WWE returns to pay-per-view (PPV) tomorrow night (Sun., June 16, 2013) live from the Allstate Arena in Chicago, Illinois, with its first annual Payback event starting at 7:30 p.m. ET with the free live streaming pre-show featuring Damien Sandow vs. Sheamus leading right on into the PPV main course at 8 p.m. ET.
And it's actually a pretty damn good show.
John Cena and Ryback will be rumbling in the main event in a 3 Stages of Hell match that doesn't look like it's going to live up to the already low expectations but the rest of the line-up is solid as a brick.
That includes the return of CM Punk in his hometown against Chris Jericho, Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton teaming up against The Shield, Kane challenging Dean Ambrose for the U.S. title, AJ Lee finally getting her shot at Kaitlyn and the Diva's championship, and Dolph Ziggler bumping all over the place against Alberto Del Rio with the world heavyweight strap on the line.
Luckily for you Cagesiders, our staff of learned wrestling blow hards is here to help figure out just how the event is going to play out with predictions for each match on the card.
Let's get to it.
WWE PAYBACK PREDICTIONS
John Cena vs. Ryback
The General: I'm a fan of extended programs because rushing through them burns through too much talent too quickly for the top dogs but I just could not give a shit less about this match. Ryback has somehow become a textbook example of WWE booking done right and WWE booking done so very, very wrong. They built him up enough to have him pop a buyrate in a headlining match on PPV and then destroyed all his credibility in the ensuing six months. The ironic part? He was booked very carefully in an attempt to preserve that very credibility. He is the reason we can't have nice things. He will not win here but he probably won't lose here either and you, the fan, will wonder why the fuck you keep putting up with Vince McMahon much the way Dallas Cowboys fans wonder why the fuck they keep putting up with Jerry Jones. Pick: No one because no one loses in WWE at the top of the card anymore
Hulk Holland: I've been going back and forth on this one for awhile because a Ryback win would not be insane. At least not after this past month, where he's managed to prove he can work a program with a top star and actually convince fans he belongs. That's a considerable feat if you consider where he was just a few months ago. Still, it's hard to imagine John Cena dropping the strap to anyone, let alone Ryback, and it's much easier to make a heel lose and look strong than it is a face (See Lesnar, Brock). All I can hope for is that these two meatheads don't spend too long on each stage, or it will be three stages of hell for the audience, too. Winner: John Cena
Keith Harris: Though performing competently, Ryback hasn't been knocking them dead as a heel and also the right time for him to win the WWE title, if there ever was one, would have been last month at Extreme Rules. WWE also seems to be back in the business of wanting to put all their eggs in the John Cena basket, so a title change here seems highly unlikely. Ryback will probably be kept strong in defeat though, winning his stage the most decisively, whilst Cena has to eke out his two victories. Prediction: John Cena
Sean Rueter: I've enjoyed this feud far more than I ever expected to, but I'm still not going to miss it when it's gone. And I don't think I'm going to have to wait long for that. Whether or not rumors of a Daniel Bryan program are true or not, if Ryback was getting the belt he would have won at Extreme Rules. I think they want Cena to hold that belt for a long while. And given the way they've set up the whole scene, it kind of makes sense for him to. Pick: John Cena
Eric B. Stephen: Lumberjacks...tables...ambulances...all be damned. I just don't see any way Ryback leaves this event as the WWE champion. Winner: John Cena
Dolph Ziggler vs. Alberto Del Rio
The General: With Jack Swagger having fizzled out completely, not to mention being stuck on the sidelines with a hand injury, this looks like the feud WWE will have to use to keep the blue brand going strong, even though Daniel Bryan is clearly the face of the SmackDown side. I wouldn't doubt that Del Rio was penciled in to win at one point but after how things played out on SmackDown last night, I can't see Ziggler giving up the strap just yet. Pick: Ziggler
Hulk Holland: Ziggy's title run has been underwhelming, at best, and that's not entirely his fault. He's been mired in mediocre programs and his concussion effectively killed any momentum he may have had. To get it back would require a long term effort from both sides of the curtain and I'm under the impression that Ziggler was a transitional champion anyway. You know, "throw him a bone and shut him up," kind of deal. Winner: Alberto Del Rio
