Monday, June 2, 2014

The Mars Volta of Wrestling: WWE Payback '14 Review

Yeah John, I'd have been freaked out too
Photo Credit:
TH Style TH Style Yeah Yeah TH Style. Watch the replay on The Network. Trust me, you'll want to see this one.

  • In the pre-show match, El Torito defeated Hornswoggle with a springboard asai moonsault. Afterwards, per the stipulations, Torito and Los Matadores shaved Hornswoggle's head.
  • Sheamus retained the United States Championship by countering an Antonio Cesaro Neutralizer attempt with an inside cradle.
  • Rybaxel defeated Them Fightin' Rhodes Boys when Ryback countered a Disaster Kick from Cody Rhodes into the Shellshocked. After the match, Rhodes told Goldust he deserved a better tag team partner.
  • Alexander Rusev survived taking a spear off the apron to the outside from Big E Langston, tapping him out with the Accolade.
  • The announced Bo Dallas/Kofi Kingston match was a no-contest when Kane rampaged before the first bell.
  • Wade Barrett defended the Intercontinental Championship successfully with a Bullhammer to Rob van Dam.
  • Rather than make Daniel Bryan forfeit the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Brie Bella voluntarily quit WWE.
  • John Cena hit Bray Wyatt with an Attitude Adjustment through a box, and secured a Last Man Standing victory by entombing him with an oversized equipment chest.
  • Paige retained the Divas Championship by tapping Alicia Fox out with the PTO (Scorpion Crosslock).
  • The Shield overcame an ass-whupping to defeat Evolution in a clean sweep in their no-holds barred elimination tag match. Roman Reigns eliminated Triple H last with a spear.

