WWE Payback
April 30, 2017
SAP Center
San Jose, California

Watch: WWE Network

Meet our reviewers:

Kelly Harrass: If you’ve ever wondered who would review an anime on a wrestling website every week for twenty eight weeks, Kelly is your guy. He also reviews pretty much every WWE PPV for VOW, but skipped Mania because that sounded like a very bad time. Find Kelly talking about dumb things over on Twitter @comicgeekelly and listen to him (almost) every week on the Panels on Pages PoP!-Cast.  

Warren Taylor: VOW’s resident EVOLVE previewer and sometimes reviewer when the weekend lines up right, Warren has no problem taking one for the team and reviewing a show headlined by Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton. Follow him @WarrenETaylor on Twitter for mild takes on professional wrestling, links to his articles for his shoot job @ASeaofBlue, and Simpsons’ memes galore.

Drew Wardlaw: Co-host of Burning Spirits on the VOW Podcast Network, comedy wrestling apologist, and Planet of the Apes enthusiast. Follow on twitter @_burningspirits for puro talk, WCW reminiscing, and occasional fast food/gas station food rants.

Pre-Show
ENZO AMORE & BIG CASS def. LUKE GALLOWS & KARL ANDERSON

Warren Taylor: Misters Big Cass & Enzo have found their niche in the WWE, I believe, as pre-show or opener guys. Their pre match schtick and Enzo’s underrated ability to play the face in peril are an excellent way to warm up the crowd. Want proof? The fans in the Shark Tank were up and being loud during the entire bout, which was beyond solid. Luke Gallows arm work early in the contest was especially vicious and Enzo sold it like a champ. The former tag team champions did not lose an ounce of credibility thanks to their pinfall defeat via small package. I look forward to seeing what these two team can do with higher stakes and more time down the line. ***

Drew Wardlaw: I know these teams face each other a lot, but I always enjoy these matches and think these teams work well together. Enzo and Cass have a great big man/little man dynamic that’s perfect for a classic tag team structure like we saw here. The Club got the advantage early in the match, and focused on Enzo’s arm. Enzo did a good job selling and bumping throughout, while The Club cut off the ring. Some good teases with the hot tag here with Gallows pulling Cass off the apron a split second before the tag, building some nice heat for the eventual tag. I liked Enzo’s bobbing and weaving in order to avoid his opponents to finally reach Cass who showed some decent fire and hit some of his signature spots, including the Empire Elbow. A pretty surprising roll up finish that got a legitimate reaction from me. Southern style tag team wrestling is something that I’m always going to enjoy almost without exception, and this fit the bill nicely for a pre-show match. ***

WWE UNITED STATES CHAMPIONSHIP
CHRIS JERICHO def. KEVIN OWENS ©

Kelly Harrass: In a shocking turn of events we not only have a new US Champion, but Chris Jericho joins the Smackdown roster. Doesn’t he have a band to tour with or something? Either way, this match was solid, but it had the same problem as their WrestleMania match. I never bought that this was a heated grudge match between two former best friends. The segment where Owens turned on Jericho could have gone down as an all-time classic, but the follow up to it was so bland that nobody will remember it in a year. It’s a shame too because I believe that these two have a better series in matches in them, but something isn’t clicking. We get hints of the brilliance, but they never go all out. Bringing back the spot of Owens getting a single finger on the ropes and having it lead to the finish of the match was fantastic. For me, this closing bit of the match saved it from being a perfectly average opener. ***

Warren Taylor: I loved the way Kevin Owens worked this match as a heel. Not many talents on the WWE can slap on three rest holds in one bout and not drag the quality of said fight into an early grave. Owens trash talk and subsequent breaks from his headlock to club his former best friend like an angry bear harkened back to a different era of pace and champion. The contest dragged when Jericho was in control, at least early on. His comebacks and offense lacked fire. That was until Owens used his one finger trick from Wrestlemania for a rope break. Then Y2J went berserk and wrecked Owens’ hand. The injury cost KO, he couldn’t hit the pop up powerbomb nor could he reach the ropes when in the throes of the Walls. With nowhere to go, Owens tapped out to pay off the finish of the previous encounter and give fans a shocking result. ***1/2

