AllState Arena - Chicago, IL
June 1, 2014
**1/2 out of ****
The second incarnation of WWE Payback feels a lot like angel-hair pasta. Yes, you can make a satisfying meal with a plate full of angel-hair pasta, but its of a rather thin consistency. Beef ravioli or fettuccine alfredo would be far heartier than noodles easily mistaken as the thread in the hem of your cargo shorts.
How thin can pasta be to a) still be considered pasta and b) still be filling? The feud between John Cena and Bray Wyatt has been stretched so thin that's lost its elasticity, and Wyatt reciting the same chorus in a breathy drone every week only deadens its snap. Evolution and The Shield have had enough staredowns in the past two months to fill a WWE release on Blu-Ray.
That's been a common criticism of late-era WWE, that the storytelling grows so uninspired and elementary, that a feud stretched across three PPVs is beyond lifeless by the rubber match. The company could pass out black armbands and hold a tribute show for said feud the next night on Raw.
That was the ill that induced some gags and wheezes out of a so-so event in front of usually fiery Chicago, who slipped in and out of silent paralysis through the night (to be fair, there was probably anxious tension toward the result of the Blackhawks-Kings seventh game, which Chicago ultimately lost in overtime). WWE's last three PPVs in 'The Windy City' (Money in the Bank 2011, Extreme Rules 2012, Payback 2013) are all memorably superb, and the crowd played a role in each's success. If WWE was relying on the crowd to bail out weak storytelling going in, they should've pulled harder for the Kings in game six.
The best match of the night was the main event, The Shield vs. Evolution in an elimination-style no holds barred match. After the six men tore down North Jersey with a show-stealer at Extreme Rules, this one didn't quite pack the same punch. The schizo-paralysis worked its way in and out through the match, which itself alternated between frenetic and basic.
Rollins continues to fit seamlessly into the opening of "young heartthrob who throws himself off of high places" that Jeff Hardy vacated five years back, which goes a long way in letting him stand out amongst loose screw Ambrose and chosen beast Reigns. Evolution getting swept out is less surprising in 2014. Had Batista (in his best 1986 Rougeaus ensemble) and Orton bowed out in 2003, I'd be wryly thinking, "So, Hunter's pulling this off 3-on-1, eh?" Triple H needing happy fans to stabilize the company under his thumb is more apt to lock the ego away.
Cena and Wyatt's Last Man Standing bout was considerably less satisfying, but at least it was several rungs above Cena going full Popeye spinach bender on all three Wyatts alone, only to be felled by the kid who punked out Cam Newton.
Fans who may have lost power during a storm, only to have it come back on during the match, may have been wondering when The Usos signed to face Luke Harper and Erick Rowan. Wouldn't have been a dumb thought, considering all four men carried about half the body of the match. Cena-Wyatt wasn't insulting like it was at Extreme Rules, but 'scattered' is a good label for the deciding match. I still think anyone that could write a coherent flow chart detailing every point of the feud, without blowing their retinas out, should win free WWE Network for a year.
Speaking of scattered, there was reportedly a meeting before the Memorial Day Raw in which Helmsley and McMahon clashed over the use of the midcard, with the son-in-law wanting more focus on their storylines as a way to make their eventual elevation easier. Apparently, Helmsley also believes Raw lacks "flow", and I'll assert that belief. Raw most weeks is like a three hour arthouse flick edited by someone with horse blinders and an eye-patch.
What we get are decent midcard battles for gold like Barrett vs. Van Dam and Sheamus vs. Cesaro, with no attachment aside from our prior feelings toward the characters. Yeah, they're fine matches, but I'd like to think emotional attachment goes a longer way than workrate.
I don't have hard data at hand, but I'd wager that the midcard serves as a microcosm for how a company projects creatively. In 1995, WWE was largely awful, and the midcard was one WrestleCrap entry after another. In 1998-2000, WWE thrived, and the top 20-25 guys on the show had a purpose AND were coming through in action. In 2003, WWE hit a slump, and much of their midcard was filled with stale Attitude cogs and uninteresting OVW call-ups.
In 2014, the midcard's all dressed for the dance, but there's no dance to speak of. Shows like Payback, for as mostly solid as it was, tell me, "The dance was weeks ago, and we're still talking about it."
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