General Observations:
  • Oh Kofi Kingston, you're not doing anything for WWE's perceived problems with minorities by saying you and Booker T often get confused for one another.
  • El Torito came out with a basketball jersey that said "2/3" and was red just like the color of the bull in the local NBA franchise's logo. Way to play it up to the hometown crowd.
  • JBL showed his propensity for shoving his nose straight up Vince McMahon's ass early by saying this hair vs. mask match was "42 years in the making," referring to a Gorgeous George/The Destroyer match that wasn't even promoted under the Capitol Sports banner. Then again, 42 years felt like it was an off number anyway, since George died in 1963, 51 years ago.
  • Early spot of humor in the lucha de apuesta saw Hornswoggle repeatedly kicking out of lateral presses, only to have Torito land in the outstretched arms of referee Charles Robinson. Whenever Lil Naitch would catch Torito, he'd put the bull back on Hornswoggle for another pin attempt. Then, when Hornswoggle got the upper hand and Torito kicked out, Robinson shirked back from catching the smallest member of 3MB. That spot really needed Jesse "The Body" Ventura on color commentary to get over.
  • Heath Slater gave chase with a pair of shears to Torito under the ring. When they reemerged, it was Torito as the aggressor with the shears. I wonder if they had a sojourn in Little People's Court, and Torito won the scissors in litigation. I hear time moves a lot differently under the ring.
  • I noticed a "Mountie for Jinder" sign during this match and couldn't help but think that it was slightly racist. Also, I'd rather see Jinder Mahal at this point than Jacques Rougeau, but that's just me.
  • Normally, I'd have groaned at Torito using the mini-scissors to cut Hornswoggle's hair, but then again, mini-scissors are never not hilarious. Also, I'm glad to see that they left Hornswoggle's hair in a fashionable Paul Heyman skullet for the entire night, as referenced by his appearance on the post-show press conferences with nothing but the top of his head shaved.
  • Speaking of Paul Heyman, so glad he decided to spend more time on his spiel on the mic trolling CM Punk and talking Brock Lesnar than he did talking up Antonio Cesaro. Then again, Cesaro is the kinda guy who hosses the shit out of dudes in the ring and doesn't need a Heyman to talk for him to get over. But I already covered that topic, didn't I.
  • "Look at the smile on the face of the Paulrus?" Man, if someone in the back cut Jerry Lawler's mic and never allowed him to talk on commentary again, I would've been the happiest.
  • I could watch Cesaro counter moves with the European Uppercut all day. Sheamus' battering ram, yes. All day.
  • Sheamus was on point this match with his transitions too. Funny, it's almost like a match between two elite WWE wrestlers was destined to be good from jump...
  • WWE ending a hoss fight on an inside cradle definitely seemed like a troll move, but it continued the feud (because Cesaro was whipping him a good bit of the match), and Sheamus is the rare taller wrestler who can actually pull the move off believably.
  • Just when I thought Goldust was done showing me surprisingly awesome stuff, he went and countered a Curtis Axel ducking telegraph not with a striking move, but by tossing him into the ropes for a whip. I want to say he's done that before, but this match felt like the first time I noticed it in an appreciative manner.
  • If the announcers tried to get over any fucking angle as enthusiastically as they did slumps and losing streaks, I don't think I would be complaining about them as much.
  • I will always pop for old, lanky man Goldust doing the fucking Yoshi Tonic.
  • Ryback powerbombing Cody Rhodes into Goldust gets filed under "little things that elevate a match from good to great." Seriously, Ryback is getting better as his push decreases.
  • In some other, idyllic, artistically nuanced promotion, I might dig Rhodes losing confidence and having a crisis of faith. In WWE's macho bullshit strewn environment of bravado and needing to look strong though? Yeah, I have no faith that Rhodes walking out on Goldust for personal reasons will end up as well as it could.
  • Both Alexander Rusev AND Big E Langston need to retake Flag Waving 101 at HOSS State University.
  • For whatever reason, Langston's spear of Rusev off the apron at this show was a shit-ton more impressive looking than the one he did to Wade Barrett at Extreme Rules.
  • What I liked best, however, was that after Rusev started his comeback and made that PRIMAL SCREAM, he held his gut as if his guttural shout hurt his injured ribs from said spear off the apron. That, my friends, is psychology you cannot teach.
  • Seriously, Bo Dallas' first non-Royal Rumble pay-per-view match got preempted so Kane could come out and have a reason to shoot his pyro? Ugh.
  • Then again, the beating Kofi Kingston took gave Dallas the best opportunity to give a BOtivational speech. Y'know, the only thing that would've made that whole segment better and more worthwhile is if Dallas had tried to pin him anyway.
  • I know Barrett was supposed to be the heel and all, but then again, maybe if you wanted me to boo him, you shouldn't have let him go out and say he was going to put Rob van Dam down like Old Yeller. I totally agree with that sentiment.
  • "How many times have we seen RVD do this?" Michael Cole unironically said before he would do that same spinning leg drop to an opponent draped over the barricade he's done in every match since 1997. Cole could've said those words before anything RVD did during that match, and they would have fit.
  • Short aside about crowds and CM Punk chants. Those chants aren't going away, especially in Chicago. Seeing a chorus of tweets chiding a crowd that will probably never see them feels like wasted energy at this point.
  • That all being said, Stephanie McMahon shutting down the crowd with her "These people want you to quit just like CM Punk did" was the sickest of sick-ass burns. I don't care that it felt somewhat childish knowing she's like the number three person in the company at the very least. In the moment, it was awesome.
  • No, Daniel Bryan, never call a woman a bitch, even if you have My Wife™ Brie Bella do it as a proxy. I feel gross having to watch my favorite wrestler act like such a turd when he's not wrestling.
  • John Cena corpsing in the beginning of the match felt oddly out of place, but it was redeemed by Bray Wyatt dancing with him around the ring.
  • Wyatt getting up from his first taken Attitude Adjustment via the reverse crab walk would have been an epic, amazing-looking moment had the build to Payback been at least slightly better than a wet fart.
  • I don't care that those corrugated ring steps are probably light as hell in real life. Watching Cena launch them over the top rope at Wyatt at ROCKET SPEED may have been visually the most stunning thing in the match, until, well...
  • ...Luke Harper killed himself and one of the Usos with a superplex from the top rope TO THE FUCKING FLOOR through a table. Seriously, the ancillary characters may have taken bigger bumps than the main ones in this match.
  • I felt so bad for Paige and Alicia Fox to have to go out after that match. Then again, they got time, which is more than Dolph Ziggler, AJ Lee, Langston, and Kaitlyn could say after they followed up Brock Lesnar and Punk at SummerSlam last year.
  • Fox was on point with her offense this match. Whether tripping out Paige's heel from underneath her on the apron or dumping her out of the ring out of a tilt-a-whirl, she held up her end of the bargain.
  • I also thought it refreshing that Paige got to get more than one offensive maneuver in.
  • "She's trying to ruin my face!" Never change, Alicia Fox. I mean that unironically.
  • Batista caught a lot of shit for his ring attire, but man, everyone else was wearing black. Why not break out the color scheme a little bit with an all-blue attire?
  • Another one to file to the "little things that elevate matches" file, Dean Ambrose fluttered his fingers in front of his face as to say "C'MON, COME AND GET ME" as Evolution and The Shield faced off before their match began. Dude has such manic energy, it's great.
  • I got a little confused how abruptly the match went from "All over the goddamn arena" to "everyone neatly back into their corners." I didn't feel like they segued that well.
  • This match might have been Batista's best performance in a WWE ring since he's been back. He actually has rounded into shape in the last few weeks, and has gotten back to his pre-departure levels of match quality. If rumors are true and he's leaving again, then, well, ah fuck.
  • I got where they were trying to go with that dreadfully plodding middle portion where Evolution just beat the ever-loving shit out of The Shield. I just wish they had cut like five or ten minutes from it and got Evolution's hubris over a bit more succinctly.
  • Triple H's last stand with the sledgehammer at the end was visually stark and put an exclamation point on The Shield's win. That being said, I was just a little bit afraid he would take out at least two if not all three members with the weapon and win the match. Sorry, I just get bad flashbacks sometimes. REALLY bad flashbacks.

