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 GOES EXTREME AND VIOLENT AND DANGEROUS AND DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME AND IT’S ALL BROUGHT TO YOU BY TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES AND GOLDEN CORRAL!
Last time on SO OF COURSE, WWE ran its now annual WWE Payback show…a month before they were supposed to (seriously, WWE: It goes WrestleMania, Extreme Rules and then Payback. Some of us have OCD.), featuring some epic and some not so epic clashes between Roman Reigns and AJ Styles, Charlotte and Natalia, Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose and Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens and Miz and Cesaro. Now that Payback is out of the way we can move ahead to matches featuring Roman Reigns and AJ Styles, Charlotte and Natalia, Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler (preshow bruhaha), Dean Ambrose and Chris Jericho, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Miz and Cesaro.
There’s no punchline.
On to the show!
THE USOS vs THE
Hey, speaking of fresh matchups! Here’s something we didn’t see at Payback. Instead we saw it on literally every Raw and Smackdown since! This time we’re getting it in the form of a tornado tag match, which is just fancy talk for “no tagging in and out; everyone go crazy.” I remember the tornado tag matches teams like the Dudleys and Edge and Christian and the Hardyz would have back in the ye olden days, in between their ladder matches. It’s a formula for fun, as long as they use the format correctly.
A regular tag match, especially with the way WWE lays them out, is all about the “hot tag.” You have to sit through the sustained beat down, tag-tease, more beatdown and more tag-tease and then a hope spot before finally the wounded babyface leaps to his corner (always just as the wounded heel gets to his) to tag-in his partner (who then cleans house by hitting his opponent, who promptly hops up only be knocked down again, only to hop up again, and again and again and geez these WWE tag matches are formulaic).
Tornado tag matches have none of that. It’s just a two on two fight and the first pinfall wins. The worst of them act like regular tag matches, with guys standing around while the action happens in the ring, one-on-one. When done right, there’s usually a couple guys in the ring and a couple guys brawling on the outside and they switch up the combinations throughout the match to keep things fresh.
The Usos are boring and even without their association with Roman the worm had pretty much turned on them. Being linked to the whipping boy of smarks is doing them no favors, nor is their being paired against the
Bullet Club, who still have that new wrestler shine to them (and association with a hot pro wrestling stable from the other side of the globe). This is Anderson and Gallow’s first WWE PPV and the Uso’s stole a win on the go-home Raw, so all signs point to “The Club” winning this one. It’s the only thing that makes sense, at least. They need to look strong but unfortunately they’ve mostly looked, at best, “competitive.” They don’t need to be competitive; they need to be dominant. Hopefully they look strong on a team that doesn’t need the win.
SO OF COURSE
KALISTO vs RUSEV
Hey remember last month when Kalisto had a match with Ryback and no one cared about it because it was Ryback and even I didn’t cover it in the preview and I get paid to do this stuff but it was Ryback and who cares, right? Well Ryback is splitsville but before he left he surprised everyone with a surprisingly fun match with Kalsito. Which is crazy because it’s Ryback…and because the two of them had a turd of a match at WrestleMania(‘s preshow) just a month prior. At Payback(‘s preshow) they went out and knocked it out of the park and Ryback did the most unRyback thing ever: He went out of his way to save someone from injury:
Now he’s gone but hold your tears because in his death a new phoenix has arisen, one which has not been seen since getting emasculated by John Cena a year ago. Rusev has returned and with the League of Nations now disbanded his baller entrance theme has returned with him. Fun fact, the opening cry of “Rusev udrya Rusev machka!” is literally translated from Bulgarian into English to mean “Rusev do punch, Rusev do crush.” That’s about as perfect as it gets.
If there’s any justice Rusev will win the title and go on a tear, taking down a gauntlet of challengers in high profile matches on Raw and PPV, before finally getting defeated in a big match for the title at like Survivor Series. I like Kalisto and think he has potential to be that “next Rey Mysterio” guy Vince has been chasing for a while now. It’s not his fault that the booking has devalued the title, but at this point there needs to be a change just as a way to start fresh with it. Rusev is the perfect guy to re-legitimize the US title since he was the one to legitimize it in the first place.
SO OF COURSE
DEAN AMBROSE vs CHRIS JERICHO
It’s always fun with WWE tries something new. Here we have the world’s first “knick·knack” Cage Match. Sure they’re calling it an “Asylum Cage Match” but it’s basically a cage match with various items of varying degrees of ferocity hanging over it. You got your baseball bat dangling from one cord but just a foot away is a…mop and bucket? That’s hardcore. Someone call Terry Funk.
This feels like the end of the feud, which means it’ll probably extend to one more match, maybe on Raw the next night, but with Money in the Bank coming up there’s not much more use for it. It accomplished what seems to be its one goal: Giving Dean Ambrose an actual, honest to goodness, victory in a feud. He’s got a worse track record than Mick Foley when it comes to actually walking away from a program with a “W.” As I said last month, 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. Finally he got a significant win against Jericho and has a chance to make it 2-for-2 on Sunday. This is his match as well, a product of his own demented mind. Losing this would be like Undertaker losing the first Hell in a Cell match, or Kane losing the first Inferno match.
