By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
I had a surgery in March, and the recovery process had me out of action for about six weeks. It was miserable. I couldn’t move. My back was in constant pain. I couldn’t help my coworkers. And I couldn’t argue with Brad about WrestleMania, the biggest show of the year.
I missed a lot, some of which I’ll sprinkle in the commentary for WWE Payback, tonight’s show. In the month since, however, WWE has tried to change drastically, at least for now, by throwing a number of new faces into its mix as quickly and randomly as it did the Divas Revolution.
At the surface, it’s a brilliant move. WWE is still missing huge names like Rollins, Cena and Orton, among others, and now is as good a time as any to fill the void with new characters who, if they catch on, can be part of the show for years to come. Doing it at WrestleMania would have hurt the luster of the show, as too many mainstream fans would have no idea who they were watching, so unleashing the hounds for the next PPV is a great idea. Even if WWE managed to botch it like a Sid Justice promo.
As was the case with the Divas, however, WWE dumped everything it had out of its bag of tricks at once, flooding the show with so many new faces it’s both hard to get attached to too many and makes Raw feel too much like NXT. The Red Sox and Yankees bring up a talented rookie at times, but they don’t play nine new faces at once.
Still, with so much going on and so many new things to talk about, let’s look at tonight’s Payback card, which will be unlike any the company has put on in a long time, for better or worse. With new faces basically auditioning to stick around on a big stage, the matches themselves should be great. The writing, however, needs to be discussed.
U.S. Champion Kalisto vs. Ryback (Kickoff Match)
Matt's Breakdown and Pick: It’s a classic big vs. little matchup, the kind of thing which makes you think about strategy the way the NBA playoffs do. OK, I’m kidding. It’s the “make sure everything is working before the real show” match. These two fought at WrestlemMania, with Kalisto getting the upset win. Kalisto has been cold since then, however, and Ryback is beating everyone they feed him. (See what I did there?). All signs seem to point to a Ryback win setting up the conclusion of a trilogy right up there with Flair-Steamboat. Well, a third match at least.
Ryback rolls and the show starts. Bonus pick: It ends in less than seven hours.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: You can tell Matt is ready to go here, as the time off has him full of piss and vinegar and some comedic one-liners thrown in. It's an interesting version of Matt to say the least. Matt makes a good point about the influx of new stars on the scene in WWE, and I do agree with him with the saturation of it all. But this kickoff show match serves as the counterpoint. Who would you rather watch: Enzo and Cass or Kalisto and Ryback? Now, I know Matt is chanting "Feed Me More" at his computer right now, but he's the only one. To most, enough is enough with these wrestlers that are boring and stale, like Ryback, who needs to get out of the gym and into the ring more. Then, maybe people will care. But people don't care because he can't wrestle and he can't carry himself on the mic.
I guess Ryback is going to win the belt, otherwise why have a stupid rematch, one where the Kalisto has already won one at WrestleMania? It's no wonder people want an NXT influx into the main roster.
Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady vs. The Vaudevillians
(Tag Team No. 1 Contenders’ Tournament Final)
Matt's Breakdown and Pick: Considering how the crowd has reacted to Enzo and Cass, I think I’m on an island with what I’m about to say, but it wouldn’t be the first time. These two are the most annoying, unentertaining creations in a WWE ring in years. I don’t even know when I’m supposed to laugh. Enzo is trying way, way, too hard, and the big guy is doing a terrible Zack Ryder imitation. I really can’t stand these guys. That said, they are fighting two guys who either Vince McMahon came up with in the 1980s or who lost a bet and were forced to go to the ring as characters from the 1800s, complete with handlebar mustaches. In the 80s, the bigger your character was, the better chance you had of getting over. Now, it was supposed to be about work. I’m not saying these guys can’t wrestle, but it’s hard to focus on their work when they’re stuck in these abysmal gimmicks. Seriously, this is Red Rooster vs. Knuckleball Schwartz bad. Enzo and Cass win and I shudder.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: Not surprisingly, I couldn't disagree with Matt more on this. First, Enzo and Cass had a great debut on Raw, one that lit up the arena like few others on that typically red-hot night. They both had a great promo and the crowd ate it up. Now, the after-a-major-PPV crowd is completely in the know, so they knew exactly who they were, it's the typical Raw nights where they will have to do the hard work, and it hasn't really been the same since that night. But most won't be. Enzo and Cass feuding with the New Day would be something epic. For the Vaudevillians, I love their gimmick. I saw them for the first time on the NXT show from Brooklyn, and it was awesome watching their entrance and their match in the ring. Matt couldn't be more wrong about this one, but then again, when is he ever right with these things?
He's not wrong about the influx, though, as it kinda stinks that there has to be a loser among these two tag teams. But it makes most sense to have Enzo and Cass win.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin
Matt's Breakdown and Pick: This has actually been played up pretty well. Corbin, a monster who would have been a main eventer in the 80s (a theme today) and Ziggler built up some hate quickly, and have the chance to have a good match. On a side note, did you know Ziggler is in a movie with several other WWE wrestlers which, based on the quick glance I saw of a commercial, appears to be set at a wrestling show and is also an action flick? From the ad I saw, it’s No Holds Barred with guns. Anyway, as much as I would have loved to have seen Ziggler get a real shot at some point, it makes no sense to bury the new guy here.
