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    Tuesday, May 3, 2016

    The Smark Henry Pay-Per-Review: Payback 2016

    We’re in the new era of WWE, but a lot of it feels like the old era, which we were supposed to have left in the rear view mirror. That’s not 100% a bad thing nor a good thing, but I do promise to call out what needs to be called out.

    That being said, we actually got one hell of a show yesterday, which should not have been a surprise given the card. With the WWE, you eventually learn not to expect too much—but this time, Payback actually delivered.

    Kickoff Match 1: Dolph Ziggler def. Baron Corbin

    I don’t think anybody actually expected Ziggler to get the win, so it was a nice surprise. It was also something that realistically happened within the context of the storyline. Baron Corbin dominated Ziggler, got overconfident, and got himself rolled up in the process.

    It’s nice to see that WWE is still willing to give Dolph Ziggler an important win at a major show. We all know the endgame is still to make Baron Corbin look strong. At least he doesn’t end up completely burying Dolph in the process. Don’t expect this feud to end just yet.

    Kickoff Match 2: Kalisto (c) def. Ryback to retain the WWE United States Championship

    You really have to hand it to these guys for not mailing it in despite the fact that they’ve become pretty much an afterthought for Creative.

    Ryback and Kalisto have already developed solid chemistry in the ring, and they knew when and how to kick it into high gear, especially during the closing sequence of the match. The action was fast and furious, as Mauro Ranallo would say, and I actually thought they were going to pull the trigger on a Ryback U.S. title run.

    I particularly enjoyed the series of counters and reversals towards the end, which led to Kalisto finally hitting Salida del Sol for the victory. Now that Kalisto’s 2-0 against Ryback, I don’t see any more reason for the Pre-Show Stopper to challenge for the U.S. title again. I just hope they move on to more relevant feuds.

    Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady vs. the Vaudevillains (Aiden English and Simon Gotch) ended in a no contest

    For a match that had so much potential, particularly for Enzo and Cass, it was pretty painful to see Enzo go down with an injury very early on into the match.

    When it was clear to everyone that Enzo got hurt really badly, you could feel the energy just getting sucked out of the AllState Arena. The normally jovial New Day looked really concerned at ringside. You could see Big Cass breaking down in tears, and even the Vaudevillains broke character as they wanted to know if Smacktalker Skywalker was alright.

    We now know that Enzo Amore suffered a severe concussion, but that he came up negative on all the other tests, which is a good thing. Nonetheless, it’ll take a while until we see him on TV again because he has to pass the WWE Performance Center’s concussion tests. Here’s to hoping Enzo recovers sooner than later because the WWE Universe was ready to see the Realest Guys in the Room feud with everybody’s favorite unicorns.

    As for the Tag Team Championship picture, it doesn’t really matter who was supposed to win at this point. The Vaudevillains could claim to have premeditated that injury so that they wouldn’t have to actually beat Enzo and Cass to be the #1 Contenders, which makes them both sneaky and vicious heels at the same time. That gives them a reason to go after the New Day and the titles, while also giving Enzo and Cass an instant feud to go on when the Certified G and Bonafide Stud makes his triumphant return.

    Kevin Owens def. Sami Zayn

    I’m not sure if this match was actually booked to follow the Tag Team #1 Contender’s Match, but this was the right choice to perk the crowd back up after what had happened. Owens and Zayn just threw it all out there, in a match where anyone watching—even a newcomer—could tell that these two really despised each other.

    As a smart fan, you could argue that you were already resigned to the fact that Sami was going to lose this. But he went out there and wrestled his ass off and made you think that he could actually eke out the win. He went to most of his signatures, particularly the Blue Thunder Bomb, the Exploder Suplex, and the running corner DDT from the outside. He got a great comeback, which KO cut off really well by countering the Helluva Kick into a Superkick and an eventual Pop-Up Powerbomb for the win.

