By Jason Powell
Finally, I don’t have to dedicate the opening to telling you that the show looks better on paper than the build it was given. The show looks very good on paper and the build to this show was much stronger and focussed than we’ve seen from WWE in a long time. Every match has a story and a purpose. I don’t feel like I’m watching the show for the main event and just sitting through a bunch of additional matches that belong on Raw or Smackdown. This is billed as the beginning of a new era for WWE. Here’s hoping this new era not just about the talent but also the creative approach.
Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Despite all the praise I just heaped on WWE for the build for this show, this match received the shakiest build in a sense. Styles doesn’t enter this match with any real momentum. He lost to Chris Jericho at WrestleMania, won a Fatal 4-Way to earn the title shot, and then had long, competitive wins over The Miz and Sheamus heading into the show. They never made me feel like he’s on a roll and is a true threat to win the title. Fortunately, the mystery angle of whether Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows are in cahoots with Styles or working against him is a great hook. I just can’t help but wonder how much stronger this match would be if they had given Styles some decisive wins and portrayed him a threat to take the title on his own merits.
Nevertheless, the mystery angle makes this match compelling. It will be interesting to see if they can get the live crowd to focus on the body of the match or if they sit on their hands while assuming that nothing matters until Anderson and Gallows get involved. Styles winning would shock me if only because I don’t think they went through all the trouble of putting the title on Reigns at WrestleMania just to take it away weeks later. Thus, I assume Gallows and Anderson cost him the match. I’d love to see it revealed that they have been in cahoots with Reigns all along, but we’ve seen them take out Reigns and watched Roman fight them off (far too easily).
I can’t shake the scenario that was given to me by a former WWE creative team member. Gallows, Anderson, and their third man are actually working for Triple H, who serves as their mouthpiece. After all, the show is billed as Payback, and Hunter gets his revenge after losing to Reigns at WrestleMania. In this scenario, Hunter’s troops take out the champion and the challenger, so Reigns retains and Styles remains a babyface. It’s not the scenario I want to see, but I could definitely see it happening. I’m going with Finn Balor as the mystery man. If it’s not him, then my focus shifts to Seth Rollins. However, I hope they realize the fans want to cheer him, and feuding with a cool heel trio hurts Reigns more than helps him.
Roman Reigns retains the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Vince McMahon reveals who is control of Raw: Is it Shane? Is it Stephanie? Is it someone who isn’t being mentioned? Will Vince put himself in control of Raw? Will there be a brand split? If they really want to sell viewers on this being a new era, then they need to avoid the temptation of going right back to yet another heel authority figure. I don’t care if it’s Shane or someone else, let’s just have a neutral party who calls it down the middle. Put the focus on the wresters, not a McMahon family member or anyone else in a power position. Let’s shoot for the moon on this one. Shane either gets control or doesn’t get control, but we find out that he’s the one pulling the strings of Anderson and Gallows and their mystery guy(s). I don’t like it either, but I’ve learned to never rule out the involvement of McMahon family members in top WWE storylines.
Charlotte (w/Ric Flair) vs. Natalya (w/Bret Hart) for the WWE Women’s Championship: The criticism is that Flair and Bret overshadow the women. You’ll hear the wooooo’s and Bret will get a good reaction when he inevitably takes out Flair, but I don’t fear the Hall of Famers overshadowing the women for one night will be damaging to the division. The women’s title feels important, and Charlotte is shining as a heel character. The women’s division is in a good place regardless of how the live crowd reacts to this match. I see no reason to take the title away from Charlotte aside from the possible quickie change that results in her getting the title back in a few weeks at Extreme Rules.
Charlotte retains the WWE Women’s Championship.
The Miz vs. Cesaro for the Intercontinental Title: Speaking of Extreme Rules, I see this being an Empire Strikes Back show with a number of heels going over to set up the need for gimmicky rematches. Thus, as much as I think it’s logical to go with The Miz retaining through nefarious means to set up the rematch, WWE may opt to throw the fans a bone by giving them babyface winning the title. I could see this one going either way. Flip a coin. Heads.
