Sunday, July 3, 2022

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Payback in Review: It Pays to Be Bad

A mid-week match announcement and half-assed buildup aren’t exactly the makings of an exciting Divas Pay-Per-View match. Payback, by all indication, was set up to be forgettable event in Diva-land, and depending on your viewpoint, it may as well have been.

For me, though, the match pitting Naomi and Tamina Snuka against Brie and Nikki Bella made the best of its laughable plotting and positioning. The winning team looked heelishly strong, and the losing team was awarded with plenty of fan sympathy. It moved us forward.

With another Pay-Per-View on the horizon (like, right on the horizon), it’s easy for me to forgive a less-than-memorable showing. Don’t get me wrong, they’re totally getting shown up by the NXT Divas when Takeover takes place this Wednesday, but things could be a lot worse.

…And with that inspiring thought, let’s watch.

Before the match, Eden catches up with Brie and Nikki:

Eden asks Brie about her husband Daniel Bryan‘s status, and she gets emotional, professing her belief in him and saying that he’s her inspiration for tonight.

Nikki says tonight isn’t about emotion – it’s about proving that the Bellas are a real family. She says Naomi will soon run out of excuses as to why she isn’t the Divas Champion.

Match time!

In the ring, after all the entrances and flair, Naomi and Nikki start things off, tying up. Naomi quickly takes control, stomping on Nikki’s foot and kneeing her in the face. She pummels Nikki in the corner a bit before backing off. When she returns, Nikki fights her off and nails her with a second rope enziguri. Nikki goes for an early pin, Naomi kicking out easily.

Nikki brings Naomi over to her corner and lets Brie tag herself in. The Bellas toss Naomi into the ropes and flatten her with a tandem flapjack. Brie covers Naomi for the pin, but Naomi kicks out again. She quickly tries to take back control, fighting off Brie and running the ropes. Brie halts her momentum with a kick to the midsection, sending her into the opposite ropes and kneeing her again.

Brie hits Naomi with a running knee strike and tries to do more damage, but Naomi fights free, slipping out of the ring. Brie isn’t interested in giving her a breather, as she follows her to the outside and grabs her by the hair. She pauses before tossing Naomi back into the ring, making eye contact with Tamina. Tamina makes no move to attack Brie until she’s positioned on the ring apron, taking a moment of distraction to nail her with a superkick. This sends Brie falling back to the outside of the ring.

Nikki tries to check on her sister, but the referee sends her back to her corner. It’s then Naomi’s turn to return Brie to the ring, tossing her in and following before the referee’s count can get any higher. She immediately covers Brie, but Brie kicks out at two.

Naomi continues the work that Tamina’s superkick did, punching Brie in the back of the head and slamming her face-first onto the mat. She then stands on Brie’s hair, yanking her up and threatening to pull it out by the roots. She stops at the referee’s insistence and continues to punish Brie by other means, beating her down a bit more before going for a cocky pin, her boot on Brie’s stomach. Brie kicks out easily.

Naomi tags in Tamina and lets her at Brie. Tamina sends a swift boot into Brie’s back before knocking Nikki off the apron for good measure. She tosses Brie back into her corner roughly, kicking her viciously in the stomach before tagging Naomi back in. Naomi’s in for a few seconds – long enough to kick Brie – before she tags Tamina in again.

Tamina nails Brie with a back elbow in the corner. Brie falls to the mat and tries to crawl to her sister, but Tamina won’t let that happen. She grabs ahold of Brie and taunts Nikki with her. Brie starts to fight back, but before she can gain any momentum, Tamina sends her straight back to the corner, tagging in Naomi.

Naomi lands a few right hands on Brie before taking her to the middle of the ring and hitting a neckbreaker. She pins Brie – in another cocky position – but Brie kicks out. Naomi captures Brie in a front facelock, taking the opportunity to beat on Brie’s back a bit while she sets her up for an inverted move. Brie twists free, though and makes a leap for her corner. Naomi catches her, keeping Brie just out of reach of Nikki’s outstretched hand. Brie manages to slip free, though, and gives Nikki the hot tag.

Nikki comes storming in, hitting Naomi with clotheslines and a dropkick before tossing Naomi bodily across the ring. She then hits an Alabama Slam before going for the pin. Tamina breaks the pin just as Naomi herself kicks out. While she’s in the ring, Tamina attempts a superkick on the champ. It’s ducked, though, and Nikki sends Tamina out of the ring with a forearm and a dropkick. However, Tamina hangs on to the ropes, and Nikki needs to kick her off. This distraction allows Naomi to sneak up behind her for a roll-up pin attempt. Nikki kicks out.

