|Image Source: Wrestling
Written By: Mark Armstrong
Produced By: WWE
Date: June 16 2013
Location: Allstate Arena, Rosemont, Illinois, USA
Payback was a whole new PPV for WWE (well, a new name for a PPV anyway), but it’s hard to see where the theme fit in with the matches on hand. John Cena vs. Ryback had a minor layer of revenge to it, and Dolph Ziggler vs. Alberto Del Rio did too if you consider a title rematch stemming from a Money In The Bank cash-in to represent possible retribution. But CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho didn’t (not this year, anyway), nor did any of the matches involving members of The Shield. Kaitlyn vs. AJ Lee was the only match where the “Payback” moniker may have been suitable, and even that initially came about because AJ earned a Divas Title shot, hardly the sort of thing to swear revenge upon. (I’m half-joking with this, by the way, since PPV themes/names are decided months in advance.)
Fortunately, this could have been called Payback, Backlash or Honey Boo Boo’s Wrestling Parade for the difference that the name made in terms of the in-ring action, which ultimately proved to be very good. Some unexpected mid-card gems were met with a worthy double main event and a big double-turn in the World Title match, all in front of the usual electric Chicago crowd. So, whilst Payback might have seemed like an odd name beforehand, it will prove to be amongst the top names on the “Best PPVs Of 2013” lists when they are drawn up at the end of the year.
After a reasonable pre-show match that saw Sheamus defeat Damien Sandow (it’s a bit disappointing that Sandow’s biggest match to date was relegated to the pre-show), Payback opened with a Triple Threat match for the Intercontinental Title, as Wade Barrett defended against The Miz and Curtis Axel. The third man was supposed to be Fandango, but after he recently suffered a concussion (the ballroom dancer is the latest member of the WWE roster to be plagued by a concussion), he was replaced by Axel, who was introduced as a “Paul Heyman Guy” the night after Extreme Rules and has built up some decent momentum since then, even if it still feels that Axel isn’t quite up to reaching the potential that WWE has forecasted for him. This 3-way battle was pretty good for what it was, and the finish was neat too: Miz trapped Barrett in the Figure-Four Leglock, during which time Axel pinned Barrett (the reigning titleholder) to capture the IC Title to a big reaction.
Axel won the title on Father’s Day, which given that his dad Mr. Perfect was one of the greatest Intercontinental Champions ever was a nice touch. Axel has the chance to use this title reign to help ascend up the card, although it’s interesting to think that if the original plan had been executed, it would have been not the new Paul Heyman Guy holding the title but instead the surprisingly popular wrestling ballroom dancer. Post-match, Vince McMahon endorsed Heyman and Axel, despite Vince’s previous problems with Heyman and Brock Lesnar. Triple H then entered the picture and Vince suggested a HHH-Axel match, which The Game on this occasion declined. Vince, you see, has prevented HHH wrestling Axel in recent weeks, apparently for the sake of his health after HHH took a funny turn in his bout with Axel on Raw the night after Extreme Rules. It’s a bit of a confusing storyline, but we’ll see where it goes (if anywhere).
AJ Lee challenged Kaitlyn for the Divas Title next in the culmination of a long tale. The two debuted on NXT together in 2010 and became friends, calling themselves The Chickbusters when they arrived on SmackDown in 2011. But AJ’s emotional downward spiral caused by Daniel Bryan led her to turn on Kaitlyn in 2012 and, earlier this year, AJ earned a Divas Title shot at her former best friend. Cue a storyline where Kaitlyn thought she had a secret admirer, only for it to be a set-up by Big E Langston and AJ. With all that now out of the way, I’m pleased that this was an awesome women’s match. From the rapid-fire strikes and brawling to open the contest, to the subsequent back-and-forth dropkicks and submission holds to the big moves at the finish (such as a crossbody, a gutbuster and the Black Widow which Kaitlyn initially survived), this was fantastic. And it told a good story as Kaitlyn Speared AJ but took the time to blow a kiss to her nemesis, only for AJ to kick out and soon lock in the Black Widow to win the title and rub it in Kaitlyn’s face. Kaitlyn was booed afterwards when she was crying and was being consoled by Layla, which was never bound to go down well in a smark town like Chicago.
