Views From The Turnbuckle: Payback Preview, WWE Sinks Into The Post-WrestleMania Abyss

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It is accepted that WrestleMania is the peak time of the year for WWE, that is a fact that cannot be debated. However, the post-WrestleMania era of the WWE calendar has always been a cool-down period for the company. Naturally after spending months hyping up the biggest matches for one mega-event, that kind of energy cannot be sustained following the event so the programming following WrestleMania is always going to feel kind of second-rate.

WWE lurches into Payback not just in a lull, but in a creative sense the show feels almost catatonic. We can all accept that the hype surrounding Payback is going to be nothing compared to the hype leading up to WrestleMania, but this year in particular WWE hasn't just had interest wane after WrestleMania, interest has fallen right off of a cliff and plunged right into the ocean, crashed through the water and is headed towards the Benthic zone (look it up).

Why does Payback feel so flat? Most of it has to do with WrestleMania, for months the show was built around part-time talent like Goldberg, Brock Lesnar, Triple H and The Undertaker. Now that WrestleMania is over that talent is nowhere to be found so there are some huge holes that need to be filled. Part of the problem with relying on part-time talent to boost interest in WrestleMania is that when they are gone guys who had minimal roles at WrestleMania are suddenly called in for big matches at the next few PPVs. Braun Strowman (early exit from battle royal) Samoa Joe (not even on the card) and Alexa Bliss (blink and you missed it multi-man match appearance) all are in major matches for Payback.

More than that however is how WWE has managed the "Superstar Shakeup" so that it took place right after matches for Payback had already been set. Technically it is being presented as RAW PPV, but really this is a joint show with plenty of SmackDown stars on it. The issue is that WWE has tried to build the PPV while some of the talent has been on different brands. Chris Jericho doesn't really interact directly with Kevin Owens each week because they are on different shows. The same can be said for Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton.

On top of that Roman Reigns and Braun Strowman is supposedly the headliner, but they shot an injury angle with Reigns so he hasn't been on the show for weeks, so they haven't had any interaction either. The final blow is that since Wyatt and Orton are on different brands, their match will not be for the WWE Championship and since Lesnar is the Universal Champion and apparently that isn't important enough for him to show up for every PPV, there is no world title match. There is a difference between WWE accepting that interest will go down following WrestleMania, and WWE not even trying to keep people interested in the product. Even if you were not crazy about WrestleMania, the matches at least felt really important. That isn't the case for Payback, and with no major title on the line and a bunch of lackluster builds, it really does feel like just an episode of RAW.

The main event of the show will surely be Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman, and with Strowman set to face Lesnar next, one would assume he would defeat Reigns. Of course, much like John Cena, Reigns I believe should be the favorite in every single match he wrestles in. If WWE decides that Reigns should beat Strowman, it should not be a surprise to anyone since Reigns' character has the ability to beat anyone at anytime. The beating that Strowman administered to Reigns was masterfully orchestrated, but predictably Reigns is set to return after being out of action for only a couple weeks. If you are going to do an injury angle like that and have a guy flip over an ambulance, it should really lead to a longer time on the shelf than a few weeks.

Despite the fact that Wyatt never got a rematch for his WWE Championship; he will face Orton in a non-title rematch. The match is set to be a "House of Horrors" match which is currently notable because nobody seems to know exactly what a House of Horrors match is. It seems like they would be doing something that starts off in a literal-house, so a pre-taped segment of them fighting in a gloomy house where some wacky "horrors" would emerge. They then would make it to the arena and the ring for the finale; similar to a Boiler Room Brawl. That is all just a guess on my behalf, the House of Horrors could literally be anything. The Wyatt stuff at WrestleMania with the projected images and everything really fell flat so I don't know about doing more creative stuff like that again; albeit Payback is going to have a much different atmosphere than WrestleMania. Since it is a non-title match things can go either way; despite the loss at WrestleMania they still are high on Wyatt so you wouldn't want him to lose again. However, Orton is the champion and you wouldn't want the SmackDown world champion to look weak; especially because SmackDown already looks week because Jinder Mahal went from RAW jobber to SmackDown number one contender in a single week.

Bayley will make her long-anticipated title defense in her hometown of San Jose against Alexa Bliss. The booking of the women's division on RAW has been really questionable in 2017 with a lot of unexpected finishes, so it is hard to figure out exactly what they are going to do. Naturally you wouldn't want to beat a top star in their hometown, so Bayley should win. Of course WWE absolutely adores beating wrestlers in their hometowns (I saw this first hand when Sasha Banks lost at Hell in a Cell to Charlotte in Boston) so Bliss could win. If you want to establish Bliss as a big time player in the division, she should win the match; but of course you would also want to keep Bayley strong. If I was booking I would do an old-fashioned Bruno Sammartino finish where Bliss could be cheating to get the upper hand, Bayley makes a big comeback and they go to the outside and they both get counted out. Bayley and Bliss continue to fight on the outside, Bayley gets the upper hand and does some big spot (like an elbow off the turnbuckle through the announce table) to finish things off. The crowd would pop huge, Bayley gets hotter and you can continue the feud between Bliss and Bayley.

Probably the best match on the show is going to be Samoa Joe and Seth Rollins. After all that build-up for his match against Triple H; is Rollins really a bigger babyface now that he finally conquered Triple H? So far it doesn't really feel like that; Rollins feels like the same kind of babyface who WWE keeps feeding corny lines to and he doesn't come off as authentic. The real top level babyfaces who have gotten over like Daniel Bryan and CM Punk got over because they felt real and authentic when they were speaking; Rollins comes across as far too scripted to get that kind of reaction even though he is as talented as anybody in the ring. Joe really should be getting a monster push the way they are pushing Strowman; he probably needs to win this match more than Rollins does.

Out of all the feuds, Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens have really suffered the most due to the Superstar Shakeup. Although this was once a very heated feud and this is supposed to be the blow-off match, once they separated Jericho and Owens from interacting with each other the feud lost momentum. It is like being in a long distance relationship, only instead of talking on the phone Owens and Jericho are forced to communicate by sending messages to each other on their respective television shows. Since Jericho is going on tour with Fozzy this summer, this is as much of a guarantee as you will find in that Owens is going over on Sunday.

Rounding out the card is the Cruiserweight Championship match between Neville and Austin Aries. If given 20 minutes they could have a Match of the Year candidate, but I don't know if they will get that long. The feud has actually been a good slow burn with solid promos and character development; plus both guys are great athletes and so smooth in the ring a match they have together could be really something. If I was WWE I would open the show with this match and let it go at least 15 minutes. There is also the Tag Team Championship match between The Hardy's and Sheamus and Cesaro. The Hardy's are rapidly receding backwards since their awesome debut at WrestleMania, they need to figure out the Broken gimmick deal with Impact ASAP. They didn't become the hottest free agents in wrestling because people remembered them from 17 years ago, they did it because they reinvented their characters.

The matches at Payback could be pretty good, probably better than the matches at WrestleMania. WWE, though, does not really thrive on overall match quality but on hype and interest in storylines and characters. A well-wrestled show could help make up for a lack of quality storytelling, but WWE is never going to avoid falling into a steep decline after WrestleMania if they continue to build PPVs as poorly as they did Payback.

Must Watch Matches:

Reyes del Aire Torneo Cibernetico: ****1/4 - CMLL Super Viernes 4/7/17


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