Jericho basically exists to put people over now and even when he wins (like at WrestleMania over Styles) you feel like it was just to keep him looking good so he could later put people over. I guess you can make that argument about anyone but with Jericho it feels like that’s the plan going in with him. That’s about all he’s good for anyway. Jericho likes to say he’s the George Harrison of the Attitude Era (the best of his generation except for those two other guys who just happen to be the best of all time). I don’t agree with that but I suppose he has his die hard supporters who do. Of the three “workhorse” guys back in the day (Benoit and Angle being the others) he was always third out of three for me. But he’s a reliable “name” and a good worker and someone that, if you beat him, gives you a good feather in your cap. Ambrose can finish this feud on Sunday and head into Money in the Bank with real momentum, and even as a favorite to win the briefcase.
SO OF COURSE
NEW DAY vs THE VAUDEVILLIANS
It’s here where I point out that, while other fans were quick to write off The Vaudevillains as insta-jobbers who would be competing on WWE Superstars within a month, and possibly even fired within a year, I always thought they would make it. I never thought they’d be Enzo and Cass-popular but I knew they could work as a niche team that was used mostly as “inbetweeners” (the guys not big enough to be in a big feud on one of the major shows, but can be a good enough feud in the meantime on one of the B-PPV’s). I have no actual documentation on my erstwhile confidence; you’ll just have to take my word for it.
But here we are and The Vaudevillains aren’t just competing for the WWE Tag Titles (which they would have done even if Enzo hadn’t nearly died last month) but they are actually over with the crowds. It helps that the WWE Universe at large is slowly becoming more and more familiar with the character and acts of NXT. Two years ago a team like English and Gotch would have been limp fish upon debuting. Now, in the post-NXT Arrival era (and really, post-Takeover:Brooklyn era) enough fans know them that they can keep them afloat until the casuals catch on.
That’s not to say The Vaudevillains should walk away with the title, though. That’s not their role. Their job is to be a paper tiger to the champs, to keep the real money feud (in this case Enzo and Cass vs New Day) on the backburner until the time is right (SummerSlam). New Day have been champs for a long time now, and once you reach a certain point, you lose the ability to have a surprise title change. You’re almost obligated as a booker to build up to the big moment when the changing of the guard takes place. This isn’t that time and The Vaudevillains aren’t that team. But this should still be a fun match with plenty of shenanigans to keep everyone entertained. In the end, it’s still New Day’s world and we’re just living in it.
SO OF COURSE
THE MIZ vs CESARO vs KEVIN OWENS vs SAMI ZAYN
I suppose there wasn’t enough time on the card, what with the Usos and all, to feature both a Miz/Cesaro and an Owens/Zayn rematch. So let’s just combine them into one. It’s actually a great idea because all four guys—yes, even Miz—have great chemistry. In fact, Miz is basically the glue here. He’s the heel actually getting solid heat (it’s just too hard to hate KO), he’s the champ that everyone wants to beat and everyone else wants to see get beat. Really, Miz retaining the title is the right move! Sure I might want to see Cesaro take the IC title and do to it what Cena did to the US title last year. And who wouldn’t want to see KO ruling the midcard roost with “his” title again (that would also keep him away from the inevitable Roman Reigns beatdown that is coming soon or later). And if they want to give it to Sami Zayn, that’s fine. I’d be okay with that.
No matter what happens, this is going to be a fun one and maybe even the sleeper match of the night (if it gets enough time). It helps that all four guys are very popular: Any interaction between Zayn and Owens has been and continues to be gold with the crowds. Cesaro is right where he left off in 2015 before his injury, showing over and over why he should be much higher on the card than he usually is. If Cesaro swings Maryse, the roof may explode. But really Miz is the right call here. It’s a multi-man match, so you can always have a cheap kind of victory that keeps heat on the champ, then you can set up a one-on-one match at Battleground in July and do the title change there.
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.
“Last month” (it was three weeks ago) she took on Natalia in a match where their two old relatives was the story: Charlotte had Ric Flair in her corner, Natty had…I mean Jim Neidhart is kind of “unstable” (and not in the whimsical, charming, Dean Ambrose sort of way)…Natty had Bret Hart. So of course they did a parody of the Montreal Screw Job, with Charles Robinson (Little Naich for those of you older than, let’s say, 25 years old) helping Flair retain the title by calling for the bell without a submission.
