In this day and age you can’t just “predict” a PPV anymore, you have to to account for the capricious whims of WWE’s septuagenarian, sleep-deprived egomaniac owner. You can’t just “preview” a PPV…you have to preview how things should go, in a reasonable and sane world, and then add “so of course…” and explain what Vince McMahon will probably do instead.
So consider this your SO OF COURSE preview of WWE WYATT FAMILY SHENANIGANS!
(Wyatt family not included)
Last time on SO OF COURSE, WWE ran its thirty-second “WrestleMania” PPV, the culmination of months of storylines, RAW episodes, feuds and disappointment. So so much disappointment. Seriously, if you’re one of those people who just started watching WWE after WrestleMania (and according to the ratings, that’s all seven of you), then you have no idea how good you have it now. Raw in March was a seemingly never-ending bout of the drizzling sizzlers. The same 20 minute Triple H and/or Stephanie promo to start things off, the same feudless fights between midcarders no one has a reason to care about, the same tired main events featuring some combination of Sheamus or Alberto Del Rio, the same slow pace that makes three hours feel like thirty, with that final hour akin to a trek across the Sahara.
WrestleMania itself was like a bigger production version of this. It was long (from the time I sat in my seat to the time I exited the stadium I was there for close to eight hours), most of the finishes were bewildering (and a few were just stupid) and it ended with little hope for the future.
And then everything changed the next night. Despite losing, and with no logical explanation offered, Shane McMahon is the defacto head honcho of Monday Night Raw. And even though he is just an on-air character and isn’t actually making any decisions, the show has improved tremendously.
Me sitting down to watch Raw in March:
Me sitting down to watch Raw in April:
Why the change? For one thing, storylines are being developed based around wrestlers, not authority figures (Shane has been mostly behind the scenes). For another thing, the stories themselves don’t feel like they’re being written—and rewritten—on the fly. Again, Shane isn’t actually running Raw, people. It’s still the same monkeys with typewriters churning out hot garbage that Vince McMahon is prone to scrap at 5pm on Monday. But it’s like…that didn’t happen at all this month. It’s like they all sat down and decided “okay let’s have some good Raws for a change.” Nothing management-wise has been altered; they just decided not to suck for a change of pace. It’s actually maddening when you think about it, since it shows that the company has the ability to make good television; they’ve just been stuck in a cycle of apathy for what’s felt like five years or more.
So now we come to Payback, which is being billed as “The first PPV of the New Era.” Obviously that’s been Shane’s buzzphrase since he took over a month ago, but it’s still a pretty big promise. If this show ends up being run of the mill, with bad finishes and bad booking all over the place, WWE is going to lose a lot more fans (and they’ve already lost a ton since WrestleMania). Right now a lot of fans don’t trust WWE, and even though this month of Raw has been amazing, a lot of fans are hesitant to get on board till the company proves they really have turned the corner. This event will go a long way to determine whether or not they have.
So what’s cooking for the big show? Let’s break it down…
BARON CORBIN vs DOLPH ZIGGLER
Almost everything about this feud is “the right call.” First of all, they debuted Baron Corbin with an obvious “first feud” in mind, something that guys like
The Ascension and Apollo Crews weren’t afforded. Good call. Second, Dolph Ziggler is the perfect “first feud” for a guy like Corbin. The Lone Wolf isn’t exactly the flashiest or the most agile in the ring. He’s a bit of a lumbering monster with a sadface bellybutton. Ziggler’s a guy who can flop all over the ring and make a bigger opponent look like a million bucks. Again, good call here. The only thing I don’t like about it is the lack of a motivation for it. Why is Corbin attacking Ziggler, apart from the cliched “I want to make a statement in my debut” angle? He showed toward the end of his NXT run some real depth of character and a good promo ability. If they had let him use it, this feud could have been a bigger deal than it was. That’s still the one thing WWE doesn’t do that NXT does well: In NXT every feud is given a story and the time to tell it, both in the ring and on the mic. There’s no wasted time on NXT. On WWE, however, several feuds have “programs” (wrestler-A is fighting wrestler-B) but not all of them have “stories” that drive the motivations of the heroes and villains. More of that, please.
