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Expectations for Payback this year were perhaps the lowest of any recent WWE PPV. Daniel Bryan wasn't wrestling due to injury and the two biggest matches on the card were rematches from the previous PPV. Let's take a look at what ended up going down tonight.
The Shield vs Evolution- ***3/4 (3.75 stars)
After a phenomenal match at Extreme Rules, a lot was expected for the rematch, and while the match had some really strong moments, overall it will probably go down as a disappointment to most wrestling fans. The match was perhaps the longest, non-iron man match in recent WWE history, and it seemed like there was never a great flow to it. The Shield ended the match as the clear victors, effectively dissolving Evolution for the time being.
The match started fast and furious, with both sides brawling all over the arena. Then, for some unknown reason, they decided to spend about 15 minutes of the match having a very boring standard tag match. Eventually they got back to exciting, no-holds barred beat-'em up style match, but because they wasted so much time doing a normal tag match, they ended up having to rush the finish. In the end, the match was just too long. Instead of having a 35 minute match, they should have just had a 20 minute match similar to the one they had at Extreme Rules and cut out all of the time-consuming boring stuff.
The repercussions of the match should be the most interesting thing that comes out of Payback. With Batista rumored to be out the door for a little while, combined with the fact that The Shield swept them tonight and ended the match by beating down the boss, Triple H, it is pretty clear that Evolution is done for now. Now, what is next for The Shield? One thought I had was tomorrow night on Raw, they come out and announce that since they have conquered every conceivable opponent, they are breaking up to pursue their personal ambitions. Another possible option is that Triple H comes out and says that while The Shield proved that they are superior to Evolution collectively, individually they still can't beat him. Eventually, this will work out for into the Roman Reigns/Triple H match that is speculated to take place at Summerslam.
The big loser in this is Randy Orton. He was very strong tonight, and showcased a supreme sense of glee to the audience while inflicting torture to the members of The Shield. But with Batista done for now, and Triple H either moving into a singles feud or falling back into his role as COO of the company, what is left for Randy Orton? He has been in the main event for pretty much every single WWE PPV for nearly a year, yet now his future is uncertain.
John Cena vs Bray Wyatt- **** (4 stars)
A conflicting match if there ever was one. In a vacuum, the match was actually quite good. The inclusion of Harper and Rowan and the Uso's was a smart choice, and those guys took a majority of the bumps and high-spots, despite the fact that they were not even in the match. The match had some of the dumb tendencies that WWE recycles in every no disqualification match (numerous chair shots to the back, the spot where someone gets sent through the time keepers barrier), but overall was at least entertaining for the majority of its existence.
The problem with the match is that John Cena won. Now, I'm not against Cena winning matches, but him going over in emphatic fashion, in a feud that he has pretty much dominated since the get-go, is aggravating and a tremendous detriment to the future of Bray Wyatt. Those who say that Cena didn't bury Wyatt tonight are not thinking about the full picture. Yes, Wyatt was very competitive in this match and got a lot of offense in, but now that it looks like the feud is over, it is clear that Cena didn't allow Wyatt the chance to properly advance his character, in fact, Wyatt was demolished by Cena over the last few months.
The best wrestling feuds are the ones were the guys are seen as presumptive equals. Ric Flair/Ricky Steamboat, The Rock/Stone Cold Steve Austin, or even CM Punk/John Cena were all tremendous feuds because they had such a good give and take between the performers. In this feud, it was just Cena taking. Cena beat Wyatt two out of three chances, but beyond that, Cena didn't just beat Wyatt, he physically overwhelmed him numerous times, sometimes even taking out Rowan and Harper while he was at it.
What is even worse is that Cena no-sold Wyatt's character for the majority of the feud. If Wyatt couldn't physically topple Cena, he could at least get into his head. Despite Wyatt's attempts, Cena reacted to Wyatt like he did to every other bad guy he has faced. He just shrugged off all the psychological attacks with his same "I'm John Cena, and I fight for what is right," bravado that he has been playing for nearly a decade.
I talked to Grantland.com's David Shoemaker about this, and he mentioned that no matter what the bad guys seem to do to John Cena, his character is just magically able to hit a reset button every week. This is exactly what happened during Cena's feud with Bray Wyatt. Wyatt would beat Cena by getting a little kid to sing in Cena's face, but next week on Raw, Cena didn't seem fazed. Wyatt beat Cena down and counted him out on the stage, next week Cena just showed up the next week and took care of business.
