WWE Payback: What WILL Happen

Look at that picture. Just stare at it for, like, ten seconds. Just... what is... that thing. Anyway.

Hopes are still high that the WWE will kick it in to high gear mid-year, since Pay-Per-Views - er, I mean specials... or... yeah, specials, right? - are taking on a somewhat different business meaning now that the Network has ramped up. Money in the Bank and SummerSlam are likely to deliver based on a solid gimmick match basis and what is typically the second-biggest show of the year, respectively, but then Night of Champions falls around the point when the first round of Network subscribers will be reaching the end of the 6-month commitment period. It's do-or-die time, even if recent episodes of Monday Night Raw most certainly haven't felt that way.

So I suppose I should be fair and allow the WWE to be in low gear for a month here and there (safe money's on "there" being Battleground). I was really fired up after an excellent Extreme Rules, though, and all we've seen since is a whole lot of spinning wheels (with a handful of hit-and-miss mid-card angles still bubbling up, to be fair). Very few of the matches on the Payback card feel fresh despite added gimmicks.

Let's get down to it.

WWE Network Pre-Show: El Torito vs. Hornswoggle; Hair vs. Mask Match
Though the match name embarrasses me each time I think it let alone say it or type it, WeeLC was a healthy dose of fun to kick off an absolutely stacked night of action, so I hesitate to doubt the ability of this comedy duo to pull off another surprising match.
Problem is, we've been inundated with different variations of El Torito & Los Matadores vs. Hornswoggle & 3MB for nearly 2 months now. We've seen it more than we've seen Santino vs. Fandango, and that's really something. I'm not sure if Hornswoggle shaving his head is going to make this worth the rewind when I opt to hit Payback's "play from beginning" feature at my convenience Sunday evening.

Winner: El Torito, via whatever it is El Torito does

Sheamus (c) vs. Cesaro for the United States Championship
I didn't want to be one of the ones saying this, but wow, Cesaro has really lost momentum since his major night at WrestleMania XXX. At least he's maintaining a better status than he held this time a year ago. I'm holding out hope that there are big plans for the Swiss Superman in the coming months (a pipe dream booking I've entertained involves a Lesnar return, a certain vacant title and a major face turn), and the United States Title does not equate to "big plans", even if a former WWE Champion is currently its custodian.
Sheamus has been in more desperate need of a heel turn than Randy Orton was last year, and barring an unforeseen change in plans I believe the trigger has already been pulled to set that in motion. I'm not sure it's quite time for either of these characters to switch sides, however, and I don't see the 'E taking the strap from the Celtic Warrior after such a brief run.
This is admittedly a tough call to make this time around. Cesaro is being pushed, presumably to bigger things, and Sheamus is being protected until his next main event run. Their feud seems borne of in-ring chemistry that just had to be capitalized on. I'm thinking the contest ends in a double count-out as our competitors become rapt in a brawl and lose sight of the ostensible goal of the match. This seems a better option than one of the two being disqualified for breaking the rules, anyway. Keep the hard-hitting train rolling in to Money in the Bank, perhaps.

Winner: N/A (Double count-out)

Bad News Barrett (c) vs. Rob Van Dam for the Intercontinental Championship
With Cesaro in the US Title picture and Bad News Barrett in the IC Title picture, does that mean it's officially 2013 again? Here I was feeling as though the two European heels had graduated from these belts. Then again, the belts do feel at least a little more prestigious now than they were one year ago, when both Cesaro and Wade Barrett were in the thick of truly atrocious runs that devalued both the performers and the titles. All involved had to be rehabbed, and honestly I'm just concerned these mid-card titles will inflict some bad déjà vu.
It was disappointing to see RVD win the Beat-the-Clock Challenge on Raw recently, as he has never interested me and he's so washed up now I'm worried he'll blow up like a beached whale every time his pyro goes off. Credit where credit's due, though - the guy is putting people over in these latter years of his career (poor Kenny King), and it's not quite to the point that it's boringly predictable like it has become with Chris Jericho.
Though I'm not interested in the match simply due to RVD being the opponent, Barrett has become one of the most entertaining talents on the roster so it shouldn't be a total waste.

Winner: Bad News Barrett, via Bad News Bullhammer

Paige (c) vs. Alicia Fox for the Divas Championship
Just when the Divas division was about to be all about Paige, Alicia Fox has up and stolen the spotlight. And good on her - Paige has enough fan support that she can easily withstand a dull debut run, and Fox is one of the most talented and dedicated women on the roster yet barely ever gets to shine. The "crazy chick" heel may sound played out, but Fox is doing some of the most effective and entertaining character work I've seen from a Diva since resuming my WWE viewership a year and a half ago (good riddance, PG Era!).
There's no chance Fox actually takes the glittery strap off Paige, especially with AJ Lee on the cusp of a post-marital return and that beautifully modified Scorpion Deathlock in Paige's arsenal, but I'm expecting some excellent spots (Northern Lights suplex, please!). Actually, this one could surprise many and wind up as one of the more entertaining matches of the night if the competitors make the most of their allotted time.

