With less then three weeks to go until the next WWE pay-per-view, the debut of a “new” one called Payback, it would have been no surprise if the buildup for the show had not begun in earnest until next week. But the WWE clearly realizes that in order to increase buys for their smaller PPV shows, especially one airing on Father’s Day night, they are going to not only have to start hyping and planning for it now but putting together a card that will make me and the rest of the WWE Universe leaves our fathers so we can watch the show. I had actually already planned ahead for this, keeping the WWE PPV calendar in my phone and planning an afternoon at the baseball game with my dad and father-in-law so I could watch the PPV at night, but not everyone will do the same thing and without a strong card a lot of fans would be hard-pressed to watch the PPV instead of spend time with their fathers (unless their fathers are WWE fans, as I will be for my future children).
WWE Raw kicked off with WWE Champion John Cena, who was absent from Raw last week after sustaining injuries at the hands of Ryback during their Last Man Standing match at Extreme Rules. In Cena’s absence, Ryback had challenged Cena to a rematch at Payback, specifically an Ambulance Match, but Cena came out last night to announce that a PPV called “Payback” needed to be more than just one match; Cena explained that payback should be hell and so he challenges Ryback to a Three Stages of Hell match! This match has only taken place three times before in all of WWE history, with the last one being in 2009, and the idea is that it is like a 2 Out of 3 Falls match except that each fall has an extreme stipulation added to it. For the WWE Championship match at Payback, Cena and Ryback will compete in a a lumberjack match, a tables match and then, if a third fall is needed, an ambulance match.
After Ryback accepts the challenge, Paul Heyman comes out with Curtis Axel and commends Cena for being a fighting champion but notes that while he may be the current WWE Champion, Axel is a future WWE Champion and a future WWE Hall of Famer. Heyman notes that Axel already defeated Triple H last week when HHH could not continue the match and now he has his sights set on Cena and wants to challenge him to a match that night in the main event. Cena accepts and the match takes place at the end of the night, and to my complete surprise, Axel not only dominated most of the match offensively but even used some of his father’s old moves (including the PerfectPlex)! While I prayed and hoped that WWE would not ruin Axel’s debut already with a loss to Cena, in the back of my mind I could totally see Cena pulling his typical Super Cena routine and getting the clean win. Thankfully, the match was booked perfectly as just as Cena was about to mount a comeback, an ambulance was driven into the arena with its sirens blaring. Cena left the ring to go find Ryback, and while Cena was searching for him, the referee counted him out and awarded Axel the win! Granted they have been by being unable to continue the match due to a previous match and a countout, but Axel has now technically defeated Triple H and John Cena in consecutive weeks. Now that’s how you debut a new WWE Superstar! As for Cena, Ryback was not in the ambulance but did attack the WWE Champion from behind, but Cena countered Ryback trying to spear him into the LED display into an Attitude Adjustment, which Ryback countered before running away to the backstage area as Raw went off the air.
The other match officially announced for WWE Payback was Chris Jericho vs. CM Punk, albeit without CM Punk actually confirming the match himself. The match was booked when Paul Heyman was a guest on Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel, which I knew right away would be extremely entertaining given how good both men are with a live microphone. Sure enough, they did not disappoint as Jericho congratulated Heyman for managing two former WWE Champions, including the longest reigning WWE Champion in modern history, and Heyman noted that it was his eye for talent that led him to manage the likes of Brock Lesnar, CM Punk, Curtis Axel and even Jericho himself as Heyman gave Jericho his first big break years ago. Speaking of Punk, Jericho shows a video of Punk’s last appearance on Raw six weeks ago, when he stopped his promo mid-sentence, hugged Heyman and left the arena. Jericho asked Heyman where Punk was and Heyman explained that Punk was at home and that he would be back in a few weeks to explain his absence, and that he was, in fact, even watching WWE Raw at that moment. Jericho notes that Punk cannot sit at home for six weeks and still claim to be the “best in the world,” so Jericho is going to take back that moniker for himself once again. Heyman tries to complain but Jericho says that if Punk wants to sit at home in Chicago and watch Raw on TV, then he can no longer be the best in the world, but if Punk wants to face him at WWE Payback, which happens to be taking place in Chicago, then he can try and lay claim to that statement once again. Heyman accepts on behalf of Punk and the match is on, bringing CM Punk back to WWE TV in at least three weeks, sooner if he returns to Raw to confront Jericho!
On a side note, it was really funny when Jericho demanded that Heyman tell him where Punk was and Heyman explained that Punk was at home watching WWE Raw when Punk had tweeted a picture of himself at the Chicago Cubs game literally five minutes before the segment started. It’s too bad Jericho doesn’t follow Punk on Twitter or he could have saved himself a lot of trouble.
