When Brock Lesnar beat The Undertaker in what is now universally being recognised as an unceremonious dumping of The Streak, in a post match interview and the subsequent weeks Paul Hayman was the one man who could make something of it. The promos he did were awe inspiring and cemented his legacy as one of the great talkers in the industries history. It’s too bad he didn’t quit while he was ahead. Now he mentions Brock Lesnar more than he talks about his actual client Antonio Cesaro. It’s one of the many things that have killed Cesaro’s momentum stone dead.
Cesaro upon teaming up with Heyman was instantly dubbed the King of Swing. It was an odd choice of title seeing as how he’s barely used it since, heaven forbid a heel might have a style that would entertain the crowd. Why does he have to be a heel anyway? Do WWE think it’s impossible for an American audience to get behind a man born outside of North America?
The match itself was a fight with Sheamus for the US Title and was an intensely physical contest that had plenty of high impact moves but a poor finish. Both men’s signature moves come up short; Cesaro crawls out of a Cloverleaf and Sheamus kicked out of several jaw shattering uppercuts. But then Cesaro hits the biggest move of the night and Sheamus rolls him up straight after, which to me is a squash. It deligitimises Cesaro and makes is signature move look weak. Yes it would be bad for Sheamus to lose his title so soon after winning it, but he could do it with more dignity. A small package is no way for a badass to retain a title.
The Rhodes Brothers had a good little contest with Rybaxle, who are proving surprisingly synced for such a random pairing. But the moment that I remember is the post match statement Cody made after losing, the latest of several pins Cody has suffered lately. He simply tells his sibling that “Brother to brother, you need a better tag partner to me.” Aside from this being heartbreaking for fans of Cody of which I include myself, I also think this is one of the most effective pieces of storytelling from the night. Usually when there’s a weak link in a tag team the losing half always blames the better partner for the transgretions and promptly becomes a heel. It was nice to not only see this cliché sidestepped but also to see a wrestler show some humility. The fact that it was only a short, to the point sentence and not some big speech only added to his felling of dejectedness.
Big E and Rusev stepped up their games on Payback and it just proves that to bring out the best in a competitor you need to put them into a good competition and not have them simply squash every week. It was a similar match to the first contest of the night, two huge men taking chunks out of one another with stiff strikes and slams. Although I do feel sorry for Big E who was forced to tap because he came out waving the American flag, so now he’s not just lost a match but he’s let the American people down, which is a far bigger hurdle for Big E to now overcome. Rusev however looked dominant, crazed and evil, all great things for a heel to be.
Next up was a segment where Bo Dallas and Kofi Kingston were supposed to have a match but instead, Kane’s music flares up and he choke slams Kingston. Afterwards Dallas gives him a self help statement about how he should Bolieve! Which only adds to his self deluded persona. But I have to say I’d have preferred Adam Rose to be in the PPV instead of Bo. I just don’t get the character.
The Kane involvement apparently had something to do with Tweets that Kofi sent out criticising The Authority, but it wasn’t communicated very well. I guess Kane needed something to do while his main rival at the time is recovering from neck surgery.
Rob Van Dam vs Bad News Barret was next. I worry about the longevity of the whole Bad News thing but for right now its one of the most fun Gimmicks in WWE right now. Also he’s one of the company’s hardest hitters, which makes up for RVD’s ailing style. He’s not as young as he used to be, so his unorthodox, high flying style, has suffered more than most. Never the less it was the best back and forth of the night, a match that only succeeds in making both men look better and not building up one at the expense of the other.
The Daniel Bryan segment followed which was short sweet and effective. It also had Stephanie McMahon getting slapped in the face, which is always a crowd pleaser. Why is it a crowd pleaser? Because she’s the top heel in the company right now bar none. Her character is despicable and you can see the shades of her dad creeping in deeper and deeper.
The Divas match was a pretty good bout and it was nice to see a performance from Paige that was worthy of her championship. She’s been booked in too many matches where she takes a beating only to hit her finisher and come out on top. That isn’t how you book someone you want your audience to perceive as a champion. Even worse was when she was putting on a great performance recently and the cameras were more interesting in the attention seeking antics of her rival. I liked Alicia’s showboating when she first started doing it but as soon as it was a week old I grew very tired. That was a segment that had the legs of Christy Brown.
The first of the main events of the night (can there really be two main events?) was Bray Wyatt vs. Cena in their third PPV match. There was something haunting in seeing Wyatt approach the ring as the Allstate Arena lights up its cellphones to look like the fireflies of the Mississippi bayous. Far more lights here than on any previous occasion and damn did it look a pretty but eerie sight. Its just another piece of iconography that Bray now has in his arsenal, making him the best character in the whole WWE right now. And he also puts on some of the best matches.
This Last Man Standing Match was huge in its invention, creativity, storytelling and brutality. Bray took a set of steel steps to the face from twenty feet and Cena was barged through a baracade by a weaponised Wyatt. The Uso’s along with Harper and Rowan got involved one dived out of the ring only to take a table to the face, the other got suplexed through a table from the top turnbuckle. Cena got the victory which is disappointing because a victory here could have been a real star making turn for Wyatt. I hate that his only significant win against Cena came through that bizarrely terrible cage match finish at Extreme Rules last year. This could have cemented his status as a monster worth fearing, and he would be one step closer to taking The Undertakers throne.
However there was one group who’s stardom was cemented. The Sheild’s. This was a match with a huge surprize ending, one that seemed beyond the reach of the Hounds of Justice for almost the entire length of the match. After a hugely energetic start the action came to a screeching halt after Evolution took control. The match descended into torture porn and it brought back memories of 2003, where Evolution squashed all opponents and rigned supreme for what seemed years (in truth their dominance was only about eighteen months before they started dissolving).
That was the genius of the booking. It was made knowing that fan’s minds would be filled with images of Triple H standing tall over a pile of bodies, sledgehammer in hand. That was not the outcome. Sheild won the elimination match three to naught. It was an epic battle and now three stars have most definitely been made.
However, I would be remis if I didn’t mention one little thing. NXT Takeover was on in England just before Payback on Sky Sports One and as epic great as some of the Payback matches were, I didn’t enjoy any of them as much as I enjoyed Takeover. On NXT we get the kind of wrestling that we don’t get on WWE. Mat wrestling. Guys in the middle of the ring just going to work. Not too much of that high energy, bouncing off the ropes, everything is punches and kicks stuff from the “main” WWE shows. The kinds of technical skill on offer here are the skills I’m finding WWE needs to use more. Why every match needs to be that Cena style slug fest is beyond me, and WWE rediscovering its technical side would add a new dimension to Raw and Smackdown.
The main three matches, Sami Zayn vs. Tyler Breeze, Charlotte vs. Natalia and Adrianne Neville vs. Tyson Kidd. All three of these were fantastic examples of great wrestling and creativity that didn’t need to resort to diving off scaffolding or going through announce tables (remember when one of them breaking was worth getting excited about? Now one breaks twice a week). This was purley physical and all about in ring wrestling. Special cudos goes to Charlotte vs. Natalia which is the greatest womens competition I have ever seen. Ever. Even without Flair or Hart at ringside, this is a great submission based match that ended a bitter rivalry with a mutual respect that only comes from knowing you’ve both put on the show of a lifetime. When Paige get to wrestle girls like these in this kind of style, that’s when she will show herself to be the champion we all know she can be.