|Image Source: Bleacher Report|
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Produced By: WWE
Date: June 1 2014
Location: Allstate Arena, Rosemont, Illinois, USA
The second annual Payback event promised a double main event, which were likely to bring an end to the rivalries between Evolution and The Shield and the long-running saga between John Cena and Bray Wyatt. Although the previous PPV Extreme Rules is based around stipulations, both of these big matches had unique rules in the form of No Holds Barred Elimination and Last Man Standing respectively.
One thing which Payback would not have is a WWE Title match, since Daniel Bryan’s presumed defence against Kane was postponed due to a Bryan neck injury. Would Bryan vacate the title on this show? That was a key storyline heading into Payback, with many speculating that Bryan really could have to vacate his crown depending on the severity of his injury. Add to that an intriguing under card and the usually rabid Chicago crowd (many of whom would be bellowing support for the recently-departed CM Punk, no doubt), and you potentially have a pretty exciting supershow on your hands.
The Kick-Off Show featured the end of another rivalry (I was going to say it was a smaller feud but I won’t) between Hornswoggle and El Torito, as the pint-sized grapplers battled in a Hair vs. Mask match. It’s still strange to see Hornswoggle as a heel, with 3MB cheering him on, but it’s stranger still to notice that he and Torito (accompanied by Los Matadores) actually have pretty good chemistry (look no further than their WeeLC match prior to Extreme Rules). This was another surprisingly good match, which ended with Torito picking up the win and Swoggle having his head shaved.
Prior to the opening match between Sheamus and Cesaro for the United States Title, Cesaro’s agent Paul Heyman acknowledged the loud “CM Punk!” chants by noting that he wasn’t in the arena, and was instead watching a hockey game (an NHL game involving the local Blackhawks). The Punk chants have rung out ever since his abrupt departure after Royal Rumble, and given his lack of a reappearance at the Raw in Chicago back in March nor at WrestleMania XXX, this show represented the last realistic chant that Punk would resurface in WWE, at least for the time being. That he didn’t suggests that his absence will be permanent and that if he ever returns, it won’t be for a long time.
Taking the Punk element away, Sheamus vs. Cesaro was a really good, physical match. Combining Sheamus’ full-on punches and kicks with Cesaro’s lethal-looking uppercuts, this was a typically well-executed and stiff opener, which had the crowd’s attention all the way. Although Cesaro is inexplicably still in a heel role, the Chicago audience (usually a smarky, heel-loving crowd at the best of times) were fully behind the Swiss Superman, especially when he pulled off his signature Giant Swing. Most (myself included) were expecting a title change here to build on Cesaro’s momentum, both before WrestleMania and post-Mania as a “Paul Heyman Guy”. Instead, Sheamus (who only won the title on May 5, to be fair) pulled off the unlikely win with a roll-up on Cesaro, much to the surprise and to the disdain of many in attendance.
It’s possible that this feud will continue until Money In The Bank, and Cesaro will capture the title then. If that isn’t the plan, though, then this will seem like an odd result, since Cesaro will benefit from such a title reign at this point more than the Celtic Warrior. It may also be time to consider a Sheamus heel turn; this match proved that he’s still a very capable wrestler, but a switch to the dark side could be what he needs to return to the main event scene. The Chicago crowd certainly had no problem booing Sheamus here.
The second match on the PPV portion of Payback was a tag team affair, pitting RybAxel (Ryback and Curtis Axel) against The Brotherhood (Cody Rhodes and Goldust). The brothers Dust have been somewhat demoted since their Tag Team Title loss to The New Age Outlaws prior to Royal Rumble, but they remain quite popular and against the rarely-pushed RybAxel combo, one assumed that they would pull off the win here. Instead, as with the opener, we got a surprise result, as a by-the-numbers doubles affair ended with Ryback avoiding Cody’s Disaster Kick by catching him on his shoulders and drilling him with Shell Shocked for the win. (Incidentally, did you know that this was Ryback’s first PPV win since Money In The Bank 2012?)
