WWE Payback 2014: Best and Worst Moments so Far from Road to Event
The road to Payback on June 1 has been a bit of an uneven one.
While the show's top two matches have been set in stone seemingly since the night after Extreme Rules, the undercard has been a jumbled mess.
At one point, it looked like Daniel Bryan would defend his WWE title against Kane in any number of special gimmick matches. A neck injury to Bryan necessitated changes to those plans.
Rob Van Dam looked poised to face Cesaro in the continuation of a feud that intensified 24 hours after Extreme Rules. Then Cesaro split off and began a program with new United States champion Sheamus. Van Dam, on the other hand, won a Beat the Clock Challenge match to become No. 1 contender to the intercontinental title held by Bad News Barrett.
Alicia Fox and Paige wrestled several matches against one another before Fox snapped and beat Paige in a non-title bout. Fox will likely compete for the Divas Championship at the pay-per-view.
With the show finally taking shape following the May 19 episode of Raw, here is a look back at the best and worst moments on the bumpy, at times uneven, road to Payback.
BEST: Sheamus Wins the United States Championship (Raw, May 5)
Just 24 hours after he, Randy Orton and Batista were defeated by The Shield at Extreme Rules, COO Triple H set out to make the lives of the Hounds of Justice miserable.
He did that by first targeting Dean Ambrose's United States championship, booking the "Lunatic Fringe" of The Shield in a Battle Royal for the title.
Ambrose showed great resiliency, despite enduring tremendous punishment the night before, and made it until the final two competitors. Unfortunately, the surging Celtic Warrior Sheamus proved to be too much for the champion. He delivered a big Brogue Kick and dumped Ambrose over the top to claim the win and the US championship.
Sheamus' win brought to an end Ambrose's near year-long title reign and immediately restored prestige to the championship. That is not to say that Ambrose devalued it, but the fact that it was only defended a handful of times over the course of 300-plus days is not necessarily something to brag about.
The Celtic Warrior, with nowhere else to go thanks to the feuds at the top of the card, can carry the title with respect and work with the likes of Cesaro, Jack Swagger and Alberto Del Rio while rebuilding the championship.
WORST: Daniel Bryan, Brie Bella and Kane Shenanigans (Raw, May 5)
There is a charm to '80s slasher flicks that endear them to audiences some thirty years later. They are fun, simple and nostalgic. Michael Myers from the Halloween franchise, Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street and Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th became pop culture icons and helped fuel countless sequels.
With that said, if wrestling fans want to watch a slasher, they will pop in one of their favorite films and watch them at their pleasure. They do not need poor imitations on Monday nights during Raw, something they were unfortunately exposed to on the May 5 episode.
Daniel Bryan and Brie Bella were in a somewhat celebratory mood following the former's victory over Kane the previous night at Extreme Rules, when Stephanie McMahon intervened and reminded them of the pain and suffering Kane is capable of when angry.
This sent fear shooting through Brie, and Bryan went into protector mode. After defeating Alberto Del Rio, the married couple was on its way out of the building when the horror movie cliches kicked in and Kane appeared. Bryan fended him off while Brie screamed in horror (maybe) and Kane was left to watch as they sped away.
Rather than putting the hero and love in danger and creating suspense, it created laughter. It was a completely ineffective segment that made the hero look like an idiot.
BEST: Evolution Lays out the Shield (Raw, May 5)
A hero is only as good as the villain he has to face.
For The Shield, their villains were looking mightily inadequate leading up to Extreme Rules. Evolution had only gotten one over on the Hounds of Justice once leading into the show and that came after 11 other Superstars beat Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins to a pulp.
After losing at the May 4 pay-per-view, Triple H, Batista and Randy Orton were in desperate need of a show of dominance—if not for themselves, then for the story. After all, who wants to see the good guys continuously beat up the same bad guys without any sort of challenge or obstacle for them to overcome?
Evolution got their measure of revenge on The Shield after a war with the Wyatt Family capped off the night's program. The former heavyweight champions dispatched Ambrose and Rollins, then hoisted Reigns high in the air and delivered a triple powerbomb, a mocking gesture to say the least.
It added further heat to the program and gave a reason for it to continue. That is the very definition of a successful segment.
WORST: John Cena Addresses the Wyatt Family (Main Event, May 6)
John Cena's address to the WWE Universe on the May 6 episode of Main Event stayed true to the character and portrayed a man whose convictions were unwavering in the face of Bray Wyatt's emotional and physical onslaught.
So what is wrong with it?
Fans have seen the shtick before. It is the same "never back down," "hustle, loyalty and respect" promo we have all been exposed to over the course of the last decade. He spouted off the "never give up" line, then shilled his new rally towel to close out the show.
