Springtime for teachers is a whirlwind of assessments, field trips, evening events and counting down the days to summer. Thus, it's been a little tricky for me to come home and put myself in a writing mood. My apologies for that. However, last night's Payback had too much going on to be ignored, so let's get to it. Here are the lessons learned from WWE Payback.
Baron Corbin and Dolph Ziggler taught us that it's not always about the match result.
I'm not saying that wins and losses don't matter, because they obviously do, but in this instance, there's more going on than just that. While I was fighting the beasts of WWE Network lag during the pre-show (which, I might add, is a really disappointing statement to make for such a successful streaming service), the parts of this match that I saw showed that Baron Corbin is a beast. He looked better than I think I have ever seen him.
Yeah, he did get rolled up by Ziggler in the end, but even that made sense, storyline wise. This young kid was dominant, but made one rookie mistake and got rolled up by a wily veteran. That's exactly what's supposed to happen.
Twitter, for all of its wonders, definitely makes it easy to do snap criticisms without thinking big picture, and while I'm sure I'm as guilty as anyone is for that from time to time, it wasn't the case during this match. The outcome made a lot of sense, and whether it's on RAW tonight or at Extreme Rules in 3 weeks, Baron will have his day.
Kalisto and Ryback taught us that the US title should matter way more than it does.
I'll go right out and say it again, especially since people thought I must have been hacked last night - Ryback did an OUTSTANDING job last night. Poking fun at the Chicago crowd was inspired and his in-ring performance was excellent. I've given him credit where it's been due before, but this seemed to be on another level. If I had to rank my top matches from last night, I think I'd have to put this one in my top 3.
There was practically no build to this Wrestlemania rematch at all, which is a shame considering how well both Ryback and Kalisto did. Hopefully we right that wrong in the next few weeks and see both of these talents get some increased screen time.
Yes, I just said I want to see more Ryback. . . I swear, I haven't been hacked!
The Vaudevillains and Enzo and Cass taught us that it's dangerous to be a pro wrestler, especially a smaller one.
The best news to come out of Payback was that Enzo Amore "only" suffered a concussion - waking up to see a picture of him on his feet and goofing off with Big Cass definitely made my lack of sleep a little easier to deal with. That was a very scary moment. We see in-ring injuries all the time, but it's not that often that they require a stretcher AND oxygen.
Now, there is risk in all athletic pursuits, and between the hectic schedule and just the nature of the sport, pro wrestling is (I'd argue) more dangerous than most. For someone who is generously listed at 5'11" and 200 pounds, I think Enzo is even more at risk than some of his peers. He's going to spend a lot of his career being tossed around, by both his opponents AND his tag partner, so hopefully this is not the first of multiple concussions for Mr. Amore
Which makes me wonder - Will there be any discussions by WWE brass about potentially capitalizing on Enzo's greatest asset (his mouth) by making him a manager sooner rather than later? Enzo and Cass will have a fantastic run, I'm sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if before too long, Enzo is the ringside mouthpiece for Big Cass' singles run. It might seem harsh for me to bring up this topic less than 12 hours after Amore's injury, but I think the conversation needs to happen.
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn taught us that they are the two best parts of WWE right now.
Nobody was in the right mindset for wrestling following the opening contest of Payback last night - Even Owens and Zayn looked out of it and concerned as they made their way to the ring. Then they started wrestling, and before too long, everyone in the arena and everyone at home got lost in the epic-ness that was Zayn vs. Owens I (WWE edition).
It helped that we learned that Enzo was moving his extremities and talking, that's for sure.
WWE wants us to believe that Roman Reigns is the leader of the "New Era" of WWE, and while that's a lovely notion, there's no way that's true. When we look back in 10-15 years, I imagine we'll pinpoint Owens' debut on RAW as the real moment when everything changed. Just like Michaels and Razor or Benoit and Guerrero before them, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn will be seen as the heralds of this "indie era", when wrestling became fun once more.
Miz and Cesaro (and Owens and Zayn again) taught us that the Intercontinental Title scene is back where it has belonged this entire time.
For the entire time I've known Jason Moltov and the NAIpod crew, we've spoken about the glory days of the IC title, when it was home to the best wrestlers of the WWF, leaving the World Title scene for the best "superstars". Mr. Perfect, Bret Hart, the aforementioned HBK and Razor Ramon - These guys put on some of the best matches in company history fighting over that belt, and in many (but not all) cases, used the IC title as a springboard to stardom.
That hasn't been the case for the Intercontinental title in some time now, but WWE Payback (and perhaps 2016 in general) certainly seems to be changing that script. Based on what happened during this match, I think we can safely say that arguably the three best wrestlers in WWE are going to be fighting over the IC title at Extreme Rules, joined by The Miz, who brings the Roddy Piper "we love watching him get beat up" factor.
