WWE returned to pay-per-view (PPV) -- WWE Network for most of us -- last night (Sun., June 1, 2014) with its Payback event at the Allstate Arena in Chicago, Illinois, featuring an incredibly fun show that might have actually been the best of the year so far.
Catch up on full results and the live blog by clicking here. Let's get right to reacting to all the night's events.
What did the five fingers say to the face?
Mick Foley was right ... Brie Bella definitely needed to slap Stephanie McMahon in the face. And when she did, it was oh so satisfying. Maybe the most satisfying slap of the past 10 years, and maybe even more than that.
They played all angles perfectly here. Daniel Bryan was never giving up his WWE world heavyweight title, that much has become clear, but to create the doubt with a story like this that also accounts for Total Divas -- silly as that may be -- is impressive. And it's given Stephanie the chance to do what she does best, which is slowly become her father but with better facial expressions.
And did you hear the way she handled the CM Punk chants, odd and out of place as they were? "See, they want you to quit like CM Punk did."
Contrary to what many are saying, I thought Brie was great here too, though mostly because she was written well (I will concede the delivery was bad when she said "I quit"). Stephanie forced a really awful situation but she took charge of it by refusing, as she said, to be a powerless victim, and wresting control back in the only way she could, which was to quit.
I even love that decision because it's Brie coming out and more or less saying that while she knows the entire WWE Universe loves Bryan, none of them love him as much as she does so she made the ultimate sacrifice for him and put a stamp on it by smacking Stephanie hard across the face.
McMahon's reaction was priceless.
This also doesn't resolve the situation and actually only creates more questions, another master stroke of storytelling. There are a million directions this could go and I'm genuinely curious to see the road they choose to travel.
My only knock on this was the lack of a follow up segment with Brie getting arrested backstage. Still, that doesn't take away from what actually happened in the ring.
Segment grade: A+
"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing."
The only problem any wrestling fan could possibly have with this match, to my eyes, is the fact that John Cena defeated Bray Wyatt and said fan is a Wyatt supporter who wanted him to win. That's not a bad way to watch wrestling, by any means, but it's failing to see the forest through the trees.
This was probably the best Last Man Standing match in history, one of the best matches of Cena's entire career, and definitely the best match of Wyatt's career.
The psychology -- my biggest worry going in -- was on point from the get go. As expected, The Usos came out to even the odds before Erick Rowan and Luke Harper could make short work of Cena in a 3-on-1 situation. And all the outside interference that occurred at any point in the match made sense and was handled well (save for that rough spot where one of the Usos was setting up for a dive and clearly saw Harper getting ready to drill him with a table and went for the dive anyone just to give us the spot).
The pacing of the match was perfect, which was one of the biggest problems with the booking of their Extreme Rules affair. It felt like just a matter of minutes before Cena was into his five moves of doom and they were trading finishers.
That didn't take away from the bout either because the action escalated at just the right clip. Each spot was bigger than the last and they're were some seriously sick spots scattered throughout this match. The Usos and Harper & Rowan provided a big assist with multiple "HOLY SHIT" moments of their own, but Cena and Wyatt were still clearly the stars of this show.
When Cena sent the steel steps at Bray on the outside like a missile and Wyatt made it look like he took a real shot to the head? Awesome. When Wyatt speared Cena through the barricade? Awesome. When Cena hit the AA through the crate and kept him down with another? Awesome.
This was brilliantly laid out, and executed even better.
To address the issue of Cena winning a bit further: He was always going to win. He had to win, because good triumphs over evil in the end, and that's the way it should be. Whether or not you like John Cena the character shouldn't change that very basic storytelling.
And that's the real problem. It's not that Cena won, it's that you don't like Cena. I won't tell you you're wrong to feel that way, I'll just implore you to look at every reason this was a great match.
As for where Bray Wyatt goes from here? Who knows. But for those fearing he'll go the route of Damien Sandow, consider the characters and think again. He's going to be around for a long, long time.
Segment grade: A-
I won't ever stop believing (because they won't let me)
I find it funny that so many fans are absolutely ready to swear off WWE because LOLCENAWINS when, later that very same night, The Shield pulled a Cena but more impressively than Cena ever has.
Evolution beat the ever loving shit out of Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose, and Seth Rollins. They started the match with a big brawl, which was cool, then bizarrely decided to just work a regular old six-man despite the stipulation, which was dumb, then broke down into insanity, which was weird, then uncomfortable, then good, then downright amazing.
