Anticipation for the last couple pay-per-views has been low, while the execution has been better than expected, for the most part. Any disappointments with the card or the individual matches has not been the fault of the workers but with the booking around the matches. Last month, very few people anticipated that Roman Reigns vs. Big Show would steal the show, but the match was booked perfectly and executed by two professionals. This week on Payback, when the booking could get out of the way and the competitors were given time, the matches could succeed.
But first, a pet peeve. When they fill a PPV with commercials, backstage segments, and promo packages, they make it feel like it’s just another episode of Raw. PPVs should feel different. There’s a reason they only had seven matches on the three-hour main card, and it’s not because all of them were 40 minutes long.
R-TRUTH def. STARDUST – This has been a pointless feud. I don’t understand why they’re letting Stardust flounder like this. If they don’t like the character, then bring back Cody Rhodes.
THE ASCENSION def. DAMIEN SANDOW & CURTIS AXEL – Vince or Triple-H must have a Zack Ryder-level grudge against Sandow. The guy did everything he could to get over, they built his feud with the Miz, and then, ready for his solo face run… they make him go back to comedy impressions? Lest WWE forgets, they’re putting him in the Santino role, and by the end of his run, most people were sick of Santino. The audience wants to cheer for Sandow, but to have him and Axel lose to the Ascension on the pre-show? The “Meta Powers” team is over before it started.
SHEAMUS def. DOLPH ZIGGLER – Due to some screwy ending for other matches, this might have been the best match of the night. These two work well together, and it lets them play up to their strengths. Dolph’s the underdog, and Sheamus is the heel bully. Dolph got a little bit of payback during the match before Sheamus got his revenge. It was hard-hitting (Dolph had to get ten stitches after the match) and exciting. The crowd ate it up.
==Tag-Team Title Match==
NEW DAY (c) def. CESARO & TYSON KIDD – This was a 2/3 falls match, and I’ve been impressed how often these teams can meet and still make each match exciting. This is the best the tag scene has been since Usos vs. Wyatt Family. I liked having an illegal man get the final pin so the controversy stays alive with this team. I just enjoy everything about these six performers right now (Cesaro, Kidd, Natalya, Kofi, Big E, Xavier). Two very good matches in a row.
BRAY WYATT def. RYBACK – It seemed like an odd pairing, but Wyatt needed a credible face to beat since he’s never really seemed to recover from his Cena feud, and then he lost to the Undertaker. Wyatt always has a section of fans while playing heel, and with Ryback, the crowd wound up siding with Wyatt. Now the match itself was better than I thought it’d be, and it was good for Wyatt to get a win, but I wonder if this means they’re going to let Ryback slip down to the midcard face role. He’d been teasing being the third of fourth face on the roster, but I think this puts him down a couple more spots, despite his solid performance.
=US Title Match=
JOHN CENA (c) def. RUSEV – This was an “I Quit” match, a match where it only stops when one person says “I quit.” That’s pretty easy, right? Everything about this match that didn’t have to do with the stipulation worked. Having the ref regularly take the mic and ask, “Do you wanna quit?” got old fast. So he did it a hundred more times. Then when Cena passes out, the ref refuses to stop the match. Why? Cuz Cena hasn’t said “I quit.” But then when Cena has Rusev in a submission hold, Lana jumps up and says that Rusev quits, and the ref ends the match. I don’t mind screwjobs ending that benefit the heel – we play along with the “injustice” and boo – but screwjob endings that screw over the heel just demonstrate how the bookers aren’t paying attention to their own rules. The illogic of the ending killed the match for me.
