This Week In Spandex: Payback’s A Naughty Word
Here at ComicsAlliance we’ve noticed a huge overlap between superhero comics fans and wrestling fans; wrestling is basically superhero theater. This Week in Spandex is a new weekly feature, in which longtime wrestling fan Kieran Shiach and enthusiastic recent convert Elle Collins summarize the week that was in WWE.
This week there's a scary injury at the pay-per-view, NXT brings in another forty year old dude from TNA, and the Women's Championship still revolves around men with a cumulative age of 176 years old.
Kieran: It’s incredibly unfortunate that Payback began with Enzo Amore getting injured only a couple of minutes into the number one contenders match, and the match’s subsequent stoppage. From what I’ve heard, Enzo was actually knocked loopy by a kick from English, which impaired his ability to judge the ropes correctly causing him to get knocked out when his head hit the mat. Terrible luck for everyone involved, and I think I speak for both of us when I say it’s great to see Enzo is doing okay, and I can’t wait to see him healthy and back in action.
Elle: This was terrifying, frankly, not knowing how badly he might be hurt (it certainly looked pretty bad). This was the first match I’d watched live where something serious enough happened that the cameras stopped showing the ring entirely and they cut to the announce team to fill time. It was very unnerving, and consequently a huge relief over the course of the night as the updates came in that Enzo wasn’t hurt as badly as I think we all feared.
Kieran: I think for me, match of the night was Kevin Owens v Sami Zayn, and I can’t imagine an event with the current roster where that pairing wouldn’t be. They’ve got such great chemistry, and whenever they fight I’m able to suspend everything I know about wrestling and just let the storytelling and athleticism wash over me. I don’t know what it is about Sami Zayn, but I never really mind when he loses, so this loss didn’t bother me. When he finally gets that win on Owens, it’s going to be amazing.
The Intercontinental Championship match between Cesaro and Miz was pretty great too, especially with Kevin Owens on commentary. Miz is doing his best work since he was WWE Champion right now, and Cesaro has never had this much charisma and likability. I hope Vince is paying attention, because everything he said Cesaro lacked, he now has in spades.
Elle: Both of these matches were really great, and I even enjoyed how they kind of melted together at the end, presumably to lead into the inevitable Fatal Fourway that will also be really great. And Cesaro is totally one of my favorite guys right now. I can’t even put my finger on exactly what it is --- I mean besides being ridiculously handsome and strong as heck --- but he’s really tapped into this “it” factor, and now the charisma’s just wafting off of him.
I wish I had more to say about Dean Ambrose v Chris Jericho. They both did what they were there to do, but after the two matches that came before, it just wasn’t an attention grabber. I was really glad Ambrose won though. He came out of Mania in need of a win, and frankly Jericho came out of Mania in need of a loss. This was also the only match of the night where the babyface won (although Vince McMahon might argue that point about the main event), which is all the more reason it had to be Dean.
Kieran: Something we should talk about however is the clusterbunch that was the Women’s Championship match that ended in a Montreal Screwjob throwback nearly twenty years after the Screwjob. I know you have more of a righteous fury over things like this than I do, so I want to defer to you on this.
Elle: As I said on the Hard Times podcast this week, the problem with WWE is the exact same problem mainstream comics are having right now. They know on some level that they need to become more inclusive of women. They seem to recognize that there’s this whole other audience out there to be grabbed and kept. But they just can’t escape the stranglehold of male nostalgia. When you’re supposed to be doing a women’s championship match, and the focus is on a man from 30 years ago, another man from 25 years ago, and an event that happened 20 years ago, you just desperately need to rethink what you’re doing on a fundamental level, because it’s the opposite of how you build and diversify your audience.
Kieran: So, do you think the McMahon segment was supposed to go that long or do you think they were making up time from the opening match, because jeez this was a whole lot of nothing. It wouldn’t be the McMahons if they didn’t take 22 minutes to say one sentence.
I liked the main event a whole lot, and I’m glad AJ and Roman are getting a rematch because I think they had great chemistry here. The match was perhaps a bit overbooked and a bit too much about the McMahons, but when there was wrestling on my screen, I was having a good time. Some of the spots looked amazing, especially the forearm into the Superman Punch, so I’m looking forward to see how they top this in a few weeks time.
Elle: I honestly think AJ and Roman together are greater than the sum of their parts. They look like superheroes fighting. Questionably designed bearded ‘90s superheroes, perhaps, but superheroes nonetheless.
Kieran: Oh my god! It's like if Thunderstrike fought... another Thunderstrike!
