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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: WWE Month-in-Review (April 2017) - Payback Thoughts (w/ Star Ratings), Wrestler of the Month, Match of the Month, May Predictions
By The Doc
May 1, 2017 - 12:34:30 PM

”The Doc” Chad Matthews has been a featured writer for LOP since 2004. Initially offering detailed recaps and reviews for WWE's top programs, he transitioned to writing columns in 2010. In addition to his discussion-provoking current event pieces, he has written many acclaimed series about WrestleMania, as well as a popular short story chronicle. The Doc has also penned a book, The WrestleMania Era: The Book of Sports Entertainment, published in 2013. It has been called “the best wrestling book I have ever read” and holds a 5-star rating on Amazon, where it peaked at #3 on the wrestling charts.

QUESTION OF THE DAY: Who was the MVP of WWE Payback?

The following is a case study of WWE’s product for the month of April 2017.

WWE Payback 2017 Review

I’ll give my full thoughts on this week’s “Doc Says” podcast, but here are a few quick-hitters:

Jericho defeating Owens to win back the US Title – A surprising move that brings Y2J to Smackdown, but one that came at the end of another strong performance from the former best friends. The psychology of the climax was spot-on, building off one of the signature spots of their Mania encounter to create a dramatic finish. (*** ½)

Neville retains against Aries – I’ve seen a lot of gripes on social media regarding the DQ, but given that he already beat A-Double clean four weeks ago, Neville’s underhanded title retention made sense within the context of keeping the story going; I had no problem with it. The match under-delivered against my very high expectations, but it was still quite good. (*** ¼)

Hardys defeat Shesaro, then Cesamus turns heel – It has been a minute since we have seen a Tag Title match on WWE PPV that was as good as last night’s. The Hardys have already eclipsed in a month what the Dudleys comeback tour produced in eight months. Looking forward to heel Cesaro and Sheamus! (*** ¼)

Alexa Bliss beat Bayley to win the Women’s Title – One of my favorite matches of the night, Bayley-Bliss connected in the ring better than Bayley had connected with any previous opponent on the main roster. The crowd was hot, the structure of the bout was rock solid, there was innovation on display, and the end sequence was great; it was the kind of match that enhanced both their careers. (*** ½)

The House of Horrors – I’ve been criticized on social media for “Hindering Jinder,” but I’d much rather WWE experiment with an expectedly silly concept-match than to go against logical storytelling and push a jobber to the top of the card out of left field. The House of Horrors was gloriously ridiculous and I appreciated the novelty of it. Wrestle-crap for sure, but it did not offend me. (n/a)

Seth Rollins over Samoa Joe – Very good performance from both that will probably need more spark from the TV storyline to reach the next level in the ring. Rollins sold his knee tremendously and Joe, who I’m not that high on, delivered about as much as you can expect from him at this stage. (*** ½)

Braun Strowman mauls Roman Reigns – I struggled to comprehend the attitude some had toward this match before the bell rang, with assumptions about Reigns winning being made like he always wins; the guy has like a 60% PPV winning percentage – that’s not the Warriors, that’s the Clippers! They delivered yet again, with a nice dynamic from Roman selling his previous injuries. Is anyone not on the Strowman bandwagon? (*** ½)

Payback was an overall really good show featuring a plethora of really good matches and, while nothing was great, it was exactly the kind of pay-per-view needed to cleanse the proverbial palate of WrestleMania 33.

WrestleMania 33 Review

Match of the Month: Seth Rollins vs. Triple H at WrestleMania 33

It has struck me as odd that there was not a consensus Match of the Night at WrestleMania this year, with Styles vs. Shane, Jericho vs. Owens, the Hardy-infused Ladder Match, and even Goldberg-Lesnar earning about as many nods from pundits as what I feel to be the clear-cut victor in that single night competition: Rollins vs. Triple H. Furthermore, it has come as no real surprise that Match of the Mania Weekend discussion has steered in the direction of NXT Takeover, which featured a double-headed monster in Nakamura-Roode II and the triple threat Tag Title bout, but in my view neither NXT match could possibly equal the combination of pre-match story, atmosphere, in-ring psychology, intelligent execution, and historical implication of Rollins vs. HHH. For the style in which it was wrestled, Rollins-HHH is a Match of the Year-frontrunner.

