WWE Payback — Roman Reigns delivers on promise, captures Universal championship

WWE Payback ended as most people would’ve predicted coming into the night — Roman Reigns holding his newly won Universal championship aloft, with Paul Heyman standing at his side. Everything that led up to that moment, however, was a little bit harder to see coming.

Reigns waited until Braun Strowman and “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt had literally destroyed the ring before making his dramatic entrance, steel chair in hand. Despite the ring-breaking superplex that Wyatt had just hit on Strowman, Reigns waited for a new referee to run to the ring and couldn’t successfully pin either man.

Reigns ultimately battered Strowman with a steel chair, fought off a Wyatt mandible claw with a low blow, and speared Strowman in the middle of the ring to reclaim the title that he never lost in a match. It was an emphatic statement of a victory, and his process to regain the championship by any means necessary gives us some big hints as to the direction Reigns is heading in as he starts this run as champion.

In all, Payback was a night filled with surprises. In addition to all three titles that were defended on Sunday night changing hands, Keith Lee pinned Randy Orton in less than seven minutes — inevitably changing the power structure on Monday Night Raw. The same can be said for SmackDown as, in addition to Reigns’ victory, Bayley and Sasha Banks’ women’s tag team title loss leaves a team that held three titles just over a week ago with just Bayley’s SmackDown women’s championship.

With no appearance from Retribution on a second consecutive pay-per-view, which is a big question mark unto itself, Reigns’ shortcut to the title is the biggest story. He waited until Wyatt and Strowman did everything from breaking two different tables, to Wyatt utilizing a comically large mallet to bludgeon Strowman, to the aforementioned ring breaking spot that brought up memories of Brock Lesnar and the Big Show.

And in taking that shortcut, we’re going to see the most complex and dark side-leaning version of Reigns since his earliest days with The Shield.

What’s next: Strowman took the pinfall loss at both SummerSlam and Payback, so while he has a lot of pent up anger, he’s likely going to have to take a step back for the time being. Wyatt has a grievance and an opportunity to pursue a rematch, and likely will do so. The most interesting wrinkle for Wyatt will be Alexa Bliss, who we saw in cuts to a backstage camera twice during the match, channeling the pigtailed hairstyle and energy of Harley Quinn and showing a lot of attention to Wyatt, whose mallet bears a face and a style that’s reminiscent of The Joker. That pairing could well shape how Wyatt’s approach may shift in the coming weeks and months. And as for Reigns, turning even darker in light of his success at Payback is likely. Just how far down that path he goes is anyone’s guess, with Heyman at the helm.

Rey Mysterio & Dominik Mysterio def. Seth Rollins & Murphy

Pretty darn good little match here with a satisfying result. The Mysterio family vs. Rollins feud has been going on a bit long. Perhaps this will be the big blow off. If so, it wasn’t a bad way to do it, with the Mysterios going over. Rollins left behind Murphy, who took the pin, afterward.

The finishing sequence was, particularly, very good. Rollins and Murphy double-teamed Dominik on the outside and tossed him back first into the barricade to isolate Rey in the ring. Rollins taunted Rey: “Where’s your son now?”

Rollins and Murphy tried to set up Rey for a double-team move in the corner. But Rey countered with a hurricanrana and sent Rollins careening into a Murphy kick. Rey hit a tilt-a-whirl head scissors, sending Murphy into the ropes. Rollins rolled to the outside and Dominik came back into the ring. Dominik flung his father across the ring sliding to the outside, where he hit what was almost a Canadian destroyer to Rollins, who landed against the barricade with his back.

Back in the ring, Dominik hit a 619 on Murphy, then a frog splash for the three count at about 16:12. The Mysterios then celebrated in the ring while Rollins scowled on the outside and ditched Murphy.

The match overall was good. Rollins has done a tremendous job carrying Dominik, who had no career matches going into SummerSlam last week. That extended into Sunday night, where Rollins and Murphy made Dominik once again look like he belonged. This one was wrestled at a pretty frenetic pace and Dominik kept up the whole way. For those who didn’t know what Dominik’s experience level was, it was hard to tell he was so green by the work done — and the booking decisions — by all involved.

What’s next: Maybe this long story with Rollins and the Mysterios is over. Maybe not. Hopefully it is. Hell in a Cell is coming up and that could certainly be a platform for this. Heck, we have already seen an Eye for an Eye match. There is no obvious direction for any of the parties involved, unless they continue to tease issues between Rollins and Murphy. It would be cool to see the Mysterios go for the tag titles at some point. I bet that would be a fun match between them and the Street Profits. As for Rollins and Murphy, I wouldn’t mind seeing them do something with Ricochet, Mustafa Ali and Cedric Alexander.

Keith Lee def. Randy Orton

Keith Lee’s debut on Monday Night Raw stirred up a lot of discussion, and I’ll admit that I was equally wrapped up in the generic version of Lee’s entrance music, and his unflattering new ring gear. But what happened on that night — Lee standing shoulder to shoulder with Orton and looking like an equal — was amplified by several orders of magnitude when Lee pinned Orton in less than seven minutes at Payback.