The worst thing about this is that the feud had so much potential. Coming into the feud, Wyatt was red-hot and had a tremendous ability to capture the imagination of the fans. Putting him up against the company stalwart and consummate good guy John Cena, was a no-brainer. Maybe Wyatt would be able to inject some life into Cena's stale character. Unfortunately, Wyatt was turned into just another foe for Cena to slay. With a resounding loss to Cena, where else is there to go for Bray Wyatt? Despite all his words and his impressive verbal outpourings, Cena showed us that Wyatt was just another guy that when push came to shove, couldn't stand the physical beating that Cena unleashed on him. What is next for him? Unless he goes into the world title picture (unlikely), there is only one way to go for Bray Wyatt: down.
Paige vs Alicia Fox- **1/2 (2.5 stars)
Despite the fact that this match featured two very competent workers, Paige and Alicia never seemed to click in the ring, and the match ended rather quickly with an Alicia submission. Alicia went crazy after the match, so perhaps there is more to come from these two, but overall more was expected, especially when considering how good the NXT women's match was.
Rusev vs Big E- **3/4 (2.75 stars)
Rusev defeated the former Intercontinental Champion, but for the first time he was actually Tested by an opponent that could match him physically. Big E's career has hit a rough patch, but he still has potential and that spear off the apron may have been the bump of the night. Rusev and Lana are starting to get some serious heat, which is funny because their gimmick is so old-fashioned and before they debuted I would have likely said that it would never work, but they have made it work. Rusev is an interesting performer, and it will be exciting to see how high his star can really climb over the next few months.
Bad News Barrett vs Rob Van Dam- *** (3 stars)
Barrett continued his hot streak with a clean victory over the veteran Van Dam in a pretty decent back and forth match. What interests me is how quickly RVD has gone to being just another mid-carder in WWE, with no real direction. Here is a guy that came back a year ago to a lot of fanfare, but since then has basically become Kofi Kingston. He still gets a pretty good pop from the crowd, so he is likely capable of more, but WWE seems very comfortable in letting him work with younger talent and putting a lot of them over.
A surprise to see this match tossed in at the last moment, but ended up being a solid match, mainly thanks to the brilliance of Cody Rhodes. Speaking of Rhodes, he pretty much broke up with Goldust after the match, simply saying that he deserves a better tag team partner. This seems like a undramatic way to break them up, especially since they were said to have a big match at Wrestlemania, but ultimately, WWE nixed that idea. Although last fall they were one of the most popular acts in the company, the Rhodes brothers have slipped into relative anomaly. Cody is still fairly young and is one of the best workers in the company, so hopefully things are made more important.
Cesaro vs Sheamus- ***3/4 (3.75 stars)
Solid match to open the show with, with Heyman killing it on the mic as usual, and Sheamus and Cesaro trading heavy blows in the ring. Cesaro losing the match might end up being a blessing, as it frees him up for a potential run with a main event level face like John Cena or even Daniel Bryan.
Lastly, the Daniel Bryan/Brie Bella and Stephanie McMahon segment was pretty uninspiring. WWE managed to put off the world title situation for another day, and they will show that slap 10 million times over the next few weeks. Brie Bella will likely find her way back into WWE soon, and we will all sit on our hands while we await the in-ring return of Daniel Bryan. WWE is simply just stalling and waiting for Daniel Bryan to be cleared, but they have also been extremely uncreative in coming up with anything to hold the fans interest over the course of the last month.
Overall, Payback was better than expected. There wasn't a match that wowed anybody, but it also didn't have a total stinker on the card like most WWE PPV's tend to have. The storyline progression of the show was pretty monotonous, but perhaps things will pick up as WWE builds up the historically great Money in the Bank show.
Here are my star ratings for NXT Takeover:
Adam Rose vs Comacho: *1/2
The Ascension vs El Local and Kalisto: ***3/4
Tyler Breeze vs Sami Zayn: ****1/4
Charlotte vs Natayla: ****
Adrian Neville vs Tyson Kidd: ****1/2