Previously on the Best and Worst of WWE Payback: We had a show that was full of good wrestling, but was a booking nightmare. Kevin Owens wrestled Sami Zayn, sure, but Natalya and Charlotte did a fake “Montreal Screwjob” segment in front of Bret Hart. Roman Reigns wrestled AJ Styles, sure, but Enzo Amore botched being thrown through some ropes and almost died. This year will definitely a bunch of good wrestling remembered only for the horrible parts!
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And now, the Best and Worst of WWE Payback 2017, the Ultimate Regular Ride™, for April 30, 2017.
Best: The Face Of America
Before I talk about the actual wrestling, I want to take a second to say how much I love Kevin Owens’ “Face of America” entrance. There’s something downright charming about a man entering on a gigantic, forced-perspective MAD magazine caricature of himself.
Best: Finger Psychology
At WrestleMania 33, Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens succeeded in booking a callback to a comedy oil painting from a Festival of Friendship in a championship match at Wrestle-freaking-Mania by having Owens avoid defeat by getting one finger on the rope. It was brilliant. At Payback, they not only called back to that, but topped it.
Late in the match, Jericho reverses a powerbomb attempt into a headscissors and rolls through into the Walls of Jericho. Owens manages to survive by, you guessed it, getting one finger on the ropes.
At WrestleMania, Owens was able to recover and win. Here? Jericho’s response is to repeatedly stomp the finger, smash it on the ring steps and smash it IN the ring steps. Just like at WrestleMania, Owens is able to gut it out and recover, but this time when he goes for the pop-up powerbomb, he can’t hit it. He needs the hand strength to get Jericho up. Jericho’s able to grab him in the Walls again, and this time Owens’ hand is too injured to extend the single digit. He’s forced to tap, and Jericho becomes your new (surprise) United States Champion.
I can’t express how much I love this. A lot of my early critique of the match was built around how guys in modern WWE grudge matches don’t really portray “hatred” very well, and will spend a month trying to kill each other just to grab a bunch of wristlocks and chinlocks in the blowoff. The early portion of Owens vs. Jericho was like that — especially weird for a blood feud involving guys who haven’t been able to interact for a month — but the callbacks to the finger kicked it up a notch, and the furious Canadian murder of a hand brought it up to where it needed to be.
Great stuff, and ultimately miles better than the WrestleMania match. But hey, with no disrespect meant to one of the greatest performers of all time, nothing says “Chris Jericho” more than “the matches after WrestleMania are way better than the one at it.”
Best: Jericho’s Goodbye To Raw
I think everyone in our predictions post picked Kevin Owens to retain, citing Fozzy tour precedence and how jacked everything got thanks to the Superstar Shake-Up™ — two guys on a Raw pay-per-view having a match where if the babyface wins, he leaves the show? What? — but I’m happy to be surprised. Maybe Jericho will pull double duty to face AJ Styles at Backlash, or maybe Owens will just trounce him on Tuesday and take back the belt. Either way, I like it when a booking decision surprises me, but in the good way. Not in the “oh my God, why are they doing this” kind of way. The latter happens a lot more than the former these days.
The best part of Jericho’s win is this Backstage Fallout segment, though, where he comes to the realization that Tom Phillips and Mike Rome are actually two people. His half-acted “AAH” when he turns and sees Tom is classic Jericho. It reminds me of his Michelle Tanner “oh no” face that one time in WCW where he turned around and realized he was gonna have to fight Chris Benoit.
Best: Character Consistency
I try not to read a lot of other people’s thoughts before I write these things, because emotionally I’m a Borg and I’ll sometimes inadvertently assimilate some stuff, but a lot of what I’ve read for Neville vs. Aries at Payback is “good match, shit finish.” I disagree. I mean, on the last part.
The match itself was good, of course, because Neville is the bomb dot com forward slash index dot hmtl and Austin Aries appears to be working five times harder than everyone else in the cruiserweight division, but the finish is the thing I liked the most. To date, the story of Neville was Cruiserweight Champions is that he has one surefire finish — the Red Arrow — that also happens to be crowd-pleasing. He hates the crowd now, so he tries not to use it, preferring to finish people off with the Rings of Saturn submission. At Beach Ball Mania, he actually hopped off the top rope to lock in the submission because he didn’t want us to be happy. In other matches, he’s tried to win without it, and only gone to the Red Arrow when he was shook and needed to win.
