WrestleWatch: WWE Payback 2020
So, WWE made an odd scheduling choice. One week after Summerslam, they've scheduled another PPV for a very quick turn-around. There's usually at least 4 weeks between PPVs, generally occuring monthly, while we might have two in one month on the rare occasion. Back in the days of single-brand PPVs (from 2003-2007), we'd occasionally get shows close together, but since the rosters were split and well-defined, it didn't matter as much because we were seeing different wrestlers and storylines. The biggest problem was, it was in the pre-WWE Network days, and teenage me rarely had the funds to go buying $40 PPVs in back to back weeks. But here we are, in 2020, with a WWE Network subscription, getting a little more bang for my buck. Well, it's a big show! (Again.)
The Payback PPV hasn't been around for a few years. In fact, the last one (2017) saw the last major WWE singles match for everyone's favourite wrestler/rock star, Chris Jericho, as he faced fierce rival Kevin Owens in a match far superior to their somewhat underwhelming Wrestlemania 33 event. I didn't think the WM match was as bad as Vince thought it was, though.
Backstage at WM33:
Owens: We good?
Other Payback highlights over its (somewhat brief) history- Evolution reunited to battle The Shield in an awesome six man war, and AJ Lee and Kaitlyn had a killer match over the Divas title in the inaugural 2013 event, long before we had any kind of "Women's Evolution".
Y'all don't need context for this one. Same feuds as Summerslam. Roman Reigns is back. And... we go.
Usual Kick-Off banter. Actually, calling their forced dialogue on the panel "banter" is an insult to banter. I'm sorry.
Kick-Off Match: Riott Squad (Ruby Riott & Liv Morgan) def. The IIconics (Peyton Royce & Billie Kay) (at 9:05)
Thoughts: This was actually a better than average Kick-Off match. All four wrestled like they had something to prove, like they should have been on the main card. I mean, they shouldn't have, because this received fairly minimal build even for a show with one week build, but I still appreciate the effort. Riott played a good face in peril as the Sydney girls beat her down. Then there was some dissension as Billie Kay prevented the hot tag to Liv by knocking her off the apron, then briefly convinced Liv that Riott actually hit her. Morgan eventually got her head straight and tagged in, cleaning house before nailing a nice double team finisher with Riott to pick up the win. Forced tension spot aside, I really enjoyed the hard work put in here. (**1/2)
Main card time, and the Thunderdome is looking good! Actually, that's probably why WWE have quickly booked this show, trying to get as much use out of the Amway Center as they can. Seemingly they've cut a deal where renting costs are on the cheap- and by on the cheap I mean it's several thousand dollars each day they're in there, and WWE has to cover electricity costs themselves- a fair provision given what a monster the Thunderdome set up is.
Match 1: WWE United States Championship- Bobby Lashley (w/ MVP & Shelton Benjamin) def. Apollo Crews (at 9:30)
Thoughts: A decent opener, nothing special but nothing bad either. Lashley wins by submission with the Full Nelson. Or as Lashley calls it, the Full Lashley. Or, as R-Truth calls it, Nelson from The Simpsons. Har har. Surprising booking in that it was pretty much clean and decisive, even with the Hurt Business at ringside. I wish Lashley did the proper version of the Dominator though... I guess it's deemed too dangerous or something? (***)
Post-match, the Hurt Business poses for celebratory photos and Apollo Crews attacks them. Not a very babyface move, Lashley won straight-up. Saxton tries to defend it as Crews being upset about the celebration, but nah, that was some bad sportsmanship by the former champ. Now we wait and see if MVP was right and if Crews goes back to sitting in catering now that he's not carrying that (god-awful) belt.
Commentary talks about the shocking close to Smackdown, which revealed that Roman Reigns has aligned himself with Paul Heyman. Reigns delivered the Heyman catchphrase of "that's not a prediction, it's a spoiler" in regards to winning back the Universal Championship. Heyman chimes in with "Believe that."
Backstage, Kayla Braxton (who is cute, but no Renee Young) tries to get a word with Heyman. Heyman kind of blows her off but does say he expects Reigns to sign the contract for tonight's main event. Ooh, cliffhanger!
