WWE Payback seemed destined for two fates — it would go as expected and be the biggest flop of the year, or it would be one of those “diamond in the rough” shows we’d talk about for years to come.
The actual result? Somewhere in between.
Matches that could’ve been terrible were OK. Matches that could’ve been OK kind of sucked. The odds-on favorite to become Match of the Year became just another good rematch and wasn’t even the Match of the Night. And, of course, John Cena won (LOL), but he and Bray Wyatt also stole the show.
Expectations were quite low for the semi-main event. After all, Wyatt and Cena’s first two special-event matches had flickers of potential but usually kind of flamed out. Cena fell just short of becoming the “monster” Wyatt implored him to be (and the one we wanted) at WrestleMania, and Extreme Rules was kind of a mess with a gimmicky finish involving Cena being scared of a little kid. OK matches, but not great.
With the help of Luke Harper, Erick Rowan and The Usos, who actually took over the focus of the match for a few minutes with some great spots, this match found the sweet spot. Harper superplexing an Uso through two tables onto the floor — a move that seemed to protect the recipient more than the aggressor — is the image that will stick in my mind most. That and Cena actually finding a kinda-sorta cool way to win one of these things that didn’t involve duct tape. Instead, he hit the AA on Wyatt from a production table onto/though an empty storage container, then dumped a presumably full one on top. Typical sneaky Cena? Yes. But one based in some sort of wrestling logic.
The only problem here? It felt like the same ol’, same ol’ with Cena winning again, and Wyatt needs to come out on top in this angle. Wyatt needs the rub of overtaking the great, superhuman John Cena to add to his list of evil accomplishments … because who cares about him if he can’t back up what he says? Yes, he defeated the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion at the Royal Rumble, but a lot of fans barely remember it … if they do, it was because it added to the “burial” of Daniel Bryan. Cena could recover from losing this war. Wyatt? I’m not entirely sure.
Champ and Wifey’s picks: Cena, Cena
Match expectations: *-*1/2
Technical Merit: Having solid workers involved in the periphery enhanced the “wrestling” feel. And Cena and Wyatt have always known how to bring it … they just didn’t until Sunday.
Artistic Impression: A great story in a vacuum that loses a bit of luster in the grand scheme of WWE with the finish.
TOTAL SCORE: ***1/2 (Match of the Night)
Meanwhile, the main event felt like a match that tried oh so hard to live up to the hype, but fell just short.
It would’ve been hard for The Shield and Evolution to follow up their four-star match at Extreme Rules anyway, but Cena and Wyatt actually made it a bit more difficult. On a show that felt far more “extreme” than Extreme Rules last month, the semi-main seemed to take a lot of the best spots. We had Seth Rollins leaping off the stage near the bottom of the
Titantron, but that just felt like his rail dive at Extreme Rules from a flashier takeoff point. We did get a bunch of kendo stick shots, which was cool. But we also had a match that felt like it dragged on FOREVER, and not in a “this match is epic” way. It went nearly 31 minutes — about 27 before any eliminations, even though this was an elimination tag match — and they spent so much time outside the ring beating each other down or setting up spots that it just felt like a brawl that would never end.
Then there’s the whole, shall we say, inconsistency of it all.
As soon as the bell rang, all six men paired off and went at it for a few minutes. After that, all of a sudden, it looked like any other six-man tag, with rules and everything! Then everybody went back outside for a day and a half, and when their moms told them to come back home, it was a tornado tag to the finish. It was just … odd … and it really took away from the match. I need logic, people!
Then there was, well, the finish.
Babyfaces standing/wobbling tall at the end to end a show? That’s all well and good. Babyfaces standing/wobbling tall after defeating one of the greatest factions in history last month, then SWEEPING an elimination rematch? That makes no sense either. I know this is supposed to be a quick feud, with Batista leaving to go do semi-movie-star things, it’s already starting to get a little stale and The Shield needed to come out on top at the end. But 3-0 against a group that averages 10 world titles per man? Though it helps The Shield immensely to go over that strong, it raises a couple questions: What exactly was the point of reforming Evolution? And what was the point of this angle if it was going to be so one-sided?
