10 Thoughts Inspired by WWE Payback Results (Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Stephanie McMahon)

1 – Contrary to my perception going into this weekend’s Payback PPV, Bray Wyatt has really become a main event star, even by losing most of his big matches. Unfortunately, to me the natural progression would be for him to face Daniel Bryan, using the January victory over the champ as a reason to argue for a title shot… yet all of these losses to John Cena take a little bit of that argument away. Maybe by Summerslam…

2 – You don’t need a World Heavyweight Title fight to have a strong main event and strong pay-per-view, and that has nothing to do with the quality of the champion, but everything to do with the booking. Case-in-point: the strong rise of The Shield against Evolution. In fact, it seems that Daniel Bryan’s injury and the changing booking dynamics caused by the WWE Network now being more important than PPV shows has given WWE an opportunity to re-think their philosophy. In boxing or UFC, you have multiple weight classes, so a title fight can main event every big show. But unless WWE makes a surprising decision to bring back the Light Heavyweight or Cruiserweight Titles – last held by XPAC and Hornswoggle, of all people – or decides to actually elevate the US, IC, Tag or Women’s championships, they’d be wise to spread things out a bit and find new ways to book towards main events that have nothing to do with the WWE World Title. One of the biggest issues I’ve had with WWE since CM Punk dropped the title to The Rock is that the match-ups on top have been so redundant. Rematches when booked well are fine; but rematches presented in the context of fans thinking you have no new fresh ideas are stale. I’d much rather see the Champ skip a PPV here or there than face the same people over and over again, and Payback was a great example of advancing the Champion’s storyline while focusing the in-ring main event on other stories and ideas.

3 – There actually ARE new ideas. Brie quitting to keep the Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority storyline going was a great twist. It put her over stronger than she’s ever been as a babyface; has finally portrayed someone as standing up to the Authority’s accurate but boring “we’re the boss, so you have to do what we say” storyline logic; and prolongs any decision having to be made about the title situation in light of Bryan’s injury. I’d rather see Bryan showing a bit more balls – i.e., be more Austin-and-the-beer-truck and less Jericho-taking-Steph’s-dog-for-a-walk – but this was interesting, not “by the book” and they haven’t yet painted themselves into a corner. Color me surprised, as I thought they had done exactly that, with the only way to get out of the corner being to either (a) have Daniel surrender the title (a terrible idea) or (b) set up a contrived deux ex machina ending, i.e., Vince or The Board jumping in to overrule Stephanie and save the day.

NO!

YES!

4 – Stephanie has become a brilliant heel. CM Punk chants in Chicago? It’s crowd-silencing time…

5 – The “hair vs. …” match is a lost art. In fact, I can think of several stories that could have been better if they just took advantage of one of the oldest wrestling stipulations in the book. For example: why was HHH’s corporate haircut wasted? Could you imagine the heat of HHH’s long locks vs. Daniel Bryan’s beard? And that’s just off the top of my head (pun intended).

6 – John Cena can still bring it in a big match… but his character must change. No I’m not suggesting a heel turn. I understand the marketing-to-children, merchandise, PR and Make-A-Wish rationale for keeping him a babyface. But that doesn’t mean he has to keep the brightly-colored t-shirts and jorts look, the same theme music, or even the overly-positive/jokey persona. I get that the current character is likely “the real John Cena, dialed up to eleven,” but something has to give to freshen this guy up a bit. He’s got skills. Not ***** match every night skills, but he’s such a great performer, he should know the time is now for him to move things forward. (No, we don’t need him to rap coming out to the ring. But I wouldn’t mind him being a bit more edgy, would you?) If The Undertaker can have success being either a Dead Man or a Biker, why can’t John Cena change things up a bit? He even has the perfect storyline reason to do so — the feud with the Wyatts changed him. The only question is: into what?

7. Poor Rhodes Brothers. The latest developments seem to be building up an interesting storyline that, according to all reports, the two wanted to come to a fruition at Mania. That said, if done right, you can have a pretty nice little feud for Summerslam season, and Cody walking away because he’s “not good enough” is definitely different.

8. The next time WWE really needs to impress fans is late August/early September (around Summerslam and Night of Champions), which will be critical this year in renewing current Network subscribers and convincing new people to sign up during a time not affiliated with RumbleMania. Forget the Payback PPV or anything else over the next two months: WWE should be doing everything possible to focus fan attention on SOMEthing major happening/kicking off and/or coming to a head in time for those two events. Unless someone’s sitting on the best big gimmick match idea since the Royal Rumble, I have no idea what it is… And I don’t think it’s bringing back King of the Ring… or even War Games for that matter. (By the way, Night of Champions might actually be something “special” if all the titles weren’t always defended every single month – see point 2 above!)

9. How over are the Usos? Guess that Total Divas show is working in unexpected ways…

10. Daniel Bryan vs. Kane still seems to be a match that has to happen, if not on PPV than in a Raw main event during which Bryan gets revenge on his former tag team partner for putting him out of action with the neck injury. That said, then what? I don’t like Bryan vs. Lesnar, because I think Brock needs to be undefeated between now and next year’s WrestleMania, and I’m not sure you want the title on a part-timer. Cesaro and Wyatt would make for good matches, but I’m not sure the time is right for either to be in the title picture. Punk or KENTA would be awesome for fans like me, but the former claims to be retired and the latter is only rumored to be coming to WWE, and would likely have to put in some time at the Performance Center first.

The Orton feud: we’ve already seen it. HHH’s been done. Batista is rumored to be on his way out. Sheamus and Bryan have history going back to their short Mania match, but I’m not sure he’s back to main event status in the eyes of the fans since he returned from the latest injury. Rusev is too new. Swagger’s become a joke. Christian? Is he ever going to be healthy enough? My only thoughts are to bring someone back for a short program between now and the time where one-of-the-above becomes a viable contender (either convince Punk to do one last run (seems doubtful), or maybe reach out to someone like Chris Jericho)… or further condense the championships and have Bryan take on Sheamus or Wade Barrett with the added stipulation that the winner goes home with three titles. Frankly, Barrett and Bryan have a great backstory that can be tapped into, going all the way back to the original Nexus. That could be the most interesting thing they have left up their sleeves for the near future… and it could be a fun feud with lots of audience participation.

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