Payback 2014 (June 1, 2014) – Allstate Arena (Rosemont, Illinois) – Main Event: The Shield vs. Evolution (No Holds Barred Six Man Elimination Match) – Announcers: Michael Cole, Jerry “the King” Lawler, John Bradshaw Layfield; Pre-Show: Josh Matthews, Booker T, Kofi Kingston, and Alex Riley.
The 2014 edition of Payback had one major drawback entering the program, and that was the absence of WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan, due to a neck injury. You have to feel for Bryan; even if it’s just kayfabe that the company doesn’t believe in you, you have to still want to be the guy standing on the top of the mountain, holding the belts. Bryan hit the top at WrestleMania XXX, but since then, Bryan’s starred in a monster movie feud with the newly monster-ized Kane terrorizing him and his wife, Brie Bella, and undergone neck surgery, putting him on the sideline.
Coming into PAYBACK, the WWE has done solid work getting what it can out of Bryan’s neck injury, letting Stephanie McMahon carry the load. I’ve said it before and I’ll surely say it again – I’ve marked out for Stephanie nearly every time she’s been a part of the show since her debut. Her rise from innocent casualty to spoiled princess to evil queen has been glorious, and nearly every time she puts a microphone in her hand and lays into Bryan as a “B-plus player,” I end up with a smile on my face. The use of Steph has also allowed her husband to lead the charge for the night’s main feud, Evolution vs. the Shield.
Another nice thing the WWE has done since Extreme Rules is raise the profile of the United States and Intercontinental Championships. The U.S. title has long been the initial stepping stone for future superstars, giving them their first run with a title belt, but now it sits around the waist of established superstar, Sheamus. The Intercontinental Belt has also seen a resurgence, but this has come through the rebirth of Wade Barrett, which has seemed to prove my theory that the single best way to get a wrestler over right now is for the WWE Universe to recognize that said wrestler is being horribly misused by the company.
There’s little denying, however, that the overall build up to this event was somewhat lacking. Any PPV that has two matches added to the card on the night of the event tells you this, and as glad as I was to see RybAxel, The Rhodes Brothers, Kofi Kingston, and Bo Dallas get booked, it demonstrates that as many strides as WWE Creative has made in the past six months, they dropped the ball big time heading into Payback. If you know the WWE Heavyweight Champion is going to be out of action, they should have spent more time during Raw and Smackdown building up the other story lines. Instead, they doubled down on Evolution/Shield, John Cena vs. the Wyatt Family, and the Bryan/Stephanie angle, while tossing the Intercontinental and U.S. participants into an entangled set of matches, and coming off as being pleasantly surprised that Crazy Alicia Fox has gone over (to some degree) with the Universe.
Maybe that’s enough in this day and age of the WWE Network.
There was time given over to developing an Adam Rose and Jack Swagger angle, but that feud apparently came to a conclusion on Smackdown, as it didn’t make the event. There was also a lot of time devoted to the Summer Rae / Fandango / Layla storyline for it not to make an appearance at Payback. I’m not suggesting either storyline necessarily earned a place on the card, but just that those story lines clearly did not work well enough for the company to give them a spot.
PAYBACK 2014 is a mostly solid PPV (or whatever we’re calling these things now that the WWE Network era has begun), and what impressed me most was the level of physicality. In the age of the WWE Universe, I’m far less likely to get upset over a PPV that’s part of my $10 monthly fee as I would have been by ponying up $50 to watch it the old way. Even so, PAYBACK had some decent action. While it’s not a PPV that will be remembered as much more than workmanlike, it had its moments. All night, the matches came hard and fast and stars pulled off big moves and took serious bumps.
Well, not all night.
The pre-match show was yet another round in the endless conflict between 3MB with Hornswoggle and Los Matadores with El Torito. I don’t know what’s more confounding: what the WWE is doing by continuing to toss these wrestlers out there to face one another yet again, or that they still manage to put on mildly amusing matches. No lie, their Extreme Rules match was entertaining, but it’s now a month later and we’re still seeing this feud extended way past its time.