This had to be the best women’s match in WWE since the heyday of Trish Stratus and Lita. In fact, it may have been the best WWE females bout ever; this measured up to anything Trish and Lita ever did, and perhaps surpassed even their greatest efforts. This was a match that both ladies could be proud of, even if the crowd heckled Kaitlyn in the post-match. AJ as the new Divas Champion makes sense, and the title win combined with the superb in-ring performances of both on this night continues what has been a great run of success for the girl who once had a going-nowhere position on the roster. Kaitlyn will probably get a rematch at some point (perhaps at Money In The Bank?), and it is hoped that their second encounter will also be something to savour. For Kaitlyn, she really will be hoping that she regains the title there, because whilst AJ’s character has many directions that it could head into for her to remain relevant, Kaitlyn’s last twelve months have been mostly defined by her title chase and subsequent title reign, so she could find herself lost should she come out of this feud with nothing. Based on match quality, though, this was a fantastic women’s bout and a very unexpected treat here at Payback.
Normally, the women have a hard job of following a strong men’s match. Here, we had a role reversal, as Dean Ambrose and Kane had the task of trying to follow the unexpectedly-great Kaitlyn vs. AJ bout. And they didn’t really succeed because, after a fairly average and slow-paced match, Ambrose won only on a countout when he DDT’d Kane on the floor, and the Big Red Machine failed to make it back in before the ten-count.
This basically served as a filler match, from the slightly odd pairing of Ambrose and Kane to the screwjob ending. It gives Ambrose a minor boost, I suppose, although one has to assume that there would be a rematch where it is possible that Kane could potentially win the U.S. crown. Especially given this result, though, why didn’t WWE switch it around so that Randy Orton battled Ambrose and Team Hell No took on Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns for the Tag Team Titles that they previously held?
Before the next match, we got a big surprise: a promo video advertising Rob Van Dam returning to WWE, in Philadelphia no less, at Money In The Bank. This extremely (no pun intended) effective video elicited a huge reaction and a prolonged “RVD!” chant in Chicago. It’ll certainly be fun to see Van Dam back in WWE; few could have envisioned when RVD had the last match of his full-time WWE run at One Night Stand 2007 that it would take so long for him to return on a permanent basis (he did appear at Raw’s 15th Anniversary in 2007 and at Royal Rumble 2009). Happily, RVD’s long absence from WWE rings will end at MITB, and returning in ECW country will provide a memorable moment for sure.
We then had Dolph Ziggler defending the World Heavyweight Championship against Alberto Del Rio. It was anticipated that in this hardcore crowd environment, Ziggler would be cheered and ADR would be booed, at least to some degree. But as it turned out, this match (Ziggler’s comeback after missing several weeks with a concussion, making it his first big defence since winning the big gold title the night after WrestleMania 29) took fans on an unexpected journey. Del Rio targeted his opponent’s head which he usually does, but against the previously-concussed Ziggler, he seemed to do so with a certain relish, despite the man’s very real injuries. As the match wore on, and the commentators and referee reacted accordingly to Del Rio’s increasingly nasty streak, the fans realised what was happening and began to sympathise with Dolph, and jeer ADR. By the end, fans were firmly behind Dolph as he attempted misguided comebacks despite Del Rio doing some real damage to his head. One particularly hard kick was enough to keep him down, and Del Rio pinned him to win his second World Heavyweight Title. A post-match promo alongside Ricardo Rodriguez ensured that fans booed him, and announcers expressed disgust in him, whilst the ex-titleholder Ziggler left to applause, despite having entered the ring as a villain.
Well, that was unexpected. Whilst fans have warmed to Dolph Ziggler in spite of his heel status, and it did at times feel like something was missing from Alberto Del Rio in his presentation as a babyface, it was still a surprise to see the two men switch sides (and ADR only went face at the end of 2012), especially during a match, which hasn’t been done in WWE for a long time. (That this happened in the same arena where the famous Bret Hart-Steve Austin double-turn took place at WrestleMania 13 in 1997 was no coincidence, I’m sure.) The match went up a level when the double-turn became clear, and they told the story very, very well. Perhaps the biggest shocker was the fact that Ziggler lost the WHC in his first major defence. That concussion appears to have really harmed his career, although it was WWE’s call to take the title from him; who knows if it was the plan all along for Dolph to have a short title run, or if they gave the gold back to ADR to reduce the pressure on the recently-returned Ziggler. They will undoubtedly have a rematch, with both men by then firmly established in their new/old roles, so it will probably only be at that point when we will find out what WWE’s plans are for both men (and it could be crucial for Ziggler’s future). Meanwhile, the odd man out in what began as a three-way feud, Jack Swagger, sits on the sidelines waiting … and waiting … and waiting.