Yes, I just compared The Miz to Roddy Piper. Deal with it.
Dean Ambrose and Chris Jericho taught ME that the Lunatic Fringe isn't as good as he needs to be.
Notice that I used the singular pronoun here instead of the collective - A lot of people in the NAIborhood still are enamored with Dean Ambrose, and I will continue to defend your right to have that opinion.
I just no longer share it.
In professional wrestling, there are certain talents who are able to have a great match with ANYONE. Michaels, Helmsley, Steamboat, Savage, Seth Rollins - You know the kinds of guys I'm talking about. Chris Jericho used to be on that list, though is no longer so. As for Mr. Ambrose, I've come around to the opinion that he was never on this list in the first place - He is dependent on his opponent to have a "great" match.
Let's think about his career highlights. Shield vs. Wyatts, where he had 5 other guys sharing the workload. His feud with Seth Rollins. (I loved everything about these two, except the moments I remember don't take place in the ring, but rather the trunk of a car or a giant gift box.) His Rumble finale and Roadblock match with Triple H. As evidenced both at Wrestlemania and last night, without thr right opponent, his matches aren't anything to write home about.
Am I glad he got the win last night? Sure! Do I hope this leads to bigger and better things? Absolutely! But I'm done pumping Dean Ambrose's tires. He no longer is the next great main eventer waiting to happen. In fact, he's pretty far down the line.
Charlotte and Natalya taught us that the Diva Revolution is not without its drawbacks.
Before Wrestlemania, I'm not sure how much thought or effort was put into the booking of women's wrestling in WWE. It seemed to be quite the afterthought, which is why so many people now run stopwatches during female matches these days. With the new Women's title and the dawn of this new era, I think we all expected an increased focus on the "Diva" scene.
Don't look now, fans, but that's exactly what happened last night.
You might not have enjoyed what happened, but WWE definitely had to put a bit more thought into the result than they usually do. They even did a WCW callback by having Lil Naitch (Charles Robinson) involved! WWE treated Charlotte and Natalya like they would any other group of talents, for better or worse. I look forward to seeing where this leads heading into Extreme Rules.
The McMahon Decision taught us that this "New Era" is definitely deserving of quotation marks.
While I am very intrigued to see what happens with both McMahon children running Monday Night RAW, I can't say that I was thrilled by the outcome of this segment. One of the reasons the last few weeks of wrestling have been so good is because the McMahon family was NOT the center of attention - Shane's appearances were few and far between, letting the focus be on the wrestlers themselves.
Now, I think we can safely say RAW starts with Shane and Stephanie, which is a slight step backwards for this "New Era". Obviously, the differences will be mostly cosmetic.
I will say that I enjoy the dynamic of Shane and Stephanie together, so I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this will be fantastic and I don't even know it.
Roman Reigns and AJ Styles taught us that hype might be all that matters.
The NAIborhood spent the better part of the last month pondering, wondering and fantasy booking how Payback was going to end. The Bullet Club? The Balor Club? The Roman Empire? We all sat down last night hoping for something really new and exciting, and all we got was a really solid main event match.
It's hard not to be disappointed, since we aren't any further towards an explanation to the presence of Gallows and Anderson than we were 24 hours ago, but still. . . We got a really solid main event match! That, in and of itself, is something. Roman Reigns did far more than I think any of us expected, breaking out some new power moves, diving over the ropes with ease, and in the end, looking like a credible World Heavyweight Champion. AJ Styles proved to any lingering doubters (who probably all work backstage for WWE) that he's a quality main event talent. In the end, that's really all we needed.
Plus, without these questions answered, the hype machine can continue. Will we see Finn Balor on RAW? Do Gallows and Anderson reveal their true intentions at Extreme Rules?
As long as we're talking about it and watching it, WWE is happy, and quite frankly, after Payback last night, so am I.
The general consensus from last night's RAW was that the show was a dud.
Well, that's not entirely true. Most people will admit that the show was decent enough, but it paled in comparison to what many believed the penultimate RAW before Wrestlemania "should be". I can understand where those people are coming from - the lack of Lesnar, Undertaker and Shane-O-Mac was pretty evident.
However, let's focus on the show for what it was, not what we wanted it to be. Yes, friends, I'm donning my #PromotingPositivity Pork Pie hat and sharing with you the things I think you should be excited about from last night.
Roman Reigns Silently (and from the Ramp!)
What I expected to be yet another incredibly annoying promo by Stephanie McMahon wound up being far more than I could have hoped for with the entrance of Roman Reigns, from the ramp no less! Sure, he's got the Shield music, sure, he's got the Shield outfit, but just a new way to the ring alone is enough to get some people popping.
