It might be Labor Day weekend, but there will be plenty of work to do for The Judgment Day at Payback.
The seventh edition of Payback takes place Saturday at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (8 p.m. ET, Peacock). Four title fights are on the card, along with two involving the star-studded faction.
In the likely main event, Judgment Day’s Finn Balor and Damian Priest will try to put their recent differences aside and bring more titles to the faction. To do so, they’ll have to dethrone Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a “Steel City Street Fight” for the undisputed WWE tag team championship. One subplot of this match will be how Balor’s buddy, JD McDonagh, continues squeezing himself into the faction’s business. Will McDonagh be more help or hindrance? Does anyone besides Balor even want him around?
Judgment Day’s night in the bright lights also includes the women’s World champion, as Rhea Ripley will defend her belt against a rising star in Raquel Rodriguez. Rodriguez has been building confidence and getting the best of Ripley for a few weeks now, but is it time for her to take the title?
Other non-Judgment Day matches include a Steel Cage match between Becky Lynch and Trish Stratus, Seth “Freakin'” Rollins defending his World Heavyweight title against Shinsuke Nakamura, and Austin Theory attempting to reclaim his United States title from Rey Mysterio.
Let’s break down each match, predict the victors and offer up what could come next for the wrestlers.
Rising star LA Knight continues to get more chances on the marquee, as Saturday will pit him against The Miz. The verbal exchanges between the two have been fun and interesting, but one of Miz’s real superpowers is his mic work. In this current rivalry, Miz went full cosplay on the most recent episode of Monday Night Raw and rocked Knight’s entire look. It didn’t stop there because then Miz broke out a complete impersonation.
— WWE (@WWE) August 29, 2023
Since Knight performed a Miz-esque impersonation the week before, it wasn’t a shock to see this coming. And yet, Miz reminded why he’s such a unique asset to the promotion by questioning the character of his opponent while making him look great at the same time. Miz seemingly challenged the audience to ponder whether they should like Knight, while the fans hit on all of Knight’s signature callouts.
This match makes me wish there were more on the line because this could have legs as an ongoing storyline. For now, the Megastar will continue his climb.
Prediction: LA Knight def. The Miz by pinfall
Steel Cage match: Becky Lynch vs. Trish Stratus
A steel cage match between two rivals is a fitting end to a long-running feud between Lynch and Stratus. Zoey Stark’s continued interference in this rivalry feels inevitable again, but it feels unnecessary for these two. Lynch and Stratus are icons in the sport — let these two go at it and settle this once and for all.
As a side note, two things need to be mentioned regarding this matchup.
One, Stratus will turn 48 in three months, and she’s moving around inside and outside the ring like someone 20 years her junior. Can we induct her into the Hall of Fame again? There’s no reason after this run that she can’t rest up a bit and set up another feud to go into WrestleMania 40.
Two, Lynch remains one of the best on the mic in all of professional wrestling.
Prediction: Becky Lynch def. Trish Stratus by escaping the cage
I’m here for Nakamura going to the darkside once again and making it a bit personal with Rollins. During the last few weeks, we’ve seen clips of Nakamura working out to prepare for the title match, mixed in with incredibly pointed attacks on Rollins and his family.
Rollins has been doing yeoman’s work as a new belt holder of this rendition of the Heavyweight title. He’s been the loud, obnoxious, over-the-top, fantastic wrestler we’ve all come to love. And yet, Nakamura’s ability to make him look human makes them both look better, and it has us more invested. I don’t think this feud will end soon, and I’m here for it.
— WWE (@WWE) August 29, 2023
One other tangent that could be in play: Does the pettiness of Damian Priest come into play on a cash-in for the title?
Prediction: Rollins def. Nakamura by pinfall
Earlier this year, we spotlighted the women’s “powerhouses” in WWE — those wrestlers who physically and athletically stand out amongst their peers — Ripley, Bianca Belair and Charlotte Flair. One of the names discussed to join this trio in the future was Rodriguez, a former college basketball player at Sam Houston State University, who ticks the powerhouse boxes that WWE’s talent advisors look for.
Pairing her with Ripley has been fun to witness, as seeing someone who can match the stature of “The Eradicator” has made for intrigue. Admittedly, the haphazard brawling and injury management has made for a bit of a wonky watch. However, this feels like a longer build between the two. For Rodriguez, this is all about getting reps for a bigger opportunity in the future.
Prediction: Ripley def. Rodriguez by pinfall
Theory did what was required to reclaim the United States title from Mysterio by taking down fan favorite LA Knight (thanks to The Miz) in a No. 1 contender’s match on SmackDown a few weeks ago. Mysterio, arguably the most decorated luchador in wrestling history, added another accolade to his resume with the win. However, the setup of this match makes it feel like Theory — and WWE — recognize that the former champ might need the belt much more than the current champ.
Watching these two wrestle at a high level with athleticism and acrobatics on full display usually makes for a good time. Could Priest consider a MITB cash-in here? Maybe, but the prize doesn’t feel worthy here. This is Theory’s return to the spotlight.
Prediction: Theory def. Mysterio by pinfall
Yes, Owens and Zayn are the tag team champions. And yet, this match feels like it’s all about Balor vs. Priest … errrr, Balor and Priest, along with the influence of what a “Steel City Street Fight” can bring. Balor brings his non-Judgment Day backup of JD McDonagh, while Priest will always have his MITB briefcase nearby. Two alpha males, fighting for power not only within their own faction, but also within WWE.
Unfortunately, neither of them is the true leader of Judgment Day. It’s become clear that title belongs to Ripley, and with Dominik Mysterio by her side, those two have already made it clear that heads will roll if Balor and Priest can’t get their act together. What’s beautiful here is Ripley’s insinuation that the duo’s inability to operate to a certain standard now makes her look bad. Chef’s kiss.
Owens and Zayn might have earned a new role in the promotion. First, it was The Bloodline. Now, it might be Judgment Day. Maybe the duo needs a new tag team name: The Faction Killers.
Prediction: Owens and Zayn def. Bálor and Priest by pinfall