WWE SummerSlam Analysis and Predictions

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Following WrestleMania each year, the WWE tends to find itself in a bit of a creative slump over the summer.  This year is no different.  There are very few hot wrestlers or exciting angles on WWE TV right now.  Battleground was critically panned as one of the worst pay-per-views of the year.

The WWE is looking to break out of the malaise when it invades Brooklyn this weekend for the 30th annual SummerSlam event.  As is always the case since the dawn of the WWE Network (without PPV time limits), this is a very crowded card with 13 matches, inclusive of the three on the pre-show.  There are a few matches with promise, and a few that will have to exceed expectations to become memorable.

Cesaro and Sheamus (c) vs. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins in a Tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins are back together after three years as adversaries following the breakup of The Shield.  The story behind their reunion was entertaining and compelling.  Even more importantly, this angle sets things up for one of them to turn on the other in time for a match at WrestleMania next April!  But in the here and now, the WWE fans are very excited to see them back together and will be hot for them during this match.

Having gone as far as they could in their careers as singles competitors, veterans Cesaro and Sheamus have re-invented themselves as tag-team competitors.  They are serviceable heels, and do a good job of keeping interest in the tag title championship by having the babyfaces chase them.  This matchup has the potential to steal the show.

Prediction: Winners and still WWE Raw Tag Team Champions, Cesaro and Sheamus

Finn Bálor vs. Bray Wyatt

Finn Bálor returns to the building where he simultaneously became the first ever WWE Universal Champion and broke his shoulder at last year’s SummerSlam.  As far as I can tell, he’s nothing more than a puny guy with an elaborate entrance who wears body paint once or twice a year.  Kind of like half of an Undertaker but like 1/25th as good as the Undertaker.

Bray Wyatt finally had his chance this year when he defended his first WWE Championship.  He blew it with a crappy match against Randy Orton and his weeks-long title run will be forever remembered for how badly it ended.  He hasn’t had much momentum since.

We just saw this match on Raw this week, but it was only to set up the reasoning behind Bálor deciding to wear his body paint for their SS match.  Wyatt won the first one, it would be a shame to see a 50/50 booking and give the win straight back to Bálor.

Prediction: Winner, Bray Wyatt

Big Show vs. Big Cass in a Singles Match with Enzo Amore suspended above the ring in a shark cage

The WWE must really like the shark cage gimmick as it was used earlier this year at the Royal Rumble with Chris Jericho trapped inside of it. Either that, or they spent a lot of money on it and are looking for a good return on investment.

Big Cass and Enzo Amore were a hot tag team, buoyed by a unique appearance, in-ring chemistry, and an entrance cadence that the audience loved to participate in.  When they predictably broke up a few months ago, their momentum fell flat and nobody seems to care about either one of them anymore.

The Big Show is always a dependable veteran.  This was an obvious match up between the two tallest men in the WWE.  There aren’t going to be too many moonsaults and frog-splashes in this match!

Prediction: Winner, The Big Show

Randy Orton vs. Rusev

Two once-promising guys turned lazy in a match with virtually no build-up.  Beer break.

Prediction: Winner, Rusev

AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship. Shane McMahon will serve as special guest referee

As uninteresting as the Orton/Rusev match will be, the Styles/Owens match should be intriguing.  These two are among the most charismatic individuals to hit the WWE in the last several years.  More importantly, they are both innovators in the ring.  Their matches tend to always be among the best on any given card.  Throw in special guest referee, Shane McMahon, who wrestled Styles at WrestleMania earlier this year, and now has heat with KO, and you have an additional combustible element in the mix.  This should be a match to remember that has repercussions into the next pay per view.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE United States Champion, Kevin Owens

Jinder Mahal (c) (with The Singh Brothers) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura in a Singles match for the WWE Championship

A star was born when Jinder Mahal won the WWE Championship from out of nowhere earlier this year.  It was a surprise move, one that you don’t see very often.  He had no lower singles championship, no memorable promo or catchphrase, and no signature match on his resume prior to his big win against Randy Orton.  The decision to put the strap on Mahal was a controversial one with most fans who thought he wasn’t deserving or ready.  But, I’m a big fan of Jinder.  He’s got a good look, is good on the microphone, runs a heel stable, and is fun to watch.

Shinsuke Nakamura, however, appears to be in over his head in the WWE.  Similarly to Bálor, he seems like he is nothing more than a guy with a big entrance.  What’s with these guys from NXT who come pre-packaged with these long entrances, anyway?  Is that all that is entertaining to fans anymore?

Nakamura was expected to be on the fast track to WWE Champion when me made the main roster the week after WrestleMania this year.  He had a reputation as a top-performer in Japan and in NXT here in the US.  Thus far into his WWE run, he’s been pretty lackluster and hasn’t done much to impress anybody.  He’s like a .330 hitter in AAA who can’t hit a major league slider and hits .215 when he gets the call to the big leagues.  He may have looked good in comparison to the rest of the talent in the lower rungs of professional wrestling, but isn’t anything special compared to the best wrestlers in the world in the WWE.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, Jinder Mahal

Naomi (c) vs. Natalya in a Singles match for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Sasha Banks in a Singles match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

Who thought it was a good idea to have two divas matches on the same card?

Prediction: Could be even worse than the Naomi/Natalya match

John Cena vs. Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin has been on the verge of breaking out for quite some time.  His latest push had him win Money in The Bank earlier this year, but bizarrely lost the cash-in match on Smackdown this past week.  That was a curious booking decision and it didn’t do him any favors.

John Cena, even in his part-time capacity, and at the age of 40, is still the best wrestler in the world right now.  He gets better with age and can put a good match together with anybody.  He’ll also do business, he will put guys over if it is the right thing to do for a storyline or character advancement.  Make sure you are in your seat for this match.

Prediction: Winner, John Cena

Brock Lesnar (c) (with Paul Heyman) vs. Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe vs. Braun Strowman in a Fatal 4-Way match for the WWE Universal Championship

This is the most intriguing match of the card, with a diverse set of competitors.  All four men have different backgrounds and stories, and are at different stages of their careers, but the one thing they have in common is super-human size and strength.

Samoa Joe is the newest to the WWE main roster, having made a huge impact since his debut in March.  This will already be his second pay-per-view main event.  He is a real underdog story, having wrestled in every other promotion in the world until his late 30’s when he was finally given a chance in the WWE.  Since then, the fans have connected with his character, a bruising, unapologetic, bully

Braun Strowman has steadily improved these past twelve months since he split off from The Wyatt Family.  He plays the part of a monster heel, but the fans have steadily rallied behind him anyway, mainly because his chief foil has been Roman Reigns.

Brock Lesnar continues to do what he does best, and that is to act like a beast.  The added stipulation of him leaving the WWE if he loses the title could set him up for a lengthy absence, perhaps to return to the UFC octagon.  Or, it could mean nothing if he retains the title.

Roman Reigns stinks.  He never improves.  He just reads whatever dumb lines the WWE writers hand him with all the emotion of the worst actor in the 5th grade play.  I’ll give you $1 if you can name me one classic singles match he’s ever been in.

This match can go in any direction.  There could be a strong case to put the title on Joe or Strowman to give one of the fledgling newcomers a title run.  The Lesnar leaves town stipulation could be a swerve and he could be slated to win.  There is always the horrible specter of another Roman Reigns title win hanging over us as well.  Nothing else to do to but sit back and watch.  But as an analyst, I’ll take a shot at a prediction.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Universal Champion, Braun Strowman

WWE Payback Analysis and Predictions

On the Monday Night Raw after WrestleMania 33, Vince McMahon proclaimed that the WWE is not lethargic and that the big wheel keeps on turning.  Sure enough, in the immediate aftermath of the biggest event of the year in the WWE, a new set of storylines began, a number of talents were called up from NXT, and superstars were traded between the Raw and Smackdown brands.  All of this was done with an eye towards selling us on a year’s worth of television, live events, and WWE Network subscriptions, leading into WrestleMania 34 in 2018.

Well, I have a spoiler alert for you.  Roman Reigns is going to be in his fourth consecutive WrestleMania main event at next year’s big show, and he will walk out of the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans as a winner and a champion.  Whether or not the rumors are true that there will be a repeat of the WrestleMania 31 main event with Reigns facing Brock Lesnar, it doesn’t change the situation.  Reigns was anointed to be the face of the WWE for the duration of his career.  His win over The Undertaker at WrestleMania was the figurative passing of the torch.

There is going to be a lot of hand-wringing from the fan base of the direction that Reign’s career is headed. It is a waste of time to point out all the flaws in his game and his overall lack of ability.  We are stuck with him no matter what.  Might as well enjoy booing the hell out of him every time he steps out of the curtain. It is somewhat cathartic.

While Reigns sits atop the food chain of the WWE these days, there are still lots of other compelling superstars to watch over the next year. The superstar shakeup has given us a chance to see some new matchups (except for the fact that Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens are now on Smackdown together so they’ll probably wrestle each other 25,000 times between now and WM 34), and you never know what you’re going to get with the latest round of NXT callups to the main roster.  Wrestling fans always love something new, and we are certainly going to get it.

The first Raw-themed pay-per-view since WrestleMania, Payback, takes place this Sunday and will pick up where WrestleMania left off.  Several matches on the card are rematches from WrestleMania, or they are the continuation of stories that were part of the WrestleMania build up.  Let’s take a look at what to expect.

Kevin Owens (c) vs. Chris Jericho in a Singles Match for the WWE United States Championship, if Jericho wins, he will be transferred to Smackdown

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The WWE missed a great opportunity to wrap up Jericho’s career at WrestleMania.  After a long and middling career that had been directionless for almost a decade, Jericho embarked on what was the best angle of his career when he was paired with Kevin Owens.  Their month’s long program revolving around their on-and-off again friendship produced drama, comedy, suspense, and surprise.  Jericho had never been so hot in his life.  At age 46, it would have been the perfect time for him to lose in a “loser goes home” match to Owens at ‘Mania.  He would have gone out at his absolute peak.

Instead, Jericho’s career persists with nowhere to go but down. Their match at WrestleMania was a serviceable effort, carried mainly by the younger and more talented Owens.  Chances are that this rematch will be a fun one to watch as it will likely blow off their feud for good and they will want to go out with a bang.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE United States Champion, Kevin Owens

The Hardy Boyz (Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy) (c) vs, Cesaro and Sheamus in a Tag Team Match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy returned home to the WWE to a hero’s welcome at WrestleMania 33 with their surprise entrance into the Raw Tag Team Championship match.  The Attitude Era holdovers enjoyed a successful run on the independent circuit of late and drove the crowd into a frenzy with their win.

