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.
On the day after Wrestlemania, I spent hours sitting in front of my computer sifting through the myriad complains of the NAIborhood, and, if I'm being honest, offering many of my own.
Why did Brock Lesnar so handily defeat Dean Ambrose?
Why did WWE build up the Shane McMahon story only to have Undertaker win?
Why did The Rock put Bray Wyatt over verbally, but not necessarily physically?
Basically, the world wanted to know What in the blue hell is going on?
With last night's RAW in the rearview mirror, I can't look at you and say all of those questions have been answered. In fact, I can't look at you and say that ANY of those questions have been answered.
What I can do is look at you and say. . . Who cares?
The two RAWs coming out of Wrestlemania have been fantastic, WWE Payback looks like it is going to be an amazing Pay Per View, and even some of the most fervent critics of WWE (Hi, Laz!) have been, at least temporarily, silenced. As Pope of Positivity, I am feeling pretty darn good right now about my wrestling experience.
Let me share some of the moments that made me smile most.
Shane McMahon continues to do a stellar job running RAW.
I don't know how long this storyline is going to last, I don't know where exactly it's going to lead and quite frankly, it doesn't bother me in the slightest. Shane coming out and seemingly being "The People's Authority" has resulted in some fantastic television, and I'll enjoy it as long as WWE goes with it.
Kevin Owens might be my perfect wrestler.
I love technical wrestling, I love the ability to mix power and aerial ability and I LOVE Wrestle Silly. What about that is NOT Kevin Owens? While Bo Dallas will always hold a special place in my heart, I don't think I can consider him my favorite wrestler right now while KO continues to turn in such epic performances. Nobody I can think of would take the time to stop, pick up JBL's hat, put it back on the announce table and apologize for knocking it over.
PPV Quality Matches on a Monday Night RAW.
Someone on Twitter didn't really know what to make of Zayn vs. Styles, which could easily have been a main event matchup on pay per view. I think they felt like it was wasted on a RAW. How could it be? With the depth of talent we have in WWE right now, EVERY show should feel like a PPV, match-wise, and let the storylines be darned. I loved AJ vs. Sami, and that's all that matters.
Dean Ambrose is back where he belongs.
While the Wrestlemania loss will still sting for a while, I think, when push comes to shove, I am really just angry with myself for having such irrational expectations as to think Ambrose could feasibly beat Brock. I fell victim to my own fantasy booking.
Now Dean is back where he belongs, FINALLY coming back to address the "feud" that started way back at Night of Champions. He and Jericho are going to do amazing work (the Highlight Reel-turned-Ambrose Asylum was particularly stellar) and Dean will be stronger for it.
I spent a good portion of the morning fanning out with fellow Bray Bo-Lievers (See what I did there?) Shannon Scott and Whitney Harris, and I think we can all agree that last night ranked among the best all-time moments for Bray Wyatt since joining WWE. Everything he did was terrific - The interactions with LON and Reigns midway through the show, his promo before his entrance was thrilling and he might have just redefined what a "hot tag" can be.
Perhaps this has been what's wrong with Bray this entire time - He's meant to have the WWE Universe in his hands. As a "babyface" (using this term VERY loosely), it's entirely possible that the sky is the limit for Mr. Wyatt.
Wrestlemania 32 might be one of the all-time question marks in wrestling history, but that's exactly what it is right now. . . HISTORY.
Last night's grandest stage of them all was not the harbinger of watershed change that I was hoping for, though that's probably my own fault for having my usual #IrrationalIdealist expectations. We got the distinct impression from Wrestlemania that this is still Vince McMahon's company and, with minimal exceptions, what he says goes.
Doesn't mean it wasn't an enjoyable show to end an enjoyable weekend, though.
Come with me, NAIborhood, as the Pope of Positivity walks you through his personal list of favorite moments from Sunday's Wrestlemania.
Kalisto vs. Ryback
Full disclosure: I was doing a food run during this match, so I can't preach too much about the positivity of the match itself, but Kalisto is still our United States champion. Nothing wrong with that. I also heard that Ryback might have gone full heel following the match, which is also a good thing. I imagine this feud will continue throughout the spring, and while I'm not wild about it, I also don't detest the idea as much as I thought I would.
