Wrestlemania XXXII in Dallas, TX was far from a bad show. The workers in front of and behind the cameras worked their asses off. The matches themselves were just fine. It was the finishes to each of the matches, with no sort of logical buildup storyline wise, that left the crowd with confused looks on their faces. The lead up to Payback 2016 seems to have a bit more logic behind it, but did the matches themselves live up to expectations?
THE VAUDEVILLAINS vs. ENZO AMORE & BIG CASS (Tag Team Championship Number One Contendership): This match started off like many of these teams’ prior encounters in NXT. Amore starting off, ripping into his opponents like a bat out of hell, with several jabs, dropkicks, etc. Cassidy got the hot tag and used Amore as a lawn dart, hurling him at their opponents. Only a few minutes into the match, Gotch launched Amore out of the ring. However, Amore hit the ropes wrong and his head hit one of the ropes, causing it to bounce back off of the ring apron. The match was stopped as EMTs were called to the ring as Amore was carried out on a stretcher. If this is a work, then the Vaudevillains finally have some heat on them since coming up to the main roster (since creative failed to sufficiently build them up prior to their arrival). If this is a shoot, then we definitely wish Enzo Amore a speedy recovery. NO CONTEST
KEVIN OWENS vs. SAMI ZAYN: This is the grudge match that many fans have been waiting to see since Owens delivered a pop up power bomb to his former friend shortly after Zayn won the NXT Championship. WWE has wisely gone with a slow burn to the build up towards this match. Zayn opened with a flurry of extremely stiff forearms to Owens. Owens returned the favor. Owens went on to dominate the next few minutes of the match, slinging around Zayn outside the ring. Zayn made the comeback, delivering a clothesline that nearly turned Owens inside out. Zayn delivered two aggressive Blue Thunder Bombs, which Owens kicked out of. Zayn is incredibly entertaining when he goes to that dark place that many few superstars can push him to. Owens nailed a beautiful frog splash, but Zayn kicked out. They took it to the next level when Zayn delivered a vicious half Dragon Suplex to Owens, who rebounded and then hit Zayn with one of the most devastating clotheslines he’s ever delivered. Zayn went for his vintage Tornado DDT, but his longtime nemesis had this scouted and countered it into a backbreaker. Owens saw Zayn’s Helluva Kick coming and countered with a super kick, followed up by a Pop Up Powerbomb. These men obviously had to fill time given the abrupt ending to the prior match. They both delivered in spades. It’s safe to say that fans worldwide cannot wait to see round two. WINNER: KEVIN OWENS
CESARO vs. THE MIZ (Intercontinental Championship): Owens decided to stay at ringside for this match at commentary. For someone who supposedly hasn’t “clicked with the audience”, Cesaro got quite a huge pop at the beginning of this match. Cesaro opened up with several big moves. He countered a leapfrog by the Miz into a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker. He then delivered a big boot, knocking the Miz off of the top rope. Miz recovered, going with a methodical working of Cesaro’s left shoulder, which is still not 100%. Miz locked in a submission hold, but it was broken with another Cesaro-esque feat of strength as the Swiss Superman turned it into a suplex. Cesaro went on to nail the champion with several European Uppercuts. Miz’ wife, Maryse, who was only observing at ringside, quickly became a factor in the match as she distracted Cesaro several times, gaining her husband the advantage. Miz launched Cesaro, shoulder first, into the turnbuckle. He followed up with a Skull Crushing Finale, but Cesaro kicked out. Shortly after this, Sami Zayn came out and attacked Owens. While this was going on, Cesaro delivered a Big Swing, then a Crossface to the Miz. Miz tapped out, but the ref was distracted by the Zayn/Owens fight that spilled into the ring. Miz got a quick roll up victory, retaining his title. WINNER: THE MIZ
CHRIS JERICHO vs. DEAN AMBROSE: Ambrose opened up with some stiff and unorthodox offense. He raked his elbows across Jericho’s face. He then took Y2J to the top rope and pulled back on his nose. This is the type of offense that Ambrose needs to employ, not the high spots that he usually runs with. Jericho bounced back by launching Ambrose out of the ring, then dropkicked Ambrose through the bottom rope. Jericho used the referee as a distraction on more than one occasion, something more heels in the WWE should be doing. Every time that Ambrose tried to build momentum, Jericho cut him off, then mocked the crowd that was completely behind Ambrose. Ambrose nearly flubbed a Tornado DDT, but nailed the landing. Ambrose went for his top rope elbow, but Jericho baited him and locked in the Walls of Jericho. Ambrose made it to the bottom rope, breaking the hold. Ambrose threw Jericho out of the ring, then hit him with a suicide dive. The impact appeared to have busted open Jericho’s nose (hopefully Vince doesn’t look to fine him as he’s seemed hell bent on doing lately). They went back and forth for a few more minutes. Jericho pulled one out from his old WCW days with a double underhook backbreaker. Jericho then went from the Lionsault and it appeared that Ambrose countered, but neither man was ready. Ambrose finally nailed Dirty Deeds and picked up the win. WINNER: DEAN AMBROSE
