May 18, 2015 by Joey Keogh
Given that it’s only been three weeks since the last PPV, Payback felt slightly undercooked this year, even before we knew it was being offered on the Network for free (never a good sign). Considering it boasted a stacked card, and the build-up was pretty terrific, at least comparatively speaking, hopes were still kind of high for Payback 2015 – maybe even higher than they were for the better-than-expected Wrestlemania 31. After all, this is only the PPV’s third year, so it’s still finding its feet. But, all things considered, was tonight’s show a waste of time or a well-stocked, properly-booked example of when pro-wrestling goes very right on a very large scale? As per usual, it kicks off with an hour long pre-show which, and I cannot stress this enough, is way too bloody long. Anyone who has attended a PPV can attest to the fact that this hour is when most people are arriving, purchasing beers/merch or taking a piss break because, once the show starts, you don’t leave your seat for three hours (unless Cena has a match, of course). Anyway, the so-called experts panel is comprised of the same ol’, same ol; actual journo Renee, too-polite Byron, trying-too-hard Corey and bun-less Booker. Highlights of their overly-rehearsed banter include Renee’s belief that Justin TV is no longer a thing (if only) and her dislike of the phrase “heebie jeebies”. There are a lot of pre-recorded promos featured throughout, in an effort to make up the time, including one involving Rusev that plays like that War Of Gods commercial with Kate Upton’s boobies. Speaking of boobs, the Bellas are interviewed but nobody pays attention to what they’re saying because Nikki’s tits are even less concealed than usual. Also, Brie can’t act. R-Truth and Stardust have a “bonus” match that goes exactly as one would expect it to, lasting about ten seconds total. They both deserve better, as do Macho Mandow and Axelmania, who are now being billed as The Mega Powers and show up tonight in full drag to dispose of The Ascension, only for them to finally hit their much-touted Fall Of Man finisher to win. Elsewhere, Sheamo does the social media lounge and makes it watchable for once, by freaking out Work Experience Tom by being unusually aggressive whenever he poses a fan question to him.
Sheamus Vs. Dolph Ziggler
The Full Irish is up first tonight opposite Dolph Ziggler, who looks as though he’s just wandered off the set of The Toxic Avenger, or perhaps even Olivia Newton John’s classic Let’s Get Physical music video. This feels like a RAW match, a feeling that only gets stronger as the night goes on, but to the credit of both participants, it’s a strong enough start regardless. Ziggler rarely looks bad opposite anyone and Sheamo is clearly loving his new heel persona, grinning maniacally throughout and hitting the already awesome-looking Irish Curse stronger than he ever has before. After suffering the indignity of a Stink Face, Sheamo way over-sells it by running out in disgust, grabbing a bottle of water, gurgling it and spitting it out everywhere to hilarious effect. Towards the end, Ziggler eats a headbutt and starts gushing blood everywhere. It’s unclear whether he’s bladed (he’s seen pressing his hand to his forehead right before) or if a big Oirish head just split him open but either way it looks pretty cool. He manages to hit the Fame Asser but Sheamo wins it with a Brogue Kick, in an ending that, although telegraphed, doesn’t take away from what’s come before – particularly since, in this match, every single near fall felt like it might be it.
A backstage promo with Rollins and Kane follows. The champ is still getting plenty of heat, which is great, considering he’s arguably the best and most inventive heel on the current roster. He and Kane trade barbs back and forth for a bit, with Noble looking quite scandalised in the background the whole time, before he and Mercury eventually square up to The Demon and, true to form, he laughs in their faces. Will he betray Rollins later on? Will he get fired? Does anyone actually care?
2-out-of-3-Falls Tag Team Championship Match: The New Day (Big E & Kofi Kingston) Vs. Cesaro & Tyson Kidd
The New Day are injecting some much-needed edge into the flailing tag team division and tonight, clearly delighted to be upgraded to main show status, they start off by showing off their impressive mic skills by earning some cheap heat from the Baltimore crowd by insulting them for being fat, unattractive and having no friends and then calling out some sports-person or another for toting a replica belt like a big ol’ mark. Woods interferes with proceedings from the outset, planting the idea that he’ll come in handy later on, by taking a cheap shot at Cesaro on the apron. He and Kidd earn the first fall of the match, with E and Kingston taking the second, exemplifying what’s become so irritating about these kinds of matches – why, just once, can a team not earn the first two falls after a reasonable amount of time and let that be the end of it? Why does it always have to come to the third fall? It’s way too predictable at this stage. Woods is yelling at the commentators that he’s the brains of the operation (in much the same way Jamie Noble is the secret weapon of The Authority) as E Spears Cesaro clean out of the ring. Kingston aims for a crossbody from the top but Kidd counters with his feet, catching him mid-air. Cesaro then hits a backbreaker on him, after which he lines him up so Kidd can elbow drop him from the top before locking him into the Sharpshooter. Finally, echoing the awkward moments over the past few weeks when Cole has mistaken Woods for Kingston and vice versa, the former throws off his waistcoat and takes the latter’s place for a small package to win in a weird, Twin Magic-esque moment that may be borderline racist.