After that, it was the return of CM Punk. Well, I say that, but he only missed one supershow while he was off television, and his break only lasted ten weeks in all. From a personal standpoint, he had some good time off. From a kayfabe standpoint, though, he was hardly gone; his name was last mentioned on April 22, and he was name-dropped again from May 27 onwards. Nevertheless, he was back here, and he got a great reception as expected in his hometown of Chicago against old foe Chris Jericho, who was booed despite his babyface status (although it was understandable on this occasion). This was a typical Punk-Jericho match, one of high quality and great wrestling action combined with strong crowd heat. It was perhaps their best match to date, as the emphasis was purely on having a standout match rather than referencing the personal nature of the rivalry that they had in 2012. Highlight of the match was when Jericho turned a Punk flying clothesline into a Codebreaker. But Jericho’s chances of beating Punk in CM’s return match in his hometown were extremely unlikely, and so it proved as Punk (with a slightly longer haircut and new sideburns) defeated Y2J by pinfall with the GTS. Paul Heyman almost cost Punk the match towards the end when he had the referee distracted on a Punk pinfall attempt, which would end up being a crucial development, as I will soon explain.
So, CM Punk is back, after what ended up being a not-massively-long absence, since he only disappeared after April 15, only missed one PPV (Extreme Rules) and had Chris Jericho begin to call him out from May 27 onwards. Along with his new look could potentially come a new attitude, since the hype and the announcer’s reactions to him had a babyface feel to them (never mind the fans on this occasion; the Chicago crowd were always going to cheer their hometown hero regardless). A Raw run-in with Brock Lesnar the next night (which I will cover later) acts as further evidence that Punk’s character is heading into a new direction. A babyface turn wouldn’t be the worst idea; whilst Punk was a loathsome heel from July 2012 until April 2013, the man is so good that people still can’t help but cheer him, so it makes sense to go with the flow, at least for the time being. This match was really good, the best of the night, although to me it lacked that extra something which would have pushed it on the level of Punk’s classic against The Undertaker at WM 29, or even a previous Chicago barn-burner against John Cena at the famous Money In The Bank 2011 show.
The Dolph-ADR and Punk-Y2J matches seemed to go on a bit longer than anticipated, and this perhaps resulted in the next match – a WWE Tag Team Title match as Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns defended their crowns against Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton – being shortened as a result. Nevertheless, all four made up for the time that they did have, which was a double achievement because the Bryan-Orton pairing was a weird one; why didn’t Kane team again with Bryan here? Regardless, the babyfaces tried to build on their momentum (the two men and Kane beat The Shield on the pre-Payback SmackDown in what was their first defeat as a faction, a fact that was pointed out to emphasise its significance), and Bryan in particular had a strong showing here, even hitting Rollins with a dangerous underhook suplex off the top rope to the expected round of “Yes!” chants. But it didn’t result in a title change, as Rollins and Reigns retained their crowns when Rollins pinned Bryan after his flying knee.
This was a pretty good match considering that it felt like a weird PPV attraction. The action was of a high standard all the way, especially from Daniel Bryan who is slowly shedding the comedy image that he has had (yet benefitted from greatly) over the last ten months to once again become a force to be reckoned with, and the fans are more than willing to back Bryan as he evolves into a serious player, if not a future main eventer once more. The Shield received another boost here, although Orton felt out of place in this environment. Perhaps this will set up an Orton heel turn, for which he is probably due, and a feud with Bryan based on their uneasy tandem here and in recent weeks.
