I did not have high expectations for the WWE Payback pay-per-view last night because, going in to the show, I was not excited about most of the matches on the card. I was extremely excited for CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho (which predictably stole the show as both Superstars tore down the house) and had high hopes for the Divas Championship match (which was the best WWE Divas match in recent memory by far) going in and during the show I was extremely moved when Curtis Axel won the Intercontinental Championship and started crying as he honored his father, Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig, who had once held the same title. Heck, I’ll admit that even the United States and Tag Team Championship matches were enjoyable to watch, if not completely predictable in their endings. However, all of those positive were completely marred by events involving the two world titles – an extremely boring WWE Championship that closed the show and killed both the live crowd in Chicago and those of us gathered at a restaurant in Baltimore to watch it and the worst booking decision in the history of not only the World Heavyweight Championship but perhaps any title in all of WWE history.
First, let’s address the main event from WWE Payback last night – WWE Champion John Cena vs. Ryback for the title in a Three Stages of Hell Match (basically a match with three pinfalls where each fall has a different gimmick stipulation tied to it). I have never been and will never be a fan of seeing a WWE PPV end with John Cena standing tall with the WWE Championship high above his head but that image is made that much worse when it was preceded by a plodding and boring match. As I said to a few people at the restaurant before the PPV started, while I have no interest in a John Cena match and even less when his opponent is Ryback, the saving grace for the main event was that a Three Stages of Hell Match had only taken place three times before in all of WWE history and so that should at least make the match a little more entertaining. Unfortunately, this was not the case, and the crowd let the Superstars (and I assume WWE personnel in the back) know by sitting on their hands and remaining silent for most of the match.
The first stipulation was a Lumberjack Match and, predictably, the Superstars surrounding the ring had a hand in the finish as they all attacked both Cena and Ryback before throwing both men back into the ring where Cena tried to lock in the STF but Ryback countered with the Shell Shock for the pin (I will give credit to Cena for doing a flying crossbody off the top rope and to the outside, taking out Ryback and all 30 lumberjacks in the process). The second stipulation was a tables match and, of the three stipulations, this was the one that I found the most enjoyable (albeit still very little). About a dozen tables were broken by missed maneuvers and defensive counters before Cena countered a Shell Shock from Ryback with an Attitude Adjustment on him through a table. Unfortunately, Ryback completely no-sold the move and before the third pinfall could officially start, Ryback put Cena through the announce table. The third fall was an Ambulance Match and featured the most flimsy ambulance I have ever seen. Between Cena and Ryback tearing off the doors, windows, lights and bumpers with their bare hands, not to mention the ridiculous finish, the match was completely unbelievable. As for the finish, Cena hit Ryback with an AA THROUGH the roof of the ambulance for the win, and while this was a clever way to honor the stipulation that you have to put your opponent in the ambulance to win, there is no way that the roof of any vehicle would collapse like it was made of papier-mâché unless it was made out of papier-mâché.
As for the World Heavyweight Championship match, I would go so far as to say that the only world title change worse than the one that took place last night was when David Arquette (yes, the actor) won the WCW World Title. Can someone explain to me, give me just one good reason, why Alberto Del Rio defeated Dolph Ziggler for the title last night? Can someone find me one person who is not employed by the WWE or any of its subsidiaries who agrees with that decision? First of all, Ziggler has only been the champion for two months and half of that was spent out of action with a concussion. Second of all, his post-MITB world title reign now ranks closer to those of Rob Van Dam and Jack Swagger than CM Punk or Edge. Third, is this how they really reward a WWE Superstar who is one of the most over Superstars with the fans and who battled back from a concussion and works his ass off day in and day out in and out of the ring? And fourth, whether he is a heel or a face (which is in question after last night), NO ONE CARES ABOUT ALBERTO DEL RIO.
The match itself was entertaining, with Ziggler getting huge pops from the crowd and Del Rio practically getting booed out of the building, especially when he started to use Ziggler’s recent concussion to his advantage with a series of head and neck shots (prompting the doctors at ringside to even consider stopping the match). Unfortunately, no one will ever remember how good the match was because all that will be remembered is Ziggler unable to make the cover quick enough after hitting Del Rio with the Zig Zag and Del Rio kicking Ziggler in the head for the pin and the win.
