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WWE Payback – May 17th, 2015

From Baltimore, Maryland, the WWE brings retribution, redemption and revenge. From Baltimore, the leader in sports entertainment brings Payback!

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There was blood. There was sweat. There was deceit amid foes and honour amidst friends. The main event saw four of the best the WWE has to offer working together to create a well-crafted contest worthy of note. Although Match of the Night contention might sway toward the Tag Team Championship’s Two out of Three Falls Match, there were few dull spots to be found on this shining exhibition of talent. In some ways, the card did have the feel of a transitional Pay-Per-View. The Elimination Chamber is looming only two weeks away, and contrary to its title many feuds remain hot and without resolution. Overall, though, the event was enthralling and strongly billed. Let’s begin by reviewing the match results…

THE RUN-DOWN:

  • Sheamus vs Dolph Ziggler: Ziggler busts his head wide open with a head-butt, falls victim to a Brogue Kick. Sheamus wins by pin-fall.
  • 2 out of 3 Falls Tag Team Championship Match – The New Day (c) vs Cesaro & Tyson Kidd: Cesaro swing into Kidd dropkick on Kofi Kingston lands the first pin-fall. Kingston-assisted Big Ending on Kidd lands the second pin-fall. The ref distracted, Xavier Woods sneaks into the ring and small packages Cesaro, the ref thinks it’s Kofi and counts the three. New Day wins, retains titles.
  • Bray Wyatt vs Ryback: turnbuckle pad gets ripped off. Ryback hits his injured ribs on exposed turnbuckle metal, Wyatt applies Sister Abigail’s Kiss for the victory.
  • “I Quit” Match for United States Championship – John Cena (c) vs Rusev: top rope is detached from post, Cena traps Rusev in STF using top rope to smother. Lana climbs into ring and tells the referee that Rusev quits. John Cena wins and retains.
  • The Bellas vs Naomi & Tamina: Nikki Bella climbs to top rope, Naomi throws her to the canvas, pins for the win.
  • King Barrett vs Neville: the two fight on the outside, Neville climbs back in as Barrett opts to get counted out. Bull Hammer after bell, Barrett preens to crowd. Neville comes back, hits German suplex and Red Arrow, stands tall.
  • WWE World Heavyweight Championship Fatal Four-Way Match – Randy Orton vs Dean Ambrose vs Roman Reigns vs Seth Rollins (c): everyone has a chance to work one-on-one with everyone. Kane and J&J Security are involved throughout. Match ends when Rollins hits Pedigree on Randy Orton, gets the three count to retain championship.

ANALYSIS:

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  • The Showoff showed all the gumption and bravery he did against the overpowering Celtic Warrior at Extreme Rules, but with even more fire and fortitude. Ziggler, normally known for his technical flare and dynamic execution, showed rock-hard toughness here, not backing down or side-stepping any attack and instead thrusting head-first (literally) into them. You could see frustration, resignation and finally a certain burgeoning respect show on the face of Sheamus as the fight progressed. This program has been built on that one base theme: respect; both Sheamus’s lack of it and Ziggler’s demand for it. The big payoff spot of the match came when Ziggler hiked up his shorts and shoved his backside into the face of the big Irishman, eliciting a huge pop of satisfaction. This was a great way to start off the night: with a prime example of “Payback”. But it would be short-lived, as Ziggler would ultimately come up short.

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  • This had the feel of an equalizer which may very well set up a rubber match to settle the feud once and for all, and perhaps we may see Sheamus finally give an outward nod to Ziggler’s prowess. The closing moments of the battle were graphic, as the Showoff responded to slaps and taunts with a defiant head-butt which caused torrents of blood to pour from Dolph’s forehead. I’m not sure if that was intended, but either way it helped to sell Sheamus’s victory. No one can say Ziggler lost easily.

