Your SO OF COURSE preview of WWE Payback 2017

In this day and age you can’t just “predict” a PPV anymore, you have to account for the capricious whims of WWE’s septuagenarian, sleep-deprived egomaniac owner. You can’t just “preview” a PPV…you have to preview how things should go, in a reasonable and sane world, and then add “so of course…” and explain what Vince McMahon will probably do instead.

Consider this your SO OF COURSE preview of WWE PAY US $9.99 TO WATCH ALL THE MATCHES YOU’VE ALREADY SEEN LIVE ON RAW AT LEAST HALF A DOZEN TIMES BACK!

Last time on SO OF COURSE, the WWE held their annual extravaganza, WrestleMania. The seven(teen?) hour event was filled with surprises, excitement, thrills and fun. And then hour two rolled on into hour three, which strolled on into hour four, and then stumbled into hour five, and then crawled into hour six, and then was wheeled out for hour seven. After that, Vince McMahon showed up and announced a not-draft draft, designed to “shake things up.”

Despite the worry of Smackdown fans everywhere, the blue brand came out pretty well when all was said and done. AJ Styles stayed put and both Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn flipped over. Raw picked up the then-stellar Miz/Maryse combo and added Alexa Bliss to the women’s division. Other than that it was not the “Smackdown raiding” that it was feared to be. Smackdown remains the superior show, with better writing, pacing and overall talent that fans want to see, while Raw remains a three-hour slog with a few bright spots to make us at least catch the youtube highlights every week.

Speaking of…

Raw brings us our first post-Mania PPV event, so let’s summarize things for those who haven’t been following the action. Brock Lesnar is the Universal Champion, but he’s apparently “Sir Not Appearing In This Film” until at least June or July. In his place is a Roman Reigns vs Braun Strowman feud that is all kinds of hot on account of Braun Strowman being everything Vince wanted Vader to be back in 1995. There’s also the presumptive blowoff of the Chris Jericho vs Kevin Owens feud, taking place here despite Owens being a SmackDown superstar now.  And then there’s Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt, also featuring Raw vs Smackdown in a match no one knows….anything about.

This is also the second PPV in a row with no Finn Balor. That’s Raw for you.

Any of the three aforementioned matches could main-event, and which one does will probably depend on the way the booking shakes out. In between are four matches that offer the hope of good wrestling well worth the $9.99 some of you will pay for it and the rest of you will watch on Facebook Live.

Let’s pull up a chair

and discuss all the ways Vince can make a good show bad!

RANDY ORTON vs BRAY WYATT

Wyatt is wrestling Orton, the WWE Champion. This is not a title match, however. That’s good though, because otherwise this would have been a very confusing write-up. Instead it’s just a Raw superstar wrestling a Smackdown superstar on a Raw PPV. That’s fine. That saves the confusion for the actual House of Horrors match that WWE has been promoting for almost the entire month of April, despite seemingly having no idea what to do with the concept. In the end I think it will end up being something like a backstage brawl/hardcore match, only set in a darkened room with mood lighting. This would be a great time to have a match at the Wyatt Compound had Orton not already burned it down. Imagine if they saved that idea for the climax of this match. Instead this will probably be reminiscent of the old Hardcore Title 24/7 matches with only ten percent of the fun and wackiness and exactly zero percent of the Steve Blackman and Al Snowiness.

What should happen? Well Wyatt’s a joke and giving him the win, not even a month after he entered WrestleMania as WWE Champion, suddenly seems like not-believable booking. Wyatt’s ready for his next big losing feud to Finn Balor so I can see him winning to set that up, but at the same time Wyatt’s win percentage is so terrible it’s hard to pull the trigger on predicting him to do anything more than look cool in his entrance, crab walk and take an RKO for the L.  The logical bet is that Orton gets the win here and heads to his next WWE Title program with…Jinder Mahal? That can’t be right…

*checks script*  Alright then.

Wyatt loses again and no one cares.

SO OF COURSE!