Hornswoggle and El Torito put on a decent match, but one that failed to be memorable. Did it go too long? Yup. Was the “Hair vs. Mask” angle stupid? Yup. Was seeing Hornswoggle getting his hair chopped and shaved idiotic? Yup.
There’s so much talent on the roster that doesn’t get a run on TV or PPVs that it is a little infuriating seeing these seven wrestlers take up all this air time. (Nothing shows a greater disconnect between what the WWE puts on the air and what I want to see on the air more than the lack of time given to Dolph Ziggler and Damien Sandow.) I get the need for palate cleansers, but I don’t get why they have to come first. I also think this feud, which has been overwhelmingly tilted in the direction of Los Matadores and El Torito, has demonstrated that 3MB deserves way better than they’ve been treated. Almost unbelievably, these guys have proven time and again that they’re actually kinda fun. While, yes, they are redefining what it means to be jobbers, I love how enthusiastic they are. My one hope in seeing them run out again and again is that, at some point, the WWE Universe decides to get behind them, even if, like with Fandango post-WrestleMania 29, it’s an ironic support.
Heath Slater has been doing jobber work for so long (remember when his gimmick running up to Raw 1000 was losing to every wrestler the WWE could find who hadn’t been in a ring in at least a decade?), it’d be nice to see the company reward him with some kind of legit run. I dunno, maybe the WWE considers all this recent air time their reward. I just love how enthusiastic Slater is when he wrestles (or watches Hornswoggle wrestle instead of him) and while he’ll never be a main event talent, I wouldn’t mind seeing him used a bit differently.
There was plenty of back and forth in the match, a decent amount of ring-to-floor aerials, and the combination of a decent match with a bit of silliness is probably a good way to start the night for the in-arena crowd. I do wonder, though, if the WWE has given up on the idea of the pre-event match being a draw to get people to buy the PPV (or sign up for the Network) because I can’t imagine anyone watching this and thinking, “Yup, time to finally the product.”
I can’t really blame the WWE for booking this match, though. Since the Hornswoggle vs. El Torito WeeLC match at Extreme Rules was surprisingly enjoyable, a sequel was inevitable. At this point, though, I think this is a feud best relegated to non-TV house shows.
The other disappointment to the match was that they didn’t bring back the little person announce team from Extreme Rules.
The actual PPV kicked off with Sheamus defending his United States title against Cesaro. Of all the night’s matches, this was the one where I wasn’t sure I knew how it was going to end. If I had to guess, I’d have thought it was time for Cesaro to get a belt and start his run up the company’s ladder, and that Sheamus was being used to legitimize the title, and thus, Cesaro’s reign. I also thought it was totally plausible for Sheamus to keep the title because I could see this feud extending beyond tonight, and because if Sheamus having the belt for a month legitimized the U.S. Championship, him having it for two months would certainly add to the prestige.
Going in, I had thought this match had a real potential to steal the show, but it ended up being a small disappointment. (Small – it was still a solid match.) Cesaro and Sheamus have the same strength, which is that they can put on a good match with anyone, but while they worked a very physical match, with plenty of near falls, this match was more solid than scintillating. I think part of the problem is that the WWE is misusing Paul Heyman. While Heyman can always be counted on to deliver strong mic work, his verbal target is still focused on tearing down the Undertaker and building up Brock (Ba-rock) Lesner. Is he going to do this all the way to Summer Slam, when presumably we’ll finally see Lesnar, again?
One of the reasons it seems Heyman is so focused on Lesnar and Taker is that he doesn’t have anyone else to focus on. It’s hard to get too much traction when Heyman is targeting Sheamus; at least when Cesaro was feuding with Swagger, Heyman and Zeb Colter had natural objects of their vocal assaults. Or when Cesaro and Rob Van Dam had their mini-feud, RVD is a natural target for Heyman going back to their ECW days. Until Heyman starts devoting more of his mic time to targeting Cesaro’s current opponent, the decision to pair the two will feel arbitrary, and the match that Cesaro is having on that night will feel slightly less important.
