Roman Reigns won the Universal Championship at, yet that’s not the big story from the event. More importantly, Reigns turned heel. After years of WWE trying to portray him as a leading man, only for continuous rejection from the audience, Reigns is officially now a villain.
He’s aligned himself with Paul Heyman, and won the title in conspicuously nefarious fashion. He pulled a Brock Lesnar, entering his Triple Threat match with “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman at the tail end after the other two guys had sufficiently killed each other.
Of all the moments that you’d want in front of a live crowd, a Roman Reigns heel turn is right up there. Regardless, this certainly gives you a reason to tune into SmackDown on Friday.
Other highlights include Keith Lee beating Randy Orton and Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler winning the Women’s Tag Team championships. Below are Payback results, a full recap and analysis.
Roman Reigns wins the Universal Championship
Roman Reigns is a heel now, and he’s the Universal Champion.
Here’s the story: On SmackDown, Reigns had yet to sign a contract for this match. But he did align himself with Paul Heyman, indicating that he would potentially turn heel at Payback. Throughout this show, it was noted that Reigns had yet to sign the contract for the No Holds Barred Triple Threat match. This ended up playing out with “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt and Braun Strowman killing each other for 10 minutes, hitting finishers, crashing through tables and destroying the ring itself, before Reigns came out, signed the contract and took advantage.
He hit Wyatt with a low blow, wailed on Strowman with a chair and the hit a spear on Strowman for the win.
It was a weird match. Wyatt and Strowman was a car wreck, with the two absolutely demolishing each other. But it was hard to care about because we knew Reigns would eventually join, and really nothing mattered until that point. As an angle, it’s momentous.
After 6 years of trying and mostly failing to make Reigns the top babyface, WWE has officially turned him heel.
Rating: 3 stars.
Rey and Dominik Mysterio beat Seth Rollins and Murphy
This was a fantastic tag team match. After a long bout, Rey and Dominik Mysterio got the win over Seth Rollins and Murphy when Dominik hit a 619 and Frogsplash combo on Murphy for the pin.
This was essentially a better version of Rollins’ match with Dominik last week at SummerSlam. Dominik did exceptionally well in that match, but it was still his first in WWE — and it was long. Here we got the best parts of that showing as well as the awesome additions of Rey and Murphy.
Plenty of back and forth action in the second half of the match, which culminated in Murphy accidentally kicking Rollins in the head when Mysterio countered a buckle bomb into a Hurricanrana. This feud hopefully culminates with a Mysterio versus Rollins singles match without a dumb stipulation, like their Eye for an Eye bout, because the best parts of this tag team clash was certainly when Rey and Rollins were in the ring together. Magic.
Rating: 4 stars.
Keith Lee pins Randy Orton
After a surprisingly short match, Keith Lee beat Randy Orton clean with a Spirit Bomb in the middle of the ring.
In a sense, this wasn’t a super good demonstration of Keith Lee. He didn’t get in much offense throughout the match — I can only recall him hitting a big shoulder tackle and a back drop to the announce table on the outside — and showed off little of his insane athleticism. Orton took much of the match, scored his draping DDT and set up for an RKO. Lee countered the RKO into a Spirit Bomb, and then 1-2-3.
As a match, this ended just as it was getting good. But that’s OK, because giving Lee a decisive win is really the most important thing.
Rating: 3 stars.
Shayna Baszler and Nia Jax win tag titles
Shayna Baszler is so great.
Baszler won the Women’s Tag Team Championships for herself and Nia Jax by putting a dual submission on Sasha Banks and Bayley. Baszler had a leg lock on Banks and a Kirifuda Clutch on Bayley. She got the win when she took Banks’ arm and used it to strangle Banks.
I question the wisdom of taking the tag titles off Banks and Bayley, basically the only team in the company that lift the belts up to meaningful status. This is especially true since the straps will likely be a prop in an upcoming Jax and Baszler feud. But we’ll have to wait and see.
This match was a lot of fun. Banks and Bayley did a fantastic job at working around their larger and more monstrous opponents. Nia Jax played the monster well, acting as a wrecking ball throughout, and Baszler is, as noted, great.
Rating: 3.5 stars.
Matt Riddle defeats King Corbin
Matt Riddle pinned Baron Corbin after a Floating Bro corkscrew moonsault, which Michael Cole implausibly called “the win of Matt Riddle’s career.”
Riddle entered the match in a huff, with Corbin having tweeted something about Riddle being a dodgy husband. Despite his frustration, Riddle was caught off guard during his entrance by an ambushing Corbin. Matt Riddle is super fun to watch, but this match was taken too much by Corbin with only flashes of Riddle’s exciting offense.
After the match, we see Riddle walking down a hallway, congratulating himself on beating Corbin and being able to move on to greener pastures. This of course led to Corbin attacking him from behind, which means there’s more Riddle versus Corbin in our future.
Rating: 2.75 stars.
Big E pins Sheamus
This was positioned as a match between two wrestlers jockeying to become a top SmackDown star, with Michael Cole telling us several times before the bell how important this match is. In the end, Big E beat Sheamus after a Big Ending.
It was a fairly long match that ended up rather good. Sheamus worked over Big E’s leg throughout, dropping Big E knee-first into edge of the ring and applying several submission holds, including a heel hook. Though the middle of the match felt a plodding, it ended up working towards a heated finish. That finish came abruptly though — just when it seemed like Big E would begin to mount a comeback, he instead hit the Big Ending and got the three count.
The bout also played into the story that Big E needs to get more serious to succeed as a singles star. When he had the upper hand on Sheamus, he started his patented hip gyrations only for Sheamus to take advantage of the lapse in concentration.
While the match wasn’t particularly exciting, it did do a solid job of putting more fuel behind Big E’s singles push.
Rating: 3 stars.
Bobby Lashley wins US Championship
Payback’s main show opens with Bobby Lashley defeating Apollo Crews to win the United States Championship. After the match, as Lashley posed with his Hurt Business associates Shelton Benjamin and MVP, Apollo Crews jumped Lashley from behind, but was fought off by Benjamin and MVP. Crews’ music played to end the segment for some reason.
Not much to say about this basic match. It started out with Lashley scoring some amateur wrestling slams on Crews and involved brief distraction from MVP and Benjamin. Lashley took most of the match, Crews mounted a comback but ended up tapping to the Full Nelson. A to B match.
The plus side is that the US title goes to the Hurt Business, which has the makings of a really strong faction. Hopefully this is the beginning of momentum for Benjamin, MVP and Lashley, as the trio has main-event potential.
Rating: 2 stars.
Ruby Riott and Liv Morgan beat The IIconics in an 9-minute kickoff-show match.