What many probably don’t realize is that the Hardy Boyz used to lose during the Attitude Era.  A lot.  They hardly ever won a pay-per-view match in their heyday.  They were known as the team that could deliver high spots, but never come out on top.  Their win at WrestleMania was a surprise in that respect.

Cesaro and Sheamus continue to be a tag team of convenience.  The WWE didn’t know what to do with them as singles competitors anymore, so they were paired up as a babyface/heel combination.  This match gives them the opportunity to show what they can do as tag team competitors facing the veteran Hardy Boyz for the first time.

Prediction: Winners and still WWE Raw Tag Team Champions, The Hardy Boyz

Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt in a House of Horrors Match

While I am always reluctant to declare a match as one or the best or worst in WrestleMania history without giving it a few years to look back on things, the jury is out on the Orton/Wyatt match at WrestleMania.  The verdict is that match sucked, and it could go down as one of the bigger failures we’ve ever seen in WrestleMania history.

The WWE tried to use special effects to bolster the visual effect of the occult-like abilities of Bray Wyatt during the match.  It failed to captivate the audience when a projector suddenly showed images of bugs and grubs on the ring mat at various points during the match.  In fact, someone at my WrestleMania yelled at the TV “They’re just using a projector!  How dumb is that?”

The end result was not good for Bray Wyatt’s legacy.  He is now 0-3 at WrestleMania and will forever be associated with this dud of a WrestleMania match.  Randy Orton didn’t come out of it looking too great, either.

This House of Horrors match between the two is shrouded somewhat in mystery.  It is a stipulation we have never seen before, and it will likely build on some special effects, similar to what we saw at WrestleMania.  Given how poorly that worked out, I wouldn’t expect this match to be much better.  Besides, Bray Wyatt never wins big matches, why should we care about him?

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

Neville (c) vs. Austin Aires in a Singles Match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

I still haven’t figured out why I should care about the WWE Cruiserweight division.  Have you?  Someone wake me up if you do.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Cruiserweight Champion, Neville

Bayley (c) vs. Alexa Bliss in a Singles Match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

The bar was set very low for the WWE Women’s division before Bayley arrived.  She somehow managed to lower it a great deal, and that is no small feat.  Awful gimmick, awful look, and awful wrestling.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe

Samoa Joe is a fresh addition to Monday Night Raw.  Already in his late 30’s, he doesn’t have much more of a shelf life in the professional wrestling business, so it is go-time for the big man.  I like what they are doing with his character, presenting him as a hit-man for The Authority.  It gives him a chance to do some nice heel work, and pair well with the babyfaces on the Raw roster.

Seth Rollins has never regained the momentum he lost as a heel champion in 2015 before he broke his knee and missed an extended period of time, including WrestleMania 32.  He isn’t a natural babyface and worked much better as an arrogant and cowardly heel.  This matchup against Samoa Joe, however, could end up being the match of the night.  The two veterans are capable of putting on a compelling match.  Certainly, Samoa Joe will want to make an impression in his WWE pay-per-view debut match.

Prediction: Winner, Samoa Joe

Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

I’ve said my piece about Roman Reigns at the beginning of this blog, and in pretty much every other blog post I’ve done over the past several years.  I’m getting tired of repeating myself.

The shame of it is that Reigns is killing Strowman’s momentum and credibility, just at a time when Strowman was starting to get good and be recognized by the fans.  The WWE did a fantastic job of building Strowman to be a monster heel over the second half of 2016, and he has shown constant improvement over the last year.

Unfortunately, Strowman had been used as the sacrificial lamb to get Reigns ready for his eventual win against The Undetaker at WrestleMania 33.  When he lost to Reigns at Fastlane, he lost a lot of his shine.  He recovered a lot of it with his vicious (and somewhat funny) beat down of Reigns on Raw a few weeks ago, that included him turning over an ambulance that Reigns was in!

All of that is going to be lost, when yet again, he jobs to Reigns.  I really wish that they had picked someone else for this spot and left Strowman off the card altogether.  It doesn’t benefit Strowman to be in this position at all, there is no way he is going to come out of this looking good when he loses, yet again, to Reigns.

Prediction: Winner, Roman Reigns

WrestleMania 33 Postscript: Farewell to the Deadman

Prior to WrestleMania 33, the last time WrestleMania was held at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL was WrestleMania XXIV in 2008.  The most memorable match of that night was Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair as it was Flair’s last match in the WWE.  The running storyline was that Vince McMahon told Flair that Flair would have to retire should he lose a match.  So, it was pretty obvious that Michaels was going to win the match, sending Flair into retirement.  We could see it coming, but it was a very emotional and sad moment for fans of The Dirtiest Player in the Game.

Headed into WrestleMania 33, there were rumors that The Undertaker could be retiring soon, but nothing was confirmed.  We also didn’t know the ordering of the matches on the card, with many speculating that the Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg match would end the show.  There weren’t loud rumors that Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns would close the be the final match of the night.

The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns match was difficult to watch for many reasons. First off, Roman Reigns stinks and has virtually no command of the crowd with his limited offensive move set.  Someone at my WrestleMania party noted that “you could count the number of moves this guy has on one hand”.  All the Superman Punches that Reigns threw at The Undertaker were met with silence from the crowd.

But more upsetting than watching Reigns wrestle, was watching The Undertaker try to make it through the match.  There were several spots in the match that he didn’t seem like he had the strength to follow through.  Most notably, he barely was able to lift Roman Reigns up for The Last Ride powerbomb.

Father Time has caught up to The Undertaker.  His last great matches are long in the past and he was a shell of his former self at WrestleMania 33.  It was like watching the greatest shortstop to ever play baseball, Derek Jeter, struggle in his final season with The Yankees to hit .256 as they failed to make the playoffs.  It was similar to watching Martin Brodeur, the greatest goaltender in the history of hockey, make it to the Stanley Cup finals with the New Jersey Devils in 2012, only to get outplayed by the Los Angeles Kings’ young goaltender Jonathan Quick, and to watch The Kings win the cup.  In all three cases, Brodeur, Jeter, and Undertaker, it was heartbreaking to watch an all-time-great who’s career that I had followed from the very beginning while their skills eroded at the end of their careers.

Following the match, after his loss to Reigns, when The Undertaker took off his iconic gloves, jacket, and hat and laid them down in the ring to signify his intent to retire, it felt like it was the right time for him to go.  The WWE played out his exit from the ring and the sport of professional in a classy and dignified manner.  It was sad to see him go, but it was the right thing to do.  It was a beautiful moment, one that won’t be forgotten by fans of The Undertaker.

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One of the last moments of the iconic career of The Undertaker.

The flip side of the coin, however, was the baffling decision to make Roman Reigns the winner of the match.  Now the proverbial “torch” has been passed to Reigns, and he will be known as the person who retired The Undertaker.  Reigns has now been in three straight WrestleMania main event matches, and each one was a dud.

One of my readers told me before the show that if Reigns won, he’d cancel his WWE Network subscription.  After the show, he e-mailed me his confirmation e-mail saying that his subscription was indeed cancelled.  The mood at my viewing party was pretty grim when Reigns won. In fact, a guy wearing an Undertaker shirt left before the match even started because he was worried that he would lose and he didn’t want to see it.  That, and it was very late!

Our worst fears as WWE fans have been realized: The Undertaker, after 26 glorious years in The WWE has called it a career, and we are left with Roman Reigns on top.  What else is there to say?

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Here’s your new face of The WWE, Roman Reigns.

WrestleMania 33 was an interesting show, but in some ways, it was disappointing.  The big problem I had was the length of the show.  Counting the pre-show, it was just a shade over seven hours long!  This is bucking the trend in sports, the NFL, MLB, and NASCAR are all making changes to their events to make them shorter, and the WWE is bucking that trend by headed in the opposite direction.  Less would have been more for the WWE, had they cut out the women’s matches, shortened some of the entrances, and knocked out the mini Pitbull and Flo Rida concert, it would have been a much more manageable show.  Most of the people at my viewing party were falling asleep on the couch after 11 PM.  I can only imagine how worn out the live crowd was.

Only time will tell, but none of the matches jumped out at me as an “instant classic”.  Other than The Undertaker’s retirement, there weren’t too many other indelible WrestleMania moments.  There were however, some good spots and matches on the card, and I’ll break them down by looking at the winners and losers on the night.

The Losers

  • Rob Gronkowski: He was too injured to play the second half of The Patriots’ NFL season but he was good enough get physical on the WrestleMania pre-show? Hopefully, Bill Belichick was watching and plans to cut Gronk from the team in response.
  • Braun Strowman: He had a great build from July until the month before WrestleMania. Just as he was starting to get over, he jobbed to Reigns, backed down from The Undertaker on Raw, was relegated to the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal on the WrestleMania pre-show, and was eliminated early in the match.  He had momentum, now he has lost all credibility and probably won’t recover.
  • The Big Show: In what was likely his last WrestleMania, he was also eliminated early from the Battle Royal. Unfortunate send off for the big man.
  • Baron Corbin: Underwhelmed and lost in his first WrestleMania one-on-one match.
  • John Cena: No, he didn’t really get engaged to Nikki Bella after their awful match. This was done as a commercial for a reality show, folks.  Cena deserved a better WrestleMania moment than this.  He once was a WrestleMania main-eventer, what happened?
  • Bray Wyatt: Now 0-3 at WrestleMania, and was champion for just over one month.
  • Samoa Joe: Why wasn’t he anywhere on the card?
  • The Cruiserweight Division: Still not over with the fans.
  • The Women’s Division: Not only is it not over with the fans, it will never be over with the fans, and now it is completely over-exposed. Both women’s matches were brutally awful to watch.
  • WWE Fans: We sat through seven hours of a show that ultimately anointed Roman Reigns as the face of the company for years to come. He’s worked three straight WrestleMania main events, he’ll never be any better than he is now.

