By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
AJ Styles vs. Sami Zayn: An excellent television match. I also enjoyed the setup by Shane McMahon with the solid neutral authority figure logic that Zayn deserved a chance to get into the Payback main event after being deprived of that opportunity last week. The backstage exchange prior to the match was also solid with Styles stating that he is the only challenger and planned to keep it that way. Finally, the post match was great with both men showing good sportsmanship by hanging out together only to have an excited Shane McMahon burst into the room to rave about their performance. Everything involving these guys was great. Well, maybe not that forced “underground underdog” line that Sami has to work into his own promos, but otherwise this all made for really good television.
Charlotte vs. Natalya: Another good match from Charlotte and Natalya. I loved the finish with Ric Flair saving his daughter by pulling the referee from the ring. It put heat on both of them and created the need for another match with Natalya. I also loved Charlotte’s facials, as she reacted as if she lost the match only to change her demeanor completely once she realized that her father had saved the title for her by getting her disqualified. The only knock is that Charlotte went from tapping out to the Sharpshooter to abandoning any sign of selling the injury once she figured out she won the match.
Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt vs. Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio: A minor Hit for the intrigue of seeing how Reigns and Wyatt would coexist. I can’t get excited about anything involving League of Nations. It’s a shame that creative hasn’t pulled the plug on this dead end faction because there are three talented singles wrestlers who would be so much better off as individual acts. Wyatt did a great job of teasing that he was going to drop off the ring apron when a weary Reigns went for a tag only to have Bray then take the tag and enter the ring. I don’t know that the live crowd picked up on it, but it was pretty cool to see on television.
Shane McMahon and Kevin Owens: It was so nice to see an opening segment with fresh players. Shane and Owens having their first in-ring verbal exchange grabbed my attention right out of the gate. Has WWE dropped the longstanding “rematch clause” concept? Roman Reigns didn’t get an automatic rematch after he dropped the world title last time, and now Owens isn’t getting his rematch after losing the IC Title at WrestleMania.
Cesaro vs. Kevin Owens: Another good television match with the right man going over. Owens lost the Intercontinental Title and a lot of matches lately, yet he still feels more relevant today than he did at times during his Intercontinental Title run. Cesaro needed the win after returning last week and failing to win the four-way. That said, it is a bit disheartening to see him right back in the secondary title mix.
Anderson and Gallows: An intriguing debut thanks to Byron Saxton asking why the former Bullet Club members attacked the Usos and questioning why now. It would have been a letdown if it had been implied that they were in WWE to take over the tag team division. Saxton’s lines left me feeling like WWE wants viewers to be asking those same questions. My best guess is that the Usos were targeted due to being related to Roman Reigns. So whether they are aligned with Finn Balor, AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, or even Roman himself, I came away from the segment feeling like this will develop into a main event program.
Dean Ambrose and Chris Jericho: Ambrose has a tendency to get a little too cute for his own good with his one-liners. In this case, his humor was much more hit than miss. I also enjoyed Jericho interviewing himself and appreciated the way WWE advertised it shortly before the segment rather than taking the bait and switch approach by hyping a “major guest” throughout the show. I really hope they find a way to incorporate that shoulder bump that Jericho gave Ambrose way back at Survivor Series into this current feud.
Apollo Crews and Baron Corbin: WWE used two effective approaches of showcasing new talent. Crews was showcased in what was essentially a squash match. Casual viewers who have only seen him the last couple of weeks already know that his finisher is the spin-out powerbomb. Meanwhile, the Corbin video package was really well done. I’ll even lump in the vignettes that they are doing for Primo and Epico as another example of effective tools to introduce new characters or, in this case, repackaged characters.
Dr. Phil: I never would have guessed that I’d be including America’s favorite television shrink in the Hit column. WWE didn’t get all wacky or have the artists formerly known as Divas fawn all over him. Rather, they inserted him into an existing storyline with Charlotte and Ric Flair and it worked. I even got a kick out of him essentially throwing his hands up with Goldust and R-Truth. The women’s division didn’t really need Dr. Phil’s endorsement, but this was still much better use of a celebrity type than we typically see from WWE.
WWE Raw Misses
The Dudley Boyz vs. The Lucha Dragons: A rough outing with Kalisto down at ringside for the majority of the match. It also took a second attempt to hit the 3D finisher after an awkward punch to the gut by D-Von on the first try. I’m guessing everyone involved wishes they could take a mulligan.