Ten Diva Tag Match
This match was way more enjoyable than it really had any business being - I was engaged from start to finish. I feel like these women knew about the changes coming to their division and decided to step things up.
Let's talk about Lana for a second. She didn't do a whole lot in this match, which was by design. We saw a couple impressive kicks and I just adored how she stood very tall, extended her hand formally and announced that she'd like to be tagged into the ring now. I'm excited to see where she goes heading out of Mania season.
Also, if this was truly the swan song for Brie Bella, she picked a very nice way to go out. Daniel Bryan tweeted it and he was totally right, the rolling Yes Lock Brie performed was better than any version I ever saw her husband do. I've never been a huge fan of either Bella twin, but you can't say they weren't talented.
Really, there was a lot to like from all participants. Paige, Naomi, Emma, Tamina and Natalya all had nice moments.
Who was the real star? Do you even need to ask?
It wasn't just that she soaked up those boos from the crowd like they were manna from heaven. It wasn't that she refused to take in Paige, then tagged Natalya via slap. Even her most hardcore haters admit she knows how to be an uber-heel.
But Eva Marie acquitted herself quite well purely as a wrestler. In fact, she did pretty good.
She wasn't in the match long, and she wasn't supposed to be, but when she was there, she did her job. That's all we can ask.
The Dudleys vs. The Usos
I loved that The Dudleys, despite being the storyline heels in this match, got cheered exponentially more than their opponents. So much so, in fact, that Bubba and Devon seemed to forget they were supposed to be the bad guys. Didn't they come out on RAW a few weeks ago and say they were done with tables? Didn't seem to be the case here.
Not a whole lot to say about this match, except one last thing - I am positive that I hate the superkick.
IC Ladder match
I normally am not a super-emotional person when it comes to pro wrestling, but I have to admit to getting a tad bit glassy eyed watching Sami Zayn make his way to the ring. Zayn had a TREMENDOUS weekend, coming close to stealing the show at BOTH NXT Takeover and Wrestlemania. In a fair and just world, Sami just assured himself a main event spot in WWE.
Loved the Zayn and Kevin Owens moment where they are on either side of the ladder, look up at each other, then drop the ladder and just started punching. This feud is going to be amazing to watch over the next decade.
I don't want this to turn into a Sami love fest but the way Zayn dove THROUGH THE OPEN LADDER and then over the ropes is something I'm going to need to watch at least a half dozen more times.
He was an afterthought for a lot of people in this match but props need to be given to Sin Cara for his performance. We expect botches from Sin Cara, yet he did VERY well here, falling off the ladder into a perfect springboard (WHERE NOBODY CAUGHT HIM, I MIGHT ADD) and then his falling splash onto Stardust later in the match.
As for Stardust, the tributes to daddy Dusty were fantastic. I still don't think we'll see Cody Rhodes again (at least not for a while, still), but the guy from the cosmos who admits his heritage is pretty cool.
Kevin Owens has now lost his IC title, but really, did he ever need it in the first place? A lot of people were awed by his frog splash, but I was far more impressed with the way he channeled his inner RVD by leaping up to the top rope in the first place. I tweeted this earlier, but now it's written in stone - Kevin Owens WILL win Money in the Bank this year.
Provided he isn't dead from that awesome half and half suplex onto the ladder.
He is The Miz, and he is awesome! He didn't do a whole lot in this match but him posing on the ladder at the very end was priceless. He's so good at what he does.
As for the winner, Mr. Zack Ryder, this was a shocking victory that proved that WWE can and will reward talents for taking a "demotion" to NXT and working hard when there to develop their characters. We saw it with Tyson Kidd and again with our IC champ. Congratulations, Zack, you deserve it.
AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho
This was one of those matches where I found myself too distracted by Twitter to give it a proper viewing. A lot of people are claiming that it's the best of the series, and that might be true, though I find it challenging to watch the same match over and over again. If they had said from the onset this would be a "Best of" series, I think I'd have had an easier time.
