For a show hyped as the first PPV of a new era, WWE Payback 2016 was more like Back to the Future than a new era. Rather than move forward with exciting new concepts with fresh new talent, the show wound up reviving concepts from a bygone era, namely the wildly overrated Attitude Era of 1997 to 2001.
Payback wasn’t a terrible show overall, as there was enough strong wrestling on the show to make it a marginal thumbs up. Some of the matches, such as Kevin Owens/Sami Zayn, Dean Ambrose/Chris Jericho and Charlotte/Natalya were just super from start to finish. However, the booking of the main event was nothing short of a disaster, turning the company’s World champion and title into a mere afterthought. The dubious belief that rehashing the McMahon Family Soap Opera will revive weak TV ratings and viewership is laughable at best and extremely foolish at worst. Payback is certainly the weakest WWE PPV of the year to date, as is often the case when a single month offers up TWO main roster PPVs.
1. Pre-Show Match: Dolph Ziggler Vs. Baron Corbin: I was not a big fan of WWE’s decision to call up NXT talent Corbin this soon into his in-ring development. I felt he had at least another year of seasoning to go and that he would be forced to hold back from what he could do in the ring. My worst fears were justified after watching this match. Corbin wasn’t allowed to do 1/16th of what he was allowed to in NXT. What he did do was the typical boring big man crap such as tossing a guy around the ring like a rag doll and then stalling to show off. Ziggler showed nothing here either, but considering that one of his brothers is wanted for homicide in real life, perhaps he had more important things on his mind. Corbin seemingly had the match won after decimating Ziggler with a hard throw into the ring post but once he got Dolph back inside the ring, he refused to make the cover. That was all Ziggler needed to win, no-selling the beatdown and rolling up Corbin for the pin, holding his trunks for good measure. So much for the start of a new era in WWE. DUD
2. Pre-Show Match: US Champion Kalisto Vs. Ryback: This was a rematch from their Wrestlemania pre-show bout. That match wasn’t very good due to being forced to wrestle in a near-empty arena with few fans watching while rushing through a C-level match. All of that was rectified for this rematch. The Allstate Arena was packed to the gills, with a sellout 11,000 people. They were given roughly 10 minutes instead of under 5. Kalisto and Ryback meshed far better as opponents this time around. It was a bit sloppy in the beginning, especially an ugly moment when Ryback didn’t properly catch Kalisto after the latter did a corkscrew tope off the top rope to the outside. But eventually they found their groove and had a really good match. The last five minutes were simply exceptional, with one near fall after another and an impressive spot where Ryback gave Kalisto a leaping Military Press off the top turnbuckle that was an amazing feat to behold. After ten evenly matched minutes, Kalisto scored the clean pin after reversing Ryback’s Shell Shock into the Salida del Sol. This match really should have been on the main PPV card. ***3/4
3. #1 Contender’s Tag Team Tournament Finals- Enzo Amore & Big Cass Vs. The Vaudevillains: Enzo and Big Cass got a colossally huge pop from the live Chicago crowd, replete with audience members chanting along with Enzo and Big Cass during their traditional pre-match promo. The Vaudevillains received a total heel reaction instead of the more positive cheers they often received in NXT. They were just getting started on par to a strong match when tragedy struck almost four minutes into the match. After a toss from Simon Gotch, Enzo Amore was supposed to slide safely out of the ring via the bottom rope. What happened was a freak accident in which Amore’s head hit the middle rope, causing his head to snap back. When he tumbled out of the ring, the back of his head hit the ring apron with a sickening thud. Gotch has been receiving an unfair amount of blame from the Internet Wrestling Community, claiming that he botched the throw and then proceeded to callously move Amore after the latter’s fall. The throw was not a botch and it didn’t occur to any of the pinheads making nasty cracks that perhaps Gotch didn’t realize what had happened. In any case, Amore wasn’t moving. I actually feared that he had died. Referee Dan Engler went to take a look and immediately crossed his arms into the dreaded X symbol. Amore was stretchered out to the silence of the crowd and the disquieting looks of terror and concern from announcers JBL, Michael Cole and Byron Saxton, not to mention the other participants in this match. It really sucked the life out of the show and we were barely 15 minutes into the main portion of the evening. Since the match was called off, No Rating
4. Kevin Owens Vs. Sami Zayn: With the crowd utterly dead due to Enzo Amore’s serious injury and a hotly anticipated match being called off, I wonder if Zayn and Owens felt they had to take their grudge match up a few more notches than usual. This was one intense and brutal grudge match. It must have worked as the crowd slowly came to life, eating up what turned out to be a fantastic match. While it wasn’t the instant classic their two NXT World title matches were last year, this was a super match by main roster standards. Both men were allowed to shine as serious competitors beating the living tar out of each other for almost 20 minutes. The blows were so stiff that Owens busted his nose and the blood came pouring out. Luckily, they didn’t dare stop a hot match to seal up any cuts. Zayn did one nasty spot where he ran and nailed a tornado DDT onto Owens from the opposite side of the ring. Zayn kept absorbing brutal punishment and kicking out, infuriating Owens in the process. Finally, Owens finished off his rival with a stiff pop up power bomb. Owens collapsed atop of Zayn for the pin. It seems as if the Owens/Zayn feud is one and done as Owens cut a post-match promo, challenging the winner of Cesaro/Miz en route to reclaiming HIS Intercontinental title. ****1/2
Michael Cole announced to the live crowd and all of us at home that Enzo Amore had regained consciousness and could move his extremities. So it looks like he might have dodged a bullet. We’d find out more as the evening progressed.
5. Intercontinental Champion The Miz Vs. Cesaro: Owens stuck around for guest commentary and did a great job in the role. WWE might want to consider using him as a heel announcer once his in-ring career is over because he was simply fantastic in the role here. As for the match, it was a really good match. Miz has been jobbed out for so long that it’s a joke that WWE expects us to take him seriously, but the truth is that he is a really good worker in the ring. Cesaro was working with a wrapped shoulder, although I suspect that it’s a worked injury since he was coming off a long layoff due to shoulder surgery. They worked a very solid match here. Then came a strong hint that the Owens/Zayn feud isn’t one-and-done after all as Zayn dove onto Owens out of nowhere and beat the crap out of him. Both men brawled into the ring, distracting the ref just as Cesaro made Miz tap out to the Crossface. Since the ref didn’t see it, no title change would occur. Miz promptly rolled up Cesaro and held onto the trunks for the pin. Owens, now madder than Donald Trump when challenged on one of his fearmongering lies, promptly laid waste to one and all still standing in the ring while Miz slinked away like the snake in the grass he portrays on TV. Owens held up the IC belt and claimed it was “mine”, so I’m guessing a Fatal 4-Way in 3 weeks at the Extreme Rules PPV. Sounds good to me. ***3/4