By Graham "GSM" Matthews
R-Truth def. Stardust (Kickoff Show)
For those keep score at home (which I'm sure is none of you, and who would?), this was the fifth match between Truth and Stardust in the last three weeks, and as I mentioned in my Superstars review from this past week, my interest wanes every time they square off. It's not a feud so much as it is WWE Creative being lazy and constantly pairing the two up because they have nothing else for them at the moment (which is ludicrous given how talented Cody Rhodes/Stardust is). Worse yet, Truth won! It was a total waste of time, and I would have rather seen the announcers ramble for five minutes than that garbage.
The Ascension def. Curtis Axel and Macho Mandow (Kickoff Show)
I was surprised to see them go all out by having Axel sport the Hulk Hogan get-up, but I give him props for dedicating himself to the role, along with Sandow. The match lasted only a few minutes with the babyfaces hitting their signature spots only for the heels to come back, hit their finish and win the match. And you can imagine how much wind that took out of the sails of the live crowd. I can't say I'm upset that The Ascension because I honestly couldn't care less, but I am upset that Sandow was relegated to this garbage to begin with, and took the pinfall for his team to a tandem that hadn't won a match in months. Remember when Sandow was the most over act on the entire roster? Neither do I.
Sheamus def. Dolph Ziggler
Sheamus has been placed in the first few matches at Payback every year since the event's inception in 2013, which can't be a coincidence. He can always be counted on for a solid in-ring performance, and when Ziggler is thrown into the equation, you have yourself a great match. I really enjoyed their Extreme Rules encounter, but I thought the rematch was even better. I also liked how Ziggler managed to get the "kiss me arse" pay-off during the bout only to fall short of victory. Ziggler loses nothing from this, as he looked strong in defeat and the blood from the forehead, albeit unintentional, was a nice touch. That said, I'm ready for both competitors to move on to fresh feuds.
WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day def. Cesaro and Tyson Kidd in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match
They had some tough shoes to fill following their fantastic outing at Extreme Rules, but they managed to come through with yet another instant classic. These two tandems just work so well together, not to mention that both teams on their own are excellent. The New Day, as I've said several times in the last month, are flourishing in the heel role. And we take a moment to appreciate just how freakin' epic Cesaro and Kidd are together? Their offense is so innovative, it's amazing. I want them to split (simply so Cesaro can become a breakout babyface), but at the same time, I don't want them to split, you know? Anyway, I've never been a fan of the first two falls in 2-out-of-3 Falls matches to be rushed, but they recovered nicely in the second and third falls. There was never a dull moment and everyone involved (including Xavier Woods and Natalya) at ringside held up their end and had their shining moment. The referee assuming all African-Americans look alike was... uh, strange (did WWE forget this show was emanating from Baltimore?), but it sure was clever, so bonus points for that.
Bray Wyatt def. Ryback
Quite honestly, I was hoping for a good match from Wyatt and Ryback, but I wasn't expecting them to deliver. Well, I'm happy to say I ate my words. It wasn't a show stealer by any means and most of the match was pretty standard, but they definitely kicked it up a notch down the stretch and delivered a fun final few minutes. Much to my surprise, the crowd was into everything they did, which only enhanced my enjoyment of the contest. As much as Ryback needs a win, Wyatt needed it more following his unnecessary loss at WrestleMania 31, so him emerging victorious here was the right move.
United States Champion John Cena def. Rusev in an "I Quit" Match
Is it just me or do all "I Quit" matches tend to blend together, especially when they involve Cena? It might have been their best bout to date, though that's not exactly saying much since their last three matches weren't phenomenal. It was hard-hitting and they made the stipulation work the best they could, but it still dragged at points. I smiled when someone started up an "Umaga" chant when Rusev loosened up the top turnbuckle rope because it was shades of Cena's Last Man Standing encounter with the Samoan Bulldozer back in 2007, while the pyrotechnics spot was shades of Cena's Iron Man match with Randy Orton from 2009. Did they just take certain spots from past Cena matches for this bout? Nevertheless, they pulled together a good match that I didn't mind for the most part. Definitely expect Lana "quitting" for Rusev to play into their inevitable split. Unless the aftermath is done properly, Rusev will be dead in the water, but at least this means Cena's U.S. Open will continue to exist. Rejoice! (And I do mean that sincerely.)
Naomi and Tamina def. The Bella Twins
I don't know what it was, but I enjoyed the Divas tag team match we got at WrestleMania significantly more than this one. The wrestling was essentially the same (other than a few sloppy spots), but perhaps it was because the build for the 'Mania match was done much better. Although I like the pairing of Naomi and Tamina, they haven't been established enough to the point where their tag matches mean anything. If nothing else, it was a decent match that succeeded in giving Naomi the win she needed to earn herself another shot at the Divas Championship, presumably at the Elimination Chamber event.
Neville def. King Barrett by Count-out
They contested a good match, but any match that takes place so late in the show right before the main event is going to die a death. They put forth a strong effort, but the crowd wasn't too receptive, which is why their match on the Extreme Rules Kickoff show worked last month better because it took place so early in the card. The count-out finish was lame, and while it prevented Barrett from getting pinned, but what was the point if Neville was going to connect with the Red Arrow afterward anyway? I assume we'll get the payoff on Raw tomorrow night as I doubt they'll wait until the next pay-per-view.
WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins def. Randy Orton, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose in a Fatal 4-Way
The outcome was obvious from the get-go, but I'll be damned if they didn't have me thinking at various points that a new champion was going to be crowned. It took some time for the crowd to get into the action (especially after the Kane interference wasn't needed), but once they entered the home stretch, it was stellar. Everyone shined at one time or another, but by far the highlight of the contest was the short-lived Shield reunion. You had to see that coming, but it didn't make the moment any less special. And the arena came unglued for it! I'm not sure what the deal was with the Pedigree at the end (maybe because Orton used it on Rollins at Extreme Rules?), but I would sure love it if it planted the seeds for a Rollins vs. Triple H match at WrestleMania 32. Still, though, this was every bit as awesome as I figured it would be, ending the event on a high note.
Personally, I had high hopes going into this show given what was being advertised, and I'd certainly say my expectations were exceeded. I might be too optimistic when it comes to this show, but I truly thought it was great and an improvement over Extreme Rules which I enjoyed. There were a handful of magnificent matches and I liked the outcomes of almost every match as they all made sense, and more importantly setting up some new storylines and feuds for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, there was plenty of hype for the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view in just two weeks, so although the build will be rushed, at least we have somewhat of a sense of what we're in store for on that show.