Still, I enjoyed AJ's counter to the corner dropkick - hopping over the ropes and delivering one of his own. I thought Jericho's borrowing of Austin Aries' rope-drop neckbreaker was an interesting choice. I could keep going here naming specific moments, but I'm already over a thousand words on this column. Suffice to say, it was a good match.
DC's unpopular opinion - The Styles Clash does nothing for me. I don't find it particularly impactful or visually impressive, and I don't care how many legitimate injuries have been caused by it. That just makes it dangerous AND unexciting. Get rid of it. Between the Calf Crusher, the Phenomenal Forearm and the Springboard 450, AJ's got plenty in the arsenal.
I was a bit surprised by the Jericho win, but I'm OK with it. In fact, it's exciting. I'm hoping we see them both move on to face other talents - Jericho would be a great matchup with Sami Zayn or either mid-card champion, and truthfully, I'd be all for a Jericho / Reigns program. As for Styles, the sky is the limit as well.
Just. . . . Just not Styles / Jericho V. . . . Pretty please?
New Day vs. League of Nations
New Day's entrance was entertaining, though (and I might lose my nerd card here) I'm not sure what the costumes were referencing. Dragon Ball Z? Mortal Kombat?
I had really, REALLY hoped Rusev would drive a tank over that big box of Booty-O's, though him looking like he wanted to stomp every piece of cereal was funny. Rusev was one of the big stars of this match, I thought, showing off his flexibility and skills as a wrestler, doing some of the most enthusiastic celebrating I've ever seen, then taking a Stunner like a champion. I'm still super high on the talent of the Bulgarian Brute.
I think this might be the end of the League of Nations. There seemed to be a feeling of finality to things. I'm guessing we don't see Bad News Barrett in WWE again, and on RAW tonight, "The Lads" go their separate ways. It's a shame, since I think they were just starting to fire on all cylinders.
New Day was. . . Fine. I don't think they got as big of a 'rub' as everyone else seems to just because they shared a ring with Austin, Foley and Michaels for about a minute and a half. Don't get me wrong - I loved the segment, but I do think this bodes well for New Day.
In fact - #PreDCtion - New Day loses the tag title to Enzo and Cass TONIGHT on RAW.
HEY NAIBORHOOD - The first person to find me a GIF of Austin dancing wins a shout out in this column! And. . .um. . . a big thumbs up!
THANKS TO BAILEY BISHOP (@baileybishop) for finding it! YAY!
Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose
Realistic Aside: If I can be serious for a moment, this match was the most personally disappointing to me. Again, I blame my own lofty expectations. I really thought this was going to be the Arrival of Ambrose, where Dean ascends to the main event picture full-time, and that was not what I got. In fact, I'm tempted to . . . .Aw hell, why not?
PreDCtion - Dean Ambrose never main events a major WWE PPV again unless Seth Rollins or Roman Reigns is also a part.
I'm not counting minor shows like Fastlane - These are the big ones. Unless one of the other, more successful members of The Shield are there to help make it meaningful, Dean never sniffs true main event status again.
I seriously hope I'm wrong. . . But I don't think I am.
Despite this, there were still moments where I can Preach Positivity - I liked that Brock didn't bother with weapons; there was no need for them, obviously. Paul Heyman, as always, came close to stealing the show, moving into Dean's sight line to gloat and selling the kendo stick shots like he himself was taking them. Lesnar's cat-like ascension to the top rope was beautiful, and I suppose Dean had a good moment posing with Barbie. . . But yeah. . . That's about it.
Let's move on before I get truly sad.
Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch
My plan is to do an entire column devoted to the women's division, but just so we're clear, I dig the new Women's title. I like that it looks a lot like the World Heavyweight Championship - There's a level of legitimacy to it that many others belts, including the copper penny tag titles, lack. It's cool.
I finally found a legitimate reason for Snoop Dogg to be part of a WWE show, so that was nice. Both Sasha and Charlotte had pretty nice entrances for their first Wrestlemanias. Charlotte's robe was a particularly nice touch.