The Winners

  • Mojo Rawley: For what it’s worth, winning the Battle Royale was an important win for him. Let’s see if he can capitalize.
  • AJ Styles: Made his match with Shane McMahon look great, and he got his first career WrestleMania win at age 39.
  • Shane McMahon: The daredevil held up his end of the bargain in his match against Styles. McMahon never disappoints.
  • Dean Ambrose: The WWE’s hardest worker walked out with his Intercontinental title in hand. He’ll never be the face of the company, but is a steady hand that the fans enjoy.
  • Kevin Owens: Owens added another title to his resume after an entertaining program and WrestleMania match against Chris Jericho.
  • Chris Jericho: After a long and mediocre career, Jericho finally got hot these past eight months. Good for him, that at his age he was able to perform well in a one-on-one WrestleMania match.
  • The Miz: The match was awful, but he drew raves for his skits spoofing The Total Bella’s show these past few weeks. He’s one of the best heels the WWE has right now and can build off of this momentum.
  • Triple H: Coolest entrance of the night. He got to ride a custom-built trike to the ring with a police escort.  How great was that?
  • Seth Rollins: Toughed out a recent knee injury to put on a good show.
  • Stephanie McMahon: The 40-year-old mother of three never looked better. She did a great job of selling her bump through the table, something she rarely does.
  • The Hardy Boyz: Triumphantly returned home to the WWE with a raucous reception from the crowd as they won championship gold.
  • Jim Ross: After he was unceremoniously fired in 2013, Ross made his surprise return to WrestleMania to call the main event match.  Good end to a tough two weeks for Ross following the tragic death of his wife.
  • Brock Lesnar: Back on top as “The Destroyer” after he beat Goldberg to win the WWE Universal Championship. It was a fast-paced match and the crowd was hot for it.
  • Goldberg: Exercised the demons from his initial WWE run with a highly entertaining program with Brock Lesnar. He got to be champion one more time, and he got to wrestle in front of his young son.  This match was immensely better than their previous clash at WrestleMania XX.
  • The Undertaker: Had one of the best careers of any professional wrestler. Thanks for the memories, Deadman.  It is hard to imagine WrestleMania without you.

With WrestleMania 33 in the books, expect things to reset starting with Raw and Smackdown this week.  There are likely going to be wrestlers called up from NXT this week, and there could be some trades between the Raw and Smackdown brands.  The WWE never takes any time off, it’s the story that never ends.  It will be interesting to see where things head this month.

If you have any questions or comments, please comment below or send me an e-mail (advice@njnonconformist.com).

WrestleMania 33 Analysis and Predictions Part 4: The Undertaker Match

Last, but not least, my final installment of my WrestleMania 33 series is dedicated to The Undertaker Vs. Roman Reigns match.  The Undertaker is the greatest performer in the history of WrestleMania.  His legendary undefeated streak of 21 straight WrestleMania wins will likely never be broken.  It is a statistical measure that stands up against Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak as a symbol of greatness.  Much like DiMaggio, when the Undertaker’s streak was broken, he picked up and resumed where he left off as the one of the best of all time.  He won his next two WrestleMania matches and boasts an all-time-best WrestleMania record of 23-1.

While he very rarely was in the main event, WrestleMania became the Undertaker’s show as his streak grew.  It was first noted during commentary at WrestleMania XIII that he was undefeated in WrestleMania matches.  The streak grew organically until it became the main attraction of the show year after year.  It was a unique storyline, one that lasted over two decades.  Champions came and went, and for that matter championship titles themselves came and went.  But The Undertaker kept his streak alive at every WrestleMania he appeared at between WrestleMania VII and WrestleMania XXX.

The pinnacle of The Undertaker’s streak was his match against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXV.  That match is the greatest WrestleMania match of all time.  It’s considered to be the Sistine Chapel of the art of professional wrestling. It was the perfect culmination of the right storyline and the right competitors, buoyed by their past performances at WrestleMania.  Every WWE wrestler should strive to be in a WrestleMania match half as good as Undertaker/Michaels at WrestleMania XXV.

Unfortunately, the WWE committed a creative blunder this year by pairing The Undertaker against Roman Reigns.  The same Roman Reigns who was critically panned for his performances leading up to, and in, the last two WrestleMania main events.  The same Roman Reigns that is booked as a babyface but is roundly booed out of every building he steps foot in.  The same Roman Reigns that most wrestling fans agree absolutely sucks.

Let me elaborate on that last point.  Why does Roman Reigns absolutely suck?  Let me offer some proof.

What are two things that every professional wrestler should be good at?  Those two things are skill on the microphone, and in-ring wrestling ability.  Wrestlers need to be able to tell stories using these two essential tools.  Roman Reigns is lacking in both areas.

Let’s start with his mic skills.  Roman Reigns has no ability to emote or excite anybody during his promos.  Classic wrestlers who are now in the WWE Hall of Fame all had the ability to connect with the audience during their promos.  They are able to ad-lib, and talk as if they mean what they are saying.  Check out these examples.

Stone Cold Steve Austin built an entire career out of this promo at King of The Ring in 1996.  To hear him tell the story, he made the whole thing up on the fly.  He invented the catch phrases “Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass” and “That’s the bottom line, because Stone Cold said so” on the spot.  Nobody had to write them down and hand them to him.  He lived and breathed the Stone Cold persona and this classic is what he came up with.

 

The Rock and Mankind were masters on the mic.  You could watch YouTube highlights of both of them for days on end.  The Rock had too many catch phrases to count, and Mankind was the perfect foil.  Neither man needed to be told what to say, they just went on camera and let it roll.

 

This last one is one of my favorites.  Watch as newly inducted WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle hold this live crowd in the palm of his hand.  This is a long promo and it gets better and better as it goes on.  He reacts to the crowd and then makes them chant “you suck!” louder and louder, over and over again.  He makes it personal.  You really believe that he is genuinely upset!

 

Now, watch Roman Reigns cut a promo.  In this one he’s trying to sell a match at Hell in a Cell.  Try staying awake for half of it.  Reigns looks like he’s reading a teleprompter and barely cares about what he’s saying.  Does he show any emotion?  Does he make you want to watch the match?  Or, does he make you wonder if something else better is on TV on another channel?

 

How about Reigns in-ring skills? Professional wrestling is an art.  When it is done right, we suspend reality and believe that the competitors in the match are actually trying to hurt each other in an attempt to win a match.  We know the outcome is predetermined in our minds, but when we watch the show, we believe that we are watching a legitimate athletic contest.  That is, of course, when it’s done right. When it’s done wrong, all you can do is say to yourself “Man, this guy can’t wrestle”.

Roman Reigns is an example of a guy who can’t wrestle.  I’m not saying he can’t do all the moves and take all the bumps he needs to take.  He can do that just fine.  But when I say he can’t wrestle, I’m talking about his in-wring psychology.  His ability to command a crowd and suspend belief by selling for his opponent, and mounting a credible comeback is extremely lacking.

Take this snippet for example.  Watch him no-sell the Seth Rollins buckle bomb and quickly return with his Superman Punch.

 

How often do you see him do this?  It’s a classic babyface move, the good guy takes a beating but suddenly he is able to make a comeback and topple the bad guy.  Hulk Hogan was a master at it.  He’d get beat up, start to shake, get the crowd pumped into a frenzy, and then stop selling for his opponent as he made his comeback for the big boot and leg drop for the win.  Reigns can’t figure it out.  The crowd never pops for his Superman Punch.  It comes out of nowhere, it’s like he instantly and miraculously isn’t hurt anymore and can start mounting a comeback.  Nobody buys it!

Roman Reigns is past the point of being able to improve.  He’s had his chance.  He has been in two straight WrestleMania main events! By definition, there is no bigger push for a wrestler to get!  This is as good as he will ever be!  And he stinks!!!!  A heel turn wouldn’t help at this point, he won’t be any better at being a bad guy than he is as a good guy!

There is a persistent rumor that Roman Reigns is going to get a push back to the main event of WrestleMania 34 next year in New Orleans.  The rumor is that there will be a rematch of Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns from WrestleMania 31 for the WWE Universal Championship, this time with Reigns winning the title.  Just the thought of this outcome makes me want to kick my cats across the room.

The theory is that if this is the plan for next year’s WrestleMania, that Reigns has to beat The Undertaker this year in order to set him on a winning path.  The Undertaker is nearing or at the end of his career, and traditionally in the wrestling business when someone is on their way out, they are supposed to “do business” and put over up-and-coming talents in order to pass the torch.

In most cases, it makes sense for a retiring superstar to lose his last match.  The Undertaker is a special case.  He has given too much for too long to the business and to the fans. He has the most prolonged and unique professional wrestling career ever.  He is one of the greatest of all time.  He is what Roman Reigns will never be, and Roman Reigns is not deserving of the honor of beating The Undertaker at WrestleMania.

This match will define the future of the WWE.  If Reigns does indeed go ahead to beat The Undertaker and win the main event and title at WrestleMania next year, it will set us towards a long and tortured path of Reigns being forced down our throats as the face of the company.  For the sake of the future of the WWE, let’s hope these rumors aren’t true and The Undertaker wins his 24th WrestleMania match at WrestleMania this weekend.

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

This is the end of my four-part series of Analysis and Predictions for WrestleMania 33.  If you have any questions or comments, please comment below or send me an e-mail (advice@njnonconformist.com).

WrestleMania 33 Analysis and Predictions Part 3: The Raw Matches

Part three of my four-part series on WrestleMania 33 will focus on the Raw matches.  On paper, these matches, in isolation, would make for a great pay-per-view card.  As part of the overall show which is much bigger, the performers in them are going to all have to step things up a notch in order to be noticed and remembered.  There is no shortage of opportunities here for some of these matches to considered classics if done well.

Seth Rollins vs. Triple H in a Non-Sanctioned Match

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Nothing like a contract signing to get the juices flowing for a WrestleMania match.

This match is a great example of how long-term storytelling can build a tremendous amount of anticipation for a match.  This match was made to be at WrestleMania for almost three years now and we finally can get out payoff for years of investment in the storyline.

The Shield was the most popular faction the WWE had seen in years when it made its debut on the main WWE roster in 2012.  At the time of their arrival, it seemed that all three members had unlimited potential as singles competitors, and they had their chance to do such when Seth Rollins turned on the other two members of The Shield in a masterfully orchestrated heel turn in 2014, and aligned with Triple H.  Rollins immediately overshowed Roman Reigns who turned out to be the most overrated of the three.  Rollins went on to be WWE Champion and United States Champion over the course of a torrid heel run.