With some good back and forth, the match was definitely worth watching, and since there’s no way this feud is over, there’s still time for the two men to give us a classic match. While the ring work will naturally improve, I think the best thing they can do to heighten this feud is to figure out a way for Heyman to focus his ire onto Sheamus. If it were up to me, I’d have Heyman focus on Sheamus’ good naturedness and ride him over the fact that he’s as talented as anyone in the company but here he is fighting for the lowest belt, and that it’s clearly a sign that he’s on his way out of the business. In this, Heyman would be building up both wrestlers, and Sheamus’ insistence that the U.S. belt is important to him raises its prestige. It could also pave the way for Sheamus to make a long-needed heel turn.
The first of two unadvertised matches was up second, with Cody Rhodes and Goldust taking on Curtis Axel and Ryback. I think this could be a very good feud moving forward, as all four men have been putting in good work for a good stretch of time. While the Rhodes Brothers, or the Brotherhood, or whatever the official tag name is, have delivered solid matches for almost ten months now, RybAxel has been continually getting better. Their time at the broadcast table a month or so back proved these two guys had actual personalities. I’d love to see them get a run at the tag titles, but the tag team division has once again stalled out.
Back when the Brotherhood of Rhodes Brothers had the titles, there was real energy in the division, but then they dropped the titles to the New Age Outlaws, who then passed it on to the Usos, who have had their profile raised (they are the go-to temporary partners for any 6-man tag match) at the expense of not doing much with the belts. Any wrestler whose singles career has either stalled or could use a reboot should be considered for a tag team. Vince knows, the division could use some more legitimate competition.
Unfortunately, while RybAxel (certainly one of the dumbest tag team names in history) and the Brotherhood of Rhodes Brothers put on a solid, hard-hitting match, it seems the only reason this match existed was so we could see the furthering of the inevitable split between Two Moms, One Dad.
The slide into semi-obscurity by the Rhodes Brothers is one of those happening that doesn’t seem to have any real on-screen rationale. Cody and Goldust were putting on great match after great match. I understand the desire to strip them of the titles and give it to a placeholder (because heaven forbid a face team loses to a face team), but I don’t understand why they still weren’t highly used on TVs and at PPVs. It didn’t seem to be a matter of the crowd not being behind them, either.
There will always be those, of course, who believe the Rhodes family won’t ever get a full chance to succeed under the McMahons, but if it’s a matter of them being seen as “B-plus players” instead of “A-plus players,” that’s still a pretty good gig. And the break-up of The Half-Brotherhood looks like it’s going in a unique direction; instead of ending by one partner turning heel, as is usually the case, after the Payback match, Cody simply quit, saying his brother deserved a better partner. Whether this means Goldust will convince Cody to stick it out or not, it’s nice to know that when Raw happens tomorrow, I have no idea where this storyline is going.
Given the surprisingly strong work that Goldust has delivered since his return (surprising because of his age, not because Dustin Runnels is a bad wrestler), and his history of being a good tag team partner, I really hope he sticks around and takes a young wrestler under his wing. The WWE could play it as a “tough love” angle, with Goldust giving his wisdom to someone else to force Cody to toughen up, and Cody could perhaps find a partner who is happy to treat him more as a sidekick and less as a partner.
Of course, that might just be my way of arguing that Rhodes Scholars should be put back together because I never thought they got the backing from the company they deserved.
Rusev and Big E waved Russian and American flags at one another because the WWE has apparently decided what Rusev needs is not to be Bulgaria but Russian. It cracks me up whenever announcers say things like, “We’ve been told Rusev now lives in Russia” in order to advance this part of the storyline because when the hell would Rusev have time to move between countries? Did he do this on the European tour? If so, I would have loved to see vignettes done with Rusev moving his belongings (I imagine his apartment to contain one plate, one cup, one chair, one bed, and nothing else) to new digs in Moscow.
The problem with a wrestler like Rusev is that if you want to sell him as indestructible, you have to be real careful who you put him in the ring with. No established superstar is going to go in and job for a new guy, and no matter how diverting Lana is, having him square off with lesser lights doesn’t effectively build his character up to a level where the audience is going to take him seriously. It’s a good bet that any wrestler who faces off on Raw with someone who hasn’t been on Raw in a while is going to squash them, but I don’t see what that does for the wrestler. Rusev clearly has some skills in the ring and having him destroy the Sin Caras and Zack Ryders of the world is fine for a few weeks, but it’s time for him to get beyond that.
