By Jason Powell
The build for WWE Payback was about as flat as it gets. The card looks solid on paper, so this could be one of those sleeper shows carried by the in-ring work, assuming it’s not overbooked with bad finishes. That said, there are multiple matches that actually feel like the smart thing to do is to go with a cheap or non-finish, especially if they intend to use this show to set up June’s Extreme Rules event.
WWE Champion Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt in a House of Horrors match: After the slideshow silliness at WrestleMania, one can only hope that a lesson was learned and whatever they shot outside the arena bowl won’t be nearly as campy (or so campy it’s good – see The Broken Universe). It appears this is a non-title match as there has been no mention of the WWE Championship being on the line in recent weeks. If nothing else, it makes the outcome feel a little less predictable. Do they have the champion go over or do they have Wyatt win his own match? The unexplained rules of the match seem to leave the door open for interference. Will Jinder Mahal return the WWE Championship by slamming it over the head of Orton? It’s a finish that would let Wyatt win his own match while also shifting the focus to Orton’s next challenger.
Bray Wyatt wins.
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman: This should feel so much bigger than it does. After all, they gave us the great Strowman attack on Reigns complete with the absurdly awesome shot of Strowman tipping over an ambulance. WWE didn’t have Reigns on the go-home show (presumably due to the death of his brother), so they weren’t able to give this the type of final push the match needed. I am very surprised this is not an ambulance match as it would have presented them with an easy opportunity to protect the match loser. One way or another, I assume they will find a way to do that anyway. Reigns isn’t expected to face Lesnar until SummerSlam or even next year’s WrestleMania. His character has outs with the storyline injuries, so this would be a good spot for him to put over Strowman, who would then become the No. 1 contender. That said, WWE advertising indicates that Brock Lesnar’s first title defense won’t take place until July’s oddly named Great Balls of Fire pay-per-view, so perhaps we get a big schmoz that leads to these guys meeting in a rematch for No. 1 contendership at Extreme Rules next month.
Strowman wins if there’s a winner.
Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho for the U.S. Championship: Everything points to Owens moving to Smackdown along with the U.S. Championship. Jericho has Fozzy dates coming up and Owens has already been appearing on the Smackdown television show. Could it be a swerve? Jericho loves being a step of the fans, but this is one that can’t stick if they do go with the surprise finish. Smackdown has a shortage of meaningful heels as it is, so it’s hard to imagine them pulling the brand’s best heel. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine them pulling the Owens vs. AJ Styles match from the WWE Backlash lineup.
Kevin Owens retains the U.S. Championship (or regains it quickly).
Samoa Joe vs. Seth Rollins: A tough match to call in terms of predicting the winner because both men need wins. It would be a shame to see them do anything that would damage Joe’s badass mercenary role at this point, but Rollins also needs to keep the ball rolling with whatever momentum his character has established coming off the win over Triple H. This strikes me as a DDQ type of finish. If there is a pin or submission, then I would hope it’s set up by a distraction or interference.
Joe and Rollins fight to a no-contest.
Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy vs. Sheamus and Cesaro for the Raw Tag Titles: The Cesaro and Sheamus handshake offers followed by apprehension from the untrusting Hardy Brothers has been a nice hook for this mid-card tag match. I don’t know where this is going and I like that. Will Sheamus and Cesaro turn heel on the Hardys? Will they simply play it straight? One way or another, I expect the Hardy Brothers to retain the tag straps.
The Hardys retain the Raw Tag Titles.
Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss for the Raw Women’s Championship: The champion is defending the title belt in her hometown. Naomi’s WrestleMania win broke the creative curse of most wrestlers losing in their hometown, so perhaps Bayley can also be an exception too. Will Sasha cost Bayley the championship by getting involved in her business like she does every other week? Bliss is doing a terrific job on the mic and it will be interesting to see what type of match they have. Ultimately, I don’t think Vince McMahon can pass up on having the babyface lose in her hometown in front of her father. You’d think he would take the opposite approach, but history says otherwise.
Alexa Bliss wins the Raw Women’s Championship.
Neville vs. Austin Aries for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship: The hype for their WrestleMania match started late and turned out to be very good. The hype for the rematch hasn’t been nearly as good, as the match feels like an afterthought. Of course, this has the potential to steal the show if they are given enough time, but the point is that creative hasn’t made this feel hot enough that one senses a title change is in the works.
Neville retains the WWE Cruiserweight Championship.
Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (Kickoff Show): It’s the Kickoff Show. When in doubt, go with the babyface(s). Besides, whichever team loses this match will win the rematch if history is any indication.
Jason Powell and Jake Barnett co-host the Dot Net Weekly and Pro Wrestling Boom Podcast combo show and discuss Raw Underground and other WWE concepts, The Rock's group buying the XFL, the Marty Jannetty story, AEW Dynamite and NXT TV, and more...