Expert WrestleMania 31 Analysis and Picks (part 3 of 3)

This is the third of a three-part series of my expert analysis and picks for the entire card.  Just one day to go until WrestleMania 31 in San Jose, California.  There were two big announcements this week that changed the complexion of the entire card. The first was the Brock Lesnar contract renewal.  On Thursday we learned that the The André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal had been bumped from the card and moved to the pre-show which will now be an hour long and will also include the previously announced Fatal Four Way match for the WWE Tag Team Championships.

I was not very enthusiastic about the Battle Royal to begin with, it was a transparent attempt to get as many superstars on the card as possible.  To that end, I’m not sad to see it get bumped from the show.  On the other hand, it feels like a few guys deserved better, especially Kane, The Big Show, The Miz, and Mark Henry.  These guys have all paid their dues and have appeared multiple WrestleMania cards in the past and it is too bad they are going to miss this one.

We are down to seven matches on the main card, six of which are one-on-one or tag team matches, and there is now only one multi-talent gimmick.  They are all driven by slow-burn feuds or championship belts.  From a purist standpoint, this our best case scenario as fans.

There is a non-scientific poll on asking fans which match they are most excited about.  As of this writing, there are just over 15,000 responses and the results are as follows:

  • 32% Sting vs. Triple H
  • 24% WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns
  • 20% The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt
  • 12% Multi-Superstar Intercontinental Title Ladder Match
  • 5% United States Champion Rusev vs. John Cena
  • 3% AJ Lee & Paige vs. The Bella Twins
  • 3% Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins
  • 1% Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
  • 0% WWE Tag Team Title Fatal 4-Way Match

These numbers are somewhat telling.  The WWE has done a good job of selling the fan base on the myth of Sting.  I suppose there is something about the novelty that has piqued the interest of the WWE Universe.  I still maintain my contrarian opinion that this match is going to be bad and that Sting is overrated, only having been presented well to the current generation of fans in well-edited video packages.

It also says a lot about the bottom two matches.  The fans don’t seem to be very excited about both and it looks like the decision to put them on the pre-show was the right one.  I was going to do an analysis of the tag team fatal 4-way match and had prepared a few disparaging remarks about the horrific New Day faction, the underperforming Cesaro and Tyson Kidd tandem, and the kids-only friendly teams of Los Matadores and the Usos.  Ultimately, I decided not to waste my time or yours with a preview.  According to the WWE poll, not a single person cares about this match!

On to the matches.

AJ Lee & Paige vs. The Bella Twins

A whopping three percent of the fans are interested in this one.  This is the match I have the least interest in out of them all.  Let’s start at the beginning.  I hate the word diva!  It sort of crept up on us in the mid 2000’s as part of the lexicon and somehow they decided to brand the WWE Women’s Championship as the WWE Divas Championship and we have been stuck with this irritating word ever since.  What is a diva?  What does it even mean?  Who still uses that word besides the WWE?

The Divas division these days only exists to act as a commercial for the WWE Total Divas reality show on E.  For years there has been a dearth of talent on the roster when it comes to the female competitors in the WWE.  Their matches are filled with blown spots and obvious miscues.  Their promos are cringe-worthy.  As far as them just being “eye candy” for the male audience, I’m not all that impressed.  The way they dress for their matches in the never sexy combination of some sort of bikini or lingerie type outfit along with big, ugly, flat-footed wrestling boots and knee pads is laughable.  Quite frankly, you can hobnob with way hotter and better dressed chicks yourself on any given Saturday in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

The Divas match on a pay-per-view is typically slotted in just before the main event in what is called the “death spot” on the card that is pretty much just a working intermission.  It gives the crowd a chance to hit the can and relax their voice ahead of the match they really want to see.  Due to the fact that the sun doesn’t set in San Jose until almost 7:30 PM PDT on Sunday, I would suspect that this match will go on earlier so that the Wyatt/Undertaker match can start with as little daylight as possible for their respective entrances.  Whose idea was it to have WrestleMania outdoors in California, anyway?

I have wasted enough of your time and mine on this Divas match.  Here is the competitor breakdown and prediction.

AJ Lee & Paige

These two suck

The Bella Twins

These two suck

The match:

This match is going to suck.

Prediction: Use the opportunity to check your Twitter feed or use the lavatory if you have to go.  Whatever you do, don’t watch this match.

Bray Wyatt vs The Undertaker

This is one of the toughest matches to predict, yet so much can be said about it.  It is going to be a clash between an aging icon known as the greatest performer in WrestleMania history and an up-and-comer with the most unique persona in the WWE today.  We haven’t seen The Undertaker on live TV in over a year and he has been kept absent during the entire run up for the match.  Bray Wyatt has never cut better promos in his life in order to generate interest in this thus-far one-sided feud.

Bray Wyatt

Bray is somewhat of an enigma to wrestling fans.  He is neither an obvious babyface nor heel, exhibiting characteristics of both.  His entrance is designed to generate fan involvement.  He has lead sing-alongs with the crowd in the past.  He has a unique look that is often imitated by fans at live events. Yet he cuts heel promos and cheats to win matches.

His character is unique and it was well worth the risk he took to head in a different direction than his original Husky Harris gimmick he was given as part of the Nexus four years ago.  He has since admitted that the WWE was going to let him go unless they could think of a better way to use him.  While it is easy to spot the obvious influences of Jake “The Snake” Roberts and The Undertaker on him, we have never seen anything quite like the horror movie villan-esque Wyatt in the WWE.  Fans who clamor that wrestling is boring and repetitive these days are not paying attention when Wyatt speaks or wrestles.

Wyatt’s subtle mannerisms, extensive vocabulary, perfect diction, and bizarre subject matter make him the most interesting person to watch in the WWE today.  His promos are difficult to understand but always feel like they have a purpose and you have to read between the lines and use your imagination to understand them.

The self-proclaimed “Eater of Worlds” is in a precarious spot headed into his second WrestleMania.  He has never held a championship and is coming off of a loss to John Cena at WrestleMania XXX.  If he is going to gain some momentum, and more importantly some credibility with the fans, he is going to need something happen soon to get him to the next level and a victory over The Undertaker would do the trick.  A loss and a resulting record of 0-2 at WrestleMania can be very damaging to his future prospects.

The Undertaker

Beginning at WrestleMania VII, and for over two decades the unprecedented 21 WrestleMania match winning streak of The Undertaker became the stuff of legend.  Over the years it was colloquially referred to as “The Streak” and it became the longest running storyline in WWE history.  Quite often his matches would overshadow championship main events headed into WrestleMania and often steal the show.  The drama The Streak brought to his matches was unlike any other creative angle we were ever exposed to.

The announcers started to make mention of The Streak headed into his match against Sycho Sid at WrestleMania 13 where he would capture his sixth win.  It became legendary at WrestleMania X8 when he defeated the incomparable Ric Flair for his 10th win.

In my opinion, the importance and the influence of The Streak was at its peak during the four year run from WrestleMania XXV through the “End of an Era” match at WrestleMania XXVIII during which The Undertaker defeated “Mr. WrestleMania” Shawn Michaels and Triple H two times each, and in the process ending Shawn Michaels’ career.

The Undertaker vs Triple H match at WrestleMania XXVII perfectly demonstrates why no storyline has ever added more intrigue to a match than The Streak.  The Undertaker was protecting an 18-0 winning streak headed into the match and Triple H was out to seek vengeance for Shawn Michaels who was forced into retirement after a loss to ‘Taker the previous year.  Every single false finish in that match was a thing of beauty.  Triple H had beaten down the Undertaker so badly, even at one point using his own Tombstone Piledriver against him, and yet Undertaker kicked out just before the three count every time he was pinned. Near falls are typical in any match, but you could cut the tension in the room with a knife every time he went down for the count.  Just when it seemed that The Undertaker was about to finally stay down, he grabbed Triple H out of desperation and locked him in the Hell’s Gate submission maneuver.  Sensing that this was his only opportunity left to win the match, the crowd was brimming with anticipation until Triple H finally tapped out.

Normal matches, even main events at pay-per-views don’t have this kind of built-in suspense and The Streak will never be duplicated.  There are very few storylines that last more than two pay-per-view cycles in the WWE, let alone one that lasted for over 20 years.  This is why it was so difficult for me to come to grips with the fact that it ended with a loss at WrestleMania XXX last year.

