By Matt Straub and Brad Carroll
WWE’s Payback PPV is Sunday, and this year’s edition is properly titled. A number of the matches are ones we’ve seen before, and in many cases, the loser of the last encounter should get payback on this card. With several predictable results coming, can WWE produce a show good enough to make us forget we know who’s going to win most of the matches?
Let’s take a look at the card, what should happen and what will happen.
Enzo & Big Cass vs. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson (Kickoff Match)
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: I know, I know, I’m going to use logic to discuss a wrestling storyline and it’s a terrible idea. Here it goes anyway: How long are Enzo and Cass going to be able to get by without actually doing anything significant in the ring? Yes, the young crowd loves to sing along with their intro in a way which reminds me of the New Age Outlaws. The Outlaws, however, won titles. The New Day can do their ice cream and cereal selling because they are former champions. Champions get a different level of respect, something which can’t be taught. Also, when will Cass realize he’s carrying Enzo and ditch him? Another big guy to put into the singles mix would be Vince’s dream. Anderson and Gallows have grown on me immensely in recent months, and deserve better than a rehash of an old, pointless feud. It’s worth noting WWE might have to adjust its plans for the division with the Revival, who a lot of people seem to like already, being out of action until perhaps SummerSlam. Injuries can derail careers if they come at the wrong time, like, say, right before a big push. Enzo and Cass win because, if they don’t what’s the point?
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: This match would be given about three minutes on an episode of Raw, so no idea why it’s actually on a pay-per-view card. But it does mean you don’t have to tune into the Kickoff Show, saving yourself a half-hour or so of pointless watching on the WWE Network. One or both teams should have been moved to SmackDown, especially Gallows and Anderson, who could have been paired with AJ Styles and become monsters again. There’s nothing to this match at all, but figure the good guys win to get the crowd hyped (if that’s possible) for the real show.
“Miz TV” with special guest Finn Bálor (Payback Kickoff)
Straub’s Breakdown: Perhaps no one had their career altered by a poorly-timed injury as much as Balor, who was heavyweight champion of the world before taking a bad bump last summer. Now, he’s doing Miz TV. This will obviously spark his next feud, which makes it strange this wasn’t done during Raw so he could wrestle at the PPV, but Balor seems to be a low priority right now. The good news is it won’t take much to get Balor back in the title picture. There are times WWE needs something creative, but this time all they must do is have Balor say, “I want a shot at the belt I never lost.” I doubt this will be his proclamation Sunday, but he should get himself into something worthwhile by the time this segment is over. Meanwhile, the Miz has been excellent in recent months and has a ready-made feud set for a title match with Dean Ambrose. Instead, he’s going to interview Balor, which is a total waste. Miz and Ambrose have some nice chemistry and can build on what they’ve done now that they’re on the big show, but instead we get a Raw segment on PPV. Which means, I assume, no big title match at all on the show. Hey, it’s only a PPV, why should the two biggest belts on the show be defended? If this turns into an impromptu match for Miz and Dean (or even Balor) fine. If not then I already hate this segment.
Carroll’s Breakdown: WWE is obviously treating the Kickoff Show as an episode of Raw, especially with this talking segment which will no doubt end in someone getting their butt beat, likely the Miz. Finn Balor is proof the WWE has no idea what they are doing, as they simply can’t come up with a storyline, let alone an opponent for the former Universal champion. It also doesn’t help that Brock Lesnar, the current champ, isn’t even part of the show anymore. But that’s another story. Dean Ambrose will likely intervene in some way, which will further put in motion a feud between him and the Miz, something that was already beat to death on SmackDown. Why they brought both over to Raw, and then decided to just continue their feud makes little sense. But hopefully Miz eventually wins back the IC title. Balor, hopefully, gets an opponent, but odds are it’s going to be Bray Wyatt, once he’s done with Randy Orton later in the night.
WWE Cruiserweight Champion Neville vs. Austin Aries
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: I liked their last match better than most, and I wouldn’t mind seeing it again. Whenever the cruisers mix in some physicality with their gymnastics it usually leads to something fun, if not it’s just a spotfest. Neville is better as a heel. Aries has some personality and could “graduate” to the regular roster someday. I’ll take Neville because I don’t see the need for these two to fight again down the line.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: Neville has made one of the best heel turns in WWE history. Seriously. He’s changed his entire personality on a dime and has become the face of a brand, even if that brand is an overall slight on his talent. Neville could be a star on the main show, but for now, he rules the cruiserweights. For Austin Aries, if he doesn’t win the title here, where does he go from here? It’s not like he can fall into a secondary feud on 205 Live or Raw, because fans won’t care about it. If it isn’t Neville, the cruiserweights don’t have much juice. Although I do enjoy Jack Gallagher. But the cruiserweights are Neville and Aries and then everyone way, way below them. Still, how can you stop the momentum of Neville now? You can’t, so he wins. But, still, I have no idea where either guy goes from here.
