RAW Deal: Yep, it's Payback time
HARTFORD, USA—A full 4 weeks have passed since WrestleMania happened, and whatever happened on that show feels like an entire era away from what's happening now.
We have a completely different main event scene and midcard environment, and even though that's what happens when those things are built on part-timers as recently as a month ago, it just seems crazy to recall that in one single storytelling stroke, WWE has it in them to change their own landscape. Turns out they just haven't been trying that hard for some reason.
Here's but a quick glimpse of how things have changed over the span of only one month.
Before we get into Payback predictions, the goings-on down at NXT have to be noted first.
Last week, NXT shocked the world yet again when someone powerful decided to have Samoa Joe win the NXT Championship on a house show. Although Finn Balor hasn't shown up on RAW yet, as most former NXT champs usually do after they lose the title (more on that later), that win only signaled the beginning of what I'd like to call the TNA takeover.
This week's set of NXT tapings (for May) confirmed that it's in full swing.
In a pretty huge shocker—mostly because wrestling fans were expecting someone else to debut on the show, and oh, spoiler alert—former TNA World Heavyweight Champion Eric Young debuted on what's going to be next week's episode. He even got right to the chase, unlike most new star signees do, and confronted Samoa Joe in a losing effort.
With Joe as champion, Young and Aries ideally filling out the upper midcard once they're settled, and Bobby Roode on the way in (to be possibly followed by TJ Perkins, if everything goes well in the Global Cruiserweight Series) it looks like NXT is turning into what TNA should have been in its highest prime. (And then you've got AJ Styles on the main roster.) Meanwhile, TNA is looking like the NXT season before its reboot, and while that isn't necessarily a bad thing, that only means they have to play their next couple of hands really well to save their hides.
So this is what you came for, right? Like I said earlier, this is where the landscape has changed for the better. Let's take a look at each of the matchups:
Kalisto vs. Ryback for the United States Championship to kick off the show
Okay, the beginning isn't the best barometer for change, but I'm willing to predict that Ryback finally beats Kalisto to shake up the status quo a little bit. The Big Guy hasn't been doing much of anything lately, but at the very least he's still stuck in a title feud. Might as well give him a win, right?
Either scenario is actually fine with me, because if Ryback wins, we could get a new story by Extreme Rules next month. If Kalisto wins, we're likely to get a new story too, possibly with someone he has better chemistry with. There's not that much to lose with the U.S. title scene, especially now that it's the benched midcard championship at the moment. (More on that later.)
Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin
It's a lukewarm storyline at the moment (it's only been a month and it's on the midcard) but that means it's got the slightest bit of potential to steal the show a couple of days from now.
Corbin has to look strong, so he's likely taking this one, but not in a fashion that's as clean as some might expect. Although it is possible that he beats Ziggler clean and moves on to the next victim, I think they can milk at least one more solid match from these two horses.
Winner: Baron Corbin, probably by countout
Enzo and Cass vs. the Vaudevillains to determine the #1 contender for the Tag Team Championships
Is there any doubt about which way this is going? Not even Vince McMahon can be so deaf to deny the love Enzo and Cass are getting, even though there's still some more work that needs to be done with their characters. Same goes for the Vaudevillains too, who need to have a bigger hook on the main roster beyond throwback manliness.
Winner: Enzo and Cass
Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens
This week on RAW, Creative finally took a step in the right direction and explained the nearly career-long feud between Zayn and Owens. While it's common knowledge for most wrestling fans who spend their time on the internet, it's a great way to recap the story and give it some much-needed fleshing-out. Owens has already been established as a family man prizefighter, so Zayn needs to have his own motivations written in soon. And that's not hard to do, either.
Anyway, we're all adults here, right? We all know that the babyface doesn't get his moment of triumph that easily.
Winner: Kevin Owens, probably by DQ
Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho
I forgot just how stacked this Payback card is on paper until I started going through each matchup, and it's now hard to pick a match that's likely to steal the show. Even though Ambrose and Jericho seem like they're fighting for virtually no reason, they're two guys who don't need a good reason for us to watch 'em fight. They're great, so let them tear at each other.
What I don't know is whether this should end here. Ambrose was on a roll before he lost at WrestleMania, and I feel like he needs to get back in the upper midcard mix soon, especially if what I want to happen in the main event happens. But my gut feeling tells me they're just going to milk this feud for the potentially great matches they'll have.
Winner: Chris Jericho by shenanigans, but possibly Dean Ambrose clean, too
The Miz vs. Cesaro for the Intercontinental Championship
The two midcard championships in the WWE are really just under a strange rotation system—for some reason, Creative can't handle prominently featuring both at the same time. (Either we need to unify them, or officially split the brands again.) Right now, the Intercontinental title is getting its renaissance after the U.S. title had a nice run in the limelight last year. While I'd love for some parity between both, I can't complain about what's happening with the white belt right now.
It took a while for him to get there, but Miz is killing it with his evolved Hollywood gimmick right now, no small thanks to his wife, former WWE superstar Maryse. Cesaro is the perfect foil, the best straight man for Mizanin's antics. If I were McMahon, I'd extend this program and also make Cesaro work hard (even though we know how hard he can work) to win the title just to boost Miz's stock as a midcard heel. But if Cesaro were to win the championship on Monday morning, hell, that works too.
Winner: The Miz, probably by cheating
Charlotte (with Ric Flair) vs. Natalya (with Bret Hart) for the Women's Championship
We've seen this particular match before, the whole trotting Bret out just to say they have some legends on here, and trust me, this isn't an excitng matchup in reality.
Due to either his health or a lack of experience/understanding in the role, Hart is totally useless in Natalya's corner, which is underscored by how animated and engaged Flair is in Charlotte's. And especially because of his health, I won't expect Hart to get physical with Flair. At the end of the day, it's just another successful title defense to pad Charlotte's reign... for Sasha Banks to take down.
Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
All right. With all the surrounding ambiguity with the Bullet Club and Finn Balor possibly affecting this match, we have three potential scenarios:
1. Roman Reigns has been playing everyone, and is actually in control of Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows (and maybe Finn Balor).
2. AJ Styles has been playing everyone, and is actually in control of Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows (and maybe Finn Balor).
3. Anderson and Gallows have been playing everyone, and they're actually controlled by Finn Balor, who has arrived to cause chaos in WWE the same way the Shield did almost four years ago.
Door #1, while great because it fully cements Reigns's heel turn, shouldn't work because Reigns is a champion who desperately needs to stand on his own two feet right now, and adding the Club to the mix will take away the spotlight he needs.
Door #2, while exciting because it reunites the NJPW incarnation of the club earlier this year, shouldn't work because in theory, AJ Styles is a phenomenal (see what I did there) babyface wrestler who, like he said last week, doesn't need his boys to beat Reigns. And you need a guy like Styles to be a top babyface right now.
That leaves Door #3 as the best option, because if you're going to debut Balor, you need to do it with some style. Create some chaos and build some intrigue by having the Balor Club mess things up for the sake of much like the Shield did back then. It doesn't automatically place Balor in the world title scene (a place in which he doesn't yet belong) but it does give him the buzz he needs, while remaining true to Reigns and Styles's respective strengths.
Can you imagine just how dynamically different the landscape would now look just one month after Mania? Who knew that all it took was some political will to do things? The first PPV that doesn't truly have a John Cena or a Triple H looks like an exciting glimpse into WWE's near future. I'm really really really hoping they don't drop the ball here.
What are your predictions for Payback? Let's talk about them! – Rappler.com
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