The Undertaker is one of my all-time favorite wrestlers and The Streak was my favorite part of WrestleMania every year.  At 21-0 headed into his match against Brock Lesnar who didn’t have all that much momentum at the time, it seemed that 22-0 was all but a formality.  The match, however was disappointing from nearly the beginning.  The Undertaker seemed to be a half step behind Lesnar and almost looked confused and dizzy.  Lesnar delivered F5 after F5 to The Undertaker and he would kick out every time just like he had at every WrestleMania before this.  In one of the most shocking and unexpected moments in WrestleMania history, after taking a 3rd F5 from Lesnar, The Undertaker was unable to kick out of the ensuing pin before the referee counted three, and suddenly The Streak was over at 21-1.  The crowd in New Orleans fell silent.  Those of us watching from my couch shouted “What just happened?” in disbelief.  I was devastated.

The Undertaker regained consciousness and walked to the back to a standing ovation from the crowd.  We would find out later that he collapsed as soon as he made it behind the curtain and would spend the next few days in the hospital. Vince McMahon himself rode along with The Undertaker to the hospital in the ambulance and didn’t even see the end of WrestleMania in person.

In the days and months following WrestleMania XXX, I could not come to grips with the decision to end The Streak like that, especially to someone like Brock Lesnar.  My feeling was that you just can’t create another storyline like that out of thin air, it took over twenty years! Lesnar was rumored to be leaving after the next WrestleMania and we didn’t get any payoff from The Undertaker because we haven’t seen him on TV since.  It definitely gave Brock Lesnar a boost in the short-term, but long-term I was convinced that it was a mistake to end The Streak just to get Lesnar over for a handful of pay-per-view matches before he would leave WWE and head back to The UFC.

My stance has softened greatly these past few weeks seeing how well Lesnar has done, and knowing that he is going to stay on for several more years.  I also warmed up to the idea that was smart to leave The Undertaker off of TV this entire time.  We have absolutely no idea what to expect when we see him on Sunday.  Don’t get me wrong, I am still upset that The Streak is over, but I have every confidence that The Deadman, just days removed from his 50th birthday is going to come back better than ever on Sunday against Bray Wyatt.

The match:

If anything, the entrances of both Wyatt and The Undertaker should be interesting.  Both are done in low-light conditions and will most likely be elaborate for WrestleMania.  The Undertaker has had some particularly entertaining entrances in his WrestleMania career, especially the ones in which dozens of druids holding torches line the entrance way.  As an avid motorcyclist, I would pop from my couch if he resurrected his biker gimmick and rode his Jesse James West Coast Chopper to the ring.

This is the toughest match to predict on the card.  We have no idea what condition The Undertaker is in and he has never worked a match with Wyatt before.   The one thing we do know is that the drama of The Streak is gone and near-falls will mean nothing, it doesn’t matter if The Undertaker wins or loses this match.  They will have to find some other way to keep the crowd on the edge of their seats.

Prediction: Bray Wyatt captures the win

WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns

One of the most controversial main events in WrestleMania history has been the hottest topic of discussion since Roman Reigns won The Royal Rumble in January and the live crowd and Internet fans immediately turned on him.  The backstories behind these two competitors headed into this match could not be more opposed.  While Brock Lesnar’s story is a masterpiece, Roman Reigns’ story is a tragedy that would only get worse if he were to win the match and capture the championship.

Roman Reigns

The fans have rightfully turned on Reigns and do not want him to become our champion.  While the general consensus is that he “isn’t ready” for this opportunity and that is why people don’t like him, I have a slightly different take on things.  I don’t like Roman Reigns because he simply isn’t very good and it pisses me off that he was hand-picked for this match over a year ago only because he has “the look”.

When he broke in to the main roster as a member of The Shield, Reigns was paired with Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, they were a trio that complemented each other like none other.  They were actually very little alike but the sum of the parts was greater than the individuals.  Each brought something to the table and I always felt that if you could combine the three into one, you would have the perfect wrestler.  Dean Ambrose had the attitude, Seth Rollins had the in-ring ability, and Roman Reigns had the look.

In my opinion, the look is the least important of the attributes that make a successful wrestler.  The annals of WWE history are littered with the limited drawing ability of past champions that were chosen based solely on their looks.  Lex Luger and Sycho Sid are two prime examples.  Remember them? I barely do, either.  When given the main-event push, both were exposed as having very little actual ability and they didn’t last very long at the top.

People who say that Roman Reigns isn’t ready are just being kind.  The fact of the matter is that he has limited talent and it doesn’t seem apparent that more experience is even going to help.  His offensive move set in the ring has been openly criticized by many including Stone Cold Steve Austin.  He doesn’t seem to know how to piece a match together logically by doing something like working an opponent’s body part.  He relies too heavily on both The Superman Punch and The Spear as mini-high spots, both of which are very similar maneuvers.

His promos are uncomfortable to watch.  He completely fails to sell himself to the audience as a credible contender when he speaks.  When he tries to emote, he reminds me of the worst kid in the high school play.  Nothing comes naturally to him, it feels like he is trying to act like someone that he isn’t.  His catchphrases and his demeanor fail to make him sound interesting.  The “I don’t like being told I can’t” and “Believe that” repetitive claptrap hasn’t done anything to make him connect with the audience.

Even his supporters don’t do a very good job of making it sound like his going to do well in his spot.  The best things they can say about him are things like “he works hard.”  That’s just a back-handed compliment, a way of saying “well, he doesn’t come off as being good but he deserves to be here because he really tries.”  Everybody talent in the WWE works hard.  That doesn’t make them all good.

The worst part of his run up to WrestleMania is that they have done nothing to convince us that he is capable of defeating the red-hot Brock Lesnar.  Lesnar has outright dominated his opponents these past 14 months and Reigns has not beaten anyone near his caliber.  They have had no physical confrontations and there is no logical reason to think that he could ever win this match.

Brock Lesnar

On the other end of the spectrum we have Brock Lesnar who is enjoying one of the best and most dominating 14 month runs we have ever seen in the WWE.  Just consider his body of work in that time:

  1. A dominating and brutal takeout of The Big Show at the Royal Rumble in 2014.
  2. He ended The Streak at WrestleMania.
  3. He annihilated John Cena at SummerSlam in one of the most lopsided championship matches ever.
  4. He won a triple-threat match against Cena and Seth Rollins at The Royal Rumble.

The way Lesnar has been presented during this time has been nothing short of masterful.  His pairing with the best talker in the business, Paul Heyman is among the best manager/wrestler tandems since Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Mr. Perfect.  Heyman can cover the one hole in Lesnar’s game, his limited abilities on the microphone. The segments in which Lesnar stands by and chuckles to himself while Heyman explains to the crowd how dominating of a competitor Lesnar is are both meaningful and powerful.

Lesnar is booked as a heel but has had such a great year that the fans seemed geared up to give him a huge pop when he hits the ramp at WrestleMania.  He is one of the most unique champions we have seen in quite some time.

The match:

What was once believed to be a foregone conclusion that Reigns was going to win this match and Lesnar would retire from The WWE is no longer now that Lesnar has publicly signed a new contract with WWE. We really don’t know what is going to happen in this match and many possibilities have been speculated.

  1. The WWE doubles-down on Roman Reigns, sticks to the plan and he beats Lesnar for the WWE Championship.
  2. Paul Heyman turns on Lesnar costs him the match and then teams with Reigns. This scenario could also include a double-turn with Heyman siding with Roman Reigns as heels.
  3. Reigns wins the match and Seth Rollins cashes in the MITB contract and he himself walks out as champion after quickly beating Reigns who is exhausted after his match.
  4. Lesnar wins the match and Seth Rollins cashes in the MITB contract and wins the WWE Championship with help from Paul Heyman.
  5. Brock Lesnar annihilates Roman Reigns in a similar fashion to what he did to John Cena at SummerSlam 2014 and retains the title.

Had to say at this point if one of any of these could actually be true, but I like the fact that we know Lesnar is going to stay and thus anything can happen.  My preference out of the five choices above would be #5, I think that would go down as one of the most memorable WrestleMania main events ever.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar

My WrestleMania week analysis and picks are now complete.  I have gone from not being very excited to super-psyched for WrestleMania on Sunday.  Nothing left to do but sit on the couch, hope for no issues with the WWE Network, and mark out for the show!

