Matt’s Last Look: Payback 2014

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This past Sunday, the fifth PPV of the 2014 calendar took place. For the second year in a row, Chicago played host to the Payback PPV. Heading in, the one major omission on this card was the lack of a WWE World Heavyweight Championship match, the first time this would occur since December 2012. That was due to the reigning champion, Daniel Bryan, being injured although he would appear on the show. Despite that, the card did feature a fair few matches that looked good on paper. Overall my expectations heading in were that it would be a decent show, but nothing amazing. Lets now take a last look back at the event that was Payback, and see how things played out.

I mentioned last month that I had issues with the Network stream for Extreme Rules. It worked fine for me this time (as well as for NXT Takeover a few days earlier), so it looks like things are improving on that front. Speaking of Extreme Rules, the pre-show match tonight was a rematch from that event, as El Torito took on Hornswoggle in a mask vs hair match. Of course, Los Matadores and 3MB were at ringside for the two respectively. Last month we had a really fun weeLC match. There was no way this was going to top it. It was fine for what it was, but it was obviously comedy filler. Torito winning was predictable as Hornswoggle had been growing out his hair and Torito’s mask is his whole character. There’s not much to say about this, so we’ll head to the main show. 

The opening video package focused on the two big matches of the night – The Shield vs Evolution, and John Cena vs Bray Wyatt. The announcers were Michael Cole, Jerry Lawler & John Bradshaw Layfield as usual.

WWE United States Championship:
Sheamus (c) vs Cesaro w/Paul Heyman

My pick heading in: Sheamus
Winner: Sheamus with a small package at 11:36.

For the second month in a row, Cesaro opened the PPV, as he looked to challenge for Sheamus’ newly won U.S title. Heyman was his usual awesome self on the mic before the match here. There were some loud “CM Punk” chants as he spoke about his clients, but Heyman pulled off a great line by telling the crowd that Punk was going to watch the Blackhawks get their streak broken by the Kings like Brock Lesnar broke the Undertaker’s streak at WrestleMania. That’s why he’s one of the best talkers ever. As far as the match goes, it was a really good opener, and I felt that with more time this would have been even better. There were some good near falls throughout the match and they were quite stiff with one another as you expect from these guys. I felt like this would be a difficult match to predict going in, since Sheamus had just won the U.S title so you weren’t going to take the title off him so soon, while at the same time the company obviously has big plans for Cesaro down the line. Because of that, the fluke roll-up made a lot of sense as the end of the match in that it didn’t hurt Cesaro by taking a decisive loss. I was glad that Sheamus missed the Brogue Kick during the match as Cesaro didn’t need to take a clean loss here. The end came when Cesaro hit the swing (which got its usual huge reaction) and then attempted to follow up with the Neutraliser, only for Sheamus to catch him off guard and retain with a roll up out of nowhere. Heyman considered this a cheap victory and told Sheamus he should be ashamed of beating Cesaro that way. Based on that, and this past episode of Raw, it appears as though this feud will be continuing. I don’t think they’ll have a match at the next PPV though, as I expect both men will be in the Money in the Bank ladder match (which Cesaro is my pick to win). Sheamus will keep the title going forward, but Cesaro will stay strong. Overall a very good match that I wish got a few more minutes.
My grade: ***1/2

Cody Rhodes & Goldust vs Ryback & Curtis Axel
My pick heading in (at time the match started): Ryback & Curtis Axel
Winners: Ryback & Curtis Axel when Ryback pinned Cody following Shellshocked at 7:48.

