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Payback made its debut last year, so unlike a lot of WWE PPV's, there isn't a whole lot of history or tradition for it to live up to. Last year's show was notable for having one very good match in CM Punk and Chris Jericho, and one very bad match, with John Cena facing off against Ryback in a match that culminated in Cena beating Ryback over the head with a foam alarm on top of an ambulance. Will this year's show be better or worse than the first Payback event? Let's take a look at the lineup.
Due to the injury to Daniel Bryan, the likely main event is going to be The Shield vs Evolution in a six man, no-holds barred elimination tag match. This will essentially be a rematch from their encounter at Extreme Rules, with the elimination stipulation adding a little more flair to a feud that recently produced one of WWE's best matches in 2014. Like their first match, this one is pretty difficult to predict, as several things are at stake. First, like before Extreme Rules, it is being rumored that this is Batista's last appearance for a little while as he leaves to promote his film. Secondly, the elimination stipulation allows for the finish of the match to be feature one man standing tall in the ring, surviving the storm and likely the odds to win the match for his respective team. All indicators are that the man who is going to get that honor is Roman Reigns, someone who WWE hasn't been shy about pegging as a future star for the company.
Those factors seem to make the match go against Evolution, but working in the veteran's favor is the idea that another member of Evolution could be revealed on the PPV. With Batista likely leaving, if WWE wants to keep Evolution as a viable entity, a new member will probably have to debut in the group. The person could basically be anybody, which adds to the intrigue of the match on Sunday.
The build-up to the match has been somewhat dry. After a sensational match at Extreme Rules, the two factions have spent the last month taking turns beating each other up. One week, Evolution will end the show standing tall, while the next, The Shield leave them beaten down in the ring. There hasn't been a lot of promos conducted beyond one group saying "We are going to beat you up," while the other faction retaliates by saying "Nuh-uh, WERE going to beat YOU up." WWE has been content to just say "Hey fans, these two groups are going to fight again, so get excited for Payback," and in reality, that is probably all they need to do. The match at Extreme Rules was so good that you wonder what they can do if they get the chance to lock horns again. Still, it would have been nice to see WWE put at least a little creative effort into making the feud more interesting.
Lastly, I have to talk about Evolution's T-Shirts. Normally, I think the design team does a very good job with most of their shirts. I think the Daniel Bryan "Yes" shirt parodying Che Guervea is brilliant, and Cesaro's new "King of Swing" shirt is very cool. However, the shirt they came up for Evolution, one of the most important facets of WWE, is terrible. It's looks like a bad hybrid of an amateur punk rock band and a Halloween shirt you would buy at a discount party store. What were they thinking? They have the skeletons in caskets, with HHH holding a hammer, Randy Orton being caressed by a snake, and Batista doing, well, I don't know, perhaps pelvic thrusting? The shirt is bad and whoever designed it should feel bad.
Moving on, the second biggest match on the card is Bray Wyatt and John Cena in a Last Man Standing match. I wrote a lot about this last week, so I will keep this rather short. Just know that Wyatt pretty much has to win this match to keep his character intact. Cena has failed to react to any of Wyatt's mind games, and despite Wyatt's efforts, from beating Cena down, to employing children's choirs, Cena hasn't changed one iota.
Not a whole lot has changed between the two since their last encounter, except for one thing. Cena has employed the Usos to watch his back, which actually is a refreshing change of events for John Cena. Instead of Cena beating up the entire Wyatt family by himself, he has gotten the tag team champions to help him out, so it at least makes sense when Cena fights off the Wyatt's. Since the match this Sunday is no disqualification, it can pretty much be guaranteed that the match will have elements of a six-man brawl. I think Bray Wyatt wins, probably by some fluke (although hopefully not involving duct tape) but a win nonetheless. However, you can NEVER rule Cena out, especially in a Last Man Standing match. Cena could probably take a ICBM to the chest and still get up at 9.
