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John: Welcome to the TJRWrestling preview of WWE Payback, which takes place this Sunday night in one of the greatest cities in the world, Chicago. It’s a city that has seen many great WWE events and I have a strong feeling that Payback could get added to the list because this card is pretty good.
While WrestleMania was filled with multi-person matches and part time performers in featured roles, Payback features mostly one on one matchups that feel fresh while also mixing in “new” superstars that were recently called up from NXT. Keep in mind also that the next WWE PPV event is Extreme Rules in three weeks time on May 22, so some of these matches could have outcomes that lead to rematches at that event with such a short build between them.
Joining me for the preview are Matty J. Douglas, Heather Hickey and Mike Holland. Mike is a long time TJRWrestling writer that is stepping in for Christian Michael, who recently retired from writing. We’ll miss Christian, but happy that Mike is here to join us. As always, the match order isn't the order that we necessarily think will happen on the show. It's just a format to use for this preview.
(All graphics are from WWE.com. The banner is courtesy of our friend Steve Melo. Go visit his website prowrestlinglinks.com for convenient links to all kinds of different wrestling related websites.)
Kickoff Match for the United States Title: Kalisto vs. Ryback
Matt: Are we still doing this? What’s the point? Kalisto and the United States Championship have faded into irrelevancy and Ryback won’t exactly help matters if he captures the title. Neither of these guys have sniffed out a minute of TV time on Raw since Wrestlemania, and if I’m being honest, haven’t missed either of them. I rarely check out pre-show matches, and this isn’t the match to change that.
Winner and Still United States Champion: Kalisto (because as irrelevant as he is, I truly can’t stand Ryback)
Heather: Seriously? Poor Kalisto. First he’s paired with Sin Cara, now this.
Winner: It’s going to be Ryback, isn’t it?
Mike: If it wasn't patently obvious that the WWE doesn't care a whit about the United States Title, it's once again been relegated to the kickoff show. On top of that, it's a rematch from WrestleMania that wasn't particularly thrilling the first time around. And on top of all that, it's featuring two guys who haven't done a whole heck of a lot since then. I have no explanation as to what Ryback's semi-heel turn was supposed to bring about, other than a slightly less caffeinated entrance and slightly more befuddled facial expressions. As for Kalisto, the company is clearly high on him as an underdog champion but the backstories have been less than compelling.
Given the circumstances above, you'd think it was a prime opportunity to have Ryback obliterate the flying Luchador and claim the gold. Given the rather illogical booking at times, I'll figure on the opposite occurring. I'm not sure how long it will take the company to elevate the US belt to its former glory, but it will take longer than Sunday. Feed me less.
John: It’s such a shame that the US Title has gone back to not being important. This feud is so far off the radar that they don’t even care to put these guys on Raw for a few weeks yet they’re here in the Kickoff Match. Bizarre logic. Shouldn’t you (WWE) want to give these guys more exposure to make the crowd care more? Apparently not. They did have a non-title match on Smackdown a couple weeks ago that Ryback won, so that’s why they are having another match. I think they’re doing it because they want Ryback to have a US Title reign to see what he can do with it. Other than that, I’m not sure why they would do the match again.
Winner and New US Champion: Ryback
Vince McMahon Decides Who Will Run Raw: Stephanie or Shane McMahon
Matt: Wrestlemania 32 was a show that meant nothing. Every outcome on that show was baffling, and undone the very next night. I’ve truly never witnessed anything like it in my history of watching WWE. A Raw where nearly every match from the night before happened again in some form, with the opposite outcome from 24 hours earlier. Has there ever been a more pointless 6 hour program?
I say that to get to this point. On a show where nothing that happened seems to have mattered, nothing insulted my intelligence the next night on Raw more than the fact that Vince let Shane run Raw for no reason. It was a slap in my face as a writer and a person that watches for a narrative. It was the ultimate storytelling cop out.
This segment on this PPV can only serve to piss me off. It’s built on the absolute lack of any narrative consistency. Any decision made by Vince is stupid, because the fact that we’re even in the position that he’s making this decision is sheer lunacy. With the plethora of great television that exists in the world, why in the holy hell I choose to watch this programming that continues to insult my intelligence and my craft escapes me, never more than right now, previewing this foolish segment. End of pent up rant.
Prediction: The Decision will make little to no sense, given the circumstances that have led to it.