I like the idea of a Rusev / Big E feud but only if there’s going to be wins on either side. Big E is far too talented to come in and job for Rusev week after week, and their skill sets work pretty well together for short, super physical confrontations. I thought their Payback match was pretty good (apart from the silly jingoism) and I think it can work to elevate both wrestlers.
But it has to elevate both wrestlers. In five years, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rusev has run his course, but if Big E hasn’t won the WWE Heavyweight Championship and main evented some PPVs by then, the company has wasted his potential. I hope the WWE doesn’t mistake who is the better long-term prospect, because it’s Big E. He pulled off one of the best moves of the night by driving Rusev through the ropes, sending both men crashing to the floor. (You can tell I’m a child of ’80s wrestling because whenever I write floor, I have to stop myself from writing “concrete.” Bless you, Gorilla Monsoon.) If nothing else, Big E doesn’t need a manager to do his speaking. Give his Twitter feed a follow – the guy has a great personality to go along with his in-ring abilities. You could send him on a media tour tomorrow with the two big belts on his shoulder and he’s going to do nothing but make the company fans.
But on this night, Rusev won because Rusev is the current apple of the company’s eye.
Even if he’s living in Russia …
The second non-advertised match featured Kofi Kingston against Bo Dallas, which never happened because Kane stomped out to destroy Kofi and remind us all that while he’s an uncontrollable monster, he’s still a Company Man.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m all for Kane being used, but I don’t see why he has to stop being used in the Daniel Bryan storyline just because Daniel Bryan got hurt. What does that mean for Kane’s character? That he’s a monster until he hurts someone and then he goes and finds someone new to fight? Worse, his only real purpose here was to destroy Kofi so Bo Dallas could kneel over Kofi and tell him to “Bo-lieve.”
It’s interesting that, much like his brother, Dallas is positioned as a motivational speaker, only where Bray Wyatt takes the creepy cult leader approach, Bo comes off as Tony Robbins in tights. I like the heel potential of Bo Dalls. I think the whole “Bo-lieve” angle is something fans can really come to hate. Seeing him be the unexpected beneficiary of a Kane beat down helps to add to his heel street cred, but this non-match didn’t do much for any of the participants.
Bad News Barrett put his Intercontinental Title on the line against Rob Van Dam in another match that was solid, hard-hitting, but ultimately fell short of being spectacular. Barrett is reveling in this “Bad News” version of himself. I admit that I hated it, at first, but Barrett came out every week, stood at his stupid podium, banged his gavel, and kept delivering his bad news. At some point, it started to work, but now it’s almost working too well. Fans like it. You can hear the crowd chanting along with, “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you,” and Barrett is getting bigger pops than many of the faces he’s facing in the ring. The great thing about the “bad news” gimmick is that you can easily see it translating over to face territory.
The one question that the match brought up for me was whether JBL actually said, in regards to Barrett hitting RVD with his Bull Hammer, that “he knew what a sugar stick was.”
I mean, a sugar stick is a penis, right? So what the hell did JBL mean? He followed up his praising of Barrett for knowing what a penis is by saying, “he knew what his home run pitch was.”
A home run pitch? The mind boggles.
Also, let’s be honest about the announce team – it’s only sorta working. Michael Cole is serviceable (though he seems to never say anything memorable or add to the drama of the matches), JBL is better when he’s being honest instead of playing the forced heel, and the King is twenty-something years deep in his announcing schtick. Honestly, I have no idea what they should do. I don’t think there’s another play-by-play announcer at the company that can take over for Cole (I think Renee Young could be that person, because I think Young is the best announcing talent in the company, but I can’t ever see the WWE giving her that spot), and his banter with JBL and the King works best when one of them isn’t there. When it’s a three man booth, JBL is often relegated to being a hype man for one of the in-ring participants.
Where Cole falls short for me is that he always sounds like the Company Man instead of an announcer. What made both Jim Ross and Gorilla Monsoon so good was that they announced as if they were calling a boxing match, while Cole positions himself much more as a football or baseball announcer, careful to spend a good amount of time selling the story lines as he is selling the match in front of him.