BAYLEY vs ALEXA BLISS

Isn’t this an interesting matchup. In the one corner is Bayley, who came to Raw from NXT, where she was the queen bee of the women’s revolution. On the yellow brand, Bayley was everything fans wanted John Cena to be. She captured the love and adoration of fans young and old with her happy-go-lucky attitude combined with gritty, never-say-die work ethic. Her struggles, constant “almost but not quite” chases for the title won her a rabid fanbase. Her finally winning the gold in Brooklyn was a moment NXT fans will forever remember. She’s now on Raw and…she’s just dying out there, week after week. She left NXT where she was 1950’s Elvis, and came to Raw, skipped right past black leather Elvis and went straight for Fat Elvis. She’s a self-parody that just makes you feel sad to watch. It’s sad to watch.

In the other corner is Alexa Bliss, who came to Raw from NXT (by way of Smackdown), where she was basically the manager of an overachieving tagteam of jobbers to the stars. Blake and Murphy never should have been a thing but thanks to the great work of the NXT writers, some good vignettes, a supportive crowd and—let’s not forget—the best manager on the brand, the tag team managed to get over as top players in the division. Bliss was a huge part of that, as she routinely stole the show in their backstage segments. When she moved to Smackdown she did so without her team and instead was forced to prove she could fly solo. She soared. On Raw, where most superstars go to die these days, Bliss has continued to soar. She’s never been a great worker in the ring (she’s competent though) but she’s probably the best talent on the mic among any woman on the roster, on any brand. Her delivery is natural and confident, whereas someone like Charlotte or Bayley always sound like they’re reciting lines from a script.

This match could not have a more drastic contrast. As much as I love and believe in Bayley, that affection is really just holdover from the great work she did on Wednesday nights. She’s done nothing since moving to the main show to win any fans over (not that she’s been given much help). Bliss meanwhile needs to have a rocket strapped to her back. She may not win the title on Sunday but she deserves to, and for the foreseeable future, she needs to have the division be built around her.

SO OF COURSE!

THE HARDYS vs CESARO & SHEAMUS

The Hardys made their big return to WWE at WrestleMania, winning the tag titles in their first match back. And it was a ladder match! You couldn’t have written a better comeback. Since then they’ve teased and danced around whether or not they will be “classic WWF/E Hardys” or the newest, “Broken” incarnation, but whatever they do the fans are digging it. Their opponents are Sheamus and Cesaro, who are playing the old reliable “team of rivals that don’t get along but get along well enough to win and start to form a mutual respect” trope, and even though I was begging for a break up and a Cesaro move to SmackDown as recently as last month’s SO OF COURSE writeup, I’ve got to admit that they’ve started winning me over. I still have reservations: Sheamus is still dead weight, Cesaro is still an untapped goldmine as a singles star, and the team is not as much “Team HellNo” as WWE wishes they would be. But still…they’re slowly and surely making me buy-in.

Does WWE have an actual plan for the Hardys? Will they have them lose the titles in a beatdown by the much-bigger challengers, leading to a storyline kick-off that sees the Broken gimmick make its full debut at SummerSlam? Or will they do the WWE thing and just have the Hardys continue to spin their wheels until fans get bored of the nostalgia and then try the Broken gimmick after the moment has passed?

I can easily see a scenario where Vince grows bored of the Hardys shtick, splits them up, puts Matt on Smackdown where he shines with the Broken gimmick (thanks to Vince not caring as much about what happens on Tuesday nights) while Jeff piddles around on Raw as a bland Raw babyface doomed to 50/50 booking and repetitive matches. After Jeff’s popularity wanes due to bad booking, Vince switches the brothers and micromanages the Broken gimmick on Raw until it’s ruined. After that, Vince will become angry that the Hardys just aren’t as popular as they once were and he’ll pair them back up for one more big tag run before letting their contracts expire, satisfied in his own genius and frustrated at the worthlessness of those around him.

I can see that happening and so can you. But hey, maybe this time it’ll be different. Maybe this time he’ll listen to his talent’s ideas and let their instincts guide their characters.

SO OF CO—

KEVIN OWENS vs CHRIS JERICHO

This was arguably the hottest feud on Raw heading into WrestleMania season. Since then Jericho has reverted to his “cheesy, fun-loving, babyface” persona that everyone was tired of before he went heel and won our hearts. Kevin Owens meanwhile has left for SmackDown, so a lot of the enthusiasm fans were feeling has kind of petered out. The only wrinkle that’s been added since WrestleMania is the idea that Jericho would move to SmackDown if he defeated Owens for the US Title. There’s little danger of that happening, however.

