17th May 2015.
We’re in Baltimore, Maryland. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Jerry Lawler.
The WWE’s current PPV schedule is a bit of a joke. So far this year it’s been a poor Royal Rumble, highlighted by the company’s desire to do the opposite of what the fans actually want. An exceptional WrestleMania, which totally exceeded all expectations. And a string of filler shows that nobody, including the WWE themselves seem to care about. Payback is the latest in this string featuring poorly built matches with little upside. The title match sees the WWE putting all their eggs in one basket, although the addition of Dean Ambrose at least freshens up the title scene. Cena-Rusev has been raging for ages and the stipulation cripples this one before we even get underway. Rusev has been losing so much during this feud with Cena that he’s pretty much dead in the water. A reoccurring theme with WWE booking.
The rest of the card is a mix of weak stuff. New Day as tag champions, Ziggler-Sheamus again (with Ziggler completely dead after months of burials), Barrett vs. Neville (already the third match they’ve had and Neville only got called up a few weeks ago), Wyatt vs. Ryback (a mismatch) and two filler tag matches. One with the divas, who are worse than ever with the division built around the worthless Bellas and a joke match with Axelmania and Macho Sandow vs. the useless Ascension. Expectations are low. Very low.
Tangent: the “Mega Powers” got demoted to the pre-show. Ascension won.
Sheamus vs. Dolph Ziggler
This is a repeat of the unfortunately titled “Kiss Me Arse” match from Extreme Rules. They’ve clearly been sent out to open the show because Ziggler is an exciting talent. The worrying part, from Ziggler’s point of view, is that he’s been in this role for some considerable time. He’s 34 now. When Shawn Michaels was 34 he was in his first retirement, having won multiple world titles and dominated an entire year of main events. I’m not saying Ziggler is as good as Shawn Michaels but he’s certainly good enough to have a run. It makes you wonder what would have happened to Shawn if the WWE weren’t in a slump back in 1996. I think the fact Diesel got a title run first is quite telling. With Ziggler the time was right to pull the trigger on him at the tail end of 2014 and when they didn’t he soon found himself back on jobbing duty. The crowd’s response here is still very pro-Ziggler, to the point where losses don’t hurt Dolph. The fans will always want him to do well, regardless. The match is actually very solid with Ziggler taking a thrashing, which he’s good at and hitting big counters to get into the match, which he’s also good at. Dolph is not without personality either, getting a receipt on that butt-smooching he was owed from Extreme Rules. The only bad thing about the match is the horrible commentary. JBL is obsessed with protecting the bullies of the world, Lawler is Lawler and Cole’s stupid little verbal ticks grate throughout. I really miss Booker T. As the match nears a conclusion Ziggler headbutts Sheamus to save himself and busts himself wide open in the process (twelve stitches according to reports). Enormous amount of claret. It makes the finish more believable as Sheamus picks off the bloody mess with the Brogue Kick. It was a solid contest before the accidental blood but that made for a worthwhile finish.
Final Rating: ***1/4
Video Control takes us backstage where Kane and Seth Rollins have a chat. Kane calls Seth “young and stupid”, which about sums him up. He’s been a whiny little brat since winning the belt. Rollins steps up a bit more here, delivering a borderline threat to Kane and wouldn’t you know, Kane just laughs in his face. Way to sell the champion! From there we get a shill for NXT Unstoppable this coming Wednesday. I guarantee you that show will be better than this one.
Best Two out of Three Falls Match
WWE Tag Team Championship
The New Day (c) vs. Cesaro & Tyson Kidd
Have I ever mentioned how awful the WWE’s tag titles look? They are almost as ugly as the WWE title itself, which is an absolute eyesore. New Day run cheap heat; your sports teams are bad, you’re all fat and losers. On the other side of the ring the WWE has finally done it and made me hate Cesaro. He’s taken to wearing headphones to the ring like Tyson Kidd. What the hell is the point of that? You both look stupid! You’re not listening to anything! In doing things like this and making everybody a douche bag, it makes me not care who wins. Which is the whole point of wrestling. I should care who wins and loses. It should be important. Luckily Cesaro is still outstanding in the ring, light years ahead of everyone else in the match. Cesaro does his giant swing on Kofi, which is brilliant but Tyson botches the dropkick. And that’s the first fall. Nice one lads.
