Payback is the first WWE Premium Live Event of 2023 that doesn’t have a little extra pizazz to it. Royal Rumble, WrestleMania and SummerSlam never need any help. Money In The Bank was in London. Backlash was in Puerto Rico. Elimination Chamber was in Montreal and featured Montreal native Sami Zayn in the main event. Payback is in Pittsburgh, and is missing many of WWE’s biggest stars. Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, Gunther, Charlotte Flair, Bobby Lashley, Bianca Belair, Asuka and The Usos, among many others are all sitting it out. Cody Rhodes will be there but only in a segment that will likely set up his next feud.
Given that, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned this could feel a little more In Your House-ish than your average PPV. On the other hand, there’s also the potential here for some real bangers. Four titles are on the line. LA Knight is getting only his second premium live event singles match, and it seems likely all the Judgment Day internal dissension might finally come to a head. So, there’s a real chance this could be one of the more forgettable PPVs of 2023, and there’s a real chance this could be a really meaningful night.
Regardless, I’m, as always, here with the predictions. I’ve been on a heater lately. You can check out my record from some recent premium live events, as well as my overall mark.
My confidence level here is a mixed bag and not nearly as high as it was for my SummerSlam predictions. There are a few matches that feel like near sure things, and there are a few matches that could go either way, depending on where WWE wants to take the story. I’m going to hope I go 4-2, but we’ll just have to see.
Becky Lynch vs Trish Stratus
Wrestling fans have been turning on this feud a bit, and that’s a real shame. Stratus has been mostly fantastic since her return earlier this year, and the story has had a lot of fun twists and turns, from their shared win alongside Lita against Damage CTRL at WrestleMania to Stratus’ betrayal to the introduction of Zoey Stark. There’s also been some really good mic work from both women, but over the last month or so, it has started to drag on. A planned match at SummerSlam was postponed in controversial fashion. It later turned into a segment on Raw which ended in a double countout, which has now turned into this steel cage match at Payback.
I have no idea if Trish Stratus is planning to stick around long-term. I’d like to see more from her, as I think she brings a fun presence and can sell a story well, but she can’t be winning feuds over Becky Lynch, who should be one of the biggest stars on the women’s roster. Lynch needs to win here, and I would be shocked if she didn’t get it.
Predicted Winner: Becky Lynch
Seth Freakin’ Rollins (Champion) Vs Shinsuke Nakamura For The World Heavyweight Championship
Three weeks ago, I would have said Shinsuke’s only chance here was an unexpected mid-match injury to Seth Rollins, but the build to this has been way better than expected. I have now opened up my brain to the possibility that Nakamura could win. His Japanese language promos have been going really hard with him promising crazy things like being the reason Rollins won’t be able to walk his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. He’s also repeatedly focused on Rollins’ back and made that a major storyline, which makes me wonder if it’ll become a storyline in the match.
To me, Seth Rollins is the most important guy on WWE’s entire roster. He’s not the biggest star, but he’s a workhorse who just gets it. The fans love him, and he's capable of making anyone look competent in the ring. It’s been great to see him get serenaded by the audience, but he’s not the type of guy I’d expect to have a Roman Reigns-like multi-year title run. He’s going to lose this belt at some point. It would be nice to see Shinsuke take it and be a transitional champion, but that doesn’t really make sense given Damian Priest has the Money In The Bank briefcase and has interacted with Rollins way more than Nakamura.
Given all that, I think Nakamura is going to injure Rollins’ back, but Rollins will still miraculously pull through. Then that’ll set the stage for Priest to cash-in. It’s possible some shenanigans will happen with Finn Bálor and he’ll fail, but I think he’ll probably succeed. Regardless, I’ll take Rollins in the match itself.
Predicted Winner: Seth Freakin’ Rollins
Rhea Ripley (Champion) Vs Raquel Rodriguez For The Women’s World Championship
I like Raquel Rodriguez. It was fun to see her paired with Liv Morgan back when that was a thing, and it’s been nice to see her have something to do beyond showing off her back muscles. But Rhea Ripley is one of the biggest attractions in WWE and has all the tools to be the greatest women’s wrestler in history. Despite being the leader of the biggest heel faction in WWE, fans will almost certainly root for her here, partially out of respect and partially because Raquel isn’t fully over with fans.
