WWE Payback 2016: B/R Experts' Match Predictions and Analysis

James Moffat@@jamesmoffatFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2016

WWE Payback 2016: B/R Experts' Match Predictions and Analysis

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    Credit: WWE.com

    WWE Payback 2016 is everything WrestleMania 32 wasn't—fresh, exciting and, most importantly, unpredictable.

    Sure, Roman Reigns is still on the card, boasting a 45-2-3 record in 2016, per CageMatch.net. And sure, those losses were by disqualification and in the Royal Rumble main event. 

    And yes, only three times in the short history of WWE Payback event has a title changed hands, per TheHistoryofWWE.com (h/t Bleacher Report's Ryan Dilbert). But WWE did a smart thing developing the card for this year's event: It put the emphasis on stories rather than titles.

    Aside from WWE Payback 2016's main event, the most compelling matches are the non-title affairs. Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens, Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho, the No. 1 Contenders' match for the tag team titles and Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin all hold more interest from fans than the title matches. 

    WWE has even made the title match must-see TV. Not only is the AJ Styles vs. Roman Reigns matchup fresh, but the additional tease of a Bullet Club reunion—with or without Finn Balor—also ups the drama. 

    The promotion's attention to storytelling leading into WWE Payback 2016 has created an exciting card, one that will set the stage for the road to SummerSlam. 

    So who walks out of WWE Payback 2016 with a win and momentum? It's time for Bleacher Report's experts to provide their takes.

WWE Payback 2016: B/R Expert Roll Call

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    B/R's Expert Panel for WWE Payback 2016 (from left): Brad Jones, Erik Beaston, Anthony Mango and James Moffat.
    B/R's Expert Panel for WWE Payback 2016 (from left): Brad Jones, Erik Beaston, Anthony Mango and James Moffat.Credit: WWE.com

    Bleacher Report's lineup answers the tough questions about the WWE landscape and provides predictions for each match on the WWE Payback 2016 card.

    This lineup features:

    It's time to tie up those laces and get ready to rumble. The predictions start now.

Kalisto vs. Ryback (WWE United States Championship)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Q: How surprised are you that WWE has not inserted another Superstar into the U.S. title picture?

    Brad Jones (BJ): Very surprised. These are two talented athletes, and they contributed a great match to the WrestleMania pre-show, but it’s clear audiences aren’t that engaged with the program. At this point, Kalisto is trapped in the feud, and he deserves a more fitting opponent before his title reign peters out.

    Match Prediction: Kalisto.

    Anthony Mango (AM): I'm surprised at so much with regard to how the United States Championship has been handled in 2016. Kalisto has been booked as a total joke for his entire reign and kept off television for the most part during this build. Ryback has not had it any better, being seen even less and losing to someone half his size. The fact these two are randomly thrown into the pre-show again when they were slighted with an empty arena at WrestleMania shows WWE doesn't care about the title or these two wrestlers. Someone else needs to come in to save the day.

    Match Prediction: If Ryback doesn't squash Kalisto in mere seconds to win the belt, Kalisto will retain, hurt Ryback's credibility even more and then drop the belt to someone else on Raw.

    Erik Beaston (EB): I’m not at all surprised another Superstar has not been inserted into the U.S. title picture. That would suggest WWE is paying attention to the title. Kalisto is a lame-duck champion, a guy just waiting for someone to come beat him, and Ryback’s heel turn has been as good for him as his last flirt with villainy. The feud is dead in the water and should come to an end Sunday night. Hopefully.

    Match Prediction: Ryback.

    James Moffat (JM): On a scale of one to 10, make it an eight. WWE wants us to believe that seven men deserved to be in the Intercontinental Championship ladder match at WrestleMania 32, yet Ryback and Kalisto are the only Superstars deserving of—or even the least bit interested in holding—the United States title? I mean, Sin Cara was in that match. This screams of WWE waiting until John Cena is healthy again to take back the title.

    Match Prediction: Ryback.

Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Q: Realistically, what do you think Baron Corbin’s ceiling is in WWE?

    BJ: World champion. He’s not an indy darling, but he’s improved enormously since his NXT debut in 2013. His program with Samoa Joe was a huge turning point, and hopefully, we can see similar progression as he enters into feuds with some of the veterans of the main roster. Corbin has the sort of look WWE has historically pushed to the moon, and to me, there’s no reason he won’t get the same treatment.

    Match Prediction: Baron Corbin.

    AM: Over the course of 2015, Baron Corbin made significant improvements to his character and technical skills. While he's still far away from being able to fight a main event, I think there's a good chance he holds midcard gold at some point before WrestleMania 33. It all depends on how WWE utilizes him for the next few months, as that could either derail him or set him up for a bright future.

    Match Prediction: Baron Corbin definitely wins. Hands down.

