John: This Sunday night in Chicago it's WWE Payback. It's a unique show in that there's no WWE World Heavyweight Championship match due to the neck injury suffered by Daniel Bryan.
Bryan is scheduled to be on the show in a segment with Stephanie McMahon where he has to give up the title or see his wife Brie Bella get fired. I don't think either thing is going to happen, but it's difficult to forecast what might happen. Hopefully Bryan's able to wrestle by Money in the Bank on June 29 and if not then the July PPV Battleground is more likely.
Due to Bryan's injury, the top two matches are rematches from Extreme Rules with one of them also taking place at WrestleMania. Because of that, the show doesn't seem that exciting going into it. It's also a case of WWE programming being below average for the entire month of May. They did a pretty good job of things leading up to WrestleMania and April was pretty solid, but May has been flat.
A prediction that doesn't include any of the matches involves what the crowd will be chanting all night long. That's the name of "retired" WWE superstar CM Punk, who is a Chicago native. Back in March when they held Raw there they chanted his name for much of the show too. I expect it again on Sunday. He's probably going to be in Chicago on Sunday night since the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks are playing at home in the United Center in game 7 of their Western Conference Finals against the LA Kings at the same time as Payback. It's a big game. Good luck to them and here's hoping the Chicago crowd that is one of the best in WWE doesn't go excessive on the Punk chants because too much of it can hurt the show. I miss watching him, but wish him the best in his new career trash talking about hockey to the LA Kings mascot on Twitter.
Joining me for the preview are Christian Michael and Andrew Johnson from TJRWrestling.com. Let's get to it.
(Note: All graphics are from WWE.com. The banner is courtesy of our friend Steve Melo.)
Mask vs. Hair Kickoff Pre-show Match: El Torito vs. Hornswoggle
Christian: Stop. Just stop. You got lucky when the WeeLC Match was entertaining. There's no need for this. Dolph Ziggler. Damien Sandow. The Usos. Want me to keep going? All talented guys left off a PPV in favor of this. The people I feel worse for are 3MB because they have to lose to a little bull week in and week out. Feuds like this are the reason I watch WWE on my DVR.
Prediction- El Torito
Andrew: Haven't we said all we needed to say with WeeLC? Must we go tropical?
Honestly there is a clear winner here. There's no other reason for a wrestler to grow his hair out than to lose it in a hair vs. whatever match. Also expect there to be lots and lots of short people jokes. Saints preserve us.
Winner: El Torito
John: It's been brutal having to watch Torito get pins over the likes of Slater, McIntyre and Mahal in recent weeks as a way to build this up. It's a comedy feud. They should do it once or twice on Raw, then move on. Instead, it's been going on for months and they get to be on the show every week. Then they wonder why guys like Ziggler, Sandow, Kidd and others don't get over. Because they have no chance! WWE would rather focus on two little people for several months than guys that can have great matches. Anyway, Hornswoggle grew his hair long so he can cut it so Torito will win again. Can't believe I used logic for this, but it just happened.
Winner: El Torito
Rusev vs. Big E
Christian: The only person's stock that might be falling faster than Vince McMahon's is Big E's. He went from a guy with potential to a boring Intercontinental Champion to a guy that's basically being fed to Rusev.
I like the Rusev/Lana act. Very Drago-esque. He needs a feud to see how good he really is. A couple of run-ins with Big E isn't a true feud. This could be a fun power battle but Rusev is on the rise and Rusev will CRUSH.
Andrew: This is shit or get off the pot time for Big E. After an underwhelming IC title run (I feel like I've typed that a lot) Big E is in a position where he needs to make a statement. Not a win, mind you, but a big match moment that will make him stand out in the fans minds. Rusev is still too fresh a character to fail yet, Langston is on the bubble. Put up or shut up big man. I believe in you.
Expect a lot of hoss bombs thrown and possibly a bloody mouth. That tends to happen in Big E matches. Dude does more internal damage than Crohn's disease.
John: Look at where Big E was about six months ago. He was a guy that was potentially going to get a main event push this year. Now he's barely relevant as a former Intercontinental Champion that barely had any feuds while he was holding that title and now he's being led to slaughter as a PPV opponent of Rusev. If they want to push Rusev to the main event level then he needs to win decisively and it should go five minutes at the most. Anything more than that is too long for him. They should be able to work in some power spots since they are both strong dudes. Did I mention that Lana is hot? I guess I just did. More camera time for her, please.
