Payback isn’t the biggest show that WWE do and because of this expectations were lowered. With this year set to have a record 13 big PPV shows, it’s hard to make the ones that aren’t Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania or SummerSlam feel important. Put simply, WWE has too many PPVs. Being monthly occurances, it leaves little time to properly build feuds and rivalries between shilling the next big event. When they do take their time with the rivalries we tend to get the same matches each and every time. Payback, for instance, had the fourth consecutive and apparently final John Cena vs Rusev PPV match. It leads to the product feeling a little stale and undercooked at the same time. This year’s Payback, however, managed to be a great show. If they did their inbetweener PPVs like this, most of my problems above would magically melt away.
I will briefly mention the preshow. Stardust took on R-Truth in a “meh” match. Then the team of Axelmania (Curtis Axel) and Macho Mandow (Damien Sandow) as the Mega Powers took on The Ascension. I can’t help but dislike this whole Mega Powers thing. I realise not every wrestler should be an arsekicker and that wrestling has a massive history of broad comedy, but I’m sorry, I’m just not feeling it. I think both Sandow and Axel deserve better. The match was alright, but The Ascension picked up the surprise win. I hope this doesn’t lead to a feud, but I have a feeling it will do.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Sheamus
Payback properly kicked off with another chapter of the “Kiss Me Arse” chronicles. Ziggler came out looking like a member of Poison or Motley Crue and wasted little time getting his hands on Sheamus. I’ve mentioned that I like how Ziggler’s wrestling more aggressively and that continued in this match-up. Sheamus is clearly the bigger physical threat, but Ziggler’s constant and varied assault on the mohawked douche made the fight feel more legitimate. I liked Sheamus’ heel work too. One of the best ways to be a dick in the ring is to ground a showy and high-flying opponent. It slows the match down and pisses off the audience, but also makes the babyface’s eventually comeback all the more glorious. Sheamus did this expertly. I’m enjoying hating him. Anyway, Ziggler got the upper hand and rubbed his arse on punch-drunk Sheamus’ face, getting a bit of retribution (or “payback” if you will, snort snort *raises brandy glass*) on the Pale One. Sheamus became incensed and the match noticeably kicked up a few notches with some powerful hits and near falls. Ziggler ended up bleeding fairly heavily after headbutting Sheamus, who in turn used Ziggy’s crimson mask to his advantage and Brogue Kicked the blinded noodle man out for the count. I’m not sure the blood was intentional. Even if it was, I don’t think the sheer amount was planned and things did seem to get wrapped up pretty quickly after the blood started spurting out of Ziggler’s forehead. The match went through several gears, had some enjoyable spots and solid physical storytelling. Great start to the night.
The New Day vs. Tyson Kidd and Cesaro in a Two out of Three Falls Match for the Tag Team Championships
I’ve said before about how I’m a big fan of Tyson Kidd and Cesaro and almost an equally big fan of The New Day. New Day’s heel run has been exemplary so far. They moralise, they cheat and they piss people off. They’re fantastic. It’s already been demonstrated that these two teams have great chemistry and boy, was it proven with this match. There were so many fun spots and little moments. Whether it was Cesaro uppercutting like a beast, Kidd flipping over the ropes, Kofi Kingston doing something awesome or Big E using his sheer power I was smiling broadly. Kidd and Cesaro got the first fall, New Day got the second and then Xavier Woods snuck in to the match and picked up the third pin thanks to an unobservant referee. I thought it was a creative finish and it certainly took me by surprise. The tag team division has really been shaken up since one of the Uso brothers was injured. I now actively look forward to these matches and especially the New Day/Kidd and Cesaro ones. The match they put on at Payback will take some beating when it comes to their future contests.
