Review: WWE Payback 2017

"BRAAAAAAAUN!"
For a company whose myriad of poor choices has been most recently exemplified by their decision to name a Pay Per View (And seriously, why is it still called that?) “Great Balls of Fire” in 2017, WWE’s ascension of Braun Strowman from Wyatt Family also-ran to genuinely believable main event talent has been orchestrated nearly perfectly, with the “monster among men” rampaging through the Raw roster over the last few months and making his prime target #1 Internet whipping boy Roman Reigns.

Reigns had been off of TV for the few weeks since Bruan’s supremely crowd pleasing systematic destruction of “The Big Dog”, including but not limited to tipping over an ambulance with Roman inside, so when Vince McMahon’s golden boy showed his face for the first time last night in preparation for his main event encounter with Strowman, still taped up and looking incredibly worse for wear, one could only hope that the ensuing match would be Braun’s true coronation into unstoppable beast status, and not another case of “LOLRomanWins”.

There may have been extra trepidation towards the main event though because the show preceding it was so incredibly solid. The show opener between Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens was a Canadian clinic, an excellent show of technological know how with Jericho surprisingly going over his former best friend, winning the US Title and a spot on the SmackDown Live roster, despite persistent rumors that Jericho was set to leave WWE to go on tour with his metal band Fozzy.

Masterful heel Alexa Bliss overcame the increasingly stale Bayley to become the first ever to win both the SmackDown and Raw Women’s Titles. Neville retained his Cruiserweight Championship against Austin Aries after some ref bump DQ shenanigans. Seth Rollins pinned Samoa Joe clean in a hard hitting bout that saw Rollins overcome Joe’s sadistic fixation on his injured knee.

And most interestingly of all (and in my opinion, the match of the night), the reborn Hardy Boyz held onto their Raw Tag Team Titles opposite Cesaro and Sheamus, with Jeff Hardy even losing a tooth to an overly stiff kick from the Celtic Warrior. Post match, after a false showing of sportsmanship and camaraderie, Shea-saro went full heel and beat down the Hardyz unmercifully. Will Matt and “Nero” return for revenge in their fan favorite #BROKEN state?

Which brings us to the House of Horrors match pitting Bray Wyatt against Randy Orton.

Schadenfreude? Cringe comedy? Ever since Matt Hardy willed himself back into relevance with the original “Final Deletion” segment in TNA last summer, WWE’s been trying to catch that sweet, self aware, “so bad it’s good” flavor that Matt and his extended #BROKEN family hit just right the first time. This one was even more of a dud than the similar copycat New Day segment WWE attempted previously.

“RAAAANDY! Don’t you just LOVE these CURTAINS!?”

Without a twisted ringleader like Matt to firmly ground the segment in tongue in cheek territory (Bray and Randy were, for lack of more elegant terminology, taking this shit way too seriously) these segments just fall really flat for me, in spite of the inherent ridiculousness of the concept and execution being something I could normally really get behind. I’m just glad I wasn’t actually in attendance for this debacle. Paying $80 for nosebleed seats to watch the worst episode ever of American Horror Story doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to me, and don’t even get me started on the bullshit finish involving Jinder Mahal that made Wyatt look super weak and incompetent.

And then it was finally time for Roman to face Strowman, with Braun hopefully beating Reigns once and for all. The fact that Braun is rumored to face Brock Lesnar for the Universal Title at that aforementioned “Great Balls of Fire” abortion, that didn’t necessarily mean that WWE would do the smart thing and give Strowman the rub. Did Roman look a little too strong? Of course? Was the match itself a little too submission heavy? You bet. Despite popularity (however dubious in Roman’s case), these are two of the most limited A list performers on the roster.

But the fact that Braun went over clean shows a glimmer of positive change in backstage ideology that will keep Roman from being even more despised (think mid-00’s Cena) and begin the build towards Strowman/Lesnar nicely. However unlikely, it would be great to see the Licorice Belt back on a full time performer, so we’ll see if WWE can keep their head on straight and continue Braun’s well deserved push towards greatness as logically and satisfyingly as it has thus far.

Kevin Hawkey is the co-founder, head writer and editor of Riot-Nerd. He enjoys Fighting Games, Metal, Marvel, Horror and all the weird shit in between. A lifelong Philadelphian just as comfortable in a circle pit at Underground Arts as he is drooling over the new Hot Toys figures at Brave New Worlds, Kevin’s idiosyncratic sensibility gives this site it’s unique dichotomy between “riot” and “nerd”.

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