Another month, another WWE pay-per-view. Or special event. It's not entirely clear what we're meant to call them anymore. They're still available on pay-per-view so that seems safe enough.
This show is an odd one. It was originally going to be headlined be three matches that had, in one form or another, taken place on previous supershow Extreme Rules. It was an undesirable situation that came about through the WWE writing team's failure to prepare anything fresh. But one of those three matches has been dropped, because of an injury to WWE champion Daniel Bryan. That’s made an undesirable situation worse, and here WWE's writing team are completely blame free. It's just one of those unfortunate, badly-timed things that happen.
Daniel Bryan will still appear on the show. He just won’t wrestle. Monday’s RAW saw Stephanie McMahon ask D-Bry to vacate the championship, explaining she didn’t want to strip him of the gold because it would only encourage people to support him more (a nice little way of stringing the plot out). Bryan refused so Steph decided to play hard ball, revealing that if Bryan didn’t turn up and hand over the gold at Payback she’d fire his wife.
It’s impossible to tell what will happen at Payback. It depends entirely on how quickly it’s believed Bryan’s going to be back in the ring. It was said on RAW that his time away was expected to be longer than had been hoped but there’s no way of knowing if that was a true statement or not. It’s possible WWE have been told Bryan could be back in the ring in a couple of months and they’re hoping to keep the championship on him.
Either WWE are trying to see how long they can hold out with an inactive champion because they don’t have a solid enough backup plan or they know Bryan’s going to be disappearing from TV for a while and they want him to be written out as a hero. I suspect it’s the latter. Although I hope I’m wrong and Bryan’s only going to miss a few months I don’t think it’s likely.
Of the two big rematches left the one I think will main event the show is The Shield v Evolution. To be honest I'm surprised they didn't go on last at Extreme Rules. It was reassuring that Bryan got to headline, especially with what's happened since, but it felt as though the six man match had been set up to take precedence. The match in question was slightly plodding for its first half but picked up significantly in its second. Here the six men are being blessed with a no disqualification stipulation and an elimination format. If it can equal or better the quality of the Extreme matchup it should be a fitting headline bout, and those rules additions should see that it does.
WWE being as formulaic as it is would usually make me expect a victory for Evolution here. They lost the only other encounter the teams have had so they'd get a win here to set up a deciding third encounter for the near future. I don't think that's going to happen though. I think 'The Hounds of Justice' are going to get their second straight win over the three former world champions.
The elimination rule allows for a booking approach that can make a member of The Shield look strong, with two members being eliminated early by the veterans and leaving the third man to valiantly battle back against long odds. If this formula is used it seems pretty safe to assume that Roman Reigns will be the lone man battling Triple H, Orton and Batista. Something practically identical happened at Survivor Series and WWE have been keen to present Reigns as a wrestler who's not easy to put down for a three count. What better way to make him look a beast than to have him take on all three members of Evolution?
There are other things this booking approach has going for it. The first is that if Rollins and Ambrose are to go out first the opening minutes will be a blaze of fast action and big bumps as the two cram in as much as possible while they have the chance. It also allows WWE to tease the idea of a Reigns versus 'The Game' singles encounter. I'm torn on whether it's a good idea to have this match come down to those two. It would be a great moment if Reigns pinned Trips to win (or if Trips stole a victory by cheating) but it could also run the risk of giving too much away and devaluing a singles match.
Whatever the finish ends up being I'm picking The Shield to win. If Evolution do go over it'll likely be a quick pin after Reigns makes his second elimination. I'm convinced Reigns is going to go it alone for much of the match.
Down in the middle of the card we have WWE's secondary and tertiary titles being defended. Yes, the US title is being defended on a pay-per-view! I can't remember the last time that happened.
The night after Extreme Rules Sheamus won a battle royal for the United States championship, ending Dean Ambrose's eleven month run. He'll defend it against Cesaro. I like 'The King of Swing' and his association with Paul Heyman a great deal. I am distinctly less keen on 'The Celtic Warrior'. But as uninterested as I am in him I do think Cesaro is a good choice of opponent for him. They're a big pair of hosses who work pretty rough matches. It'll be fun if you like that kinda thing (and I do when Cesaro's involved). That said the most interesting aspect of the match for me will be seeing whether the fans turn on Shaymo and cheer Cesaro. I want them to.
The Intercontinental title match will see the fascinatingly popular Bad News Barrett defend against Rob Van Dam. It strikes me as weird that this is a rematch of the tournament finals held just before Extreme Rules. Bad News won there and went on to win the title. What has RVD done to earn a title shot against a man who beat him to progress to a title shot of his own just over a month ago? The situation demonstrates what a mess the middle of the WWE card is and how little planning went into 'Mr Monday Night's' latest stint with the promotion.
Since bringing his JBL and Cole Show antics to television Barrett's been entertainingly sarcy and had some good matches (nothing that explains why practically every audience cheers him despite him never officially turning face, but that's fine). I hope he gets given enough time to have another good showing here, and that he's able to work out how to do so around Van Dam's notoriously awkward, nineties spot-based style.
