The Law Reviews: WWE Payback 2016

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I was ready for a break from WWE.

Wrestlemania had disappointed me and I’ve generally been disillusioned with their product for quite some time. Really, when I look back at the past year the list of what I think they’ve done right is pretty short.

So I tuned into the Raw the night after Wrestlemania expecting it to be my last for awhile. Maybe until John Cena came back, or Seth Rollins. But something surprising happened: WWE started to get their act together.

A big part of that was hitting the reset button after Wrestlemania. Other than Reigns winning the title, basically nothing that happened at Wrestlemania carried over to this show. We’ve gotten a fresh start with a bevy of new talents debuting (Enzo & Cass, Baron Corbin, Vaudevillians, Apollo Crews, Gallows & Anderson), new talent at the top of the card (Styles, Owens, Sami Zayn), and some intriguing plot threads (Shane running Raw, Reigns as a ‘tweener, Gallows and Anderson’s loyalties).

So I have high hopes for this show. Sadly, in recent years WWE’s pattern has been to set up intriguing possibilities and then fumble them away. Let’s hope tonight can break that trend.

Not a ton to say about the pre-show. I was surprised that Ziggler beat Corbin. Kalisto and Ryback had a really good match and they should be doing more with Kalisto.

Kick things off with The New Day, which is something I’ll never complain about. The Beyonce reference is a great example of how these guys are able to integrate pop culture references into their material better than the rest of the roster. They know what’s up, and they’re given the freedom to write their own material.

OPENING VIDEO FEVER!!!!

It’s a new era of WWE. Led by Shane McMahon, we’re seeing new talent, new matches, a new direction. But Stephanie is back, and she’s not ready to give up control just yet.

Tag Team Tournament Final: Enzo & Cass vs. The Vaudevillians

Enzo & Cass have done just as well as you’d expect on the main roster. So much damn charisma from Enzo, and Cass has improved a lot in his own right. The Vaudevillians haven’t really gotten going yet, they need more opportunities to talk to establish their characters. I appreciate that this tournament has been clean finishines all the way through. No shenanigans, just teams winning and losing. And now two undefeated teams go at it in the finals.

Dat pop for Enzo & Cass. And you know the crowd is hot when Vaudevillians actually got heat. Because the crowd really hasn’t been given much reason to boo them.

This one barely gets going before what appeared to be a legitimate injury to Enzo. Looked rough, hope he’s okay.

Rating: N/A.

The announcers really handled this professionally. Got to give them props.

Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens

I can’t imagine how hard it must be for these guys to go out there and wrestle after what just happened. I’m having trouble just writing about the show and I don’t even know Enzo.

My beef with the build to this match is that they’ve both been losing on TV so much in the lead up to it. Common problem with WWE booking, I don’t know why they can’t keep two guys who are in one of the top matches in a pay-per-view strong on TV.

They really did a good job of making it seem like they hate each other. Just throwing fists and Cotheslines, no wrestling bullshit. Always drives me crazy when two guys who are supposed to hate each other wrestle a normal match.

I lost my shit on that Tilt-a-Whirl Slam by Sami. Whatever that thing Owens did where he dropped Sami’s head on his knee was absolutely sick and probably should have ended the match. Massive Frog Splash from Owens still can’t keep Zayn down. I’ll allow it based on this being a hate feud and Sami having extra motivation to kick out.

Major props to these guys for staying focused on the match and getting the crowd going the way they did. Owens winning was the right call, they should build to Zayn finally beating him.

Rating: ***½. Absolutely oustanding match, especially under the circumstances. Looking forward to more from these two.

Tremendous post-match promo by Owens. This is what we need more of from him.

Intercontinental Championship: The Miz (c) vs. Cesaro

Anybody seen Zack Ryder? Poor guy is completely forgotten about after winning the title last month at Wrestlemania. I’ve been digging Miz and Maryse together, and Cesaro’s tear away suit is a little cheesy but mostly works.

I love Cesaro. I love Miz. I love Kevin Owens. So it wasn’t a surprise that I loved this match. I don’t have words to describe how great Cesaro is in the ring. So athletic and smooth, such great timing. He makes impossible things look easy.  

Miz really is the modern Honky Tonk Man. A true, genuine heel. There aren’t a ton of them left. And that makes this match great, that the crowd is so invested in seeing Cesaro beat Miz. Thought Miz had him with that Skull Crushing Finale, and then you could hear the crowd rallying for Cesaro.

And then Sami Zayn shows up to attack Owens, which is awesome. For once, I actually buy that the referee wouldn’t hear someone tapping out because the crowd was going wild. And Miz gets the shitty win by grabbing the tights. Then Cesaro whips his ass after the match to get his heat back. Really perfectly constructed there.

Rating: ***¼, Great stuff there. More, please. Fatal Four Way next month at Extreme Rules?

Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose

Jericho’s heel work has been tremendous the last month. He’s one of the few guys left who really goes all-in on being a heel, eliminates everything about him that the crowd likes. One of the only guys left who can really get heat.

This match was decent. Didn’t blow me away, found parts of it boring. Not a ton of story or psychology, sort of just a series of moves. Jericho’s ring work in this most recent run hasn’t been great and Ambrose isn’t a fantastic wrestler. But the match served its purpose, and it’s nice for Dean to get a win of some significance.

Rating: **¼. Just okay. Guessing this feud keeps going, which doesn’t really fire me up.

WWE Women’s Championship: Charlotte (c) vs. Natalya

I love that they’re just re-doing the match they did at the NXT TakeOver with Flair and Bret in the corners. I’m not complaining, it was a great idea and a great match. Really one of the first signs that women’s wrestling was on the upswing in WWE.

Great to see Bret. Looks good for a guy recovering from cancer.

I have really high expectations for this match. Still waiting for that first truly great main roster singles match in the women’s division, and this could be it.

This current WWE women’s style is some of my favorite wrestling right now. I love the way they work holds and body parts, the way they transition, the fact that they really seem to be competing in there.

There’s an interesting thing about this match where it seemed like they were hesitating between moves. I actually liked it because it seemed more realistic than them just flowing from move to move to move like you see so often.

Charlotte’s Moonsault is absolutely beautiful.

Jesus, another Montreal Screwjob re-hash? At least it was Charles Robinson, Mini-Natich, who was behind it. Shouldn’t they explain that though? I don’t think that many people in the audience remember a storyline from WCW in 1999.

Rating: **¾. Not the classic I was hoping for, but good.

Loved the Double Sharpshooter.

And we come to the segment where Vince decides who runs Raw. And he walks out to the ring looking dapper as ever in his tan suit.

Stephanie’s promo was fire. If anything, too good.

I really love Shane using real headlines for his argument. His promos are still a little awkward, he’s not great at reciting pre-written material the way Stephanie is.

Shane is the most over performer on the roster by a wide margin.

Really flat ending to the segment. Stephanie and Shane running Raw together isn’t a bad idea. Just wasn’t executed all that well. Curious to see if this lands to a roster split or to Shane vs. Triple H at Summerslam.

WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Roman Reigns (c) vs. AJ Styles

At least they’re not pretending the crowd likes Reigns anymore. That’s progress. I never would have expected Styles to get this title shot after he lost to Jericho at Wrestlemania, but that’s just the weirdness of how WWE books wrestling. The most intriguing element here is definitely Gallows and Anderson. There are about 15 different ways their involvement could go down here.

AJ brings the intensity early as he batters Roman’s legs. They’re taking their time getting going here, and I like the drama it’s building. Also gives the announcers time to establish the story of the match.

Reigns takes over with his superior power. Styles breaks out some counters that showcase his unreal athleticism. He even manages to hit the Ushigoroshi, which is quite a feat on a guy as big as Reigns.

This is driving home that AJ is superior to Reigns. He has him on the ropes. And then a jaw dropping Phenomenal Forearm to the floor and through the announce table.

Reigns is counted out. Problem is I feel like the way that usually works is that when one guy re-enters the ring it “breaks the count.” I hate when rule application is inconsistent. Shane comes out to re-start the match, no count outs this time.

Reigns “accidentally” low blows Styles for another disqualification. We know where this one is going. Stephanie is out to announce the match will continue with no disqualifications or count outs.

The match restarts and they’re going at it now. Roman takes a nasty bump over the barricade, then drills AJ with a Superman Punch to counter the Phenomenal Forearm.

Now it’s Anderson and Gallows hitting the ring. Who’s side are they on? They attack Reigns. Lay him out. Styles goes for the Forearm again and hits! Reigns gets his foot on the rope at the last second. Usos show up to brawl with Anderson and Gallows. AJ gets thrown off the top onto all of them. Reigns Plancha on everybody but AJ, AJ with the Forearm off the railing, then the Springboard 450 in the middle of the ring…Reigns still kicks out.

Reigns goes for the Superman Punch, AJ scores with a Pele Kick. Reigns counters the Phenomenal Forearm with a Spear for the 1-2-3.

Rating: ****. Messy, but a hell of a match. The chaos protects AJ, we still don’t know for sure where Anderson and Gallows stand. Sets up a Steel Cage main event for next month. AJ looked fantastic here. Pretty clearly outwrestled Roman, who seemed lucky to have come out with the title.

We cut back to Shane, Stephanie, and Vince. They’re raving about how great the match was. They announce an Extreme Rules Match between Reigns and Styles for next month. I love that we’re actually getting the announcement of the next month’s main event before the end of the show.

Overall: That pretty much delivered. A few things weren’t as good as I hoped, but there were a number of quality matches and no terrible booking decisions. We can build on this. Best WWE pay-per-view in awhile.

Grade: A-

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