I can’t believe that we’re only days away from Payback. As in, I literally can’t believe that WWE has officially hit the “weekly PPV” mark. I, for one, can’t wait to see all the build for this completed in a single episode.
We recap what happened literally days ago at SummerSlam on the Universal Championship scene, which was a godawful match and an admittedly awesome return from Roman Reigns. I’d love for him to keep the levels of aggression and intensity that he showed then, but I’ve learned the bitter lesson that WWE prefers the scripted, cheerful Roman Reigns, the less compelling, the better.
Backstage, some Adam Pierce is telling some security dudes that Wyatt, Roman, and Braun are all here, along with Vince McMahon and, probably, Retribution, so look sharp. One of the security guards says, and I quote: “Let’s get ’em, boys”, so it’s nice to see that WWE employs its security directly from campy mob movies.
Adam Pierce then enters Vince’s office, telling him that they’re all ready. Vince, who seems unimpressed by Pierce’s general demeanour, sends him out to get Roman, the Fiend, and Braun Strowman to sign contracts for the Payback title match. I’m definitely up for backstage shenanigans, and especially if they involve legal documentation, but surely they’d have had to get the Fiend to sign a contract for his previous World/Universal Championship matches? So, why is this being treated like it’s a death sentence?
In retrospect, this is not one of AJ Styles’ good nights
Here’s Jeff Hardy, who is the new Intercontinental Championship. Yeah: I was getting sick of AJ Styles having high-quality matches with people like Riddle, Gulak, and Metalik on a weekly basis. It’s time to put the worker’s belt on the guy who can’t go like he used to and who is also selling a leg injury.
Jeff grabs a microphone and says that he’s super happy to be the new Champion, and he’s here to defend the title. AJ Style’s music hits, and if we’re really just tossing the belt back to Styles, then I can live with that.
Styles runs Jeff down for walloping him with a brace last week. He calls Hardy a cheat, which receives boos even though it’s completely accurate. AJ claims that Jeff’s leg brace is an “illegal object” that he shouldn’t have been able to use in a match. Are we trying to erase the proud legacy of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s legwear?
The former Champion is apparently not cleared to wrestle tonight, but Hardy is still issuing an open challenge match to anyone who wants some. Hey: if I still get an open challenge match most weeks, I can live with this scenario. Styles gets in Hardy’s face, and Jeff decks him. That Hardy’s a real stand-up guy.
Don’t tease me with Shinsuke Two-Belts Nakamura
Post-break, Shinsuke Nakamura is just in the ring, ready to go. I challenge you to find a more going-through-the-motions manner of making a match. Styles is on commentary, which I assume will have no bearing on the result of this match whatsoever.
Shinsuke tries to work the arm of Jeff to start off, which is a great strategy when your opponent has an injured leg. Hardy’s selling the knee injury, but he manages to score some big moves before Nakamura kicks the limb out from under Jeff, taking firm control. We get a clip from Cesaro, who’s apparently a little steamed that Shinsuke literally sprinted off to get a title shot. Are…are we going to get a series of matches between Cesaro and Nakamura? Because I would kill to get that.
Jeff manages to rally once again, knocking Nakamura out of the ring before tossing him into Styles. There’s a commercial break before we see any fallout, and when we return, Jeff is still trying to fight an uphill battle against Shinsuke. He finally manages to fell Nakamura with a Whisper in the Wind, but Shinsuke catches him right afterwards with a sliding German suplex and a flying knee.
A Kinshasa misses its mark, and a Twist of Fate is countered. A second Twist of Fate does connect, and a Swanton Bomb finishes the match.
This was fine, though I genuinely do not get the hype for Jeff Hardy. 2.5 Stars.
Oh damn, Sami Zayn’s music hits. He has got his own Intercontinental Championship, meaning he either refused to give his own back or this one’s from WWE shop dot com. The question is, does he have any of his moves back? He taunts Jeff by claiming to be the only Champions, then blasts him with a Helluva Kick.
AJ approaches the fallen Hardy but then backs away as Jeff rises.
Backstage, Zayn is approached by Kayla for comment. He simply claims that he’s the Champion, that he’s undefeated, and that nothing has changed. Kayla asks why he’s not defended the title over the past five months, so I guess WWE has already forgotten about the pandemic that’s still killing hundreds of people in the US alone every day.
I genuinely want to know how people find the Fun House
It’s Firefly Fun House time. Bray is in fine spirits now that he has his Championship back, but he’s interrupted by a doorbell being rung. Adam Pierce, who’s been forced to dress as a postman, is here to get Bray’s signature on the contract. Wyatt claims that he can’t be the one to sign it, meaning that he’s pretending that he and the Fiend are two separate individuals and is probably trying to get double wages on account of that fact.
Bray acts as though he’s going to skin Adam Pierce alive for a hot second, but then signs the contract and lets him go. Mustn’t have wanted to get a fine.
