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 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 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?

WWE Survivor Series Analysis and Predictions

As far as I’m concerned, everybody on Smackdown is dead to me.”  Among my circle of friends who are fans of WWE, this has been the going sentiment since the brand split in July.  None of us are really excited about another brand split and we can’t understand why the WWE is repeating an experiment that has already failed. We didn’t buy into the phony competition between the two brands the first time the WWE tried this and we aren’t buying it now.  Most of us are suffering from WWE fatigue from having to watch two shows to keep up with what is going on, or just not watching Smackdown at all.  This is not what the WWE wanted.  They really think we have enough time to watch three hours of Raw, two hours of Smackdown, and maybe a three to four hour pay-per-view each week!

The brand split comes into play at the Survivor Series as three matches on the will feature talents from both shows competing against each other.  Instead of the traditional babyface vs. heel Survivor Series teams that we have seen in the past, allegiances are based on brand.  Teams are now a confusing mess of good and bad guys that don’t have a compelling reason to care about each other.  In fact, in some cases, the card just looks plain silly.

For example, on Team Smackdown for the 5-on-5 elimination men’s match, Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton are on a team with Dean Ambrose.  It just looks outright silly to see Bray Wyatt in a blue Smackdown t-shirt and acting like he cares about the match and his teammates.  It also doesn’t make much sense for the Randy Orton storyline, having recently joined up with the Wyatt Family.  This doesn’t really cement his status as a member of an outsider heel faction if he is suddenly teaming up with several babyfaces he should be in a rivalry with instead.

On the other side of this match on Team Raw there is an even more ridiculous scenario with Roman Reigns teaming with Seth Rollins.  What possible reason could these to have to get along as teammates following Rollins’ betrayal of The Shield two years ago?  Why are they suddenly cooperating with each other?  Where is the logic behind this?

The overall issue with the three Survivor Series matches on the card is the fact that we won’t be able to really decide which teams to root for.  The fans don’t really care about Smackdown vs. Raw, we just care about good guys vs. bad guys.  And we want to decide who the good and bad guys are, not be told who they are (see Roman Reigns for example).  The best thing to hope for is some entertaining spots in these matches and hope the storylines progress on individual levels.  As such, I’m not going to attempt to predict who will win or lose these matches.

There are some things to look for with the rest of the card, certainly highlighted by the return of Goldberg to face Brock Lesnar. There is also a chance that we will see The Undertaker return in some capacity, and we may also see the beginnings of some WrestleMania storylines. Let’s take a look at the remaining matches.

The Brian Kendrick (c) vs. Kalisto in a singles match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship; if Kalisto wins, the title and the cruiserweight division will transfer to SmackDown

That certainly is some stipulation!  I have no idea why it’s needed.  Do the fans really care which show the cruiserweight division competes in?  Is this stipulation going to somehow enhance this match?  Can’t Kendrick and Kalisto have a championship match without having to worry where they show up for work this week?

The Cruiserweight division seemed to do well on its own when it kicked off this summer with the Cruiserweight Classic specials on the WWE Network.  It was marketable to a niche set of WWE fans that appreciate the type of fast-paced and high-flying action that the cruiserweights deliver.  It had a mix of young and veteran talent, and was well received by the fans.

When the division made it to Raw, it has gotten lost in the shuffle.  It doesn’t pair well with the rest of the roster, and in many cases, it is illogical in the sense that there are other competitors that compete at under 205 pounds but are not obligated to only compete as cruiserweights.  Maybe it needs more time to settle in, but the division doesn’t work well for me right now.

This match will be a typical cruiserweight match with lots of quick spots and back-and-forth action.  Look for Kalisto to attempt to defy gravity, and hopefully for Kendrick to use some sort of underhanded means to gain an advantage in the match.

Prediction: Winner and still Cruiserweight Champion, The Brian Kendrick

The Miz (c) (with Maryse) vs. Sami Zayn in a singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship; if Zayn wins, the title will transfer to Raw

Here we go again with another Raw vs. Smackdown angle, this one around the prestigious Intercontinental title. The Miz surprisingly won the title from Dolph Ziggler on Raw and was inserted into this match at the last minute.  I’m not sure I understand the logic behind this, especially since Ziggler was the one who issued the challenge to the Raw roster to defend the title against one of them.  Then again, there isn’t much logic to what we’ve seen lately in the run up to Survivor Series, so what’s the difference?

The title pictures are a muddled mess between the two brands.  It’s hard to tell what is what.  The only obvious ones are the Smackdown Women’s and Tag Team Championships because they are named after their own brand.  But the Intercontinental title isn’t named after a brand so somehow it floats in the middle of things.

What is important to me is the prestige of the IC title itself. Some of the greatest wrestlers of all time have proudly worn the IC championship belt, and it often has been misused in the past decade or so with forgettable and brief championship runs.  The Miz is one of the best IC champions we have seen in a long time and has held the title for most of the last six months since the Raw after WrestleMania.  He is a dependable heel, and cuts some of the best promos in the business.  The fans genuinely hate the guy and that in turn helps his opponents look better as they chase the title.

Sami Zayn continues to underwhelm audiences all over the world.  Having been known as a Kevin Owens ally prior to their WWE runs, Zayn has been outshined by the more talented Owens in every way.  His matches and his promos are average at best and he really hasn’t done much to distinguish himself.  It would be a disservice to see him win the IC title.  The title works best when the talent is already over before winning the belt.  It doesn’t work very well when the title is used to get the talent over.

I wouldn’t expect this match to be remembered as a classic.  One thing for sure, Maryse will certainly interject herself in the match in an attempt to help Miz gain an advantage.  Other than that, this will probably be a pedestrian effort and an average match.

Prediction: Winner and still Intercontinental Champion, The Miz

Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg

At least this match has nothing to do with Raw vs. Smackdown!

