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WWE Payback 2023 Review (03/09/2023)

By Mick Robson

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Well, it's a WWE PPV day and somehow AEW has the biggest news story of the day. I awoke to the press release from AEW stating that Phil Brooks (aka CM Punk) has been terminated from his contracts- both as a talent and employee, effective immediately.

I think it's the right move. They tried suspending him, stripping him of the title, even eventually placating him by giving him his own show in Collision. Then, on the first show where he has to share a building with people he doesn't like, he gets in another physical fight. On the biggest show AEW's ever done, mind you.

I enjoyed CM Punk's work. Was a big fan of him until the ridiculousness of Brawl Out last year. I get having a chip on your shoulder, I get going against the grain, but in real life, you can't get into physical fights with your co-workers. I'll miss his fiery promos and some of the great matches he had during his AEW run, but I certainly won't miss hearing about Punk's backstage blow-ups after major AEW events.

Onto happier news... honestly, this PPV/PLE snuck up on me. Been more focused on AEW, although I have still watched WWE over the past month, there's such an overload of wrestling content it's hard to consume everything in great detail, y'know? But looking at the Payback 2023 card on Wikipedia before the show, and it looked like a low-key banger. Rollins vs. Nakamura. Owens/Zayn vs. Judgment Day in a Street Fight. Rhea vs. Raquel. Becky vs. Trish in a Steel Cage. Take my money! ...Or at least, the monthly subscription fee I pay for Binge. Which, as it turns out, is a pretty decent streaming service even independent of the WWE stuff.

Payback as a PPV has a bit of a soft spot in my heart anyway. It debuted 10 YEARS AGO in 2013, and I feel like it's an underrated show. We had Jericho vs. Punk in Punk's big return in Chicago following his Mania match with Undertaker (that was two firings ago). AJ Lee and Kaitlyn had a quiet banger of a match a good while before there was a Diva's Revolution. Even Ryback was decent in a Three Stages of Hell match against John Cena.

Anyway, we're here in 2023. Let's do this!


We kick things off with a detailed video package on the Becky/Trish saga. I really thought this match potentially could have main evented the show, but here we are!

Match 1: Steel Cage- Becky Lynch vs. Trish Stratus

Thoughts: This was as physical as it gets, with both ladies getting battered and bruised up- Trish with a particularly nasty hematoma on her forehead. The physicality and intensity suited the length of the feud, and it was clear this was intended as the blow-off match. Nice psychology throughout with Trish continually avoiding the Manhandle Slam. We saw a couple of nods to the original women's cage match in WWE, as Trish hit Victoria's Widow's Peak, and Becky hit Lita's Twist of Fate. Spot of the match had to be a wild superplex from the top of the cage which Trish took like a champ, but it wasn't the finish. No, we had some Zoey Stark interference, but Lynch fought her off and hit a top rope Manhandle Slam to end this rivalry.

Winner: Becky Lynch (at 20:00)

Star Rating: ****1/4. Michael Cole immediately started raving about this as a "Match of the Year". I wouldn't go THAT far, but it was an excellent match and a more than worthy way to end this feud between two of the best of their respective generations.

Post-match, Zoey Stark tries to help Trish, but the HOF shoves her away and tells her to get out of the cage/ring. Instead, Stark pulls the cage door shut and smashes Trish with her Z-360 finisher. I hope Trish's beautiful face is okay. It's suffered enough the past few months! Zoey tears off her "Thank You Trish" shirt and leaves.

John Cena makes his entrance as the host of Payback! The SAG-AFTRA strike is in effect, and Hollywood's loss is WWE's gain, as Cena has signed on to appear every week over the next 8 or 9 weeks. Once in the ring, Cena lists the multitude of things he's been in his career- including a "Doctor" and a "Prototype". But he's never been a host. And with that power, he's naming himself special guest referee for the match between LA Knight and...

