The Raw brand’s first post-Wrestlemania PPV is in the books and despite a relatively underwhelming card and entirely crappy build, it was actually a pretty good show. Some interesting booking and good ring work led what on paper looked like a D+ event to solid B territory.

Pre-Show Notes

The one actual match on the pre-show for this event was Enzo and Cass taking on the Club. It was certainly…something that happened. The Realest Guys in the room start off with this way too long (and just overall shitty) promo about Chinese food. While the Good Brothers dominate most of the match and appear to have things won at one point, Big Cass comes in and boots Anderson out of the Magic Killer, allowing Enzo to roll up Gallows for the win. So much for the rumor that the Club would be filling that top heel team gap left by the untimely absence of the Revival. These two couldn’t beat an egg.

There’s a brief backstage segment with the Hardyz and the Golden Truth where Goldust tells the champs he’s going to ask Angle for the next shot at the belts. We get a brief hint of Broken Matt in his response, but nothing concrete as yet. Sheasaro do a social media lounge thing where Cesaro starts sounding a little too cocky. It sort of telegraphed what would happen after their match later in the show, but who besides me watches these pre-shows anyway?

Miz TV with Finn Balor is exactly what you’d expect. Shoot, Finn even calls out that every one of these segments ends the same way–with Miz getting his ass kicked by his guest. Sure enough, this one wraps with Balor hitting a slingblade and corner dropkick on the A-lister. It’s quick and harmless fun, but MAN, why didn’t either of these guys have a match on the card?

Main Card

Match 1: Chris Jericho Vs. Kevin Owens for the United States Championship

Like a few bouts on this card, this could have been the match of the night on a weaker show. That being said, this felt like a better-than-most Raw main event. Both guys can go in the ring, know how to work the crowd, and are really familiar with each other’s movesets, meaning there are several neat transition spots for a few of their signature moves. At one point Jericho goes for a Lionsault, but Owens rolls onto the ring apron, so Jericho tries to do his rebound dropkick to the outside, but Owens catches him and drives his head into the ringpost in a simple but cool looking spot.

Most of the match is good and competitive, but the end is a little peculiar. At one point Jericho traps Owens’ hand between the ring steps and the post and starts working the hand–a classic heel move. That busted hand actually pays dividends later on, when KO goes for the pop-up powerbomb but can’t get it off because of his hand. This allows Y2J to slap The Face of America in the Walls of Jericho for the inexplicable tapout victory. Jericho earns his second U.S Title reign and will now be a member of the Smackdown roster…for a few days at most.

It’s been widely reported that Jericho is soon to head out on tour with his dad-metal band, Fozzy, meaning he isn’t long for the pro wrestling world. As such, this is clearly shock booking meant to surprise smarks like me who feel like they knew the outcome of this match when it was announced several weeks ago. It’s likely that he’ll appear on this week’s Smackdown and either eat a brutal loss to Owens (whose new graphics and presentation sort of require him to have the U.S. title) to write him off TV or set up a program to do so in a triple threat with KO and AJ Styles at the next Smackdown PPV. The latter would make sense if they do want to keep the belt on big Kev without making number one contender Styles look weak.

Fun side note: After the match as Jericho walks around the ring to high five the fans, he stops to talk to a kid holding a List of Jericho. He signs the kid’s board and then laughs and shows that the boy had written KO on the list. It gets a big pop and is a cool little fan interaction moment that shows what a great connection Jericho has with the crowd.

Match 2: Austin Aries Vs. Neville for the Cruiserweight Championship

From an in-ring standpoint, this was maybe the match of the night, and for once, the live crowd actually reacted to a cruiserweight match with interest! See what happens when you don’t put these smaller names on after audiences have already sat through 2+ hours of Smackdown beforehand? Anyway, the story here is that Neville, the dominant champion who is undefeated in singles competition, is facing his first true challenge in Austin Aries, and it’s revealing a new side of the King of the Cruiserweights: the side that cheats. When these two met at Wrestlemania Aries seemingly had the match won when Neville clawed at the challenger’s recently repaired eye to help turn the tide in his favor. This match ends with similar shenanigans, as Neville intentionally got himself disqualified to avoid having to submit to Aries’ Last Chancery submission. It’s actually a super clever ending that keeps both men strong and builds sympathy for Aries, who got cheated out of a title win again.