It was a pointless segment that was unnecessarily hyped. It added nothing to the feud and was a waste of Cena on a Main Event show WWE has used to promote its network.
BEST: Roman Reigns Powers Past Mark Henry (SmackDown, May 9)
On the May 9 episode of SmackDown, Triple H continued to pick at The Shield, booking them in singles competition against three former World Heavyweight champions.
Roman Reigns was drawn against Mark Henry, the one man stronger than him on the current roster. Reigns suffered a great deal of punishment but was able to recover and fight back. In the most memorable moment of the match, he lifted Henry onto his shoulders and delivered a thunderous Samoan Drop.
A spear and a three count secured the victory for Reigns.
Reigns is clearly the guy the company is grooming to become their next main event star. He gets the hot tag in nearly all of The Shield's matches and is spotlighted at the finish. He certainly has a presence about him and has crafted a nice, crowd-popping signature move set that will carry him far in the landscape of sports entertainment that WWE has built.
Anytime a Superstar is capable of lifting someone as big as Henry on his shoulders and plant him without dropping him or injuring himself, it is impressive.
No matter how repetitive it may be.
BEST: Sheamus vs. Dean Ambrose (SmackDown, May 9)
Four days after capturing the United States Championship from Dean Ambrose in a Battle Royal on Raw, Sheamus was tasked with defending against the "Lunatic Fringe" to kick off the May 9 episode of SmackDown.
The competitors proved to have a great deal of chemistry between them, delivering an excellent match to kick off the evening's program. Ambrose was phenomenal as the scrappy underdog fighting from underneath while Sheamus reminded fans that he can easily control a match as the de facto heel.
Ambrose mounted a frantic comeback but the champion was able to catch him with the Brogue Kick to win the match and retain the title.
A match that had very little to do with any ongoing story, other than being Triple H's latest attempt to stick it to The Shield, but it did get Sheamus' title reign off to a strong start and established him as a fighting champion.
BEST: The Shield Takes the Hunt to Evolution (Raw, May 12)
One week after they were left lying at the hands of Evolution, The Shield kicked off Raw and promised to take the fight to their rivals.
They did just that, watching from the ring as Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista rolled up to the arena in a black stretch limousine. By the time the former world champions emerged from the vehicle, they were victims of an onslaught at the hands of the Hounds of Justice.
Later in the night, they left Evolution reeling again by interrupting their in-ring promo.
The Shield reacted exactly as three men who have been beaten down and humbled by their main rivals should. They were angry and repeatedly attacked Evolution.
Batista, infuriated by the lack of respect shown to him and his teammates by The Shield, challenged Roman Reigns to a match. Reigns accepted and the bout was booked for the main event.
That they came from out of nowhere to do so created an air of unpredictability that made the show more exciting to watch.
BEST: A Foxy Meltdown (Raw, May 12)
For nearly a month, Alicia Fox had done everything in her power to try to knock off new Divas Champion Paige and earn herself a shot at the title.
On the May 12 episode of Raw, she attacked Paige prior to the bell and left the young Brit barely able to continue. Turning in a gutsy performance, the champion not only continued, but she also overcame Fox's vicious and brutal assault and scored the victory.
The match sent Fox into a mental breakdown. She threw a fit at ringside, ripping the cover off the announce table, berating ringside officials and stealing JBL's custom-made white cowboy hat.
She strutted to the back as the fans applauded her actions.
Fox has been one of the most underrated and underappreciated performers on the entire roster for the better part of two years, now. While she rarely had the opportunity to showcase her abilities outside of the occasional multi-Diva tag match, it was clear that she was consistently growing and evolving as a worker.
Her recent work in NXT against Alexa Bliss showcased a more aggressive side of Fox that has bled over to Raw and SmackDown. Whether that match, taped weeks before her recent push, caught the eye of management and earned her the push is unknown but it was a hint that she was more than ready for that run at the Divas title.
Regardless, Fox's breakdown injected some life into a character fans could not have cared less about prior and has the talented young woman on the road to potential pay-per-view title bout.
WORST: Bryan Announces Neck Surgery (Raw, May 12)
When the WWE World Heavyweight Champion suffers a neck injury and needs to undergo surgery, it is never a good thing. It is always cause for concern.
When that champion is someone you spent eight months building up before paying off his journey with a grand title win at WrestleMania—a champion who took the second week of his title reign off to go on a honeymoon and then returned to find out that his father had unexpectedly passed away, requiring more missed time—there is cause for panic.
Daniel Bryan's long-awaited reign as champion has been off to anything but a smooth start to this point. Thus, there was something so sad about watching him stand in the center of the ring and announce that he would miss time due to a neck injury.