Heather: I’m guessing I won’t be alone on this Preview Panel in complaining about the complete nonsense of this story. The stipulation for Shane’s match at Mania made little sense to begin with, then they obliterated the point of the match by giving Shane control of RAW anyways. Even though giving Shane control is the right move, why should we trust anything that WWE promises us? Why get emotionally invested in a match stipulation? I know I should just sit back and enjoy the show, but this really annoys me. Furthermore, the banter between Shane and Stephanie is like an anchor on Steph’s otherwise-brilliant promo game. For whatever reason, putting these siblings head-to-head on the mic does both of them a disservice, so I’m hoping that whatever happens, we see less of them trying to one-up each other. Their chemistry is unexpectedly flat.
Is this a move to a brand split? I’d be down with that, and this is the perfect way for each McMahon personality to be reflected in his/her respective show.
Mike: It's probably a given that the sense of hubris and entitlement bestowed by the McMahon family empire in having son Shane wrestle a legend like The Undertaker at last month's big show displays an ego worthy of the legendary reputation that precedes it. The only positive to come from Shane losing said match but getting the chance to run Raw anyway is that it's actually made Monday nights better on a weekly basis. Whether you attribute that development to the absence of the Authority is an entirely personal decision, but I've been very pleased to not hear their same incredibly boring airing of the grievances starting off the show each and every week.
Fan reaction to Shane's presence has been hugely positive, and that's allowed his face authority figure to flourish. He's brought in new talent and provided major opportunities, as seen with this Payback card in total. Put simply, there can be no good reason to revert back to the heelish corporate overseers. Besides, choosing Shane is a twist that will allow for an extra special legendary Stephanie McMahon Meltdown. And, with apologies to Enzo, you can't teach that.
Outcome: Shane McMahon runs Monday Night Raw
John: I don’t think there will be any resolution to this storyline at Payback. It feels like this is just part of a really long angle that’s going to dominate Raw for several months. I know there are some people that want them to set up a brand extension or something like that, but the company cares so little about Smackdown that I doubt it’s going to happen. Yes, a brand extension could make the fans care about Smackdown more – I just don’t that’s a priority for WWE anymore.
My prediction is simply that there will be no resolution to this issue at Payback. They may do something where Vince tells Shane and Stephanie that they have to co-exist so we’ll have the bickering McMahons dominating WWE TV over the next few months leading to some Shane vs. Triple H match at some point. They could also use Shane to bring back Rollins against Triple H to make Rollins a face. It’s the McMahon family. They love attention.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin
Matt: There isn’t really much to discuss here. Baron Corbin is the new monster heel, and Ziggler doesn’t really have prospects right now. The outcome is as obvious as the eventual death of a soldier in a war film that talks about how he can’t wait to get home to his wife and baby after this one last mission.
With that out of the way, let’s workshop gimmicks that could save Ziggler’s bleak future (seriously, his prospects coming out of this match are limited):
#Heel Ziggler - A character that no matter the circumstances of his match, has an obsessive compulsive need to cheat, even if the match is already won fair and square.
Vigilante Sting Ziggler - Remember when Sting helped Ziggler rid the WWE of the Authority for like a day? Neither does WWE. With Sting retired, Ziggler could definitely take up his mantle, becoming a 2016 re-imagining of The Icon, with fresh new facepaint and a habit for vigilantism.
CorZig - Does anybody else see that Ziggler and Corbin would make a solid Tag Team?
Winner: Baron Corbin (because why the hell would Ziggler win a match?)
Heather: Just as it is my lot in life to always have to cuff the sleeves of any jacket (I have the arms of a T-Rex), it is Dolph Ziggler’s lot in life to get tossed around a wrestling ring in the pursuit of elevating someone else’s career. He’s gone through all the stages of grief over it, too. First, a good-natured team player. Then, slightly disgruntled but channeling it into “shoot promos”. Next, actual shoot promos. After that, he was over it. Over everything. Then he started dressing like the love child of Shawn Michaels and Vince Neil. His spirits lifted, or he had finally entered a state of mad delirium. Now, he seems to have settled into cheerful complacency. I love Dolph, and I turn my nose up at the notion of this Corbin fellow one-upping him. Sadly, it’s gonna happen.
