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.

Sting

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

Rusev

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.

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