And it was amazing because the good guys overcame the bad.
When I say "overcame", it can't be undersold. Reigns was put through the announce table. Ambrose was dropped on a chair set up on the floor near the entrance. Rollins was Pedigreed on a chair in the same general area. Then Triple H, Batista, and Randy Orton went back to the ring to work over Reigns some more, which is where it got a little uncomfortable when they stretched him out over steel steps and alternated holding his arms and caning him with kendo sticks.
When they had sufficiently brutalized him, they went back to the ramp to DDT Ambrose on the floor. This was such a thorough beating I was wondering if there was some backstage heat and this was a receipt for it.
Then, SETH ROLLINS, HOLY SHIT HE CAME FLYING OFF THE TITANTRON, HIS IS THE DESTROYER OF WORLDS.
That's what Rollins does, he makes you type in all caps while remembering the crazy shit he did in the match you're recapping. That was the first sign of life from our hounds and slowly but surely, using teamwork and personal perseverance, they battled back and one-by-one eliminated Evolution.
They went from being down to one last breath to a clean sweep.
The best part is what came after the final pinfall. All three Shield members are exhausted, hardly able to move after the beating they took. Reigns slowly crawls over to Rollins, sharing a look of understanding of what they'd just gone through and the absolute love and respect for going through it together.
Reigns reached his hand out and Rollins emphatically grabbed it to pull himself in.
As a man with three brothers who I've always wanted a stronger relationship with, this hit home for me. I appreciate the comradery. The mutual love and respect you gain only from battling through the muck together. The cameras mostly missed it but Reigns crawled over to Ambrose and took his hand as well.
The bond is as unbreakable as the men who share it.
Segment grade: A-
All the best to all the rest:
- Cesaro vs. Sheamus was the hoss fight we never deserved but were most definitely treated to. These two are built for each other and that much became clear last night. I almost wish the main titles were split (blasphemy, I know) so they could feud over the secondary strap instead of the secondary strap (U.S. title) to the secondary strap (Intercontinental title) so the match would feel that much bigger. Still, awesome match.
- Loved that Paul Heyman was called on to handle the CM Punk situation and loved the way he handled it.
- El Torito vs. Hornswoggle could have been a whole hell of a lot worse and, actually, was somewhat fun considering the way it was laid out. Hopefully one day El Torito gets to work a serious match and be taken seriously because he's insanely talented.
- Rhodes Brothers vs. Rybaxel was a well worked match that, surprisingly, made a ton of booking sense despite the fractured nature of the tag team division of late. Rybaxel has been on the rise and they earned a solid victory over a struggling duo currently going through an identity crisis. We also got a great set up for future angles with Cody Rhodes telling Goldust he needs a better partner because Cody just isn't cutting it anymore. That's much better than the previous "I lose and get real mad at you and storm off even though you did nothing wrong here" angle they were working.
- When Big E speared Rusev through the ropes and both guys went crashing through the floor I think I felt the Earth move some 162 miles away. What an awesome spot in a big man match. This was short but sweet with both guys looking good here though Rusev is clearly the guy on the rise. Here's to hoping Big E's plunge doesn't lead to less TV time because he's very good at what he does. He just needs to find himself.
- Maybe the reason Kofi Kingston was destroyed by Kane had something to do with the tweets he sent out and The Authority was sending a message, as our friend Phil Kollar suggested. Either way, it gave us Bo Dallas running away scared and cowering until Kane was done destroying Kofi just so he could climb back in the ring and tell Kingston he can recover if he just Bolieves in himself. The crowd wasn't entirely sure how to react to Bo -- other than the cheap heat shot at the Blackhawks -- but who cares because this was phenomenal.
- The low point of the card was probably Bad News Barrett's win over Rob Van Dam but even then it was a good enough match that certainly didn't take away from the show in any way.
- Paige vs. Alicia Fox was given the death slot, forced to follow John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt (a classic) and precede The Shield vs. Evolution (the main event). Still, they did very well with it and while the crowd wasn't exactly going crazy for them, they never really turned on them either. The lack of a post-match freak out from Fox was disappointing but, you know, time constraints and all that.
This was a really, really good pro wrestling show. From top to bottom, it was fun. All the matches were good to great and the one angle they ran was damn near perfect.
Overall grade: A
That's it from me, Cagesiders. Now it's your turn to sound off in the comments section below with all your thoughts on last night's show. How did you like it, if you liked it at all?