It was a bitch-
TO WATCH! ZIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIING!
Emanating from San Jose, California
Michael Cole, Corey Graves, Booker T
UNITED STATES CHAMPIONSHIP- KEVIN OWENS (c) vs. CHRIS JERICHO
WWE CRUISERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP- NEVILLE (c) vs. AUSTIN ARIES
RAW TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP- THE HARDY BOYZ (c) vs. CESARO & SHEAMUS
RAW WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP- ALEXA BLISS vs. BAYLEY (c)
SETH ROLLINS vs. SAMOA JOE
RANDY ORTON vs. BRAY WYATT- HOUSE OF HORROS MATCH
ROMAN REIGNS vs. BRAUN STROWMAN
WARNING- MATCH SPOILERS AHEAD- Y’ALL BEEN WARNED
Maybe it’s just me, but it doesn’t feel like there’s much momentum behind what’s going on in the WWE lately, besides NXT anyway. It’s hard to put my finger on why, but since Wrestlemania, which was on the whole pretty great, things seemed to have slowed down rather dramatically and both Raw and Smackdown feel more than a little directionless, and few things going on in the company right now have any real decent build or heat behind them. So with that taken into account, my feelings going into Payback were very much that of great apathy.
All told, Payback was a competent enough wrestling show. It was packed with a number of generally very strong matches and everyone involved seemed to work pretty hard. But at the end of the day, the aforementioned lack of build really ended up sapping any momentum the show built up, and by the end of it, I was left feeling distinctly “meh”
Part of that wasn’t helped by their being no less than three matches on this card that all went for the exact kind of booking that really, really grinds my gears, which was (in order of appearance): hot-shotting a belt from the guy who just won to the last guy who held it for no apparent reason (bonus points when the guy who just lost the title just got a gimmick built around having the title), a DQ finish to an otherwise great title match to have an excuse not to switch a title off someone and prolong a feud, and finally, having the homecoming champion lose their title in a really cheap-feeling gut-kick of a move. Obviously these are personal pet peeves, but after so many I can’t deny that they affected my enthusiasm for the show. Also, as far as Owens v. Jericho is concerned: there’s already a confirmed rematch for Smackdown, and Jericho is apparently going on tour with Fozzy pretty soon, so he could be losing the title two fucking days later winning it. Regardless of how awesome Jericho has been and how deserved it is, that really is a senseless goddamn title change if that does indeed turn out to be the case. That is speculation, of course, but I feel like it’s the kind of speculating I shouldn’t feel the need to make, but here we are.
There were two matches on this card that really intrigued me more than the rest: Roman vs. Strowman (cos it rhymes), and the House of Horrors match: the former for how they’d handle Strowman, and the latter for how much of a hilarious train-wreck it would be.
Let’s start with House of Horrors: I don’t know quite what everyone was expecting from this match, but given all the pre-show rumors floating around, whatever it turned out to be was guaranteed to be bizzare a more than a little cringey…and boy howdy, did it ever deliver. Much as I love Bray Wyatt, WWE seems to really have no clue how to portray him effectively, and this “match”, if you can call it that, just continued to prove that point. The attempts at “horror” here are truly laughable, to the degree where I’m genuinely unsure if it’s meant to be taken seriously or not. The House of Horrors was clearly the latest in an increasing number of attempts to bite off the Broken Brilliance that was the Final Deletion, but really lacks the same level of craft and self-reflexivity that made Final Deletion the genuinely entertaining campy B-moive action slice that it was. That said, there’s a certain schlocky charm to the poorly directed sloppy brawling mess of cornball attempts at horror and questionable set design that was the House of Horrors, which meant I enjoyed it a little more than expected. The fact Bray ultimately got the win was nice, but the lack of actual stakes attached to the win undercut the win to a severe degree, to say nothing of Jinder Mahal and the Bollywood Boys’ interference that gave Bray the win.
Roman vs. Strowman was, on the other hand, a genuinely entertaining and hard-hitting spectacle, and was a great main event to elevate the rest of the show. It was a truly brutal slugfest of a match, one that benefitted greatly from the rather well handled feud behind it up to this point. So strong was the story of this match that Roman even managed to garner some sympathy from the fans at least a few points…although he garnered as much scorn as well; ah well, baby steps. And I really is worth mentioning how great its been watching Braun Strowman somewhat inexplicably become one of the best acts in the company right now. While he might not be the most versatile of in-ring competitors yet, Strowman has definitely come a long way and really has grown in his in-ring work and mic work. The combination of his furiously destructive in-ring style and his increasing credibility as a legit monster makes anything involving Strowman far more intriguing than most of much else going on right now. Strowman going over on Reigns in this match was entirely the correct choice, and it went over fantastically with the fans in attendance (technically), and I’m going to applaud WWE’s restraint in this instance for not going with a Roman Reigns win here, which would almost certainly sucked all the momentum out of the feud.
As for the rest of the card, there’s really not a whole lot to tell. So many of the finishes to these matches felt oddly abrupt and anti-climatic, and not in the satisfying sense that match finishes can sometimes sneak up on you with. This was especially true with the Rollins/Joe match, which often felt lacking in intensity given the fairly personal stakes of the feud thus far established. Rollins win via a random roll-up was kind of a metaphor for the whole night: random, disappointing, and a blatant delaying action.
Don’t get me wrong, Payback was a fine show, wrestling-wise, and even the House of Horrors is an entertaining schlock-fest if you just give up on any attempt to take it seriously. But Payback in many ways highlights one of the biggest problems with WWE’s main roster product right now: the severe lack of momentum. So many moments on this show felt like they should have meant something, but just didn’t have a “big moment” feel to them because the groundwork wasn’t laid. Beforehand. It probably also didn’t help that so much of this match card was finalised before the Dra- er, “Superstar Shakeup”, resulting in this Raw-exclusive pay-per-view somehow having two Smackdown matches on it. Payback is a serviceable enough show for something to watch, but not a show you should really go out of your way to catch.