It’s been talked about since the launch of the WWE Network in February 2014. “Every pay-per-view is going to be like RAW.” While I wouldn’t disagree with that statement wholeheartedly (Battleground, Fast Lane, etc.), each “PPV” offering on the WWE Network has produced some high quality matches. The Harper/Ziggler ladder match, 5v5 Survivor Series match with the Sting arrival, and Shield/Evolution series of matches have all been easily worth $9.99 for that month alone. As WrestleMania concludes, so many questions about the quality of events going forward are posed. Now with the WWE Network showing every PPV including having their own special events (NXT, King Of The Ring, Elimination Chamber), would the events become more of a transition to bigger shows like SummerSlam? Or could the WWE succeed in some areas of storyline building and progression with stringing together decent shows? WWE Payback was a prime example for all of these.
The pre-show’s only redeeming quality was the Macho Mandow/AxelMania duo facing The Ascension. Although mainly a comedy act, Sandow and Axel provide top quality entertainment to satisfy even the most stubborn of fans’ minds. The Ascension, however, have not been as successful as their NXT days. Much like Adam Rose, The Ascension has had a tough time getting over with the crowds from the onset of their debut and being featured on the pre-show is proof of that. Axel and Sandow, no matter who they portray, are and will be over with the crowd as time progresses and I feel that they love that spot on the roster. This match went 3 minutes as The Ascension defeated The Meta Powers. However, I hope and think that Axel and Sandow will be given more roles as classic superstars of yesteryear and will have success in those roles.
Sheamus took on Dolph Ziggler in the opening match of Payback which was the rematch of their “Kiss Me Arse” match at Extreme Rules that Ziggler won. Personally, heel Sheamus has way more going for him than face Sheamus ever did. His new look, although odd, is unique enough to get fans to jeer with disrespect and make fun of him. His entrance and music fit the new ways of his character nicely and I only think his face run was successful because it showed how much stronger his heel side really is. After Ziggler began the match with a ferocity that Michael Cole so hilariously referred to as a “box on fire”, he attempted and failed at two near falls in the first two minutes. The match was back and forth and was kind of mundane until Ziggler had Sheamus in the corner and forced him to well, “kiss his arse”. This set the pace at a feverish speed which included a missed Brogue kick into a fameasser for a two count. Sheamus hit a sit-down powerbomb and had a near fall. While I’m at it, I’d like to point out that the powerbomb has really been revitalized in the last year and a half. The variations are aplenty and wrestlers such as Seth Rollins, Sami Zayn, Dean Ambrose, Sheamus, and Kevin Owens have all utilized it in their repertoire with great success. After a Cloverleaf that Sheamus executes almost as well as Dean Malenko, ZIggler hit Sheamus with a headbutt and immediately began to pour blood from his forehead. No doubt was it hard way and not from a blade and after the doctor tended to him, Sheamus connected with a Brogue kick to finish the match at 12:22. Ziggler losing shifts him lower on the totem pole in regards to TV time and I think it’s only a matter of time until we see the last of Dolph on WWE television until a stand-up stint is complete.
A quickpoint from the backstage segment with The Authority which took place after the Sheamus victory. It seems that any talent that is involved with Seth Rollins gets elevated positively and it shows even with the minor characters such as J&J Security and Kane. Kane himself has improved a great deal since becoming the “Director of Operations”. His career in the WWE has been an interesting one to say the least since his days as Isaac Yankem in 1995 but he still manages to show his longevity in and out of the ring.
In what I would call the Match of the Night, The New Day defended the Tag Team Championships against Tyson Kidd and Cesaro in a 2 out of 3 Falls Match. I think that the overly happy/annoying schtick The New Day was given has worked better in a heel sense than the WWE could have ever imagined which is why they aren’t on the pre-show anymore. Cesaro caught Big E in the air multiple times in this match and will never cease to amaze me. The double-team moves from Kidd/Cesaro were fluent as usual and the first fall was decided on the Big Swing followed by Kidd’s dropkick. Xavier Woods screaming about the “Freebird Rule”, which allows any member of a team with 3+ members on it to wrestle in the match, was hilarious and actually became a pivotal part of this match. Big E shined in this entire match, mainly during the second fall. He hit a beautiful over the head belly-to-belly suplex on the floor to Kidd and speared Cesard through the ropes to the floor sacrificing his body as if he were a Cruiserweight. The Big Ending and a Kofi Kingston splash secured the second fall for The New Day and all was quiet until a hot tag led Cesaro into the match. Cesaro hit his combo of corner uppercuts to Kofi and after a distraction, Xavier Woods snuck into the ring and rolled him up for the three count. Playing off of the “I couldn’t tell if that was Kofi or Xavier” confusion by the referee, The New Day retain the belts. What lies next is an unprecedented challenge as they have to defend the gold in an Elimination Chamber match in two weeks.
Dreading the Ryback/Bray Wyatt match going into Payback, I was pleasantly surprised with the work these two men put in. Remember when Bray Wyatt cut a promo in the middle of the Rumble saying “This is going to be Bray Wyatt’s year” and then losing to The Undertaker and falling off the face of the Earth? Yeah, I dubbed this a “win or all is lost” match for Wyatt and he totally saved his year. This was a very slow, yet entertaining match with the best spot going to Ryback who did a splash from the top rope. After the turnbuckle was exposed and Ryback collided with it, Wyatt connected with Sister Abigail for the victory.
