|Image Source: Bleacher Report|
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Produced By: WWE
Date: May 17 2015
Location: Royal Farms Arena, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
The latest WWE supercard felt like a bridge between the last remnants of the rivalries which were the basis for WrestleMania 31 and the feuds which are to take centre stage over the summer in WWE. It didn’t feel like essential viewing beforehand, and having seen the show, it is unlikely to be a contender for the card of the year. However, there was still enough high-quality action to make it a worthwhile three hours.
The show opened with a rematch from Extreme Rules between Dolph Ziggler and Sheamus. This, as you may recall, stemmed from the “Kiss Me A–e” match at the previous PPV which Ziggler won but with Sheamus having been the one to, erm, make the most of the stipulation. Common sense suggests that this contest should have had a more exciting add-on to truly establish it as a feud-ender, or at least to have switched this match around with the one from the previous event. However, those days in WWE are gone, and instead we had the basic match here to follow the stip bout from three weeks ago.
Despite this, the match was still fun to watch: fans were more than happy to support Ziggler as he battled for retribution despite having won the initial showdown. That revenge did come midway through when, with the Celtic Warrior down in the corner, Ziggler forced the Irishman to kind of kiss his backside (in a PG, tights-raised-slightly-to-have-part-of-a-cheek-only kind of way again like at Extreme Rules). But Sheamus would prevail following a Brogue Kick, although the ending seemed slightly rushed with Ziggler having accidentally busted himself wide open following a number of headbutts. Note to WWE: if you don’t want blood in matches, don’t allow for headbutts during matches. That aside, this was a good opener with some nice near-falls (particularly one close call off a Dolph superkick), although tweaking the order of events in the rivalry would have allowed things to make a lot more sense. We still don’t know where the Kiss Me A–e stipulation came from either.
Match two was for the WWE Tag Team Titles between The New Day (Sucks!) and the combo of Cesaro and Tyson Kidd, contested under Two Out Of Three Falls rules. The tag team division has rarely disappointed on PPV over the last 12 months, and this latest showdown was no exception; in fact, this may have been the best WWE tag match since the superb showdown between The Usos and Luke Harper and Erick Rowan at last year’s Battleground (which coincidentally was also a 2 Out Of 3 Falls match). I was expecting a title change here, but it wasn’t to be, as The New Day surprisingly retained their gold (or bronze, depending on your perspective of the belt designs) after Xavier Woods ran in to replace Kofi Kingston and get the winning pin on Cesaro. How the referee didn’t notice that Kofi and Woods had switched places despite a good few inches and facial hair being at least two differentials remains an unanswered question. After the match, a backstage interview revealed that New Day would be defending their Tag Titles against five teams to be determined in an Elimination Chamber match – at, erm, Elimination Chamber.
Oh, I meant to say: the Payback Kick-Off show featured a tag bout between The Ascension and the team of Macho Mandow and Curtis Axel, a.k.a. the Meta-Powers. That Konor and Viktor were chosen to beat the crowd-pleasing impersonators, and with Damien Sandow taking the pinfall, currently stands as the second most frustrating WWE match result of 2015 (after Triple H pinning Sting at WrestleMania 31). Not far behind will be the choice to have R-Truth pin Stardust in a rare second Kick-Off contest.
Back to the PPV: next up was Bray Wyatt vs. Ryback. This was the culmination of a few weeks of Wyatt sending out random threats to an unnamed party, who turned out to be The Big Guy. I expected a disqualification or a countout finish of some kind here, since this feud had only recently begun, but surprisingly enough we got a pinfall, and by the heel at that as Bray pinned Ryback following Sister Abigail, which probably suggests that Ryback’s future doesn’t look too promising. As for the match quality? It was good, with the standout moment being a brutal-looking back-splash by Wyatt off the ring apron onto Ryback, who was lying at ringside. Apparently, Ryback suffered a broken rib as a result, and it’s no wonder; appearances suggested that it hurt like hell. (Incidentally, when watching this I thought “it’d be cool if Wyatt back-splashed onto Ryback … oh, he did!” Cool if you’re not the one taking the move, that is.
Match four was one of the show’s feature bouts, but one that felt very unnecessary beforehand. John Cena vs. Rusev had occurred on the last three Pay-Per-View events, with Cena triumphing at WM 31 and winning the Russian Chain rematch at Extreme Rules. It seemed on that night that the feud was over, so why WWE booked an I Quit match to settle the score once and for all was questionable. Not only did it seem pointless, but everyone knows that Cena has no chance of losing an I Quit match. It was more a case of how Rusev would lose, and whether the journey along the way would be worthwhile.
