The show started with a video package. The focus was on the top two feuds between Wyatt and Cena and Evolution and The Shield. It was not WWE's greatest effort. There have been far more interesting video packages, but it did at least do what it was supposed to and was well put together.
Michael Cole welcomed us the "the historic" All Stare Arena as United States champion Sheamus bounded out to the ring for the opener. The reaction to him was mostly positive although I'm sure I heard some boos. Perhaps that was just wishful thinking on my part. Clips were shown of his recent interactions with Cesaro and the problems they've had following the Code of Honor.
Cesaro's entrance was preceded by a Paul Heyman promo. He told the audience CM Punk was watching the Blackhawks get their streak broken (cheap heat there)... just like Brock Lesnar had done to The Undertaker at WrestleMania. Even that couldn't turn the crowd fully against Heyman. His accomplishments in wrestling are too easy to respect.
|Sheamus is taken for a Big Swing.|
The hour that followed that was tough going. It began with a match pitting Goldust and Cody Rhodes against RybAxel. It was irritatingly clear that it was taking place just to further the split between the brothers. It was no better than a standard TV match, something not helped by the fact that the audience took a while to warm up to it. The mighty Ryback got the pin after catching a Disaster kick and turning it into a Shellshock. Afterwards Cody told 'The Bizarre One' that he should get a better tag partner then walked out.
Lana came out to remind us that Vladimir Putin exists and then tottered to the ring behind Rusev. He was waving a flag like a madman just as he had a few days earlier at NXT Takeover. Big E came out with a US flag. At this point I was hoping they'd agree to an impromptu flag match. It wasn't to be.
The two found it tough to win the crowd over, suffering through a "We want Ziggler!" chant and, perhaps worse, indifference. Things picked up when E did his ever impressive spear through the ropes. From there it was still the basic power exchange you'd expect but the audience was making more noise. They didn't get long. Rusev slapped on the Accolade fairly quickly and Big E tapped out. 'The Bulgarian Brute' celebrated by shaking the flag like a lunatic again.
A second random filler match between Kofi Kingston and 'The Inspirational' Bo Dallas didn't take place. After Bo had done his Bruce Forsyth pose and given the fans a pep talk Kane walked to the ring. Kingston attacked 'The Big Red Machine' as he got into the ring, making him a heel in my book. Kane defended himself with a choke slam and a Tombstone then wandered off. Bo got back into the ring and told Kofi he'd back on his feet in no time if he Bo-lieved. The entire sequence was pointless, although WWE deserves credit for getting Dallas onto the show in some form.
Rob Van Dam's challenge for the Intercontinental championship was next. Defending champ Bad News Barrett got another mostly positive reaction. His bad news for the night was that RVD wouldn't be winning the title. It was a little unimaginative but his delivery was spot on. In a nice touch there are now three lions on Bad News's trunks. That's a football reference, in case you don't know.
|Van Dam's not the only one who can kick.|
The audience was split on who to cheer for in the opening moments, the air being filled with duelling chants. The match was fine but didn't feel like anything special. Nor did it feel as though it was as good as it could have been. RVD did his usual spots and Bad News did some kicks to the gut. The, ahem, good news for Barrett was that his Winds of Change and Bullhammer moves were both greeted warmly by the crowd. Van Dam went down to the elbow after a failed split legged moonsault.
A video reminded us of what's been happening with Daniel Bryan recently. The short version is that after winning the WWE title at WrestleMania he got a neck injury and Stephanie McMahon wanted him to vacate the title, having threatened to sac his wife Brie if he failed to do so. Ms McHelmsley made the video pointless when she recapped the same stuff live in the ring.
D-Bry said Stephanie had a chance to change people's perception of her. She said, in response to a Punk chant, the people wanted him to quit like Punk. Brie called Steph a bitch. That got a huge pop and a yes chant. Steph demanded the championship. Bryan went to hand it over but Brie stopped him and quit. Steph's response was to laugh which earned her a slap. That sent her running to the back as the Bryans led a yes chant in the ring. A replay aired during which Michael Cole called it "the slap heard round the world." I bet he doesn't even know what that's a reference to. Anyway, the upshot was that Bryan kept the WWE championship and the fans were happy. This presumably means he'll be back in action either at Money in the Bank or Battleground.
Bray Wyatt spent a minute or so interacting with fans at ringside after he'd walked to the ring for the Last Man Standing match. That included him staring at Jerry 'The King' Lawler (who WWE seem convinced every fan sees as a cuddly old gentleman instead of a cliché-spouting embarrassment) and laughing. Cena went through his usual pre-match routine while JBL surprised me by referencing his LSM match opposite Umaga from Royal Rumble 2007. That still stands as one of the greatest matches of Cena's career.
|This was not he end of John Cena.|
Before the Wyatt Family could gang up on Cena the Usos dashed to the ring to provide some backup. Rowan and Harper backed off and the four settled in at ringside. Wyatt controlled the early stretch of the encounter as Cena absorbed punishment to make his later comebacks appear that little bit more impressive. After an AA to 'The Eater of Worlds' Erick Rowan involved himself in the match, prompting the Usos to leap into the ring. A brawl erupted between the seconds that saw Harper do a dive and an Uso jump off the top rope (after which they all disappeared to the back). This caused a distraction that allowed Bray to grab a chair to whack Cena with. That put Cena down for a six count before he grabbed the chair for himself and delicately tapped Wyatt on the back with it. Amazingly Michael Cole bothered to reference the internal conflict Cena had experienced over using weapons at WrestleMania. I hadn't expected that. It was rationalised that at 'Mania Cena was in a regular match where weapon shots were illegal. There were no such restrictions here.
