Wrestlemania 32 has come and gone and WWE has declared that a “new era” is here.
New faces and characters have appeared from NXT, fresh matchups have been arranged and Monday Night Raw has been revitalized with Shane McMahon storyline in charge of the show.
Payback took place in Chicago, IL and was the first Pay Per View event of this “new era.” The part-timers like Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker are gone. John Cena, Randy Orton and Seth Rollins are still out injured. Without the star power WWE normally falls back on their hand was forced into putting out a card with new matchups and hardly any Wrestlemania rematches. WWE debuted just as many new characters as have gone away, breathing life into a stagnant product.
Payback featured some excellent ring work along with an unfortunate, brutal injury. The show mostly served as a purpose to solidify the feuds heading into the Extreme Rules show later in the month, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Tournament Finals for the Tag Team Titles #1 Contendership
Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. The Vaudevillains
The New Day are still the tag team champions coming out of Wrestlemania and a tournament took place to set up their next opponents. Two new teams from NXT took the tournament by storm and were set to have the finals at tonight’s show.
The New Day came out first to hype up the always energetic crowd in Chicago and got a raucous ovation. Xavier Woods asked Beyonce to slide up in his DMs while Kofi made a reference to Becky with the good hair.
Enzo and Cass were out next to another big ovation, with the entire crowd singing and chanting along with their shtick. They’re like a Jersey Shore version of The New Age Outlaws. The Vaudevillains came out to silence. The team of Simon Gotch and Aiden English are old-timey strongmen with ironic mustaches and vintage singlets. I hesitate to assume they got the idea from a Family Guy joke. It’s fascinating to see what NXT gimmicks and characters are connecting with the crowd on the main roster. The Vaudevillains were pretty over in NXT but for whatever reason, crowds at Raw and Smackdown just don’t buy it. Enzo and Cass were over before they even debuted.
New Day hung out ringside eating deep dish pizza and sitting on bean bag chairs while the match got going. But, unfortunately this match was over as soon as it started after Enzo took a nasty spill to the outside, connecting with the ropes and smacking his head into the mat.
Enzo was stretchered out and the match was called off. It was later announced Enzo had a serious concussion. That’s still a terrible accident to happen but everyone thought they had just witnessed a man paralyze himself. Whether Gotch over-did it or Enzo slipped and connected wrong we’ll probably never know for sure, but to look on the positive side of things, Enzo will be back in action. No rating here since the match was called off.
Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens
If anybody could bring the mood back up in the arena it was these two. Owens and Zayn have a historic rivalry that spans about 10 years over several different indie promotions and it’s every smarks wet dream to see it continue in the grand stage of WWE. Every time Owens and Zayn have met in the past they’ve torn the house down and I was looking forward to see them do it again in Chicago. They interacted in the Royal Rumble match and again at Wrestlemania, but tonight we were treated to a straight 1 on 1 match with no frills or gimmicks.
As expected, Zayn and Owens went all out to steal the show. They know each others move sets very well and have excellent in ring chemistry. It’s as if you and your best friend have been practicing for 10 years together. They had to play by WWE’s rules and couldn’t do brainbusters or piledrivers like they have on the indie circuit but Zayn and Owens are such masters of their crafts that they can create a high-stakes, dramatic match without them.
Both guys got chances to shine and highlight their strengths much to the live crowd’s delight. The crowd is aware that Owens is the heel in this feud but there are still dueling chants and fan support for both competitors. Chicago created an atmosphere in the arena that shows how excited they were just for these two to be having a match together.
Owens wins clean after collapsing from match exhaustion. Their feud will continue and steal the show once again. It’s still early to say that their match will make my Top 10 by the end of the year, but this was an outstanding match. 4/5
Owens calls in commentator Byron Saxton and taunts him in a way that brings up shades of The Rock messing with The Coach from 15 years ago. Owens states that after his victory he has his sights on the Intercontinental title and will stay out at ringside for the next match. This proves that the WWE has faith in Owens as a performer if they wrote him to work a match and hang out for the next one, taking up about 30 minutes of airtime.