Expert WrestleMania 31 Analysis and Picks (part 2 of 3)

This is the second of a three-part series of my expert analysis and picks for the entire card.  Just three days to go until WrestleMania 31 in San Jose, California.  Excitement has never been higher following the announcement of the most public contract renewal in WWE history.  The Internet wrestling fan community erupted when news broke on Tuesday evening that Brock Lesnar had renewed his contract and will stay on past WrestleMania, thus ending his MMA career and ending speculation that he was going to return to The UFC.

In this article, I’m going to discuss Lesnar’s contract renewal and the domino effect it could have on the entire card.  I’m also going to break down and pick the mid-card matches between Triple H and Sting, Rusev and John Cena, and Randy Orton and Seth Rollins.

The Lesnar Contract Renewal

The rumors started in early 2014 but really picked up steam after June 2 when The Shield broke up unexpectedly on Monday Night Raw.  What had been a white-hot babyface faction was suddenly no more and all three competitors were about to go their separate ways.  The dirt sheets and rumor mill websites began to spread word that a monster babyface push was in store for Roman Reigns as a singles competitor, and it would culminate in a wins at the 2015 Royal Rumble and in a championship main event match against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 31.  Lesnar would then step aside from the WWE and return to the UFC.

At the time, Roman Reigns was largely an unknown commodity as a singles competitor.  His promos and matches were almost exclusively held with his Shield teammates Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. Any weaknesses he may have had either on the mic or in the ring could have been masked by the other two. I thought it was rather odd at the time that they would have already projected Reigns as the chosen one given that he had yet to prove himself.   I also was rather annoyed that the ending for WrestleMania 31 was leaked to the public about nine months before it happened.  But, I chose not to think too much of it as fact-checking and most wrestling websites do not tend to go hand-in-hand.  There was plenty of time to wait for the situation to develop so I sat back and watched.

And watched I did as Reigns began to underwhelm as a singles competitor.  His offensive move set was limited and repetitive.  His catch phrase was uninteresting and his promos were weak.  I felt that there was no way that they could continue with the rumored plan (if that rumor was even true to begin with) and they would have to give someone else the title shot.

Of course, Reigns went on to win The Royal Rumble and the crowd in Philadelphia was having none of it. Even a surprise appearance by The Rock couldn’t save the show, a victorious Reigns was booed out of the building.  A friend of mine who was at the show summed it up like this: the problem was that everybody there knew exactly what was going to happen.  The Internet fan community reacted similarly to the live crowd in Philly, denouncing Reigns and lamenting the eventuality that would be his win at WrestleMania.

The Road to WrestleMania was off to a bumpy start.  This was not the reaction the WWE was hoping for, and they seemingly had to change course in booking decisions.  Instead of showcasing Reigns as the one and only savior that could challenge and beat Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship, they had to spend the last two months trying to convince us that he was actually good enough to even be in the WrestleMania main event to begin with.

Most of us had resigned ourselves to the realization that the rumors from last year were true and that they were going to stick to the plan; Roman Reigns was going to win the WWE Championship at WrestleMania and Brock Lesnar was going to walk away from the company. The betting lines on Bovada reflected that sentiment as Reigns was the heavy favorite to win.

Well, the entire wrestling world was shaken to its core on Tuesday when word broke that Lesnar had re-signed with the WWE.  The WWE themselves broke the news on their website.  Never before have had they publicly commented on a contract signing like this, especially during WrestleMania week.  The blogosphere and twitterverse was abuzz with speculation that the plan might now change now that Lesnar was going to stay on and that he may retain the title.  Within a day, Lesnar became the favorite to win on Bovada.

Speculation also began about the effect this could have on the rest of the card.  As my fellow expert WWE blogger Bill Hanstock summed up, there is a theory that with Lesnar continuing on as a part-time champion that the WWE will elevate the secondary Intercontinental and United States championships by awarding them to Daniel Bryan and John Cena respectively so that they can carry the pay-per-view main events with them that Lesnar is not obligated to compete in.

I’m not sure that I buy all that and I am not backing off of my earlier prediction that Bad News Barrett is going to retain the IC title and it is not going to change my opinion of the Cena/Rusev match which I will discuss shortly.

Either way, for the first time since last June, we really do not know what is going to happen at the main event at WrestleMania 31 and that is the best possible outcome any of us could have hoped for.

On to the matches.

Sting vs. Triple H

I actually have very little to say about this special attraction match.  I am not looking forward to it and I think it will be an uninteresting bust.  The only thing that I am looking forward to is going to be Triple H’s entrance, he usually comes up big at WrestleMania with something creative every time.  But even still, I think he missed an opportunity to bring Metallica out to play during his entrance given that the show is being held in their backyard.


In one respect, this match is the last of its kind.  Sting is the last big-name active competitor that earned his stripes in the WCW but never once competed in The WWE.  There is nobody else that can really make that claim.

When it comes down to it, do people really care that much anymore?  Maybe it was a big deal in the years after the WCW demise when Goldberg came over the WWE for a stint.  But the Monday Night Wars were still fresh on the minds of the fans.  This week was the 14th anniversary of the end of the WCW.  Do people still even care?

I started to wonder why I did not like the idea of Sting making his debut in the WWE.  All I knew was that I really did not like him.  But I could not recall why.

As you can probably tell by reading my blog, I have spent a great deal of time watching wrestling.  The more I thought about it, I couldn’t recall any Sting matches.  I didn’t check YouTube or the WWE Network, I just tried to jog my memory and came up blank.  I think he feuded with Ric Flair for a bit but I don’t remember much else.  The guy absolutely failed to make an impression on me for all his years in the WCW.  I think that is my problem with him.

I may be in the minority opinion (not like that has ever bothered me in my entire life), but I did not find his debut in the WWE and his participation since then to be very interesting.  His entrances lacked excitement, his interaction with Triple H at FastLane lacked intrigue, and when he finally ended his silence and started talking last week, the words and emotions did not mesh well with his face-painted look.

Finally, there is Sting’s age to consider. He is in his 50’s.  No disrespect to my elders, but how many people are still in their athletic prime at that age?  Can he still bring it in the ring at the highest level at this age and this long of a layoff?  My hopes are not that high for that to be the case.

Triple H

The WWE COO is known as one of the all-time greats in the WWE and is a sure-fire first-ballot WWE Hall of Famer.  He is body of work at WrestleMania is rivaled by only a small handful of the best.  Despite his less-than-stellar record of 8-10 in his 18 appearances at ‘Mania, he has participated in some iconic matches and always delivers on the grandest stage of them all, particularly in the later stages of his career, his three matches against The Undertaker being among the most memorable.

Given that HHH has scaled back his schedule to focus more on his front office work in WWE corporate, he only books himself in a few matches a year.  It makes sense that he put himself in the Sting match, might as well keep this situation between the two of them and not tie up an up-and-comer in a feud with a relic that should have stayed away.

The match:

I have very low expectations for this match and I hope that this is Sting’s one and only match in the WWE.  In that regard, it makes very little sense for him to go over, he should lose his only WrestleMania match and walk away for good.

Prediction: Triple H for the win.

WWE United States Champion Rusev vs. John Cena


If there were a Rookie of the Year award in the WWE, Rusev would have won it running away in 2014.  In fact, I would go so far as to anoint him Rookie of the Decade, his debut year surpassing even those of The Shield, The Wyatt Family, and Daniel Bryan.

The way Rusev has been handled and presented since his debut in the main roster is a textbook example of how to build a monster heel.  It shows that with proper planning, along with the ability to adapt when needed, a developmental talent can take the roster by storm and get over with the fans.

His initial call-up to WWE was at the 2014 Royal Rumble as “The Bulgarian Brute” Alexander Rusev.  His debut was somewhat muted by the fact that most fans had never heard of him at the time and he was eliminated from the match without much fanfare.  He disappeared from TV for a few months and came back after WrestleMania XXX with a proper debut.

Paired with his valet Lana, Alexander Rusev was presented as a super athlete.  He had a unique and impressive physique, and wrestled barefoot.  He destroyed inferior opponents and the announcers began to take note that he was working on an undefeated streak.

Somewhere along the way, someone in WWE creative decided to tweak his character.  Noticing the anti-Russian and anti-Vladimir Putin sentiment in the country due to Russian aggression in the Ukraine, Rusev was re-branded as “The Hero of the People of The Russian Federation” and his first name was jettisoned.  This, despite the fact that he has a tattoo of the country of Bulgaria on his arm!  Nonetheless, with these changes to his character, he generated a great amount of heat and his rivalries began to script themselves.

