For a wrestling fan it does not get much better than a Big Event in Chicago. The claim they staked at Money in the Bank 2011 was furthered tonight, as it is unlikely that you will see a more raucous crowd at a WWE event for the rest of the year. The more hardcore fans that make up a crowd, the better the atmosphere is. We know this from Chicago, and the post-Wrestlemania Raw from New York, so you think the WWE would cater more towards those fans once and a while.
Payback was a nice show that was hardly boring during any time of the night. I felt that the event had some good story progression and really solid wrestling. Let's break it all down.
The main event was the weakest point of the show, which is a good and a bad thing. The main issue is that the WWE failed to anticipate how the Chicago crowd would react to Cena vs. Ryback. The boos for Cena should have been expected, but Ryback flopped horribly on the big stage, consistently being pelted with "Goldberg" chants. Ryback has been built up as much as possible save for winning the world title, but he is still being showered with the same chants that plagued his debut. He is not ready to be a consistent main event performer, and I don't know if he ever will be.
The match itself started out surprisingly well, until unfortunately slipping into the never ceasing corniness that pops up in almost every Cena match. The Lumberjack match was pretty strong, with a nice amount of wrestling involved, which is something I didn't expect. The tables match was also pretty solid. They did a good job teasing the table spots, and they got enough time out of that section to make the ambulance match seem more grueling.
The ambulance match is when everything began to go to s***. Cena and Ryback hokey poked around the ambulance with several recycled spots that take place in every single ambulance match. Soon, Ryback and Cena were ripping apart the ambulance like it was made of Styrofoam. I can take a few corny spots, but when Cena is ripping off the siren on the top of the ambulance to beat Ryback with, that is where I draw the line. The good news is that Ryback is history, and hopefully Cena will move on to an opponent which makes him shine more than Ryback did.
The Shield matches were more of the same from that faction. Good wins that continue to raise the prominence of the group. Ambrose got a win over Kane, which is a step up from Kofi Kingston. The count-out victory will set up a rematch, hopefully a stipulation match like a steel cage or street fight. If Ambrose defeats Kane on his turf, that will be huge for Ambrose. The tag team match was very good, as was expected when you consider the participants. Hopefully the anticipated heel/face turns between Orton and Bryan will work out soon, as they both really need them.
Chris Jericho vs CM Punk was a special treat given to the Chicago fans, and pure wrestling fans in general. Punk gets a big win after coming up short over the last three ppvs, and I think Jericho will be heading up for the summer to take up his many other pursuits. The match was extremely well done and a great display of technical wrestling and in-ring psychology, two rapidly decaying elements in today's wrestling culture. Punk and Chicago have a very special connection, one that is different from just about any other superstar and their hometown, and it is truly amazing to watch him perform in front of them.
The most frustrating part of the night for me was the outcome of Ziggler vs Alberto Del Rio. That match was quickly becoming one of the better matches either man has been in, but the finish with Ziggler being crushed by ADR as he nursed a head injury was terribly maddening. Del Rio's aggressiveness and his borderline cheap shot on Ziggler outside the ring gave the hints of a heel turn. However, it strikes me as a no-win situation for ADR. If he turns heel it will be his second turn of the year, and if he stays face he will continue to get weak pops, especially now as Ziggler's valiant effort showed an admirable side that may not have been present previously to tonight. The title should have stayed on Ziggler, this was the most obvious decision of the night really. Dolph gets bigger pops AND more heat than ADR could ever get, and that is a real disappointment.
AJ vs Kaitlyn was probably the best women's match to take place in the WWE in a long time. AJ is easily the most over female and really the only indispensable Diva on the roster. In addition, with the exception of Natayla and perhaps Layla, she is the best worker as well. Her destruction of the bright and friendly Kaitlin, it showed a cerebral side of AJ, one that makes her the most interesting female character in at least the last 10 years.
The Intercontinental Title match to start the show was a very good opening matchup. Curtis Axel is being heavily pushed, and as the IC champion, that means the belt will be in the spotlight. Wade Barrett is being wasted, but not everyone can be used to perfection. The finish was pretty creative and made Heyman look very good as a manager.
Overall I would give the show a 4 out of 5. There was a lot to like about the show, and it was thoroughly entertaining, but there were just a few little slip-ups that prevented it from being a truly memorable show. It did leave a lot of interesting talking points for tomorrows Raw, such as who will be Cena's next challenger, what is next for CM Punk and how will the Orton/Bryan feud make out. We shall see tomorrow and over the next few weeks to see just where the WWE is headed with all of this.