Corbin wins while I search online for the movie.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: I've seen the movie promos ... is that for real? Whatever. Dolph Ziggler has become so stale nobody cares about him anymore. He had his chance, or you could say the WWE had its chance, to make him a main eventer, but it hasn't happened and it never will at this point. He's a mid-carder all the way, but still good enough to be on every PPV, which is something to hang your hat on. Baron Corbin is one NXT guy that bores me. I don't really see him being the main eventer back in the day as Matt says, and I don't see him as that guy today either. His finisher is pretty cool, and they are booking him well, but I'm just not feeling the character. And his haircut, or lack there of, needs some work as well.
But Corbin wins this match, otherwise it kills his ascension. Ziggler doesn't need to win anymore to keep his mid-card popularity.
Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho
Matt's Breakdown and Pick: I would have liked to have seen this feud have a bit more time to build. Both guys are fun on the mic, and they seem to have some chemistry. I’d watch them argue about Y2J’s scarf for another month. In the ring it should be a fine match, but WWE is in a terrible spot with Jericho. If they’re going to use him as a full-timer he needs wins, but it doesn’t do the young talent any good to lose to a chubby old guy who can still wrestle some, but is a shell of his former self. I know, A.J. Styles survived losing to Jericho, but only because most fans are trained to forget the match happened as soon as the next feud starts. This feels too much like a “sure, let’s have two guys we have nothing for fight!” kind of match. It could be good, but it only hurts Ambrose unless they’re going to bring Y2J up the card. If that’s the case, what’s the point of the youth movement?
Ambrose wins a confusing one, if only because I’m mad at Jericho for ripping the XL Center in Hartford on Raw, a building I have probably spent more time in than any place other than my home or work. Yes it’s a dump, but it’s my dump.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: I don't understand why Chris Jericho is still wrestling. Really. The dude is old, fat and is slower than he used to be. Much slower. The WWE might think it needs him because of all the injuries Matt has already brought up, but it doesn't. Jericho is done. Dean Ambrose is where he should be, in secondary bouts where he can shine. He's just not a main event guy, and there's nothing wrong with that.
Matt, I wouldn't claim XL Center as your own. A dump is a dump is a dump. You don't see me saying anything nice about the Nassau Coliseum, where I spent much of my childhood, do you? Anyway, Ambrose wins, although I could see some shenanigans.
Intercontinental Champion The Miz vs. Cesaro
Matt's Breakdown and Pick: A couple things I missed during my absence I need answered: First, when did Cesaro become James Bond? He’s a strange case because you can’t truly get over without some kind of personality, but he’s better as a bad ass who doesn’t talk, which can be a shtick by itself. The James Bond thing just doesn’t fit at all. The second isn’t really a question but Maryse is back! I know it should be obvious since they’re married in real life, but Miz and Maryse have a chemistry other on-air pairs dream of. Plus, the Miz has been good lately mixing his comedy with his love of the title and the sport. He never comes across as being there for the check, and I root for guys like that. I could really see this match going either way, which makes it fun.
Cesaro wins to setup a rematch.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: Cesaro's suit-wearing shtick works perfectly, as it gives him the assassin-type personality. Plus, fans simply love him, as his pop at the Raw after WrestleMania proved. He's a guy Matt hates because Matt doesn't understand him, or this new era of wrestling. Matt loves the Rybacks, Cenas and Reigns because they look the part of being a champion. Cesaro doesn't, but he does everything well in the ring and has won over the fans. Except Matt, who is stuck in the 80s (shouldn't he love the Vaudevillians, then?). We here at the site like Miz, as he did an interview with us and was very cool, but he's in a dicey spot on the card. The WWE obviously still believes in him, but I sense the crowd doesn't want him around anymore. We'll see if Miz can grab the spotlight again, and bringing his wife back helps, or if he falls deeper into the depths of simply people not caring anymore.
Either way, Cesaro wins and the two, as Matt writes, will be back for another match.
Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens
Matt's Breakdown and Pick: Speaking of exceptional chemistry, these two real-life friends sell hatred better than most who have ever been paired in the ring. It’s electric when they face off, even if it means Zayn, who doesn’t deserve this spot, gets on the show. If he gets through this entire match without getting hurt this could be exceptional.
Zayn wins and spoils KO’s bid for an IC title match, which he should be contractually obligated to get, but why start using logic now?
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: Sami Zayn gets huge pops, but he doesn't have the look of a big-time player to me. It's probably the tights and entrance music, which screams mid-carder. The checkerboard print needs to go. Kevin Owens is just great and while this feud and match makes sense, here's hoping he advances to the main event before too long. This match should be great to watch for us, while Matt will hate on it in only ways he can. I'll go with Owens winning with some kind of dastardly deed.