After being screwed around by management for so long, only to fight through the backstage politics and ride a wave of fan support to the top of the industry, Bryan has seen what should be the biggest push of his career marred by things outside of the business.
Hopefully he can return and continue his run as champion in a timely manner. If not, there is always hope that he will return to the title picture whenever it is that he steps back into the squared circle.
BEST: Sheamus vs. Cesaro (Main Event, May 13)
The May 13 episode of Main Event set in motion a rivalry between two hard-hitting competitors that could very well lead to a show-stealing match at Payback.
Earlier in the night, Cesaro attacked Sheamus from behind, adding heat to their match later on in the broadcast.
That match was every bit the physical bout that fans expected. Forearms, uppercuts and power holds were on display. The fight eventually spilled outside the ring, and the two proud competitors ignored the referee's count and focused solely on dishing out more punishment to their opponent.
Cesaro grabbed a chair and blasted Sheamus in the midsection with it as referees attempted to pull them apart. The battle continued until the US champion was left standing to close out the broadcast.
Sheamus and Cesaro have delivered some high-quality wrestling matches in 2014. Two of the workhorses of today's WWE, they have proven to have some solid chemistry with one another. In a pay-per-view setting, with more time to craft a match, they have the potential to steal the show right out from underneath The Shield, Evolution, John Cena and Bray Wyatt.
WORST: Natalya vs. Nikki Bella (SmackDown, May 16)
A storyline developed based on Total Divas will never play to the WWE's audience at large.
There are not enough fans who watch the show on a regular basis to care about anything the company tries to build off it. The crossover appeal simply is not there. The general fanbase does not care that Nikki Bella disrespected a piece of art that Natalya drew for her.
On the May 12 episode of Raw, Natalya and Nikki had a fairly competitive match that ended with a win for Bella. The Total Divas at ringside added nothing to the match at all but it was an unoffensive way to spend three minutes on a three-hour show.
Their rematch on the May 16 SmackDown was significantly worse than their previous bout. It was disjointed and sloppy. Simply put, it was ugly and the fact that Eva Marie proved to be a worse referee than she is a wrestler did not help matters.
That the feud was not followed up on Monday night may be an indicator that it was every bit as bad as it looked and that the company will not opt to continue the program.
WORST: El Torito Pins Heath Slater (Raw, May 16)
El Torito pinned Heath Slater during a six-man tag team match on the May 9 episode of SmackDown.
Slater, determined to regain a shred of dignity, took on El Torito in singles competition a week later.
The feud between Los Matadores and 3MB should have ended at Extreme Rules when El Torito and Hornswoggle had a WeeLC match that was significantly better than it had any right to be. Instead of ending on a high note, the creative team stretched the program out, leading to lackluster segments that killed the effectiveness of the match on May 4.
Hopefully, El Torito's win spelled the end of a rivalry that has clearly eclipsed its sell-by date.
BEST: "I Am Evil" (Raw, May 19)
The May 19 promo by Bray Wyatt was not only the best microphone performance in the young star's career, it was one of the best promos of the last five years.
The meat of the promo came when Wyatt recalled a discussion with his grade school teacher in which she said he was evil. To this he replied, "Look at me now! I've got the whole damn world in my hands." He said the line with such anger and passion that it was easy to forget that one was watching a man play a character.
"I am evil. I am the necessary evil that must exist in this world to balance everything out," he said, a smile on his face and the crowd hanging on his every word.
The promo hinted at a Wyatt who was talked down to, treated as if he was lesser by those around him and now has the ability to shove his success in all of their faces.
With all due respect to Paul Heyman, it was a masterful performance by a young man who has developed into the best talker in professional wrestling.
BEST: John Cena vs. Luke Harper (Raw, May 19)
The John Cena-Wyatt Family storyline took center stage on the May 19 episode of Raw as, hours after Bray Wyatt's outstanding promo, Cena took on Luke Harper in the night's main event.
Harper delivered a fine performance, breaking out a headscissors and suicide dive as JBL questioned whether the massive competitor even knew what he was doing—"I think he just does things."
Cena, not to be outdone, pulled off a headscissors of his own and generally seemed to be working hard to deliver a quality match in front of the vocal, passionate UK audience.
The match ended in disqualification when a brawl between Wyatt, Erick Rowan and the Usos interrupted the action between the ropes. After the bell, Cena was left lying on the ramp following two Sister Abigails at the hands of the charismatic cult leader Wyatt.
The third-generation star led the audience in a rendition of "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" while Harper counted to ten, proving that Wyatt could, in fact, keep Cena down for the duration of a ten count.
It was the perfect hook for the Last Man Standing match between Cena and Wyatt at Payback and a conclusion that should have been saved for the last Raw before the event.