Wednesday 19 June 2013

WWE Payback Review By Dave Hatton

Before it aired I said that Payback seemed like a predictable show. I felt that the majority of the matches on the card had obvious outcomes and WWE had left themselves with few opportunities to surprise us. I was proven right. With one notable exception every outcome on the card was either obvious or so inconsequential that nobody could be expected to care about it.

That didn’t make it a bad show. Actually I rather enjoyed it.

The evening kicked off with a spirited pre-show battle between Sheamus and Damien Sandow. ‘The Duke of Decency’ was permitted to look far more competitive than I’d expected but he still lost. Had the match taken place on the main show more people may have been convinced that Sandow would score the upset. Putting them on the pre-show made the outcome pretty clear.

The pay-per-view proper opened with a well-made but overly long video recapping the lead disputes for the show. It could have achieved the same result in half the time.

Payback’s opening match was for the Intercontinental title. Miz, the lone babyface in the triple threat, was met with boos when he entered the arena. Curtis Axel received a handful of cheers that quickly turned to half-hearted boos before the audience fell silent. Wade Barrett was met with almost total silence. It was disheartening to see and hear such a lack of interest in three men that should be over with fans. It’s WWE’s fault for not doing enough with them.

The match was very enjoyable, although it did feature some gargantuan gaps where one of the three men was written out to let the others clash without them. The audience took a while to warm to it but when they did they stayed interested. I think they would have appreciated Fandango’s involvement. They seemed like that sort of crowd.

The victory eventually went to Axel. He got a convincing near fall several minutes before the finish with a Perfectplex but it was ultimately a far more unique move that got him the gold: he pinned Barrett as he was trapped in ‘The Awesome One’s’ figure four leg lock. Perhaps that will make Miz stop using the hold. I doubt it though.

The audience reacted loudly to Axel winning his first singles title (he’s been a tag champ before, alongside the mighty David Otunga). That lifted my spirits regarding WWE’s star making process.

A video was shown reminding us that Mark Henry will return on RAW. It featured him squashing enhancement talent and roaring his catchphrases. The guy’s been gone a month. Does he really require a return video?

Backstage Vince McMahon congratulated Paul Heyman and Curtis Axel on the Intercontinental title match, moments after Heyman told Axel that it was the greatest IC strap match ever. That was clearly rubbish. Triple H was there too, blocking Axel’s path like a school bully with an ASBO. After Heyman and his charge left Vince asked ‘The Game’ how he felt about his upcoming match with Curtis Axel. ‘The Cerebral Assasin’ said he’s not feeling it one bit.

Match two was the Divas title match. Kaitlyn got a decent reaction but AJ got a better one. That was to be expected. AJ has been presented as the company’s top female star for around eighteen months now. Kaitlyn and her championship have been presented as afterthoughts for years.

The match was good. It wasn’t on the level of TNA’s Knockouts division or something from SHIMMER but it was certainly far better than anything we’ve seen from the WWE Divas in a long while. The crowd were silent for most of the bout but that was probably because years of booking have taught viewers to treat the Divas matches as breaks. In fairness WWE did try to combat that by placing the match early on the show, where the crowd could still be expected to be hot.

AJ won the championship clean with her Black Widow submission hold. Kaitlyn held out for a while but couldn’t make her way out of the hold and had to submit. A point that I’m sure will be revisited in the storyline is that Kaitlyn had the match won after a spear but chose to pull AJ up and mock her instead of going for a pin. Plot-wise it’s that mistake that’s credited with costing her the match.

Following the loss Kaitlyn moped in the ring. The crowd chanted “You just tapped” at her. She left the ring crying. That caused boos. Layla (yeah, I know, random right?) appeared in the aisle to console her. That only enflamed the boos. This treatment did Kaitlyn no favours at all. Presenting her as a whiney sore loser is not going to encourage fans to warm to her.

Josh Mathews was then shown in his luxury skybox. He’d presented the pay-per-view’s pre-show from there alongside Big Show, R-Truth and Cody Rhodes. They were all still with him, and had a spirited discussion about the two matches they’d just seen. Truth got on with the heels fine, despite being a face. There also appeared to be no bad blood between Cody and Show, even though they humiliated each other last year. Bill watts would not have approved of this.

The three wrestlers essentially said nothing but were entertaining nevertheless. I think these expert panels of WWE wrestlers would be a great show in their own right.

"That United States championship is one of the most important championships in sports entertainment" said JBL in the early moments of the Dean Ambrose v Kane match. It’s arguably WWE’s most worthless title, so I have no idea what ‘The Wrestling God’ was wittering on about. Maybe a Wikipedia entry said it’s a prestigious belt, that’s where JBL seems to get all his information from.

