May 2, 2016 by Joey Keogh
As befits a PPV for which the poster features three men who are not even on the card for the show, Payback 2016 was a bizarre affair. We start things off in the usual way, with the dull and utterly pointless Kickoff show during which two nothing matches take place – one of which, somewhat shockingly, is for the US title (Kalisto retains, thankfully) – and Sami Zayn gives a toothless Kayfabe interview in the social media lounge for no apparent reason. At least King’s inclusion confirms he won’t be bugging us on the main show, so we can relax.
The New Day kick things off proper in their own special way, dropping topical references to, among other things, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, before settling down in comfy beanbag chairs to enjoy some pizza and a ringside view of the tag team action between The Vaudevillains and Enzo and Cass. Unfortunately, about fifteen minutes into this super-fun, energetic bout, Amore suffers an injury for real and the match is swiftly cut short. As a result, we’re left with some time to fill, and who better to step in and save the day than Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn?
It’s not a stretch to say theirs is the best-built match on the card, not to mention the most involving main roster feud right now, and tonight’s battle does not disappoint. Fast, hard, brutal and with a selection of awe-inspiring, technically challenging spots, Owens and Zayn prove once again that they’re at the top of the heap right now and plan to stay there for the foreseeable future. We would all gladly watch this feud continue, with the two hugely-talented wrestlers duking it out at every opportunity. As it stands tonight, Owens is the winner, but who cares when the quality is this high?
Immediately following the match, he drags Byron Saxton into the ring and bullies him into an interview. As a result, Owens joins the commentators for the subsequent IC title bout, which sees The Miz take on hot favourite Cesaro. Fittingly, the challenger wears white while the champ and his missus sport black, driving home face/heel dynamic further. In the end, Miz retains after Zayn and Owens carry on their own fight, spilling into the ring to distract Cesaro long enough for the roll-up and pin. It’s not the coolest match of the night, but at least the Swiss Superman doesn’t look weak as a result.
The excitement of the preceding match makes the Jericho/Ambrose bout seem a bit more exciting, elevating it above average into a must-watch thanks to the hint that there may be more interruptions (annoyingly, there aren’t). To their credit, the two wrestlers make their somewhat stale match-up seem fresh and enticing, Ambrose powering out of a gnarly Walls Of Jericho and hitting the Dirty Deeds for a predictable, yet still satisfying, victory over the popular vet. Hopefully he’ll get a proper feud now, with someone a bit less stiff.
The women’s title match that follows has one of the most obnoxious and inexplicable endings in recent memory – a callback to the infamous Montreal Screwjob that does a complete disservice to those involved, including near-dead crusties Ric Flair and Bret Hart, who look ready to keel over at any second. It’s a shame too, because Charlotte and Nattie put on a bloody good show in the time slot they’re given, the current champ, in particular, pulling out all the stops to prove her worth – including exposing her knee for a painful-looking drop on the Hart Dungeon alum.
The end comes when Natalya gets locked into the Sharpshooter, the ref calling a tap out even though there clearly wasn’t one. This leads to the oldies rushing the ring as Nattie and Bret lock the Flairs into a couple of Sharpshooters of their own, leading them to tap out pathetically quick, begging for mercy. It’s a bizarre, unnecessary end that seems to take ten steps backwards for the women’s division following the reveal of the brand-new title at Wrestlemania. This feels insulting, given how one woman should feasibly be able to beat the other (clean or otherwise) just as the men do.
Things take a further turn with a RAW-calibre promo next, as Vince finally decides whether his son or daughter is going to take over the hit Monday night show from now on. After about twenty minutes of faffing about, during which the Chicago fans cheer for Punk and Steph deals with the situation a hell of a lot better than her father, proving her worth once again, he decides that they’re both going to do it, rendering the entire charade pointless. And robbing us of some quality match or promo time that could’ve been used elsewhere.
Finally, it’s the Main Event. With rumours swirling about a possible Bullet Club reunion, a Finn Bálor début, and many more shenanigans besides, all bets are off – except, of course, that Reigns is walking away champion, which he does, naturally. But before that, we get some great work from AJ Styles, including a Pele kick and a stunning 450 from the top rope, not to mention two restarts when Shane and Steph throw their weight around in order to ensure Reigns doesn’t walk away with the title thanks to a count-out or a DQ.
This all but confirms outside interference, and sure enough Anderson and Gallows show up to help their old buddy out (er, and The Usos too, but let’s just ignore them and hope they go away soon). Sadly, it’s to no avail as Da Guy retains with his only two moves in spite of a last-ditch Phenomenal Forearm from Styles that blows his entire move-set out of the water. It’s a weird ending to a weird PPV that is further exemplified by the camera cutting backstage to the Mc Mahons, who instantly call a titular rematch for Extreme Rules (which is less than three weeks away, folks).
And with that, Payback is over for another year. Did anyone get their revenge? Only time will tell (read: no). It wasn’t exactly the most satisfying of PPVs, nor will it likely live on in our memories come next year, but it didn’t feel too much like a bad RAW (for the most part, we could do with fewer promos and more vignettes to build up the featured matches) and the calibre of the card itself was high. The two duds were relegated to the Kickoff and, aside from poor Enzo getting injured (he’s responsive and recovering at the time of writing) and Reigns winning yet again, there wasn’t too much to get mad at.
Is it totally lame for us, as fans, to be happy with that? Is it even sadder that we expected a few surprises along the way? Is this really the best we can hope for, a fine PPV? Again, only time will tell. Regardless, Extreme Rules beckons.