    And win he should. The feud makes more sense if Kevin Owens, who has been such a bully, were to keep winning until Sami Zayn finally achieves his moment of victory. In case you didn’t get the memo, Sami Zayn is the new Daniel Bryan, and this guy really knows how to play the underdog character well. This feud is far from over, and it’s interesting to see this develop while other characters slide in and out of the story.

    Owens’ post-match promo alongside Byron Saxton was a masterful display in heel mic work. KO continues to prove to everybody that he’s one of the best heels in the game right now. He really gets it. He knows how to find someone to bully, to get under that person’s skin, and then assert whatever ascendancy he has because he can.

    The Miz (c) (w/ Maryse) def. Cesaro to retain the WWE Intercontinental Championship

    It was by no means surprising that Cesaro got a great match with the Miz at Payback. Many fans have pointed out that the Miz tends to perform better when he’s paired with a very talented dance partner, and Cesaro is among the best in the business today.

    What made this match even more interesting is Kevin Owens on commentary, and how he continuously mocked both Michael Cole and Byron Saxton. Owens plays his part well on commentary by reminding you of his presence without taking your focus away from the match. So while you’re enjoying the clinic that Miz and Cesaro were putting out there, you’re constantly made aware of Kevin Owens and his intentions.

    Maryse was a great presence at ringside, as usual, playing to her strengths as the stereotypical snobbish and bitchy trophy wife. Meanwhile, we got a surprising finish that saw Sami Zayn run back out to attack Kevin Owens. Zayn and KO would take their fight to the apron, which distracted the referee long enough not to see Miz tapping out to Cesaro’s Crossface. That allowed Miz to eventually roll up a distracted Cesaro with the latter’s tights to retain the IC title.

    That was a brilliant finish for three reasons: (1) Cesaro gets to have a claim for a rematch because he was screwed at Payback, (2) Kevin Owens made his intentions to chase after the Intercontinental Championship clear, and now he’s in the title picture because Miz and Cesaro will have an issue with him, and (3) Sami Zayn is also in the IC title picture by inadvertently costing Cesaro the match, while still feuding with Owens. The finish was a clusterfuck, but it was one that made sense and seamlessly incorporated the KO-Zayn story into the IC title picture again. You have to love how flexible and adaptable this 14-year program is.

    Dean Ambrose def. Chris Jericho

    This match was a bit more difficult to enjoy and appreciate given the two matches that preceded it, but that’s a happy problem to have when you’re watching a great show unfold before you. It was exactly the type of match you would expect from both men, one that made the most of both their styles.

    They made the most of their environment without having to go extreme, presumably because this program is going to extend beyond this PPV. However, with the news that Jericho might be leaving WWE again, Ambrose could very well be moving on to a new opponent, which explains why the Lunatic Fringe got the definitive win at Payback.

    Update: as of RAW, Ambrose and Jericho are still feuding. Jericho got the Highlight Reel back on air, attacked Ambrose with Mitch the Potted Plant, and pissed off tree-huggers all around the world.

    I enjoyed the finish of the match, which saw Jericho slapping Ambrose around and bullying him. Deano then fought back with chops and slaps of his own until he ran into an elbow and went down. Jericho attempted a Lionsault, but took a shot from Ambrose’s knees as a counter. When Ambrose was setting up for Dirty Deeds, you could see the struggle from Jericho, and Deano kicked in another level by kneeing Y2J into submission before finally hitting Dirty Deeds. I loved that because that was an extra gear we haven’t seen in Dean Ambrose, and one I hope he can keep tapping into in future programs and matches.

    Charlotte (c) (w/ Ric Flair) def. Natalya (w/ Bret Hart) via submission to retain the WWE Women’s Championship

    I’m glad we got something different from the match that both Charlotte and Nattie had at the very first NXT TakeOver in 2014. Unfortunately, the one constant was that Bret Hart was still an insignificant non-factor at ringside.

