I wrote in my Payback preview about how strange it was to prepare for a PPV without participants from two of the three biggest singles matches and with the primary storyline revolving around a non-wrestling angle. WWE addressed these complications by working them into the stories in the show- CM Punk started slow against Chris Jericho and had to work through the rust, Dolph Ziggler sold lingering effects of his concussion, and the McMahon-HHH storyline was only mentioned as it related to Curtis Axel’s victory. While some of the match outcomes were surprising, the effect of this booking was to place the emphasis on the action in the ring, and I think it resulted in a very solid an enjoyable PPV.
John Cena def. Ryback in a Three Stages of Hell Match to retain the WWE Title
As anticipated, the stipulations in the Cena-Ryback match covered their wrestling shortcomings to make Payback’s main event entertaining. During the Lumberjack stage, Ryback continually threw Cena out on the sides of the ring populated by heels, who attacked Cena and left Ryback alone. Eventually, Ryback shoved one of the heels and a melee broke out involving everyone at ringside. Cena ascended the turnbuckle and dove dramatically onto the pile. Back in the ring, Ryback hit Shell-Shocked and took the first fall. In the Tables stage, both men narrowly avoided a table set up in the ring at the outset. They attacked one another with ring steps and smashed tables with them, but Cena eventually won the stage when he put Ryback through a table with an Attitude Adjustment. As the Ambulance stage began, Ryback took over and powerbombed Cena through the announce table. He dragged Cena up to the ambulance, but Cena fought back, slamming Ryback into the side of the ambulance and throwing him through the driver’s door. The two worked their way to the top of the ambulance and Cena hit another AA that put Ryback through the roof to secure the victory and retain his title. Even though Ryback looked pretty good in defeat, he lost decisively, so it will be interesting to see if he regains his heat to stay in the main event picture or recedes to a lesser feud.
CM Punk def. Chris Jericho
It did not take a brain surgeon, a rocket scientist, or a rocket surgeon to figure out that this match would be the best on the show, and it lived up to the hype. Punk returned to the ring sporting thick mutton chops and a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu hoodie and received the anticipated hero’s welcome from the Chicago crowd. He and Jericho exchanged mat holds and strikes early and countered almost every move the other attempted. Punk seemed to be selling a bit of ring rust early in the match, as he struggled to sustain any momentum and even looked winded at times. He appeared to be in trouble when Jericho put him in the Walls of Jericho, but he squirmed through Jericho’s legs and turned it into an Anaconda Vice. From there, the match elevated to classic status. Jericho countered an attempted GTS with another try at the Walls. Punk was distracted by Paul Heyman (on the apron to try to distract Jericho) as he made another attempt at the GTS and Jericho got a rollup for a two count. Jericho hit a Codebreaker for a two count, Punk followed it with a rally culminating in a top rope elbow and a GTS for another two count. Punk hit a suicide dive on the outside that hurt both men and Jericho used the advantage to put him in the Walls again. Punk fought out and hit a GTS that sent Jericho bouncing of the ropes and Punk followed by hitting him again to ensure the three count and a victory. The match stands up on its own, but the hint of a rift between Punk and Heyman creates even more intrigue going forward, particularly if it leads to Punk facing Brock Lesnar.
Alberto Del Rio def. Dolph Ziggler to become the World Heavyweight Champion
WWE appeared to lay the seeds for the rare double turn as Del Rio was heelishly unrelenting against an injured but resilient Ziggler. Del Rio targeted Ziggler’s head from the beginning of the match and Ziggler struggled to string together any offense. The best spot of the match came when Del Rio hit an inverted superplex that looked very painful. The ringside doctor checked Ziggler for concussion symptoms, but Del Rio hit a baseball slide before the examination was complete. The crowd turned against Del Rio as he continued kicking Ziggler in the head and showing no compassion. Ziggler got a big pop when he struggled to his feet and managed to hit a Zig-Zag, but he was too injured to make a cover. He struggled to his knees and put his fists up to defend himself and Del Rio put him down for a three count with a superkick. After the match, the fans chanted “bullshit” and booed Del Rio. He tried to get cheers and said that he did everything right, but the fans continued to boo. Between the sympathetic reaction for Ziggler and the disdain for Del Rio, it seems that both men are starting to turn simultaneously. I always felt that Del Rio, with arrogance built into his personality, was a more natural heel. It will be interesting to see if Ziggler can work as a face for the first time.
AJ def. Kaitlyn to become the Divas Champion
The most shocking match on the card was the Divas Title match that was given enough time to succeed and actually made the most of the time. The match effectively told the story of AJ out-thinking Kaitlyn and getting in her head to win. She started by using a hit and run strategy, but Kaitlyn used her power to roll through a crucifix and turn it into a gut buster. Later, AJ tried a cross body, Kaitlyn caught her, and AJ was able to spin into her Black Widow submission. Kaitlyn escaped by hitting a backbreaker then nailed AJ with a big spear. Rather than covering AJ, Kaitlyn mocked her and blew her a kiss as retaliation for her insults. The delay allowed AJ to kick out. AJ then got into the corner and played possum so Kaitlyn speared the middle turnbuckle when she charged. AJ locked in another Black Widow and forced Kaitlyn to tap out. It was the best Divas match in years, largely because it told a story that was consistent with the buildup to the match. If Ziggler turns face, it will be odd to have the manipulative AJ on his side unless she softens her personality as well.
The Shield def. Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton to retain the Tag Team Titles
Bryan’s outstanding work got this match into the penultimate position on the card. Even though the match was very good, it did not exceed the work The Shield and Bryan have done on TV over the last few weeks, so the result was slightly disappointing. The high point of the match was a double-underhook superplex by Bryan on Rollins. The final sequence was also interesting. Bryan countered a rollup attempt with a No Lock that Reigns broke up. All four men were in the ring and Reigns speared Bryan when Orton slid out of the way. Orton hit an RKO on Reigns, then Rollins threw him outside and hit his knee finisher on Bryan to get the pin.
Dean Ambrose def. Kane to retain the U.S. Title
This match started slowly, which led to one of the few quiet stretches for an otherwise raucous crowd. Ambrose antagonized Kane by continually slapping him. The final time he did it outside the ring and simply waited for Kane to retaliate. Ambrose then hit a DDT on Kane on the floor and Kane could not get back in the ring in time, so Ambrose won by countout. It was the only match on the card that I found disappointing.
Curtis Axel def. Wade Barrett and The Miz to become the Intercontinental Champion
The show’s opening match started with a good pace and nobody was able to sustain much of a rally in the Triple Threat format. The crowd popped for Axel’s Perfect Plex on Barrett, but Miz broke up the pin just before three. Axel won by covering Barrett while Miz had him in a Figure Four and getting the three count before Miz could break it up. He even held Barrett’s hand up to prevent him from tapping out during the count. It was a fun start to the show that got the smarky crowd very fired up.
Sheamus def. Damien Sandow
Although Sandow showed off some new offense on the preshow, including a sliding kick around the post and a reverse neckbreaker, Sheamus dispatched him with the Brogue Kick. There was never any question about this match, but I wouldn’t mind seeing their program continue.
Rob Van Dam to return
Van Dam will return at Money in the Bank in Philadelphia. The perfection of that pairing makes me wonder if it is a one-time event. Even if it is, he will be fun to watch back on a big stage.