This was a bonus match added to the PPV on the pre-show. Obviously it was about continuing the issues between the Rhodes Brothers, so the result was never really in question. Ryback & Curtis Axel have been on an impressive path of late, and whilst I’m not a huge fan of either guy on their own, they make a decent tandem. I don’t see a tag title reign in their near future though. The match was really just a standard TV match, so it was nothing to get excited about quality wise. It was average and thats about all I was expecting despite being a big fan of the Rhodes Brothers. The crowd weren’t into it either as they started a Blackhawks chant during the match. Goldust spent much of the early portion of the match being beat down, and I half expected Cody to jump off the apron as Goldust attempted to tag his younger brother in. That did not happen, as Cody got the hot tag and looked impressive for a few minutes, but Rybaxel managed to save the match whenever it looked like the Rhodes Brothers could have pulled out the win. The end of the match saw Ryback catch Cody into Shellshocked off a Disaster Kick attempt, whilst Axel stopped Goldust breaking up the pin. After the match, Cody told Goldust he needed to find a better tag partner. There’s really two ways this can go. Until this match, I thought Cody would be going heel, but I really think that would be a mistake – he’s better off as a face despite being a heel for most of his career so far. This does seem to be right out of the Booker T & Goldust storyline from 2002 however, where Goldust was doubting his own confidence and claiming to be the weak link of the team. After going on a losing streak, they eventually came back stronger, and I think thats what will happen here. 
My grade: **1/2

Big E vs Rusev w/Lana
My pick heading in: Rusev
Winner: Rusev by submission following the Accolade at 3:37.

After squashing R-Truth & Xavier Woods last month, Rusev looked to continue his winning streak here over a more credible opponent in Big E. It was still obviously going to be a squash though, as Big E has lost a ton of momentum coming off his failed I.C title reign. Its sad to see because he started out so strong. Thats what no real feuds will do to you. Lana got her usual introduction before the match and talked about Putin. She plays the role fine enough, but I still don’t see why everyone goes crazy over her. Rusev is slowly growing on me as time goes on though, and he got a very dominant win here, with E only getting like one move in. Again, there’s nothing else to say. I do think Rusev needs to move into a decent storyline soon though rather than just crushing everyone or they risk creating another Vladimir Kozlov. A U.S title feud with Sheamus down the line could work.
My grade: *
We now got a brief look at Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella discussing Bryan’s decision later in the night, although we didn’t get to hear what they were saying.

Kofi Kingston vs Bo Dallas
My pick heading in (at time the match started): Bo Dallas
Winner: No contest after Kane made his way out and attacked Kingston at 0:36.

The PPV singles debut (remember he was in the Rumble last year) for the longest reigning NXT Champion in history was not a match. The match was made on the pre-show, however before it would start, Kane made his way out and hit Kofi with a chokeslam and tombstone, whilst Dallas looked on from outside of the ring and gave a condescending pep talk after Kane left to his opponent. I have to admit – I wanted Bo to pull a Matt Hardy from Armageddon 2003 and declare himself the winner after counting his own pin. The announcers speculated that Kane was sent down to punish Kofi for making remarks about the Authority on the pre-show. Obviously this was all done to keep Kane in everyone’s minds for next month when he faces Bryan in the rematch that we really don’t need to see. As far as the rematch for this match goes, it took place on Raw with Bo winning as expected. I’m a fan of the Bo Dallas character (or should I say, a Bo-Liever) and he’s come a long way in the ring since his brief stint on the main roster over a year ago. He needs a feud though going forward.
My grade: N/A

WWE Intercontinental Championship:
Bad News Barrett (c) vs Rob Van Dam

My pick heading in: Bad News Barrett
Winner: Bad News Barrett with the Bull Hammer at 9:30.
This was one of the most predictable matches on the show. RVD is the veteran who is there to put young guys over and is always over with the fans no matter what. Barrett on the other hand has gained a tremendous amount of momentum since being repackaged with the Bad News character. Dropping the title here in his first PPV defence would have killed that and been a stupid decision. The crowd were pretty split in this one over who to cheer. One thing I really liked about the build to this match was that they crowned RVD as the contender through a Beat the Clock challenge, something you would normally only see for the major titles. Its things like that we need more of to make the midcard titles viewed as things worth fighting for a shot at. Having good feuds over the title will help as well though. The match here was about what everyone expected – it wasn’t bad but there was nothing noteworthy. RVD hit his usual spots for the crowd but Barrett ultimately left with his title after beating the challenger clean. I did like the psychology behind Barrett injuring his elbow in the ring post after missing a Bull Hammer earlier in the match, only to go back to it for the win and then sell the pain he caused to himself for the win afterwards. Anyway, with Barrett going over clean here, I imagine he gets a new challenger going forward. Of course, he could always end up in the Money in the Bank match next month instead, but I think its more important he gets another feud going over the title to avoid the trap of a Big E style reign. 
My grade: **1/4