I had the privilege of attending WrestleMania XX in person in 2004 at Madison Square Garden.  The worst match of the night was Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg.  Stone Cold Steve Austin was the guest referee, and even he couldn’t bring any excitement to the match.  At some point during the match, a fan in the upper deck dressed up as Hulk Hogan started posing to the crowd, and he got bigger cheers then either of the two combatants in the match.  It was a forgettable affair, not suitable for WrestleMania, and both men left the WWE immediately after WrestleMania XX.

For some reason, in Goldberg’s first match after a 12-year absence, we get the exact same matchup for his return.  The placing of this matchup tells you a lot about what WWE things of Goldberg.  His first match back is at Survivor Series, not WrestleMania.  The rivalry had a short build, and it started with an ESPN interview in which Goldberg said he’d like to grant Lesnar a rematch.

The build has been shaky at best.  Even Paul Heyman himself has struggled to get the crowds to treat Goldberg as the babyface and Lesnar as the heel.  His promos were designed to get the crowd to chant “Goldberg” and more often than not, the crowd cheered “Goldberg sucks!” instead.  It didn’t help that the WWE tried to push this angle in Lesnar’s home state of Minnesota.

It would be a huge mistake for Goldberg to win this match.  The WWE painted themselves into a corner when Lesnar ended The Streak at WrestleMania XXX.  Once Lesnar made The Undertaker 21 and 1, they set him up for a future as a destroyer that can’t be beat.  If Lesnar loses to a man who is in his late 40’s and hasn’t wrestled in 12 years, it invalidates everything they built for him as The Conqueror.

One final note about Goldberg, he was advertised as “The Greatest WCW Champion” upon his WWE return.  Did the person who wrote this line think we’d forget about Ric Flair? Please!

There’s not much of a need for me to predict what this match is going to look like.  Pull up their match at WrestleMania XX on the WWE Network and see how bad the first one was for yourself.  Is the rematch somehow going to be any better?  I would doubt it.

Prediction: Winner, Brock Lesnar

WWE FastLane Analysis and Predictions

WrestleMania season should be the best time of year to be a WWE fan.  I haven’t found myself to be this underwhelmed by the road to WrestleMania in years.  Due to a roster that has been decimated by injuries, an ill-advised monster push of a mediocre talent in Roman Reigns, and the inability of the WWE to build any new main-event-level stars in years, there hasn’t been much to look forward to lately.

The biggest problem I have is that I can see the ending coming from a mile away.  Roman Reigns is going to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 32.  Not only does it suck knowing the ending of a story before it has been told, but it is an ending I don’t want to see.  We are going to have to suffer through weeks of promos on Raw between FastLane and WrestleMania that are going to highlight Reigns’ inability to put two sentences together or wrestle a coherent match.  Every single flaw of his is going to be highlighted on his way to headlining his second WrestleMania in a row.  As a lifetime fan, I just don’t get it.

The rest of the card doesn’t excite me very much.  We have not one, but two Divas matches to sit through.  The rest of the matches were hastily thrown together and it is not clear if any of them are going to set up something for WrestleMania.  There is a chance we get a surprise visit from a returning star that we know will be at WrestleMania (Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Undertaker) or a surprise return of a former big star such as Goldberg or Shawn Michaels.  Maybe even a NXT rookie gets the call and jumps into the mix.  Failing that, there is not much to look forward to on this card.

With any luck, we will get a few surprises and get something exciting to look forward to at WrestleMania 32.  If not, I might be asleep by the time the main event comes along.  Let’s take a look at the card.

AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho

The WWE decided to bring Chris Jericho out of mothballs and throw him into the WrestleMania mix.  This is about his 10th surprise return and it is just about as unimportant as the last nine.  His timing is a step behind both in the ring and on the mic.  He looks old and in poor shape and he can’t seem to decide if he is a babyface or a heel.  If they had to find a legend to bring back to generate some excitement, it’s hard to understand why it was Jericho, unless he really needed the cash and Vince McMahon felt bad for him.

AJ Styles is an interesting watch.  As a WWE-only fan, I have never seen him wrestle in the past but the fans seemed to be excited to see him, as he was a well-known name in the lesser professional wrestling promotions in the past.  The WWE clearly thinks very highly of him as they sent him to the main roster right away without having him spend some time learning the ropes in NXT.  This is a good opportunity for him to show the WWE audience what he is capable of, and if he is lucky, he will get a prominent spot on the WrestleMania card.

If this match is going to be any good, AJ Styles is going to have to carry it.  Jericho clearly is having a hard time moving around and doesn’t look like he is capable of carrying a match on his own.  I wouldn’t expect too many high spots or extreme moments, and would instead think that we are going to get a technical showcase.

Prediction: Winner, AJ Styles

Kevin Owens (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler in a singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Kevin Owens had one of the hottest rookie starts we have seen in a while since he hit the main roster in 2015 with a big feud against John Cena.  Since that time, he has been a victim of 50/50 booking in the WWE that so many talents have had to endure.  The win one week, lose the next.  There is never any consistency and it is hard to expect anything from them headed into big matches.  This is a big mistake; Owens has the potential to be the biggest heel in the promotions.  He is a natural jerk and an innovative wrestler.  The fans (especially in the adult demographic) have already connected with him and he can go places if he is used properly.

It is good to see that he is the IC champ once more, but I don’t like that the title was switched on a Raw episode.  The IC title should mean something and it seems like he won it in a throwaway match.  Hopefully he can hang on to the title for quite some time and emerge as a main-event level talent through the course of his run.

Dolph Ziggler is in the “what you see is what you get” phase of his career.  He isn’t getting any better, he isn’t getting any younger.  He is a natural heel working a babyface gimmick.  He over-sells for his opponents and hasn’t had a memorable match in almost a year.  He is a decent hand to have around if the WWE needs to make someone else look good.  Hopefully he does that for Kevin Owens.

This match has potential to be one of the better ones of the evening as I would expect the unexpected from Kevin Owens.  His matches are fast-paced and have a lot of false finishes and tense moments.  Ziggler is one of the best on the card right now that can match that style.

