WWE Payback 2020 had the difficult task of following in the footsteps of a memorable SummerSlam show that took place just a week ago, but it more than delivered with a near-flawless show highlighted by Roman Reigns’ Universal title win and Keith Lee’s lightning quick victory over Randy Orton.
Over the past week, WWE viewership rebounded for both Raw and SmackDown following the events of SummerSlam, and Payback’s card featured the continuation of a lot of storylines that seemingly climaxed at SummerSlam just seven days prior. Although it’s not easy for WWE to produce two quality events with so little time in between, Payback featured some fantastic wrestling in matches like Sheamus vs. Big E and plenty of notable storyline developments, like Reigns’ continued heel turn and a big title loss for Sasha Banks and Bayley.
Let’s take a look at the biggest hits, misses and key takeaway from the second pay-per-view of the ThunderDome Era, WWE Payback.
Hit: Bobby Lashley Wins The US Title
Talk about rehabilitating Bobby Lashley’s character, huh? At the beginning of 2020, Lashley was a poorly booked midcarder without much direction. Now, he’s the nearly unstoppable United States Champion.
WWE typically doesn’t have its babyfaces tap out, but that’s precisely what Apollo Crews did after Lashley locked in his Full Lashley submission at Payback, giving Lashley the win and ending the surprising US title reign for Crews. For all of WWE’s creative faults, the company has done a tremendous job of rebuilding Lashley as a dominant heel on Raw, and his win over Crews only further cements him as one of the best heels going in WWE at the moment.
This is exactly the type of booking Lashley should have gotten immediately upon his return in 2018, but hey, better late than never.
Key Takeaway: Crews’ loss may not bode well for the now-former US Champion, who has struggled to get a consistent spot on TV for much of his career.
Miss: Seth Rollins’ Backup Continues To Struggle
WWE booked the right outcome at Payback when Dominik and Rey Mysterio beat Seth Rollins and Murphy in a very good tag team match, with Dominik getting the win for his team as he should have.
But Dominik’s big victory came at the expense of—no surprise here—Murphy, who continues to be quite possibly the worst backup in all of WWE. Although it’s clear that Rollins is the leader of his group that is now actually down to a duo, WWE has done a poor job of giving his No. 2 Murphy any sort of legitimacy as his right-hand man.
In turn, Rollins’ “Monday Night Messiah” gimmick continues to be hampered by the lack of any real followers and their own lack of credibility. WWE needs to do a better job of booking Rollins’ cronies, or else his already somewhat stale character is going to continue to trend downward.
Key Takeaway: One report states that AOP will return soon and be paired with Rollins once again, which might be the best move for Rollins at this time.
Hit: Big E Wins Great Match Against Sheamus
With Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods currently off SmackDown and no definitive timetable in place for their returns, Big E is getting his first singles push in more than half a decade, and it got off to a great start at Payback.
Big E defeated Sheamus after a wildly entertaining match that really allowed Big E to shine and demonstrate his potential to be a main eventer in the near future. Over the course of the past several days, many fans have been clamoring for WWE to build to Big E vs. Roman Reigns for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania 37, and though a lot can happen between now and then, WWE is doing a solid job of pushing Big E thus far.
Starting him off with wins over proven veteran talents like Sheamus is a great way to give him some credibility as a singles star before he moves on to the bigger fish in the pond down the road.
Key Takeaway: Big E has all the tools to win a world title at some point in 2021, but the booking by the creative team will go a long way toward determining his future success or lack thereof.
Hit: Sasha Banks And Bayley Near Implosion
Sasha Banks and Bayley seem to be about one-one hundredth of an inch away from absolutely imploding and throwing away their entire friendship—and it’s making for riveting TV.
While there is this overall sense that WWE should pull an AEW and hold off on big career-defining moments until fans are in attendance once again, the buildup to the eventual Banks/Bayley split has been so good that it may prove to be too difficult for WWE to hold off their seemingly inevitable breakup. At Payback, they dropped the Women’s tag team titles to Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler in a wise move that will give other women a chance to shine in the tag team division while taking The Golden Role Models one step closer to a full-fledged meltdown.
Although the pairing of Baszler and Jax is a bit odd and the whole “tag team partners who don’t like each other” shtick is definitely overplayed, perhaps this could be similar to what we saw with Cesaro and Sheamus, who at first couldn’t stand each other but ultimately grew into a great tag team in The Bar. More importantly, though, the big victory for Jax and Baslzer was well-executed and paves the way for the highly anticipated split of Banks and Bayley
Key Takeaway: With the duo now down to just one title in Bayley’s SmackDown Women’s Championship, the next logical step is for Banks to take that belt from her, though WWE should take at least a couple of months to build to that.
Hit: Roman Reigns Becomes Universal Champion In Heel Fashion
Roman Reigns is the new Universal Champion, and though that’s unfortunate for Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman, it’s what’s best for SmackDown at the moment.
For most of the past year (minus Goldberg’s very brief reign), Strowman and Wyatt have held SmackDown’s Universal title and dominated its main event scene, and during that span, the show’s viewership has decreased fairly consistently. Though “The Fiend” and “The Monster” shouldn’t take all the blame for that, the time is right for WWE to put the Universal title on Reigns to see how he fares as Universal Champion, especially now that he’s a heel alongside Paul Heyman.
In addition, “The Fiend” doesn’t have to be limited by holding a world title and was protected by Strowman taking the pin. Though Reigns is sure to have even more detractors after winning the Universal Championship so soon after returning, a loss at Payback would have instantly stopped his momentum, which is something WWE couldn’t risk doing given the buzz that his return created.
What’s more, the way Reigns won the title—by entering the match well after it started—firmly entrenches him as a bona fide villain.
Key Takeaway: This appears to be a case of WWE reverting back to its original plan that would have seen Reigns defeat Goldberg at WrestleMania 36, so essentially, WWE has reached its same goal—just nearly half a year later.
Hit: Keith Lee Wins His Debut Match In Impressive Fashion
Don’t let the ridiculous ring gear or lame entrance music fool you—Keith Lee is the real deal. At Payback, the Raw newcomer defeated Randy Orton in roughly six minutes to win his first PPV singles match, and that’s a great sign for his future.
WWE turned quite a few heads—but not in a good way—when Lee debuted on last week’s Raw with a few unnecessary changes, but WWE reportedly has big plans for the big man that will see him featured heavily as one of Raw’s top babyfaces. A huge win on pay-per-view over a top star like Orton is a fantastic way to get the ball rolling on Lee’s push after his rocky start last Monday.
The match between Lee and Orton wasn’t the classic it could have been, but Lee’s quick win—though not a traditional squash—made him look like a force to be reckoned with, which is exactly what WWE should be going for with the former NXT Champion.
Key Takeaway: Because Orton is likely continuing his feud with McIntyre, Lee may need to find a new rivalry on the red brand.