WWE Payback 2014: Last-Minute Predictions for Matches at PPV
With just over 24 hours until World Wrestling Entertainment presents the first of two June pay-per-view events with Payback, there are still many questions surrounding the show, most of them involving the actual outcomes of the night's top bouts.
Who will emerge from the unadulterated violence of the Last Man Standing match between John Cena and Bray Wyatt with their arm raised in victory? What impact on that match will The Usos, Luke Harper and Erick Rowan have, if any?
Will The Shield be able to make it out of Chicago with a second straight victory over Evolution, or will Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista live to fight as a unit another day?
How will champions Sheamus, Bad News Barrett and Paige fare as they battle, respectively, determined top contenders Cesaro, Rob Van Dam and Alicia Fox?
Will Big E put an end to Rusev's winning ways, or will the Bulgarian Brute cruise through another opponent en route to total domination of WWE?
With tremendous pressure on all involved to deliver a show better than NXT's stellar Takeover special, Payback could very well be a dark-horse candidate for WWE event of the year.
Only time will tell how the show comes off, but in preparation for the broadcast, take a look at these last-minute predictions.
Hair vs. Mask Match: El Torito vs. Hornswoggle
During the Extreme Rules pre-show, El Torito and Hornswoggle stunned both live and television audiences with a WeeLC match that was wildly entertaining and, ultimately, one of that event's most satisfying contests.
The end of the contest felt very much like the end of the program between the smaller competitors. El Torito had vanquished Hornswoggle while Los Matadores had fended off attempts at interference from 3MB. But in the weeks that followed, the feud not only continued, it got progressively worse.
El Torito has pinned Jinder Mahal, former Tag Team champion Heath Slater and former Intercontinental champion Drew McIntyre in singles matches, something incredibly insulting to those men regardless of whether 3MB is a comedy act or not.
On the May 26 episode of Raw, Hornswoggle ripped El Torito's tail off and attempted to do the same to his mask.
As a result of his actions, it was announced that Sunday's pre-show will feature a Mask vs. Hair match between the bitter rivals.
El Torito is not losing his mask. Without it, he has no gimmick and becomes as generic as Hornswoggle currently is. That will not happen, especially since WWEShop.com is selling replicas of the mask.
At $50 a pop.
Prediction: El Torito.
United States Championship Match: Sheamus vs. Cesaro (with Paul Heyman)
One of the more difficult matches to predict on Sunday's card is the battle between Sheamus and Cesaro over the former's United States Championship.
Sheamus only won the title from Dean Ambrose less than a month ago. Cesaro, on the other hand, is currently enjoying a push that should see him finally breakthrough the proverbial glass ceiling.
The Swiss Superman will be the heavy favorite in the hardcore wrestling city of Chicago and, with Paul Heyman by his side, will have the distinct advantage. Sheamus is a resilient babyface who has overcome the odds in the past and will fight till his last breath if necessary.
The feud began back on the May 13 episode of Main Event, when a match between the two devolved into a ringside brawl. Since then, the competitors have taken turns laying one another out with their signature maneuvers.
Cesaro got the upper hand this past Monday night, planting a woozy Sheamus with the Neutralizer following a hard-fought match between the Celtic Warrior and Alberto Del Rio.
There is no real story behind the match outside of the tit-for-tat assaults, and some are questioning why Cesaro, who is supposedly in the middle of a huge push, is stuck wrestling for a title he held two years ago while floundering in the midcard.
Still, the U.S. Championship match has the potential to steal the show out from underneath everything else on the card. Cesaro has been on fire thus far in 2014, turning in superb matches against the likes of John Cena and Daniel Bryan.
Sheamus, to his credit, has appeared more motivated and determined to remind fans that he is one of the elite competitors in WWE since returning back in January.
The action between the two has been promising to this point. With more time and exposure to have a quality championship bout, Sheamus and Cesaro could very well be the buzz of the wrestling world coming out of Sunday's event.
Prediction: Sheamus retains, but Cesaro will be the last man standing.
Big E vs. Rusev (with Lana)
Thanks to pro-Russian dialogue on the part of Lana, Rusev is finally starting to get over with the WWE Universe. Sunday night, he will face the biggest test of his young career when he squares off with former Intercontinental champion Big E.
On the May 12 episode of Raw, E attempted to save Hall of Famer "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan from a brutal beatdown at the hands of Rusev. The former powerlifter found himself overwhelmed and was eventually dumped to the outside at the hands of the so-called "Super Athlete."
Monday night on Raw, Rusev destroyed Zack Ryder in the name of Mother Russia and continued his attack after the bell, refusing to release the Accolade as Lana watched approvingly from ringside. This brought out E, who cleared Rusev out of the squared circle and waved the American flag to the dismay of his new rival.
Friday night, the Bulgarian Brute and his Ravishing Russian social ambassador watched from ringside as E continued to gain momentum, beating Titus O'Neil in dominant fashion.
The match between E and Rusev, the last to be officially announced for the event, should be an incredibly physical one between two legitimate powerhouses. Both men have impressed audiences with their strength and surprising mobility.
E's resume is an impressive one for someone his age. A former NXT and Intercontinental champion, the Floridian has had success at both levels of competition. Rusev has yet to score a single championship, and he hasn't he defeated anyone of E's stature to this point in his main-roster career.
That will change Sunday night when Rusev downs E and continues his climb up the ranks in WWE. E will still go on to have a brilliant career in the McMahon family's wrestling empire, but there is simply more energy and more time put into pushing the Bulgarian Brute at this point, and having him drop a match to someone like E, who is the furthest thing from hot right now, would be a mistake and a waste of time.