Vince McMahon is such a putz. The Montreal Screw job is almost 20 years old now. It’s been the subject of documentaries, books, sit-down interviews, WWE Network specials. It’s been recreated (never with the same electricity and rawness of the original) in WWE title matches at least once every couple years. It will never go away. No one even cares anymore. Hart and Vince have obviously moved past the personal animosity part of it. Hart and Michaels have obviously made peace. The only one who can’t seem to let it go is Vince. With Bret Hart ringside for a title match of course Vince is going to do a take on the screwjob. In hindsight we were all stupid not to see it coming.
In the end it has allowed this pointless feud to continue. Remember what I said about “inbetweeners?” Natty is the definition of an inbetweener. She’s just good enough to make a credible challenger but no one in their right mind expects her to win, not when the real money is on Charlotte vs Sasha. This is just a placeholder. Next month it might be Dana Brook and Becky Lynch in a triple threat. Charlotte has reached that point in her reign where, like New Day, her title loss needs to be a big deal. This will be her 11th straight WWE PPV event (not counting Network specials), a record for women in WWF/E. She’s a steamroller and it’s not going to be Natty freaking Hart that stops her. No offense to Natalia, who is a fine enough vet. But this isn’t her time. Her time was 2010. Meanwhile Charlotte will be without Ric Flair, so this is the perfect opportunity to show that she is good enough to win without him. A clean finish is what’s best.
SO OF COURSE
ROMAN REIGNS vs AJ STYLES
Can we talk about how stupid a name “The Club” is? It’s the stable name equivalent of Ric Flair carrying around a Tag Title back in the 90’s because WWF wasn’t allowed to show the Big Gold belt on TV anymore, but they didn’t want to stop with the “real world’s champion” storyline either. WWE can’t use the name “Bullet Club” and there’s no Finn Balor (yet) to officially slap his name onto it, so they’re stuck with the most generic stable name since “Roddy’s Rowdies.” I suppose it’s good in the sense that it’s at least a generic version of the “Bullet Club” name. Usually when WWE sets to naming something they give it some ridiculous name that has no chance of it ever being taken seriously (see McGillicutty, Michael. Also see Booger, Bastion).
Anyway on to round two in this surprisingly awesome WWE Title feud. Last month I said the only two logical finishes both involved the Club turning on AJ Styles. My worst case scenario was a Roman Reigns clean win over Styles and a beatdown on the Club the next night on Raw. WWE split the difference and we got the clean Roman win but not the Club beatdown. Actually we shouldn’t call it “clean.” It was ended at least twice over with Roman Reigns retaining on a technicality (count out and DQ), only to have Shane and Stephanie come out and restart the match. This was kind of dumb but since it involved a defacto heel not being alowed a cheap way to retain the title, no one really minded…until Reigns ended up winning with a single spear. Then we minded.
Not that it matters. Fans just need to accept what is going on. Yes Balor may debut on Sunday, or on Monday or next month, but when he does he will transition Styles away from the WWE title. Those who are fantasizing about Styles vs Balor at SummerSlam are probably right on. Those hoping it will be for the WWE Title are delusional. Just as the fans are who keep talking about Reigns turning heel or Reigns “being” a heel, etc. No. Reigns isn’t turning heel. That should be obvious by the way commentary keeps going on about the “big reactions!” he gets when he walks out to a chorus of boos. A heel would incur a response from the commentary team (whose job it is to hand-hold the morons who don’t know what’s happening in wrestling without someone screaming the not-subtle details to them every ten seconds and recapping the recaps from earlier in the night every five minutes). But instead of talking about the boos as though they are a reaction to Roman’s actions, they are basically saying “ha ha these silly WWE fans are booing the beloved Roman Reigns! Silly fans, you love Roman Reigns!”
Yes, he’s wrestling a babyface in AJ Styles and usually it’s Heel vs Face when you have a title match, but not with Reigns. He very easily could be taking on Kevin Owens, a heel, next month. It doesn’t matter who he faces. Reigns is just going to be a “take on errbody, punch and spear and win” guy. He’ll probably work exclusively with guys who can carry him to great matches (Styles, Owens, Rollins, Lesnar, Cesaro, Cena) but they won’t worry bother with the heel/face dynamic because they know he’s going to get booed regardless.
So if you’re dreaming of the day when Reigns is not just defeated but out of the title picture completely, you might as well take a nap and wake up in ten years.
I’ll just go ahead and predict what I basically predicted last month: AJ will again be put in a position to use a dirty heel tactic to win, but will do the noble babyface thing and lose with honor. This will anger his jerk friends who will finally attack him and trade up for Finn Balor, kicking off what promises to be a great undercard feud between two dynamite wrestlers. You’re going to have to just enjoy that AJ got to have a couple WWE title matches. He’ll have a few more over the years, but he’s just another in a long line of insanely talented superstars (Rollins, Ambrose, Wyatt, Owens, Zayn, Cesaro, Balor, Joe, Nakamura, Heath Slater, etc) whose pushes will now have a definite ceiling because none will be allowed to rise above Roman Reigns.
SO OF COURSE
Oh well. There’s always NXT.
Here’s to Sunday.