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The Best And Worst Kickoff Show
– Before we even get started, we need to give a worst to Baron Corbin’s pants. Those things are sand and doo-doo brown, they’ve got a THIGH CORSET, they’ve got crotch gromits and a ring of thigh pouches. Dude looked like a desert assault Rob Liefeld character. Maybe Liefeld’s new thing is that he forgot how to draw hair.
Anyway, I’ll give the actual match a best, even if I hated the result. The story here is that Corbin can dominate Ziggler one-on-one, but he’s an overconfident rookie and Ziggler’s a “vennern,” so Dolph’s able to steal a surprise win. Corbin alley-oops him into the post on the outside and rolls him back in to stand on his head for a while … that allows Ziggler to rest for way too long, and one deadly flash rollup later, Corbin’s down for three. As a Barry Corbin homer it’s not the ending I wanted to see, but it works. And hey, Dolph Ziggler finally got a win (during the first match of a two-match pre-show)!
– The other pre-show match was for the United States Championship, because it is currently the “rough stuff” in the Clerks toilet of WWE.
Title prestige be damned, though, because I really liked this one. This was at least … let’s say, five times better than their WrestleMania (pre-show) match. The pace here is great, especially when they get into hitting each other with move chains and combos. I loved the “mother of all military press slams” going straight into the missed frog splash, straight into the Salida del Sol. It tells a good story of Ryback not having any confidence in himself and feeling like he’s gotta overkill this little guy, when he probably could’ve (and probably should’ve) just pinned him after a goddamn press slam from the second rope. Ryback running down little guys but constantly trying to modify his offense to wrestle like a little guy is an interesting personality quirk. He’s out here trying to have a Global Cruiserweight Series match.
Also worth a best:
Take that, close-to-Chicago!
And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Payback 2016.
Worst: The Scariest Way To Start A Show
Not very far into the Vaudevillains vs. Enzo and Cass number one contender tag team tournament finals, this happens. Simon Gotch tries to dump Enzo out through the ropes and Enzo goes face-first into the middle rope. That snaps his head back down to the mat, and he just straight-up knocks himself out. Like the worst kind of wrestling injuries, Enzo doesn’t move. After a while you aren’t even sure what you’re looking at. The slow motion replay doesn’t do it justice. The regular speed shows the snap, and that’s f*cking terrifying.
The good news — well, not “good” news, but “not worst case scenario” news — is that Enzo suffered a severe concussion and was discharged from the hospital later that night. He’ll have to pass some tests before he gets back int the ring, and God, I hope he does. If you remember when they first started getting big on NXT, Enzo broke his leg and couldn’t wrestle for a few months. Cass had to be a singles guy for a while, and that built up his skills and confidence so that when Enzo came back, they were BOTH awesome. The Realest Guys being instant fan favorites on the main roster has been one of the happiest stories of the past month, so let’s hope this is just a random happening and not one of those horrible Daniel Bryan things that keeps you out and in danger forever. Brain injuries are chaos.
As it stands, we’ve got the New Day vs. the Vaudevillains, and the Vaudevillains can at least lay a little heel claim to putting their top opponents (who’d just beaten the Dudley Boyz clean) on the shelf. If Enzo’s okay in real life, that’s the way to go. Use it so we want to see the Realest Guys come back and kick the sh*t out of them as soon as possible.
(Please be okay for real, Enzo.)
Best: Owens And Zayn Save The Day
It’s nobody’s fault, but it’s really hard to have an injury like that happen in your show opener (even if it was technically three matches in) and have everybody be okay for the rest of it. How do you watch somebody almost die in the ring and then be okay suspending disbelief to watch a bunch of additional people pretend to? It takes a real escape, and that’s what Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens were able to provide at Payback.
Funny enough, this felt like the first “real” WWE match between the two. Their matches on NXT were built around Sami being injured (and then actually injured), and the timing didn’t work for them to have a big marquee rematch. They got their WrestleMania moment, but it was as two of seven guys in a ladder match. So this is our first official official Zayn vs. Owens one-on-one on the big stage. Unexpected spoiler: it was dope.