One thing I have noticed over years of studying the in-ring performance and the various ways in which to grade/rate it is that audience response heavily influences many opinions; if a crowd is quieter, a match can often receive as much as a 1-star downgrade and could, from the same critic, receive a 1-star upgrade if the crowd was going bananas from bell-to-bell. Enthusiasm from live attendees carries weight with my own scale, but it is also the aspect of the match that matters least to how it comes across on replay, especially at a show like WrestleMania that demands so much time from fans on the original night; which is to say that it is an important aspect that should absolutely factor into every rating scale – crowd response is one of the primary goals of a live performance – but it should not be a deterrent to recognizing a match like Triple H vs. Rollins as the masterpiece that it was (assuming that lack of crowd heat was the reason for determining that it was not).

Previous winners: Styles vs. Cena at Royal Rumble (Jan), Strowman vs. Big Show on Raw (Feb), and Reigns vs. Strowman at Fast Lane (Mar)

Wrestlers of the Month: Neville and Braun Strowman

The Monster Among Men has led the charge on Raw yet again. Just as he was the focal point during his extremely impressive month of February, he met and even exceeded that standard in April, once the dust had settled from WrestleMania. Without Braun Strowman, Raw would have been a terribly monotonous program from top-to-bottom in April, but from his classic annihilation of Reigns that put The Big Dog in the crate for three weeks to titanically clashing with Big Show again to the tune of a broken ring to pushing poor Kalisto off of the stage while locked in a dumpster, Strowman gave viewers a reason to watch week-to-week and acted as a booster shot to fend off the post-WrestleMania disease of malaise.

However, it was finally time to give more specific credit to Neville where it has been due for the last four months. Just as Strowman has been carrying Raw, Neville has been carrying the cruiserweight division and 205 Live. Where would WWE’s third main roster brand be without its King? Well, do you remember where it was before Neville showed up? 205 Live would still be a well-booked, NXT-esque show without The Man That Gravity Forgot, but it would not have its leader; if 205 Live is the Good Ship Hope, Neville is both its compass and its captain, having already steered it out of borderline irrelevance and now directing it toward becoming a highly valuable commodity as vital to WWE’s mid-card on Raw as anything else. He was narrowly passed over in March, but his steady continuity in April led to there being an exception granted and the award of Co-Wrestlers of the Month.

Previous winners: John Cena (Jan), Braun Strowman (Feb), and Roman Reigns (Mar)

May Predictions

Smackdown will sit alone in the PPV spotlight this month, so a lot of the focus from yours truly will be on seeing how the blue team executes at Backlash the stories to which it gave underwhelming starts by fast-tracking to high-level positions talents who had previously been well-established as jobbers. With Jericho now US Champion and a member of the Tuesday night roster, the clearest cut rivalry on Smackdown is Jinder Mahal vs. Randy Orton; unable now to perhaps hide behind the strength of Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles, Mahal will have to be far better than his bland persona has shown itself capable of being to date in order to prevent SD Live from struggling any more than it already has since the Superstar Shake-Up.

Backlash, in general, will be an event that Smackdown needs to get right. WWE went all in with the mantra, "The Land of Opportunity" but, through the post-Mania roster shuffle, lost many of the stars that came to embody the adage in the first place (The Miz, Dean Ambrose, and Alexa Bliss particularly). Smackdown instantly connected with many fans last summer when the brand split re-started, but they have not enjoyed the same sort of wide-spread acclaim since the Shake-Up. Backlash in September 2016 was Smackdown's coming-out party; the night when they answered the majority of the questions regarding their supposedly thin roster and their weaker women's division. They really could use a repeat of that success in mid-May with Backlash '17.

There are a few things on Tuesdays that are note-and-praise-worthy (Nakamura's slow-burn, KO's starring role, Corbin's development, Sami's higher position, and of course AJ Styles), but I'm generally quite down on the blue brand right now. I fundamentally oppose Mahal's push in its current form and believe it to be a lose-lose situation. It already underwhelms that such a bland personality has gotten pushed to this level so quickly; if he does well, then that could open the door to more of these sorts of illogical pushes out of nowhere in place of steady, progressive, smart storytelling. You could excuse WWE for such things years ago when the overall talent level dropped and they mis-fired on a few cycles of fresh headliners. However, with the stacked roster WWE has right now, there was no need to hot-shot anything and the Mahal push, even if you argue it made the most of a lack of main-event depth, is a failure on WWE's part to better balance their two rosters.

As for Raw, the situation is far brighter. Payback proved that the red team has the pieces to put together really strong special events on a monthly basis, while occasionally allowing key players to sit out and freshen up. April may not have been the most exhilarating month on Monday nights, but there is a lot of talent and, thus, a lot of hope.

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