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.

CorbinZiggler

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.

RybackKalisto

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.

Enzo

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Welcome, welcome, one and all, as The Chief tries to be Brief about the state of WWE in our Post-Payback, pre-Elimination Chamber world.   The last few days of wrestling will likely spark a number of articles on NAI (I hope you’re all prepping your Fan Friday work, NAIbors!), so rather than clog your timelines with multiple columns, let’s try to get through as much as possible in a (relatively) short amount of space.

Calling Cody

Stardust suffered losses in back to back nights, being pinned by R-Truth on the Payback pre-show and a quick fall to Dolph Ziggler last night on RAW.  The most important event, however, was pretty much overlooked, and it shouldn’t have been.

After losing to Truth on Sunday, we saw an obviously frustrated person sitting against the ring apron.  The crazy look in the eyes was gone, as was a good portion of face paint.  For the first time in months, it seemed like Cody Rhodes was back.  Remember, the entire Stardust gimmick was Cody’s reaction to a losing streak, and now he’s going through it again - Why shouldn’t he switch back?.   I expect we’ll see Rhodes return sometime soon.

I don’t remember the specific NAIbor who said this yesterday, but I would have flipped my lid if “Dashing” Cody Rhodes had answered the John Cena Open challenge.  Of course, I don’t think anyone expected the challenger to be who he was.

Oh, Owens!

We’ve seen stars like Neville and Sami Zayn come up to WWE and impress us with their athleticism, but I don’t think we’ve EVER seen anyone make their “major league” debut and put on a verbal clinic like Kevin Owens did.  By the end of that segment, Owens and Cena seemed like one of the biggest feuds of the last few years, and that was only after 5 or so minutes of them being face to face!

I Tweeted something like this watching this morning, but it bears repeating.  If you were to make a list of the best heels in WWE right now, doesn’t Kevin Owens make the top 5, and we’re less than 24 hours from his debut.  This is crazy.

If Sami Zayn isn’t physically capable of wrestling Wednesday night at Takeover, shouldn’t Owens just lay the belt down in the middle of the ring and walk away?  He proved he can stand toe-to-toe with the biggest of boys and not flinch, what’s the purpose of him being in NXT?  Let him cut a scathing, self-promoting promo and walk out of Full Sail as an unbeaten champion.

We have a small, but growing number of NXT superstars who are too polished for true developmental.  Neville needed the time to develop some semblance of promo skills, Owens, Zayn and (hopefully) Samoa Joe do not.  These guys need to be fast-tracked to WWE, just like top baseball prospects can leapfrog AAA and go straight to the Majors.

Tag Team Turmoil

There’s a lot of confusion and skepticism surrounding the tag team Chamber match, especially now that it was announced there will be 6 teams involved.  A whole lot of people seem to think it will be physically impossible to fit 2 men inside each of those pods, and others believe there will be too many men in the ring at one time to keep track of the action.  I give a whole lot more credence to the second concern than the first - Of Course WWE will arrange it so that the pods will comfortably fit 2 men.  Having issues with this match simply because of that is ridiculous.

As for the potential chaos that will come out of a 12 man match. . . OK, that’s something to be wary of.  I’ve seen far too many crappy battle royals to discount that potential outcome.  However, let’s remember that the pods open every 5 minutes, which means that we could see pinfalls during the interim period which will make things a lot less messy.

This could be the potential benefit of having such a giant gap in the tiers of talent in this match.  If Los Matadores were to start against New Day, for example, I have to believe that Big E and Kofi could take out the bullfighters within 2-3 minutes, giving them plenty of time to taunt the teams in the pods before the first one opens.

It all boils down to faith, my friends.  Do you have faith in WWE to produce an entertaining and easy-to-watch matchup?  Based on the last few weeks of WWE programming, I would hope your faith would be higher than it has been of late, as the company seems to be on fire right now.

I have 2 problems with the tag Chamber match, and it all comes down to personalities.

First, the Chamber potentially eliminates the best part of New Day, Xavier Woods.  There won’t be a ringside for him to be at, since the Chamber will surround it.  I’m hoping we see him join the announce booth for this match, otherwise he’s going to have to be like Spider-Man, scaling the cage, shouting his commentary, which has been golden thus far.

My second issue involves the team that is NOT involved, and no, I’m not talking about the Meta-Powers.  Why in the world aren’t Luke Harper and Erick Rowan part of this match?  Sure, they’ve only had one tag match since their reunion, but that still puts them ahead of some of these other teams.  We’re going to have Matadors but not HarpRow?  Seriously?

Prediction Harper and Rowan take out either the Matadors or The Ascension, taking their spots in the Chamber.

Big Men on Parade - The IC Chamber match

I was confused as all get out to see the participants listed for the Intercontinental Chamber match.  Ziggler, King Boom and Sheamus, I got.  I’m even a fan of Rusev being involved, as it gives his character something to do, both in terms of fighting Ziggler (that whole Lana thing was weird, wasn’t it?) and battling for the IC title, since ideally Cena will be busy with Owens for a bit.

But R-Truth and Ryback?  Why in the world are they in the chamber match?  For starters, as the man who beat Ryback on Sunday, shouldn’t Bray Wyatt be involved instead?   What about Roman Reigns?  Cod-Dust?  Where in the world is Neville?

I fail to see the reasoning for either of these decisions.  At this point, I’m beginning to think Vince owes Ron Killings money or something, because Truth keeps getting placed in these matches with no rationale at all.   Can anyone explain it?

Forget Montell Jordan - THIS is how you do it!

As I said before, WWE has been doing an excellent job over the last few weeks.  Last night alone, they took us out of Payback and immediately built us up for the Elimination Chamber, in just 13 days.  This next PPV (not counting NXT Takeover, which is always must watch) is now must-see Network stuff, on par with any of the PPV’s WWE has done this year.

I’m getting the impression that the powers-that-be, whomever they are right now, are silently telling us one thing - #GiveWWEAChance.  For those of us who have, its been a very enjoyable ride these last few months.

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What do YOU think?  Thoughts on the Chamber matches?  Best parts of Payback / RAW?  Be Heard.

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