WWE has given itself a high degree of difficulty by scheduling rapid fire PPVs and Network specials in the down months immediately after Wrestlemania. Payback, like Extreme Rules, turned into a surprisingly good show that featured quite a few matches that exceeded expectations. The ultimate evaluation depends on whether you grade on a curve- compared to Wrestlemania, the show lacked top end excitement. For a minor PPV at this time of year with little time to build, though, it was a success.
Seth Rollins def. Randy Orton, Dean Ambrose, and Roman Reigns to Remain WWE World Heavyweight Champion
In the lead-up to Payback, both Scott Strandberg and I repeatedly questioned why there was so much attention paid to Kane relative to the participants in this title match. Even in the promo package that preceded the match, the predominant storyline was the Authority conflict between Kane and Rollins. The result was that there was a shortage of narrative for the challengers in the match. The preexisting story between Orton and Rollins carried over, but Ambrose and Reigns almost felt like filler going into the match.
Of course, it often matters more that a wrestler gets to the main even than how he got to the main event. That was certainly the case for Ambrose, who got a hero’s pop from the Baltimore fans on his way to the ring. He started the match similarly, with a suicide dive that Reigns followed with a plancha to get off to a very quick start.
As in many fatal fourway matches, the wrestlers paired off in twos to focus the action on one pairing at a time. That remained true until Ambrose and Reigns formed a tenuous alliance to target their old stablemate Rollins, only for Kane to get involved and break up the Shield reunion. Similarly, the diminutive J&J Security intercepted Orton as he recovered and prevented him from attacking Rollins.
With the help of The Authority, Rollins found himself alone with a damaged Ambrose. He hit a flying knee and a buckle bomb to get a near fall. A rebound clothesline by Ambrose set up Dirty Deeds, but Kane hit a chokeslam to nearly win the match for Rollins.
Orton and Reigns teamed up to take out Kane before they turned on one another and Orton turned his attention to Rollins. A superplex earned him a two count. Orton fought with Rollins to the floor and cleaned off the announce table to weaponize it. Rollins briefly aligned with Reigns and Ambrose to hit a Shield triple powerbomb on Orton through the table. When Rollins tried to celebrate with his old friends, they turned on him and started to clobber him. They cleared the Spanish announce table, set Rollins on top of it, and powerbombed Kane onto Rollins. Since the table didn’t break, the fans chanted “one more time” and they obliged, this time smashing the table.
With only Ambrose and Reigns left standing, the two friendliest entrants in the match faced off in the ring. They slugged it out until Reigns hit a deadlift powerbomb for a two count. Ambrose ducked the ensuing Superman punch and rolled Reigns into a schoolboy. Reigns kicked out and hit a Superman punch for a very near fall. After Ambrose initially evaded a spear, Reigns regrouped and hit it on his second attempt. Only intervention from the recovered Rollins allowed the match to continue.
Rollins, Ambrose, and Reigns went at it until Ambrose hit Rollins with Dirty Deeds. He covered Rollins and Kane pulled him off at the last second. Orton made it back into the ring and gave an RKO to each of J&J Security. After a powerslam and a hangman’s DDT, he set up Rollins for the same. Kane intervened and got an RKO for his interference. After the distraction, Rollins hit Orton with a Pedigree to get the win and retain his title.
The match had all of the good things you would want from a fatal fourway. It was frenetic and showcased strange alliances and pairings. It’s difficult for this type of match to reach the same heights as a great singles match because the number of wrestlers involved makes it trickier to tell a unified story. Nonetheless, it was very well done and another feather in the cap for Rollins as champion.
John Cena def. Rusev in an I Quit Match to Remain U.S. Champion
Rusev and Cena worked incredibly hard and sacrificed their bodies. Unfortunately, they fell victim to the tediousness and inevitability of many I Quit Matches before this one. With too much sitting around and the referee asking both wrestlers if they wanted to quit dozens of times, the match simply felt boring and focused too much on the referee. Perhaps the match would have felt different if the result was ever in doubt, but even that was a completely predictable problem for WWE.
Rusev tried to get Cena to quit before the match started and then dominated for several minutes. He threw Cena into a set of ring steps and side slammed him onto them, all to no avail. Cena dodged a stomp and hit an AA on the steps. They moved outside and Cena drove Rusev through the barricade. He carried Rusev toward the sound area and hit him with varied equipment, including a laptop. Rusev eventually countered with a weak Alabama Slam onto a table.
They fought their way toward the ramp, where Rusev missed a kick and Cena hit an AA. Rusev landed on a table, which triggered a cheesy looking series of fireworks, supposedly triggered by the AA. Cena attacked Rusev with a metal guardrail, only for Rusev to hit a suplex to Cena onto the same guardrail. He dragged Cena into the ring and applied the Accolade until Cena passed out.
The referee refused to stop the match from the knockout (contradicting the rules from the classic Bret Hart-Steve Austin match at Wrestlemania XII), so Rusev unscrewed the turnbuckle to loosen the ropes. Cena quickly recovered to apply an STF with the ring rope around Rusev’s face. He screamed in Russian, but did not quit. Instead, Lana ran into the ring and quit for him.
The finish was nonsensical and punctuated a disappointing match. If Lana could quit for one of the wrestlers, she should have quit for Cena much earlier. On top of that, just moments before, the announcers emphasized the fact that the match could not end unless the wrestler said he quit (when Cena was unconscious), only for the match to end under those same circumstances.