Owens and Zayn do Furious Indignant Anger better than anyone in the company. It’s part of why their rivalry feels like such a big, endless deal. It’s why the Frye/Takayama simultaneous punching they keep doing works. These are guys who are not only trying to win a match, they’re trying to PROVE something. They want to be the better man, even though they’re sorta locked into a lifelong trial. Another great thing about it is that they’re evenly matched, so even if one’s able to get a pin on the other, it’s almost always at the expense of both men. I think my favorite part of the entire match is the finish, where Owens gets the right combo of moves and just exhaustedly collapses into the pin. No hooking the leg, no taunting, just falling straight down. That’s how Owens should beat Zayn and vice versa, at least on the main roster.
To put it plainly, this is one of the best WWE matches of the year so far. It’s not the best match they’ll ever have, certainly, but the money is in the fact that their build-up matches seem a little better than most dudes’ best efforts. Zayn and Owens give WWE storytelling a deeper and more layered plot than we’re used to, and each match of confrontation adds to the bigger piece. That’s fantastic. Great, great stuff.
Best: The Bigger Piece
For example, the Intercontinental Championship match.
Zayn vs. Owens ends, so, because he’s the worst person in the world (non-Jack Evans division) and can’t win gracefully, Owens drags Byron Saxton into the ring for a gloat-interview. Even that’s not good enough, so he announces his plans to get back “his” Intercontinental Championship match and invites himself to sit in on commentary. He steals Byron’s chair and makes him sit on a folding chair. It’s perfect.
Eventually, that hubris and a metric tonne of sh*t-talking brings Zayn back out to jump him. They’re destined to do this forever, after all. The only problem is that poor Cesaro is in the middle of throwing The Miz to death and taking the IC title. That gives Miz a totally unexpected, unearned way to steal a Divas-style victory over Cesaro and retain the Intercontinental Championship. The reason you don’t see more people complaining about this is because it’s such an obvious setup for a fatal fourway at Extreme Rules, and creates a match that gets Cesaro, Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens in the ring at the same time. Also, uh, The Miz. That red carpet entrance was pretty great, not gonna lie.
Cesaro is so obviously The Man right now that he can afford a few weeks of moving the pawns around to give him the best possible title win. I’d give Zayn the surprise win in that match, just to make up for all these Ls he’s been taking, and let him and Cesaro have a big fancy main roster showdown at Money in the Bank. I’m just fantasy booking that out-loud because it’s been too long since they had a singles match. They’re my favorite possible matches. Zayn can be a transitional champion, he’s got a lot of time left to be the New Daniel Bryan. Cesaro can take the strap from a guy he respects, and Zayn can be the Tsuyoshi Kikuchi to Cesaro’s Kobashi.
Alternate plan: The Miz stays Intercontinental Champion until WrestleMania 33 and is finally beaten by Damien Sandow. Sorry, that was a typo. “And is finally beaten by Shaq.”
Best/Worst: Like 70 Minutes Of Dean Ambrose Vs. Chris Jericho
Ambrose vs. Jericho at Payback is one of those matches I like later in my brain a lot more than I did watching it. Watching it, it’s way too long and way too unbelievable. There’s a lot of shouting spots, a lot of leaning in and having lengthy conversations with your mouth by a guy’s ear, a lot of weak offense and a lot of unbelievable bullsh*t. What, Ambrose can’t catch Dr. Robotnik-ass Chris Jericho running around the ring? How many Wacky Lines did we do in this match, four? Five?
But again, the more I think about it, the more I liked it as an old school sort of wrestling match. I think it’s the finish I liked. I like struggle finishes, where a guy’s able to hit a big move on his opponent but it’s not a crystal clear animation. Here, Ambrose counters a Lionsault and pulls himself up into Dirty Deeds. Jericho tries to fight it off, but Ambrose readjusts and starts kneeing him in the face/chest to break the counter. That gives him a second to hit the move, and that’s enough to get the win. That’s cool. I like them bringing a small amount of “if this, then what” realism to move exchanges. That Cena/Rock thing where they just twirl in place and suddenly have a finisher countered is eternally horsesh*t. It should be work to get from one spot to another.
So yeah, I’m somewhere in the middle. Maybe they gave it more time than it needed to make up for the opener. Maybe Ambrose only really works if his opponent is beating the Christ out of him and forces him to lay in his offense a little. There’s still too much awkward stuff in his matches for me to get all the way into them, but the Roadblock build at least got me back into the mindset of wanting to see it fixed.