Matt Riddle should not be scripted
We have a quick look at Corbin and Matt Riddle’s rivalry. I’ve never rated Corbin’s fairly petty brand of villainy, but I have to credit him with being a great complementary villain for almost any face. Personality-wise, he seems to gel with anyone.
Matt Riddle makes his way to the ring, grabbing a microphone and accusing Corbin of being afraid of him. He challenges the King to prove him wrong, then we cut to a commercial break out of nowhere. When we come back, Riddle’s still in the ring. That’s awkward.
Corbin finally answers the challenge, arriving with his robes and sceptre. This is, however, a distraction so that Chad Gable can attack the Original Bro. This turns into a match between Shorty G and Riddle, which I can definitely live with.
Gable starts off aggressively, working the leg and hitting some hard strikes, culminating in a bridging German suplex. He almost scores the win with the Chaos Theory, but Riddle flips right out of it, hitting the Bro Derek to put Gable away.
Uh, yeah, I think there are about ten minutes of this match missing? 1 Star.
Corbin does not look impressed. I guess he knows that we got robbed of a great match too. He tries to attack Riddle, but the two come to an impasse after a brief exchange. The one casualty? Chad Gable’s credibility.
In the meantime, it looks like Big E and the Miz are having some personal issues, and Sheamus is still dressing like he’s just seen the movie Snatch. The upside is, we get Big E and Heavy Machinery vs Sheamus, Miz, and Morrison.
Backstage, Big E and Heavy Machinery are having a literal sausage party (don’t ask) before they’re interrupted by Bayley and Banks. Bayley tells Big E that some people can only handle Tag Team Championships. What does she mean by “some people”? Sasha looks a little irritated by this, but she says nothing.
Backstage, Adam Pierce is banging on Roman’s door, but he won’t come out. See, if there’d been 4-5 weeks between PPVs, there’d not be all this rush to get the contract signed.
Also, King Corbin runs into Kayla Braxton, promising to face Matt Riddle at Payback. Actually, he promises several things, and they’re all deeply unsettling, but the crib notes version is that he’s going to beat Riddle this Sunday.
Nia Jax matches give me a whole new form of tension
Banks and Bayley are in the house. Bayley starts by saying how difficult this week’s been for them before swinging right back into bragging. We see the cracks begin to form between the duo, as Bayley negs Sasha for her inability to defend a RAW Championship before trying to change direction and keep the friendship going. Honestly, Bayley trying to desperately talk Sasha back onside is giving me anxiety from a deeply personal place.
Sasha finally says that she agrees with Bayley, reaffirming their friendship and her commitment to
Sparkle Motion their Tag Team Championship reign.
This is, however, interrupted by Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler, who are on the big screen. They do the whole “wacky tag team partners who hate each other” shtick, but Banks resiliently throws it back at them, promising once again that she and Bayley will retain the titles.
Man, I wonder who Nia Jax is going to irresponsibly injure this time.
Meanwhile, Adam Pierce’s wild journey continues as he searches for Braun Strowman and Roman Reigns. He does find Drew Gulak, who is neither of those men, but who does want to kill Braun Strowman for their little incident last week.
Drew spots Braun in another part of the backstage area, grabbing a chair and walloping him with it…to no effect. Gulak tosses the chair to Pierce and hightails it, leaving the contract delivery man to face a very angry-looking Strowman.
To give Pierce credit, he immediately snitches on Gulak and politely requests that Strowman signs the contract. In return, Strowman makes him an offer: allow him to rip Gulak in two on live television tonight, and he’ll sign. He also tells Pierce that he’d better find Reigns before Strowman does, because what Adam Pierce really needed in this scenario was a deadline. Pierce makes the match, because fuck Drew Gulak for trying to get him murdered back there.
Elsewhere backstage, Cesaro and Nakamura are having a quiet discussion before Sami Zayn shows up, full of glee. Shinsuke is a little annoyed, having heard nothing from Zayn for four months, and the idea that Shinsuke Nakamura gets upset because his friends don’t call him is, weirdly, not one that I’ve ever entertained.
Like Bayley, Sami tries to get things back on track, but Cesaro and Shinsuke aren’t having it. Cesaro establishes some healthy boundaries straight off, leaving Zayn to slink away.
This was so one-sided, it was legally child abuse
Oh boy: human sacrifice time. Drew Gulak is already in the ring, which should save us a lot of time, and Braun marches down after him.
Strowman hurls Gulak across the ring before…basically just mauling him. Gulak offers zero resistance, and it’s amazing. I love AJ Styles’ open challenge matches, I’ve loved Randy Orton’s recent work, and I’m hugely excited for next week’s four-man Iron Man match, but there’ll always be a place in my heart for a giant, violent man murdering a smaller man.
Strowman wins because of course he does.
I unrepentantly enjoyed this. Give me this Strowman, Sunday’s Roman Reigns, and the Fiend at his creepy worst, and I am all-in on this Universal Championship match. Allot these guys twenty-plus minutes and just let them murder each other. 2 Stars.
