This Sunday, World Wrestling Entertainment presents the third installment of their Payback pay-per-view special, presenting all-new storylines and rivalries from those we saw at WrestleMania. Roman Reigns faces a new number-one contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, A.J. Styles faces drama with newcomers KPreview Changesarl Anderson and Luke Gallows, and the Tag Team Championship No. 1 Contender’s Tournament concludes between Enzo & Cass and The Vaudevillians… just to name a few. The only rivalry that began before WrestleMania was Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn, and the two face off in a contest that is sure to steal the show.
WWE has changed the date of this event substantially: It takes the place of Extreme Rules, which used to be the pay-per-view to immediately follow the Show of Shows. The name of the PPV was initially coined to give superstars a platform to have their rivalries come to a head, but with storylines only a month long at this point, it’s hard to understand why.
Let’s dive into what Payback has in store for us.
United States Champion Kalisto vs. Ryback
These two have faced off numerous times in the past, and the King of Flight is once again forced to defend his United States Championship against The Big Guy in a pre-show match.
This match in particular is a rematch of the contest these two had at the WrestleMania kickoff show last month, although because less than half of the audience was able to make it into AT&T Stadium in time to catch the match, WWE has decided to have the match again in yet another example of stale booking.
Kalisto has been a wonderful champion, but has been booked into rivalries against the same opponents numerous times with the same result. After winning the title from Alberto Del Rio, the two were booked in several months-worth of matches in a rivalry that was just an excuse for the championship to change hands. The same goes for this feud, as no true storyline has been developed to make fans truly understand why these two keep getting booked this way.
The best outcome is one that retains the United States’ title’s prestige – a factor that was built up by John Cena during his long run with the title last year, and subsequently brought back down again as a lower-tier championship. Kalisto ought to win this fight, as he has with almost all of his title defenses, but to bring more attention back to the championship, Ryback’s win would give Kalisto a reason to get the Lucha Dragons back on track.
Prediction: Ryback defeats Kalisto to become the new United States Champion.
Results: Kalisto defeats Ryback with a Salida del Sol.
Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady vs. The Vaudevillians (WWE Tag Team Championship No. 1 Contender’s Tournament Finals)
In a move that has brought two of NXT’s most promising tag teams to the forefront of the main roster’s tag division, Enzo & Cass take on The Vaudevillians to determine the challengers for The New Day’s WWE Tag Team Championship.
Both teams are wonderful inside the ring and on the mic, and it’s a blessing in disguise that WWE made them stay in NXT developmental territory for so long: they would have never gained this much traction with the WWE Universe or be deserving of this kind of a push had they not truly proved that they belonged on the main roster in the first place.
But the situations that these two teams are in at this stage are somewhat perplexing. Enzo & Cass debuted and cut a promo against the Dudley Boyz on the night after WrestleMania, and now, WWE has seemingly abandoned a potential feud between the two teams. On the other hand, the Vaudevillians, having been absent from NXT tapings for months beforehand after losing their NXT Tag Team Championships, suddenly show up and worked their way through the other teams in the Tournament to get to the finals match, almost with no backstory or inclusion as to why.
Both teams are incredible, and it would be nice to see some Dudley Boyz interference to re-ignite the feud and give Gotch and English a big push, but knowing WWE’s booking predictability, Enzo & Cass will walk out as the new Number 1 Contenders.
Prediction: Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady defeat Aiden English and Simon Gotch.
Results: The match was ruled no contest after an injury to Enzo Amore. His head hit the middle rope and mat as he was thrown from the ring, and he was later diagnosed with a concussion.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin
A few months ago, a young up-and-coming talent by the name of Tyler Breeze debuted on the main roster and was booked in a rivalry against Ziggler. After The Showoff defeated Breeze on PPV, Breeze would never have the opportunity to win another match in WWE. It’s a perfect example of NXT talent going to waste, as Breeze had a huge following in WWE’s developmental program and was squandered upon his arrival to the main roster.