What’s next for these guys? Jericho’s already made his “it’s not goodbye, it’s see ya later” tweet but he’s a colossal troll, and that’s as good as him saying “I will definitely be on Raw tonight, probably.” Ambrose finally got an important-ish win — Jericho’s great, but this was a feud over who has the right to do an imaginary in-ring wrestling show talk show segment — but the Intercontinental Championship field is thick and the United States Championship’s getting cold waiting for Big Match John. Does he get positioned against Reigns now? Are we waiting for Rollins to get back? What’s up?
Worst (With A Little Best): The Chicago Screwjob
The sound you hear is me low sighing. I’ve been doing it since this finish and it’s Monday afternoon.
All right, so let’s look at this from both points of view.
On one hand, this finish is f*cking ignorant. In case you missed it, Ric Flair is at ringside for Charlotte as usual and Bret Hart’s in Natalya’s corner. Bret spends the entire match looking like Homer Simpson in jury duty with eyes painted on the lenses of his glasses, but he’s had a tough time so it’s fine. He’s Bret Hart and he’s awesome if he’s standing still doing nothing. But yeah, Charlotte gets Natalya in a Sharpshooter and referee Charles Robinson calls for the bell. Natalya didn’t submit, and it’s just another excuse to bring up the Montreal Screwjob, an even that happened in the Year Of Our Lord 1997. That was almost 20 years ago. Bret and Nattie respond to the screwing by punching out the Flairs and putting them in Sharpshooters. The cool new women’s division is mostly about rehashing sh*t a bunch of dudes did 20 years ago.
On the other hand, here’s a quick list of positives:
1. The whole thing with Charlotte disrespecting the cool new women’s division by making it about her dad’s interference and a bunch of tired old stories has got to be a purposeful decision. It’s the bridge between the Divas division and the Women’s division. It’s an exercise in teaching a WWE audience exactly why we need change, instead of the early days of the Divas Revolution, which was “here’s change, no explanation, GOODBYE FOREVER.” It’s a process. Charlotte hangs on to the belt via bullsh*t for several months, and eventually even the most casual fans are tired of her worming her way out of these championship matches. They want someone to step up and put her in her place. That person, obvious to the world’s blindest man, is Sasha Banks. When Sasha wins, the “change” has officially happened, and the crowd gets to cheer for the person they wanna cheer for doing the sh*t they wanna see her do.
Plus, an actually solid women’s wrestling division should have heels in it doing things you don’t like or want to see them do. They should, you know, make you want to boo them. If everybody’s a cool hardworking hard-hugging cryfaced babyface, you never get to tell any good stories.
2. Charles Robinson as a crooked Flair referee continues to be the best, and I like that we’ve formally transitioned him into being Charlotte’s Tommy Young. No other referee could’ve done that as logically and convincingly. How great it is that Natalya brought in Bret Hart to counter Ric, so Ric countered back by eliminating himself from the equation and giving the Dirty Player role to Lil Naitch? It’s brilliant. Dirtiest player in the game forever.
3. The match was still pretty good. It wasn’t the best Charlotte vs. Nattie match we’ve seen, but at least they’ve figured out the physics of a figure-four.
So I think it was a dorky call, but it’ll get us to the right place. Charlotte doesn’t deserve the glory she’s getting as the first WWE Women’s Champion, and it’s gonna come back around to bite her. If they do something screwy with Sasha at SummerSlam, then we can get worried.
Worst: Holy Sh*t, This Segment
Vince: Ladies and jennamen, I’ve come here to make a decision about the future of Raw.
Crowd: CM PUNK CM PUNK CM PUNK CM PUNK CM PUNK
Vince: shut up your faces, all of you
Crowd: CM PUNK CM PUNK CM PUNK CM PUNK CM PUNK
Vince: nailed it
Vince: anyway, here’s a 40 minute soliloquy about what I’m about to do
[40 minutes pass]
Stephanie: Dad, I think you should pick me to run Raw. What does the crowd think?