2nd Fall: Tyson makes amends for his error by flipping around before New Day take over with heat, which is about as tiresome as it sounds. Having seen Tyson Kidd and Neville work similar styles is anyone else interested in a big singles match? Somehow Xavier Woods is even worse than the scrubs in the ring by shouting irritating and predictable abuse at Tyson Kidd. “That’s what you get Tyson!” Big E steals fall two by spearing Cesaro off the apron. Kidd tries to go solo but gets double teamed, which New Day flub and we’re at 1-1. Can’t believe they botched both finishes so far.
3rd Fall: The final fall is all about Cesaro and how wildly entertaining he can be. However he still botches a lift on Big E. Not even Cesaro is strong enough to lift that fat bastard. Crowd are really into this, based on the high spots but for me they’ve not hit enough stuff clean. There’s no doubt that Cesaro & Kidd are the more entertaining of the two teams but it takes two to tango and while they’ve got some good ideas the execution just isn’t there. The finish is stupid with Xavier Woods jumping in to roll up Cesaro with the ref mistaking him for Kofi, or something. If everything they attempted came off here it could have pushed four stars or so.
Final Rating: ***
Video Control gives us a shill for Elimination Chamber, which is a Network special event in two weeks time. Surely Elimination Chamber should return to the PPV schedule. It doesn’t necessarily have to drop into the red hot streak that is WrestleMania season, where it used to live, but just throwing it away as a Network special with two weeks’ notice on a month that’s already free to new subscribers seems counterproductive. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll watch it but shouldn’t it be a bigger deal?
Bray Wyatt vs. Ryback
I like Bray and I enjoy his weird promos but Ryback is just not the guy to work a program with. He’s a big muscle headed jock and you can’t play mind games with him because he doesn’t get it. The Cena feud worked because Wyatt got to Cena. He almost broke Cena, almost made Cena do things he didn’t want to do to beat Bray. They’ve not been able to replicate that storyline and they’ve tried like hell to do it here but it’s been rushed and Ryback has never showed the kind of vulnerability that Cena did. Bray’s less than spectacular win/loss record doesn’t help him. Nor does his instance at old school slow-building matches that bore the crowd.
Ryback’s response to Bray’s mind games is to just bludgeon him like he does everyone else. Are we acknowledging that both these guys used to be in the Nexus? Or seeing as that was five years ago have the bookers themselves forgotten? Bray at least seems intent at doing destructive things to Ryback, including a DDT on the apron and a senton onto the fallen big man for his amusement. Bray’s character is so poorly protected though and he seems to get himself into stupid positions that make no sense. The kind of things you would never see the Undertaker do, like mounting the buckles to celebrate and getting himself powerbombed. If he was a true master of mind games he wouldn’t put himself in that position. It’s getting to the point where the WWE look incapable of creating stars and making them meaningful. For every worthwhile thing they’ve done with Bray, or rather Bray has done with Bray, they do something dumb to get us back to square one. The crowd optimistically get a duelling chant going as the chaps decide to root for Wyatt. People want him to succeed but he’s being handcuffed by the booking. Ryback, to his credit, spends most of the bout selling his ribs (after the senton) but that doesn’t explain why he feels the need to hit a splash off the top. Ryback gets shoved into an exposed turnbuckle and Sister Abigail’s Kiss finishes. The psychology worked, as per usual where Bray is concerned, but Ryback was an underwhelming opponent for Wyatt. At least the new face of fear went over and looked good in the process. He outsmarted Ryback, as he should do. Ryback is an idiot.
Final Rating: **3/4
Video Control gives us a shill for the return of the 'Stone Cold' Podcast with Paul Heyman! Sold! Jericho’s podcasts were so company friendly and soft. Steve Austin is the man you want for this gig. I’m personally still hoping he irons out his issues with Vince McMahon to the point where he’ll do something more important. I’d love to see him on commentary, personally. He cares about the wrestlers and wants to help get them over.
