CM Punk celebrates his victory over Y2J in Chicago.
By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Sheamus def. Damien Sandow in the Payback Kick-off Match
This was easily the most entertaining pre-show match we've had in a long time. Sandow's attacks on Sheamus over the last two weeks combined with his pleasantly surprising amount of offense in this match didn't make his loss feel like a major letdown, but I still would have loved to see Sandow pick up the upset victory. Nonetheless, Sheamus' victory was predictable from the moment this feud started, so no need to complain about that. This wasn't the most worthwhile pre-show ever, but it was a significant improvement over what we've received from past pay-per-views.
Curtis Axel w/Paul Heyman def. Wade Barrett and The Miz in a Triple Threat to Win the Intercontinental Championship
The first few minutes of this bout weren't all that great, but the competitors really picked up the pace down the stretch. The live crowd was buying into the near-falls and enjoyed the action as a whole. The finish with Axel pinning Barrett while he was enduring the Figure Four leg lock was pure brilliance. It was quite clever and gives Axel a clean victory under his (championship) belt. Having Axel win the title his father Mr. Perfect made famous on Father's Day was the best booking one could ask for. This was a great way to kick off the main card and the Chicago crowd ate it up.
AJ Lee def. Kaitlyn to win the Divas Championship
After Taryn Terrell and Gail Kim provided one of the best women's wrestling matches in recent history at TNA Slammiversary earlier this month, I guess WWE felt the need to reignite their Divas division as well. I've heard from a number of sources that these two haven't had the best of matches in the past, which is hard to believe after the excellent performance they put together last night. Both lovely ladies put forth a strong effort in what was the best Divas match I've seen in years. Kaitlyn ignoring the pin-fall and blowing a kiss to AJ instead was spectacular story-telling and furthered the angle of Kaitlyn's apparent insanity. The fact this match received nearly 10 minutes of in-ring action was a nice touch and ensured that nothing was rushed. I was hoping to see AJ capture her first Divas title in her home state at WrestleMania 29, but it's better late than never. She definitely deserves this honor.
United States Champion Dean Ambrose def. Kane by Count-out
They had a better match than they did on Monday's Raw, but it was nothing to write home about. If anything, this bout was the low light of the show. That sounds worse than it actually is, but this contest simply didn't provide the same excitement as other matches on the card. They worked hard, but to no avail. The count-out finish was weak as well. Why couldn't Ambrose pick up the clean victory? However, I'm glad to see Ambrose retain the title, as it's too early in his reign to be dropping the strap.
Alberto Del Rio w/Ricardo Rodriguez def. Dolph Ziggler w/AJ Lee and Big E Langston to Win the World Heavyweight Championship
We've seen these two collide in singles action one too many times over the last few months, so this particular match wasn't anything out of the ordinary. It was fun while it lasted, but the finish overshadowed everything else. At first, I questioned the move of putting the belt back on Del Rio, especially since Ziggler has been champion for a mere two months. However, it appears that this was WWE's way of executing a double turn with Ziggler and Del Rio. That still remains to be seen and we'll find out more in coming weeks, but it's the only explanation. Regardless, I'm intrigued by this angle and I anticipate what develops in this feud going forward.
CM Punk w/Paul Heyman def. Chris Jericho
As expected, CM Punk and Chris Jericho had yet another extraordinary match on Sunday night. I initially expected Punk to no-show the pay-per-view, so I was ecstatic to see the Voice of the Voiceless actually appear and receive a deafening reaction from the Chicago crowd. His new look was a nice change of pace, but I'm just as happy that he didn't end up changing his awesome entrance music. The in-ring action was extremely entertaining with each of the near-falls being very suspenseful. After the double turn from Del Rio and Ziggler earlier in the evening, I was glad that this match ended in decisive fashion without a screwy finish. It's hard to tell whether Punk will be a fan favorite going forward or if this will be just a one-off thing, but telling Heyman that they were "just friends" in a backstage segment indicates that WWE plans on teasing tension between the two.
WWE Tag Team Champions Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns def. Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton
This wasn't the excellent effort we've been accustomed to seeing from Bryan as of late, but it was still a solid outing from everyone involved. It felt like it could have needed a bit more time in order to be more memorable, but I understand that a few minutes were shaved off the bout due to time constraints. The main focus of this contest was the apparent dissension between Bryan and Orton. Turning Orton here would have been ill-timed given the double turn earlier on, so it's nice to see that they're gradually building towards that big moment. The Shield are still the WWE Tag Team Champions and all is right in the division at the moment.
WWE Champion John Cena def. Ryback in a Three Stages of Hell Match
Once again, John Cena and Ryback proved me wrong and produced a quality contest. It was by no means fantastic and didn't outdo the rest of the card (not even close), but it exceeded expectations. Cena's dive off the top rope and into the lumberjacks at ringside was impressive and Ryback's clean pin-fall over Cena was a pleasant surprise. Everyone knew that Cena was coming out on top, so at least an effort was made to make Ryback look strong in defeat. The Attitude Adjustment through the top rope of the ambulance was way too cheesy and unrealistic, but I guess fans shouldn't expect anything less from Cena. Although the match was enjoyable at times, it was a lackluster way of closing a rather hot show. Why couldn't Punk vs. Jericho have headlined the event?
Aside from the flat main event, this was a very strong show. The first two hours were much more exciting than the final hour, but the final hour wasn't bad enough that it ruined the whole show. Most of the matches were rather predictable, but sometimes predictability isn't a bad thing. They all had logical outcomes and involved intriguing angles that have me looking forward to what comes next. WWE has had a bad string of pay-per-views in the month of June in recent year, so it's good to see WWE Payback break the terrible trend. Furthermore, it was smart of WWE to air the vignette promoting the return of Rob Van Dam during the show, as it builds excitement for Money in the Bank next month. The double turn, Punk's return and three title changes were all noteworthy moments that made is an unforgettable event. This was a great kickoff for looks to be like an exciting summer.