Previously at “Wrestlemania“…Roman Reigns defeated Triple H to become the World Heavyweight Champion once more, but unfortunately was soundly defeated by a chorus of booing so intense that even the audio technicians tapped out. But the real loser was us, who was forced to endure a long, tedious show with bizarre booking decisions and underwhelming match quality. What was worse? Zack Ryder becoming the Intercontinental Champion or the United States Championship being defended on the kick-off show again…as the curtain jerker…in front of a virtually empty auditorium? Or maybe it was the League of Nations defeating the Tag Team Champions in a non-Title match, before being crushed by a bunch of older wrestlers? Or maybe it was the Wyatt Family getting buried again? Or maybe it was a man being the determining factor in the first ever WWE Women’s Championship match? “Wrestlemania (2016)” sucked…
RAW (4/4/2016): This was an incredible show, excluding a few eye-brow raising moments of badness. For one, the commentators have to warn the audience that post-Wrestlemania crowds tend to be unpredictable and will often boo the good guys and cheer the bad guys, presumably to save face for Roman Reigns. I also find myself annoyed that Vince gave Shane control of RAW for the night, rendering the risky “Wrestlemania” match even more pointless. I also noticed a botch during the main event, where Owens attacked Cesaro from behind a bit too early, causing Cesaro to ignore it until Owens reprises the attack. Zack Ryder actually won me over with his promo, which lead to him losing the championship to the Miz…I hate 1-day reigns and this just showed that someone unworthy was holding the belt, confirming my reservations. But the rest…awesome. The matches were all good, with the main event being the highlight of the show. It was supposed to be ‘Jericho Vs Styles Vs Owens Vs Zayn‘ to determine who the #1 contender was for the World Heavyweight Championship, but Owens attacked Zayn, leading him to be replaced by…Cesaro! It was just fast paced, exciting and everyone got to stand out and be awesome. Apollo Crews also made his debut, although he was upstaged by the more grand entrance of Enzo and Cass, whose verbal pwnage of the Dudleyz was excellent. I had a blast with this episode, even if I did take some issues with it.
RAW (4/11/2016): Shane gets to host RAW once more, with the justification being that this was due to the overwhelmingly positive support, even though this doesn’t fit with Vince’s current evil persona. Nevertheless, they delivered a very good show, where all the matches were entertaining, the story developments were intriguing and the Main Event was…strange…Roman Reigns teams up with Bray Wyatt to battle the League of Nations…I did like how they stayed in-character with their tensions and it was engaging, although it might be a distraction from Reigns’ upcoming bout with Styles. Speaking of whom, ‘AJ Styles Vs Sami Zayn‘ was an excellent bout and I liked they increased the stakes to make it a little bit more unpredictable. The Tag Team division got a little more interesting with the arrival of the Bullet Club, although I’m not very familiar with either of their careers. Finally, Jericho making himself a guest on his own show was a funny and Ambrose’s interruption hit all the right notes as well. I pretty much liked everything, so how long will they keep this momentum up?
RAW (4/18/2016): This episode was…strange. I liked a lot of the content and I wasn’t thrilled with the rest. I enjoyed the Ambrose Asylum show, thought his jokes were funny and liked the various interactions, but why did Jericho, Owens, Ambrose and Zayn go after the person they weren’t feuding with? The Tag Team Tournament continues, with Enzo and Cass excelling against the Dudley Boyz (good match), while the Vaudevillains sort of fell flat with audiences (still a good match though). I did like the tensions between Styles and Reigns, with the use of the Bullet Club being the most intriguing aspect about the show. But something about the pacing, writing and booking felt off to me. Natalya is bringing Bret Hart to repel Ric Flair at “Payback“, but I can’t be the only one to take note that men are apparently becoming the focal point of the Womens’ division. ‘Kevin Owens Vs Ambrose‘ was good and all, but how many times have we seen this match for the past few months? So even though this show wasn’t really bad and worked very well in most of its parts, I felt strangely detached from the episode.
RAW (4/25/2016): Stephanie is back…yay…Nevertheless, I did like her banter with Shane, although that security guard who was knocked to the ground by Steph should probably be fired (kayfabe). I really like the ambiguity surrounding AJ Styles and the Bullet Club, as it seems like AJ was innocent, but is being lured into the temptations of using his friends to his advantage. Speaking of whom, the Bullet Club had their debut match against the Usos, which was pretty good if a bit long. I’ve also found the Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn program to be compelling, even if I think it would so much better if there was a championship on the line. This night could’ve been called the League of Jobbers, because the League of Nations spent the night jobbing to everyone in highly entertaining matches. I did like how Rusev lost to Zayn, but it was treated as a fluke, so allowed for an opportunity for Rusev to be rebuilt. ‘AJ Styles Vs Sheamus‘ was probably the best bout of the night, highlighting both of their strengths and making Styles look more credible. This was a good show that occasionally peeked into greatness, so I was pleased.
