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Payback had a lot of different matches from WrestleMania and WWE heavily pushed the idea that the event was the start of a "new era" for the company and in a lot of ways that is true. The matches were largely better from WrestleMania and there was a lot of successful storyline evolution tonight in Chicago.
Roman Reigns vs AJ Styles: ****
The match was way overbooked that it was devalued a bit, but it was still really strong and a good main event, perhaps the best of any WWE show this year. Styles will get his rematch, again with no disqualifications which feels like they are just waiting for a heel turn (which is a horrible idea by the way) and he is certainly deserving of another shot.
Styles coming right into the WWE with no run in NXT and no real prep period and continuing to be one of the best wrestlers in the world is amazing. I don't think people realize how truly tremendous he is; and tonight was arguably his best performance. It's the little things that he does against a less-talented opponent; the selling of each move, the balance, it is really reminiscent of the way Shawn Michaels would consistently drag great main events against so-so workers. His springboard forearm to the outside that sent Reigns through the table is the most impressive move I have seen in any WWE ring this year. The level of skill that goes into something like that is mind-boggling, I don't know if anyone else in the world could pull it off so well, maybe Rollins or Ricochet but that is about it.
Reigns was also very good in the match. I figured that he would end up winning the match with a relatively clean finish and that is what happened. He worked hard and was there to catch Styles in all of his spots—there is no way you can complain about his personal effort tonight.
The multiple false-finishes were a little too much. Both guys were working their asses'off in the ring and the crowd was getting into it, but WWE had to press pause twice in order to get the McMahon's over. They could have accomplished all the stuff with Anderson and Gallows with a simple ref bump that wouldn't have been too much trouble; but WWE needed to push the McMahon feud more in the main event so that is what we got.
WWE muting the crowd response during Reigns' entrance was disappointing. WWE can have their announcers say that all that matters is the fans are making noise and that they don't care if Reigns is getting booed; but muting the crowd is indicative of how WWE really feels about the crowd booing Reigns, and that is they are so bothered by it they don't want it to be shown on air. Muting the crowds is just going to discourage the crowd from making any noise in the future, which isn't going to help their product at all.
Charlotte vs Natayla-**1/2
This was an okay match; nothing that blew me away. I don't think it was quite as good as their previous encounters, but there was nothing really to complain about inside of the ring.
The ending was dumb. WWE has down the Montreal Screwjob to death so many times in storylines; as fans we never really need to see it again. I doubt WWE even explains what Charles Robinson's motivation was for screwing Natalya. The segment in the ring at the end was cool I guess, but these women are too good to have to rely on the 10,000th rehash of Montreal to advance their feud.
Chris Jericho vs Dean Ambrose: ***1/4
Nice match between the two and Ambrose picking up a win on PPV is important. I doubt this feud is over and that is a good thing. I figured the exchanges between these two would end up being more significant than the matches; but this was a pretty good bout between the two. Jericho is just a tremendous performer; he isn't the biggest guy on the roster but he still carries himself like an insufferable bully in the ring, grinding down his opponent. His heel turn has been a breath of fresh air in WWE and he works as a good foil for Ambrose.
Cesaro vs The Miz: ***
Pretty good match that is going to fly under the radar because the match will end up being secondary to the post-match stuff. Owens and Zayn are going to be feuding for a long time and the battle over the Intercontinental Championship will give them another reason to fight each other. Cesaro is one of the best and The Miz did a really good job selling his stolen victory.
Sami Zayn vs Kevin Owens: ****
Really good match that I think was aided by the fact that the previous tag team match was cut short due to Enzo's injury. That likely gave these two more time to work and that let them tell a good story in the ring. Owens is the perfect heel for the new era; charismatic and capable of giving anyone the match of their career he is a respected performer by everyone. However, his character and his actions are just so despicable that the fans will root for his opponent (provided they are the right opponent, which Zayn certainly is) and that can carry a lot of feuds.
I figured that the match would end with Owens screwing Zayn for the pinfall, but Owens winning cleanly in the middle of the ring works just as well. Owens inserting himself into the Intercontinental Championship feud after the match seemed strange—simply because it would seem that the championship is below him at this point; but since it is likely going to lead to Zayn getting his revenge on Owens later, it is a non-factor.
Enzo and Cass vs The Vaudevillians: No Ranking
Terrible break for Enzo and Cass; just on the cusp of true superstardom and they were cut down by an awful injury to Enzo. I was excited for this match; the crowd was hot and the two teams had a good clash of styles. This seemed like a rebirth of the tag team division because the crowd was really hot not for a title match, but a number one contenders match. The first thing I thought about when Enzo went down was Perro Aguayo Jr., who died last year on a similar in-ring injury. I just really hope Enzo is okay and can come back healthy.
Also on the show was the segment where Vince McMahon was set to decide who was going to run Monday Night RAW. Never mind the fact that a few weeks ago Vince was hoping that his son would be maimed in a Hell in a Cell match; he randomly, and really inexplicably, decided Shane McMahon should run RAW and gave him control of RAW and for a few mercifully Authority-less RAW's, everything was great. Unfortunately Stephanie McMahon came back and The Authority is back in the picture.
What is utterly bizarre this feud beyond the fact that there is no logic involved; is that the feud isn't about wrestling at all. There are no titles on the line, no wrestlers stepping into the ring. This is a storyline that is essentially a backstage political battle staged in the center of each show. The storyline is so far beyond the traditional scope of professional wrestling; it is almost as if the fans don't really care about WRESTLING anymore, more about what storylines the fans are given. They don't even have to have anything to do with actual wrestling.
Vince's decision to pair them both up to run RAW was fairly predictable and will just extend the storyline feud between the two. Obviously they are not going to work well together; they will probably each pick up their own wrestlers and it could lead to a brand split down the road. For now fans will be treated to more long promos between the two; which is nothing new but will likely result in some fireworks.
As idiotic as I find this all this, there is little denying the fans are into this storyline. Shane's dialogue is really strong and they are doing a good job playing on the real-life opinions the fans have about the product. It's the hottest feud WWE has right now and while I personally find it ridiculous, the fans are eating it up, so regardless of what I personally think; WWE is hitting a home run here.