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The Smark Henry Pay-Per-Review: Payback 2015

Before we get to this month’s Pay-Per-Review, I’ll have to warn you that a lot of my thoughts on WWE Payback are very much random, disjointed, and random. 

This is what happens when you wake up at almost 4 a.m. to catch an NBA Game 7 live, take a nap for about an hour, wake up to catch a WWE PPV live, and then take another nap afterward. In between, I recall dreaming about joining some exclusive mysterious club that allowed me to have access to hard-to-find NBA collectors’ items. In the dream, I had a limited amount of time, from the moment I touched the merch, to decide whether or not I wanted it. If I didn’t pay within the said time limit, the merch would magically disappear as if I were in some video game. I am in a very fucked-up place mentally. 

Let’s get to this show’s review before it gets any weirder.

Kickoff: R-Truth def. Stardust

So what unique opportunity are these two fighting over?
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Truth and Stardust have gone against each other for at least four times in the last three weeks. This is insane. I don’t understand what these two are even fighting over anymore, and why they keep facing each other. Why can’t they have just moved on and made a case for their individual Intercontinental Championship aspirations?

Speaking of the Intercontinental Championship, WWE has officially announced that the Elimination Chamber event on May 30 will feature a chamber match for the vacated IC title. If I were to assemble the Intercontinental Championship field for the Chamber match, it’ll include King Barrett, Neville, Dolph Ziggler, Sheamus, Dean Ambrose, and Stardust. Yeah, I basically included five of the players from the Ladder Match at Mania, but all five are deserving, and Neville is as well. 

Oh, right, so Truth and Stardust had a match and Truth won. Seriously, is there a Best of Five a la Lucha Underground for a “unique opportunity” that I’m not aware of?!

The Ascension def. the Meta Powers

I cannot--in good conscience--get behind this bullshit.
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This is another problematic feud and match, which I hope no longer continues by the time the next RAW airs. It’s been said multiple times on this blog and on the SGP Podcast, but it needs to be said one last time: Damien Sandow was on the cusp of breaking free and being his own man following his 6-month-long feud with Miz. After he told us he’s going to be himself again, he’s back to doing impersonations?! What the fuck, WWE?

All that being said, not even my attachment towards #AxelMania will make me want to get behind the Meta Powers. Writing good things about this gimmick will only reinforce it and that’s the last thing I want for this. 

As for the Ascension, it’s a shame how far they’ve fallen since debuting on the main roster. From being the most dominant tag team in NXT history to being relegated to the ignominy of having to deal with #AxelMania and Macho Mandow, one can only hope that Viktor and Konnor find a way out of this rut very soon.

The one consuelo de bobo out of all this is that the Ascension picked up a much-needed victory over the Meta Powers, and it should all end here. If this were to continue on RAW—which it likely will—then all these characters will have taken five steps backward in their development.

Update: the Ascension are moving on to the Elimination Chamber to compete for the WWE Tag Team Championship against the New Day, K-Swiss, the Lucha Dragons, Los Matadores, and the Prime Time Players.

Sheamus def. Dolph Ziggler

Dolph finally got an Irish Kiss to the backside.
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The Celtic Warrior has owed the Show Off a kiss to the arse—I can’t believe I just typed that instead of "ass"—since Extreme Rules and it was nice of them to get that out of the way early on. The match actually started off as a typical match you’d see on TV, which was pretty boring for a curtain-jerker. But then I appreciated it when Dolph finally got his revenge early in the match by shoving his posterior onto Sheamus’s face.

What this match lacked in buildup, it made up for in its finish, as Dolph visibly bladed, busting himself open moments after hitting Sheamus with a stiff headbutt. Just so we’re all clear, yes, Dolph bladed. You can’t bleed the way Dolph after a headbutt, even if you end up cracking your opponent’s skull. In the end, the Celtic Warrior got the win via the Brogue Kick. Each man now has one win apiece in their one-on-one encounters.