Corbin, on the other hand, has already one big accolade to his name and has proven his talent and worth as one of the biggest heels in NXT. Pitting him in the midcard against Ziggler is a smart move on paper, but then again, so was Ziggler vs. Breeze. In the four short weeks following WrestleMania, the story between these two seems like a fairly personal affair, and they should hopefully put on a match that steals the show. If not, Corbin’s aggressive, disrespectful personality should, at the very least, set up another match between the two at the Extreme Rules pay-per-view next month.
Prediction: Dolph Ziggler wins due to Baron Corbin’s disqualification.
Results: Ziggler rolls up Corbin for the win.
Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho
The battle of the talk show hosts nobody thought they would see, the Ambrose Asylum and the Highlight Reel come face to face after having come to blows several times over the past few weeks.
Dean Ambrose’s character has been proven recently to be two-sided: while he plays the part of an unhinged maniac sometimes, he can successfully transition into an ultra-focused extreme machine with a clear goal in mind. Jericho has managed to push all of the right buttons to activate the latter part of Ambrose’s character, allowing us to get a glimpse of a side of him that we usually don’t get the opportunity to see.
Jericho was able to pull off a victory against A.J. Styles at WrestleMania, while Ambrose took a loss in a No Holds Barred Street Fight to Brock Lesnar at the same event, so it’s fair to say that Jericho has more momentum than Ambrose heading into Payback. With finding new ways to create animosity between the two, opportunities for aggressive attacks and burning promos, this is a wonderful example of the fan favorite taking on the veteran fighter, a storyline that WWE hasn’t exactly nailed down all that well recently. And Jericho is right: most people who have a match with him nowadays get an excellent push, which is something that Ambrose needs to begin his climb back to the top of the championship picture.
Prediction: Dean Ambrose defeats Chris Jericho.
Results: Ambrose counters a Lionsault from Jericho with his knees and hits a Dirty Deeds before pinning Jericho for the win.
Intercontinental Champion The Miz vs. Cesaro
In a feud born from movie quotes and bad jokes comes the next chapter in the Intercontinental Championship’s story as The A-Lister and his wife Maryse look to take down the Swiss Superman.
Even though Zack Ryder walked away from WrestleMania as the Intercontinental Champion in a seven-man ladder match, he would lose it the next night on Monday Night RAW to The Miz, continuing the trend with Ryder about being unable to hold onto the gold for very long. But the reason for that became abundantly clear as Cesaro made his return from injury the very same night. A feud between Ryder and Cesaro for the title would make less sense than The Miz and Cesaro, and it also provided a reason for former WWE Diva Maryse to make her return to the company.
Miz is very much sticking to his gimmick as a Hollywood movie star, using references to famous films as a platform for making his presence felt, once again, as the Intercontinental Champion. He and Cesaro are the perfect fit for one another: two differing wrestling styles, two antagonistic personalities and their attempts to one-up each other with movie references makes for a dynamic that fans everywhere can easily get interested in. Cesaro hasn’t held a championship since 2013, and even though he’s fresh off his return from injury, it’s about time the Swiss Superman had gold around his waist.
Prediction: Cesaro defeats The Miz to become the new Intercontinental Champion.
Results: The Miz rolls up Cesaro and illegally grabs a fistful of tights for the win after the official was distracted by Owens and Zayn fighting outside the ring. The four men then brawled following the match.
Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens
Perhaps the two best performers to ever come out of WWE’s developmental system, Sami Zayn makes his main roster one-on-one pay-per-view debut against Kevin Owens in what is a rematch of their many battles in NXT.
Sami had a pretty rough WrestleMania weekend earlier this month, losing to Shinsuke Nakamura at Takeover: Dallas in what is surely a Match of the Year candidate, and failing to claim the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania in a ladder match. But Owens had his championship taken from him in that match, and now that he’s no longer involved in a rivalry to reclaim it, he and Zayn find themselves in another one-on-one situation – one that has produced so many noteworthy contests over the past year.