At WrestleMania, Aries had Neville in the Last Chancery, and Neville gouged him in his surgically repaired eye to escape. It was a straight-up cheap shot, and illegal, and showed that the one step Neville’s willing to go to now beyond the Red Arrow is cheating. Here, Aries manages to catch Neville with a sunset flip powerbomb off the ropes and transitions into the Last Chancery again. Not only is it his submission finish, he’s set it up in the middle of the ring with a high impact move.
Neville is toast and he knows it, and does everything he can to reach the ropes When he can’t, he grabs the official … then lets him go. He tries again, and when he realizes he can’t make it, he grabs the official a second time and just yanks him down on top of them. The ref calls for a DQ, and Neville retains in the most underhanded, cowardly way possible. It’s the next step down for Neville.
Instead of going to his showboating finish, instead of even going one step further and taking a cheap shot, Neville is now blatantly getting himself disqualified because he doesn’t know how to beat Aries. That RULES.
Especially because it sets up a completely logical, deserved rematch between the two at EXTREME rules, which will hopefully be no disqualification, or a no-DQ submission match, or something similar. They’ll probably just throw them onto a ladder or whatever, but that’ll be fun too, even if it isn’t psychologically consistent. I love these matches as building blocks to the blowoff, because they’re succeeding in convincing even me that Neville’s days are numbered. And I want Neville to be champion until long after we’re all dead.
Speaking of character consistency, how great is this Sheamus and Cesaro tag team? They’ve covered the full spectrum of interpersonal relationships. They started off as enemies competing for the same prize, ended up being teamed together against their will and letting it cost them big matches. They slowly learned to work as a team, but still hated each other. They achieved success, won the tag straps and started at least pretending to get along, but still never seemed to be completely on the same page.
Over the past few weeks, they’ve shown restraint and cohesiveness in post-match incidents with the Hardys, where one week Cesaro’s got the cool head, and the next week it’s Sheamus. Now they’ve truly come together and faced adversity, and Sheamus is starting to bring out the edge in Cesaro.
That’s what happens here, when the Hardy Boyz get another victory and Sheasaro finally snap. I’ve been waiting for this for weeks. If they’d done anything else, I would’ve been disappointed. Sheamus is out here Brogue Kicking dudes so hard it’s knocking out their teeth and busting them open, and Cesaro is being a straight-up killer by holding Jeff Hardy’s arms so Sheamus can kick him into the ring post from behind. That’s not just a beatdown, that’s a premeditated attack. That’s GREAT.
Raw desperately needs a strong heel team — LOL I’m looking in every direction except yours, The Club — and Sheamus and Cesaro are clearly two of the most all-around talented guys on the roster. They deserve something special. If anything, they should continue to be the ones the Hardys ultimately put over on their way to Broken Town.
Worst: Be Careful With Your Body, Jeff Hardy
Sliding into your DMs like
(We want you “broken,” guys, not broken broken.)
Best: Alexa Express
First of all, how funny is it that Alexa Bliss showed up in Iron Man gear right before WWE introduced the Mandarin announce team? Watch out, Alexa, they’re imposters!
Second of all, congratulations to Alexa Bliss for becoming the first woman to hold both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Championships in their illustrious, uh, nine months of existence. If you count the other three months when it was just the “Women’s Championship,” the Raw version of the belt has, counting Charlotte winning it in the first place, changed hands NINE TIMES. It’s changed five times since being the “Raw Women’s.”
Third of all, I thought this was one of the better Raw Women’s Championship matches, especially if you remove the novelty of the stipulations around the very best ones. As far as a straight-forward one-on-one championship match, Bliss and Bayley worked hard, did what they needed to do, told a good story and transitioned the belt to Bliss the way they should: with conniving, opportunistic ring awareness and wrestling prowess, instead of cheating.
You wouldn’t know it from Bayley’s crappy backstage interview about how Bliss doesn’t deserve it and has “no respect,” but Bliss beat her fair and square. It was opportunistic, yeah, but it was smart wrestling. She keeps smashing Bayley’s head into shit, culminating in that unique moment where she kicks out of an O’Connor roll and sends Bayley under the bottom rope and into the ring post. From there, Bliss fights off a comeback attempt and hits a DDT — not her finish, but the 100 percent perfect, logical move to capitalize on the injury they’ve established in the match — and wins. It’s just smart. That needs to be Bliss’ angle. She needs to compensate for her size and relative inexperience by being twice as smart as everyone else, especially because, honestly, listen to her talk. She already sounds twice as smart as everyone else.
Let’s move on to Alexa vs. Nia Jax, leave Bayley and Sasha Banks in the mid-card for a while to work out their half-hearted differences, and truly freshen up the women’s division for the first time since the Four Horsewomen decided they’re the only thing that can matter.