Match of the Night: John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt, Last Man Standing Match - I thought their prior two matches on pay-per-view were pretty good if not flawed, but if y'all would indulge me in a cliche, the third time would be their charm. The last two matches seemed like they wanted to hit on that certain Attitude Era-sweet spot that matches like Cena/Randy Orton at TLC, Brock Lesnar/CM Punk, and The Shield/Rhodes Brothers on RAW after Battleground all hit last year, but the overbooking was either nonsensical or off-timed. In this match, all principals got it right this time around. I think in this match, the two primary combatants finally got their senses of escalation correct and were able to build towards an epic finish instead of landing big bombs throughout and shrugging at where to go in sequence.

Forgoing all of the extracurricular activity, both wrestlers broke out some visually impressive spots that might have carried the match regardless. I will never tire of seeing Wyatt hit the Sister Abigail's Kiss on a running opponent or as a counter to a flying move. He broke both out in separate spots in this match, the latter being off a Cena dive from the apron. My least favorite Cena trope of all-time is his instant energy renewal he'll do after taking a beating, but even though it reared its ugly head in this match, by the end, he was showing effects from the bombs he took, which to me was more notable than anything he broke out in terms of offense. Still, his wobbly-legged Attitude Adjustment attempt mid-match was one of the better variations of the move that he pulled off, and whether accidental or on purpose, it aided the story of the match along ably.

Of course, I don't want to say that the Usos, Luke Harper, or Erick Rowan were more important to the fabric of the match than Wyatt or Cena were, but they added to the car crash atmosphere, and the Usos especially were the last pieces to this feud in the ring. Cena having to deal with minions was not a well-told element to the story out of the ring, but Harper and Rowan in matches were nuisances. Having them battle as ancillary combatants was a nice touch, especially since they all took big bumps during the proceedings, none more memorable than Harper giving one of the brothers a superplex to the outside through a table. I don't care if you're in the match or just an interfering element; that shit was fuckin' intense.

Overall Thoughts: WWE has this nasty habit where the writers and Vince McMahon will produce drizzlingly shitty television shows in advance of the pay-per-view, uh, I'm sorry, "special events," and then the talent will go out and produce outstanding shows as a payoff. Most of the matches at Payback blew away the builds each of the matches received before television, if they even got builds in the first place. The show was bookended with several strong matches that had memorable spots and brutal, crowd-pleasing action.

Addressing the elephant in the room, however, the middle of the show nearly sucked the life out of the whole thing. The three absolute worst things on the show happened in succession, and it was in danger of taking the positive momentum built by the preshow and the first three matches and flushing it down the drain. The Kofi Kingston/Bo Dallas stuff was nonsensical and something that probably could have happened on RAW. Rob van Dam still is an absolute shitbag in the ring. The title-decision segment highlighted all the things that make the Daniel Bryan an unlikeable misogynist in character and make it hard to get behind him before and after his matches happen.

And yet, all three segments at least had some kind of redeeming qualities to them. Dallas' pre-and-post-match promos probably did more to establish his character than wrestling a full match would have (although I would have preferred him to pin Kingston just to set more of an underlying dickishness to his faux-positive exterior). Wade Barrett seems to be growing a little more comfortable in his own skin as a wrestler, even if I'm not sold he's the kind of guy who can go in a WWE ring on a regular basis like Sheamus or Cesaro at this point. And Stephanie McMahon, God bless her, at least was able to punctuate her end of the segment by getting in one last dig on the crowd and the guy they were chanting for. It was a sick burn, even if I still think it a bit childish at this point for anyone in the office to make comment (even if those officers are also in-character heels).

But then John Cena, the Usos, and the Wyatt Family came out and brought the crowd back to life. If anyone out there still wonders why Cena is the franchise, his resuscitation job on the crowd is a huge reason why he's still one of the best performers in wrestling history. WWE's roster right now probably hasn't been stronger in its history, and noting that two of the three biggest failures on the show came from writing or poor planning, it's not the wrestlers who aren't holding up their ends of the bargain.

Still, it's funny that my guests tonight and I got into a conversation about music during one of the recaps, specifically about The Mars Volta. One of the guests said that their songs would have five minutes of music and like three minutes of static. As an aficionado of the group, I actually had to agree. Payback was like a Mars Volta song in a way. Two-thirds of the show was "music" and that middle portion was "static." But much like an exceptional Mars Volta song, the music part was phenomenal.