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

Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks vs. Team B.A.D. (Naomi and Tamina) in a tag team match

The first of two awful Divas matches on the card.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Charlotte (c) (with Ric Flair) vs. Brie Bella in a singles match for the WWE Divas Championship

Not even ‘Naich himself can save this match.  Charlotte is the best female competitor on the roster these days but that’s not saying very much.  Brie Bella can’t retire fast enough for me.  Watching her attempt to emote during her promos makes me uncomfortable.

Prediction: This match is going to suck, probably just slightly less than the Team B.A.D match.  Either way, don’t watch it.

Ryback, Big Show, and Kane vs. The Wyatt Family (Luke Harper, Erick Rowan and Braun Strowman) (with Bray Wyatt) in a six-man tag team match

The odd pairing of Ryback, Big Show, and Kane was hastily thrown together to give the Wyatts a chance to compete on the card.  It is unfortunate that Kane has slid back into a minimized role after a great run as the evil COO of The Authority.  Kane is one of the most underrated talents of the past 20 years in the WWE and he is capable of playing much more than this bit part.  Same goes for The Big Show, the way he is booked doesn’t give much integrity to his character.  Ryback can hold his own in a big match, but he is mainly a one-trick-pony with his “feed me more” chant that really has to change.

The Wyatt Family continues to be an enigma in the WWE.  They have one of the most unique gimmicks we have seen in quite some time but there never seems to be any payoff to any of their storylines.  They never win championships (save for a brief IC title run for Luke Harper when the family had temporarily broken up), and never have big WrestleMania moments.  We never really know why they pick fights with others, and every feud they have just seems to die out with them losing.  It is a shame that they can’t get some sort of momentum behind this group, they can all wrestle and cut good promos.

There is probably something more at play with the Wyatts at FastLane than just this match.  Expect some sort of interaction or run-in that sets up one or more matches for them at WrestleMania 32, particularly with Wyatt and Strowman.

This match can be either really good, or bowling-shoe-ugly.  Everyone competitor in this match is among the most talented in-ring performers the WWE has to offer right now (yes, that includes the Big Show), but individual contributions may be lost in the shuffle in a six-man tag match.  If the Wyatts are going to have any momentum headed into WrestleMania, they are going to have to look strong in this match.

Prediction: Winners, The Wyatt Family

Dean Ambrose vs. Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar (with Paul Heyman) in a Triple threat match to determine the #1 contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 32

As I eluded to in the opening of this blog post, the outcome of this match seems obvious to any fan of the WWE right now.  Roman Reigns is going to wrestle a poor match, yet come away with a win and head to WrestleMania to challenge Triple H for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

Dean Ambrose has proved time and time again that he can be counted on to handle himself in a main event at a pay-per-view.  Brock Lesnar is the best in-ring performer on the WWE main roster right now.  Roman Reigns is in way over his head in this match and has little chance of looking like he deserves the push to the top that he is currently riding.  I would expect him to be booed very loudly as during his entrance, and even louder when he wins the match.

Hard to say exactly what might happen in this match but I have a few theories:

  1. Dean Ambrose does a heel turn and turns on Reigns during this match. This would be especially satisfying if he somehow won while he was at it.
  2. Brock Lesnar is about to win the match, the Wyatts interrupt just as Lesnar goes for the pin and cost him the match. This sets up a clash between one of the Wyatts (Bray Wyatt or Braun Strowman) to wrestle Lesnar at WrestleMania.
  3. Reigns wins the match cleanly (boring!).
  4. Triple H somehow interferes and attempts to screw Reigns, but his plans backfire and Reigns wins the match anyway.

Prediction: Winner and new #1 contender for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Roman Reigns

I sure hope I am wrong with that last prediction, and I also hope that that FastLane exceeds my low expectations.  I think the biggest thing that could save the show is a surprise return, one that we didn’t see coming.

 

WWE 2016 Royal Rumble Analysis and Predictions

WrestleMania season is upon us in 2016.  What should be the best time of year for any wrestling fan begins with the WWE Royal Rumble.  This year, the WWE hopes to rebound from two very poor showings at the last two Royal Rumble events, where fans revolted at both of them forcing the WWE to change around their WrestleMania plans on the fly.

In 2014, the plan was for Batista to make his triumphant return to WWE active competition after a lengthy absence with a win at the Royal Rumble and a main event championship match at WrestleMania XXX.  The only problem was that the fans wanted Daniel Bryan to get that spot instead.  The returning Batista was booed out of the building when he won the Rumble match.  The ensuing build to WrestleMania was clearly re-written on a week-to-week basis and included a Batista heel turn. It culminated in a triple-threat match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and Daniel Bryan ended up with the title.

The 2014 Royal Rumble is also notable as the unofficial beginning of Roman Reigns’ big babyface push.  Although he didn’t win, he eliminated 12 competitors from the rumble match, breaking Kane’s 13-year-old record of 11 eliminations.  This certainly foreshadowed what would happen at the 2015 Royal Rumble.

The 2015 Royal Rumble was notable because the wheels figuratively fell off of the train right in front of our eyes.  Once again, the crowd wanted Daniel Bryan to win.  When he was eliminated early on, everybody in the building and everybody at home realized the inevitable was about to happen.  It was rumored for months that Reigns was going to win the Rumble match and go on to main event WrestleMania.

Maybe it was the fact that Bryan was a non-factor in the match.  Maybe it was because people didn’t like the predictability of Reigns winning the match.  Maybe it was because most fans think that Roman Reigns outright sucks.  Whatever the case may be, the Philadelphia crowd booed the last 5 minutes of the rumble match very loudly.  They seemed like they were on the verge of a riot when Reigns finally won the match.  He looked scared and confused as he looked at the crowd in what should have been a shining moment for a victorious hero.  The WWE fans wanted no part of this.

The build to WrestleMania suffered as a result.  The entire two months was designed to brainwash us into getting behind Roman Reigns as our champion.  They even staged a match between Daniel Bryan and Reigns at FastLane and put Reigns over cleanly as if to say “get used to it” to the fans who clearly were behind Bryan.