Unfortunately, Rollins lost all the momentum he had when he badly broke his knee at the tail end of 2015, forcing him to forfeit his championship and to miss WrestleMania 32.  Upon his return in 2016, Rollins was eventually placed in a match for the new WWE Universal Championship which he lost to Finn Bálor at SummerSlam.  The feeble Bálor was injured during the match and had to immediately vacate the title, thus setting up Rollins for a second chance to win it in a fatal-four-way match on Raw.  Much to everybody’s surprise, Triple H, who hadn’t been seen on TV since WrestleMania 32, made his return to Raw, and gave Rollins The Pedigree.  This handed the championship to Kevin Owens and turned Rollins babyface.  It also set the stage for this match at WrestleMania 33.

Unfortunately for Rollins, he re-injured his previously broken knee in the run-up to WrestleMania 33 earlier this year.  There was speculation that he wouldn’t be medically cleared for WrestleMania yet again this year, but he appears to have re-habilitated his knee to the point that he will be able to make it through a match.  The WWE added his knee injury to the creative angle of the match by making it a non-sanctioned match, ostensibly forcing Rollins to waive any liability to the WWE if he suffers further injury.

Triple H has amassed a 9-11 WrestleMania win/loss record in his 20 WrestleMania appearances. Very few of those matches are remembered as timeless classics, he always seems to be overshadowed by somebody else on the roster.  But there is no doubt that The Cerebral Assassin brings his best to WrestleMania.

If there is one thing Triple H is good at, it is building and selling a hot wrestling angle.  His verbal assault and his beatings he’s placed on Seth Rollins these past few weeks have been absolutely brutal.  He has the crowd in the palm of his hand, with them all hoping he gets beat by his former protégé. Not to mention, he always has an outrageous entrance at WrestleMania that is sure to bring the crowd to its feet.

I have high hopes for this match, as long as Rollins’ knee is up to the task.  If he is healthy enough to perform, I would expect that Rollins will put on a technical masterpiece, and this match will tell an intense story.

Prediction: Winner, Triple H

Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries in a Singles match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

The cruiserweight division has not caught on and is not over with the fans of the WWE Raw flagship show.  Once the division made its debut on Raw in 2016, it lost all momentum it had gained after the critically acclaimed Cruiser Weight Classic tournament.  In the isolation of their own show on the WWE Network, the cruiserweights were able to put on an entertaining program.  When thrust into Raw, the individual competitors got lost.  There’s no good reason for the fans to care about any of them, they just showed up with over-the-top ring entrances and theme music with no other real backing of their characters.  Eventually, I would just start to fast-forward through their segments and matches because they are boring.  I’m done with it, something is going to have to drastically change for me to care about the Raw Cruiserweight Division.

I suppose that if you are actually paying attention, these two are going to lay it on the line and perform some high-flying spots designed to get a pop out of the crowd.  The match won’t go very long as it is part of the pre-show, where it belongs.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Cruiserweight Champion, Neville

Bayley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax in a Fatal 4-Way Elimination match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

Not even the daughter of Ric Flair can save this match from being a total abomination.  At least it will be a good time for a bathroom break during the show.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Chris Jericho (c) vs. Kevin Owens in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship

This match is a shining example of how great storytelling, the right setting, and the right amount of time, can set up a stellar matchup at WrestleMania.  The months-long “friendship” angle between Owens and Jericho seemed like it was designed to be a joke or a one-night-only occurrence at first.  But the angle was kept alive for months, and delivered enough twists and turns to take us to an eventual WrestleMania match between the two.

Chris Jericho has never been the best, despite his massive ego and how he refers to himself.  He was overshadowed by his contemporaries like The Rock, Kurt Angle, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Shawn Michaels for good reason.  They were all better than him.  His many returns as a nostalgia act over the past several years didn’t catch on at all, and resulted in some boring and routine matches that didn’t resonate with the WWE fan base.  All this changed when he paired up with Kevin Owens in his most recent run.

Kevin Owens caught on with the WWE audience since day one.  He doesn’t have a prototypical WWE wrestler’s look, in fact, he’s clearly overweight and not a physical specimen at all.  However, he connected with the fans as someone who is relatable to them.  Despite the fact that he has worked exclusively as a heel, he appealed to adult fans and gets his fair share of cheers.  Fans respect his ability to get a storyline over with his great promos, he can be funny, evil, arrogant, and sarcastic, just like any top heel should be able to do.  He has an innovative in-ring style, and his matches keep you on the edge of your seat.

The pairing of Owens and Jericho has revitalized Jericho’s career. Some say this is his best and most memorable run ever.  At age 46, he probably is nearing retirement from the ring, and this match could be his last chance to create a lasting WrestleMania memory.  Owens, on the other hand, still has plenty of gas left in the tank and wants to show the world that he can be a WrestleMania headliner at some point in his career.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE United States Champion, Kevin Owens

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (c) vs. Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Cesaro and Sheamus in a Triple threat ladder tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

Unlike most of the matches on the card, this one has veered towards “overbooked” territory.  It would be one thing if it were a just a triple-threat tag team match.  All three teams have had a great year and are deserving of being on the card somehow.  But the late addition of the ladder stipulation was unnecessary.  It’s almost as if somebody in WWE creative said to themselves last Monday “Oh, crap!  We forgot to book a ladder match at WrestleMania!  It’s not WrestleMania without a ladder match!”

The triple-threat ladder match at WrestleMania was revolutionized by Edge and Christian, The Hardy Boys, and The Dudleys during The Attitude Era.  The revolution grew organically because the talents in them had shown the ability to work well in ladder matches prior to WrestleMania.  The trio of wrestlers in this year’s ladder match don’t exactly have the same resume as those three classic teams had headed into WrestleMania 2000.

Gallows and Anderson have had a start-and-stop push since their WWE debut in 2016.  In the beginning, they made a big splash as members of “The Club” along with AJ Styles and were received well by the fans.  They ended up somehow getting lost in the pack after the brand split in July, but hung in there and were eventually awarded the Raw Tag Team championship.  They seem to be still finding their way in the WWE, but this championship run, along with this match on WrestleMania 33 will certainly help their cause.

Enzo Amore and Big Cass hit the floor running when they received the call to the main roster last year.  Their exposure from NXT had the crowd chanting along with their cadence on their very first night.  They are an entertaining duo despite the fact that they work exclusively as baby faces.  This is the type of pairing that is destined to break up at some point and feud with each other, so it is best for them to seize the opportunity they have now while they are still together.

Cesaro and Sheamus are together as a team, likely because the WWE has run out of ideas what to do with them as singles competitors.  Cesaro is never going to catch fire, and Sheamus has been to the top but that was in the distant past.  They found chemistry together and work well against both of the teams they are facing off against in this match.

This match could be either remembered as a classic, or bowling shoe-ugly.  The ladder stipulation isn’t helping matters much.  Instead of tagging in and out, all six men will be in the ring at the same time, making it difficult for them to time their spots well.

Prediction: Winners and still WWE Raw Tag Team Champions, Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson

Goldberg (c) vs. Brock Lesnar (with Paul Heyman) in a Singles match for the WWE Universal Championship

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WWE Universal Champion, Goldberg is ready for his WrestleMania rematch against Brock Lesnar.

Who would have seen this match coming this time last year?  Goldberg was an afterthought, a revered WCW hero who never caught on in the WWE, who seemed to be happy to have moved on with his life. All we knew about his departure from the WWE was that it was acrimonious and it didn’t seem like, at age 50, he was destined to come back for one more run.

What we didn’t know, was that Goldberg had the desire to come back one more time due to a life-changing event, the birth of his son.  As he grew older, Goldberg wanted to give his son, Gabe, a chance to see him wrestle one more time.  It seems that this humbled Goldberg and he was able to patch up his differences with the McMahon family and agree to return for the Survivor Series in 2016 for a match against Brock Lesnar.

The professional wrestling world was shocked at the outcome of the Lesnar/Goldberg Survivor Series match when Goldberg easily defeated Lesnar in about a minute and a half.  Critics were quick to point out that they thought that the reason this happened was because of Goldberg’s age and lack of ability, the longest he could last in a match was under two minutes.  What the critics didn’t see, however, was the WWE building towards a bigger feud between the two that will culminate in a WrestleMania 33 match between the two.

This is a very interesting angle that the WWE used to build this match.  Brock Lesnar has been presented as an unbeatable destroyer since he ended The Streak of The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX.  By painting him as someone who “underestimated” Goldberg, causing him to lose, it keeps his credibility as a destroyer intact.  It also paints Lesnar as a credible threat to turn the tide and defeat Goldberg the second time around.

I had the misfortune of seeing their first matchup at WrestleMania XX live at Madison Square Garden.  That match was a mess as both men, and the audience, knew they both were about to leave the WWE after that night.

This time around, both men are in a different place in their careers and their personal lives.  Both genuinely want to put on a good show this time around, and make up for their lackluster performance in 2014.  Goldberg isn’t known for putting on long matches, and at this age, it’s not known if he even can perform in a long match.  But, that is beside the point.  If this match goes 1 minute, 5 minutes, or 30 minutes, it will certainly be designed to tell a story and give the live crowd something to react to.

Prediction: Winner, and still WWE Universal Champion, Goldberg

I realize I’m going against the grain with this pick.  The betting odds heavily favor Lesnar as Goldberg is rumored to be done with the WWE after this match.  But the WWE shocked us once before at Survivor Series the last time these two faced each other.  It wouldn’t surprise me if it happens again at WrestleMania 33.

Stay tuned for more analysis between now and Sunday.  If you have any questions or comments, please comment below or send me an e-mail (advice@njnonconformist.com).

 

WrestleMania 33 Analysis and Predictions Part 2: The Smackdown Matches

Part two of my four-part series on WrestleMania focuses on the Smackdown matches.  In the nine months since the brand split, The Smackdown brand has done a good job of building up superstars who wouldn’t have had as much time on television otherwise.  This has given us a good lead-in to WrestleMania 33, and a very balanced list of matches on the card.  With the obvious exception of the mixed tag team match, these matches are gimmick free and will engage the wrestling purists among the viewing audience.

Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles

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A classic Shane McMahon high spot during a recent Smackdown episode.

