WWE Payback 2014 isn't likely to see any new champions crowned, but the pay-per-view will play a major role in adding new names to the list of top-flight stars.
The Shield will look to take the old guard, Evolution, down in a repeat of Extreme Rules. Bray Wyatt searches for a second consecutive PPV victory over John Cena, while Cesaro and Paige will be given a stage on which to impress.
It's a strange show, in that the WWE World Heavyweight Championship won't be defended. Instead, Daniel Bryan can decide whether or not to keep the title. The only issue if he does is that his wife, Brie Bella, is no longer a WWE employee.
WWE charges into the Allstate Arena, Chicago, Ill. on June 1, and the organisation's next generation of top talent will emerge from that building with fistfuls of momentum.
News and Potential Spoilers
Whether one of the trios in The Shield vs. Evolution match will break up is a hot topic right now.
Dean Ambrose spoke about his team in an interview with WWE Magazine, via Nick Paglino of Wrestle Zone, in which he was asked talked which WWE stars he thought were the funniest. He responded: "My former partners, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. I was probably the class clown of the group so I'd usually start the joking and ribbing. But those two are hilarious."
That has many believing that the magazine let a planned storyline slip.
Will it be Ambrose's opponents who end their alliance, though? The fact that Batista won't be around for much longer could be a major hint.
Mike Johnson of PWInsider reports that "Batista is advertised for next week's Raw, which will be his last appearance before he goes on hiatus to help promote Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy."
If Batista is scheduled to be out for the time being, it likely spells the end of the Evolution vs. The Shield feud. This could mean that he gets angry with his teammates and breaks away from them before his exit, or that he takes a beating from either friend or foe to explain his time off.
Even post-neck surgery, Daniel Bryan hasn't taken stayed far from the action. He may be ready to compete soon, which makes it more than likely that he will keep the world title.
However, Wrestling Observer Newsletter, via Chris Cash of Wrestle Zone, later reported the following:
The general consensus is that it's highly unlikely Daniel Bryan will work any matches between now and Money In The Bank, even if he's technically cleared to do so.
If he's unable to work the MITB pay-per-view, it's expected the "Buried Alive" match will be pushed to WWE Battleground on July 20th out of Tampa.
Either way, Bryan won't be able to help his peers amp up the quality of the show, but it sounds as if all participants will be giving maximum effort.
Middleton shared a report from F4WOnline that notes "the story from within WWE is that Sunday's Payback will be a good show because they can't let the developmental show, NXT Takeover, outshine the main roster pay-per-view."
NXT Takeover was a fantastic show. The bar has been set rather high and it's not surprising to hear talk of the main-roster stars wanting to surpass it.
- El Torito vs. Hornswoggle (Mask vs. Hair)
- Cesaro vs. Sheamus (United States Championship)
- Rob Van Dam vs. Bad News Barrett (Intercontinental Championship)
- Rusev vs. Big E
- Alicia Fox vs. Paige (Divas Championship)
- John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt (Last Man Standing)
- The Shield vs. Evolution (No Holds Barred Elimination)
Hornswoggle Goes Bald
Not only has El Torito knocked off Hornswoggle several times before, he has beaten Drew McIntyre and Heath Slater in recent weeks.
WWE is clearly showcasing El Torito, having him in the ring more often than Los Matadores, winning more than most midcarders. This bout should be another display of his athletic prowess and another way to get a cheap laugh out of embarrassing Hornswoggle.
Hornswoggle losing his hair would be funny. El Torito losing his mask would ruin his character.
Expect Cesaro to look strong here and really test "The Celtic Warrior." He has bigger things on the horizon than another run with the U.S. title, though.
It's clear that WWE thinks highly of Cesaro these days. Being Paul Heyman's client, winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal and being a consistent part of programming recently is proof of that.
Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Marc Middleton of Wrestling Inc) reported that WWE believes Cesaro to be one of its top four babyfaces for the future.
That smells more like Cesaro will soon be challenging for the world title, rather than be starting a second reign as U.S. champ. Sheamus, also on that list of top faces, is a good choice to keep the title for now, building up its prestige before joining "The King of Swing" on a higher tier.
Count on a physical match, but one that sees Sheamus remain champ and leave Cesaro free to keep rising.
Van Dam's job here is to give Barrett a test and add star power to this midcard title bout. The champ is the focus here: Barrett can benefit from besting a veteran.
WWE went the same route with Dean Ambrose and Van Dam at SummerSlam last year.
At this point in his career, Van Dam doesn't need the win nor the championship. He's probably just going to be around for a few months anyway, just as he did in his spell in WWE.
It makes little sense for Barrett to go on his recent tear, win the tournament and defeat Big E to lose the belt so soon.
Powerhouses Go to a No Contest
It's too early for Rusev to lose: He's been portrayed as an unstoppable force so far and a loss would be a waste of that build-up.
Big E is not the kind of low-level opponent "The Bulgarian Brute" has faced so far, though.
With a longer feud in mind, expect Big E and Rusev to fight to a double count out or some other form of draw. This could be the start a career-elevating series of matches for both men, but it's a story that begins, not ends, at Payback.
Crazy Isn't Enough for Fox
The spotlight is pointed at Fox, thanks to be being nutty lately. She's celebrated wins and pouted about loses with meltdowns.
She's gained solid momentum in the process. However, she's not the focus here.
Paige is still new to many fans and making Fox more interesting is only a way to create intrigue around a match that has already happened several times.
The money feud is Paige vs. AJ Lee. For that to work, though, Paige has to be built up as a warrior, something that her knocking off a crazed challenger helps WWE do.
The Usos will keep things even, stepping in Luke Harper and Erick Rowan's way. The tag champs have made it clear that they have Cena's back in recent weeks.
That appears to give Cena the advantage, but he's the established star while Wyatt is the one in need of a win that changes his resume dramatically.
Wyatt losing sends him down a few rungs to join the long list of men who have come up short against the former champ. A win elevates him and furthers his journey to becoming a marquee star.
WWE needs the latter scenario to happen in order to have more new stars to use as headliners, so it will give Wyatt the precious feat of keeping Cena down.
The Shield Wins Round 2
Rather than who wins, this match will be more about who is still aligned with who come the final bell. With Batista headed to Hollywood as noted above, it's more likely he and his team lose.
His exit likely spells the end of Evolution, brought together again for the express purpose of destroying The Shield. Failure to do that will create tension between Triple H and company.
Frustration over losing to The Shield is also a great impetus for Triple H's potential feud with Roman Reigns. That's a SummerSlam-worthy matchup that would help Reigns shoot up into the top tier. How WWE shrinks down this feud to a one-on-one rivalry will be interesting in itself.
The surprises that this match promises makes it the best bet for match of the night, with Cesaro and Sheamus taking home second place.