- Dolph Ziggler Vs Baron Corbin- Corbin
- Vaudevillains Vs Enzo and Cass- Enzo and Cass
- Charlotte Vs Natalya- Charlotte
- Kevin Owens Vs Sami Zayn- Zayn
- Miz Vs Cesaro- Cesaro
- Kalisto Vs Ryback- Kalisto
- Jericho Vs Ambrose- Ambrose
- Roman Reigns Vs AJ Styles- Reigns
(Kick-off Match) Dolph Ziggler Vs Baron Corbin– I missed most of this storyline, either because hulu chose to edit it out of RAW or it took place on Smackdown, but I was intrigued by this pairing. I didn’t care for this match though, because Corbin dominated Ziggler throughout the majority of their bout, only for Ziggler to steal the win. Who benefited from this? Ziggler got a fluke victory, so he doesn’t seem anymore credible and Corbin’s momentum has already taken a blow. Not very exciting, but it was technically fine until the ending derailed the match.
(Kick-off Match) UNITED STATES CHAMPIONSHIP: Kalisto Vs Ryback– I didn’t see ANYTHING surrounding the buildup to this match, although apparently the extent of this storyline was ‘Ryback beat Kalisto on SMACKDOWN’, which is very lazy writing. So while I wasn’t emotionally invested, Ryback and Kalisto still managed to deliver a reasonably entertaining match. Much like their “Wrestlemania” battle, this highlighted both of their strengths as performers, although I thought Kalisto recovered too quickly from the ‘top rope press slam’- especially considering that was probably the coolest spot.
#1 Contender Spot: Enzo and Cass Vs The Vaudevillains– I’ve enjoyed how they’ve debuted Enzo and Cass, as in their first few weeks on the Main Roster, WWE has given them the stage to showcase their personalities without forcing them down our throats. The Vaudevillains, on the other hand, haven’t really had the chance to clarify their characterizations. I think a large part of their problem is that they’re more quirky than comical and it’s just hard to hate them, even though they’re supposed to be heels. But unlike the New Day, they aren’t funny enough to really like either (NXT allowed them to slowly develop over time before they became prominent). But the worst part of this storyline was that the New Day themselves wouldn’t be defending their championship, which I hate even more than Championships being defended on the Kick-off Show. Otherwise, I enjoyed this tournament and was anticipating this match…and then it happened…For the first 5 minutes, the action was exciting, fast paced and the performers were using maneuvers I hadn’t seen from them…and then what appeared to be a catastrophic injury occured…When Enzo hit the floor after his upper body (neck) snapped off the ropes, I thought he was dead. It was scary and I was hoping it was just for show, but it became apparent through the commentary, his lack of movement and the reactions of the other wrestlers and referees that he was seriously hurt. The match was cancelled following this and I hope he’s OK.
Kevin Owens Vs Sami Zayn– I love this rivalry and I thought their feud from NXT carried naturally into this program, without forcing the audience to watch their previous war just to understand what is going on. You can just see their history together in their interactions and their very personal motivations added to the intensity and drama. My only complaint is that there should’ve been a title on the line, as I feel like this feud is what will define their careers and it needs higher stakes. But I loved what we got anyway, because their match was epic. This was much more exciting than their previous bouts, moving at an electric pace and showing plenty of bumps and spots. I’m not saying this was the best of their matches since they joined WWE, but it probably was their craziest.
INTERCONTINENTAL CHAMPIONSHIP: The Miz Vs Cesaro– I didn’t watch any of the Smackdowns since “Wrestlemania (2016)“, where the majority of this feud played out and Hulu omitted what took place on RAW, so this storyline meant nothing to me. I thought Cesaro had a pretty spectacular return and…Um…I guess I’d rather the Miz hold the belt instead of Ryder? Even though Owens refers to it as ‘his belt’, the Miz seemingly has spent the last few years trying to reclaim this Championship. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t remember him seriously pursuing any other Title since his brief Tag Team Championship Reign. This match was OK, although it was seriously lacking…something. There were a few botches and it was strange when Cesaro just picked up the Miz with no resistance, holding him there like a rag doll even though there was no sign of any injury that would justify the Miz suddenly going limp. But the pacing was swift and the Miz was obviously working hard to keep up with Cesaro- who is as exciting as always. I think the main problem is that I didn’t see many (any?) of their interactions leading up to this (reducing my emotional connection) and their bout was upstaged by the ‘Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn‘ program. Owens is on commentary and Zayn attacks him, leading to the Miz stealing a win (ugh) and a four way brawl to ensue. This match seemingly only existed to set up the next PPV, which will presumably be a 4-way battle royal. Solid work though.
