This column is a monthly feature that looks ahead to WWE's next pay-per-view offering. I did this for WrestleMania and Extreme Rules over a week before those events. I usually do them immediately after the SmackDown tapings, but didn't want to mention spoilers until after that program aired. The questions are from me. The answers are obviously from me.
This is different from the PPV preview that we do before the events because those are predictions of matches after seeing all of the television leading up to it. The questions in this column are more about the build up to the event as we head into the final week of television before Payback. Is that simple enough to understand? I think so.
Here's a look at the lineup. I'll make a note of what matches are confirmed while also mentioning what matches are likely to take place.
WWE Champion John Cena vs. Ryback (Three Stages of Hell Match) - Confirmed
Chris Jericho vs. CM Punk - Confirmed
Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett vs. Fandango vs. The Miz (Triple Threat Match) - Confirmed
That's it. Three matches confirmed on WWE.com as of Saturday morning. It's odd. I'll take a guess at a few others that are possible.
World Champion Dolph Ziggler vs. Alberto Del Rio - Rumor. Ziggler is cleared from his concussion and Del Rio is the #1 contender, so it seems like a sure thing for Payback. It was announced on SmackDown that Ziggler will be in the building at Raw.
Divas Champion Kaitlyn vs. AJ Lee - Rumor. Lee has been the #1 contender for over one month now, yet there's still no Divas Title match. I think it will finally happen here.
Sheamus vs. Damien Sandow - Rumor. This has been built up over the last month mainly on SmackDown. Sandow says a lot of smart things and Sheamus ends up destroying him. I think this match is very likely.
Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton - Rumor. This one started this week with Orton losing in a tag match with Bryan on Raw and then on SmackDown the night ended with Orton hitting Bryan with the RKO. Logic would dictate a pay-per-view match between them.
Tag Team Champions Roman Reigns & Seth Rollins vs. The Usos - Rumor. This is a big "maybe" at this point since the Usos got a couple of wins on television this week and they're the only team that makes sense for a title shot.
That's all I have as far as guessing matches. That's nine, which is likely assuming they move one of them to the pre-show. I could see them add something like Dean Ambrose vs. Kane for the US Title with Ambrose going over just so they can give him another win on pay-per-view. There's also the issue of Curtis Axel, who seems likely to have a pay-per-view match. I'll get into that below.
1. Will John Cena leave as the WWE Champion?
Yes. I'm 90% sure of it. I didn't think Ryback would win at Extreme Rules and I don't expect him to win at Payback either. Like I recall writing a month ago, I don't think WWE would keep the WWE Title off Cena for nearly two years only to give him a WWE Title reign that lasts two months. That doesn't make sense to me. I'm not even sure if Cena would feud with a heel after this or what the plan is (maybe Daniel Bryan face vs. face as rumored?), but what's important to WWE is keeping the title on Cena.
2. Would a loss hurt Ryback's status in WWE?
Of course it will. I think they made a mistake in turning him heel. It feels like a "quick fix" kind of move in the sense that they needed somebody to feud with Cena for a couple of months without booking that person to beat Cena. It's similar to R-Truth as the #1 Contender as Cena's pay-per-view opponent two years ago. Not many people thought he would win. Of course after that R-Truth stayed a heel for about half a year and then ended up going babyface again.
I think with Ryback he could end up going babyface again. I'm not really sure. The booking of his character has been weird. He's won a lot in TV matches, but when you look at pay-per-views his last win was at last July's Money in the Bank. That's bizarre, right?
3. Do you like the 3 Stages of Hell stipulation for the WWE Championship match?
I like the 3 Stages of Hell concept. I think it's an awesome idea to do once in a while. However, the choice of a Lumberjack Match, then a Tables Match and then an Ambulance Match isn't that exciting to me. They couldn't think of something better? Only one match will require a pinfall or submission win (Lumberjack) and the other two will be done as a way to keep them strong. Getting back to the question, I like 3 Stages of Hell. I just wish they picked better stipulations for this match.
4. Is the IC Title triple threat match just a way to move the title onto Fandango?
Yep. That's why they're doing it. Barrett has been a flop as the IC Champion. Much like Antonio Cesaro's US Title run, he has lost so many non-title matches that fans look at the guy as a loser now. It's a shame because I like Barrett and think he's a very talented performer. Bad booking can derail anybody.
They added Miz to the mix because it's not smart to do a heel vs. heel match. By doing it this way, Barrett can lose the title to Fandango and hopefully Fandango can benefit from holding a title that was prestigious at one point, but is merely a prop these days.
