WWE Payback 2014: Most Memorable Moments from PPV Event
Sunday night at Payback, World Wrestling Entertainment presented a pay-per-view that desperately needed the marquee main events to succeed. They did just that and delivered some truly memorable moments in the process.
John Cena's war with Bray Wyatt was a legitimate contender for Match of the Year and featured the necessary conclusion in which good triumphed over evil. The Shield dispatched of Evolution, putting an end to their reunion and preserving the youth movement in professional wrestling.
Brie Bella answered the ultimatum handed down by Stephanie McMahon with a slap that will likely have long-lasting effects on both Bella and her husband, and one of the longer-tenured members of WWE's roster had his head shaved bald.
For a show that was criticized for being full of rematches and haphazardly booked feuds, it delivered several snapshots that are likely to stand the test of time and define the entire event.
Without further ado, here are the most memorable moments from Sunday night's Payback.
A Bald Leprechaun...or Whatever He Is Now
Sunday night's Payback kicked off with a Hair vs. Mask match between Hornswoggle and El Torito, the culmination of a two-month feud that desperately needed to end back at Extreme Rules.
It did not, so fans were tasked with wading through a month of crap to get to the match that finally put an end to it.
Despite interference from his fellow 3MB mates and an attempt to de-mask El Torito before the end of the bout, Hornswoggle could not overcome his opponent and was declared the loser via pinfall.
He made his way to the barber's chair and took his shaving like a man. For the most part. By the time shaving cream was introduced to the ordeal, he began voicing his displeasure with the situation, but it proved to be exactly what it should have been: The heel got what was coming to him, the babyface got his revenge, and the company followed up on the advertised stipulation.
Any time a Superstar or a Diva loses a hair stipulation, it means something. The rarity of the gimmick makes it instantly memorable, and while Hornswoggle did not put up a fight to escape, it was still a fun way to kick off the show.
The Slap Heard 'Round the World
One of the biggest questions leading into Payback was what Daniel Bryan would choose to do with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Would he hand it over, giving The Authority everything they have wanted since WrestleMania, or would he allow his wife Brie to be fired by the vindictive Stephanie McMahon?
The answer, as it turned out, was neither.
Rather than standing by and allowing Stephanie to toy with her fate, Brie Bella took charge and quit WWE. The decision instantly made her more popular with the WWE Universe than she had ever been before.
The incredibly hard slap that followed did more to make fans want to see a match between the two women than any of the rematches from the show that the company will present involving actual wrestlers.
Bryan and Brie celebrated as Stephanie rushed to the back, her ego damaged and her face undoubtedly stinging following the hard shot from the Total Divas star.
Stephanie hit it out of the park with another excellent heel performance, but the night belonged to Bella. A month ago, the raven-haired beauty was involved in an awful backstage segment with Kane that exposed her weak acting ability.
Sunday night, she hit all of her marks and won over a vocal, passionate Chicago crowd that did not care about her before. A solid performance on all accounts.
The only questionable element of the segment was the use of Daniel Bryan. Yes, he made a few jokes at Stephanie's expense, but he more or less stood in the background and needed his wife to stand up for him and prevent a scenario in which he had to forfeit his titles.
While he was not in the position to put up a fight, something more definitive from him would have helped him save face and look less like an idiot who needed his wife to save him from the evil boss lady.
It's All Fun and Games Until You Catch Steps to the Face
The Last Man Standing match between John Cena and Bray Wyatt was a brutal, violent affair that delivered everything their first two matches did not. It was a phenomenally worked match in which the high spots intensified with every minute that passed before culminating in a big Attitude Adjustment at the top of the stage.
But one spot in particular stood out as the most impressive.
Bray Wyatt introduced the steel ring steps into the squared circle and wasted little time using them as a weapon. He bounced them off of Cena's face in an attempt to get the leader of the Cenation to stay down, but that was never going to happen.
Cena fought back and cleared Wyatt out of the ring. Then, in a spectacular display of strength on Cena's part and an even more spectacular display of guts on Wyatt's, the former WWE champion tossed the steps over the top rope and caught Wyatt square in the face.
It was a spot the Chicago crowd, not typically what one would call Cena fans, popped for. More importantly, it added a rarely seen spot to a match that has been overused in recent years and helped create a sense of freshness.
The spot was so good that it easily could have been used as the finish. Wyatt, showing great toughness and determination, clawed his way back to his feet and the match continued on.
Which leads us to our next great moment.