Owens is one of the best heels in the business, with exceptional mic skills and in-ring ability. He even maintains his overbearing character on social media. Zayn’s character can be categorized as a little over-the-top sometimes, but he is regarded globally as one of the best wrestlers, not performers, in the industry. Both were best friends in the storyline at one point, and if one were to go back and watch their matches in NXT, it won’t be hard to find out how they managed to get at each other’s throats so fast.
Since you can’t have all of the babyfaces win in one night, expect Owens to walk away with the victory, but don’t expect this rivalry to die off after just one pay-per-view.
Prediction: Kevin Owens defeats Sami Zayn.
Results: Owens defeats Zayn with a Pop-Up Powerbomb. The two then continued to brawl during the Intercontinental Match between Cesaro and The Miz, setting up a potential four-way feud for the championship.
WWE Women’s Champion Charlotte vs. Natalya
The introduction of the new WWE Women’s Championship has been a welcome blessing to the women’s wrestling division. It solidifies WWE’s desire to legitimize female competition again, and acknowledges the skill and ability of its competitors rather than just their looks, something that WWE has done in the past (and in some cases, continues to do) as a means of objectifying their talent. Granted, there are still some women who would be classified as more of a “Diva” than a “wrestler” due to personality, physical appearance and lack of in-ring skill, but the change from the Divas title to the Women’s title shows that WWE is serious about having the action in the Women’s division once again compare to that of the male Superstars.
That all being said, this match is just a replay of a Charlotte vs. Natalya Match that took place on an NXT special years ago for the NXT Women’s Championship. An exact rematch, as a matter of fact, with both Flair and Hart in their respective corners to see whose legacy was the more dominant. Natalya hasn’t been in much in-ring action as of late, especially with the recent focus on the call-ups from NXT, so her place in this match doesn’t seem to have really been earned. Charlotte has proven to be a wonderful champion, even with constant interference from Ric Flair, but now that Bret Hart’s been added to the mix, we could actually see a clean title defense or a clean title win for Natalya.
Prediction: Charlotte defeats Natalya to retain the WWE Women’s Championship.
Results: In a re-creation of the Montreal Screwjob from Survivor Series 1997, referee Charles Robinson called for the bell prematurely, even though Natalya did not tap out after Charlotte applied a Sharpshooter. After the match, Natalya and The Hitman locked on Sharpshooters of their own, letting Charlotte and The Nature Boy know this family feud was far from over.
WWE World Heavyweight Champion Roman Reigns vs. A.J. Styles
Perhaps the most interesting storyline Roman Reigns has entered since being included in the WWE World Heavyweight title picture, the Roman Empire battles the new Number 1 Contender A.J. Styles with his newly won championship at stake.
Putting Styles up against Reigns is something that many thought would never be a possibility, seeing as how Styles practically made his career in rival promotion TNA as their champion for years. Putting Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows in the same wheelhouse as Styles, but with different goals in mind, is a storyline that has put so much speculation and suspense into what would have otherwise been an easy-to-predict storyline. Putting Samoa Joe up as the new NXT Champion on a house show and freeing Finn Bálor up to potentially reunite with his old NJPW Bullet Club allies also adds some serious intrigue to this match.
So many things can come out of this match. Because Anderson and Gallows don’t have a match on the Payback card, it’s almost a guarantee that there will be some sort of interference from the two of them in the main event. Whether Bálor debuts at the show or on RAW the next night is unclear, but with most fans aware of the connection between Bálor and the other members of the Bullet Club, a reunion on WWE’s main roster is all but guaranteed to happen at some point. Roman Reigns almost fades into the background at this point, because the question that is on so many people’s minds is: when Bálor finally does debut, will he side with Anderson and Gallows against Styles, or will they all reunite as a four-man team to wreck the rest of the roster?
While most of the match’s controversy will surround Styles and the rest of his old stable, the actual match itself will end, in all likelihood, with a Roman Reigns victory, as Vince McMahon would never wish to see his prized championship on a man who made his name with a different company.
Prediction: Roman Reigns defeats A.J. Styles to retain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
Let us know your Payback predictions @getfandom.