Tuesday, 3 May 2016

PPV Review: WWE Payback 2016 (Reigns vs. Styles)

On 1st May 2016, WWE aired Payback 2016 live from the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois, USA on PPV and on the WWE Network. 4 weeks removed from WrestleMania 32 and with 3 weeks until Extreme Rules 2016, Roman Reigns put the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on the line against AJ Styles, Chris Jericho went one on one with Dean Ambrose and Sami Zayn collided with Kevin Owens...but was it any good? Let's take a look.

payback 2016 match card

Match 1 – WWE Tag Team Championship #1 Contenders Tournament Final – Big Cass & Enzo Amore vs. The Vaudevillains: Aiden English & Simon Gotch

Match 2 – Singles – Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn

Match 3 – WWE Intercontinental Championship – The Miz (C) with Maryse vs. Cesaro

Match 4 – Singles – Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose 

Match 5 – WWE Women's Championship – Charlotte © with Ric Flair vs. Natalya with Bret “Hitman” Hart

Match 6 – WWE World Heavyweight Championship No Countout No Disqualification – AJ Styles vs. Roman Reigns ©

Commentary - John “Bradshaw” Layfield, Michael Cole, Byron Saxton & Kevin Owens (Miz vs. Cesaro only)

Sponsors - Tapout (Sports Clothing and Accessories), JC Penney (Mid-Range Department Store), Hulu (Ad-Supported Streaming Service) and Cricket Wireless (pre-paid Wireless Service Provider)

Theme Song - We Don't Have To Dance by Andy Black (Glam Metal)

fast-forward...WWE Tag Team Champion The New Day kicked off the show, with a brief promo about Beyonce and DMs...The shows hype package aired with a focus on this being the first show of a "New Era"...

cass and amore vs. the vaudevillains ended in a no contest

Ah man, poor Enzo Amore. Arguably the biggest match in the career of all four of these guys and after a promising opening it get's cut short by a nasty looking injury. Having never wrestled, it's difficult to say what exactly went wrong when Simon Gotch of The Vaudevillains went to through Amore to the outside, but to me it seemed like a simple miscalculation by both men, that resulted in Amore hitting his head off both the second and third ropes and then the canvas before rolling to the outside. It would later be revealed that Amore had suffered a concussion, so hopefully he'll be back in the ring sooner rather than later and we'll get a satisfying conclusion to WWE's Tag Team Championship #1 Contender's tournament. 

owens defeats zayn

They've wrestled each other in WWE NXT, WWE house shows, PWG, ROH, CZW, IWS and more, they've took their rivalry across the USA, Canada, England, Italy, UAE and Belgium, but this was arguably the biggest chapter in the on-going saga that is Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn. And boy did these two bring it on the big stage. From the hype package onwards it was clear to anyone that this was two characters with major beef and with that package filling in a little of the extra details on the background, Owens and Zayn set about producing a satisfying collision. It can be very difficult to get across the hatred between two characters within the confines of a normal one on one contest and many matches have ended up falling flat because of this, but from the opening exchange it was clear that the pair would be just fine.

With a captive audience, Owens and Zayn went about creating a great match, that played to both the performers and characters strengths. The bigger Owens controlled the pace of the bout well, taking time to interact with the crowd and whip them into a frenzy, whilst The Underdog from the Underground's offence came in fits and bursts as he scraped and clawed to try beat his most-storied rival. There was a brilliant sequences in the second half of the bout that started with Owens hitting two cannonballs in the corner and concluded with The Prizefighter dodging a Helluva Kick by nailing a big lariat, with lots of twists and turns in between. The action was crisp and smooth throughout the whole bout, it was clear that these two have almost 13 years of in-ring history, with a lot of the match seemingly happening on instinct.

The clash was built nicely around Owens attempting to hit the Pop-Up Powerbomb with the former ROH World Champion almost executing the move on various occasions, meaning that when he finally did hit the move it was a satisfying conclusion to the contest. Having Owens win the bout completely clean was the most interesting development here, I've been saying for a while I've got a feeling that he'll be turning face sooner rather than later, but it has to be said that the finish kind of cut the legs from underneath the enjoyable feud with Zayn. A post-match interview with Byron Saxton seemingly shifted Owens onto a new-path almost instantly, as he declared his interest in earning back the WWE Intercontinental Championship and joined the commentary team for the next match.

fast-forward...Promo package for upcoming WWE Network shows, including Camp WWE, The Edge and Christian Show that Totally Reeks of Awesomeness, Swerved, Holy Foley, The Stone Cold Podcast, Extreme Rules 2016, Money in the Bank 2016...

miz defeats cesaro to retain wwe intercontinental championship

This cat and mouse bout kept the Rosemont crowd as energetic as ever, as Cesaro and The Miz fit a lot of narrative elements into just over ten minutes of action. The match featured Cesaro strongly, showcasing his explosive power with The Miz playing his chickenshit heel role very well as he was helped by his wife and manager Maryse at various points throughout the bout, whilst also focusing on The Swiss Superman's taped up shoulder. The clash flowed well, with a number of big moments being placed along the story, like Cesaro powering out of a headlock with a beautiful deadlift verticle suplex and a well-timed false finish that saw Cesaro run shoulder first into the ringpost and Miz hit a Skull-Crushing Finale only to get a two. 