Winner: Baron Corbin
Mike: There are two sides to this wrestling coin: One concerns the continued middling progress of the unquestionably solid worker Dolph Ziggler, who's gone from his brief feud with Triple H that came out of nowhere to serving as the beatdown boy for the latest big man Johnny-come-lately that the WWE favors. The flip is that Baron Corbin, one of the more compelling characters developed in NXT, has received a significant push with his surprise Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal victory. That launch has been added to by intelligent booking in the weeks that followed, with Corbin displaying an utter disdain for the rules and attacking his foes anywhere and everywhere. It's not quite the depth NXT provided, but you can't have everything.
Ziggler has the rare ability to make anyone he's working with look like an all star, and his particular modus operandi of selling monstrous moves against beasts and monsters makes this a solid match indeed. You've read this playbook many times. Corbin is hot and on the rise, Ziggler is in traction and waiting to get back into the title picture. It won't be the end of Ziggler's days, but he'll be eating that finisher without doubt.
Winner: Baron Corbin
John: It should be an easy win for Corbin. They could surprise us by having Ziggler go over because they may do the match again, but it would hurt Corbin to have him lose his first PPV match. Ziggler’s the veteran guy that is there to make the new guy look strong. It’s typical wrestling booking.
Winner: Baron Corbin
Tag Team Tournament Finals: Enzo & Cass vs. The Vaudevillains
Matt: This tag team tournament has been a bright spot on WWE TV for the past few weeks. Enzo and Cass have really been on fire since debuting on the Raw After Mania, and The Vaudevillains, though hidden away mostly on Smackdown, haven’t been bad themselves. Aiden English’s line about partying like it’s 1899, in response to Xavier Woods’ Prince Tribute on Raw (as if Xavier needed to make me love him and New Day more) was one of the single greatest lines on WWE TV this year.
When thinking about the outcome of this match, I can say with confidence that I doubt the WWE will give us Cass and Enzo vs. New Day so soon into their main roster tenure. We’re not ready for the promotional excellence that such a rivalry will provide. Thus why I feel like they will be screwed out of the win by the dastardly Dudley Boyz, holding off on the verbal sparring between New Day and Cass & Enzo for the time being.
As much as the WWE has baffled me with their decision making of late, I feel like this is a no brainer. A heel team to face the babyface New Day.
Winners: The Vaudevillains (because the world isn’t ready for New Day vs. Enzo and Cass just yet)
Heather: Because I’m *still* not watching NXT (not enough hours in the day, I’m sorry!!), I first saw Enzo and Cass wrestle at Roadblock (in person). I really enjoyed their match; these guys feel so fresh, and I’m thrilled to see how much the arenas are INTO them. After seeing (and frankly, becoming a bit smitten with) Carmella that night in Toronto, I first thought dropping her from the main roster was a mistake. But now that a bit of time has passed, I see that Carmella may have actually detracted from the very positive attention being cast on her team… if you’re busy looking at Carmella, you’re not necessarily appreciating Enzo and Cass. This way, the spotlight is firmly on them when it needs to be, and they are absolutely killing it in these bigger venues amongst more-established Superstars. I’m happy for them, and I’m excited that we get to see what happens next.
I know less about the Vaudevillains, but I’m a fan of “packaged” tag teams and ironically, these feels like a fresh gimmick. I’m looking forward to this match because to me it is so new, and regardless of who wins, The New Day will engage in a new feud. What’s not to love?
Winners: Enzo & Cass
Mike: It's exciting to see both of these teams make the jump from NXT to the main roster, but they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Enzo & Cass have that New Age Outlaws vibe that couldn't be more over with the crowd, while The Vaudevillains have more complex characters that require explanation which frankly hasn't been provided since their debut. That said, the tag team division needed a shot of adrenaline and both of these teams are more than capable of delivering. It's also great exposure to any fans who haven't had the desire or opportunity to watch the awesome things going on in WWE's feeder program.
This match has less to do with who is competing in it than with who the champions are, namely The New Day. Now that they are full-fledged comedy faces, you can bet your box of Booty-O's that they will need a heel team to face off against following the flop that was the League of Nations. Since the Vaudevillains are heels, you can likely see where I'm headed with this prediction. Enzo & Cass need to be protected in the loss, so look for their feud with Brothers Dudley to move forward.
