Monday, May 18, 2015

A Brief but Triumphant Reunion: WWE Payback Review

For a fleeting moment, they were brothers once more
Photo Credit:
In TH style. If you insist on watching it, skip the John Cena/Rusev match. You'll thank me later.

  • Sheamus defeated Dolph Ziggler with a basement Brogue Kick after Ziggler busted himself open on a headbutt.
  • Xavier Woods was able to hide his face from the ref and score a roll-up victory in the third fall against Tyson Kidd to help New Day retain the Tag Team Championships despite the defenders in the match being Kofi Kingston and Big E.
  • Bray Wyatt used an exposed turnbuckle to his advantage and took out Ryback with the Sister Abigail's Kiss.
  • Lana verbally threw in the towel on Rusev while John Cena had him in a ring-rope-aided STF.
  • Naomi and Tamina Snuka defeated the Bella Twins after Naomi tossed Nikki off the top hard and pinned her.
  • Neville scored a countout victory over Wade Barrett. The two traded post-match beatings afterwards.
  • In a match where Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose briefly reunited The Shield, Rollins retained his WWE World Heavyweight Championship with a Pedigree on Randy Orton.
General Observations:
  • Dolph Ziggler may have caught some flak lately for regressing in the ring, but the dude really immersed himself into his storyline motivations against Sheamus. His mission was to hurt the "bully" (although the presentation of Sheamus as a bully by the announcers by just his being brutal in the ring missed the entire mark of the story to date) and he had to do so as recklessly as possible. He started off charging at Sheamus, and the end saw him done in mostly by a wound that was self-inflicted in the name of taking out the Celtic Warrior. He may have been the best singular wrestler on the show by a wide margin.
  • However, he kinda forgot about selling the leg about midway through the heat, although the spot where he started selling it, Sheamus catching the superkick and then just jabbing his elbow down onto Ziggler's thigh, was also a tremendous visual.
  • I've given it two months, but Sheamus' mid-heat peacocking and shouting "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?" still feels way forced. I dig the mindset behind it, but man, try something different.
  • The sequence from when Ziggler shoved his ass in Sheamus' face up through the Fame Asser was about as good a chain of events as one is gonna find in a wrestling match. Then again, I'm pretty sure a whole segment of the audience wouldn't have had Sheamus' reaction to getting Ziggler's derriere in their kisser if you catch my drift.
  • Between Lesnar's bloody face at WrestleMania and Ziggler's a-little-too-curiously-timed gusher towards the end of his match, I have to wonder if WWE has secretly relaxed the policy on blading. Ziggler getting that nick on his head off the headbutt at the very end seemed just a little too convenient, unless the ending really was an audible. Given the two wrestlers involved in the match, I wouldn't have been too surprised.
  • I was deathly afraid that Adam Jones was going to get involved in the Tag Team Championship match after New Day called him out during their intro. That being said, if he did get involved, he would have automatically been the best Adam Jones ever to be involved in a wrestling show, with apologies to former TNA World Tag Team Champion Pacman Jones (CHUH CHUH). Also, Jones' dork points that he accumulated by carrying the replica title belt were almost erased by his choice of shirt. Almost erased.  Almost.
  • Cesaro and Big E are clearly the stronger members of their teams, and the tag matches might suffer with Kofi Kingston teaming with Xavier Woods and Tyson Kidd getting another partner, be it Natalya or someone new, seeing those two HOSSES square off early in the match reinforced the overarching desire to see them break off into one epic singles feud.
  • Xavier Woods hopping up on the apron and trying to insert himself into the match with a Booker T-level of understanding of the Freebird Rule, in addition to being tremendous foreshadowing for the end, was my spirit animal. It's the kind of thing that he should be doing.
  • Cesaro took the big spear off the apron from Big E and then spent a bunch of time on the floor, and when he finally got back in, he couldn't do a Tiger Driver to Big E because his bell was too rung. I'm not sure whether that payoff was on purpose or not, but it helped put over Big E's big spot huge.
  • Woods' gambit at the end would have come off horribly if he didn't get in there and wrangle Kidd with the inside cradle when he did. Twin magic with actual twins is a hard thing to pull off well, but if the moment had come a bit too late, it would have been yet another chapter in WWE's constant battle with not being racist as fuck.
  • Whoever gave Bray Wyatt and Ryback that much time to have a match should be fired into the Sun. Neither guy seemed to know what to do with each other, and Ryback especially looked uncharacteristically lost.
  • Wyatt had some really killer strike spots though, including his signature side chopping dive thing and the senton off the apron to the floor.
  • Rusev noting that half the crowd already hated John Cena as a reason for him to quit before the match might have worked if Cena hadn't spent the last two months overcoming the odds all over his Russian-sympathizing ass. That statement is something you say to a guy whose rear end you're whipping mercilessly, not someone who's about ready to finish you off for good. Then again, with the match that followed, Cena probably should have taken Rusev up on his offer.
  • How can a match have extensive crowd brawling, a flat-back bump that bent a steel guard barrier, and a BIG EXPLOSION ZOMG spot and still come off as dreadfully boring as Cena/Rusev did? Seriously, that match got over 20 minutes and plodded as if it was the first two acts of Fellowship of the Ring
  • Having "I Quit" matches that don't end in someone saying "I quit" is one of the many terrible things WWE does on a semiconsistent basis. Additionally, how the fuck is passing out not going to end an "I Quit" match when WrestleMania 13 set the most memorable precedent in company history? WWE has a problem with hypermasculinity clouding its storytelling, and surprise surprise, it would rear its ugly head after the Neville/Wade Barrett match too.
  • If the entire Bella Twins/Naomi and Tamina Snuka match was as good as the very beginning sequence between Naomi and Nikki was, then it probably would have saved the crowd after Cena and Rusev used Sleep Powder on it. I loved  Naomi stomping on Nikki's foot to start, and they followed nicely afterwards.
  • Snuka's involvement in the match was limited to a superkick of Brie on the apron and scant little else, but y'know, that was probably for the best at this point.
  • Rusev telling Lana to get out was inevitable after she "threw in the towel" on him, and it made sense, but Christ, why did WWE have to book this angle at all?
  • Neville and Barrett didn't have their best match, but it was almost good enough to help resuscitate the crowd in time for the main event. It was nicely paced, Neville flew around the ring like a sparkplug, and Barrett's continual improvement in owning his own body and the brutality that can come along with all made it work.
  • The countout finish worked because for one, these two have a lot of ground they can still cover, and two, it would have been the first real non-definitive finish for the show. But then having what amounted to each one getting a turn to do signature moves out of the match was insanely moronic to say the least. Why should they have a rematch now, since basically, Barrett attacked and Neville definitively put him down with his finisher? Again, WWE is so afraid of making anyone look traditionally "weak" that it ruined another story, at least temporarily, and missed the mark of what has made Neville work so well on the main roster. Jesus Christ.
  • Roman Reigns has improved by leaps and bounds in the last five months or so in terms of ring work, and while I wouldn't say his MAD AIR dive to the outside is a sign of that at all (because terrible wrestlers can do impressive dives to the outside, right Michael Elgin and Davey Richards?), but it is so impressive to see a dude that size get the hops he does.
  • The interference from both J and J Security and Kane was woven well into the fabric of the match. The "best possible Attitude Era" moniker has been thrown around by yours truly a lot, but I feel like in a lot of these matches, especially including The Shield, the spirit of chaos and disruption has been perfected better than it was even when it was WWE's bread and butter.
  • Speaking of The Shield, I still don't think a reunion right now would be good for anyone in the long term, but I legit got chills up my spine when they reunited for one last triple powerbomb on Randy Orton. I can't quit Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins as a cohesive group.
  • But with that being said, the follow up with Reigns and Ambrose turning on Rollins during the fist-bump and then putting him through the table before doing resigned, friendly battle with each other was even sweeter.
  • Reigns kicking out of Ambrose's school boy and countering it with a SITOUT Backlund short-arm scissor may have been my favorite thing that he's ever done. In fact, I want to see an extended singles match between Reigns and Ambrose, preferably for the title. It might blow away anything in WWE that didn't involve Brock Lesnar this year by a longshot.
  • If Rollins isn't going to use the curb stomp anymore, then having him do the Pedigree as a permanent finish is perhaps the best idea possible.