Then he got to the ring and. . . He didn't act like The Rock. He wasn't trying to be a Jericho-type "cool guy". He spoke softly AND carried a big stick, and by stick, of course, I mean his serious presence. It couldn't mean anything else, right?
It seemed like the Philly crowd helped us figure out what's really going on with Roman these days. People inherently like him, especially when he acts the way he did, so the initial reaction is to cheer him. Then, after that first burst, people realize that "it's cool to hate Roman" and THAT'S when the boos come. It's not legitimate, it's an artifice. I expected better, Philadelphia.
Styles and Owens, part 2
If it was up to us, NAIborhood, I'm sure we'd let them have a best of 70 series - I didn't catch their Smackdown encounter but this match was everything I hoped for and more.
Food for thought - Has Kevin Owens had a bad match in WWE yet?
Even the ending was fine by me - Yeah, it was a repeat of what happened on Smackdown, but that's going to be what happens until Shane McMahon wins at Wrestlemania and Smackdown becomes a WWE / NXT hybrid show.
If I say it enough, it will come true.
Battle of the Beasts
In a ROH review I wrote yesterday, I mentioned an encounter between Moose and Kongo, and bemoaned the lack of Rusev being used as the monster that he is. He might not have won last night, but at least the match was more along the lines of what I was thinking. He and Big E had a chance to tear the house down and while their stables got in the way, they did just that. I enjoyed that contest, and I hope it's not the last time we see them in a match.
While we're on the subject of New Day, two quick points off the #PromotingPositivity podium. First, what the hell were Big E, Kofi and Xavier talking about last night? Is this what we're going to get out of a "face" New Day? If so, please turn them heel again as soon as possible.
Secondly, Rusev has outgrown the League of Nations. His Twitter feed alone should be enough to get him back into the mid-card singles title market. Why he's not part of the IC ladder match is beyond me.
Ok, let's get back to the column proper.
Bo Flippin' Dallas
If you were to check out my DDTwrestling.com profile, you would notice that I have listed Bo Rida as my favorite current wrestler. That's probably not true, but I'd be hard pressed to find a guy more entertaining on a regular basis than Mr. Dallas. In fact, let me be bold.
Bo Dallas is performing, character wise, on a level very close to one Kevin Owens.
He might not be getting as much of a chance to shine, but in my mind, Bo Dallas is the leader of the Social Outcasts (in fact, I find Heath Slater to be the least entertaining of the bunch). Every little thing he does is magic. Go back and watch him try to beg off of Kane - Totally hilarious.
I'm pulling for Bo Dallas to win the Andre the Giant Battle Royal, and then I want his cheesy smile bronzed and put in Andre's place.
Fandango had a match!
His hair might have been terrible, but at least we saw him. I was beginning to forget what he looked like.
The IC ladder match.
I'll be honest - This is not the match I was hoping for. No Harper (though since he apparently got injured, that's probably for the best), no Rusev, obviously no Titus O'Neil. I had originally expected Stardust to be a part of this, so that was nice to see.
Despite my minor disappointment, it's not like this match is going to be terrible, folks. Owens and Zayn can tell their stories, Ziggler and Miz are always dependable for some entertaining action, Sin Cara will dive off of stuff and Zack Ryder will be so legitimately happy to be on the Mania card that we'll be pulling for him the whole time.
Plus, there's always the chance (not really) that Cody Rhodes makes his return.
Young Mister Reigns continued to be the badass we all have wanted him to be by slowly (ssslllooowwwlllyyy) appearing from beyond the garage door and battling Triple H backstage. Once again, no talking, just brooding, exactly what we fell in love with when he was with Rollins and Ambrose.
This is what we've been asking for, folks. Stop moaning that "it's too late". Give him the cheers the last two weeks have earned.
Charlotte and Natalya got the chance to have an actual wrestling match, not a 3 minute hair-pulling contest. I know this is becoming much more of the norm thanks to the Diva's Revolution, but it's still worth mentioning. I get why Natalya can't force her way into the championship triple threat, but it's delightful to see her mattering in WWE again.
Ambrose bringing Hardcore back
Terry Funk might not have had as perfect a moment as Mick Foley did last week, but it was nice to see old Chainsaw Charlie back on my TV screen. As for the main event - I'll admit it, I went to bed after Vince's pretty underwhelming "big announcement". Braun Strowman just doesn't make me want to stay up until 11:00.
I did enjoy hearing that Ambrose got himself disqualified, though. There's no way Dean can beat Brock in a one-on-one contest. I better be seeing Ambrose drag a hot dog cart AND a shopping cart full of weapons to the ring in Dallas.
Like I said when this column began, I get it. Last night was not the explosion of excellence we all expected.
But it was a good RAW. Plenty to enjoy. Wrestlemania weekend is going to be a fantastic time.