Up next, Daniel Bryan had to make his decision, so we got a video package looking at the events leading to Stephanie’s ultimatum.

Back in the arena, Stephanie McMahon made her way to the ring to some major heat from the crowd and got Daniel Bryan & Brie Bella to join her. Huge reaction for Bryan as expected. This was a very well done segment and an effective way of getting Bryan on the show despite not being able to wrestle. I liked the idea of making Bryan have to choose between his title and his wife as it puts the ultimate fan favourite in a sympathetic situation by forcing him to make an impossible decision. Its much better than those horror style vignettes he had going on with Kane. She gets a lot of crap (which is ironic since people are supposed to hate her anyway) but Stephanie has been doing a phenomenal job as the heel owner of the company since returning to TV as a regular character last year. She’s just that good at getting everyone to hate her, and it makes Bryan even more likeable than he already is as a result. Her line to shut down the CM Punk chants by saying “they want you to quit just like CM Punk did” was brilliant. In the end, Bryan refused to hand over the title, saying that it would throw away everything he had been fighting for before Brie called Stephanie a bitch. As Stephanie was about to fire her, Brie said that she couldn’t do that because she quit. Brie followed by delivering a hard slap to Stephanie to the biggest pop of her career. The crowd went crazy as Stephanie left outraged. And no, she did not piss herself despite what some people claimed. Obviously Brie will be back eventually, but this was a very well done segment that kept Bryan in everyone’s minds. Thats what he needs right now whilst he heals up for Money in the Bank. He’s not being stripped of the title by the way – they would have done it by now if that was the plan.
Up next we got a video package for the Cena/Wyatt match.

Last Man Standing Match:
John Cena w/The Usos vs Bray Wyatt w/Erick Rowan & Luke Harper

My pick heading in: Bray Wyatt
Winner: John Cena after delivering an Attitude Adjustment to Wyatt through a case and covering him with another to prevent him answering the ten count at 24:15,

This was the rubber match of the feud, with both men picking up one victory a piece at the last two PPVs. I picked Wyatt here as I had a feeling this would not be the last match in the feud. I didn’t feel like Cena has anything to really rush into from here, so it made sense for things to continue to another showdown, but it does look like this was the blow off to the feud after all. I still wouldn’t be surprised to see both Cena and Wyatt as participants in the Money in the Bank ladder match though. Now, in the past two reviews I have said that the matches between these guys have been good, but never reached the great level I expected. That changed on this show, as these two put on an incredible match that had the crowd going crazy. Cena brought the Usos out to ringside before the match to counter Harper & Rowan’s interference (a key point to the match at Extreme Rules) and their presence only added to what was a chaotic frenzy around ringside. I’m glad we finally got the chance to see these guys deliver the kind of match I was hoping for all the way back at Mania. I liked the spot in the match where Wyatt got up in his crawl position as the ref was counting him down at one point. It’s always a creepy visual. The match involved chairs, tables and even the ring steps, which Cena threw right at Wyatt in the aisle for a nine count. That was an incredible spot. There were also two big spots right after each other as Harper delivered a superplex to Jimmy Uso through some tables out of the ring, followed by Bray sending Cena through the barrier into the timekeeper area. From there, the action moved into the crowd and up to the set area, where Cena finally hit the AA on Wyatt through a crate. He put another crate on top to keep Wyatt down for the count and won the match. This was just a great match to the point that people in my house who are not even wrestling fans were captivated by it. I’ve seen some people complain about the guys at ringside being involved in the match, but the whole feud has been based on the Wyatt Family using the numbers to their advantage, and the Usos have looked great coming out of this simply by being associated with Cena. I loved this match and think it was the match of the night and a fitting blow off to the feud. Everyone had their working boots on out there. As far as Cena winning, yeah I do wish Wyatt got the win, but the way he was beaten doesn’t make him look weak. It’s more Cena being resourceful in finding a way to keep him down. As I said, I think Wyatt and Cena will be in the ladder match next month, whilst the Usos will defend their titles against Harper & Rowan.
My grade: ****1/4