Natural feuds began with Jack Swagger, Mark Henry, and The Big Show began, playing off of each superstar’s American patriotism, defending their country’s honor against the villainous foreigner.  Rusev topped them all and remained undefeated.

Throughout his run, Rusev put on a clinic in how to play a wrestling heel.  He has all the necessary elements:

  • He has a gimmick that makes it virtually impossible to like him
  • He regularly insults the crowd and his opponents
  • He doesn’t try to be “the cool heel” and rely on funny catchphrases
  • He has a brutal, dominating, physical wrestling style
  • His valet can do a great deal of the talking for him and she insults his opponents and the fans while praising him
  • He can hold his own on the mic and deliver a powerful promo
  • He cheats to win

His feud with John Cena has been entertaining thus far and I like the fact that this is a re-match of their first encounter at FastLane in February. We’ve already seen Rusev defend his undefeated streak against Cena and very little has changed since then.

John Cena

John Cena is 8-3 at WrestleMania. Last year his eighth win moved him into a tie with Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart for second place on the all-time WrestleMania wins list.  For the second year in a row, he has taken a step down from the main event and is giving “the rub” to a newcomer to the main roster, having defeated Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 30.

John Cena, polarizing as he is with the fans, is still the unquestionable “face of the company” at age 37.  It is rumored that nobody moves as much merchandise as he does, and he is particularly favorited by the children in the audience.  His appeal with children is likely what has him turned off to the adult fans.  His enduring “fighting good guy” persona has endured for a decade and has not varied much, if at all, during his run at the top of the company, to the frustrations of many.

While a full discourse of his remarkable career and the love-hate relationship the fans with him could be quite lengthy, it is important to note how well this matchup fits well within the context of his career.

John Cena really is the only person on the roster right now that can lend credibility to this match.  Given how many superstars have tried before him and failed to defend their country’s honor and snap Rusev’s undefeated streak, nobody else is left that could plausibly mount a challenge to The Super Athlete. Against the backdrop of the anti-American rhetoric that Rusev has peppered Cena with throughout their struggle, Cena has made the case that this is the most important match of his career because he is not just fighting for himself, he is fighting for his country.

Of course that is not really the case, any one of his main-event title matches, and especially his two “Once-in-a-Lifetime” WrestleMania matches with The Rock (if they were once-in-a-lifetime, how did it happen twice?) were certainly much more important than this match.  But this year, the WWE needs to make a statement of some sort to lend credence to the importance of this mid-card match, so why not use good old American patriotism to stir some emotion in the fan base?

The match:

Their first match at FastLane delivered in both brutality and suspense and had a well-planned ending with Cena passing out from the pain of Rusev’s submission hold, having ended up in such a predicament after Lana distracted the referee and Rusev delivered Cena a devastating kick to the plumbs. I think there is still life left in this undefeated streak that Rusev is working on.  I would like to see it, along with his feud with Cena continue on after WrestleMania and into the next pay-per-view, and I don’t think too many fans would see that coming.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE United States Champion, Rusev

Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins

I have my eye on this match as the one that can steal the show, and it could possibly become an instant classic similar to Savage vs. Steamboat at WrestleMania III.  These are two of the best workers in the game right now, both have a smooth style and sell very well.  I expect this match to be fast paced and will tell an exciting story with numerous false finishes.

Randy Orton

Randy Orton enters his twelfth WrestleMania with a 4-7 win-loss record.  His career has been checkered with injuries, attitude problems, and issues with addiction.  Orton has seemingly straightened himself out these past three or four years and it shows in his performance.  Of late, he can be counted on to really get a storyline over and hold up his end of some pretty intense matches.

Having suffered from a bit of overexposure, he took some time off to film a movie and returned with a vengeance to WWE television a few weeks ago to resume his feud with Seth Rollins and The Authority.  His absence due to a worked injury at the hands of Seth Rollins has made their rivalry all the more intense.  In a way it goes to show that they can take overexposed superstars that the fans are bored with, take them off the show for a while, and have them come back with serious momentum if the story is written well.

Orton’s superior in-ring ability is often overlooked.  For a man his size, he can move very quickly and he paces a match very well.  There are never any wasted movements from Randy Orton, everything he does is for a reason.

Seth Rollins

Seth Rollins stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Rusev as one of the top heels in the WWE today.  Another product of the developmental system, Seth Rollins broke in with the high-profile Shield faction and kept his momentum since the group broke up in June.  He is a natural bad guy who, along with Rusev, does all the right things to keep the heat on himself and keep the fans from cheering him.  When Raw was in his home state of Iowa recently, the crowd wanted to get behind him during a promo but he preemptively insulted them and the entire state so they had no choice to but boo.

His handling of the Money in the Bank contract has added a dimension to his character and the fact that he has held it for so long shows that the company believes in his long-term prospects.  There has been speculation that he may try to cash in this Sunday immediately after the prone champion has just won the main event match but I don’t think that’s going to happen.  That scenario seems too far-fetched and over-worked for a WrestleMania.  The last time we’ve seen something like that was when Hulk Hogan challenged Yokozuna for the title at WrestleMania IX after Yoko had just defeated Bret Hart.  That finish is not remembered fondly by most wrestling fans.

What Rollins lacks in size, he makes up for in other ways.  When he is handed an open mic, expect him to deliver an emotional promo that rivals the best in the business today.  He proved that he can carry a long segment when he was booked to a The Daily Show with John Stewart segment at a recent Raw in Newark.  I happened to be in the fifth row at that show and was impressed with how well he came off in his verbal joust with an actual seasoned comedic talk show host.

When given the opportunity to work a long match, Rollins has shown that he is one of the most reliable performers on the roster today.  His ability to sell is on par with a young Shawn Michaels.  He has surprising strength and speed, and is in prime physical condition. He is at his best when matched with someone on his level and given the time to tell a story in the ring.

The match:

I am very excited about this match.  Getting to watch two of the best wrestlers in the business settle a slow-burn feud in a long match at a pay-per-view is pretty much as good as it gets.  Add the possibility of the possibility of a run-in by The Authority and this match is a wrestling fan’s dream.

Prediction: Winner, Seth Rollins

Stay tuned for part three of this series where I will give you everything you need to know about the Divas match, and The Undertaker/Wyatt, and Lesnar/Reigns matches.  My analysis of the divas match is probably going to be at least 20,000 words.

Expert WrestleMania 31 Analysis and Picks (part 1 of 3)

This is the first of a three-part series of my expert analysis and picks for the entire card.  Just five days to go until WrestleMania 31 in San Jose, California.  The go-home Raw is in the books with Bray Wyatt cutting the promo of his life, the foundations for all eight matches being cemented, and an awkward confrontation between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar to end the show.

WrestleMania is the most unique of the twelve pay-per-views that the WWE runs every year. It draws the most fans, it is held in the biggest stadiums, and it makes the most money of any event they hold.  The WWE goes out of its way to make this event stand out in the fans minds as the most grandiose event of the year.  They have described it as “The Grandest Stage of Them All”, “The Granddaddy of Them All”, “The Birthplace of Legends”, and “The Showcase of the Immortals”.

The matches themselves and the announcer’s commentary take on a unique characteristics throughout the event.  Finishing moves which would normally fell an opponent on Monday Night Raw won’t work on the first try, and they will lead to many suspenseful false finishes.  The announcer’s commentary will be dotted with superlatives, telling stories about the passion and the emotion that drives each competitor to succeed in their respective matches.  Ring entrances will be grander and longer than usual.  Every detail of the show will be designed to instill drama, excitement, and awe in the audience.

There are eight matches announced for the card thus far.  Six of them are one-on-one or tag team contests, and the other two are multi-talent matches, designed to fit as many members of the active roster on the card as possible.  These matches tend to be somewhat confusing to watch as there are too many things going on to focus on any particular one of them.  Talents tend to force high spots into their matches in order to create so-called “WrestleMania moments” for their own legacies.

In this article, I’m going to break down and pick the multi-talent matches, the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, and the seven-man Ladder Match for the WWE Intercontinental Title.

The André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

For the second year in a row, the André the Giant Battle Royal will be part of the WrestleMania card.  Last year, the match was mostly uninteresting until the final moments when Cesaro body slammed The Big Show over the top rope to win the match.  It was a memorable spot to see someone pick up a man the size of The Big Show and it seemed as though the victory would have primed Cesaro for a big push towards main-event status in 2014.  That never happened and he has floundered on the mid-card ever since, even being sent back down to developmental NXT for parts of the year.