Even though Jericho has hung around after Mania longer than many thought he would (he has said many times he hates when people try to figure out when he’s leaving, and that he’ll intentionally stay a little longer just to spite those fans), he surely is about to take another break. Losing the rematch here makes the most sense. Their WrestleMania match had a lot of hype but other than one magical moment featuring Kevin Owen’s index finger and the bottom rope, the whole thing failed to rise to that second level of awesomeness. Maybe the rematch will do it, and hopefully Owens will get a big victory propelling him to something important on SmackDown heading into the Summer (his feud with AJ Styles has all the potential in the world).

SO OF COURSE!

SETH ROLLINS vs SAMOA JOE

Samoa Joe makes his mainroster PPV debut, almost ninety days after arriving on the main-roster. To be fair he’s been real busy wearing ill-fitted jeans and beating up jobbers and sweating backstage doing nothing and also doing nothing at WrestleMania alongside also doing nothing at WrestleMania Finn Balor. It’s been a grind, man. He’s up against Seth Rollins, who is fresh off a victory over Triple H at WrestleMania in a match that probably should have made him a bigger deal than he is at the moment. Even Steve Austin recently said he didn’t think Seth was “all the way over.” What does it say about WWE’s booking when they have Rollins, on essentially one leg, defeat Triple H with The Game’s own finishing move and still not be “all the way over”?

It says WWE’s booking stinks.

I just went back and checked: Turns out, Joe debuted on PPV back in February with an opening-match victory over Sami Zayn. But I forgot that. You forgot that. Michael Cole could announce on Sunday that Joe is making his PPV debut and no one would bat an eye. Just like no one will remember this match an hour after it happens. It’ll be good but probably not as good as everyone wants it to be. Rollins has not been the same since his first knee injury and Joe will certainly want to work a grounded, bruising style. The final few minutes are certain to be exciting (WWE’s “style” sees to that in matches like this) but this one probably won’t be on anyone’s “matches of the year” lists come Christmastime.

As for the finish, as much as it would continue to undercut Seth, the best choice is for Joe to win and continue being built as a monster heel. The worst thing Vince can do is turn him into Samoa Wyatt, building him up every month only to be flattened by whatever babyface is next on the rotation (which will be Reigns, because of course it will be Reigns).

SO OF COURSE!

NEVILLE vs AUSTIN ARIES

SO OF COURSE!

ROMAN REIGNS vs BRAUN STROWMAN

Sure this match might not go on last. Maybe the House of Horrors thing ended up being a great idea when they sketched it out and they decide to close the show with it. Maybe the finish to this match is too much of a downer for the show-closing moments, so they put the US Title match on last. Either of those could happen, but I just think Braun is too hot right now and Roman is too important for this not to main-event the show. There still is no stipulation attached to the match, and it’s possible that doing a “stretcher match” (which seemed to be where they were headed a couple weeks ago) was nixed due to the untimely death of Roman’s brother.

Might they just cut to the chase and give Roman a clean win over Strowman? Sure. In Vince’s mind they can always build Braun back up to lose again (to Brock Lesnar). But maybe reason will prevail and Strowman will be kept strong. Goodness knows Roman’s character could use a few setbacks on his inevitable road to WrestleMania 34’s main event. Maybe they learned their lesson with John Cena’s terrible journey to WrestleMania 29. There’s always the possibility that Braun will secure a clean victory over Roman and look unbeatable on his way to being beaten by Lesnar. If Vince wasn’t so short-sighted I could see that happening, since in the end Roman would look strong beating the man who beat the man who beat him. See? It’s even a little confusing to think about, so it’s right up WWE’s alley.

Alas I expect we’ll get some kind of a dirty finish where Braun gets a victory in name only but Roman gets to walk out of the match with some post-match dominance or something.

SO OF COURSE!

Think you can do better? Join in with the launch of the Talk Whatever Online WWE Prediction League here. It’s free to play and you could win a cash prize!

Oh well, there’s always Smackdown.

Here’s to Sunday!

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