WWE Diva’s Championship:
Paige (c) vs Alicia Fox

My pick heading in: Paige
Winner: Paige via submission after Alicia tapped out to the PTO at 6:32.

Last month I said I would love to see Alicia Fox be built up to be Paige’s next contender after being an afterthought for what seemed like forever. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the company did just that and I’ve really enjoyed her work over the past month getting her over the top character fleshed out. I’m a big fan of Alicia Fox in case you couldn’t tell, and I’m glad she finally has a bit of depth to her character with the tantrums rather than being a generic performer like so many of the divas. Now despite that, Paige needed the win here to keep her momentum going, and thats exactly what happened. The match was okay for the time it was given, although I’d love to see them given the chance to work a match like Natalya and Charlotte had at Takeover, as the talent is there. Alicia took charge of the match after some initial offence from Paige, but in the end, the champion fought back and made Foxy tap out to the PTO to retain her title. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a rematch, as Alicia was back to her winning ways on Raw the next night, and there’s not a huge amount of heel divas for Paige to face at the moment. I expect her to retain her title for an eventual feud with AJ after she returns from her time off in the summer to marry Punk some time this month. Paige has been talking about a rematch with AJ in interviews of late, so I think thats the direction we are headed long term.
My grade: **

We checked in with the panel at this point in the show, consisting of Josh Mathews, Booker T & Alex Riley. Kofi had been on the panel for the pre-show. After some thoughts about the show, we went to the video package for the main event.

No Holds Barred Elimination Tag Match:
The Shield vs Evolution

My pick heading in: The Shield
Winners: The Shield, with Reigns last eliminating Triple H at 30:56.
Eliminations: Batista by Seth Rollins after a Reigns spear at 27:31, Randy Orton by Dean Ambrose after delivering Dirty Deeds on a chair at 28:38, Triple H by Roman Reigns after a spear at 30:56.

After tearing down the house in a match of the year candidate at Extreme Rules, these two factions go at it again in the main event of Payback. Heading into this show the question was not who would win this match, but rather who would survive. It was clear that the Shield would go over to finish off Evolution, especially with the news that Batista would be taking time off after this PPV to promote his latest film. I saw two possible outcomes to this match survivor wise – either Reigns fighting off all three members of Evolution on his own to continue his monster push, or all three Shield members surviving to run home the crux of the storyline – that Evolution just could not beat the Shield. It turned out to be the latter, although the match played out very differently to what I expected. Overall I thought the Extreme Rules match was better, but this was still very good. One part of the match that was a bit silly occurred when they started tagging in and out like normal despite it being a no holds barred match and brawling all over the arena moments earlier. Eventually the match broke down into the all out war it was supposed to be though, and thats where the crowd got back into it. Evolution started to dissect the Shield by taking out Ambrose and Rollins before putting an extended beating on Reigns. They brought out the canes and really did a number on the bare skin of his back to the point that it was almost uncomfortable to watch. As the match wore on, the action would return back up the aisle with Evolution crippling Reigns with chair shots, only for Ambrose and Rollins to return to the fight, including an awesome dive off the set from Rollins. The action returned to the ring and we got the go home sequence where the Shield turned the tide with the numbers game and worked to eliminate Batista and Orton, leaving Triple H alone with the Hounds of Justice. At that moment, a sick part of me wanted to see the Game eliminate all three Shield members just to see the internet explode. But in the end, Triple H did what was best for business and laid down for the three as the Shield did a clean sweep of the greatest faction of the 00s (well excluding Flair of course). By the way, Triple H has lost every match he has been in since WrestleMania 29 now. So much for burying everyone he gets in the ring with for his own ego huh? This was a very good match that made all three members of the Shield look strong. It also would turn out to be the final hurrah of the group due to a twist that took place the following night which I will get into in my final thoughts. A very good match to end a pretty good show all up.
My grade: ****

