WWE Payback – May 1st 2016
Allstate Arena: Chicago, IL.
WWE were pushing Payback as the first PPV of the new era, so how did they usher in this glorious new epoch? Well, they rehashed a finish from 19 years ago in one of their top matches with – and I can’t believe I am going to type this in 2016 – a Montreal Screwjob ending to Charlotte vs. Natalya. Imagine going to Bret Hart, in his first appearance since beating prostate cancer, and telling him he is going to be involved in a Montreal angle. They also over-booked the main event with all the tropes and dog and pony show aspects of a big Attitude Era match, complete with two McMahon restart spots and run-ins from the Usos & the Good Brothers. Over-booking aside, Roman Reigns retained the WWE title over AJ Styles in a very good match, however Reigns was absolutely despised by at least 90% of the audience and was booed unmercifully throughout. In between the top two matches there was a tortuously long segment which saw Vince McMahon announce who would run RAW. After nearly 20 minutes of expositional and nonsensical dialogue, Vince decided in the most anti-climatic manner possible that both Shane & Stephanie would run RAW together. Welcome to the new era everybody! Where we are treated to regurgitated finishes from 19 years ago, agenting right out of 2000 for main event matches, a top babyface who everybody despises and a power struggle for control of RAW which they resorted to in 2003 when the ratings were tanking.
On a more serious note, Enzo Amore suffered a servere concussion in the opener and the match had to be stopped. Enzo was taken to a nearby hospital and thankfully he was healthy enough to be discharged the same night.
From a wrestling standpoint, Payback was a pretty solid show. However, the same old booking problems that have crippled the WWE product for 15 years were on full display and once again they marginalised all the great young talent on the roster by making the main storyline all about the McMahons. WWE can call up a bunch guys from NXT, bring in some outsiders and come up with all the buzzwords they want to try get over the idea that they have turned some mythological corner, but until there is a complete creative overhaul absolutely nothing about the WWE product is going to change for the better.
Panel was Renee, Booker T, Jerry Lawler & Corey Graves; it was the usual mind-numbing blather. Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin was bumped to the pre-show, because I guess they timed the show out wrong. The sad thing is with Enzo getting hurt there was a bunch of time to fill and instead of giving two great workers like Owens & Zayn ten extra minutes they gave the extra time to the McMahons‘ segment, because of course they did. Ziggler beat Corbin with a flash roll-up in 7:40. Corbin took most of the match but since they have no clue about how to get a new guy over anymore, his first loss came at the hands of Dolph Ziggler in a pre-show match. (**) Clueless. Kalisto retained the US title over Ryback in a decent match at 8:25. Kalisto nearly killed himself on a Corkscrew dive to the floor buy Ryback just about caught him. Finish saw Ryback hit a Gorilla Press Slam off the top, but he missed a Big Splash and Kalisto pinned him with the Salida del Sol. (** ¼).
New Day opened the show and did some comedy about Beyonce; they were over huge here in Chicago. They took a seat on some beanbags at ringside to watch the match. Enzo & Cass did their shtick and were also over big. Cass had some lines about Hey Arnold! and Stoop Kid then the Vaudevillains made their entrance.
#1 Contenders Tag Team Tournament Final: Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs. The Vaudevillains. – No Contest at 3:50. As everyone is well aware, Enzo received a serious concussion and the match had to be called off. The spot saw Simon Gotch try to throw Enzo outside, however he got caught up in the ropes and his head snapped back and hit the canvas. Enzo was out before he even hit the floor and he crumpled in a heap. The referee threw up the dreaded “X” and the match was called when the doctors came in to check on Enzo. They showed countless replays of the spot, which seemed like a pretty odd thing to do considering they didn’t know how bad Enzo was hurt. It was obviously a completely different set of circumstances, however I couldn’t help but think about what happened to Perro Aguayo Jr when Enzo’s head snapped off the ropes and he didn’t move a muscle. It was a serious enough situation that they only filmed the announcers while Enzo was being treated and you could tell Cole, JBL & Saxton were very uncomfortable while this was going on right in front of them. We got updates on Enzo’s condition throughout the night and the good news is that he was up and talking within a few minutes. He was taken to a local hospital and Kevin Owens apparently went with him, which resulted in this fantastic picture:
Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens. – Owens over in 14:25. Great match. These guys had a rough job following the injury to Enzo, but they managed to get the crowd back into the show. They started off hot with the Frye/Takayama deal and Sami landed a big plancha over the top, but Owens cut him off and sent him into the steps. Owens got the heat then Sami came back with a Michinoku Driver, which Cole called a “Blue Thunder Bomb.” Sami then hit an actual Blue Thunder Bomb and Mr “Pound-and-Ground” covered his mistake by calling it a “tradition Blue Thunder Bomb.” Owens hit a huge Frogsplash for a near-fall; Sami countered the Pop-Up Powerbomb and scored with a big Lariat for a double-down. Owens tried a Powerbomb on the apron, but Sami countered with a backdrop on the apron and foloowed up with his torpedo ring post DDT on the floor. Finish saw Sami roll Owens back inside and he went for the Yakuza kick, however Owens moved and hit the Pop-Up Powerbomb to get the clean pin. Post-match, Owens called Byron Saxton into the ring and cut a promo about how he had proven that he was better than Zayn and said he would do commentary for the IC title match. (****)
