The name “Payback” strongly implies that WWE’s next PPV will not revolve around new rivalries. The first episode of Raw in the build toward the event echoed that sentiment, as most of the wrestlers remained focused on old adversaries. Seth Rollins, in particular, saw his bygone problems with Randy Orton, Roman Reigns, and Kane come back to the surface after he thought he had moved on.
At the start of the show, Rollins bragged about how he beat Orton not with the banned RKO, but with his own version of the “Seth KO.” He called Kane the crypt keeper, to which Kane responded that he’d rather be old than the Justin Bieber of the WWE. Orton and then Reigns interrupted the bickering and asserted their claims for Rollins’s title. With no HHH in the building, Kane was free to make a tag team match pitting Orton and Reigns against Rollins and himself.
Kane’s other big announcement was that a vote on the WWE App would determine who Rollins would face in the main event at Payback- Orton or Reigns. When Rollins challenged him on that choice, Kane took it a step further and added a triple threat option to the vote. The move drove a wedge between the teammates, but they shook hands before the main event to signify their teamwork.
Kane and Rollins indeed worked well together through most of the main event. They isolated Reigns and worked on his back, which had suffered tremendous damage over the last few weeks at the hands of Big Show. He finally got a hot tag to Orton, who came into the ring on fire. Rollins tried to fight back, but inadvertently dropkicked and then suicide dived into Kane. It was all Kane could take, and he finally fought back against Rollins and fed him to Orton for a match-winning RKO.
After the bell, Kane shifted attention to the Titantron to reveal that the triple threat option won the Payback main event poll by a huge margin. Throughout the show, we saw continued tension between John Cena and Rusev, Dolph Ziggler and Sheamus, Naomi and Nikki Bella, and others. It was a clear indication that Payback will rewind much of the entertaining Extreme Rules PPV. WWE’s challenge will be presenting those same rivalries in a way that does not feel repetitive. To do so, new stakes must be introduced.
King of the Ring Qualifiers
I often write that the lengthy episodes of Raw are more enjoyable when there’s a unifying theme that ties the hours together. The quarterfinal matchups in the KOTR Tournament served that purpose this week. In addition to some strong matches, the announcers did a good job of making the tournament feel significant, and the short vignettes of each wrestler during their entrances established the reason that they cared about winning. Top to bottom, the KOTR was a success
Bad News Barrett def. Dolph Ziggler
Old rivals Barrett and Ziggler got the KOTR matches off to an excellent start. Ziggler got a near fall when he ducked a big boot into a crucifix. He countered Barrett’s first attempt at Wasteland into a DDT, but nearly lost the match when Barrett succeeded at the move. When he countered a Bullhammer with a superkick, Sheamus emerged and insulted Ziggler regarding the end of their Kiss Me Arse match. The distraction let Barrett hit a Bullhammer to get the win.
R-Truth def. Stardust
Stardust’s rough run got much worse in a relatively quick and clean loss to Truth. He got in some offense at the start of the match and yelled at Booker T on commentary, but Truth answered with the Lie Detector for a pin.
Sheamus def. Dean Ambrose by DQ
Two of WWE’s premier brawlers surprisingly kept the action on the mat for the first few minutes of their match. Ambrose eventually picked up the pace considerably with a suicide dive and a whip into the ring post. Sheamus answered with a backbreaker, but Ambrose turned White Noise into a roll-up. Sheamus put Ambrose in a cloverleaf and Ambrose sold the anguish on his face as he slowly made it to the ropes. Sheamus went for the Ten Beats of the Bodhran and Ambrose responded with Matt Morgan-like alternating elbows.
The action spilled outside again where Ambrose delivered an elbow from the announce table. Sheamus hit a Brogue Kick, but Dolph Ziggler rushed Sheamus and chased him away. The attack resulted in a DQ that allowed Sheamus to advance in the tournament. While I was sad to see Ambrose go, he and Sheamus put on a punishing brawl. I hope to see them wrestle again in the future.
Neville def. Luke Harper
The contrast in styles was apparent from the start of the bout when Neville hit a hurricanrana from the apron to Harper on the floor. When he tried to follow it with a springboard back into the ring, he ate a big boot. Harper missed another boot in the corner that sent him to the floor and Neville hit him with a moonsault from the top rope to the floor. Harper answered with a 50/50 suplex and countered a hurricarana into a sit-down powerbomb. Harper went for a superplex, but Neville countered with a modified sunset flip powerbomb. Rather than a pin, he went for the Red Arrow and won another terrific match.
Naomi def. Brie Bella
The Bellas tweener status became more face-like when Brie gave an effective and heartfelt interview about her husband Daniel Bryan’s injury status. Naomi cut her off and said that nobody cares about her or her husband. She carried her pure heel attitude to the ring where she connected with a big forearm on a break. Brie turned the tide with a running facebuster and got a two count from a missile dropkick. Naomi answered by using Brie’s hair as leverage on an inside cradle to get the pin.
I’m not crazy about the Bellas as faces without an explanation for their condescending behavior over the last several months, though I understand the need for more face women in WWE. Naomi, on the other hand, is on fire as a heel. Her light-up shoes, her amayayayayzing entrance song, and her in-ring mannerisms are so much more compelling than I ever expected.
Ryback def. Bo Dallas
Dallas gave Ryback a chance to apologize for his beat-down at Extreme Rules, saying, “You may be the big guy, but tonight I’m going to be the bigger man.” He trapped Ryback in the ring apron at the start of the match and delivered several forearms to put together more offense than anyone expected. When he came off of the ropes, Ryback caught him for a spinebuster. He followed it with a Meat Hook and Shell-Shocked to win.
As Ryback celebrated the win, the lights went out and Bray Wyatt appeared in the ring behind him. Ryback charged Wyatt, but Wyatt caught him with Sister Abigail. The brief, dominant sighting of Wyatt is a perfect way to use him without the risk of overexposure. I also like the wink toward the Rotunda brothers, even if there is not storyline alignment.
Rusev Interrupts John Cena
Cena announced that the I Quit Match with Rusev at Payback will be the last match-up between them and that he will not ask for a rematch if he loses to Rusev. Heath Slater proceeded to answer the Open Challenge, but Rusev crushed him before he could make it to the ring. Once again, he chased Lana away when the fans cheered her. It seems inevitable that Lana will factor in the finish between Rusev and Cena at Payback and will lead Rusev’s storyline thereafter.
Damien Sandow Reboots
There was good and bad in Sandow’s first post-Mizdow promo. He acknowledged some of his past missteps and rebranded himself with a character of himself. It got worse from that point. Curtis Axel joined him in the ring and Sandow played a stupid game of shadow that ended with an Elbow of Disdain. Rarely does WWE so openly state, “we don’t know what to do with this guy.” Hopefully, Sandow can make the most of the opportunity without much creative support.
Big E def. Tyson Kidd
New Day’s heelish tactics overpowered Kidd’s technical ability in a short match. While Kidd’s kicks briefly put Big E on his heels, Big E answered with a bodyslam. Xavier Woods held Kidd’s feet from outside the ring to prevent a kick-out and New Day celebrated with their new Tag Team Titles.
Adam Rose def. Fandango
A distraction by Rosa Mendes led to a Party Foul by Rose to beat Fandango. Rosa told Fandango off and aggressively made out with Rose. As expected, Fandango’s face turn worked for about two weeks and he’s wedged back into the bottom of the card.