This year, there are only a handful of competitors that seem to have a chance to win, and the rest are there to support the show.  At the time of this writing, there are 18 known entrants for the match, and a 19th will come from of the winner of an NXT tournament that will take place on Thursday.  It is highly unlikely that anybody who wasn’t announced for the match already is going to emerge as the winner.  Some notables thus far:

The Miz and Damien Mizdow: The feud between these two will probably be a highlight of the match given how long the animosity between the two has grown.  It would be disappointing to see the feud get blown off in a non-singles match, the predictable meltdown of this strange-bedfellow tag team will certainly come into play at some point during the match, and one of these two are probably favorites to win.

Curtis Axel: This third generation competitor has yet to get over with the fans in a meaningful way. Even a pairing with Paul Heyman as his spokesperson and a run as IC Champ really didn’t generate any interest in his character.  His latest gimmick, a spoof on the fact that he never made it into the Royal Rumble and therefore was never eliminated has at least gotten him noticed, if only for the time being.  I’d expect him to get a pop with his “Axelmania” shirt and Hulk Hogan imitation, but I wouldn’t expect that he stands a real shot of winning the match.

Ryback: The Big Guy has had his ups and downs over the past few years.  He carried a main-event program with CM Punk, which to this point has been the highlight of his career.  He’s been back on the mid card for the past year and a half or so and it seems like he is always on the verge of a bigger push to the top.  I’d expect for him to be in the mix at the end of this match.

The Big Show: For the second year in a row, Show is probably considered a favorite to win this match, if only due to his size.  As usual, I expect to see the same tired old spot where he’s too big to throw over the top until either a hero or a gang eliminates him.  He’ll be in it until the end, but he’s not going to win.

Kane: Quite possibly the most underrated talent on the main roster today, Kane’s body of work has spanned an entire generation.  He is one of the most versatile personalities we’ve ever seen, from working with or without a mask, to being evil or humorous, to today’s corporate stooge, he is always able to evolve his character and always deliver in the ring while he is at it.  It is good to see him continue to play a high-profile role in the twilight of his career as a member of The Authority, a character loosely based on his real life hobby as a Libertarian blogger and spokesperson.  I’d like to see more out of Kane and it is quite possible that he is a dark horse pick to win the whole thing.

Mark Henry: Along with Kane, and The Big Show, Mark Henry is a seasoned veteran who seems to get better with age.  He seems to come and go a lot more often these days, quite possibly hampered by injuries.  They have flip-flopped his character this past year between heel and babyface and it is somewhat unclear where he is right now.  His last high profile WrestleMania match was a victory over Ryback at WM 29.  He’s another guy I’d expect to see at the end but I would doubt that he’s likely going to win.

Goldust: Goldust is at the end of his unexpected comeback.  One of the most outlandish competitors we have ever seen surprised many with his most recent run, he appears to be lighter and quicker than he ever was which is no small feat for a man in his mid-40’s who has been in the business for as long as he has.  I felt that they should have had a Goldust vs. Stardust match at WrestleMania to send him off but that obviously didn’t happen, that feud was blown off with an odd finish to their match at FastLane.  Either way, this could very likely be his last WrestleMania as an active competitor.  It would certainly be a feel good moment if he were to win this match.

NXT: There is going to be at least one NXT developmental talent in the match.  Whomever it is will certainly get a chance to shine in his first main-roster WrestleMania appearance.  If WWE Creative has a long-term vision for whomever wins, he will probably at least look strong in this match.  It doesn’t do much good to bring a developmental talent up to the main roster, put him in a WresteMania match, and have him get tossed immediately.  He should at least be given a shot to make an impression.

Sheamus:  We haven’t seen him in months and vignettes on Raw suggest that he is returning sometime soon, most likely as a heel?  Is he going to enter the match?  Is he going to interfere?  If he does make a surprise return during the Battle Royal, expect him to make an impact.

The Flotsam and Jetsam: There isn’t much to make of the others in the match such as Fandango, Adam Rose, Zach Ryder, Titus O’Neil, or Heath Slater.  Most of them are developmental talents that have failed to get over, or glorified jobbers that stick around on the card to enhance mid-level talent.  They are going to get eliminated early and not be much of a factor in the match.

This is a tough match to call, there are at least five or six men who stand a legitimate shot of winning.

Prediction: The Miz to win by eliminating Damien Mizdow

Ladder Match for the WWE Intercontinental Match

This match is a curious mishmash of seven contrasting personalities and wrestling styles.  It is set against a humorous backdrop of the opponents of champion Bad News Barrett taking turns stealing his title belt as if it were their own.

I don’t like this match for two main reasons.  One is that the ladder match is past the point of being overdone, it has been a pay-per-view mainstay since WrestleMania X and it even has a pay-per-view of its own every December.  There is very little suspense left with each false finish when someone can’t quite reach the belt before he is knocked off the ladder by someone else.  The second reason is that seven competitors is too many.  It is going to be difficult to focus on the action and there are going to be long pauses where someone falls off the ladder and becomes “temporarily incapacitated” outside the ring in order to lie low and allow the cameras to focus on some other spot.  There are at least three too many men in this match, it would have been a little more interesting if it were only four competitors to follow.

A rundown of the competitors and what to expect:

Bad News Barrett (c): Barrett’s career has been a bit of a figurative roller coaster since his debut as part of the Nexus.  He has had some highs right out of the gate, in particular as a part of a main event program against John Cena.  His lows unfortunately were during times when he was on the injured list after suffering numerous harms that required surgery and rehab.  He got over with the fans in a big way when he mysteriously started coming to Raw and delivering one or two lines of “bad news” and won the IC championship as a babyface.  He was stripped of the title when he got hurt but upon his latest return, he was given the title back.  He’s still called “Bad News” although he has stopped giving the crowd their bad news.

Of late, he has been booked to look like a weak champion, losing many matches to his competitors in the run up to WrestleMania, as if to tell us that he is vulnerable and we should pay attention because there could likely be a new champion.  I expect BNB to deliver some of the most memorable spots in this match as he attempts to retain his title.

Daniel Bryan: Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  Last year, Daniel Bryan became the first person to win multiple matches on a WrestleMania card including a main event World Title match since Randy Savage at WM IV.  Everybody’s favorite underdog, the man that the masses forced upon WWE creative in at WrestleMania XXX is now one of seven men in a battle for a secondary title.  I’ve never been a fan of Daniel Bryan the babyface, I thought he was at his most interesting as a paranoid heel who came to the ring in a Ric Flair-style ring robe.  But even I have to question the motivation behind this move and I’m left to wonder why he couldn’t be given a singles match against anyone else in this match.

Either way, I expect a solid performance out of Bryan when he does have the focus. His style pretty much works with everyone, it’ll be interesting to see what he comes up with during a ladder match, especially since none of his submission holds will be relevant.

R-Truth: Curious decision to book R-Truth in this match, he hasn’t had much of a singles push to speak of in years.  He came out of nowhere to be in this match and I wouldn’t expect him to be much of a factor at all.  He is probably one of the guys they could have cut and this match wouldn’t have lost anything.

Dean Ambrose: The “Unstable” Dean Ambrose has been trying to regain some of the momentum that carried him late into 2014.  He more or less filled in Roman Reign’s spot last year at the top of the card while Reigns was out with a hernia.  He did an admiral job in several main event matches at pay-per-views including above average bouts with Bray Wyatt and Seth Rollins.  His personality, odd look, and brawling style have surprisingly gotten him over as a babyface even though he seems more suited to work as a natural heel.  He is the closest thing to an anti-hero since Stone Cold Steve Austin.  Perhaps his biggest limitation thus far has been creative decisions to force the notion that he really is “unstable” on us, including forgettable segments where he maimed a mannequin, or threw the contents of a hot dog cart on members of The Authority.

Ambrose has been booked to look strong lately, with several wins on Raw.  He also seems to be a hit with the fans as they voted for him on the WWE app during last Monday’s Raw.  Expect him to be a factor in this match and a possible favorite to win.

Luke Harper: Since his departure from The Wyatt Family, Harper has been searching for an identity.  He hasn’t changed his look or mannerisms at all since the split, but it is tough to decide exactly whom he really is and what he stands for.  He already made a strong impression in a ladder match at TLC in December against Dolph Ziggler, likely earning this opportunity. Until they figure out a new creative direction for Harper, I expect the big man to spin his wheels in the mid to lower card.  Don’t expect him to win this match.

