John: Welcome to our WWE Payback preview. It's the first WWE PPV named Payback. I'm not sure why they went with Payback or why they couldn't bring back an old name like Backlash. I guess it doesn't really matter. Seeing as how Payback is not a show with a theme, most of the matches on the show lack any kind of gimmick. The only one with a stipulation on it is the main event Three Stages of Hell match between John Cena and Ryback for the WWE Title.
What's interesting about the card is that of the eight matches on the show (including the pre-show "Kickoff Match"), six of them are for championships. It's like WWE thought that this event was called Night of Champions and remembered to book title matches. I'm actually pleased to see so many titles on a pay-per-view card. Maybe WWE realized that titles are important and they should be defended on PPVs. Or maybe it was just a coincidence? I'm not sure.
In looking at the lineup I think it has the potential to be an above average show if the right matches get the most time. What are the right matches? Jericho/Punk, Ziggler/Del Rio and the tag title match. If those three matches all get over 15 minutes then they can be excellent and "steal the show" if you want to use that term. I think Payback's an upgrade over last month's Extreme Rules show because Punk and Ziggler are back for this one. Their presence helps a lot.
Joining me for the preview are TJRWrestling's Andrew Johnson (our SmackDown guy) and Christian Michael (our Main Event guy). Let's get to the preview.
(Note: All graphics are from WWE.com. The banner is courtesy of our friend Steve Melo.)
Sheamus vs. Damien Sandow (Payback Kickoff Match)
Christian: I think it's rather head scratching that they have devoted so much TV time to this feud only to be bumped to the Kickoff Show. It's also rare to see a star of Sheamus' caliber be booked for the preshow and not on the main PPV. It would have been nice to see a ten minute PPV match where Sandow gets a chance to look like a star and ultimately lose in the end. Instead we're left with a four minute RAW squash special. Prediction- Sheamus
Andrew: WWE "good guy" Sheamus has embraced his ignorance and basically has made it a point to destroy the only vestige of intellectual growth in the world of professional wrestling with his rage kicks. Complaining about Sheamus has become exhausting, so I'll just put it like this: If your child was watching wrestling who would you want them to root for; the guy who is trying to embarrass the troglodytes into picking up a book once in a while or the guy that solves everything with violence?
If you chose the latter, you should NEVER have children. Winner: Sheamus, because of course
John: I'm happy that Sandow is in a singles match on a pay-per-view (or close to a PPV at least), but I don't see him winning here. Sheamus is likely in line for another singles push up the roster after winning his feud with Mark Henry and now going over Sandow. I think a potential rivalry with Dolph Ziggler looms for him. This will be a 5-7 minute match where nobody in the crowd thinks Sandow will win, so when Sheamus makes his big comeback they'll come alive for the Brogue Kick finish. Winner: Sheamus
Intercontinental Championship: Wade Barrett vs. Curtis Axel vs. The Miz
Christian: Fandango is the latest WWE Superstar to be knocked out of action with a concussion. So, he is being replaced by the new Heyman Guy, Curtis Axel. Before Fandango's concussion I was going to pick the guy that comes out with Summer Rae to win. I'm still not picking Miz or Barrett to win. If they wanted either of them to be champion they wouldn't have added Axel to the match. Axel is there to win the title. It makes no sense for him to be there and not walk away the new champion. This will be a better spot for him than having BS wins over HHH. At least not he can work with guys like Miz and Kofi Kingston, get some wins and build some credibility with the fans. Prediction- Curtis Axel wins the Intercontinental Championship
Andrew: Before Fandango went down with a concussion I was sure he was going to win, but now that he's out I'm betting that WWE maintains the status quo, and for two big reasons:
1) Wade Barrett never wins matches unless the belt is on the line. It's basically the big Barrett punchline at this point. Seriously, when was the last time he won a non-title match? It's like his kryptonite, or his Achilles' heel if you want to be less nerdy about it.
2) I know the popular pick right now is Curtis Axel because he's kayfabe "on a roll" (if you can call it that) but I think he'll have a bigger role to play later that night.
I like triple threat title matches, but this one isn't doing it for me. I blame the guys in the match of course. Barrett is a joke, Miz is a drip, and the only thing that's changed about Axel is he traded one dumb name for another. Who would've thought taking the sexually ambiguous dancer out of the match would make it less appealing? Winner: Wade Barrett
John: That Axel picture is pretty ridiculous. Ridiculously great, I mean.
