Wednesday, 3 May 2017

WWE Payback 2017 Review


Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns knocking lumps off each other. The Hardy Boyz defending the RAW Tag Team straps against European Chums, Sheamus & Cesaro. Seth Rollins and Samoa Joe colliding for the first time since 2008 in Ring of Honor*. Chris Jericho, WWE Champion Randy Orton, The Miz, Kevin Owens and Bray Wyatt all on the undercard, as well as something called the House of Horrors match. 30th April's WWE Payback looked, at least, interesting on paper, but would San Jose's first PPV since 2007's The Great American Bash (headlined by John Cena v Bobby Lashley) manage to deliver? Let's take a peep. 

*Not counting their one house show match last week, I'm not a mad man.


Kickoff 



  • Tonight's panel of Renee Young, Jerry "The King" Lawler and Sam Roberts welcome us to the show, which was nice of them. 
  • Swiftly they moved onto chat about Chris Jericho v Kevin Owens for US title, focusing a lot of time on the possibility of Jericho going to SmackDown should he win the match. 
  • Sasha Banks joined the table to discuss, Bayley v Alexa Bliss for the RAW Women's Championship, as with most things female and RAW this quickly became the Sasha Banks show, rather than actually discussing the upcoming bout. 
  • Seth Rollins v Samoa Joe was the first bout to get hype package. 
  • A surprisingly short amount of time spent talking about Rollins v Joe, they really could have spent more time getting into the rivalry and all the potential storyline directions.

Enzo & Cass def. Gallows & Anderson 



A decent tag opener here, with everyone playing to their strengths and keeping things relatively simple. The lads had me onside from the off as Enzo went right after Karl Anderson, looking to avenge The Club's attack on last week's RAW. It's this kind of attention to detail that can drive a match and make it worthwhile keeping up with the product. Actually, Enzo's performance through the bout was up there with some of his best. No one is going to argue that Enzo is a technical wizard, but his character display here was great stuff. He sold, sold, sold for Anderson & Gallows, not just during his beat-down, but also after the hot tag and even at the end of the match, as he held onto the arm that his opponents had been working over a good few minutes before. My only complaint here was that after the extended build up to the hot tag, the eventual happening felt a little anti-climactic. I'm not sure if it was due to timing or a lack of ideas, but it a really satisfying hot tag could have taken things up a notch.

  • Backstage, The Golden Truth met up with The Hardy Boyz and spoke awkwardly about nothing for a minute or so. 
  • Sheamus & Cesaro joined Charly Caruso in the Social Media Lounge for a fun, character driven interview. The two played up their disagreements nicely and made the most of what were pretty dull questions (from peculiar sounding Twitter accounts)
  • The panel then quickly skipped over a few points about the Hardy Boyz v Sheamus & Cesaro RAW Tag Team title match.
  • A long hype package for Bray Wyatt v Randy Orton in a House of Horrors Match followed, covering their feud from Orton's house burning party. Still no real clue to what would air later on. 
  • A bit of discussion about House of Horrors, Renee tried her best to give the rules, but I'm sure it was too vague to tempt any drifting casuals (which is surely the purpose of the Kick-Off show). 

Balor laid waste to Miz and turned "Miz TV" upside down



Miz is just excellent, isn't he? Given a talk show segment with someone not known particularly for his promo ability, Miz ran with it and managed to make Finn Balor look like a real star. The A-Lister commanded the crowd, mocking them for cheering Balor's "five minute entrance", talked up Balor's achievements and when Finn told him he wasn't "worth it", his facial expression was superb. Whilst Balor wasn't particularly well-served in terms of dialogue ("Finn Balor just kicked my arse club"?), he handled it well, even if the verbiage, sort of, contradicted his "James Dean cool" thing that WWE are pushing at the moment. The biggest bit of new coming out of the segment was the Balor wants to challenge for Brock Lesnar's Universal Championship, which was already a given, but now it's been given a bit of focus. It will be interesting to see if WWE moves forward with Balor v Lesnar match soon. 

