By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
WWE Raw Hits
Gunther vs. Chad Gable for the Intercontinental Title: A very good match and it still felt like there’s still room for them to have an even better match at WWE Payback. Gable going over via count-out was a pleasant surprise, as I didn’t see them extending the feud beyond this match. Gunther taking a count-out loss doesn’t hurt him in any way and they can still promote that he hasn’t been pinned or submitted since arriving on the main roster. If the creative forces are serious about doing more with Gable, then they really need to ditch his comedy lines. I dig the “thank you” bit more than the corny “shooosh” line, but neither seem to be getting good reactions from the live crowds.
Shinsuke Nakamura promo: I don’t know why it’s taken the company so long to use subtitles for Nakamura promos, but I’m happy they finally did. Nakamura came off really well in this setting and I like the story that he exposed a back injury that Rollins has been dealing with. Rollins still feels like a heavy favorite to win at Payback, but Nakamura exploiting the injury could create some suspenseful moments. Furthermore, the back injury story is one that Rollins can and should carry forward with him to other feuds.
Cody Rhodes, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn vs. “Judgment Day” Finn Balor, Damian Priest, and Dominik Mysterio: The match definitely had a “been there and done that” feel to it, but the Quebec City crowd’s passion for Owens and Zayn made for a great atmosphere. I didn’t mind the aborted tag team match that preceded the six-man tag match. It allowed creative to tell the story of Judgment Day bickering over which two members would face Owens and Zayn. And they were wise not to make it a tag team title match because a cheap finish to a quick match would have made the six-man tag match feel inconsequential in comparison.
Women’s World Champion Rhea Ripley vs. Candice LeRae in a non-title match: A quick and decisive win for the champion. The real Hit is for the post match angle with Raquel Rodriguez showing good fire while getting the better of Ripley to set up their match for Payback. It’s nice to see the Rodriguez character do more than just smile. I’m surprised the company hasn’t put together a video package to chronicle the NXT history between Ripley and Rodriguez.
“New Day” Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods vs. Drew McIntyre and Matt Riddle: The match was enjoyable until the cheap finish involving the Viking Raiders. Erik and Ivar have taken so many losses that it’s hard to be excited about seeing them work with either team. Kingston and Woods dubbing McIntyre and Riddle as “McRiddle” felt like something cute in the moment that will be annoying in three weeks if the company runs it into the ground.
WWE Raw Misses
Lack of meaningful heels: It’s been very encouraging to see the creative forces attempt to rehabilitate Finn Balor and now Shinsuke Nakamura, but there is a shortage of meaningful heels on the Raw side. Case in point, Cody Rhodes seems to be without a dance partner heading into Payback. The company has had since WrestleMania to set up Cody’s post Brock Lesnar feud opponent and yet no one outside of Judgment Day and Nakamura have been elevated. And the Nakamura push was rushed, which makes me question how much long term planning is actually taking place. If they knew Nakamura was going to be next in line for Rollins after his feud with Finn Balor, then why was Nakamura trading wins and losses with Bronson Reed and Ricochet? Did something fall through? Is there a reason why Drew McIntyre is goofing around with Riddle when he could be the top heel on the brand?
Becky Lynch and Trish Stratus: Stratus has improved as a promo and yet she’s still struggling to get a rise out of the live crowds. She was all over the place while trying to conjure up heat with the Quebec crowd and none of it left me looking forward to the blowoff match of her program with Lynch. Meanwhile, Lynch has said repeatedly that her character doesn’t need titles. The truth is that she’s cooled off because the company hasn’t had strong heels for her to work with. Worse yet, it’s not like they’ve been building up any heels to work with Lynch for once her program with Stratus finally ends.
The Miz vs. Akira Tozawa: It was a cute upset in the moment and I get that LA Knight got some payback for Miz costing him a match on Smackdown. The problem is that Miz loses so many matches that it won’t anything when Knight presumably beats him at WWE Payback. It’s a credit to Miz that he’s able to get so much heat despite losing so as often as he does, but he could mean so much more if he simply won more matches.
WWE Women’s Tag Team Champions Chelsea Green and Piper Niven vs. Kayden Carter and Katana Chance in a non-title match: Mixed feelings. I liked that Niven was showcased in her first match as Green’s partner. I just wish that it hadn’t come at the expense of Carter and Chance, who are one of the only actual tag teams in the entire main roster women’s division. There’s no reason that a couple of enhancement wrestlers couldn’t have been booked to take this beating from Niven.