Winners: The Vaudevillains (With Interference by The Dudleys)
John: I’m happy for both teams being in this spot because I’ve watched them grow in NXT over the years. I can even remember when Aiden English was feuding with Big Cass at one point as singles wrestlers before they were a part of these teams. It was a good idea for WWE to set up this tournament to create interest in the tag division. It’s even better that that these teams made it this far. They’ve wrestled many times so it should be a pretty good match.
I’m a little sad that The New Day aren’t in a match on this show, but they’ve been on television so much that it’s okay. They’ll probably do some pre-match promo to hype up the crowd. I’m going with heel Vaudevillains to win just because it makes more sense against New Day as faces down the road. I think New Day will retain the titles when they defend them, likely at Extreme Rules in three weeks.
Winners: The Vaudevillains
WWE Intercontinental Title: The Miz (w/Maryse) vs. Cesaro
Matt: The Miz has been nothing short of excellent since winning the WWE Intercontinental Championship and being paired with his wife Maryse. Their act is absolutely perfect. His multiple take promos, their borderline nauseating affection for one another, the way that they berate PAs and the outfits! The Miz might be the most perfect performer in WWE right now. He is in exactly the right role and plays it perfectly. Have I mentioned that I’ve never hated The Miz? I haven’t, but my appreciation for him has grown in the last few weeks.
Cesaro has been great in his own way. Sure the promos still feel a bit shaky and lack a certain confidence, but the guy is still one of the best wrestlers that the WWE has employed. That and I’m a sucker for the tear away suit. Though I’m still not quite sure why he’s doing a bond entrance these days. He looks a lot more like The Transporter doesn’t he?
Anyway, it’s hard to pick a winner here. I’d be happy if either won, and mad if either lost.
Winner and New Intercontinental Champion: Cesaro (because The Miz should be teaming with Tyler Breeze and challenging New Day for the Tag Team Titles… and Jericho should be part of the equation as well, because the outfits are just too spectacular)
Heather: I must have been a very good person, in order to have my long-time wish granted to have Maryse return. Either that, or the universe will right itself by also having Kelly Kelly come back. Anyways, I can’t decide who should win here, because they’ve done a great job of building The Miz with a Title situation. But then obviously, Cesaro! I know they’ve proven that the Swiss Superman doesn’t need a stinking title in order to be adored, but one day soon, they need to put that gorgeous belt around his waist. I’m fine with Miz somehow sneaking a victory, requiring a re-match. And I’m happy for The Miz too; with Maryse on his arm and Cesaro in the ring, he’s going to look like a million bucks.
Winner: The Miz
Mike: Remember Zack Ryder? Neither does the booking committee, as his hard-luck coming-of-age claiming of the Intercontinental Title after another solid ladder match has faded faster than his spray tan. That head-scratching decision has opened the door for The Miz to get another run in the midcard, with the difference maker being he now has Mrs. Miz (Maryse) in his corner crowing for him and allowing for truly frightening levels of PDA. Opposition at Payback will be provided by fan favorite Cesaro, returning from injury and picking up right where he left off, namely innovative offense and improving microphone skills.
This one could frankly go either way. Cesaro would be an excellent choice to wear the I-C belt, as he's majorly over with the crowd and knocking on the door of being a headliner for the company for years to come. Miz, though, is effective enough as a bridge champion, and the addition of his real-life spouse has made for an entertaining twist on his over-the-top braggart that's worn a bit thin. Due to the fact that I expect Payback to have at least one title change to make it worth the price of admission, I expect the Swiss Superman to triumph here.
Winner (and New Champion): Cesaro
John: It’s a fresh feud that has been okay at times, but also a little too silly with all the movie lines. I thought that was Goldust’s gimmick twenty years ago? Anyway, I have enjoyed seeing Maryse with her husband The Miz and it’s not just because I find her to be ridiculously good looking. She’s a pure heel just like he is and that’s something that is lacking in WWE. It makes them stand out. It also makes the crowd want to cheer whoever is against Miz, which is Cesaro in this case.
This feels like a match where The Miz will either cheat to retain or he gets disqualified to set up another match between them. Since Miz only won the title about four weeks ago, it just doesn’t seem like the right time to do a title change. Let him hold the title longer. Cesaro’s going to have the crowd support whether he is or isn’t the IC Champion. I think Cesaro should hold some gold because it will help him, but it doesn’t have to be yet. I’ll go with Miz retaining by cheating, but like I said don’t count out the DQ finish either.