As for the action between the bells, this was a fast-paced and athletic match, where every move is quick and crisp, with little reliance on rest holds to pad for time. This was a particularly strong outing for Aries, whose athleticism was on full display for most of the match. Watch as he bounces around (always bouncing) and utilizes a more flashy, cruiserweight-friendly move set that never let the crowd rest between spots and generated considerable excitement from the audience because of it. Praise is also due to Neville, who bumps his ass off between his own cocky crowd pandering. At one point Neville taunts the audience from the second rope, returns to the center of the ring to stomp the downed Aries a few times, goes to do his taunt again only to get kicked out of the ring by a rejuvenated Aries. It’s such a douchebag move and that it bites him in the ass is perfect.

Great work from these two. They are undoubtedly the best part of 205 Live and worthy of having the entire cruiserweight division built around them. Now if only they could utilize any of the rest of that show’s talent on this level you may have a division worth watching.

Match 3: Sheamus and Cesaro Vs. The Hardy Boyz for the Raw Tag Team Championships

There are few acts in the wrestling world as talked about as the Hardyz. More specifically, the conversation has been lingering around the legal rights to the duo’s career-restoring IP known as the Broken Universe. Recent news has suggested that the WWE had managed to come to some sort of agreement with Impact Wrestling on the use of the Broken Hardy characters, and so this match garnered a lot of buzz as people wondered if this would be the impetus for Matt and Jeff to be broken. Whether or not they adopt the crazy personalities that made them relevant in the wrestling world again, it’s hard to say that they weren’t left broken by this match.

Sheamus and Cesaro worked a SUPER stiff match here and greatly brutalized Team Xtreme for most of the bout. Don’t believe it? At one point in the match Sheamus lands a shoot shin kick right to the face of Jeff Hardy and we can literally see his tooth go flying. No lie, they cut to some tight shots of his face afterward and he’s clearly missing his top right canine. Sure, the Hardyz maintain enough offense to be competitive, but the whole match is just the European bruisers absolutely wrecking their opponents. Jeff gets the worst of it, but Matt eats both a Cesaro Swing and a White Noise from the second rope before being crushed by a Swanton Bomb to Sheamus, who had been going for a pin at the time. That last move is enough to give the Hardyz the win, but it is not the end of the segment.

Sheasaro do their good sportsmanship move immediately following the match, shaking the hands of both Hardyz before ducking out of the ring to let the champs pose from the ring posts. This lasts for about a minute before Cesaro comes roaring in and knocks Jeff off the turnbuckle and down to the floor. Sheamus soon follows up and lays waist to Matt as well. They team up to ram Jeff face-first into the ringpost, then hit a Brogue Kick on Matt that opens him up.

If they are going to use this as the impetus for “breaking” Matt and Brother Nero, this was a suitably violent effort to make that happen. In the Raw Talk after show they really drove home the heel turn for Sheamus and Cesaro, but unfortunately there wasn’t much development on the Broken front on Raw the next night.

Match 4: Alexa Bliss Vs. Bayley for the Raw Women’s Championship

Alexa is back into her Iron Man gear, which I guess makes sense since it’s gold and red, just like the Raw Women’s title. This match is pretty good all things considered. Bliss is a great character but not as athletically solid as Charlotte, Sasha or Becky; and Bayley needs a talented performer to help cover up what is some occasionally sloppy ring work. The end result is a mid-level match that would work on Raw if it didn’t have a title change off a clean heel win.

In the early going Bayley controls most of the action, with Alexa running things a bit in the middle before what may be considered a bit of a flukey set of circumstances makes the match competitive again near the end.

