WWE returns to pay-per-view (PPV) -- if your cable provider is carrying the event, of course -- tomorrow night (Sun., June 1, 2014) live from the Allstate Arena in Chicago, Illinois, with its Payback event starting at 7:30 p.m. ET with the pre-show featuring the El Torito vs. Hornswoggle Mask vs. Hair match leading right on into the main course at 8 p.m. ET on the WWE Network.
It's a decent enough line-up, featuring matches like Evolution vs. The Shield in a No Holds Barred Elimination match, John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt in a Last Man Standing match, and Daniel Bryan finally making a decision on whether or not to relinquish the WWE world heavyweight title.
Luckily for you Cagesiders, our staff of learned wrestling blowhards 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 2014 PREDICTIONS
Evolution vs. The Shield
The General: Just hoping for another great match. The no holds barred elimination stipulation makes it interesting. Hopefully, Evolution gets creative with it. Yeah, I went there. Low hanging fruit, I know. With Batista leaving soon, you would think that makes the outcome clear and The Shield will win.
Sean Rueter: My main hope here is that we don't get a break-up or turn from one of The Hounds. The fact that it might actually make sense here with Batista leaving, and that the show kind of needs SOMETHING to distinguish it as more than just a placeholder rehash of Extreme Rules, has me worried, though. So this might be me predicting with my heart more than my head, but I'll call for Ambrose and Rollins to be eliminated via sledgehammers and other spots that leave them somewhat protected (and try to equal or surpass their match at the last PPV) followed by Reigns' monster push continuing as he overcomes the numbers game to win it for the men in black, and continue his rumored feud with Hunter. Pick: The Shield
Hulk Holland: Ordinarily this would be anyone's game, but since we know for a fact that Batista is leaving to help pimp his new superhero movie, there is really no point in having Evolution go over The Shield, only to break up after the fact. It's a loss that breeds dissension, not a win, so that would go a long way in explaining "The Animal's" departure. Pick: The Shield
Keith Harris: Although The Shield are heavy favourites to win again due to Batista's departure after the show, I don't see things that way because of the elimination stipulation and the dearth of fresh opponents for the Hounds of Justice. As a major singles match between Triple H and Roman Reigns has been rumoured for SummerSlam, the logical booking seems to me to be for Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins to be eliminated early, leaving Reigns to face all or two thirds of Evolution on his own, making a big comeback, getting rid of both Randy Orton and Batista, but quickly falling to a sledgehammer shot and Pedigree when it's time to play The Game. Prediction: Evolution, Triple H the soul survivor.
Cain A Knight: WWE emphasized the point that one of these teams would no longer exist after this match. When that notion is combined with the rumors of Batista's impending departure, it seems pretty clear that Evolution is going to lose this match. I think all six men will survive until near the very end, when Ambrose and Rollins are finally eliminated in quick succession. That will leave Roman Reigns with a monster underdog performance where he pins all three members of Evolution himself. What better way is there to end Evolution than with a triple powerbomb on Triple H? Pick: The Shield
Nick Bond: With Batista leaving, and the Shield knocking on the door of the type of stardom where you get to sit in first class on the team plane, it seems like the "Hounds of Justice" will likely have the sole survivor in this elimination match. And all signs point to Roman Reigns being that man, and THE man much sooner than we could have possibly anticipated.
John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt
The General: All I ask for here is smart booking. Too much? Yeah, probably too much to ask for, but if Erick Rowan and Luke Harper are just standing around ringside for 20 minutes in a 30 minute match it will immediately make it a one-star bout and nothing more. That kind of carelessness from the writers is impossible to overlook. And it's simple to overcome: Just have The Usos come out and brawl with Harper and Rowan all the way to the back. Do this early, preferably right after the match starts and The Wyatt Family is closing in on Cena. Then it's really one-on-one, last man standing wins, no nonsense booking. Any option seems likely here, so I'll go with Cena winning by binding Bray to his rocking chair.
