Normally in one week of build up you wouldn’t really have much to talk about. But in the shortest gap between WWE Pay-Per-Views since Evolution and Crown Jewel in 2018, WWE seeks to keep the energy going after a pretty great Summerslam exactly one week on, with last night’s Payback. Going in the big story was of course “The Big Dog” Roman Reigns who not only returned to much attention at Summerslam but on Smackdown shockingly was revealed to be now aligned with Paul Heyman. But would he sign the contract and be there tonight to face Universal Champion “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman in a destructive No Holds Barred Triple Threat match (aka a Triple Threat match)? Would Wyatt lose the gold after just a week? Would WWE ruin the incredible Fiend character by doing that? Would Retribution show up this time? Would NXT megastar Keith Lee get a better moment to shine, as he defended WWE Champion Drew McIntyre’s honour after Orton viciously attacked the champ on Raw?
Well, here’s what went down last night at the second WWE Pay-Per-View this month (or rather week)!…
1. (Kick-Off show) The Riott Squad (Ruby Riott and Liv Morgan) vs. The IIconics (Billie Kay and Peyton Royce)
Finally! Finally Ruby Riott gets a win, as she revives her team with Liv Morgan. The IIconics gave them a fight in a match that was not always tidy (there were a couple of slip ups) but which kept on moving, filling out its reasonable running time well. The ending, with possible dissension among Riott and Morgan being overcome, so they got the win over their flashy tormentors, was rather gratifying to see and after this, I can see a future Women’s tag title shot on the horizon for the new Riott Squad.
The main show opens with a video package making a big deal of the matches and stakes, especially the Universal Championship match and THAT Paul Heyman plot twist on Smackdown. To say they only gave themselves a week, WWE really haven’t done bad with this card.
2. WWE United States Championship
Apollo Crews (c) vs. Lashley w/ MVP and Shelton Benjamin
The result in this one was to be expected but this was an enjoyable opening match to the evening, as Lashley had a power advantage but Apollo Crews looked anything but weak. The two traded moves for nearly 10 minutes before Lashley finally got Crews locked in to his leg scissor assisted Full Nelson submission hold for the tap out victory. As The Hurt Business celebrated the new US Champion, Crews got a small shot in from behind, so this battle on Raw looks to be far from over. Also, it was great to see Crews give that little “Wakanda Forever” arm salute tribute mid-match, in memory of the devastating loss of beloved movie (and real life) hero Chadwick Boseman.
3. Big E vs. Sheamus
This was a big ‘ol battle of the bulls and was a fantastic start to what I hope is a glittering (much deserved) singles run for Big E. Sheamus actually took his charismatic opponent to the limit at points in this one, as he would wear down E with a variety of submissions in a physical match, that had some loud, bone-rattling and meat slapping (steady on) offense. Though, once Big E got rolling, he fought back into things and the two went to and fro, before Big E hit his signature Big Ending move for the win. Here’s hoping things continue to build and build for Big E from here on in.
4. Matt Riddle vs. King Corbin
This match had some last minute added heat beforehand as WWE unexpectedly made the real life issues and allegations Matt Riddle faced back when he debuted into a part of this storyline with King Corbin. Not a move I expected them to pull. I digress, this match kind of dragged initially when Corbin took control early on after an opening cheap shot attack but thankfully it picked up when Riddle started taking charge of the contest. Thankfully the barefoot bruiser got the win over the King of Smackdown, which was 100% the right result. Less fortunately, Corbin attacked Riddle backstage post-match, meaning this feud will continue, which is a shame as I’d like to see Riddle and his unique style match up with other foes, and Corbin feuds have a tendency to be overlong and lifeless affairs.
5. WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship
Bayley and Sasha Banks (c) vs. Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax
I was rather looking forward to this match. As the “Golden Role Models” Sasha Banks and Bayley defended their belts against enemies-turned-uneasy-allies team of Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax. The match was a pretty gruelling battle, with the ladies fair laying into each other. At one point Jax looked like she had hurt her knee and Baszler looked the most ferocious she has been since Elimination Chamber months back. The match built up steam really well and ended with a jaw-droopingly innovative and original finish. As Baszler locked both Banks and Bayley into separate submission holds at the same time, then used Banks’ arm to apply more pressure to Bayley, leading to the WWE Smackdown Women’s champ tapping out. It had to be seen to be believed! New champs crowned, capping off a really bad week for Sasha (after her Raw women’s title loss at Summerslam).
6. Keith Lee vs. Randy Orton
As surprised as I was by the main event (more on that later), this for me was the shocker of the entire PPV. When WWE debuted NXT’s Keith Lee on Raw, a lot was left to be desired. His altered attire and ring music rubbed some fans the wrong way, as did the throwaway match he had with Orton. So when this rematch was announced for Payback I was unsure who would win, or how it would pan out but expected some level of interference from an “injured” Drew McIntyre. But what actually happened was simply stunning…and in a good way. The match itself was hard hitting and enjoyable but fairly short at under 7 minutes, but what made this was the result. After a back and forth little affair Lee caught Orton with a highly impressive pump up sit out power bomb and got a clean dominant win over the current WWE Championship contender! This huge victory made Lee look like a million bucks and in one night established this hugely talented star as the next big thing. Orton should be much applauded here as should Lee. This may have been a tad too short but it had genuine shocking impact. Great stuff…a main roster star is born.