The setup for the finish comes in two parts. A few minutes into the match, Bayley goes for her finish, with Alexa able to turn things around and throw the champ face first into the second turnbuckle. This dazes Bayley a bit, but she’s able to hang in there for now, even hitting a crisp running knee into her Macho Man elbow drop, which Bliss kicks out of. Solid booking for the smaller woman. The real end comes when Bliss kicks out of a rollup in the corner that again drives Bayley’s head into the ring post. To her credit, the champ has the wherewithal to go for a rollup in her dazed state. Unfortunately for the hugger, Bliss kicks out but holds on to the head and hits a snap DDT for the 3 and the win.

With this win, Alexa is now the first woman in history to win both Raw and Smackdown women’s titles. This was another well-booked match with Alexa getting to look strong and crafty, and Bayley mostly falling short because of unfortunate positioning. Alexa being the champ is a good call, though it does suggest that Sasha Banks may not be turning on Bayley in the coming weeks as had been widely anticipated–at least not yet. I foresee a three-way between Bayley, Banks and Bliss sometime between now and Summerslam, with a program between the former friends leading into the company’s second biggest event of the year. As for Bliss, I imagine she’ll either work with Mickie James or…I don’t know, Dana Brooke? There aren’t a lot of female faces to choose from on Raw these days.

Match 5: Bray Wyatt Vs. Randy Orton in a House of Horrors Match (part 1)

Oh, this match. If you’re a wrestling fan (and if you’re actually reading this, I’m going to assume you are) you’ll remember the Final Deletion, Matt Hardy’s magnum opus of weirdness that managed to be both patently ridiculous and endlessly entertaining. The pre-taped “match” (if you’d like to call it that) basically relaunched the Hardys’ careers to the point that even the WWE had to take note of it. Unfortunately, as they so often do, WWE misunderstood what made the Final Deletion and its follow ups (Delete or Decay, and Tag Team Apocalypto) so popular. It wasn’t the fact that they were pre-taped or had high production values (though those did help), it was their knowing sense of irony that allowed audiences to feel like they were in on the joke. With the House of Horrors match, the company’s second attempt to make a pre-taped vignette-style bout for Wyatt, it feels like they may be starting to get it.

The bout begins with Randy Orton rolling up to some random country house (shirtless but in slacks and elbow pads, which is a weird look) in a friggin’ limousine. So far so good. As Randy approaches the house we see the first sign that maybe they’ll let this event go full ridiculous: the ghost tractor. Just a random tractor roaming freely on the grounds for no real reason. As he’s wont to do, Randy no-sells that weirdness and then spies Bray in the window looking a bit disheveled in what looks like a white undershirt. He goes toward the door (which literally has a scythe propped up against it), kicks it in and the match sort of starts. What follows is a bit of cat and mouse bit where Bray will knock Orton around then disappear. He punches through a wall and grabs Randy by the throat, but then disappears. He knocks Randy into a room full of dilapidated baby dolls, disappears into a room full of weird Blair Witch sculptures, and then the fight finally begins in earnest. It’s a pretty standard brawl, moving from room to room, but with the mic WAY too close to the performers so every grunt and heavy breath can be heard super clearly.

This segment of the match begins to wrap up when the two brawl into the kitchen, which for a haunted house isn’t that dirty. It’s like “three college bros sharing a house” levels of dirty, but it should be “cat lady crushed to death by the piles of newspapers she’s hoarding” dirty. Anyway, Bray hits a low blow and then dumps a refrigerator on Randy and bounces. He slowly stumbles out of the house and does his “Follow the Buzzards” pose, which changes the mood lighting on the house from blue to red. Not sure whether that was supposed to signify Wyatt’s move from Smackdown to Raw, but it’s a silly visual all the same. Bray then gets into the limo, coughing and wheezing an obscene amount for the action he has actually gone through, and heads to the arena because the match must end in the ring.

