Unlike the blunder of an event preceding it, it was easier to come into Payback with some cautious optimism. While the devastating Bray Wyatt injury and Aj Style’s impending defeat at the hands of Roman Reigns gave pessimists more than enough reason to write the PPV off but with matches like Zayn v Owens and Ambrose v Jericho on the card there were just as many reasons to be hopeful. Coupled with this was the Bullet Club dynamic added by the debut of Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows and their subsequent beatdowns on Roman Reigns. So with all this in mind, what did we get with Payback? Well…
Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin
It’s not very often that I’d praise the victory of a seasoned veteran over a rising talent but strangely enough it feels like Ziggler needed this more. It was handled in the best possible way as well, with Ziggler getting in minimal offence as the hulking Corbin decimated him over and over again. All this was made to look even more impressive thanks to Ziggler’s selling prowess. It would be Corbin’s ego that would cost him the win though as Ziggler conquers the odds with a surprise roll up.
US Title Match – Kalisto (C) vs. Ryback
Better than their Wrestlemania encounter in every way, this match built on the strength vs. speed dynamic excellently. No longer was Kalisto being portrayed as this plucky underdog, barely scraping by against his superior opponent. This time ‘round the champion pulled off some excellent counters that delivered on the “holy shit” factor that had been promised by his past performances. Even Ryback fulfilled his role as the hateable meathead with ease, drawing heat with some subtle CM Punk references. He would eventually be put down clean against Kalisto’s innovative offence that will hopefully be sold more seriously from here on out.
No. 1 Contender Tag Team Finals – The Vaudevillians vs. Enzo Amore & Colin Cassidy (NC)
It started out so well, Enzo and Cass have received consistent praise for their constant improvements and this match was no exception. The pair worked in tandem with each other so well, not missing a beat as Cass threw Enzo like a ragdoll into the blubbering Vaudevillians. It all came to an abrupt and terrifying end when Enzo was briefly knocked unconscious after a botched throw to the outside. Certainly wasn’t anyone’s fault, these things are bound to happen in the “fake” sport of wrestling after all, here’s hoping smacktalker skywalker graces us all with his presence again soon after he recovers from his concussion.
Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens
So the PPV awkwardly shuffled along into this hotly anticipated bout, anyone who follows the indie circuits or NXT knows what these two are capable of with each other and in many ways the match felt like a tip of the hat to anyone with that prior knowledge. Both competitors solidified yet another chapter in their rivalry spectacularly with superb storytelling and spots galore. Zayn’s intensity coupled with Owen’s savage confidence is the perfect collision and everything great about both the stars was on full display. Zayn absorbed absurd amounts of punishment from Owens to constantly come back with big moves but in the end it was Owens who snatched the victory once again. A clinic in exhilarating wrestling, ring presence and storytelling, this was easily match of the night.
Intercontinental Title Match – The Miz (C) vs. Cesaro
Owens wasn’t done there though, cutting a great promo after the match, he announced he’d be on commentary for the upcoming IC title match. While the match was entertaining for sure, it was definitely overshadowed by Owen’s hilarious banter. Both competitors were impressive as always as Miz played the vicious opportunist targeting Cesaro’s injured shoulder and Cesaro, was Cesaro, pulling off incredible feats of strength and generally being the Swiss Superman. After a great contest, Miz picked up the win off the distraction caused by Owens and Zayn fighting on the outside. The IC title picture is looking very promising after this match, now all we need is a certain Broski to enter the fray…
Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose
As if we hadn’t been spoiled for excellent heel work already tonight, we had Ambrose contesting with Jericho’s antics next. Considering what both of these stars had shown previously, I was honestly expecting better than what I got but the match was no slouch either. What really hurt it was the unconvincing build up and some uncharacteristically sloppy execution. As the match progressed it certainly improved though, there was a point where I honestly thought I was going to see Ambrose tap to the Walls but thankfully he managed to score the win off of a brutally calculated Dirty Deeds. Not the classic these guys are capable of putting on but I want to see more.
Women’s Title Match: Charlotte (C) vs. Natalya
While it was great to see Bret Hart back in WWE after recovering from prostate cancer, I was thankful that grandpa shenanigans didn’t play a part in the match outside of psychology. Natalya gave Charlotte a few lessons in selling as her left knee gave the champion plentiful opportunity to show off her dominance. The heart of the Harts was on full display though as Natalya battled through Charlotte’s onslaught and then the bell rang. What? Why? Oh no they’re not… yes they are. The Montreal Screwjob is a marquee moment in WWE history not just because of the moment itself, but the narrative of business and sleaze which accompanies it. There was no reason given for the dodgy dealings in this match and as such it spoiled what was an excellent contest up until that point. No amount of crowd pandering via the double Sharpshooters could wash that bad taste from my mouth.
While it was entertaining to watch Vince take on Chicago’s relentless CM Punk chants and his initial promo was decent, as soon as Stephanie started, it was already taking too long. God did this drag, and the conclusion wasn’t even a conclusion at all. Even worse was the fact this shitty storyline would leak into the match following it.
World Heavyweight Title Match – Roman Reigns (C) vs. AJ Styles
WWE have managed to book themselves into a dreadful corner with the “Roman Empire”. There was no way they were about to throw their newly crafted babyface king under the bus with him dropping the title to the internet superhero AJ Styles, but how do you satisfy the hostile audience and still have Roman go over? Well I hope they’re still asking themselves that question because this main event did not get it done. When it started, there were shades of the excellent match Roman had with Daniel Bryan at last year’s Fastlane. But then AJ pulled off an awesome spot and put Roman through a table with a Phenomenal Forearm and Roman was counted out. “Oh my God” we all thought collectively, then Shane McMahon’s music hit and everything was set on course once again. It was an annoying interruption which killed the flow of the match, then the competitors started to get the groove back again and the suddenly the bell goes again. “DQ? Is this a joke? Oh here comes Stephanie.” Yes, they pulled this bullshit twice. So the proceeding match had no DQ or count out and the competitors locked up again. As predicted, Anderson and Gallows came down to the ring and laid waste to Reigns, leaving AJ to hit the Phenomenal Forearm and pick up the win. Except of course, he didn’t, channelling his inner Cena, Reigns kicked out of a plateau of finishers and was assisted by The Usos. Eventually AJ went down to the sudden spear and everyone was left wondering what the point of the last few weeks was. Whoever booked this mess needs to be kept the fuck away from the main event of Extreme Rules, because AJ and Reigns have chemistry and should be left to their own devices to highlight both of their talents.
New Day promo +1
Enzo injury -1
Kevin Owens +1
Maryse’s pointlessness -1
Andy Black’s “We Don’t Have to Dance” -1
Jericho saying “you stupid idiot” +1
McMahon promo -1
No technically bad matches +1
Image source: http://www.cagesideseats.com/wwe/2016/5/2/11564182/wwe-payback-2016-results-recap-reactions-roman-reigns-aj-styles-bullet-club