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WWE Payback Stood Out Even In The Shadow Of SummerSlam

When fans first noticed that Payback was scheduled for one week after SummerSlam, some assumed it was a weird pandemic-era scheduling mistake. Why would you plan that? But WWE has their own network, so they can pretty much run shows whenever they want, and it became clear that doing Payback a week after a much bigger show was part of “the deal” with Payback.

As the name implies, Payback is a response to SummerSlam, and to things that happened on TV too late to make it on SummerSlam. I want to say the idea was to do a show with a very different tone, but honestly in the era of COVID-19 and Thunderdome I’m no longer sure what “tone” even means.

In any case, WWE Payback was a show that felt different, even though its three strongest matches were the ones featuring the stars of SummerSlam in slightly rearranged configurations.

The big twist of SummerSlam was the surprise return of Roman Reigns at the end of the main event, when he showed up and wrecked both Braun Strowman and the Fiend Bray Wyatt after they’d already spent considerable time wrecking each other. So naturally the main event of Payback was a triple threat for the same Universal Championship that Wyatt won from Strowman just last week.

What’s more, in the meantime Roman has revealed himself as not just a heel but a Paul Heyman Guy. Unfortunately for this match, part of that gimmick included refusing to sign the contract for this match, since it didn’t meet his and Heyman’s demands. Roman still hadn’t signed when the main event arrived, so once against Strowman and Wyatt came out and wrecked each other for a while. Then Roman came out with Heyman, signed the contract on the ramp, and speared Strowman for an easy pin.

So now Roman Reigns is the heel champion of Smackdown, which is potentially a fun place to be in. It’s just a shame that the match that got us there wasn’t more fun in its own. But that’s the thing about Roman turning heel, right? He’s no longer there to give us a great match, and he doesn’t care if we respect him and his wrestling ability or not. A lot of fans begged for this change in attitude, and now we all have to deal with its consequences.

Another direct follow-up to SummerSlam’s events was the tag team match that saw Rey and Dominik Mysterio going up against Seth Rollins and Buddy Murphy. Dom did a great job last week, and this week he gets to share the ring with his legendary (and possibly soon-to-retire) father. This one’s a great match too, with the skills of the other three men more than making up for Dominik being green. It didn’t even seem like a huge insult to Murphy when Dom pinned him to win the match. It’s possibly that this feud will go to a third match, but honestly at this point it seems like Dominik Mysterio has been given about as much shine as he could possibly hope for to launch his career. Here’s hoping it leads him to great places.

Those who’ve suspected that the breakup of the Golden Role Models is imminent had to feel validated by the Women’s Tag Team Championship Match, in which Bayley and Sasha dropped their titles to the makeshift team of Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler. The storytelling in this match was particularly great, with Nia and Shayna gradually finding their groove as a team and learning to get on the same page, while Sasha and Bayley started to get rattled at the prospect of losing and lost a few steps between them.

Also the finish of this match, in which Shayna used Sasha’s arm to choke out Bayley? Wild. Great stuff. Also, you can already see how this story will play in future Bayley/Sasha arguments. They each had two belts, and then Sasha tapped out to Asuka and lost one. Then it was Bayley who tapped to Shayna and lost Sasha’s other belt, leaving Bayley with the only one. But it was Sasha’s arm against Bayley’s neck that led to that submission. There’s a lot to fight over when that trigger finally gets pulled.

Nia and Shayna have a lot to fight over too, but we don’t know yet whether they’ll implode quickly or go down the Sheamus/Cesaro route of realizing they work well as a team. They probably won’t go down the Alexa Bliss/Nikki Cross route of becoming such good friends they both turn face, but you never know. The Riott Squad defeated the IIconics on the Payback Kickoff Show, so Ruby and Liv are perfectly positioned now to challenge Nia and Shayna, which ought to be a fun feud if they give it space.

Keith Lee defeated Randy Orton, which was the most exciting part of their match. As a whole the match didn’t impress me that much, but it had some great moments, because there are always great moments when Keith Lee’s around. Plus, now that he has a PPV win over Randy Orton (in a more flattering pair of shorts no less), we can stop arguing about whether Vince is burying Keith and instead figure out what exciting thing Keith should do next.

Big E versus Sheamus felt like something we’d seen a lot of before. Even though Big E is just getting going as a singles star, he and Sheamus must of have spent hours in the ring together when the New Day and the Bar were feuding. But again, we can take comfort in the fact that Big E won, as he should have, and that his future looks bright.

Coming third in the “not great, but the right guy won so that’s something” trilogy was Matt Riddle versus King Corbin. This match didn’t really work, and these two performers don’t mesh well together. So again, at least Matt Riddle won and hopefully gets to fight somebody else soon (like a heel Roman Reigns, perhaps?).

The show opened with a United States Championship match in which Apollo dropped the title to Bobby Lashley of the Hurt Business. This was actually a really strong match, with both men demonstrating their physical advantages (being huge and massively strong in Bobby’s case, being strong and fast and agile and good at everything in Apollo’s). It’s a shame that WWE has sometimes seemed to put so much energy into teaching us not to find these guys entertaining, because they actually seem to be working to their strengths now.

So that’s where we are after WWE Payback. Now we have a month until Clash of Champions, which seems like a really long time after three shows in just over a week, but it will be here before we know it.