There’s a lot to take in from this segment, as fan reaction has been somewhat split. It feels like a lot of commentators found it funny (note: It clearly wasn’t intended to be), but when they return to the arena, the live crowd is heavily booing it. Personally, I enjoyed it. It was super silly, with its use of multiple camera angles and jump cuts, the horror movie music that pervades the whole thing, the crazy sound effects (I swear one of the baby dolls says “Ay yay yay” like Alpha from the Power Rangers) and the setting (like Bray took the time to write all his catchphrases in the dust on the fridge). As a fan of horror movies–especially B-horror movies–as well as wrestling, this hit a nice little sweet spot. It wasn’t Lucha Underground levels of ridiculous (sadly), but it was fun for what it was.

Match 6: Seth Rollins Vs. Samoa Joe

It’s an unfortunate trend for both of these men that they each continue to put on well-wrestled and expertly crafted matches and I just can’t seem to pay attention to any of them. I’ve now watched this bout twice and both times I ended up playing with my phone. Now I like Rollins, and I really like Samoa Joe, and they’re both stellar performers. It just feels like these matches are both super predictable and never really matter. I know Joe is going to work on Seth’s knee, and I know Rollins is going to flop around a ton before getting either an explosive signature move or a rollup for the win (now that he’s a face). So what happens in this match? Joe works the knee and Seth scores the win with a rollup.

Now everything between the bells is good, and I don’t want to imply that it wasn’t, but I would’ve liked something different. Admittedly, some of Joe’s knee work was inventive. The Dragon Whip leg snap in the rope and Senton to the knee both stand out, and him shifting a powerbomb into a single-leg crab was a good twist on a familiar spot. Joe also utilizes the relatively new move, dubbed the knee-capper, that would be a great part of his regular offense if he had more knee-based offense. Rollins also does a great job of selling it all, but hits little in the way of interesting offense. He does some superkicks, a frog splash and a version of his turnbuckle face-smash, but doesn’t bust out any of his cooler maneuvers this go around. I assume he’s saving some for later matches, but it leaves the bout feeling a little flat.

With this flukey win, I can’t imagine that we’ve seen the end of this feud, so hopefully the creative team can find some other way to stoke interest in this fight. Again, it’s hard to say what it’s missing, but there’s certainly something preventing me from getting too excited about anything that happens here.

Match 5: Bray Wyatt Vs. Randy Orton in a House of Horrors Match (part 2)

With Seth Rollins’ music just wrapping up we see the arrival of Bray Wyatt’s Limousine. I guess we can infer from what appears to have been a roughly 20-minute drive that Bray’s House of Horrors is somewhere in the suburbs of San Jose. Anyway, Bray takes his sweet time stumbling into the arena, taking a moment to pause at a large crate marked “Neil’s Workbox” (which the internet has been having a bit of a field day with) and hacking up a lung for some reason. He gets his full entrance with the fireflies and everything, then when the lights come up–surprise! Randy Orton is right behind him! Who could’ve have predicted this? Anyway, Orton bashes Wyatt with a chair and they brawl a bit. It’s all very pedestrian for these two in this second half of the bout.

Orton hits the draping DDT off the announce table and drags Bray into the ring. When he sets him up for the RKO, who should appear but the Singh Brothers (Née Bollywood Boys), who attempt to get one up on the Viper. They get mulched, but it allows Bray to go for a Sister Abigail off the distraction. Of course, Bray being Bray takes too long and Orton fights out of it and hits Wyatt with an RKO out of…well, right there. Before he can do anything about it, however, who should appear but Jinder “Pushups, situps and plenty of Juice” Mahal, who bashes Randy in the head with the title belt twice. This allows Bray to ACTUALLY hit the Sister Abigail and pin Randy for the win. It should be noted that Jinder hits Randy with the title in the most dainty of ways. Maybe he’s afraid he’ll never get to hold the title again, so he’s being sure take care of it now.