“I Quit” Match
WWE United States Championship
John Cena (c) vs. Rusev
This is a stupid idea. Cena won’t quit and if Rusev does it hurts him. The one good thing about the match is that Cena can’t lose, really, and that means his running open challenge can continue. It’s been one of the best features of Raw since WrestleMania. Rusev smartly gets the fans to support Cena by disparaging the United States. The crowd are more interested in Lana and sadly her angle, where she’s gone from being a strong independent woman to Rusev’s plaything, has made her less interesting as a character. The very thing that the fans cheered her for is now gone. We get duelling chants from the crowd who are clearly enjoying themselves. It’s keeping this show from struggling. The “I Quit” stipulation is a strange one as it normally leads to a lot of submissions but here they just club at each other and referee Mike Chioda then asks the fallen wrestler if they want to quit. It’s a poor match. Easily the worst structured of the series and you can see where they’re going with Rusev constantly getting distracted by Lana and the crowd. Cena is a mess here, going from lying around like he’s dead to the Super Cena comeback in a heartbeat. Chioda’s constant interruptions to ask Cena if he wants to quit really drags the whole thing down too. It becomes an irritating distraction.
Rusev probably should have asked for a no DQ match because he has imaginative spots, like the wind-up urinage on the steps, and could have gotten the pinfall eventually. With the I Quit rules he has to make Cena quit and he won’t because Cena’s whole character is about never giving up. If he gives up his whole career is a sham. They have some decent spots in this one but the whole thing is spot, rest, spot, rest, spot, rest. It gets worse as a planned table spot goes horribly wrong and draws the ire of the crowd. They run through just about every prop going from the steps to tables to guardrail and even the pyro. It’s extremely long-winded. The aim is probably to hit ‘epic’. I only really get interested when Rusev slaps Cena in the Accolade. That’s the whole point of this contest. It sells Rusev’s move as more important and more dangerous than all the silly garbage spots you can muster. Cena passes out, which was enough for Bret Hart to beat Steve Austin back in 1997 at WrestleMania 13. However the stipulation is that you must say “I quit” and Cena won’t. The finish sees Lana quit on Rusev’s behalf with the big Bulgarian stuck in the Struggle Snuggle, complete with broken top rope. It’s a cheap finish to an overlong, overstuffed match with too much resting. Hopefully this is the end of this feud as it’s done Rusev no favours whatsoever. It’s amazing to see his fall from grace over the past couple of months. Regarding the finish it seemed a deliberate homage to Cena’s match with Umaga at the 2007 Royal Rumble, using the top rope, but the set up was just Rusev pulling the top rope off on purpose. That’s not exactly an organic set up.
Final Rating: **1/2
Video Control takes us to the pre-show where the Mega Powers wrestled the Ascension. Credit to Curtis Axel for growing the Hogan moustache and bleaching that sucker out. Elsewhere the New Day celebrate until Byron Saxton tells them they’ll be defending the titles in an Elimination Chamber match in two weeks. That could be fun.
The Bella Twins vs. Tamina & Naomi
Here comes the sandwich match to follow on from the midcard main event. Bellas as babyfaces don’t interest me in the slightest. So when Brie has heat worked on her, there’s nothing to drag me in. She takes at least one decent bump on the apron, from a big savate kick but the rest of the heat is bland. It feels like heat for the sake of it. While Brie can generate a tiny bit of sympathy with her bumps Nikki has nothing at all to offer. When she tags in the match gets actively worse and Nikki manages to lose by getting thrown off the top rope. Filler.
Final Rating: ½*
Video Control takes us into Rusev’s locker room. He’s not best pleased with Lana for submitting on his behalf.
King Barrett vs. Neville
This has the misfortune to slot into a spot where they’ll lose time if anything overruns. We’re looking at you, Cena and Rusev. Neville can wow the crowd by merely crossing the ring, as he does it as a series of back-flips that sets up his next rope spot. Unfortunately Neville does make his first major flub since being called up as he tries to slingshot to the apron and slips back into the ring. Neville works the match at 100mph and he’s a contrast to a lot of other talent who don’t have that pace or stamina in them. He’ll blow up a few opponents on the main roster you’d suspect. Barrett gets to look like a beast here as Neville takes big bumps off his power spots. It’s a decent little contest but the emphasis is on little. It feels like five minutes got trimmed off it. The finish is another cheap one, in a night of them, with Barrett getting counted out, perhaps on purpose after Neville destroyed his own knee on a dive. The Neville knee injury looked legit.
