|Image Source: Amazon|
Running Time: 356 Minutes
Number Of Discs: 2
Studio: Fremantle Home Entertainment
Released: July 17 2017
(Thanks to Fetch Publicity for arranging this review.)
Since WrestleMania 33, the fortunes of Raw and SmackDown have changed, mostly due to the Superstar Shake-Up which switched several wrestlers around. Raw has improved with a more star-heavy main event scene, some interesting mid-card feuds and Kurt Angle returning as Raw General Manager. SmackDown, however, has lost much of the shine it had prior to Mania, largely due to the sudden and unpopular ascension of Jinder Mahal from an opening match act to the position of WWE Champion.
It remains to be seen as to whether this will continue (it's possible that these trends will carry on until the next roster switches, which may not be until 2018), but in the meantime both brands served up their first PPV events after Mania, Payback and Backlash respectively. Both cards ultimately followed the same pattern as the television shows, with Payback being pretty good but not truly great, whilst Backlash was a disappointing event which couldn't shake off the B-level tag that SmackDown in general once again has.
Beginning with Payback, then, Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho is a fun opener with a surprising ending, considering the rumours that Jericho was about to take another leave of absence from WWE. Neville vs. Austin Aries is another good match, but the finish is a bit of a let-down. Better is the doubles clash between The Hardyz and Cesaro and Sheamus, during which Sheamus legitimately knocks out one of Jeff Hardy's teeth by accident, with a notable post-match angle to boot.
Bayley's defence of the Raw Women's Championship against Alexa Bliss is also entertaining, and arguably the best match that either lady has had since coming to the main roster. Then comes the already-infamous House Of Horrors match between Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt (which lost much of its appeal once Bray's transfer to Raw meant that the WWE Title wouldn't be at stake). A lot of people criticised this match but, whilst I'm not going to suggest it was a great battle by any means, it was an attempt at something different by WWE, a one-off attraction built around Wyatt's gimmick, and isn't that what fans are crying out for these days: unpredictable and unique content?
The House Of Horrors bout was a two-part affair, and in the middle of that we get a pretty good Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe, albeit one which it could be argued didn't quite match high expectations. Finally, it's Roman Reigns against Braun Strowman, which is an enjoyable main event that moves along what, by this point, was the hottest rivalry on Raw. This feud is still ongoing at present, and I predict that many will consider it to be the feud of the year. The question is, will the much-maligned Roman receive any of the credit for this?
So, Payback was a very good show overall from an in-ring standpoint, albeit one with no genuine classic matches. But that's still a lot better than how Backlash turned out, which evoked memories of the dark days of 2004-2005 when the overpushed and average-at-best John Bradshaw Layfield dominated the main event scene, with the crop of major stars or talented performers relegated to insignificant matches or bouts which simply didn't live up to the hype.
Case in point: Shinsuke Nakamura's official main roster debut was promoted as being something truly special, and understandably so. Unfortunately, though, his battle with Dolph Ziggler was just adequate at best, with Ziggler having far more offence than anyone expected, and with Nakamura only demonstrating a sample of his repertoire. Shinsuke's matches haven't set the world on fire since, but whether this is due to Nakamura himself or restrictions placed upon him by WWE is debatable. Would it be controversial for me to suggest that Roman Reigns has had a much better year in the ring so far in 2017 than Shinsuke? (I'm not a massive Roman fan by the way, but Nakamura still receives the royal treatment by fans even though he hasn't had a truly great match in WWE since 2016.)
The Usos vs. Breezango is an amusing doubles match, with Fandango and Tyler Breeze finding their niche as a comedy act with just enough strong material to make them a popular part of the SmackDown brand. Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin is a basic yet inoffensive match with a surprising outcome, though little has been done to capitalise on it for the winner since then. The six-women tag match isn't up to much, to be honest; it exists to give the likes of Natalya and Tamina something to do really, but that's all it does, and the match is a big comedown for Charlotte following her high-profile adventures on Raw (her star is currently nowhere near as bright as it had been on the red side).
Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles is the best match of the night, and possibly the top encounter across the two-disc set. Even this feels like a mild disappointment, though, partly due to the finish which was booked to move the feud along, but left a dampener on the night's only genuinely good match. Luke Harper vs. Erick Rowan is filler, due to its lack of real reason to exist. Finally, there's Randy Orton vs. Jinder Mahal for the WWE Title: you probably already know how this ends, so I'll simply say that the booking makes sense on a business level, but considering the lack of any push for Jinder prior to becoming #1 contender for Orton's title here, and his previous status as a low-card jobber, it's completely understandable why fans have been left disillusioned by WWE's decision to go in this direction. This feud remains ongoing at present, which partly explains why SmackDown as a whole feels second-rate at present. Still, the match isn't that bad, which is something I guess.
The extras consist of the Kick-Off Show matches from each event: Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, and Tye Dillinger vs. Aiden English respectively. There's also a Miz TV segment with Finn Balor, which would be the only involvement that either man had at Payback (Dean Ambrose bizarrely made no appearance whatsoever, months after main eventing SmackDown PPV events in WWE Title bouts).
This is a tough one to recommend. Payback has several matches which are well worth watching, but none of them are truly must-see, and whilst I think that many fans had made their minds up on the House Of Horrors bout before it even happened, it still marked the low point of that show. As for Backlash: the reaction to the main event and KO vs. AJ are worth going out of your way to see, but this isn't enough to support rewatching this card. If Shinsuke Nakamura's match had lived up to his reputation, then things would be different; because this wasn't the case, and with several filler matches padding out the show, Backlash ended up as WWE's weakest PPV of 2017 up to that point.
Arguably, the biggest reason to suggest buying this DVD is to examine how much better Raw is than SmackDown at present. And strangely enough, whilst some put this down to The Miz and Dean Ambrose leaving SD as a weaker show and helping to make Raw stronger, neither man factored into the main card at Payback whatsoever, whilst the Raw show didn't even feature its main champion Brock Lesnar (not that that's a surprise these days). Backlash, meanwhile, features AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Shinsuke Nakamura and others, and yet this PPV was still a let-down. But we'll have the full debate on why Raw is superior to SmackDown again another day; with regards to this DVD, there's a fair few matches that I would suggest watching, but not enough to make this an essential DVD for you to own.
Overall Rating: 6.5/10 - Okay