The rest of 2015 was about starting and stopping the Roman Reigns push and championship run.  Seth Rollins “stole” the championship title at WrestleMania by cashing in his Money in the Bank contract.  Rollins had a solid championship run while Reigns continued to flounder.  Reigns had a few useless feuds with Bray Wyatt and The Big Show, showing very little improvement along the way.  The fans still didn’t seem to care much about him.

Finally, the time came to give Reigns the championship title shortly after The Survivor Series.  It felt like the WWE couldn’t wait any longer and decided that they just had to go ahead and give him the belt and execute their long standing plans to make him the face of the company.  But it also felt like they knew they still had work to do to get him as over with the fans as they would have liked.  This is evidenced by the fact that they pulled Triple H off of TV and resurrected the Mr. McMahon character as Reign’s main antagonist.  It seems, for lack of a better idea, they are trying the whole “McMahon vs. Austin” storyline some 17 years later hoping that some sort of magic will happen again.

This leads us to this year’s Royal Rumble.  This will be the third straight rumble match that the WWE will attempt to condition us to love Roman Reigns.  This time the deck is stacked against him and his championship run, he is the victim of the evil Mr. McMahon’s plot to take away his championship by forcing him to not only defend his title in the rumble match, but enter the ring as the first out of thirty competitors.  As fans, we are supposed to be outraged that this happened and we should cheer the underdog champion to victory.

In addition to the perennial Roman Reigns mess, the WWE has painted themselves into a corner creatively these past three years with the rumble match itself.  The old stipulation was that the winner of the rumble match went on to WrestleMania to face the champion of his choice.  That left the match hard to predict as there were many people in the match who could challenge for either the WWE Championship in a ‘mania main event, or challenge for the lesser World Heavyweight Championship (formerly the WCW championship) in a mid-card match.  Once the WWE consolidated the two titles before WrestleMania XXX, there really were only a small handful of competitors who had a realistic shot of winning.  The other 27 or so were just kind of in the way during the match.

This year, the WWE championship is on the line for the first time since 1992.  In the 1992 Rumble, Ric Flair won his first WWF championship in inspiring fashion, entering the ring at number three and surviving until the end.  This year, even though the stipulation has changed from the winner being top contender to the actual champion, the creative dilemma still persists.  How many entrants in the rumble match have a realistic shot of winning the WWE title and going on to defend it at WrestleMania?  Not too many.  In fact, as I’ll address shortly, I’m left to wonder why they are bothering with the rumble at all and why not just have Reigns and one other wrestler square off in a singles match instead.

Anyway, even if it doesn’t sound like it, I am the eternal optimist when it comes to the WWE.  I look at every pay-per-view as a chance to be something special and I’m hoping that the Royal Rumble surprises me and is an outstanding show.  With my preamble out of the way, here is my expert analysis and my picks for all the announced matches on the card.

Darren Young and Damien Sandow vs. The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray Dudley and D-Von Dudley) vs. The Ascension (Konnor and Viktor) vs. Mark Henry and Jack Swagger in a Fatal four-way tag team match to qualify for the Royal Rumble match

Yawn.  Is this the best they can do to get us excited for the Rumble?  Eight guys we barely care about that have no shot of actually winning the rumble match in a four-way tag?   Jack Swagger, Darren Young, and Damien Sandow have barely been on TV in months.  The Dudley Boyz are a nostalgia act and are barely noticeable on the show since their return in the fall.  And what happened to Mark Henry?  He used to be near or at the top of the card for years.  Has he fallen so far that this is the best they can do for the World’s Strongest Man?

Anyway, this match would be fine if it were on Smackdown but I don’t expect it to be very noteworthy.  No matter who wins, they aren’t going to be a factor in the rumble match itself.

Prediction: Winner, Mark Henry

Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Kalisto for the WWE United States Championship

The checkered history of Alberto Del Rio in the WWE has continued upon his return to the company.  What started out as a promising run in the early 2010’s had fizzled out towards the end of his run in 2014.  The Mexican Aristocrat had a grand entrance with his own ring announcer and a never ending line of expensive cars.  He won the Royal Rumble and numerous championships along the way but somehow faded to middle card status before he was unceremoniously fired for a reported backstage incident with a WWE staffer.  Having toiled in a few lesser promotions in the meantime, the WWE decided that all was forgiven in 2105 and brought him back.

The problem with his return is that it was completely botched almost from the get-go.  It started off well on the first night as he made an unannounced return to Hell in a Cell and defeated John Cena cleanly for the US Championship in a very entertaining match.  Shortly thereafter, he was paired with his former xenophobic adversary, Zeb Coulter.  The two of them bizarrely promoted the idea of combining Mexico and America into one country called “Mexamerica”.  Nobody knew what to make of this and the WWE quickly backtracked and separated the two.  With no real backup plan for Del Rio, he has been drifting aimlessly ever since.

His involvement with the hastily arranged “League of Nations” faction has the potential to be interesting, but we haven’t seen much from the group, and Del Rio appears to be lost in the shuffle.  I would assume that there are plans for Del Rio at WrestleMania, but at this point, nothing seems to be building towards anything interesting involving his character.

Kalisto is a lower-profile superstar as a member of the Lucha Dragons tag-team.  The Lucha Dragons are the token masked luchadores on the WWE roster these days and have a narrow fan appeal.  They are usually good for a few high-spots per match but have no personalities as they are masked and rarely speak.  Kalisto did, however, distinguish himself in December at the TLC pay-per-view by performing his signature Salida del Sol finishing move from the top of a ladder.  His partner, Sin Cara, was hurt shortly thereafter, so the WWE decided to strike while the iron was hot and put him in a feud with Alberto Del Rio for the United States Championship.

