Wednesday 7 May 2014

Payback From an Alternate Universe

I was going to write a RAW recap but Monday’s episode was one of the dullest in months and didn’t interest me enough to make me want to spend time doing that. Instead I thought it would be interesting to write about the direction WWE seem to be taking for their next pay-per-view, Payback, and what I’d do differently.

Monday’s RAW made it clear that the issue between Daniel Bryan and Kane isn’t over. It should be, because D-Bry cleanly defeated ‘The Big Red Machine’ in the main event of Extreme Rules. As an audience we have no doubt that Bryan can beat Kane, which makes another title match between them a pointless exercise.

The reason WWE are taking that direction is that they haven’t prepared any other heel challengers for Bryan. That should have been a priority directly after (and ideally before too) WrestleMania. The Kane feud would have made a nice placeholder while somebody else was built up to work with Bryan after Extreme Rules. Kane was fine for a month but going beyond that is too much. Someone new should be in the spot.

If you want to go by rumours then apparently Batista declined the Payback title match with Bryan. If that’s true then it’s a pity. Bryan versus Big Dave would have had incredible heat to it: the company’s most popular against the company’s most hated. With Bryan involved it wouldn’t have been a bad match either. With the right story, length and crowd it could have been very good.

The other matches that seem likely for Payback are also rematches: The Shield v Evolution and John Cena v Bray Wyatt. While going with rematches helps the show’s name make sense it doesn’t really do anything to encourage people to tune in. The Shield v Evolution rematch is fresh enough to warrant another airing but it will be the third supershow in a row to feature Cena taking on ‘The Eater of Worlds’ (and Cena has also clashed with The Wyatt Family on various episodes of RAW and SmackDown), and I’ve lost count of the number of times Bryan and Kane have wrestled each other over the last two years.

Bray Wyatt would have made a good challenger to Bryan at Payback.
Instead he'll face John Cena. Again.
I’d have moved Wyatt into a programme with Bryan and pitted Cena against someone new. This would have created two fresh matches for Payback, one of which would have featured the WWE champion defending against a man who was not only coming off a win (albeit a fairly unconvincing one) over the company’s top star but who had beaten Bryan decisively and fairly at Royal Rumble. A DQ finish at Payback (not ideal but feasible if the match were not going on last, which would be an option with Evolution v The Shield to do main event duties) could have led to a rematch at Money in the Bank which Bryan could have won decisively.

After his unsuccessful championship challenges Wyatt would have been free to slip back into his programme with Cena for a third and deciding encounter at Battleground (to be held in July) or SummerSlam. Meanwhile Bryan would have been free to defend against Randy Orton, Triple H or one of the names mentioned below at Battleground before facing Brock Lesnar at ‘The Hottest Show of the Summer’.

Several guys could have been picked to oppose Cena at Payback and Money in the Bank. Cesaro is an obvious guy to mention, although WWE seem to be taking things slow with him and waiting until people are desperate to see him pushed into the main event to do something substantial with him. Which is an approach hard to argue with after the success of Daniel Bryan. ‘The King of Swing’ strikes me as someone who’d get a great match out of Cena in a pay-per-view environment. A match between Cesaro and Bryan would definitely be good enough to headline any WWE pay-per-view.

A bit more of a stretch would have been Jack Swagger. ‘Big Hoss’ has been treated as a mid-carder with no prospects of advancement for years now. That would have made a programme with John Cena pretty surprising. But they could have had some passable matches, and if Cena had lost just one (not impossible with the booking options Zeb Colter’s presence provides) Swags could have been credible enough to be used as a challenger to Bryan in July, especially if he’d been booked strongly against the champion before their PPV meeting.

Alexander Rusev (who may now simply be going by Rusev) would have worked too. He’s only been squashing jobbers for a month but I think we all know he’s going to be pitted against Cena at some point. It’s such an obvious story that WWE won’t be able to resist: an unstoppable foreign heel who loves a bit of Vladimir Putin attacks Cena a few times before facing him in a regular match to get the loss he deserves for not being American. It’s one of the most successful wrestling storylines there is.

Of the three I’d have gone with Swagger. I think moving Cesaro into two such high profile feuds could result in a backlash against him. As I say, he’ll benefit from moving up gradually as Bryan did. Rusev could work but he’d probably benefit from another month or two of squashing guys and winning low key feuds. I think we’ll see him tangle with Cena at SummerSlam for real. He’ll be as well prepared as he needs to be by that point if the current approach is stuck to.

This man needs challengers.
So at Payback I’d have had Swagger face Cena, Wyatt challenge for the championship and Evolution face The Shield. That would provide two fresh matches, help prepare a fresh challenger for Bryan (and Bryan v Swagger could be an excellent match), and give a second outing to a match and feud people seem keen on. By the summer you’d have Orton, Triple H, Batista (if he’s still around), and Swagger ready to work a pay-per-view match with Bryan. Options are what WWE needs at the moment.

Basically a good job was done getting the title onto D-Bry but they forgot to do any work creating challengers for him. It wouldn’t take them long, no more than a couple of months, but at the moment it doesn’t look like it’s a priority. They seem more interested in putting their popular champion into silly backstage skits and having him face characters that nobody believes will beat him. They’re spoilt for choice for guys to elevate into challenger roles. They should pick three and get to work.

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