I think Fandango was supposed to win the IC Title when this match was originally set up. Now that he's out I still believe this is a match created to put the IC Title onto somebody other than Barrett or Miz. Barrett's IC Title reign has been poorly booked much like Antonio Cesaro's US Title reign was. Why? Because he has lost far too many non-title matches while holding the IC Title. Like I have said many times, if we see a guy lose a lot in non-title matches then when he loses the title it's not a big deal because he's already a loser to us.
I think they inserted Axel into the match because they wanted to move the title onto a heel that could benefit from it and he's the right choice. I'm fairly confident in this prediction. Winner: Curtis Axel
Divas Championship: Kaitlyn vs. AJ Lee
Christian: Wow. I hope y'all didn't fast forward through the Kaitlyn/AJ segment on RAW. That was the best Divas segment in WWE since Lita and Trish stopped being full time performers. That's what happens when WWE actually allows the women to build a storyline and show some personality. Kudos to both ladies for pulling it off. AJ is with the World Heavyweight Champion so she's walking away with the gold here and we have our next power couple in WWE. Prediction- AJ wins the Divas Championship
Andrew: Fun fact- This is the most well-rounded and longest running storyline in current day WWE. And it is working.
The Chickbusters have been slowly exploding for close to a year now, and we're finally at the point where shit's about to get real. I'm genuinely surprised that WWE didn't screw this up. I really am. It's such a basic storyline, but it makes sense and is engaging. Everyone has had issues with someone who was once a friend but is now an enemy, because we were all in middle school at some point. It's a story that's so close to real life that watching Kaitlyn go through the pain of someone she cares about making a mockery of her that it actually kind of stings.
I'm not expecting a wrestling clinic, but you can have a good match without being Daniel Bryan (although being D-Bry helps). Kaitlyn and AJ are comfortable enough with each other that I'm sure they can pull out something fun and memorable. Either way, I think this is the best feud going into Payback, which says a lot for the people involved in it. Winner: Kaitlyn
John: I have changed my mind on this one a few times in the last week. I thought it was going to AJ Lee, but when I thought about it I'm really leaning towards Kaitlyn. This past week on Raw, AJ humiliated Kaitlyn and proved she could outsmart her former best friend. I think that scenario sets things up for Kaitlyn to come out focused and retain her title. Will AJ win the title in the future? I think so. I just think the way they built up sets things up for Kaitlyn to remain the Divas Champion. Winner: Kaitlyn
United States Championship: Dean Ambrose vs. Kane
Christian: The intriguing point in this match is if Kane is losing on his own or if Daniel Bryan is somehow going to cost him the match. Either way Kane is losing. Prediction- Dean Ambrose retains the United States Championship
Andrew: I'm kind of torn here. I like it when secondary titles are treated like they're important and are put on PPV cards, but I hate it when they are actually the least important thing about the match. Kane isn't nearly as interested in the US title as much as he is interested in imposing physical harm on a member of the Shield. The title is secondary, which I guess kind of makes sense.
I'm not knocking it; I'm just not into it. Winner: Dean Ambrose
John: Does Kane really want the US Title? It would be nice if they could have set this up more than one week in advance so that he could make us think he actually cared about the title he's challenging for. This is basically just a match to get Ambrose on the card and likely to give him a win against a big name. I think it's unlikely that Ambrose will win clean since Kane is always booked strong, but they could do a finish where Ambrose exposes a turnbuckle leading to some kind of cheap ending. As long as Ambrose gets the pin I'm cool with it. A countout or DQ finish would be disappointing. Winner: Dean Ambrose
Tag Team Championships: The Shield (Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns) vs. Daniel Bryan & Randy Orton
Christian: I'd bet that this match will immediately follow the United States Championship Match since that's what they like to do with The Shield's matches. Do the Bearded Vipers have a shot in this match? NO! It should be a hell of a match if given 15 minutes though. I think it's safe to say that Daniel Bryan is taking the fall, but how? Does Orton get fed up with him and RKO him and that's how they lose? That seems like a great way to make Orton a heel and Bryan the babyface. Bryan is the most over performer in WWE right now. It's not even close. The crowds go bonkers for him. It would be a huge mistake to turn him heel. WWE needs a babyface all the fans love and Bryan is that guy. Please don't screw it up. Prediction- Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins retain The Tag Team Championships
Andrew: Since D-Bry has been on a tear lately, it would be silly to saddle him with a worse tag team partner than Kane for the benefits of giving them both something to do. Randy Orton has been very Blandy Orton lately, to the point that the guy doesn't seem like he gives a damn about what he's doing. It's a shame because when he's on, he's on. But he needs to be inspired, and I think being stuck creatively has muddled his shit giving ability when it comes to his matches.