Fortunately, it was: Cena-Rusev IV was their best match to date. A full-on war filled with plenty of big moves, this provided a suitable conclusion to the rivalry, and was probably Cena’s biggest singles match on PPV since his Last Man Standing match with Bray Wyatt at last year’s Payback show. It also continued a run of high-quality matches for Cena, following gripping Raw bouts against Sami Zayn and Neville as part of the United States Championship Open Challenge.
The only downsides were the seen-it-before feel to the beginning and ending of the match. Rusev’s suggestion that Cena quit before taking any punishment had been previously used in at least two Cena I Quit matches, and the ending with Cena using a ring rope to STF the Bulgarian Brute is something that we have also previously seen used, one example being another LMS match against Umaga at Royal Rumble 2007. It was during this spot that Lana told the referee that Rusev had said I Quit in Russian, thus ending the bout. Some criticised the fact that we didn’t actually hear Rusev say I Quit himself (in English), but I was fine with it: the finish kept the gold on Cena but it ensured that Rusev didn’t look weak despite losing an I Quit match, and it added to the tension between Rusev and Lana, resulting in their long-anticipated split on Raw the following night. Overall, a better match than expected; a Match Of The Night and maybe a Match Of The Month, but not quite a contender for Match Of The Year.
Following this was a Divas tag bout, pitting The Bellas against Naomi and Tamina Snuka. This is the match that we should have got before the Nikki Bella-Naomi Divas Title bout at Extreme Rules (and actually I’ve just realised: why didn’t that match have an added stipulation on the night of special add-ons at Extreme Rules?); taking place after Nikki had already successfully retained against the recently-turned Naomi, I can’t see what this doubles match on a PPV would achieve, unless Naomi goes on to win the Divas Title in a rematch. That could yet happen, based on Naomi pinning Nikki for the win, but Paige’s return the following night on Raw suggests that the one-time Funkadactyl won’t be the favourite to become the next Divas Champion. The match itself was okay, but not unlike the match which preceded it, it felt a bit unnecessary beforehand.
Next up, we had a battle of the Englishmen, as Neville took on King Barrett. Barrett had defeated Neville to win the King Of The Ring tournament in April, so this was a chance for the high-flyer to even the score (even though Neville actually pinned Barrett in the Extreme Rules Kick-Off match). This was a good effort, a notch below their ER KO showdown, but unfortunately was hamstrung by a poor finish: Barrett deliberately took a countout loss, to the displeasure of the Baltimore crowd, and tried to beat up Neville after the match, but instead ultimately succumbed to a Red Arrow by The Man That Gravity Forgot. Unless these two finish their rivalry at Elimination Chamber, this was a pointless conclusion, especially considering that there is actually nothing at stake between the once-named Wade and Adrian. (Hey, if you put them together, you get Wadrian! Pathetic attempt at humour, I know.)
And so we come to the main event, a Fatal Four Way for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship which saw Seth Rollins defend his crown against Randy Orton, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose. The set-up hinted that Rollins’ title reign was in trouble, especially with Kane, the Authority’s Director Of Operations, still being at odds with the Champ. So, of course, this meant that Rollins was walking out of Payback with the title.
And that he did. Fortunately, though, we got a very good main event match in the interim. There were a lot of close calls and several cool multi-man spots, the highlight being the short-lived reunion of The Shield when they somehow put a year of hatred behind them to triple powerbomb The Viper through an announcer’s table. The crowd reaction to this moment, and the subsequent Shield triple-fist pose, was the most memorable part of the entire show. As stated, it didn’t last long though, and the moment when Ambrose and Reigns looked at Rollins and then turned on him also resulted in a pretty big pop. This was a sure sign that if WWE ever runs that Shield three-way at WrestleMania that the audience would eat it up and give it the desired big-match response. The following spot where Kane was driven onto Rollins on another announcer’s table that didn’t break, only for the crowd to shout “One more time!” and the combatants oblige to break the table the second time around was a nice touch of spontaneity and added to the chaotic feel of this match.
In the end, Rollins pinned Orton with a Pedigree, as he did at Extreme Rules, to presumably draw a line under the Seth-Randy feud. The outcome wasn’t a surprise, but the fact that Kane remained on Rollins’ side and didn’t at any point even hint that he may have cost Seth the title. I was expecting a Rollins-Kane WWE Title match of some kind after Payback, with Kane leaving The Authority and possibly returning to his old masked self, but it looks like plans have changed. That grumble was the only downside to a fun main event, which was followed by Triple H coming out to once again publicly endorse Rollins as the Champ.
I enjoyed Payback 2015: on paper, it looked like a filler show, and when fans look back on it in a few months, that feeling will probably be the same. However, there were no poor matches at all on the main card, and there were three really good matches, including an I Quit match that was much better than expected. So, whilst Payback won’t win any PPV Of The Year awards, it did deliver a generous amount of entertainment and, in many cases, the show either ended rivalries or triggered the beginning of storylines which are likely to be the focus of the summer in WWE.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good