Afterwards, Cody seemed to tease a heel turn when he rebuffed Goldust’s attempts to console him over the loss, and noted that he was no longer a suitable tag team partner for his gold-painted brother. It didn’t include a sneak attack, so Cody certainly hasn’t turned bad yet, but it does appear that the Cody-Goldust tag team is history, at least for now. Cody has excelled as a villain in the past and given the decline in fortunes of the Rhodes stars over the last few months, it certainly wouldn’t be a bad idea to turn Cody heel on Goldust and have the brothers clash. We shall see if that is indeed the plan going forward.
Rusev was up next, taking on Big E. Rusev is clearly being built up as the next unstoppable foreign menace/monster heel, with his push resembling that of Umaga in 2006 (which worked very well) and Tensai in 2012 (which WWE abandoned after about eight weeks). Therefore, Big E (who only had a lengthy Intercontinental Title reign ended at the previous PPV by Bad News Barrett, remember) was pitted against the Bulgarian Brute for one reason: to put him over as a killer.
Fortunately, the two big men avoided what could have been a slow, dull battle of the big men by using their athleticism and delving into their respective repertoires to deliver a pretty good match. They weren’t given much time, but they made the most of it with several major spots, such as a Rusev German suplex, a totally insane Big E spear to the floor on Rusev (which we first saw against Dean Ambrose at Hell In A Cell 2013; that really did take spectators by surprise on that night) and a brutal Rusev superkick which took Big E down, and led the foreign fighter to pick up the submission win with the Accolade. Whereas Extreme Rules provided something only slightly better than jobber fodder for Rusev, this did a much better job of showcasing Rusev as being more than just another big man, and by having him defeat a recent titleholder in convincing fashion, Rusev’s rise up the ranks is assured. Credit to Big E who, as stated, put on a show here and made sure he wouldn’t just be remembered on this night for submitting to the future main event heel.
Bo Dallas vs. Kofi Kingston was meant to happen next, but before it could officially get under way, Kane came out unannounced and decimated Kingston. This was presumably a way to keep Kane in the spotlight after his WWE Title challenge was prevented due to Daniel Bryan’s injury. Dallas humorously tried to claim this Kane b beatdown as a win for himself, since Kofi obviously couldn’t compete as a result, and of course he told Kofi that he could rebound if he would just “Bo-Lieve!” Just imagine the heat if this had been the segment where CM Punk was name-dropped, and Dallas said something like “CM Punk might return someday. All he has to do, is Bo-Lieve!” In this Chicago environment, that could have been a huge moment for the deluded former NXT Champion.
The next match which actually took place saw Bad News Barrett defend the Intercontinental Title against Rob Van Dam. BNB has really gotten over with his Bad News gimmick in recent times, as evidenced by the crowd’s chanting along to his cries of “I’m afraid I’ve got some Bad News!” His IC Title win at Extreme Rules also suggests faith in Barrett by WWE. All of which meant that, despite RVD remaining popular and him having only resurfaced the night after Mania, the chance of Van Dam winning the gold on this night was unlikely.
Similar to Rusev vs. Big E, this match seemed to exist for the babyface to give the heel a significant win, which is exactly what happened. The bout provided an interesting styles clash between Barrett’s modern, smashmouth approach and Van Dam’s ECW-influenced kicks and high-flying acrobatics. Against the (allegedly) former bare knuckle fighter Barrett, Van Dam certainly didn’t have to hold back with his kicks on this night, as he had to on many occasions during his first WWF/WWE run. RVD remains a favourite of the hardcore crowd, so of course Chicago lapped up Van Dam’s act and willed him onto an unlikely victory. Which, as stated, didn’t happen; after a series of nice exchanges and big moves, Barrett caught Van Dam with the Bull Hammer for the win. Barrett’s push continues, whilst it looks like Van Dam isn’t going to achieve a great deal in his current WWE run besides putting over future stars and putting on good matches (which isn’t a bad position to be in, to be fair). It was slightly comical that RVD was challenging for the IC Title here since he once claimed, in 2003, that he didn’t know how many times he’d held the IC Title and didn’t particularly care about the championship. And yes, I know that Van Dam has held that prize on more than one occasion since then.
Following this was a lengthy segment involving Daniel Bryan, his wife Brie Bella and Stephanie McMahon. In a nutshell, Stephanie wanted Bryan to vacate the WWE World Heavyweight Title, and he chose not to (without actually saying words to that effect). Of particular note, Stephanie humorously told Bryan that the people wanted him to quit “just like CM Punk!” Talk about acknowledging the elephant in the room; what heat that got in Chicago. It also provided the first, true public hint of WWE knocking Punk for his walk-out (Paul Heyman talked about Punk in his March promo and referred to him on this show, but neither were a criticism of his decision to depart WWE). Perhaps we’ll be waiting a little bit longer now for Punk to return to WWE (if he ever does).