    EB: Corbin has a great chance to be a main event star. He's big, he's athletic, he has an undeniable presence and, most importantly, he has confidence. It does not matter to him that he did not come from the world of independent wrestling. He believes in, and carries, himself like the world's biggest ass-kicker, and it rubs off on audiences. To this point, he has been booked strongly, and I look to that continuing. The Lone Wolf will be just fine. Better, even.

    Match Prediction: Baron Corbin.

    JM: Similar to what he was in NXT—a high midcard Superstar who can be called upon to main event if needed. Corbin is still green, but he oozes superstardom. He will get gold at some point. Will it be world title gold? I wouldn't go that far.

    Match Prediction: Baron Corbin.

Charlotte vs. Natalya (WWE Women’s Championship)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Q: Better heel champion: Sasha Banks in NXT or Charlotte in WWE?

    BJ: Even though the fans were behind her for a lot of her reign, Sasha Banks comes out on top. That’s no disservice to Charlotte, as she’s done well in her role up until this point. However, a heel’s reign is only as good as the circumstances of dropping the title to a fiery face. Charlotte’s reign could easily be elevated if it comes to an end in memorable fashion.

    Match Prediction: Charlotte.

    AM: Charlotte had much more potential with her title reign, but she's yet to tap into that. Considering how disappointing that is, Sasha Banks comes off as the better success, as it's difficult to nitpick things that were wrong about her run, which was also capped off with the best women's wrestling match in years, dropping the belt to Bayley at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn.

    Match Prediction: Charlotte. Natalya stands no chance whatsoever.

    EB: Considering how popular Banks is on the main roster and was during her time in NXT, it is difficult for me to even consider her a heel in the truest sense. Sure, she was cocky and arrogant, brash even, but so was The Rock. Charlotte, on the other hand, is thriving as the spoiled daddy's girl, coasting by on pure athleticism, pedigree and constant interference from The Nature Boy, Ric Flair. She is unlikable, one of the most important traits in any heel. She gets the nod in this argument.

    Match Prediction: Charlotte.

    JM: As good as Sasha Banks was in NXT, she was too loved by everyone to be a true heel. Sure, she cheated, poked, insulted and swindled her way to the top. Yes, she was as entertaining as anyone. But Charlotte wins this hands down. Not only does she do all that, but she gets heat from fans, who respect but loathe her. Daddy Ric Flair helps, but Charlotte is so good at being so bad. 

    Match Prediction: Charlotte.

Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Q: Is this the best Chris Jericho wrestling fans have ever—and I mean eeeever—seen?

    BJ: No. Chris Jericho has done so much that it’s difficult to name his best work. One person would point to his time in Japan. Another would say he eclipsed that in WCW—and there’s always someone who’s going to speak up for his suited-and-booted heel work from about a decade ago. Jericho is doing great stuff at the moment, but it’s not his best.

    Match Prediction: Dean Ambrose.

    AM: Sadly, no, but that's not a criticism against him as much as it is a testament to how good he used to be. This version of Chris Jericho is fantastic and one of the best overall performers in the company, but over the course of his career, there have been times when he surpassed what he's doing now. I'm not complaining in the slightest bit with what we have, though.

    Match Prediction: Dean Ambrose needs this win, as he keeps losing every important match.

    EB: Absolutely not. The best Jericho fans have ever seen was the 2008 incarnation, the one who terrorized Shawn Michaels and became so incredibly effective that plans were altered and he was given another run as world heavyweight champion. The same Jericho who spoke softly and acted with such malice that his actions became increasingly more despicable by the week. Rarely does a Superstar disappear into a role the way Jericho did, and the result was the strongest work of his career.

    Match Prediction: Dean Ambrose.

    JM: No, but it's damn close. I loved the end-of-the-line WCW Jericho, who was allowed to run wild because Eric Bischoff and company were too busy worrying about their nWo storylines that they left the remainder of the roster alone. I loved Jericho when he entered WWE, and I still count Y2J's debut as my all-time favorite mark out. Honest Man Jericho took character development to an entirely different level. This version, what I'm calling Old Man Jericho, is almost as good. His monologue on the most recent edition of Raw was spot-on—snarky, truthful and disdainful. He's been delivering since his return in July 2015, both in the ring and on the mic.

    Match Prediction: Chris Jericho.

Bonus Question No. 1

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Q: Stephanie or Shane: Which McMahon will be running Raw come Monday night?

    BJ: It’s difficult to say, as the answer depends on how this storyline is going to be paced. Whoever is put in power on Sunday is going to end up being chased by the unluckier sibling, so I’d say Shane continues his fan-centric reign while The Authority builds up strength ahead of a SummerSlam showdown.

    AM: I don't buy into the hype of a brand split, but I do think we're in for a period of peacetime so to speak, with Shane McMahon continuing his control and The Authority taking a step back. After years of this being the status quo, it would be a shame to see things revert to the same formula after just a few weeks of a fresher product.

