The monstrous push of Braun Strowman shows no signs of slowing in WWE as the ‘Monster among Men’ demolished Roman Reigns once again at Payback.
While Reigns looks to hold the future of the company in his hands in terms of stardom, there’s no getting away from the fact that right here, right now, Strowman is the main focus of Monday Night Raw and his steamrollering of all who come before him doesn’t appear to be easing any time soon.
He ended Payback standing tall after a fairly one-sided victory over Reigns who was being billed as being less than 100% to begin with following various attacks by Strowman in recent weeks. Quite how many places there are left for Strowman to take his momentum from here remains to be seen but he’ll soon have to find some suitable competition to stop the novelty of his act waning with the audience.
All in all, Payback wasn’t a bad effort for WWE’s first pay-per-view after Wrestlemania, perhaps with the exception of the awful House of Horrors match pitting Randy Orton against the malevolent Bray Wyatt.
This match, we were told, would begin in Bray’s ‘House of Horrors’ and must end in the ring – all fine so far. You would expect, then, to see the two of them thrashing one another surrounded by scenes of various depravity and spookiness – again, fine so far. This portion of the match failed miserably in my view, purely as it was being shown to us ‘live’ despite quite clearly having been pre-recorded. This also wouldn’t be a problem, were it not for the fact that some pretty odd post-production effects that only served to totally detract from the brutal fight we were trying to watch.
It’s fully understandable that you’d want to present Wyatt and his ‘home’ in the most bizarre and destructive way imaginable, but the shifty background music and convenient camera angles in my view only dampened the credibility of the duo’s work, which is a shame. It was extremely evident that the live crowd in the arena didn’t appreciate the segment and I’m not too sure many others did, either. Thankfully, when the two of them are left to it, their work is solid enough and so when they returned to the live arena to finish the match, it was far more watchable and, crucially, believable. It ended with Wyatt on top thanks to some interference from Jinder Mahal, the number one contender for Orton’s WWE Championship. That did nobody any harm and only strengthens the arm of Mahal while leaving Wyatt in good standing over on Raw while Orton defends his gold on Smackdown.
The opening portion of the event was thoroughly enjoyable – the night kicked off with a somewhat surprising victory for Chris Jericho as he became a two-time United States Champion by dethroning Kevin Owens and sealing his own move to Smackdown Live. Quite how this will play out over the immediate future will be interesting – Jericho is slated to tour internationally with his band Fozzy throughout May and June so will undoubtedly need time away from WWE – whether Owens or someone else sees him off temporarily with some kind of beatdown on this week’s television will be interesting to see, but the storytelling in this match was beautifully executed, right down to Owens and his troublesome finger.
That wasn’t the only title change of the night – Raw newcomer Alexa Bliss became Raw Women’s Champion after a sound match with hometown girl Bayley. It’s become something of a curse for WWE superstars to compete in their hometown and it proved to be the case for Bayley who, thanks to some cruel punishment from Bliss, found herself beaten soundly as Bliss became the first woman to win the titles on both of WWE’s brands.
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Austin Aries and WWE Cruiserweight Champion Neville also delivered in the ring with a great match that saw the villain of the piece, Neville, retain after deliberately abusing the referee to cue a disqualification – Aries winning the battle but certainly not the war. Neville downed Aries clean in a similarly excellent match at Wrestlemania last month and, on this evidence, it certainly is no bad thing that we’ll almost certainly see them go at it again as Aries continues his quest for the gold between the purple ropes. Quite apart from being patriotic, I really do enjoy watching the cruiserweights in action and, as we speak, Neville plays his role atop of that particularly tree perfectly.
There was no title change where the Raw tag team Championship was concerned as The Hardy Boyz saw off the challenge of Sheamus and Cesaro to retain their gold, only to be viciously attacked by the pairing after the bell. It was a pretty brutal affair, all told – Jeff Hardy lost a tooth thanks to a pretty stiff shin to the face from Sheamus, while the after-match pummelling did well to solidify the challengers as villains – something that just seems to suit their personalities quite nicely.
Seth Rollins picked up a fairly formulaic win over Samoa Joe in another solid bout. They only had a little over 15 minutes to strut their stuff but it was a mini masterclass in ring psychology as Rollins sold his troublesome knee injury with aplomb, ensuring his victory was looked upon as something of a surprise after it came amid a real pummelling from Joe, whose anger come the climax of the match was evident.
Overall, the quality of the in-ring work from most of the Raw talent was enough to make up for the horrid first portion of the Wyatt-Orton showdown – let’s just hope WWE don’t choose to go back to the House of Horrors too soon.