In fact, this was the first time in AGES that I watched Charlotte and was reminded of the NXT talent that made me so fervently believe that this could be the best female wrestler of all time. A lot of that had to do with the lack of Ric Flair presence - Charlotte did most of this on her own. I hope we see more of that from our new Women's Champion.
Becky Lynch stood out as well - Her suplexes are especially impressive and really bring a level of legitimacy to the quality of wrestling we see. I also love it every time I see a move I've never seen before, and the hammerlock / reverse DDT combo was a new one for me.
If anything, Sasha Banks had the hardest time making a statement in this match. The dive through the ropes was nice (I really wonder if she realized she wasn't going fast enough so adjusted it into a flip halfway through to make sure she connected), but otherwise I didn't see anything super memorable from The Boss, save for the ending.
I loved the way this ended. I've been railing against Ric Flair's constant interference for months now, I know, but this worked for me. It was sneaky, it was dirty, it was Horseman-esque, which is what I want from the 16 time World Champion. Maybe it's because, on the biggest night of them all, Ric Flair realized that this wasn't about him, so for the most part, he let the women shine. When he did cheat, he made it count (and got out of the way of the camera). Nice job, Nature Boy.
Trust me, NAIborhood - This step in the journey for Sasha and Becky will make the destination all the sweeter.
Shane McMahon vs. Undertaker
This match should have closed the show for a number of reasons, not the least of which was what I (and Liam Stryker) have been saying all along - The fate of the company trumps the fate of the champion. Had I been forward thinking, I'd have called an audible in my PreDCtion when I realized the Cell was coming down too early, as there was no way Shane would win at 10 PM.
The use of the McMahon grandchildren was a nice touch for Shane's entrance and it was nice to see a Taker entrance in actual darkness. Note to WWE - No more outdoor shows.
This match reminded me a lot of the Cell match from Wrestlemania 28, in that I found it almost boring until the steel steps came into play. One Shane was chokeslammed onto the steps, business, my friends, picked up. A lot of great moments followed that, from the dueling triangle chokes to Shane's Van Terminator, which was special simply because Shane could have travelled another 5-7 feet if he wanted to.
Then we went outside the Cell. Loved when Shane had Taker in the sleeper, and everyone in the world knew Undertaker was about to send them both through a table. Loved that the toolbox exploded when Shane hit him with it. Loved The Dive, obviously, and thought that the announce team did a very good job of selling the moment. We give them a lot of grief, but when the time came, they sounded legitimately concerned, which is all we needed.
I've even talked myself into the ending of the match, which I was not a fan of last night. Once more, I had convinced myself of something that was probably a silly idea in the first place, and I paid for it with disappointment. Doc Manson was right, Shane was never going to be a long term fixture in the WWE, as much as we all wanted him to be. He came back for one more night of glory, got the "respectful pat on the cheek" from Taker (which, in my mind, sold the whole thing), and then lost. As he probably should to arguable the greatest wrestler in Mania history.
Not the best match of the night, but certainly had some all-time moments. Well done to all involved.
The Andre Battle Royal
It is tempting, I believe, to think back on Wrestlemania and see it, in broad terms, as a bit of a slap to the face of the IWC by Vince McMahon. Damien Sandow got eliminated by Shaquille O'Neal. What else is that but a middle finger to all those who love him and sing his praises on Twitter?
Still, this match was good for one reason and one reason only. . .Well, two I suppose - It's always nice to see Tatanka.
Bo Dallas is my favorite wrestler in WWE right now when you consider the ratio of minutes on air to moments of pure entertainment. Nobody makes me happier than Bo does. I mean, come on. . . Look at him!
How can you not love that excitement?
As for the result, this was totally unexpected, which is a positive in and of itself. I'm not sure Baron Corbin is WWE ready (in fact, him being called up really screws up some NXT fantasy booking I was planning on doing later today), but this is the right way to use this match. Baron instantly has more reason for being in WWE than a lot of the other recent NXT call-ups. We'll see if he's on RAW.