Daniel Bryan on the other hand thrives pretty much all the time, regardless of the situation. Want to make him a cowardly heel that uses cheap tactics to get wins? No problem, he'll become the most over villain in the company. Want to stick him in a comedy tag team with a guy that once raped Lita and literally tried to drag Zack Ryder to hell? BFD, he'll spin your garbage into gold. The guy is legit the best wrestler in the world, and has the character chops to cover the whole entertainment side of things. He's priceless, no matter where you put him.
So if they decide to go with Orton/Bryan Team Mental Disorder that's fine, because Bryan will make it work. It won't happen, but it's nice to know that he could. Winners: The Shield
John: Whoever photoshopped the tag titles on Reigns & Rollins did an awful job. Haven't they taken photos holding the tag titles yet?
This one could be a lot of fun. Daniel Bryan might be the most popular performer in WWE right now and in my opinion he's the best all around talent they have. It seems like Randy Orton is very motivated again after coasting a bit towards the end of last year and early this year. I think being a part of this angle with The Shield has helped keep him fresh. Of course with both of those guys the question is will one of them turn heel? I think Orton is going to turn heel in the near future. If Bryan turns heel it would be one of the biggest mistakes WWE could do. He has way too much momentum as a babyface. Do not ruin this with a heel turn.
As far as the match goes, I don't see the tag titles changing hands. There's no reason to do that. I think the best way to finish the match is to have some kind of miscommunication between Orton and Bryan. Perhaps Ambrose could interfere to help the heels, which would lead to Kane coming out and then somehow Orton ends up getting pinned. It can be something where Bryan bumps into Orton accidentally, Orton turns around and Reigns hits a Spear to win for his team. It's important that Orton's the one that gets pinned because that could lead to him turning heel on Raw or Smackdown (preferably Raw) within a few weeks. I would be surprised if Reigns & Rollins won clean. Retaining the titles is a virtual lock, but a clean win is not a sure thing. Winners: Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns
World Heavyweight Championship: Dolph Ziggler vs. Alberto Del Rio
Christian: I'm just not invested in the Del Rio character right now. When I need to save some time watching RAW or SmackDown I end up fast forwarding through his matches. It also doesn't help that he's wrestled Big E Langston 138 times since Ziggler's concussion. I'm glad the champ is back. There's very little heat on this feud because of his injury. All I want is a four-star performance and a successful defense from the Showoff. Prediction- Dolph Ziggler retains the World Heavyweight Championship
Andrew: I don't even know how to feel about this match. Dolph's been gone for a while in WWE time, and it's almost like this feud doesn't really have the legs it needs to properly get over the gravitas of the situation. Honestly, I feel like it should be Del Rio vs. Big E for the World title, considering Langston has been literally carrying this feud on his giant shoulders for the past few weeks. It's not a criticism on Dolph, it's more about WWE's lack of foresight going into a PPV.
I understand when you're in concussion city there's not a lot of room for taking bumps, but why couldn't Dolph spend a few weeks cutting promos, or just hanging out backstage? He could have confronted Del Rio on numerous occasions, baiting him to attack, but if Del Rio did than he could further Ziggler's condition and cost himself not only his title shot, but his job. If Triple H can have fake concussion syndrome and still have wrestling matches, why can't Dolph have a real concussion and hang out backstage throwing shade?
It just doesn't feel right to me. Like something is off. Winner: Dolph Ziggler
John: This is Ziggler's first World Title defense on pay-per-view since he won the title the night after WrestleMania and he was out of Extreme Rules with a concussion. He only returned to television in a physical capacity this week, so there hasn't been much build for this matchup. There's no reason to take the title off Ziggler so early in his title run especially since the concussion issue is behind him now.
