May 1 2016
The build up to Payback as been quite exciting. There are a couple of genuinely interesting booking strands coming in, including the possibility that someone unknown is controlling Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows and the various McMahon’s squabbling for control over Monday Night RAW. Plus the card is unusually strong on paper and looks to be a solid evening of wrestling. Perhaps more importantly this is being billed the “first PPV of the new era”, with a tonne of new names being called up of late. Hosts are Michael Cole, JBL and Byron Saxton.
WWE Tag Team Championship #1 Contenders Match
Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady vs. The Vaudevillians
Enzo has a wonderful turn of phrase and all his verbal spots are already over. A guy I work with, who’s a WWE fan rather than a wrestling fan, is totally into Enzo. That’s a great sign for them. New Day watch this match but not from the announce table, which is a pity, but instead on bean bags eating a pizza. Gotch whips Enzo into the ropes and he stumbles into the middle rope and hits his neck. His eyes are open but he’s out. It’s an unfortunate injury and the match is over. Luckily for Enzo the injury was only a concussion and could have been far, far worse.
Final Rating: N/R
Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn
They’ve finally nailed the hype on this match up, getting the history across and painting a picture for those who’ve not been watching them compete over the years. Given their history and experience together it’s easy for them to build a compelling match that allows both Owens’ deviousness and Zayn’s pluck to get over. Owens has been trying hard to not do anything to get himself cheered but Chicago is a heel town and they love KO. Both guys work really hard to make sure the crowd aren’t disappointed. I’m pleased they opt for Sami to have the showier offence and entertain while Owens is more of a jerk, taking shortcuts. Owens eventually gets to throwing the big bombs and they go to such indie-rific offence as the half and half suplex, Blue Thunder and a cross-fixed brainbuster over the knee. The best part of the match is that the crowd react and buy into the story and the action. That makes the difference between a good match and a great one, sometimes. The finish is a touch flat with Owens avoiding the Helluva Kick and hitting the Pop Up Powerbomb but the match that preceded it was filled with energy and raw emotion. The hatred was palpable.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Post Match: Owens decides he wants to be interviewed by Byron. “I beat Sami Zayn. Kevin Owens is the better man”. Kevin decides during the interview that he wants to commentate on the IC title match while he’s out here. I have no problem with Kevin Owens just being allowed to do whatever he wants. It’s a shame he’s refocused on the IC title here, after saying he was heading up to WWE title contention after losing the belt at ‘Mania.
WWE Intercontinental Championship
The Miz (c) vs. Cesaro
Miz has been doing a solid job as a heel champion, even if he’s nowhere near the level that Owens was operating on. A lot of Miz’s success in the role is the addition of his wife Maryse as valet. Sometimes subtle little changes can freshen up stale acts. Cesaro, Swiss Superman and evident fan of European grappling or maybe just New Japan, has started borrowing spots from Will Ospreay and Kazuchika Okada. Cesaro busts out the freaky strength in this one, hurling Miz around for fun. Miz works over Cesaro’s injured shoulder. There’s nothing terribly creative from the champ but it’s solid basics. Owens on commentary claims he doesn’t care who wins but then cheers Miz on for the entire match, while bad mouthing Cole and Saxton. His little “come on, Mike” is funny character work as he gets so carried away he ‘accidentally’ shoots. He also destroys Cole finding things “hilarious” when he sees them “a thousand times a year”. The match really starts to gain traction when Cesaro goes nuts with uppercuts and Miz counters by going to the shoulder. The pacing is terrific. Sami has heard enough of Owens though and returns to put a beating on the guy who just beat him. This leads to them brawling into the ring, causing the ref to miss Miz tapping out. The distraction allows Miz to retain with a cheeky roll up. This was a very good match and the Owens-Zayn angle allowed them to run a cheap finish. Crowd were really into this match too, always a good sign.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose
The crowd remain hot for this one. I don’t really agree with Jericho’s assessment that he’s the “best in the world” or the GOAT as his shorts read. He’s certainly been a consistently good wrestler for a very long time but he’s rarely ever been among the top elite guys in the promotion even in 2000 when he was riding the crest of his late 1999 debut and flying high. Ambrose makes a point of inserting a lot of goofy offence. I prefer him in promos with his sardonic laid back style. This match suffers from doing a lot of the same things that the last match did, in terms of heat and structure, only without the same passion. They could have done with popping something else in here. They’re not helped by some sloppy work, including an awkward tornado DDT and a weird counter into the Walls of Jericho. Given the standard that everyone else has set, it just doesn’t measure up. The work isn’t to the same standard. The issues continue as Ambrose clocks Jericho across the nose on a dive and opens Y2J up hardway by the eye, something that caused a stoppage during Samoa Joe vs. Finn Balor. That doesn’t happen here. Is that double standards? Or have referees been told not to anger the crowd after Dallas? Ambrose wins with Dirty Deeds and the match underwhelmed me.
Final Rating: **1/2
Video Control takes us backstage where Mauro Ranallo asks AJ Styles about Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows. Styles persists that he’s going to go one on one and his friends won’t interfere. If Styles is flat out lying here then he’s turning heel tonight and winning the title. Imagine that?
