Tuesday, September 5, 2023

WWE Payback 2023: A Third of It was Good

Busy weekend for wrasslin', got two PPVs to cover.  One was an absolutely spectacular show, the other was WWE Payback.

Yeah so, Payback looked on paper to be a solidly B-tier PPV, and that's exactly what we got.  Aside from a couple standout matches (both of which were overbooked), this show was barely free TV material.  A pair of very promising title matches both turned out very flat, overlong and disappointing, and the live crowd responded as such.  But hey, that's ok because "ratings," right?

The show started out on a high (one it never reached again), with an unexpectedly pretty great steel cage match between Becky Lynch and Trish Stratus.  This went twenty minutes and both women worked really hard.  Early in the match Becky rammed Trish's head into the cage repeatedly, creating an ugly welt in the middle of her forehead.  But blading is too barbaric, right?  Anyway this ranged all over the ring and the steel, and there were a few scary moments when Trish would attempt to climb over the top only for Becky to stop her, and Trish's legs got caught in the truss atop the cage.  They did the crazy Hogan-Bossman superplex off the top of the cage spot, which looked brutal.  Late in the match Zoey Starks ran in while the door was open, and they made it look like her interference would cost Becky the match (run-ins in cage matches are way too common considering the whole point of a steel cage is to keep people out), but Becky overcame the odds and finished Trish with a Manhandle Slam off the top rope.  Post-match Trish berated and slapped Zoey, who then laid Trish out with her finisher.  Really good match and the best thing on the show.  ****

Next up was the match which proved to me what I already knew - that LA Knight is about as mediocre as it gets.  He talks a good game and people like him for whatever reason, but in between the ropes he just doesn't have anything going on.  Knight and Miz got an interminable 16 minutes and nothing memorable happened during that time.  Like, at all.  They did a bunch of stuff, special referee John Cena was there, and then it was over.  Oh and the accusations that Knight is a cross between a Stone Cold and Rock ripoff?  I kinda see it.  His two big moves are a People's Elbow-type move and a Stone Cold Stunner-type move.  Oh and his catchphrase is lifted directly from Daniel Bryan, including the announcers referring to it as the Yeah Movement and the crowd chanting it the same way.  This guy is essentially a triple cosplayer.  Kudos to him for getting himself over organically, but there's a reason the company wasn't behind him.  This was a textbook two-star match - each guy gets one star for not screwing anything up.  **

Equally mediocre was the US Title match pitting Rey Mysterio vs. Austin Theory.  Theory is yet another guy the company has been high on, who's shown me absolutely nothing of note, aside from "he has a good look."  This was your typical WWE match where during the heat segment the heel does a basic move, then stands there taunting for thirty seconds before doing another move.  Does WWE think so little of its audience that we can't be trusted to mentally process more than one move at a time?  The funniest moment of this match took place on commentary when Corey Graves asked Michael Cole, unironically, "In all your years in WWE can you ever remember a young star who rose to the top as quickly as Theory?"  First off, Austin Theory isn't anywhere NEAR the top.  'Kay?  Winning a US Title and winning a one-off 'Mania opener against a legend isn't "rising to the top."  Michael then replied, "The only one who comes to mind is Randy Orton."  Is this real life??  Orton is your pick?  Guy debuted on the main roster in fall 2002, won his first World Championship two full years later, and lost it four weeks after that.  Randy didn't become a proper main eventer until 2007.  Cole couldn't think of, I dunno, BROCK LESNAR, who debuted in April 2002 and was WWE Champion by August?  Or Kurt Angle who debuted in November 1999 and won King of the Ring and the WWF Title within his first year?  Nope, Randy Orton.  WWE announcers are fucking clowns.  Anyway the match ended when Theory tried to go for his finisher but got rolled up and pinned.  Straight to the top, amirite?  *3/4

The other good match of the evening was for the tag titles, as Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn faced Finn Balor and Damien Priest in a fun but way overbooked Street Fight.  The battle raged all over the arena, and even involved some blood (not sure how exactly) when Kevin Owens got tossed over a security railing and came up covered in crimson.  The referee briefly tended to his face, quickly enough to not derail the match like they did with Finn at WrestleMania.  The match involved chairs, hockey sticks, kendo sticks, trash cans and tables, and had a number of false finishes and run-ins by Dom, Rhea and JD McDonough.  Rhea at one point speared Owens through the ring barricade, which is not only the most overused spot in WWE but is now pretty meaningless.  The spot originated (I think) with Brock vs. Goldberg, two near-300-pound monsters.  But now a 260-pound person can be speared through it by a 180-pound person?  Weird how that exact section of barricade is always the weakest link.  God I hate that spot.  After about 20 minutes Sami Zayn seemed to have Finn beaten with a Blue Thunder bomb and Helluva Kick, but Dom ran in and hit Sami with the briefcase, allowing Finn to swing an arm over Sami for the pin.  Kind of a lame finish to a well-worked WWE-style "hardcore" match.  ***3/4

After an unnecessary talk show segment involving Cody Rhodes bringing to RAW one of the men who fucked him over at WrestleMania (Jey Uso), the women's title match took place.  And, that's about all I can say about it.  It happened.  It was two women doing moves, sometimes not very well.  The crowd was dead for it, there was no urgency to anything, the match dragged on for 17 minutes, Dom interfered for the second consecutive match of the night, and Rhea hit Riptide to retain the title.  I had very high hopes for this match and it lived up to none of them.  **1/2

And then came the main event, which was equally languid and overlong.  You can tell Triple H is booking this stuff, as it played out like every plodding Triple H main event.  This was Hunter vs. Orton at 'Mania 25, but without the extremely personal backstory.  Nak vs. Rollins from Survivor Series 2018 smoked this match in every way.  I know some of this is probably due to Nakamura's age and how banged up he was when he left NJPW, but it's tragic how far this guy has fallen since coming to WWE.  He's been in this company seven years and he's chalked up exactly two great singles matches.  Nakamura's entrance was the most exciting thing about this main event.  I have to wonder how this match would've turned out if these two were left to their own devices when putting it together, ya know, like every other wrestling company does it?  WWE's style of producing a match works for guys like Cody Rhodes.  It doesn't work for Shinsuke Nakamura, and often doesn't work for Seth Rollins anymore.  This went on for 26 minutes with no real dynamics or crowd engagement, and ended suddenly with a Curb Stomp.  And now, true to nonsensical WWE booking, Seth is demanding a rematch with the guy he just beat clean.  **3/4

So yeah, Payback 2023 was a two-match show, nothing more.  Anyone claiming with a straight face that this was better than All Out this weekend either didn't watch All Out or is so hopelessly programmed by WWE as to think plodding matches in front of a checked out crowd is the mark of primo storytelling.  WWE may be hot, but they seem to have reached the point again where they don't think they really need to try.

Best Match: Becky vs. Trish
Worst Match: LA Knight vs. The Miz
What I'd Change: Cut the Knight match down to ten minutes, cut the Rhea match down to 12-14, cut the main event down to 20 and give these guys some caffeine so it looks like they're actually making an effort.
Most Disappointing Match: The last two were equally so
Most Pleasant Surprise: Becky vs. Trish far exceeded my expectations
Overall Rating: 6/10

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