    EB: Neither. Call me crazy—many have (just check the comment section)—but I think something happens come Payback that ensures neither of the McMahon siblings is running Raw Monday night. Whether that comes in the form of a surprise debut or something as simple as Vince opting to take the reins of the show for the time being is the question. Whatever happens, it is likely geared at continuing the family drama for the foreseeable future.

    JM: Whoever it is, I see a Triple H-Shane McMahon match being booked for WWE's next pay-per-view, Extreme Rules. I think Sunday starts an angle that sees the winner of such a match (best guess is a Greenwich Street Fight) take control. Let's just hope that whatever happens, it doesn't turn into a 20-minute, drawn-out production that slows the pace of what seems to be an entertaining card.

Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady vs. The Vaudevillains (No. 1 Contenders' Match)

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    Q: Was it premature of WWE to have both of these teams jump into title contention immediately following their call-ups from NXT?

    BJ: No. The tag division was in need of new blood, and it makes sense to introduce teams together so they can put on great matches with opponents they’re familiar with. If tag team wrestling is going to thrive in WWE once again, there needs to be plenty of teams deserving of attention.

    Match Prediction: Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady.

    AM: Not at all. The tag team division was in need of some new players, and things only got worse when Konnor and Adam Rose were suspended, The League of Nations split up, and the two most prominent members of The Wyatt Family went down with injuries. These NXT guys proved themselves to be worthy of main event spots, and the other teams will just need to prove they're still valuable rather than riding on the coattails of what they've done before, keeping them on their toes.

    Match Prediction: The Vaudevillains win after The Dudley Boyz interfere and cost Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady the match.

    EB: As easy as it is to suggest Enzo Amore's, Big Cass' and The Vaudevillains' rises have been a bit premature, it is doubly hard to find a team that could work with The New Day in a tag title program that is both fresh and interesting without them. Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods have torn through the division, beating every credible team. Thus, WWE Creative had no other choice but to put the NXT stalwarts there in order to prevent staleness.

    Match Prediction: The Vaudevillains.

    JM: Yes. I thought WWE did a smart thing introducing Enzo and Cass on Raw and then having The Vaudevillains debut on SmackDown later in the week. Giving them a bit of separation would have been the best thing for both teams. But having them go head-to-head immediately after their call-ups seems rushed and hurts Aiden English and Simon Gotch. Enzo and Cass are so red-hot that English and Gotch get no reaction from the crowd. 

    Match Prediction: Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady.

The Miz vs. Cesaro (WWE Intercontinental Championship)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Q: Who do you like more: The pre-injury, brass-ring underdog Cesaro or the post-injury, James Bond-esque Cesaro?

    BJ: Cesaro appeals to me as a wrestler because of what he’s capable of between the ropes—both gimmicks have felt a little superfluous to me. However, I think the suit-ripping, earpiece-wearing Cesaro will appeal more to a broader range of fans. If it helps contribute to a decent push, I’m all for it.

    Match Prediction: Cesaro.

    AM: As a huge James Bond fan, part of me loves this new gimmick and part of me hates it. But even if I do have some reservations, the bigger picture is it's given Cesaro a confidence boost. When Cesaro feels as though he's more important, he comes off as such, which will only help him in the eyes of the people who make the decisions on which Superstars to push and which ones to stop investing time and effort into. Ideally, I'd like to see a hybrid of his different characters come out in a month or so.

    Match Prediction: Cesaro will look strong, but The Miz will retain through dubious means.

    EB: The James Bond-esque Cesaro is a cartoonish attempt to get the Swiss Superstar over with a unique look. It has not clicked with this writer whatsoever. Thus, brass-ring underdog Cesaro gets the nod, if only for his sweet use of Beats By Dre and hoodies. In that role, he looked like a legitimate athlete, someone who would fit right in on a football field or basketball court. It worked because it was different. This latest incarnation of Cesaro is a bit too different.

    Match Prediction: The Miz, probably with assistance from Maryse.

    JM: Give me brass-ring Cesaro any day. The more I watch Cesaro come out in the suit and sunglasses, the more it seems forced. Sure, Cesaro is popular enough that he'll be cheered for anything, but ask yourself this: If it wasn't Cesaro in that suit, would you cheer the character? I wouldn't.

    Match Prediction: The Miz.

Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens

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    Q: Sebastian Maldonado of Bleacher Report wrote that “If WWE Creative [was] smart, it would have this bout end in a no-contest and set up another encounter at another event.” Agree or disagree?

    BJ: Agree. This is a feud that could easily bubble away over the summer and would add some depth to the upcoming Money in the Bank ladder match. WWE has done a lot right with the way this feud has been presented so far, and hopefully, we’ll see that continue.