Winner: The Miz
WWE Women’s Title: Charlotte (w/Ric Flair) vs. Natalya (w/Bret Hart)
Matt: This should be a very good match. That being said, it feels like we’re just treading water narratively, waiting for something more interesting to happen with the Women’s Championship. Anything between now and Charlotte defending the title against Sasha Banks will feel that way unfortunately. Adding Bret to the mix could be fun… it could also prove to be depressing watching two elderly icons who have had their share of troubles recently attempt to get physical with one another. I’m hoping for the former.
Winner and Still WWE Women’s Champion: Charlotte (because this isn’t where she drops the belt)
Heather: Because it got so much hype at the time, I did make a point of watching that Charlotte/Natalya match in NXT a couple of years ago (also with Ric and Bret in their corners). And then I made my non-wrestling-fan husband watch it. And I got goosebumps and cried both times. Don’t judge me. But here’s the question on everyone’s minds: will they be given the platform to re-create that magic at Payback? First of all, they will need to rein in Slick Ric. That should be balanced out by the huge, sentimental response for Bret, who has the good sense to keep his appearances rare and special these days, and is on the road to recovery from prostate cancer. Having these men in their corners is an idea that still works; it’s been a long time since they did it before, that match wasn’t at a WWE PPV, and I will take any form of gravitas being lent to a women’s match.
As a side note, I really wish Natalya would rock a more athletic look, or at least less sexy dominatrix. She’s a beautiful woman. She’s sexy. We get it! She would be just as attractive, and in my opinion even more so, if she wore gear that was more reflective of her personality and wrestling style. She’s not out there to lick her lips and sashay around the ring. She is a proud, third-generation ass kicker!! Even though they’ve done a lot to diminish Nattie’s credibility over the years, she has held her own and earned a lot of it back these last few weeks. She deserves this match, and I hope Ric and Bret are left standing idly by as the women wrestle their hearts out.
Winner: Charlotte. I think Natalya is just a pit stop (and excellent one) towards more stories for Charlotte as the champ.
Mike: The rebranding of the Divas belt to the more appropriate (and accurate) Women's Title has brought with it more of the same so far, with Charlotte continuing her reign as champion due to the machinations of her legendary father Ric Flair. While Naitch's airport antics compete with his manic reaction shots for your entertainment dollar, another nod to NXT's past occurs Sunday when she resumes her feud with Natalya, herself the niece of a rather famous Hall of Famer you might have heard of nicknamed The Hitman.
It will be that confrontation that people will be most looking forward to here, and that's unfortunate as these two women are fully capable of stealing the show. While Bret vs. Ric provides the sizzle, it doesn't make up for the fact that we've already seen this match numerous times and it's rarely ended in favor of Madame Neidhart. It's hard to envision this contest as anything more than an opportunity to pad Charlotte's statistics until she runs into the Sasha Banks buzzsaw that everyone's waiting for. As a final note, if Nattie's pops Jim "The Anvil" doesn't get a cameo appearance, color me upset. Best goatee in the business.
John: It may not what everybody else is going with, but I’m going with Natalya winning the Women’s Title. If you look at the history of the feud, Charlotte has had the upper hand. She beat her two years ago in NXT for her first title, then she beat her at the Roadblock event in March and a few weeks ago, Natalya won by disqualification due to Flair’s interference.
Logic and storytelling should dictate a title change because Bret Hart is there to neutralize Flair, so the story should be about Natalya getting over the hump to beat Charlotte. Just because people think Charlotte will drop the gold to Sasha at SummerSlam doesn’t mean it will happen. Plus, we have over three months until that show. Plenty of time. Natalya’s earned a title run because of her consistent performance even when they booked her in stupid farting angles or as the dancing friend of The Great Khali. I like Charlotte as a heel and she’s done well as champion, but I think the time is right for Natalya to win some gold. Her only title reign was back in 2010. Six years later, she’s better than ever. Reward her for that.
This should be an awesome match in front of a smart wrestling crowd in Chicago that will appreciate the effort of these two talented women. Plus, that moment when Bret punches Flair should generate a huge ovation as well. Perhaps Bret put him in the Sharpshooter too. Natalya finishing with the Sharpshooter for the win would be a great way to end it. I’m really looking forward to this one.