As for the match itself, it won’t set the world on fire, but as long as they don’t go too long with it (which was a problem in their first match on the Raw-after-Mania), the Chicago crowd should be engaged and Corbin should get some nice heat. In the end though, Corbin needs the win to keep his momentum going. He is the future and Ziggler, bless his heart, is just here to make others look good. After that, he can continue to smash through randos until he and Cena cross paths (maybe as early as Memorial Day). And if you don’t think Corbin is going to be fed to Cena I don’t know what to tell you. Since Extreme Rules in just three weeks, you can always do a rematch with Ziggler to keep him busy, but no 50/50 booking. Keep him strong.
SO OF COURSE!
DEAN AMBROSE vs CHRIS JERICHO
This feud started over the rights to host a pretend talk show inside the pretend fighting show of Monday Night Raw. I suppose if you wanted to go further back you could start with that one time Jericho tagged with Ambrose and Reigns and then bailed on them. It looked like they were going with a Jericho vs Ambrose feud then, but then AJ Styles debuted and Jericho was shifted…meanwhile Ambrose was paired with Lesnar and was shafted. Now they’re finally doing this and the feud is about potted plants and hand-drawn signs. But I don’t care. Jericho has been doing his best work since, at least 2012, and maybe even better than that. This might be his best stuff since his other-worldly run in 2008-2009.
Ambrose is a tough character. Sometimes he hits the sweet spot in between crazy and funny but other times he drifts too far into Looney Tune territory. So far with Jericho he’s been hitting the sweet spot. His match with Lesnar was a disappointment in what it wasn’t allowed to accomplish (a lot of the crazier stunts were nixed to make Shane’s dive off the cell the bigger moment) but he was still paired up with the biggest attraction Vince has at the moment. He’s a consistent top tier guy, without being the actual “top” guy. The problem he’s had is he’s yet to actually win a major feud. Since the Shield split, Ambrose lost his feud with Rollins, lost his feud with Wyatt, lost his feud with Rollins again, lost his feud with Triple H and lost his feud with Lesnar. He really needs a big win, if only so that WWE can continue justify having him so near the top of the card. So whether this feud with Jericho ends at Payback or if it stretches on for a bit, in the end Ambrose needs the win.
SO OF COURSE!
SAMI ZAYN vs KEVIN OWENS
Like Batman and Joker these two are destined to do this forever. Big thumbs-up goes to the WWE production team for the amazing video they showed, chronicling the history between them. They didn’t really show any Steen vs Generico stuff, for obvious reasons, but they did touch on how long they’ve known each other and how they are destined to do one of two things: team up or fight. Seeing their feud play out on the WWE stage is great, and seeing how much care is being put into making it a big deal is even better. This so easily could have been a throw-away feud with no hype or attention paid to it. WWE from a couple years ago would have done just that. They would have said “these are indie guys and the smarks love them, so we don’t need to do anything with them…” and they would have gotten 8 minutes on a B-PPV before resuming their duties fighting for mid-card titles on Smackdown.
Instead WWE has treated this like two superstar, top-tier guys, who have a long history with each other, and that history has spilled over onto the WWE universe. It’s exactly the way to treat it and I’m amazed it’s how they’ve chosen to approach the feud. I’m too lazy to google it, but I think this might actually be only their third PPV match in NXT/WWE. They had the first title fight where Owens nearly murdered Zayn and won the title, then they had the rematch that ended with Owens nearly murdering Zayn and retaining the title. Since then they’ve crossed paths many times (always with a Peter vs The Chicken brawl) but this will be their first PPV fight since both were called up to the main roster. It will probably the first of many. Here’s to the eventual WrestleMania main event. In the meantime we have this match and with Extreme Rules just three weeks away (a fact I will repeat several times in this preview) the time might be right to give Sami his first (WWE) win over Owens, even if it comes by a simple rollup victory that KO can dismiss as a fluke (while acting totally enraged that it happened). Let the two of them have a big gimmick match at Extreme Rules before doing what I’m really excited to see: The KO/Zayn team up! So long as both guys come out of the match still looking like main-eventish players, I’m happy.
SO OF COURSE!
THE MIZ vs CESARO
When Cesaro was injured in late-2015 he had been on a tear, plowing through the midcard, stealing the show in matches against Cena and Owens and looking like he was well on his way to the main-event. After he was taken off TV to recover from shoulder surgery, many fans feared he would lose his momentum and return a neutered character. Instead, he was given probably the most primo spot you could ask for: a surprise return in the main event of the Raw-after-Mania. And even though he’s not in the world title picture, he has the next best thing: And believe it or not, “the next best thing” is “a feud with Miz.”