I don't think either of these championships will change hands. Both men have only just got their hands on their respective prizes and I think WWE's got plans for each. For Barrett the plan’s simply to finally get him over. For Sheamus it’s a heel turn (which for some reason involves the US title). Also making me doubt title changes is the fact that short reigns are fairly rare in WWE now.
In other title action Paige will defend her Divas championship against Alicia Fox. Yes, that’s Alicia Fox the wedding planner turned wrestler who has been built up as completely unstoppable over the last month. She’s been decent in her recent matches but it’s still disheartening to see WWE putting her against Paige when they have Emma and Natalya on the main roster and Sasha Banks waiting in NXT. All three all have more interesting characters than Ms Fox and are better wrestlers too.
I’ll be amazed if Paige wins. The entire purpose of Alicia’s push seems to be to make her appear unstoppable so it’s more impressive when Paige overcomes her challenge. Fingers crossed for a more competent challenger next month, and some of those hundred and eighty minutes of RAW we get every week getting devoted to making a worthwhile women’s division soon.
Providing the prerequisite filler are Big E and Rusev, who have had one of the most uninspiring feuds over the last several few weeks. It seems way too early to be putting ‘The Super Athlete’ against someone who’ll work a competitive match with him. I’d expected another month or two of squashes.
It will probably be Rusev who wins, although I wouldn't be surprised if Big E got the nod. He’s been a bit aimless lately. Being the man who ends Rusev’s undefeated streak would, in the hive mind of the WWE writing team, "get him back on track". Never mind the fact that the streak becomes more impressive the longer it goes. That’s not how these things are assessed in WWE.
Two other matches look likely for the show based on recent television happenings. The first is Jack Swagger v Adam Rose. I like the Rose gimmick a lot. As long as he gets an entourage of a decent size for his special event debut I'll be happy. Match quality is irrelevant in this. That's not the point of the Rose character. He'll probably win and Swagger and Colter will be peeved.
The second is a tag team title match between the Wyatt Family and championship pairing the Uso brothers. It’s been obvious for a while that WWE were planning to give us the Usos versus the Wyatts because Harper and Rowan are only team on the roster never to have challenged for the tag team titles and because they’re over. If the match happens a title change isn’t impossible but I’d slightly favour Jimmy and Jey winning, either by a flash pin or by disqualification. That would set up a rematch for Battleground.
Of course if the tag title match doesn’t happen I expect all four will get involved in the latest instalment of the Cena versus Wyatt programme. It's worth mentioning that this feud started in January at Royal Rumble. It was left alone for a month and they didn't actually have their first match until WrestleMania but that's still a long time. And it's entirely possible it will continue beyond Payback into Battleground and Money in the Bank. I hope it ends here because I can't imagine what the pair could do to keep things going for that long. My interest is already flagging and I’ve enjoyed a lot of what they’ve done.
Another thing worth noting about this match is that it's to be fought under Last Man Standing rules. Cena has a good record with that stipulation, both in kayfabe and non-kayfabe terms. In kayfabe terms he's never lost a LMS bout. In non-kayfabe terms he almost always produces something worthwhile with the stip. There's something about it that brings out the best in him and suits his style. Which is a bit odd when you consider the match is actually about pacing comebacks and selling, two things that are not Cena strong points.
This could be a worthwhile match. Which is good, because it needs to be. Their 'Mania bout wasn't bad but Wyatt losing was a disappointing result. The Extreme Rules cage match was mostly bereft of heat and featured one of the most ridiculous finishes I've ever seen. It was inventive but didn't do Wyatt any favours and went far too far in its goal of protecting Cena. This series really should be the making of 'The Eater of Worlds', something that propels him up the card. If it's to do that then at least some of these matches have to be memorable for being really good as opposed to memorable for their insane endings.
I'd like to pick Wyatt to win at Payback. It would be two singles victories over Cena in a row as well as Cena's first loss in a Last Man Standing bout. Those are things that could be used to hype Wyatt, noting that he’s achieved things few other wrestlers could. But I've got a feeling that Cena's going to win. He doesn't need to. A victory over Wyatt does nothing for him. But this match is one that could go to either man, and in those situations, if he’s involved, it tends to go to Cena.
This show doesn't look anything special, which is a pity but not a surprise. The injury to Daniel Bryan hasn't helped but it's not the only problem. WWE have done well introducing their new characters to TV but less well at giving them things to do. Both areas need equal attention for shows like this to have the strong appeal they should. Hopefully WWE will make the best of a bad situation and focus on areas on their entire roster in the build-up to Battleground.
Oh, and this show being held in Chicago and all CM Punk returning probably needs addressing. Not gonna happen.
Oh, and this show being held in Chicago and all CM Punk returning probably needs addressing. Not gonna happen.
Predictions summary:The Shield to defeat Evolution
John Cena to defeat Bray Wyatt
Sheamus to defeat Cesaro
Bad News Barrett to defeat Rob Van Dam
The Usos to defeat The Wyatt Family
Paige to defeat Alicia Fox
Rusev to defeat Big E
Adam Rose to defeat Jack Swagger
El Torito to defeat Hornswoggle