Keith Harris: A serious concussion and retrograde amnesia almost torpedoed Dolph Ziggler's World Heavyweight title run almost as soon as it begun. Thankfully, WWE didn't panic and book an emergency title switch just because Ziggler had to miss one pay-per-view event. That decision would be completely pointless if they just decided to go back to the struggling Mexican as champion in his first title defence back, wouldn't it Cagesiders? Prediction: Dolph Ziggler
Sean Rueter: Now that Big E and AJ seem to be on the same page again, I guess this family will stay together for a while longer? Someone would have to be turned to break it up, and now that Langston has duped Kaitlyn and they didn't use his injury return to show any signs of making Dolph the face he probably should be in the long run, I don't see how they do that any time soon. (This is a long way to go for a pick here, but bear with me) With AJ getting a frankly long overdue run with the Divas belt soon, Dolph losing here would be something that could drive a wedge between the two. And since I don't think they're ready for that, I think he'll retain in order to give the group a minute to try to build some heat behind a power couple gimmick. (This is why my picks are almost always wrong, because I overthink and fantasy book the crap out of every angle) Pick: Dolph Ziggler
Eric B. Stephen: Though my gut says Del Rio gets his payback here, I don't think the wrestling gods would punish a hard worker like Ziggler by taking his title after a concussion-addled reign. Winner: Dolph Ziggler
Wade Barrett vs. The Miz vs. Curtis Axel
The General: Fandango was supposed to get crowned here but his concussion prevented that from happening. That may have worked out for the best, though, because I wouldn't doubt WWE wanting to completely revamp the Intercontinental title scene by phasing out Barrett and Miz, putting the strap on Axel, and having Fandango return to say Axel won the belt only because the devilish dancer got hurt and he has a rightful shot at it. Boom, there's your next program over this title. Pick: Axel
Hulk Holland: I believe this was a match designed to put the title on Fandango and I'm not sure those plans have been abandoned, even if the dancing diva has been sidelined with a concussion. I was wondering if Curtis Axel would fill that role, but I think his pending program with Triple H makes it hard to envision him walking out of Payback with the gold. I think instead, he does something dastardly to The Miz, allowing Barrett to pin him and retain the strap. Winner: Wade Barrett
Keith Harris: I suppose Curtis Axel could remain flukily undefeated by not being the guy who drops the fall, but that would only further portray him as an over pushed jabroni. It's one thing to be beating the top stars via a slip on the banana peel finish, quite another to two guys that are just treading water in the mid card like Wade Barrett and The Miz. Prediction: Curtis Axel
Sean Rueter: Wow, is this thing held together with bubble gum and duct tape or what? Barrett's been a dud of a champ, Miz should just do his Maury Povich thing and only wrestle occasionally and the main take away from the McGullicutty reboot is that Vince thinks he's beneath HHH. This should be the pre-show...I'd rather pay for Sandow. Ummm... Pick: Miz
Eric B. Stephen: Though a late substitute for this match, I like the "undefeated" Axel's chances of winning the best. Winner: Curtis Axel
Dean Ambrose vs. Kane
The General: If the idea here is to give Kane a belt to make Bryan even more jealous and look even more like a weak link, I can buy into that even though it would sacrifice Ambrose's first PPV title defense. The Shield don't really need titles to be over, and the U.S. championship is probably the most useless belt in the company. If it can be used in a good story to help advance it, I would rather have that than just sitting on someone's shoulder for the sake of looking dominant. I'm going to say that's the direction they decide to go and it ends up being the straw that breaks the camel's back in Team Hell No. Plus, they can always change it back around later, maybe even with Bryan costing Kane the belt at a later show. Pick: Kane