Winners: The New Day (retaining)
Bray Wyatt Vs. Ryback
Nobody needs a win tonight more than poor ol’, long-suffering Bray Wyatt, who’s barely had a match since his humiliating defeat at Wrestlemania and whose star was only just in the ascent before it was dragged back down to earth and buried under several tonnes of concrete. If he doesn’t win this tonight, he’s totally within his rights to walk out and all the way over to TNA (okay, maybe the situation isn’t that dire yet, but you get what I mean). Ryback starts the match off getting his ass handed to him, which usually means he’s about to make a full recovery in the final moments following a rousing “Where Is The Buffet” chant. Wyatt hits a cool running senton off the apron onto his big, full belly on the outside but The Big Guy hits a Spinebuster soon after and, madly, looks to almost have it won in the process. The end comes when Wyatt goes for the Sister Abigail, Ryback counters, he tries for the Shellshock, but Wyatt counters also and then he finally manages to hit the Sister Abigail to win. It’s a nothing match but at least a sort-of victory for Wyatt is a step in the right direction.
Winner: Bray Wyatt
US Championship “I Quit” Match: Rusev Vs. John Cena
Cena is so over with the Baltimore crowd, and Lana too, but she has to sit ringside and be quiet because she’s just a stupid woman. Annoyingly, the ref asks Cena if he wants to quit about five times in the first twenty seconds of fighting, and it only gets worse from there. Rusev is a total powerhouse, and he’s proven that time and time again, so why, when he finally gets his hands on Cena, and in a match of this nature, does he choose to attack with such lame-ass offensive tactics? For the first half of the match, there’s nothing but dropkicks and stupid, stair-centric spots. Why would any of that make him quit? He’s gone through about ten different guys to get here. There were suggestions online that maybe Rusev was going to attack Lana and the whole domestic violence angle would force Cena to quit but this ain’t our first rodeo and, if you ever believed that Cena would utter those two little words – regardless of circumstance – then maybe you also think Reigns’s two moves are bad ass and that he’d make a great champ. This match was only ever going to end one way, and it does, but not quite how one might expect. It spills outside the ring and various different props are used, including some sort of equipment box on wheels, a barricade and a table that is involved in a hilariously mistimed botch. It culminates with Rusev being chucked into some pyro at the top of the ramp, but when the two men make it back into the ring he puts Cena in the Accolade and he passes out. Then, echoing that nasty heel move Cena pulled just recently, Rusev grabs a bottle of water and wakes him up so he can tie him up in the ring rope. Of course, it’s he who ends up being really tied up and, after yelling some stuff in Russian, Lana freaks out and shrieks that he quits.
Winner: John Cena (retaining)
Backstage, The New Day cut a promo while celebrating with champagne flutes filled with milk as, after explaining that they don’t spit, swear or complain, they end up doing exactly that, after it’s revealed they will all be competing at the Elimination Chamber PPV event on the Network in two weeks. So I guess it’s a real thing then? Elsewhere, Rusev is mad at Lana and banishes her for caring about him or misinterpreting what he was saying or whatever. Also that Daniel Bryan promo from RAW is replayed for a third time – not to create empathy but to sell the upcoming IC title match to us.
Divas Tag Team Match: The Bella Twins Vs. Naomi & Tamina Snuka
As much as I want to be all #GiveDivasAChance, this match is dull as hell. It’s not even really their fault as, when Nikki, Tamina and Naomi are involved, it’s fairly entertaining but, whenever Brie butts in, the action slows to a crawl. Why isn’t this a title match? Why not singles, with Brie and Tamina on the outside to provide some interference when/if needed? There are some cool spots but it’s mostly meaningless, which is sad. It all lasts about ten minutes, too, which, considering the amount of unnecessary promos included tonight, seems incredibly unfair. Naomi wins it for her team with a roll-up.