This will likely be a very good match if they get 10-15 minutes like I expect. I think what may happen is Ziggler might get cheered by the smart Chicago fans, so it will be interesting to see how he reacts to that. Will Ziggler win clean? Maybe not because he has been getting a lot of cheap wins with Big E Langston at ringside. I just think this is the end of this feud rather than a continuation of what they've done so far. As mentioned earlier, I think Sheamus is likely as an opponent of Ziggler in the very near future. Winner: Dolph Ziggler
CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho
Christian: This is the only non-title match on the card and it's likely to be the best. You never complain when Punk and Jericho are getting a PPV match but I don't know if this will be up to the quality we expect from these two and here's why. Does Punk even want this match? We haven't heard from him since the week after WrestleMania. Heyman accepted the match for him. Maybe his heart isn't into it and loses a quick match. I hope not but it could happen. I can see Punk losing and being pissed at Heyman for taking the match without his consent and eventually turning back into a babyface which would lead to the return of Brock Lesnar and the Lesnar/Punk match we all expect. It's either that or he wins and feuds with?? I'm not sure where he'll go with a victory. Maybe another title feud with Cena? It's been done but it's not really settled. Prediction- Chris Jericho
Andrew: Theory: CM Punk is not showing up at Payback.
It would be a bold move for WWE to do this. Seriously, seriously bold. It's one thing to change a match on a whim, but it's another completely to promise a hometown hero in a high profile match and then not deliver. A move this bold is pretty uncharacteristic of WWE to pull, but then again so was doing their own version of "Summer of Punk" two years ago and that (mostly) worked out pretty well.
I would love it if they did this. Teased the entire night that Punk was going to be there, even going as far as to play "Cult of Personality" and letting it run for a few minutes while the entrance ramp lay bare. Eventually Heyman emerges, announces that Punk won't be competing, and sends Curtis Axel out there to take his place (or better yet BROCK but that's a level of fantasy booking that's beyond rational).
Think of the heat. Think of the pure, hate-fueled heat that would be directed right on Heyman and Axel, and indirectly at Punk. That kind of heat would be fantastic for Axel, who has mostly been an afterthought in his own feud. And it could help cement Punk as heel and keep people from cheering for him when he does return. He could show up in another town down the road, saying that Chicago didn't deserve his presence. That's the only way to have a Superstar bury his hometown without making it seem disingenuous and scripted; have him not even bother to show up to compete for them.
It's probably not going to happen. But, wow, what if it did? Winner: Curtis Axel
John: For what it's worth, I think Andrew's idea is great and would put huge heat on Heyman, Punk and Axel going forward. However, I think CM Punk is going babyface.
This is the match I'm most excited about. Why? Three reasons: 1) It's very hard to predict what may happen. 2) The match should be excellent. 3) I have missed CM Punk immensely.
With that first reason in mind, here's my scenario on what I think might happen. I think Punk will walk into the match as a babyface in his hometown of Chicago and leave as a babyface. I think Jericho's going to win as a face and leave as a heel aligned with Paul Heyman. How do you get there? Heyman could come out, give Punk a big introduction and brag about how he signed the match. Instead of Punk wrestling right away, he could say he's not having this match because Heyman booked it. He's doing it because he didn't want to let Chicago down. Give them 15-20 minutes with Heyman at ringside. Every time Heyman tries to help, Punk tells him he doesn't need him. Cue the finish. Heyman distracts Punk and that allows Jericho to hit a Codebreaker. After the match, Jericho applies the Walls of Jericho onto Punk to rub salt in the wounds. The next night on Raw, Jericho can say he was a "Heyman Guy" long before Punk even wrestled since Heyman gave Jericho his big break in ECW in 1996. They can do the rematch at Money in the Bank, Punk goes over as a babyface and that sets up babyface Punk vs. Brock Lesnar at Summerslam. Money match right there.
Do I want Punk to be a babyface upon his return? No. I don't. He's my favorite heel in wrestling. I think it sucks to see him turn face after turning heel last year. However, I think it's inevitable. The Lesnar match at Summerslam would be a big deal and makes sense with Punk as the former Heyman guy going up against a heel like Lesnar. It works for me. I think Punk as a babyface would hurt the rise of Daniel Bryan, which is also another reason why I want him to stay heel. He should be a guy that Bryan beats to get to the top.