The Miz-whose entrance music promptly hits. The A-Lister struts out and criticises Cena for pandering to the people (has he never watched John Cena, ever?) . Miz tries to tell Cena "NO", not to be the ref for his match, but Cena sticks with "YEAH!" and LA Knight's music hits! The match is on right now!

Match 2: LA Knight vs. The Miz (Special Ref: John Cena)

Thoughts: Miz did his typical cowardly thing, avoiding the fight in the early going as much as possible. A little later, they shine a spotlight on Cena as a referee, administering the 5 count on both and forcibly pulling both men away from the ropes at certain point. The match did start to go a little long, but the crowd came to life when Knight began his comeback sequence. Miz then hits a Skull Crushing Finale after Knight almost hits Cena for a good near fall. Miz tries to get a bit cute and goes for the Five Knuckle Shuffle, but it proves to be his undoing as LA fights back and hits Blunt Force Trauma for the clean win.

Winner: LA Knight (at 15:45)

Star Rating: **3/4. A good match that went 5 or 6 minutes too long. Miz has won all of about 2 matches in 2023, and for LA Knight to take that long to beat him isn't a great look. But hey, it's still a win, and hopefully Knight continues to look good in future matches.

Post-match, Cena and Knight share a tense moment. Cena offers his hand, and after a second, LA shakes it. Cena raises Knight's hand and leaves. A nice endorsement from the 16X champion.

Match 3: WWE United States Championship- Austin Theory vs. Rey Mysterio (c)

Thoughts: It's a marvel that Rey still moves as well as he does at his age. With Theory on the outside, Rey gets a great highlight as he performs a baseball slide into a tornado DDT. We get some back and forth, where Rey shows off speed and Theory shows off power. Theory manages a torture rack powerbomb for a great near fall. Rey hits the 619 and goes for the big splash, but Austin gets the knees up. Theory sets up Mysterio for A-Town Down, but Rey victory rolls into the cove for the 3 count!

Winner: Rey Mysterio (at 9:45)

Star Rating: ***. Nothing mindblowingly crazy, but certainly not bad. Theory continues to be defined down in the midcard when he was originally pegged as a major player, aligned with Vince McMahon, I swear, Rey Mysterio cannot be on the verge of 50!

Backstage, Cathy Kelly interviews Becky Lynch. They're interrupted by NXT Women's Champion Tiffany Stratton- who was shown watching the cage match earlier. They exchange words setting up a future Becks vs. Tiff match for the NXT title, apparently.

Match 4: WWE Tag Team Championship- Pittsburgh Street Fight- Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn (c) The Judgment Day (Damien Priest & Finn Balor)

Thoughts: This was a wild, wild brawl. Corey Graves made a Terry Funk reference when KO came up wearing a crimson mask, and this was far more hardcore than the Terry Funk tribute match they did on Smackdown the other week. Plenty of plunder, including stacks of steel chairs, then we had some real fun as Owens & Zayn emerged wearing hockey jerseys and wielding hockey sticks. A little silly, but still violent. Dominik Mysterio and Rhea Ripley ran interference. Owens then attempted to end himself with a Swanton off a balcony through Dom Dom lying on a table. Mami would avenge her Dom Dom by Spearing Owens through the barricade. In the ring, Sami appeared to have the match won following a Helluva Kick, but after Dom interfered again using Priest's MITB briefcase as a weapon, Judgment Day steal the gold!

Winners: The Judgment Day (at 20:45)

Star Rating: ****1/4. Another very high quality match, where everyone, even those doing run-ins, worked extremely hard to make this an entertaining spectacle. Didn't expect Judgment Day to win at this juncture, even after Rhea's ultimatum on Raw- I figured they would lose the tag match then Priest would cash in to make Mami happy. Really fun stuff though.

It's time for the Grayson Waller Effect! Waller is in a great mood, and rips on the people of Pittsburgh, saying that he's seen their reading levels, and just like Cody, they can't finish the story. Ooh, Waller going back to his teaching days for that sick burn! He wastes little time though, and introduces Cody Rhodes. Waller almost makes me do a spit-take, gleefully joining in with Cody and the crowd on the "WHOA!" bit.