Lawler also comes off increasingly bad when talking about recently-promoted NXT talent. I don’t know if they’re asking him to pretend like he doesn’t know who these newly arrived people are or if he never bothers to watch NXT, but it doesn’t do a good job selling the company’s product when he comes off as never watching WWE Network programming.
The Stephanie McMahon / Daniel Bryan verbal match did what it needed to do, in that Bryan found a way out of Stephanie’s trap by having his wife quit the company instead of being fired. It was the obvious play, and suggests that the WWE thinks Bryan should be back in action by the next PPV, because as over as Bryan is, I can’t imagine them allowing him to keep the title out of action for more than two PPVs. Bryan’s injury gives credence to Stephanie’s rationale that the fans deserve a “fighting champion.” That this rule did not apply to Dean Ambrose’s U.S. title reign, helps to give Steph’s arguments that double-edge: she’s right, but she’s also being vindictive.
It’s kinda perfect.
The best part of the entire segment, though, was when the crowd started chanting, “C-M-PUNK! C-M-PUNK!” because it clearly threw Bryan for a loop. You can see on his face that he doesn’t quite know how to respond to that chant, but there’s Stephanie, ready with a proper retort: “You see, Daniel,” she says, as if the crowd’s chant was part of the script, “they want you to quit, just like CM Punk did.”
Because the WWE is insistent that Brie Bella should sometimes talk, they had her woman up and fall on the sword, quitting before Stephanie could fire her. For good measure, she then slapped Stephanie in the face, assuring that even though she’s fired, Brie’s involvement in this story is far from over. They company seems unwilling to continue Kane’s involvement in this story, given Bryan’s very real injury, so I am intrigued about Stephanie’s response on tomorrow’s Raw. The entire point of her being the boss is that it gives her some control over her employees. If Brie is kayfabe no longer an employee, are we in line for shots of Brie being denied entrance to the building? Are we going to see Kane reintroduced, terrorizing Brie in her home as her husband reports for work?
Round 3 of the John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt series of PPV matches (this time it was a Last Man Standing match) got off to a dumb start but improved as the match went on. I know complaining about John Cena’s recuperative powers makes you look like an idiot, but it really does drive me nuts when Cena is playing the, “I’ll never get up, I’m getting up!” card two minutes into a match. You’re John Cena, stop acting like you’re not going to make the 10 count the first time you get knocked down, unless you’ve been knocked down because Bray Wyatt dropped the state of Illinois on your head.
I hate it, too, because I respect Cena. Once he and Wyatt find their rhythm, they put on a heck of a show. Cena delivers one of the night’s best moments when he picks up a part of the steel steps and tosses it at Wyatt, while he’s standing in the ring and Bray is on the floor. Bray’s response is to catch Cena in mid-jump and deliver a Sister Abigail on the floor. It’s good stuff.
The involvement of Luke Harper, Eric Rowan, and the Usos is a big misfire at the start, but the second time they get involved, it effectively serves two purposes. The first is that it gives Cena and Wyatt a chance to catch their breath. This is a long, physical match, and the two main participants need a break. The second thing it does is add a few memorable spots, including Harper giving one of the Usos a vertical suplex off the top rope and through two tables on the floor below.
Cena wins by trapping Wyatt in a box because I don’t know. It’s not a horrible ending, I suppose. At the 2013 Payback event, Cena put Ryback in an ambulance, so maybe Cena wants to make gimmick endings at Payback his thing.
I thought Wyatt was going to win (because I’m an idiot who believes in fairy tales, I suppose), but his character is sort of impervious to concepts like winning and losing. The Wyatt Family is incredibly over right now, and just like with Daniel Bryan’s rise from Royal Rumble disappointment to WrestleMania glory, losing probably helps Wyatt get more over than winning.
The palate cleanser between Cena/Wyatt and Evolution/Shield fell to the Divas Championship match between Paige and Alicia Fox. I still don’t think Paige is being used entirely properly. She’s obviously the best female talent the company has had in years, but down in NXT she worked, in large part, because of her aggressiveness and her self-appointed position as the “Anti-Diva.” During her first run in the WWE, however, they’ve positioned her more as the Every Woman face who loves the Divas belt nearly as much as AJ Lee loved it.