Divas Championship Match: Paige vs. Alicia Fox
If Alicia Fox's breakout performances over the last month has taught us anything, it is that fans will respond to the WWE Divas when the creative team gives them a reason to.
Fox has developed into a Loose Cannon-like character whose unpredictability makes her both wildly entertaining but also dangerous to any competitor who shares the ring with her. In recent weeks, her meltdowns have involved playful attacks on crew members, trash-talking with fans at ringside and dousing herself in various soft drinks.
A loss to Paige at Sunday's Payback could very well send Fox over the edge, causing her to spiral out of control to a point she won't be able to return from.
The Divas have traded wins over the last month, with Fox's victory earning her a championship opportunity.
There was a time when WWE would strike while the proverbial iron was hot and reward its performers for getting over with their new characters. That philosophy isn't as prevalent today, as the company seems resigned to stick with its predetermined plans.
Paige is clearly the future of the Divas division. She is young, beautiful and extremely talented between the ropes. One has to wonder, though, if she would not benefit from chasing the title for a bit. Her win over AJ Lee came across as a fluke and since then, the company has done little to capitalize on the momentum she carried with her from NXT.
Doing a bit of a reset by having her drop the title to the suddenly hot Fox and then chase it before winning it in a more legitimate match may help her get over with the audience at large more than she has to this point.
With that said, expect the more obvious option Sunday night.
Prediction: Paige retains, Alicia breaks down.
Intercontinental Championship Match: Rob Van Dam vs. Bad News Barrett
The May 19 episode of Raw from London saw Rob Van Dam win the Beat the Clock Challenge and earn a shot at the Intercontinental Championship held by Bad News Barrett. Barrett jumped Van Dam to the delight of his hometown fans and dealt some bad news to his top contender.
There has been very little in the way of build for the championship match outside of a few promos from Barrett in which he all but refers to Van Dam as a has-been.
But that is OK.
The fans in Chicago are incredibly passionate and will react to the bout because of the men involved. Barrett is hot right now, his character surging since his improvisational promo at the 2014 Hall of Fame ceremony and return to the ring on the April 8 episode of Raw.
Rob Van Dam is one of the most popular Superstars of his generation. He is also a future Hall of Famer who is still over with every audience he competes in front of.
In the few instances that they have shared the ring, Barrett and Van Dam have shown solid chemistry, and with pressure on them to perform to the highest level possible courtesy of the boisterous fans, expect a hard-hitting, hard-fought match between two talented workers.
Even if the outcome is hardly in doubt.
Prediction: Bad News Barrett.
Last Man Standing Match: John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt
The feud between John Cena and Bray Wyatt has lost a considerable amount of momentum over the last two weeks.
Despite revolutionary promo work from Wyatt and a story that feels like it still has a great deal to tell, the booking has weighed it down severely. The segments have become repetitive, and the Last Man Standing match, which should provide the best match of the program thus far, has limited the number of directions the story could go in.
An exhaustive European tour hampered the feud, as well as the entire product, as everything has felt as though it's been stuck in autopilot.
That does not mean the match will suffer come showtime Sunday evening. The Chicago crowd is always strong in its reception for Cena, while the Wyatt character is sure to benefit from what should be a huge ovation.
The match itself should succeed where the previous two battles between Cena and Wyatt failed. The Last Man Standing match is typically more violent and action-packed than most other gimmick bouts. It is a type of match in which Cena has thrived and one that will lend itself to the styles of the competitors more than their basic singles or Steel Cage matches from months past.
The theme of Wyatt's recent promos has been "necessary evil," and Cena cut a promo on the most recent episode of Raw that denounced Wyatt's words and actions. He promised to put an end to the threat of the Wyatt Family at Payback.
It was a standard promo from WWE's resident superhero. If he succeeds on his promise, the feud is over, the good guy will have won and all will be right with the world.
If he does not, the feud stretches on for one more month and culminates in a grand blowoff match that brings the story to a satisfying conclusion.
The latter is more appealing.
Prediction: Bray Wyatt.
No Holds Barred Elimination Match: The Shield vs. Evolution
The main event of Payback is the No Holds Barred Elimination match pitting The Shield against Evolution in a rematch of their Match of the Year candidate at last month's Extreme Rules.
The brawls between the two factions have become somewhat stale, but WWE corrected that problem Monday night by having Triple H introduce a sledgehammer to the equation, playing up the no-holds-barred element of Sunday's match.
The beatdown of The Shield that concluded Raw added heat to the program. More importantly, it positioned Evolution as the favorites heading into Payback.
There is only so far a story can go when both teams are presented on equal footing. Sure, it makes predicting a match more difficult and, as a result, adds an element of surprise. At the same time, it does not lend itself to narrative storytelling.
Professional wrestling, at its most basic, is a war between good and bad, hero and villain. Evolution needed to stand tall Monday night to gain the upper hand before they take to the ring for Payback's marquee match.
Now The Shield has an obstacle to overcome, a villain to vanquish.
The status of Batista puts the outcome of Sunday's match in doubt. With Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy set to release shortly, The Animal will be leaving to partake in promotional work for the film. According to a report by F4WOnline.com, his last Raw was this past Monday. If that is the case, it does not make sense to put Evolution over.
If Batista does indeed stick around for one more episode of Raw before departing for the bright lights of Hollywood, Payback should be Evolution's time to shine.
Prediction: The Shield, based solely on WWE's 50/50 booking and the fact that Evolution was left standing Monday night.