In a sequence of matches on Raw and Smackdown, Kalisto surprisingly won the US Championship from Del Rio only to lose it back the next night.  Their feud continues at the Royal Rumble on Sunday in a rematch for the US title. It was an interesting way to build interest in a pay-per-view match by repeating the same match for a third time in a short period.  On the one hand, it could seem repetitive.   On the other, it could be interesting to see who walks away in the third of three matches in the feud with a victory.  I’m guessing that it is going to be the former and remind us of two matches we just saw with not much new to offer.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE United States Champion, Alberto Del Rio

The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston and/or Xavier Woods) (c) vs. The Usos (Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso)

There isn’t much new to say about this match due to its repetitive nature.  These are the two most popular tag teams in the WWE right now and always seem to cross each other’s path.  If it wasn’t for the fact that Usos missed time due to an injured member, this match would probably have happened ten times by now.

The New Day was a surprise hit after their heel turn gave them an edge that resonated with the fans.  They certainly are annoying and good at cheating to win matches.  However, they seem to be running out of ideas, likely due to over-exposure every single week on Raw.  They are given too much time on the microphone and simply seem to be running out of material.

The Usos found their rhythm again after their hiatus.  They are back to the kid-friendly Hardy gimmick that made them popular in the past.  Their in-ring style mimics that of Matt and Jeff Hardy, although their target audience is way too young to realize that they are copycats.

Expect more of the same from these two teams.  The Usos will flash some highspots.  The New Day will use numbers to their advantage and attempt to cheat to win.  We’ve seen it all before.  Many times.

Prediction: Winners and still WWE Tag Team Champions, The New Day.

Charlotte (c) (with Ric Flair) vs. Becky Lynch for the WWE Divas Championship

The Divas division is horrible and is the least entertaining part of the WWE right now.  Not even Slick Ric himself can save this debacle of a match.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Kevin Owens in a Last Man Standing match for the WWE Intercontenintal Championship

This match is clearly the most interesting out of all of the matches on the card, maybe even more so than the rumble match itself.  These are two of the most underrated in-ring talents on the roster, and also two of the more charismatic.  They both are only limited by how they are being used by the WWE right now and have limitless potential.

Them both have followed an unconventional path to their current spots on the WWE roster.  Neither of them has the “look” of a classic wrestler.  They aren’t tall and don’t have impressive physiques.  They made up for all of that by putting on entertaining matches and cutting interesting and passionate promos any chance they are given.

They are a natural pairing in their current feud.  Both their wrestling styles and ability to talk complement each other very well.  Although Ambrose is booked as a babyface, I would expect to see a split crowd during their match as Kevin Owens has made a good connection with the fans.  This match is designed to be a brawl, with each competitor trying to render the other unconscious for a ten count in order to win the IC Championship.  If we are lucky, this could be an early Match of the Year candidate.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Kevin Owens

30-Man Royal Rumble match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

As I mentioned before, all eyes will be on Roman Reigns in this match.  He is the underdog champion, having been screwed over by the McMahon family and forced to defend his title against 29 other superstars in the same match.  This is the longest set of odds any WWE Champion has ever faced in a single match.

Given the ramifications of this match, there really only two people who have a viable shot of winning: Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns.  Everybody else is likely just going to fill time between action.  Maybe we might get a setup for a feud or two headed into WrestleMania, and there could possibly be a heel turn somewhere in the mix.  Some of the notables to keep an eye on besides Roman Reigns:

  • Brock Lesnar has a very good chance of winning the match and going on to WrestleMania as champion. If that doesn’t happen, look for an interaction that sets him up for a grudge match at WrestleMania instead, maybe against a member of the Wyatt Family or a returning superstar.
  • Chris Jericho has returned for the 1,000th time as a full-time wrestler. For reasons I can’t explain, the WWE features him very heavily at pay-per-view matches when he does return.  Jericho is a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.  To steal the phrase, he was a “B+ player” during his wrestling heyday.  When he isn’t wrestling, he is a mediocre rock star, a boring podcast host, and a terrible talk show host (see last summer’s WWE Tough Enough).  I have no idea what is still so interesting about Jericho other than his over-inflated ego.  I expect him to end up in a feud with someone following this match.
  • The Wyatt Family is probably going to tangle with someone in this match with an outcome that will lead to something else shortly down the road. Bray Wyatt was actually made to look strong and powerful in the go-home Raw last Monday, as if his leadership of the fearsome group could lead to him contending for a win of the rumble match itself.
  • Returning superstars could play a factor in this match. Usually we get a surprise entrant or two every year (Diamond Dallas Page, Bubba Ray Dudley, etc.) that gets a minute or two of TV time before they are eliminated, but it is fun to watch them while it lasts.  This year, there could be several returning stars (other than Jericho) that enter the match, some with an actual chance of making a dent in the outcome of the match.  Also, while he is still very much a member of the active roster, we haven’t seen Kane in quite some time, this would be the perfect time for him to return to television.  Who knows, maybe Randy Orton or Daniel Bryan aren’t hurt as badly as rumored and they come back this Sunday?
  • NXT developmental superstars stand a good chance of getting a spot or two in this match. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Finn Bálor or Hideo Itomi make their main roster debuts in this year’s rumble.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Roman Reigns

I can’t fathom a realistic outcome of the rumble match other than Reigns or Lesnar winning it. Hopefully, it turns out to be an entertaining rumble that sets us up for a big WrestleMania season this winter.

WWE Night of Champions Analysis and Predictions

Coming off of an exciting SummerSlam weekend in August that saw the WWE sell out the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn three nights in a row, the WWE found a way to grind things to a screeching halt with the events that transpired following the big event.  In somewhat of an unfortunate turn of events, they brought back several relics from the past that are way past their prime, they bombarded us with the dreadful “Diva’s Revolution”, and they derailed a promising young talent’s progress by putting him in an emasculating love triangle.

