WWE Payback 2017: Recap and Grades

Boy, I sure hope there are a couple of you out there who get excited about seeing professional wrestling reviews on a film website, but that’s not going to stop me at this point. It’s better that I type this because the other option is I stand on my back deck and shout about Seth Rollins into my backyard.

We won’t spend much time on the kickoff show because, well, you get it. The team of Enzo & Cass defeated Gallows & Anderson because no one really cares about how the tag division is booked. There was a special episode of Miz TV featuring perhaps my favorite wrestler on the roster, Finn Balor. The segment was designed to put over Balor and his intentions to retrieve the Universal Championship currently held by Brock Lesnar, but all it did was make me realize that none of those three men were actually on the card tonight. Dean “Jeans” Ambrose, current Intercontinental Champion, is nowhere to be seen either, which doesn’t make a bit of sense either.

Let’s jump to the first Raw-exclusive card to occur after Wrestlemania.

Kevin Owens (c) v. Chris Jericho: United States Championship Match

Jericho absolutely deserves to be considered as one of the all-time greats. When he jumped to WWE, he was consistently one of the best and most innovative workers of the time. As he aged and lost some (I really only mean “some”) mobility, he evolved and developed arguably the best ring psychology of anyone on the roster. No matter what he’s doing, he elevates the material by committing to it. The friendship and subsequent with Kevin Owens has been absolutely top notch.

Just as with their match at Wrestlemania 33, the chemistry is unbelievably good between these two. They worked a match that was more stiff than their previous outing, but just as good. After some strong superkicks from the champ and aerial offense from the challenger, Jericho managed to lock in the Walls Of Jericho. Just like the last match, Owens got one finger on the ropes, forcing the break. An outraged Jericho took out all of his aggressions on the finger and hand of Owens, even trapping him with the steel steps and kicking them. This damage meant Owens was unable to perform his pop-up powerbomb, and Jericho capitalized with another submission move.

Chris Jericho becomes the new United States Champion for the second time, meaning he will be moving to Smackdown.

Rating: 7/10

 

Neville (c) v. Austin Aries: Cruiserweight Championship Match

Ever since the incredibly Cruiserweight Classic tournament last summer, the new Cruiserweight division has underperformed. The collective title reigns of TJ Perkins, Brian Kendrick, and Rich Swann have been enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable and lackluster. Neville’s heel turn was everything that the division needed, and his reign since Royal Rumble has really livened things up. Aries had been a hot commodity as an announcer during his time off for injury, but he’s really stolen the show with his in-ring work.

Looking to capture the championship he couldn’t win at Wrestlemania 33, Aries dominated the early sections of the match. No matter how Neville tried to evade, Aries just had his number every step of the way. When the champ would manage to find some breathing room to wear down his challenger, AA would find a burst of energy and get back on top. He managed to lock Neville in to his Last Chancery submission maneuver, but Neville grabbed the ref and shoved him, forcing the disqualification before he would have to tap out.

Neville’s underhanded tactics allow him to retain his title on a technicality.

Rating: 8/10

The Hardy Boyz (c) v. Sheamus & Cesaro: Raw Tag Team Championship Match

One of the biggest pops of Wrestlemania 33 was the sudden return of beloved tag team, The Hardy Boyz. Perhaps the next biggest pop was when brothers Matt and Jeff won the tag team titles in a hard-fought four-way ladder match. Former enemies-turned-buds Cesaro and Sheamus won the rights to be the new contenders, and the two teams started to heat up in a couple of one-on-one matches. No matter who won, the four men remained respectful, shaking hands and holding up the hand of the winner.

Things often change when the championship is on the line. This match was about all you could hope for from these teams on a lesser PPV card. Outstanding athleticism from Cesaro, hard-hitting offense from Sheamus, Jeff’s high-flying stunts, and Matt’s total control over the crowd. Matt looked to be bleeding under his eye at one point, and again on his forehead at the end. After a subtle tag, Jeff was able to land his Swanton Bomb on an unsuspecting Sheamus for the win.

The Hardys retain their titles, causing their opponents to exert their frustrations and demolish the brothers after their celebration.

Rating: 6/10

 

Bayley (c) v. Alexa Bliss: Raw Women’s Championship Match

Perhaps the biggest name to leave Raw during the “Superstar Shakeup” was four-time Raw Women’s Champion, Charlotte. However, in her stead was former Smackdown Women’s Champion, Alexa Bliss. While Bliss may not quite be at the in-ring level of the Four Horsewomen, I’d be willing to argue that she’s doing some of the best character and mic work of the entire roster, male and female.