In January of 2016, neither of these two men were actively employed by the WWE.  In 2017, both are featured in a high-profile match against each other at WrestleMania. There has been a lot of fan backlash to his match, with many upset with the idea of pairing the immensely talented AJ Styles with a non-full time wrestler, Shane McMahon.  I don’t share in this criticism, I think that this is an intriguing matchup and that both men will get a chance to shine on professional wrestling’s greatest stage.

AJ Styles made his WWE debut (not counting his failed quick tryout in 2002) at the Royal Rumble in 2016, and within a few months he had caught fire and become WWE Champion.  It was a pretty remarkable debut year and something you don’t see very often, if ever.  Someone in their late 30’s that makes a debut on the WWE main roster and quickly becomes champion is more or less unprecedented.

Styles is regarded by many as a “Modern Day Shawn Michaels” in the sense that his in-ring work is reminiscent of The Heartbreak Kid.  I don’t see the exact comparison, but I can’t deny that he is among the best wrestlers in the WWE today.  Very few can keep pace with him during matches and that is where the criticism of this matchup comes into play.

Shane McMahon has always endeared himself to WWE fans through his willingness to take incredible risks and almost impossible looking bumps.  He left us with indelible memories from the Attitude Era when he jumped off the Titan Tron, got thrown through a plate glass window, or jumped coast-to-coast across the ring.  His most recent death-defying stunt was when he jumped off the top of Hell in a Cell at WrestleMania 32 last year.

The flip side of that coin is that Shane is known as a one-trick-pony who’s matches are only meaningful if he takes a crazy bump.  He isn’t known as a sound technical wrestler. A number of fans are vocal in their displeasure of Shane being Styles’ opponent for this reason.

I’m going to take a wait-and-see attitude before I rush to judgement.  Both men are veterans and have delivered when put into the spotlight countless times throughout their respective careers.  This match doesn’t appear to be designed for Shane to take a crazy bump (Styles as much said so on the go-home Smackdown this week), but he doesn’t have to do that in order for the two to tell a story with this match.

Prediction: Winner, AJ Styles

John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse in a Mixed Tag Team Match

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This is seriously the best they could do with “Big Match” John Cena?

This match is one of the aforementioned creative missteps that I alluded to in my previous blog post.  John Cena and The Miz are two of the absolute best in the world right now and deserved better than to be saddled with a mixed tag team match.

This isn’t WrestleMania VI when it was a novel idea to have a mixed tag match between “Macho King” Randy Savage and Sensational Sherri vs. “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire. At that time, women’s wrestling in WWE was occasionally interesting to watch, and Sherry and Sapphire were two of the best there were.  These days, women’s wrestling in WWE is insufferable to watch, a cacophony of shrieks and botched spots.  Nikki Bella embodies this terribleness as one of the absolute worst there are today.  Who would even know if Maryse is any good?  Does she even wrestle?

The Miz has been on a roller-coaster of highs and lows over his decade-long WWE run.  He was the main event winner at WrestleMania XXVII over John Cena and walked out of the building as the reigning WWE Champion that night.  Since then, he has toiled in the mid-card, not having worked any main event-level angles in that period of time.  He has shown steady improvement that entire time, however, and has become one of the most dependable heels on the WWE roster today.  The crowd genuinely hates him.

There aren’t enough accolades to describe John Cena at this stage of his career.  He’s taken a slight step back in his wrestling schedule, taking a few months off per year to film TV shows and movies.  When he is working WWE matches, he proves time and time again why he is the best in the world and has earned the moniker “Big Match John”.  He can work matches with anybody on the roster, and has spent a considerable amount of time making NXT products such as Rusev and Kevin Owens look good early on in their careers.  He also produced one of the best matches of the year against AJ Styles.

Much credit should be given to The Miz and John Cena for trying to make the most out of this mess.  The satirical comedy that The Miz and Maryse have performed in their take on “Total Bellas” has been hilarious.  They have done a good job of bringing the reality of the situation into the storyline, especially when pointing out the very real nature of Cena’s and Bella’s relationship together, one that is not based on love but the desire for the both of them to build their brands.  Cena has consistently and expertly countered their barbs and come back with clever one-liners of his own.  Nikki Bella has been terrible as usual.  Luckily, Cena, Miz, and even Maryse have overshadowed Bella’s awful performances so they are barely noticeable.

The bottom line is that John Cena and The Miz deserve better than this.  This should have been a singles rematch of their WrestleMania XXVII match, maybe with their respective significant others in their corners.  Maybe.  Instead, two of the best we have today will be saddled with this aborted mess of a match.  A match that is not designed to entertain regular WWE fans, but is designed to be a commercial for the “Total Bellas” reality show.

Prediction: Winners, The Miz and Maryse

Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Baron Corbin in a Singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

This match is an exciting opportunity for both the fans and the competitors alike.  The fans have a chance to see a meaningful title matchup for the WWE Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania for the first time in recent memory.  For the competitors, they both have an opportunity to make a statement with this match, and propel their fledgling careers.  Both men come into this match with a reasonable amount of criticism about their in-ring work and ability to entertain on the mic.  But they can put a lot of that talk to rest with a strong performance in a WrestleMania match.

The reigning Intercontinental Champion, Dean Ambrose, is in his fifth year on the main WWE roster.  He immediately rose to the top as a member of The Shield, and has had nearly three years to show us what he has as a singles competitor since the faction was broken up.  Ambrose is a former WWE Champion and has worked many pay-per-view main event matches.  His critics will point out that his in-ring work is lacking, especially given that he can’t throw a credible working punch.  It also feels like at times that he is trying too hard to act “insane” rather than just to be himself and let the crowd decide what they think about him.

Baron Corbin is just about to celebrate his first-year anniversary on the WWE main roster.  He was a surprise entrant in the André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania, and shocked the audience when he was the winner.  In the year since, he has been given a chance to get over with his “Lone Wolf” gimmick.  Most of the criticism towards Corbin is directed towards his ability to deliver convincing promos.  He sounds very scripted and insincere, kind of like he is trying too hard and not being himself when he talks.

These two were handed the ball when their feud was set up at Elimination Chamber when Corbin beat down Ambrose after Ambrose had eliminated Corbin from the match.  They’ve had a series of brutal encounters on Smackdown since, culminating in the announcement of their WrestleMania match.  It is put up or shut up time for these two.  If they come through and give us something to remember for years to come, it will go a long way towards getting them over permanently.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Baron Corbin

Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Natalya vs. Mickie James vs. Carmella (with James Ellsworth) vs. Naomi in a Six-pack challenge for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

This match is on the pre-show.  If you are at WrestleMania, you can stay in the parking lot and get drunk and you won’t miss much.  If you are watching at home, you can flip through the channels and maybe watch bowling on ESPN 4 and you won’t miss much.

Prediction: This is going to be the worst match of the night by a wide margin.  We’d be better off with nothing in its place.

Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Randy Orton in a Singles match for the WWE Championship

Randy Orton’s unexpected win of the Royal Rumble match in January took him to a very circuitous route to the WWE Championship Match against Bray Wyatt.  As a loyal member of the Wyatt Family, Orton immediately refused his guaranteed title shot at WrestleMania, citing his allegiance to the WWE Champion, Bray Wyatt. This set in motion a series of events that lead to AJ Styles winning a match against Luke Harper for the right to face Wyatt at WrestleMania 33.

In a Shakespearian twist, Orton abruptly turned on Wyatt and burned down the house that the mysterious “Sister Abagail” lived in, sending Wyatt into a rage.  In the process, Orton declared that he wanted his title shot back and was awarded a chance to face AJ Styles for the #1 contender spot in a match which he won.

It wasn’t the most straight-forward and logical wrestling angles we’ve seen, but it served the purpose to not only set up an emotional basis for the feud between Orton and Wyatt, but it also paved the way for the AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon match as well.

Randy Orton missed WrestleMania 32 last year with an injury, reportedly to his shoulder.  The Viper will be fired up and ready to put on a good show this time around.  He can always be counted on to deliver at WrestleMania, having been in more than one main event, most recently at WrestleMania XXX.

Bray Wyatt was at a career crossroads.  He had never won a WrestleMania match, nor had he won a singles championship of any kind since his debut on the WWE main roster as the Wyatt character.  He previously had an unsuccessful run as Husky Harris, but was re-packaged in NXT as an occult heel and the leader of the Wyatt Family faction.

At first, Wyatt was unique and a breath of fresh air. His bizarre ramblings and uncommon ring entrance were a big hit with fans despite him working mainly as a heel.  Unfortunately, as time went on, his act became old and stale, especially since he never seemed to be able to win a big match.  He was 0-2 at WrestleMania, and worked a forgettable angle with The Rock at WrestleMania 32 last year.  With no significant victories on his resume, you could pretty much count on him losing every big match he was in, thus making them difficult to become emotionally invested in.   All of this changed when he finally became WWE Champion in February at Elimination Chamber.  Suddenly, there became reason to believe he actually was a contender.

This match, along with any match Randy Orton is ever in, has the chance to be the match of the night.  These two have a bruising style, and move deceptively quickly for men of their size.  There is no doubt that they both view this match as potentially legacy-defining and will aim to bring the house down.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, Bray Wyatt

Stay tuned for more analysis between now and Sunday.  If you have any questions or comments, please comment below or send me an e-mail (advice@njnonconformist.com).

 

WrestleMania 33 Analysis and Predictions Part 1

The pinnacle of the professional wrestling year, WrestleMania 33, takes place this Sunday.  The WWE has come up with a new tagline for this year’s installment: The Ultimate Thrill Ride.  Given that it starts at 5 PM EDT and will likely not end until about midnight, it had better be thrilling to keep us engaged for 7 straight hours!

WrestleMania has grown at an exponential pace over the last decade.  It has a tremendous economic impact to the city it takes place in, and it gives the WWE a chance to connect with people who are not members of its current fan base.  Most importantly, it helps drives subscriptions to the WWE Network, the centerpiece of the WWE’s long-term business strategy.

Given all of these factors, WrestleMania will have a different look and feel than other pay-per-view events throughout the year.  For one, it’s much longer because the WWE no longer is subject to the hard-out times of cable operators and can stream for as long as they’d like on their own network.  There are also entertainers brought in that don’t normally appear on WWE programming. Booking decisions behind matches are also sometimes out of the ordinary.