The unchanged musical edit and entrance attire still drew attention before the bell rang, although the awkward shorts were gone, but within seconds of the bell ringing the attention turned to where it belonged — the action inside the ring.

Orton handled Lee like a rookie in the early stages of the match, until Lee flashed his agility with a leapfrog, dropdown and crossbody that sent Orton fleeing from the ring. Orton started talking, perhaps to Lee and also to himself, saying that Lee, “Needed an education” into who Orton was. “I’m Randy Orton, I’m the legend killer and I demand your respect.”

Orton laid in a pair of Ric Flair-esque chops, but an Irish whip attempt was turned around by Lee, followed by Lee’s Grizzly Magnum overhand double chop to Orton’s chest. As much as Orton wanted Lee to know who he was, Lee was more interested in showing Orton who he was.

But Orton was thinking on his feet, and Lee overstepped his momentum and ran shoulder-first into the ringpost when Orton stepped out of the way. Orton showed off his strength by lifting the 340-pound Lee up and sent him crashing into the announcer’s table, and then slowed the match down with a headlock on the ground.

Once Lee fought back to his feet, though, Lee hit a running pounce that sent Orton flying from the middle of the ring to under the bottom rope and the floor. Lee dropped Orton onto the table to return the favor, but got caught by Orton with a kick and a hangman’s DDT as he tried to re-enter the ring.

Ego got the better of Orton as he posed in front of the video board of virtual WWE fans, and then eventually lined up an RKO. But Lee quickly composed himself, shook off the RKO attempt and effortlessly snatched Orton into the air.

With a Spirit Bomb powerbomb, Lee won a shock pinfall victory and planted his flag on Monday Night Raw.

What’s next: Orton had the most momentum of anyone in the WWE heading into SummerSlam, and in a matter of eight days suffered a roll-up loss to Drew McIntyre at SummerSlam and a clear defeat to Lee at Payback. In between, Orton destroyed McIntyre with three kicks to the head, and likely has plenty more to say when it comes to the WWE champion. But Lee was all manner of impressive against Orton, and could not have gotten a bigger boost in his early days on the Raw roster than defeating a 13-time world champion in his first pay-per-view match. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Lee remain in the middle of this conflict between McIntyre and Orton.

Women’s tag team championships: Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler def. Bayley & Sasha Banks (c)

Great ending to a solid match. And it was another progression of the story between Banks and Bayley. Now, only Bayley has one belt — the SmackDown women’s title — and Banks has none.

The brilliant finish was all Baszler. She ensnared Banks’ legs in an Indian deathlock position, then grabbed Bayley from behind in a Kirifuda clutch. Baszler dropped down on her back with Banks’ legs still tied up and her arms locking Bayley in a choke. Bayley fought Baszler’s hands, so Baszler used Banks’ arm to choke Bayley. Baszler tied up both women at once and Bayley tapped out. Baszler and Jax are an odd pairing as women’s tag champions, but it was done for a reason.

The match itself wasn’t the best thing on the card, but it got the job done. Bayley and Banks are, of course, great. And so is Baszler, when she’s put in the right positions. On Sunday, Baszler was definitely given the chance to shine.

Jax had a nice sequence where she had Banks by the legs and whipped her repeatedly into the barricade on the outside. Back inside, Banks landed a chop block and she and Bayley worked Jax’s legs. Jax was able to make the tag to Baszler, who had a great series of running knees and kicks to both Bayley and Banks.

Bayley and Banks were finally able to ground Jax with a Bayley elbow off the top rope and a Banks frog splash. Jax kicked out at two. The Golden Role Models hit an enormous double back body drop on Jax, who rolled to the outside. That set up the finishing sequence with Baszler subduing Bayley and Banks at the same time.

What’s next: More build toward Bayley and Banks tension and an eventual match between the two of them. Who will turn on whom? What will that look like? That is unclear, but the relationship and story between the two has been one of the best things WWE has done during the pandemic era (and of course even before that). Bayley and Banks are two of the best things on WWE television these days and the continued evolution of their narrative is a positive thing. There will probably be another match between them against Baszler and Jax. If not, that’s OK, too. Ruby Riott and Liv Morgan are now queued up for a title shot.

Matt Riddle def. King Corbin

In what was objectively a good match, Matt Riddle spent most of his clash with King Corbin fighting an uphill battle and absorbing most of the damage before a late charge fueled him to his biggest victory since he joined the main roster.

But a prematch interview hung over the entire course of the match — both because of the context, and for the lack of the moment having an actual effect on the match.

In the interview, wrestler Alyse Ashton passed on social media comments about Riddle from Corbin in which Corbin implied he would prove Riddle to be as big a failure in the WWE as he is as a “failure at home.” The comment seemingly alluded to allegations made against Riddle during the #SpeakingOut movement in which wrestlers spoke publicly about sexual harassment and assaults committed against them. Riddle ultimately admitted to an extramarital affair but denied sexual assault allegations, and he has continued to perform on WWE TV.

