The main event for Sunday’s WWE Payback pay-per-view is one of the most intriguing WWE Title matches in many months. That’s because the bout with Roman Reigns defending the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against AJ Styles is a first time matchup which has so many possibilities. It’s that unpredictability which has wrestling fans excited about what might happen.
While it would be a shock if Reigns were to lose the WWE Title to Styles, it could happen. It’s pretty obvious that the audience is not warming up to Reigns as WWE Champion. Television ratings are poor right now, while the crowd reaction to him is less than favorable. He’s being pushed like the next Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin, yet the crowd is not giving him the respect that WWE wants them to. Reigns is getting booed like John Cena often does. But in Cena’s case, he has been WWE’s top merchandise seller by far for the last decade, so there are fans that do love him. With Reigns, it’s hard to know who he is appealing to at the moment.
Will Reigns end up going heel on Sunday or will WWE keep him as a good guy long term? That’s one of the biggest questions going into Payback which nobody really has an answer to. I think they should turn him heel, as I wrote a few weeks ago, but I feel like WWE is going to keep him as is and let the stories play out. They seem to care less about heel/face these days anyway.
Heading into the Reigns-Styles match on Sunday, the other big question pertains to the tag team of Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson. What might they do? To quickly sum up the last month of WWE TV, they attacked Reigns’ cousins on their debut three weeks ago, then targeted Reigns and the assumption was that Styles told them to do it because they were allies with Styles in Japan. Styles has said several times that he didn’t want them to do what they did – it was just something they did on their own.
What Will Happen In The Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles Match?
What I think will happen at Payback is a scenario where Gallows and Anderson make their way down to ringside during the Reigns-Styles match, which will be very competitive with a lot of nearfalls. The ref may get bumped towards the end. Gallows and Anderson would then attack Reigns, while Styles was out on the mat or outside the ring. The attack would leave Reigns on the mat ready to get pinned, but Styles will refuse it because he doesn’t want to win that way. That Styles argument would buy Reigns time to get back to his feet, hit a Spear and pin Styles.
Post-match, as Reigns gets the WWE Title and leaves the ring, have Gallows and Anderson go into the ring to check on Styles. They can ask him why he didn’t just cover Reigns when he had the chance because if he did, he’d be WWE Champion. Styles can again tell them he didn’t want their help. That can lead to Gallows and Anderson stomping away on Styles. While that is happening, Reigns could be looking back at it, notice what is happening and not do a thing to save Styles. Have Gallows and Anderson hit their finisher on Styles.
As Payback ends, have the announcers wonder why Reigns didn’t help Styles, who is motionless in the ring. By doing that, it pushes the idea that somebody else may have encouraged Gallows/Anderson or that Reigns was somehow involved in things.
If WWE was to do that scenario, it could lead to Reigns becoming this heel leader of a group with Gallows/Anderson that they could call the Roman Empire. That’s something that could work very well with this group, dominating storylines for months until Seth Rollins comes back from injury in June or July. Then it could set up Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Styles against Reigns, Anderson and Gallows as a hot feud in the summer.
Another option would be to call up former NXT Champion Finn Balor from NXT and have him attack Reigns to end Raw with him as the leader of the Balor Club with Gallows/Anderson by his side. Remember, it was Balor that created the Bullet Club stable in Japan that had Gallows/Anderson as part of the group, so it makes a lot of sense to put them with Balor. Plus, this would be a great way to set up the Balor Club versus The Shield trio of Reigns, Rollins and Ambrose.
I like the Balor idea better because he really has nothing left to do in NXT. Even if he stays in NXT for another month or two, they could still put him on the main roster, which could benefit from a guy with his talent and star power. It may be tough for the crowd to boo him, but in this era when most of the talent are “good guys” anyway, he should fit in well.
No matter what happens, I’m intrigued by this match a lot. WWE has done a great job in telling the story of what might happen with Gallows/Anderson set to attack at some point in this match. Who will they help? Who will it benefit? Will there be a turn? Nothing is that obvious right now. When I think about the other PPV events this year, the big matches had obvious outcomes. This one doesn’t. That’s why Payback has a very good chance of being the best WWE PPV so far this year.
While the steps to get to the finish are unknown, I’d be shocked if Reigns didn’t leave as WWE Champion. Giving him only a one-month WWE Title run would be a mistake. Whether he’s face or heel, Reigns is going to be locked in as “THE GUY” for WWE for most of this year.
The Pick: Roman Reigns retains the WWE Title.
Predicting The Rest Of WWE Payback
The rest of the WWE Payback card is pretty good in addition to the main event. A big reason for that is that WWE has given us new feuds that aren’t a continuation from WrestleMania. Champions are dealing with new challengers while other “new” stars are stepping up as well.
Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens
This is the match on the card that I’m most excited about, which I wrote about in depth last week. As long as they get 15-20 minutes for this match, as I expect, they should have one of the best matches on this show and perhaps a match of the year contender if things go well. Both guys “need” the win, although I get the feeling that there will be a rematch at the Extreme Rules PPV in three weeks anyway. With that in mind, it makes more sense to give the heel Owens the win here (possibly using a cheap tactic) and then Zayn can win at Extreme Rules. Both guys should benefit from this awesome feud. The Pick: Kevin Owens.
Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho
This is a fresh matchup based on these two feuding over who has the better WWE talk show. That part of it is a bit silly, but the rivalry makes sense since Jericho is a veteran heel who thinks he’s the greatest of all time and Ambrose is a rising star as a babyface. Ambrose could really use the win since he lost the Fastlane main event, lost to Triple H at Roadblock and lost to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania. Jericho can lose every match and still be a huge star because of his history as well as promo ability. Ambrose winning seems like the obvious call here. If they do a rematch, Ambrose should win that too. The Pick: Dean Ambrose.
WWE Intercontinental Championship: The Miz vs. Cesaro
The Miz won the IC Title on the night after WrestleMania, while Cesaro returned to action from shoulder surgery, beat Kevin Owens in a match and became the No. 1 contender. Since then, they’ve recited movie lines to one another as a way to build up to the match. The build has just been average, but the positive thing is that the crowd hates Miz and loves Cesaro, so it works as a traditional feud. A title change is possible because Cesaro’s got a lot of momentum right now. I just think Miz has done well as champion, his wife Maryse is by his side and I think that she might interfere or cause a distraction to keep the title on her man. Perhaps Cesaro wins the title at another show. Not yet. The Pick: The Miz.
WWE Women’s Championship: Charlotte (w/Ric Flair) vs. Natalya (w/Bret Hart)
The addition of Natalya’s uncle Bret Hart in her corner to try to counter Charlotte’s dad Ric Flair is a nice way to change up the story. Natalya failed to win the title the last time because of Flair, so she should win this time, right? It feels like the right time for a title change. They could have put the new Women’s Title on Sasha Banks or Becky Lynch at WrestleMania. Instead, they have Natalya in this spot. It just feels like an opportunity to change things up. Some people expect Banks to win it in a few months possibly at SummerSlam, but that’s far from a lock. This could be WWE’s way of rewarding Natalya for her longevity and hard work. Nothing wrong with that. They have awesome chemistry, so it should be a great match too. The Pick: Natalya wins the Women’s Title.
Tag Team #1 Contenders Match: The Vaudevillains vs. Enzo Amore & Colin Cassady
Both teams are new to the main WWE roster, post-WrestleMania. They won matches over credible teams to get here and the winners get a Tag Team Title shot at The New Day in a future show, which is probably Extreme Rules in three weeks. With New Day as a face team, a win for The Vaudevillains makes more sense to me. Enzo & Cass will have their time. It’s not here. Look for some sneaky tactics from The Vaudevillains to find a way to win. The Pick: The Vaudevillains.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin
It feels like the easiest prediction on the show: Corbin wins. He’s another fresh face on the main roster, while Ziggler’s a 10-year veteran who has so many start/stop pushes that it’s hard to keep track. Corbin should win this match convincingly if they intend to keep his momentum. A loss wouldn’t help at all. Sorry, Ziggler. You’re too good to be in this spot, but that’s how it is. The Pick: Baron Corbin
WWE United States Championship: Kalisto vs. Ryback (Kickoff Show)
It’s a rematch from WrestleMania, when Kalisto beat Ryback in a match that was on that Kickoff Show. The company cares so little about this match that they’ve barely been on Raw in the last month, but Ryback did beat Kalisto non-title on Smackdown a couple of weeks ago. I get the feeling that WWE wants to do a title change, which is why they’re doing the match again. Then again, they don’t seem to care about this title, so using logic to explain may be a waste of time. The Pick: Ryback wins the US Title.
Vince McMahon Decides if Shane or Stephanie Gets Control Of Raw
This is an advertised promo segment designed to make people think that Vince will decide which one of his kids will have the power to run Raw going forward. Most likely something will happen to keep Shane and Stephanie arguing, without any decision made. It feels like a storyline that is going to take several months until there’s a resolution, so my prediction is that nothing official takes place here.
By the way, the way they completely ignore Smackdown by never mentioning who runs that show is pretty bad. It’s been months since any type of authority figure has been on Smackdown, yet on Raw they feature the “person in charge” so often you would think it would be important on the other show. Nope. It’s a bad way to get fans to watch the “B” show too.
Payback will be an above average pay-per-view because there are several singles matches that are fresh, new, exciting and aren’t predictable either. Some of the matches seem obvious in terms of the outcomes, but as we saw at WrestleMania, WWE may do some different finishes to throw people off.
If you’re a fan of good wrestling matches, this could be the PPV of the year up to this point, at least for the main WWE roster. The rest of the year could be pretty good too, since the roster is so deep and with key guys like John Cena and Seth Rollins back in action soon. There is reason for optimism if you’re a WWE fan.
WWE Payback takes place this Sunday from the Allstate Arena in Chicago with a Kickoff Show starting at 7 p.m. ET and the main card starting at 8 p.m. ET. It is available on WWE Network.