The unusual feel of WrestleMania may at times cause the serious fan to feel somewhat alienated.  Given that we are already hooked on the product and spend our money on merchandise, tickets to live events, and the WWE Network, we aren’t interested in the gimmicks that the WWE uses to lure casual fans to the product.  This year, however, the WWE has done a good job of protecting us in a lot of ways through the build-up and matchmaking decisions for WrestleMania 33.

With the exception of a few egregious creative missteps, the WWE has done a good job of delivering a compelling set up matches for WrestleMania 33, many of which we are emotionally invested in as the means to an end of a long-running story.  Unlike the WrestleMania’s of recent years past, this year’s card is full of one-on-one matchups, built around feuds and championships.  There are fewer all-hands-on-deck matches that clutter up the card than in years past.  For once, the Intercontinental Championship won’t be settled in a 7-man ladder match, instead the winner of a one-on-one matchup will be crowned champion.  In this WWE blogger’s opinion, this is the best WrestleMania card we’ve seen in a very long time, possibly even since the Attitude Era.

If you are interested in the entertainment aspect of WrestleMania, someone named Tinashe is going to sing “America the Beautiful”.  Pitbull, Flo Rida, Lunchmoney Lewis, and Stephen Marley are also going to perform in some capacity.  I’ve heard of none of them other than Flo Rida, and I only know him because he performed at WrestleMania XXVII.  Al Roker is going to be the guest ring announcer for the John Cena match. Most importantly, Metallica’s “Am I Savage?” will be the official theme song for the Triple H vs. Seth Rollins match.

Closer to home, The New Day are scheduled to appear, but in a non-wrestling capacity as the hosts of WrestleMania.  Other than a big entrance and a comedy-based skit, it’s anybody’s guess what their angle will be during the show.  Maybe they get involved in a match?  Maybe they are confronted in the ring by a returning WWE Superstar or NXT call-up?  Maybe one of them turns heel and attacks the other two?  How cool would that be?

The potential outcomes of the matches, or any unexpected participation by superstars not currently announced to be on the card, are almost endless.  Some feuds will come to an end, and others will continue on for some time.  Some competitors will look to deliver a career-defining performance.  In a crowded field of 13 matches, we may bear witness to an instant classic like Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXV.  Maybe we get a double-turn ala Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XXIII.  Maybe Roman Reigns won’t suck for once.  OK, that last one is a longshot, but one can hope for the best!

This is the first of my 4-part series on WrestleMania 33.  Part 2 will cover the Smackdown matches, Part 3 will cover the Raw matches, and Part 4 will be dedicated to The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns match.  I’ll break down the competitors and likely outcomes of each match, and offer my expert pick for the win.  To round this first blog post out, I’ll give a rundown of the battle royal as it doesn’t fit any of these three categories.

2017 André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

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The André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal Trophy along with it’s namesake.

In only the 4th installment of the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, the match has lost a lot of the original luster it had at WrestleMania XXX.  Nothing much came of the first two that were won by The Big Show and Cesaro, and last year’s surprise victory by Baron Corbin was unexpected.  Instead of build on last year’s momentum, the WWE has moved the battle royal back to the pre-show.  The full entrant list is already public and there will be no surprises, unlike last year when Shaquille O’Neal entered and Corbin qualified by winning an NXT even the night prior.

Most of the competitors in the match have no shot at winning.  They barely are seen on WWE live TV, and many of them are in tag teams that have lost their push and barely have an impact on any ongoing storylines.  Only a handful seem likely to emerge as the victor, either because of past experience, or an apparent desire for the WWE to give one of them a push.  Here are the competitors, bucketed by odds:

No chance

  • Aiden English
  • Bo Dallas
  • Chad Gable
  • Curt Hawkins
  • Curtis Axel
  • Epico
  • Fandango
  • Goldust
  • Heath Slater
  • Jason Jordan
  • Jey Uso
  • Jimmy Uso
  • Jinder Mahal
  • Kalisto
  • Konnor
  • Mark Henry
  • Primo
  • Rhyno
  • R-Truth
  • Simon Gotch
  • Sin Cara
  • Tyler Breeze
  • Viktor
  • Tian Bing

Longshot

  • Apollo Crews
  • Dolph Ziggler
  • Sami Zayn
  • Titus O’Neil

Favorite

  • Big Show
  • Braun Strowman
  • Mojo Rawley

It is disappointment to see the veterans Goldust, Mark Henry, Rhyno, and R-Truth in the No Chance category.  They all have an impressive resume, highlighted by solid heel runs in the past. There just doesn’t seem to be any room for them in today’s WWE product to be featured in any other capacity than a quick in-and-out at WrestleMania.

The longshots have a chance because they gather a bit more attention on regular WWE programming.  Sami Zayn and Apollo Crews are relevant as recent NXT products who appear to have a push behind them.  Dolph Ziggler and Titus O’Neil are career underachievers, but are bolstered by the fact that they occasionally do get a moderate push.

The favorites, in my opinion, are The Big Show, Braun Strowman, and Mojo Rawley.  The Big Show is rumored to be winding down his two-decade-long career and was also rumored to have almost been in a match against Shaquille O’Neal that didn’t come together.  The WWE may want to give him the consolation prize of his second career André trophy.  Braun Strowman was in the middle of a huge push when he had all of his momentum derailed as a pawn in the Roman Reigns/Undertaker feud.  The WWE might want to re-start his push with a win in this match.  Mojo Rawley is a man without much of an identity at this point, but has spent a lot more time on TV lately, and is likely somebody the WWE has plans for going forward.  The André trophy could be the catalyst for him taking the next step in his career.

Either way, this match is probably not going to be a classic.  When it starts off with 31 guys in the ring, all they can really do is throw punches and kicks at each other, and awkwardly throw each other out of the ring until there are maybe 5 or so competitors left.  At that point, the match may tell a story and give someone a bit of a push in the end.

Prediction: Winner, Braun Strowman

Stay tuned for more analysis between now and Sunday.  If you have any questions or comments, please comment below or send me an e-mail (advice@njnonconformist.com).

WrestleMania 33 Season News and Notes

WrestleMania season is always the best time of year to be a WWE fan, and with just two weeks left until WrestleMania 33, this year is no different.  The hype for the big event is in high gear at this point with 11 matches already announced for the card.  Things took an interesting turn today when the WWE got some press the probably weren’t hoping for.  News broke that one of the hosts of WrestleMania, Xavier Woods of The New Day was featured in a leaked sex tape with likely-soon-to-be-former WWE Superstar Paige.  It’s a New Day, yes it is!

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One of the WrestleMania 33 hosts, Xavier Woods of The New Day holding his trombone.  His other instrument was just shown to the world in a leaked sex tape today.

The press around the sex tape notwithstanding, the WWE always casts a wide net during WrestleMania season to attract both hardcore and casual fans.  The economic impact due to WrestleMania to the city of Orlando is expected to be massive. WrestleMania is the best opportunity for the WWE to increase the subscriber count for the WWE Network.  So, if you are a hardcore fan, you are likely to be happy with some of the announced matches on the card as they are geared towards you.  Some other matches, geared towards the casual fan, not so much.  There is a lot of good going on right now, and a little bit of bad.

What’s Looking Good So Far

No better place to start with the good than with the two major title matches.  One features two full-time superstars who are deserving of the honor of carrying one of the main events at WrestleMania.  The other features a part-time feature attraction, and a returning hero, years past his prime but still capable of producing an entertaining spectacle.

The Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton match is one that current fans should really enjoy.  It is a WWE title match built on a long-running and emotional angle. There is a huge amount of animosity between the two and has the potential to be a classic.

The new WWE Universal Championship will be defended for the first time at a WrestleMania when Brock Lesnar and Goldberg collide in the other main event.  This match is a bit more controversial among the regular fan base, with many bemoaning the fact that a part-timer and a returning superstar are taking away a spot from two regulars who should be in that spot instead.  I don’t share that view, I think that the build since Survivor Series towards this match has been pretty solid.  Despite the fact that Goldberg can’t wrestle for more than about five minutes, he is an imposing physical specimen, and carries himself with the same ferocity and intensity as he did during his WCW heyday.  The WWE had to put this match on the card, it will certainly bring back more than a few fans who were fans of the old WCW that have been gone for a long time.

Just behind the two main events on the “good” spectrum are two grudge matches, one between Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens and the other between AJ Styles and Shane McMahon.

The Jericho vs. Owens match is for the WWE United States Championship, but that is merely a footnote in this match. Their rivalry is built on a slow-burn storyline that has spanned months.  With their once comical and entertaining friendship now shattered, the animosity between the two is immense.  Both men are in a position to deliver one of the biggest matches of their respective careers.

AJ Styles will get a chance to showcase his talents for the second time at a WrestleMana against the unpredictable and risk-taking Shane McMahon.  Styles has been a smash-hit in his 14 month WWE tenure, drawing in-ring ability comparisons to Shawn Michaels, and having already captured and lost a WWE Championship.  Shane McMahon has earned the fans respect over the course of his on-and-off tenure with the WWE by laying it all on the line during his matches.  He might not be the best wrestler, but he can be counted on to practically risk his life to put on a good show, especially at WrestleMania.

What’s Looking Bad So Far

With probably what will add up to more than 11 matches and over 7 hours of content, there is no way that everything we see will be top-notch.  Either because the talents involved in them aren’t the best, or because the matches are geared towards entertaining the casual fan, chances are we are going to get a few stinkers.

First, there is The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns match, the match that virtually no fan wanted to see at WrestleMania.  The Undertaker is widely regarded as the best WrestleMania performer of all time, and sports an unprecedented 23-1 record at the biggest event of the year.  Roman Reigns, on the other hand, is absolutely terrible.  He has done nothing to gain the respect of WWE fans.  It’s not like he hasn’t had his chance, he’s already been in not one, but two WrestleMania main events.  If he hasn’t caught fire yet, he never will.  One can only hope that the rumors he will ruin a third WrestleMania main event next year never come to fruition.

The Undertaker deserves better than this, he should be in the ring with John Cena or Braun Strowman this year.  Both men were rumored to be WrestleMania opponents of The Deadman, but that obviously did not happen.  The WWE even teased Strowman as the Undertaker’s opponent a few weeks ago on Raw. The live crowd was buzzing as the two men stood toe-to-toe in the ring.  Then the WWE made the creatively foolish decision to have Strowman, who was riding a high wave of heel heat as a monster heel, back down to the Undertaker and retreat from the ring.  You could feel mood in the arena deflate as Roman Reigns hit the ring instead and challenge the Undertaker to a WrestleMania match.