Winners: Naomi & Tamina Snuka
King Barrett Vs. Neville
It’s so cool to see two Brits taking the coveted second-to-last match spot, but it’s especially great for Barrett and Neville to be given such a chance as, aside from being two of the most exciting and innovative talents on the current roster, they don’t often get a real opportunity to show off what they can do. Predictably, this is the match of the night, with a crazy amount of momentum behind it right from the very beginning. Neville, obviously thrilled at the opportunity to star in a PPV, bounds across the ring like he’s possessed, while Barrett plays up his spoilt heel role to tremendous effect, hitting his opponent with stiff boots whenever he tries to bounce off the ropes. He goes for the Bullhammer, a bit too confident in his own abilities, but Neville dodges it so he hits the Winds Of Change instead. However, just when it seems he’s about to fight back a bit harder, Barrett gets himself purposely counted out. Neville, to his credit, is not happy winning by default. Barrett attacks him once the bell has rung, chucks him out, and collects his King gear so he can gloat a bit. But Neville, eager to finish the match properly, Suplexes him and hits the Red Arrow, establishing himself as a real contender, rather than someone to simply make other guys look good every once in a while.
Main Event: Fatal Fourway for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Seth Rollins Vs. Dean Ambrose Vs. Randy Orton Vs. Roman Reigns
Yet another promo airs before the Main Event kicks off, just in case we were worried that the biggest match of the night was going to be afforded more than thirty minutes. Kane enters first, looking a bit fed up at having to be in slacks all the time (don’t worry, he removes his top layer at literally the first opportunity he gets to do so). This really, really, really feels like a RAW Main Event match, and not just because of the ringside attendants. Reigns, Orton and Ambrose are really over while Rollins gets a predictably huge amount of heat. Noble and Mercury refuse to allow pics as he enters, which is a nice little touch, and very Tyler Breeze-esque, only kind of the opposite intention. Naturally, as this is a fourway, it all erupts into chaos pretty much immediately, with blatant interference from Rollins’ security team and Kane who, surprising precisely nobody, decides he would like to keep his job after all. They focus on Reigns who, being the Superman that he is, takes them all out at once and sets his sights firmly on ex-teammate Rollins. Ambrose gets a look in soon after, hitting an elbow drop after which Orton breaks up his attempt at a pin (Orton’s here too!). They try to take each other out, pointing to the interesting psychology of the match as, exactly one year ago, The Shield were up against Evolution and now they’re all vying for the same thing. Reigns and Ambrose team up (delighting Tumblr, I’m sure) to take out Rollins but Kane interjects. Orton is kind of on fire, whenever he gets a look in, clotheslining and decking everyone in sight, but this is a Shield match in all but name and, although he manages to take out all three of them, finishing up by Superplexing Rollins, he, Ambrose and Reigns soon team up to triple powerbomb Orton on the announce table. However, when Rollins, cocky as ever, goes for a celebratory fist bump, his ex-brothers turn on him and try to double team him, only for Kane to interrupt. They take him out instead, double powerbombing him through the table and chucking Rollins on top of him – twice, thanks to popular demand from the raucous crowd. Finally, after discussing it amongst themselves, Ambrose and Reigns realise it’s anyone’s game and crawl back into the ring to destroy each other. We get maybe seven minutes tops of decent back and forth – Reigns is best when with his stable, let’s be honest – before Reigns goes for the Spear to win it. Luckily, Rollins wakes up at that exact moment in time and interrupts. Orton, who is still involved, in case anyone has forgotten, RKOs him but, echoing his amazing win at Wrestlemania which, although we’d hoped for it, still came as a major shock, Rollins hits the Pedigree to win. He later gets a fright when Trips shows up behind him on the ramp to lead the celebrations.
Winner: Seth Rollins (retaining)
Payback 2015 felt more like a decent episode of RAW than a PPV, with too many promos, too many matches and far too many competitors. Further to this, no titles changed hands and nothing too shocking happened from a storyline perspective, either. There were cool moments, including, but not limited to; the Neville/Barrett match, the entertaining tag bout, Ziggler/Sheamus, Bray Wyatt finally getting a win and the Main Event itself which, although nothing we haven’t seen before, at least made a case for itself and, crucially, didn’t include John Cena (meaning, hopefully, he’s finally ready to vacate the spotlight). All eyes will be on RAW tomorrow night because the post-Payback episode last year was when Rollins turned heel in still-spectacular fashion. Chances are, we aren’t going to get anything nearly as cool or shocking this year, but we can dream. It’s doubtful that Payback 2015 will go down in history as one the must-watch PPVs, or that it will even be revisited in years to come, but it wasn’t a complete waste of time and, given The Shield, technically, headlined and kicked ass two years in a row it at least showcases just how good the three of them are as competitors. It remains to be seen what’s going to change between now and Money In The Bank but, on tonight’s evidence, just as Reigns and Ambrose discovered mid-fight, it’s really anyone’s game.