Intercontinental Title Match
The Miz (c) w/ Maryse vs. Cesaro
The Miz beat Zack Ryder for the belt after Wrestlemania as a way to introduce his wife, former wrestler Maryse, as an element of his movie star heel character. The Miz came out with a red carpet and his titantron video is nothing but clips of his Walmart-exclusive movies. Cesaro came back from injury after Wrestlemania and is now working as a hybrid of James Bond and Jason Statham from The Transporter. Cesaro’s absence has actually strengthened his connection with the audience, since he was allowed to come back new and refreshed.
Their match was alright. Cesaro showcased his usual athleticism and power moves while Miz acted as a chickenshit. Completely fine work but nothing you couldn’t see on a random episode of Smackdown.
The match really served more as a vehicle to incorporate The Miz, Cesaro and the Intercontinental Championship into the Zayn and Owens feud. Owens did hilarious commentary for the match and after a while, Sami Zayn returned to ringside and attacked Owens again.
Cesaro had the match won when Zayn and Owens interrupted, allowing Miz to pick up the dirty win. As much as I would have liked to see Cesaro win here, I like the fact that two feuds have now intersected and are heading forward together. Far too often feuds and matches in WWE just exist in a vacuum, where they have no bearing on anything else happening in the show. It’s cohesive storytelling that is nice to see in the world of pro-rasslin’. The match itself would be a 2/5 but with Owens and Zayn involved I’ll go up to 3/5
Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose
Their feud is based on their fictional talk shows that take place in the variety show world that is Monday Night Raw. Chris Jericho hosted “The Highlight Reel” until Shane McMahon cancelled the show and replaced it with Dean Ambrose hosting his own show, “The Ambrose Asylum.” This whole premise is absurd, and now that I have typed it out it’s even more ridiculous than I thought.
Ludicrous storyline or not I looked forward to this match and thought these two could work well together. The ring work was fine but this match just didn’t click for me. The crowd wasn’t dead but something was missing. I feel like these two are just in a feud to kill time with each other so they can still have a spot on the card. Ambrose was working with Brock Lesnar who went home until SummerSlam, while Jericho’s previous opponent AJ Styles is tied up in the main event. It’s disappointing since Ambrose and Jericho are two of my favorite performers, but sometimes these things happen. They’ll have a better rematch at Extreme Rules. 2/5
Women’s Championship Match
Charlotte Flair (c) w/ Ric Flair vs. Natalya w/ Bret Hart
I am so glad to be writing that title as Women’s Championship instead of Diva’s Championship. In line with the “new era” that WWE is pushing, the first pay per view match under the new branding is a complete redo of something that put NXT women’s wrestling on the map almost two years prior. That match was excellent so I looked forward to this tonight, as well as seeing Bret Hart on screen again after he overcame prostate cancer.
Natalya gets how Charlotte operates and can bring the best out of her. They exchanged submissions and suplexes and were on their way to having a classic match when in typical WWE fashion, they blew the ending. Charlotte gets Natalya into the Sharpshooter, the Hart Family’s trademark submission move, when the referee called for the bell and ran off in a complete redo of the Montreal Screwjob from 1997 that screwed Bret Hart out of the WWF. Natalya’s obviously not leaving for the competing company.
I’m assuming that the WWE wanted a screwy ending that would put more heat on Charlotte as the heel champion. The Montreal Screwjob has been redone to death and really fell flat tonight. Kids in the audience weren’t even alive when that took place.
I was on my way to really enjoying this match when they decided to pull the rug out. It will be pretty great when Sasha Banks beats Charlotte at SummerSlam though. 2/5
Bret and Nattie get their revenge as they put Ric and Charlotte in simultaneous sharpshooters after the screwjob.
Monday Night Raw Talking Segment
Vince McMahon decides who runs Monday Night Raw
So The Undertaker and Shane McMahon took place at Wrestlemania. If Shane won, he would get full control of WWE and Monday Night Raw. If The Undertaker lost, he could never wrestle at Wrestlemania again. Shane McMahon lost and the next night on Raw, Vince put Shane in charge for shits and giggles, while The Authority (Triple H and Stephanie McMahon) took off for vacation. Shane loses the big match but still gets put in charge anyways. Undertaker disappeared.