Intercontinental Title: Bad News Barrett vs. Rob Van Dam
Christian: I respect the hell out of Rob Van Dam but he is just so boring these days. He has this bored look on his face all the time. All his matches follow the same pattern. He's basically in WWE to earn paycheck and be a credible name to lose to guys on the rise.
I'm hoping for more from Bad News Barrett than his usual rinse and repeat Intercontinental Title reigns. I don't mean to sound like a broken record but how about a true feud for Barrett? A challenger that's built up and not created through the lame Beat the Clock Challenge.
Prediction- Bad News Barrett retains the Intercontinental Championship
Andrew: I feel like I can telegraph this entire match: back and forth to start, RVD works offense, Barrett gets the advantage, rolling thunder, step over kick, missed frog splash, BOOM elbow to RVD's f**king jaw, 1-2-3.
Let's see how close I get.
Winner: Bad News Barrett
John: There's nothing about RVD that interests me at this point in his career. Fans know he's got no shot in a match like this, but they will cheer his signature spots because they've seen him do them for 15 years. It's so annoying listening to Michael Cole call a RVD match when he says his offense is "innovative" in every match he has. Innovative is defined as something that is advanced and original. That is not RVD.
Barrett will continue his momentum as the IC Champ while I hope that he gets a feud with somebody that is worthwhile. Please don't let it be Kofi Kingston or R-Truth or somebody like that. It should be a 7-10 minute match that ends with Barrett's elbow to the face. Hopefully he does it while RVD is leaping so that can be innovative at least.
Winner: Bad News Barrett
Divas Title: Paige vs. Alicia Fox
Christian: I've always liked Alicia Fox's athletic ability and thought she could be a star in the Divas Division. Instead of showcasing that, WWE has her throw tantrums and pour soda on herself.
I got some heat from some readers last month for saying I wasn't a fan of Paige. I personally see more in Emma. That's just me. She's got time to make me a fan. She's still so young. Let her show some personality. Cut a promo. Something.
This feud is so ridiculous because Paige beat Fox what 8-9 times since her debut? Fox acts like a four year old and gets a fluke win over the Champion and now she's in a PPV title bout.
I just hope these Divas are allowed to showcase their skills like Natalya and Charlotte were able to at NXT Takeover.
Prediction- Paige retains the Divas Championship
Andrew: God damn do I love me some Alicia Fox. Paige is awesome, but she's still pretty green on the character side of things. I mean, she's really good at yelling, but that doesn't really make a compelling character. Fox on the other hand has jumped from generic nobody in a sailor hat to the new hotness so fast I'm starting to believe it really is butter.
Ideally Fox should win and have a huge program with Paige that leads to Paige getting the belt back, but this is WWE were talking about. They're all about the quick fix.
John: The new persona that Alicia Fox has displayed in the last month has been great to see. She's basically become this unpredictable diva that freaks out if she loses a match and is extremely happy when she wins. She's a sore loser and winner. Since she lost clean to Emma on Raw, there's a chance she can win here although I doubt it. They had her beat Paige non-title a couple weeks ago (typical WWE booking), so that likely means a win for Paige. They'll have a competitive match for about eight minutes although it won't be anything too great.
I feel like they're going to keep the title on Paige to feud with AJ Lee in the summer. All we know about AJ's future is she's marrying in CM Punk at some point in June and is expected back after that. They're not going to take the Divas Title off Paige before she can face off against AJ for it.
United States Title: Sheamus vs. Cesaro
Christian: This could be a hell of a lot of fun if they get 12-15 minutes. These two have had really good matches in the past using a brawling, smash-mouth style.
These two are seemingly on the wrong career paths. Sheamus is a face that should be a heel. Cesaro is a heel that the fans want to be a face. This could be one of those matches where a double switch occurs like with Alberto Del Rio and Dolph Ziggler at last year's Payback PPV.
I never saw Sheamus as a long term United States Champion. He always screamed transition champion to me. It's not like the title means much but they can have Cesaro make it mean something instead of having the title making Cesaro mean something. If that makes any sense. I'm looking forward to this match.