Winner and New Women’s Champion: Natalya
Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens
Matt: I am so incredibly excited for this match. Owens and Zayn haven’t truly been able to go at it in a match in the WWE dating back to their NXT days. Their matches were more often the backdrop for angles. They haven’t had a real chance fight a competitive match.
The video package from this week about their history was a much needed educational tool for fans that aren’t aware of their intertwined journeys to WWE, via the independent wrestling scene and NXT. That package was also about a month or so overdue, but better late than never.
I expect this match to steal the show. I expect these guys to put on a match worthy of a higher spot on the card. This match has a true grudge, where everything feels like its at stake, despite nothing being on the line but pride. This is the kind of storytelling I wish more of the show provided.
Winner: Sami Zayn (because Kevin Owens descending into madness over his embarrassment and jealousy would be a perfect way to prolong this ultra personal rivalry)
Heather: Hey, kudos to WWE for shedding some of its tendency to ignore any history that occurred outside of the WWE Universe. They’re doing a great job of getting us all up to speed on the Zayn/Owens story. The only thing I’d wish for is a bit more time to see Sami Zayn’s personality on the main roster, in order to feel more connected to him before this match goes down. It’s a minor complaint, as first of all I know everyone is dying to see this match, and second of all, many people know him well enough already from his entire career. I need input: has he had enough of a chance to show his personality and ring skills? Because I like him well enough… but I think it’s partially because I’m told to, and partially because he does just seem naturally likeable. Owens, on the other hand, has demonstrated his personality on every possible level – but has also been with us on RAW/Smackdown for longer. I can’t wait to see how that Chicago crowd reacts when these two come out. And I can’t wait to see what happens when that bell rings. But please, no more powerbombs against the ring apron.
Winner: Sami Zayn. But it won’t end there.
Mike: This match is as close to wrestling perfection as you could ask for. Both men have tangible connections that go beyond the wrestling business, both have had stellar performances in the ring since their respective main roster debuts, both have wrestled all over the world and both work together incredibly well. On top of all that, their brutal feud in NXT is already the stuff of legend and has received the HD upgrade video package from Kevin Dunn and friends heading into their latest installment. Payback is certainly appropriate for Sami Zayn, who largely has come out on the short end of the stick against his former friend and chief rival. But that's his shtick and he does it excellently.
My only gripe is that this match would mean even more if it was for the Intercontinental Title, inexplicably handed off to Zack Ryder at WrestleMania. It's a minor quibble, though, and it won't matter a whit once the bell rings and these two add to their auras with another in a string of fantastic performances. The result of this encounter likely hinges on whether the feud continues after Sunday, and there's enough steam to do so. Zayn doesn't get revenge just yet.
Winner: Kevin Owens
John: This is my favorite match on the card – I even wrote a feature column on it last week. I’m so excited to see these two in a singles match because the last one was about a year ago in NXT and it left me wanting more. Now we’re finally going to get it.
The backstory is easy to follow for those that don’t know because they’re best friends that grew up in the business and are always competing with eachother to see who can reach their goals faster. Zayn was NXT Champ first, but Owens got to the main roster first and won the IC Title first. It’s a story that makes a lot of sense and is exciting to follow especially because they’re so good in the ring. If this gets 15-20 minutes it’s the match of the night plus one of the best matches of the year. While the Montreal crowd would be perfect for this match since they are both from that area, the Chicago crowd should be awesome like usual.
I pick Owens to win here and then Zayn wins the rematch at Extreme Rules in three weeks. It doesn’t have to be a clean wine either. Then both guys will go into Money in the Bank in June as heavy favorites. Please put that briefcase on one of them.
Winner: Kevin Owens
Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho
Matt: Another great match on paper. Chris Jericho has been on fire lately (where can I buy a “You Stupid Idiot” shirt?) and Dean Ambrose, even with admittedly goofy booking still manages to bring a charm and edge to his performances on the microphone. Do I love that their feud is based on Ambrose stealing Jericho’s talk show? Nope. Do I wish they could have come up with something a little more personal and you know… serious? Yes I do. That being said, we are where we are and the match should be solid.
That being said I can’t help but see Dean Ambrose these days and think of the opportunity that was wasted at Wrestlemania with Brock Lesnar. Dean could have gained so very much in defeat, and even more if he was victorious. Instead their match, outside a funny Dean Ambrose low blow spot, was uneventful and like CM Punk lamented in the past, Dean Ambrose is still there week after week, his character having stayed stagnant, now feuding with Jericho over talk shows, while Brock hasn’t been seen or heard from since Wrestlemania. It’s almost as if they don’t have a plan.