The Wyatts / Rock and Cena segment
Odd for the host of the show to make his first appearance right near the end, but I guess The Rock is truly one of those eccentric Hollywood types now!
The best part of this entire segment was listening to Rock put over Bray Wyatt, and even moreso, listening to the crowd go nuts for it. Obviously most fans want to see something meaningful happen for Bray, and while I'm not sure if we're going to get it, at least I can take solace in the knowledge that the feeling is widespread.
I wrote last week that the Wyatt Family, Bray included, was officially dead, and hopefully last night proved it. Now is the time for a phoenix to rise from the ashes and take his rightful place among the top talent in WWE. I still Bray-Lieve!!!
. . . Hmm, that doesn't work as well as his brothers' slogan.
Roman Reigns vs. Triple H
Triple H's entrance was good. Not as good as some of his others, but the fact that he didn't adorn himself in skulls for once was a nice touch. Sensational Stephie was good, too.
Having watched ALMOST all of the Wrestlemanias from my Lost Years (29 wasn't able to keep my interest in the last hours), I have a deeper appreciation for Triple H's talent than I did before. The guy is good, plain and simple, and last night was no exception. I enjoyed his role as the cerebral veteran, taking advantage of Roman's youthful exuberance and capitalizing on his mistakes. Also enjoyed how he isolated body parts, though his choice of some of them left me feeling uncomfortable.
Roman didn't do a whole lot in this match and actually, I think that was kind of the point. As Michael Cole mentioned during the entrances, Triple H has been champion a combined three and a half YEARS in WWE. That's as long as Roman Reigns' entire WWE career. This match shouldn't be all that close, and if Roman wins, it should seem to be a fluke, which that match did appear to be.
I do give Roman credit for making the spear to Stephanie look visually impressive while also being adjusted to ensure she wasn't hurt. Classy touch.
I shouldn't find this as funny as I did, but watching the cameramen scouring the crowd trying to find people happy about Roman's victory, and not being able to do it, was hilarious.
#PreDCtion - Stephanie and Triple H open RAW tonight. Stephanie tries to gloat about still being in control of the company but HHH is having not of it, beside himself at losing the title. This results in him going off the reservation, as it were, leading to some sort of No Holds Barred gimmick match at . . . Whatever the next PPV is.
All in all, Wrestlemania was an exciting show to cap off a fantastic weekend of wrestling. Could it have been better? Sure. There are a lot of questions that remain about some of the events of Wrestlemania, but that just means everyone will be tuning into RAW tonight to see if we get some answers. In a wrestling world without offseasons, isn't that the point?
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.
Back to back days with NAI columns. This hasn’t happened in. . . Hmm, best not think about it.
Yesterday, I spelled out how Bray Wyatt, to me, is the only real answer for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. I received a fair amount of positive feedback for that piece, and I’m quite proud of it, although a lot of people mentioned whether, much like Taker before him, a character like Wyatt needs the belt. Fair point there, though my argument is that while Bray Wyatt might not need a title, he does need a concrete moment of becoming a true main event guy, and as much as I liked the pyro and lightning, it hasn’t happened yet.
However, in the interest of further discussion, today I will expand my horizons and consider other options. In fact, our goal today is to look back into the sands of time- specifically, previous WWF tournaments - and see whether or not we could see history repeat itself.
The History It was the height of the Attitude Era, and Stone Cold Steve Austin was feuding brilliantly with Mr. McMahon. Vince had done everything he could to force Austin to lose the title, putting him in a Triple Threat match with Kane AND The Undertaker, though the Brothers of Destruction weren’t allowed to pin each other. Both brothers wound up pinning Austin at the same time, and summarily (following some more Stone Cold hijinks) the belt was held up and awarded to the winner of a tournament.
The Rock and Mankind made it to the finals, and in a move that shocked the wrestling world, The Rock turned heel, joined The Corporation and won the World Title.
Roman Reigns will be playing the role of The Rock.
Dean Ambrose will be playing the role of Mick Foley.