This second half of the match was brief and made Bray look like a chump, even in victory. In other words, it’s another day at the office for the “Eater of Pins.” It was good to see Mahal get one up on Randy, as he needs all the help he can get to be built into a credible challenger. I mean, it’s not like he suddenly looks like he could win the match or anything, but giving him high-profile exposure where he gets one up on his opponent is a good way to build him into something more than a jobber with only 3% body fat. As for Randy, there’s pretty much nothing they can do to make us think more or less of him at this point. Dude’s going to be a Hall of Famer one day, whether he spends the next several years of his career continuing to have boring matches or not.

Match 7: Braun Strowman Vs. Roman Reigns

For our main event it’s everyone’s favorite big man Braun Strowman (or as his theme song announces it: BRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNN!) against everyone’s favorite superhero* Roman Reigns in a beat down for the ages. You know, say what you will about the booking of Roman (and the crowds do that all the time at these live events) but that dude is willing to take a beating to make his opponents look strong, even if he wins in the end. He doesn’t win here, though. Oh, no no no. He gets in plenty of offense, sure, but he actually gets more or less destroyed by the big man. Roman hobbles down to the ring doing something he has never done, selling the cartoonishly overboard beating he took at the hands of Strowman a few weeks ago. Not only is he walking slowly and clearly favoring his midsection, he’s actually got his ribs and shoulder taped up under his flak jacket. My eyes, they do deceive.

They tell the story the way it should be told: With Roman utilizing a stick-and-move strategy against the larger man and Braun just eating these moves from a weakened Reigns then flattening him with moves of his own. Braun absorbs a spear and two Superman punches before he catches Roman in his shoulder choke and transitions it into his running powerslam for a two count. Roman gets his shoulder up in the feeblest way possible, but Strowman sells the shock at the kick out with the perfect mix of anger and disbelief. That dude’s a star. Rather than let it get to him, Braun picks Reigns up and hits another powerslam for the clean win. It’s a dominant, and career-defining (at this point) victory for the big man, but if your favorite part of the beatdown he gave Reigns on Raw a few weeks back was that it went on WAY too long, well have we got a surprise for you.

To a chorus of “Thank you Strowman” chants, Braun throws the steel steps into the ring and snake-eyes him chest-first onto the steps. Braun then pricks the steps over his head and drives them into dude’s midsection before making his way up the ramp to more cheers. As he does his pose at the top of the ramp, Roman starts coughing up blood and rolling around as the crowd once again chants “Thank you Strowman!” That’s gotta suck to hear. At least, that is, until he makes his way up to the announce desk, still coughing up blood and limping noticeably to chants of “you deserve it!” Man, I’m not a Roman fan, but these chants are ICE cold.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!

On the Raw Talk after show, the cameras follow Roman as he walks to the back to get in an ambulance. You know how when Family Guy was still good one of their best gags was when they would take something so far that it goes from funny to not funny and back to funny again? Well sure enough, just as Roman is about to lift himself into the ambulance we hear “I’M NOT FINISHED WITH YOU!!!” from off screen and Braun comes trucking in. Now it turns out warning your victim before you attack isn’t the best strategy because Roman moves out of the way, leaving Braun to run straight through the freaking door, taking it right off its hinges. Amazing. Roman manages to bash Strowman’s arm and shoulder with the remaining ambulance door s few times, and that chases him off as the show moves on to its regularly scheduled format.

Just stunning. They put Braun over huge in this, and I know it’s probably just to feed him to Brock Lesnar at Summerslam, but for now, it’s hard to argue that he’s not the biggest thing on the red brand.

*No one actually likes Roman Reigns.

Overall

And that’s it. What should have been a garbage Pay Per View defies expectations and proves to be a fairly entertaining show. Yes, the Bray/Randy stuff wasn’t great, and there was some sloppiness in the women’s match, but for the most part this was a well booked and well performed show. Now the main question is: can the Raw brand actually make a PPV with a name as shitty as “Great Balls of Fire” work?

WWE Payback 2017
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