It’s a good thing Payback felt like the end of the line for two major rivalries, because I would probably just skip the rubber match of this one.
Champ and Wifey’s picks: Evolution (via swerve), Shield (clean)
Match expectations: ****1/2
Technical Merit: Did they even really wrestle? No. But what they did perform was smooth.
Artistic Impression: Great story if you’re a Shield mark. If you want a little epicness to your six-man main-event rivalry, it certainly left a few things to be desired.
TOTAL SCORE: ***
It would almost be better to skip the Daniel Bryan + Brie Bella vs. Stephanie McMahon part, but that would do the reader a greater disservice than the aforementioned did by subjecting us to the crap we saw. Nobody cares about Brie … except maybe the fangirls on social media who actually are worried she’s gone for good. You know, since she plays such a vital role in Total Divas. Steph has been the company’s best heel for a while now, but she reverted back to her naggy, annoying self that wanted me to launch my coffee table through the TV screen. But she was right about one thing.
Daniel Bryan comes off as a selfish champion.
You worked so hard for this title? Yay! Want a cookie? That doesn’t mean you can just be world champion if you can’t wrestle. You even told the fans last week they deserve an awesome, fighting champion, and you can’t wrestle right now. You don’t even feel like part of the show anymore, though the injury and bereavement were out of your control. You seem to be a man who respects the past — you know, back when you had to give up the title if you couldn’t defend it for 30 days — yet you don’t give a timetable for a return and use the fans as an excuse for not obeying, even though you’re entitled to a rematch upon your return. Jack Tunney would not have stood for this!
Yet all this wouldn’t be a problem if you could do ANYTHING on the mic.
When Daniel Bryan is angry, he can be at least an above-average promo man. Any other time, Bryan looks and sounds like a nervous seventh-grader trying to impress his friends, and he’s been at his worst over the past week. It’s the inflection. It’s the goofy face he makes when he’s trying to act cool. It’s the fact that he doesn’t even say anything in the same area code as profound. It’s the fact that his wife, who would be kicked off an adult film set for her lack of acting skills, fights his battles for him.
And this, my friends, is your world champion? He can keep the belts, but we don’t have a champion anymore.
SHEAMUS (c) vs. CESARO, United States Championship
Champ and Wifey’s picks: Cesaro (DQ), Cesaro
Match expectations: **1/2-***1/2
Technical Merit: A good, solid fight within the confines of a wrestling match. A couple new things, and no glaring mistakes.
Artistic Impression: Champ has to find any way to retain. How all title matches should be.
TOTAL SCORE: **3/4
This set the tone for the night, and it sent the message that this night would be better than expected. Having these men lead off was smart, as was putting them in a match in the first place. The buildup was odd, with it centering around a rejected handshake, but they delivered when it was time. Many complained about the finish, but since WWE opted to go clean, this was the right move. Plus, it’s wrestling, people! You can be in total control of a match, but at any time, you can just get caught with your shoulders down and that’s it. It missed the double turn that seemed so obvious and desired, but it was fine nonetheless.
The problem going forward is where they’ll go with Cesaro, who clearly is failing to tread water with Paul Heyman.
Before Heyman, Cesaro not only could win the U.S. title, but also hold it for months. He could win 30-man battle royals. He could push Cena to the brink and defeat Randy Orton. With Heyman, he seems to lose more often than he wins, and sometimes even Jack Swagger can get the best of him with a well-timed run-in. Heyman’s stock is dropping, as well, with only one thing to talk about. I think you know what that is. Pull the trigger, split them up, and give Paul E. a break until Brock Lesnar‘s ready to come back.
What’s better than wrestling? Bonus wrestling! What’s better than bonus wrestling? Bonus wrestling with Cody Rhodes and Goldust!