Best-ish: Samoa Joe vs. Himself
To me, Samoa Joe versus Seth Rollins felt a lot like AJ Styles versus Shane McMahon at WrestleMania. You know how Shane was working hard to carry his end, but some parts of the match felt like AJ was wrestling himself? That was Joe/Rollins. Everything good about the match was Joe. I’m not even sure how to explain it beyond saying, “no, seriously, watch it.”
I’m not as down on Rollins as an in-ring performer as most, but the guy feels like he’s missing all the right opportunities to connect with the audience, and he’s one of the worst in the business right now at showing believable anger. It always comes across as indignant smugness, or like, entitlement. The match with Triple H at WrestleMania was supposed to be the grudge match of all grudge matches, and dude showed up with a symbolism torch. I wish someone … I don’t know, Tully Blanchard? … would hold a “hatred” seminar at the Performance Center so everyone on Raw who isn’t Joe could learn how to look and act when their story is, “I hate the other guy.” I know you’ve gotta be safe and can’t like, bust people open and bite their wounds, but if you hate a guy, maybe punch him instead of trying to set up springboard knees and enzuigiris?
Of course, this was sandwiched between parts one and two of the worst match of the year, so I’m not sure they ever had much of a chance. Still, Joe carried enough of this to make it watchable, and even though his shoulder was pretty far off the mat during that three-count, I mostly liked what they were doing. Having Rollins “survive” Joe rather than V-Trigger him with a broken leg and win the match was a good call. Hoping these two get the match they deserve at Extreme Rules, and that Joe finally starts winning with authority again. No pun intended.
If you’ve been paying attention so far, you’ll notice that I really, really enjoyed this show. Taken without Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt in a Jaycees Haunted House match, the show’s worst crime was being kinda boring at times on its way to good wrestling.
So let’s talk about this fucking thing.
Worst: And Now, A Goddamn House of Horrors Match
At WrestleMania 33, Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt had one of the worst “main events” in the history of those words. Orton rode to the ring on a giant sperm and wrestled a match where the big moves involved everyone stopping what they were doing so Bray could make the ring look like bugs. The payoff to them doing this THREE times was NOTHING, as Orton just recovered, hit an RKO and pinned him. Once again, Bray Wyatt looked like one of the stupidest and most ineffective wrestlers in the world.
So they decided to book a rematch in something called a “House of Horrors” before deciding what that would actually be, then sent Wyatt to Raw, where he continued to feud with Orton even though they were on different shows. Orton got into a feud with Jinder Mahal, and if you need to know how little Bray Wyatt matters, a feud with Jinder Mahal was an improvement. But every week on Raw, there was Wyatt being all, “I AM THE REAPER OF YOUR FATE.”
As it turns out, the “House of Horrors” concept is a match that starts in Bray Wyatt’s haunted house, but not the one that burned down, and none of the ones we’ve previously seen, but must end inside the ring inside the arena. If that without all the rest of it sounds like a good idea, you’re an idiot. Would the house be inside the arena? Why would they fight there if they had to win the match somewhere else? Especially if they had to like, drive there. What sense does any of this make?
You can read a detailed analysis of the match here, but I’ll recap some of the high points. I guess we have to start where the match starts, at the moment when Randy Orton (wearing pants and wrestling pads but no shirt, in a limo ride to a wrestling match at a haunted house) pulls up and runs afoul of a GHOST TRACTOR.
A SENTIENT TRACTOR THAT SCARES HIM.
Maybe someone just started the tractor and left it running? But anyway, it turns out Wyatt’s house is a regular house (in Missouri) with blue Hue lights in the yard to make it look spooky. Don’t worry, they do a callback to this in a minute. Orton enters — along with like, seven camera men who get multiple angles of everything that happens, it’s just a crack house full of camera men — and we learn the actual breakdown of the match:
- Orton walks into a room full of spooky stuff, like dolls hanging from the ceiling
- We get lots of shots of those spooky things set to spooky sound effects
- While Orton is distracted by the spookiness, Wyatt runs in and punches him a lot
- It looks super fake because they’re punching each other and making loud wrestling noises in tiny rooms for nobody
- Wyatt leaves
- Orton moves on to the next room, repeat
Eventually Orton wanders into a small kitchen, and that’s where things get REALLY horrible. They roll around on the floor brawling and breathing heavy and making loud “HI-YA” noises that sound a lot better when you’re in an arena and not like, right on top of them, and Wyatt gets the advantage by tipping over WWE Hall of Famer William ‘Refrigerator’ Perry onto Orton and bailing.