Dolph Ziggler: Dolph is another competitor similar to BNB in that every time he seems to get hot, his career is slowed down by injuries.  The night after WM XXIX he captured his first World Championship by cashing in his Money in the Bank contract against Alberto Del Rio and received the biggest audience pop of his life. Unfortunately for him, shortly into his run ne was felled by a serious concussion and has not emerged in the main-event scene since.

Dolph has the crowd behind him now that he has turned his back on his arrogant heel gimmick. He is another person, similar to Bryan, who pits the fans against WWE creative.  The fans want more of him and want to see him compete for championships, but WWE creative seems to not share that notion and continues to book him in mid-level matches.  Given that he is a former IC champ, he is probably considered among the favorites to win, but I expect them to head in a different direction.

Stardust: The son of WWE Hall of Famer “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, and the younger half-brother of Goldust, Cody Rhodes (aka Stardust) has professional wrestling in his DNA.  He is at his mid-career level and has had several high profile bookings in his past.  He is a versatile personality and a steady-hand in the ring.

In this case, he doesn’t seem to be a fit for this match.  The WWE booking team has missed the obvious chance to put him in a brother-vs-brother match against Goldust. Instead, their feud seemingly came to an end at WWE FastLane and they are now in separate matches. His participation in this match was booked late and it doesn’t feel like he belongs in this match.

Overall I expect his match to be confusing, full of high spots involving ladders, and dotted with many false finishes.  Most of it will likely be repeats of what we have seen in past ladder matches, and my hopes for this match to be anything special are pretty low. With any luck, we at least get a set up for a new feud, a contender for the IC title at the next PPV, or a heel turn.

Prediction: Winner and still Intercontinental Champion, Bad News Barrett

Later this week, part two of this series will break down Sting/HHH, Rusev/Cena, and Orton/Rollins.

Still Searching for WrestleMania Excitement

Ten days to go and one episode of Raw left until WrestleMania 31 in California.  I thought about my post last week about searching for excitement for WrestleMania and I was trying to get to the bottom of what my problem was.  Along came Monday Night Raw this week and things began to improve, at least a little bit.  I’m still not convinced this year’s ‘Mania has the potential to deliver a classic match or go down as one of the all-time great shows, but it is starting to show some more potential.

To start, let’s consider what a typical WrestleMania is made of.  These days it usually follows a formula along these lines:

  • A card featuring 3-4 main event-level matches that would include:
    • A WWE title defense
    • A special attraction from a returning legend
    • A match featuring John Cena
    • The defense of The Undertaker’s unprecedented WrestleMania winning streak
  • A musical act
  • A “death spot” match, usually the divas match that gives the fans a break before the main event
  • The undercard, typically overbooked multi-talent matches

So, how is this year’s card shaping up thus far?  The musical act so far is LL Cool J.  I guess if I was an LL Cool J fan and it was 30 years ago, I’d be happy.  But this doesn’t have me as amped as when Motörhead played the entrance for Triple H at WM 17, or when Living Color played for CM Punk at WM 29.

How about the undercard?  It seems to be anchored by the 7-man ladder match for the WWE Intercontinental championship and the André the Giant Battle Royal.

On paper, the IC match appears to be overbooked with about 3-4 too many competitors involved.  While you can make a case that each man in the match is capable of delivering on his own, it is going to be hard to focus on any person and they are probably all going to try to outshine each other with high spots from the ladder.

Bad News Barrett, Dean Ambrose, Luke Harper, and Dolph Ziggler are going to try for a big WrestleMania moment.  R-Truth, I’m guessing, was booked out of respect to give him a high-profile match in the twilight of his career.  The last minute additions of Stardust and Daniel Bryan are curious.  I would have liked to see Stardust continue his feud with Golddust and there isn’t much of a story arc to this booking.

But how exactly did Daniel Bryan go from such a high at WrestleMania XXX last year by winning two matches and the WWE title to getting buried in a 7 person match for the IC title just one WrestleMania later?  Couldn’t he have been given at least a one-on-one grudge match?  Not since King Kong Bundy was forced to compete in a 6-man tag team match with two midgets on his team at WrestleMania III in 1987 has there been such a precipitous drop-off for a main event competitor from one ‘Mania to the next.  You have to wonder what Bryan did to get taken down to this level.  If they keep this up, even I’m going to start rooting for the guy!

I don’t have high hopes for this match. There’s too much going on, the late additions to the match were oddly placed, and there are too many people involved.

The André match doesn’t grab me either, mainly for the same set of reasons.  It feels like a consolation prize for talents wouldn’t have otherwise been included on the card.  It also minimizes a few feuds that have been building for a while, particularly the one between Miz and Mizdow.  WWE Creative went so far as to make those two tag team champs as part of the buildup for their eventual breakup, and now the culmination of their conflict is going to be overshadowed by the 28 other competitors in the ring with them.

The main event matches all have at least some sort of promise for one reason or another.  The recent events on the past few episodes of Raw have raised the interest level in them somewhat.

The Undertaker/Bray Wyatt match is tough to gauge.  Gone is the unprecedented and iconic Undertaker 21 match WrestleMania undefeated streak, having been thwarted by Brock Lesnar at WM 30 last year. The Streak had become legendary, and often overshadowed the WWE title match.  Now that it’s over and we haven’t seen Undertaker at all since he walked up the ramp after his loss in New Orleans, it is hard to understand what this match is even going to be about.

The Undertaker is unquestionably one of the best talents the WWE has ever seen and he is the best and most enduring performer in WrestleMania history.  However, I feel like he should have gone out in one of two ways, either by retiring undefeated at WrestleMania, or leaving after his first loss.  A return this year seems rather pointless.  As much potential as Bray Wyatt has shown in his short run on the main roster, he still has a way to go to be considered an elite talent.  It’s hard to get excited about this one, or even pick a winner.  I do, however, like the fact that they kept The Undertaker off of TV, at least it will be interesting to see what he looks like when his entrance music hits and he walks on stage.

I have my eye on the Rusev vs. John Cena match as one with potential.  Rusev is on a major roll and has earned the push he was given out of the gate when he was called up from NXT developmental last spring.  He has steadily improved and his presentation is solid.  The villainous anti-American heel is a type of character that appears on and off over the years and is almost always guaranteed to generate heat with the fans.  Rusev is the perfect foil for John Cena, himself a modern spin of a classic WWE character, the fighting babyface.  The two had a surprisingly interesting match at WWE FastLane and I would expect them to raise the bar at their WrestleMania rematch.  The undefeated streak of Rusev vs Cena’s patriotism add a level of emotion and intrigue to this match.  I have high hopes that this match will deliver.

I’m very excited about the Randy Orton/Seth Rollins clash.  This should be an emotional affair and a brutally physical encounter.  Seth Rollins has emerged from the breakup of The Shield as the unquestionable best of the trio now that they are on their own.  His in-ring work is among the best on the roster today, reminiscent of a young Shawn Michaels, particularly in how he takes his bumps and sells for his opponent.  His mike skills are among the best and he has proved himself in long segments such as his encounter with John Stewart in Newark a few weeks ago.  We were given a four month break from an over-exposed Randy Orton while he filmed a movie and he is riding high in his return.  Always an underrated in-ring performer, I expect Orton to deliver and his style to work well with Rollins.  This match could steal the show and could possibly go down as a classic.

The WWE title match itself is one of the biggest mismatches we have seen in years.  Brock Lesnar is having one of the best 18 month runs that we have ever seen.  He ended The Streak, he won the title in dominating fashion, and did it all while being mostly kept off-camera.  He truly is a special attraction and his absence from the ring during his off periods only serve to make his matches more special.  Paul Heyman, of course, is so good at his promos that it is becoming hard for him to generate heel heat for Lesnar because the crowd ends up cheering for him no matter what he says.  He is the perfect mouthpiece pairing for the mostly-silent Lesnar.  And when Lesnar does talk, you can’t help but hang on every word.  His interview on Raw this past Monday is among the best he’s ever done and it was punctuated by his admission that he is in the middle of a very real contract dispute with The WWE.  Nothing adds more interest to a wrestling storyline than reality.

Roman Reigns, on the other hand, is way over his head and way out of his league.  His appearance in a WrestleMania main event is at least five to seven years premature, and I’m not convinced he’d ever be ready for this spot.  There isn’t a single interesting thing about his character.  He’s got a banal catch phrase, it is impossible to tell what he stands for, and there are times that he can barely put a sentence together when handed the microphone.  His matches are predictable and boring.  He has trouble mounting a credible offense, and all too often falls back on the Superman Punch and spear, both of which are annoyingly similar.