Yes, Ziggler was cheered from the moment he walked down the ramp and Del Rio was booed as loudly as John Cena would be later in the night, but that is to be expected – Ziggler is way over with the fans as a heel we love to cheer and no one cares in the least about Del Rio. In fact, world title notwithstanding, Del Rio could disappear from professional wrestling tomorrow and no one would even blink an eye. If the decision to have Del Rio win the title was booked in advance of the show, for shame on the WWE for making one of the worst booking decisions in the history of any world title in any professional wrestling organization. If it was a decision made on the fly based on the reactions that each Superstar received, even more shame on WWE for making the wrong call and reading the crowd wrong.
After the match, Del Rio cut one of those promos where he was trying to be a face but saying things that make him a heel, which means that Del Rio is most likely turning heel after an extremely unsuccessful face turn. Unfortunately, what Vince McMahon fails to realize is that Del Rio’s face turn did not fail because of the face turn, it failed because of Del Rio. Whether a face or a heel, world champion or not, the fans do not care about Alberto Del Rio. As for Ziggler, a face turn may be in the works for him and it will probably work out in the end, but he is much better as a heel (albeit one we love to cheer) and both he and the World Heavyweight Title would be better served with each other than not.
The match that predictably stole the show was CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho. While it may not have topped their previous two PPV matches, it was easily the best match of the night and one of the best matches of the years. Having a hot Chicago crowd cheering for their hometown hero in CM Punk certainly helped, but the action and storytelling in the ring went a long way towards making the match so good as well. The finish was also something we’ve never seen before as Punk hit the GTS on Jericho, causing Jericho to stumble into the turnbuckle and bounce back towards Punk, which led Punk to grabbing him and hitting a second GTS for the win.
The match that unpredictably stole the show, and was easily the second best match of the entire night, was the Divas Championship match between Kaitlyn and AJ Lee. That’s right – a WWE Divas match stole the show. I hope that Vince McMahon has now learned that with a little time and effort, as well as a good storyline and the right participants, the fans can become invested in the WWE Divas and their title. This match was the result of AJ earning the #1 contenders sport in a battle royal months ago and pretending to be Kaitlyn’s secret admirer for the last month in order to throw her off her game in anticipation of the title match and all of that, plus great wrestling and a ton of time in the ring, led to a fantastic match. The best move of the night may have been Kaitlyn (who is easily the strongest Diva on the roster) powering out of AJ’s Black Widow submission move and hitting a powerslam, but AJ kicked out and the match continued. In the end, Kaitlyn hit AJ with backbreaker and a spear, but instead of pinning her, blew her a kiss and picked her up for another move. As usually happens when a Superstar or Diva attempts to continue an offensive assault instead of making the pin, this ended up costing Kaitlyn the match and her title as AJ jumped up onto the turnbuckle to avoid another spear and locked Kaitlyn into the Black Widow for the win. After the match, Kaitlyn started bawling in the ring before being consoled by Layla, followed by a slew of other Divas backstage, but she would have none of it and ran off. Now, going into Raw tonight, not only am I interested to see what AJ does as the Divas Champion but I’m equally excited to see what Kaitlyn does next as well.
The most touching win of the night saw Curtis Axel (the son of Mr. Perfect) win the Intercontinental Championship in a triple threat match against Wade Barrett and The Miz. The finish was extremely clever, as The Miz had Barrett locked in the Figure Four Leg Lock but Axel ran into the ring and pinned Barrett during the submission move for the win. I had said going into the show that Axel winning the title that his father had held for so long and defended so well would be very fitting, but to do it on Fathers Day made it all that much more special. Seeing Axel cry as he celebrated his win and looked up the sky to speak to his father almost had me in tears myself.
The Shield had a clean sweep on the night as Dean Ambrose successfully defended his United States Championship against Kane (although he won via countout and not a pinfall or submisison) and Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns successfully defended the Tag Team Championships against Daniel Bryan & Randy Orton when Bryan and Orton accidentally ran into each other and allowed Rollins and Reigns to pick up the win.
Before the PPV officially started, Sheamus defeated Damien Sandow in a match on YouTube that I heard was actually quite good but I did not see.
The huge news coming out of the Payback PPV was in the form of a video package announcing that the one and only Rob Van Dam is returning to the WWE at the Money In The Bank PPV next month. I assume that his return will be as a participant in one of the MITB matches themselves and, if this is the case, would not be surprised to see him win. I have mixed feelings about this as I’ve always felt that winning the MITB match is a great way for a mid-card Superstar to be catapulted to the main event and sometimes even win his first world title (even if that title reign is way too short and booked completely wrong in the process) and RVD certainly does not fit that description. But, he is fun to watch in the wrong and, as long as he is used correctly, could be a nice addition to the roster.