A third match for WWE Payback was teased but not confirmed as Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett faced Fandango in a non-title match with The Miz as the special guest referee (a duty bestowed upon him by the WWE fans via a vote on the WWE app). When Miz tried to stop Barrett from attacking Fandango while the latter was holding onto the ropes, Barrett shoved Miz away. This led to Miz hitting Barrett with the Skull Crushing Finale and Fandango crawling over to get the pin and the win. But then while Miz was holding up Fandango’s arm in victory, Miz kicks him in the head causing Summer Rae to fall on top of him and Miz jokingly counts the pinfall. So if I was a betting man, I would say we’re going to see a triple threat match between these three Superstars, which is a great turn of events from the IC Title or champion not even being featured on TV. Between The Shield holding the Tag Team Championships and United States champion and this renewed focus on the IC Championship, I hope WWE sees that with a little bit of effort, the mid-card titles can actually be turned into something useful and meaningful.
Speaking of The Shield, both Kofi Kingston and Team Hell No had their respective rematches after losing their titles at Extreme Rules and The Shield won both those matches. First, United States Dean Ambrose quickly and soundly defeated Kingston in a match that makes me think Kingston is going back to being a glorified jobber. After the match, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns hit the ring to celebrate and continue to assault Kingston, but Kane and Daniel Bryan ran to the ring to make the save and so the Tag Team titles match scheduled for later in the night began right away. This match was a phenomenal 20-minutes match that easily stole the show, but in the end Daniel Bryan tried too hard to prove that he is not the weakest link in his team and The Shield secured the victory. So with the automatic title rematches out of the way, it remains to be seen where The Shield, and their respective titles, go from here.
Here are my quick thoughts on the rest of the show:
After losing to Big E Langston on Raw and then defeating him on WWE Main Event last week, Alberto Del Rio faced him again last night in the rubber match. This time, Del Rio secured the victory, albeit with outside interference when Langston ran into a turnbuckle that AJ Lee had exposed to try and help. After the match, Langston gave AJ a look that could kill an animal where it stood and left up the ramp. It was also announced that World Heavyweight Champion Dolph Ziggler will return next week after being sent home for two weeks with a concussion, so hopefully his title match with Del Rio takes place soon so he can move on to a new opponent who the fans care more about.
The second best match of the night was a surprising one in that, when it began, I blew it off as a throwaway match that had no purpose and no meaning for future WWE storylines – Randy Orton & Sheamus vs. Cody Rhodes & Damien Sandow. However, while the match was a fantastic and fun 15-20 minute affair, it still served no real foreseeable purpose. After all, I have no idea who Orton and Sheamus are feuding with these days (The Shield, Mark Henry, Big Show, Prime Time Players, Team Rhodes Scholars?) and Sandow & Rhodes are teamed up and sent into singles match so often that I’m starting to get a headache. While my preference is for Team Rhode Scholars to be a team and for Orton & Sheamus to not, the WWE needs to pick one direction for both teams and just stick with it.
Divas Champion Kaitlyn teamed up with Calgary native and birthday girl Natalya against Brie & Nikki Bella, but the night ended sadly for Natalya as Kaitlyn went to spear Brie but she ducked out of the way, causing Kaitlyn to spear Natalya instead. Nikki then ran into the ring to throw Kaitlyn out of it as Brie easily and nonchalantly pinned Natalya for the win. After the match, the Bella Twins mockingly sang “happy birthday” to Natalya as she cried and Kaitlyn tried to apologize. As a side note to this match, while I am still not a fan of a rock girl who throws up devil horns like Kaitlyn using pop music as her entrance, I am a HUGE fan of her new ring outfit (the picture on the left gives you some idea but does not too the outfit nearly enough justice).
Here is my biggest question of the night – why was Bret Hart Appreciation Night only shown on the WWE app after WWE Raw went off the air but the show itself featured a tag team math pitting Great Khali, Brodus Clay & Tensai (with Hornswoggle) against Heath Slater, Jinder Mahal & Drew McIntyre? Granted, the match lasted about five minutes and the in-ring celebration (which I have yet to watch because I had to go to sleep as soon as Raw was over but I do have the full video cued to watch on WWE.com during my lunch break) was 30, but you meant to tell me that they could not find an additional 25 minutes from WWE Raw to cut in order to show the celebration live on TV? I don’t have a tablet, only a smartphone, and so watching anything on the WWE app is a bit of a pain on such a small screen, not to mention the fact that Raw ended after 11pm and I had to go to sleep in order to get up for work today, so for me having Bret Hart Appreciation night shown only on the app after the show was over was a huge inconvenience. However, I do hear that it was quite special (and included an appearance by Shawn Michaels) so I do look forward to watching it.
The last thing to note is the video teaser that aired last night promoting Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper and Erik Rowan, three standout competitors from NXT. For those of you who do not watch NXT like I do, trust me when I say you should be excited for their eventual debut.