WWE Women's Champion Charlotte vs. Natalya
Matt's Breakdown and Pick: Please don’t have Ric and Bret try to fight. Please don’t have Ric and Bret try to fight. Ric Flair and Bret Hart are two of my all-time favorites, but their involvement in the corners of the women feels so forced. By the way, the leadup to this match included Dr. Phil trying to get Charlotte to stop cheating. Sometimes I wonder why I bother.
Charlotte wins and starts a feud with one of the younger, better women’s wrestlers. Of course, they’ll probably just have Natty win and the two old men fight. Ugh.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: I concur with Matt, please don't have these old wrestlers in main spots. Ric Flair looks close to dead, even getting emergency treatment at Logan Airport in Boston a couple days ago. Bret Hart is great, but he's a shell of his former self because of a string of horrible luck and accidents. Neither should be close to this match. But having Bret there does give a reason for Natalya to be in this match. She is terrible at everything. She went to her new, horrible tights, to get an edge and get back in the spotlight, but not even the Divas show can save the fact she's old and out of place with the new crop of great women's wrestlers. Any of them should be in this spot, but I guess WWE needed a quick feud to advance to a bigger PPV for Sasha Banks to get her shot at the title. Or Becky Lynch. Or Bayley. Anyone other than Natalya, who has no shot to win this match. Charlotte has become a leader of the women's division, and has proved me wrong believing she wasn't the one to carry the title. She has done everything right so far.
Charlotte wins and Natalya goes back to E!.
Mr. McMahon will announce
who controls Raw at WWE Payback
Matt's Breakdown and Pick: OK, so Vince brought in the Undertaker to beat Shane at WrestleMania in order to fight off Shane’s attempt to make a legal claim to Raw and the company. Shane jumped off the top of the cell, made a memory which will last a lifetime, only to lose to Taker and lose his claim to Raw. So what happened? Shane just starting running Raw for a month because, according to WWE, Twitter wants him to. Oh. OK.
Meanwhile Triple H, one of the most competitive, vindictive people in WWE history, lost his title to Roman Reigns and proceeded to disappear, leaving Stephanie to fight for the Authority’s spot as the heads of the company. A spot, mind you, which apparently can be taken away by some tweets. But hey, at least they can settle it with another match, where Shane can do something crazy before falling to Triple H, right? No. Vince is just apparently going to make an announcement. Obviously it won’t be that simple, but the insanity of it all blows me away.
Either Vince sets up a match or they just took logic and spent a month lighting it on fire. This one might put me back in the hospital.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: I don't even know what to say about this. There has to be someone they bring in for a big surprise, right? I have no idea. Maybe there is a secret McMahon we don't know about. It will probably be Vince himself cause that sounds about right. We'll see on this one, cause I got nothing.
WWE World Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns
vs. AJ Styles
Matt's Breakdown and Pick: Speaking of logic, let’s step into the WWE creative writing room for a minute. You have Roman Reigns, who even I’ve come to accept will never be over as a face and must be turned heel. He’s going to fight A.J. Styles, who came into the company with great fanfare and crowd reaction in recent weeks, even after losing an inexplicable match to Y2J which helped no one. So I have it, let’s tease a heel turn for ... Styles! My only thought is it’s either going to be a fake turn for A.J. or Vince and the boys have decided they’re just going to turn or destroy the push of anyone who gets in the ring with Roman until the fans are forced to root for him because there’s no one else left.
All the rumors are Seth Rollins is close to a return, and could even make an appearance tonight. I wouldn’t have his return be unadvertised, but no one listens to me on that. He could end up showing up at the end of the night wanting to fight Roman, an easy feud to sell, for a title he never lost. There are a million new ways they could go with the show from there, easily setting up face and heel turns. Or they could just leave Roman out there to fend for himself some more. Whatever happens, Styles, who could be the leader of the new wave of wrestlers, won’t win, which is a shame.
Brad's Breakdown and Pick: I'm going to go out on a limb here and pick A.J. Styles to win the world title. Now, it won't be without assistance, but Styles is going to be your new champion and the crowd is going to go wild. So, who will be the assistance? For Roman Reigns, the worst world champion in some time, to lose this quickly, it has to set up a number of other things, so there has to be a big return or debut to cost him the title and set up two feuds in one. If Seth Rollins returns, he'll cost Reigns the title, and the two of them could then feud while Styles gets another opponent, with the ultimate outcome being the winner of Rollins-Reigns facing Styles at a later PPV. Or, if he is healthy enough, and the one everyone would go nuts for, is if Finn Balor made his WWE debut, with his insane entrance, and cost Reigns the championship. Again, you would have a ready-made Balor-Reigns feud with the winner going against Styles. Of course, you would believe Balor or Rollins would beat Reigns, which would ruin his push to the top of the card, so it probably won't happen. But if the WWE is smart, and wants to create an epic moment, giving the belt to Styles and having one of those two wrestlers be the reason why, would be it.
One can only hope my prediction of Styles winning the belt comes true. In reality, it's probably a foregone conclusion that Reigns will bore the crap out of all of us and win.