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  • These two teams delivered an epic example of tandem warfare at Extreme Rules and the pressure was on to up their game – which they did. The first fall in and of itself would have made a perfectly well-constructed title match, but it did not stop there. Kofi Kingston brought all of his newly-adopted aggression to bear, and Big E showed off his strength and speed with great effectiveness (although I would still like to see more innovation from the man), as the champs took Cesaro out of action for a spell while they worked over Tyson Kidd to get their equalizer.

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  • The final fall was a master-stroke in tag team psychology, as the ref mistook Xavier Woods for Kofi Kingston (#racismforthewin!). The move actually harkens back to the days of Demolition and the early versions of “twin magic” they would pull off. In fact, Hall of Famer Arn Anderson pulled a similar move to steal a victory over the Hart Foundation back in the day. Xavier Woods had boasted earlier in the night that “Kofi has the moves, Big E’s got the power, and I got the brains!” and he proved that he is a clever little lad by the final bell. the New Day continues to snatch victories against the legitimately strong contenders, serving both heels and faces equally.

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  • Another fantastic backstage celebration later in the show saw the still-reigning champs toasting their victory with champagne flutes full of ice cold milk, when Byron Saxton informed them they would be defending the titles inside the Elimination Chamber. The character work, the mannerisms, facial expressions and dialogue from New Day were absolutely priceless. I don’t think anyone expected this team to take off the way it has, but they are easily the most entertaining part of the tag team division today.

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  • A feud with Bray Wyatt is giving Ryback the opportunity to show vulnerability, a trait which makes a character more human, more approachable, easier to relate to. These are character elements which the Big Guy has attempted to incorporate into his untouchable, unstoppable, superhuman persona since his renaissance last year. If there is anyone who can expose and exploit a weakness, it’s Wyatt. The Eater of Worlds busted Ryback down a few pegs to the point where he did not appear to be the imposing juggernaut which normally steam-rolls everyone in his path. He was overpowered, he was out-maneuvered, he was outpaced and out-thought.

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  • That being said, Bray did not enjoy a walk in the park. Both men gave us a go-for-broke Donnybrook, leaving a lot of themselves on the mat, on the floor, and across the turnbuckles. The crowd added to the big fight feel of the match, as they were firmly behind both competitors. If Ryback can build on the work accomplished in this match going forward, these two have the potential to put on epic showdowns of power and presence.

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  • Even though the crowd leading up to this match were not as engaged as they perhaps could have been (most seemed more interested in Lana at the outset), John Cena’s face told the story of this being a very important match. That sentiment carried through to the end, as the sweat and exertion dripping from his face made this feel like one of the hardest fought victories of his life.

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  • Rusev, meanwhile, gave us the performance of his career so far, running the gamut from excruciating pain to audacity to sadistic cruelty to unbridled rage. His commitment to his character is undeniable. The early stages were that of a rudimentary brawling wrestling match. The second stage went back to the arena brawls made famous in the Attitude Era, even incorporating pyrotechnic explosions.

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  • The ending, although it may have come as not much of a surprise to many, was nonetheless the best way to end this battle. Rusev can still save face by boasting that he never said the words “I quit”, John Cena lives to carry on his US Open Challenge, and Lana may perhaps enter the next phase of her career. But what may that be? And what will Rusev do now?

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  • This was the sleepy section of the card. The Bellas and the new heel team put on a match that perhaps would do for a taping of Raw or Smackdown, but hardly a high stakes Pay-Per-View. One major issue I had with the match was its lack of narrative. The crowd was not into the Bellas, for one, and so the amount of heat going into the match was minimal. But nothing was done to gain more sympathy for the faces, as the momentum of the contest was back and forth so often a sense of tension could never adequately take hold. I never felt the Bellas were in such danger that I wanted to rally behind them. Pay-Per-Views are a time to bring your A-game, bring all the high-impact maneuvers you normally keep way back in your bag of tricks. There were no high spots to captivate the audience, who were a bit sapped from the epic arena battle they had just witnessed (which is, admittedly, the total fault of the bookers).