Even with all of this nonsense, there is some potential for at least half of the card to be decent at this Sunday’s Night of Champions, which will be anchored by the top heel in the company, WWE Champion Seth Rollins.  Let’s take a look at what to expect:

Neville and The Lucha Dragons (Kalisto and Sin Cara) vs. The Cosmic Wasteland (The Ascension (Konnor and Viktor) and Stardust)

The first match advertised on the card isn’t all that interesting.  There hasn’t been much of a build up for this six-man feud.  The natural tag teams in this contest don’t have much momentum right now.  The Ascension is one of the rare few NXT call-ups of late that failed to catch on.  The Lucha Dragons are a one-dimensional act that have virtually no personality.  The Neville and Stardust feud could be interesting, but they keep getting paired with other talents so their animosity towards each other gets lost in the shuffle.

I don’t expect this match to impress from either an emotional or stylistic standpoint.  We may see a few high spots from the Neville lead high flyers, but those tend to get boring after you’ve seen them enough times.

Prediction: Winners, The Cosmic Wasteland

Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and TBA vs. The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, and Braun Strowman)

A second six-man tag team match pits the old Shield against the newly re-formed Wyatt family. You get the impression that the WWE feels like they split these two factions up too quickly and never capitalized on what could have been a money-making extended feud during their original run so they are trying to re-capture that lightning in a bottle by staging this match.

The Wyatt Family now features a new member, NXT rookie Braun Strowman.  Strowman has the look and attitude of a potentially successful character player in the WWE.  Early impressions are that he is being packaged in a gimmick that works well naturally for him, that of an evil and brutal big man that can’t be pushed around by the babyfaces.  I’ve been critical of Bray Wyatt getting stale of late, but at least a new member gives the Wyatt Family something different to work with.

The same can’t be said for Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. Ambrose continues to show promise after having worked several main-event programs last year.  Unfortunately, he is once again tasked with carrying the underperforming Roman Reigns in a match.  If you don’t believe my repeated criticisms of Roman Reigns, take a listen to a recent Stone Cold Steve Austin Podcast at around the 1:25 mark.  In the midst of reviewing SummerSlam, Austin ripped Roman’s performance to shreds in extreme detail.  As only an insider of Austin’s stature can, he pointed out every single hole in Reign’s game and listed everything that he should be doing better.  From the way he smiles too much, to his inability to work a credible offense set, to his inability to sell, and to his inability to buy time in his matches, Austin made a great case for why Reigns needs to go back to school and learn how to wrestle.

There are a lot of theories on line on who the unannounced third member of The Shield’s team will be.  Could be a returning regular like Kane or Randy Orton, could be an NXT rookie making his surprise in-ring debut.  Hopefully, whomever it is will be ready to make up for Reign’s lack of ability and has some chemistry with the Wyatt Family.

It feels like it is a safe bet that The Wyatt Family goes over this time.  They will likely want to showcase the new big man in Braun Stroman and get him over as a crusher that can’t be stopped. Whomever is the TBA will likely not be involved in the finish.

Prediction: Winners, The Wyatt Family

Nikki Bella (c) vs. Charlotte in a singles match for the WWE Divas Championship; If Bella gets counted out or disqualified, she will lose the title.

You got all that?  Eh, don’t bother.  I’ll skip straight to the prediction, not even the daughter of one of the all-time-greats can save this train wreck of a match.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev

I am outright bewildered when I watch what the WWE has done to Rusev.  After building him up for almost an entire year as a superior athlete that hates America and destroys anybody in his path, they have systematically reduced him to a henpecked wuss in a matter of months.

When Lana was Rusev’s spokesperson, her speeches gave Rusev depth that he wouldn’t have had on his own.  She told his story and made the crowd hate him. Her presence only empowered Rusev and made him seem stronger and dominant.

His pairing with Summer Rae has rapidly destroyed the illusion that he is a force to be reckoned with.  Not only do the two have no chemistry with each other, but she has done nothing but make him seem like a oppressed loser who doesn’t even realize that he is being dragged down by their relationship.  Who would take him seriously these days as someone who is a legitimate threat to his opponents?

Dolph Ziggler peaked as a professional years ago.  He doesn’t have the skill set to work as a babyface but he has been stuck in that role for quite some time.  He moves from feud to feud with little stability or direction.  His pairing with Lana doesn’t do much to enhance his character as the two also have no chemistry with each other.

At the heart of the animosity between Ziggler and Rusev is the rivalry between Summer Rae and Lana.  This rivalry has given us some of the worst TV the WWE has produced in years.  I’m not saying I’m happy that Lana was recently injured, but if I had to watch one more barefoot catfight between her and Summer Rae, I was going to kick a hole in my television.  The dopey jealousy angle between the women and the men and the cringe-worthy locker room scene with Summer Rae and Ziggler are just an outright insult to the fans intelligence.  All I can hope for is that this match ends this debacle and they all move along in separate directions when this is all over.

The match itself could be OK if Rusev and Ziggler were left alone to work with one another.  Ziggler has a tendency to over-sell, but Rusev is already a ring general that can work with anybody.  Sadly, there is no doubt that the women will play some sort of role in this match and it is not going to be for the better.

Prediction: Winner, Rusev

The New Day (c) vs. The Dudley Boyz in a Tag team match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

The New Day were unable to get over as a babyface faction so they turned heel.  They are so good as heels that the crowd now cheers them!  It goes to show that in today’s wrestling product, kayfabe is dead and the fans will decide who the good and bad guys are and can no longer be dictated to.  It also goes to show that the three members of this faction, Kingston, Woods, and Big E are all better off as a team than as solo competitors.  None of them were ever as interesting as individuals as they are now as a team.  I also love how they use the Freebird Rule to randomly choose two members each night to defend the titles.  It keeps the fans guessing and gives us unexpected moments whenever they compete.

It speaks volumes for the state of the tag team division that the WWE had to resurrect the careers of The Dudley Boyz and put them into the tile mix against The New Day for lack of a better opponent.  The Dudleys were given a hero’s reception by the crowd, but many people seem to have forgotten that the Dudleyz were most effective as heels during The Attitude Era, cheating and terrorizing their opponents by putting them through tables.