The end of the fight was a little bit scrappy, with Sami Zayn returning to fight with guest commentator Kevin Owens, which would eventually cause the distraction that saw Miz steal a school-boy roll-up victory, moments after the referee had missed Miz tapping to a Crossface. Things felt a little directionless here, with that a little to do with Owens having already beaten Zayn clean twenty minutes earlier, with a feeling of WWE creative throwing as much shit at the wall as they could and hoping that something would stick. This was seen most clearly in the brawl between all four men, which would once again see Owens standing tall after taking out both Cesaro and Zayn. Whilst still very watchable, I felt like the closing stretch of the encounter could have been much more satisfying with the two performers still to fully explore Cesaro's injured shoulder. 

ambrose defeats jericho

This was the weakest of the three marquee matches on the show in my opinion. That isn't to say that Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose was a bad match, because it wasn't, but I felt that the elements of this bout that were done well, were done better by either Zayn vs. Owens earlier on or Styles vs. Reigns later on. The pair looked a little bit awkward with each other at times and that lead to clunky sequences, with Jericho's reversal of an Bret's Rope elbow drop from Ambrose into a Walls of Jericho standing out as a particular dodgy sequence. Ambrose blocking a Codebreaker and falling back to hit a Wacky Line with Y2J just standing about waiting to get hit also lacked the slickness that might have made it work. 

Although I've started off with a fairly negative paragraph, this certainly wasn't a bad match, far from it. The pair worked a number of big spots that suited their chat show based feud, like their battle on the announce table that mirrored their clash a few weeks earlier on Monday Night RAW and Ambrose's long spell in the Walls of Jericho that would eventually lead to a lovely false finish with a small package. I thought that Jericho's character work was the strongest element of the contest, as he's slotted into a grumpy veteran role, arguing with the referee to help take control and spending large amounts of the contest employing a more ground and pound type offence than he's used in the past. 

The finish was a little different from what we're used to in WWE, as Ambrose blocked a Lionsault with his knees before managing to roll through and, after a lengthy struggle, hit Dirty Deeds to pick up a pinfall win. I thought Jericho really fighting to try to escape the move was a nice twist, as it not only put over Jericho's fear of the move, but also the strength of Ambrose for managing to hold on and hit the move. This is arguably the biggest win of Ambrose's career so far and puts him in a strong position as we head towards the summer. Quick shout-out to Jericho hitting a Double Underhook Backbreaker in this match, which was formerly used by CM Punk, under the name Welcome to Chicago!

charlotte "defeats" natalya to retains wwe women's championship 

A hit and miss kind of effort here from Charlotte and Natalya, as elements of their encounter worked really well, but unfortunately there was a couple of moments of clunkiness that creep into the clash. The overall storyline of the bout was probably the strongest part of the whole affair as Natalya started off going for the Sharpshooter, before Charlotte would begin to dominate the match with a focus on her opponent's legs. The idea of the WWE Women's Champions frustration at not being able to put Natalya away would creep into the final third of the match, which Charlotte handled well. The bout was let down a little with a couple of spots that were good ideas, but failed to be fully realised in their execution, like the spot on the outside where Natalya would rana Charlotte into the steel steps for example.

I have to admit that the finish resulted in me letting out an audience "Uh". Almost twenty years after the Montreal Screwjob and we're still bringing it up in angle? I get that Bret "The Hitman" Hart was back in the company and he was always going to be involved in the finish of the match in one form of another, but this? Referee Charles Robinson calling for the bell with Charlotte holding Natalya in the sharpshooter was a fairly unimaginative finish that left a sour taste in the match. It was a shame that having attempted to shift the focus back onto Women, rather than Divas, that the defining moment here was focused on the involvement of the competitors older male relatives.

vince mcmahon puts shane mcmahon and stephanie mcmahon in control of monday night raw

This would have been a good segment on Monday Night RAW, it would have been a great segment had it been ten minutes or so shorter, but it really had no place on PPV. There were parts of the segment that were indeed pretty entertaining with all three McMahon's putting on good character based performances, that seemed to work particularly well for the live crowd inside the Allstate Arena. Vince allowed the crowd to get "CM Punk" chants out of their system, showing that he really wasn't that bothered by it all, before helping his daughter get even more heat than she was already getting from her stellar performance. Shane had a pretty easy job as the protagonist, coming in last after Vince and Stephanie had already set him up with open goal. Shane repeating his gladiator style pandering to the crowd, by getting them to cheer when he pointed at himself and boo when he pointed as Stephanie was fun the first time round, but already tired by this point.