Honestly, all the hugging and obsessing over the belt works against her, I think. Let her be the Anti-Diva. Let her want the belt because everyone else wants the belt, and it’s fun for her to have what everyone wants. Having her suffering from early stages of Belt Obsession is too reminiscent of what AJ did.
Paige is at her best when she’s allowed to show some aggression, and thankfully, she gets to do some of that with Alicia Fox. The match is solid, if not spectacular, but everyone seems to be waiting for the latest Alicia Fox freakout. I actually think that’s not a bad thing. The Divas division has been in bad shape for awhile, and anything the WWE can do to build up other wrestlers while we wait for the inevitable return of AJ Lee is a good thing. Crazy Alicia Fox works for me, and I hope there’s a next step that sees her using that craziness to get under Paige’s skin, instead of existing as the unattached freak show that it does now. The way the WWE has treated the Divas division has largely been to have the champ run through one opponent after another without any sustained feud, but I think Fox is engaging enough to get another month in the spotlight. Heck, I’d like to see her win the title at Money in the Bank, so when AJ comes back sometime this summer, her and Paige can feud over who gets the title shot first, and then feud over the title, itself.
Because even though the WWE barely acknowledges it, there is some talent in the Divas division. Let AJ and Paige title over being the #1 Contender as Fox and Emma feud over the title.
The main event saw Evolution (Triple H, Bluetista- er, I mean, Batista, and Randy Orton) do their part to put the Shield (Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, and Dean Ambrose) over yet again. It was a good match, but there wasn’t a whole lot we hadn’t seen before. It was a No Hold Barred Elimination Match, which was just an excuse to have the action take place wherever and however. For a while it was a regular match with actual tags, but then they fought all over the arena. What was surprising was not that the Shield won or that Rollins did something incredible (jumping off the entrance tron) or that Rollins took a ridiculous bump (Triple H tried to put a flatscreen monitor through Rollins’ head and almost succeeded), or that fans booed Batista because they still haven’t gotten over the Royal Rumble or that Reigns got to play hero, but that none of the Shield was ever eliminated and that all members of the Shield got to eliminate a member of Evolution.
With Batista getting ready to leave in order to do press for Guardians of the Galaxy, it looks like maybe this is the end of this iteration of Evolution. There’s been some talk about bringing in a new member (Sheamus has been rumored), and maybe this whitewash will be used as a means of bringing in new blood to the group. The problem is there doesn’t seem to be anyone ready down at NXT to join up, nor does the main roster have anyone who looks positioned to be an actual threat to the Shield. Still, a recruitment angle, one that sees Triple H firing Batista and Orton from the group while putting out an open casting call for the roster to prove themselves worthy might be a good way for Evolution to evolve and build to the much-rumored SummerSlam match between Roman Reigns and Triple H.
Payback wasn’t a great event, but it does set up the company well for the run to Money in the Bank. The post-Payback Raw will have a very torqued off Stephanie, Triple H, and Paul Heyman, and that will surely make for good television.
Full Event Results
1. El Torito (with Los Matadores) defeated Hornswoggle (with 3MB: Heath Slater, Jinder Mahal and Drew McIntyre) / Mask vs. Hair Match
2. Sheamus (c) defeated Cesaro (with Paul Heyman) / Singles match for the WWE United States Championship
3. RybAxel (Ryback and Curtis Axel) defeated Cody Rhodes and Goldust / Tag Team Match
4. Rusev (with Lana) defeated Big E by submission / Singles match
5. Bo Dallas vs. Kofi Kingston ended in a no-contest due to Kane’s interference / Singles match
6. Bad News Barrett (c) defeated Rob Van Dam / Singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship
7. John Cena (with Jimmy and Jey Uso) defeated Bray Wyatt (with Luke Harper and Erick Rowan) / Last Man Standing Match
8. Paige (c) defeated Alicia Fox by submission / Singles Match for the WWE Divas Championship
9. The Shield (Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns) defeated Evolution (Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista) / No Holds Barred Six-Man Elimination Tag Team match