For WWE, the month of May always seems to be a down time. The Wrestlemania heat is gone, but the build for Summerslam hasn’t started yet. It’s a month of treading water. And that’s been especially true of this gloriously weird month that will end up featuring King of the Ring, the Payback pay-per-view, and an Elimination Chamber special on WWE Network. It seems like too much for one month, but somehow this has still been a dreadfully boring few weeks. Seth Rollins isn’t getting over as WWE Champion, Kane has inexplicably become the most important person on the show, and Randy Orton and Roman Reigns have no momentum behind them as challengers. Dean Ambrose being added to the main event will save it from being an all-time snoozer.
There are some positives on the undercard: John Cena’s run as U.S. Champion has been inspired, The New Day have proven to be tremendous heel tag champions, Sheamus continues to be rejuvenated in his new heel role, and Neville’s rise has been interesting to watch. But a show ultimately rises and falls with its main event, and right now the main event is ice cold.
Not much to say about the pre-show matches. Both were just filling time. I’m frustrated Sandow is back doing a comedy gimmick when I think he’s capable of contributing a lot more.
Sheamus vs. Dolph Ziggler
There’s been virtually no development to this rivalry since Extreme Rules, which is both a theme of the night and a major problem with the product right now. It’s just stasis. The stakes have actually been lowered from last month to this month, as there’s no stipulation to this match. Sheamus continues to impress me with his heel character, while Ziggler is in a bit of a funk. He’s risen from the depths he had fallen to this time last year (where he was feuding with Fandango and losing). But there doesn’t seem to be any interest from management in moving him up the card.
This is a good choice for the opener, as it’s just about impossible for these two to have a bad match against each other. Sheamus pretty quickly establishes control and puts a hurting on Ziggler. I do appreciate that he puts more effort into his holds than anyone else on the roster. He makes those Rear Chin Locks looks like they’d actually hurt.
The ass kissing shenanigans play too big a role in this match. The commentary is dreadful, as that’s the thing they spend most of the match talking about. Vince McMahon’s obsession with ass kissing strikes again. Ziggler gets split openly badly (didn’t see how it happened, but probably on the headbutt) and Sheamus levels him with a Brogue Kick for the win.
Rating: **3/4. Not great, not bad. Thought these two would work together better than they have. Should be the end of this feud, wouldn’t mind seeing Sheamus as the new IC Champion.
Kane/Seth Rollins Backstage Segment
This is the second pay-per-view in a row where they’ve done one of these that dragged on way too long. Long exposition here explaining the stakes of the main event. I feel like this job should just be trusted to the commentators.
2/3 Falls Match for Tag Team Championship: New Day (c) vs. Tyson Kidd and Cesaro
And now we get to arguably the best thing on the show. The New Day have been resurrected by their heel turn. They were completely dead in the water as babyfaces, but now find themselves as probably the most over heels on the roster. These guys wrestled Randy Orton and Roman Reigns a few weeks ago and didn’t seem out of place at all. They won the match and it seemed like the logical outcome.
Meanwhile, Kidd and Cesaro are proving to be pretty good babyfaces. Their personalities aren’t really shining (Cesaro doesn’t really have one, and Kidd’s character is naturally heelish) but they’re great in the ring. Cesaro has added a lot to his repertoire that convinces me he’s got a big run as a babyface in him before the end of the year.
As with last month, this match is a spectacle of the athleticism of the competitors. Cesaro is the star, and he shows off just how freakishly strong he is by slamming Big E like he’s a cruiserweight. The other real highlight is Xavier’s antics on the floor. He’s wickedly funny out there. Three or four times during this match he said something that made me bust out laughing. He’s perfect as a manager and mouthpiece.
Xavier trying to invoke Freebird Rules was fun, but it didn’t go anywhere. Would have liked to see Natalya beat him up there instead of just pulling him off. New Day worked a solid heat segment on Tyson’s ribs. These guys are bringing the lost art of tag wrestling back to WWE. We get a good heat segment, complete with hope spots and cut offs. All that was missing was the referee missing the hot tag.
