I am very confused by the way the WWE is booking Payback. All these worries and complaints about there not being enough top wrestlers right now, and no clue how to turn Payback into a viable PPV, and then they put Sheamus and Sandow in the pre-ppv show? What type of silliness is that? Sheamus has been WHC, and in big matches over the past couple years, but he's not good enough to be on the actual PPV? Sandow, who I thought had McMahon backing him, isn't on the PPV, even though he'd add so much more to the show. Maybe they think Sheamus and Sandow will bring fans in for the actual PPV, but as one of those fans, I'd sooner tune in and watch the pre-ppv show for free, then hunt down Bryan's match later to watch and savor. The main event doesn't hold much for me, and I already watched Cena and Ryback practice the Tables Match portion live at a house show. Sheamus and Sandow would be just one more little thing that would make me want to shell out the cash to watch this show. Now, don't get me wrong, I will be watching Payback, and hanging out in the WNW Live Blog with all the WNW readers who come out to shoot the bull, but I always step back and really look at each PPV and think about whether I would really be paying for, and sitting back to watch each of these PPVs if it wasn't part of the job I love so terribly much. I have to admit that the only thing on this PPV card that really interests me is the matches The Shield are involved with.
Speaking of matches The Shield are involved with, I cannot get over just how over Bryan is. Just when I think he's reached the pinnacle of over with the fans – as heel or face – he takes it that much further. I know I spend a lot of time writing about Daniel Bryan, but the man has taken WWE by storm from the start, and hasn't let go of the reigns for one moment. Cena and Punk might be the top guys in the WWE, but it looks to me that Bryan will be 'the man' for many years to come. Not only is Bryan the best wrestler on the WWE roster, he has the fans completely invested in a way that we haven't been invested in a very long time. I'm on the edge of my seat, so excited to see where Bryan's career is going, how far he's going to take this character, and his entire time in the WWE.
Video > B
I know I said I wouldn't be commenting on the opening videos unless something jumped out at me, but something did this week. I love that it was Steph's voice and not the regular narrator that ran through this video. It really broke things up, and showed me that they really need to find someone new to narrate, or get rid of the narrator completely. All I can ever think of is Nickelodeon Games And Sports network when I hear his voice, and that's not a good thing.
Triple H vs Axel & Trip vs Axel & Trip vs Axel > B+
I have been saying for a while that Trip needs to be spending his time pushing younger (yes, you know what I mean by that word younger) wrestlers, and this opening segment did a great job of that. I know some people are really put out by how Axel has been getting his wins, but I'm liking it. Axel is getting over as a heel, and possibly an uber heel, just by being perfect and led around by Heyman. I know he's only managed clean wins over Sin Cara, and (kind of) Jericho, but that he's beaten Cena twice, Trip three times and being so crafty about it makes him look even stronger than he is. I don't mean physically stronger, I mean mentally. Yes, much of that could be put to Heyman, but it's Axel who is working with Heyman, and that's smart on many levels. I expect big things from Axel, and he's been showing them to us both in the ring – in small doses.
I'm not sure where they're going with these family issues, or if it's their way of showing the torch being handed slowly, and the changes and issues that go along with it, but I'm thrilled to be seeing Trip, Steph and McMahon on TV more. I adore Steph, as she's a strong, smart, beautiful businesswoman who could have rested on her family's money and married well, but she's stepped up and really proved herself in the industry – in front of the camera and behind the scenes. She has grown so much from that young girl who was kidnapped by Taker, and I've enjoyed watching it.
McMahon taking Justin's mic, and the ring bell was a great ending to this segment. Trust me, I wish we'd seen the Iron Man Match, and was completely marking out for it, but since it wasn't going to happen, having McMahon take his ball and go home was a great silly ending to the segment that could have escalated to something rather ugly.
Winners – Axel & Axel (2:13)
Backstage Segment > B
As I said before, I'm loving the growth of Steph on TV. She's not that little girl any longer, and it's great to see her working with Trip again, as well as her father.
