WWE Payback 2013: 10 Talking Points

1. Another loss for Ryback

Ryback’s defeat at the hands of John Cena in their 3 Stages of Hell match last night means that he has now not managed a win on pay-per-view since last July’s Money in the Bank. That in itself is bad enough for Ryback’s credibility as a top tier worker, but what is more concerning is that it’s difficult to see where the character goes from here. Having had a programme vying for the WWE Title late last year as a face, then turning heel and having another unsuccessful run at trying to win the title, Ryback has gone through about 3 years-worth of storyline progression in the space of just 8 months.

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Now, having failed to land the title in what was likely (and hopefully) the concluding match in his feud with John Cena, one can only imagine where Ryback goes next. Following his latest defeat, his aura as a monster heel has already been extinguished and as it has only been 2 and half months since his heel turn, turning him back to a face does not seem like a serious option. Of course, it is always possible that Ryback will win one of the Money in the Bank matches in July, which would give him some purpose going forward, but for the time being, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ryback’s main eventing days are over.

2. Cena Needs New Challengers

A major reason for the position Ryback finds himself in now is that his heel turn was premature given the number of possibilities Ryback still had as a babyface. The reason the WWE proceeded with the turn, was that they were in desperate need for someone to face Cena in his first programme following his recapture of the WWE Title at Wrestlemania 29. Now that Cena has ploughed through Ryback, Cena finds himself in exactly the same position he was in straight after ‘Mania and in need of a fresh challenge to the gold.

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Looking through the roster, and in particular the heels on it, it is clear that there really isn’t all that many options left that WWE can put up against Cena next. The fact that the company had to manufacture a Ryback heel turn in order to give Cena an opponent in the last two pay-per-views does not seem to have shaken the creative team into any immediate action, which is concerning, because even if they are able to line up a new threat to Cena to fill a gap at Money in the Bank (against Mark Henry for example), this issue will be on-going until they find a way to create a fresh batch of heels, or until Cena himself turns.

3. Should CM Punk have gone on last?

There was no doubt who the star of the show was last night, at least with the live crowd, who were clearly anticipating Punk’s match with Jericho above all others on the card. Granted, to pay-per-view customers the show had been built around the 3-Stages of Hell match which had undoubtedly been presented as the main event of the evening prior to the show. But for those in attendance in Chicago last night, the most important match was that which saw the return of their hometown hero.

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As a consequence, whilst the atmosphere stayed decent for the tag match, and the lumberjack portion of the main event, it did start to fall away towards the end, something that wouldn’t have been an issue if Punk and Jericho was the final match of the night. Given the obvious level of crowd noise that was going to be generated for Punk and the likelihood that Punk and Jericho’s match would be a far more exciting contest than the billed main event, it isn’t a stretch to believe that WWE would have prepared for this by thinking outside of the box and rearranging the match order slightly.

4. The Del Rio/Ziggler double turn

In an exciting development from last night’s show, the WWE appeared to push the button on a double turn for the participants in the World Heavyweight Championship match. Whilst, in typical heel fashion, Alberto Del Rio took every opportunity to exploit the concussion that Ziggler had previously suffered in order to win the match, Ziggler showed tenacity and great resilience in attempting to keep the title despite the injury that was putting him at an obvious disadvantage.

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The writing has been on the wall for Del Rio as a face ever since he was scripted to pander to the audience during the road to Wrestlemania earlier this year. The controversial race-related storyline with Swagger just about carried him through to this point, but WWE fans have been crying out to boo the guy for a while now. In the meantime, Ziggler garnered perhaps the biggest pop in the WWE since Punk’s victory in Chicago at Money in the Bank 2011, when he cashed in his briefcase on Raw the night after Wrestlemania 29. As such, it would appear that the WWE has gone with the flow and aligned both to their natural place on the roster, if that’s the case it certainly wouldn’t surprise me to see their feud with each other continue on to Money in the Bank next month.

5. WWE can build the Diva’s division around AJ Lee

The WWE Diva’s division has been in a rut for around about a year now thanks to an exodus of some of the more talented members of the female crew who saw the writing on the wall and left. Matters haven’t been made much better by the fact that the best female worker that’s left in the company, Natalya Neidhart, has been reduced to playing a comedy role next to Hornswoggle and The Great Khali or that Triple H in his lofty position in the company power structure has confessed to not having a huge passion for restoring value to the female ranks.

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Last night however, the WWE took a giant step towards something resembling a recovery plan with the title win of AJ Lee. AJ is the kind of person who a division can be built around; she is over, she can talk and she knows her way around the ring as proved by her decent outing last night with Kaitlyn. In short, AJ has the ability and personality to make the WWE Divas division mean something again, now she just needs some decent opponents.