For personal reasons, it is difficult for me to me to be happy to see the Dudley Boyz again and it has all to do with an in-person encounter with one of them.  I’ve had opportunities to meet three professional wrestlers in my lifetime:

  1. I was childhood friends with Crowbar and we remain in touch to this day. I went to watch him wrestle at Iron Mike Sharpe’s school while he was still in training.  He was, and is to this day, the best kind of guy there is, he’d give you the shirt off his back.
  2. I met The Undertaker during Fan Axess the week before WrestleMania XXIX here in New Jersey. I paid for the VIP experience to meet Ric Flair, but unfortunately, his son died a few days before the event and he was replaced by The Undertaker.  My disappointment in not getting to meet flair was tempered by getting a chance to meet one of my other all-time favorites.  While our encounter was brief, I still thought it was cool to meet the man and he was very polite and friendly.  I asked him about his motorcycle and we spent about 45 seconds talking about riding while he posed for a picture with me.  It was a cool experience.

    WWE Fan Axess Undertaker Meet and Greet

    I took this picture while on line to meet The Undertaker at WWE Fan Axxess prior to WrestleMania XXIX

  3. A friend of mine and I spotted Bubba Ray Dudley at Bar Anticipation in New Jersey in the summer of 2011. My buddy suggested we go say hi and I agreed and we approached him.  The guy couldn’t have been a bigger jerk, waiving us off as if we didn’t exist.

I’m a big boy and it really didn’t matter too much to me that Bubba Ray told us to get lost at a bar.  Call me petty and immature if you will, but a jerk is a jerk and there is no way I’m rooting for The Dudleyz against one of my favorite current teams on the roster.

This match could be entertaining to watch especially if The New Day finds a creative way to use their numbers advantage to cheat.  No matter what happens or who wins, expect someone to go through a table.

Prediction: Winners and still WWE Tag Team Champions, The New Day

Ryback (c) vs. Kevin Owens in a Singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Kevin Owens has shown flashes of greatness in his short time on the WWE main roster.  He made a splash with huge victory over John Cena in his first match, and although he went on to lose his next two to Cena, he made an indelible mark on the fan base as a rookie to watch.  I particularly enjoy his promos, he can convey many characteristics at the same time, mainly cowardice, false bravado, and most importantly, disrespect.  The way he needles his foes automatically makes you want to sympathize with them.  He has all the makings of one of the biggest wrestling heels we’ve ever seen. That along with his innovative in-ring style gives him unlimited potential in the WWE if he continues to improve.

Ryback works his role as a mid-carder admirably, finally earning his first singles WWE title when he became the IC Champ earlier this year when Daniel Bryan had to vacate the championship.  He works a kid-friendly superhero gimmick with a few over-used catch phrases.  At the very least, his matches tend to always feature a feat of strength that is fun to watch.

This match should have some dramatic false-finishes, and I’d expect both men to take a serious beating throughout its duration.  I’d give a slight edge to Owens as this could be a good time to continue his push by giving him a championship he can brag about and taunt his opponents with.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Kevin Owens

Seth Rollins (c) vs. John Cena in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship

You’d be hard pressed to find a guy who has had a better year than Seth Rollins in quite some time.  He stole the WWE Championship in the main event at WrestleMania, a match he wasn’t even booked in.  He spent the following months as the top heel in the company, all along barely hanging on to his championship, like any good wrestling bad guy should.  He capped off a solid summer by defeating John Cena to win The United States Championship at SummerSlam and now is a dual-title holder.  Go ahead, name someone who had a better year in recent memory than that!

John Cena is continuing on in his role as the mid-carder who helps younger talents look good.  He hardly ever works main events anymore, but his persona is consistent to the point of constant frustration by the fans.  He never gets the credit he deserves for being a solid in-ring worker that can put on an entertaining match with anybody.

This match should go on early in the card, most likely first.  It will set up the main event that also features Rollins defending his WWE Championship.  I would expect that he will take a beating so as to give him a perceived disadvantage when he faces Sting in the last match of the night.  Cena and Rollins have already put on some entertaining matches against each other this year and they won’t disappoint when they meet again on Sunday.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE United States Champion, Seth Rollins

Seth Rollins (c) vs. Sting in a Singles Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

In his second match of the night, Seth Rollins is going to be tasked with carrying the decrepit and haggard Sting.  For the second time this year, the WCW retread has been given featured booking on a pay-per-view.  Following his loss to Triple H at WrestleMania 31, Sting somehow managed to get himself into title contention with an 0-1 record.  Granted, win and loss records don’t mean much in professional wrestling, but it is a stretch to think that he’s actually earned this title shot.

I still don’t get why people are fascinated with Sting as a special attraction.  He wasn’t very good when he was young in the NWA, AWA, and WCW.  The only difference between then and now is that he’s a heck of a lot older and hasn’t worked regularly in years.  His match against Triple H at WrestleMania really only worked because of the outside interference by a slew of WWE Hall of Famers distracted us from what was going on inside the ring. Don’t expect much more out of him this time around.

I’m hoping for Rollins’ sake this match ends up halfway decent.  It is likely that there will be some sort of interference from someone on the outside on Rollins behalf, continuing along his path as a cheating heel who pulls out all the stops to win his matches.  There was a tease that Sheamus is going to cash in his Money-In-The-Bank championship shot but I don’t think that is in the cards this time around.  It feels like it makes the most sense for Rollins to continue his championship run and for Sheamus to continue to bide his time to wait for the most opportune time to cash in and win the championship.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Seth Rollins

There could be some surprises built into this show, especially if Kane or Randy Orton somehow get involved.  It will also be fun to watch how Rollins performs in two big matches on the same card and the measures he will resort to in order to try to retain both titles.

WWE Elimination Chamber Analysis and Predictions

In the old WWE special television event offering model, they charged between $60 and $75 per monthly pay-per-view.  When they offered the WWE Network at $10 per month and it included all pay-per-views, 24-hour-a-day content, and access to an on-demand back catalog going back 40 years, you didn’t exactly need to draw up a spreadsheet to determine that this was a pretty good deal.  In somewhat of a surprise move, the WWE has added a bonus live event in between the normal PPV cycle in the form of The Elimination Chamber this Sunday.  This network deal keeps getting better and better.