Prediction- Cesaro becomes the New United States Champion
Andrew: Speaking of new hotness! Here's the thing: Cesaro doesn't need this belt, Sheamus does. Cesaro is pretty much treading water until Money in the Bank, while Sheamus is kind of "been there, done that" in the main event scene, and needs this belt to give him purpose.
I'm totally all in for this bout, but it's kind of easy to see who's leaving with the belt. Sheamus needs it more, plain and simple. I expect some traditional WWE protection when it comes to the loss, so don't anticipate a clean finish.
Winner: Sheamus by DQ
John: It's a hard match to predict because WWE sees Cesaro as a star on the rise, which he is, while Sheamus is a guy that is usually booked strong. His US Title win is still fresh, so it doesn't seem like the right time to take the title off him. Does a guy like Cesaro really need the US Title? No, especially if he is going to win Money in the Bank on June 29.
The winner and loser in a match like this doesn't really matter because both guys are going to be booked strong no matter what. All I really care about is that they get 15-20 minutes of in ring time. If it only gets 12 minutes I'll be disappointed. If they can go really long then that elevates the title, it makes them both look like two of the best wrestlers in the company and the match would be really good considering their styles mesh so well.
What makes me think Cesaro winning is a possibility is that there have been rumors of a heel turn for Sheamus. Cesaro's still a heel, which is why he stopped doing the "Cesaro Swing" spot to please the fans. That face turn is coming for him probably later in the year. Maybe I'm overthinking all of it. I'll pick Sheamus to retain because Cesaro got the advantage on Raw and I just think Sheamus could benefit from holding the title for longer whether he turns heel or not. I don't expect a totally clean finish either.
Last Man Standing Match: Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena
Christian: I'm not sure what else needs to be said about this match. The feud has kind of just been in a holding pattern since Extreme Rules. This really should be the blowoff. I don't know how much longer they can drag this out. It's already lost of good chunk of its steam.
It's hard to see Cena losing a feud. It's hard to see Bray Wyatt losing in his first real test at the top. Wyatt is such a unique character. The venom he spews won't be so venomous if he loses to Cena. What's his message going to mean going forward if he couldn't come through on his message to stop and expose Cena. It's almost as if the future of the Wyatt character needs this win to survive. Maybe that's a bit much to say that his whole future is riding on winning this match but when you think about it, it may not be.
Cena could lose this match after getting punched once and have it be over in 15 seconds and he can still main event the next PPV as a challenger for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and fans will buy into it because he's John Cena.
I'm hoping for a violent, physical match with a memorable ending that begins a long career at the top for Bray Wyatt.
Prediction- Bray Wyatt
Andrew: Cena overcomes odds, kills Bray Wyatt with an AA through the ring or something equally stupid, Bray gets repackaged as creepy ice cream man who lures children to the ring with promises of popsicles because why not. Rowan and Harper can be dressed as twin Mr, Tasty's.
Winner: John Cena, because f**k you
John: It's been a good feud, but not great enough that I want to see them wrestle past Payback. It might happen again although they both might be a part of the Money in the Bank match too. Before the feud started I thought that Wyatt should go over in the end, but with the way it's been booked I think Cena should be the favorite. How many times has he been beat up by Wyatt and friends? They've done that segment so many times on Raw in the last three months. At least he finally has some help in the form of the Usos.
The Last Man Standing stipulation allows for a finish that isn't clean. When I wrote about the best Last Man Standing matches ever, one of the trends that kept popping up were the finishes with interference. It was especially true any time Cena was in a LMS match. It's a way for WWE to book him to lose a match in "controversial" fashion.
I'm not really sure where either guy is going after this match, but it sure feels like winning time for Cena. He doesn't need wins. We all know that. However, we also know that he's booked very strong all the time and when you consider he's won only one PPV match out of four this year (over Wyatt at WrestleMania) then it seems like a safe choice. It should get a lot of time at about 20 minutes, but I expect it to be a story of Cena "overcoming the odds" to emerge victorious.