Drew Wardlaw: I won’t lie, I didn’t realize we had two Canadians fighting for the US Championship until Michael Cole said so. Anyway, Owens really is one of the best in-ring heels around today. From rolling out of the ring right after the bell to the constant heckling and jawing to viciously working holds while on offense, there are really few better. I know that’s one of the most obvious statements I could make here, but it can’t be said enough. At one point he was rubbing his chin and stubble against Jericho’s face during a headlock spot! This was a better version of their Wrestlemania match, with a hotter crowd and stiffer, more intense action than we got in Orlando. They did a much better job conveying the hatred and personal nature of the feud here. There was some nice continuity with a repeat of the memorable finger rope break, but this time Jericho was fired up by it and exploded attacking the hand. The finish was really a surprise, as I think everyone was expecting Owens to retain and Jericho to go off sport boot-cut jeans on small club stages across the country with Fozzy. I’m really glad they went with Jericho though, because the crowd was into the finish, and traditional wrestling logic would dictate that the babyface get his revenge here, so it was good to see that payoff. Great way to start the show. ***1/2

WWE CRUISERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
AUSTIN ARIES def. NEVILLE © via Disqualification

Kelly Harrass: I feel like it’s fair to say that this was a good match ruined by a lame finish. While this didn’t reach the level of quality that their WrestleMania (pre-show) match did, it was still pretty good. These two have good chemistry and it’s clear that they want the feud to continue, but I can’t say that I enjoyed the DQ finish with Neville grabbing the referee to break up the Last Chancery. Maybe i’m just too used to seeing New Japan referees get tossed around with little to no consequences for the wrestlers. **1/4

Warren Taylor: Aries had one step ahead of the champion during the early stages of their rematch from the Mania’ pre show. When Neville slowed things down and went for a headlock (the second match to do so thus far in the evening), I thought the match quality dipped slightly. However, the spot where Neville went to jaw the crowd and Aries drop kicked him out of the ring resulted in a nasty bump that changed the complexion of the contest. Back in full control, Aries put on a show and demonstrated his fluid, creative offense. His counter of Neville’s strongly booked superplex into a sunset flip powerbomb into the Last Chancery was a nice touch to how well both men are getting to know one another. Naturally, Neville knew his goose was cooked in that situation. It’s why he kept pawing at the official until he drew the DQ. I’m sure many fans already despise the finish. Personally, I thought it was a logical way to continue the feud and made perfect sense in the context of the rivalry’s narrative. By no means did this equal the quality of their previous match but it was an admirable second act. ***1/4





WWE RAW TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP
THE HARDY BOYZ © def. CESARO & SHEAMUS

Kelly Harrass: This was the first great match of the Hardy’s current WWE run in this brutal match with Cesaro and Sheamus. The match was kept at a good pace throughout and clearly didn’t need the heel/face dynamic that we’ll get from future matches between these teams. It felt like Cesaro and Sheamus gave it their all, but the experience gap between them and the Hardy’s is what made the difference in the end. Simple storytelling, but I liked it quite a bit. I have a feeling that the post-match beat down from the losers may lead to more than Jeff Hardy’s teeth being broken. ***½

Warren Taylor: I honestly expected more from this match. I thought we’d give some crazy, innovative spots or Jeff taking some ridiculous bump, and the result was in no way terrible. Each team got in their signature spots and no one looked bad, it just felt an average Raw match, especially with the finish they went with. The post match attack by the Irish-Swiss Connection guarantees that the feud will continue to a much more enjoyable rematch. **3/4

Drew Wardlaw: Wow, the Hardys go hard(y). Jeff took an insane bump through the middle rope, landing flat on his back on the floor, Matt got busted open hardway. I really wasn’t sure what to expect going into this, and wasn’t anything special, but man did the Hardy Boys earn their money tonight. Honestly, if you take away the rough work by Cesaro and Sheamus the work was very average and hurt by the lack of a strong narrative. I have to bump it up for them falling and bleeding and getting beaten up. **1/2

WWE RAW WOMEN’S CHAMPIONSHIP
ALEXA BLISS def. BAYLEY ©

Kelly Harrass: If I’m being perfectly honest, I wasn’t expecting much from this match when it came to the in-ring. Bayley has never connected with me as a wrestler and sometimes Bliss’ wrestling doesn’t match the quality of her character work. That wasn’t a problem for either woman here as they both brought it. Bayley was the hometown girl that was full of fire and all Alexa wanted was to stomp on her hopes and dreams. As the match went on it kept getting better. I loved Bayley’s brutal looking knee strike on Bliss in the closing minutes. Bliss eventually capitalized on Bayley smacking her head on the ring post and picked up the win in perfect heel fashion. At this point, this is my favorite match of the night. ***3/4