  • With minutes until the main show, there was a quick recap of the card that was on it's way. 

Main Show 


  • The opening video package asked the question "What breaks you, also makes you" which is a pretty flimsy statement when you think about it. 


Jericho def. Owens via submission to win United States Championship





With a finish as curious as it was unusual, this was another fine outing for Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens as their rivalry continues to snake it's way across WWE's top two brands, with Jericho now joining Owens on SmackDown. After their slow-burning match at WrestleMania, this match came straight out of the gates with Jericho attempting big moves like the triangle dropkick and lionsault early doors, with Owens dodging most of his rivals offence, constantly rolling to the outside, before nailing a running cannonball on the outside to take control. With The Prizefighter's headlock obsession being used correctly, the crowd was loudly behind the babyface Y2J and by the time the pair hit their stride and traded attempts at signature holds like the Pop-Up Powerbomb and Lionsault, the SAP Center was exactly where they needed to be. The highlight was a lovely sequence where Jericho flawlessly countered a Pop-up Powerbomb with a hurricanrana, before transitioning through in a Walls of Jericho. 

Now back to that finish, because it was those last few minutes that were the most interesting to me. After Owens managed to get a solitary finger on the bottom rope to break the aforementioned Walls of Jericho, mimicking a similar situation from their WrestleMania clash, there was real shift in the direction and storytelling. Y2J snapped and brutally went after Owens finger and hand, finishing off by sandwiching the champions arm in between the ring steps and apron and dropkicking the steps. It was clear that the crowd didn't quite know how to react to viciousness of Jericho. Here was a babyface acting furious and frustrated, which WWE doesn't often do, especially in more clean-cut affairs like this. For me, the plotting was gorgeous in those last few exchanges, with Owens getting a convincing false finish on an eye poke and roll-up, but then couldn't hit the Pop-Up Powerbomb because the hand injury. Owens then sold his second stint in the Walls of Jericho like a trooper, attempting to reach for the ropes, only for his suffering extremity to make the task impossible, resulting in the submission. I'm fascinated in where this story is going next with both on SmackDown live, because of just how different the conlcusion was to pretty much anything else.

  • A WWE Network promo...on the WWE Network. 

Aries def. Neville via Disqualification,

Neville retained Cruiserweight Championship 



Whilst the screwy finish means that this was a slight step-down from their WrestleMania Kickoff show-stealer earlier in the month, Austin Aries and Neville continued to show why they've been positioned at the top of the Cruiserweight division, with some crisp and pacy grappling. The match played out a nice simple story of Neville being able to cut off any high-risk offence from Aries, with the King of the Cruiserweights initially taking control with a huge dropkick to halt his opponents progress. I would have liked to have seen a bit more depth to it, but the action that was produced was slick throughout, with the opening exchanges of holds and arm drag being particularly well-done. Whilst the crowd's lack of enthusiasm has often been an issue since the return of the Cruiserweights, San Jose was into the majority of the match and by the time Aries hit a tasty neckbreaker in between the second and third ropes, they were well behind the 2 time ROH World Champion. 

The ending was pretty clever, but also disappointing as Neville pulled at the referee to break up a Last Chancery and ended up getting disqualified. Had this finish been a few week's earlier on RAW, then I wouldn't have minded it so much, as it would have added more depth and potential for the PPV match, which is surely what the television product is supposed to do. Hopefully there's one more match to come as I got that sense that if the pair were allowed off the leash just a little bit more, they could tear the house down. Perhaps a rematch on an episode of 205 Live would provide the best opportunity? 

