4/4/16 – Andrew Berg – @WrestleRosters
AJ Styles Becomes #1 Contender
WWE dealt with the fan displeasure over Roman Reigns winning the WWE Title at Wrestlemania in an interesting way. Reigns did not conclusively turn heel. In fact, he was a small part of the Raw in front of the notoriously harsh post-Mania crowd. Instead, Reigns gave a short promo about how he is neither a “good guy” nor a “bad guy” before he ceded the floor to several potential challengers. Chris Jericho, AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn joined Reigns in the ring and made their cases to be the first man to challenge Reigns for the title.
Later in the night, interim GM Shane McMahon (I’ll address that storyline later), announced a fatal fourway main event between these four wrestlers to determine a #1 Contender. A backstage attack by Owens on Zayn took him out of the match, and he was replaced by the returning Cesaro. It was a brilliant approach by WWE to keep its smarky crowd happy. The main event revolved around four wrestlers who are popular, but who also came up through independent wrestling in a way that has endeared them to lifelong fans.
As one would expect, the dream match between these four was fantastic. Almost every permutation of the four had the feel of a dream match and they were able to keep up a pace that was extremely engaging. It’s hard for a fourway match to tell a coherent story, but this one simply focused on the rapid-fire competition and near falls broken up at the last second. It looked like Owens might have the match won with a Pop-Up Powerbomb, but his cover was narrowly broken up. Jericho hit the Codebreaker on Styles and Styles was able to kick out at two. Finally, Styles hit Jericho with the Styles Clash and achieved the victory that many fans expected to see at Wrestlemania.
Styles as the #1 Contender is exciting and mind blowing. Only three months ago, we openly questioned whether WWE would ever give Styles a chance to achieve the level of greatness he did in TNA and New Japan. So far, he had a great run at the Royal Rumble, a great program with Chris Jericho that culminated in a Wrestlemania singles match, and has now become the #1 Contender. The resume speaks for itself. Meanwhile, even though WWE did not turn Reigns heel, there is absolutely no doubt that the vast majority of fans will cheer Styles over Reigns. That makes me believe that WWE has come to accept that Reigns will not be a fan favorite, after all- at least not yet.
Shane McMahon Takes Over Raw for a Night
At the top of Raw, Vince McMahon showed a softer side and said that he respected the effort that Shane put into his match with Undertaker. Although he did not turn over control of Raw to Shane, he gave him a one-night trial. Vince left the show and claimed that he did not want to see Shane sink the ship, but the rest of the show went smoothly, both in the storyline and in the fans’ collective response. Due to Shane’s loss to Undertaker and his continued popularity, I could see him gaining control of Smackdown as a competing brand that is more focused on a “mature” product geared toward adult fans. With so much TV time, WWE has the ability to market to more than one segment of its fanbase.
-Raw was chalk-full of debuts, but a very surprising return might have been the biggest news. Miz goaded Zack Ryder into an Intercontinental Title match and scuffled with Ryder’s dad at ringside in the middle of the match. Miz’s wife, Maryse, climbed over the barricade and slapped Ryder’s dad. The distraction allowed Miz to hit the Skull Crushing Finale and beat Ryder for the Intercontinental Title. The loss makes Ryder an even more sympathetic character and Miz only compounds his heel heat with Maryse at his side.
-New Day regrouped quickly and got an easy win over Sheamus and King Barrett to retain their Tag Team Titles. After the match, the League of Nations turned on Barrett and kicked him out of the group. With Barrett on the verge of leaving WWE, the move seemed inevitable. My concern is that he was the best on the mic of the group and they will become less interesting in promos without him.
-Charlotte accepted the new Women’s Title with a heartfelt speech that turned arrogant. The rest of the women on the roster walked out on her and Natalya lectured her about her attitude. The dressing-down led to a challenge and a Sharpshooter. Charlotte and Natalya have worked very good matches before, so a PPV title match looks to be in the cards.
-Baron Corbin had his first Raw match after winning The Andre and it pitted him against Dolph Ziggler. They had a very good match in which Ziggler bumped hard for the big man. The action spilled outside and both wrestlers were counted out. Corbin lashed out at the referee and blamed him when he hit the End of Days on the floor. The paranoid psycho is a good twist on Corbin’s character and Ziggler is a fantastic first opponent to showcase his power.
-After the Dudley Boys won a Tables Match against the Usos, Enzo and Cass came to the ring and delivered a characteristically fun promo. They insulted the Dudleys and challenged them to a fight, which will inevitably come in the near future. The reaction to Enzo and Cass was through the roof and I believe they will be able to carry it to less NXT-friendly crowds.
-Apollo Crews also debuted with a clean win over poor, poor Tyler Breeze. He used a spinning powerbomb as a finisher, though that move looks like it can only be used against smaller opponents. Crews is such a unique combination of power and agility. I hope WWE finds a way to properly showcase him on the main roster.
-Sasha Banks got an easy victory over Summer Rae with the Banks Statement. It was Becky Lynch who took the loss at Wrestlemania, so Sasha technically remains unbeaten on the main roster.
-WWE teased the debut of the Vaudevillains and the re-debut of the Colons, no longer under matador masks. While neither team has high-end potential, the tag division is deeper than it has been in ages.