The main event was a Three Stages Of Hell clash between John Cena and Ryback for the WWE Title. It’s hard to say whether the Cena-Ryback conflict, which began the night after WrestleMania 29, truly warranted such a triple-stipulation, but that’s what we got. It was an enjoyable trio of gimmick matches, and it was clear that each man was trying to save enough energy from falls one and two in order to deliver a suitable final chapter. The first fall, a Lumberjack match, did include an unexpected dive off the top ropes by Cena onto Ryback and the lumberjacks at ringside, although Cena ultimately lost this section when Ryback pinned him with Shell Shocked. Normally, that would be a major upset, but here it was just part of the story for Cena to make his comeback; after all, Cena wasn’t likely to lose the title here, and after losing fall one, he was bound to win fall two (a Tables match), and he did after hitting Ryback with an Attitude Adjustment through a table, as required.
The final fall was an Ambulance match, and it was fairly brutal as both men drove each other hard into the vehicle and even used parts of the hospital car itself as weapons. I did find it annoying that the announcers continued to laugh and make jokes during this section of the bout, since it was supposed to be serious stuff and the exchanges were quite violent on occasion. To win the match, Cena used the same finish that he used in his Ambulance match with Kane at Elimination Chamber 2012, that being an AA through the Ambulance roof, with Ryback apparently KO’d as the ambulance drove away. The story of the match and the feud tried to say that this was a fitting finale, but since the ambulance was only used when Cena refused to enter one after the Last Man Standing match at Extreme Rules, and when Ryback drove out in an ambulance to kick off Raw the next night, the connection wasn’t really there; nevertheless, it worked as a feud-ending battle, as did the main event as a whole, which overall was slightly better than their LMS bout at Extreme Rules.
It was the right time to bring an end to the John Cena-Ryback feud, since there wasn’t anywhere else they could go with it unless Ryback won the WWE Title, and that clearly wasn’t on the cards. The Ambulance stipulation allowed Ryback to maintain some dignity by avoiding a pinfall/submission loss from Cena, although it seems like he will still take a tumble down the card having just been defeated in a WWE Title rivalry. For Cena, it’s hard to figure out what’s on the horizon. Whilst Raw developments suggest a championship clash with Mark Henry (more on that in a moment), surely that bout will happen at Money In The Bank and not SummerSlam (and Cena will surely win there), meaning that Cena needs an opponent for SummerSlam. A rubber match with The Rock is apparently not likely, so it will have to be someone from the current crop. If CM Punk is tied up with another opponent (again, more in a bit on that), the most feasible opponent would probably be Sheamus, Daniel Bryan or perhaps even the returning RVD; WWE surely cannot go back to Cena vs. Randy Orton (and, if it did, it would be the third time that this match main evented SummerSlam alone).
As stated earlier, there was a lot to like at Payback, and whilst Extreme Rules was also a strong wrestling show, the developments here had more of an impact (hey, why not use “impact” as the name for this show? Oh, yeah, someone else uses that name; sorry) and did more to alter the landscape of WWE. This was boosted by a very eventful Raw which included the return of Christian after many months out injured; a weird situation where Daniel Bryan’s match with Randy Orton was stopped due to an injury to Bryan, for which Bryan apparently chastised Triple H backstage for real; a superb angle where Mark Henry pretended to announce his retirement in extremely convincing fashion, only to swerve-turn on John Cena and declare his intentions to win the WWE Title; Dolph Ziggler had another run-in with Alberto Del Rio to further emphasise their new face/heel alignments; and after CM Punk told Paul Heyman that he wouldn’t be managing him anymore after his mistake at Payback but that they could still be friends, Brock Lesnar unexpectedly appeared and dropped Punk with an F5 (which seems like stage one of Punk vs. Lesnar, probably at SummerSlam, as well as possibly beginning a Punk/Heyman split and an official babyface turn for Punk).
So, it looks like WWE has given its product a bit of a shake-up as it enters the usually-memorable summer season. So far, it’s been largely a year of playing it safe despite some strong matches, so it was good to see WWE take some chances here at Payback and on Raw as it begins to set the table for Money In The Bank and SummerSlam. What cannot be denied is that every WWE PPV this year up until this point has either been good, very good or excellent, so it’s hoped that WWE can continue on this streak, and with Rob Van Dam set to make a comeback (in Philadelphia of all places) at Money In The Bank, it certainly looks likely that we will keep getting some really entertaining WWE supershows. Payback may not have been an ideal name for this event, but the card was still very enjoyable and took a big step towards preparing the next few months of potentially exciting matches and storylines.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good