Backstage, but in a different area this time, Keith Lee is warming up for his match and is approached by JBL. Bradshaw says that he sees a bright future for the Limitless one, and offers him entry into a hedge fund- I'm not going to pretend I understand what that is, this is a wrestling review. A million dollars to get in. Lee declines, saying he doesn't have those kind of resources- that's a classy way to say you're broke, I'm stealing that.
"Wanna go to the movies?"
"I don't have those kind of resources."
JBL gives Lee his business card and says if he beats Randy Orton, he'll be on his way. But if he doesn't win, don't worry, Orton's one of the greatest of all time. JBL wishes him luck and Lee looks deep in thought.
Match 2: Big E def. Sheamus (at 12:20)
Thoughts: Hoss battle! Two big dudes hitting each other hard. Big E is beginning a singles run with both of his New Day buddies, Kofi and Woods, on the shelf with injuries. E also hit his trademark spear through the ropes to the outside, which was a different level of impressive on someone that big. It's good to see Sheamus be able to work a match like this too- for a while it was being reported that Sheamus was looking at the end of his career due to spinal stenosis. Big E getting a clean win over a credible former world champion like Sheamus, with his finishing move, the Big Ending... it says a lot for the future of E as a solo act. And as we've seen in the past with Kofi, Big E being a singles guy doesn't have to mean the end of the New Day act at all. He's carrying himself with confidence, performing well, and looks to have a brighter future being himself than he was as a stoic rookie back when he held the IC title. (***)
Backstage, Alyse Ashton- new girl replacing Renee Young- interviews Matt Riddle. Riddle is his usual chill self until Ashton brings up a comment from Corbin about Riddle being a failure at home. The King of Bros' mood changes after this and he walks off in silence. Is it really a good idea to bring up the real life drama of Riddle cheating on his wife when he's meant to be the top new babyface on Smackdown?
Again, backstage somewhere else, Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax are warming up and bickering. Well, Shayna is warming up, the only running Nia is doing is with her mouth. The in-fighting is a little reminiscent of Team Hell No back in the day.
Match 3: Matt Riddle def. King Corbin (at 10:55)
Thoughts: Corbin has his ridiculous throne with manservants to carry him to the ring, so automatic extra points for that. As Riddle makes his entrance, Corbin clotheslines him out of his flip flops. Yeah, get that cheating bastard, Corbs! Wait, Riddle's a face, Riddle's a face... the King of Bros rallies with some body kicks that turn things in his favour. Deep Six from Corbin gets a near fall. Corbin tries to throw down punches, and Riddle uses his MMA abilities to lock in a triangle. Bro To Sleep followed by the Floating Bro ends it for the Smackdown newcomer. Decent match with good intensity given the build and pre-match interview, but not exceptional by any means. (***)
Post-match, Riddle is interviewed and says he's moving on. Corbin attacks him from behind. Taking a play from the Apollo Crews handbook. This one ain't over, folks.
Match 4: WWE Women's Tag Team Championship- Shayna Baszler & Nia Jax def. Bayley & Sasha Banks (at 10:20)
Thoughts: The actual work was kept mostly between Bayley, Banks and Baszler, with Jax just coming in for a few power spots. Sasha hits a nice move by countering a Jax powerbomb into a facebuster. She's been watching old Billy Kidman matches, I see. An okay match, this one gets boosted a lot by the great finish- Shayna locks both Bayley and Banks in a dual submission, and Bayley taps out. A cool move in isolation, and Bayley being the one to tap is furthering their story- commentary were quick to point out that Sasha now has no belts. Bayley is still the Smackdown Women's Champion. I don't see Shayna and Nia being long term champs. I was a bit surprised to see them win- they teamed one time, I believe, before getting the PPV title shot, such is the strength of the women's tag division. But as a device to further the Bayley/Sasha story, it worked really well. And it strongly re-establishes Shayna after she took some time away. (***1/4)
Match 5: Keith Lee def. Randy Orton (at 6:40)
Thoughts: Any fears about Keith Lee's career following his title loss at NXT Takeover ought to be soothed here. More of a statement about Lee's card position on the main roster rather than trying to be a great PPV match, he ran through a 14 time world champion in short order. The Spirit Bomb looked awesome, Orton's sell of it was next level. So yeah, Lee's future is extremely bright. Too bad about the changed music, though, generic AF. (**)
Backstage, Kayla Braxton pesters Paul Heyman again. Heyman recounts that Roman Reigns promised to end the night as Universal Champion. "Believe that, and believe me. Satisfied?" Well, this is Paul Heyman we're talking about. He's notoriously tough to believe. But we'll see...
