With Daniel Bryan's title bout and future as champ in doubt thanks to neck surgery, WWE Payback 2014 will have to lean on The Shield vs. Evolution and Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena to make the pay-per-view a hit.
Balancing the distribution of momentum and maximizing drama is key for both those matches. Cracks forming in Cena's psyche and The Shield's unity are effective ways to do that.
As these emerging stars charge at established veterans, WWE has a chance to create a glut of memorable moments and top the build to these wrestlers' previous collisions. Cena suffering, Triple H abusing his power and The Shield facing inner strife again are smart paths to take.
The Shield vs. Evolution
The best bet to extract the most drama from this six-man battle is to lean on Triple H's executive power and create fractures in a team dependent on cohesion.
The Shield showed off its power on Monday's Raw. The trio spent the night hunting down Randy Orton, Batista and Triple H, forcing them to retreat or fall on their backs each time.
The Hounds of Justice can't just go into Payback will all the momentum.
The Shield's win over Evolution at Extreme Rules and its ability to tear out of all of Evolution's traps has the trio looking like the favorites. More suspense will come if there are more doubts about the group's chances in the rematch.
Triple H has pitted the members of The Shield in disadvantageous matches already. Why not force them to face each other?
Holding the threat of termination and/or canceling the Payback bout over their heads, the COO could make Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose fight each other on Raw. The reluctant opponents could begin taking it easy on each other but get testier as the match progresses.
Seth Rollins, as he did when the group was splintering months ago, can play the peacekeeper, reminding his comrades who the true enemy is.
Perhaps Reigns and Ambrose even enjoy pounding on each other, each one smiling as they suffer a strike from the other. The forced infighting could bring them closer together, like members of a pack working things out through tangling in the jungle.
The Game could also book a 3-on-1 Handicap match with Evolution taking on Reigns.
The story can be that Evolution's strategy is to take out The Shield's strongest member. Triple H can intimidate the referee into allowing him, Orton and Batista to break the rules as they pummel the powerhouse.
This strategy makes Evolution seem both cunning and fearful. It would work to make The Shield more sympathetic and give Reigns an opportunity to look powerful as he fends off defeat despite horrible odds.
Cena vs. Wyatt
WWE's goal heading into round three of this rivalry should be for Wyatt to damage Cena both physically and mentally.
After Cena pinned Wyatt at WrestleMania and The Eater of Worlds needed Luke Harper, Erick Rowan and a choir boy with the voice of a demon to topple him at Extreme Rules. Wyatt needs to look like more of a threat, not just a man adept at delivering threats.
Putting his hands on Cena before their next match is a necessity. If that leaves Cena in need of medical attention, that's even better.
Last year, Cena went into his Last Man Standing match with an injured Achilles tendon.
For a match that required one to remain standing to win, it was almost poetic for him to have an injury that made it difficult to do just that. The match itself didn't capitalize on that nearly enough, but it added doubt about Cena's chances for victory leading up to it.
Going a similar route is a smart move for this bout as well.
While The Shield and Evolution have leveled each other several times post-Extreme Rules, Cena and Wyatt have not collided much. Have Wyatt attack Cena backstage. Have Cena limp into battle.
Attacking Cena offers Wyatt a chance to remind us of his destructive power. For Cena, it gives him the gutsy tag once more, offering an additional reason to believe he'll lose at Payback.
Wyatt's words and aura need to affect Cena's mental state as well.
Before WrestleMania, Cena was jumpy and admitted that he was afraid. He's since shaken that off, which makes Wyatt seems less dangerous.
Returning to Cena being distraught and disturbed is the best route for this feud.
Cena could be distracted during his other matches, unable to finish backstage interviews and be visibly unsettled while getting ready in the locker room. He can begin to see choir boys backstage who disappear when other Superstars step into the room. He can find sheep masks in his gear bag and jump back startled.
Even the greatest heroes shiver when standing inside a monster's maw.
There will be plenty of time to show off Cena's heroism during the match. The moments leading up to it need to highlight Wyatt's strengths and Cena's weaknesses.
Building uncertainty in Cena's mind, as well as the minds of the fans, betters the clash at Payback, just as it will with The Shield's second shot at Evolution.
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