Coming into Payback, I had little interest in the World Heavyweight Title match between Champion Seth Rollins and Shinsuke Nakamura. No disrespect, but WWE hasn’t presented Nakamura as a championship threat since 2017, and I’ve yet to buy in on WWE’s third world championship, often referring to it as a runner-up trophy.
Well, scratch all that nonsense because Seth Rollins, with Nakamura, just legitimized that title in a match that I have nothing but superlatives for.
From the opening bell, this felt like a true world title affair, with the only things missing were dim lighting and Jim Ross on commentary. Indeed, this was very much a modern presentation of an old-school style. If 1996’s Shawn Michaels had been the NWA World Champion in 1983, you’d have Seth Rollins at 2023’s Payback.
Earlier, I mentioned that I didn’t buy Nakamura as a challenger. However, he looked absolutely treacherous and believable, leaving welts on the champion’s body as he punished Rollins at every turn, especially when The Visionary showed defiance in the face of danger.
The pace was slow and methodical, which made everything these men did more credible. Rollins’ selling in this encounter was among the best performances I’ve seen, as he slowly dragged himself to his feet several times. When caught in a triangle choke, Rollins failed to power out and looked like he was on the verge of passing out before powering up and delivering a sitout powerbomb.
The closing sequence was a beautiful series that ended with Rollins nailing a curb stomp that looked like it might not put the former IWGP Champion down, but it did. That doubt, coupled with the clean finish, was the perfect ending.
In closing, I have to tip my cap to ol’ Shin, who proved he’s still got it; it’s too bad WWE didn’t know what to do with it until now. As for Rollins, I’ve watched him for over a decade and seen him have countless title matches where he came in as a champion. But he never felt more like a world champion than he did tonight. Rollins may not be my Tribal Chief, but he’s definitely my World Champion.
Well, one of them.