I expect this match to have a blow-off by the next pay-per-view, but this will take a detour via the Elimination Chamber during the Intercontinental Championship match. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if one of these two end up becoming the next Intercontinental Champion. With the way they’ve feuded so far, I’d say they both deserve it.

The New Day (Big E & Kofi Kingston w/ Xavier Woods) def. Tyson Kidd & Cesaro (w/ Natalya) in a 2 Out Of 3 Falls Match to retain the WWE Tag Team Championship

Contrary to popular belief, the guy in the middle and the guy on the right are not twins.
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When this match started, I thought that Creative wasted the opportunity to use the Freebird Rule to get even more heat for the New Day. It was a gimme already, given the stipulation. How fucking hard would it have been to have the New Day insert its different combinations into the match for each fall? Given that they have three members, they could have trotted out three different pairs that would have each fall have a unique twist. Plus, it would have added to a supposed advantage against K-Swiss. Way to drop the ball, WWE. 

But then the New Day were able to make the most out of what they were given, and they ran with the ball coming out of the gate. From their opening promo, to Xavier Woods being such an annoying gnat at ringside—hell, he insisted that the referee honor the Freebird Rule—to the ultimate switcheroo to win the decisive third fall, the New Day have positioned themselves to be the heel faction we’ve been missing in the midcard. That finish was brilliant, and assures me that this feud will continue, which is a good thing, especially since the Tag Team titles will be defended inside the Elimination Chamber in two weeks. In hindsight, after seeing everything, I realize that WWE made the right call now. Everything made sense, even on RAW this week.

I just have to go back to Xavier Woods, Ph.D. before ending this because he was just amazing as a manager for the New Day. We know he can go in the ring, but since he’s being shoehorned into the manager position, he’s proven he can make do by being such a pest. For example, when the crowd praised the match by yelling, “THIS IS AWESOME!” Woods yelled back, “WE KNOW! WE ARE ALL AWARE!” That’s worth commending right there.

At the same time, what the fuck is with the referee that he seemingly could not tell Woods from Kofi? I mean, I know they’re both black and that they both have dreads, but they don’t even look alike and both men’s hairstyles are inherently different. How are we tolerating a racist ref in 2015?

Bray Wyatt def. Ryback

Bray Wyatt enjoys his fleeting moment with Ryback as the referee looks on in disgust.
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Bray Wyatt sorely needed a PPV win, and he finally scored one against a guy who wouldn’t really be hurt by a PPV loss in Ryback. My biggest issue with this feud heading into the match is that Bray never really hit Ryback with any of the psychological warfare that he used to dish out. Wyatt is at his best as a supernatural heel when he’s playing mind games with his foes. Remember when Wyatt used kids to fuck with Cena? That shit was gold. He couldn’t do this against Taker because it’s inherently difficult to mess with an opponent who isn’t there. But Ryback’s easy to find, and I don’t understand why Wyatt just kept on rambling when he could have done most of his damage by getting inside Beezy’s head.

The match itself was unspectacular since Wyatt works best as an imposing, cunning heel, and yet he was neither imposing nor cunning. He didn’t play mind games with Ryback during the match, and he had to work as the smaller guy next to the Big Guy. What’s worse is that Wyatt had to win with the help of an exposed turnbuckle. There’s nothing supernatural and eerie about an exposed turnbuckle. If you’re building Wyatt up as the supernatural heel of the next decade, then you should start booking him like one.

John Cena def. Rusev in an I Quit Match to retain the WWE United States Championship

There was really only one way this match could end. I mean, when you have Mr. Never Give Up going against the Super Athlete, you could be fairly certain that neither of this mofos would want to suffer the indignity of having to quit in front of the entire world. True enough, neither man did, and it was Lana who threw in the towel on Rusev’s behalf—as I predicted on this week’s episode of the SGP Podcast. ACA-LLED IT!

Update: Rusev actually quit in his native Bulgarian. Don’t believe us? Check out the official translation we acquired right here.