Back to this segment: after Stephanie and Brie exchanged words, during which time Brie called Stephanie a bitch (surely Bryan had greater reason to utter this remark than Brie?), Brie announced that she was quitting (oh, Brie was getting fired if Bryan didn’t vacate the title; I forgot to mention that) and slapped Stephanie to a huge pop. Despite Brie supposedly ending her WWE career here, it’s clearly a storyline, meaning it’s possible that WWE is setting something up here involving Stephanie and Brie. Either that or WWE is just killing time until Bryan is cleared to resume in-ring action. We’ll find out for sure soon enough.
John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt under Last Man Standing rules would mark the end of a feud which first began at Royal Rumble. Cena beat Wyatt at WrestleMania; Bray defeated Cena in a Steel Cage bout at Extreme Rules. This would be the rubber match, and since Cena has had memorable LMS bouts in the past (most notably against Umaga and Edge, but also against Batista and Alberto Del Rio), this had the potential to be a fun brawl. Cena was backed up by The Usos, in response to Wyatt being accompanied by his trusty followers Erick Rowan and Luke Harper. The signature moves came out early here, since there were clearly bigger spots planned later in the match, and this came to the forefront once the ringside extras got involved. Unusually for a major PPV match, a significant amount of time was devoted to the managers, for lack of a better word, as The Usos and Rowan and Harper had a crazy brawl, both with the participants (an Uso corkscrew to all involved) and themselves (an Uso butt-smack to Rowan through a table, and a Harper suplex to another Uso through two more tables).
That said, Cena and Wyatt were putting on a great display themselves, with brutal chairshots, dramatic close-calls to the LMS 10-count, and some brutal spots involving steel stairs (Wyatt stomped Cena’s skull on the steps; Cena hurled the steps to the floor, striking Wyatt in the process, in a nod to Cena’s LMS match with Umaga at Royal Rumble 2007 which featured the same move). More finishers and further interference followed, all with the Chicago crowd loving what was a pretty damn good match. After destroying the ringside barricades with their bodies, Cena and Wyatt brawled through the crowd, inadvertently set off pyro (in the storyline, of course), and Cena finally hit Wyatt with one more Attitude Adjustment into a container, and slammed equipment onto the box to trap Wyatt inside, leaving him unable to answer the 10-count.
This was a superb brawl; it was Cena’s best match of 2014 so far, and Wyatt’s best match to date period (well, besides maybe his scrap with Daniel Bryan at Royal Rumble). It’s unknown as to what path Cena will take next, but it’s clear from this result that the Cena-Wyatt feud ended here. As for Bray: he’ll need to decisively win his next rivalry whomever that might be against, because while he’s moonlighted in a main event spot opposite Cena, and has improved tremendously since his official main roster debut back in July 2013, the losses he suffered here and at Mania could hinder his future prospects if he isn’t handled correctly going forward. As an aside, the interaction between reigning Tag Team titleholders The Usos and Rowan and Harper suggests that they will meet for those championships at some point soon, probably at Money In The Bank.
Paige defended her Divas Title against Alicia Fox in the penultimate bout of the evening. Fox had surprisingly pinned Paige in her home country on the London edition of Raw, in between her developing something of a modern-day Loose Cannon character by randomly acting weird and doing all sorts of crazy antics after her recent matches. That being said, it was still Alicia Fox, who whilst a competent grappler peaked with her surprise Divas Title win in 2010, and she was facing newcomer Paige who is just beginning to establish herself as the new face of the women’s scene in WWE. Therefore, it wasn’t hard to predict the result.
And so it proved: the match was okay, and more intriguing than Paige vs. Tamina Snuka at Extreme Rules, but following Cena vs. Wyatt and being the filler before Evolution vs. The Shield was always going to provide a challenge for the women here. Especially when, as noted, the outcome wasn’t really in any doubt. Paige won with the PTO (it would have been cool to see Paige hit the Paige Turner on the long-legged Fox). Two PPV wins for the fresh champion Paige, but I sense that WWE needs to provide her with real competition for her to shine as intended. Fox ran backstage almost in tears, in character obviously, or possibly for real since this was probably the best that she can now hope for in her WWE tenure.
