Remember the good ol’ days, when WWE Pay-Per-Views made sense? When a RAW exclusive event meant that, y’know, only stars on RAW could appear? Remember when it seems like Vince McMahon actually planned out his events, seemingly putting time and effort into the empire known as WWE?
Okay, so maybe not the last part, but Pepperidge Farms (and this writer) remember the good times. A mere 27 days ago, WWE fans were treated to one of the best WrestleMania events in years, concluding a string of good-to-great PPV’s put on by the wrestling magnate. It’s been a solid showing for WWE over the past six months, not counting the (expected) few poor episodes of RAW.
As we march toward the April 30th WWE event known as Payback, this writer can’t help but feel a little let down. On paper, the show looks good, if not great. If you were to tell me even three years ago that I’d have the opportunity to watch indie darling such as Tyler Black (Seth Rollins), Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, Claudio Castagnoli (Cesaro), and Kevin Steen (Kevin Owens) live on a WWE screen, I flat out wouldn’t have believed you. Not only that, but they’d be doing battle with legends such as Chris Jericho and the Hardy Boyz?
What a time to be alive!
So why am I not more excited? With arguably the most talented in-ring roster in WWE history, why wouldn’t I be absolutely thrilled at the prospect of these men and women doing battle? There’s a few reasons behind my lack of interest in the event, and it’s not just because I’ll be missing my first WWE PPV in over two years to attend Game 3 of the Ducks/Oilers series. (Go Oilers!)
Firstly, the Superstar Shakeup. I’m on record as absolutely hating the execution of the event. (Don’t believe me? Click here for what I would have changed.) It’s also contributed to a RAW exclusive event feeling not-so-exclusive. Stars such as Randy Orton and Kevin Owens, both of the Smackdown brand, will be showing up to defend titles and enter houses of horror (whatever the hell that means) all because Vince McMahon didn’t have the foresight to plan an ounce of the event. I liken it to this - imagine you’re having a party with your closest friends at your house. Everyone is having a great time, when suddenly, your dad decides to come down the stairs, drunk and unannounced. He lets you know that he invited a few of your old, unliked friends over and that they’re going to be coming to your party, too. Meanwhile, he kicks out half of your friends that you really do like, simply because, well, he feels like it. When asked why, the only reply received is that “things needed a shakeup!”
So now, you’re stuck in a basement with some people you really enjoy, a couple who don’t belong, and one who really sucks. Yeah, it’s still the same thing, and yeah, you could still potentially have fun, but it really doesn’t feel the same. It’s forced, it’s awkward, and all you are is uncomfortable with the entire situation.
Now imagine it gets worse, and the one who really sucks is Randy Orton. At least you USED to like the friend.
This is what Randy Orton thinks of your house rules.
In addition, many of the matches on the card feel stale, have been built poorly, or have been so poorly constructed that a Roman Reigns match is one of the contests on the card that I’m most excited for.
But enough with the cynicism. The 2017 edition of Payback features seven matches, and a special edition of Miz TV featuring Finn Balor on the preshow. Why such a “special” event would be featured prior to the main card is beyond me, but hey, wrestling. On the card, we have three WrestleMania rematches, including a predicted god-awful “House of Horrors” match between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt. In addition, all four tag teams from the Show of Shows are active in two separate matches. All in all, there are only two truly original matches on the card, and both of which should be entertaining.
Let’s see if I can continue my recent PPV hot streak (as shown with my 10-3 WrestleMania predictions, found here) and make my bold predictions.
Enzo & Cass vs The Club (Preshow)
Two of the most mishandled tag teams on the roster (and that says a lot) battle in the only preshow match on the card. The Club, especially, have been so grossly misused since coming to the WWE roster that one can’t help but be disappointed. Coming over from New Japan at the same time as AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson were heralded as free agent signings on the same level as their NJPW counterparts. Since coming over to WWE, both men have been subjected to being treated as Roman Reigns personal whipping boys and participated in my vote for the Single Worst Segment of the Year, the infamous “Old Day” sketch. Short reign as tag team champions aside, they’ve got a case to be the worst used tag team of the last year.
Sometimes, you’re embarrassed to be a wrestling fan. Sometimes, you’re embarrassed to be alive. This was both.
