WWE Tag Team Championship
Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns (c) vs. Daniel Bryan & Randy Orton
Can the tag team champs make the WWE Universe believe once again, or will Daniel Bryan be able to prove to everyone that he is not the weakest link by regaining the titles with a new partner?
The Road to Payback
As with the United States championship match on this Sunday's card, this represents a new formation of familiar foes. Bryan and his Team Hell No partner, Kane, have been dueling the hounds of justice since last year's TLC pay-per-view (PPV). Their battles seemed to reach a crescendo when Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns ended their time atop the division after 245 days at Extreme Rules.
But the war rages on, as the bearded former World Heavyweight Champion has been driven to a new level of aggression due to his concern about being perceived as the weak link of Team Hell No. While Kane has seen his brother incapacitated and his partner driven to distraction by The Shield, Bryan has been on a single-minded quest for respect.
The viper is no stranger to the rogue trio, either. Randy Orton was taken out by after several attacks by the faction toward the end of 2012. He also formed an uneasy alliance with Sheamus and Big Show to stop the group at WrestleMania 29, but internal issues proved too much and dissension in the ranks of the babyfaces lead to yet another victory on PPV for Reigns, Rollins and Dean Ambrose.
Bryan and Orton's previous attempt at defeating the champs as a duo did not end well. The smaller man's full-on assault ended up also striking the third generation superstar with a drop kick. After a disqualification finish, Randy repaid the master of the No lock with his own finisher the RKO.
The two seemed to have made peace, however, and were able to give The Shield their first loss as a unit when they and Kane were victorious on the June 14th edition of Smackdown.
The black-clad champions continue to be at their most dangerous as a group, despite that loss. They have never been defeated on PPV, and that combined with the volatile combination represented by their challengers has to have the titleholders feeling confident heading into Sunday night's contest.
What's at stake?
Bryan is the hottest act in WWE right now. His star should continue to rise on the other side of Payback, win or lose. A victory with a new partner would definitely prove that he was an at least equally strong link in Team Hell No, and give him plenty of momentum for whatever comes next.
Orton has been re-energized by his work with Bryan and Kane, looking much better than his previous feuds with other partners against the same trio ever did. He has also been lobbying for a heel turn for several years to whoever will listen. This could be the opportunity to make that happen. Whatever comes next for the former legend killer, hopefully it will keep him as focused and sharp as he has been for the past month.
The champions are almost an afterthought in this storyline. While they have been dominant, and Rollins especially has been putting on great matches that have really raised his opponent's profile and his own stock, holding the bronze belts hasn't provided any clarity to the goals of their quest for justice. Whatever their objective, a loss on a big stage can't be part of the plan. Their talent and teamwork should see them through, but they definitely can not take anything for granted in Chicago this weekend.
Based on their track record, especially Bryan and Rollins' phenomenal contest on Raw last week, this could be the match of the night. And if you stick with us, Cagesiders, we'll be sure to let you know what we thought of it and the rest of the card for Payback!