WWE changed up their PPV line-up for 2013 and I'd hoped with the empty slot we'd finally get Halloween Havoc (or hell I'd have gladly settled for Fall Brawl too or even Bash at the Beach given its summer) but instead we get: Payback. Sounds like the title of a bad Mel Gibson movie. They only announced a few matches for the event in advance but it does have the fact it's in-front of a super hot Chicago crowd going for it.
1. The Miz vs. Curtis Axel vs. Wade Barrett - 4
2. AJ vs. Kaitlyn - 5
First match on paper was sort of a jumble but that sort of worked for it. No real rhyme or reason -- just a few guys clubbing the hell out of each other and looking for the win. Miz's defensive work was on display, lots of dodging, ducking, and countering of attacks. He actually looked pretty slick in the early stages. Axel winning the IC title on Father's Day (he's the son of Mr. Perfect who was one of that championship's foremost holders) was a nice touch. Match wasn't bad at all just needed more time to earn higher cred. Women's match had a grudge aspect so started chaotic with AJ taking a great bump over the Spanish announcer's table. I think Kaitlyn has a great look, personality, etc. but one thing I've noticed in a lot of her TV work is sometimes she'll be in a hold, like locked in a headlock, and apparently finds it hard to conceal a smile, which is great if you love your job, but when you're supposed to be selling having your oxygen cut off it's probably not a good time to crack wise. The "Spear" is one of the most watered down, overused moves of the last 15 years but Kaitlyn hit one here that had momentum on its side and really looked like it killed AJ. Like she was crossing the street to Circle K to get some Mountain Dew Voltage on tap from the fountain (a Circle K exclusive!) and a Dodge caravan knocked her 5 ft. into the gutter. Finish was slick as AJ went back to her "Black Widow" submission which she'd previously had locked in for quite a spell so it was nice to see some actual game plan-based psych in a Diva's bout, even more so that it lead to a believable finish. One of the better Diva's matches of 2013 but nothing that'd blow you away, understatedly solid.
3. Kane vs. Dean Ambrose - 4
Surreal seeing Brodie Lee in a vignette on WWE pay-per-view. The Wyatt Family stuff is promising. Kane's a guy who's act and in-ring work ethic (or lack thereof) wore thin on me, oh, about twelve years prior. But Ambrose is so damn captivating and impossible to take your eyes off of that he's capable of making me excited to see the Big Red Machine in action. Moxley (Ambrose) is the first guy to come close to capturing that unhinged quality of Pillman at his best. The irony they're both Cincinnati guys isn't lost on me. Dean will also bust out stuff right out of the RF Video back catalogue randomly like a Keiji Mutoh elbow drop to a grounded opponent, etc. I'll try not to devolve into fan boy gushing every time I analyze his stuff I promise. The way Ambrose bumped to the floor off of a big boot recalled a moment in his stellar bout winning the FIP World Heavyweight title versus Roderick Strong back at Southern Stampede in 2010 (you can tell I've been catching up on my FIP lately). Countout finish was a little wonky (and I docked it a point accordingly) but I liked that it all began with Dean slapping Kane right across the face with a big swipe. Credit to Kane for eating that DDT on the floor right on his noggin.
4. Dolph Ziggler vs. Alberto Del Rio - 7
RVD returns at Money in the Bank vignette? I'd heard rumors awhile back but that's news to me. Hopefully he doesn't get busted smoking weed and doing Quaaludes with Tamina Snuka en route to a house show in Tacoma. Weird a major championship bout is taking place in the mid-card. My son who's 3 loves to say "Albertooooooo Del Rioooooo!" Can't feel good for the guys working the World Heavyweight championship match to have their efforts drowned out by raucous "RVD! RVD!" chants. I guess these fans didn't see Van Dam's recent TNA run where he looked 2-3 steps slower and perpetually winded. Sorry got temp. distracted contacting Time Warner our Nick Jr. disappeared this morning and that's akin to a sin to my boy. Back to the action, ADR and Dolph may not have the larger than life presence that made title matches of yesteryear (say Bret Hart vs. Undertaker, or even Booker T vs. Scott Steiner) really pop but there's a frenetic physicality here that you've certainly got to tip your hat too. Kudos again to Chicago as ADR vs. Swagger at WrestleMania was floppier than your 2nd grade teacher's swinging utters but this feels appropriately heated. For a a guy coming back from a serious concussion Dolph is sure getting his head smashed plenty. Match ends suddenly with one of multiple straight savate kicks to the skull that the match saw. Sort of a surprising finish, more pseudo MMA psych than typical pro wres theatrics, plus it's the third title change already on this PPV. Not to mention Ziggler's run was still in its infancy. Grappled between a 6-7 on its score but the unpredictable route it took earns it extra consideration. After some pandering ads we cut back to the entrance aisle where ADR cuts a promo asking for the crowd's support but in doing so turns them completely against him which may/may not have been by design.
5. CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho - 5
I'm a Paul Heyman guy? More like I'm a Paul Pfeiffer guy. This should be tasty. Why did I just visualize Kidman doing a run-in? Jericho has range and got good matches out of Batista so he's about as capable a hand as the industry has these days and Punk has been terrific of late. I know Punk attends several live UFC events each year -- wonder if he was in Winnipeg for that stinker UFC 161 the night prior? As long as he doesn't turn in a Ryan Jimmo performance here we'll be fine. Maybe CM has been spending too much time with Lita -- he's starting to run the ropes like her. Which is still friendlier than anything I can say about Matt Hardy's current ROH run. I like when Y2J shows some aggression. Kicking Punk in the spine screaming "Come on, Punk!" If Punk gets near this support outside of Chicago it'll be hard to keep him away from the main events for long. Nice to see them kill the "Go 2 Sleep" as a finish by having Jericho kick out of it. Punk hits a Zema Ion-level dive to the outside. I wouldn't say he's exhibiting rust but he has looked a little stodgy in there. Less Pepsi more gym would be a good call. A couple more G2S' end it. Of their trilogy their Extreme Rules '12 match is the leader of the pack by a fairly large margin.
6. Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan vs. Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins - 6
I just watched AIW's Best of Tyler Black (Seth Rollins) DVD "Heart Of A Champion" the other night. That kid was making me sit on the edge of my seat, well, couch, riveted in matches with less than stellar cats like Nobutaka Moribe, Shane Hollister, Josh Prohibition, etc. so to see him working semi-main on the biggest wrestling stage on planet Earth in the WWE is a treat. Daniel Bryan has been on fire on TV lately putting in some really superb performances. Anyone watch Randy in 12 Rounds 2: Reloaded yet? I didn't think so. Orton is duller than the husk of a pot pie. This is making the last third of Man of Steel look like child's play. Speaking of Kal-El I totally dig Reigns' "Superman Punch" being a regular part of his arsenal. #BITW is trending according to Cole. That's strange Hiroshi Tanahashi is trending during a WWE broadcast. The Shield have been involved in so many really quality TV traditional and six-men tags that it's hard to supersede that on PPV. Ugly spot where Orton was suppose to suplex Seth into Reigns in the corner but Rollins didn't quite make it that far landing on his brains. Hot tag to Daniel makes him seem like the best fit for a fiery tag team since Bobby Eaton. Double-underhook superplex off the top by DB on Rollins! Unreal. Great violent "Curb Stomp" finish. Nice that out out of five title matches only Shield members have retained tonight. If TNA would have booked Aces & 8's half as strong maybe they'd be taken more seriously.
7. Ryback vs. John Cena - 3 Stages of Hell (Lumberjack, Tables, and Ambulance Matches) - 4
This group of lumberjacks is quite the odd-looking gang. Not even 25 min. left of the the broadcast remaining so they're going to have to put their foot on the gas to get through three matches. HHH/Austin went 39, HHH/HBK went 38, and HHH/Orton, well, let's not even talk about that one. When was the last time somebody this untalented was in the main event scene? Was it Sid? Just about every lumberjack deserves the spot more. Yes, even Sin Cara, Darren Young, JTG, both Colons', Giant Bernard, etc. But probably not Ted DiBiase Jr. or Curt Hawkins. Ryback was like the sixth best guy on his season of NXT. McMahon just loves that roided up look. Okay rant over. Cena does a dive off of the top onto like 25 dudes. Great chaos outside the ring. Ryback with a real Vin Gerard-level Samoan Drop. Wait, no shitting? That was the finish of the Lumberjack match? Excuse me while I clean up this pink lemonade I just spit all over myself.
Cena with his back against the wall. A trope we know (and mostly) love. Ryback's "Spear" makes me yearn for Kaitlyn's. Even Edge's (shudder). It's not quite on the Jimmy Jacobs end of the scale but it's not far off! Ironically love the way Cena sells being thrown into the ring steps by pushing them away like he's working through a corn maze. Table match ended quickly and forgettably. Ambulance match can only truly work if we get Kane vs. Shane McMahon levels of stupid, potentially dangerous bumps. Ryback powerbombs Cena onto the announcer's table which came off pretty wild and nasty. Plus it probably spilled Lawler's diet soda so kudos on that. I'd lose my mind if Viscera was inside the ambulance. Just saying. What if the ambulance suddenly became sentient and grew eyes and a mouth and started saying shit? Now that'd be interesting stuff. Oh, sorry, I'm daydreaming again. And sadly this isn't a Pixar presentation. If you're going to brawl go the Nasty Boys route and make it dumb and painful and disgusting. This tepid walking from shoddy spot to the next is cumbersome. "This looks like something out of a Bond movie!" quips Michael Cole. The finish sees Cena give Ryback the "Attitude Adjustment" through the roof of the ambulance. Decent visual but the journey to get there wasn't a joyride.
John Cena is one of the best champs of this or any era. He's been in many of my favorite WWE matches of the past decade. But this was weak sauce. To put it in perspective I'd rather re-watch that Danny Doring and Roadkill vs. Bilvis Wesley and Prodigy match off of Highspots' complete ECW on TNN set I recently sat through. Yuck.