IC Championship: The Miz (C) w/Maryse vs. Cesaro. – Miz retained in 11:30. Cesaro managed to drag a surprisingly good match out of the Miz. Cesaro out wrestled him early then Miz got the heat after Maryse interfered. Miz worked over the shoulder; Cesaro made his comeback and hit a bunch of European Uppercuts. Sami Zayn ran back down and dove over the announce table onto Owens and the began to brawl. Cesaro performed the Giant Swing then applied the Crossface but the referee missed Miz tapping out because Owens & Zayn had fought into the ring. Cesaro knocked Owens & Zayn off the apron then Miz rolled him up to get the pin with a handful of tights. Afterwards, Cesaro hit Miz with the neutraliser, Owens laid out Cesaro with a boot, Zayn attacked Owens, but he ate another Powerbomb and Owens stood tall with the IC title. – I don’t know why the Owens/Zayn program wasn’t built around the IC title in the first place, so now they are going with a four-way at Extreme Rules, which should be a fun match. (*** ¼)
Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose. – Ambrose over in 18:25. This turned into a good match, although it was nothing special early and the fans were pretty quite to begin with. It picked up about 10 minutes in when Ambrose hit a tope then went for his DDT on the announce table. Jericho countered and Catapulted Ambrose off the table over into the Timekeeper’s area which led to a count-out tease. Jericho applied the Walls, but Ambrose got to the ropes. Jericho landed a Double Underhook Backbreaker and got right in Dean’s ear with some trash talk. Finish may have been botched, however it actually worked out quiet well. Ambrose got his knees up to counter the Lionsault, however Jericho just stood there for a moment as if he was unsure what to do. Ambrose hooked him in a front Chancery and after a long struggle, Ambrose landed his Dirty Deeds DDT to get the win. – Jericho seemed to have better chemistry with Ambrose than he did with AJ Styles, although there were still a few clunky moments. Jericho teased on Twitter that he is done for now, although it would not be the first time he told an untruth about his status with the company. (*** ½)
WWE Women’s Championship: Charlotte (C) w/Ric Flair vs. Natalya w/Bret Hart. – Charlotte retained in 14:02. This was just sad. Bret clearly didn’t want to be out there, the match was nowhere near as good as their NXT matches and at times both women looked very awkward. Then we had the finish. A Montreal Screwjob rerun in 2016. Charles Robinson was the referee, so when Charlotte put the Sharpshooter on Nattie he immediately called for the bell, handed the title to Charlotte and got the hell out of there. If that wasn’t stupid enough, there were at least two other points in the match when Charlotte had a submission hold on Nattie, so why didn’t Robinson ring the bell then? This was just insultingly bad. Post-match, Bret put Ric in the Sharpshooter and Nattie did the same to Charlotte. Horrible. (**).
We had Vince McMahon’s decision regarding who would control RAW. He came out and the fans chanted “CM Punk;” Vince let the crowd burn themselves out and moved on. Stephanie was out next and she talked forever about a million different things that nobody could possible give a damn about. She even brought up that Shane lost to Undertaker at WrestleMania. She talked some more and the fans chanted, “Boring.” Eventually Shane showed up and basically did a Powerpoint presentation like he was Muscle Sakai and talked about all the headlines he made while running RAW. Vince had enough of this “crap” – and boy was he right. Vince told Shane he shouldn’t even be in the ring after losing to the Undertaker but said he gave Shane a chance to fail, which made zero sense whatsoever. Finally, after all this horrendous dialogue, Vince announced that both Shane & Stephanie would run RAW, because he wanted to see them learn to work together or kill each other. There was no mention of HHH again, so maybe he was smart enough to keep himself out of this entire mess. Although a HHH/Shane match for control of RAW at SummerSlam wouldn’t surprise me.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Roman Reigns (C) vs. AJ Styles. – Reigns retained in 25:05. Good main event that was hindered greatly by unnecessary over-booking. Reigns was despised and the fans chanted, “You can’t wrestle.” Early on Styles would use his quickness and went after the leg; Reigns hit a couple of power spots. Styles hit the Phenomenal Forearm to the floor and drove Reigns through the announce table; AJ made it back inside but Reigns was counted out at 12:00. Shane McMahon showed up and restarted the match with a no count-out stip. A few minutes later, AJ came off the top and Reigns caught him with an accidental low-blow and the ref called for the DQ at 15:30. This time, Stephanie came out and restarted the match with a no DQ stip. Styles & Reigns fought into the crowd and AJ Clotheslined him over the barricade, which caused Reigns to take a nasty landing. Back inside, Reigns hit the Superman Punch but the Good Brothers ran down and pulled AJ out of the ring. Gallows & Anderson hit Reigns with the Boot of Doom and Styles followed up with the Phenomenal but Reigns got his foot on the bottom rope for a great near-fall. Usos showed up and they fought off Gallows & Anderson. Reigns shoved AJ off the top onto all four guys on the floor then he did the big Undertaker dive onto the pile; AJ moved and caught Reigns with another Forearm off the barricade. Stlyes got a near-fall with a Springboard 450 then Reigns countered the Styles Clash. Finish saw AJ go for another Phenomenal Forearm but Reigns avoided it and hit the Spear to get the pin. Everyone booed. Backstage, the McMahons were watching in their office and Shane booked an Extreme Rules rematch at the next PPV. Vince walked away and Steph disingenuously told Shane she supported his decision. – Once the match got going it was a lot of fun. Imagine if they didn’t have to shoehorn the McMahons into the picture, how much better it could have been. The match was always going to end with the Good Brothers & Usos running in, however they still could have come up with something better than bringing out the McMahons to get themselves over as the real stars. There was no big storyline development as far as AJ & the Good Brothers goes, although it isn’t really a surprise that they would want to save that for TV. (*** ¾)