Hulk Holland: Much like the tag team match up that follows it, Kane vs. Dean Ambrose is less about winning a championship and more about furthering the storyline of Team Hell No's fractured relationship. How Randy Orton fits into the outcomes on Sunday night remains to be seen, but I like this new dynamic and rarely has splitting up a popular tag team been handled with such care. Usually it's the nuts-and-bolts, "one guy is jealous, turns heel and clobbers old friend," but that's not the case here. Hopefully, the epic sell jobs by Ambrose don't distract from the bigger picture. Winner: Dean Ambrose
Keith Harris: The tag team with Daniel Bryan and feud with The Shield have rejuvenated Kane's career, but at 46 years old he's not the future. The youthful Dean Ambrose, on the other hand, has the potential to be one of WWE's key headliners for many years to come if his career is handled correctly. Thus, the only way Kane wins is by a copout disqualification or count-out victory, but this match is on pay-per-view and the company is so behind Ambrose that I can't see that happening. Prediction: Dean Ambrose
Sean Rueter: The first rule of the United States championship is, you only win when you're defending the United States championship. Pick: Dean Ambrose
Eric B. Stephen: The Big Red Monster will be coming into this match angry, but I don't see Ambrose losing in his first ppv title defense. Winner: Ambrose
The Shield vs. Daniel Bryan & Randy Orton
The General: For the aforementioned storyline breakup between Kane and Daniel Bryan to work, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns have to go over here. If Orton ends up being the guy to cost them the match by flat out turning heel on Bryan, or by accidentally getting in the way, or even something similar to their loss on SmackDown a couple weeks back, it would all work towards the larger storyline goal. Pick: The Shield
Hulk Holland: Rollins and Reigns just got the belts, so I would be shocked to see them relinquished so quickly. Especially to a tag team that was cobbled together solely for the purpose of furthering the divide between a corresponding twosome. If it were Randy Orton and Kane, that I might consider, as a title win would almost certainly send Daniel Bryan over the deep end, but I think the more likely scenario is Bryan getting pinned and blaming it on Kane. Winner: Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns
Keith Harris: This seems the obvious time to have Randy Orton complete his long teased heel turn by stabbing the increasingly popular Daniel Bryan in the back, giving The Shield duo the easy victory. Of course, if something is too predictable, then Vince McMahon might decide to put it off or abandon the idea completely, but either way the recently crowned tag champions should win via pinfall, as it's far too soon for them to be dropping the straps. Prediction: Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns
Sean Rueter: Something tells me we get odd-ball tag champs destined to feud, Summer 2013 edition. They seem bound and determined to make DB a heel whether the fans want to cheer him or not, and rubbing the belts in Kane's face and getting too cocky for Orton is probably their best bet. Shield can win the belts back later when Randy and Daniel try to kill each other. Pick: RK-No
Eric B. Stephen: Bryan may be riding the hottest streak in WWE right now, but I don't see he and Orton getting along well enough to dethrone the Shield as champs. Winners: Rollins/Reigns
CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho
The General: I don't even really know what to think of this. I do know that somehow, to me, the most disappointing outcome would be for Punk to simply walk out, have the match, win, and then go to the back. There's simply no way that's going to happen because it would be even more of an insult to us all than advertising Punk to Chicago and having him not show up would be. He will be there in some capacity but there has to be a swerve in here somewhere. I just hope there's a good plan in place and it's executed well. Pick: Abstaining due to likely swerve
Hulk Holland: I'm still not convinced this match is even taking place since every time they mention it, CM Punk tweets pictures of himself climbing The Devil's Tower in Wyoming, or teaching Hamer pygmies how to breastfeed in Omo Valley. If he does surface, there's no way he's losing his first fight back. Hey, maybe Jericho will get beat down by The Shield and Punk will come out to save him! Face turn! Why not? It's as good as anything else creative will come up with. Winner: CM Punk
Keith Harris: It's hard to see any possible reason why Chris Jericho would win this match, unless Paul Heyman somehow costs CM Punk the match to build to their eventual break up and a babyface turn for the man who has done it all as a heel. However, it seems far too soon to pull the trigger on that. I'm sure that Y2J will continue in his role of being the veteran hand whose so good that he doesn't need to win much and whose commitment to the WWE cause isn't strong enough that he wouldn't be allowed to anyway, whilst Punk soaks up the hometown cheers as the victorious returning anti-hero. Prediction: CM Punk
