Even after a month, the unfulfilling, entirely mediocre meal, Extreme Rules provided was still leaving a bad taste in my mouth, even as a very casual WWE fan (long story short, I followed pro-wrestling obsessively for nearly two decades and only watch now for the occasional glimmer of brilliance). Fortunately, Payback served as a palette cleanser from leftfield, offering seven matches that for the first time made sense, whether it was forging a new path ahead or merely tying up loose ends in a way to please fans who suffered through countless dead-in-the-water feuds. While the 2013 Payback event won't ever go down in the records as a hallmark in WWE programming, it is a very small step towards the remainder of the 2013 year being something to look forward to.
Thankfully, the lesser of all the night's matches occurs right out the gate, with Curtis Axel capturing the Intercontinental Title in a triple threat match against reigning champion Wade Barrett and The Miz. It's a classic, mid-card TV-level match thrown on a pay-per-view solely to elevate the status of a new star, Curtis Axel (son of the late, great Curt Hennig). From there, history would dictate the modern WWE Divas match is destined to disappoint, but AJ Lee and Kaitlyn bring their A-games in the match for the Diva's Championship, giving fans a glimpse of female wrestling that we haven't seen in the WWE since the days of Trish Stratus, Lita, and Mickie James. I'd go as far as to say it's the most entertaining match on the card outside Punk vs. Jericho.
The remaining mid-card is high-quality filler with one noted exception. Dean Ambrose and Kane entertain the crowd more than adequately, despite the expected outcome, before Alberto Del Rio and Dolph Ziggler square off for the World Heavyweight Championship in a better than expected match up, that does leave a sour taste in the mouth due to the double-turn at the conclusion of the match. Thankfully, before that has much time to sink in, the long awaited return of CM Punk to the squared circle is unleashed, with Punk getting a huge hometown pop and getting down to business with Chris Jericho. Jericho, despite likely never being a main event player ever again, is a great choice for Punk's return and the two put on a very entertaining match, that is more co-main event than mid-card.
Following Punk and Jericho's match-of-the-night bout, The Shield takes on Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton, in what set the stage for a possibly career making turn in Bryan's career at Summerslam. At the time, this match felt like filler, but Bryan really gets a chance to shine against a team that has been a dominant , nigh unstoppable force since debuting nearly a year ago. It wouldn't be a modern era WWE event without a John Cena match, and the reigning WWE Champion finally gets to shake the stink of Ryback in what will hopefully be their final main event pairing, a Three Stages of Hell Match. The match is brawl through and through, with the crowd pleasing finish coming off as equal parts cheesy and satisfying, signifying the coming de-push for Ryback and positioning Cena, who would desperately need to take time off in the coming months for surgery a chance to set the stage to pass the baton to Daniel Bryan as the top face in the company.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer sports brilliant, rich color reproduction of the event itself. Detail levels are not as strong as something sourced from a modern HD broadcast should be, possibly due to some minor compression artifacts that seems to be the standard for WWE DVD releases (it's much better than a few years back).
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio is a solid, albeit non-mind-blowing experience. Commentary is front and center, but never mixed to overpower the sounds of the arena, nor do the mics focused on the in-ring action feel off-balance. A few matches in, and the sound isn't as immersive as being live (simply due to the constant commentary), but there's nothing to detract from the experience.
The sole two extras are a discussion of the vent by C.M. Punk and Paul Heyman as well as a recap of the feud between The Shield, Team Hell No, and Randy Orton. Sadly, the pre-show match between Damien Sandow and Sheamus is absent, given it ran a solid 10-minutes.
As expected the Punk/Jericho contest is the inevitable crown jewel in a very solid event. The Cena/Ryback main event was basically pleasing and definitely not something we'd get on TV anytime soon, while the remaining card all gave the fans their money's worth and kept storylines moving. In hindsight, "Payback 2013" serves a point of interest in the direction the 2013 WWE year would take and is an entirely solid offering. Recommended.