Final Rating: **1/4
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Seth Rollins (c) vs. Randy Orton vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Roman Reigns
The match being contested under fatal four-way rules, first fall finishes, rather than elimination rules takes some of the edge off it. Also the match feels like a placeholder. Get all the major challengers in there. I support the idea of Rollins having a long title run but Ambrose being shoe-horned in here, instead of having a PPV shot solo, rather degrades the hard work he’s done to be a contender. At least the main event scene is fairly fresh here with only Orton outstaying his welcome, a former twelve time world champion while the others only have one title between them and the SHIELD background.
The stipulation regarding Kane is that if Seth Rollins doesn’t retain he’s out of a job in the Authority. Seth is smart enough to realise four-way matches have no DQ’s and he lets J & J pile in there from the opening bell. Multiple person matches often have wonky selling, perhaps not so much as three-ways as they can pair off, but that’s true here. Sometimes two guys lie around selling some imaginary slight against them. Sometimes that’s because of Kane or J & J in order to bring a little logic to proceedings but not always. The familiarity of the SHIELD members helps the match and it’s nice that Roman and Ambrose largely leave each other alone. That’s a match for another time. It’s also interesting to note that Ambrose outwrestles Rollins in their one-on-one encounters. At one point Kane has to hit a chokeslam to stop Dirty Deeds and a title switch. It’s also nice to see some familiarity between Seth and Orton, with the champ seeing spots coming he’s taken in previous bouts. This still doesn’t detract from the wonky selling. At one point Roman Reigns just disappears for minutes. Where is he? What’s he selling? There’s a wonderful spot where the SHIELD beat Orton down and triple powerbomb Randy through the table. I persist that Seth needs to get Roman and Ambrose on his side, long term, because as a unit the SHIELD were incredible. It worked for DX at the tail end of 1999 to protect Triple H’s first title and the pop the triple powerbomb received showed the fans would be ok with it.
Incidentally the crowd is rabid and when a spot doesn’t come off with Kane getting powerbombed onto Rollins they re-do it with the crowd screaming for “one more time”. The crowd can make a massive difference to any show and Baltimore is so hot for everything. “Not much left to do. Loser buys the beers” – Roman to Ambrose with everyone else down. The moments where Reigns fights Ambrose are great and feel really important, which supports my theory that an elimination match would have worked better. As hot as this crowd is, imagine how hot it might have been if it came down to Ambrose vs. Reigns and one them had to become champion. That’s the kind of booking you’d get in ECW where they genuinely wanted the crowd to love every show. The match, when it’s not one-on-one, is a mess but it works because of how well the characters are built up as the match progresses. Especially with the SHIELD teases. Lots of RKO’s down the stretch, as Orton finally recovers from the table spot, but Seth wins it with a Pedigree. Shame the Curb Stomp has magically disappeared for being too violent but Hunter can’t hog that Pedigree forever and him allowing Seth to do it feels more like a passing of the torch than anything else they could do with him.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Summary: Payback had very little to live up to. Hell, during the show they shilled the NXT special on Wednesday, the Elimination Chamber in two weeks and the Money in the Bank PPV in four weeks. It felt like a stepping stone on a route to elsewhere rather than a special event. However the Baltimore crowd were sensational throughout, hot for almost everything and making some middling matches appear much more exciting than they were on paper. The main event was especially effective although the big Cena-Rusev match didn’t quite deliver in the way they were expecting. The 30 minute run-time was just too long and the attempt at epic was hurt by the constant refereeing interruptions, especially in the early going where Cena was being asked if he wanted to quit after taking a spin kick. Nothing too memorable outside of those two matches but good effort from a lot of midcard talent like Ziggler, Cesaro and Neville. I’d go as far to suggest that because of the consistency and the positive crowd this was the second most enjoyable PPV of the year so far. In WWE-land anyway (not including NXT).