Match 6: Dominik & Rey Mysterio def. Seth Rollins & Murphy (at 16:00)
Thoughts: Easily the best thing on the show to this point. Dom got to show substantially more offense than Summerslam, which was essentially an extended beatdown with a couple of hope spots. It started high energy and never really let up due to the tag format, frequently keeping fresh competitors in the match. Dom still got to sell a bit, before making the hot tag to Big Daddy Rey Rey. Rey gets a nice burst of offense as well, benefitting from the shared workload. The heels up the aggression down the stretch, using the barricades. The finishing sequence is cool, with Dom launching Rey to the outside, allowing his dad to hit Rollins with a sunset flip bomb into the barricade. In the ring, Murphy eats the pin for his team following a Dom 619/Frog Splash combo. Lots of fun. (***1/2)
Unfortunately, this highlight of the show came at a cost- Rey Mysterio tore his tricep during the match. Almost makes me wonder if Rey pulled a "Maria" and finessed WWE- he was working without a contract for a long time, apparently re-signing near Summerslam time. Very sucky-or convenient- timing for Rey to get that injury. But it does suck that Rey is injured, regardless of the timing of when it happened. Silver lining, though- Rey was meant to face Seth Rollins one-on-one on Raw to qualify for a number one contender's match, but he was replaced by Dominik on the night. It may have been Dom's best match yet! He's definitely got a bright future, showing more and more and looking increasingly more comfortable each time he's out there.
Match 7: WWE Universal Championship- Roman Reigns def. The Fiend and Braun Strowman (at 12:46)
Thoughts: Like Summerslam, rather underwhelming and short for a PPV main event. Interesting start with The Fiend coming out first, only for Strowman to attack him during his entrance. The match starts from there, and no Roman Reigns. Fiend and Strowman take advantage of the no holds barred nature of what is supposed to be a Triple Threat. So we've got two heels battling and we're waiting on Roman, who is apparently also a heel now, to make his entrance. Weird dynamic. And we had the return of Fiend's giant mallet (not an euphemism). So that was fun. Big spot where Fiend and Strowman crash through a table off the stage. Time for Roman to come out? Nope. So the monsters keep battling. Big time superplex in the ring... and the ring collapses. That explains why we didn't have the LED posts and boards around the ring on this show. The ring breaking looks a little lame as Wyatt isn't big enough along with Strowman to cause that. In the past, we've needed Big Show and Mark Henry to break rings, and Bray just isn't that size. Really funny moment as Charles Robinson throws himself out of the broken ring in an extremely obvious manner. NOW it's time for Roman Reigns to come out. With Heyman by his size, contract in hand, The Big Dog signs it and storms the ring. Spear on Fiend, kick out. Reigns can't believe it. He grabs a chair and smashes Braun with it. Fiend goes for the Mandible Claw but Reigns kicks him in the nuts. Spear on Strowman and Roman Reigns is Universal Champion once again. And he is now, without a shadow of a doubt, a heel. This could be awesome. And by "this", I mean Reigns heel run. This match... not so much. Nothing really mattered until Reigns came out, due to how the segments in the show set it up. (**1/2)
WWE Payback was a PPV with one week of build, and it felt like it. All the matches on the undercard felt like standard filler work that you could see on Raw or Smackdown. The Dominik & Rey Mysterio tag match was the highlight of the show, very high energy, but the rest was fairly missable, not outwardly bad, just... there. The main event had some stunts and gimmicks happening, but the crucial thing was that it solidified the heel turn of Roman Reigns. Something that people have been wanting for years. I'm very keen to tune into Smackdown to see what Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman have to say. As a stand-alone show, though, as a WWE PPV, Payback passes at a push.
Until next time, take care,