WWE Payback was better than it deserved to be.
The build up to this PPV (or special event as I believe they are now being called) was at best lackluster. To be fair that wasn't entirely WWE's fault. The situation with Daniel Bryan and his neck surgery left them without a WWE Title defense and with a lot of uncertainty. I'll give them credit for booking themselves out of that quite well.
But even allowing for that, it was definitely a card that felt (with the exception of John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt and The Shield vs. Evolution both of which were return bouts) like it was an episode of RAW.
WWE definitely seem to be booking Sheamus as a fighting champion which, given his considerable wrestling abilities is a very good thing. Cesaro is hot right now and of course Paul Heyman as manager (or advocate or whatever) adds a certain verbal spice to things.
This match definitely got things off to a hot start. The two meshed well and it was fun to watch. The ending certainly leaves it open for Cesaro to come looking for some sort of revenge or rematch. Although it's possible that Cesaro is about to move upwards and if so he came out of this looking strong despite the loss.
Can I just say I love the way that Heyman actually coaches Cesaro while at ringside.
Rybaxel vs. The Brotherhood
After that strong start we definitely swerved back into RAW territory with a perfectly good but unexceptional match with brothers Codey Rhodes and Goldust taking on the hideously named team of Ryback and Curtis Axel. Really… horrible name.
This was straight up a continuation of a slow burning story that's been going on for a month or two and it's fine for what it is, but since the payoff here was Rhodes saying Goldust needed a better tag team partner it really felt like it belonged on RAW or Smackdown.
Rusev vs. Big E
Ah, what would wrestling be without fake Russians and people waving flags and chanting USA?
So basically Rusev has been working his way through the lower card wrestlers squashing them in minutes. At least Big E actually got some offense in against him. The match was a bit too short to amount to much, but it did seem as though if they were given more time these two might be able to put on something pretty good.
If they actually spend some time on this angle beyond Rusev… crush… they could get another PPV out of the match up.
Kofi Kingston vs. Bo Dallas
And we're back to RAW mode again. This match was literally announced at the last minute (on the pre-show) and had no build up whatsoever. It existed for two reasons, to give Bo Dallas a chance to do some of his spiel and for Kane to come out and get some PPV time.
Kane is kind of in limbo right now waiting on Daniel Bryan's in-ring return so I guess they felt it was important to remind people of his existence. But really the segment was pointless.
Intercontinental Championship Match: Bad New Barrett vs. Rob Van Dam
Barrett is hot now and has been hot since he won the Intercontinental Championship. But they don't really seem to be doing that much with him. I may be a bit biased on this one, because I was bored of RVD's routine 10 years ago. So I'm not exactly invested in his matches. And well… his promos are kind of limited.
The match was fun though and RVD served the function of seasoned veteran making Barrett look even stronger by comparison.
No real surprises how this one turned out. Cena has the Superman nickname for a reason. I did think for a while they were going for a different angle where Wyatt would get a disputed win because the referee had failed to count him out. I think I would have liked this one better, but I'm okay with the Cena win.
The match was so full of crazy moments and spots and Wyatt stood up to so much punishment that he comes out still looking strong. It's time to end this feud and move Wyatt on to something else though.
Diva's Championship Match: Paige vs. Alicia Fox
I don't think WWE are handling Paige's title run very well. I think the idea is for her to have a classic plucky face run where she gets pummelled by the heel wrestler but sticks it out to victory. The problem is that for that to work you have to show that the face can wrestle. Paige's matches have been kept so short that essentially it looks more like she's fluking her way to victory each time. They need to give her a chance to actually establish her credentials.
On the plus side though the new character angle for Alicia Fox is great and I hope she isn't shuffled off into oblivion now that she's had her title shot.
A really messy match at the beginning because there were too many people in too many places so spots went unseen. But once it settled in this was another good outing from the feud that's really been propping up RAW and Smackdown for the last month. Overall I think I preferred their previous encounter, but there were some good moments here and the dive from the Titantron by Seth Rollins was spectacular.
Clever storytelling here too with Evolution dominating at one point but being so driven by a desire to punish that they let their chance at actually wining slip by. I didn't expect The Shield to get a clean sweep and eliminate all of Evolution like that.
So there were actually some solid to great matches in that card. But there was a fair amount of very average stuff too. One thing that would help enormously is a bit more focus on building the feuds in the run up to the PPV. And since Money In The Bank is at the end of June… they need to get moving on that.