Warren Taylor: The ladies worked hard and put together what I think is the better outings of young Alexa Bliss’s career. Bliss was sensational as a heel, mocking the popular champion like only she can. The San Jose crowd was ready to see their hometown hero make a comeback, and she did in trademark Bayley fashion. The only thing that could derail her momentum was a pair of hard shots to the ring post. No human skull can take that for very long, and when Bliss got a clean opening, she used it to drive the champion’s head into the canvas with a DDT to become the first woman to hold both the Smackdown and Raw Women’s Championship. Bliss came off looking credible here, which is important. She didn’t need to cheat to win the title, she used her ring smarts and took used her opportunities wisely when they presented themselves. A lot of that credit goes to Bayley and the road agent who helped the two construct the match. Bayley sold well, and the bout was laid out in a way that hid Bliss’s shortcomings in the ring. ***1/2

Drew Wardlaw: Up to this point, I haven’t seen Bayley have a high profile match where she’s having to carry the majority of the match, so I was very curious to see how she would perform in this spot. Alexa’s great character work was really helped out by Bayley’s connection with the crowd and her underdog babyface charisma. Alexa was able to do simple, effective offense like stomps, hair pulling, and standing on her back “like Tony Hawk” while in control. A great example of playing to a wrestler’s strength. Meanwhile, Bayley’s selling helped propel the match forward and kept it interesting. This wasn’t a carry job though, because Alexa was very good, and some of the reversals late in the match looked pretty smooth and natural, which isn’t one of her strong points. I’d say this was her best match up to this point in her career, and she looked like she could hang with the rest of the division. The result shouldn’t have been in doubt, since we know that WWE loves to beat wrestlers in their hometown, but the finish came out of nowhere a bit and surprised me. A bit longer and a bit more fleshed out during the finish and this would have been great. As it is, it still rocked. ***3/4





SETH ROLLINS def. SAMOA JOE

Kelly Harrass: So this match took place immediately after the first section of the House of Horrors match and I don’t think that I’ve ever been so unenthused about watching wrestling. Joe and Rollins had to try their best to get the crowd back and I think they eventually succeeded. How long are we going to get matches worked around Seth’s bad knee? It’s becoming boring. Maybe it wasn’t boring and I just couldn’t give a shit about this match because of Wyatt’s nonsense? I feel bad for these guys. Once I got into it, I liked the match. Joe looked like a killer and the ending kept him looking strong. ***

Warren Taylor: I saw a tweet during this match that stated that seeing Samoa Joe in 2017 verses seeing him in his prime in ROH is sad. Trust me, that sentiment is dead wrong. Joe in his prime was a phenomenal, but Joe now is a seasoned worker who pulled the knee injury narrative out of Seth Rollins that Triple H could only dream of putting on. The methodical way Joe worked over the injured leg might not have been the best choice after the abortion of the House of Horrors part one, but it was the right call in my book. Seth Rollins did his best Zach Gowan impression when he climbed the turnbuckle late in the contest, which gave me a chuckle; still, that was awesome selling from Seth, who notoriously struggles with it going back to his ROH days. The finish where Rollins fooled Joe into complacency when he had the Kingslayer in the choke made the former champion look smart, and the fireman’s carry into the pin was gorgeous to boot. ***3/4

Drew Wardlaw: There was a good built in story here of course, with Samoa Joe being the one who injured Rollins’ leg, and the match played out accordingly. I thought Joe was great here, I really enjoyed the slow, monstrous pace he worked at, with some fast-paced spots and dives worked in as well. I don’t find Seth Rollins particularly compelling as a babyface, but he sold really well throughout the match. They were in an unfortunate position of having to follow the horror thing, but they worked hard to get the crowd back and succeeded by the end. I thought the first pin attempt out of the submission looked incredible, and I’m glad they went back to that for the finish, which doesn’t make Joe look weak at all, and makes Seth look resourceful. The match felt kind of one note though, with Rollins’ comeback lacking heat, and never really geared up. ***

