Chicago played host to WWE Payback on Sunday night. What looked like an incredibly underwhelming card on paper, littered with rematches and potential duds, turned into a top-to-bottom delight. As has been the case all year, the wrestling and the pay-per-view offerings have been lights-out. Which sort of makes the weekly uninteresting slog through "Raw" and "SmackDown!" all the more puzzling. But we're here to talk about Payback. Here's what we learned from the wild night.
Hair vs. Mask Match: El Torito def. Hornswoggle
The "pre-show" match that kicked the whole thing off was an enjoyable, wild free-for-all, similar to their "WeeLC Match" at Extreme Rules last month. El Torito prevailed, of course. And Hornswoggle became ... Shornswoggle.
*pun reggaeton horn*
What we learned: That this feud is hopefully over now. Hornswoggle will likely revert back to his original "leprechaun" personality, conveniently around the same time as his movie Leprechaun: Origins is coming out. Weird! El Torito and Los Matadores will move on to something else, as will 3MB. Life goes on.
United States Championship Match: Sheamus (c) def. Cesaro
A big old HOSS FIGHT started off the pay-per-view proper. These two strongmen stronged all over the joint and although Cesaro came close, Sheamus put him away in the end with a small package.
What we learned: That this feud is just a stepping stone for Cesaro, who doesn't need the U.S. title because he'll be in the world title mix before long. Sheamus doesn't need the title, either, but a tertiary championship is a fine way to bide time until they think of something to do with him. Cesaro looked strong, with Sheamus just eking out the win. We also learned -- or confirmed, rather -- that Paul Heyman is possibly the greatest pro wrestling personality ever. He came out right away to open the show, quickly and decisively reminded everyone that CM Punk was at the Blackhawks game and wouldn't be showing up and then proceeded to be everything you would want in a manager to add flavor to the match. At this point, we're all Paul Heyman guys.
(Did I mention his client, Brock Lesnar, ended the Undertaker's undefeated streak at WrestleMania?)
RybAxel def. Rhodes Bros.
The only real misstep of the night had a clumsy match (added at the last minute) between kinda-dueling brothers Cody Rhodes & Goldust and friendship-based jerks Ryback & Curtis Axel. Ryback pinned Cody Rhodes with a running Samoan drop (erroneously called Ryback's finisher The Shellshock). (Oh god, I'm one of those wrestling fans, aren't I?)
What we learned: At the end of the match, the MEGABROTHERS EXPLODED! Or rather, imploded, as Cody sadly told Goldust that he "deserves a better partner" and walked out, leaving his brother alone. This might be a slow-burn to the long-anticipated brother vs. brother feud, but it was an interesting turn of events and certainly not at all the breakup that everyone in the world was expecting. So that's something, at least.
Rusev def. Big E
One of the matches that no one expected a lot from ended up being a fun, brutal match. Another HOSS FIGHT in a completely different way than Sheamus vs. Cesaro, these two bruisers whomped on each other with aplomb. Big E also dazzled with some wild moves, including this:
Rusev's feet flopping over really make that.
What we learned: Big E might have picked up some fans with his performance and Rusev may have turned around some naysayers with his brutality. But overall, this match didn't mean much. Unless I'm proved wrong by some development on "Raw" tonight! I love being proved wrong.
Bo Dallas NC Kofi Kingston
This match (also added at the last minute) didn't actually happen, as Kane showed up and mauled Kofi, which led to Bo consoling an unconscious Kingston and telling him he should be a BO-liever.
What we learned: Again, not a lot. Except that Kane's still around and still angry. And that people can beat up Kofi Kingston pretty much any time they want. Sorry, Kofi. You caught a raw deal.
Bill Hanstock on wrestling
Intercontinental Championship Match: Bad News Barrett (c) def. Rob Van Dam
Bad News Barrett retained his Intercontinental title by pinning RVD after the Bullhammer Elbow. Not a bad little match at all.