The third fall was tremendous. The crowd was absolutely living and dying on the near falls. I don’t know if they love Kidd and Cesaro or just hate New Day, but it’s all working. And then we get a brilliant old-school finish with Woods pulling Twin Magic to get the pin. It was perfectly executed in a way that was plausible and didn’t look contrived. Woods and Kofi are about the same size and wear the same attire, it’s reasonable the referee wouldn’t notice they had switched places. Throwback tag match, probably the match of the night.
Rating: ****. Old-school tag wrestling. Such a beautiful thing to see back. This is the best tag rivalry WWE has had in years. Hope they keep it going. I’m intrigued to see what the Elimination Chamber match looks like.
Ryback promo nothing special, but liked the package featuring him before the match. I prefer that kind of video package over one that just recaps the stuff that’s happened the last few weeks.
Ryback vs. Bray Wyatt
Two aimless wrestlers paired up because neither has anything better to do. Two guys who are way less over than they used to be. Another generic Wyatt program. He probably needs a reboot at this point. Bringing back the Wyatt Family would be good, a face turn might be even better.
This match surpassed my expectations. The two big hosses just hit each other in the mouth. No messing around, just straight up physicality. Wyatt’s Senton Splash to the floor looked nasty and reports indicate he might have broken one of Ryback’s ribs.
The crowd wasn’t that into this match. They popped for the spots, but they were split. Lots of chants for Wyatt and weaker chants for Ryback. Neither guy has any momentum right now. Pretty good match, but not what Wyatt needs right now.
Rating: **¼. Probably about as good as it could be. Styles didn’t necessarily gel, but they made up for it with physicality.
I Quit Match for United States Championship: John Cena (c) vs. Rusev
This is one of those times where the bookers haven’t learned from their mistakes. Last year Bray Wyatt’s momentum was murdered by a never-ending feud with John Cena. This year, Rusev and Lana have both fallen victim to this rivalry. It probably should have ended after Wrestlemania and definitely should have ended after Extreme Rules. Rusev has cooled off significantly since February and Lana has gone from one of the top characters on the show to a submissive valet. Bad writing and booking all around.
And it’s a shame because Cena has never been more interesting. The open challenge gimmick is the highlight of Raw almost every week. This feud has totally fallen to the background because Cena’s title defenses are so much more interesting. I would have much preferred another Cena open challenge here.
This match is decent. It goes on for an extremely long time and I feel like the performers were undermined by the gimmick. “I Quit” matches are tough to pull off to begin with, as the stipulation eliminates near falls and causes a lot of choppiness (the sequence of move, referee sticking the microphone in the wrestler’s face, the wrestler saying “no!” gets tiresome). Add in that in the PG era you can’t have blood or any extreme violence and there just isn’t much you can do to make one of these matches interesting.
Almost all the big spots here are borrowed from past Cena matches: The step throwing from the Umaga Last Man Standing match, the pyro explosion from the Orton Iron Man Match, and the rope-assisted STF from the Umaga match. Notably, they’re all toned down to an extent. That’s just the time period we’re in. It’s a good thing WWE protects their wrestlers better, it just means they probably shouldn’t book these kinds of matches.
The finish was sort of what I had predicted, although executed more clumsily. I figured Lana would throw in the towel for Rusev, either to get back at him for mistreating her or to show compassion. Instead, they had her say that he was quitting. He was yelling in Bulgarian, so it’s hard to say if he was actually supposed to be quitting or not. It makes sense to protect Rusev, but I thought that came off poorly. At least this feud is over.
Rating: **1/2. Weird match. Dragged, but plenty of good stuff in there. I hope this feud is over.
The Bellas vs. Naomi and Tamina
As always, the women get stuck in a shit spot. This rivalry has surpassed my expectations as the Bellas have proven to be pretty decent faces and Naomi has been a borderline revelation as a heel. I like Tamina as Naomi’s muscle.
Nothing wrong with this match, it’s just a bit by the numbers. Brie gets worked over, hot tag to Nikki, heels win by nefarious means. Naomi needs a new finisher (hitting her opponent with her giant ass was okay when she was a comedic face, but she needs something more serious as a heel) but I hope she gets a title run soon.
