It’s time for reimbursement! It’s time for compensation! It’s time for our first post-WrestleMania pay-per-view, WWE Payback!
Payback is live tonight from San Jose, California and can be seen on the WWE Network, of course, with the pre-show starting at 7 pm and the main show kicking off at 8 pm Eastern.
For a preview of the show, check out the inimitable Brian Bayless’ write-up over at Place To Be Nation.
This will be the first modern-day wrestling I’ve watched since WrestleMania 33, four weeks ago. I’ve instead been watching episodes of Prime Time Wrestling from 1987 on the WWE Network.
While this is pretty much a Raw-branded pay-per-view, the WWE Champion, Randy Orton, a SmackDown! Live talent, will be in a non-title match with Bray Wyatt. And the Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, Raw’s top titleholder, is nowhere to be seen.
Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson – Last year at Payback, a show I went to live in Chicago, Enzo and Cass kicked off the show against the Vaudevillains and Enzo nearly died in a botched spot going through the ropes. Of course, Enzo gets nailed off the apron and into the ring barrier in a scary spot this time around as well. Enzo looked a little worse for wear, but Big Cass comes in to help as Enzo gets the pin. Both of these teams could have been bigger than they ended up had the New Day not spent more than a year on top of the Raw tag division. Really quick match to warm up the crowd. Nothing special, but nothing terrible.
U.S. Title Match: Kevin Owens (c) vs. Chris Jericho – Owens beat his former best friend for the title at WrestleMania, and has since been traded to SmackDown. So, if Jericho wins, HE is off to SmackDown. These stipulations are ridiculous, especially considering the word that Jericho is off to tour with his band soon. Having Jericho win – which he did, after punishing Owens’ hand and then getting him to submit to the Walls of Jericho – was yet another weird decision. Jericho and Owens aren’t going to have a bad match, but there’s no need to give Jericho a win here. Letting Owens be a dominant US Champ would help SmackDown with an established heel. Baffling, as usual.
Cruiserweight Title Match: Neville (C) vs. Austin Aries – WrestleMania Rematch number 2 here tonight. And once again, Neville and Aries manage to have a fun match filled with action. Aries, on the verge of winning the title, has his hopes dashed as the dastardly heel Neville nails the ref, causing the disqualification. I have zero problems with WWE putting these guys in the ring again, as they’ve completely turned around the division since it started last year.
Raw Tag Team Title Match: The Hardy Boyz (c) vs. Cesaro and Sheamus – During the pre-show, Matt Hardy was channeling his inner Nic Cage in a backstage segment with Goldust and R-Truth, and I’m starting to think the Broken gimmick is more true to life. I feel like I’m in the minority in not being a fan of the Hardys, but I can see their worth in the tag division. And they can still have great matches, especially with workers like Sheamus and Cesaro, as they did here. Cesaro ALWAYS impresses me, like his springboard European uppercut to Matt. And then catching Jeff on the outside. But having the Hardys keep the straps here made the most sense. I just don’t know what the endgame is, and who takes the belts off of them. Maybe they’ll use the Hardys to finally give Enzo and Cass a big win at SummerSlam? How you doin’?
Watching Sheamus and Cesaro snap and destroy the Hardys after the match was a lot of fun, though. I guess this feud will continue.
Raw Women’s Title Match: Bayley (c) vs. Alexa Bliss – I don’t really get the appeal of Alexa. Yeah, she’s great on the mic, but she’s mediocre in the ring. The fact that she’s already a SmackDown champ before getting shaken over to Raw is baffling to me. It would be great if she was still a manager, because WWE could use her in that role. Bayley, however, is trying to overcome the WWE’s dreaded hometown curse. And now that the ANNOUNCERS are pointing this out, whether it continues is anyone’s guess. The WWE’s ridiculous penchant for allowing people to kick out of HUGE moves comes through again here, as Bayley hit a disgusting running knee and then a Macho Man elbow – which looked more like an HBK elbow – and Bliss kicked out. Bayley follows that up by hitting her head on the turnbuckle to give Bliss a fluky kind of win. Bayley is best as a challenger, chasing the title, anyway, but giving the title to Bliss is just weird, especially with a Sasha feud laying in wait.
This show is flying by, with three matches left for the next 90 minutes or so…
House of Horrors Match: Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt – No one knows what this is supposed to be, and all I’m expecting is a weird version of a no holds barred match, but apparently they did a pre-tape for this. And JoJo in fact announces that it’s no holds barred, but will start in the House of Horrors and end in the ring. Kind of like Piper-Goldust at WrestleMania 12. I wonder if they consulted the Hardys on how to film this after their TNA run… The opening pretape is ridiculous as Orton chooses to enter a haunted house instead of committing arson again. That would have saved us all from stupidity. The weird hanging doll room was a nice touch, though. As is the camera man’s shadow being on the wall.
Wyatt attempts a little bit of manslaughter by dropping a refrigerator on top of the WWE Champion and then walks out of the house, leaving me disappointed that the House of Horrors doesn’t have a secret portal to the arena. Where the hell is this house? He laughs and gets in a car and tells the driver to go to the arena and THIS MATCH MUST CONTINUE. Whether we want it to or not…
Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe – Instead of having the Universal Title on a guy who’s only wrestling selected dates and doesn’t even show up for a PPV, these two guys should be in the title picture. I enjoyed watching them beat the hell out of each other, though the ending seemed to come out of nowhere. I wasn’t expecting this match to end the feud anyway, so the pin makes sense. I assume Joe will be out for revenge. And that should be fun.
House of Horrors Match: Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt Part II – Wyatt gets out of the limo, hacks up a lung and then waddles into the ring and when the lights come on, Orton has found the secret portal from the house into the arena! Orton destroys Wyatt until WWE Title Number One Contender Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers attack Orton. Wyatt takes advantage and hits Sister Abigail for the win. Does this count as Wyatt winning a feud?
What a waste.
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman – Strowman has become a guilty pleasure over the last few months, destroying everyone put in his path. Reigns, on the other hand, beat the Undertaker at WrestleMania. This SHOULD be the classic “irresistible force vs. the immovable object,” as Gorilla Monsoon would say, but since no one seems to like Reigns, it just doesn’t feel as big as it should. And given how bandaged up Reigns is, this match shouldn’t last that long. But they’re telling the story of scrappy underdog Roman Reigns here. Why? I have no idea. He didn’t have the testicular fortitude to survive the monster, though, and Strowman wins the match with a running powerslam. I’m sure, somewhere, Davey Boy Smith is smiling.
This was another match that could have been for the Universal Title. Reigns is clearly the guy WWE is getting behind and Strowman is a legit destroyer. Hopefully, with the post-match destruction of Roman Reigns, Strowman gets the shot at Lesnar at SummerSlam.
Final Thoughts: I enjoyed the show, even though I disagreed with some of the booking decisions – Bliss and Jericho winning make no sense to me – and the Raw brand seems pretty directionless when the top champion doesn’t even bother to show up. WWE has some time before the next Raw branded show – Extreme Rules on June 4 – so maybe they can start to move some pieces into some quality story telling by then. I have no idea what direction they may take, though, which is kind of fun.