Based on all of the above, this should be Rhea all day long, but if you’re looking for one more reason, look to Rhea’s comments his past week on Raw. She told Damian Priest and Finn Bálor they better come back with gold or there could be some changes in Judgment Day. I don’t know what’s going to happen with either of those two dudes, but regardless, Rhea ending the night without her gold would make her look really foolish and stupid, which is the last thing WWE wants.
I think the best Raquel can hope for here is a really good back and forth match that will hopefully help her grow her character and find a good direction moving forward. She’s powerful. She’s pretty good in the ring. She has the looks. Sometimes little bits of charisma come through. Maybe this is the moment where fans will see it start to come together.
Predicted Winner: Rhea Ripley
Rey Mysterio (Champion) Vs Austin Theory For The United States Championship
Look: Rey Mysterio is an all-time legend. He’s a first ballot Hall of Famer and I’m happy to see him get another run with a mid-card title. It’s well-deserved for so many different reasons, but we all know the title is around his waist because Austin Theory’s run wasn’t going anywhere. Theory has all the talent in the world, but in my opinion, his character has gotten worse since they took away his cell phone and tried to make him more serious and less douchey and also screwed up the whole Money In The Bank situation. I get why they wanted him to grow up and seem more like a main event guy, but he’s just not drawing enough heat right now and not involved in interesting enough storylines.
If WWE has something compelling for Austin Theory to do, then they should give him the belt back. Maybe he can move off of this into a feud with LA Knight and that’ll bring something more out of him. Maybe they’ll give him back his cell phone or have him take a character under his wing. I’m open to trying almost anything since I really do like him, but If it’s just going to be more of the same, then they should keep it on Rey Mysterio and let him run for another month or two. Theory needs change, and that’s what’s most important.
I guess I’m going to go with Rey Mysterio, but I really have no idea. There’s part of me that thinks we could get a Santos Escobar heel turn here, given Rey kinda sorta took his shot at the title and that’s been teased a few times, but I’m not sure what’s left of the LWO if that happens. So, we’ll save that for down the road, if ever.
Predicted Winner: Rey Mysterio
LA Knight Vs The Miz
This has been one of my favorite feuds in a long-time. LA Knight and The Miz have both thrived working alongside someone else who is good on the microphone. Every segment was better than I expected it to be, from their initial promo battle to their most recent impressions of each other. The response from wrestling fans on Twitter has also been fantastic with just about everyone marking out and talking about how good these two are together. It's exactly what each needed.
In a perfect world, I’d love to see them continue their work beyond Payback, but unfortunately, WWE hasn’t built up Miz’s character enough to let a sustained feud make sense for LA Knight’s character. The Megastar needs his first PPV singles win and then to move up the card, but shoutout to everyone involved here. We all know LA Knight is on the rise, but WWE should also use this as evidence that it’s worth building Miz back up. He’s fantastic when he has real material to work with, and I would love to see him get another run with a mid-card title.
Predicted Winner: LA Knight
Sami Zayn And Kevin Owens (Champions) Vs Damian Priest And Finn Bálor For The Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championships
My head says Triple H and company are going to use this match to continue sewing friction between Damian Priest, Finn Bálor and The Judgment Day. There’s been nothing but miscommunications and screw-ups between Priest and Bálor over the last month, and the animosity between the two has gotten so palpable that it’s addressed on TV on a weekly basis. With Rhea Ripley saying there will be consequences for anyone who doesn’t come home with a title and Finn’s friend JD McDonagh hanging around the group, now feels like the moment all that turmoil will come to a dramatic head.
My heart says breaking up Judgment Day is incredibly stupid. They work really well together, and if the writing staff would let them start winning matches on a regular basis, they could be so much fun to boo. Just because you teased a potential break-up doesn’t mean you need to follow through on that potential break-up. Lots of people are saying the faction is on the PPV poster because it’s the last time the four of them will be together as a team, but what if they’re on the poster because Rhea is going to retain the Women’s World Championship, Damian and Finn are going to win the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Championships and maybe Damian is also going to win The World Heavyweight Championship on a cash-in? What if all this disharmony leads to success and a recommitment to their goals? Maybe we’ll even see JD officially join as a fifth member. That’s what I want. Normally I go with my head, but today, I’m going with my heart.
Predicted Winner: The Judgment Day
You can stream Payback in The United States for free with a Peacock subscription. The event is on Saturday evening and will air live from Pittsburgh.