    Match Prediction: No-contest.

    AM: These two have had multiple clashes since Owens came to NXT in 2014, and I've yet to get tired of seeing them go at it. This is a feud that could go on for years with an "on again, off again" approach, popping up every so often just to remind the audience of the animosity they have for each other. I'd be OK with another match at Extreme Rules to put a temporary end to it, but this shouldn't be written off entirely, and if a no-contest can keep it going, so be it.

    Match Prediction: Typical WWE booking logic suggests Sami Zayn gets to shut Kevin Owens up, but with Owens seemingly being groomed for a main event run, I'd lean toward a KO win.

    EB: I agree, if only because the feud has cooled off significantly over the last month. What should be a heated, personal grudge match feels like any other match on the card. A late-stage video package on Monday night helped inject some meaning back into the bout, but it may be too late. Thankfully, it will benefit from a hot Chicago crowd and the performances of two extraordinary in-ring talents. Still, this should be Chapter 1 of a months-long program.

    Match Prediction: Kevin Owens by disqualification.

    JM: Disagree. I'd like WWE to stick with the story it's telling with Owens—that of the Superstar who thinks he's being shafted each and every time out. A no-contest would be too hokey with these two. Let Owens loose and beat the living daylights out of Zayn. That sets up an entire summer of Zayn and Owens trying to either beat or one-up each other heading into a SummerSlam rubber match. 

    Match Prediction: Sami Zayn.

Roman Reigns vs. AJ Styles (WWE World Heavyweight Championship)

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    Q: True or False: Roman Reigns will remain the company’s top babyface throughout 2016.

    BJ: True. There’s too much invested in Roman Reigns at the moment to drop him from the role so quickly. Perhaps if Seth Rollins returns to good reactions, we’ll see WWE call an audible, but otherwise, I think we’re in it for the long haul with Reigns.

    Match Prediction: Roman Reigns.

    AM: False. If you consider the top babyface as being the "good guy" who is cheered the loudest in the most consistent way, that is. There's a good chance by SummerSlam, when more people will have returned and the roster allows for more flexibility, that Roman Reigns has already turned fully heel to feud with John Cena, Dean Ambrose, a possibly babyface Seth Rollins and more. Even if he doesn't, fans will continue to boo him, and someone like Ambrose will be the more popular babyface option.

    Match Prediction: Roman Reigns retains through shenanigans he may not even be involved in orchestrating.

    EB: False. A week ago, I would have answered the opposite, but the reaction he received from the fans in Hartford, Connecticut, tells me the Reigns hatred is not a product of "smart" fans in big cities. It is an issue in arenas across the country—a pandemic if you will. Reigns is far too despised to be the lead babyface. He is, at best, a tweener. At worst, he will close out 2016 as a heel, if only because fans will have it no other way.

    Match Prediction: Roman Reigns.

    JM: True. WWE has too much invested in Reigns, both in storyline and in marketing, to make him a full-blown heel. Does it make sense to turn Reigns? Of course it does. Everything about Roman screams heel—the way he walks, talks and looks. Everything. But he's been pegged as the face of the company moving forward. That means television appearances, wish-granting and commercials. While the lines between faces and heels are blurred more so today than ever before, that's too much to put on your company's No. 1 bad guy. And as Roman says, he's not a bad guy; he's the guy.

    Match Prediction: Roman Reigns

Bonus Question No. 2

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Q: Our longstanding final question: Who are you most disappointed is not part of the WWE Payback card?

    BJ: Rusev. Now that The League of Nations is all but done, I’m excited to see where he’s headed. It’s been a long time since The Bulgarian Brute was used to his full potential, but at a time when credible heels are in short supply, there’s sure to be plenty of opportunity for the big man.

    AM: It's a real shame The Wyatt Family vs. The League of Nations wasn't able to happen as a 4-on-4 match, as that would have been something different. Turning The Wyatt Family babyface and pitting them against a heel stable of some of the bigger stars could have made for an interesting dynamic we've yet to see. Sadly, it appears as though we never will end up seeing that in the future, even beyond Payback.

    EB: Becky Lynch and Emma, especially given how the company started a feud between them and then allowed it to become an Internet exclusive of sorts. Videos have popped up on YouTube and Facebook, but there has been little to no mention of it on television. Add in the fact Emma was essentially squashed by Natalya on Raw, and you have a scenario in which the feud was teased but not delivered upon. Of course, the company could be saving it for Extreme Rules, but the lack of development has been alarming and disappointing.

    JM: Poor Zack Ryder. One month ago, he won the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 32. Ahead of Payback, he was back at Full Sail University with Mojo Rawley, losing to The Revival, per ProFightDB. It's a shame WWE didn't give Ryder more of an angle holding the IC title. That's not to say he needed to remain champ, but even a mini-feud would've been refreshing.