What we learned: That when all is said and done, nothing in pro wrestling is as exciting as uncertainty. Everyone assumed it was a foregone conclusion that Barrett would retain here. But then Barrett went for the Bullhammer on the outside of the ring, missed and hit his elbow against the ringpost. Then immediately ate a huge DDT through the ropes and rolled AWAY from the ropes as RVD went to pin him. I was pulling for Barrett, and my heart began sinking the instant Barrett elbowed the post. For a couple minutes I just didn't know what was going to happen ... which gave me palpable relief and a bit of elation when BNB actually won. It's simple, but just giving people doubt ... that can be magical.
We also learned that it's always, always fun to goof on Rob Van Dam.
making his way to the ring, weighing in at 240 pounds, hailing from a rift in time that leads to a head shop in 1993, rob van dam— Bill Hanstock (@sundownmotel) June 2, 2014
whoa rvd skirted right up to emoting there— Bill Hanstock (@sundownmotel) June 2, 2014
rob van dam's really been training for this. wait, i mean sitting in a van outside a food lion eating summer sausage with a pocket knife— Bill Hanstock (@sundownmotel) June 2, 2014
rvd is the only person more full of weed and meat than action bronson— Bill Hanstock (@sundownmotel) June 2, 2014
Daniel Bryan's Decision
WWE World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan is recovering from neck surgery. Stephanie McMahon gave him an ultimatum at "Raw": either surrender the titles at Payback, so he can recover and the WWE can have a fighting champion ... or Bryan's wife, Brie Bella, would be fired. Bryan did not surrender the titles and Bella opted to quit instead ... and give Stephanie a slap.
What we learned: Nothing, other than Bryan is still the champion. I'll be honest with you: this is a lousy storyline. Brie standing up and slapping Stephanie was a nice moment, but really the world title is just treading water here.
Last Man Standing Match: John Cena def. Bray Wyatt
A month after having possibly the worst cage match of all time (and possibly the worst match of the year), Cena and Wyatt managed to transcend their awful, interminable feud and put on a match that exceeded all expectations. No less an authority than Dave Meltzer said it may have been the best Last Man Standing Match ever. It was great. It had an anticlimactic ending with Cena prevailing, but it was a wonderful match.
Also, this happened:
What we learned: God willing, that this feud is finally over. Both men looked great here and even the parties involved on the outside backing up Cena and Wyatt (the Usos and the Wyatt Family, respectively) got to shine by going absolutely berserk all over the arena. There were broken tables, chair shots ... the whole shebang. Of course, the match also reminded us how much the "no blood" policy potentially takes away from a match like this. But there's nothing that can be done about that, I suppose.
Divas Championship Match: Paige (c) def. Alicia Fox
A great match where Fox's new, unhinged personality was displayed and Paige got to look like a tough, resilient champion who can take a beating and still tap out her larger opponent.
What we learned: That Alicia Fox is the best thing going in the Divas division right now, yet they still found a way to have her lose and make both parties look strong in the process. It's great when that happens!
No Holds Barred Elimination Match: The Shield def. Evolution
This one, probably no one could have called. The Shield of Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins had an amazing near-30-minute match and ended up eliminating all three members of Evolution without a single member of their own ranks losing a pinfall.
Also, moments after the match began, Batista did this, which I found endlessly amusing. But it may just be me.
Connor the Crusher
Connor the Crusher
What we learned: That, contrary to popular belief, Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista are not at all afraid to put the young guys over. Since WrestleMania, they've lost to Daniel Bryan and all three members of the Shield and made all four look as dominant as possible. They've created four legitimate stars in the last three pay-per-views and, if rumors are true, Batista will be going on hiatus very soon to promote his new movie Guardians of the Galaxy. So not only may Evolution be diminished for awhile, but they lost in decisive fashion before their spotlight may be dimmed for an indeterminate amount of time.
The Shield and Evolution had a supernova of a match last month at Extreme Rules. While they may not have been able to top that match on Sunday night, they did manage to wrap it up in a supremely satisfying way. On paper, this match looked like it would have to save the entire show. When all was said and done, it was the perfect closer to one of the most surprisingly fantastic PPVs in some time.