Cesaro wins the Intercontinental Title.
Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens: Zayn shouldn’t win here and it has nothing to do with Extreme Rules. Zayn is the underdog and they would be wise to hold off on giving him his first WWE win over Owens. Let him come close time and time again. When the time is right, give him that big win and it will feel like a major moment. If it seems familiar that’s fine, it works. They could go with Zayn winning only to have Owens destroying him after the match or on Raw, but I really like the idea of making fans wait to see Sami finally defeat him.
Kevin Owens wins.
Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho: Ambrose has lost a lot of matches lately, yet he continues to feel teflon with the crowd popping big for him. Meanwhile, Jericho is finally on a winning streak. I could see them using the scenario I mentioned a moment ago by having Ambrose win only to have Jericho attack him after the fact to set up the need for an Extreme Rules rematch. I have a number of heels slated to go over, but I don’t think it will too lopsided, so I’ll go with the full-timer beating the part-timer.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin: Don’t get cute. They have a good thing going with Corbin. This should not be a long program, and it sure as hell should not be a 50/50 scenario with the wrestlers trading wins. Corbin should exit this feud without a loss to Ziggler and then move on to bigger and better things.
Baron Corbin wins.
Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady vs. The Vaudevillains to become No. 1 contenders to the WWE Tag Team Championship: The Vaudevillains act is quirky and I remain fearful that it’s not going to click on the main roster. Heck, it never really clicked in a major way on NXT, though they were solid in the heel champions role. Enzo and Cass are money. However, I’d hate to see WWE rush it. I don’t believe they will. They took the time to set up a program with them and The Dudley Boyz and I don’t think their win over them in the semifinals of the tournament was the payoff. The question now is whether the Dudleys interfere in this match or wait to do it in the finals. I vote for this match. The heel Vaudevillains facing babyface New Day seems more logical, and then we get a tables match or some type of gimmick match with the Dudleys vs. Enzo and Cass at Extreme Rules. By the way, Simon Gotch and Aiden English are holding up their end by delivering some very good mic work. If The Vaudevillains don’t click, I hope creative will find a way to shift them into something that will.
The Vaudevillains wins the tournament.
Kalisto vs. Ryback for the U.S. Championship (Kickoff Show match): Kalisto traded wins with Alberto Del Rio, and now he’s trading wins with Ryback. They open yet another show, which leaves me wondering whether creative is ribbing Ryback in response to some of the things he’s said in interviews. I don’t have a strong feeling about this one. They’re not doing anything with Kalisto as champion, and perhaps they want to move the title to Ryback so that he can be a transitional champion before the put the strap back on John Cena.
Ryback wins the U.S. Title.
Powell’s Bold Predictions for WWE Payback
-If Seth Rollins or Dean Ambrose are not leading Anderson and Gallows, yes, we will see the return of The Shield sooner or later to feud with the new faction. Fans will still boo Reigns the moment they stop teaming together. Heck, they may even boo him even when he teams with Rollins and Ambrose.
-CM Punk will jump the rail in his hometown and join Gallows and Anderson in attacking Reigns and Styles in the main event. #PunkClub4Life
-The guy wearing the gas mask on the gear of Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows will be revealed to be Laremy Tunsil. #TunsilClub4Life
-Randy Orton will hit RKO’s out of nowhere on Reigns and Styles and then be revealed as the leader Anderson and Gallows. #RKOClub4Life
-We won’t find out the identity of the leader of Anderson and Gallows on this show because they are saving it for WWE Bash at the Beach when Cena reveals himself to be the third man. “Whose side is he on?” #ChainGang4Life
-Mark Levine and Michael Dubin will tear through the bottom of the ring and help Anderson and Gallows beat the hell out of Reigns and Styles. #DollarShaveClub4Life