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Payback 2023 recap & reactions: Judgment night

New tag team champs, an Uso switches sides, and Trish Stratus gets her wish at this year’s Payback.

Payback II

A little peek behind the curtain: I held off writing this because I fully expected Damian Priest and that briefcase after the main event. But more on that later.

Rhea Ripley promised changes if Damian & Finn Balor left Pittsburgh empty handed. Did anyone doubt her? I know I didn’t and judging by their performances, neither did Finn & Damian.

The Steel City Street Fight had something for everyone. The violence, of course, but also a couple Pittsburgh references. Finn found terrible towels under the ring and promptly stepped on them. Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens got tossed in a proverbial penalty box and came out wearing Penguins jerseys, gloves, and holding hockey sticks. If image alone doesn’t tell you this match cooked, I don’t know what else to say.

The match fit Payback’s running theme: violence. WWE put on a very physical show that lived up to its namesake. This match, like most others on the card, fit firmly under the “blood feud” umbrella, and the wrestlers met that criteria. KO even bled! Not as much as Jon Moxley, but who amongst us can?

But I’m lumping this match in with Judgment Day’s night overall because it, along with Rhea’s title defense against Raquel Rodriguez, felt similar. Besides the aforementioned physicality, they both hinged on crew love.

At a certain point during the street fight, Dirty Dom showed his face. And he did it perfectly within the rules. His mere presence shifted the tag champs’ attention, which no doubt gave the challengers an advantage. That edge—pun intended—got even wider when JD McDonagh, once again, helped out Finn’s group. JD broke up a no doubt pin fall and kept the challengers in the game. So KO & Sami, already facing three men, found themselves dealing with a fourth. While they dispatched JD pretty easily, the next person shoving their weight into this match proved more vexing: Rhea.

Rhea, out of nowhere, speared KO into the barricade. That left Rhea, Finn, & Damian, while Dom licked his wounds caused from KO & Sami doing the hockey fight thing on his poor bones. Everything illustrated the advantage Judgment Day has going into every match; it truly is Judgment Day vs. the world. Even when someone thinks they have them beaten, like Sami & KO did at a couple points, the other members cause trouble and change the equation.

I dig that. I know history says that bickering groups get their expiration date, but it’s different with these cats. Not saying they won’t break up one day. I’m not even saying they won’t break up next week. I just see a group that truly functions like a family. They bicker and disagree, but they hold each other down when the chips get lower than sea level. For the tag match, Dom resurrected from the dead and saved his boys, ironically, with that green briefcase. The thing that caused so much strife in the group ended up propelling them to tag team gold! That’s fine storytelling.

Dom showed out again during Rhea’s championship match. Like I alluded to, Rhea & Raquel got incredibly physical. I’m not sure how it happened but Rhea’s nose started bleeding and rather than just wipe her nose, she blew the snot onto Raquel. Then she wiped her nose. Disgusting but also perfectly done.

Raquel put up a good fight, which goes a long way considering Rhea’s recent title matches. She beat the hell out of the champ, took her best shots, and did most of it on one leg.

But guess who showed up? Dirty Dominik one more time. He didn’t put hands on Raquel but he distracted her long enough for his mami to make a comeback. Raquel took a Rip Tide and then took a three-count. And all thanks to Dom.

Judgment Day owns a lot of gold. I figured with Seth’s back injury, the potentially grueling match with Shinsuke Nakamura, combined with the fact the group has domination on their mind, made a cash-in a no-brainer. If anything, Damian looks silly for not doing it. A hurt champion fights a physical match with an opponent who dissected him and hurt him even more. How can anyone not take advantage?

But maybe that’s the lingering thing; the straw that might finally break the Judgment Day’s back. With all that gold and Damian still holding that briefcase, perhaps going for that title or possibly sacrificing the tag championships for the gold around Seth’s waist finally makes him a solo act.

Payback’s story wasn’t about Judgment Day breaking up like I figured. It actually revolved around them growing even stronger but with one belt notably absent from their Thanos-like collection.

When will that other shoe drop? Stay tuned, Cagesiders. Same WWE time, same WWE channel. Well, it’s not WWE’s channel but you get the point.


Revenge is Sweet

Couple things here.