Sean Rueter: Ugh...do I have to? It doesn't matter, because for this fan, this has been the rare feud from which both men come out looking worse. While I'm being pessimistic (and I don't know where either man goes next), I'll also assume that this program will keep rolling. That means that Cena will stay down, with help from handcuffs, sheep masks and/or ghost children. Pick: Bray Wyatt
Hulk Holland: John Cena is not losing any match that has the word "standing" in it because his entire gimmick ends with him STANDING TALL. And I've already seen him beat Wyatt -- even with the help of Rowan and Harper -- so why should I think it will be a different at Payback? C'mon, son. Pick: Cena
Keith Harris: This feud really went off the rails during the cage match at Extreme Rules where John Cena survived lashings of interference from Erick Rowan and Luke Harper and only lost when he was paralysed by the shock of being confronted by a demonic little kid singing Bray Wyatt's favourite tune. I imagine we're getting more of the same here, only this time Cena will likely be the one getting his hand raised, as he doesn't lose to the same guy twice on consecutive pay-per-views ever. Expect the usual photo finish ending with both men down and Cena being the one to struggle to his feet at the count of nine. Prediction: John Cena, of course.
Cain A Knight: Please end this feud. Without CM Punk around to keep John Cena interesting, Cena's staleness as a character is as bad as its ever been. I'm also sick of Bray Wyatt singing the same song and delivering the same promo week after week, so the tedium of this feud doesn't all land on Cena's shoulders. The Usos and other Wyatts will probably get involved in this match because WWE has to up the ante on the amount of interference from last month's Steel Cage match. And Cena will destroy all of the evildoers and prevail because that's the most boring and predictable way to book the end of any John Cena match. I wouldn't be surprised at all if WWE crams Cena down our throats even more by having this match main event the card. Pick: John Cena
Nick Bond: I am in a VERY narrow minority, but this has been one of my favorite feuds in a while. "John Cena is Superman" the most discussed trope involved in this angle, but one facet of that which has not been broached enough is that there are a significant amount of people who think Superman absolutely sucks -- both in and out of storyline -- no matter how much good he does. Bray articulates a different type of "hero", much in the same way that Batman "vigilante" mentality darkly contrasts Superman's status as a "big blue boy scout". And anyone over the age of 20 who didn't cheer LOUDLY when they thought Jerry Lawler was going to take a Sister Abagail is lying, either to themselves or strangers on the internet. Given that this is his specialty match, it would seem that the advantage is to Cena. But because I believe in my faith being rewarded -- and Wyatt is the hero that the WWE sees fit to replace Punk as the Dark Knight of "smart" fans -- it seems like he and his Dueling Banjo band will end up finding some kryptonite to keep the neon green boy scout down.
Sheamus vs. Cesaro
The General: Almost surely going to be a great match, probably made better by the fact that we can't be sure who is going to win. I'm guessing the loser is the one in line for a bigger push, and if the Sheamus heel turn ever gets here he could be a top level guy to oppose other top level guys with nothing to do. Let's say Cesaro wins here and continues treading water in the mid-card.
Sean Rueter: This is my sleeper pick for Match of the Night. I think I'll probably end up sore just from watching it, and Paul Heyman will probably do something (possibly Best in the World related) to make it even more memorable. As for who wins it...it's a long Summer and this is a pairing that crowds will probably stay hot for a kids cheer for The Celtic Warrior and smarks cheer for The King of Swing. The next phase of Cesaro's push and Sheamus paused heel turn deserve a bigger stage than a B-level PPV, and a title change would serve as impetus for both, so I'll wait on pulling the trigger on that. Pick: Sheamus
Hulk Holland: Unless we have a wonky finish that allows Cesaro to lose strong, which would be stupid and lazy, I don't see how he drops this one. They gave him a new song, a new manager and a push on television. Losing clean to Sheamus would make it all for naught and even though WWE is famous for start-stop booking, I think they're committed here. Pick: Cesaro
Keith Harris: I thought Cesaro was above being burdened by lugging around a secondary bit of tin, but equally he should be above getting his head kicked off his shoulders by Sheamus too. So this is a hard match to call. Given that they seem to be trying to make these titles more important and Sheamus is rumoured to have a heel turn in his near future, I expect the belt to change hands here. Prediction: Cesaro.
Cain A Knight: This match has potential to steal the show because both of these men consistently put on high quality performances. Their matches with each other during the build up to Payback have been stellar as well, and so it is reasonable to think that they will go all out to make this one the best of the series. For some reason WWE has pressed the brakes on Cesaro's momentum ever so slightly, and I think that will continue here. Sheamus will win to make up for the pin fall that he took at the hands of Cesaro on Raw from a couple of weeks ago. I just wish that Cesaro's Andre The Giant Memorial Trophy was also on the line here. Pick: Sheamus
Nick Bond: Whether or not this is a sleeper for HOSS Match of the Year depends entirely on your definition of "sleeper." These dudes are going to bring the hammer something fierce, even if the champion retaining seems like a forgone conclusion. It's important to note this is coming from someone who ranks "British Bulldog vs. Warlord at WrestleMania VII" in his top twenty WrestleMania matches, so take my level of enthusiasm with a grain of salt.