Winner: Dean Ambrose (because he could use all the high profile wins he can get)
Heather: Dean Ambrose has had a hell of a 2016 so far. This feud represents a holding pattern for him, but I will say I’ve enjoyed him having Jericho as a target for promos. What a perfect combination: the aging windbag versus the guy who not only excels at keeping shit real, but has the wrestling cred to back it up. I am curious as to how they’ll fare in the ring together. Jericho’s not the best brawler, but Ambrose really flexed his pro-wrestling muscles during that feud with Triple H. I don’t think this match – either the contents of it or the result – will figure heavily in the grand scheme of Payback, but it’s safe to say that Ambrose and Jericho are going to have a good time.
Winner: If Fozzy is going on tour soon, Dean Ambrose. If not, Jericho. And yes, I’m too lazy to look it up.
Mike: Chris Jericho and Dean Ambrose share an uncommon trait in that they are both at a point in their careers where they can literally do just about anything and have it work out. The only difference is that Jericho is reaching the end of an illustrious career of doing so while Ambrose is just getting started. Look no further than the build to this match, which up until Monday's effective table spot was no more than a series of both men showing up with microphones in hand and talking to each other. It worked amazingly, and it's a credit to both individuals that they really haven't needed much more than that.
Ambrose's gimmick of calling out baddies for his inevitable beatdown has been a little odd, I'll grant you, but it's working for him. It's also a streak that will end at Payback. Jericho's long history of putting over talent is second to none, and if anybody deserves the rub it's the leader of the Asylum. Ambrose in some ways is the new Y2J, with a boatload of charisma and the ability to mix it up more than serviceably with anyone on the roster. Torch passed after a doozy of a match.
Winner: Dean Ambrose
John: It’s a fresh feud between two of the best talkers in WWE. I’ve enjoyed their promos leading up to it. Jericho’s much better as the conceited heel that thinks he’s the best wrestler ever while Ambrose is perfect as the guy that wants to shut him up while trying to create his own legacy. Best thing about it is that it’s a fresh matchup where they can create something cool. This feels like the kind of feud that is going to get two PPV matches, which is fine by me. If they do get two matches, Ambrose should win both of them.
Ambrose needs the win after the losses to Lesnar and Triple H especially. Jericho doesn’t really need wins. I’m still not sure why he beat Styles at WrestleMania because Jericho’s role as a 45-year-old wrestler is to put over the younger guys. That’s what will happen here.
Winner: Dean Ambrose
WWE World Heavyweight Title: Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles
Matt: This should be an interesting match given the two competitors contrasting styles (no pun intended). AJ should bring out the best in Reigns, and I expect at least a couple cool spots here. The fans will almost certainly be solidly behind AJ Styles, so I expect to see Roman wrestle slightly villainously. I’m not saying he’ll cheat, but he’ll probably be dismissive of AJ at times and definitely cocky.
Having said all that about the wrestling, the more interesting aspect might be the booking. What role will Anderson and Gallows and The Usos play? Will Anderson and Gallows really help AJ win the belt? Will they turn on AJ and align with Reigns? Has this whole thing been a clever ruse by Reigns, officially turning him heel?
The way that I see it, Gallows and Anderson do end up costing AJ, but not on behalf of Reigns. Reigns will pick up the win and continue to be not a good guy or a bad guy for a a little while longer, though the heel turn is on the horizon… if the WWE is smart.
Anyway, the build to this match has been interesting, and while it won’t lead to a truly shocking reveal on Sunday, it’s at least been something a little bit outside of the box. AJ is the perfect first opponent for Reigns post Wrestlemania, and if this is where they decide to have Roman go heel, Styles is a near perfect victim. Who knows, maybe they’ll shock me here.
