The Hits and Misses of Payback

The WWE’s portion of a jam-packed wrestling weekend took place last night, with Payback held at the PPG Paints Arena, the venue that hosts Penguins games, in Pittsburgh, PA. Prior to the show, a hefty amount of tickets were sold, primarily based on the strength of the current WWE product, but the argument could be made that before the broadcast, the pay-per-view lacked a hype that gave it a “must see” atmosphere. A side note, while some have claimed that WWE is in a hot period right now, I’d disagree, given that Raw usually falls below two million viewers, which would’ve been unthinkable in the past. That said, while the pitfalls of several years prior eroded a portion of the WWE viewing audience, the core fan base that remains will respond to quality content. So, I don’t think the WWE product or the pro wrestling business as a whole is in any type of boom period, but rather the WWE audience has bought into current WWE programming. In fact, for the first time in several years, you could say that management has done a lot to directly serve its audience rather than attempt to shoehorn a corporate narrative. The office wanted Roman Reigns to be the next John Cena, which wasn’t organic and the fans rejected it. When Roman was allowed to evolve as a performer in the heel role, it was a draw for the organization.

However, as much of a draw as The Bloodline were for the Summer Slam stadium show last month, none of them were advertised for Payback, even though Jey made a surprise appearance to announce his arrival on Raw. Furthermore, Cody Rhodes, the top baby face in the company, was scheduled for a promo segment, not a match so the card was a little thin on paper.

But, how did the show play out on PPV?

The broadcast kicked off with the Becky Lynch vs. Trish Status cage match, and despite being the opener, this might’ve stole the show right from the start of the event. These two are such quality performers, and you have to give Trish an extra nod of credit when you take into account that she hasn’t been a full-time wrestler in several years, but didn’t miss a step in this featured bout. They worked with the cage rather than just working a match that happened to be inside a cage. The exchanges when they stood on the ropes and hit the mesh looked brutal. It was a physical bout and that added a lot to the segment. The spot where Trish was hanging from the cage looked scary, but again added a sense of danger to the contest. The momentum of the segment built toward its conclusion and that maximized the crowd reaction. Becky won with the manhandle slam from the top rope. This match was more proof that the women’s division continues to be the most consistent aspect of WWE programming.

The SAG-AFTRA strike is really unfortunate for those that it puts on the picket line until the contract disputes get settled, but it opened the door for John Cena, who works nearly full-time in film, to return to the WWE, with a slew of appearance announced. I’d guess that will lead to one or two key matches, which is a smart decision, as it maintains the “special event” atmosphere when he competes in a match. That said, it made sense to book him in host and special guest referee role for Payback since it was somewhat of an added bonus and allowed LA Knight to get an endorsement from him. The Miz/LA Knight contest was fine, but nothing too spectacular in terms of in-ring presentation, and truthfully, it didn’t need to be. Knight is one of the most over performers on the roster right now and the crowd was behind everything he did so the “work rate” of the segment was secondary. Knight got the win prior to the previously mentioned Cena endorsement, but I’m really not sure how far Knight moves up the ladder. He’s a solid in-ring worker, but not necessarily someone that you’d immediately think of as a performer that could carry someone else through a match. Sure, some will say he’s too much of a spin off of The Rock or Steve Austin, and they might have a point, but the bottom line is, he’s at a career peak in terms of popularity, it just remains to be seen how much stock the office will invest in him, especially with Seth Rollins as the baby face champion on Raw so it doesn’t look like there’s a main event spot open for him.

The US title match was a good segment and the pacing of the match built well toward the finish. More importantly, with only six matches on the entire card, this contest had about ten minutes, which really helped pace the entire event. If too many matches are given the typical twenty-minute slot, the bouts become predictable since the audience knows that a pin fall earlier in the match won’t be the conclusion of the contest. Despite his age and a lengthy list of injuries throughout his legendary career, Rey Mysterio can still go. Austin Theory did well in this segment, and the finish was a leverage maneuver so it allowed Rey to retain without sacrificing too much momentum for Theory. If I had to guess, this was done more or less to keep options open to move Theory up the card in the future.

The Steel City Street Fight was a really fun segment, and as a Pittsburgh native, I will always appreciate a Myron Cope reference, as well as the Mario Lemieux and Sidney Crosby jerseys that were used in the match. It was a wild brawl that had a lot of action and provided a combination of sizzle and substance to the show with the gimmicks used, along with the finish. Sami Zayn took a brutal suplex onto the chairs, and Kevin Owens, who was reportedly dealing with some injuries recently, did a crazy dive from the balcony in the crowd. It almost looked like Owens’ leg landed directly on the floor so hopefully, he didn’t aggravate any existing injuries. The finish made sense, especially if Owens was working hurt, as it shines another spotlight on The Judgment Day since each member of the stable has a championship. I know I’ve said it before, but for a stable that was more or less dead in the water at one point, The Judgment Day have become one of the highlights of WWE programming.

I understand that the Grayson Waller segment was used to pace the card after the street fight, but I think the talk show, especially on a pay-per-view actually hindered the viewing experience, specifically for the latter half of the event with the last two matches becoming rather tedious. Plus, I’m not sure it did much for the PPV to have Cody Rhodes in the ring, but not actually wrestle since it seems like more of a Raw spot than something you’d see on PPV.

The Women’s title match was fine, but for whatever reason, it just didn’t get into second gear. Perhaps, it was become Damien Priest and Finn Balor won the tag titles in the previous match so there wasn’t any realistic chance that the title was going to switch, but this resembled more of a TV match than anything else. More specifically, I’m not exactly sure what it is, but Raquel Rodriguez seems to be missing something in the ring. Don’t get me wrong, she’s obviously a great athlete, but there just doesn’t seem to be anything that makes her performances standout from an average match. Rhea Ripley retained and that was the right decision.

Unfortunately, the main event also fell into the category of a bout that never got into second gear, which was really disappointing since this was a match on paper that might’ve seemed like it had the potential to be very memorable. The contest went about thirty minutes, but could’ve been about ten minutes shorter, as it began to drag toward the finish. While I don’t think Shinsuke Nakamura mailed in the performance, it’s a safe bet to say that he’s not the same dynamic performer that he was five years ago when he worked with AJ Styles at Wrestlemania. To be fair to Nakamura, management more or less had him cast as a secondary wrestler for the past few years so there wasn’t a reason for him to take any unnecessary risks in the ring, either. If the office was going to make put the WWE title on him, it would’ve been in 2018 so this push looked to be based on the fact that they needed a challenger for Seth Rollins’ consolation prize championship, not because they thought Nakamura could add to the prestige of the title. I was really surprised that The Great Muta traveled to the United States for a very brief cameo, but other than sitting at ringside, he didn’t have a role at the show. Seth Rollins retained, but this was a rather underwhelming conclusion to the pay-per-view.

Overall, the pay-per-view had its moment with the really good steel cage match and the street fight, but this definitely had a “B-show” atmosphere to it since a few of the biggest stars in the company didn’t have matches at the event.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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