WWE Payback 2023 marks the beginning of an incredibly busy five-week stretch for WWE, with three huge events—Payback, Superstar Spectacle and Fastlane—all paving the way to Survivor Series in November.
Despite up-and-down booking with some of its rivalries, WWE has hit its stride with compelling storytelling for stars like Rhea Ripley,Seth Rollins and even LA Knight. Overall, WWE creative head Triple H has done a solib job of making the most out of his roster, but navigating the fall months will be challenging for “The Game.”
Though WWE Raw and SmackDown viewership have held steady since WrestleMania 39, the upcoming start of the NFL and college football seasons could present a major obstacle to WWE on its quest to maintaining its viewing audience. That journey will begin at Payback, where a strong showing—without the presence of its top act The Bloodline—is badly needed.
WWE must deliver these five booking moves at Payback 2023 to ensure storyline success in the short-term future.
Raquel Rodriguez Vs. Rhea Ripley Continues Beyond Payback
WWE has done a subpar job both of focusing on Rhea Ripley’s women’s title and building up suitable challenges for the belt. Ripley has been one of Raw’s best acts, but her title has been all but an afterthought. She’s been a great character, but an infrequent wrestler. Just see this surprising stat about how little she’s wrestled since becoming champion at WrestleMania 39.
At Payback, she’ll face Raquel Rodriguez, one of the few women on the roster who hasn’t been ruined by bad booking and also presents a fresh challenger. With a clear lack of other potential rivals for Ripley on Raw, it’s imperative that WWE doesn’t just make Ripley vs. Rodriguez a one-time thing.
In fact, Ripley and Rodriguez should be the two cornerstones of Raw’s women’s division moving forward, which necessitates a controversial finish to their Payback match that extends this storyline as Survivor Series draws near.
The Judgment Day Collects More Gold
Dominik Mysterio is a champion. Rhea Ripley is a champion. Damian Priest and Finn Balor should be champions, too.
Although Priest is reportedly planned to eventually split from The Judgment Day, that breakup isn’t expected to happen for a long time. For now, The Judgment Day remains a top act on Raw and is even viewed within WWE as the heir apparent to The Bloodline, which suggests the group will remain a cohesive unit for many more months and is being counted on as a sizable TV draw.
What did The Bloodline do at its peak? Well, the stable held all the gold, including both world titles and both sets of tag team titles. WWE found a winning formula there and should follow suit with The Judgment Day holding numerous titles simultaneously.
If the faction’s duo of Priest and Balor defeat Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn at Payback, they will hold three different titles as well as the Money in the Bank briefcase—and that’s precisely what should happen to present the quartet as pro wrestling’s most dominant faction.
Becky Lynch Vs. Trish Stratus Ends For Good
On paper, a feud between Trish Stratus and Becky Lynch sounded like a dream come true—a generational clash of two of the greatest stars in WWE history. In reality, however, the rivalry has been one big swing and a miss after another.
Nothing about this rivalry has clicked. Not the matches, the promos or the overall direction of the storyline itself. It’s dragged on for far too long, and it’s dragged down both Lynch and Stratus along with it. Lynch remains popular, but like other top female stars ranging from Charlotte Flair to Bianca Belair to Bayley, her character is stagnant.
WWE must hit a hard reset on both Lynch and Flair starting at Payback. Lynch should win there, put Stratus in her rearview mirror and be built back up as a potential title challenger for Ripley as 2024 draws near.
LA Knight Dismantles The Miz
LA Knight is an absolute star, and both merchandise sales and seismic crowd reactions prove it. So, Payback should be all about catapulting Knight to the next level.
That’s why The Miz is here. While the former two-time WWE Champion isn’t pushed as strongly as he once was, he still has plenty of credibility as a former WrestleMania main eventer, one of the most decorated Intercontinental Champions ever and an elite mic worker.
But The Miz’s days of wining the big one are over. It’s Knight’s time to shine, and anything other than an incredibly lopsided win over Miz at Payback would be a massive booking mishap.
Seth Rollins Retains The World Title
WWE is adding some emotional depth to Seth Rollins vs. Shinsuke Nakamura by utilizing Rollins’ real-life back issues as a target for the newly heel Nakamura. It’s wrestling booking 101 to exaggerate a genuine problem to enhance a storyline, and that’s exactly what’s happening here.
Even if Rollins may have to drop the World Heavyweight Championship sooner rather than later, Nakamura isn’t the guy to do it. Up until the past month or so, Nakamura was a midcarder who rarely won matches. So, elevating him to a world title reign wouldn’t really be believable.
There are much stronger candidates on Raw to dethrone Rollins, including Gunther and Drew McIntyre. That’s why Rollins should hold onto the world title until the timing is right, and at Payback, it won’t be.