The WWE Raw brand presents WWE Payback this Sunday night from San Jose, California. It’s the first WWE pay-per-view event since WrestleMania 33 four weeks ago. A lot of the part-timers who wrestled at the biggest show of the year are nowhere to be seen now and in their place are regular members of WWE’s Raw roster.
This is a card with a mix of matches we’ve seen before like Reigns vs. Strowman, Orton vs. Wyatt and Owens vs. Jericho, while also offering up some fresh matchups like Rollins vs. Joe and Bayley vs. Bliss as well.
The most disappointing thing about this card is that WWE has two major titles, yet neither of them is on the line. Brock Lesnar, the Universal Champion, has been off television since the Raw after WrestleMania. He’s not expected back on TV until perhaps June although his return date is not official yet. Randy Orton is the WWE Champion that’s wrestling on this show, but his title isn’t on the line in his match.
Without major titles on the line, fans are going to care less. We are told those titles mean something, yet here is a PPV without either of them up for grabs. It’s a bad move on WWE’s part. It doesn’t feel like an important show without either main championship on the line and I can totally understand why a fan might not be interested for that reason.
Here’s a breakdown of the Reigns vs. Strowman match using five different categories.
Their story started at Royal Rumble when Strowman attacked Reigns during his Universal Title match against Kevin Owens. That led to a match at Raw’s next pay-per-view called Fastlane in early March, which was a clean win for Reigns. After that, the focus shifted to Reigns vs. Undertaker for WrestleMania, so Strowman was left with nothing to do for the month and couldn’t even win the battle royal on the pre-show. I thought WWE dropped the ball big-time by not having Strowman in a more featured match at WrestleMania.
After WrestleMania, this rivalry picked up following a Strowman backstage attack three weeks ago. It was one of the better moments on Raw this year mainly because WWE has forgotten how to do big things like that on a regular basis. Reigns was being interviewed by Michael Cole and Strowman attacked, beating him up so badly that he needed to be put on a stretcher. When Reigns was on the stretcher, Strowman kept going after him. Strowman even shoved the stretcher off a railing with the idea that Reigns was still on it, even though he really wasn’t. With Reigns in the ambulance, Strowman tilted it over. That’s not something that he could legitimately do, but WWE made it look great by only shooting one side of it.
For the past two weeks of Raw, Reigns hasn’t appeared on television. There were video packages about him, but that’s all. I thought this week’s Raw would see Reigns show up to brawl with Strowman one more time. Instead, Strowman shoved poor Kalisto off the stage while in a dumpster as another example of how devastating Strowman can be.
The idea is that Strowman is out of control and as dangerous as ever while Reigns is vulnerable because he hasn’t been on television for three weeks heading into Sunday’s match.
It’s always interesting to listen to the crowd during a Reigns match. The majority of the fans boo the man who Vince McMahon has handpicked as his next “face of the company,” yet WWE continues to book Reigns like a heroic good guy that has to try to overcome the odds all the time even though he wins nearly all of his matches.
I think the crowd is going to boo Reigns because that’s the cool thing to do in their eyes. Plus, Strowman is getting the crowd behind him a lot more since he comes across as a big star due to his attacks and the ring breaking angle with Big Show. He comes off like a new star that people can like because of the athleticism he shows in the ring as well as the destruction he causes on a regular basis.
This match will be another example of why WWE is making a mistake with Reigns by keeping him as a face. I know he is popular to some fans and sells merchandise well, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to change plans with him. It’s not like he has to be a heel for three years. Do it for like eight months and see how it goes.
The match should be good, but it’s also something we’ve seen before at Fastlane. A lot of fans are going to be sitting at home wondering why they should care about this match. Do they really care about Roman Reigns getting his revenge when many of those same fans boo him relentlessly? It’s a tough match to sell in that regard.
I think WWE made a mistake in not making this a Last Man Standing match. Doing a Street Fight or Falls Count Anywhere type match would work too. Why would they have a regular match like they already did at Fastlane? It makes no sense to me. This should be the blowoff of the feud and something different from what they’ve done before. Instead, it feels like a repeat.
It should be a solid back-and-forth match with Reigns selling the injuries from the ambulance attack a few weeks ago while Strowman is on offense for the majority of the match. I expect them to get around 20 minutes as well.
There are reportedly plans to have Strowman challenge Universal Champion Brock Lesnar at a future Raw PPV and we found out on Friday that Lesnar is defending the title at Great Balls of Fire (yes, that’s the PPV name) on July 9. I think the goal before that Universal Title match will be to elevate Strowman. In order to do that, he needs to win matches like this. This would be the biggest win of Strowman’s career, no question about it.