This next match is hopefully the last time we see Rusev and John Cena 1 on 1. Even in saying that, I will still say that this rivalry has not been too bad and the matches on PPV have delivered. With this being an “I Quit” match, I saw no other possible outcome aside from John Cena being victorious. This match had it all. Mike Chioda asked if each wrestler wanted to quit, at least 30 times. The crowd chanted for Lana which was foreshadowed the ending of this match. Cena hit the Five Knuckle Shuffle in the first 5 minutes but we wouldn’t see it again after that much to my relief. Steps were brought into the ring and used a decent amount, as well as a barricade spot which saw both men crash through it. A table in the electrical area finally broke after a second Alabama Slam by Rusev. Various monitors and laptops were smashed on Rusev’s back before he channeled his Randy Orton circa 2009 and tried to blow Cena up with pyro. Cena hit an AA onto electrical components and hit Rusev with a guardrail before passing out to the Accolade. Rusev woke him up and failed at wrapping the ring rope around Cena and instead had it happen to him. Lana proceeded to tell the referee that Rusev quit, ala Arnold Skaaland and Helen Hart, which cost him the match. I think this was the beginning to a face turn for Lana which will propell her to a spot as one of the top divas in the company.
The Bellas vs. Naomi/Tamina was rather boring. Tamina hit a nice superkick on Brie which was probably the highlight for me. A small distraction gave Naomi the chance for a pin on Brie. Not sure what is next for the Divas but if it doesn’t involve Stephanie McMahon or Ronda Rousey, good luck with selling that feud.
In the third match for Neville and King Barrett on the WWE Network (Extreme Rules, KOTR, Payback), Neville picked up a victory via countout. This really just kept the Neville train moving forward without hurting Barrett at all. For what it’s worth, Neville is 2-1 in these Network matches against Barrett but the most important match was the King of the Ring final which he didn’t win. Neville continues to impress me in the ring but without a shining charisma, I don’t envision him as anything but a contender for the US or IC Titles in the future.
The main event of Payback drew some interest that I, along with countless other fans, have been waiting for since last June. How would a match including all the members of The Shield going against each other turn out? We still have yet to get a Triple Threat between Ambrose/Rollins/Reigns but talk to me on April 3, 2016 (WrestleMania 32) and maybe things will be different. Although Randy Orton was in this match, it did not hinder the talents of the other three. Had it been Kane or Big Show, then maybe, but Orton certainly elevated these guys if anything. As expected, chaos occurred early and often, with suicide dive spots by Ambrose and Reigns that garnered some excitement. The main theme with this match was that two guys would be in the ring and maybe one of the other two would interfere for a move or two, possibly interrupt a pin, and that’s it. This went on for most of the match, with Kane pulling Reigns outside and also giving Ambrose a chokeslam. Orton took care of Kane with Reigns late in the match, only to be attacked by Rollins. This set up the move and highlight of the night. Ambrose, Rollins, and Reigns all looked at Orton and for a brief moment forgot about the last year of animosity between them all. Rollins and Ambrose picked up Orton, and with Reigns, all three powerbombed him through the announce table, reminscient of The Shield’s pinnacle of success. The crowd exploded and Rollins extended his fist to Ambrose and Reigns, only to have them remember that he betrayed them. After getting Rollins onto the Spanish announce table, Ambrose and Reigns powerbombed Kane onto him twice, with the second time successfully breaking the table. The finish included an RKO to Kane, Mercury, and Noble and a DDT to Rollins. After Ambrose and Reigns were taken out of the picture by Kane, however, Orton attacked him and got caught with a Pedigree by Rollins for the win. Although a match between Roman Reigns and Triple H seems imminent in the future, I would definitely not be surprised if we see a Seth Rollins/Triple H match as well. The “proud dad” can only be happy with Rollins using his finishing move to win multiple matches until he gets jealous. Who knows, but if anything is for certain, it’s that by SummerSlam, Rollins will have to be on the lookout for Brock Lesnar.
All in all, WWE Payback delivered successfully in my opinion. Each of the title matches were the easily the top three of the night with the Tag Title match garnering the Match of the Night honors from me. Even though some might say that Payback was “just another RAW”, the storyline progression and end results of some feuds were better than anything RAW has done this year in that regard. With the Elimination Chamber event in two weeks on the WWE Network, the Tag Titles and vacant Intercontinental Title will be at stake and should be a nice showcase for those belts. Money in the Bank is the next official PPV that is not exclusive for the network only and will be the beginning of the SummerSlam build-up. As for the future, RAW should be interesting with possible Money in the Bank qualifying matches and probably some Elimination Chamber qualifying matches too. The WWE Network will be loaded with NXT, Elimination Chamber, Austin’s podcast, and Money in the Bank all within the next month. The summer is just beginning and no matter what, expect to see Brock Lesnar make his presence known around this time which should make for a very interesting SummerSlam event.