The 2014 iteration of WWE's Payback pay-per-view was a resounding success for fans who wanted a quality show front to back that featured the impressive depth of the roster.
With little in the way of proper, interesting builds in the aftermath of WrestleMania XXX, fans in Chicago and around the globe were treated to in-ring spectacles that pushed various stories forward. It was a quality effort considering the top name in the company—champion Daniel Bryan—was relegated to a girlfriend-oriented sideshow thanks to injury.
Alas, an overall quality effort was still ripe with ups and downs. Let's examine a few of the great aspects of the show, with a balance of the negative takeaways for good measure.
Cesaro's Loss to Sheamus
If the WWE is serious about building up the U.S. title to relevancy once more, then mission accomplished.
But at the same time, it's disheartening to see such a promising new face such as Cesaro take a marquee loss just months removed from winning the Andre the Giant Battle Royal at WrestleMania and shortly thereafter being named a Paul Heyman guy.
Now, losing to a powerhouse such as Sheamus is not the biggest deal in the world, but being duped by a small package is:
Awww stop yer yodelling @WWECesaro, console yourself with a fondu & some rosti... i'll be having a guinness & a larf.— Sheamus (@WWESheamus) June 2, 2014
It's a classic heel loss, but at the same time, the confusing buildup for Cesaro continues. He is supposed to be a heel, but the fans love him. A loss to Sheamus, who feels stale in the same vein as John Cena—who similarly also won't undergo many changes—is not the way to build a monster heel.
Perhaps this is meant to build to something bigger. But as of this moment, it feels like a hastily thrown-together feud so both men have something to do. Until further notice, Cesaro has no momentum.
John Cena's Win over Bray Wyatt
Arguably the best match of the night was marred by a predictable finish.
John Cena and Bray Wyatt's stellar feud, which not only has elevated Wyatt to new heights and shown wrinkles of the Cena character fans have yet to see, needed a thrilling payoff in a story sense.
Instead, Cena yet again overcame the odds. This time the feat was in a last-man-standing match, a great idea with better execution until the finish. Fans were served another edition of Cena getting destroyed for the majority of a match before winning and acting as if nothing ever happened.
At the very least, Cena could have used nefarious means to put Wyatt down. Yet, WWE's reluctance to go that route shined through, and how Wyatt's character recovers may be looked back upon in a few years.
Honorable mention: Bluetista
The Slap Heard Around the World
That one word best describes how the WWE Universe will feel about Bryan's segment with Stephanie McMahon.
On one hand, a certain segment of fans will hate the idea of Brie Bella slapping Stephanie after quitting. Any hope of an interesting interim champion storyline is dead, and Brie's involvement screams a Total Divas narrative more than anything—which puts the WWE's top title in a strange spot, to say the least.
But on a more positive note, the segment as a whole was superb. Bryan keeping the title was the only real option for the most over competitor in the company and also suggests he'll be back in action sooner rather than later.
The payoff for seeing the tyrant that is Stephanie get slapped is great, too:
Add in a public jab at CM Punk by Stephanie, WWE's first true public admission that he walked out—while he was in the building next door, no less—topped off an intriguing segment. As long as the payoff is proper down the line and the title itself is not trivialized, the segment was gold given the circumstances.
The Shield's Clean Sweep
As Payback faded to black, the three members of The Shield stood over Triple H after dismantling one of the most dominant factions in WWE history in 3-0 fashion.
It's a fitting (potential) end to an easy-to-book showdown, although going into the night it was hard to imagine WWE would put over Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose in such a major way.
The middle name in particular—as he is fond of doing and surely will for a long time to come—stole the show with some risky acrobatics:
While whispers of the trio breaking up continue to occur before each major match, The Shield's chemistry is a sight to behold. The action was quick and violent on Sunday night and proved yet another classic put forth by three young performers busting their chops with a trio of legends.
Kudos go to Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista for doing what's best for business. The next road traveled by The Shield is hard to discern, but the group's momentum has never been stronger. When a faction can main event a pay-per-view without any sort of hardware involved, it means something special is happening.
Honorable mention: Potential Rhodes Brothers split