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  • The biggest shock of the match came when Nikki kicked out from Naomi’s signature move, the Rearview, but such a happening barely got the recognition it deserved. It felt flat. The end of the match did not make sense either. To have Nikki kick out of the Rearview, only to be pinned after a fall from the top rope felt inconsistent. I’m not sure what was accomplished in this win. As already mentioned, this felt more like a match on TV which would set up a big Pay-Per-View fight, not the big fight itself. I expected more from Naomi and Tamina, and I expect more from the reigning Divas Champion.

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  • Barrett and Neville continued the lackluster portion of the show by turning out a match that fell short of performances they have given before, however that being said it was still a solid match. Barrett dominated for a good portion, Neville selling quite well for the most part. The ending, again, felt like something that happens on television to add heat to the feud which will be settled at Payback, not something that happens at Payback. To their credit, it fits the King Barrett character, and The New Sensation’s dissatisfaction at the hollow count-out victory was the reaction one would expect.

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  • Neville as a performer is almost technically perfect. He is an excellent showman as far as his entrance is concerned and as far as his execution of the physical moves. What he lacks is a human connection to the crowd, partly because of how rarely he speaks. He is all business in the ring, determined and disciplined, and his hard countenance make him an admirable warrior but not so much someone to whom one may feel endeared. For now, he can coast on pure in-ring talent alone, but if he wants his career to really take off he will need to connect with us a bit more than he has.

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  • This match was the definition of complicated choreography done well. Like a Money In The Bank Ladder Match, like a Royal Rumble Match, there were many elements and personalities to play with here and the bookers and talent did a fine job making sure there was balance, believability, pacing and flow. Having J&J Security present has a blessing which became apparent right from the start, as without them the match could have quickly become an “everybody gang up on Rollins” affair, but with the Authority constantly interfering, it gave the necessary diversion which allowed two men to go head to head in the squared circle for a time. Rollins got Reigns, Orton and Ambrose for a while. Ambrose got Orton for a while. Reigns and Orton duked it out.

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  • The match reached its absolute Zenith when the members of the Shield shared a look as Orton was downed, and as if feeding off the collective excitement of every fan watching, they fell back into step with one another, becoming the heel team we all learned to love in 2013/14. It was beautifully crafted, with Rollins throwing his arms enthusiastically around his former partners and extending his fist. The crowd was shocked, as the possibility of a major swerve was in the process of being executed. But then the smiles on Reigns and Ambrose’s faces fell, and Rollins realized what was coming. It was definitely the high point.

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  • Reigns and Ambrose owned the next spot in the match, as they bumped fists and realized there was nothing left to do but fight one another. Line of the night belonged to Reigns, who shrugged and told his buddy: “Winner buys the beers.” The match between them was all pop, little substance, as it didn’t go past a slugfest, and it remains to be seen if these two can have a really epic match. Hopefully that uncertainty can be settled someday, but for the time it mattered not, as the two stars had the crowd eating from their hands.

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  • The ending to the match was the only spot which seemed to not serve the story in any significant way. Kane took one for the team, proving his loyalty. The significance of Rollins using the Pedigree and Triple H’s subsequent trip out to congratulate him is yet to be fully appreciated. Since the Curb Stomp has been unofficially banned from use, is it possible that the COO of WWE and future Hall of Famer is bequeathing his illustrious signature move to the current face of the company? The biggest question left after this main event is: who will be the next top contender for the championship? Orton has used up his chances, I think. Ambrose was given the opportunity as an apparent one-off. Reigns might still be in the running, but I think it more likely that a program with Kane will develop instead, as all major contenders for the title have to be setting their sights on the upcoming Money In The Bank event next month.

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  • What surprises will Monday Night Raw reveal? Who will challenge Cena for his US Championship after his hard-fought match at Payback? How will Ryback recover from his first big loss as of late? Who will be placed in the Elimination Chamber matches in two weeks time? What will become of the Ravishing Russian? Will Mandow Madness continue to run wild, brother? Freak out! Dig it!

Photos copyright WWE.com

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