By Jason Powell
WWE Payback Hits
Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles: An overbooked main event with WWE furthering their storyline of having Shane McMahon and Stephanie McMahon being in control of Raw. The first time the match stopped was puzzling. It seemed at least possible that they were going to end the match in that fashion only to have a big angle at the end of the show. It was good to see the match restarted, yet the whole thing felt unnecessary. The low blow finish was silly and the wrestlers didn’t really pull it off. You could see Steph’s restart coming a mile away. Once we got the needless McMahon family drivel out of the way, Reigns and Styles worked a hell of a match. Styles had a tremendous night, and Reigns continues to show that he is capable of working strong main events with the right opponents. I feared that the live crowd might sit around waiting for Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows to show up, but Reigns and Styles had no problem getting the crowd into their match. Anderson and Gallows’ involvement was a bit of a letdown in that the story didn’t really take a step forward. There was no reveal of a third man or clarity as to whether they are in cahoots with Styles. Of course, WWE never actually advertised or even teased any of that, so I can’t really hold that against them. I like the way AJ sold at ringside with his head down and facing the ring steps when Anderson and Gallows did their thing. He has plausible deniability regarding his knowledge of their interference as they keep the mystery going. The only thing that was really cemented at Payback (if it wasn’t previously) is that Reigns is not secretly calling the shots while in cahoots with Anderson and Gallows.
Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens: Zayn and Owens had the unenviable task of following the frightening injury situation with Enzo Amore. The crowd was deflated and I’m sure Zayn and Owens were both worried about their co-worker as they headed to the ring not knowing how bad the situation was. Within minutes, the hard work of Zayn and Owens had the crowd reacting to everything they did. In fact, I would argue that if someone happened to turn on the show or arrived late to the building a few minutes into this match, they would have had no clue that something had happened in the opener because it felt like it was business as usual. They were true pros. The match was entertaining and the live crowd was completely engaged. The right guy went over, as it wouldn’t make any sense for Zayn to win the first match of what will presumably a lengthy feud between the two on the main roster.
The Miz vs. Cesaro: A good match as Miz continued to show off just how much he has improved in the ring. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he’s in the right with Cesaro, but he also had a strong outing with Roman Reigns on Smackdown and some other very good matches in recent months. Owens sitting in on commentary was a nice touch. Sami running out and attacking Owens led my buddy Dave to remark that Zayn looked like a poor sport. After all, it’s not like Owens cheated to win their match. Obviously, the idea is that the tension between them is so high that Zayn couldn’t help himself. It also made for a good finish to this match with Miz getting the rollup win just moments after he was tapping out unbeknownst to the distracted referee. It looked like they were setting up a four-way match at Extreme Rules. If that’s the case, I’m cool with it. I’d hate to see WWE burn through the Owens vs. Zayn feud in a matter of months when it could be a long term rivalry if it’s paced properly. Putting them in the four-way gives viewers another taste without giving them another singles match, and it also prevents Cesaro from losing momentum by dropping another singles match to Miz if they don’t intend to put the Intercontinental Title on him at this point.
Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose: A good match. It seemed like they struggled to get the crowd into the action early. There were also a couple of missteps during the match. Ultimately, though, they delivered when the match kicked into gear down the stretch and the crowd was hot for everything they did leading up to the finish. Ambrose going over is not a surprise even with Extreme Rules just a few weeks away. Jericho can always attack Ambrose tonight to generate the heat for a rematch. In fact, I suspect Jericho’s Twitter tease that he’s finished his latest run with WWE plays into this. I wouldn’t be surprised if they played up the tweet on Raw only to have Jericho blindside Ambrose.
Kalisto vs. Ryback: A strong Kickoff Show match that was actually better than their WrestleMania outing. I can’t say I had much desire to see the match going in, nor am I excited about the idea of the feud continuing, but that has nothing to do with the wrestlers. It’s all about the creative, which has been lackluster for these two. Kalisto is still a one dimensional babyface who panders as he speaks about the legends who inspired him and little more. He also loses as many matches as he wins via non-title and tag team matches. Meanwhile, WWE never seems focussed on creating momentum for Ryback. As I mentioned going into the show, having them work the Kickoff Show again this month felt like a rib on Ryback for some of his interview comments. Give these guys a break. They’re both working very hard and it would be nice to see their efforts rewarded. And if creative won’t budge on that, then it’s time to get the title off Kalisto.
WWE Payback Misses
Vince McMahon’s announcement: A ridiculously long segment with a terrible payoff. WWE is trying to sell viewers on this being a new era, yet nothing says SOS quite like the McMahon family drama being positioned as the top storyline. The fans like the idea of Shane as the face of the company, and I suspect it’s also in part to their eagerness to see WWE move away from the tired heel authority figure act. Granted, Stephanie and Shane as co-general managers is a bit of a twist on the power structure, yet it’s just not a very compelling one. Vince laughably told us that Raw is always evolving only to serve up yet another helping of his family drama. I hope they have something fresh in mind for this power struggle because on the surface it’s very flat. By the way, who is running Smackdown? They make such a big fuss over who is in charge of Raw, yet we don’t know who is running the other show that seems to be doing just fine without a storyline face of power.
Charlotte vs. Natalya: The match itself was not as strong as their previous efforts. Still, it was passable until that horrible finish. On the same night that they try to sell us on this being the first pay-per-view of a new era, they give us yet another twist on the Montreal Screwjob. It’s been nearly 19 years. Let it go! It was odd to see Bret just standing in Natalya’s corner while showing no emotion and zero enthusiasm throughout the match. I was ready to criticize him for it until I saw that awful finish. Between the main event restarts, the flat big announcement from Vince, and this crap, I thought I was watching a very special tribute to the worst moments of past TNA creative regimes.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin: This match got the show off to such a frustrating start. New era? Nope, we are still living in the parity booking era. I have little doubt that Corbin will destroy Ziggler on Raw and/or in the inevitable rematch. I just don’t know why they felt the need to devalue Corbin by having him lose to Ziggler on the Kickoff Show. Corbin is a badass heel. It’s fair to argue that he wasn’t ready to be called up, but the fact is that he was called up and WWE should be making the most of it. Corbin should have gone on a nice winning streak before doing a key and meaningful job. Instead, they opted to define him down.