Cena introduced a table. That backfired on him when Wyatt suplexed him through it. Cena was back on his feet by eight but was met with a set of steel steps to the head. Cena naturally made it back to his feet and gave Wyatt a steps shot of his own. Wyatt rolled to the outside of the ring and stood dazed at ringside, perfectly placed for Cena to lob the steps right at his head in the match's most impressive moment.
Wyatt was back up at seven and walloped Cena with a Sister Abigail into the crowd barrier. Wyatt was back dropped onto another set of steel steps. Moments later he leapt off them and landed a senton drop on Cena. 'The Franchise' blocked a chair shot and blasted Wyatt with an AA. At this point Harper and Rowan returned, double teaming Cena and helping Wyatt back to his feet to save him from losing. Jimmy and Jey were back out seconds later, saving Cena before getting wiped out by Harper and Rowan. The Wyatt boys then set up a pair of tables and then had a brawl with the recovered tag champs. Rowan was eliminated with a body block through a table while Harper took himself and Jimmy out with a suplex from the top rope through the tables at ringside.
Cena and Wyatt resumed their battle outside, Cena ducking a clothesline before getting body blocked through the crowd barrier. Both men were back up at seven. They brawled over to the tech area where Wyatt threw Cena into a stack of machinery, triggering a pyro explosion in the entranceway that nobody except the announcers reacted to. He came back from that immediately and back dropped Wyatt into a suspiciously empty box. He placed another box on top and stood on it, ensuring 'The Necessary Evil' couldn't return to his feet and earning himself a victory in the match of the night.
Cole talked about the performance as though it were a feud ender. I hope it was. I can't imagine it being bettered. Having the rivalry end here would allow it to end on a high with the match it's needed from the beginning.
The awkward job of following Cena v Wyatt went to Alicia Fox and Paige. They had a good match. The audience appeared to disagree, amusing themselves by singing Adam Rose's entrance music instead of getting into the action. The champion retained with the Scorpion cross lock, which is now being called the PTO, which stands for Paige's Tap Out.
A brief chat between Booker T and Alex Riley preceded the main event. They said nothing of consequence but it was nice to see Booker. Batista was rocking some new bright blue gear when Evolution entered (#Bluetista would trend on Twitter a few minutes into the match). I'd been hoping for a new weird outfit from him for a while. The blue garb hit the spot. Also, an Instagram picture was shown that illustrated Triple H has continued to stay in shape instead of going back to the Stan Hansen physique he was sporting in 2011.
|'Bluetista' takes a boot but still manages to look good. What a pro.|
After starting off with everyone pairing up and touring the arena the match settled down into a traditional six man tag match. There was a no disqualification stipulation so they didn't technically need to tag in and out. I suppose they opted for it so as to better pace the bout. As was the case at Extreme Rules the first half was a little slow, eschewing overly flashy sequences in favour of a methodical pace that didn't burn the crowd out and told the story of Evolution being well prepared for 'The Hounds of Justice'.
Things picked up at around the fifteen minute mark when Triple H smashed a monitor into Rollins's head after they'd brawls into the crowd again. Back at ringside Reigns found himself triple power bombed through the Spanish announce desk. Up in the entranceway Rollins took more punishment with a Pedigree on to a chair. Back in the ring all three Evolution members took it in turns to hold Reigns down over a set of steel steps (the steps certainly earned their keep on this show) as the other members caned him. Back up at the entranceway Orton hit a draping DDT on Ambrose before Rollins leapt off the entrance structure on to Tripper, Orty and 'Bootista'.
|I wonder if Triple H believes in The Shield yet...|
Batista was the first man to fall to elimination, getting pinned after a spear from Reigns. Rollins was saved from an RKO by Reigns, who was in turn saved from a draping DDT by Ambrose. He then eliminated 'The Viper' with the Dirty Deeds headlock driver onto a chair. That left Triple H alone with The Shield. He tried for a Pedigree on 'The Lunatic Fringe' but Reigns made the save with a Superman punch. Batista, who'd stayed hanging about at ringside, then slipped into the ring and flattened him with a spear. Orton, who also hadn't left, retrieved 'The Game's' sledgehammer from under the ring and passed it to his teammate. Ambrose got smashed with it before Rollins stunned H3 with a springboard knee, setting him up for a spear from Reigns to end a solid match. The show ended with The Shield doing their fist bump pose over Triple H.
So was Payback worthwhile? Well Cena versus Wyatt and The Shield versus Evolution certainly were. Sheamus and Cesaro’s US title battle was a surprisingly satisfying offering. The rest of the show was nothing special. Nothing was especially bad but, three previously mentioned matches aside, nothing was especially good. The show seemed designed to fill a gap in the WWE schedule before the more important Money in the Bank. Hopefully that will get WWE’s pay-per-view offerings back on track. Because Payback never really stood a chance.