Winner: John Cena
No Holds Barred Elimination Match: The Shield (Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose & Seth Rollins) vs. Evolution (Triple H, Randy Orton & Batista)
Christian: Let's just start this out by saying The Shield is winning this match. There's no reason for an Evolution win, especially with Batista going on hiatus. The No Hold Barred stipulation means little to me because last month wasn't a No Holds Barred match and it was still a wild, all over the arena match. Maybe some chairs will be used but I didn't think it will dramatically alter the match.
It's the Elimination stipulation that has me intrigued. If The Shield are the logical victors then who should be the survivors or more likely the sole survivor? The obvious answer is Roman Reigns. Reigns overcame a 4-1 disadvantage to win at the Survivor Series and was in total beast mode finishing second at the Royal Rumble. Do they give him the ultimate rub by quickly eliminating Ambrose and Rollins and then have him beat three Hall of Fame worthy former World Champions?
It's been an even feud throughout this story, but I don't expect the match to go that way. It should be another amazing match.
Prediction- The Shield. Roman Reigns is the sole survivor
Andrew: Dumb stipulations aside I don't think this is the end of The Shield. When they go down it's not going to be because of a contractual obligation. It's gonna be with bloody violence and betrayal.
OR this is the Streak loss all over again and I'm going to have to spend the next few months dealing with the loss of a made up thing that doesn't matter.
Either way this match is gonna be dope.
Winners: The Shield
John: It's the second straight PPV with this match. The Shield already won last month in a regular match, but due to an attack by Evolution we get to see this match again. I actually like the No Holds Barred elimination match stipulation because it's going to be a wild brawl for 20+ minutes with weapons in play and they can brawl all over the arena. Rollins can do something crazy, people will go through tables, kendo sticks will be used and so will chairs. It should be a great match to watch too.
I think it's going to be a dominant win for The Shield. I'll go as far as to predict that all three members of The Shield survive because I think they're going to save their split until later in the year. The ending scenario will likely be with Batista, who is apparently going away after Payback to promote his Guardians of the Galaxy film. They can book it where he gets absolutely destroyed by the three Shield members.
Perhaps the next night on Raw, they could have Triple H and Orton criticize him for not getting the job done and have Orton give him the punt to write him out for a few months. It would bring Batista back as a face, though, so I'm not totally in favor of that. Just throwing it there as a possibility. They don't have to keep the Evolution angle going past Payback. It's just a short term thing. If they want to continue it then maybe that's how they bring in Sheamus as a new member.
I'd be surprised if The Shield didn't win. Having all three guys survive would be an impressive way to end this rivalry. However, it certainly makes sense if they have Reigns have to go through two or three guys on his own to win for his team. They already did that sort of finish at Survivor Series although that was so long ago it doesn't matter now. Either way, Reigns will likely survive this battle and I think his buddies Rollins & Ambrose will be right there with him too.
Winners: The Shield (All 3 Members)
Christian: This PPV seems like it's missing something. That's something is the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Daniel Bryan will be appearing on Payback to make his decision regarding the title. I can't see them stripping him since they've dragged it out this long. I don't know what they'll do to prevent Brie from getting fired but it's not like it matters in the long run. Bryan should be back by the end of the month so there's no reason to take the title from him now.
Despite no title match, they still have a strong main event with The Shield vs. Evolution and two matches (Cena/Wyatt and Sheamus/Cesaro) that should be really good. Payback could be a really good show if all the chips fall right. I hope it's not a boring show for no other reason than I don't want to hear obnoxious "CM Punk" chants for three hours. It's been six months. How about letting that go? As always follow me on Twitter as I'll likely be on there discussing Payback during the event.
John: It's a show that depends on the quality of the top two matches and the possibility that one of the midcard matches can stand out a bit. If they give a match like Cesaro vs. Sheamus 15-20 minutes then that's great. If it's cut short then that'll be disappointing. They also need to think about doing something big that gets people talking and tuning into Raw on Monday. If it's just a basic, predictable show then that's boring to the average fan. Can they do something to get people excited again? Not sure what that would be, but I hope so. I miss Daniel Bryan matches. Get better soon, champ.
I'll be writing about Payback live on at 8pmET on TJRWrestling.com. There will be a full recap of everything that happened with the results and analysis of everything on the show. I'll post it at other sites on Monday.
Follow us on Twitter at the following places.
Christian - @Christian_973
John - @johnreport
If you want to send an email, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org as well. Thanks for reading.