Bray Wyatt vs Ryback
I’ve been critical of the build up to this one. Wyatt and Ryback having a to-do seemed completely arbitrary to me and the various promos leading up to it were lackluster. Colour me surprised then when the match turned out well. Both Ryback and Wyatt are gorillas of men and wrestled as such. About midway through the match, Wyatt hit a splash off the apron which looked brutal and I’m sure it legitimately injured Ryback. Ryback perservered and managed a top rope splash on Wyatt. I’ve never seen him go for that sort of move before an it really sold the fact that Ryback pulling out all the stops to defeat Wyatt. After cannily removing one of the corner pads whilst hoisted up on Ryback’s shoulders, Wyatt escaped the Shellshock attempt and slammed Da Big Guy injured rib first into the exposed metal turnbuckle. Wyatt then delivered the Sister Abigail to the staggered Ryback and picked up the win. I also thought this was a nice, creative finish that didn’t rely on batshit logic to make it work. Bray Wyatt picks up his first PPV win in what feels like forever and Ryback didn’t look weak despite taking a loss. Commentary were eager to put over the idea that Bray singled out Ryback purely because of him being “in the way”. Perhaps this is a hint of some Machiavellian scheme Bray’s been working the entire time or, more likely, it’s a nice, vague filler motivation because Creative haven’t figured out what to do next.
John Cena vs. Rusev in an “I Quit” match for the United States Championship
So, fourth consecutive Cena/Rusev match in as many PPVs. I have to say that this is one was better than I expected, although it ended weakly. I’ve always liked the psychology of an “I Quit” match, with the aim being to hurt your opponent enough that they actually say the words “I quit” into a microphone. The match soon spilled outside the ring and there were plenty of unusual weapon hits and spots to keep things interesting. As goofy as it was, I still laughed at Cena pretending to type on a laptop before slamming it into Rusev’s back. There was a neat callback to Cena’s “waterboarding” moment in the run-up to Wrestlemania when Rusev woke up an unconscious Cena in a similar way by dousing him with water. Things got interesting when Rusev unbuckled the top rope and tried to hit Cena with the metal rod thing. The ring being partly dismantled got a big reaction from the crowd, but it was a shame that nothing particularly special was done with it. Cena ducked the strike and got Rusev into an STF, using the loose rope as leverage. Rusev screamed and his manager Lana quit on his behalf. It’s a screwy ending. If Cena didn’t lose by being knocked out, which whilst not actually saying the words is still “giving up” in my book, Rusev shouldn’t have lost via Lana. I know it was a way to look both competitors look strong and avoiding them saying they quit, but if neither of them were going to say it for fear of it making them look bad, why put them in an “I Quit” match in the first place?
Tamina and Naomi vs. The Bella Twins
This was a disappointingly short and flat match. The only real interesting thing about it is that the Bellas actually lost. The match felt off-kilter and I found it all frustrating. The crowd weren’t digging it either. The Women’s division deserves so much better, damn it.
King Barrett vs. Neville
Whilst I enjoyed the match between Barrett and Neville, it felt like just another meeting of the two Englanders, especially as there was no title or stakes on the line. It was a solid fight, just lacked anything particularly special about it. I liked Barrett just having enough and walking away to give Neville the count out victory. Solid heel work.
Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns vs. Randy Orton vs. Dean Ambrose in a Fatal 4 Way match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
For the first time in a while, I was really looking forward to the main event of a PPV. The addition of wild card Ambrose certainly shook things up for people sick of Orton or Reigns by this point. The match itself was fantastic and easily my favourite of the night. It had everything. Each competitor got their own one-on-one time to stomp the weasel Rollins. The highlight of the night for me was the temporary reunion of The Shield as Reigns, Rollins and Ambrose worked together to triple powerbomb Randy Orton through a table. Rollins going for the fistbump after and being turned on was great. The crowd went nuts for this one. At one point, the table refused to break when Reigns and Ambrose attempted to powerbomb Kane through Rollins and the table. The crowd chanting “ONE MORE TIME! ONE MORE TIME!” was fantastic and went they finally did, it got huge cheers. I love the fact they’ve kept Ambrose and Reigns friends throughout all their singles careers. When everyone was trying to shake off powerbombs, Reigns and Ambrose were left in an awkward situation. Reigns said “loser buys the beers?” and the two friends went at it. It was a great moment and reminded me of a Royal Rumble from way back when the Hardy Boyz briefly put aside their respect and love for each other and fought, knowing there could only be one winner. Rollins managed to pick up the win by Pedigreeing Orton and pinning him. I think that it was a stroke of genius having Rollins use Triple H’s move. It’s perfect for the character. The end also satisfied because it wasn’t Ambrose that ate the loss as I had predicted.
I really enjoyed Payback. It was slightly sloppy in places, but had a brilliant tag match and an excellent main event. I’m now eagerly looking forward to Elimination Chamber.