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Traditionally the first PPV following WrestleMania is a place to build off of the developments of the big event. The names of the event, Backlash and this year Payback, have given off the connotation that whatever took place at WrestleMania is/was far from finished. However, this year Payback feels like a completely different event. Mainly because WWE relies so heavily on part-time wrestlers to flesh out WrestleMania, many of the wrestlers in key positions at Payback at small roles at WrestleMania. AJ Styles, the number one contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, wrestled the second match on the main show against Chris Jericho (and lost). Men like The Undertaker, Triple H, Shane McMahon and Brock Lesnar, all of whom were considered headliners at WrestleMania, are not scheduled to appear at Payback.
Instead, the card is going to be rounded out by different performers, men like Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Cesaro, Enzo and Cass and Styles are going to get pushed into the spotlight. Because of that reason, a lot of fans believe that Payback is actually more interesting on paper than the parade of stars from the past that ended up being WrestleMania 32.
The top match on the card will be Roman Reigns vs AJ Styles for Reigns' world championship. Reigns' run as champion since WrestleMania has gone about as well as expected; a majority of the fans loudly boo anything he does while WWE remains steadfast in their belief that he is going to be the major face of the company. There is very little doubt that from an audience perspective Styles is the more appreciated star, and WWE has done a solid job presenting both men as tweeners; with Reigns showing a disregard for the fans opinions and Styles rumored to be involved with Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows.
The arrival of Anderson and Gallows onto the main roster and their mixed affiliation with AJ Styles has the potential to be one of the best storylines WWE has had in recent history. It is a very simple concept; Anderson and Gallows are confirmed friends with AJ Styles; but they seem to have their own personal agenda and it is unclear if Styles is going to go along with their nefarious ways. We will likely find out one way or another at Payback depending on Anderson and Gallows' role in the main event. Finn Balor, who is also rumored to be a part of WWE's version of Bullet Club, dropped the NXT title at a house show last week, which adds to the possibility of Balor also arriving on Sunday and introducing himself into the main event.
The complications of Styles and the rest of his potential cronies have added in an extra dimension of suspense into the main event. Reigns winning the title at WrestleMania seemed to signal the beginning a long title reign for him and whoever his opponent at the next PPV was going to be stood little chance of winning the title. However, with Anderson and Gallows (and potentially Balor) set to join forces with Styles, it seems at least somewhat conceivable that Styles could leave the event as champion. It would certainly be the hottest storyline in the company and would elevate new stars into strong positions that have been occupied by stale wrestlers for years now. Reigns is still the likely victory, but I credit WWE for rolling the dice a bit with Styles being Reigns' first opponent post-WrestleMania; it is a much better idea than rolling out a random heel who fans don't care about (take your pick of League of Nations members) and letting Reigns roll over them in a predictable main event.
The second most-important match on the card is probably going to be a singles match between Owens and Zayn. Pretty much since Owens' debut in NXT WWE has been pushing the narrative that Owens and Zayn have a long history together and that they are formerly friends who turned into bitter enemies. This is largely based on a feud the two had in Ring of Honor throughout 2010 and the idea is that the two wrestlers will be fighting forever and that their feud is never really going to end. I like both performers a lot and I'm sure this will be a solid match; my only hang-up is that this is very early in their respective WWE careers and I'm not sure if this is the right time to have the match. Personally, I'd like to see their first clash take place when one of them becomes world champion; similar to how their feud developed in NXT. However, WWE seems to want to introduce Zayn to the main roster with this feud so we are getting it maybe a little bit earlier than expected.
The Miz will defend the Intercontinental Championship against a returning Cesaro. The Miz is a great heel that I feel like has been underappreciated star for the company over the last few years. The truly great heels have to have no understanding of basic human interaction and an ego so large that they become detached from reality. The Miz has done this extremely well since he developed his Hollywood gimmick, and Cesaro is a good babyface to work with him.
The Women's Championship will be defended as Charlotte puts it on the line against Natalya, with Bret Hart in Natalya's corner to combat the influence Ric Flair has had on Charlotte's title defenses. Natalya is a good wrestler and they have had some good matches in the past, but I am unsure if this is the right time for the match. I think Sasha Banks is clearly the biggest potential star they have in the division and she needs to be at the front and center of it. Since WrestleMania she has gone by the wayside, replaced with Natalya who deserves her position, but I don't think it is going to do Banks any favors. I think WWE should have done Natalya vs Charlotte at WrestleMania and then gone into the Banks/Charlotte/Lynch storyline, leading up to Banks eventually winning the title. The way they are doing it now just seems out of order.
The number-one contenders match for the WWE World Tag Team Championships will be between Enzo and Cass and The Vaudevillians, two tag teams called up from NXT after WrestleMania. Enzo and Cass are the dream opponents for The New Day because they are the only team in the company that can match The New Day in the charisma department and the bits between the two teams will be far better than any match they can have together. At the same time, I love the Vaudevillians gimmick and their personality contradicts The New Day well. I think The Dudley Boys run interference and cost Enzo and Cass the match. That sets up two good tag team matches up that should add some more life into the division.
Flying under the radar a bit has been Chris Jericho vs Dean Ambrose, which has been a pretty strong feud. After looking kind of lost during his last few WWE runs and unsure what exactly his personality was supposed to be, Jericho has stepped up his game as the obnoxious heel and has been nailing segments every week. Ambrose has been a good foil for Jericho, a sarcastic nihilist who couldn't care less about Jericho's expensive boots and flashy scarf. The segments between the two have been very strong and I'd like to see more from them after Payback. Ambrose really needs to win something; this year he has lost to Roman Reigns at Fast Lane, to Triple H at Road Block and to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. Jericho doesn't necessarily have to do the honors on Sunday, but he should drop the feud to Ambrose at the end of everything.
Rounding out the main card is Dolph Ziggler vs Barin Corbin. Corbin has a lot of support in WWE due to his look and he has improved a lot in the ring since his debut in NXT. Ziggler has been spinning his tires in WWE for years now and he is someone who could use a change of scenery at this point. He will make Corbin look good, but that is about it.
Also set for Payback is a decision to be made by Vince McMahon on whether Shane McMahon or Stephanie McMahon will be running RAW. The storyline makes so little sense I'm not even going to bother to go into it, but the merit of it is that since Shane has run RAW over the last several weeks the shows have been very good. Shane as a character himself is not overwhelmingly talented, but the fact that he isn't The Authority has been terrific. No longer are there numerous Authority promos that drag on and on and make RAW seem longer than it already is. The talent on the roster is good enough to carry the show without that crutch. Having a babyface decision maker who pops up here and there, makes a decision and shuts-up is all fans really need from an authority figure. Unfortunately the lack of Stephanie or Triple H in-between WrestleMania and Payback seems to have been just the eye of the storm, and it is likely the battles between The Authority and Shane are just beginning.