Elle: I do hope they figure out what they want Roman’s character to be at some point. And I similarly feel like AJ’s whole “good guy with two evil best friends” deal has an inevitable time limit it on it. But as long as I don’t think about alignments, and just focus on how good these guys look when they fly through the air on their way to hitting each other, I’m into it.
Kieran: What is with this R-Truth/Goldust/Tyler Breeze/Fandango story and when will they stop the pain? I like all four of these guys, but they’ve invested more time and energy into this story than anything else in 2016. Is it an elaborate way to get Tyler and Fandango into a tag-team? I don’t know, but it’s interminable!
Elle: My favorite thing on RAW was the Vaudevillains gloating about injuring Enzo Amore. Once we found out he’s going to be okay, I was hoping they’d do this. Everyone’s been predicting for ages that the Vaudevillain gimmick will die a quick death on the main roster, and that may still happen, but right now they’re doing everything they need to do to be great heels, and I’m loving it. And of course Big Cass showing up to stick up for his absent BFF was great too. I’m not usually into the Dudley Boyz (I know they were great once, but since they came back their whole thing has been “Remember them? They were great once.”) but this whole segment and match worked for me. I feel great about tag team wrestling right now, and when Enzo comes back I’ll feel even better.
Kieran: I don’t think the Vaudevillains have ever quite looked as strong as they do now, and with Enzo given a (relative) clean bill of health, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting a bit of heat. I want all of my NXT children to do well on the main roster, and this might end up being the best thing that happened to both teams, because when Enzo comes back people are going to be hyped for that rematch.
Elle: There was a women’s match on RAW that wasn’t about Charlotte or Nattie or the title! I was super-happy to see Becky back, and Emma remains one of the best heels. I’m not saying I don’t still want more from the division (as I complain about every week), but this was a good match. Emma screaming “It’s about me!” is a little on the nose, but she makes it work. And poking Becky in her injured eye behind the ref’s back was some real nastiness. I’m on board for this feud to continue.
But that other women’s feud? The one that’s about the man from 30 years ago and the man from 25 years ago and the event from 20 years ago? Well, it was only on this RAW that I learned about what the referee from that match was doing 15 years ago, so now we have man #3 involved in this story. Nice work. But on the plus side, I’m thrilled about Ric Flair being banned from ringside at Charlotte and Natalya’s rematch. It’s the obvious thing to do, sure, but it’s been the obvious thing to do for so long that I’d begun to doubt they’d ever do it.
Kieran: After Payback I was speaking to a friend and the only logical explanation we could come up with for the Screwjob was that the referee was Charles “Lil Naitch” Robinson, but we both knew that was never going to be the actual reason. Boy, were we wrong. This feud is another one that’s going on too long and should have ended at Payback, so they came up with the most paper-thin reason to keep it going through to Extreme Rules.
If rumors are to be believed, they’re spinning wheels to save Sasha v Charlotte for SummerSlam, but can we at least see Sasha on TV?
Elle: Rusev won the battle royal to become Number One Contender for the United States Championship, which I’m pretty sure means he’s going to take the belt from Kalisto, only for his Time to be Up at the end of the month, when John Cena’s Time will be Now. I still love Kalisto, and I wish he’d gotten to do more with his run. I also felt sorry for him because he was having a rough time on commentary. He’s done some interviews and promos where he wasn’t bad at all on the mic, but he must have been nervous about doing color commentary or something, because he was a mess, flubbing his words and trailing off mid-sentence repeatedly. But if the result of all this is that he goes back to being a full time tag team wrestler, at least things are awesome in that division right now.
Kieran: I think the battle royal might have actually been my favorite match of the night for RAW. Once it got down to the final five or six guys, I was really engaged and the face-off between Ryder and Rusev at the end was captivating. It’s a long route to get the belt on Cena if that is the case, and I do feel bad for Kalisto if that happens because he’s done absolutely nothing wrong to deserve such a shambles of a title run.
I’m still enjoying the Bullet Club/Anoa'i feud, and the main event was really solid. I usually hate “This isn’t how it looks” moments in wrestling, but Roman catching AJ with the chair was a really cool moment, and the Usos coming in from behind solidified the shades of grey storytelling they’re running with in this angle. Top marks all around, I dig it.
Kieran: We should talk about Eric Young, and we will in a second, but can we talk about Tye Dillinger first? He looks like a star, and they seem to be putting enough money and attention into his character that hopefully he’ll soon be more than someone who loses to forty year-old indie “sensations”. He’s so over they’d be leaving money on the table by not putting that t-shirt on WWE Shop and developing Dillinger into at least an upper midcarder on NXT’s weekly show.