I’m not sure who the next rivalry for Reigns will be. If I had to guess, Samoa Joe is a possibility. It could be Bray Wyatt, but we have seen Reigns vs. Wyatt several times in the past. They could opt for a guy like The Miz as well although he’s more of a cowardly heel rather than the type of physical heel that Reigns would more likely be against. It’s too early to do Reigns vs. Lesnar, which is the rumored main event of next year’s WrestleMania.
I think Braun Strowman is going to win. I know picking against Roman Reigns in a PPV match sounds crazy but as I noted earlier, WWE is planning to do Strowman vs. Brock Lesnar at some point in the next two months.
A clean win for Strowman would be the best choice because it would really elevate him and have people buy into him as a top guy. Since Reigns is going to be selling the injuries from the ambulance attack, it’s not inconceivable to think Strowman would win in a clean manner.
It’s possible that the win for Strowman could be cheap too. Perhaps somebody attacks Reigns, such as a Samoa Joe, to set up a new story for him. That’s a finish they have done with Reigns in the past in PPV matches to protect him, so that’s why it’s worth mentioning.
I don’t think Strowman winning is a lock by any means, but it’s the outcome that makes the most sense to me.
Here’s the rest of the lineup for Payback.
House of Horrors Match: Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt
This feud has fizzled out to the point that I don’t even care about the match. The only thing WWE has told us about the “House of Horrors” is that the match will start inside whatever the “House of Horrors” is and they’ll end up in the ring to finish the match. That’s pretty vague. I would imagine that means they are going to wrestle in a haunted house in the San Jose area in a pre-tape segment leading to them going to the ring later in the night. Either that or WWE rents some house, puts some weird stuff in it and they fight in there. Who knows, really? It’s not like WWE is going to provide details.
Orton’s WWE Title is not on the line. It was stolen by Jinder Mahal during last week’s Smackdown, but if you pay attention to the story they stopped calling it a WWE Title match weeks ago. Keep in mind that the reason they are doing this match is because Wyatt originally got a rematch for the WWE Title he lost at WrestleMania. That’s off now, so why is it even happening? I’m not sure. Wyatt’s on Raw and Orton’s on Smackdown, so there hasn’t been any physical interaction in the last month.
My original pick was Orton because he’s the WWE Champion. However, the title isn’t on the line, so why should he win? The House of Horrors is the match that Wyatt picked and he is the one that needs the momentum at this point. If Wyatt lost that match it would hurt him, so I’m going with him to get the much-needed victory. A reason to pick Orton is that he’s the face and it would put an end to this rivalry to have the good guy end up the victor.
This could be a bad match just because it’s a new stipulation with a lot of unknown about it. I hope it’s not a stinker.
My Prediction: Bray Wyatt wins
Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe
I’m looking forward to this match because it’s fresh. It features two guys that I like a lot who also haven’t wrestled on WWE television before in a singles match. They have a story going back to late January when Joe injured Rollins. The build could have been a bit better leading up to it because I think they should have been afforded more time to do promos, but the match quality should be good. Joe is one of the better pure heels in WWE while Rollins is gaining momentum as a face.
This feels like the first of two or three PPV matches for them. There’s no reason for them to have a one-and-done type of story. With that in mind, I’ll go with the heel Joe finding a way to get the win. Perhaps they have Joe work on the battered right knee of Rollins for much of it, Rollins keeps trying to come back, but ultimately loses because the damage is too bad. I think there’s a very good chance this will be the best match of the show. I’m going with Joe for the victory.
My Prediction: Samoa Joe wins
United States Championship: Kevin Owens vs. Chris Jericho
The winner of this match will take the US Title with them to Smackdown. Owens is already on Smackdown, so if Jericho wins he moves over there as well.
It’s similar to Orton vs. Wyatt because they haven’t had a chance to build the story by being on the same show. I thought the build to WrestleMania was really good, the match at WrestleMania was solid and this should have been some kind of gimmick match. Instead, it’s another regular match. I’m sure the quality will be good because they are talented performers, but it doesn’t stand out at all from what they did at WrestleMania.
What we know about this match is that Jericho is taking time off from WWE very soon. He’s going on tour with his band Fozzy for a lot of shows in May and over the next few months. When will he return to WWE? No idea, but hopefully later in the year. With that in mind, Owens finding a way to beat him just like he did at WrestleMania makes the most sense. I’d be very surprised if Jericho won.