New Day def. Tyson Kidd and Cesaro in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match to Remain Tag Team Champions
Kidd and Cesaro continue to work in so many new moves that it’s hard to even compare them to anyone else in WWE. New Day also found new ways to get heat with an insult toward the Orioles’ Adam Jones, seated in the front row.
The match did not start so well for New Day. Cesaro caught Big E for a powerslam and stomped both Big E and Kofi Kingston. He hit a delayed vertical suplex on Kingston accompanied by a cross body from Kidd. Cesaro swung Kingston into a dropkick from Kidd and the challengers quickly took the first fall.
Xavier Woods tried to sub in for the second fall under a twisted version of Freebird rules, only for the referee to deny him. Kidd tried a suicide dive to Big E on the floor, but Big E caught him and destroyed him with an overhead belly-to-belly suplex on the floor. Big E and Kingston took turns stomping Kidd until the fans booed. When Cesaro got involved, Big E speared him off of the apron. With Kidd isolated, they hit the double-team Big Ending to even the match at a fall apiece.
While the fans chanted “this is awesome,” Woods responded that, “we are well aware.” The third fall quickly became the most exciting of the three. Kidd finally reached Cesaro and he hit a series of uppercuts on Kingston. He partially hit a double underhook powerbomb and a running uppercut on Kingston for a near fall. He and Kidd hit a backbreaker-elbow drop combination for a convincing false finish. Kidd threw Kingston into an uppercut and Big E had to break up the pin. While the referee addressed Big E, Woods snuck into the ring and put Cesaro in a small package. The referee counted the three before he noticed it was not Kingston and New Day retained.
Bray Wyatt def. Ryback
Wyatt looked very good out of the gates. He hit a facebuster to Ryback on the apron and a senton on the floor. Ryback sold the injury to his ribs very well and showed the pain throughout the match. He fought back with a powerslam, but Wyatt suckered him onto the floor where he hit a big clothesline. Ryback slowly recovered hit a frog splash from the top rope. The impressive move once again hurt Ryback’s ribs. Each wrestler blocked the other’s finisher. Wyatt held the ropes and ripped off the turnbuckle cover when he was on Ryback’s shoulders and shoved Ryback into it once he was free. Yet another shot to Ryback’s ribs allowed Wyatt to hit Sister Abigail and get the pin.
It was a classic big man match and a stark contrast to the Tag Title match that preceded it. They moved far more methodically and, thankfully, took the time to sell one another’s big offense. I didn’t know what to expect from them and I was impressed at the match they put together.
Sheamus def. Dolph Ziggler
The Payback moniker worked both ways in this outstanding show-opener. Sheamus dominated early after he hurt Ziggler’s knee. He eventually dove into the ring post and Ziggler got revenge from last month with a stink face like the one Sheamus gave him at Extreme Rules.
The angry Sheamus lashed out. He missed a Brogue Kick and Ziggler hit a Famouser for a near fall. Sheamus remained angry and hit a powerbomb, a running powerslam, and White Noise to set up a cloverleaf. Sheamus taunted Ziggler as he strugged to his feet and Ziggler smacked him with a headbutt. The impacted busted Ziggler open and blood splattered all over the ring and both wrestlers. Though Ziggler hit a superkick, it was not enough to down Sheamus, and Sheamus finished him off with a Brogue Kick.
It makes sense for Sheamus to get back the pin he dropped last month, especially if these two are likely to enter the Elimination Chamber for the Intercontinental Title. Their rivalry has become more interesting with time, not worn out. I’m looking forward to seeing them across the ring from one another a few more times.
Neville def. King Barrett by Count-Out
Neville got the better of Barrett early with his speed and athleticism, only for Barrett to ground him with moves like a backbreaker and a big boot that neutralized his quickness. He missed a Bullhammer, but followed it quickly with the Winds of Change to get a near fall.
Neville went to the top rope, and Barrett loaded up the Bullhammer. Neville anticipated the move and adjusted in midair to hit a flying arm drag. While Barrett rolled out to the floor before Neville could deliver the Red Arrow, Neville hit his version of the tope con giro on the floor. Neville made it back into the ring before the count and Barrett contemplated it, but got himself counted out instead.
When the referee raised Neville’s hand in victory, Barrett attacked from behind. He bludgeoned him on the floor and posed with his royal accouterments. He tried to hit Neville with the scepter, but Neville ducked and hit a German suplex. With Barrett still in his kingly robe, Neville hit the Red Arrow. Although the finish was inconclusive, that was a natural effect of the stage in this rivalry. They’re going to have to introduce some new wrinkles to keep it fresh over the coming weeks.
Naomi and Tamina def. The Bella Twins
Jerry Lawler’s constant lascivious comments distracted from the match, not that there was all that much to miss. Tamina and Naomi isolated Brie until she finally made the hot tag to Nikki. Nikki kicked out from the Rear View and hit a spinebuster. She went to the top rope, but Tamina distracted her by attack Brie on the floor. Naomi threw Nikki from the top rope and pinned her to seemingly finally guarantee herself a title shot. The fact that this was a tag match instead of a Divas Title match shows that WWE was not taking it terribly seriously, either.
The Ascension def. The Mega Powers on the Pre-Show
The warm-up match failed to warm up the crowd because it was incredibly stupid. Curtis Axel “Hulked Up” at the start of the match and hit a legdrop for an early two count. Macho Mandow tried to go to the top for the Macho Elbow, but failed to deliver. The miss allowed The Ascension to hit the Fall of Man for a rare win. If The Ascension are going to be a thing, they must win matches like this. Also, Axelmania worked much better when it was an element of Curtis Axel rather than a full-blown impersonation.