6. A push for Curtis Axel or the Intercontinental Title?

Having been introduced to the WWE Universe the night after Extreme Rules, Curtis Axel has been given an envious run of matches in Raw main events opposite Triple H and John Cena. Whether this was simply a way of fast-tracking Axel into the Upper Midcard bracket in the roster or part of a larger, long-term plan for him is yet to be seen but last night, Axel’s push continued as he won the triple-threat match for the Intercontinental Title.

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Dean Ambrose’s United States Title win last month has already helped the status of that belt by putting it on someone who is in the midst of a serious push against other upper midcard wrestlers, maybe last night’s win for Axel was to try and accomplish the same thing for the Intercontinental Title. Neither The Miz or Wade Barrett is going anywhere fast at this point, but with Axel still embroiled in a storyline with Triple H, the Intercontinental Title is now on somebody who the company seem to have plans for, giving it every opportunity to mean something again.

7. An awkward US Title Match

Dean Ambrose is a very talented young wrestler who, as part of The Shield, has been subject to some of the best booking WWE has managed in years. Ambrose has the ability to cut a good promo and is an impressive in ring worker, last night however, he and Kane struggled in their match for the United States Title, finding each other’s styles awkward despite the fact that they’ve been on opposite sides of the ring in countless tag matches over the last 6 months.

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It did come as some surprise to me that Ambrose’s first pay-per-view defence of the US Title should come against Kane, when you consider the quality of matches that Ambrose could have with Kane’s (former?) tag team partner Daniel Bryan. Kane didn’t seem the natural pick for me, and last night’s off kilter match confirmed that, given the lack of chemistry that he and Ambrose had in the ring. Still in spite of the match quality, working singles matches with Kane, and more importantly, being made to look his equal, will mean that Ambrose’s star continues to rise.

8. Has Rob Van Dam got the appetite to have another successful run in the WWE?

One of the highlights of last night’s show was the announcement that Rob Van Dam will be returning to the WWE at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view next month. Van Dam’s return has been rumoured on a number of occasions over the past couple of years and with his contract with TNA ending recently, WWE obviously felt now was the time to bring ‘The Whole F’N Show’ back to the fold. Throughout Payback last night following the announcement, the fans in Chicago could be heard chanting for ‘RVD’ which is good sign that he retains a large following amongst the WWE Universe and that his return will be eagerly anticipated.

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But what Rob Van Dam are we expecting to turn up in a month’s time? If it is the Rob Van Dam who was a shadow of his former self in TNA, putting forth disinterested and cumbersome performances in the ring over the past 3 years, then I would be happy enough if we never saw him compete again. Now at the age of 42, Van Dam is no longer the fleet footed youngster he was when he first showed up in the WWE back in 2001, and one has to wonder if he is still capable of the kind of dynamic performances that were once his trademark.

9. Was Punk’s return a one off?

As yet, it has not been made clear whether or not last night’s match for CM Punk was a one off, designed to placate the Chicago fans before he returns to his sabbatical, or whether this was the beginning of Punk’s return to full time action. Punk is one of the biggest stars in the company and also one of the most talented, and no doubt the company will be eager to get him back to action sooner rather than later (clearly they believed simply putting Punk in a match on pay-per-view would help their buy rate, whether it was preceded by any kind of storyline or otherwise).

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What the company must be careful of, is ensuring Punk has a clear direction on his return, and something for him to strive for. After having the longest WWE Title reign in 25 years, then facing The Rock and Undertaker in huge matches during Wrestlemania season, CM Punk is one of their hottest properties and a misstep right now could be very costly. Last night, there were hints that Punk was selling ring-rust or maybe complacency during his match with Jericho, and there was also one moment where Paul Heyman’s actions almost cost him the victory, either could form the basis of an interesting new direction for Punk to go in if this was the beginning of his full time return, but that is still not a certainty.

10. Time For Orton’s Heel Turn

Last night it was once again spelled out, loud and clear that Daniel Bryan is the most over man in the company, when the reaction to Bryan’s entrance and offence was almost as loud as that reserved for CM Punk on his home patch. Couple this with the likelihood that The Shield would retain their Tag Team Title’s, last night seemed to me to be the perfect opportunity for them to execute Randy Orton’s long awaited heel turn, but alas they held off once more (maybe feeling that a heel turn on Raw would, with more people watching, have more of an impact).

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There is no doubt though, that Orton is in desperate need of a return to heeldom after the non-descript 3 or 4 years Orton has had playing a face. At this point, with Orton showing more enthusiasm for his work than he has done for a long time, it is the perfect moment for him to kick off a new heel run, and who better for him to have as his first opponent at this time, than perhaps the most popular guy in the company, Daniel Bryan.

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