Match of the Night: Big E and Kofi Kingston (and Xavier Woods too) (c) vs. Cesaro and Tyson Kidd, Best Two-of-Three Falls Match for the WWE Tag Team Championships - The best in-ring feud in WWE in 2015 continued in what may not have been the best multiple falls match in the last five years, but one that made the best use of all three falls. The two teams and their seconds on the outside came together for another rip-roaring contest that showed the best of what tag team wrestling can and should be in WWE. Whether it was Cesaro's precision strength, Big E's reckless bull-charging, Kingston's careful acrobatics, Kidd's catlike agility, Natalya's domineering presence, or Woods' guile, the parts combined into a whole that helped carry over momentum from the first match on the show.

A lot of the match's strengths were displayed by big visuals that popped off the screen, and that trend began early on with Cesaro snatching Big E out of the air with one arm into a powerslam. That spot looks supremely impressive with a smaller opponent, but snatching E, a guy who looks like a cannonball brought to life by a wizened old magician, out of the air is a special kind of HOSSY. E returned the favor later on when he speared Cesaro off the apron to the floor, a move which he's done at nearly every pay-per-view he's been booked but looks just as devastating as the first time he used it anyway. Even better, Cesaro's "flub" of the Tiger Driver right after was covered up by the fact that he'd just been speared into the barricade minutes before.

