WWE Payback 2016
Chicago, Illinois 5/1/16
1.) Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler: **1/4
So we have not one, but TWO matches here on the Kickoff Show! I guess that’s what happens when there’s a big segment with the McMahon Family on the PPV. Anyway, Corbin is coming off his victory in the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32, which was his debut on the main roster. He then started having a feud with Dolph Ziggler, which has led us to this match. I thought it was ok. It can be argued that Corbin was brought up from NXT too soon, but at least he’s started off wrestling a good worker like Ziggler. Corbin got in a fair amount of offense, but in the end, Ziggler rolled him up for the win. Not the best start for Corbin on the main roster. It seemed like they were telling the story of Corbin’s overconfidence leading to his downfall, but the finish still came off as pretty weak. I don’t think it made either guy look particularly good.
2.) WWE United States Title - Kalisto vs. Ryback: ***1/2
Since they were in Chicago for this PPV, “The Big Guy” decided to take a shot at CM Punk (who had taken shots at him in the past). During his entrance, Ryback did CM Punk’s signature “check the watch”/“It’s Clobbering Time!” bit, and also had “The Pre-Show Stopper” written on the weight belt that he wears. These two actually met during the Kickoff Show on WrestleMania 32 a month prior, and had a pretty fun match. Here, they managed to top themselves, and put together a really good title bout. It was by no means smooth, but there was plenty of action from start to finish, and they once again told the “big guy vs. little guy” story well. There was one particular spot that could’ve gone badly for Kalisto, as he came up short on a dive to the outside and almost landed badly on the ring apron. Fortunately, the spot didn’t look that bad, and Kalisto came out of it in once piece. Speaking of Kalisto, he eventually got the win to retain his title after hitting Ryback with Salida del Sol. Again, this was very good. It could’ve easily been on the main PPV card.
1.) #1 Contender’s Match - Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs. The Vaudevillains: N/R
This was the finals of a Tag Team #1 Contender’s Tournament. The winner would get a future shot at the WWE Tag Team Titles against The New Day, who were at ringside eating snacks during this one. Unfortunately, this match had an abrupt and unfortunate finish. A couple of minutes in, Enzo Amore got whipped into the ropes in a very awkward manner, as his head slammed into the middle rope before falling to the floor. He appeared to be completely knocked out, and the match was soon stopped as the medical team came out to attend to him. Enzo was taken out on a stretcher, and I believe he was later diagnosed with a concussion. It definitely looked scary, as Enzo was motionless on the floor for a bit. Fortunately, he was able to make a full recovery, and returned to the ring a month or so later.
2.) Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn: ****1/4
What happened in the opener was a very scary situation, and these two were put in a very tough situation by having to follow what just happened. Luckily, if there was any combination that could bring back the crowd, it was this one. I thought this was a fantastic match! It was easily the best match of the night. It’s been so cool to see the story between these two progress through so many different promotions. From the independents (mainly ROH & PWG) to NXT to the main roster of WWE, Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn always deliver when the face each other, and this was no exception. This had everything from emotional moments (which fit into the larger context of their storied history) along with some great action from start to finish. You can never go wrong with these guys in a singles match, and they certainly delivered here. The crowd wasn’t as lively as they could’ve been (which is understable, after what happened in the opener), but they were into it by the end. Owens would eventually get the win with his Pop-Up Powerbomb.
After the match, Owens tossed Zayn aside, and demanded that Byron Saxton interview him. He essentially tried to force the interview along, but Saxton was having none of it. Owens said that he beat Zayn just like he promised, and now he was going to focus on the Intercontinental Title. He then joined the commentary team for the next match, which was for that very title he just mentioned.
3.) WWE Intercontinental Title - The Miz (with Maryse) vs. Cesaro: ***1/2
So there’s been a lot going on with the Intercontinental Title in the last month or so. Zack Ryder won the title in a multi-person Ladder Match at WrestleMania 32, but lost it the next night on RAW to The Miz, who now has his wife Maryse (who had been away from WWE for a few years) with him. He’s defending his title against Cesaro here, and it ended up being a pretty good match. Cesaro was (of course) awesome, but The Miz did a fine job as well. While it was a tad slow in the beginning, it certainly picked up in the closing stages. Towards the end, Sami Zayn returned and attacked Kevin Owens (who was on commentary). The two then brawled on the apron, and this distracted Cesaro long enough for The Miz to roll him up for the win to retain his title. Cesaro was on his way to winning the match, and the Intercontinental Title, before the Owens/Zayn brawl occurred. I actually really liked the finish (and the post-match stuff, which I’ll get to in a second), as they seamlessly inserted Owens & Zayn into the Intercontinental Title picture. It also put The Miz over as heel while also protecting Cesaro a little bit.
After the match ended, Cesaro hit The Miz with The Neutralizer. Kevin Owens then took out Cesaro & Sami Zayn. It looked like that The Miz was going to be next, but Maryse pulled him to safety. Owens then posed with the Intercontinental Title.