Cena and Rusev made it all around the arena as they dished out the punishment against each other, even resulting to a blast from the past by involving the ramp pyro in the fray. Unfortunately for these two, Dean Ambrose and Luke Harper have set the ultimate peg in street fights by literally taking the fight from the arena to the streets. 

Anyway, I was legit afraid for Cena when Rusev botched a slam that either looked weak or appeared to give Cena some serious whiplash. Perhaps Rusev was under the impression that the table would break even if the impact was soft, but it didn’t. Welp.

Throughout the match, they brought out an assortment of weapons from steel steps, to tables, to a laptop that looked like the Anonymous RAW GM’s, to… water. Yes, water. Because at one point, Rusev had actually incapacitated Cena, but he needed the latter to consciously quit to win the match. I don’t understand how or why Mike Chioda didn’t give Rusev the win right then and there since Cena was already knocked out. Are we following the rules that specifically? Jeez. 

Moving on, Rusev even exposed the top turnbuckle pad and unscrewed the top rope, which was ultimately a Chekhov’s gun as Cena used the loosened top rope to lock the STF in on Rusev. That finish looked like a callback to Cena locking Rusev in the STF to force him to defend the United States Championship at WrestleMania. 

Naomi & Tamina def. WWE Divas Champion Nikki Bella & Brie Bella

Hey, Brie. Meet Tamina's Boot.
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So Brie Bella’s supposed to be more sympathetic now that she’s putting her heart on her sleeve as Mrs. Daniel Bryan. As much as I love Brie Bella in real life, along with her husband, I can’t allow for this to be enough justification for the Bellas to be the babyfaces. At least Naomi’s heel turn was given the proper reasoning for both nitpickers and casuals alike.

Speaking of Naomi, her Extreme Rules getup was amazing because she was wearing bright colors and shoes that light up despite working heel. I hate that she’s gone back to wearing black just because some intelligent road agent decided that heels should automatically wear black. I don’t think that’s the case. Naomi’s added a wrinkle of arrogance to her character, so the loud, bright colors will only add to that. 

The match itself wasn’t anything special. Hell, not even Brie’s awkward jumping attack on Tamina would make this match too special, but I will say that I missed seeing Tamina on WWE TV. Together, Naomi and Tamina have the potential to be this half-decade’s LayCool. But the bigger question is whether or not Tamina can stay healthy to actually remain relevant in the Divas division. It’s hard to believe that Tamina’s been on the main roster since 2010 since her booking’s either been sloppy since then or injuries have kept her on the shelf for so long.

Neville def. King Barrett via countout

Neville takes King Barrett for a ride over the London Bridge.
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My biggest fear for Neville is that he’d quickly get lost in the shuffle as easily as Vince dropped his first name. Thankfully that hasn’t happened, especially since Neville found a solid dance partner in the 2015 King of the Ring. Neville and Barrett have chemistry in the ring, and their styles complement one another as they tell the story of the egotistical big man who fancies himself an actual king being challenged by the underdog upstart. 

Both of these guys look primed to be part of the Elimination Chamber match for the Intercontinental Championship, and rightfully so. They both put out a decent match, despite the ending, with the highlight being Neville’s standing shooting star press on Barrett while both were outside the ring. Barrett losing via countout isn’t such a horrible thing, since this feud doesn’t appear to be over anytime soon. What’s nice is that this story is getting some continuity and not being bumrushed to end. 

The question for both wrestlers moving forward revolves around their long-term health. Can King Barrett finally go on a run--and actually have sustained momentum—without having to be sidelined for an extended amount of time? And can Neville continue to be an exciting wrestler without having to one day end up like Daniel Bryan? Only time will tell with these two.

Seth Rollins def. Randy Orton, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose in a Fatal 4-Way Match to retain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

No Shield reunion for you, buddy.
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How awesome was it to get all three Shield alumni in the main event of Payback a year after the last time they were together as a team? How awesome was it to just imagine the possibility of a Shield reunion against Randy Orton a year after they went their separate ways? How awesome was it to actually see a Shield reunion—even for just a few seconds—via their patented triple powerbomb?