Seriously, Miz might be the most underrated player on Monday Night Raw. Very few of his contemporaries can work a crowd the way he can. He’s not Bret Hart in the ring, but he’s improved over the years to be “good enough” to justify getting mid-card push after push. Like Ziggler with Corbin, Miz is the perfect feud for Cesaro, as he can help the Swiss Superman improve on the one area he’s lacking: Mic skills. I want to believe that Cesaro is winning the IC title, either here or at Extreme Rules (which, spoiler alerts, is only three weeks away) and that he will do for the belt what Cena did for the US title last year: Turn it into a featured attraction on Raw, putting on show-stealing match week after week. Giving Cesaro an eight or nine month IC title reign would do wonders for the title, for the midcard in general, and for him, as it would keep him in the spotlight while he continues to perfect his promos. After that, there’s no reason not to put him in the main event.
SO OF COURSE!
ENZO & CASS vs VAUDEVILLAINS
What I want from this match is simple. I want Enzo to give his standard pre-match spiel, only a little slower so new fans can keep up with him. I want the Vaudevillains to win over the Chicago crowd with their ironic, quirky style. I also want Simon Gotch in particular to have plenty of time to show skeptical viewers that he’s actually, secretly, an awesome pro wrestler. And I want New Day to replace Cole, JBL and Saxton on commentary for the duration of the match. Give me those things, and you can do anything else you want. I have no doubt these guys are going to be motivated to go all out in their first main roster PPV and knowing their work, I know they can impress everyone watching if given the chance.
Want to go with Ezno/Cass vs New Day immediately? Fine. Why not. No better time like the present. You want to hold off until, say, SummerSlam (in Brooklyn) in order to give Enzo and Cass the big hometown pop? Sounds good. As long as they end up winning the titles they never got the chance to hold in NXT, I’m happy. Personally, I’d hold off and give the Vaudevillains a win few see coming. I’m actually rooting for them to win (even though I love Enzo and Cass) almost entirely because hardcore fans have preemptively written them off as a gimmick that can’t get over. At least give them a chance, guys. They’re never going to be the most popular team on the show (they weren’t in NXT either) but they can be a good gimmick team that is used mostly as enhancement talent, and occasionally get a little run in the spotlight. So let’s have the Dudley’s do a very Attitude Era thing and run-in on the match, attacking Enzo and Cass when the ref is distracted (or knocked out, whatever). Now you have two matches set up for Extreme Rules (which is only three weeks away, so they kind of need to get the ball rolling immediately to set it all up) and you can keep teasing the day when Enzo and Cass finally go mic to mic with New Day.
SO OF COURSE!
CHARLOTTE vs NATALYA
So Charlotte is the cocky women’s champion, who gets by with a little help from her dad. She’s being challenged by Natalya, a capable, suitable, fine enough, alright, not unqualified…it’s Natalya. She’s Ann Veal. She’s not flashy. She’s not must see. She’s a little corny and a little square, but she’s good in the ring (though a tad overrated I think) and is the most sure-handed “veteran” the women’s division has right now. So she’s a good feud for Charlotte to get by on her way to the real challenge that awaits her: Sasha Banks. As an equalizer, and, let’s face it, a way to inject some excitement to Natalya (a woman so bland her husband loves his tag partner, his cats and even Burger King Chicken Fries more than her), Bret Hart is coming a long to stand outside the ring looking bored, with his dry frizzy hair and his jean shorts, and…
wait a minute…
So yeah, this one is pretty predictable. As a curve ball, what I’m predicting is Ric tries to interfere (as always) and Bret gives him a clean right hand. Charlotte then beats Natalya on her own, proving that she doesn’t need her dad’s help (she just uses it because it’s easy, which is the perfect heel move). Eventually we’ve got to get to the point where Charlotte turns on her dad, but they may be saving that until after she drops the title to Sasha. We’re still three PPV’s away (not counting this one) before we get to SummerSlam, so we need to keep Charlotte busy and away from Sasha one-on-one. So let’s go with Charlotte vs Paige at Extreme Rules in the first ever women’s table match. There’s not much left for Natty after this match and there’s plenty of other women to keep the title scene fresh.