Chris Jericho Vs Dean Ambrose– This was a fun little program, as Jericho is at his most entertaining in heel mode and Ambrose legitimately cracked me up when hosting his ‘Ambrose Asylum’ show. They seem to have a natural chemistry and their interactions were both tense and fun, so I was looking forward to this match. I had a blast with this one, even though it was a little rough around the edges. I liked the pacing, maneuvers and spots, but above everything, both performers made an emotional connection with me. I found myself marking out and hating Jericho, while passionately rooting for Ambrose. It’s nice when a match actually forces the critic side of me to tap out and I can just enjoy it as a normal fan.
WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP: Charlotte Vs Natalya– This storyline SUCKED. Let’s ignore that Natalya hasn’t been booked very strongly and it’s obvious that she’s only there to extend Charlotte’s time as champion- meaning that there is no real drama or intensity, as the winner is too obvious. But I hate how the first feud surrounding this new Championship is more about the men mentoring these women. The entire gimmick of this match was how Bret Hart and Ric Flair would be in the ladies’ corners. The Crowd eventually started chanting for other people, such as Sasha, because they saw through this defense as merely padding. But…I felt bad as this actually was a pretty good match and reminded me how good Natalya actually is. She showed her athleticism and wrestling abilities and I found myself actually wanting her to win. The finish made me roll my eyes, as it’s another Screwjob albeit without any sense of context…or…just…sense…Why would the ref screw Natalya over? Because…nostalgia? Maybe this will be fleshed out and lead to something creative, but as of this writing, the finish was lame.
Who will run RAW?– Vince decides both Stephanie AND Shane will run RAW, which is an OK decision I guess. It depends on how good or bad the immediate episodes are. Vince, Steph and Shane all played their parts very well, although this segment ran too long and occasionally the crowd did revolt.
WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP: Roman Reigns Vs Aj Styles– While I question some of the booking surrounding this feud, as losing to Jericho who would go on to lose against Ambrose is not a good way to build up the #1 contender, I did find myself enjoying this storyline. I like how Roman Reigns is neither heel or face and I liked how the Bullet Club was used. Will AJ go down a dark path to get his championship? Will the Bullet Club turn on him? So much intrigue and I’m very curious to see where this would go…and I loved this. Roman Reigns tends to have the most chemistry with smaller, more agile performers and both of their…ugh, I’m sorry for this…styles clashed perfectly. I liked the variety of power, speed, technique and adrenaline. It moved fast, contained high impact spots and the spectacle was jacked up in a way to serve the storyline. At first, it seemed like Styles would win in ways that would NOT score him the title, but Shane and Stephanie would arrive to adjust the match. The Bullet Club would get involved, as we knew they would, but I wasn’t expecting the currently irrelevant Uso Brothers to save the day. Will this lead to them becoming important again? Hopefully. Yet I adored the intrigue and the false finishes, even if the final conclusion was a little safe and predictable. I thought this was an exceptional match, arguably being Styles’ best work since coming to the WWE and certainly being among Roman’s best bouts. As great as ‘Sami Zayn Vs Kevin Owens‘ was, I think the main event stole the show, which was an ideal way to end things.
Overall: “Payback (2016)” had a very intriguing match card and for the most part, my expectations were met- and sometimes were even exceeded. Everyone seemed to perform to the best of their abilities and told compelling in-ring stories. There were three matches I considered to be ‘great’ and the rest were ‘good’, although ‘Baron Corbin Vs Dolph Ziggler” was probably the only one which descended into mediocrity. The pacing of the majority of the matches was swift and somehow this never lead to me becoming exhausted or burned out. The entirety of “Payback” moved quickly, building upon the excitement instead of crashing and burning. Even “NXT TakeOver: Dallas” eventually ran out of momentum, which “Payback” never completely lost. The only reason I can not give this a ‘great rating’ is that Enzo’s injury cast a dark shadow on the remainder of the event and my mind could never completely move on from that. After the PPV was over, it came out that Enzo suffered a concussion and there have been no reports of other injuries, so maybe that shadow will be lifted and I will re-evaluate “Payback” as a great show…but we have to see! Speaking of ‘seeing’, didn’t anyone within the marketing division of WWE notice that the promotional material was obsolete? Or was the Wyatt Family just invisible?