By Jason Powell
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WWE Payback Hits
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman: Another strong brawl between Reigns and Strowman with great main event atmosphere. Michael Cole went above and beyond to make Reigns sound like the most valiant babyface ever, and that thee carried over to the post match scene with Reigns insisting that he walk out under his own power. As much as I would prefer to see Reigns cast as a true heel, there’s no denying that the way they laid it on so thick for Reigns plays perfectly in terms of making his fans sympathetic while also making his detractors despise him even more. It will be interesting to see if we get a rematch at Extreme Rules or where they go next.
Jeff Hardy and Matt Hardy vs. Sheamus and Cesaro for the Raw Tag Team Championship: A good tag title match despite it being a rough night for the Hardys with Jeff losing a tooth and Matt suffering a hard way cut. I was actually content with the two teams shaking hands afterward as a payoff to their recent showings of apprehension from the Hardys to accept the handshake offers from Sheamus and Cesaro, so I bought it when Sheamus and Cesaro left the ring afterward. The beatdown angle came off well and heats up the program in a major way. Will it trigger the Broken version of the Hardys that Matt seems to be teasing?
Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s Championship: This stands out as the best in-ring pay-per-view performance from Bliss thus far. Bliss winning the championship ends the premature title reign for Bayley, who needed to face more adversity as the underdog babyface before reaching the top of the mountain. The live crowd was strong all night and popped big for the hometown girl, which created a strong atmosphere of the match.
Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho for the U.S. Championship: Another case of Jericho being a step ahead of the fans? Everything pointed to Jericho losing the match given that the latest Fozzy tour starts on Friday. Instead, he won the match and moves to Smackdown, where I assume he will drop the title on Tuesday night. It seems like the obvious answer is to have him drop the strap to Owens given KO’s new Face of America gimmick and his expected Backlash match with AJ Styles, but perhaps they will surprise us yet again.
Finn Balor on Miz TV: This is the best that Balor has come off since his return from injury. WWE did a great job of shooting his entrance with the camera behind him to get the shot of the fans raising their arms along with him. The Miz carried things from a verbal segment and was a million times better in this role than Dolph Ziggler was during Tuesday’s Smackdown segment with Shinsuke Nakamura. The live crowd was with Balor every step of the way and he came off like the star that he is. It was also good to hear him talk about going after the WWE Universal Championship, as that planted the seeds for an eventual match with Brock Lesnar.
Samoa Joe vs. Seth Rollins: A good match that felt like it didn’t need a clean finish. With Extreme Rules coming, I’m surprised they didn’t book some type of no-contest to set up the rematch. That said, the finish they chose protected Joe in that while he was pinned, it’s not like he took the Rollins finisher and was out cold when Rollins pinned him. I assume Joe gets his win back at Extreme Rules.
Neville vs. Austin Aries for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship: Another good outing from Neville and Aries with a finish that keeps the feud going. It didn’t feel like this had built up to the point that fans were craving a title change, so Neville taking the DQ rather than tapping out was nicely done.
Overall show: Expectations were low due to the poor build, but the wrestlers came through with strong performances and the finishes were decisive and/or logical for the most part.
WWE Payback Misses
Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt in a House of Horrors match: We’ve seen Bray Wyatt disappear from a storage container, a shed set on fire, the death of Sister Abigail’s spirit, the rebirth of Sister Abigail’s spirit, and campy insect slideshows at WrestleMania. When WWE announced the mysterious House of Horrors concept, it was hard not to fear what type of supernatural nonsense they had in mind. Fortunately, they abandoned the hocus pocus and simply went with two guys brawling in a spooky house. The House of Horrors portion of the match was on the high end of my lower than low expectations. The in-ring portion was brief and transferred the heat from Wyatt to Jinder Mahal to continue the build to JinderMania (a/k/a WWE Backlash). So while all of this was not not my style nor Hit material, it could have been so much worse.
Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson: A decent opener that felt like a match we’ve seen on Raw too many times. I couldn’t shake the feeling that regardless of which team lost the match, they would turn around and win a rematch on Raw soon.
The new edition of the Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast with Jason Powell features Ricky Starks on his NWA run, doing enhancement work for WWE, leaving NOLA due to Hurricane Katrina, the January 24 NWA Hard Times PPV on FITE.TV, his relationship with Nick Aldis, and much more...