I can’t remember who said it, but I heard someone say that Alexa Bliss is a 5’ woman who fights like she is at least 6’6”, chokeslamming taller women and walking on them as a taunt. She brought this aggression right to lovable babyface Bayley, causing her to up the ante as well. An absolutely vicious running knee to the challenger led to Bayley going for the Macho Man top rope elbow that secured her title at Wrestlemania, but Bliss kicked out. Bayley tried to roll up her opponent, but Alexa launched the champion face-first into the corner post. Dazed, Bayley walked right into a DDT from Bliss, taking a three-count in the process.

Alexa Bliss wins, becoming the first woman to hold both the Raw and Smackdown Women’s Championships.

Rating: 8/10

Randy Orton v. Bray Wyatt: House Of Horrors Match

This is just like a real weird situation all around.

This feud has been really confusing, especially considering the two men are now on different shows and Orton’s WWE Championship isn’t even on the line in this match. Also, nobody even knows what the hell a “House Of Horrors” match is.

Turns out, it’s pretty much just a brawl in a real dirty house, so there’s that.

Pre-recorded and shot in a more cinematic fashion than usual, this was basically just two dudes throwing each other around in someone’s home but also they’ve never cleaned it before. Overall reception was not great, but I thought it was fine. It wasn’t anything really new or innovative, but it wasn’t actively bad either.

Bray shoved a fridge on top of Orton and then took his limo back to the arena. After he walks to the ring and the light comes back on, Orton is magically right behind him and it’s never explained how he was faster than a car. Jinder Mahal (#1 contender to Orton’s championship) and the Singh Brothers ambush Orton, allowing Bray to claim victory.

Wyatt secures the pinfall after interference from Orton’s new rival.

Rating: 6/10

 

Seth Rollins v. Samoa Joe

This match was a bit of an enigma for me. On paper, Seth and Joe is pure gold and something I should be in love with, but the build-up was pretty tame and boring considering how talented these two are. That doesn’t mean the match was disappointing, I think I just caught up in my own head.

I was iffy on Rollins playing babyface, but Joe is such an aggressive and dominant heel that it really works out in the end. He targeted Seth’s knee throughout the night since it was bound to be less than 100%. Joe is both one of the most physical people on the roster, but also surprisingly graceful. His enzuigiri in the corner is absolutely devastating. After Joe locked in the Coquina Clutch, Seth’s only escape was to go for the roll-up which actually worked.

Rollins sneaks away with a victory, but more is certainly in the cards with these two.

Rating: 7/10

 

Roman Reigns v. Braun Strowman

I’m really really really in the minority on this entire situation, basically. It seems like everyone is joining the party on just booing the shit out of Roman, which I don’t understand at all. He’s really good in big matches when his opponent is pushing him. His series with AJ Styles last year was terrific. On the other end, the crowd is falling more and more in love with Strowman each week, and I still don’t really get it. His strength and ability to destroy ambulances is impressive, but he just isn’t doing it for me. Oh well, here we go.

This match was as hard-hitting as you’d expect a match between Roman and Strowman to be. Also yes, it is as fun to say “Roman and Strowman” and you think. Braun did a great job of targeting Roman’s injured shoulder, which gave Roman the opportunity to sell a lot more than usual. Naturally, where his injury is designed to draw sympathy, the crowd cheered for his pain because wrestling fans are the worst. Not you, the one person reading my dumb recap article, you’re actually great.

Both men were giving it their all. It took several Superman Punches to fell the giant, and he even kicked out of a Spear. Reigns kicked out of Braun’s running powerbomb as well, but a second one did him in.

The injured Roman Reigns falls to Braun Strowman and is subsequently attacked by the victor with steel steps. Reigns is busted open and bleeding on the mat. A stretcher is brought to him, but he refuses. In a backstage cut, Reigns is seen spitting up blood on to a wall. He rests for a second near the back of an ambulance until we hear the telltale scream of Braun coming back for me. Reigns moves out of the way and Braun RIPS THE DOOR OFF AN AMBULANCE WITH HIS BODY.

Rating: 6/10

All in all, 2017’s edition of Payback was a pretty great way to kick off the post-Mania season. In my opinion, none of the matches were bad, though the internet is sure to disagree with me on the House Of Horrors shindig. I’m incredibly excited to see Alexa Bliss’ title reign and potential growth, the sky is the limit with her.

What did you think of the Payback PPV? What was your favorite match? Please let me know, either down here or @NickJPotter on Twitter. Let’s talk wrestling.

Nick Potter

Co-founder of The Filmsmiths. Degree in Broadcast & Cinematic Arts with a minor in Cinema Studies from Central Michigan University. Pretty much the barbecue sauce of people but I'm doing my best.

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