    Seeing referee Charles Robinson call for the bell immediately after the champ applied the Sharpshooter was definitely a callback to the Montreal Screwjob. If the goal was to piss the fans off by having the Flairs cheat to win once again, then it definitely worked. While it wasn’t my ideal scenario, I’m not unhappy about being caught off-guard like this. Charlotte and Ric Flair got nuclear heat afterward, and the finishing sequence allowed Bret Hart to finally have some life breathed into him while he and Nattie applied Sharpshooters to the Flairs.

    I’m very curious to see what stipulation Charlotte and Nattie will have as we head into Extreme Rules.

    Vince McMahon Gives Both Shane and Stephanie McMahon the Power to Control Monday Night RAW

    What a cop-out.

    Couldn’t Vince have settled this before (and in place of) the entire Undertaker storyline? Sure, Vince referenced the match and told everyone that he was impressed with Shane running RAW despite having lost the Hell in a Cell match against Undertaker. But that doesn’t give Vince an excuse to crap on the storyline altogether by using things like, “an outpouring of support on social media” to insert Shane McMahon into this position just because.

    What’s worse is they could have just gone with a brand split straight up, with one sibling taking control of half of the roster on RAW, and the other taking control of the other half on SmackDown. Instead, we maintain status quo and we just get to witness Shane and Stephanie struggle for power to control RAW, all while conveniently forgetting the importance of SmackDown as a show and as a brand. More importantly, we still don’t have a solution to the problem of seven hours of weekly television programming not being used wisely because the same top-level guys are overexposed, while a lot of guys who are lower on the card don’t get enough TV time.

    It’s been more than a month since the initial Shane McMahon storyline came out, so we’re done with the wait-and-see approach. This storyline has festered far too long, and it has not been handled well at all. As a fan, you’re free to feel just as upset with this cop-out of a solution.

    Roman Reigns (c) def. AJ Styles to retain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

    This was a match AJ Styles had no business winning. We all knew that. And yet, both he and Roman put on one hell of a performance that made both guys look credible. Sure, I wasn’t a fan of the finish, which saw AJ miss a Phenomenal Forearm, allowing Roman to finally hit the Spear for the win. But you could argue that the two of them had already had a long match, and all it took was one final blow to finish AJ off, which I can buy. I’m just coming off my frustrations because (1) I expected Finn Bálor to finally debut and lead Gallows and Anderson and (2) Roman kicked out of the Phenomenal Forearm and got to fight out of the Calf Crusher, while AJ couldn’t kick out of the Spear.

    Nevertheless, this match was so fun to watch because AJ actually looked like he could have won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Give credit to both guys for making the other look very credible. Hell, the match was much more enjoyable than Roman vs. Triple H at WrestleMania Star.

    While the countout finish originally bugged me, I realized what they were trying to go for by having several schmozzes occur so that both Shane and Steph could come out and rectify the situation by removing the countout and disqualification rules eventually. The problem with this is the Payback main event pretty much turned into a No Countout, No Disqualification Match—which is no different from an Extreme Rules match, the exact type of match Roman and AJ will be having over the world title at Extreme Rules.

    All that being said, I’m glad this story isn’t over yet, and I’m just as happy that AJ is still in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship picture. I can’t wait to see what happens.


    The Enzo Amore injury aside, Payback was actually an enjoyable show from top to bottom. All of the matches had enough time to develop and none of them felt bitin at all. What I appreciated even more was that there weren’t any impromptu bonus matches, even after what happened to Enzo. They just went with the card and made the most out of the extra time they suddenly had. Payback gets an A in my book.

    Photos from WWE.


    Stan Sy (@_StanSyis the Editor at Large of Smark Henry, and is also a radio DJ, an events host, a freelance writer, and one of the hosts of the Smark Gilas-Pilipinas Podcast. He enjoys watching WWE, NXT, Lucha Underground, and the occasional New Japan match. Every now and then, he dresses up in fancy suits to book matches as PWR's longest-tenured General Manager to date.
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    Item Reviewed: The Smark Henry Pay-Per-Review: Payback 2016 Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Stan Sy
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