In the case of Enzo & Cass, it’s slightly more understandable, but no less forgivable. While personally tired of Enzo’s schtick, there’s no denying the popularity of the team. The Realest Guys in the Room are arguably the most over wrestlers on the roster – so how can they be misued?
By this point, one would have thought that an act this popular would be on the winning side of the equation more often than not. Frankly, it’s a bit surprising to me that they haven’t won a championship yet; in contrast, this team has been on the losing end of a feud with the Shining Stars. Despite what Vince McMahon may think, wins and losses do matter to wrestlers, and eventually, Enzo & Cass will lose whatever “momentum” they have.
In this case, I think it’s a fairly obvious result; with the Revival set to be out of action for a couple months due to Dash Wilder’s injury, the RAW tag team division is in dire need of top heels. While the Top Guys are out, the Club is the perfect team to slide into the premier heel position.
Prediction: The Club wins via pinfall
WWE Cruiserweight Championship Match
Neville © vs. Austin Aries
In a WrestleMania rematch, Austin Aries looks to avenge his loss to Neville after taking a pinfall due to an eye rake.
This is one of the rematches I’m excited for; opening ‘Mania is no easy feat, and these two tore the house down as the first match of the day. In what can truly be described as a Cruiserweight Classic (see what I did there?), both men put on a show for the early day crowd. After losing dirty, Aries earned his right to a rematch, and were moved to the main card for their efforts.
I’m not expecting anything less than their ‘Mania match, as both men know how to put on a show. I don’t have to tell you how much of a Neville fan I’ve become, and I’ve also stated previously that Aries truly has earned his “Greatest Man that Ever Lived” moniker. This should be a barnburner.
As far as the result? I’m fairly torn on this one; on one hand, I can definitely see the value of keeping the proverbial crown on Neville. Conversely, it could be time for a change, and if anyone has earned it, it’s Aries. In this case, I personally think that there’s value in a couple more matches in this program, and for that to happen…
Prediction: Neville retains the Cruiserweight Championship
WWE RAW Tag Team Championship
The Hardy Boyz © vs Cesaro and Sheamus
(This is not going to be an article about the Broken Hardys)
Although it should be
The Hardy Boyz return was the highlight of WrestleMania, and I’ll defend that to the death. Perfectly executed, they returned after seven years away from the WWE as the hottest act in wrestling. While not entirely #Broken yet, I think it’s coming, but that’s an article for another day.
Since returning, they’ve captured the RAW Tag Team Championships, and have feuded with Cesaro and Sheamus in a “friendly” rivalry. I put friendly in quotations, as there’s been tension between the pairs of teams in recent weeks. Nearly coming to brawls after a Matt Hardy/Sheamus match last week, it’s apparent that this match is setting up for something. Whether that be a heel turn, a title change, or something completely new entirely (not likely), it should be an above average match, as should be expected with talents like Jeff Hardy and Cesaro in the same ring.
I don’t feel that the time is right to take the titles off the Hardy Men quite yet, but it certainly looks like something is going to happen.
Prediction: The Hardy Boyz retain the RAW Tag Team championships
BONUS PREDICTION: a Cesaro and Sheamus heel turn.
Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe
Talk about a match I’m excited for.
Maybe it’s just because I’m excited for fresh Samoa Joe matchups, or because I’m such a huge fan of Rollins, but either way this match should steal the show. Both are fantastic in-ring talents, and should be key pieces figuring into WWE’s long term plans.
Rollins is coming off a huge win over Triple HHH at ‘Mania. While not everyone’s cup of tea (it is a Triple HHH match after all), it culminated a year-long feud, and finally allows Rollins to move onto new things. A new finisher, taken out of Kenny Omega’s playbook but cool nonetheless, is only the beginning for the Architect.
However, he faces a huge roadblock in the Destroyer, Samoa Joe. The Samoan Submission Machine is one of the most talented performers in WWE today, and easily can fit in as the top heel on the brand. There’s really not much to say about this match; it’s going to be great.
My thoughts? While a veteran of the indie scene, Payback will mark Joe’s second PPV appearance for WWE. It’s key to establish him as a force to be reckoned with early; as someone I see as one of the top players for WWE for at least the next five years, that means he has to be built properly. However, the same can be said for Rollins. I just think Joe needs it more.
Prediction: Samoa Joe wins with shenanigans.