Bad News Barrett vs. Rob Van Dam
The General: A filler feud for a mostly filler title to carry the mid-card until the important matches. This is such a nothing affair that the only hope to salvage it is motivation from NXT Takeover blowing away all expectations. Barrett retains because it's best for business.
Sean Rueter: How much does Van Dam care? The IC title match could be fun if he's into it, but I still don't see this surpassing an average Raw match in terms of quality or excitement. This seems as good a place as any to raise the question of how they plan to thwart a CM Punk chant takeover of this show. Will they have the cajones to have Barrett come out to "Cult of Personality"? Would that settle them down? There a few places where the crowd could hijack this show, and I think this match and a long Cena/Wyatt bout are the two prime candidates. Anyway... Pick: Bad News Barrett
Hulk Holland: Rob Van Dam is an aging veteran who still has some decent moves. By definition, his role should be to put the young guys over and make them look good in the process. That's a formula that works and it's needed here, as Wade Barrett finally has some buzz and an entertaining gimmick. Let's keep the party going. Pick: Barrett
Keith Harris: I have some bad news for Rob Van Dam. He's never going to get a pinfall or submission victory on pay-per-view unless he commits full time to WWE, which he won't. Unless they want to drag this out, which I doubt, Barrett will smash RVD with the Bullhammer elbow again for another decisive win. Prediction: Bad News Barrett.
Cain A Knight: This one seems pretty straightforward. Wade Barrett is in the midst a big push while RVD is the old man who is there to pop the crowd and put over the newer stars. I don't expect WWE to suddenly stray away from that formula. Pick: Bad News Barrett
Nick Bond: One of only two performers on the roster that makes me want to change the channel -- R. Truth is -- running against one of my five favorite gimmicks of all time attached to a fellow Englishman (okay, so, I'm also Irish/Quebecois, and was born on the south shore of Long Island, but my last name is Bond.) I'm pretty much all in on the BNB bandwagon, and unless God has completely forsaken me, he'll let me have this one small victory in the tidal wave of disappointment that my life has become...
Paige vs. Alicia Fox
The General: Here's why this match is awesome -- it doesn't matter who wins, you're guaranteed entertainment. If Paige wins, great, she's a good women's champion and will continue to be. Plus, Fox's lid would undoubtedly explode from the pressure. Conversely, if Fox wins, who knows what the hell she'll do and that's great too. So, my pick is entertainment.
Sean Rueter: I honestly believe they should go with the title change here. Fox is never going to be hotter, and Paige's character would greatly benefit from having a purpose - like chasing the deranged woman who stole her belt. But it looks like they're giving The Anti-Diva the hazing ritual of being booked weakly in your intial title run, and I'm betting that continues here with either another roll-up win or a disqualification loss for Alicia due to too much ass-whoopin'. Pick: Paige
Hulk Holland: As much as I want to see a champ who is batshit crazy, I think it's too soon to take the title off Paige. I'm also not sure what kind of shelf life this psycho shtick has, so I'm assuming WWE is going to let it play out for a little while longer before slapping a belt on it. Pick: Paige
Keith Harris: Given that Fox's gimmick is going crazy every time she loses and Paige's is getting beaten up for the whole match before eking out a victory, I imagine that's how it's going to play out here too. Prediction: Paige.
Cain A Knight: Alicia's rise has come from out of nowhere and now WWE may have to risk dimming Paige's star in order to properly take advantage of Alicia's current momentum. This is the toughest match to predict on the card because both of these performers would also be worthy adversaries for AJ Lee upon her return. Regardless of whether Alicia wins or loses, Michael Cole better pray that she doesn't get her hands on any of JR's barbecue sauce after the match is over. Pick: Alicia Fox
Nick Bond: After what was easily the best "Divas" match of all-time -- even if that isn't saying much -- between Charlotte and Natalya, Alicia and Paige have quite an act to follow. They will likely fall short of the bar that Flair and Neidhart reached, but I see the champion actually getting some offense and winning a well-worked watch instead of almost randomly beating opponents with a finisher that always looks like it's being botched even when done perfectly.
Rusev vs. Big E
The General: Murica.
