I’ve been quiet since Wrestlemania and the superstar shake-up, and that’s because I didn’t want to jump to any conclusions. If I had written a column in the immediate aftermath of the draft last summer, the tone of it would have been far angrier than if I had waited a week. My main reasoning for that is I want to give WWE the chance to let things play out, as maybe something that as a fan I find frustrating one week is actually building to something bigger. But tonight is Payback, and since the build has been muddled and just generally not that good, I’m going to address something from the shake-up that ties into a match tonight. I’m just going to go ahead and say it.
I have no idea why Bray Wyatt was moved to Raw.
I mean I do, it’s because WWE wanted a big name heel to make the jump, and it was either going to be AJ Styles or Bray. I just don’t for the life of me understand what good it does anyone.
I already wrote about the history between these two in one of my Wrestlemania Spotlights, so I don’t think I need to go into it all over again. Instead let’s look at Bray’s move to Raw, where it has left people, and where they could go from here.
Firstly and most obviously, it leaves SmackDown ridiculously short on heels. That’s something that affects both brands right now, but with Harper, Owen and Styles having at least officially turned face in recent months and Rusev out injured for a few more weeks, Bray’s departure left Baron Corbin and Kevin Owens as credible heels on Tuesday nights. That results in Jinder Mahal becoming the number one contender for the biggest prize in the game. You also have Erick Rowan and Dolph Ziggler, but they were in the similar positions of Mahal of having lost so much recently they wouldn’t be taken seriously as title contenders, and Mahal opens up a market for WWE internationally.
Personally I’d have moved Ziggler over instead of Wyatt. I really fear that Bray is just going to get lost in the shuffle alongside Braun Strowman, Samoa Joe, potentially Brock Lesnar when he’s around (he’s just there, face/heel hardly applies to him but he could easily go up against a babyface) and The Miz. You may also have Elias Samson in the mix within a week or two, though exactly how much of a push he’s going to get is questionable.
The reason I’d have moved Dolph instead of Bray is because it actively hurts Bray. Dolph was already kind of lost in the shuffle on SmackDown, and being the number four regular heel on Raw was going to put him up against bigger and better names than he was going to face on Tuesday nights, and reward The Miz for how awesome he’s been with guaranteed big name feuds. Bray on the other hand has gone from being the absolute top heel and WWE Championship contender to just another guy. He would have been in the featured feud on SmackDown well into the summer and could easily have become “the guy” again. Instead tonight he’s in arguably the fourth biggest singles match and will be contending for a title that wasn’t even on the Wrestlemania main show.
As for Orton, the lack of credible heels noted earlier means he has a lack of credible contenders for his championship. He could have gone another two PPVs with Wyatt which would have seen SmackDown into July and almost to SummerSlam. That would have given them plenty of time to build someone up to face Orton or Wyatt – I wouldn’t have ruled out Bray winning the title back at some point. But I would rule out the fodder that Orton is going to be up against instead winning the belt. He’s going to be fed Jinder and Rusev until presumably Baron Corbin is crowned the new champion at SummerSlam.
Now I could be wrong. Maybe I’m underestimating the ability of the SmackDown roster. Maybe Jinder Mahal will walk out of Backlash as your new WWE Champion. Maybe someone like Luke Harper will turn heel again and even out the odds. Maybe Rusev will become the biggest winner of the shake-up by becoming the top guy he was never able to be on Raw. I kind of hope he does, even though I’ve never been his biggest fan.
Or maybe the stability of SmackDown’s top feud would have allowed them to build up more names like Nakamura, Zayn, Corbin and Rusev as contenders. As it is, it looks like the best SmackDown has to offer in the next few weeks and months is going to be in the United States Title picture, where Kevin Owens should put on classics with AJ Styles, and maybe looking past him Luke Harper, Tye Dillinger, and Sami Zayn again.
And just a final word on the actual match tonight, since I’ve pretty much ignored it for the entirety of my Spotlight this time round. I have no idea what to expect. But I don’t see any reason why Bray can’t win. Yes Orton is the WWE Champion, and that should be protected. But is he really hurt by losing to the guy who pinned John Cena and AJ Styles in the same night just two months ago in a match of his own design when the title isn’t on the line? It would be a chink in the viper’s armour that could plant the seed of doubt in him ahead of his blockbuster main event with Jinder Mahal.
And I do think Wyatt needs a win here. He looked strong going into Wrestlemania, but the pure strangeness of his title loss to Orton in my eyes really hurt him. Nothing really seemed to work about that match, and with hindsight it only gets weirder. A win for Bray establishes him as some kind of threat on Raw, even if that is only to the Intercontinental Championship which can’t even make it on to Payback never mind Wrestlemania.
So there we have it. I’ve managed to rant a bit about the use of Bray Wyatt in the last couple of weeks, and even thrown in a quick point about Payback. Not that this column was designed to do that or anything. Who do you think will leave the House of Horrors triumphant? Maybe more importantly, who needs the win more? Let me know what you think in the comments below!