Rating: *½. That was fine.
King Barrett vs. Neville
On the night of rematches, this might be the biggest offender. These guys have faced off a lot in the last few weeks. And this match really felt exactly the same as the previous ones. Except like with Ziggler and Sheamus, there was less on the line this time. Last time they fought in the finals of the King of the Ring tournament. This time, what was on the line? Is the winner in line for a title shot? Does the loser fall down the rankings? Nope. They’re just out there to fill time on a pay-per-view.
They have an adequate match that ends in dubious fashion when Barrett allows himself to get counted out. I don’t mind count out finishes, but this wasn’t a strong use of it. No one got over here, it just felt like a waste of everyone’s time.
Rating: *¾. Probably time for these two to take a break from fighting each other.
Fatal Fourway for WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Seth Rollins vs. Randy Orton vs. Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose
Alright, main event time. When this was initially announced as Rollins vs. Orton vs. Reigns it looked like the most boring main event since Big Show vs. Orton at Survivor Series 2013. Thankfully Dean Ambrose was added to the mix to give this an element of intrigue. First time the three Shield members have faced off. And unlike Orton and Reigns, the crowd is actually into the idea of Ambrose being champion.
This is a good time to address the elephant in the room: Seth Rollins isn’t getting over as champion. I don’t blame him at all, he’s not in a position to succeed. He’s an illegitimate champion, which is fine. But then they add in a feud with Kane, being henpecked by Triple H, and having boring babyfaces challengers and he’s in a tough spot. Then add in that he doesn’t have a finishing move and he’s stuck squarely behind the eight ball.
But just when all hope was lost, this match comes along and kicks ass. They go right off the opening bell. And we have a Suicide Dive by Ambrose and a beautiful Plancha by Reigns. And then we break down into a series of singles matches, as is the pattern in WWE multi-way matches. That does give everyone a chance to shine, which is good even if it’s formulaic. It’s quickly noticeable that Ambrose is way more over than Orton or Reigns. The crowd is popping for everything he does.
Kane and J&J get involved almost right away. Not a fan of that, it’s better if they wait until Rollins is really in trouble. As it stood, the crowd didn’t react at all when they got involved. My other nitpick is that Ambrose is overdoing that spot where he rebounds off the ropes into a Clothesline. I think he did it three or four times in this match. It probably doesn’t need to be in every match, much less done multiple times.
Small complaints. More than made up for by the brilliant sequence where The Shield reunites outside the ring to put Orton through the announce table with the Triple Powerbomb. Enormous response from the crowd. I loved the whole thing, including Rollins trying to weasel into reforming the group and Dean and Roman not falling for it. Huge pop for the Powerbomb that put Kane and Rollins through the table.
And then we’re down to Reigns and Ambrose and the crowd is crazy for it. Naturally, Seth, Randy, and Kane all end up getting back into things. Everyone gets a teased victory until the match ends suddenly with Rollins hitting Orton with a weak-looking Pedigree. The perils of being a world champion with no finishing move.
Rating: ****. Loved it. Great main event, so much better than I was expecting. This was a time where overbooking and craziness worked. Nine times out of ten this much chaos would be a bad thing, but this was the tenth time. This match was a war, and Rollins was the survivor. I think everyone came out stronger, which is a sign of good booking.
Overall: A stronger show than I expected. This had been a weak month of TV, but this show delivered. A couple really awesome matches in the main event and the tag match, and everything else delivered to one extent or another. The main event match delivered even if the storyline still doesn’t interest me, so that’s an improvement on last month. Going forward we have a hot midcard, but still question marks at the top of the card. There’s almost certainly a Rollins/Kane match coming at either Elimination Chamber or Money in the Bank. I look forward to it just because it will be the end of this program. We have the Elimination Chamber and Money in the Bank to carry things for the next two shows. Then they have to find a main event for Battleground as a bridge to getting Lesnar back for Summerslam. Hopefully we’re coming to the end of WWE’s annual post-Wrestlemania funk.