By Jason Powell
WWE Raw Hits
Chris Jericho, The Miz, and Dean Ambrose opening: A nearly 20-minute opening segment that featured enough laughs to fill the time well. Sadly, the segment also set the tone for a theme of the show in that it delivered little in the way of hype for anything Payback related. By the way, why is Ambrose the odd man out of the advertised matches for Sunday?
Matt Hardy vs. Sheamus: A good match and a nice break from the formula of teams splitting singles wins going into pay-per-view tag title matches. The post match angle with Sheamus being the cooler head was interesting. Sheamus and Cesaro once again offering handshakes to the apprehensive Hardys was intriguing. At this point, it’s hard to say with any certainty where this is going. This turned out to be the best final push for a Payback match.
Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, and Big Cass vs. Samoa Joe, Luke Gallows, and Karl Anderson: A nice beatdown by Anderson and Gallows coming out of the crowd to take out Enzo Amore prior to the match. This led to WWE making good use of Finn Balor as the surprise replacement while he waits for Bray Wyatt’s Payback match to conclude before he can begin his first real program. This match provided the best in-ring action of the night, and it was wise to leave fans waiting for any major physicality between Rollins and Joe.
Neville and TJ Perkins vs. Austin Aries and Jack Gallagher: The match featured the three cruiserweights who have been featured most effectively WWE (and the recent turn of TJP offers some hope for him as well). The crowd was more vocal than usual during a cruiserweight match, and the broadcast team did a nice job of pointing out the all business approach of Aries heading into his title match against Neville at Payback. The build to their WrestleMania match was more effective, but Neville vs. Aries II should be a hell of a match.
WWE Raw Misses
Overall show: This show would have been acceptable had it been a few weeks before the pay-per-view and they were merely filling time in an entertaining manner. However, Raw failed as a go-home show for the pay-per-view. Granted, it’s difficult to promote Payback when they didn’t have access to Roman Reigns, Randy Orton, and Kevin Owens when all three men are booked in top matches. While the absence of Reigns is certainly understandable, I’m not sure why they didn’t call a scheduling audible by booking Orton or Owens on the show. Nevertheless, I went into Raw feeling good about Payback and actually came out slightly less enthused about Sunday’s show.
The Miz vs. Chris Jericho and Dean Ambrose: The babyface duo worked over one heel while two of the three broadcast team members spoke about how the situation was unfair to The Miz. Oddly enough, they also had Ambrose work up to a hot tag despite his team having the numbers advantage. The live crowd seemed to play along with the odd handicap match, as it seemed like they saw Miz as a heel who was getting what he had coming to him. However, things got worse when Bray Wyatt showed up as Miz’s mystery partner. Wyatt is cast as the top heel of the Payback pay-per-view where he will face Rand Orton in the House of Horrors match. So why in the world did they have Wyatt put Miz down with Sister Abigail in a moment designed to get him a babyface reaction? I realize that WWE thinks any reaction is a good reaction, but this felt counterproductive.
Braun Strowman vs. Kalisto in a dumpster match: The match was fine, though the decision to have Strowman lose in flukey fashion was a bit odd. Granted, he didn’t lose anything by dropping the match in that manner, but I would argue that Kalisto didn’t really gain anything by winning either. Match finish aside, the post match angle was a big letdown. Kalisto’s dumpster ride off the stage with the short drop was a far cry from the usual level of Strowman carnage we’ve seen in recent weeks.
Dana Brooke vs. Alicia Fox: This seemed to be designed as a come down match from the dumpster ride, but the spot was so tame that there was nothing for the fans to come down from. The otherwise excitable crowd sat in near silence as this played out.
Bayley and Sasha Banks: Sasha turning on Bayley can’t happen soon enough. These near weekly segments of Big Sister Sasha coming to Bayley’s defense are tiresome. I understand that they are trying to establish the friendship between Sasha and Bayley and I assume it’s setting the stage for their breakup, but it’s reached a point of ridiculousness that Bayley is content with Sasha always getting involved in her business. The only saving grace was the mic work of the terrific Alexa Bliss.
Apollo Crews and Titus O’Neil: Crews’s win over Curt Hawkins was a simple showcase match. The post-match angle with Titus attempting to recruit Crews to his ridiculous Titus Brand does nothing for me or anyone else based on the live crowd’s reaction.