HOUSE OF HORRORS MATCH
BRAY WYATT def. RANDY ORTON

Kelly Harrass: The first chunk of the match was done in the style of the Final Deletion and boy was it fucking stupid. I love a good bit of foolishness in my wrestling, but this was bad. Perhaps the worst part of this is that the TNA version was much better from both a content and a production standpoint. The camera work was absolute trash and both men seemed gassed after a rather boring fight. I was fully prepared to shower praise on this, but it wasn’t even fun bad. *several minutes pass* When Wyatt shows up in the arena he’s still gassed and takes what feels like ten minutes to walk to the ring. This gives Randy the chance to run to the arena and sneak up on Wyatt. Shit gets worse from there and we don’t even get a clean finish. The Bollywood Boyz and Jinder attack Randy, allowing Bray to win the match. Look, if you like Bray Wyatt at this point, you’re fucking stupid and none of your opinions should be trusted. This match got me so mad that I’m insulting our readers. He didn’t even summon a ghost to fight Randy so this whole thing was bullshit. WWE thinks we’re all morons. A BIG FUCKING DUD

Warren Taylor: Bray Wyatt couldn’t even come up with a good haunted house. The entire thing looked like a half-assed concoction a fraternity on double secret probation would put on during Halloween. C’mon they could have at least pulled out something fun, like Orton walking down a lonely gravel path or Bray waiting for him on the front porch in a rocking chair. Hell, if they were just going to punch their way around the house, it could have rivaled the great white trash brawls from COPS. Instead, the taped portion of the match fell flatter than the topography Oklahoma. The live portion, complete with interference from Jinder Mahal & Friends, was lazy and not the least bit compelling. If this doesn’t win Worst Match of the Year in the Observer, then I shudder to think of the abomination that top it. Wet, Hot Fart of a DUD.

Drew Wardlaw:  I had this big long thing written out with a bunch of stuff I thought was pretty funny, but it’s kinda not worth it. I was legit stoked for this and of course I was let down. I only blame myself here.
Bray arrived backstage in a limousine completely out of breath after taking a 20 minute car ride, and that got a decent chuckle out of me.  In a bit of “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander” Randy appeared behind Bray after Bray’s entrance, followed by some casual brawling.  The Bollywood Boyz showed up and attacked Randy, then Jinder appeared with the belt and attacked Randy as well. Bray won the match, but boy did he lose the war with the people. A completely dead crowd, not funny or scary or creative or cool, just reeeeeal boring and totally forgettable.  I don’t think I can give this a rating.





BRAUN STROWMAN def. ROMAN REIGNS

Kelly Harrass: I am shocked that Roman didn’t overcome these odds. I shouldn’t be so amazed that WWE actually made a correct booking choice, but here we are. Braun is hot right now and they’re right to go with him as the guy. Roman might be the long term plan, but Braun is the right person to put out front at this moment. The loud “Thank you Strowman” chants as Roman coughs up blood in the ring show that Roman should probably take a step back to this monster. This match deservedly went on last, giving us a high point to go out on after the House of Trash match. Roman was destroyed, but he still looked credible putting up a good fight. His injuries and Braun’s power were just too much for him. If you like a good hoss fight, you’ll enjoy this match like I did. Fantastic main event! ****

Warren Taylor: The main event of Roman Reigns opposite of Braun Stroman catered to the strengths of both men when they are at their peak as performers. Roman marched right down to the ring and popped Stroman in the face before the bell rang. Reigns, in a performance like the one against Brock Lesnar at WM 31, had to pick his spots. He used his speed to sucker Stroman into running into the barricades and ring posts, and then he struck with high-impact blows. Braun just bulldozed his way over Vince McMahon’s prized bull the entire contest. I especially enjoyed when he applied his standing choke right before the first running power slam. It showed that there are some brains to back up the burly mountain of a man. Reigns whisper of a kick out before the final blow was perfect. Even in a last gesture of defiance, the Big Dog came across as a mere puppy. A fantastic story, smart layout, and correct booking make this an easy choice for my match of the night. ****

Drew Wardlaw:  This felt like classic WWE booking here.  Two big men trading huge looking power moves, the babyface getting a beatdown and coming back, and some big nearfalls.  Roman had taped up ribs, and even though he wasn’t at 100%, still looked strong and put up a good fight.  In the end, though, Stroman, picks up the clean win.  Again, traditional WWE booking would dictate that the big heel Stroman is built up for the top babyface to eventually defeat.  The twist here, of course, is that Braun is red hot right now, and was getting thunderous “thank you Stroman” chants as Reigns was spitting up fake blood in the post-match beatdown.  Going forward, it will be interesting to see how they handle Stroman, since he’s not an undersized indie darling, but rather a WWE Homegrown with enormous size and a great look.  I’m not expecting a huge directional shift in booking plans, but it at least adds an interesting element to their feud going forward.  ***3/4