WWE Payback is set up to be one of the most thrilling pay-per-views of the year, and it's not because of the main event.
That's nothing against John Cena or Ryback.
If nothing else, when the two superstars face off for the WWE championship in their Three Stages of Hell match on Sunday night, there should be a heap of massive, spectacular spots—much like with their battle at Extreme Rules.
But for a pay-per-view that hasn't received much attention in the last few weeks, Payback's card is loaded.
Every championship will be put on the line, CM Punk is set to make his highly anticipated return and the newly branded Curtis Axel will make his PPV debut.
And those are just a few of the highlights.
Let's take a look at what pre-main-event matches are primed to steal the show from the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill.
1. Tag Team Championship: Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns vs. Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton
If you find me someone who isn't thoroughly entertained by Daniel Bryan every single time he steps inside the ring, I'll show you someone who doesn't have a soul.
The Flying Goat is unbelievably over right now. He consistently puts on scintillating matches and always receives gargantuan pops.
He's getting extremely high praise from everyone across the wrestling world, including legends like Chris Jericho and Kane (per Wrestling Zone):
But Bryan isn't the only one in this match.
The Shield has been the peanut butter to Bryan's jelly. Some like peanut butter more. Some like jelly more. But they are both awesome and somehow even better when they're together.
We've seen Bryan, Randy Orton, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns in the same ring a lot over the past month, but it has yet to come close to feeling stale. All four are terrific, and the added bonus of a potential heel turn will only add to what we already know is going to be a scintillating match.
2. CM Punk vs. Jericho
If it weren't for how sizzling The Shield and Bryan have been over the last month or two, this could easily be No. 1.
CM Punk is undoubtedly one of the best wrestlers in this business. He always puts together A+ performances, and at pay-per-views, he manages to vault himself up a notch.
But his in-the-ring prowess will only be part of the equation this time around.
We haven't seen Punk since his instant-classic with The Undertaker at WrestleMania (and the week after), and his return from that hiatus would normally result in one of the biggest pops of the year. But at a pay-per-view and in front of his hometown Chicago fans, it will result in an earthquake-inducing pop.
Oh yeah, and having someone as talented, as professional and as adored as Jericho on the other side of him doesn't exactly hurt, either.
3. United States Championship: Dean Ambrose vs. Kane
Remember when Antonio Cesaro (a solid champ, mind you) held the United States championship and the WWE couldn't find anyone worthwhile to feud with him?
Well, all of a sudden, a burgeoning superstar holds the title, and he's defending it against a future Hall of Famer.
It likely simply depends on your preference as to which member of The Shield is most impressive, but there is no question that Ambrose has the entire package. He is terrific on the mic and is both technically sound and entertaining inside the ring.
The Big Red Monster, meanwhile, is the consummate pro. He may not have an obvious direction right now, but he has held nearly every title in the business and will do whatever it takes to help put on a good match.
Despite the seemingly predictable outcome, this one will be highly entertaining.
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