4/11/16 – Andrew Berg – @WrestleRosters
When the League of Nations threatened to attack Roman Reigns, the Wyatt Family appeared to continue their hostility with the LON. With Reigns and Wyatt standing side-by-side, Shahe McMahon wanted to take advantage of the pairing and put them together as a tag team in the main event. Sheamus and Alberto Del Rio represented the LON and immediately had trouble with the bizarre pairing across the ring.
Fans continued to boo Reigns as Wyatt gave way to him in the match and Wyatt got more cheers from the fans as a result. Del Rio finally found a groove and started to assault Reigns. He hit a running enzuigiri and hooked Reigns in the tree of woe. Reigns freed himself, but the LON remained in control. Wyatt finally got the hot tag and received one of the best reactions of his career. With the referee distracted, Rusev kicked Wyatt into a Del Rio Backstabber for a near fall. The lights went out and Braun Strowman and Erick Rowan appeared to take Rusev out of the equation. Wyatt hit Sister Abigail on Del Rio, Reigns speared Sheamus, and the mismatched pair picked up the win.
The pairing of Reigns and Wyatt was fun because it was so unexpected. At no point did they appear friendly, and Wyatt even threatened Reigns after the match with an ominous stare as the show went off the air. The WWE Title picture suddenly looks more crowded than it has in a couple of years, but every challenger also has other interesting stories keeping him somewhat occupied. It’s a good balance because it makes both the weekly TV shows and the PPVs feel more coherent and less predictable.
Cesaro def. Kevin Owens to Become #1 Contender to Intercontinental Title
Owens interrupted Shane McMahon’s show opening promo and demanded a rematch for the Intercontinental Title. Instead, Shane gave him a match with Cesaro to determine who would face Miz for the belt. Owens started the match by working on Cesaro’s rehabbed shoulder. Cesaro answered with an uppercut train in which he played to the crowd more than he has in the past. Owens recovered to hit a frog splash for a near fall. When Cesaro kicked out, Owens went for the Pop-Up Powerbomb, only for Cesaro to respond with a springboard uppercut and a big swing. He blocked another Pop-Up Powerbomb and hit the Neutralizer to get a clean win.
After the match, Owens cornered Shane and yelled at him that he would attack Sami Zayn later in the night. Shane had Owens removed from the arena instead. It was an exciting, back-and-forth opener that made Cesaro look great. Clean wins over meaningful opponents have always been scarce for him, so the result felt important. Owens, meanwhile, has a built-in program with Zayn and can get his heat back in an instant. Altogether, it was an outstanding, smart way to start the show.
AJ Styles def. Sami Zayn
Another Shane-made match gave Zayn a chance at making good on the match that Owens knocked him out of last week. Zayn’s singles match with Styles allowed him a shot to make the Payback main event a triple threat if he could get the win. The two established veterans had never faced each other in a singles match and they traded wrestling holds in the early going. Styles got the first real advantage with a nice dropkick. He kept up the momentum with a running knee to Zayn’s face on the apron. Zayn finally responded with his topez con giro and a cross body for a two count. A Pele kick by Styles left both wrestlers down. Zayn ducked a springboard forearm and hit the Blue Thunder Bomb for a very near fall. Styles applied the Calf Crusher, but could not get the submission. He tried for a superplex and Zayn flipped through, landing partially on his face, but quickly recovering. Styles ducked the Helluva Kick and hit his Phenomenal Forearm to get the pin.
I like that Styles has more than one way to win a match. His springboard forearm, Calf Crusher, and Styles Clash are all believable ways to finish a match and introduce some unpredictability. Styles and Zayn were friendly after the match and Shane congratulated them on their excellent work. A big part of Zayn’s appeal has been his underdog status, so the highly competitive loss might actually help him in the long run.
Natalya def. Charlotte by DQ, Charlotte Remains Women’s Champion
Ric Flair and Charlotte had a surprisingly entertaining exchange with Dr. Phil backstage. Phil told Charlotte to stand on her own two feet and not use her dad’s interference to win matches, and then proceeded to “Woo” Flair out of the room. That interaction gave way to the Women’s Title match with Natalya, which immediately had the feel of a bigger match than many Divas Title matches in recent years.
Natalya looked dominant early in the match as she met every attack from Charlotte with a counter. Charlotte built some momentum with a Sharpshooter, but Natalya quickly answered with a German Suplex and a discus lariat. Charlotte countered an attempted Sharpshooter with a thumb to the eyes and a big boot for a near fall. Charlotte started to wear Natalya down and she climbed to the top rope, only to miss a moonsault. Natalya put Charlotte in the Sharpshooter. Flair pulled the referee out of the ring while Charlotte tapped out. The disqualification came before the submission and Charlotte retained her title. It was another solid match and sets up well for an eventual rematch, possibly with Bret Hart present to offset Flair.
-Shane also announced an eight-team tournament for a Tag Team Title shot. Even though there is plenty of filler in the bracket- The Ascension, Social Outcasts- the fact that there are now eight possible tag teams in the division is a good sign for its depth. The next step will be to get one or two other teams at the level of New Day and the division will really succeed (and one of those teams might have debuted on this show). Even on the first night, the stipulation gave some meaning to the series of tag matches that took up what is often pure filler time on Raw.
-The first match of that tag team tournament saw Kalisto neutralized with an injury early against the Dudleys. Sin Cara did his best by himself, but eventually succumbed to a 3D and the Dudleys advanced.
-Heath Slater and Curtis Axel represented the Social Outcasts against the Usos and had some early success. They celebrated prematurely with the Bo Train and the Usos got an easy win with a schoolboy. Immediately after the match, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson appeared and annihilated the Usos. The “Doc” moniker and facepaint were gone, but the Magic Killer and dominance came with them. An introductory program with the Usos is a great way to break them in near the top of the division.
-Dean Ambrose cut off Chris Jericho’s aggrandizing self-interview on the Highlight Reel and took over the show with a new potted plant. Ambrose showed a note from Shane that the Highlight Reel would be replaced by the Ambrose Asylum. Jericho berated Ambrose until Ambrose hit him with Dirty Deeds. With their Wrestlemania feuds in the rear view mirror, Ambrose and Jericho appear to be a natural pairing.
-Apollo Crews continued his early winning streak with a victory over Adam Rose. While Rose put up a fight, Crews overpowered his offense. He once again used the spin-out powerbomb to pick up the pin.