The main event, as noted earlier, saw Evolution battle The Shield to culminate a rather enjoyable feud between two supergroups. No Holds Barred Elimination was the theme of this one, which began in a chaotic fashion as everyone paired off for a one-on-one scrap, before order was restored and Batista (dressed in bizarre blue attire which amusingly led to #Bluetista trending on Twitter) and Seth Rollins began the match properly in the ring. From there, everyone took turns in the ring, with a Triple H-Roman Reigns square-off being a standout moment, before Evolution began controlling the bout by dominating Dean Ambrose and isolating him in the ring. The action was really good, although the slower nature of this compared to Extreme Rules and the fact that there would be several eliminations (meaning that the next potential fall would not end the match) meant that the crowd noise wasn’t at a high level for much of the midsection of this match.
Ambrose eventually tagged out to Reigns, who went on a tear against all three Evolution adversaries (this sequence did raise the audience noise levels). It looked like Reigns would pick up the first elimination, perhaps by pinning Batista or Randy Orton (HHH wasn’t going out first for obvious reasons), but instead a six-man brawl resumed at ringside, and HHH clocked Rollins with a piece of metal. At this point, Evolution began to really control the match as with Rollins down, Reigns was the next man to be taken out with a Shield-style triple powerbomb through the Spanish announcer’s table. The heels did a Shield-style pose to mock the faces, only for Ambrose and Rollins to interrupt and resume the scrap in a cool moment. But Seth and Dean were dropped again near the aisleway, this time with the assistance of a steel chair as Ambrose took some shots to the back and Rollins received a Pedigree right into the chair.
From here, it turned brutal as Evolution dragged Reigns into the ring and belted him with a kendo stick, removing Reigns’ Shield protection gear to really mark up Roman’s back badly. That they didn’t go for the cover indicated that the eliminations would come thick and fast, since we were 20 minutes-plus into the match by this point. Ambrose got involved again but once more he was beaten down, but back up near the entrance way, Rollins from out of nowhere, hit an incredible dive from the base of the giant screen onto all three members of Evolution. The Shield were finally making a comeback and after some heavy-duty blows and signature blows, the eliminations finally came in style: Reigns pinned Batista after a Spear, Ambrose removed Orton from play with Dirty Deeds, and after a tease when HHH clocked Ambrose with a sledgehammer, Rollins caught The Game with a flying knee that led to Roman Spearing HHH and winning the match, ensuring an unprecedented clean sweep for The Shield. Evolution well and truly put The Shield over here in a match that was longer and at times slower than their previous battle, but in terms of emotion and drama, combined with the thrilling action, was just as good if not better than their previous match, and was ultimately a great way to end Payback.
I normally cover the PPV events and then speculate on what could come out of the shows as a result, but in this case I have to mention that on Raw the following night, not only did Batista quit Evolution (and apparently WWE as well), but Seth Rollins shockingly turned on his Shield brethren to join The Authority in a twist that nobody saw coming. Does this make Seth a member of Evolution? More importantly, was it the right decision to break up the much-lauded Shield at this stage? Time will tell, but their almost flawless push since their debut at Survivor Series 2012 combined with the flattering booking of their victories over Evolution raises hopes that all (or at least one of the members) will benefit from this plot development, and that it won’t be mishandled like so many key events have in the past.
Payback 2014, then, was a very entertaining show and definitely lived up to the hype. The two big matches over-delivered, and the non-wrestling segment served its purpose. Add to that some good matches elsewhere on the card and a few notable storyline moments (Cody and Goldust potentially splitting up, Brie Bella quitting, Hornswoggle having his head shaved), and you had a great three hours of wrestling action. The lack of a WWE Title match, whilst obviously understandable, hurt the significance of this show, and it stands to reason that had Daniel Bryan competed on the card, in the manner that everyone knows he can, then Payback could have been the undisputed card of the year. Even without a WWE Title bout, though, this was as good as any PPV that we have seen so far this year, at least from an in-ring standpoint, assisted once again by WWE’s most rabid audience in the form of the Chicago crowd.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good