5/1/16 – Andrew Berg – @WrestleRosters
Roman Reigns def. AJ Styles to Remain WWE Champion
On the whole, Payback was an excellent PPV with an exciting card and lots of variety in match types and wrestling styles. Even the main event felt like two separate matches- a competitive wrestling match followed by an Attitude Era fever dream of nutty booking. The first several minutes featured Styles employing a stick-and-move style that mostly worked. Reigns used his power with a lariat and a powerbomb to show what happens when Styles gets too close. They went back and forth in this style until Styles locked in a Calf Crusher and followed it with a Phenomenal Forearm to the floor and through a table.
From there, the match became outrageous, yet remained fun. Reigns could not answer the ten count, but Shane McMahon ordered that the match restart with a No Countout stipulation. He inadvertently hit Styles with a low blow after he kicked out of a 450 Splash. This time, Stephanie McMahon invalidated the disqualification and added a No DQ stipulation. Styles hit a clothesline over the barricade and a knee drop on the table. Reigns responded with a pair of Superman Punches. As he set up for the Spear, Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows rescued Styles. The Usos joined the fray and a brawl broke out. Styles hit another Phenomenal Forearm and a 450 Splash to come very close to the win. Reigns ducked yet another forearm and hit a Spear to get the pin.
Styles looked tremendous in his challenge and even got two technical wins before Reigns eventually overcame him. The McMahons already slated him for another main event at Extreme Rules in three weeks. I would have enjoyed the match more if not for the interference and start-and-stop shenanigans, but there was enough great wrestling and drama around it that the match remained entertaining. Reigns deserves credit, as well. He has shown many times that he can take and sell tremendous punishment in big matches. He made Styles look great here, which is at least a symbolic embrace of his heelish status.
Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn
Owens and Zayn eschewed a slow build and went right at each other with an intensity befitting their mutual hatred. They traded big, stiff moves that looked truly painful. Zayn hit two Blue Thunderbombs and a 50/50 suplex. Owens countered a tornado DDT into a backbreaker. Zayn responded with a backdrop on the apron and a DDT through the ropes. When it looked like Zayn was on the way to the win, Owens blocked a Helluva Kick with his own superkick. He followed it with a Pop-Up Powerbomb to get the clean win.
After his victory, he ordered Byron Saxton into the ring and berated him. He said that he was definitively better than Zayn, said that he would reclaim his Intercontinental Title, and demanded a spot on commentary. As usual, Zayn’s underdog status makes it less damaging for him to take repeated losses because they build investment in his character. Meanwhile, Owens looked great and comes away looking as strong as he has in a long time. One could argue that this was his best match since his series with John Cena last year.
The Miz def. Cesaro to Remain Intercontinental Champion
With Owens dominating the commentary, this match followed a more classic script. Cesaro dominated until the heel Miz cheated to gain an advantage. From there, Miz zeroed in on Cesaro’s bad shoulder. Cesaro hit a great many uppercuts and came close to winning repeatedly. He even kicked out of a Skull Crushing Finale. Suddenly, Zayn appeared back at ringside and jumped Owens. They brawled into the ring as Cesaro turned a Swing into a cross-face, which distracted the referee. Miz took advantage with a rollup and a handful of tights to get a dirty win. Cesaro hit a post-match Neutralizer and Owens cleaned house with another Pop-Up Powerbomb.
The result would seem to hint at a multi-man match for the Intercontinental Title at Extreme Rules. The outcome worked very well because Cesaro maintained the momentum he has built, Miz got even more heat as part of his great run, and the Intercontinental Title picture raised several interesting new questions.
Dean Ambrose def. Chris Jericho
While this match shared the match of the night distinction with Owens-Zayn, those matches shared very little else. This one developed deliberately in a way that was carefully constructed to build drama. Jericho dominated for long stretches and punished Ambrose. Each time he mounted a comeback, he achieved a bit more until he put Jericho at real risk. They fought to the outside and countered one another’s finishers on the announce table. Jericho hit a slingshot that sent Ambrose into the timekeeper’s area. Jericho countered Dirty Deeds into the Walls of Jericho, but Ambrose squirmed until he turned the hold into a small package. Jericho continued to target Ambrose’s neck and back. Ambrose raised his knees to block a Lionsault and kneed Jericho until he was able to hit Dirty Deeds to get the win.
I would not be surprised to see another chapter in the rivalry between these two wrestlers. They clearly have very good chemistry and Jericho has always been one for rivalries that build over time. The post-match tantrum that Jericho threw also indicated that he does not see his business with Ambrose as finished just yet.
Charlotte def. Natalya to Remain Women’s Champion
Unfortunately, the string of very good matches came to a halt in the Women’s Title match. The crowd was tired from being on such a high level for so long and Charlotte simply does not have the experience to ad lib when the crowd is not along for the ride. The match was largely built around both wrestlers going for their submission holds to no avail. At last, Charlotte put Natalya in a Sharpshooter and referee Charles “Baby Naitch” Robinson called for the bell.
The Montreal Screwjob ending has been parodied so many times that it feels quite worn out. Even the post-match double Sharshooters by Natalya and Bret Hart on Charlotte and Ric Flair felt anticlimactic. In spite of Natalya’s reputation as a good ring psychologist and wily veteran of the women’s division, almost all of her matches have awkward botches or stretches that take fans out of the moment.
-In an over-long segment, Vince McMahon announced that Shane and Stephanie would share control of Raw. Although it’s not a satisfying outcome, it makes sense from a storytelling perspective. It kicks the can down the road and keeps the tension between the siblings high for several more months.
-The finals of the tag team tournament came to a terrifying end when the match had to be stopped to tend to Enzo Amore. Enzo’s head snapped off of the second rope and hit the ring apron hard. He was unconscious at ringside and the match ended in no contest. It was a scary scene and it was a relief to hear that he was diagnosed with nothing more than a concussion.
-Kalisto got a win in a very fun pre-show US Title defense over Ryback. He fought back after a second rope gorilla press slam to hit an SDS. Both wrestlers deserve credit for improving on their Wrestlemania match and making the most out of the preshow.
-The other pre-show match saw Dolph Ziggler pull out a win over Baron Corbin with a schoolboy. Corbin does not seem any less intimidating; he simply made a rookie mistake. It should not be easy for him to beat someone as established as Ziggler.