SO OF COURSE!
Shane vs Stephanie Decision
This isn’t a match, but it ought to be mentioned, since it’s certainly going to be a big deal. Stephanie returned to Raw last week demanding her show back. Shane was all “psh no, it’s my show now.” So Steph was all “Oh yeah well I’m telling dad.” And Shane was all “Fine, tell him. He put me in charge anyway.” And then Steph was like “Yeah but not anymore.” And Shane was like “Uh huh!” And Steph was all “Nuh uh!” And it went on like this.
Cliffs: Vince is coming back at Payback to make a decision as to who will be running Raw. On the one hand is Stephanie (and presumably Hunter with her), who oversaw a creatively stagnant show and declining ratings. On the other hand is Shane, who has overseen a creative rebirth…and declining ratings. Maybe the answer is…neither of them? Bring back Sheriff Austin!
But really what’s Vince going to do? He can’t possibly put Stephanie back in power. Even if it is just an on-screen move, it symbolizes a return to the status quo of boring and tedious Raws. Surely he has something else up his sleeve. What would I do? I’d have Vince be just about to make his announcement when the lights go out and Bray Wyatt comes out to attack Vince, shouting “down with the machine.” That leaves the decision in limbo, forcing both Shane and Stephanie to step back from the authority role and lets Raw exist for a few weeks without some all powerful rule-maker. You don’t need one in pro wrestling. How often do we see William Regal on NXT? Like once a month. The kids’ll be fine. And maybe that’s a shakeup big enough to actually convince some fans to actually tune in again.
SO OF COURSE…
ROMAN REIGNS vs AJ STYLES
Who saw this main event coming? I wouldn’t have believed it in January, when Styles debuted. I certainly wouldn’t have believed it after WrestleMania when he lost to Jericho. But here we are, and not only is Styles the number one contender, but he’s in the midst of the most engrossing WWE Title feud since at least The Daniel Bryan/WrestleMania 30 story. This one may not have the emotional impact as Bryan’s had, but it certainly makes up for that by offering a huge amount of intrigue. With Bryan, you knew he was going to win the title the moment he hijacked Raw and goaded Triple H into giving him a title match. That’s just WrestleMania destiny and is easily predicted (and that’s not a bad thing, because Mania is supposed to be the show where the heroes win…except for WrestleMania 32 I guess). With this feud, even though you can reasonably say Reigns is walking out the champ, the real question mark is everything around that finish. Will it be clean? Surely not. Will it be as a result of bungled interference by the Bullet Club? That seems too “Roman the hero overcoming the odds” and I’d like to believe those days are passed. Will it be an AJ turn? That doesn’t seem likely, if only because that’s what the story wants you to think is coming.
I think we’re left with two possible finishes, and both involve the Bullet Club turning on AJ. If you don’t see this coming go back and watch their first interaction together backstage on Raw a couple weeks ago. The first thing Anderson and Gallows say to him is “hey friend.” Basic rule of storytelling: If a new guy has a history with your main character and he goes out of his way to inform you that they’re buddies, he’s going to stab him in the back. I mean, obviously.
So that brings us to our two possible finishes. Option-A: Bullet Club turns on AJ and aligns with Finn Balor. You don’t have to bring out Balor at Payback (although Chicago would melt if you did). You can hold off till Extreme Rules if you wanted, which is an undetermined number of weeks away. But in the end, Balor would be revealed as one pulling the strings and then we’d get an AJ vs Finn feud to carry us for the next several months.
Option-B: Bullet Club turns on AJ and aligns with…Roman Reigns. This would be a much crazier idea. It would solidify Roman as a heel, continue the feud with AJ and create an obvious first feud with Balor when he gets the call up (in this scenario there’s no rush to call up Finn; he can remain on NXT and finish up with Samoa Joe if that’s what they have planned). Again, this is a much crazier idea. It would make a lot of hardcore fans happy, because they’d get the full Roman heel turn they’ve been wanting, but it would also upset many, as the legacy of the Bullet Club would, in their minds, be tarnished with them becoming lackies of Tha Big Dog.
It’s hard to say where they’re going with this, and in the end Vince may just get cold feet and go with a clean Roman win and then a Bullet Club beatdown on Raw. That would be horrible, though.
SO OF COURSE!
Oh well. There’s always NXT.
Here’s to Sunday.