The gist is that under Shane’s ruling, new callups from NXT took place, new matchups occurred and the “new era” kicked off. Week after week WWE would announce that Shane was running Raw again after thinly veiled excuses like “unanimous social media support.” Stephanie returned to finally confront Shane about this and it was announced that tonight at Payback, Vince would decide who is finally in charge of Monday Night Raw. Still following along?
Vince, Shane and Stephanie all came out and in typical McMahon family drama fashion turned what could be a 5 minute segment into 20 minutes of talking. Vince finally got to the point and announced that Shane and Stephanie will run Raw…together! Why this had to be on a pay per view is beyond me. This is the stuff they usually save for Raw. Oh well. The crowd was actually hot and reactive to the segment and cheered and booed along appropriately.
It should be no surprise that WWE has suddenly started advertising for Marvel’s Civil War and this is probably all leading to some sort of sibling rivalry/faction warfare. This is the sports entertainment segment of the show. Shane is the good cop and Stephanie is the bad cop. Triple H will be back at some point and get mixed into this as well. This is the kind of stuff that the McMahon family truly believes drives ratings and viewership to WWE.
WWE Championship Match
Roman Reigns (c) vs. AJ Styles
Roman Reigns is the most over heel in the company, without actually being a heel. Crowds boo this guy out of the building week after week, and it was no different tonight in Chicago. About a year ago I was watching AJ Styles wrestle for the top championship in Japan, and now he’s in a match for the WWE title a couple months after debuting. Styles is essentially the top face on the roster. Crowds love him, he sells truckloads of merchandise and he’s easily one of the best in-ring workers in the world.
This is one of those fresh matchups I was referring to. The introduction of AJ’s fellow NJPW cohorts Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows has added another layer to this rivalry as well. This feud is benefiting everybody involved as Roman gets more experience working with a world traveled veteran and AJ Styles gains credibility wrestling in the main event. Roman’s their guy for probably the next decade, so the more varieties of experience he can obtain the better it will be for everyone involved.
This match was awesome. Reigns and Styles took their time and planned their big spots out accordingly. They sold each other’s offense well and busted out big moves when the crowd was ready for it.
AJ Styles gets a “win” after this, causing Reigns to get counted out.
A downside to the match was that WWE had to tie it in to the Stephanie/Shane drama that was just established. AJ winning by count out would have been another flat finish of the night, so Shane came out and saved the day by restarting the match with no countouts.
The match continued on was ramping up in intensity again. AJ tried some more high flying offense and was finally met with Roman Reigns accidentally crotching him. AJ wins again, technically by disqualification and still doesn’t win the belt. Stephanie comes out this time and restarts the match as no disqualifications. I guess it is ironic how I like when Owens and Zayn overlap with Cesaro and Miz, but having the main event intersect with the McMahon business comes off as too forced and overbooked.
Reigns’ family members The Usos come out as well as Anderson and Gallows to turn the match into a big schmozz.
Everybody’s wondering if Anderson and Gallows are going to turn on AJ or if Finn Balor will debut from NXT to be revealed as their actual leader. AJ’s clearly a good guy while they try to establish Gallows and Anderson as heels, so it makes for an interesting dynamic. None of that happened tonight but we all know something is coming in the future.
Reigns picks up the win after a spear to Styles. The show actually went off the air with even more McMahon stuff with them immediately announcing a Styles/Reigns rematch at Extreme Rules.
Reigns clearly wasn’t going to lose the championship after his big coronation at Wrestlemania, one month into his title reign. I think he’s holding the belt until at least SummerSlam. This match still managed to get me on the edge of my seat thinking that maybe, just maybe they would change course and have AJ come out on top. A great wrestling match can do that where the performers can get you so invested that you think that the unthinkable could happen. I would say 4/5 for the match itself but with all of the McMahon shenanigans involved I’m going 3.5/5
Overall, I liked the main event and enjoyed the show. WWE set up some solid groundwork for the future months to come and I’m interested in what they have to offer coming up. Personally, I’m not tuning in to see the McMahon drama unfold but I want to see how these new faces on the show will interact with guys like Cena and Rollins returning soon. 3 hours of Payback flew by compared to 6 hours of Wrestlemania and I’m optimistic about the product.
Let’s go AJ.
by Nate Dimit (@ndimit)