Kane vs Ambrose > B+
I loved the ref working without the bell, and how the other ref ran the bell back down to ringside during this match. But what I loved more was the work between Kane and Ambrose. We've all been talking about how great The Shield has been on mic and in the ring, and how great they have been working with the big names, and against Bryan, but Kane's name doesn't get tossed around much in that, even though he's been in as many matches with them as Bryan. Kane is a workhorse who just keeps churning out solid matches. I can't say he's the best wrestler there is, or that he was the best of his generation, but he goes out there every night and gives fantastic matches without fail. His character might bounce around from masked to not, then back to masked, and from heel to face and back again, but he has a consistency that so few wrestlers can claim. He's worked with everyone from jobbers to the biggest names, and always gives everything he has in that ring and on mic. Even when he's a heel, the fans love him. Like his brother, Kane is at a point in his career that he won't be able to pull off a true heel because the fans just love him too much. I don't know how long he will be able to continue at this pace, but that he's still going at this pace while most of his contemporaries are at home really shows how strong and talented he really is. It doesn't hurt that he's been able to avoid major injuries better than most (knock on wood).
I love watching Ambrose in the ring with Bryan, but watching him in the ring with Kane is like watching a totally different wrestler. He does a beautiful job of adapting his style to whoever he is facing. That's going to make his career that much more interesting and diverse. That he didn't go for the clean win here makes me think that their match at Payback is going to be that much more interesting. Looking at the numbers, Kane is (barely) old enough to be Ambrose's father, yet the two of them worked that ring as contemporaries. Ambrose is only 28, so he has a lot of time ahead of him, but that he can work with a man of 46 and make it look as though they're both in their 20's says a lot for both men.
Winner – Kane via DQ (10:24)
Backstage Segment > B
I can't say this was the best Kane, Bryan and Orton segment. It just didn't have the flow or feeling that they normally do. I will say that Kane hugging Vickie the way he did about had me on the floor laughing. No way I'd pass up a Kane hug, even a sweaty one like that.
Miz vs Rhodes > C-
I wasn't overly impressed with Barrett on announce. Miz and Rhodes were a lot more interesting. Actually, Rhodes was much more interesting himself. This might have been a short match, but Rhodes looked pretty good, possibly better than he has recently. Hopefully he won't be stuck jobbing each and every week for much longer.
Winner – Miz (2:35)
Stage Segment > B+
Heyman on mic, as always, was fantastic. I just wish Cody hadn't had to go under to feed the storyline. I loved how Heyman announced that Axel would be in the IC Title Match, but I loved Axel on mic more. The man has a slow and sexy way of speaking, but it's almost as if he's trying to be a bad boy in his father's footsteps, but hasn't figured it out yet. I'm sure it's all calculated, and I love it.
Video > C
This was actually a quite well produced video about Henry. I'm impressed with the work that went into it, but I have to wonder if Henry has been Tweeting to get people talking as directed by the WWE, or if his Tweets were seen by the WWE and they're taking action to push him again because of it. Jesse and I have been discussing this, but can't agree on which way this went down.
Video > C-
This recap video about the opening matches was too early, and too long. I know they want to push Axel and Trip, but it brings me back to Trip being in too many recap videos because he's the boss. Thinking about McMahon playing with his three little grand daughters in the pool makes me feel all warm and squishy inside.
Backstage Segment > B
I talk so much about chemistry between certain people in the WWE, but talking about the chemistry between Steph, McMahon and Trip is kind of odd because they are family. Further, I know how hard it is to deal with family matters in the middle of a family business. If you don't deal with it, it puts a shadow over everything, but trying to deal with it can get ugly. I'm impressed with how they portray family issues in the WWE these days. Things are less ugly, but still have that foot in reality.
In Ring Segment > B
Punk is one of the few who doesn't need Jericho help to get over, but Payback needs their match to even remain a blip on the WWE PPV radar. I'm really looking forward to this match, but was shocked at how quiet the fans started to get during things segment. Jericho is such a pro that he heard the fans getting quiet and really worked them to get them back into the segment. He even got the fans going more when they got quiet for Ziggler. Not saying Ziggler was bad, but I will say he didn't have the sparkle he normally has. Hopefully that will be back soon.
Jericho vs Big E > C+
Jericho continued to bring the fans in. He worked them hard and made them care that much more for this match. I think Big E will come across so much better when he really finds his niche. He's big, powerful, and looks solid in the ring, but the character isn't working well for him, but I'll get more into that later. I will say that I understand why they booked this match, and it should have done a solid job of setting up two matches at Payback, but it didn't. There was nothing inherently wrong with this match, but it wasn't right enough for it to push Payback. I think these two could be very interesting to watch together, if the characters were right, and they just aren't right for these two to work to their potential. So while this match didn't have any real problems, it didn't go out to do what they wanted it to do. It's because of that that the grade isn't up to snuff for what these two are capable of.