Outside of an angry scowl as he walked to the ring, Riddle quickly returned to his cheery in-ring persona, and after the commentary team briefly reiterated Corbin’s social media post, the prematch comments weren’t mentioned again. Corbin clotheslined Riddle before the bell rang, and it was off to the races.

Corbin controlled the bulk of the match, but Riddle fought back late with elbows, kicks, a Bro 2 Sleep and finally a Floating Bro twisting moonsault to secure the pinfall victory.

What’s next: There’s likely to still be a Corbin bounty on Riddle’s head, and Corbin isn’t the type of character to let something like this go. But when it comes to the direction WWE is trying to go with Riddle’s on-screen character, it’s anyone’s guess.

Big E def. Sheamus

Good match that got more time than expected. This should be a good jumping off point on a Big E singles push.

The finish came when Big E countered a Brogue Kick into a powerbomb, then hit the Big Ending for the three count at about 12:13. Afterward, Big E cut an extended promo on Corey Graves at the announce position.

“If you don’t feel that, you don’t feel me,” Big E said.

Sheamus was on offense most of the way, working Big E’s legs. Big E finally got the upper hand with a beautiful spear through the ropes to the outside with Sheamus on the apron. Big E brought Sheamus back into the ring, but Sheamus countered a Big Ending by going for a heel hook.

Big E grabbed onto Sheamus’ beard and punched his way out of the submission hold. Sheamus then landed a jumping switch knee for a two count. When Sheamus attempted to follow up with a Brogue Kick, Big E caught it and powerbombed the Irishman down, leading to the finish.

What’s next: This was a nice showcase for Big E. Is WWE committed to giving him a real singles push and potential title run? We’ll see, but this seemed like a good step in that direction. Judging by the commentary, it seems like this could be a longer, slower build. So it probably isn’t time for a huge, high-profile match yet for Big E. It does seem like something is cooking with The Miz on Talking Smack, though. That could be next, as E continues his march toward bigger and better things. Hopefully. The time is absolutely now to give Big E the ball. He’s too good to not get that opportunity.

United States championship: Bobby Lashley def. Apollo Crews (c)

Apollo Crews was able to find success against two-thirds of the Hurt Business, against MVP and Shelton Benjamin, but when he was presented an opportunity to right a wrong against Bobby Lashley, everything fell apart for the now former United States champion.

Lashley snatched the title away from Crews in an entertaining opening bout on the WWE Payback pay-per-view card, and once again reinforced a stereotype that has far too often weighed down the heroes of WWE. While Lashley brought MVP and Benjamin to the ring with him as support, Crews flew solo. When MVP and Benjamin confronted Crews and distracted him on the outside, Crews bought into the trap despite it being so transparently obvious.

Lashley threw Crews around ringside and damaged him throughout, and all the way through the moment when Lashley hit the Dominator, it appeared that he might blitz his way to an easy victory.

But Crews made enough of a comeback that he brought doubt into the equation. He nearly pressed Lashley over his head, and while Crews failed at that endeavor, he hit a pair of German suplex and a high-elevation frog splash for a two-count of his own.

Then Lashley caught Crews rebounding off the ropes, landing a giant chokeslam. Lashley sized up a full Nelson, locked it in and then took it to the ground with leg hooks to boot. Crews tapped out immediately, and that was it.

What’s next: While The Hurt Business posed for photos that somehow popped up on the Payback broadcast like a cheesy social media filter, Crews blindsided Lashley and promised to win the belt back. A win over Lashley would be monumental down the line, as it would have been on Sunday, but there’s been little evidence to point to that would tilt such a matchup in Crews’ favor to this point.

Liv Morgan & Ruby Riott def. Billie Kay & Peyton Royce

The Riott Squad put aside previous dysfunction and finally pulled out a decisive tag team win over The IIconics on the Payback kickoff show.

Liv Morgan and Ruby Riott entered the arena together as the Riott Squad with matching gear, and with The IIconics following with their own matching gear and singular entrance, it was a taste of what the women’s tag team division could be if given more focus. Rather than two singles stars teaming up briefly, two wrestlers focusing specifically on tag team wrestling should be able to beat them most of the time.

But I digress. Though the story somewhat strained reality — why would Morgan go so far as to make matching gear with Riott without watching back the footage from Raw over the last few weeks and realizing the missteps were accidents or manufactured by The IIconics — but it was still fun when Morgan threw away her doubts and picked Riott up.

Morgan had most of the biggest offensive spots in the match, and despite a slip at one point, succeeded in her moment to shine. Morgan also broke up a pinfall attempt after Billie Kay and Peyton Royce hit Déjà Vu on Riott, which set Morgan up to hit one of the coolest finishing moves in the WWE right now, the ObLivion on Royce. A scramble with Kay ensued, and Riott and Morgan revealed their creative tag team finisher — double knees from Morgan, followed by a Riott kick — to secure the pinfall victory.

What’s next: Morgan and Riott should be on the fast track to the top of the division. And, hopefully, more attention on the women’s tag team titles in general. There are too many talented women sitting on the sidelines right now. Make them cohesive, long-term pairs, and elevate as many wrestlers as possible.

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