Reigns was picked for this match based solely on his look and a hunch that WWE brass had years ago when they hired him that he would be big someday.  I’ve said time and time again that they are trying to brainwash us into thinking that he is our babyface savior, the one man who can step in to the ring and beat the Beast Incarnate, Brock Lesnar.  Logically, you have to ask yourself if that even makes sense.  What has he ever done to indicate that he would be able to knock off someone that has as many dominant wins this past year as Lesnar?  Who has he really beaten one-on-one that would make you believe he has it in him to come away with a victory.

So, while I expect the undercard to underwhelm, I think we are still looking at a mixed bag of main event level matches at WrestleMania 31.  It doesn’t appear to be as stacked a card as Wrestlemania X-Seven was, nor does it look like any of the matches will be an instant classic like Michaels/Undertaker at WrestleMania XXV.  This past Monday’s Raw helped raise my level of excitement somewhat, I still don’t think that this is the best they can do.

Getting on the Road

I grew up in Rutherford, NJ and throughout my high school years I rode a Schwinn 12-speed bike all over Bergen County.  I loved that bike, I rode it every day in the summertime and as often as I could when school was in session.  My 17th birthday wasn’t until December of my senior year so I had to wait until then to get my driver’s license.  Riding my bike was no only my favorite hobby, it was also the only means I had of self-transportation until I was old enough to drive.

While I can’t remember the exact time, I can recall in vivid detail the exact moment and place that my interest in motorcycling was sparked, and it all happened very quickly.  I was stopped at the red light on the corner of Jackson and Union in Rutherford.  A gray-bearded man on a Harley-Davidson pulled up next to me and stopped at the light.  He looked to his right where I was waiting on my Schwinn, and nodded hello.  The light turned green, and with a loud roar of his engine, he took off across Jackson Avenue at what seemed like 100 mph compared to the top speed of my bike.

Out of nowhere, my Schwinn suddenly felt entirely inadequate.  There was something about the nod the guy gave me that was intriguing.  It was almost as if it were some sort of acknowledgement that there was a kinship between the two of us being that we were both riding through town on two-wheeled vehicles.  As the noise of his engine faded while the distance between us grew, all I knew was “Man, when I’m an adult, I gotta upgrade to one of those!”

A few years later in college, one of my Fraternity brothers bought a Harley-Davidson Sportster 883.  The 883 model was, and still is, a very good starter bike.  It has the lightest frame of any standard Harley and has the smallest engine, making it the easiest to control.  It is also the cheapest making it affordable to my buddy.

One day he took me for a ride on the back of it up the Hudson River Valley.  It was a fall day and the foliage was beautiful.  It was an entirely new experience seeing the colored leaves from a bike, I was surrounded by them in a way that was completely different than if we had been enclosed in a car. He showed me the wave, and it was the first time I noticed that bikers do it.  Every time he approached another bike headed in the opposite direction, he waved with his left hand and the other rider always reciprocated.  Above all else, I learned that day that being on a motorcycle was not about the destination, it was about the journey.

It took me a few more years to actually go and do something about it.  Lack of funds was pretty much the only thing that was holding me back until I was out of college for about two years.  It was a bit of a “now what do I do?” moment when I decided to go ahead and learn how to ride.  I was getting used to being an adult and making my own decisions and I had a few bucks in my pocket.  I was bored living in a small apartment and I needed a hobby other than drinking.  A few friends and I signed up for the Rider Education of New Jersey motorcycle safety program.

The RENJ program was geared towards beginners and was held over a weekend at a community college in New Jersey.  Half of the course was in a classroom, and the other half was on motorcycles that they provided.  They put us on the bikes, set up some drills, and showed us how to do them.  The bikes were very small and underpowered and very difficult to put into gear without stalling.  It was my first time ever at the controls of a motorcycle and even in a parking lot was very exciting.  At the end, we had to pass a written test and a road test.  Once that was done, we were eligible to get our motorcycle endorsements on our New Jersey licenses.  Happy to say that I aced both tests and was on my way.

I did some shopping around for various brands of bikes, but I knew what I wanted.  After a few courtesy visits to Honda, Yamaha, and BMW dealers, I went to Legends Harley Davidson in Clifton, NJ and put a deposit down on a 1999 Harley Davidson Sportster 883.  Legends was a hole-in-the-wall run by a bunch of slovenly looking jerks who had the people skills of prison guards.  It was quite the contrast of today’s modern Harley Davidson dealership that is bright, large, airy, and run by friendly people.  Either way, my check cleared so they were happy to sell me a bike and then have me come back for service on it for years.

At that time, Harley Davidson was a much different company than it is today.  You couldn’t just walk into a dealership and buy whatever bike you wanted off of the floor.  You had to put a deposit down and wait.  They gave me a six month estimate and it took eight for the bike to arrive.  I spent eight full months filled with both excitement and dread about the day I would be able to ride off.  I knew I had to get the bike from Clifton back home to Hoboken, which was a harrowing concept.  My experience on a motorcycle was on a 125cc Suzuki in a parking lot, I never even got it higher than second gear.  I would have to take an 883cc Harley home on at highway speed.  On top of that, there was a grated bridge crossing the Passaic River that I knew I had to cross.  All my training manuals had special advice on how to handle grated bridges as they tend to make the bike feel like it doesn’t have traction and makes it wobble.

My Sportster 883

My first bike, a red Harley-Davidson Sportster 883, pictured in October, 2004 near West Point, NY.

The day came in May 1999 to pick up the bike.  I had a few friends take me to the dealer in Clifton and I rode it around the block a few times.  From what my buddies told me, the people standing around the dealership could easily tell that it was my first bike and were laughing at me trying to shift gears.  I had my buddies follow me in the car as I headed home.  We got to Route 21 in Clifton and I started to accelerate and upshift.  It felt so fast I thought I was doing 80mph.  I looked at the controls and was doing 35mph.  We hit Route 3 and headed east, towards the grated bridge.  Eight months of dread were over as I crossed it with no issue.  I pumped my fist in celebration and kept on towards home.  Sitting in traffic under an overpass on Route 495, I revved the engine just to hear the echo.  Not as loud as I would have liked it, but it was a start.

I made it to Hoboken without incident.  All the fear and dread was gone, I knew I could do it from then on.  I had arranged for a parking spot at a local lot in Hoboken and pulled in.  I went through the checklist in my mind from the dealership on how to turn the bike off.  I cut the engine, took the key out of the ignition, and got off the bike.  Instantly I realized there was a detail that they didn’t give me because they assumed I would have figured that part out.  Before you get off the bike, you have to put the kickstand down.  I promptly dropped the bike on its left side and my left foot landed underneath it.  The only thing that kept me from getting pinned was the saddle bag on the rear that caught the bike at the bottom.  After all that, I dropped my brand new bike on my first trip home. At least I wasn’t moving!  I managed to pick it up, no small feat considering that it weighed about 500 pounds and surveyed the damage. I had bent the clutch lever at its tip, and scratched the side view mirror.  I sure learned that lesson the hard way.

This was 1999, it is now 2015 and I am on my third bike.  I now own a 2006 Harley Davidson Fat Boy, my dream bike.  This bike is an exact replica of my second bike which was stolen the year I bought it from my garage.  I loved it so much that I called the dealer immediately and told him to build me a new one exactly like the last one.  The big difference is that now I have LoJack! I have a custom green/black paint scheme on the sheet metal, which to this day is very rare.  I have a set of Vance & Hines Short Shot exhaust pipes, it is decorated with the Harley-Davidson Skull logo on all sides, and it has a detachable sissy bar with a touring rack.

My Harley-Davidson Fat Boy

My current bike, a 2006 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. Pictured here in July 2014 on Skyline Drive outside of Front Royal, VA. This was during a week long trip, the touring mount provides enough cargo space for a long trip.

By my estimate, since my first day on the bike, I have over 85,000 miles of riding experience.  I’ve been from Canada to Georgia, covering every major mountain range in between.  I take my camera whenever I’m on the bike (iPhone photos suck in comparison to a regular point-and-shoot) and have pictures of everywhere I’ve been.  I’ve been to the Green Mountains, White Mountains, Pocono Mountains, Allegheny Mountains, Catskill Mountains, Adirondack Mountains, Blue Ridge Mountains, Smoky Mountains, and a bunch of others up and down Appalachia.  I’ve hit every standard motorcycle trip there is along the mountains on the east coast such as Tail of The Dragon, Cherohala Skyway, The Blue Ridge Parkway, and Skyline Drive.  I’ve invented some of my own routes along state and US highways, along roads that you wouldn’t have known were there unless you went looking for them.

