Hot on the heels of ‘the biggest party of the Summer’ in the shape of SummerSlam, the WWE Universe was treated to another PPV just seven days on. We mentioned in our preview for the event that Payback offered the chance to answer some of the lingering questions that remained from SummerSlam but did the fans find what they were looking for? Andy Spoors is once again on hand to look back at the past week inside the squared circle…
Never let it be said that WWE don’t give the fans what they want. Ok, that can definitely be said and would be fairly accurate. Missed opportunities plague the illustrious history of the company, spawning countless YouTube videos and Tweets lamenting that very fact.
But at Payback, fans finally got what they’d been asking for. A fully-fledged Roman Reigns heel turn. Yes, somewhat disappointedly, the Big Dog’s descent into the Big Bad Dog was teased on Friday Smackdown, but the confirmation was emphatically delivered inside the ThunderDome on Sunday night.
Throughout the night, a somewhat old school approach of threading a backstage storyline over the entire PPV begged the question of whether Reigns would even sign the Triple Threat contract to enter the main event match. With the newly crowned champion The Fiend and Braun Strowman kicking off the match and systematically destroying each other and the ring, Roman’s music hit at the most opportune moment to claim the title.
Side by side with the always nefarious Paul Heyman, the recently returned Superstar made easy pickings of his felled opponents to become the new Universal Champion. The match itself may have been predictable in nature, with the lack of fancy LED ring posts and skirts pointing to one thing (in WWE this can only mean a ring implosion). It did, however, position Reigns as the brand’s number one heel and adds the intriguing notion of a mouthpiece in Heyman to address a criticism that has followed The Big Dog around since his solo push.
Quite where that leaves his opponents is an altogether different question. Billed for months, if not years, as monsters, the pair haven’t been included in the upcoming number one contender’s match for the title they have been fighting over. An interesting on-looker in the shape of an increasingly erratic Alexa Bliss, suggests a possible new Wyatt Family angle, but all three will have to pull something major out to make sure they aren’t lost in the wash.
Elsewhere on the card, a stunning win for Keith Lee over Randy Orton shocked the Twittersphere. Not only did the ex-NXT champ pin one of the most talked about heel characters in professional wrestling right now but he did so relatively quickly and completely clean. No high-jinks or tomfoolery here, just a good old 1 2 3 count.
Big E’s push in singles action continued at the expense of Shaemus. Both men are vying for screen time, but the New Day’s big man seems to be igniting a strong following within the WWE Universe. There may be similarities to be drawn from the beginnings of what became known as Kofimania, but without fans in attendance it is difficult to fully appreciate how over E’s push is being received. Notable support for his Talking Smack verbal duels with The Miz, certainly do his career no harm and gives a more grounded feel to what could become a revolution. Funny, talented and every bit as quick as he is strong, the company would do well to heed the calls of Roman Reigns vs Big E at next year’s WrestleMania.
The trigger wasn’t fully pulled but perhaps squeezed gently on the Sasha and Bayley break up. Here, Sasha’s descent from holding a couple of titles to become ‘No Belts Banks’ was complete. Dropping the tag team titles to the odd couple of Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler, at least gives others in the women’s division something to aim for.
Baszler, in particular, drew praise for her exceptional and somewhat believable double submission move on her opponents to win the match. It’s about time that one of the most dominant women in NXT history was given a chance to shine.
Speaking of NXT, the much anticipated (take a breath) Fatal Four Way, 60-minute Ironman match for the vacant NXT Championship ended in controversial circumstances. Much to the dismay and incredulousness of social media, even an hour couldn’t separate the ‘four cornerstones’ of the black and gold brand.
With Triple H and co.’s plans for Karrion Kross to hold the title going down in smoke faster than a contract kissed by Scarlett, it wasn’t the worst ending to go with. The quality of the match up can’t be faulted to start: all four men competing for an hour at a frantic pace shouldn’t be overlooked. With not much time to rewrite a rough plan for the next few months of storylines it not only buys time but should also gain higher viewing figures for the next episode.
Yes, the wrestling romantic in me wanted to see a new champion crowned on the night but the sensible adult that all too often wins out nowadays also understands that viewing figures are paramount in the TV biz. Besides, who wouldn’t want to see a championship match between Finn Balor and Adam Cole!?
All in all, the three brands of WWE are unquestionably performing at a higher level than the rest of the year and encouragingly on a much more consistent basis too. With rivals AEW celebrating a big night on Saturday in the shape of All Out 2, there’s never been a better time to be a wrestling fan in 2020. Oh, and the return of NXT UK is right around the corner. Now if only we could attend some live shows…