Wrestlemania 33 is in the books and the new season of WWE television has effectively started. The “Superstar Shakeup” took place the week after Wrestlemania and several WWE superstars swapped brands between Monday Night Raw and Smackdown Live.
This mid-season draft threw a wrench into a couple of ongoing feuds so the card for Payback ended up being a convoluted mix of Raw and Smackdown matches. I’ll do my best to explain.
Payback took place in San Jose, California and was originally scheduled to be a Raw-exclusive show. Smackdown characters ended up on Raw so their matchups were added to the card, while a couple of Raw characters moved to Smackdown and their matches stayed on the show. WWE didn’t explain this well.
The part-time wrestlers are gone, Brock Lesnar and the Universal Championship are on hiatus so WWE are back to relying on their full-time performers. The Payback card was a mix of Wrestlemania rematches and some prior feuds coming back around for a second go.
After their ridiculously campy match at Wrestlemania, Bray Wyatt (now on Raw) challenged WWE Champion Randy Orton (still on Smackdown) to a “House of Horrors” match for his ‘Mania rematch. WWE never explained the premise and didn’t bother to mention the match was non-title. Bray cut some spooky promos on Raw while Randy Orton started a new feud on Smackdown with Jinder Mahal (more on this next month).
All of this was shaping up to make the “House of Horrors” match an all-time epic disaster, along the lines of the Kennel from Hell or Hulk Hogan and the Dungeon of Doom. This was what I was looking forward to the most on the show.
Kevin Owens (c) vs. Chris Jericho
United States Championship Match
Kevin Owens moved to Smackdown while Jericho stayed on Raw. Jericho lost his title at Wrestlemania, so he was owed a rematch. Then they added a stipulation that if Jericho won the title, he would also move to Smackdown. Make sense?
With Randy Orton tied up with Bray and Jinder, the US Title instantly became the top championship on Smackdown Live with AJ Styles gunning for it. Owens and Jericho were not able to interact much after being split up so their heated feud from Wrestlemania came to a halt. It felt like they skipped a chapter in their book.
Their match was fine. I liked their Wrestlemania encounter better, but I enjoyed the callbacks to it in this match. Owens and Jericho built this match around Owens breaking a pinfall with one finger at Wrestlemania, so Jericho targeted Owens’ hands and fingers so it wouldn’t happen again. They countered each other’s signature moves, Owens played dirty with a finger poke to the eyes and Jericho smashed Owens hand in the steel steps outside the ring. Jericho surprisingly gets the win with Owens tapping out to the Walls of Jericho, and Jericho regains his US Title.
A strange booking decision since Jericho is leaving for tour with Fozzy this week. He’ll be on Smackdown Tuesday night to presumably lost the belt back to Owens, for whatever reason. Good match, but not great. Match Rating: 3/5
Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries
Cruiserweight Championship Match
I have a confession to make: I haven’t watched their match from the Wrestlemania pre-show. I usually skip the pre-shows out of apathy, but I will definitely go back and watch that after seeing this match.
Neville continues his reign with the Cruiserweight Title as a despicable, cheating scumbag. He’s carrying the whole division with entertaining promos and quality matches on 205 Live. This match was fun to watch and reminded me of how much of a delight Austin Aries is when he can go all out.
There was a good contrast between Aries’ high-flying, fast-paced maneuvers with Neville heeling it up and slowing down the action with headlocks and submissions.
Neville attacks the referee when Aries had the upper hand, so Neville loses by DQ but still keeps his championship. A flat finish but I get what they were going for. Match Rating: 3.5/5
The Hardy Boyz (c) vs. Sheamus and Cesaro
Raw Tag Team Championship Match
Sheamus and Cesaro are visibly upset that the Hardy Boyz showed up at ‘Mania and snatched the championships away. Not much else happened in the buildup. The Hardy brothers are still the Hardy Boyz and have yet to become “deleted.” They haven’t had any promo time and are still rolling with the nostalgia wave. It’s fun for a while but their 1999 act won’t stay over forever, like what happened to the Dudleys in their last run.
They had a physical match, nothing spectacular. Sheamus booted Jeff Hardy right in the mouth causing Jeff to lose a tooth. Matt gets a hot tag and runs wild, Jeff ultimately pins Sheamus after a swanton bomb. The teams shake hands and go their separate ways, then Sheamus and Cesaro return and put a beating back on to the babyfaces.
Hopefully that’s an official heel turn for Sheamus and Cesaro. I like the two of them as an APA-style team of hosses. They need a good team name. Match Rating: 2.5/5
Bayley (c) vs. Alexa Bliss
Raw Women’s Championship Match
Alexa Bliss and Charlotte Flair basically swapped places from Raw and Smackdown. Alexa instantly became #1 contender on Raw while Charlotte did the same on Smackdown.
Bayley beat all the women on Raw anyways so this was a welcome change up. Bayley’s promos still aren’t the greatest while Alexa feels leagues ahead of everyone else on the stick. There was not a lot of substance to their feud.