Reigns and Ambrose battle their way to the finals, and somehow Triple H screws Dean over, Roman reveals he is in cahoots with The Authority, and we’re off and running on the Road to Wrestlemania.
Why Would it Work?
This one is the tournament most people have and will think of, both because of happening at Survivor Series and because of the seemingly “easy booking” of the result. Fans have been rabidly anticipating one of the two remaining Shield Brothers to turn on the other, and by having Roman turn heel and join The Authority, you can make a lot of people happy, plus it gives Reigns an out, as I explain further down in this column.
In reality, Ambrose would be more of a Foley / Austin combination here, as being betrayed by another brother sends him completely over the edge. More hiding in trunks, more taking over taxi cabs, basically everything that made Dean great before becoming Roman’s towel boy.
The History - During the feud between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, the Eighth Wonder of the World managed to win the World Title, thanks to some referee Twin Magic. The belt was held up and decided in a 14 man tournament.
Hogan and Andre faced each other in Round 2, both getting disqualified in the process. In the end, Randy Savage had a Herculean effort (Sadly, Hercules himself wasn’t in the tournament), winning four matches in one night to win his first World Title. Even so, however, he remained in the shadow of Hulk Hogan, who interfered to help Savage win the belt, sharing in his spotlight.
Roman Reigns will be playing the role of Randy Savage.
John Cena will be playing the role of Hulk Hogan.
We’ve spent the last few months talking all over social media about how Reigns is the New Cena, the next big star, yet just like Hulk Hogan in 1988, John Cena isn’t going anywhere soon. Thus, for the time being, these two stars need to figure out a way of co-existing on the same roster.
I envision Roman Reigns being set up with an impossible bracket for this tournament, having to take out Big Show, Bray Wyatt and perhaps even his best friend Dean Ambrose on his way to the finals. Exhausted, Reigns makes it to the finals, opposed by MITB winner Sheamus, who (as perhaps a new Authority member) has had more of a cake walk in this tournament.
The deck is stacked, it seems, and once again, Reigns will come so close, only to fall so far.
Enter John Cena.
Cena, not scheduled for the tournament and in a surprising move, makes a save for Reigns, allowing him to win his first World Championship.
Survivor Series ends with Cena and Reigns posing for the crowd, sharing the spotlight.
Why Would It Work?
As I said in last night’s column, Reigns isn’t quite ready yet, and shouldn’t be given the pressure of leading the company all on his own right now. Having Cena provide the assist allows them both to shoulder the weight of responsibility as THE guy.
Plus, as we saw by Wrestlemania V, the two best friends turned into bitter enemies, as Savage resented being in Hogan’s shadow and turned heel. But maybe now I’m just hoping.
This tournament was obviously not for a championship, but it’s the most famous KOTR for a reason, as this was the birth of Stone Cold Steve Austin, wrestling legend. Winning his tournament, Austin takes the microphone and cuts one of the greatest promos in history, cementing himself as a future megastar. The World Title was his within 2 years.
Kevin Owens will be playing the part of Steve Austin.
In order to fully explain this, we need to cover Why It Would Work as well.
One of the most common things I saw online following the news of Rollins’ injury was that it was time for someone on WWE’s roster to “step up”. Someone needs to take the proverbial brass ring and run with it. This is going to have to be more than just a solid performance in the ring - We see lots of those each and every week, yet it doesn’t necessarily do anything.
No, at Survivor Series, if someone is going to have an “Austin Arrival” moment, they need to do it on the microphone, letting us know that this was inevitable - that the rise to company domination was something that was only a matter of time.
Sorry Kanyon, but for that, Who Better Than Owens?
If WWE really and truly wants to announce their youth movement to the world, there’s no better way to do it than to give their title to a rookie. “I got here May 18th. Six months later, I’m the World Champion. What do you think of that, Cole?” His promo would write itself.
Kevin Owens could bring forth the dawn of a new era in professional wrestling, just like Steve Austin did nearly 20 years ago. Give him the title and the microphone, and he’ll take care of the rest.
