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WWE Payback 2023 preview: John Cena is here to save the worst show of the year

WWE Payback 2023 takes place tonight (Sat., Sept. 2) from PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, starting at 8 pm ET, live on Peacock (in the U.S.) and WWE Network (everywhere else).

John Cena is here to save WWE’s worst show of the year

WWE Payback is here, and on paper it looks like WWE’s least important premium live pay-per-view event of 2023.

Part-time WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns isn’t on the card. Neither is Brock Lesnar or YouTuber Logan Paul. WWE couldn’t find an opponent for Cody Rhodes, and instead booked him on a talk show.

Bianca Belair, Asuka, Drew McIntyre, AJ Styles, Sheamus, and Shanky Charlotte Flair are nowhere to be found. Neither are the Usos, or anyone else in The Bloodline. GUNTHER’s next Intercontinental championship defense is booked for Raw rather than this show.

Payback desperately needed something to make it stand out, and WWE finally delivered that last night on SmackDown when it was announced that John Cena will be the host for this event.

Cena is back in WWE in September and October, and he kicked off his return by giving an Attitude Adjustment to the delusional Jimmy Uso. Cena may have some more AA’s to dish out tonight if other heels foolishly decide to get in John’s face and insult him.

The hosting role is pretty vague and entails a wide variety of possibilities, so it’s not clear what John will be doing aside from some talking throughout the night. However, he’s one of the biggest WWE stars of all-time, so his presence alone is enough to elevate this show into something that you might consider going out of your way to check out on a busy wrestling weekend.

The rest of the card

Here are the seven segments that are currently advertised for Payback:

Seth Rollins (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura for the World Heavyweight Championship

Last month, mid-carder Nakamura decided that he wants a shot at Seth’s world heavyweight title. In order to get there, he teamed up with The Visionary for a victory in a six man tag team match on the Aug. 7 episode of Raw, and then blasted Rollins with a Kinshasa after the match was over. Shinsuke’s plan worked, and Seth was pissed off enough to put the belt on the line tonight at Payback.

After the match was made official, Nakamura revealed that Seth’s back is injured, and he plans to take full advantage of that fact during their match. Seth admitted it’s true, and he doesn’t know how much longer he can compete at this level while his back is compromised. Shinsuke has ambushed Seth multiple times in the weeks leading up to this fight. Looming behind all of this is Damian Priest and his Money in the Bank contract.

Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn (c) vs. Damian Priest & Finn Balor for the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championship in a Steel City Street Fight

The Judgment Day injured Kevin Owens, sidelining him for a month or so. Meanwhile JD McDonagh is trying to get his foot in the door with Finn Balor’s group, so he tried to injure Sami Zayn. Damian Priest doesn’t want JD anywhere near his business, but this is a street fight, so there won’t be any disqualifications if McDonagh decides to get involved. Rhea Ripley has indicated there will be changes coming to The Judgment Day if Balor and Priest fail to bring home the gold. The main problem is that they can’t get along, and Priest’s Money in the Bank briefcase always leads to Balor getting pinned.

Becky Lynch vs. Trish Stratus in a Steel Cage match

It’s time to finally end this feud, which began nearly five months ago when Trish turned on Becky after losing the WWE women’s tag team championship. Becky has defeated Trish’s sidekick Zoey Stark multiple times on the way towards getting this rematch with Trish. Becky has payback in mind at Payback, and what better way to get revenge than inside a steel cage?

Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Raquel Rodriguez for the Women’s World Championship

Ripley took great joy in injuring both Raquel Rodriguez and Liv Morgan. Raquel has just been medically cleared, so now it’s time to pay Ripley back for the hell she’s recently put Raquel through.

LA Knight vs. The Miz

These two guys have been busy doing what they do best, and that’s running their mouths. The trash talk has been plentiful about attitude era ripoffs, not being on the other’s level, tiny balls, and so forth. But now the talking is over, and one man finally gets to shut the other up for good. LA Knight talks a big game about being hottest star in WWE, so now he needs to back it up in the ring.

Rey Mysterio (c) vs. Austin Theory for the United States Championship

Mysterio wrestled in place of Santos Escobar and beat Theory for the belt last month. This is Austin’s rematch, which feels like it’s just something WWE needs to get out of the way before moving ahead with the real story here, which is Escobar eventually challenging Rey for the gold.

Cody Rhodes is a guest on the Grayson Waller Effect

WWE couldn’t find a suitable opponent for Cody Rhodes after he conquered Brock Lesnar last month at SummerSlam, so he’s doing talk show duty tonight. This could end up being a whole bunch of nothing, where Cody beats up Waller after he pokes the bear one too many times.


The Bloodline has been the hottest WWE story in 2023 by far, and the fact that it is not represented on the Payback card is hard to ignore. John Cena’s presence makes up for that to some extent, but there’s also a chance that his hosting role doesn’t add much substance to the event. The in-ring action will likely have to carry this one, so hopefully folks like Shinsuke Nakamura and Trish Stratus have their working boots on.

What will you be looking for at Payback?

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