Bayley comes out to a mega pop in her hometown of San Jose. The crowd reacted to her like The Rock was coming out. Her and Alexa had good chemistry together and put together a decent match.
Bayley hit a Macho Man elbow drop, Alexa had effective looking offense. Alexa eventually dodges a move from Bayley causing her to smash her head into the corner post. Alexa hits a DDT for the win. Bayley loses the title in her hometown, Alexa gets booed out of the building. Sure, Bayley could have held the belt longer but she successfully defended it at Wrestlemania and her character is better off chasing the prize than holding it. Match Rating: 3/5
Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton
House of Horrors Match
They began by explaining that the match would begin in the House of Horrors but would end in the ring by pinfall, submission or forfeiture. They cut to a pretape of Randy Orton arriving to the House of Horrors in a limo.
A spooky tractor rolls by and Orton approaches the house. Of course, it’s locked. Orton kicks the door down and hunts down Bray. The house looked like something out of The Conjuring. Low lit, full of creepy and edgy artifacts like beheaded dolls and spider webs. Bray and Randy fight around the house, knocking down walls until they end up in the kitchen. Bray grabs a frying pan, they fight back until Bray tips a refrigerator over, trapping Orton underneath.
Wyatt hijacks Orton’s limo and heads back to the arena. It’s dark outside, but in local San Jose time it was about 6 p.m. Everybody was expecting Randy to be driving the limo.
Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe
The House of Horrors match was put on hold while we are to believe that Bray is en-route to the arena.
Seth and Joe come out without much of a reaction. After seeing Bayley lose and being forced to watch a 15-minute clip on the Titantron, the crowd weren’t thrilled about anything.
Seth and Joe picked up where their feud left off before Wrestlemania, with Joe slotted back in as Triple H’s lackey. Seth’s matches are still based around selling his previous knee injury, Samoa Joe wrestles slow and methodical as a hired goon heel.
I was not into this match either. The storyline does nothing for me so I was hoping to see them tear the house down. Seth would sell his knee and then pop up for a flashy move. Samoa Joe locks in a submission when Rollins flips it over and gets the surprise pin on Joe.
I don’t know what is the problem. In theory, I like both of these guys and have seen them both put on stellar performances, but tonight was not the night. Seth hasn’t had a great match in almost a year- it’s almost sad to see. I wish he went to Smackdown. Match Rating: 2/5
House of Horrors Continued
Conveniently just in time, Bray’s limo rolls up to the back of the arena. Sadly, Randy Orton was not driving it.
Bray does his entire ring entrance for a match that was already taking place. When the lights come on, Randy is right behind him with a chair, ready to strike. Of course, they never explained how he got there.
They brawl for a minute when Jinder Mahal and the Singh Brothers rush the ring to jump Orton, allowing Bray to get the win.
This entire thing was stupid. I loved it. Bray looks like a chump in every feud he’s in, but his creepy, spooky theatrics make it watchable for me in a so-bad-it’s-good way. I think their feud is finally over. Never forget this was the feud they gave the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber to setup. Match Rating: 4/5
Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns
The main event for the evening. Although it was never directly stated, it seemed implied that this could be a No. 1 contender’s match for Brock and the Universal title.
Braun’s been on a demolition spree since Wrestlemania. He hospitalized Roman Reigns, flipped an ambulance, threw a luchador in a trash can, blew up the ring with The Big Show and has been built up to be the biggest star on Monday Night Raw. He’s certainly been a highlight for me. Call me a Braun fan.
I saw this match happen in Milwaukee at Fastlane in March and Roman Reigns won clean. Even with Braun’s recent badass path of destruction, I found it hard to invest in the match tonight. It made logical sense for Braun to win here, the intrigue was how they would get there.
Roman comes out with his body taped up and limping to the ring. After ending the career of the Undertaker, we’re supposed to sympathize with him as our underdog hero. I don’t understand the thinking, but I’m sure Vince McMahon thinks he’s telling some kind of heroic tale.
I liked their match in Milwaukee better. Their match tonight was Braun clearly having the upper hand and Roman trying to fight back against his handicap. They traded big moves and finishers until Braun hit a running powerslam for the clean win.
After the match, Braun attacks Roman with the steel steps while the crowd chants “Thank You Braun.”
I was still entertained, but their match at Fastlane was higher quality. Braun didn’t attempt a frogsplash tonight. Braun looks unstoppable and I eagerly await a match between him and Brock Lesnar. Match Rating: 3/5
Payback wasn’t as bad as I expected. Neville and Aries was really good, House of Horrors was hilariously dumb and Braun Strowman got to main event a pay-per-view.
I’m not overtly excited about the Monday Night Raw show. There are characters I like on Raw, but all my favorite performers are now on Smackdown Live. I’ll take Kevin Owens, AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura over Seth Rollins, Finn Balor and The Hardys every day of the week. I’m much more looking forward to the Smackdown exclusive show next month.
Payback gets a passing grade of a C+.
by Nathan Dean Dimit