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.

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