I’d prefer to have seen either Cena or Strowman take on The Undertaker.  Heck, I’d take pretty much anybody on the roster over Reigns.  Instead give me Big Show, Dolph Ziggler, Kane, Luke Harper, Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, Charlotte Flair, whatever!  Anybody but Reigns!

Or course, the most god-awful WrestleMania booking decision that I can even remember, is the mixed tag team match pitting John Cena and Nikki Bella against The Miz and Maryese.  It’s hard to say where “Big Match John” went wrong, but something is amiss if he suddenly was reduced from main-event status to being in what essentially is a commercial for The Total Bellas reality show.  This match isn’t targeted towards the loyal fan at all.  Instead it is intended as a gimmick to gain the interest of people from outside the circle of WWE fans.

Think about it for one minute.  John Cena is in a match versus Maryese.  Maryese!  Has she even had a match?  I fast forward through all Women’s matches on Raw and Smackdown, but even still, I don’t recall ever seeing her even wrestle!  Nikki Bella’s matches are almost always a series of botches and mistakes that are painful to watch.  John Cena is going to be in the ring with both them!  He’s a multi-time WrestleMania main-eventer!

To their credit, Cena and The Miz have done their best to build towards this match, cutting pretty vicious reality-based promos on each other.  The Miz is a dependable heel, and Cena is pretty much the best wrestler in the WWE right now.  But, like a guy at my old Harley Davidson dealership once told me: “You can’t polish a turd.”.  This match is going to suck.  It should have been a singles match between Miz and Cena, but we are going to have to suffer through this mess instead.

It also bad that there doesn’t appear to be an obvious top spot for Braun Strowman headed into WrestleMania.  Strowman is a rare case of the WWE building someone organically into a top heel.  Ever since the brand-split in July 2016, Strowman was showcased in a way that gave him a chance to gain the respect of WWE fans who want to see more of him.  Instead, it doesn’t look like he is going to be prominently featured on this year’s WrestleMania card, and if he isn’t, that is a shame.

The falling cruiserweight and women’s divisions will also be featured in at least three matches on the card.  Neither division is any good, and they very rarely produce interesting matches, at least not on main WWE programming.  These matches are great if you need to make a beer run or have to hit the bathroom, but they are certainly going to be bad if you have to sit there and watch them.

What We Don’t Know Yet

There’s still time between now and April 2 for the situation to develop.  Certainly, Braun Strowman is going to fit in somewhere on the card.  It looks like Dean Ambrose and Baron Corbin are set to collide in a singles match for the Interconnectional title.  If this comes to fruition, it will be a nice departure from the regular 7-man ladder match for the IC title we get every year.  There are still many spots open in the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal match which could lead to a special moment.  There is always a chance for a surprise NXT call-up, a returning legend to make a surprise appearance, or an unexpected heel turn.  I’ll be sure to stay tuned these next two weeks to see what else happens headed into the biggest night of the year in professional wrestling.

WWE Elimination Chamber Analysis and Predictions

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The final Smackdown-branded WWE pay-per-view before WrestleMania 33 takes place tonight in Phoenix, Arizona. The aim of this show is to build some momentum for WrestleMania and continue the momentum from a Royal Rumble that produced some surprise results.  Not too many people had picked John Cena to capture his 16th WWE Championship.  Likewise, Randy Orton wasn’t too high on anybody’s list of picks to win the Royal Rumble match and head to the main event of WrestleMania.

Tonight’s card is a two-trick-pony with a lot of filler that won’t really have much of a consequence for WrestleMania or otherwise.  The six-man Elimination Chamber match for the WWE Championship and the Luke Harper vs. Randy Orton singles match are likely the only two matches that will have a major impact on WrestleMania.  As such, I’m not going to waste your time breaking down the women’s matches, the Dolph Ziggler handicap match, or the tag team turmoil match.  There might be some drama in the men’s matches, but the end results won’t matter much in the long run.

Luke Harper vs. Randy Orton

Randy Orton is a hot commodity these days.  After missing significant time last year due to an injury that cost him a spot at WrestleMania 32, he will now be featured prominently at WrestleMania 33.  Having been involved in a somewhat aimless angle with the Wyatt Family for several months, things took an interesting turn when he won the Royal Rumble match.  On his way to the win, a feud with Luke Harper was solidified when the bad blood between the two boiled over during the match.  The Wyatt family was destined to break up from the beginning, but it seemed like a more obvious path would have been for Wyatt and Orton to turn on each other.  This was a bit of an unexpected twist, and it gives Luke Harper a chance to have a showcase match.

Luke Harper has long been an under-utilized talent behind Bray Wyatt.  He has shown flashes of brilliance on the microphone and can certainly carry himself in a singles match.  Other a brief run as Intercontinental Champion that was highlighted by an entertaining feud with Dolph Ziggler, Harper’s WWE run has been that of a second fiddle.

There is a compelling story to be told with this match as both Orton and Harper have shown allegiance to Bray Wyatt, but can’t co-exist as members of the Wyatt Family.  The outcome of this match is likely to set up another match at WrestleMania, with one of the two possibly facing Bray Wyatt.

Like I always say, professional wrestling is at its best when it showcases a one-on-one grudge match without any stipulations.  I expect nothing but the best from these two top talents in this match, and it will likely be the best one of the night.

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

John Cena (c) vs. AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose vs. The Miz vs. Baron Corbin vs. Bray Wyatt in an Elimination Chamber match or the WWE Championship

Much like the Royal Rumble match, there is a lot of speculation about what may happen in the chamber match, with no clear favorite to win.  There is a lot of guessing about what could possibly happen with the WWE Championship as a result.  Would John Cena lose his 16th championship just weeks after he won at Royal Rumble?  Why would John Cena and Randy Orton face each other on Smackdown this week if that very same match was the plan for WrestleMania?  What about Bray Wyatt, could he win, setting up a match between himself and Randy Orton?  Does AJ Styles win his title back and head to ‘Mania as champ?  Let’s take a look at the possibilities for each competitor.

  • Baron Corbin: This is the highest-profile match of Corbin’s short WWE main roster run. His booking has been somewhat uneven since his splash debut at WrestleMania 32, but as of late he has a lot of momentum which has brought him to this match.  He is the longest-shot to win this match, but expect something to happen that sends him on a clear path for a match at WrestleMania.
  • The Miz: This former WWE Champion and WrestleMania main-eventer is a dark-horse to win the match and head back to the main event at The Show of Shows this April. He is among the most dependable heels in the WWE today, virtually all fans at live shows hate him and boo everything he says and does.  He can be counted on to be the foil for a babyface Randy Orton if put in that spot.
  • Dean Ambrose: Dean Ambrose is also a former WWE Champion who has main-evented several Pay Per View matches in the past few years. Following a lackluster match between himself and Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 32, it would be good to see him have a chance for a WrestleMania moment worth of remembrance at this year’s show.
  • Bray Wyatt: As far as I am concerned, Bray Wyatt is at a crossroads. He either needs to win a singles championship or win a match at WrestleMania or I will completely stop caring about him.  No better way to give him a push like that than to set him up to wrestle his protégé Randy Orton at WrestleMania with the WWE Championship on the line.  I think there is a strong likelihood this could happen.
  • AJ Styles: Styles continues to impress since his surprise debut at the Royal Rumble in 2016. Very few have done so much in their first year in WWE as Styles has.  He is coming off of an instant-classic match with John Cena at the Royal Rumble. There are a lot of compelling reasons to believe that Styles could be headed to WrestleMania as champion.
  • John Cena: “Big Match John” as he is sometimes referred to continues to get better with age. He is overall the best full-time talent the WWE has on the active roster and is riding high since his championship win just a few weeks ago.  It would be a shame to see him lose the title so quickly, but if he does, expect it to set up a very high-profile grudge match between him and someone else at WrestleMania 33.  Perhaps The Undertaker imposes his will on this match?

The WWE has advertised that the Elimination Chamber is “all new”.  Not really sure what that means, but it could add to the drama of the match.  Without a clear-cut winner, expect the unexpected in this match.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, John Cena

 

WWE Royal Rumble Analysis and Predictions

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Unlike the past two WrestleMania seasons that were plagued by the predictability of a push of Roman Reigns that virtually none of us wanted, most WWE fans have no idea what to expect headed into The Royal Rumble this Sunday.  The only thing that is for certain is that the WrestleMania card will begin to take shape in more ways than one.

The Royal Rumble match itself is stacked like none other has been in recent memory.  In the absence of a strong rumor suggesting a WrestleMania main event is already planned for one of the competitors, the field is wide open, and you could make the case for at least 10 guys to win the match.

More importantly, a product of the brand split in July was the addition of a second major title for Raw.  This year, the winner will become number one contender for one of the two titles, whereas in previous years there was only one number one contender spot up for grabs.  This adds to the unpredictability factor of who might win, as the WWE is not painted into the corner creatively by only having three or four competitors in the match that had a legitimate shot of winning and going on to headline WrestleMania.

Given the number of main-event caliber talents in the match, there will also be many other stories told other than that of the winner.  Chances are that several other feuds will either be enhanced or will develop during the match that will lead to one-on-one matches at WrestleMania 33.

Aside from some filler matches, the undercard has two interesting matches for the top championship titles.  There is a lot of buzz and guessing going on right now, all of which is building anticipation for what, on paper, is a very exciting Royal Rumble card.

I’m not going to bother previewing the Cruiserweight and Women’s matches, as they will likely be very uninteresting and won’t really lead to anything of note at WrestleMania.  Instead, I’ll focus on the two title matches and the Royal Rumble match.

Kevin Owens (c) vs. Roman Reigns in a No Disqualification match for the WWE Universal Championship Chris Jericho will be suspended in a shark cage above the ring

Talk about an interesting stipulation for a championship match!  Here’s one you don’t see very often, someone known to help the heel champion cheat to win that is locked inside of a shark cage and suspended above the ring.  This one is so unusual, it is hard to predict what might actually happen. On the one hand, it would seem like that Chris Jericho will be completely neutralized in this match and will not be able to interfere on behalf of Kevin Owns like he has done in the past.  On the other hand, something tells me that it would be pretty boring for Jericho to simply dangle above the ring for 20 minutes, and that something could happen that could bust him out of the cage and allow him to get involved in the match somehow.  I’m not sure exactly which one will happen, but I’m thinking it’s likely to be the latter.

The Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho partnership has been unexpectedly riveting to watch.  Jericho was pretty much a washed-up has-been during his latest WWE run until he teamed up with the talented and charismatic Owens.  Their “friendship” is comically tenuous, and will of course break up and lead them to a one-on-one match (maybe at WM 33?). In the meantime, you never know what they might do to keep the WWE Universal Title on Kevin Owens.

Owens has been extremely impressive as WWE Universal Champion.  He works as a heel but he is so good at everything he does that the crowd can’t help but pop for him when he makes his ring entrance.  He overshadows his opponent in this match in every possible way.  Roman Reigns is the exact opposite of Owens, Reigns works as a babyface and the crowd continuously boos him out of the building.  He is a failed experiment that the WWE doesn’t seem to want to walk away from.  He has been pushed down a notch from main event status, let’s hope that he doesn’t find his way back on top for a third straight WrestleMania.

As I eluded to earlier, the stipulation for this match makes it tough to predict.  I don’t think it is likely that Jericho doesn’t find his way down somehow to interfere in the match in some way.  But the question is, when he does make it down from the cage, on whose behalf will he interfere?

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Universal Champion, Kevin Owens.

AJ Styles (c) vs. John Cena in a singles match for the WWE Championship

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is nothing better than a one-on-one matchup for a championship with no stipulations attached to it.  When two top talents with a grudge against each other face off for a WWE Championship, it gives the fans an opportunity to enjoy the art of professional wrestling as it was originally intended.  AJ Styles and John Cena are two of the absolute best active wrestlers in the world today and I fully expect them to bring the house down.

John Cena is recently back in the WWE from his latest stint away from the company to film a reality TV show.  During his first night, back on Smackdown, he showed a bit of attitude by referring to the “New Era” as “B. S.”.  For a moment, I almost thought it was a heel promo.  But it was good stuff from Cena, working the crowd and giving us something to think about.

Very few talents have had the same impact in their first year in the WWE as AJ Styles had in 2016.  He got off to a strong start with his surprise entry into the Royal Rumble match.  Fans of his from his days in TNA, ROH, and NJPW where thrilled to see him finally get his shot in the WWE at age 38.  I watch none of those promotions so the first time I was exposed to him was that night.

At first I was somewhat underwhelmed with Styles and couldn’t understand what the hype was about. He had an interesting offensive move set, but was undersized and didn’t seem like he had very much charisma.  But a mid-summer heel turn really got him to take off.  His heel promos are top notch and his “Beat up John Cena” catchphrase became an instant classic.  It was only a few months into his first year in the WWE that he won his first major championship.

There is a lot on the line in this match.  First of all, John Cena stands as a 15-time World Champion.  He is one championship win shy of tying the all-time record of 16 World Championships held by the legendary Ric Flair.  It is hard to say if the WWE would let him tie the record at the Royal Rumble, or let him hang on until WrestleMania to finally tie the mark.  Also on the line is a chance to claim the prestige of defending the WWE Championship at WrestleMania.  It is likely that the winner of this match will not lose the title before ‘Mania.

This should be the best match of the night, nobody can tell a story better in-ring than these two can right now.  There is a reason that Cena is a 15-time champion and that Styles is the current champion, and those reasons will be on display during this match.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, AJ Styles

2017 Royal Rumble Match for a World Championship Match at WrestleMania

There are many possibilities in this match, not only for a winner to emerge, but for many other stories to be told.  At the time of this writing, there are only 22 announced participants, leaving 8 more as a surprise.  The known and unknown competitors can be fit into four buckets.

No Chance in Hell

  • Big E, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods: This comedy-based trio turned their fortunes around as failing singles wrestlers and ended up setting a record as the longest reigning WWE Tag Team Champions of all time as The New Day. None of them, however, are positioned to work a WrestleMania main event at this time.  Look for the possibility of a heel turn and a breakup of the New Day in this match.  It has to happen sometime, why not now?  Maybe they can combine the heel turn with the annual “Kofi finds a way to miraculously stay alive in the Rumble” spot.
  • Big Show: I love the guy, but the IWC doesn’t call him “The Big Jobber” for nothing. He’s been used poorly by the WWE for 8 years now, there is no way he is going to win the match.
  • Big Cass: Not ready yet. Maybe someday, but not now.
  • Cesaro: He never was over, he’s not over now, and he never will be over. Move on, Cesaro Section, start rooting for Kevin Owens instead.
  • Dolph Ziggler: Time is running out for the career of this habitual under-achiever.
  • Luke Harper: He’s at the bottom of the Wyatt Family pecking order. Harper is an under-utilized talent; the WWE needs to send him in a new direction.
  • Mojo Rawley: Who?
  • Rusev: This guy is on a roller coaster run in the WWE, he’s had a lot of highs and lows. Right now, he’s pretty low.  He has main-event level talent, but he’s not going to win this year.
  • Sami Zayn: He hasn’t done much of anything useful in his WWE run other than his feud with Kevin Owens.
  • Sheamus: This former Royal Rumble winner and WWE Champion is holding up a tag team right now. Don’t look for that to change anytime soon.

Just Maybe…

  • Baron Corbin: The surprise winner of last year’s André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania might have another trick up his sleeve. He’s already surprised us once, why not one more time?
  • Bray Wyatt: Maybe the WWE finally just gives him a shot at a singles championship. It’s kind of ridiculous that he’s never been in the title picture yet.  He certainly can cut good promos headed into WrestleMania.  They need to either push Bray Wyatt to the top or cut bait in 2017.
  • Randy Orton: This odd pairing of Randy Orton with the Wyatt Family hasn’t really paid off yet. Not much of anything interesting has happened since Orton joined forces with Bray and Luke.  Time for them to finally break up and send Randy in a different direction.  Orton is a known commodity that can be trusted to carry a WrestleMania main event.
  • Dean Ambrose: On several occasions, Ambrose has handled PPV main event duties well. He is also a former WWE Champion.  Maybe he gets another shot at the prize this year.
  • The Miz: A former WrestleMania main-eventer as WWE Champion, the consummate heel is at the top of his game right now. The crowd hates him and he’d be the perfect foil for any babyface champion to face at WM.
  • Braun Strowman: This monster heel has benefited greatly from the brand split and his re-branding following his split from the Wyatt Family. Make no mistake about it, Strowman was built up very carefully over the course of the last 6 months, starting with his matches against “local talent” and working his way up to several possible feuds with top contenders in the Rumble match.  He has the size and the look, I’m not fully convinced about his talent on the microphone and in the ring yet, but I’d like to see what he can do on the grand stage.  If he doesn’t win this match, look for the seeds to be planted for a one-on-one matchup at WrestleMania against someone like The Undertaker or Brock Lesnar.

The Unknown Competitors

After DDP returned last year, no telling what relic the WWE is going to take out of the mothballs and give a quick spot to in the Rumble.  Jake “The Snake” Roberts, anyone?

How about a celebrity entry like Drew Carey? Shaquille O’Neal made a surprise visit to WrestleMania last year, maybe he takes his shot at The Rumble.  Or what about the kid from “The Arrow”?  What was his name?  Never mind, it doesn’t matter what his name is!

What about a returning superstar that still has some gas left in the tank?  Does Cody Rhodes patch up his differences with WWE creative and come back home?  Is Ryback just swerving us with his podcast that he uses to constantly bash the WWE?  Is the newest member of the WWE Hall of Fame, Kurt Angle aiming for a final run with the WWE?  Does CM Punk give up on his ridiculous and failed UFC dream and resume his professional wrestling career?  OK, that’s a stretch but never say never in the professional wrestling business.  After all, Bret “Hitman” Hart came home to the WWE years after the Montreal Screwjob.

There are a number of active competitors who should make an appearance.  Kane certainly comes to mind, he could get a chance to enhance his impressive Royal Rumble elimination statistics.  Maybe Goldust or Curt Hawkins will get a chance to show up and get thrown over the top rope.  Of course, James Ellerton will be there to take a short, if not comedic beating.

What about Triple H?  Aside from an unexplained run-in where he screwed Seth Rollins out of a WWE Universal Championship match, we haven’t seen him in a WWE ring since he lost the title at WrestleMania 32.  It’s time to set him up for his WrestleMania match.  And what about Rollins?  Did he really lose his spot in the match?  Is he not booked at all for the Rumble?  Wouldn’t that be strange?  Shouldn’t he at least start up a feud with Triple H so they can finally clash at WrestleMania?

How about some NXT call ups? Could one of them surprise us with an appearance?  Could they surprise us even more with a Rumble win? Shinsuke Nakamura is 36 years old, it is go or go home time for him.  Same goes for the 37-year-old Samoa Joe.  Joe got off to an auspicious WWE start when he recklessly injured Tyson Kidd during his first match and nearly killed Kidd, instantly ending his career in the process.  He has been in NXT long enough, hopefully he has learned how to use the Muscle Buster on his opponents without maiming them and can make the jump to the main roster at the Rumble.

Is there another AJ Styles out there?  A guy who paid his dues in every promotion other than the WWE and is looking to make his mark in the big leagues of professional wrestling?  Given the success AJ Styles has had, it would make sense for the WWE to try to find another proven commodity like him and give him a shot at the Rumble.

If I Were a Betting Man…

  • Chris Jericho: How about a Jericho Rumble win combined with an Owens championship defense? Former best friends face off for the WWE Universal Championship at WrestleMania, maybe even with Jericho’s career on the line?  Sound good, anybody?
  • Brock Lesnar: The Beast looks more likely to resume his feud with Goldberg at WrestleMania than get a title shot, but maybe he comes out on top of the Rumble while he is at it.
  • Goldberg: See Brock Lesnar, same story for the former WCW standout.
  • The Undertaker: How great would it be to see the Deadman get a title shot at WrestleMania? Now that The Streak is history (although he is working on a meager 2-0 win streak right now which is actually better than a lot of people can say), he needs something to fight for.  How about a major championship of his choosing since he seems to be brand-agnostic?

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

The possibilities for the outcome of this match are nearly limitless.  I like not knowing what to expect, and it looks like most WWE fans are like-minded.  Tell me, what do you think will happen at The Royal Rumble?