Payback seemed going in like a rather pedestrian pay-per-view. RAW's two top titles weren't being defended, and the matches seemd fairly straightforward. However, while it won't go down as an all-timer, Payback ended up being fairly entertaining, and two matches will have serious ramifications going forward.
The first big moment of the night happened right off the bat. Kevin Owens defended the U.S. title against Chris Jericho, and going in this seemed to be a way to end this feud and say goodbye to Chris Jericho. Instead, in a fairly stunning finish, Chris Jericho not only won, but also forced Owens to tap out to the Wall of Jericho. Not only does this make Jericho a two-time U.S. champion, but it also sends him over to SmackDown, which gives the blue brand a nice boost to its roster.
Once again, it seems that Chris Jericho has swerved the whole wrestling fan base. It seemed like he was a lock for some time off as his band, Fozzy, releases a new album and goes on tour. However, as he said on social media after the match: #fooledya. No wrestler has been better at building drama based on real-life expectations and then turning it on its head. While Jericho will likely still be working with Fozzy, he will also be staying with WWE for the time being. This also interjects him perfectly into the SmackDown picture, and fans immediately can start drooling at the thought of a Jericho/Owens/A.J. Styles match at Payback. Of course, there could also be more swerves ahead, so maybe we shouldn't get too excited quite yet. Either way, Payback started off with an unexpected bang.
The other big title change, which was far more expected, though just as important, is that Alexa Bliss won the Raw women's title from Bayley. It was a very strong back-and-forth match from the two, perhaps the best Bayley has had since winning the title. The finish ended with Bayley getting slammed headfirst into a post, then getting DDT'd as she sold a head injury. It was a strong, and clean, finish but with just enough luck involved, as her going into the post was sold as somewhat fluky.
It's worth noting that the first-ever woman to hold titles on both brands is not one of the highly touted Four Horsewomen, but Alexa Bliss. And it's hard to argue with that decision. She has become one of the best all-around talents in the company, male or female. Her progression since being called up has been remarkable. It's hard to remember now that she was used more as a valet than a true wrestler in NXT, and it's only since she got to SmackDown that she was truly unleashed. Yet, here she is now, Raw's women's champ, and as much as we like Bayley, it's hard to argue the decision. Hopefully we get more out of these two, as they work remarkably well together.
Payback was more than a two-match card. However, those two title changes really set the mood for the night and could end up setting the tone for the summer.
The rest of Payback
--The main event ended up being Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns. This match played out largely as it should have. Roman Reigns was bandaged and selling (extremely well I might add) the assault from Strowman from weeks prior. He made a few comeback attempts but was thwarted each time. Eventually, Strowman hit him with not one, but two power slams, and got the win, cleanly. After the match, Strowman continued the assault, bringing some steel steps into the ring, dropping Reigns onto those steps, then picking them up and ramming them into Reigns. Reigns sold internal bleeding, capsules and all, and refused to get onto a stretcher, though he did get led to the back.
It didn't quite end there, though. While that's where the PPV technically ended, Raw Talk opened with Reigns in the back. He started to be loaded into an ambulance, when once again Strowman attacked. However, this time Reigns was ready and moved out of the way as Strowman charged. Strowman hit with such force that the door of the ambulance was ripped off, and Strowman plowed into a pile of crates before retreating. This seems to be setting up an ambulance match for Extreme Rules, which is a perfectly logical continuation of this feud, which has been effective in its paint-by-numbers approach.
--The House of Horrors match was unique, to say the least. It played out much like its spiritual predecessor, the Boiler Room Brawl. Like the Brawl, it was prerecorded in what seemed to be a run-down old house (which is up for sale! https://www.trulia.com/property/3260592933-39115-Business-Highway-10-Richmond-MO-64085). The two went from room to room, as it went between some violent brawling and some general creepiness. The first segment ended as Randy Orton seemed to be crushed by a refrigerator and Bray Wyatt rode back towards the arena. Don't forget, this match, despite being held in the house of horrors, had to end in the ring. So a few matches later, Bray Wyatt arrived, and went to the ring. Lo and behold, Randy Orton was there as the lights came back on, and the fight continued. Shockingly, Randy didn't seem all that hampered by his apparent squashing. It seemed Orton would get advantage when the Bollywood Boys, followed by Jinder Mahal, would attack, putting Orton out. Bray Wyatt would hit Sister Abigail, and that was how the match ended.
Was this the best match? No. Was it the worst? No. It does seem wrong that the finale of this lengthy feud basically served to build toward a match that will happen three weeks from now. And yes, the match itself was fairly hokey. But it could have been a lot worse. Plus, anytime the WWE in particular tries to do something new, it should be praised. I've seen the comments that it simply copied the Final Deletion. Outside of it being prerecorded for part of the match, and being separate from the arena, it really didn't even have the same tone. So I don't buy that argument. While I wouldn't try to do something exactly like this again, WWE dabbling in prerecorded, cinematic matches for the first time in quite a while is a good thing.
--The Hardy Boyz successfully defended their tag titles against Cesaro and Sheamus. This was a strong match between the two, with several false finishes and some creative tag work on both sides (and a lost tooth from Jeff Hardy). However, in the end the Hardys were victorious. It wasn't the finish, though, that was the lasting moment of the match. Instead, after the match, Cesaro and Sheamus attacked the celebrating Hardys, viciously assaulting both. This solidifies a heel turn for the two, extends the feud, and maybe, just maybe, starts to trigger the “Brokenness” inside Matt.
--Seth Rollins beat Samoa Joe. This match continued to revolve around the knee of Seth Rollins that Triple H injured. Joe targeted the knee while Rollins played the face in peril for much of the match. Rollins ended up escaping from an attempted Coquina Clutch and rolling Joe up for the three. Joe was able to look good in this match, while Rollins got the win.
--Austin Aries finally beat Neville in a cruiserweight title match, but unfortunately the belt did not change hands as Neville was disqualified. As Aries hooked in the Last Chancery, Neville grabbed the ref, throwing him into Aries to draw the DQ. This was the perfect decision in retrospect. 205 Live actually has direction with Neville as champ, so why mess with that right now? At the same time, Aries needed to get a win. Thus, you go with the DQ finish, which worked.
--On the preshow, Enzo and Cass beat Anderson and Gallows.
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