The Good, the Great and the Awesome from WWE Payback 2014
Sunday night at Payback, a red-hot Chicago audience witnessed what felt like the conclusion of two marquee rivalries, a slap heard 'round the world and three champions of European origin retain their titles against tough challengers.
John Cena buried Bray Wyatt underneath equipment cases to emerge victorious in the Last Man Standing match. The Usos helped fend off interference from Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, and the match succeeded where the previous two contests between Cena and Wyatt failed.
The Shield proved to be the dominant force in WWE by defeating Evolution in the night's main event. Batista and Randy Orton's eliminations put Triple H at a distinct numbers disadvantage and set him up to be speared and pinned by Reigns.
Sheamus, Bad News Barrett and Paige successfully retained their titles, and Rusev continued rolling over the competition by making Big E tap to the Accolade.
With the June 1 pay-per-view in the books, relive the best of the best from Payback with this edition of "The Good, the Great and the Awesome!"
Cody Rhodes and Goldust vs. RybAxel
Cody's slow turn continued at Payback, as he once again was the cause of his team's loss.
Despite having his first attempt at the Disaster Kick thwarted, he went back to the well again and ended up in the grasp of Ryback, who finished him off with a Shellshock for the win.
After the match, Rhodes told his brother Goldust that he needed to find a new partner, something the ring veteran greeted with a look of disbelief.
Where Sunday's match leaves the team at this point is unclear. Will Goldust be able to talk his brother into reconsidering, or has the frustration set in to such an extent that Rhodes would rather quit on the team than cost his brother any more wins?
More importantly, will Rhodes undergo a heel turn, or is this story setting up a redemption angle that will finally see him pushed to a level he has been unable to get to thus far in his career?
Rob Van Dam vs. Bad News Barrett
The quality of the Intercontinental Championship match was going to depend on two factors: The motivation of RVD and the chemistry between champion and challenger.
While not a blow-away title bout, the match was a hard-fought one that accomplished its goal of putting Barrett over the grizzled veteran Van Dam in front of a red-hot Chicago crowd.
The fans inside the Allstate Arena showed respect to both men, alternating between "RVD" and "Let's go Barrett" chants before settling down and enjoying the action.
The missed Five-Star Frog Splash, followed by the challenger dodging the Bullhammer, was a nice spot. The next time Barrett tried the move, he connected and scored the pinfall victory.
With the heel prevailing cleanly, it should spell the end of the program, but with the creative team doing very little to actually craft entertaining midcard stories, it is not out of the realm of possibility that they just go back to the well for the next month.
Big E vs. Rusev
The former Intercontinental champion and Bulgarian Brute had never competed against one another on WWE television prior to Payback, and while they were not afforded a great deal of time, they delivered a competitive, high-impact match.
Big E tossed Rusev around and delivered a great spear through the ring ropes and to the arena floor. Lana looked concerned as E rolled her charge back into the ring, but that worry was unfounded. Rusev withstood the attack and forced a tapout with the Accolade.
A good match that continued Rusev's roll and hinted at strong chemistry between the two should management decide to advance the rivalry.
Sheamus vs. Cesaro
The United States Championship match kicked off Payback and did so in hard-hitting fashion, as Sheamus defended against "Swiss Superman" Cesaro.
Paul Heyman's latest client relied heavily on his trademark European uppercuts and some strong forearm strikes, but the double-tough Celtic Warrior showed great resolve and managed to fight back.
Cesaro nearly won with the German suplex while Sheamus' White Noise nearly scored the victory for the champion.
An inside cradle on an unsuspecting Cesaro delivered the win for Sheamus and opens the door for a rematch, perhaps as soon as Monday's Raw.
There was a lot of discussion about a loss for Cesaro potentially derailing his push. That should not be the case. Cesaro lost to a great competitor, a former WWE and World Heavyweight champion, and did so via a fluky roll-up.
It did not damage Cesaro whatsoever, and the loss can easily be negated with a strong victory over Sheamus or a Superstar of similar stature. He will rebound, and the fact that he has Heyman as a mouthpiece will only make the process quicker and more seamless.
John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt
John Cena and Bray Wyatt were in desperate need of a great match to pay off their rivalry.
They got that match Sunday night. They pulled out all stops in front of a Chicago crowd that was completely invested in the action they were providing.
The involvement of The Usos, Erick Rowan and Luke Harper added to the match rather than taking away from it.
There was very little in the way of technical wrestling, and the high spots started early. Cena delivered multiple Attitude Adjustments, and Wyatt introduced his rival to Sister Abigail on more than one occasion. The violence increased with every passing minute, building until the finish, which saw Cena delivering yet another AA to Wyatt, this time through an equipment case.
Cena shoved another case on top to prevent Wyatt from emerging and waited as the official counted to 10.
The irony of Cena burying Wyatt, quite literally, is not lost on this writer. Still, it was a fitting and adequate way to end the story.
If that is, in fact, the end.
The Shield vs. Evolution
Sunday's main event was a tale of two matches.
The first half of the bout focused on Evolution working as a unit to decimate The Shield. They isolated The Hounds of Justice and beat them down in hopes of picking them apart one by one.
Seth Rollins then made a leap of faith, jumping off the video screen and re-energizing his teammates. Reigns and Ambrose fought back, and the Hounds systematically destroyed Evolution. Rollins eliminated Batista following a spear from Reigns.
Ambrose finished Orton off with Dirty Deeds onto a steel chair.
This left Triple H and his trusty sledgehammer to square off with all three members of the opposing team. As one would assume, it did not end well for The Game. Reigns flattened the COO with the spear and pinned his boss, fitting retribution for the three-on-one beating the second-generation star took earlier in the bout.
The match culminated a heated rivalry that featured the rise of The Shield to the top of the company. As they had so many times in the past, they worked together as a team to overcome three of the greatest stars of this generation.
Where this leaves The Hounds of Justice is a bit of a mystery at this point, but one thing is for certain: If Rollins keeps executing those high spots and continues to be the glue that holds the group together, he is going to be the real breakout star, regardless of how hard the company attempts to push Reigns on the fans.
There was only one way that the entire segment featuring Daniel Bryan, Brie Bella and Stephanie McMahon could end that would result in a satisfying conclusion, and fans saw it Sunday night.
Bryan handing over the titles would make him look bad. Allowing him to let his wife be fired would make him look worse. Stephanie stripping Bryan of the strap would be logical but could have been done on Raw without wasting valuable pay-per-view time.
Brie stepping up and quitting instantly endears her to the audience more than anything she had done to this point. Her slapping Stephanie won her even more fanfare and ended the segment on a high note.
Could a high-profile match between Bella and McMahon be on the horizon, perhaps with the state of Bryan's title reign at stake?
Only time will tell.