At my first dealership, they threw in a t-shirt with the purchase of the bike.  It read “Harley-Davidson: If I had to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.”  As I write this blog today, those words still hold true.  Riding a motorcycle is a very personal experience that affects individuals in different ways.  I’ve adjusted my style over the years, in the beginning all I wanted to do was to see how many miles I could rack up in a day.  These days I take a much more deliberate approach, making stops on the way to see the sights along the way.  But when I’m on the bike on an out of the way road, and I’m all alone with my thoughts, nothing can touch me.  I’m immersed in the sights, sounds, and smells of my surroundings, all while at the controls of my own personal roller coaster.  It is an experience that can’t be substituted in a car on a bicycle.  Riding a motorcycle defines who I am and I can’t imagine what life would be like without my bike.

It’s now March, 2015.  I was going to buy myself a new bike for my 40th birthday last December but got cold feet for two reasons.  One is that I’m saving up for a new primary home and every dollar counts at this point.  But, more importantly, I’m not ready to part with my bike.  It doesn’t have some of the fancier bells and whistles that the newer bikes have, but it’s mine and I don’t need anything else right now.  Barring unforeseen circumstances such as a crash or a catastrophic engine failure, I’m hanging on to it for the foreseeable future.  I have this week off of work and yesterday the weather cooperated for the first time all year.  I started it up for the first time since October and took it to my dealership in Morris Plains, NJ.  Man, did it feel good to get back on it.  I have an electrical issue with the speedometer which the dealer is going to fix and it will be ready for the season.  I am looking forward to my first Saturday all-day ride.

Searching for WrestleMania 31 Excitement

17 days and two episodes of Raw to go until WrestleMania 31.  Normally, the level of excitement as a fan of the WWE is pretty high at this time of year.  Most of the WrestleMania card is in place and every episode of Raw is designed to build anticipation for the big event.  Right now, I’m not sure how I feel about the card from top to bottom.  There is some decent build up for some of the matches, but others feel uninspired, rushed, and forced.  Let’s take a look at some of the announced matches.

Starting with Triple H and Sting, the buildup for this match has the trademark of a Triple H “slow burn” angle that began at Survivor Series in November.  It began as a publicity stunt to get fans to watch the Pay Per View for free by teasing the first ever appearance of Sting in a WWE ring.  For reasons that were unknown to us at the time, Sting interfered with the main event, costing Triple H his job at the time.  A few encounters with a silent Sting between then and now lead to the challenge Sting made to HHH at the FastLane PPV.  During the last Raw, we finally heard Sting speak and explain his side of the story, one that had been pretty much one-sided in favor of HHH until that point.

The outcome of the events between Sting and HHH thus far haven’t surprised me in a bit, I am still convinced this match is a bad idea and will underwhelm.  While I like the slow burn approach to this angle, it hasn’t done anything to get me interested in the match between these two.  In fact Sting has come out flat on two big occasions when they finally gave us a chance to see him and have him make an impression.  First was the encounter at FastLane.  After months of teases, Sting entered the ring in the least dramatic fashion as possible, straight from the back with no dark effects or anything.  Didn’t say a word and silently challenged Triple H to a match at WrestleMania by pointing to the WM banner with his bat.  While it was somewhat unusual to get a wordless challenge like that, the follow up on Raw this past Monday was terrible.  Sting finally spoke, and when he did, it wasn’t even live, it was in a recorded vignette, the content of which could not have been more cliché.  All we got was a diatribe about how he wanted to avenge the demise of the WCW.  Come on, that was 14 years ago!  Even the fans that remember WCW could care less at this point.  Couldn’t they have thought of something else?

I stand by my earlier statement that his match is a bad idea.  The anticipation that was built around Sting’s arrival is going to fizzle when he actually sets foot in the ring.  He was never all that great of a wrestler to begin with, and now he is about 17-18 years past his prime.  Triple H can still bring a level of intensity to his matches but asking him to carry this match against a relic might be a bit too much to ask.  I have very low expectations for this one.

The André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal looks to continue to serve as a way to get the talents on the card that didn’t manage to land in a featured match.  A typical Battle Royal is difficult to follow, especially at the beginning when the bell rings and 30 competitors are in the ring together.  There isn’t much room for an individual talent to showcase much offense other than kicking and punching, and it is difficult to focus on any one particular part of the action.  Only after the first 25 or so competitors are eliminated does it begin to get interesting.

In the first André match last year, we were treated to a memorable spot when Cesaro picked up The Big Show and threw him over the top rope to seal his victory.  Unfortunately, it failed to get Cesaro over in the coming months and he is still searching for some sort of foothold with the fan base.

This year, it is difficult to predict who will win this match and what the outcome will be but it looks like they are going to attempt to settle several mini-feuds within this match, particularly between The Miz and Damien Mizdow, and The Big Show and Kane.  It is somewhat of a letdown that the long-running tag-team-destined-to-break-up storyline between the Miz and Mizdow is going to get engulfed by the number of other people in this match.  Same goes for Kane and The Big Show.  The conflicts between these men should really be settled in singles matches, not in one big Battle Royal match.  Either way, as I mentioned at the top, this match is difficult to predict and could surprise us with some high spots and a surprise victor, hopefully one that fares better with the win than Cesaro did last year.

The ladder match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship could potentially steal the show.  Thus far, we have a good mix of up-and-coming and veteran talents in this match whose styles should complement each other.  A multi-way ladder match has been a WrestleMania staple several times in the last 15 years and has produced some of the most memorable high-spots in WM history.  I would expect this match to be no different.  The storyline around the feud between the competitors in this match who keep stealing the title belt from Bad News Barrett and then from each other has been surprisingly comical.  I am looking forward to seeing what the relative WrestleMania newcomers such as Ziggler, Barrett, Ambrose, and Harper are going to do to try to cement their own WrestleMania moment.  I also like the veterans in the match, R-Truth and Stardust.  Either one of them can surprise us with a high spot that we wouldn’t expect.

I’ll have more to say about the main event matches of Lesnar/Reigns, Cena/Rusev, and Undertaker/Wyatt after next week’s Raw.  Right now, I’m interested to see if any of these questions are going to be answered soon:

  • Who else is going to be in the André match?
  • Is Golddust going to participate somehow? Rumor had it that he was going to retire but he was victorious in his last match at FastLane and that didn’t feel like a career-ending send off to one of the most enduring characters we’ve seen in WWE history.
  • What role, if any, is Shaemus going to play at WrestleMania?
  • What is Daniel Bryan going to do? It seems as though they’ve teased his involvement in the IC Ladder Match but that would be a precipitous drop-off from his involvement in last year’s WM which included a victory over Triple H to start the show, and his championship victory over Randy Orton and Batista in the main event.  Certainly they can find a one-on-one matchup for the guy between now and WM, can’t they?
  • Are they going to be able to get Roman Reigns over any more in the next two weeks? The fans still aren’t convinced that he is our “babyface savior”, especially given the “you can’t wrestle” chants that keep popping up during his matches.

Chicken Cutlets with Lime and Dill Mayo and Pickled Red Onions

In a moment of curiosity, I made a batch of pickled onions from a recipe I found on Bon Appetite.  I didn’t have much to do with them once they were in the jar so I threw together a quick chicken recipe that’s easy to make on a weeknight.  As it turns out, the onions aren’t necessary, you can enjoy this meal without them.  You can also make the mayonnaise a day in advance.

For the mayonnaise:

  • 1 C mayonnaise
  • Zest of one lime
  • Juice of one lime
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ t dried dill
  • ¼ t ground pepper

For the chicken:

  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ C milk
  • 1 C breadcrumbs
  • ¼ C extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb chicken breasts thin slices

For the onions (optional):

Combine mayonnaise ingredients and chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes

Combine the eggs and milk in a shallow plate.  In a second plate, spread the breadcrumbs in a thin layer.  Dip each chicken breast slice in the egg mixture to coat on both sides.  Coat each side with breadcrumbs.

Heat olive oil over medium heat.  When the oil is warm, cook the chicken for 2 minutes on each side.

Serve with the mayonnaise and pickled onions, if using.