First off, this match delivered like an 80 lb. baby. I came in with zero expectations based on everything beforehand but they set the bar high for the rest of the event. Geno mentioned that Trish did stuff here in her late 40s that she didn’t do in her 20s. That’s commendable for so many reasons and truly shows her capability. On the real, I feel like this whole program robbed us of more from Trish. She showed more than her previous comeback matches allowed, but also raised her game for what fans expect from this new generation. That in itself is a hell of a story.

They even found an organic way for including Zoey Stark. Zoey came to Trish’s aid, tried pulling her out of the cage, slammed the door on Becky’s face, and then jumped into the match.

Becky looked strong taking on two competitors while teasing future run-ins with Zoey down the line. Even with Zoey’s physicality, Becky defeated Trish with a Manhandle Slam from the top rope. She celebrated while Trish & Zoey ended their journey and went their separate ways. Trish swung on Zoey, possibly for not helping her enough. Zoey reacted like any wrestler and struck back. Zoey left Trish lying in the middle of the ring after a Z-360.

Great match, logical conclusion, and perfect ending. The one criticism? I don’t know why they didn’t do this at SummerSlam.

And in case we don’t see her again: thank you, Trish.

X is Coming

LA Knight vs. Miz went longer than I expected. But the longer it went, the more I realized the necessity. This was more than a match for LA; this match sets the tone for the rest of his journey. Dismissing Miz easily negates that journey and goes against LA’s narrative. He scratched and clawed for everything. As corny as that sounds, it’s true. So with that in mind, why would this match with Miz go the easy route? Especially when LA expressed that he can’t ascend without beating the A-Lister.

Miz didn’t make it easy. Even with John Cena handling ref duties, Miz kept his composure and focused on his opponent. These two got physical, which I always love. It’s easy forgetting because of the jokes and silliness that Miz has quite the nasty streak. That works with someone like LA, who thrives in fights, while also feeding the overall narrative. I particularly liked LA repeatedly slamming Miz’s head into the commentary table while the crowd chanted “yeah.” Even loved LA jumping off the barricade, if only because it showed how much he needed the W.

Of course he got it because, duh. and he even got into a few moments with John that Pittsburgh loved. There’s something there between these two if WWE ever feels the urge. Or if Hollywood goes on another strike and John needs the money.

After Miz took the BFT and the 1-2-3, John and LA got another standoff. LA came at John for almost costing him the match while John ripped off his shirt and teased some beef between the two. Instead, he extended his hand to show some respect, and LA begrudgingly accepted. John even raised his hand. So we’ll see what happens between these two.

Solid match with an ending that teased something much bigger.

Thowy’s Revenge

Rey Mysterio defeated Austin Theory.

Yup, that’s all I got. Just not interested in the match because Austin does nothing for me. For those interested, they wrestled a crisp, sound match. But yeah. Let’s move on with our lives.

J.D’s Revenge

Well look who’s back.

Jey Uso, fresh off his two week hiatus, returned as the newest Raw wrestler. Yup, the Main Event moves from Fridays to Mondays. Makes perfect sense. This keeps him away from Roman, Jimmy, and all of that, while truly letting his solo career fly. No pun intended.

The solo version of “Day One Ish” made me chuckle if only because those lyrics are so on the nose and so weird. But I digress.

Cody Rhodes sat down for the Grayson Waller Effect and, thankfully, Grayson cut Cody off before he asked Pittsburgh what they wanted to talk about. Thank. God.

But Cody and Grayson barely got any sparring in before Cody announced Jey’s return and move to Mondays. Cody exited, Pittsburgh greeted Jey like Jesus riding into Jerusalem, and then he kicked Grayson’s teeth down his throat on principle.

Great visual of the crowd getting hype with Jey. You can watch it above.

Payback is a Grandmother

Another physical beatdown. Shinsuke & Finn put on a clinic that also functioned as the fight Shinsuke promised. They slowly worked Seth’s back into the match. It hindered his offense and put him on defense more than usual. I liked Shinsuke not going for it immediately but slowly building anticipation and messing with the champ.

They told a story about resilience. Seth eventually overcame everything Shinsuke threw at him and the fact that his body barely had anything left. But the question, and I alluded to this in my predictions, is how long can Seth keep this up? He put on a good match here but when does it end?

Great show. They started hot, kept that momentum going towards the middle, but slowly petered out towards the end. But it’s not the latter half’s fault that the first half killed it. Payback, a show I figured might simply pass the time, ended up entertaining me thoroughly for three hours.

What say you, Cagesiders?

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