WWE: Are we being paid back? by Marc Madison

After the dust settled from Wrestlemania 32, wrestling fans articulated a number of different thoughts. The questions being asked were simple enough: Did you enjoy it? Did you hate it? Are you somewhere in the middle? How did it compare to NXT Takeover: Dallas? With these types of questions being asked, one has to wonder what the plans are for the promotion post-Wrestlemania. We have seen that the company has decided to go from having The Authority in power to having Shane McMahon run the show. Whether that is a short-term fix or not doesn’t matter, as it immediately shows change is on the horizon for the on-screen role of authority figure, perhaps to one more like there is in NXT. Fans of NXT have seen that William Regal’s role as the General Manager is to make decisions and make announcements, rather than be a focal point.

The first night after Wrestlemania, fans were treated to a fatal four-way match that pitted Kevin Owens, Cesaro, AJ Styles and Chris Jericho in a contest to determine the #1 contender for the WWE World Heavyweight championship. The match itself was not only exciting, but involved four men that have made major contributions to professional wrestling over the last decade or so. So to have them all in a match where the winner has a chance to compete for the title is something most adult wrestling fans had to be clamouring for. The match didn’t disappoint, as fans were treated to an absolute spectacle. And the result was one that fans had to be pleased with, as AJ Styles walked away victorious and will challenge Reigns for the WWE World Heavyweight championship. This came on the heels of Styles losing to Jericho at Wrestlemania, where fan opinions ranged from disappointed to stunned.

Fans were elated to see that Styles not only was being elevated to contend for a WWE World Heavyweight title opportunity, but managed to achieve retribution for his loss the night before. The match between Reigns and Styles now have the added element of whether or not Styles is working with the recently arrived Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows. Gallows and Anderson attacked Reigns’ cousins The Usos and then attacked Reigns right after a confrontation between he and Styles, which has created distrust.

While the WWE World Heavyweight championship is sure to earn a great deal of attention, it isn’t the only match that stands out on the card. The Intercontinental title match will pit The Miz against Cesaro. The Miz is a convincing heel who has captured both the Intercontinental and WWE Heavyweight championship before. This is, however, Cesaro’s first opportunity to show exactly what he can do since returning from injury. As it stands right now, Cesaro has fans eating out of the palm of his hand. Can you blame them? Fans have wanted to see a Cesaro push and singles run for such a long time. The time is finally here for Cesaro to not only get the opportunity, but be given the Intercontinental title as a means of showcasing what he can do as the champion. The addition of Maryse as a valet for The Miz also adds a different dimension to his character. It appears as though her role is just as much an agent as it is a valet.

One of the standout matches at Wrestlemania 32 was the triple threat WWE Women’s championship match involving Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Charlotte, and now fans will be treated to another opportunity for Natayla to compete for the WWE women’s championship. Long-time fans of WWE are aware that Natayla has been one of the most competitive and active women on the roster, someone who has done her part to ensure that all the women she has been in the ring with walked away looking better than when they first came in. The addition of Bret Hart, who is recovering from prostate cancer, is also a nice story. Would I be wrong in wanting Natayla to win the title? It would be outstanding to see the hardest working and biggest team player in the division finally awarded for her years of service to the company with a win. To not only do it, but to do it with her family by her side, is special indeed.

If there is one match that doesn’t need a title on the line, only sheer animosity and dislike for one another, it’s Sami Zayn versus Kevin Owens. These two didn’t resolve things with one another while they were in NXT, due to Zayn’s injuries and Owens being called to the main roster. I would also like to believe that regardless of the result, it won’t be the end of the feud between these two. These men’s history with one another means that they are going to do whatever they can to the other, and not leave anything up to chance. Fans of NXT were made aware of Owens and Zayn’s pre- WWE relationship;  fans of the main roster may not be aware, so the promotion could begin to explain the backstory between them two men and how deep-seated their friendship was and Owens’ betrayal. This betrayal  led to an NXT championship match and Sami Zayn having to drop the title soon after capturing it. The match is sure to be among the highlights of the evening and could possibly steal the show!

The success of the New Day has also meant that few teams out there can match them both in on-screen persona and in-ring work. As it stands right now, the finals of the number one contender tournament for the WWE tag team tag team tournament will feature Enzo Amore and Big Cass against The Vaudevillians. While the Vaudevillians are former NXT tag team champions, the same cannot be said for Enzo and Big Cass. However, Enzo and Cass are a team whose personality jumps off the screen. Of these teams, the one that stands out and generates the greatest fan appeal is Enzo and Big Cass. Enzo Amore has the gift of gab and Big Cass is the effective big man that comes in and cleans house. It’s the way their team works a match, and it usually works out for them, though it wouldn’t work for everyone. In the Vaudevillians, the old school technique from Simon Gotch and Aiden English will certainly prove to be a very different look and feel. It will certainly compel fans to want to watch this match, and all involved have worked very hard for this opportunity.

The last of the announced matches that is sure to entertain involves Dean Ambrose and Chris Jericho. Jericho’s heel character is a perfect fit against Ambrose. The match up really showcases how much belief the promotion has in Ambrose and Jericho, since they are participating in a match that doesn’t mean very much long-term, but certainly helps in the short-term. A number of fans were disappointed that the Ambrose/Lesnar match up at Wrestlemania didn’t result in something more. The feud got off to a whimsical beginning, with Ambrose replacing the Highlight Reel with a talk show of his own. As said earlier, the rationale for the feud doesn’t really mean very much, but including a match against these participants certainly shows that the promotion is dedicated to having the most entertaining card of the year.

There are now certainties regarding when all the talent that is injured returns, but it certainly has helped in a one instance. As mentioned earlier, the return of Cesaro saw fans over the moon with his inclusion into the Intercontinental title picture. It becomes just important in the eyes of some that he walks away with the championship rather than just competing for the title. It would make his return all the more satisfying to see.

Are we being paid back? That was the initial question given so many fans were up in arms at the results of the Wrestlemania event. It certainly seems like that is the case. Fans are being treated to a card that showcases title matches against wrestlers they care about, singles matches with animosity amongst its competitors, and reflects an attempt to steer the focus of the product in the direction that will please the fans. Over the past few weeks, I’ve caught myself cheering for what happens and excited at the prospect of what could happen on May 1st.

While the criticism is that this could and should have happened earlier, it could be said that Payback may in fact be a new start. It is where the WWE’s booking year begins, and it makes more sense to go in this direction rather than having sit idly waiting for talent to all get healthy at once to change things. Look at the recent on-screen additions of Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows, whether in active competition or simply playing a role in the AJ Styles/Roman Reigns match. Will the Bullet Club officially align in the WWE, or will fans be treated to some kind of swerve where Anderson and Gallows betray Styles and in fact form an alliance with Roman Reigns?

The stories and potential stories that could come from this event are intriguing. Regardless of whatever the results are, it appears WWE has heard fans shouting for change and are thanking them for their continued devotion to the product by essentially paying them back with a better event than the last one.

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