Hardy Boyz def. Sheamus & Cesaro to retain RAW Tag Team Championship



The main show's only tag team match was put together well and built across it's thirteen minutes into squad fittle. Cesaro and Sheamus worked the default heel role well, with their style suiting the amount of control they had, with them often taking advantage of Matt & Jeff's riskier offence by just being two big bruising lads about town. Cesaro hit one of the most ridiculous leg drops that I have ever seen. Seriously, no one should be able to jump that high from a standing position and then hit a leg drop. Imagine how much more fucked Hogan's back would've been if he was jumping that high every night in the 80s and 90s? A string of strong near falls after the break down pushed the match up a level with Sheamus' mid-rope White Noise standing out in particular as The Celtic Warrior & The Swiss Superman continue to develop into a top drawer tag outfit. It appeared that Jeff was out of position for the finish, with the referee having to tell him he was in the wrong corner, leading to Sheamus and Matt having to improvise for a bit and then repeat their spot. It didn't have a massive effect, because the finish of Jeff nailing a Swanton Bomb as Sheamus went for a pin was still pretty cool, but it certainly would've been cooler had it been smoother. (Oh Sheamus also knocked Jeff's tooth clean out when he just kicked him square in the head, as well) 

Following the bout, Sheamus & Cesaro went full heel in a superbly timed moment, that had been well supported by the build-up on RAW recently. Going back to the handshake trope that we've seen the two teams use at the end of their two TV singles matches, it appeared like that might have been exactly what we were getting as at every feasible opportunity for a turn, there was nothing. They shook hands and then headed up the ramp leaving the Hardy Boyz in the ring. I actually wrote down that it was different, but I liked it. Then after waiting just the right amount of time, Cesaro came charging back into view and the duo began a vicious assault on the RAW Tag Team Champions. It was brilliant. Sheamus and Cesaro looked so fucking angry as they threw Matt and Jeff into the chunky ringposts and topped it off with Sheamus nailing a Brogue Kick to Jeff's back that sent him into said ringpost. The wait for the attack and the voraciousness of it made the moment stand out from the rest of the evening's action.

Bliss def. Bayley to win RAW Women's Championship 



Completing the run of title matches (that all oddly came at the top of the PPV), we had what in my opinion is Alexa Bliss's best match to date. Bliss benefited from this being a character driven encounter and mostly wrestled within her ability level, helped by the stronger in-ring talent of Bayley. We hadn't got to see much of the pair interacting in the rushed build-up, but the strength of the two characters and their juxtaposition was enough to keep me entertained., Bayley, the fun-loving hometown hero against Bliss, the spiteful and malicious spoiler made perfect sense, with the San Jose crowd loudly behind their girl, whilst Alexa made sure to mock the champion at every opportunity. The second portion of the match in particular saw some good wrestling, highlighted by a Code Red out of the corner from Bliss and a diving elbow drop near fall for Bayley that had the crowd hooked. Still not sure how I feel about Bayley's violent knee strike though! 

As had been hammered home during the Sasha Banks v Charlotte Flair feud, no one ever wins in their hometown. Therefore there was no real surprise here when as Corey Graves quipped "Sometimes the wicked witch wins" in a line as delicious as it was alliterative. Bayley would wack her head of the bottom of the ring post as Bliss escaped a pin attempt that itself blocked a second Code Red attempt, before Bliss claimed victory, and the title, with a snap DDT. It was creative finish that allowed Bliss to win clean, but look like a real bitch at the same time, whilst also protecting Bayley at the end of her two and half month run on top. Whilst the hometown atmosphere won't come around again for these two, I feel with a little more build-up over the coming weeks and months, adding some depth to their rivarly, they should be able to produce a more robust rematch.  

  • A repeat of the Bray Wyatt v Randy Orton hype package from the Kick-Off show. THERE WILL BE HORRORS IN A HOUSE...probably. 

The House of Horrors happened...