If you're wondering why I wrote significantly more about this match than the others it's because this is the one I care about the most. I'm predicting Jericho to win. I think his speech on Raw about how he "needs" to win is the sign of a heel turn. He likes being a heel. It's the right setting for him to turn since the crowd will strongly support Punk. I'm not sure of this prediction, so keep that in mind. It's the hardest match to call. Winner: Chris Jericho
WWE Championship: John Cena vs. Ryback in a Three Stages of Hell Match (Stage 1 - Lumberjack match. Stage 2 - Tables match. Stage 3 Ambulance match.)
Christian: If you think this isn't going three falls, I've got a bridge to sell you. The question is why WWE felt the need to make it a Three Stages of Hell Match. It was fine as an Ambulance Match. There was no need to add to it especially when the first two falls are matches that won't be all that exciting. The end can still keep Ryback strong since he won't be getting pinned and he doesn't have to get demolished to be thrown in the ambulance. He can go to toss Cena in and Cena can reverse it and toss Ryback in to win. It'll be interesting to see where Ryback goes after this. I haven't seen a guy with the potential to be as special as Ryback could have been get so screwed up by booking probably ever. As for Cena, I think we all want and expect that rumored feud with our boy D-Bry. Prediction- John Cena retains the WWE Championship
Andrew: Ugh, this whole thing.
I like Cena in big match settings. He usually shines brightest when the odds are ridiculously stacked against him (see the Umaga Last Man Standing Match at the Royal Rumble for reference) and Ryback has certainly cultivated a presence that screams "TAKE ME SERIOUSLY" over the past few months. It's hard not to justify that this is a match that is worth watching, and yet, I find myself resisting it.
I think the biggest reason is that I pay too much attention to dirt sheets and don't believe Ryback has any chance in winning this match. That's the curse of the Internet I guess, in that we think we know everything ahead of time and refuse to let ourselves feel the uneasiness of watching matches as they happen. I'd like to be surprised of course, but that's not the point. I'd rather go into a match having no idea who is going to win, and for that I have no one to blame but me. Maybe I should just get off the Internet for good so I can enjoy wrestling again. Winner: John Cena
John: If you think I was going to put something other than "Winner: John Cena" here then you're crazy. I think it's pretty obvious that Cena is going to retain the WWE Title. This is his second PPV title defense and he didn't even win his first one, so I think it's likely he will end this Ryback feud here. Since they are working three matches I expect them to get about 20 minutes. I think the stipulations will help because if it was a regular match it would be pretty boring.
I think Cena will win the first fall, Ryback will win the second fall and continue to dominate the match as they head to the Ambulance match portion. Cena will make his usual superman comeback, they'll likely do some kind of big spot and Cena will win.
Who is Cena's next PPV opponent? I'm not sure. It could be the returning Mark Henry. Perhaps it could be a babyface feud against Daniel Bryan or a three way of some kind. I don't really know. I just think this is the end of Ryback as a main event WWE Title challenger. The champ retains. Winner: John Cena
Christian: I think WWE has done one of their better jobs in recent memory in building matches and storylines for a 'B' level PPV and the matches that lack build suffered from guys going out with injuries. I love the fact that for once all the titles are getting attention. It'd be funny if they didn't book this many title matches for Night of Champions though. This PPV should be rather enjoyable as the ring would should be solid all the way around with a couple of matches having the chance to be special. I'll be watching live and Tweeting (@Christian_973) during the show if you want to follow and chat during the event.
John: I wrote a lot about the matches, so for my final thought I think it's worth mentioning that the Chicago crowd may be the best group of fans that WWE regularly visits. They make matches more interesting because of how loud they are and what they may chant at any given time. When a crowd is loud the show is usually more fun. I look forward to the reactions of the fans.
I think Payback will be an above average show carried by excellent in-ring work and hopefully a few surprises or two.
That's all for us. Unfortunately I will not be writing about WWE Payback live on Sunday night. I have a previous commitment I can't really get out of (barbecue at a friend's house followed by NBA Finals viewing), but I will catch the replay of the show. I'll post my recap on TJRWrestling.com either really late Sunday night at 2amET or early on Monday morning.
On behalf of Andrew and Christian, thanks for reading.
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