The fate of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship will be decided on Sunday, with Daniel Bryan being forced to choose between surrendering the world title, or keeping his wife, Brie Bella, employed by WWE. I can't stand this development. The worst part of Daniel Bryan's character is that he is married to Brie Bella, an underwhelming actor who hasn't been spared any grief from creative, who insists on her screaming like a maniac for most of her segments with Bryan. Involving Brie into Bryan surrendering the title is a ploy to try and get more heat on Stephanie McMahon, but all it is going to do is likely lead to a poorly acted and executed segment at Payback, involving Bryan, Bella, Stephanie and probably Kane.
While the segment is set up to determine the fate of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, it is clear that WWE has already made up its mind on the championship. If Bryan wasn't going to be able to wrestle for the next several months, WWE would have already stripped him of the title and set up some form of title match for Payback. It appears that Bryan will be able to wrestle sooner rather than later, so WWE is just going to wing it over the next few weeks with him as champion, but not having him wrestle. On Sunday, Bryan and Brie will likely concoct some form of plan that allows Bryan to keep the title and lets Brie keep her job, frustrating Stephanie further, and probably having Kane beat up an injured Bryan. The segment will not be very good, but the good news is that Bryan will be back soon.
The undercard for the show is pretty underwhelming. The secondary titles are both going to be defended, with Bad News Barrett taking on Rob Van Dam and Sheamus defending his United States Championship against Cesaro. Barrett is starting to gain a lot of traction has a heel, so it is unlikely that RVD will dethrone him this early into his title reign. Sheamus has been a run-of-the-mill face for a while now, but I still don't see Cesaro taking the title off of him. The US title has become so unimportant, that getting it is basically an indicator that the wrestler has no current chance for upward mobility. Cesaro is someone whose future lies beyond the mid-card, so a reign with a title he has already held is realistically only going to hinder his climb towards the top.
The Diva's Championship will also be defended by Paige against Alicia Fox. Fox, a nonfactor in the division for years, has emerged as a credible contender and someone whose character has morphed into an unhinged sociopath during the last few weeks. Fox is still only a space-holding heel, waiting to be pushed back down whenever AJ Lee returns to face Paige, but her sudden push has been a positive for the women in WWE.
The last match added to the card was Rusev vs Big E. This is a match that is kind of a sleeper for me. Rusev has overpowered the WWE roster since his debut, steamrolling his opponents in pointless squash matches. He finally meets someone in Big E, who can match him pound for pound in power. Both guys are immensely strong, although not very tall, and can move very well when compared to other powerhouses. Rusev and Lana have teamed up to re-create the oldest of old-school gimmicks (the evil Russians) while Big E faces a cross-roads in his career after being pushed out of the Intercontinental Championship picture by the rise of Bad News Barrett. Stay tuned for this one.
Payback is a show that will be in front of a hot crowd, and WWE will need to come out swinging in order to keep the Chicago audience from running all over the PPV. With hometown hero CM Punk nowhere to be found, and Daniel Bryan out of action, WWE is going to have to think about this show very carefully in order to avoid being embarrassed by the crowd.
Here are my star ratings from New Japan Pro Wrestling's "Return to Yokohama 2014" PPV that took place on Saturday:
BUSHI, Ryusuke Taguchi and The Time Splitters vs Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask, Mascara Dorada and El Desperado- ***3/4
Tomoaki Honma, Manabu Nakanishi, Yuji Nagata and Captain New Japan vs Doc Gallows, Karl Anderson, Tama Tonga and Yujiro Takahashi- ***1/2
Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima vs Rob Conway and Wes Brisco vs Killer Elite Squad- **1/2
Takashi Iizuka and Toru Yano vs Shelton Benjamin and Minoru Suzuki- DUD
Bad Luke Fale vs Tetsuya Naito- ***3/4
Kota Ibushi vs Tomohiro Ishii- ****1/2
Katsuyori Shibara and Hirooki Goto vs Hiroshi Tanahashi and Togi Makabe- ***
Kazuchika Okada vs AJ Styles- ****1/4