The House of Horrors felt like it was produced by someone who had heard about TNA's Final Deletion, but hadn't actually watched it. There was certainly none of the charm and silliness that made that match (and it's sequels) a cult classic. In fact, the only thing that raised a smile from me was the daftness of a driverless tractor clumsily cutting past Randy Orton as he got out of a limo to enter the house. The actual fighting of the match was done well as Orton and Bray Wyatt brawled in various rooms with a nice intensity, but then nothing really happened. They chucked each other into the walls a bit, but there was very little in terms of spots and the environment wasn't used to it's full potential. At times, it felt formulaic and repetitive as Wyatt ambushed Orton three or four times, but because you knew what was coming it was never particularly exciting or scary, whilst the use of imagery that had been present in the build-up on RAW and SmackDown was almost completely absent boiling down to some dolls suspended from the ceiling and a dirty fridge. The fridge did provide the only spot of the segment with Wyatt toppling it onto to Orton before heading to the arena (disappointingly in Orton's limo rather than the possessed tractor)

  • We'd have to wait to see what happened to Wyatt and if Orton was dead under a fridge, because a hype vid for Seth Rollins v Samoa Joe signalled that was next.

Rollins def. Joe



The evening's longest bout, Seth Rollins battling victory saw some of strongest wrestling on the card. The bout started hot with a cracking face shine from The Kingslayer as he hit a slingshot tope, jumped off the barricade and then nailed a pair of suicide dives after Joe tried to roll out of harms way, before a dragon screw leg whip as Joe caught his opponent getting into the ring saw the bout shift focus. Following up with a big boy suicide dive, the Destroyer dominated, with a series of holds and attacks on the right knee of Rollins. It was simple stuff, but Joe adapting offence like the running senton to impact directly onto the knee, whilst Seth sold with every movement made absorbing television. Joe's sweet folding powerbomb into Boston Crab was a personal highlight from the Samoan's dominance, whilst Rollins knee giving out on that cross-handed thingy he does into an enziguiri was a nice touch also. 

The last two or three minutes seemed to lack that special something that could have made this a great contest, as Rollins attempted to stave off the Coquina Clutch, first with a variation of the Bret/Piper finish and then with a successful roll-up attempt. It felt like the bout was missing, at least, another five minutes of action, and the quality of those last few exchanges wasn't up to the level of the rest of the match. Whilst the knee injury was used well in the middle of the match and sold consistently throughout, it felt weirdly absent in the finish, even when the clear opportunity of having it give way when Seth attempted to push off the ropes when in the Coquina Clutch was presented. A rematch needs to deliver a top gear section of action, whilst also producing a much crisper finish, that doesn't have a tacked on and rushed feel.

  • Another WWE Network promo...on the WWE Network, because WWE Network. 
  • Bray Wyatt turned up in his commandeered limo, looking like he'd actually ran the whole way, the conclusion to the House of Horrors match was next then.  

Wyatt def. Orton in the House of Horrors Match



The in-ring portion and conclusion of the House of Horrors match managed to provide a nifty moment to begin with, but then quickly lost it's sense of purpose. Orton turning up behind a Wyatt who was convinced that he'd win by forfeit, having crushed his opponent under a big fridge, as well as the Eater of World's reaction, was crafted nicely and got a big reaction from the SAP Center. Unfortunately, the bout spiralled soon after as despite some fun brawling around ringside and trading a few big moves, we ended things with an interference finish. The Singh Brothers initially jumped the Viper, and when they were unsuccessful out came Jinder Mahal to twat Orton with his hijacked WWE Championship belt. I suppose with Orton being the top champion for a different brand, they were always going to have to do a screwy finish here, but if this was the best they could come up with, I'd rather have them just end this feud at WrestleMania or on SmackDown. For a match that was supposed to be "horrific" this was relatively tame, even by current WWE standards.  

  • An overly long promo for our main event, looked at the history of Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns over the last couple of months. Remember when Braun tipped a limo over, halcyon days. 

Strowman def. Reigns 



Two big bad motherfuckers tearing strips off each other and throwing each other around, this was a lively and entertaining main event. It maybe uncool to praise Roman Reigns, but Roman Reigns pulled out a major league performance, allowing Braun Strowman to shine as the match's aggressor. Heavily bandaged from Strowman's backstage assault on RAW a few week's previous, the Big Dog was tasked with selling both his left shoulder and his ribs and did so admirably. The apparent pain was etched across his face, his breathing was laboured, especially during higher velocity action and little touches like only throwing his right arm in the air for his trademark, pre-spear roar, made all the difference. The wrestling was rarely sophisticated, but it didn't have to be. Yes there were some moments that didn't quite work, like Strowman's lifting arm triangle choke, but for the most part the bout protected both by hiding their short-comings and extenuating what they both do tremendously well. Strowman defeating a man who defeated The Undertaker in his final match in the main event of WrestleMania should be considered a watershed moment for a guy who has only been on our screen since August 2015. 