I also thought ADR's attack on Ziggler was more heel than not, and that he didn't keep on Ziggler made the whole attack look terribly weak. Honestly, one of my favorite parts of this match was Cole giving King props when Big E took his straps down.
Winner – Jericho (7:56)
Announce Segment > C
WWE Magazine goes digital and there's a free sample? I think that's very newsworthy, and a great thing for them to talk about on announce.
Cesaro vs Sin Cara > B+
I was quite impressed with Sin Cara in this match. Jesse said Sin Cara looked like a lucha should look coming up in the WWE, and I agree. He held his own with Cesaro, and made them both look good. You all know I'm a huge Cesaro fan, and I'm really wondering why the man I saw live at the house show isn't translating on TV. The man I saw was fantastic, but Cesaro hasn't been showing that since joining the WWE. I will admit that the neutralizer didn't look as stunning on someone as small as Sin Cara. That Cesaro can hit that move on anyone is impressive, but it just doesn't have the oomph on someone as small as Sin Cara. Please don't take that as a negative, it's just an observation.
Winner – Cesaro (3:51)
Video > B+
The Wyatt Family is going to be so riveting when they debut.
Backstage Segment > B-
After all the weight Vickie has lost, she's still getting the fat storylines. I will say that she really sold that burger well. Even I wanted one of those burgers, and the closest Hardees is over 500 miles from here, and I don't normally eat burgers. Further, McMahon was just fantastic telling Vickie to chew, then swallow. I also have to admit that Maddox didn't completely annoy me here. I guess that's a step in the right direction?
Orton vs Reigns > A-
I was a bit confused when Bryan came out right after Orton, but as things played out, it made perfect sense. I will admit that I wanted to see Rollins face Bryan, but I felt bad that people weren't voting for Reigns to face him. It just makes more sense to put Rollins in the ring with Bryan right now, but I hope people don't forget about Reigns. He might be the quietest of the three, but he really has proven himself since coming up to the WWE. He's proving his genetics, and that while he's green, he's not as green as people thought he was. This was a really strong match, possibly one of Orton's best singles matches we've seen recently. While Orton did hit a number of his regular moves – and that power slam was worth a triple take – he broke them up, added more in between, and really showed us that he's not a robot. Maybe he's stepping up his game because it looks as though the WWE will be turning him heel very soon, and he's happy about this, maybe he's just pulled his head out of his arse, or maybe he didn't want to go backstage and hear people talk about how great Reigns looked in the ring, but not say the same to Orton. Normally this would cause Orton to pitch a fit and start pointing fingers, but I think he realized how over The Shield are backstage with about everyone, and his three year old behavior wouldn't go over. No clue what it was, but Orton actually looked really great in this match, and I hope he keeps up the good work. I know Reigns is going to keep up the good work, and I wonder how far it will take him.
No Contest (12:11)
Bryan vs Rollins > S
I know I've said this before, but I want to get it off my chest before I start drooling over this match – I'm so impressed with how meticulous Rollins is about his hair. There's been a few times he's had a tiny bit of roots, but it is rare. As someone with naturally dark hair who has been known to bleach certain sections blonde from time to time, I know how hard it is to stay on top of roots when it's that blonde. Rollins must touch up his hair once a week or so, and that impresses me considering their schedule.
Okay, what do I say about these two men in this match? Watching this match was watching the future of the WWE. They are young men in the grand scheme of things, and they have so much to give the WWE, and us in the coming years. That they stepped out and gave us a near perfect, PPV quality match on an average Monday Night RAW shows just what these two can do, and what they have in store for us in the future. They have shown us just snip-its of what they can do, and each week we seem to get a tiny bit more from them, such as the surfboard into the dragon sleeper. And while one reader seemed to think, and attacked Bryan for botching the rolling German suplex on Rollins, I have watched the move a half dozen times and it wasn't at all botched. There was a bit of a wobble at one point, but Bryan hit the rolling German just fine.
A botch is when the move actually fails in some way, and that move didn't fail in any way. In fact, the fact that someone felt they needed to attack Bryan for a wobble in such a lovely move shows just how over Bryan is, and how much people hate it when a wrestler is over to the extent he is. Sometimes I understand the hatred of wrestlers who are extremely over with the mainstream fans – Orton – but Bryan makes absolutely no sense to me. He's not done anything to bring upon the ire, and in fact is a very rounded performer as his wrestling skills are top notch, he has an interesting look, and he's improved his mic work and characterization to something few can match. There will always be detractors, but I'm confused at the people who have issue with Bryan, just because he was an indy wrestler before coming into the WWE. Personally, I can't wait to see what he pulls out next, and will be sitting on the edge of my sofa when it happens.