Sean Rueter: Either Punk refuses to wrestle in a valiant attempt to stay heel, or loses by DQ due to Heyman-terference, or gets beat when he refuses help from Paul E. In either of the latter two scenarios, we get a big feel-good moment with the hometown guy and Y2J showing each other respect in some way. Jericho also seems to be picking up some wins lately, so that it looks better when he does put young 'uns over, too. Pick: Chris Jericho
Eric B. Stephen: Assuming Punk actually shows, I can't see him losing while energized by his hometown crowd. Winner: Punk
Kaitlyn vs. AJ Lee
The General: A belt is nothing more than a prop used to sell merchandise or put over the person wearing it so they look like a bigger star. Kaitlyn having the belt does neither of those things but AJ getting it would accomplish both. Plus, AJ and Dolph have to break up sometime and I could see a future feud between the two over something like vanity. Pick: AJ
Hulk Holland: It would be nice to see Team Ziggler add another belt to its collection and wouldn't it be nice to have WWE resurrect the European title just so Big E. Langston could wear some gold. Unfortunately, I don't think Dolph is going to retain and we already have one championship stable in The Shield, but for my money, AJ Lee is the female Daniel Bryan right now. She elevates every program she's a part of and it's time to reward her for her efforts. Winner: AJ Lee
Keith Harris: Kaitlyn has been a rather bland placeholder babyface Divas champion who won the title by default when the much more versatile Eve Torres quit the company. There doesn't seem to be much point keeping the belt on her, especially when there's much greater storyline potential in making AJ Lee and Dolph Ziggler a braggadocios championship couple. Prediction: AJ Lee
Sean Rueter: I'm actually looking forward to this, as I think Kaitlyn can brawl and AJ is talented enough to carry her through a compelling five minutes. AJ will be champ soon, I just wonder if it gets delayed a month or so being as there are no other programs in sight for either woman following either outcome. Pick: Kaitlyn
Eric B. Stephen: Kaitlyn may be looking for payback, but AJ is crazy...like a fox. Winner: AJ
Sheamus vs. Damien Sandow
The General: There are two sides to this, one that's good for business and one that isn't but should be pondered anyway: 1) Sheamus should win because he's the babyface and it's a pre-show match being given away for free designed to entice viewers to purchase the PPV, 2) Sandow should win because Sheamus is a bully trying to batter the geeky guy for absolutely no reason. They'll go with the former, and that's fine, but it should be clear, at least, that the wrong guy is the babyface in this match and it would be awful nice if WWE just acknowledged as much at some point. Or maybe we're blaming the wrong people. Maybe it's the mark fan base who goes to the shows and doesn't know any better than to just blindly follow along with the rest of the unwashed masses. Just because Vince McMahon is shoveling shit onto your plate doesn't mean you have to stuff it down your gullet. Have a brain, think for yourself, and boo the hell out of Sheamus for beating the shit out of someone for no reason. Pick: Sheamus
Hulk Holland: This is as easy as it gets. You don't get the WWE Universe amped for a $50 pay-per-view by having one of your top babyfaces go down in flames. This match is going to be a showcase of super-Sheamus clowning the hapless snob at every turn. In fact, I would be shocked if the hulking Irishman even broke a sweat. There's just no love for ass-kicking bookworms these days. Sigh. But on the bright side, at least Sandow isn't jobbing to The Miz. Winner: Sheamus
Keith Harris: In art imitating the sad reality of life, the aggressive bully will humiliate and beat up the geeky nerd. Of course, the positive role model here is the mean spirited jerk not the gifted brainiac. Keep being stars, WWE. Prediction: Sheamus
Sean Rueter: I hope Damien gets a few minutes to dazzle with the microphone before the match, because I don't think heels win on the pre-show. Still can't believe the guy who held the WHC forever last year is on free streaming show. But I'm still picking him. Pick: Sheamus
Eric B. Stephen: In this pre-show matchup for brains vs brawn, I expect brawn to prevail. Winner: Sheamus
Those are our predictions, Cagesiders. What are yours?