WWE Payback 2017 is a pivotal turning point for Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe and many of the top stars on Monday Night Raw.
Just a couple of weeks ago, WWE gave us a “Superstar Shakeup” that has changed the complexion of both Raw and SmackDown, providing several rising stars with the opportunity of a lifetime, one that could potentially establish them as main-eventers for the long haul.
For WWE officials and the creative team, Payback should be all about building toward the future by not only focusing on those up-and-comers but booking them in a way that helps cement them as legitimate stars in the eyes of the masses. As per the usual, however, WWE has booked itself into a corner, with a number of bouts between ascending performers and established veterans that could be tricky to book.
That, like always, begs the question: Will WWE do what’s best for business?
With Strowman set to battle Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt taking on Randy Orton and Seth Rollins challenging Samoa Joe, there’s no telling exactly what WWE will do. But it’s easy to see what it shouldn’t.
Here are five bad booking decisions that WWE must avoid making at the upcoming Payback pay-per-view.
Seth Rollins Defeats Samoa Joe
Samoa Joe entered WWE with a bang.
He was such a compelling monster, basically NXT’s version of Brock Lesnar, that he quickly became a quick merchandise mover, an accomplishment that earned him his full-time contract. Joe instantly developed into a main eventer in NXT, too, headlining a number of the critically acclaimed TakeOver events, including a Brooklyn show that packed in nearly 16,000 fans.
Then, Joe came to the main roster, where he’s been lost in the shuffle a bit. He was left off of the WrestleMania 33 card altogether and has gotten very little TV time for promos or character development. Now, he’s set to face Rollins at Payback in a match that could “make or break” fan perception of his character on the main roster, where he’s still acclimating to a fan base that is much different than NXT.
Joe truly has the ability to be the top heel on Raw because, unlike The Miz or Bray Wyatt, he hasn’t been ruined by a long history of start-and-stop pushes. He also brings with him a reputation as a destroyer in NXT, which should help him in that regard.
But if Joe loses to Rollins at Payback, then where does he go from there? Unfortunately for Joe, that could force him to, much like Kevin Owens, be a weakly booked crony of Triple H, which certainly won’t do him any favors.
No WWE Title On The Line For Bray Wyatt Vs. Randy Orton
On WWE.com, there is no mention whatsoever of the “House of Horrors” match between Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton involving the WWE Championship.
It seems WWE has quietly made this a non-title match, which is akin to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors having a rematch in this year’s NBA Finals only to be told that the winner won’t actually be considered the league’s new champion. Payback features only one major singles title match (sorry, but the Cruiserweight title doesn’t really count), and even that match, Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho, is a contest between two stars who are now on separate brands.
You’ve probably noticed that the WWE Network subscriber count, both average and quarter-ending, continued to plummet after WrestleMania 32 last year, and it’s decisions like not putting the WWE title on the line in Orton vs. Wyatt that will continue to contribute to that downfall in a big way.
It’s bad enough that there’s no Brock Lesnar around to defend the Universal Championship. Having no WWE Championship defense (and keep in mind that the WWE title is still the most prestige championship in the company) only makes Payback and the WWE Network less appealing.
A Heel Turn For Cesaro And Sheamus
You can feel it coming.
The last two weeks on Raw, two singles matches (Cesaro vs. Jeff Hardy and Sheamus vs. Matt Hardy) ended with the feuding tag teams shaking hands, but watch those segments closely and it’s clear that WWE is hinting at a heel turn for Cesaro and Sheamus. Although everyone is currently playing nice, there have been subtle hints at the Cesaro/Sheamus duo turning heel, but now is not the time or place.
Remember when Cesaro turned heel and joined forces with Paul Heyman in 2014? It didn’t work. Cesaro and Heyman quickly went their separate ways because, similar to what we’ve recently seen with AJ Styles, Cesaro is too organically over with the crowd because he’s such an incredible performer. And as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin noted on his podcast way back in 2015: “Cesaro, you have hopes for because he can do so much [and] he looks so good. He only speaks 17 languages! He can go all over the world and promote for [WWE], so there [has] got to be a way to get this guy figured in a little more.”
Cesaro, of course, doesn’t speak 17 languages but does speak multiple languages and is a great ambassador for WWE in that regard. He also has some wildly entertaining babyface chemistry with Sheamus, and although a heel turn might spike interest in the short-term, there’s no long-term benefit to turning Sheamus and Cesaro heel.
Let them continue to be one of the funnest and most entertaining aspects of Raw, which often lacks both fun and entertainment.
Not Properly Using Dean Ambrose, Finn Balor Or The Miz
In what can only be described as a mind-boggling decision, WWE somehow couldn’t find a match for Dean Ambrose, Finn Balor or The Miz at Payback.
Instead, Balor is relegated to appearing on Miz TV on the pre-show (after already being overlooked for WrestleMania 33) while Ambrose is not advertised to appear at Payback at all. This is a series of questionable decisions considering how important Ambrose, The Miz and Balor were to the company in 2016.
Ambrose was WWE’s second highest paid full-timer and carried the WWE Championship for a big chunk of the year in which the company recorded record revenue. The Miz, meanwhile, was one of the standout performers on SmackDown, which saw its average rating jump up 17% last year in part because of the fantastic character development of stars like him. Balor, despite barely spending any time on the main roster due to injury, was likely still one of the WWE’s strongest merchandise movers.
And WWE can’t find a match for any of them on a Raw pay-per-view? Sure, we get that the “Superstar Shakeup” has created some weird scenarios with feuds between stars who are now on different brands, but it’s shocking how little effort has been put into building matches for three of the show’s biggest stars.
Well, at least three guys who should be among the show’s biggest stars, that is.
Roman Reigns Defeats Braun Strowman
Braun Strowman is the hottest thing going in WWE these days.
“The Monster Among Men” has quickly proven to be a major attraction on the company’s YouTube channel, and there’s evidence that suggests he is having a positive effect on Raw’s ratings as well. If Strowman loses yet again to Roman Reigns at Payback, WWE undoubtedly runs the risk of turning him into just another guy.
WWE has a long history of igniting monster pushes for rising heels, like Rusev and Bray Wyatt, only for those pushes to be derailed at the hands of top babyfaces, such as Reigns or John Cena. Strowman is obviously becoming one of those awe-inspiring special attractions that WWE, quite simply, doesn’t really have many of these days, and it would be such a shame to see his career spiral downward after another loss to Reigns at Payback.
Much like Cena before him, Reigns could probably lose 50 straight matches and not have his credibility hurt. But Strowman’s entire gimmick is based off his invincibility, and especially after losing to Kalisto this week (albeit in fluke fashion), another major loss would hurt Strowman’s character and all the appeal that comes along with it.
Source: Blake Oestriecher/ Contributor, Forbes