September 2, 2023, at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was a defining night for WWE with its seventh edition of Payback. Hosted by the well-known face of the wrestling world, John Cena, the event showcased some of the biggest stars promoted from WWE’s flagship shows, Raw and SmackDown.
The focal point of the evening’s proceedings was undoubtedly the World Heavyweight Championship match between Seth “Freakin” Rollins and Shinsuke Nakamura. The intricately choreographed contest was woven around Nakamura’s relentless targeting of Rollins’ known back injury. Despite these adversities, Rollins, often dubbed “The Visionary,” exhibited an indomitable spirit, combining dexterity and resilience to emerge victorious. “One hell of a battle,” Rollins commented post-match, his words encapsulating not just the bout but also signalling the continuity of Nakamura in the main event scene—indicated overtly by his audacious post-match assault on Rollins.
Initiating the high-octane evening was the Steel Cage match featuring Becky Lynch and Trish Stratus, two of WWE’s luminary female athletes. The bout was punctuated by sequences of unyielding brutality, as both athletes crashed against the steel structure with unwavering intensity. Lynch’s homage to wrestling legend Lita via a Twist of Fate was met with raucous approval. “The urgency at the top of the cage was off the charts,” observed one spectator, encapsulating the collective sentiment. Conclusively, it was Lynch’s top-rope Manhandle Slam that sealed her victory, fortifying the bout’s status as one of the most electrifying women’s matches of 2023.
In a unique role, John Cena acted as both the event’s host and the special guest referee for the encounter between LA Knight and The Miz. Following a congenial verbal exchange with The Miz, Cena donned the referee’s shirt, impartially officiating a bout that saw LA Knight dominate his opponent. “The significance of this win is augmented by the subsequent endorsement from a 13-time WWE Champion,” LA Knight remarked, acknowledging the gravitas that Cena’s post-match approval bestowed upon him.
Further elevating the night was the bout between Rey Mysterio, a WWE Hall of Famer, and the burgeoning talent Austin Theory. Although lacking in elaborate storylines, the match was an exhibition of pure athleticism, highlighted by Mysterio’s signature sliding DDT. While it was not a narrative cornerstone, the match accentuated the enduring prowess of veteran athletes and the promise of upcoming talent.
Extreme stipulations were embraced in the Steel City Street Fight, a tag team endeavour featuring The Judgment Day duo of Finn Bálor and Damian Priest against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Owens’ attire of jeans served as a visual prelude to the forthcoming chaos. “KO was busted open,” noted a commentator as the brutal drama unfolded. Assisted by periodic interferences, including an unexpected involvement by Dominik Mysterio wielding a briefcase, The Judgment Day captured the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championship, thereby establishing their villainous reign over Raw.
Closing the extensive event roster was the battle between Rhea Ripley and Raquel Rodriguez. This was a contest infused with palpable intensity, marked by Ripley’s targeted offensive strikes and culminating in her ultimate triumph, aided once again by the intervening Dominik Mysterio. “Yet another solid outing WWE delivered,” summarised an audience member, encapsulating the overarching sentiment surrounding Payback 2023.