WWE United States Championship Match
Kevin Owens © vs. Chris Jericho
The second rematch from WrestleMania, Y2J attempts to reclaim his title from former best friend Kevin Owens, with the stipulation that the winner of this match will move to Smackdown Live.
It breaks my heart that this is likely Jericho’s final PPV appearance for a while. Scheduled to go on tour with his band Fozzy, rumour has it that Y2J will be taking time off from the WWE to focus on his music. It truly has been some of the best work of his career over the past few months, and he’s been one of the major reason for watching RAW since he first partnered with KO. There’s a reason that there’s going to be an article coming soon on why Jericho’s the Greatest of All Time; it’s unbelievable that at 46 years of age, he’s still consistently able to reinvent his character and keep himself relevant in the context of professional wrestling. He’s like a Boggart, but substitute the terrifying aspects for greatness.
Shoutout to my fellow Harry Potter fans!
That being said, Kevin Owens has to be in the conversation as the top heel on either brand at the moment. He’s a phenomenal in ring talent and one of the best talkers in the WWE, and in the same vein as Samoa Joe, I see him as one of the guys to build around for the future. At only 32 years old, Owens has a long career ahead of him, and deserves to hold onto the belt here.
Prediction: Kevin Owens retains the United States Championship
WWE RAW Women’s Championship Match
Bayley © vs. Alexa Bliss
In one of the bright spots of the Superstar Shakeup, Alexa Bliss was moved to Monday Night Raw and immediately became the number one contender to Bayley’s championship.
It’s completely the right move to keep Bliss in the title picture. Easily the MVP of the Smackdown Women’s scene since her call up to the main roster, Bliss has proved deserving as her spot as one of the top women in WWE. While her in-ring work can be described as average at best, she’s in the conversation as the best character worker in the WWE, as well as one of the best on the mic regardless of gender.
That being said, Bliss goes against arguably the best female wrestler on the roster, and that’s being said at a time when the Women’s division is the most talented it’s ever been. Bayley has been impressing fans since her feud against Sasha Banks in NXT earned her Match of the Year honours, and has shown no signs of slowing down. While her character’s booking has been questionable since her promotion to RAW, there’s no doubt that she’s earned the right to carry the championship.
I personally feel that Bliss should win the belt here, strictly due to her work to date as compared to Bayley. However, my head is telling me that she’s merely a transitional challenger until the inevitable Sasha Banks heel turn.
Prediction: Bayley retains the RAW Women’s Championship
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman
Braun is RAW.
Braun Strowman has quickly turned into my favourite thing about Mondays. Honestly, if someone can give me an example of someone more well built by the WWE in the last, say 10 years, I’ll buy them a beer. It’s incredible what committing to a character can do for someone; they wanted to build a monster, so they have a guy flip an ambulance.
When people ask me now why I watch wrestling, this is what I show them
Anyways, I’m a proud devotee of the Church of Braun, and he’s come a long way since bear hugging people to unconsciousness as part of the Wyatt Family. He’s honestly a monster.
Now, let’s cut to the chase – I never want to talk much about Roman Reigns, and so I won’t. My opinion on Reigns is well known, and it’s pointless to elaborate. I hope he gets torn to shreds by all that is Braun, but as much as I can hope and pray that it happens, I’ve learned better than to bet against the Roman Empire. This might be a time I regret it, but…
House of Horrors Match (?)
Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt
I have no idea what in God’s name is going to happen here.
I really can’t describe more than that, really. The build for the match has been thus: Randy Orton defeated Bray Wyatt at ‘Mania for the WWE Championship. Bray Wyatt challenged Randy Orton to a “House of Horrors” match. Randy Orton accepted the challenge. Bray Wyatt got moved to RAW as part of the Shakeup. The match still inexplicably goes forward. Jinder Mahal (?) becomes the Number One Contenter (?!) to Orton’s championship and then steals the belt, all while Wyatt does the same ol’ schtick of rambling and rambling and yet never explains what a House of Horrors match is. So now, two people who until three weeks ago were on an entirely different show altogether are going to headline a RAW exclusive pay-per-view and they’re going to fight in a match that has never been done before, which is a rematch of an exceedingly disappointing WrestleMania match.
Serenity now, wrestling fans.
As Forrest Gump once said, that’s all I have to say about that.
Prediction: Randy Orton defeats Bray Wyatt, but with this match, no one wins.
Keep your shoulders off the mat!