4.) Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho: ***1/2
If I recall correctly, these two started feuding after Dean Ambrose replaced Chris Jericho’s Highlight Reel with The Ambrose Asylum, per orders from Shane McMahon. This match didn’t get off to the best of starts. The first several minutes were relatively average, and the crowd in Chicago seemed to be pretty lukewarm on it. However, things picked up a fair amount in the second-half, and it ended up being a very solid match as a whole. The turning point occurred during a brawl on the outside, when Jericho tossed Ambrose over the barricade from the German announce table. From there, the match definitely got better, and Ambrose got the win after hitting Dirty Deeds. They definitely could’ve shaved a few minutes off of this, but it was still pretty good.
5.) WWE Women’s Title - Charlotte (with Ric Flair) vs. Natalya (with Bret “The Hitman” Hart): ***
Here we have a rematch from the first NXT TakeOver in May 2014, where Charlotte defeated Natalya in a classic match to win the vacant NXT Women’s Title. Ric Flair & Bret Hart were in the corners of their respective family members for that encounter, and they’re back again for this one. Unfortunately, this was nowhere near as good as that aforementioned encounter from two years prior. It wasn’t even as good as their match from a few months prior at Roadblock. The match got off to solid start, and it seemed like it was going along well. They were telling a fine story with Charlotte working over one of Natalya’s legs, and the crowd seemed to be into it. However, there were a few rough spots in the final minutes, and then we had the finish. What we got was essentially a rehash of The Montreal Screwjob for (seemingly) the 1000th time. Natalya had Charlotte in the Sharpshooter, but then Charlotte locked in a Sharpshooter on Natalya. The referee (Charles Robinson aka “Little Naitch”) then called for the bell, even though Natalya never submitted, and awarded the win to Charlotte. That was just an awful finish that induced so many groans and eyerolls. The fact that Bret Hart was there at ringside made ever more cringeworthy. Charlotte & Natalya are capable of so much better, but the finish really hampered them.
After the match, Bret Hart & Natalya would get a measure of revenge when they locked in Sharpshooters on both Ric Flair & Charlotte.
Before the main event, we got an in-ring segment involving Vince McMahon, Shane McMahon, & Stephanie McMahon. Back at WrestleMania 32, Shane lost to The Undertaker inside Hell In A Cell. Had Shane won, he would’ve gained control of RAW. What happened the next night? Well, Shane asked his father if he could run RAW for the night, and Vince….agreed. This led to Shane running RAW for a few more weeks after “overwhelming fan support”. Stephanie then came back into the picture, and that raised the question of who would run RAW. The two McMahon siblings stated their cases for running RAW, and Vince’s response was that all of this is really about what he wants (isn’t that right?). He would love to see them “disembowel” each other, but he would also love to see them succeed together. Vince then declared that both Shane & Stephanie would run RAW together, and told them to figure things out themselves. All of this would eventually lead to the 2nd Brand Split a few months later.
6.) WWE World Heavyweight Title - Roman Reigns vs. “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles: ***3/4
So after losing to Chris Jericho in his WrestleMania debut, AJ Styles won a Fatal Four-Way Match on RAW the night after to earn a shot at the WWE World Heavyweight Title. Shortly thereafter, Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows (stablemates with AJ Styles in The Bullet Club over in New Japan) made their debut as a team on the main roster. Almost immediately, speculation began with regards to whether Anderson & Gallows would try to help AJ Styles win the WWE World Heavyweight Title. At the time, I wasn’t sure how this was going to go, but it ended up being a really good match. It could’ve been even better, but we got a ton of shenanigans involved The McMahons. First, the match ended in a count out, and Shane McMahon restarted the match with No Count Outs. Then, the match ended in a DQ and Stephanie McMahon restarted the match with No Disqualifications. This brought out Anderson & Gallows, who tried to help Styles, but they ended up brawling with The Usos (who they had attacked in their debut). Eventually, Reigns managed to put away AJ Styles to retain. These two managed to overcome all of the shenanigans involved with this one. I would say that most of the credit for that would go to AJ Styles, though Reigns (to his credit) did a solid job here as well. If Styles wasn’t involved, I’m certain this would’ve completely fallen apart, and that just speaks to how good he really is. They definitely could’ve done better (as their rematch the next month showed), but for what this was, it still managed to be an entertaining main event filled with some very good action, particularly in the closing stages.
As a whole, this was a pretty solid PPV from WWE. Aside from the freak accident involving Enzo Amore, there was a lot to like here. Kalisto & Ryback had a really good match for the United States Title on the Kickoff Show, and the majority of the undercard was very solid (with Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn easily taking Match of the Night honors). The final two matches were good, to varying degrees, but both were hampered by some poor booking. AJ Styles & Roman Reigns were able to overcome the booking in their match, but Charlotte & Natalya had absolutely no chance with another rehash of The Montreal Screwjob. We did have a lengthy segment involving the McMahon Family, but hey, it’s WWE. Are we really surprised? Anyway, the only match on the entire card that was close to being bad was Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler (and even that was still ok). The rest of the show featured matches that ranged from good to great. It definitely could’ve been better, but in general, it was still a fine PPV outing from WWE.