Winner – Bryan (15:15)
Video > D
They had to recap the opening segment yet again? That's a bit much in my opinion.
Video > A
The Bellas, Henry, Big Show and Slaughter looked as though they had a great time at the Special Olympics.
In Ring Segment > B
Kaitlyn had a rough start, but she brought it together when Big E, and then AJ joined her in the ring. This is where I thought Big E looked really solid. Big E sold his nerves, that he was unsure about himself, and then when he spoke to Kaitlyn, and took her in his arms, it worked. This showed me that Big E really does need to be face, and soon. Maybe he needs time to learn how to be heel, but throwing him in the deep end as a heel hasn't worked very well. Then AJ came out and really stole the segment. That girl has proven herself at every turn. She's a better actress than most of the Divas who have come through the WWE. She continued to prove in this segment why she's the top Diva, even if she isn't Divas Champ.
Video > A-
I'm loving these Wyatt Family videos. After what I saw live, I can't wait for them to debut!
Sandow vs R-Truth > C-
King staring at that burger was so sad. I'm sure he shouldn't be eating things like that burger after his heart attack. And while I can't say this was a bad match, it sure wasn't worth writing home about. Both men worked the ring, and nothing was really wrong with it, but I honestly can't remember anything but Sandow's new finisher. I don't know why it didn't work because I know both of those guys can work the ring and give solid matches, but this wasn't one of them. Hopefully Sheamus and Sandow make things much more exciting in Chicago.
Winner – Sandow (3:20)
Backstage Segment > B-
Steph scheming was great. While expected, she's really become better at being more subtle in her acting.
Video > C
They did a solid job of making Ryback look strong, but with his win/loss record, he's not really a viable opponent for the WWE Title right now.
Backstage Segment > B+
This was so much fun. I'm not sure I've ever heard a noise like that come out of Steph, but she got their attention. I did have a bit of a feeling that I was watching Bug Bunny when McMahon and Trip swapped sides on facing Axel. The hug also brought back Dr. Shelby memories.
In Ring Segment > C-
They brought all the lumberjacks to the ring, and then left them out there through the entire backstage segment. It made me wonder what they did out there that whole time. At least they got show bonuses for being on TV. But then Cena was rather demeaning. I guess that's better than being happy, perky Super Cena. Showing a bit more spine is nice, but talking about diapering Ryback is not. What I didn't get was Ryback on mic. First off, he was rather crappy. Second, McMahon was unhappy about Ryback implying he was going to kill the fans in the arena, yet Ryback went out and said he could tear through them all. Doesn't make sense to me. On the other hand, Ryback was right talking about how he was so close to bring Champ and didn't win the matches. Then again talking about getting too good too fast made me laugh aloud. Ryback has been better recently, especially in the ring with Bryan, but he sure didn't get too good too fast and worried Cena.
Then there was Ryback in the ring with Cena. It didn't make sense that the lumberjacks were there to keep them apart tonight, but they did everything to keep Ryback in the ring with Cena – or that's how it appeared. I guess they could have been trying to keep Ryback out of the ring, but it really didn't look it. It also didn't help Ryback's case when he was heard yelling, "Get him off me!" when the lumberjacks were trying to break them up in the ring. It made him sound really feeble. That's not good going into a PPV main event for the WWE Championship.
I have to admit that Jesse and I spent ten minutes trying to figure out who one of the lumberjacks was. It turned out to be Hawkins, but I honestly didn't recognize him. Jesse said this is the first RAW bonus he's made in a year (June 4, 2012). I like Hawkins a lot, but it appears that him and his fellow Edge Head Ryder are not going to be following in Edge's footsteps.
This was not the best go home we've seen recently. In fact, other than certain people and storylines, this RAW was not very strong. The McMahon family, The Shield, and Team Hell No with Orton really did most of the carrying of this episode of RAW. That I honestly can't think of most of the matches on the Payback card, I'm worried about the show. Further, the wrestling was down from last week with only 57:45 of ring time, but I'm wondering how you can compare ring time when we were given a match like the one Bryan and Rollins gave us. How can you compare 15:15 to 32:20 when the fifteen minutes we're talking about was those fifteen minutes? I really feel like this is turning into the Bryan show, but it's hard for it not to when Bryan is performing to the level he's at, and the fans are reacting the way they are. If Punk's not careful he's going to be losing his #2 slot.