NAOMI & TAMINA def. NIKKI (c) & BRIE BELLA – The entire Divas division epitomizes how the Creative team doesn’t care about half their roster. The entire storyline doesn’t make sense. Naomi turns heel by jumping Paige, but then Paige disappears. So Naomi and the long-absent Tamina return and jump the Bellas, and suddenly that makes the Bellas the good guys? The Bellas have been despicable villains for a long time, and now their faces? Then watching this match, Jerry Lawler at one point says “Who doesn’t like Nikki Bella?” Apparently Jerry hasn’t watched the product for a long time or he can’t remember anything older than a week. Either way, hard to enjoy the match when the storytelling around it is so bad, but top that off with a botch where Brie landed on her head, making the audience gasp, and she popped up like it never happened. No in-ring instinct. At least Naomi & Tamina won.
NEVILLE def. KING BARRETT by countout – These two put on good matches, and they got to show it off again. They were put in this spot so they could go as long as or as short as needed, based on timing of the rest of the card. It was a short match, maybe the weakest of all the ones they’ve had, and yet still good.
==WWE World Heavyweight Title Match=
SETH ROLLINS (c) def. RANDY ORTON and ROMAN REIGNS and DEAN AMBROSE – The highlight of this match was the brief reunion of the Shield, when Rollins, Reigns and Ambrose ganged up on Orton to take him out. Really good job by all four, and although the regular pin by Rollins on Orton felt a little anti-climactic, and the inteference by Kane and J&J Security was over the top, the match still was satisfying.
The fallout on Raw had as much to do with building up for the next PPV – Elimination Chamber – which is coming on the very soon May 31. The highlight of the night was Kevin Owens making his main-roster debut, holding the NXT title, confronting US title holder John Cena. We also had the return of Paige, the break-up of Rusev and Lana, and the six tag teams set up for an Elimination Chamber match. Amazingly, WWE has six legitimate tag teams who can compete, and this does not include the Usos, Harper & Rowan, and the Meta Powers.
But as always, the NXT TakeOver specials rival the main roster PPVs, and this week’s was no different.
NXT TAKEOVER: UNSTOPPABLE
FINN BALOR def. TYLER BREEZE – Both men are ready to be on the main roster. Balor may be the #1 contender, but I can see him losing his NXT title match and then making the jump. I think Breeze would already be on the main roster if the WWE brass believed there was an open spot.
CHARLOTTE & BAYLEY def. DANA BROOKE & EMMA – There were a couple botches in this match by Dana, but that just serves as a reminder that NXT is a training ground where the wrestlers learn. Emma plays a good heel. She’s also a cautionary tale of how getting called up to the main roster isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
BARON CORBIN def. RHYNO – Baron’s been a face this whole time, but the “NXT Universe” has turned on him as of late. This was actually his best match to date, which just shows the value of having veterans like Rhyno mix it up with the students. I believe in Baron; I also recognize he’s several months away from being ready unless they bring him up the Roman Reigns way.
==NXT Tag-Team Title Match==
BLAKE & MURPHY def. ENZO AMORE & BIG CASS – No one’s more over in NXT than the Realest Guys in the Room. Enzo’s the best on the mic, but they needed their in-ring work to improve. This match was really good by both men, and Blake and Murphy are really good sellers. The surpise came when Alexa Bliss turned heel, running out at attacking Carmella, providing the distraction so B&M could retain their titles. Booking-wise, I think it was time for Enzo & Cass to win the titles, but this way they keep chasing.
==NXT Women’s Title Match==
SASHA BANKS def. BECKY LYNCH – Match of the night, and a contender for Match of the Year. Great work from both ladies. They showed off their versatility, and especially Becky was able to show off her strength. WWE Creative may not have figured out how to keep a steady Divas division, but NXT Creative knows exactly what it’s doing for its women.
==NXT Heavyweight Title Match==
KEVIN OWENS def. SAMI ZAYN – Surprisingly a lot like their first match. Back and forth until Owens gave Zayn such a beating that he couldn’t fight back. Now Zayn can stay off TV for a while, heal up, and come back on Raw. He doesn’t need to be on NXT any more. The big climax was longtime ROH/TNA wrestler Samoa Joe showing up and challenging Owens.