Crowd: CM PUNK CM PUNK CM PUNK CM PUNK CM PUNK
Stephanie: so hey have you stopped to think about how this storyline doesn’t make any sense
Vince: i have never stopped to think ever
Stephanie: Shane tried to blackmail you and you put him in a match where if he won he could run the show, and then he lost, but you let him run the show anyway. Don’t you see how that defeats the purpose of literally every segment before and after, and compromises the bullsh*t chain of command we’ve tried to establish with these terrible GM stories for the past 20 years
Vince: [thinks about funny walks]
Stephanie: we did a lot of great stuff with The Authority, I mean you gave me a piece of the Aggro Crag with grandpa’s name on it; furthermore,
[40 more minutes pass]
Shane: sup bitches
Crowd: also CM PUNK CM PUNK CM PUNK CM PUNK CM PUNK
Shane: hey so OVERWHELMING SOCIAL MEDIA SUPPORT, the end, case closed
Vince: he makes a good point
Vince: how long have we been out here
Shane: at least 2 1/2 hours
Vince: okay I didn’t actually have anything planned so uh, uh, uh, uh, BOTH OF YOU RUN THE SHOW AT THE SAME TIME, BYE
Vince: [throws smoke bomb]
Crowd: CM Punk?
Best: Reigns Vs. Styles, Or
Worst: Just Kidding, Shane Vs. Stephanie
The best thing about the idea of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match between Roman Reigns and AJ Styles is how fresh it felt, and how much possibility it promised. It’s not healthy to assume a bunch of fun magical sh*t is gonna happen if you’re gonna be let down, but there was SO MUCH they could do with it. You’ve got the Bullet Club hanging around, so you could pull the trigger (cough) on them helping Styles and forming the actual club, or you could have them maybe align with Roman and surprise people. You could get Finn Bálor involved, because he teased showing up last Monday and he’s been connecting himself to WWE versions of Gallows and Anderson on social media all year. The guy’s got a “Bálor Club” and shirts that say “Bulletproof.” It’s not a difficult jump to make. Also, hey, Seth Rollins is supposed to be back pretty soon. You could do anything you want with him. You could align him with the heels, bring him back as a huge babyface, have him attack Roman for a huge pop, have him ALIGN with Roman (and Dean Ambrose) for the BIGGEST POP EVER. You could do ANYTHING. What you chose to do was “Shane and Stephanie McMahon get passive-aggressive to each other while repeatedly restarting a match with three finishes, because the only thing more important than GM Power Struggle stories is The McMahons.”
That’s the disappointment. The match itself is pretty great, as you’d expect. Those fans chanting “you can’t wrestle” at Roman Reigns are really whiffing the reasons why jerks like me don’t like Roman. His wrestling is fine. He’s GREAT at it. He’s just a difficult personality to get behind usually, especially given the difficulties he’s had adjusting to being a top spot character and his proximity to the end of Daniel Bryan. I think Styles hits him with like 65 Phenomenal Forearms and gets murder death killed by a spear, so that hurts it too …
I guess what I’m trying to say is that it was overbooked harder than Captain O.G. Readmore, more overbooked than f*cking Wishbone, but it was fun. It was a thing. I don’t feel cheated for having watched it, even with all the nonsense happening around it. Plus, come on, how could you hate this:
I honestly love that Styles got to WWE when he did, because he’s such a better wrestler now than he was even a few years ago. He knows exactly how to sell and when to do it, and it adds so much to his matches. His sell of that Superman Punch is magic. Just a total doomflop.
If you want to go back to the disappointment, WWE gave you another McMahons segment in the middle of the post-match celebration, when things might’ve been happening. It’s just Shane and Stephanie agreeing that Roman Reigns should face AJ Styles at Extreme Rules, almost instantly deflating the match that just happened. A match they personally took the air out of with those goony false finishes. It’s like when John Cena lost to Kevin Owens, and they had to announce JOHN CENA VS. KEVIN OWENS MAKEUP REMATCH before the show was over.
So I don’t know. It’s good work, but it’s too much, and the priorities are all wrong. You can’t advertise the first pay-per-view of a new era and have it end with three McMahons deciding amongst themselves that none of this sh*t matters.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
So match of the night was KO vs Commentary, yes?
Finn that’s enough paint, get the hell out here!
You can’t blame the ref. We’ve all been counting Roman out for two years.
Steph’s calling Shane misogynistic, but one look at his hair will tell you he doesn’t believe in “Just For Men”.
That segment went so long, the sound crew forgot it was a PPV and played the RAW theme.
Literal 50/50 booking.
And next, from the New Yorker: “Professional Grappling Still Fodder For Illiterates & Gadabouts”
The Hitman is so overshadowed in this match. It’s a total eclipse of Bret Hart.
Does this mean Nattie is going to WCW?
This might only be a 3 hour show but Gilligan was only on a 3 hour tour and look what happened to him.
Thanks, everybody. See you on Monday night for the first Raw of a new new era! It starts with talking!