If he’s a nominal bad guy, it wouldn’t be as good as this. Kevin Owens is a heel, and he’ll get boos if he, like, insults the crowd, but when his music hits he gets face pops.
While I do not believe that Vince McMahon’s original plan for Roman was for everyone to hate him for the favoritism he’s received, it’s working now and they should keep rolling with it. The art of being a heel involves drawing money from people in the desperate hope they’ll see you have your ass whipped. Roman Reigns could not fit that bill any better.
It’s easy to just sit back and criticize the WWE product, we all do it. There should be balance though and when it’s good we should be just as vocal. Aside from the terrible, freak injury to Enzo Amore, Payback was a very good and entertaining PPV. Good matches, interesting story twists and an excellent main event. I saw some pissing and moaning on Twitter because AJ Styles didn’t win, but if you honestly thought he would you’re delusional. Not because they’re afraid to get behind him either. They just spent an entire year building up Roman Reigns to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania 32, they’re not going to take it off him a month later.
Following up Payback was a very strong RAW. Right now, the WWE is heading in a really fun direction for the Summer months. Even the seemingly endless McMahon family drama has taken a compelling turn. The next few months will be the big gear up to Summerslam. There are new stars being built and we also have the imminent returns of John Cena, Seth Rollins, Randy Orton and Brock Lesnar and the possible Main Roster debut of Finn Balor to look forward to. If you’re not excited as a WWE fan right now with all the intriguing possibilities for the Summer, then nothing is going to make you happy and you should just watch something else.