Raw Women’s Champion Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss
Straub Breakdown and Pick: WWE did the right thing mixing up the women’s divisions during the “shake up,” as we’d seen just about every match the Raw group could give us, as good as they all were. Bliss is better than I originally gave her credit for, but it’s going to take time to rebuild the Raw side of the division, as we’ll need to be given reason to care about these characters. Speaking of people I just can’t seem to care about, Bayley is still your women’s champion. The “just a fan” angle was interesting for a while, but it seems to have stuck with her and hurt her image. I just don’t see her as a serious wrestler the way I see Charlotte or Sasha. I would like Bliss to win, but I think Bayley retains.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: Straub’s right about Bayley’s current character ruining her image. Every interview she does in the ring is cringeworthy and takes away from what she can actually do in the ring. When given the opportunity, she’s every bit as good as Sasha Banks, Charlotte and Becky Lynch. Blame the Raw writers for it, as they’ve continued the worst underdog story of all time. Alexa Bliss is one of the better talkers among the women, which is a huge advantage for her, as everyone else except for Charlotte struggles with it. Bliss can even play off the crowd, turning the “what” chant against the crowd, when she said “Alex Bliss is the best say what” and the crowd fell for it. They shut up after that. Simple but great at the same time. For this match, Bayley should retain, as it’s too early to give the belt to Bliss, but I think she’ll get some unwanted help from Sasha, making it look like Bayley can’t win without it. It will lead to Bayley and Sasha feuding for the title, even though it will be a slow burn.
Raw Tag Team Champions The Hardy Boyz vs. Sheamus & Cesaro
Straub Breakdown and Pick: We still haven’t heard much from the Hardys, which is interesting. Matt seems to be trying to straddle the line and create a mix of his regular persona with the garbage “broken” angle from TNA. If you go back and watch the “final deletion” segments, you might never watch wrestling again. Although, that whole thing wasn’t wrestling. They are insanely over, however, and can do just about whatever they want. WWE has to do a balancing act of its own with Team Extreme. It wants to ride the wave and use their popularity to make money, but can’t have them clean out the division for fear of making everyone else look bad. Cesaro and Sheamus are walking another line, as they try and remain faces while facing the Hardys. Matches without a bad guy are rarely fun, but the work in this match should be pretty good. I can’t see the Hardys losing, however.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: Sheamus and Cesaro have become my favorite tag team, as they have built a chemistry together that really can’t be beat. Enzo and Cass would actually kill to have that chemistry. It’s too bad they are in a program, and on the same show for that matter, as the Hardys, as the WWE won’t have them drop the belts this soon. But Sheamus and Cesaro deserve the belts and could be great champions. However, you all heard the pop the WrestleMania crowd gave the Hardys when they returned, and you’ve continued to hear it on Raw, so there’s no way WWE is going to put an end to that. It will be interesting to see Cesaro turn heel, as he’s been popular among fans, but that’s the way it appears to be going. It could be for the best for Sheamus and Cesaro, who had the best Raw chant the night after WrestleMania … Woah, Woah, Woah … Sheamus and Cesaro! Too bad it didn’t stick. Hardys win because the WWE has no other choice and Sheamus and Cesaro beat them down after taking the loss, with Cesaro likely making the first dastardly move.
United States Champion Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: It’s a shame such a good match and great feud is ruined ahead of time by such an obvious outcome. If Y2J wins, he goes to SmackDown. Ambrose already has the IC belt on Raw, so SmackDown needs its own second title. Jericho also needs his return win over Owens. I just can’t imagine a scenario where KO wins this one. So instead of breaking this one down, let’s take a moment to relish how great Jericho was during this last run on Raw. It’s as though Owens recharged his career. They were really, really good together.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: I agree with Straub when he says Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho were awesome together and it’s going to be sad to see this rivalry, and friendship, come to its final conclusion. But I disagree with Straub’s pick of Jericho winning this match. There’s actually no way Jericho wins, as Owens needs to have the belt to set up his next big feud with AJ Styles on SmackDown. Plus, this is going to be the swan song for Jericho, as he’s apparently going on tour with his band Fozzy. Hopefully the two put together a great match, and I think they will, but it’s a foregone conclusion Owens is going to win. It’s pretty funny (or embarrassing) that since Owens arrived on SmackDown, his US title has become the No. 1 prize. Forget the WWE world title, held by Randy Orton, it’s all about Owens and Styles fighting for the US title. That says a lot about Owens, Orton and the SmackDown writing team.
Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: Someone else who seems to have a new energy is Rollins, who has been good as the angry face in the buildup for this match. My love for Joe is well known, but Rollins has been carrying this feud. A lot of people are speculating about a Shield reunion, but I’d rather see Rollins on his own a while longer to see if he can rebuild his momentum he’s lost after his last couple of injuries. I don’t think either man is ready for a new feud yet, so I think Joe wins with interference and Rollins has to chase him for a bit longer. In the ring this could be really, really good for those who appreciate reversals and holds which tell a story like I do.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: I’m glad Straub let us know he likes watching sweaty guys rest on each other for 20 minutes, but it’s probably a little too much information if you ask anyone. I’m a little uncomfortable writing about Straub’s love for Samoa Joe here after that little factoid, but he’s been infatuated for years now, many years. So, Straub has to be over the moon to see Joe on Raw, because he wasn’t about to lower himself to watch him on NXT. While Joe works perfectly as the monster heel, Rollins just doesn’t work as a face. He’s much better in the heel role, but there’s no going back now. As Straub said, this will be a grind-it-out match that may or may not work on the big stage. But it’s two big stars, so the crowd should be into it. I don’t think either will win this match clean, as they both have to continue this feud longer, as there’s nothing else for either of them to do. In that case, the heel typically wins in a shady manner, maybe with Triple H costing Rollins the match..
WWE Champion Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt — House of Horrors Match
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: WWE won’t even tell us what a House of Horrors match consists of, which is the only bit of intrigue in this match. Orton has to bring the title back to SmackDown, unless there’s something coming where Brock Lesnar moves, but I doubt it. Wyatt finally got himself the belt, and they didn’t let him keep it for every long. Hopefully he doesn’t get lost in the shuffle in whatever he does next. Orton is solid, but I don’t think he’ll keep the belt long on SmackDown.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: I don’t know what’s worse about this match, the fact Randy Orton has started every single promo with the phrase “I don’t know what a House of Horrors match is …” or the fact the WWE title isn’t on the line. For the first, it’s almost like Orton doesn’t give one crap about the match, nor to make it sound interesting. Or he just can’t pull off a promo anymore, which could be it too. For the second, how in the world can a PPV match involving a world champion be non-title? WWE needs to remember people are actually paying money for this, and giving them a non-title match is a slap in the face. Of course, this is wrestling, so nothing makes sense, but why is Wyatt OK with foregoing his guaranteed championship rematch? Wouldn’t he want the title back? I guess not. Maybe he sees no value in it since Orton won it. Maybe it’s because Jinder Mahal is the top contender for the title now and Wyatt wants to stay far away over on Raw. Either way, having a non-title match on a PPV is beyond stupid. This House of Horrors better be entertaining enough to make up for it, but is anyone expecting it to be? I’ll go with Bray Wyatt winning cause it’s his match and it makes Orton look weak and beatable for Mahal in the next PPV.
Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman
Straub’s Breakdown and Pick: Give WWE credit, it has rescued Strowman’s momentum, which seemed lost during the WrestleMania season. Now he’s a monster again, throwing people around, stuffing them in dumpsters, breaking the ring and flipping an ambulance. He is incredibly strong, a bit quick, and can do a scary voice, which makes him Vince McMahon’s dream wrestler. He should be pushed to the moon soon, which is good because WWE might be entering a stretch with a bunch of people who could enter the title picture, assuming Brock Lesnar decides to defend the title anytime soon. Of course, none of that will happen. Roman will get his revenge, win the match with an improbable comeback, and make Brad’s head explode.
Carroll’s Breakdown and Pick: Yes, if Roman Reigns wins this match my head will explode and I’ll blame Straub for it. If I had to guess, I’d say Straub sends letters to Vince McMahon every day saying, “Vince, don’t worry about the boos, Roman Reigns is the greatest wrestler of all time. He’s got the long, wet hair, the tattoos and the looks! He’s the perfect wrestler! He should never, ever lose a match. Roman Empire 4-Life! Love, Straub.” Of course, everyone not named Straub hates Roman Reigns. But the biggest slap against Vince and Roman is Braun Strowman is everything Reigns isn’t. In a short time, he’s built an aura of invincibility, based solely on his work in and out of the ring. Reigns, on the other hand, has been built as a guy who will never lose a match. Which is why is he booed, never mind his lack of charisma or mic skills. Nobody likes a guy where the outcome is already decided. It’s why everyone, except Straub, hated John Cena for so long. It’s not rocket science. The WWE needs to have Strowman win this match, which will have the fans behind him anyway, and then they can start a Strowman-Brock Lesnar feud. Now that would be one heck of a match. Anyway, Braun shocks the world, beats Reigns and makes Straub’s heart explode.