Harper and Uso's Crash Landing
Late in the Last Man Standing match, The Usos, Luke Harper and Erick Rowan made their way back to the squared circle and joined Cena and Wyatt for a few table-heavy spots.
A superplex is a move that hurts when the competitors are crashing down to the safety of the mat below. It rattles the body and jars the spine and sends pain shooting through the limbs.
Now, imagine a scenario in which said superplex sent the Superstars crashing through two tables at ringside.
That is exactly what happened as Harper delivered the move to Jimmy Uso. The spot was incredibly dangerous, and the fact that Harper himself all but missed the tables and hit the floor extremely hard made it that much worse.
The crowd came alive for the spot, while Michael Cole, JBL and Jerry Lawler's selling of the move on commentary made it that much more impressive.
The most important thing to come out of the spot was that it eliminated both Harper and Uso and allowed Cena and Wyatt to have the definitive one-on-one finish the match and feud deserved.
Evolution's Whipping Boy
Roman Reigns was singled out repeatedly by Evolution in the weeks leading up to Payback. He was obviously the member of The Shield they feared most. On Sunday night, they again attempted to put him out of commission in hopes of picking apart the scraps of the remaining two members.
With Ambrose and Rollins out of commission at the top of the entrance way, Evolution beat Reigns down and ripped off his combat vest. Batista held his arms out above his head, exposing Reigns' back to Triple H.
The Game used a kendo stick on the second-generation star's back, marking it with welts and cuts.
It was a brutal and unsettling scenario to watch, but it added emotion and heat to the match. Reigns would fight through the pain and become a key piece in The Shield's victory, delivering spears to Batista and Triple H that would result in their eliminations.
Reigns needed a performance like the one he delivered Sunday night.
He has repeatedly been presented as a world-beater, the so-called "cleanup man" for The Shield. He explodes into matches to great fanfare, using the same five or six moves to put away opponents, and then reaps the rewards and the spotlight.
Sunday, he had to prove his resiliency. He had to prove that he was capable of taking a beating and fighting back. He did just that. As a result, the No Holds Barred Elimination match may be a key moment on his way to the top of the industry.
Whose That Jumping Out the Sky?
The turning point in both Shield-Evolution matches came when Triple H, Batista and Randy Orton lost track of Seth Rollins and wound up paying dearly for it.
So much attention was paid to wearing down the powerhouse Reigns and the lunatic fringe Dean Ambrose that the wily veterans forgot all about the architect Rollins, who climbed the set and dove off the video screen with a high cross-body block, wiping out all three of his opponents.
That one moment allowed The Shield to fight back into the match and ultimately conquer Evolution in the war of attrition.
It is clear that WWE has major plans for Reigns. A year ago, Ambrose was the star of the group and the man most likely to receive a push following the dissolution of the faction. If WWE is not careful, however, Rollins will become the unlikely breakout star of the group, not unlike Batista did with Evolution back in 2005.
Rollins is the best wrestler of the three. His work in Ring of Honor speaks for itself, and, in many ways, he is as responsible for The Shield's string of outstanding matches as anyone else. He takes the big bumps but also executes the high-energy offense that keeps the crowd invested.
His high spots make sense within the context of the match, and his unpredictable, high-flying nature means the Hounds of Justice are never truly out of a match.
Sunday night's dive was spectacular and really injected the match with an energy it was beginning to lose because of the dominance of the villains.
Kudos to Rollins for that, not to mention the top rope knee that set up the match-winning spear from Reigns.
A United Force
There was something so poetic about the conclusion of the match between The Shield and Evolution.
Triple H stood in the ring, clutching his sledgehammer in defiance of the situation he found himself in. As if the weapon was his spot, he refused to give it up in the face of the youth movement that confronted him. He paid dearly for it, catching a knee to the face and a spear to end both his night and the reunion for Evolution.
Every experienced veteran is faced with the moment in which he recognizes that he is no longer superior to the young talent on the roster. Sunday night, Triple H continued to do what is best for business by lying down for three extremely talented stars who will serve as the pillars for his company in the future.
In many ways, both Extreme Rules and Payback served as Evolution's passing of torch to The Shield as the Hounds took over as this era's dominant faction. Like Evolution before them and the Four Horsemen before them, The Shield not only pick apart the competition, but they also dominates the landscape of professional wrestling.
Rollins, Reigns and Ambrose standing tall over the unconscious body of the boss was an appropriate image to end the night on, and it will ultimately define the intense rivalry.