Elle: Dillinger is great! I’m way more interested in him than I am in Austin Aries and his too-meticulous beard, to be honest. He’s an excellent performer, and the Perfect 10 gimmick is so silly and fun and easy to catch on to. The bit last month where he gave Rich Brennan a three was fantastic. Of course Rich has since been future endeavored, so maybe Tye does have pull with someone upstairs.
Nia Jax and Tessa Blanchard are both still pretty green, but they’ve got a lot of potential, and maybe in a couple of years, if they work really hard, they can have a match on a WWE PPV in which all the focus is on Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Tully Blanchard in their respective corners.
Kieran: I’m not sure how aware you are of Eric Young, but from what I’ve seen of him in TNA he’s got great versatility and can play any kind of role you want him to. I never thought I’d say this but I want to see homegrown Performance Center talents and less indie sensations. I’m happy to see people like Joe get the recognition they deserve after over a decade toiling away in smaller companies, but I want to see more Baron Corbins, Enzo Amores and Big Es.
Elle: I was not at all aware of Eric Young. I’ve occasionally considered watching TNA, but every time I’m about to, something happens like a friend telling me “Don’t start watching TNA, it’s ruined my life,” or a news item about how they might be bought by Nazis, so I just never have. And honestly when Young came out, I was just like “Oh, it’s… some guy… who looks like he probably has terrible politics.” To be fair, it was probably just that his beard made me think of the Briscoe Brothers.
Anyway, I agree with you about wanting more homegrown talent. I want more people who I’m engaged with because I’m watching them grow as new characters, rather than people I’m told are important because of stuff they did on shows I don’t watch. I was about to say “no more old guys with beards,” but then I realized Samoa Joe and Eric Young are the same age as me, and Austin Aries is only a year older. So let’s go with “more young talents with room to grow.” That’s what developmental ought to be for, if indeed that’s what NXT still is.
Kieran: I’ve got good news, Elle! SmackDown is moving to Thursdays in the UK, so I’ll be able to join you in talking about the blue show in detail from the end of this month!
Elle: Most of SmackDown felt even more like a slightly altered repeat of RAW than usual, to be honest, but there were a couple of things I liked and one thing I loved. The Vaudevillains beat the Social Outcasts, which was fun, and then Big Cass came out and beat up everyone by himself, which was even more fun. Also, the Vaudevillains cut a promo on the New Day, which had some unfortunate accidental implications. The New Day act silly and wear bright colors, so it makes sense to call them clowns. But when you have two white guys who talk constantly about restoring the values of “a bygone era” saying that champions should be “respectable,” and that the current champions (who are black) are a joke, it just reads a little weird. Like when Charlotte was still calling herself “genetically superior” while fighting Team BAD, it’s one of those things that’s definitely not on purpose, but probably needs to be amended anyway.
But onward to the thing I loved: The women’s tag match was fantastic. Easily my favorite women’s match since WrestleMania. The in-ring storytelling was great, and all the characters were on point. Natalya and Becky seemed like friends, while Evil Emma was just into helping Charlotte because it was the evil thing to do. I didn’t time the match, but it went on long enough that Becky and Nattie each got to take turns being in peril and getting the hot tag, and it didn’t feel forced. I particularly loved seeing Becky coming in like a house on fire, literally bellowing as knocks her opponents down. There were a couple of nice Becky/Charlotte moments to remind us that even though they’re in separate feuds right now, they still have unresolved issues that we’ll get back to eventually. I love all four of these women, and all of this totally worked for me.
Also, Darren Young is back on television! I don’t know about “Make Darren Young Great Again” as a slogan, but I’m curious to see where his team-up with Bob Backlund goes. The whole idea of having a “life coach” feels at least five years out of date, but hey, it’s WWE so that’s normal. And if we have to have another guy as old as Ric Flair on the show, Backlund is an entertainingly weird presence. Mostly I just like Young, and up for him doing whatever he’s going to do. Honestly, I’m just glad he’s not MIA anymore.
RA Apparently D-Young and Backlund are friends IRL and this was something the former has been trying to pitch in some form or another for a while. I wish it didn’t have the political bent to it though. I saw the clip on YouTube, and you’ve got Darren Young --- a handsome gay, black man --- standing in front of a blue background while the crotchety traditionalist stands in front of a red background. I may be reading things into it, but with the slogan as well, it seems like a bad look.
It could be worse, it could be Zeb Colter.