Backstage, Kalisto heads off for his match, and Cesaro and Nakamura jump Dorado and Metalik. What a couple of goofs.
Lucha House Party needed Lars Sullivan to hold it together
It’s Kalisto vs Cesaro, so it’s time to see what this new, jacked Kalisto is capable of. The bell rings, and Cesaro opens with a bodyslam like the fucking pimp he is. Kalisto manages to bamboozle him with his luchador offence for a while, but the Swissman suddenly catches him a backbreaker, halting his offence cold.
Kalisto still fights back, trying for some roll-ups, but Cesaro bulls through his offence, remaining in control. Suddenly, Kalisto catches him with a DDT, then hits the spike-a-rana for a near-fall. Cesaro counters the Salida Del Sol, but the sudden appearance of Metalik and Dorado, who throw themselves onto Nakamura, distracts Kalisto. Cesaro rolls him up, picking up the win.
Interesting way to play this, considering Kalisto’s return. But hey: I’ll stick around for a luchador feud. 2.5 Stars.
Adam Pierce checks in with Vince to tell him that he’s got Bray and Braun’s signatures, but Roman is being an elusive little scamp. Surely that works against Roman’s best interests, as I imagine the contract goes some way to making any transfer of the Championship officially recognised.
McMahon tells Pierce that he’d better kick the door down and get the contract signed if he knows what’s good for him. I think Vince has been running this company for too long.
Backstage, Alexa Bliss has allegedly recovered from her weird experience with Bray and Braun, but she’s started wearing her hair like the old Alexa Bliss. Oh no: I’m not ready emotionally for the end of this friendship. I don’t think I’ll ever be ready.
Nikki says that the new hairstyle reminds her of the Fiend, which causes Alexa to bluescreen for a second. She then suddenly snaps at Cross, shattering the coffee mug she gave Nikki and storming off.
That was not pleasant to watch.
Elsewhere, the Miz, Morrison, and Sheamus are trying to come up with their strategy for the match, which is to keep all three of their opponents from becoming the legal man. Outstanding stuff from all involved.
And it looks like Adam Pierce has finally mustered the courage to enter Roman Reigns’ domain. Roman appears, looking like he’s in a bit of a mood, but he doesn’t immediately hump Pierce into weeping submission, which has got to qualify as a win for Pierce.
Sheamus isn’t here to get lightly jostled
It’s time for a six-man tag match, and Big E and Heavy Machinery make their way to the ring, followed by Sheamus, the Miz, and Morrison.
Otis kicks off the match against Morrison, more or less letting the smaller man bounce off him. The faces work Jon over with frequent tags, and Tucker is able to show off his strength and athleticism until Sheamus takes out his leg with a cheap shot. Both the Miz and Morrison try to make Tucker your face in peril, managing to knock him out of the ring. Tucker fights on, taking out both Sheamus and the Miz on the outside before clotheslining Morrison, but Sheamus causes a distraction by ringing the ring bell. That’s a weird spot.
After a commercial, Tucker is still in trouble, kept far away from his corner with the Miz and Morrison keeping him grounded. Sheamus has not yet entered the match, apparently content to shout instructions from the apron. Tucker absorbs yet more punishment, but there’s a moment of miscommunication when a tag to Sheamus is not seen, followed by Tucker shoving Morrison into the Irishman, knocking him off the apron.
Sheamus is not a fan of this sort of thing, storming back up the ramp and away from the match. Tucker manages to tag out to Big E, who starts handing out belly-to-bellies like he’s got a surplus. The Miz eats a ura-nage, then Jon Morrison is slammed by Otis. Mr Money in the Bank tries to hit the Caterpillar, but Miz dodges out of the way, hitting the Skull-Crushing Finale to Otis. Big E then gets him up for the Big Ending, hitting the move to pick up the win.
This was a good match with plenty to watch for. I really do hope that Tucker isn’t lost in the shuffle, because he’s too talented to disregard. 2.5 Stars.
Okay, so Roman is still reading the contract in his locker room. I’ve never seen this level of legal scrutiny applied to any WWE contract. Still, at least he seems willing to be a part of the match.
Then the camera pans to the right…revealing Paul Heyman. Fuck me sideways, I wouldn’t ever have called that. What the actual fuck is going on? Am I even awake?
Tags: AJ Styles, Alexa Bliss, bayley, Big E, Big E and Heavy Machinery, Braun Strowman, Bray Wyatt, Cesaro, Chad Gable, Drew Gulak, Drew Gulak vs Braun Strowman, Heavy Machinery, Intercontinental Championship, Jeff Hardy, Jeff Hardy vs Shinsuke Nakamura, Jon Morrison, Kalisto, Kalisto vs Cesaro, King Corbin, Lucha House Party, Matt Riddle, Matt Riddle vs Chad Gable, Miz and Morrison, Nikki Cross, paul heyman, Roman Reigns, sami zayn, sasha banks, Sheamus, shinsuke nakamura, Shorty G, Six-man tag, smackdown, The Fiend, The Miz, VInce McMahon, WWE