Cody stops Grayson's attempts to antagonise him by pointing out the cliched nature of it, then gets to business- he used whatever "stroke" he has to get Jey Uso signed to Monday Night Raw! Cody gives the ring to Jey, and when Grayson mocks Jey for his lack of singles success, Main Event Jey simply superkicks him and leaves.

Decent segment, was hoping for more spotlight on Grayson, but it worked as a mechanism to get Jey Uso on a separate brand to Jimmy and cool down the Bloodline story for a while until Roman gets back.

Match 5: Women's World Championship- Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Raquel Rodriguez

Thoughts: This was a little odd in that they had Raquel be a full fledged underdog in this one, when to me the appeal of Rhea vs. Raquel was seeing someone who could potentially hold her own with Ripley physically, unlike, say, the Zelina Vegas of the world. Ripley ground and held the advantage over Raquel for an extended length of time, and the crowd didn't exactly rally behind Raquel for a comeback. They came to life a little when Dom interfered and Raquel slammed him, but this dragged a lot. Raquel hadn't been built up as a super strong challenger, and that was evident in how dominant Ripley was over this elongated stretch. And still.

Winner: Rhea Ripley (at 17:20)

Star Rating: **1/4. Gotta say, this was the first big miss of the show. Lacked atmosphere, lacked excitement, lacked drama. It re-inforced the fact that Rhea Ripley is a dominant force, but I'm not sure we needed almost 20 minutes to get that message across.

Backstage, John Cena plays a roving reporter- ala his turn as Lance Catamaran on Southpaw Regional Wrestling (a must-watch if you haven't seen it). He interviews Balor & Priest. Finn says "the champs are here" and Priest dismisses the idea of cracks in the Judgment Day- "we're family. Brothers fight". A nervous Cena/Lance sends us back to ringside.

Main Event: World Heavyweight Championship- Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Seth Rollins (c)

Thoughts: It was great to see the new World Heavyweight Championship get the headlining spot here. A silver lining in Roman taking some time away- it affords this version of the WHC to get some opportunities to elevate its prestige. Shinsuke certainly seemed more motivated than usual to put on a show, with his moves having a little more snap to them, and he had a smart strategy of attacking Seth's injured back. Shinsuke hits a wicked sliding German suplex, and then looks for the Kinshasa, but Rollins fires back with a superkick. Nakamura goes back to his MMA background with a triangle choke, but Seth summons superhuman strength by drilling Nakamura with a powerbomb. Seth takes more of a beating, really selling Shinsuke as a new, dangerous threat, but ultimately prevails by the skin of his teeth with a Stomp.

Winner: Seth Rollins (at 26:05)

Star Rating: ****. One of the best things from what I've seen on Raw in recent weeks has been the resurgence of Shinsuke Nakamura as a main event heel. I didn't buy into Shin taking the gold for himself, but I definitely believed he was doing enough so that Damian Priest could pick the bones.

Post-match, an extremely weary Seth Rollins clutches his title in the ring. The end card flashes but the camera stays on Seth a bit longer. Are we getting Priest, are we getting Priest? No... fade to black.

Overall Thoughts

This was a high quality B-level PPV. It wasn't expected to be a WrestleMania or Summerslam-esque spectacle, but the vast majority of what was booked either met or exceeded expectations. John Cena's presence made the event feel more special, and he gave "the rub" to LA Knight. We got storyline progression on the Grayson Waller Effect through Jey Uso joining Raw, and finally, Becky vs. Trish, Owens/Zayn vs. Judgment Day, and Rollins vs. Nakamura were all outstanding matches. Big time thumbs up for Payback 2023!

Overall Score: 8/10

Until next time, keep killing it as always!

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Who's Behind The Blog
Image of Mick Robson, founder of The Arena Media

Mick Robson is a freelance writer from Australia. A lifelong fan of pro wrestling and MMA, he endeavours to bring that passion through his coverage in news, reviews and opinion pieces.

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