The post-match beatdown produced some uncomfortable viewing as Strowman brought the steel steps into the ring and obliterated Reigns. To close the show with such an angle was another brave step, but one that Reigns' uncool factor allows for, in a way. The crowd chanting "Thank You Strowman" almost created the feel of a schoolyard bully being egged on by his cronies, which was pretty powerful television. I was honestly expecting someone to make the save for Roman, especially with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose now on the same brand and both babyfaces. Reigns spitting blood on to the mat, as a supposed result of a shot to gut with the stairs produced a great visual and really sold the impact of the attack. Like a lot of this event, I enjoyed the offbeat booking that made this moment, along with many others on the show, stand out from the all too often cookie cutter environment of WWE.


RAW Talk 


  • We begin with Roman Reigns being helped backstage and get a surprising amount of action with Braun Strowman ambushing the Big Dog and accidentally taking an ambulance door off and throwing himself into a load of boxes. The Juggernaut then lost his shit and slammed the other door repeatedly into Strowman, mental scenes. 
  • Renee Young and Jerry Lawler discussed the main event and start of RAW Talk, which was a little jarring, considering we'd just seen a man assaulted with a vehicle.
  • Alexa Bliss was the first interview and handled herself very well, bemoaning the lack of celebration for her title win. The new RAW Women's Champion spoke about how she used to feel like she was in the shadow of the "Four Horsewomen" but had done something none of them had ever done in holding the two Women's belts currently in the company. 

Young & Lawler talk House of Horrors, United States and RAW Tag Team Titles Matches



The first lengthy period of discussion on the show, as Jerry Lawler and Renee Young ran through a variety of topics in between the two interviews. Whilst Young and Lawler don't quite have the same chemistry that Renee has with Daniel Bryan on SmackDown, there was enough to hold my attention. Talking about the House of Horrors match in this environment was never going to work, because it was clearly more entertainment than sports. To have Renee wondering how Orton managed to get back to ring after having a fridge tipped on him only serves to throw light on the ridiculousness of the whole situation. However, the talk about the United States and RAW Tag Team Championship matches was much stronger as the bouts had plenty of realistic talking points. Jericho's shift to SmackDown and the conclusion of that match, as well as the chat about Sheamus knocking out Jeff Hardy's tooth were the highlights.


Sheamus & Cesaro Interview


A great opportunity to strike while the irons hot, directly after a heel turn and Sheamus & Cesaro jumped on it here. They got over their new attitude, gave solid reasoning for taking out the Hardy Boyz earlier on and delighted in getting as many replays as possible of Sheamus kicking Jeff in the face shown. Their babyface run has been fun, they've had some good opportunities and had decent matches with The New Day and The Hardyz, but portraying them as two pissed-off hard-hitting bastards is almost certainly going to allow for more physical and engrossing tag matches. With The Revival currently out, there's space for the heel turn, but it will be interesting to see how the division that has a much strong villain contingent already is shifted by this move over the next few months. 


Finally...
ATPW Scale Rating - 6.23/10




Payback 2017 was the strongest RAW-exclusive PPV since the draft split and a massive improvement on the likes Fastlane and Roadblock: End of the Line. The majority of the matches told strong stories with intriguing and distinct developments throughout. Whilst the RAW brands main problem of unsatisfactory endings was still present in matches like Neville v Aries, Rollins v Joe and to some extent the House of Horrors bout, the trope never became the norm and two of those finishes will be remedied if built upon heading into Extreme Rules in early June. I'd love to have said that there wasn't a bad match on the card, but unfortunately the House of Horrors match was not what it needed to be and ended up letting the rest of the creative down.


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