By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
Shane McMahon and Stephanie McMahon: It felt premature to bring Stephanie back to television, but it made sense when they announced that Vince McMahon would announce who is in charge of Raw at Payback. Stephanie was a lot of fun with her Hartford’s Favorite Daughter routine, and the fans view both members of the McMahon family as stars. Dot Net reader Jeff Mitchell noted that Stephanie was not wearing her wedding ring during the segment. I’m not mentioning this for real life gossip. Rather, I wonder if it was something storyline related that they wanted us to notice.
AJ Styles and Roman Reigns: I wish AJ Styles had been built up as a strong challenger so that this felt like a showdown match. The real hook isn’t the new champion facing one of the best wrestlers in the world, it’s about whether Styles has been in cahoots with Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows. Fortunately, that’s a hell of a hook. WWE has told that story very well this month and I think we’re all anxious to find out what the payoff will be on Sunday. I don’t believe the Styles character is calling the shots for Anderson and Gallows, so the question then becomes who is?
Sami Zayn vs. Rusev: WWE is getting it right with Sami. They don’t have him win every match, and the way he won this match was designed to look like an upset. He is an underdog babyface and they are creating that vibe on the main roster. Rusev loses nothing by dropping this match. Let’s face it, he lost too much during his comedy run and then in his League of Nations run for a loss to really damage him. I like that Lana is back with Rusev, but her attire was more revealing than I expected. As much as I preach character evolution, this is one act that I’d like to see go right back to where they started with dominant Rusev and business attire Lana.
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn video package: A strong video package that told the WWE version of their story and made their Payback match feel like a real showdown. I loved the heel logic that Owens used to rationalize his behavior. I also liked the way he attacked Zayn after he got the win over Rusev, and the way he just stared expressionless at him after doing so. Owens and Zayn may steal a loaded Payback show if they are given the time to do so.
Dean Ambrose and Chris Jericho: As much as Jericho wasn’t clicking as a babyface, he’s really shining as a heel. I love the “no redeeming qualities” heel version of the Jericho character. I love the way he tears into his opponents and is secure enough to have his opponents tear down his over the top rocker attire. It was good to see Jericho get even more heat heading into their match by applying the Walls of Jericho on the broadcast table.
Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows: A minor Hit for night one. Again, the mystery of whether Styles is calling the shots is a very good one. The white sleeveless jackets they wore made them look like stars. They lost a little of that when the jackets came off and Gallows was wearing awkward shorts. Maybe they will grow on me. The real issue I had is that they sold so much on night one. I did not expect them to have a 14-minute match with the Usos, and I was stunned when big man Luke Gallows sold as much as he did for Roman Reigns. I don’t think any real damage was done, but I expected them to look more dominant than they did.
Dolph Ziggler and Baron Corbin: Quick and effective hype for their match at Payback. Ziggler needed to have a moment after being laid out by Corbin. I actually got a kick out of badass Corbin running backstage to get away from Ziggler. I don’t want to see that become the norm for his character, but it worked in this case.
Apollo Crews vs. Stardust: Another showcase win for Crews over Stardust, who is a notch up on the totem pole from the Social Outcasts. The highlight of the match was actually JBL’s commentary. I got a huge kick out of his line about how he and Ron Simmons performed standing moonsaults back in the day. Even better yet was his line about how the first time Simmons watched him perform the move is the first time Simmons exclaimed Damn!
Natalya vs. Emma: A minor Hit for the light push they gave the women’s title match. It didn’t get as much attention as the other Payback matches, but they did find time for a little final Raw hype. In fact, I have been very impressed by how effective the build for each Payback match has been. This show isn’t just about one or two matches and then a bunch of matches that you could see on Raw or Smackdown every week. The main event feels like the main event, but the undercard matches all received their own build. Maybe Payback is WWE’s payback to the fans for the mediocre WrestleMania build.
WWE Raw Misses
Roman Reigns vs. Alberto Del Rio: The match quality was fine and the double stomp off the ring apron was a cool spot. I just don’t think Reigns working the main events of Raw is a good fit. I don’t know if they are hoping that the live crowds will be drained by that point in the night or if they simply feel like he belongs in the Raw main events, but I can’t help but wonder if this will have an adverse effect on the third hour numbers. It might be more effective if they don’t have him on the show before he works main event matches, as at least there will be some intrigue as to how the live crowd will react to him. By the way, Shane McMahon is preaching change and fresh matchups, yet the last two Raw main events featured yet another Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens match, and Reigns facing a League of Nations member again.
AJ Styles vs. Sheamus: It seems like WWE has opted to show us viewers that Styles is a good wrestler rather than building him up as a dominant force heading into his match with Reigns. Styles enters his title match after having a back and forth match with Miz and now a back and forth match with Sheamus. It’s a good thing they have the Anderson and Gallows hook because they haven’t given viewers any other reason to think that Styles is a threat to take the title from Roman.