What do YOU think? Will we see history repeat itself at Survivor Series? Be Heard
One of the biggest wrestling related stories of the weekend was the announcement that Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns would be teaming with a mystery partner to take on the Wyatts (Bray, Harper, Stroganoff) at Night of Champions. On this weekend's NAIborhood podcast (available wherever NAIpod can be found), Doc Manson and I discussed it a bit, though I made the mistake of thinking the 6 man tag was at RAW, not NOC. My bad. Ryback would have made sense, but he won't be wrestling twice at Night of Champions.
People are still buzzing about the mystery so I thought that today, I'd lay out some of the likeliest, and of course, the unlikeliest options.
Rowan's been on the shelf for a while and is due back in November, though it wouldn't be at all surprising if he had recovered early. His role as "sheep" has been taken over by Braun, so it would make a lot of sense from a storyline perspective for Erick to join Dean and Roman at Night of Champions.
I don't think this is the answer, both because Rowan's likely still recovering and he's not really "big" enough for such a moment. As I mention this weekend, the next time we see Erick Rowan is either in NXT trying out a new gimmick (pair him with Solomon Crowe?) or on the "Future Endeavor" page on WWE.com.
I feel like I spent the entire weekend having to shoot down the "leaked" screenshot that everyone in the world seemed to buy into. If you're one of those people, go back and take a look at the whole image, including the text. Read it. It made NO sense, from a grammatical standpoint. Say what you will about WWE, but they usually proofread their writing for the website.
Still, this wouldn't be the worst option, I suppose. #TallAndTerrible isn't THAT bad.
Yes, yes he is. . . This isn't happening. . . I won't allow it.
Apparently there was seemingly the beginning of a Cesaro / Miz feud on Smackdown, but the Swiss Superman is currently not doing anything of note and is strong enough to be able to somewhat counteract the "Black Sheep".
This is the easiest option for WWE, and the one I think is most likely to happen. It cements Cesaro as a "periphery main event" babyface and its right in front of their noses. WWE enjoys lazy booking when it presents itself, and this is perfect.
We haven't seen Kane in a while, and everyone assumes when he makes his return it will be the masked Demon, not the corporate henchman.
This would be an odd place for him to come back - He would be ignoring Lesnar and Rollins completely and starting a feud for no rational reason, but when has logic and rational reasons ever stopped WWE?
Kane, in his mask, with a red and black Shield outfit? I'd watch it.
He was Bray Wyatt's first big feud and he's still somewhat active. Plus, he enjoys making "surprise returns" more than any other talent.
Jericho seems happy doing live events at random times, so I don't hold out a lot of hope for this one.
This is the pipe dream of fanboys and fangirls everywhere. Balor comes out in full Demon regalia and feuds with Bray.
Sounds nice, but WWE can't keep sending their NXT champions up to the main roster. Finn needs to stay in the developmental territory until they can build enough of a singles division around him. Sorry, friends.
A bunch of you just read that name and are saying "Who?", and that's exactly what happened when Braun Strowman made his appearance.
Miley is the other NXT big man that has yet to make a Full Sail appearance. He's the other guy in that picture at the top of this article, and really he's the one I want to focus on.
Just look at him. Not as tall as Braun, but certainly as powerful. His hands are bigger than Balor's head. He would make an instant impact just from a physical appearance standpoint and as long as he is even remotely capable in the ring, he'd be an excellent total surprise.
This is my dark horse. I'm hoping it's him.
We defined this scenario on the podcast as "Pie in Space" - Beyond pie in the sky, a total fantasy situation.
There isn't a lot of info on Bryan's health that I've been able to find, so its entirely possible (in a completely irrational way) to hope that he's healthy enough to wrestle and comes back IN FULL SHIELD GARB to take on his old foe Bray Wyatt.
Your ideal mystery partner is someone who can match up physically with Braun, OR the complete opposite of that - a David to Strowman's Goliath. Daniel Bryan would be that guy.
If Bryan is healthy, this is the perfect way to bring him back. The 6 man tag element allows him to ease in and not work too hard. Truthfully, Bryan's probably better off being in tag teams for the remainder of his career. If he has a career left.