Winner: Paige, via Scorpion Deathlock submission

John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt; Last Man Standing Match
No one has spun more wheels in the past month than John Cena and Bray Wyatt. Even Jimmy Uso and Luke Harper have done more to advance storylines and generate interest between Extreme Rules and Payback. I have gone from being interested in Wyatt rehabbing his character's/faction's stop-and-start momentum (which seems an overlooked issue) against Cena (whom as stated previously I've come to like in recent months) after their psychologically excellent WrestleMania match to being as completely bored as usual when either of these performers or their lackeys are on screen.
I had heard plans were to go long-form with this angle, but unless Creative is holding out for something special on the way to Money in the Bank it's clear from recent weeks this storyline has run its course. Besides, it's kind of tough to buy that Cena defeating Wyatt in a match would prevent Wyatt from spreading his message - whatever that message is - or vice versa, for that matter. I can accept it - it's WWE after all - but after a this long with no real development I stop to care because it just doesn't make sense.
Technically these guys are tied and Last Man Standing is the rubber match, though Wyatt looked stronger when Cena won at Mania (due to the aforementioned psychology) and despite a more physically based match that Cena always looked significantly stronger in, the unique finish at Extreme Rules kept Bray in the dominant position. This program is clearly all about putting Bray over in a big way, and that will continue at Payback when - with the help of his acolytes - Wyatt will emerge victorious.

Winner: Bray Wyatt, via Sister Abigail's Kiss

The Shield vs. Evolution; No Holds Barred Elimination Match
Now here's the match we wanted in the first place. Good on whomever booked it for doing this right. And I suppose I picked a poor event to switch from my "What COULD Happen, What WILL Happen" format because so many matches here are tough to call, and this one is no different, even if I can barely remember why these groups hate one another to begin with (not that I'm complaining - the matches have been fantastic).
The Shield is the hottest active thing going now that Bryan can't compete for however many months. The philosophy of late has seemed to be building the next generation, and a win here would galvanize this team even more than they already have been, which would be significant. Going 2-0 on Evolution? Would be pretty nuts right there. There's also the issue of Batista leaving at some unknown point (always rumored to be right after whatever the next special event is), so unless Evolution snatches up a new member (Sheamus? Cody Rhodes?) this feud has to go out with The Shield on top sooner rather than later.
Then, Evolution may look like chumps these days (sorry HHH - still love ya, big guy) but they're certainly not to be counted out. They've also been playing up the isolate and eliminate angle big time, and that may be exactly what we end up seeing, though not without a strong rally from their upstart opponents. I wouldn't count out an eliminated member of Evolution returning to ringside to help facilitate a win ("adapting" to the situation?).
I'll stick with what may be the safer bet and say Evolution takes this one. The Shield looks incredible right now (rarely have they looked otherwise, but it keeps getting better) and they can afford a loss - especially when it's to a group of multiple-time world champions. As for Batista, despite rumors I think he's sticking around for now. I'm just as down on him as the next guy - never been a fan, plus his promos and workrate are utter garbage - but I believe him when he says he's going with the flow. The flow, as mentioned, is currently about building the next generation, and through matches with Daniel Bryan, The Shield and recently Dolph Ziggler, Batista has proved that he takes no issue making younger talent look strong and even taking falls at big shows. He isn't obligated to leave to promote Guardians of the Galaxy quite yet, after all.
The Hounds of Justice will clinch this someday soon, but Payback will not be that day.

Winners: Evolution, via Pedigree, RKO & Batista Bomb

Daniel Bryan addresses the state of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
They're gonna make this one belt soon, right? I mean, the WWE logo is slowly being changed to the pointy deal we see on the Network and the future WrestleMania logos so they'll need a new WWE Championship belt soon either way, and... well... they had just better not be separating them again (which could be an ill-advised swerve here, with Bryan keeping one and relinquishing the other).
Anyway... Bryan has to drop the belts. I can only imagine this bit is being drawn out so long because A) Bryan had that tedious half-year climb to reclaim what he won at SummerSlam, and B) if the belt was dropped before Payback, one would think that then would demand that it be contended for at Payback, and at this point it's too late to throw something like that together.
I keep saying what goes down at Payback is difficult to predict, which seems odd to say about what feels like such a "nothing" event, but how in the world can one predict what happens here? Yes, I think Bryan has no choice but to drop the belts. There has even been the added stipulation that if he refuses, his wife Brie will be fired from the company, so when he does vacate it won't look like he's easily giving in to Stephanie's demands (even though Stephanie is 100% correct - not only do we fans deserve to see the title defended, the title needs to be defended to maintain credibility). But then what happens to the title?
The ideal way for this to go, in my opinion, is for the inevitably vacated title to be announced for a Money in the Bank Ladder Match. To end the night on at least some kind of a bang (presuming this goes on last), some superstars wanting to contend for a spot in the match can make entrances and stare one another down. Kane will be there, I'm sure. Lesnar? Nah, he'll show up later. Preferably in a program with Cesaro. Even more preferably in a world title program with Cesaro.