Their match was not as dynamic as the one they had on RAW. Ambrose worked over ‘The Big Red Machine’s’ leg before they rumbled out to ringside and Kane got dropped with a DDT. Ambrose won by count out.

That was followed by a surprise: a video informing us that Rob Van Dam will return to WWE at Money in the Bank. The crowd loved that. They would be chanting RVD throughout most of the evening’s remaining matches.

I was struck by how old most of the clips were. It brought home how long it’s been since Van Dam was full time with WWE. He’s slowed down considerably since then. If you’ve not seen much of him in TNA you may be disappointed with the weight RVD’s put on and the slower speed he works at these days. Presumably he’ll be in a ladder match competing for a briefcase at MITB. I doubt he’ll win, but he might.

Match four was Dolph Ziggler’s defence of the World Heavyweight championship against Alberto Del Rio. Ricardo was great at working the crowd for ADR. Without him it would be have been quiet as the challenger made his entrance. Ziggler didn’t have that problem. The crowd went nuts for him.

The enthusiasm for ‘The Heel’ continued throughout the ring introductions and into the match itself. The crowd let rip with a “Let’s go Ziggler!” chant in the early going, cheering his offence and reacting with either disinterest or hostility to Del Rio’s.

Big E got ejected fairly early after being tricked into a shoving match with ‘The Essence of Excellence’. The point of that was to write Langston out of proceedings, which was a necessity as Ziggler would be on sell duty for the evening. Having Langston out there not interfering would have looked odd so it made sense for him to go backstage.

ADR targeted ‘The Show Off’s’ head. We were reminded several times by Cole and JBL (Lawler is excused from advancing stories because he’s no good at it) that Ziggler had suffered a concussion that kept him from competing for over a month. The story quickly became clear: Alberto Del Rio was being absolutely ruthless and exploiting an obvious weakness while Ziggler battled on refusing to give up.

The longer it went on the more obvious it became that we were seeing a double turn taking place. Fans were encouraged to root for Ziggler as he spent the entire match selling and telling medical staff that he was fine to continue. Del Rio exhibited some of his old cockiness and arrogance as he booted Ziggler in the head over and over again.

When Ziggler made a surprise comeback with a kick to the knee and a Zig Zag I thought he’d win on a fluke rollup. It wasn’t to be. Del Rio was up to his feet first and floored a kneeling ‘Show Off’ with a superkick to win the match and the championship.

Del Rio posed and swaggered about in the ring like a heel as Ziggler lay on the mat looking dejected. The new champion left ringside first. Ziggler got a standing ovation and heard his name chanted by the crowd. When Del Rio was shown up at the entrance holding his prize aloft he was met with blistering heat.

It was an incredibly successful double turn.

Up in his luxury skybox Josh Mathews asked Show, Rhodes and Truth about what they’d just seen. They talked about ADR being like a shark, commenting that you could see ruthlessness in his eyes during the match. I think the three of them should write poetry. I bet it would be sublime.

They were interrupted by Del Rio re-entering the arena with a microphone. He asked Chicago to give it up for the new World Heavyweight champion. He said he’d proved why he deserved to be the champ and asked not just the people of Chicago but the people of the entire world to lend him their support, because he competes for the fans. After the performance he’d entered, he told us, he felt like he had earned the championship.

It felt like an impromptu promo to capitalise on the reaction he'd had. If it was it was the right call. Del Rio was almost drowned out by boos. It established him as the bad guy.

Chris Jericho got a nothing reception when he entered for his match with CM Punk. The crowd were neither rooting for him nor booing him as the foe of their beloved Punk. They chanted for Punk as soon as Jericho's music shut off. ‘The Second City Saint’ got a loud reaction when he finally entered (still to the strains of Cult of Personality) alongside Paul Heyman. The crowd were really into him. Or maybe they just approved of his new Wolverine-esque mutton chops.

I was not impressed with their display. The first half was fine, if a little slow, but they tried to pack far too much in to the latter half and went overboard on finishers. Punk hit the GTS at least three times (he hit the move twice to end the match for some reason), ‘Y2J’ locked in the Walls of Jericho three or four times, Punk milked a Macho Elbow for ages, and the Codebreaker was used at least one time too many. These two guys need to stop believing their own hype about having classic matches, pace things better, and make better use of their finishers.

One of the many times the Walls of Jericho was applied during the match

The match included a rather confusing moment where Heyman appeared to distract Punk by climbing up the stairs onto the apron. Neither Heyman or Punk made it clear with their body language or facial expressions what was supposed to be happening and the commentary team failed to elaborate (meaning they failed in one of their key roles). It was presumably meant to hint at a break up of Heyman and Punk. It did a lousy job.