I’m kidding, it’s an actual fridge. With FOLLOW THE BUZZARDS written on the side of it, so you know it’s a HAUNTED FRIDGE. It doesn’t actually land on Orton and is flat to the ground but he sells it anyway, as though he’s been completely flattened. Or he somehow ended up inside of it like he’s Buster Keaton. Wyatt’s response to this is to sell it more than Orton for some reason, then leave the house, which I feel like I need to remind you contained no zombies or skeletons or monsters or whatever and was just a poor person’s house with some dolls and kitchenware in it. And they didn’t take down their Christmas lights. So it’s literally my house as a child.
Orton stays dead under the fridge or whatever as Wyatt leaves, squats in the yard and yells “FOLLOW THE BUZZARDS!” This is the cue for his Hue lights to turn from blue to RED, which are the DEADLIEST COLOR OF LIGHTS. Wyatt laughs, because now that the house is red, Orton has NO CHANCE TO ESCAPE. He gave him the red light special, all through the night.
If your inclination here is to drop down into our comments section and let me know that “if Lucha Underground did this you’d love it,” please know that (1) Lucha would’ve provided context, (2) Lucha would’ve put some actual scary monsters inside that shit, and (3) LUCHA WOULD NOT HAVE DONE THIS. Matt Hardy making his child pin wrestlers while drones fall in love or whatever has more artistic merit than this. Legitimately.
From here, Wyatt steals Orton’s weird Knight Rider limo and orders it to return to the arena, where Wyatt will I guess win by forfeit, because Orton can’t also make it back? Did Wyatt have a plan to get to the arena like this if Orton hadn’t told his driver to wait? If Orton had gotten dropped off by an Uber, would Wyatt have just popped a squat in the yard until Erick Rowan showed up on a tandem bike to take him to the SAP Center?
We come back to the arena to pause the match and do Joe vs. Rollins, with (1) the crowd booing mercilessly because they are awkwardly bored, (2) Joe and Rollins having no hope of following that with anything interesting that could justify pro wrestling existing, and (3) nobody on the announce team being able to say “horrors.” It’s always HOUSE OF WHORES.
After Joe vs. Rollins, the limo pulls into the arena and Wyatt emerges, with everyone backstage looking scared of him despite them working with him every week. Shouldn’t y’all be used to this shit by now? What’s he gonna do, laugh near you and write something condescending about you on the wall of his house? Play some cassette tapes of children crying while he sings Bible hymns and you go about your life completely unharmed?
In the highlight of the entire match, Wyatt stops for a moment to lean on Neil’s workbox.
Be careful with that workbox! It belongs to Neil!
Wyatt makes a full pro wrestling entrance despite it being halfway through a match where he was supposed to be literally murdering someone in an abandoned house. When the lights come on, it turns out that RANDY ORTON IS BEHIND HIM.
Randy Orton, who was trapped under a fridge inside a house, who had his ride to the house of horrors taken by Wyatt, managed to not only escape the fridge AND the house of torture but get a different ride to the arena, get there FASTER than Wyatt, sneak out to the ring, anticipate the exact timing and lighting cues of his entrance and surprise him. Or I don’t know, he teleported. How funny is it that the guy who teleports every week had to hitch a ride back in a limo and walk through the backstage area and walk all the way back to the ring but the regular guy teleported in from under a refrigerator? WHAT ARE WE DOING.
From there, the match turns into an average Smackdown hardcore match, and features the Bollywood Boyz and Jinder Mahal showing up to distract Orton and hit him with some weak belt shots to the shoulder so Wyatt could get the win. Was that Wyatt’s plan? To rely on the guys who were feuding with Orton after Wyatt went to Raw to bail him out? Bray Wyatt set up a signature SPOOKY HELL HOUSE MATCH full of violent shit of his own design — read: dolls, appliances — AND I guess bought a house in San Jose just to execute this and still would’ve 100% lost if it hadn’t been for JINDER MAHAL and two guys who are CONSIDERABLY WORSE AND LESS IMPORTANT THAN JINDER MAHAL.
THAT IS BRAY WYATT’S SIGNATURE MATCH.
That’s where Bray Wyatt is. Like always, the match he wins is under the dumbest circumstances ever, rendering it meaningless in the eyes of anybody with eyes. He can’t win his own gimmick matches. The match didn’t make sense. The “horror” was having appliances tipped over onto you and some mood lighting. Imagine Sin Cara trying to shop for a washer and dryer, that’s the House of Horror. He wins by fortunate interference he had nothing to do with. He’s on a different show, defeated the WWE Champion, and is not WWE Champion because it was in a non-title haunted house match. Orton will go on to feud with Jinder, and not care about what happened during any of this, because he’s not on the same show.