NATALYA vs. CHARLOTTE (Women’s Championship): The stakes were raised for this match with not only the champ’s dad, Nature Boy Ric Flair at ringside, but Natalya’s uncle, Bret the Hitman Hart was there. It was exciting to see Bret up and around and looking healthy after his treatment for prostate cancer. The two athletes in the ring did their best to pay homage to their predecessors. Natalya looked to work a slow paced technical match. Charlotte looked to one up every move she did, but when that failed, she went to the same well as the ‘dirtiest player in the game’. Charlotte pummeled Natalya’s left leg, looking to set up the Figure Eight leg lock. She went for it, but Natalya, countered it and went for a roll up pin. Charlotte then went for a Single Leg Crab, but Natalya reversed it into a Japanese Armbar. Charlotte went to the top rope for her moonsault, but Natalya pushed her clean out of the ring. Natalya needs to teach classes on how to sell an injury, because at least two thirds of the roster fails to do so. She sold that leg injury fantastically. Charlotte nailed her Natural Selection, but Natalya kicked out. Charlotte put the Sharpshooter on Natalya, but the ring bell was rung with Natalya not even having tapped out. Their attempt to relive the Montreal Screw Job at Survivor Series 1997 may not have been the best finish for this match, but it was great to see Bret and Ric in action one last time. WINNER: CHARLOTTE
AJ STYLES vs. ROMAN REIGNS (WWE World Heavyweight Championship): Despite the interesting build for this match, the crowd in Chicago was not behind Roman Reigns at all. Styles opened up with high speed offense to take the big man off his game. Reigns wisely stepped out of the ring whenever he was on the verge of getting overwhelmed. Reigns used his brute strength to level the playing field. He made an emphatic statement with a clothesline that folded Styles up. Reigns then went for the Superman Punch, but Styles countered with a well timed Enziguri. Styles, with an impressive show of strength, lifted Reigns and hit him with his Fireman’s Carry Neckbreaker. Reigns went for another clothesline, but Styles went for the Calf Crusher. Reigns barely made it to the ropes in time to force the break. Styles then laid out Reigns on the announcers table and followed up with the Phenomenal Forearm over the top rope. The referee nearly counted out both men. Styles made it back into the ring, picking up the count out victory. However, Reigns still retained the championship. Shane McMahon, the man running Monday Night Raw, came out to order the ref to restart the match. Thankfully, we won’t have another pay-per-view match end on a disqualification or a count out. Styles whaled on Reigns with rapid fire forearms and then he delivered the Pele Kick. He then tried to land a 450 Splash, but Reigns countered by getting his legs up. Roman Reigns then Styles with a low blow, giving AJ Styles the victory. But because the belt doesn’t change hands on a DQ, Reigns still held the title.
Then co-runner of Monday Night Raw, Stephanie McMahon, ordered the match to be restarted as a “No Disqualification Match.” Styles went to the forearms again. However Reigns picked up Styles, put him on the top turnbuckle and punched him clear out of the ring. Later, Styles went for the Phenomenal Forearm and Reigns countered with the Superman Punch, which he followed up with a second one. Styles’ former Bullet Club teammates Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson came out to deliver a beat down to Reigns. Styles hit Reigns with the Phenomenal Forearm again, but Reigns got his foot on the bottom rope. Before Anderson and Gallows could interfere again, Reigns’ cousins, the Usos, came out to even the odds. Styles hit the 450 Splash, but Reigns kicked out. Styles went for the Styles Clash, but Reigns countered and hit a Spear, retaining his title. WINNER: ROMAN REIGNS
Though Payback is not one of the “big four” of WWE’s pay-per-view events, it surely did a much better job of resolving/continuing feuds with its finishes than Wrestlemania did a month prior. What were your thoughts of WWE Payback 2016?