The evening’s penultimate bout was the tag team championship match. Defending champions Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins were booed when they entered the ring. It’s good that they can draw that sort of reaction from an entrance. The Shield have been one of WWE’s big success stories of the last few years. Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan were both met with cheers when they entered the arena. The crowd went crazy for Bryan, bathing him with “Yes!” chants.

The match was one of the best of the evening. In a change from the regular format it was ‘The Viper’ who got isolated in order to set up a hot tag to ‘The World’s Toughest Vegan’. Bryan came in with a series of drop kicks and charges. The inevitable miscue occurred when Bryan went for a suicide dive to his foes, only for them to move and leave Orton to take the move in their place.

Back in the ring Orton dodged a Reigns spear, leaving Bryan to take the move full force. Reigns was eliminated with an RKO, but Bryan got pinned after a Black Out from Rollins. The champs celebrated as Bryan lolled about looking depressed (or maybe angry, the beard makes it hard to tell). ‘The Apex Predator’ left in disgust.

Justin Roberts spent a metaphorical eternity explaining the rules for the main event. It really shouldn’t have taken as long as it did.

The lumberjacks were out first. All of the company’s big names were excused the duty, with the exception of Sheamus. I have no idea why he was included in what was clearly a mid-card role. Perhaps the decision’s been taken to de-push him to teach him some humility. He’s probably really arrogant backstage. He looks the type.

The first fall was dull. It was essentially a regular match, neither man’s strength, broken up with intermittent bouts of ringside brawling. The highlight was watching the reactions of the lumberjacks to the action. They were more animated than any member of the audience. Particularly amusing were Miz and Sweet T. The fans amused themselves with an RVD chant.

‘Big Hungry’ won the fall after a huge brawl erupted at ringside and Cena stupidly (but impressively) launched hismelf off the top rope into the fray. Both men got wiped out during the battle and were eventually tossed back into the ring. Moments later Ryback got a Shellshock on Cena for the pin.

The lumberjacks quickly made their way backstage as Ryback grabbed a table from under the ring. He tried for a power bomb, which would have won him the championship, but Cena slipped out. ‘The Franchise’ was speared to the mat moments later.

More tables were introduced along with the metal ring steps. Ryback unveiled a new move: chucking the steps around like a psychopath. His aim proved off whenever he lobbed the steps because, y’know, that would have hurt Cena for real. Doing things like that only harm the suspension of disbelief, not that Ryback or Cena care about something as trivial as match quality.

Cena got the fall when he slipped out of a Shellshock attempt and easily lifted Ry’ up to AA him through a table. Ryback no sold the AA like a trooper, springing up almost immediately and throwing Cena outside the ring. There he power bombed him through the announce desk. The crowd chanted for him to do it again. He didn’t.

The two brawled up to the ambulance parked at the entrance and proceeded to rip parts off it to belt each other with. “Talk about a drive-by” quipped Michael Cole as Ryback was Irish whipped through a car door. In kayfabe terms that could have quite literally killed Ryback. That Cole, along with JBL and ‘The King’, was cracking jokes killed the atmosphere of what was a very intense performance from both men.

After Ryback had torn another piece of the ambulance off and hit Cena with it Cena decided the only logical thing for him to do would be to climb on top of the vehicle. Ryback grabbed a crutch and followed him. Cole said two men (one in jorts and one in a singlet) battling atop an ambulance with a crutch was like something from a Bond movie. It wasn't. You have to wonder what makes Cole say some of these things.

After a brief tussle over Ryback’s crutch Cena scooped his opponent up and casually AAed him through the roof, gaining the win.

Cena went back to the ring to roar at the hard camera and hold his belt. The siren started playing. Sadly nobody in the crowd reacted as if Scott Steiner was making a surprise return to become Cena's next challenger. I would’ve marked out for that.

No, the siren indicated Ryback was being driven out of the arena a defeated, and presumably still hungry, man. I think it’s safe to say that Ryback doesn’t rule: that was his eighth straight non-win on pay-per-view. Cena did the you can't see me thing as he watched the vehicle leave then shook and slapped hands at ringside as the show went off the air.

The headline bout was a spirited performance. Cena does his best work in these kinds of matches and Ryback seems better suited to them as well. I assume their programme is now at an end. I can’t see how Ryback can justifiably be granted a third match with Cena after such a convincing loss. I also can’t imagine many people paying to watch such a match.

Payback was a very good show. The main event, the tag title match, and the Divas match were all very good, and the triple threat match was decent despite its flaws. We also got a superb story told in the WHC title match. If Dolph Ziggler ends up turning face that could be what this event is best remembered for.

You can find more of Dave's great work over at and you can find & follow him on twitter @ThatDaveGuy

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