But the zip behind the "mundane" spots is what impressed me most. Whether it was Cesaro using a mushroom boost behind his running European uppercuts, New Day rapidly tagging in and out to continue a nearly endless mudhole-stomping sequence in the corner, or even that back flipping thing over the top that Cesaro and Kidd did later in the match that had no bearing still looked really spiffy, even without context. But it all led up to a finish that actually had to be timed just right. Woods subbing in for Kingston to get the roll-up pinfall (this after it was foreshadowed by him hopping on the apron and shouting "FREEBIRD RULES, FREEBIRD RULES" before getting yanked off by Natalya) would have ruined the match if he didn't squirt into the ring and wrangle Kidd at the right moment, but it was so perfectly done. Then again, the way these two teams work against each other, I shouldn't have been surprised.

Overall Thoughts: For a show that had a build filled with malaise at the very best, Payback wasn't necessarily a bad or inessential watch. That isn't to say it was a great show, or even a good one at times. The middle of the show was filled with overwrought faux-epics that didn't deserve the lengths of time they got. Even good matches, well, one of the good matches at least, was marred at the end by a whole heaping tablespoon of bullshit parity booking dumped all over a short not-even-five-minute-long post-match beatdown segment. Seriously, continued viewing of WWE programming will dispel any opinions that anyone should have that Vince McMahon either is a creative genius or harbors any who are allowed to have great influence on his writing staff.

Then again, when the fault in a pay-per-view is the booking, it's booking that permeates the entire show to the point where the nauseating smell can cancel out the beautiful fragrances emitted by tremendous wrestling. The only real booking error here happened with that post-match segment between Wade Barrett and Neville. Having Barrett lose by countout was fine in order to continue a feud that has juice left in it. But wouldn't the smart thing be to either leave the raw nerve alone, or at least end the festivities after Barrett laid Neville out? What did Neville's counterattack do to advance a story to the next point? He got even, and now the last televised moment in that feud until tonight is one of finality. I'm some shithead "keyboard warrior" with a blog and zero experience booking a wrestling promotion, and even I can pick up on that.

But most of the fault on the show came from the actual matches and the layouts. Ryback and Bray Wyatt had bits and pieces of a good match intertwined in their slogging derpfest, but man, what agent thought it was a good idea to give those two that amount of time instead of the insanely entertaining two teams that went on before who had major chemistry with each other? The Bellas/Samoan Dynasty match was uncharacteristically sloppy given three of the four competitors involved, but compared to the epic shitshow that was the John Cena/Rusev match beforehand, it may as well have been Manami Toyota and Toshiyo Yamada vs. Mayumi Ozaki and Dynamite Kansai.

Seriously, the show would have benefited everyone watching live or at home if Cena had just taken Rusev up on his offer to quit before the match began. The story progression was so glacially slow and painfully repetitive that it was hard to believe that these two had the best match of the night two months prior at WrestleMania. It felt like two guys getting out of wrestling school getting 20 minutes off the bat and just doing spots with no regard for cohesion, and not even the automatically-guaranteed-for-TH-to-like spots like the EXPLODING PIECE OF EQUIPMENT or crowd brawling or the bent steel barricade were enough to keep me from nodding off. Sure, the finish was booked tremendously well, even if it was to a story that should not be told right now, but it was a rare case of two good-to-great workers falling short of the mark.

But what was good on the show definitely was worth the immersion. I wrote a bunch of words on the Tag Title match, but it still bears repeating that the New Day gimmick has not only done wonders for Kofi Kingston in the ring, but that the group has amazing chemistry with a team that in all fairness is easy with whom to have chemistry. The opening match may have been muted from what fans have come to expect from those two workers, but Ziggler especially followed such a smart gameplan tailored to the actual story of the match, and it helped liven up a crowd that would ultimately be doomed by a dreadful middle of the show.

And the main event may have had a few missteps, but gosh, it was a fun way to cap the night off. The rampant interference was well-timed, and it gave the atmosphere a great injection of chaos, one that was further cultivated with the two table bombs. Speaking of which, the reunion of The Shield to put Randy Orton through the table with their triple powerbomb sent chills up my spine, even if right after Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns remembered the knife-wounds in their backs. Their interplay afterwards was refreshing, and it reminded me of the end of Rocky III, when Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa sparred as both friends and competitors. Wrestling in general but WWE sorely in specific needs to have more dynamics such as that, where the two guys wrestling are buddies, but they don't feel the need never to, y'know, wrestle each other, since it is their job.

The good stuff on the show, however, highlighted how terrible the bad stuff ended up being. Payback was like climbing a mountain in hopes of getting a treasure, finding nothing but the feces of climbers who made it to the top, and go-carting down the hill while trying to avoid hitting mountain goats along the way. If you just fast-forward from the start of Wyatt/Ryback to the end of the Barrett/Neville post-match, you'll have a perfectly serviceable throwback In Your House pay-per-view, and thanks to the wonders of modern technology, you can if you have WWE Network.