Winner and Still WWE World Heavyweight Champion: Roman Reigns (because the Roman Empire has only just begun)
Heather: This is kind of weird to me, in that they’ve strapped such a rocket onto AJ Styles, straight into a place where he seems doomed to fail. There’s no way they’re taking the title off Roman. Will they get Anderson and Gallows involved as a means of protecting Styles from complete shame, and the fans from having to believe that Reigns could actually beat him? (Because I don’t even know Styles that well, but he strikes me as the type who could figure out a way to beat a Roman Reigns no matter what.) This match is about the story going forward, and will have little to do with the wrestling. That said, my favorite Roman Reigns is a Roman Reigns who is getting his ass handed to him. He excels at it. And quite frankly, it’s kind of hot. So, please, let AJ Styles look like the master of offensive innovation or whatever it is that Byron calls him. And then do whatever you want, because I know you’re going to anyways.
Winner: Reigns by DQ.
Mike: There's a part of me that simply cannot comprehend that AJ Styles has risen to number one contender for WWE's most prestigious belt in such a short span of time. It's no fault of AJ's, of course, as he's been as advertised and displayed all of the heart and soul that made him such a fan favorite over the span of his career. It's more that Styles lost his match at WrestleMania against former tag team partner Chris Jericho, so his method of landing this plum spot seems more rushed than it perhaps might have.
I've written copiously on WWE's manhandling of Roman Reigns both chasing the gold and landing it, but needless to say they've made clear their desire to force the Empire down our collective throats whether we like the taste or not. It's done him absolutely no favors thus far, but it at least adds some intrigue to this title match because we can fully expect Reigns to be playing the part of unwilling heel here. Styles has incredible popularity, and there will be little chance for WWE to pretend like their champion isn't being booed right out of the building.
With all of that said, there just has to be a twist, and said twist comes in the large form of Anderson and Gallows, running buddies of AJ Styles who have surfaced to be thorns in the side of Roman and give off the impression that they fully intend to have Styles leave Payback as champion. This has all been done so obviously and repeatedly in the last couple weeks that you know it's not going to go down that way. The Bullet Club gents will undoubtedly factor into the decision, but likely not in the way that you'd think. One could surmise that one of these two combatants will have to turn heel, but that's not necessarily true. It would be far simpler to have Anderson and Gallows simply turn on Styles, perhaps setting up a feud with the recently dethroned Finn Balor. Reigns can survive another encounter relatively unscathed, and the WWE can hope against hope that you tire of booing their guy. Good luck with that.
Winner: Roman Reigns
John: I’m very intrigued by the match because of the interesting storyline developments that could happen as well as the fact that it’s an AJ Styles match. I also don’t mind Roman Reigns as much as some people because he’s really not as bad as the haters might think. Styles has been on an incredible roll since he started in WWE with match of the night performances on nearly every show he’s on. I’m so glad that he’s in WWE and it’s even better that he’s in a WWE Title match within three months of being there.
Do I expect Styles to win the WWE Title here? Nope. Would be cool, but I doubt it. I think what will happen is his buddies Karl Anderson & Luke Gallows are going to interfere to help Styles. He’ll tell them that he doesn’t need it. Styles will then give up the chance to pin Reigns to win the gold. That will cost him the match as Reigns will recover enough to hit a Spear for the win. Post match, Anderson & Gallows will attack Styles or they can do it on Raw. Then that either sets up Anderson & Gallows as allies of Roman Reigns with Roman as the heel champion or they bring up Finn Balor to put A&G with him since they have Bullet Club ties going back several years. I explored other ideas in an exclusive column I wrote at TheComeback.com, so check that out too.
This will be a very good match. The crowd should be hot for it since most of them will boo Reigns and they will love Styles. I’m excited about seeing the reactions to everything. It’s has a “big match” feel to it. Give them 20 minutes and it should be fun to watch. I don’t know if my scenario is going to be right, but I think Reigns leaving as champion is the right call.
Winner: Roman Reigns
John: I’m looking forward to the show. I think it can top the previous three PPVs this year as the best of 2016 (I don’t count NXT Takeover events) because there doesn’t appear to be a stinker of a match on the card although the Kickoff Match isn’t appealing. Everything else makes sense as long as they are given time.
It’s going to be a busy Sunday night for me. My favorite NBA team the Toronto Raptors are playing in game 7 of their first round series with the Indiana Pacers on Sunday at 8pmET when Payback begins. I’m going to watch basketball live with some family and then catch Payback later. That means my review will be up on TJRWrestling.net either really late on Sunday night or more likely on Monday morning, so check that out after it’s over.
Matt - @MJDP_GSE
Heather - @kickyhick
Mike - @DharmanRockwell
John - @johnreport
If you want to send an email, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org as well. Thanks for reading.