This honestly might be the worst WWE match since Kennel from Hell. I was live for that, and literally spend the entire match smelling dog piss and dog shit and watching Rottweilers hump while AL SNOW WRESTLED, and this might’ve been worse. Unreal. I really, really hope they decide to do a third match in the trilogy at Backlash for some reason, and it’s literally just Orton and Bray slap fighting in a strobe light.
Fuck this and everyone involved with it.
To make up for that, here’s a main event that ends with Roman Reigns throwing up blood while a crowd chants “thank you Strowman” and “you deserve it.”
I mean, Michael Cole says “look at the DAMAGE coming out of Roman Reigns” because they can’t say “blood,” I guess, and Roman apparently went to the Ken Shamrock school of internal bleeding, but who cares, this is great.
Best: A Strowman Argument
I was hoping Roman Reigns would either
- lose in one move, to sell the ridiculous amount of damage he’s taken lately, or
- at least show up with Diamond Dallas Page rib tape wrapped around his bulletproof vest
… but he showed up with his shoulder taped and KINDA sold it, so that works. I mean, he’s still getting in way, way too much offense for a guy with a separated shoulder and multiple cracked ribs on two weeks rest — especially when he’s spearing Strowman with his injured shoulder and going into the pinfall like nothing happened — but yeah yeah, tough guys in pro wrestling, I get it. If I was ten I’d probably be pumping my fist and crying for him to win.
The good news here is that he doesn’t, and that he doesn’t with extreme prejudice. He almost does, but Strowman’s able to survive it, hit two powerslams and pin him. It’s a little much for a guy who can flip ambulances, but after watching Roman pin him clean before, it’s a nice change of pace, and keeps Strowman’s stock rising. What’s especially great is the post-match attack, in which Strowman steals Erick Rowan’s job as “stairs guy” by bringing the stairs into the ring and smashing Roman Reigns into and under them until he’s hacking up “damage.”
I honestly hope these two feud for a while, because they’ve got great physical chemistry, and if we can avoid the worst parts of classic WWE top babyface booking, we could tell a great story and help both guys grow. Roman could learn how to be vulnerable, because he SHOULD be against a guy like Braun. Braun can continue learning the perfect pace and execution of WWE-style main events, which Roman is aces at, love him or hate him. The dude knows what he’s doing. They can be a new, true, eternal rivalry, as they’ve both got a ton of years left in the company. It’s a perfect match, as long as we keep Braun exactly as strong as Roman. If he becomes Rusev at any point, the game is lost.
And that’s the show. It’s very, very good, with one of the worst things you’ve ever seen stapled to the middle. It’s a shame this is going to be forever known for the House of Horrors, but … well, they deserve it.
Best: Top 10 Comments Of The Night
Graves: Where are the EMTs?
(Cut to EMTs tied up in the locker room)
Strowman: I thought of everything! Hahahhhaha
Beige Lunatics, King of String Style
Braun should steal Roman’s body armor, wear it himself, and go by the name “D’lo Braun”.
Haven’t seen a one armed man get maimed this badly since DC Comics ruined Arsenal in “Cry For Justice.”
Roman couldn’t get a pop at the concession stand.
“Roman Reigns! Some people hate him and… well, that’s about it. He’s very unpopular.”
This show sucks, but I’m excited to see what the house of horrors goes for at auction and what Tarek and Christina do with it on the next Flip or Flop.
The biggest missed opportunity here was not having Bo poke his head out of a bedroom and yell at them to keep it down.
The only thing that would save that match would be if it lead to a PPV called “In Your House: Randy’s Still In That House”
Kevin Mcalister did 10x a better job booby-trapping his house than Bray did.
One of the rooms in the House of Horrors will be Virgil sitting alone at autograph table
That’s it for Payback. Thanks for reading. Sorry about the haunted house.
As always, drop down into our comments section to let us know what you thought of the show, and please consider hitting those social share buttons to spread the column around. It really helps, and keeps me in the business of getting unrealistically mad at dumb shit for stupid babies.
Be back here on Monday night for Raw, Tuesday afternoon for the Best and Worst of Raw, and a few Sundays from now for WWE Backlash, featuring Dolph Ziggler vs. Shinsuke Nakamura is a NEVERLAND RANCH STREET FIGHT, or whatever.