Buzz surrounds WWE Payback 2014 as fans hold out hope that the pay-per-view will welcome back some of the birds missing from the company's nest.
The chances that CM Punk, AJ Lee and The Miz step back into the ring at Payback range from highly improbable to decent. Picking apart the word from backstage and the circumstances surrounding each wrestler reveal which returns are worth betting on.
With Daniel Bryan out of action with a neck injury, added star power would certainly boost the upcoming pay-per-view. It's best to separate what is possible from what is just a pipe dream, though.
CM Punk (200-1)
There is no evidence that Punk is coming back, but that hasn't stopped fans from dreaming up scenarios that involve him making a surprise return.
It's also been the impetus for several articles across the Internet. The Epoch Times' Zachary Stallings writes, "If there was ever a perfect time for CM Punk to return to WWE, Payback would be that time." On Sportskeeda, Renjith Ravindran wrote a piece giving five reasons Punk might return at the event.
The prevailing reasoning behind the Punk-Payback speculation is that the pay-per-view is in his hometown, Bryan is injured and that Punk tweeted for the first time since January.
This is all just wishful thinking, though.
Fans want Punk to come back and are looking for any reason that it might actually happen this time. If he didn't work things out and appear at Raw in Chicago on March 3 or in time for WrestleMania 30, don't count on it happening at Payback.
Wrestling Observer Newsletter, via Marc Middleton of Wrestling Inc, reported the following:
A source very close to the CM Punk situation notes that he's had no contact with WWE in some time. Punk said he was frustrated with booking and with payoffs and that he's happy now being home, and wasn't happy on the road with WWE.
That has been the story since the Royal Rumble. There's little reason to believe it will change any time soon.
After balking at a WrestleMania match with Triple H, would he really come back for an unannounced appearance at a low-level pay-per-view just because he could take the "L" train there?
The Miz (12-1)
Although The Awesome One showing up in Chicago won't have nearly the same impact as Punk would, it's the safer bet by miles.
The Miz, along with Summer Rae, took time off to shoot The Marine 4. Summer returned from filming to reinsert herself into the Fandango-Layla storyline on the May 19 Raw. That likely means The Miz isn't far behind.
Unlike Summer, he doesn't have a storyline to jump right into, though. That lessens his chances of running in and interrupting a match. However, if Rusev isn't scheduled to beat anyone down at the show, Miz could be a viable option.
He did serve as the foe that marked Ryback's transition from clobbering jobbers to beating on midcarders back in 2012.
AJ Lee (25-1)
Count on Punk's fiancee showing up for Payback before he does.
The former Divas champ has been taking time off since the night after WrestleMania when she lost the title to Paige. It's expected that AJ will eventually seek a rematch, sparking a feud that fans have been anticipating for some time.
On May 4, Wrestling Observer Newsletter, via Nick Paglino of Wrestle Zone, reported that "AJ Lee is expected to return to WWE in about 4 to 6 weeks." Payback lands right in the middle of that timetable.
One reason to believe that her return won't come that soon, though, is her upcoming wedding.
Punk revealed at a Chicago Cubs game that he and AJ would be getting married in June. AJ coming back at Payback, igniting a fire between her and Paige and walking away from it to make time for her wedding seems unlikely. And unlike The Miz, she isn't a part of the European tour.
Once she has a ring on her finger, the chances of her coming back shoot up.