5. Should The Miz celebrate because he might be in a match on the actual pay-per-view instead of the pre-show?
I'm sure he's thrilled. I'm also thrilled about it because we don't have to hear him cut ridiculous promos about being on the "most must see pre-show" or whatever garbage he was spewing. I feel bad for writing about a Miz babyface turn all of last year because it hasn't gone well. There have been a number of reasons why, but I really think he's done a poor job in changing his style enough as a babyface. The only change is he's added a figure four leglock. Great. There needs to be more than that.
Two years ago The Miz had three pay-per-view matches for the World Title with John Cena. I hated that feud, by the way. It was terrible. Now he's a pre-show wrestler that might make the main show. He has fallen very far.
6. If the Divas Title match actually happens, should AJ Lee beat Kaitlyn for the Divas Title?
I think so. There was some storyline progression on SmackDown as Kaitlyn said that on Monday we'll find out who her "secret admirer" is. It could be another woman messing with her head (heel Natalya? I would love that!) or a male performer. If that person is actually revealed on Monday then they could distract Kaitlyn at Payback to cost her the Divas Title. I think Kaitlyn has improved as a performer in the last year, but AJ Lee is better. The Divas Title would be great on her. A title switch is very likely, I think.
7. Shouldn't the members of The Shield have a bigger role?
Yes they should. At Extreme Rules one of the major stories coming out of that event was that Dean Ambrose won the US Title and Roman Reigns & Seth Rollins won the tag titles. Here we are a month later and what are they doing? As of right now we don't know. That's a shame. They should be in high profile matches at every pay-per-view event. The group is a hot act that is full of excitement and when they enter an arena the fans know they're going to witness something important or a great match.
8. After the end of SmackDown, is Randy Orton a heel now?
I don't think so. At least not yet. Here's a three minute clip if you missed the end of it.
As you could see there, Bryan was the one that accidentally dropkicked Orton during their tag match. Bryan felt bad about it, which is the natural reaction of a babyface. After Bryan dispatched of The Shield guys, Orton attacked Bryan from behind (heel move) and dropped him with the RKO. Then Orton gave him that stare of his. I think what we're seeing is the start of an Orton heel turn, but I don't think that one move makes him a heel right away.
What I really liked about the segment is that the announcers didn't say anything after the RKO except when Cole said "you could almost feel that coming." Then they went quiet. They're not telling you he's a changed man. They want you to interpret it however you want. I like that because it leaves it up to the viewer. It also makes me really want to see where they are going with this story next.
9. If Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton is added to Payback, who should win?
Bryan should win. As mentioned above, this could be the start of Orton's heel turn. A loss to Daniel Bryan could further that turn. They could have a competitive matchup that goes 15 minutes or so with neither guy able to lock on their finishing move. Then Bryan could win the match on a counter with a creative rollup as a way to show he's the best technical wrestler alive. Post match, a frustrated Orton could drop him with a RKO loss again. Maybe two. The fans are so supportive of Bryan right now that they will turn against anybody that does him wrong. If Orton turns heel, Bryan is the right guy for him to do it against.
That scenario reminds me of the Christian feud with Randy Orton in 2011 where Christian turned after losing the World Title to Orton in a competitive match. It's not the first time a heel turn happened that way. Many heel turns have happened like that. I just think that method would work magnificently well in this case.
10. Is there a chance that the Chris Jericho vs. CM Punk match doesn't happen?
Absolutely there's a chance. I'm not 100% sure what's going to happen and I'm cool with that because I want to be surprised by whatever they do. I can see Punk going face, I can see him staying heel or I can see Jericho going heel while Punk goes face. There are a lot of possibilities. It's nice not to know, right? It drives my interest up and excites me about what might happen.
I think what we might get is a scenario where Punk comes out and says he didn't give Paul Heyman the authority to make matches for him. From there they could slot Curtis Axel into the match. Then Punk could come out for the finish, cost Axel the win and turn babyface out of it. Personally I want Punk to stay a heel because I think he's better in that role, but the face turn seems likely too. If he turns face then you can also pencil in a match against Brock Lesnar (with Lesnar as the heel) at Summerslam as well. That would be a lot of fun.
I really don't know where they are going with this Jericho/Punk match. I'm sure many of you reading this can see a number of scenarios happening, which is what we want as fans. In a week when I write the preview I'll try to come up with a more concrete prediction. For now it's just a guess. Unpredictability is a good thing.
11. Is Triple H vs. Curtis Axel a possible match?
I doubt it. Apparently we'll get that on Raw this coming Monday, but I have my doubts about it even happening there. I don't think they would do it at Payback. The card has enough potential matches as it is. The Triple H story is likely going to be a long one that lasts through the summer as his family acts heelish towards the fans by telling him not to wrestle. Perhaps Triple H will turn heel during the angle too. I'm not sure.
I think Axel should have a match at Payback. That's why I think the scenario where he takes Punk's spot against Jericho is very likely.