Naomi tries to keep control, whipping Nikki into the ropes. Nikki hangs on to the ropes, but that allows Tamina to sneak up behind her. Nikki takes a swing at her, but misses, and walks right into a Rear View. Naomi pins her, confident that that’s enough to put Nikki down for the count. Surprisingly, though, Nikki kicks out with authority.

Having recuperated, Brie takes that moment to take Tamina out, hitting her with an explosive Lou Thesz press from the ring steps. Back in the ring, an exchange between Nikki and Naomi ends with a spinebuster from Nikki. She pins Naomi, but only earns a two-count.

Nikki drags Naomi in position before exiting the ring, heading for the top rope. Tamina then tosses Brie roughly into the barricade, eliminating her from the equation. Meanwhile, Naomi springs to her feet and grabs hold of the distracted Nikki, tossing her off the top rope and all the way to the mat. The rough landing is enough to knock Nikki loopy, and Naomi pins her for the three count. Naomi’s pinned the Divas Champion!

Post-match, Naomi and Tamina talk about the win:

When asked if she proved her worthiness for a Divas Title shot tonight, Naomi says she’s already proven herself. She goes to challenge Nikki to a title match at Elimination Chamber, but Tamina asks her why she doesn’t just do it on Raw. Naomi says that’s a great idea, and I start to fear about the longevity of Naomi’s push.

Elsewhere on the card, Lana and Natalya tasted defeat by proxy, watching on as their charges lost big matches.

Natalya could only watch as Cesaro and Tyson Kidd fell to Kofi Kingston and Big E in a Tag Title match after some trickery involving Xavier Woods.

So, Freebird Rule?

Lana had it even worse, helping Rusev quit in his I Quit match with John Cena:

In what I’m positive is part of Lana’s master plan, she translates Rusev’s “I quit” for the referee, putting a halt to the match. I mean, she said as much on Twitter:

By Rusev’s reaction after the match, though, her translation skills leave a lot to be desired. Very sneaky, Lana. I can’t wait for the reveal. I’m sure it’ll be epic. Let the Lana chants commence!

Thoughts: My expectations were pretty low, given how little effort the WWE put into the tag match’s build-up. This was some good old-fashioned tag team wrestling, though, Naomi and Tamina isolating Brie and making quick tags. Even though it lacked the feeling of a Pay-Per-View match (felt more so a above-average Raw segment) it did its job, selling Naomi and Tamina’s toughness and making us (or some of us, anyhow) root for the Bellas even more.

Can I personally thank the match’s booker for a distinct lack of rest holds? Praise be!

The finish wasn’t executed all that greatly, though part of it could be blamed on the crappy camera angles. The fact that Michael Cole had to give us ham-fisted exposition of what was happening while pretty much says it all.

Poor Brie looks weaker than ever, though the commentary wants to place part of the blame on Daniel Bryan’s career uncertainty. One of the Bellas had to take the beating, I suppose, and not being the Divas Champion, Brie was the obvious pick. Nikki didn’t look all that strong here, either, which makes me wonder if they’re protecting her. There were whispers of a Nikki injury last week, but would she really be taking bumps off the top rope if she was nursing an injury? Maybe this is just some one-sided booking.

If it’s just the booking, it makes me wonder what their endgame is. Obviously, in wrestling, we follow a general pattern: when one side has clear momentum, building towards a Pay-Per-View, the other will win the match/feud. That pattern can be broken, obviously, but Diva feuds usually aren’t complex enough to swerve us that often. Since Elimination Chamber is just two weeks away (*insert agonized groan here*), I’m guessing Naomi’s title shot on Raw will see her (unfortunately) come up short. I’m dying for a title change, and Naomi deserves it more than anyone at this point, but the way things are being structured, it just wouldn’t make sense for Nikki to get beaten down repeatedly and then lose the title. Unless she’s heading off of TV for a while, I can’t see the WWE burying Nikki.

Maybe, though, Naomi could do all of that and build towards a triumphant Nikki chasing the title. That’s a basic babyface move, one Trish Stratus employed a couple of times. I’d actually love to see that: the babyface battling back, looking poised to triumph, but ultimately losing it all. Then, she goes back to the drawing board and fights her way back.

But, with Paige‘s return imminent, I’m thinking the Raw title match will end in some inconclusive way that sticks her in the equation, making for a Triple Threat match at Elimination Chamber. Honestly, that makes the most sense. It would be a crime, though, if that scenario pushed Naomi to the side. Let’s just not do that, WWE, okay? Okay.

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