7. Dominik & Rey Mysterio vs. Seth Rollins and Murphy
After a highly impressive showing at Summerslam, Dominik teamed with his dad Rey Mysterio to take on Seth Rollins and his disciple Murphy and what a great tag team match this was. All four men delivered a fantastic effort and the moves were fast and furious, as this heated rivalry just might be getting towards its endgame. The Mysterio boys battled back in a match where the heel team of Rollins and Murphy kept on coming. In the end though, it was a miscommunication between the Monday night messiah and his disciple that saw Dominik given the chance for a 619 and frog splash combo and pinfall win (his first in WWE). A highly entertaining match with some brilliant spots, Dominik has taken so well to the ring and Rey is still as incredible all these years on at 45 years of age as he has ever been.
8. WWE Universal Championship – No Holds Barred Triple Threat Match
“The Fiend” Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman
Let us not beat around the bush, I was dreading this match. Like Roman Reigns/Undertaker WrestleMania 33 style dreading. I expected Roman to waltz on in, destroy all the incredible work Bray has done and bury both monsters in under 3 minutes. Accomplishing what the Rollins (at Hell in a Cell) and Goldberg (at Super Showdown) matches nearly did and killing The Fiend in a way he couldn’t bounce back from. Instead something rather surprising occurred. WWE allowed Reigns to look worse in victory than The Fiend and Braun did in loss!! All night they played up the “Roman hasn’t signed the contract yet” angle as Paul Heyman was interviewed throughout the night and asked for updates (that he didn’t give) but the result was always clear as day, but for a good 10 minutes, this match was an even more destructive sequel to Braun vs. Fiend at Summerslam. The two virtually decimated one another with an announcers table crash, mallet smacks, a stage fall and steel step attacks, and with no Roman in sight. But it wasn’t until a superplex off the top rope by The Fiend onto Braun, which collapsed the entire ring, that Roman showed up. As he approached the broken ring, he signed the contract, and then preceded to pick the bones. Even then though, he couldn’t get a clean win, failing to keep either monster down for the 3 count, Fiend even caught him with a mandible claw before Roman low blowed him and finally got his win spearing and pinning an injured Strowman.
Look, I was not happy at the prospect that one week on from Summerslam, Bray would be a transitional champ to facilitate the Roman’s return. Nor was I pleased seeing how all the internet were seemingly hoodwinked into loving it by the dangling of the heel Roman carrot (which is over 3+ years late). But, I enjoyed this. The Fiend (and Braun for that matter) looked great in “defeat”, while Roman looked like a lazy entitled ass with his cheap and pampered win. Fact is, I never expected WWE to book Roman like this and after all that’s happened over the years, there’s a monumental victory in that. Bray and Braun delivered sheer fun mayhem and Reigns played his part very well and was booked exactly as he should be…a detestable heel. This was a smartly delivered and a promising start to Reigns’ new character. Plus, there was a brief moment when Alexa Bliss was watching on during the main event and I wonder where her ongoing story of becoming transfixed by The Fiend is leading. Shocked Retribution didn’t show again tonight though.
One thing I will say however and feel compelled to mention this, is that I was rather disgusted by certain pompous wrestling news websites on Twitter, writing that it was “refreshing” to have a “proper worker” as Universal Champion, one who could put on “consistently great matches for a change” (real quotes). What a slap in the face to Strowman and even more so to Bray Wyatt. These guys, through COVID times, have carried the Smackdown brand and nobody has worked harder than Wyatt in delivering top notch character work and repairing damage done by the most idiotic of creative decisions. Plus, lets not forget that, before Roman Reigns left, he was pencilled into a string of godawful feuds (King Corbin especially), whereas Bray had a Hell in a Cell redeeming match with Rollins at Crown Jewel, two great matches with Daniel Bryan at Survivor Series and Royal Rumble and a fun match with Strowman last Sunday at Summerslam. Amazing what these “professionals” vomit out online just because they’re all giddy about a heel turn and Paul Heyman. Ridiculous. Think, before you write people!
Overall, Payback was another excellent offering from WWE. The main event was booked extremely well and stunningly sensibly, to keep people looking strong and introduce audiences to a new era of Roman Reigns. Every match was at the very least enjoyable and there were some standouts in a big impressive win for Keith Lee and a great tag match and bunch of title matches and changes. At not far over 2 hours, WWE continues to be keeping their events to a good length and admirably reliant on the in-ring action. I genuinely expected to be so angered by this event and its shenanigans but to be quite honest I applaud WWE for being so careful and wise. Payback was another great night in the Thunderdome, one that leaves some very interesting pieces in play going forward. Next stop Night of Champions, see you in September!