Three Stars of the Night:

 1. John Cena – had his best singles PPV match this year and came out victorious in an excellent match with Bray Wyatt. I’m glad the feud got the high quality blow off that it deserved after a few matches that didn’t quite reach my expectations.

2. Bray Wyatt – pretty much the same reasons as Cena here. I don’t think the loss hurts him much. He’s a kind of character that the crowd is going to react to due to being unique and it wasn’t as though Cena just beat him with a move. He had to use the environment to keep him down.

3. The Shield – yeah, I cheated by giving it to all three members rather than picking one. They all survived a great war and were put over huge by Evolution in this feud. A very good match in what would be their last as a group.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

For a PPV that it seemed not many people had high hopes for, this was a pretty good show. While I’ve heard some call it the PPV of the year at this point, I wouldn’t quite go that far (Mania was better), but this was still a very good outing. The two main matches both delivered and blew off feuds that needed to be blown off in Cena/Wyatt and Evolution/Shield. In the case of the former, it was the match of the feud, whilst the main event was still very good, despite not being as good as Extreme Rules. As far as the undercard goes, the opener was very good and could have been better with more time and the Bryan/Stephanie segment was very well done. The rest was average, but there was nothing offensive, nor did it take up much of the show in comparison to the good stuff. 

The biggest story coming out of the 24 hours removed from this show was the departure of Batista and the heel turn of Seth Rollins. I think its the right call. There was only so far for the Shield to go as a group after about 16 months. I’ve really enjoyed their face run, but all things must come to an end. Its not like there was much for them to do after conquering Evolution here. Whilst Rollins is suited to working as a face very well, he’s also been a heel the majority of his WWE career, so he’ll be just fine. It also prevents him being the guy that is going to get lost in the shuffle from the Shield split that everyone was worried about from day one by having a storyline to immediately sink his teeth into. I could see a Orton/Rollins vs Reigns/Ambrose match at Money in the Bank next month, or maybe the long rumoured Shield triple threat if Orton is in the Money in the Bank match to give it some star power. I don’t think the Shield members will be in that match as I don’t see one of them being the man to win it. There’s other guys that can go in there that need some direction.
All signs point to Daniel Bryan being back for Money in the Bank. I’ve felt that he wasn’t being stripped of the title ever since they started prolonging it rather than just taking it from him when they could. Now its been revealed that he will defend the title against Kane in a stretcher match, unless he is unable to compete by the next PPV, in which case the Money in the Bank match will be for the title. Its just a red herring to have people worry like the whole Triple H stipulation at WrestleMania. They are not going to go into a show with so much uncertainty around the two big matches for the show, especially after going to the effort to explicitly say that the title match would have a stretcher stipulation. Why even name a stipulation if its not going to happen? It’s not like they are going to have a Money in the Bank PPV without a Money in the Bank contract winner either. That would be stupid. I’m looking forward to Bryan beating Kane clean (again!) and moving on from a feud that should have ended a month ago. I want to see who is next in line for him heading in to Battleground in July. 

Overall, a good show that surpassed my expectations.

FINAL GRADE: 7.5 out of 10

2014 PPV Rankings thus far:

  1. WrestleMania XXX (9)
  2. Payback (7.5)
  3. Elimination Chamber (7)
  4. Extreme Rules (7)
  5. Royal Rumble (6)

Author: Matt McCulloch