12. Are The Usos ready for a tag team title shot?
Probably not. I think they need to be built up a bit more with some wins on television. The win on Raw over the Prime Time Players was good. They need more than that, though. Of course just because they get a title shot in the near future does not mean they would win the tag titles. I expect Reigns & Rollins to have a very long tag team title reign that could last six months or more.
13. Is Sheamus going to destroy Damien Sandow at Payback?
I think so. I don't like it too much. This is the kind of feud that could really help somebody like Sandow move up the ranks if he were to win a match against Sheamus on a pay-per-view. I just think it's unlikely. WWE loves booking Sheamus strong and it's rare that he ever loses in a clean fashion. Aside from the Big Show feud late last year he's rarely lost clean. I think this is one of those feuds that gives Sheamus something to do. It's not going to elevate Sandow. All it will do is give Sheamus another win even though he doesn't really need them.
14. Do you want to watch a cool WWE produced video that features Randy Orton hitting the RKO 30 times in 30 seconds?
Sure I do.
That was really cool. Thanks to my buddy Edswoggle for sharing that with me. I admit that this was a bit like putting Zack Ryder in a match on television. It was filler. Don't blame me. Blame WWE for only announcing three matches.
15. Will the Chicago fans make this show more fun to watch?
Absolutely. Best fans in wrestling. I love them. I realize that some people in the New York area, London, Toronto (if WWE ever comes here again) are probably saying "hey you jerk - we're the best." And that's fine. There are plenty of great cities that WWE regularly visits. However, if I'm going to pick the best ONE city then I'd pick Chicago.
16. What's the most intriguing storyline heading into Payback?
I'll answer this with a question of my own: Will CM Punk show up? That's what I'm intrigued about the most. I really don't know what's going to happen with this angle. I already addressed it earlier. I don't think the Cena/Ryback storyline is that exciting at all. Main event angles should be, but it's not.
17. What match will be the best?
I'm leaning towards Ziggler vs. Del Rio. I remember doing this a month ago and writing that Ziggler's triple threat ladder match would be the best at Extreme Rules, but that didn't happen. Now that Ziggler's match is likely I think they have the chance to have a fantastic matchup. It depends on how much time they get, though. If it only gets ten minutes then it won't be special. If they get 15 minutes or more then I expect greatness from them. If Jericho/Punk happens then that has potential to be the best match as well.
I'll add this too. If Bryan vs. Orton happens then I pick that as the best match. I have no idea if it's going to happen, though, so it's tough to pick that one.
18. How many title changes do you think there will be?
Two. Fandango winning the IC Title and AJ Lee winning the Divas Title. I think the Fandango title win is more likely of the two. I doubt any other titles will change hands.
19. Is it smart of WWE to schedule a pay-per-view opposite a potential Game 5 of the NBA Finals?
No. It's not smart. I know the questions should be about the action on the show, but this is a point worth making because it hurts the company to schedule an event opposite a major sporting event. Right now the San Antonio Spurs are up 1-0 in the series, so if the Miami Heat win one at least one game we will get a game five in the series. The date of game five is June 16, which is the same day as WWE Payback.
If the event was held a week later the Finals would be over and there wouldn't be any issue. I know the NBA Finals schedule doesn't become official until late May, but after all these years WWE should know they have NBA Finals games on Sundays in the first part of June. Move the event back one week and you could get more people watching the event. That's the goal of these events in the first place, so why are they shooting themselves in the foot by facing direction competition? I'm not sure. I wish somebody from WWE's scheduling department could explain it.
20. How excited are you about Payback on a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being low, 10 being high)?
I'm at a 6 out of 10 right now. Depending on what they add to the card in the next week that could go up or down. If we get something like Daniel Bryan vs. Orton at Payback then my interest in the event will go up because that's a match I really want to see. A lot of it also depends on what will happen with CM Punk. He's obviously one of the top performers in WWE, so I want to see what happens there. I don't think it's a good sign that only three matches are announced one week before the event, so I'm hopeful that the four or five new matches added are interesting.
That wraps it up. I do have one more question. Why would WWE name this event after a Mel Gibson movie? It's from 1999 and has a very generic movie poster too.
I saw the movie on television a few years after it came out. All I remember was the plot wasn't very good, there was plenty of violence and I remember a shade of blue that dominated every scene. In looking up info on the movie it made a pretty good profit too. That's likely because it was at the height of Mel Gibson's days as a box office draw.
What I remember most about the film is when Mel was on the Simpsons and Homer asked: "Did Braveheart run away? Did Payback run away?" No. He did not. That's for damn sure.
That was fun to write. I hope you enjoyed it. If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to contact me using any of the methods below. Thanks for reading.