In the past, Payback has been an apt descriptor for a PPV that generally wrapped up storylines from WrestleMania season. But this year, Payback instead set the stage for WWE's future, lining up storylines that could carry the company all the way through the summer.
In fact, moments after last night's main event had ended, the McMahon clan had already booked a rematch between Roman Reigns and A.J. Styles for the next PPV – Extreme Rules, which takes place in three weeks' time. Oh, and speaking of the McMahons, expect to see plenty of them for the foreseeable future, as Shane and Stephanie compete to see who will control Raw. Bet you're excited about that.
We also got the beginnings of a Fatal 4-way for the Miz's Intercontinental title, more developments in the ongoing Gallows/Anderson angle (where's Finn?!?) and a screwy finish to the Women's Championship match, which suggests we're going to see more Bret Hart on our screens (even if he doesn't want to be there). Was it odd that a show called Payback featured very little in the way of real retribution? Well, sure, but when did logic ever matter in WWE?
Here's my takeaway from last night's show, which started scary – get well soon, Enzo – but still delivered with big moments and matches. Even if it never really lived up to its name.
5. It Got Very Real
Injuries have devastated WWE in a major way over the past six months, but none were as scary what we saw in Payback's opening match, when Enzo Amore's head whipped off the ropes then bounced off the ring apron, seemingly knocking him out cold.
It looked bad initially, but it wasn't until the referee came over to check on him that the situation quickly got worse. Wrestlers openly broke character, the ref gave the dreaded "X" sign – indicating a real injury – and Amore was taken out of Chicago's Allstate Arena on a stretcher, as the crowd watched in stunned silence and Twitter erupted. The match between the Realest Guys and the Vaudevillains was stopped immediately, but it was difficult to focus on the in-ring action with the real-world drama playing out at a nearby hospital.
Thankfully, Amore appears to be OK (he was diagnosed with a concussion), but it was yet another reminder about just how real this stuff is – wrestlers risk life and limb every time they step inside the ring – and how a career can turn on a single move. Hopefully, Amore's injury won't derail he and Cass' main-roster momentum, and the Smack Talk Skywalker will be back slinging slang in short order. But, wow, this was an unfortunate way to kick off a show.
4. Fight Forever
On December 19, 2009, Kevin Steen turned on El Generico, ending their partnership. That sparked a feud that has burned bright ever since, and shows no signs of dying down any time soon. Last night, with Steen now known as Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn battling in Generico's stead (wink, wink), the two added another chapter to their war, in a hard-hitting match that had us all on the edge of our seats. Despite Owens not only winning clean, but throwing Zayn out of the ring to give a victory speech, it doesn't seem like this one is settled. During the Miz/Cesaro Intercontinental match, Zayn came back to attack Owens, who had stayed out on commentary, and the two brawled until once again Owens hit Sami with the Pop-Up Powerbomb.
It looks like they're going to both be added to the IC title picture, as their brawling determined the title match (which Miz ended up winning after the distraction). This is a great move to extend the feud even further, possibly through SummerSlam. If you put them in multi-man matches for the IC title, and maybe even the Money in the Bank ladder match, then you could keep this war rolling without another singles match until August. And as Owens showed last night, the more he's on our screens, the better.
3. The Chicago Screwjob
Over the years, every company has done their own version of the infamous 1997 Montreal Screwjob, but it's been a while since WWE went back to the well. So of course last night, with Bret Hart in Natalya's corner – and Ric Flair once again chaperoning Charlotte – referee Charles "Lil Naitch" Robinson called for the bell just as Char had locked Nattie in the Sharpshooter…even if she never submitted. Oh good.
Seeing Bret lock on his finisher for the first time in years made the whole setup worth it, but was it necessary to dig up something as dated as the Screwjob to inject heat into this feud? Not really. However, between the postmatch moment, and the fact that "Lil Naitch" may really be on the take, I'll give it a pass. Just don't do it again WWE.
2. If You Choose Not to Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice
Vince McMahon must have been listening to Rush before the show, because his decision to put both Shane and Stephanie in charge of Raw doesn't make a ton of sense otherwise. It took an agonizingly long time (possibly due to the shortened tag match) for Vince to get to his point, and this latest development in the McMahon's power struggle basically made the past few months moot – remember when Shane lost to the Undertaker at WrestleMania, and was supposed to pack his bags? – but if you were expecting anything less than more of the same, you probably haven't been watching WWE for long. Here's hoping they don't turn Shane vs. Steph into an ongoing allegory for the Presidential election (there were definitely shades of that last night), but, again, this is WWE, where your worst fears often come true...Then. Now. Forever.
1. Best One-Out-Of-Three Falls
Let's get this out of the way. I think everyone knew that this match was going to be a bit chaotic. Whether it was the interference of Anderson and Gallows, the much teased debut of Finn Bálor or even the late rumors of a Seth Rollins return, you knew that A.J. Styles vs. Roman Reigns wasn't going to end clean. I don't think anyone expected this match would be used to tease the upcoming power struggle between Shane and Steph, though. As Styles and Roman Reigns put on a show, the Phenomenal One would win twice (granted, by count out and by DQ) before each of the new co-GMs restarted the match, and for the first time in quite a while, a bout ended up having three falls – and the person winning just one of those three retained the title, as Roman stood tall over a chorus of boos as WWE Champion.
It accomplished what it needed to, though. Styles looked like a true main-eventer, arguably for the first time since arriving in WWE. Reigns added another good match to his resume. And it, once again, set up future matches for the company. We'll get Reigns/Styles again, and for good reason. We'll likely get Anderson and Gallows against the Usos in Newark, no matter how you may feel about it. If you add those to what was a very entertaining match, and what's really to complain about? Yes, some got their hopes up for nothing, but hey – there's always Extreme Rules for all that.