THE BROTHERHOOD vs. RYBAXEL (late addition to the card)
Technical Merit: A little botchy here and there, but decent. Great tag-team wrestling.
Artistic Impression: It advances Cody’s losing streak and his rift with Dustin, and it establishes Curtis Axel and Ryback as a halfway-decent pair.
TOTAL SCORE: **1/4
This was the Cody Rhodes story, and he delivered. Except for that moonsault where he slipped and looked like he was about to cripple himself. People want to see Cody face Goldust. Hell, Cody and Goldust want it! They’ve started to build toward it, though Cody simply telling Dustin he needs a better tag team partner is a different way to go about it, and hopefully they let it happen. And hopefully it’ll be at SummerSlam and not some Main Event or Superstars in July. With how they’ve treated The Brotherhood after losing the tag titles, anything is unfortunately possible.
Champ and Wifey’s picks: Rusev udrea, Rusev machka
Match expectations: *1/2
Technical Merit: Good big-man match that cut a quick pace at times.
Artistic Impression: The problem was it was a little quick, and the buildup couldn’t make us care.
TOTAL SCORE: *3/4
This was filler, though decent filler. I hoped for the match I received, though it could’ve gone a couple minutes longer and been even better. The spot where Big E. speared Rusev onto the floor was one you usually see from a couple smaller guys, but not 589 total pounds of mass. They could go again and it would be OK, or they could feed someone else to Rusev. Preferably someone not black, unless the rumored Nation of Domination reboot actually happens.
BAD NEWS BARRETT (c) vs. ROB VAN DAM, Intercontinental Championship
Champ and Wifey’s picks: Barrett, Barrett
Match expectations: *3/4-**
Technical Merit: Same old stuff from RVD. It didn’t seem choppy or botchy, though I kind of stopped paying attention.
Artistic Impression: Even Barrett couldn’t make the story worthwhile.
TOTAL SCORE: *1/4
I’m with Barrett: Rob Van Dam is Old Yeller, had a dog skated by on his past accomplishments, and needs to be put down. He’s been wrestling the same match for more than a decade, with the only change being who wins. Either way, his top-rope moves hurt himself more than his opponents, and his “educated feet” are less believable than Brie’s acting. He didn’t even set up Barrett all that well because we had to have the same old “Rob … Van … Dam” spots. Barrett deserves better, and we deserve better. Give us some good news, and give Bad News an opponent who’s worth a damn.
PAIGE (c) vs. ALICIA FOX, Divas Championship
Champ and Wifey’s picks: Paige, Paige. Champ finishes 4-for-6, Wifey 5-for-6.
Match Expectations: *1/2-**1/2
Technical Merit: If you like backbreakers and botches, you came to the right place.
Artistic Impression: Alicia is going somewhere with the new character. This match just didn’t go with it.
TOTAL SCORE: *
This felt like all their prior matches, only less crisp. Add that to the fact that we finally saw what women’s wrestling could be Thursday night, and this contest never had a chance. It didn’t have the atmosphere (thank you, Chicago, for that), and it didn’t have the usual skill and attention to detail associated with their prior encounters. It failed to click from the outset, and it never recovered.
None of this is helping Paige one bit.
Though well respected by anyone who watched NXT, to anyone else Paige seems like some kid who came in, got lucky and won the title. Casual fans haven’t warmed up to her, and after being conditioned to believe women’s matches are time to go No. 1, they don’t really get a reason to stick around when she’s paired with the likes of Tamina or Alicia, who have been relegated to typical Divas punchlines for years. Paige needs help badly. Whether it’s with a couple well-placed NXT callups, or simply an angle with Natalya or Emma, who can work well with her and put on a great match (see Paige-Emma at NXT ArRIVAL for an example), it needs to happen quickly, or Paige will be damaged goods at 21.
What did you think of Payback? How did it stack up to NXT Takeover? Where does WWE go from here? Let me know below or on Twitter @jpetrie18.