By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
IC Title Picture: From his interruption of Shane and Stephanie McMahon to his match with Cesaro, Kevin Owens was the MVP of Raw. He’s the glue that is making the four-way dynamic of the Intercontinental Title picture work, and he spared us from more of Shane and Stephanie filling time. The Miz is doing tremendous work right now. He’s delivering consistently in the ring and his act with Maryse is fun. That said, I’d love to see Miz tone down the Hollywood silliness in favor of presenting himself as a more serious character. The comedic elements of his act get laughs and mid-card heat, yet the comedy also keeps the fans from taking him as seriously as I believe they would if he started carrying himself like a true star. The build to the apparent four-way match with Miz defending against Owens, Cesaro, and Sami Zayn was entertaining and that match could steal the show.
Chris Jericho and Dean Ambrose: I have no idea what Jericho was hoping to accomplish when he teased that Payback was the last show of his current run with WWE. I thought it might lead to something when the Raw Pre-Show crew acknowledged the tweet, but it wasn’t played up on Raw and nobody even acted surprised when he made his entrance. Nevertheless, the attack on Ambrose was logical and set up the need for their inevitable Extreme Rules rematch. RIP Mitch. We barely knew you.
Rusev wins the battle royal: I cringed when Dolph Ziggler eliminated Corbin. I thought there was a chance that Corbin would actually win the battle royal and that would explain why creative felt comfortable having him lose to Ziggler the night before. If they weren’t going to have Corbin win the battle royal, then I will concede that Ziggler eliminating him was more logical than having someone else do it as this keeps their feud going. It’s good to see Rusev get the win and I hope WWE is serious about rebuilding him. I fear that he will end up beating Kalisto in non-title matches and then lose to him on the Kickoff Show like the last two challengers. I also fear that even if Rusev wins the title, he could be a transitional champion who drops the title to John Cena on Memorial Day or shortly thereafter.
Charlotte and Natalya: A good night for both women on the mic. Okay, I could have done without Natalya delivering Bret Hart’s motto to close out her promo. Ric Flair is not overshadowing Charlotte, and bored Bret certainly didn’t outshine his niece by standing expressionless in her corner on Sunday night. However, Natalya constantly talking about her uncle and dropping his catchphrase even after he’s out of the picture is making Bret outshine her. Natalya doesn’t need to carry the Hart family flag. She’s a terrific wrestler and they need to focus on that rather than her lineage.
Becky Lynch vs. Emma: A minor Hit for WWE developing a women’s feud that isn’t based around the women’s championship. The live crowd’s reaction wasn’t pretty, but it was hard to blame them when they never hear from Emma and were given no reason to care about the match. Lynch deserves credit for brining energy in her entrance and especially during her comeback to wake up the crowd. Emma going over was the right move if they want to establish this as a feud rather than as one-off Raw time filler.
WWE Raw Misses
Overall show: It’s one of those weeks where the Hits outnumber the Misses, yet I still found this to be a Miss of a show. The Raws coming out of WrestleMania were more focussed and everything on those shows felt like it served some purpose. This episode was disjointed and really dragged at times. I gave Payback only a slight thumbs up, yet I came out of Sunday’s show more excited about WWE than I did coming out of Raw. Worst of all, Raw missed in some very key places.
AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, and Luke Gallows vs. Roman Reigns and The Usos: This should have felt like a major match. Instead, it was set up backstage in a solid exchange between the six men rather than hyped at the top of the show in a meaningful way. Even after the backstage setup, the match was treated like any other Raw main event throughout the course of the night. There was a sense of danger with Anderson and Gallows when they arrived that is already fading. They should be cast as stars, not guys who make their entrance with Styles to his entrance theme. The right team won the match, but the wrong person took the pin. Styles lost clean to Reigns at the pay-per-view despite getting help from Anderson and Gallows. He needed the shine coming off that loss to put him in a good position heading into his rematch with Reigns, but he did not get it by pinning one of the Usos. Surely there was a way to have Styles pin Reigns even if it was with help from Anderson and Gallows. Worse yet, after Styles got his meaningless win over Jeyimmy, he was wiped out by Reigns in dominant fashion. WWE is having a hard enough time selling viewers on Styles as a threat to take the title, and this certainly didn’t help the cause. Thus, any good that was done by having Styles win the match for his team was completely erased just moments later when Roman destroyed him.
Stephanie McMahon and Shane McMahon: The opening segment the night after a pay-per-view didn’t focus on the world title match. Instead it showcased Stephanie and Shane sharing control of Raw. Apparently, WWE didn’t get the message the live crowd at Payback gave them in the form of a flat response to Vince McMahon’s announcement. The fans like Shane and I truly believe that one of the things they liked most about this supposed new era was the lack of heel authority figures. The spotlight was on the wrestlers during Shane’s brief stint as the lone Raw showrunner, and with Stephanie back in the picture it’s clear that the spotlight is back on the McMahon family circus. From a creative standpoint, Shane and Stephanie didn’t even get their first major decision right. They agreed that Kevin Owens was contractually entitled to a rematch for the Intercontinental Title, then inexplicably booked him in a contenders match against Cesaro. Stephanie’s nice girl act lasted all of two hours before she showed her true colors by cancelling Ambrose’s talkshow and giving Jericho his show back. She reversed the ruling that Shane previously made, yet Shane apparently just let it slide because he was so touched by the picture his sister had reframed.
New Day and Big Cass vs. The Dudleys and The Vaudevillains: A long match that felt like it was more about killing time than anything. The live crowd was hot for Big Cass coming off of Enzo’s injury. They came to life when he tagged into the match the first and got his hands on Simon Gotch. So what did he do? He struck Gotch with a few slow and plodding strikes and then tagged out. Really?!? How did they not save Cass getting his hands on the Vaudevillains for later in the match when he ended up having his big flurry down the stretch? Meanwhile, some live crowds love New Day. St. Louis didn’t seem to be one of them. It wasn’t that they disliked them, but they weren’t hanging on their every word and they didn’t seem to care about anything in this match aside from Cass tagging in.