Result: Daniel Bryan vacates the WWE World Heavyweight Championship; Money in the Bank Ladder Match for the Championship announced.

This feels like an event where one or three unannounced matches or segments will be added to the card, either due to the show running short or Creative (or whoever) simply forgetting to promote confirmation of a match (yeah right, but it's fun to imagine the ulcer this would give Vince).
Here are some potential offerings we could be surprised with during Payback, or at least which could be announced on the Pre-Show, based on sufficiently developed angles I believe could fit in this case.

  • Leo Kru-- I mean Adam Rose vs. Jack Swagger rematch (winner: Leo Kru-- I mean Adam Rose, via Party Foul)
  • Big E vs. Rusev (winner: Rusev, via Accolade submission)
  • Bo Dallas motivational speech promo (possibly to be interrupted by a jobber - let's say Sandow dressed as a Ninja Turtle - thus becoming a match won by Bo Dallas via BoDog)
  • The Usos (c) vs. Luke Harper & Eric Rowan for the Tag Team Championships (winners: Luke Harper & Eric Rowan via Discus Clothesline to an airborne Uso)


WWE Extreme Rules 2014: Galvanizing the New Generation

It would be difficult to justify this year's Extreme Rules as a Pay-Per-View of surprises, per se. After all, apart from one minor detail regarding a DQ, each of my predictions for the event came true, and they weren't very far-out predictions, either. I was also quite hyped for the event, being invested in every angle except the two most minor, those being WeeLC and the handicap match, so I would have been suitably satiated if everything had been merely adequate as opposed to incredible.

The real surprise is just how damn good this event really was overall. I had to check and make sure I hadn't suddenly reverted to being 13 years old again.

No stops were left intact, even before WeeLC commenced. That pre-show showdown of height-challenged performers was shockingly an acceptable amalgam of comedy (the stand-in commentators' punny names made me chuckle) and actual sports entertainment as El Torito, Hornswoggle and their respective entourages performed legitimate spots and told a character-based story in the ring instead of pulling the usual small-people-doing-big-people-things gags.

The breakout star of the night for me was by far Alexander Rusev. I had once seen him make a Raw appearance as his Brigitte Nielsen-esque advocate Lana spoke in Russian about him, and I saw his very brief segment on the most recent SmackDown, but I have been otherwise blind due to Hulu+'s episode trimming. Not only did Lana dedicate the match to Vladimir Putin and put a huge image of Putin on the Titantron, the beautifully anti-patriotic heel likes of which are so rare anymore, Rusev himself didn't boringly squash his opponents but still took it to them with gusto and won with the Iron Sheik's finisher! This whole match gelled perfectly for me, including Lana instructing Rusev to "Smash!"

And match of the year goes to The Shield v. Evolution. It would truly be something to see this slobberknocker topped in 2014, as The Shield mopped the Izod Center with their predecessors, making Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista look like they had just been wheeled out of a retirement community. I don't think I've ever been so excited to see my main man HHH get schooled. Amazing spots rapidly abounded, topped by a Superfly splash from Rollins in an unlikely location and immediately followed by Reigns' incredible and clean three over Batista. The not-so-promising six-man tag nature of this thing did not keep it from being an absolute classic. In case it wasn't clear already, it is now chiseled in stone that The Shield belongs at the top of the WWE.

Gotta hand it to two popular dudes I've been down on of late, as well. Due to creative ideas, talented opponents and fresh enthusiasm, Bray Wyatt and Daniel Bryan fired me up with their performances that involved chillingly demonic theatrics, forklifts and a burning table.

Hurray for Cesaro even though his match was the most dull of a card stacked with good matches (almost by default due to Swagger being the jobber of the feud and RVD being completely useless... but I hope his face is okay after that last sequence). Still decent, though, and I'm glad they made it elimination style at the last minute (better late than never).

Huzzah for Barrett after a solid match against Big E. I like these guys about equally but Barrett had 100% of the momentum going in to the night and deserved this win. Big E needs a better opportunity to show who he is outside the ring. Sometimes I feel I'm the only one on the Internet who knows he's amazing when given freedom on the mic. Actually, he and Barrett could probably have an excellent feud if they were allowed to make it personal.

And whoopee for Paige, as well, as she pulled off a beautiful-looking rendition of her signature submission finisher on the big bad Tamina, who also lived up to my positive feelings about her in-ring work. This Divas Championship match may have featured the only bad moment of the night when a cover was botched by... well, I'm not sure who is to blame for that one, but it was awkward for a moment or two there.

From top to bottom, Extreme Rules 2014 delivered on all cylinders. WrestleMania XXX signaled the shift: a new generation has finally dawned. The variables seem to be coalescing in its favor. Here's hoping WWE doesn't take its foot off the accelerator.