WWE Women’s Championship
Charlotte (c) vs. Natalya
Charlotte’s father Ric Flair is out here to corner her, as per usual, but Nattie has her uncle Bret Hart to offset that. I wonder if Jim Neidhart is upset he never gets to appear in these spots? Bret gets a nice reaction as he hobbles out, having beaten prostate cancer recently. Bret has been enormously critical of WWE programming of late, ripping WrestleMania a new hole during his podcast. One thing is for sure, Natalya gets a bigger pop for having Bret out here so it worked. This match has heat but it also has decent technical props. WWE make one very stupid mistake however, and that’s showing Sasha Banks backstage before the match. It only serves to remind them that Sasha’s logical ‘Mania win never happened and the crowd want her in these big matches. Charlotte displays a lot of confidence in this match, posing throughout, even when she’s not in charge. She’s certainly grown into the champion’s role. Maybe she’s been watching her Dad’s tapes. Natalya does great work in selling an injured knee, almost Bret Hart-esque in limping around to sell it. As Charlotte asserts her dominance with moves like Natural Selection and the moonsault, Natalya gets to look all plucky by kicking out. Charlotte then slaps Natalya in the Sharpshooter and Charles Robinson calls for the bell. Montreal Screwjob again! The Flair’s get strapped in tandem Sharpshooters for the post match pop but it was weird seeing another Montreal throwback. Good move in using Little Naitch though. I didn’t even see him until the finish.
Final Rating: ***
Promo Time: Vince McMahon
Vince is over huge in Chicago and he milks it, babyface style, until the crowd loudly chant for “CM Punk”. He puts that down to another “crazy crowd”. How many “crazy crowds” will it take before they start listening? “I don’t always appreciate your point of view” says Vince. That’s an understatement. McMahon talks about RAW morphing and changing before bringing out Stephanie McMahon and Shane McMahon. His decision? To let them both run RAW and figure it out between the two of them. Steph gets molten heat, to the point where even Daddy Dearest gets into a tizzy. Be careful here Chicago, you may never get another live event. Shane does something bizarre here and references online websites to support his cause, which involves acknowledging stuff outside of WWE’s bubble. Shane even references how he felt the company was going in the wrong direction when he left seven years ago and he blames Steph for it. It sounds suspiciously like a shoot. Anyway, at the end of the day it’s still McMahon family drama and this answered no questions. Also Vince’s “I don’t listen to anybody except me” is so indicative of WWE’s long-standing deep-rooted issues that it’s completely hilarious that McMahon is blissfully unaware of the problems he causes by carrying on into his autumn years in charge of a company that thrives on being cool.
Video Control gives us clips from the pre-show where Baron Corbin managed to lose to Dolph Ziggler in a nonsensical piece of booking. In the other pre-show match Kalisto retained the US title by pinning Ryback with Salida del Sol. I can’t understand Ziggler, who has been floating aimlessly through the midcard for the past two years, going over a hot new heel. Especially with this being the “New Era”. Ziggler is one of the guys who was permanently damaged by the old regime. I can’t see much hope for him being rehabilitated. I personally thought he should have left when his contract was up.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Roman Reigns (c) vs. AJ Styles
Striking while the iron is hot is having Styles main eventing this quickly but it boggles the mind that they jobbed him to Jericho at WrestleMania. What part of that made any sense? It’s not like Jericho has done anything with the win! Except, maybe, stopped dragging AJ down. Roman gets a tonne of heat, as you’d expect from a traditionally angry crowd like Chicago. There are a fair few Reigns fans out there, based on signs, but the volume from the fans is totally in AJ’s favour. Styles is well capable of having solid matches with bigger opponents and they go for a speed vs. power match up. Styles leans toward heel, in a desperate attempt to get Roman cheered. It doesn’t work but it does make the crowd suspicious of AJ’s intent and the possibility of the Bullet Club reunion. Styles takes some extreme bumps to get over Roman’s heavy hitting style too. He’s a good opponent to make Reigns look like a powerful champion. It’s perhaps not the best of ideas if WWE want Roman to get popped however. The good news, for both guys, is it definitely has a big match atmosphere. The crowd are invested in it, although they’ve been hot all night long. Chicago is a great town for crowd noise. AJ brings his best and a Phenomenal Forearm to the floor has such velocity that it wipes out the announce table. However AJ rolls into the ring and Reigns does not. AJ Styles wins the match but not the title. That is a dubious booking decision at best. Normally someone can break the count by rolling in and then out again.
Anyway, that’s not the finish. Not in the New Era and Shane McMahon powered regime. I had a theory that it was Shane who was behind Anderson & Gallows, based on his ‘Agent of Change’ persona. The one thing he currently hasn’t been able to change is the champion, a relic already of the previous regime and Vince McMahon’s poster boy. Roman accidentally punches Styles below the waist line and AJ wins the match again but not the title.
Once again, we’re in the New Era so that’s not the finish. Merely another fake out. Babyface Stephanie restarts the match under no DQ rules. Which of course opens the window for interference. Toward the conclusion of the match the tension of the situation becomes palpable. This is an important match. It’s important for Roman, hanging with the new super talent and from a booking perspective. Anderson & Gallows make their presence felt, as we all knew they would, which sets up a breathtaking near fall with Roman getting his foot on the rope to survive the Phenomenal Forearm. The Usos even up the odds with Anderson & Gallows and AJ falls victim to a Spear. Epic storytelling but still leaving unanswered questions about Anderson & Gallows relationship with AJ Styles. AJ looked completely at ease in this match and effortlessly great at times. There’s no doubt he’s capable of being WWE Champion, it’s just when and how. This felt like a good time to do it and shock people. Instead they had me with near falls and I bought on several of them, big time.
Final Rating: ****
Summary: On paper it looked like a solid card and that’s what it delivered. It’s a pity for Enzo & Cass that Amore got injured in the opener but that didn’t affect the performances up and down the card nor the crowd reactions. The main event had potential to be a blow away match and it was only the booking, which was inevitable, that stopped it. Maybe WWE had doubts about how good it would be but this surely makes a rematch at Extreme Rules an even better contest, unless they have more booking shenanigans planned.