I’d be lying if I said that I was just looking for a nice Fatal 4-way match straight up because once Reigns, Rollins, and Ambrose set Orton up for that triple powerbomb, I was as awake as I could have been (considering I’d been up since 4 AM to catch Game 7 between the Houston Rockets and the Clippers earlier in the day). All of that being said, the match did its job in advancing stories revolving around the World Title while keeping the wrinkles of the players’ relationships with one another.

It was surprising to see Kane not even teasing a betrayal against Rollins or J&J. But it was aptly explained by the stipulation that he would lose his position as Director of Operations if Rollins were to lose the title. Apparently, Corporate Kane seems to have taken over the Kane character such that he actually cares about his job despite having “saved enough money” over the years, as he explained to Rollins backstage earlier on in the show.

Reigns’ relationship with Ambrose was also touched on during the match as they cooperated for the most part, but ended up fighting each other when they were the only two left standing at one point in the match. While it’s nice that both guys continue to act as brothers to one another, I don’t understand why Ambrose so easily forgives Reigns for getting distracted over the WWE World Heavyweight Championship last year as Rollins started feuding with the Lunatic Fringe. It would have made for a really interesting wrinkle in the Fatal 4-Way if they had touched on that part of the story so they could sow tension between Ambrose and Reigns.

As for Rollins, it was great that he seemed delusional during that brief Shield mini-reunion. Everyone and their mother wanted to ask Rollins what the fuck he was on that made him believe Reigns and Ambrose would suddenly have an epiphany to get the band back together. Why would they do that? Because it felt good to hit Orton with the triple powerbomb? Have you forgotten that you’re the champ? Have you forgotten that you burned your bridges with these two on the way to being the champ? I love how Rollins was written in that match.

My issues with the Rollins character moving forward revolve around how he’s been overcoming a lot of adversity both inside and outside of the Authority. How are you supposed to build Rollins as a heel when withstanding the challenges and trials that await you is inherently heroic? I actually want Triple H to start finding ways to proactively protect Rollins the same way Trips was being protected during his days in Evolution. Sure, the Authority does interfere in Seth’s matches a lot, but they just don’t have the same oomph as Evolution used to. Not only does this strengthen the Authority as a faction, but it reinforces Seth’s characterization as a chickenshit heel champ.

One final note: the idea of Rollins using the Pedigree as his finisher moving forward is growing on me. Rollins has always struck me as the bratty bunso of the Authority, and for him to use Daddy Trips’ finisher, as his own had been prohibited in real life, would be a great way to play up the Authority association. I just wish Orton—or whoever would draw the task of putting the move over—would actually jump to sell the move and put it over.


Overall, I’d give WWE Payback a B-. I actually don’t mind that only Neville and Cena were the babyfaces that won on the main show, and that neither superstar won via pinfall or submission. Given that booking trend for Payback, it actually reminded me of No Mercy, which used to be held every October as the “heel’s pay-per-view,” since heels won most of the matches and most certainly won the main event during its run as an event from 1999 to 2008. 

What made me dock points off the show was how some matches like Neville vs. Barrett didn’t seem to have enough time, while Sheamus vs. Ziggler seemed to have a disjointed pace from the slow start to a suddenly action-packed finish. Add to those the loopholes I detailed above, and they add up to the rating I gave above. But don’t let my rating (entirely) color the way you view Payback! What did you think? Agree? Disagree? Hit me up in the comments section below! In the meantime, I’m going to get some valuable sleep and maybe avoid recalling dreams in the near future.


Stan Sy is a radio DJ, an events host, a freelance writer, one of the hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast, and Smark Henry's official PPV reviewer. He enjoys watching WWE, NXT, Lucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. Every now and then, he dresses up in fancy suits to book matches as PWR's longest-tenured General Manager to date. Follow him on Twitter: @_stansy

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