Sean Rueter: Of all the mid-card feuds they could go with, they pick this one. Poor Big E. Because the fact that this one makes it on means someone loves The Bulgarian Brute, his comely manager and the agitprop Russian angle, and also means that the former Intercontinental champ doesn't stand a chance. Pick: Rusev
Hulk Holland: Big E can afford the loss here because it's not like WWE has him doing anything that special anyway. They already took the title off him and they're in the midst of pushing Rusev, so beating the artist formerly known as Langston gives him a small boost. If nothing else, we'll at least get a good hoss fight. Pick: Rusev
Keith Harris: In Lana's mindset, Big E is another perfect symbolisation of America as a whole. Once a great power that now dwells on his past glory, his empire has slowly crumbled, dropping the Intercontinental Championship last month and going into a permanent downfall. The Ravishing Russian will be proved right again tomorrow night. Prediction: Rusev.
Cain A Knight: This match is interesting because I have never seen Rusev work a non-squash match. Therefore I have no idea what this man is capable of outside of tapping out Zack Ryder and motivating a movement to reform the Nation Of Domination. I am hoping that WWE lets Big E and Rusev both get their moves in rather than using this as just a showcase for Rusev. If Rusev puts in a strong performance here, we can probably start the clock on how long he will remain undefeated until he is ultimately fed to John Cena. Pick: Rusev
Nick Bond: This shit is RACIST and xenophobic. Now that we've gotten past that, while I'd love to see the Nation of Domination reformed as Xavier Woods and R. Truth help Big E take down the big bad Bulgarian Brute, that shit is not happening. The only person with more momentum than him and the Ravishing Russian is Roman Reigns, and that momentum is not going to be stopped by a guy who can't even figure out to wave the flag.
El Torito vs. Hornswoggle
The General: This is a comedy match between two little people and WWE has no clue how to do that without being offensive. 3MB stole El Torito's tail and now he'll get revenge by shaving Hornswoggle's head. This is so dumb.
Sean Rueter: Regardless of how you feel about this (and, for the record, I like it in small doses...I thought the WeeLC match was a blast), Torito ain't losing his mask. Don't worry, 'Swoggle, bald is very rock n roll. Pick: El Torito
Hulk Holland: El Torito is a munchkin bull who gores people in the keister. Sure, he has some good moves for a wee one, but he gets a pop for his OLE gimmick. Losing the mask takes all that away and what are we left with? A little wrestler, and that position is already filled by the soon-to-be-bald Hornswoggle. Pick: El Torito
Keith Harris: You can't unmask Torito! It would destroy his gimmick. I'm also sure Vince McMahon would be highly amused at forcing a midget to get his head shaved bald. Prediction: El Torito.
Cain A Knight: Most of WWE's attempts at comedy end up with me changing the channel or just face-palming in shame. The segment where El Torito's tail was ripped off is just more of the same in that regard. Some will defend this garbage by saying that "wrestling is supposed to be fun." While I of course agree with that general sentiment, I just don't find anything fun about having my brain cells fried by this bottom tier level of comedy. Oh, and Hornswogle is going to lose because 3MB always loses. Pick: El Torito
Nick Bond: Since Hornswoggle is balding and El Torito's an anthropomorphic bull whose mask presumably functions as the literal face for his character -- thereby making him being demasked the equivalent of cutting the face off of an animal on live television -- it's pretty much a guarantee that El Torito is winning this match. And if not, the WWE has taken this storyline to a level of darkness I am not quite comfortable with.
Bonus: Daniel Bryan's decision
The General: The fact that Bryan was well enough to show up at Raw, even in a limited capacity, was a big clue on what the plans seemed to be. Then they delayed the decision another six days and it became clear: He ain't dropping the title(s).
Cain A Knight: WWE needs to be careful about promoting segments like this for PPVs because it makes these events seem more like Sunday Night Raw rather than something special that you need to plunk down 10 dollars a month to watch. Brie Bella has baby fever and it seems like this angle will give her a storyline exit from the company. The main question is, how does WWE pull the trigger on Brie's firing without having Bryan look like a selfish egomaniac? Will he relinquish the title in order to save his wife's career, only for Stephanie to fire Brie anyway? I think WWE will pull a swerve here and Bryan will walk out as champion while Brie also remains employed, at least for one more night.
Nick Bond: Daniel Bryan doesn't forfeit the title, Stephanie McMahon gets to show why she should be a leading candidate for the "Best Actress in a Comedy" Emmy.
Those are our predictions, Cagesiders. What are yours?