My Prediction: Kevin Owens retains his title
Raw Tag Team Championships: The Hardy Boyz vs. Sheamus & Cesaro
The Hardys have been booked very strong since they returned at WrestleMania to win the Tag Team Titles. They haven’t lost a match in their first month back. Jeff Hardy beat Cesaro and Matt Hardy beat Sheamus in the last two weeks on Raw as well. Does that mean a loss here? I doubt it. That would be premature.
The plan for the tag division should be to keep the Hardys’ momentum strong until The Revival get back into the mix in two months when Dash Wilder’s broken jaw is healed. At that point, we can get that Hardys vs. Revival feud that will be awesome. Keep the Hardys busy with Sheamus/Cesaro, Gallows/Anderson and Enzo/Cass in the months leading up to that Hardys vs. Revival rivalry. Makes sense, right? I think so.
I think the Hardys win a hard-fought battle that could be very good and potentially a 20-minute tag match. Post-match, Sheamus & Cesaro will tease the handshake thing and instead they’ll attack the Hardys after the match. Whether that means Sheamus & Cesaro are officially heels at that point, I don’t know. I think the story would be about them being mad that they couldn’t win back the titles. Turning Cesaro heel may be surprising, but WWE may try it.
My Prediction: The Hardy Boyz retain their titles
Raw Women’s Championship: Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss
The build to this match has been poor. A highlight of it has been the promos of Bliss because she’s a very good talker who comes off as very arrogant. The problem is she still needs to get better in the ring. I find her matches to be boring and her offense looks weak. It’s tough to buy into a really short girl as a heel sometimes, but she is getting better.
Bayley is in her hometown, which could mean a loss for her since WWE tends to book champions to lose in their hometown. I don’t think she should lose, though. The better long-term plan is to have Bayley hold onto the title for a few more months, have Sasha Banks turn heel and win the title that way. Another possibility is to have Banks accidentally cost Bayley this match, which would put the title on Bliss. I’m going with the Bayley win, but it’s not a guarantee by any means.
My Prediction: Bayley retains her title
Cruiserweight Championship: Neville vs. Austin Aries
I liked their match at WrestleMania even though it was part of the first hour of the Kickoff Show, which a lot of people probably didn’t watch. It got a lot of time and both guys busted their ass to put on a competitive match that the status of the cruiserweight division. I have no problem seeing a rematch because it’s going to be one of the better matches on the show.
The result could go either way. I’m leaning towards Neville because I think it’s important to have a long-term heel champion holding the title and he’s the right guy for that. Long-term, I hope a face like Cedric Alexander or perhaps Gran Metalik can emerge as the guy who beats Neville for it in a few months. If Aries wins, then what? I like him, but I think the smarter decision is to keep it on Neville.
My Prediction: Neville retains his title
Miz TV with Finn Balor as guest (Payback Kickoff Show)
I think it’s a mistake to have this PPV without a match for The Miz, Finn Balor and Intercontinental Champion Dean Ambrose. They are all very good performers who should be in the ring, yet here we are talking about Miz and Finn in a talk show segment. It’s possible that this leads to a Miz vs. Balor match at Payback, but I think that may be difficult since the lineup looks full. Ambrose could join in on the fun to attack Miz and drop him with Dirty Deeds like he’s done in the past as well.
As for a prediction, I’ll just say that The Miz will get in trouble because of something he says and Balor will beat him up. That tends to be the usual outcome on Miz TV.
Enzo Amore & Big Cass vs. Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson (Payback Kickoff Show)
This match has happened so many times that I’m not sure if I even want to watch it again. That’s not a knock on any of the wrestlers because I like them, but WWE repeating the same matches all the time gets annoying.
It’s possible that Gallows and Anderson get the win so that they are the next contenders for the Hardys. However, I think Enzo & Cass could use a meaningful win. It was Gallows & Anderson who attacked Enzo last week on Raw, so I think Cass will get the win for his team in match result that will make the crowd happy.
My Prediction: Enzo & Cass get the victory
I think Payback is going to be a better show than Fastlane was in early March, but it doesn’t seem like the kind of show that will blow people away either. Fastlane was pretty bad, though. One of the worst PPVs in a while. This lineup is a lot better.
I also picked a lot of heels to wins the bigger matches. That wasn’t intentional. It was just a case of feeling that guys like Strowman, Wyatt, Joe and Owens need the wins more than their opponents. I’m also not picking any title changes. I could be wrong on that, but in every case I thought I explained my reasoning well. If I’m wrong, that’s fine. I just want things to make sense.
You can watch WWE Payback on WWE Network this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET with an expected run time of three hours. There’s a Kickoff Show starting at 7 p.m. ET as well. I’ll be back on Monday with a Payback review.