I think the biggest problem with this segment was the outcome. Having Vince decide that both Shane and Stephanie should be in control of Monday Night RAW wasn't a big enough decision that it earned it's place on PPV and needed a near twenty minute preamble. It didn't get me excited about the upcoming months at all, with the idea that Shane and Stephanie's antics will probably dominate television looming large in my mind. I know many were expecting a brand split (which is weird because I remember a lot of people looking forward to end of the brand split), and I was kind of expecting to see a major swerve and have a completely new authority figure appointed, but unfortunately this moment just couldn't live up to the expectations that WWE had created by placing it on a major show. 

fast-forward...The Kick-Off Panel Renee Young, Booker T, Jerry “The King” Lawler and Corey Graves chat about what we've seen so far tonight...Highlights of Kalisto retaining the WWE United States Championship over Ryback from Payback Kick-Off 2016...Hype package for Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles later on...News on Enzo Amore's injury given by Cole...

styles defeats reigns by countout with reigns retaining wwe world heavyweight championship...shane re-starts the match with no countouts...styles defeats reigns by disqualification with reigns retaining wwe world heavyweight championship...stephanie restarts the match with no disqualification...reigns defeats styles to retain wwe world heayvweight championship

If you ever wondered whether AJ Styles could hang in a WWE main event, then this match surely answered that question as Styles put in a terrific performance opposite WWE World Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns. The two men slotted together extremely well to make the wrestling portion of the match a pleasure to watch, pulling together a number of component to create a rich encounter. Styles was presented as the "veteran" of the bout, with the commentary team emphasing this throughout much of the earlier part of the bout, with the exclamation point coming with Styles leading Reigns in a chase around the ring before rolling inside to take control. Reigns' power was also a focus, presenting an interesting audio-visual combination as the majority of the crowd was in opposition to the current champ. 

The sports-entertainment elements of the bout drove the narrative, as we saw Styles win the match twice. Firstly, Styles won via countout after hitting a Phenomenal Forearm that sent Reigns through the announce table, with Shane McMahon heading out to restart the match with No Coutouts, before The Phenomenal One picked up the win again, this time by disqualification after Reigns inadvertently hit his challenger low after Styles came off the top rope with Stephanie McMahon out to restart the match this time. It was a fairly obvious way to get across the relationship between Shane and Stephanie being in joint control, whilst also allowing Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows to get involved in the action without causing a DQ. Not the most original piece of booking, it did manage to do a number of jobs at the same time.

The final portion of the clash coming after Stephanie McMahon coming out, was definitely the best part of the match. There was a lot going on with Gallows and Anderson coming out to attack Reigns, The Usos coming out to help their cousin, lots of sweet near falls, brawling around the outside and into the crowd, which built nicely to an exciting conclusion to the action. The finish that saw Styles dodge a Superman Punch from Reigns, before Reigns ducked a Phenomenal Forearm attempt and nailed his challenger with a Spear to pick up the victory and finally retain his championship. Taking in a lot of different styles and having a strong variety of action, Reigns and Styles produced a brilliant WWE main event, that set WWE on right path heading out of WrestleMania 32.

fast-forward...The show closed with Mr. McMahon encouraging Shane McMahon and Stephanie McMahon to book a rematch between AJ Styles and Roman Reigns for Extreme Rules in three weeks time...

atpw scale rating - 6.42/10

For me, this was WWE's best PPV offering of the year, so far, just about edging out January's Royal Rumble event. The three marquee bouts all delivered to some degree and whilst Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose wasn't quite the match that it should have been, we still got a world class main event between Roman Reigns and AJ Styles with plenty of quality action and sports-entertainment tomfoolery, whilst Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn bought their war to it's highest point so far. Cesaro and The Miz's WWE Intercontinental Championship bout was the highlight of an undercard that was let down by a couple of bizarre booking decisions. Had it not been for the unfortunate injury to Enzo Amore cutting the opening match short, I'd expect that this show would have gotten a much stronger rating, as well!

WWE made a real statement with this PPV, in terms of it's post-WrestleMania 32 direction, we'll have to see if they can continue their strong form in three weeks' time in Newark, New Jersey for Extreme Rules 2016.

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