Additionally, the WWE has combined synergies between its developmental promotion, NXT, with the network to deliver an enhanced product to its customers.  The NXT live events have really taken off with the fans since they began airing weekly on the network, and it has begun to stand on its own as a quasi-independent group from the main WWE content.  Additionally, NXT has proven to be a solid feeder system of new talent to the main roster. We are in the midst of the biggest roster overhaul since the days when the blue-chip class of Batista, Randy Orton, John Cena, and Brock Lesnar trained together in Ohio Valley Wrestling in the early 2000’s and were all called up at around the same time.

The Elimination Chamber card from bottom to top is full of talents that were called up from NXT within the last two years.  WWE programming feels much different than it did three years ago (anybody remember when Orton and Cena wrestled 5-6 PPVs a year?) with a new set of faces in the ring.

Let’s take a look at what to expect on this Sunday’s card.  I need to improve my pick percentage after the debacle that was my pick set at WWE Extreme Rules in April.  I have decided to challenge myself to at least do better than this jabroni who writes about WWE for the International Business Times.

Sheamus vs. Ryback vs. R-Truth vs. King Barrett vs. Rusev vs. Dolph Ziggler in an Elimination Chamber match for the vacant WWE Intercontinental Championship

Wow, there is a lot going on here.  Sheamus is back after a hiatus with a new look and a bad attitude, and has looked strong in his program with Dolph Ziggler.  Ryback continues to play up his “hero to the children” role and at the very least has the crowd with him when he starts his “FEED ME MORE!” chant.  King Barrett is back on a roller coaster ride, having lost almost every match he competed in on his way to a defeat for the IC title at WrestleMania 31, only to come back out on top by winning the prestigious King of the Ring Tournament last month.  Rusev is back to being Bulgarian and recently broke up with Lana, forcing her into the arms of Ziggler.  Ziggler has heat with at least three other guys in this match.  Finally, there’s R-Truth.  Ok, I have no idea why he’s in this match.  It all takes place inside of the unforgiving Elimination Chamber.

Unfortunately, it appears that Rusev has suffered a legitimate injury at Smackdown this week and his status for the match is uncertain.  He’s been pulled from the live shows this weekend and replaced with Kane.  Rumor has it that Bray Wyatt is on standby if Rusev can’t go on Sunday.

This should be a standard-fare fast-paced and brutal chamber match with a lot of high spots.  I’d also expect a lot of emotion, especially with some twists and turns involving the budding love triangle of Rusev, Ziggler, and Lana.  In particular, if he competes, I have my eye on Rusev in this match.  He’s coming off of three straight losses to John Cena, he lost his mouthpiece in Lana, and he’s not even Russian anymore.  This look and his subtleties in the way he works in the ring make him a standout talent and I hope that he re-gains some of the momentum he lost beginning at WrestleMania.

Prediction: Winner and new Intercontinental Champion, Rusev.  If Rusev pulls out of the match, I predict Ryback will win and take the title.

The New Day (c) vs. The Lucha Dragons vs. Tyson Kidd and Cesaro vs. The Prime Time Players vs. The Ascension vs. Los Matadores in a Tag Team Elimination Chamber match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

Wow, there’s a lot going on here, too.  For the first time in history, we are going to get a tag team match inside of an Elimination Chamber.  The rules were clarified on Raw this past Monday in that two teams will start out in the match with the other four each crammed into a pod.  When one member of a team is eliminated, that team is out of the match and must exit.  Much like the IC chamber match, this should be a fast and furious match with several teams showing off their agility, speed, and strength.

The New Day turned their fortunes around in a big hurry.  Just three months ago, they were an awful babyface faction that couldn’t get over with a catapult.  Since their heel turn and Tag Team Championship victory using the Freebird Rule, they have new life and have surprised many with how well they now come off.  On a recent podcast, Lance Storm theorized that The New Day was supposed to be a heel faction all along but were brought in as awful babyfaces in order to get them over as heels.  If that’s the case, it sure worked because they were awful until the heel turn.

Tyson Kidd and Cesaro, as always is the case with them as singles or tag team competitors, can’t seem to get over the hump.  The fans want to love them but they really don’t have anything interesting going on for themselves other than a unique finishing move, a variant of the popular “Cesaro Swing”.

The other teams in this match are a mishmash of performers at various stages of their careers.  The Prime Time Players are in their second go-around after having not found much success as a team several years ago.  The Ascension is an NXT call-up that has thus far missed the mark and has not connected with the fans of the main WWE roster.  Los Matadores and the Ascension are WWE’s answer to Lucha Libre-style masked tag teams and have very little character.  They seem to be popular with children, but ultimately don’t say much on the microphone and work more like stunt men than wrestlers.

The two stand out teams in this match are The New Day and Tyson Kidd and Cesaro.  This match will likely come down to the two of them as the last teams standing and I’d expect to see some sort of interference from the third member of The New Day who does not compete in the match.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Tag Team Champions, The New Day

Neville vs. Bo Dallas

This is going to be a classic squash match, designed to make one superstar look good by beating up a jobber.  Bo Dallas, of course, is the jobber in this match.  Both of these NXT-groomed competitors have exhibited different levels of success thus far in their WWE runs.  Bo Dallas can’t seem to get the fans committed to his villainous “positive thinking” gimmick.  Neville has been riding a hot streak since his post-WrestleMania call up to the main roster.  He’s been presented well with is “Man Who Gravity Got” tagline and his acrobatic skills in the ring.  He’s won some and lost some and has the look of someone the WWE wants to give a big push to see what he’s capable of.

The only thing to really expect in this match is an offensive explosion for Neville, most likely showcasing his acrobatic skills in a series of high spots throughout the contest.

Prediction: Winner, Neville

Nikki Bella (c) vs. Paige vs. Naomi in a Triple Threat match for the WWE Divas Championship

I only suggest watching this match if you are really, really bored and have absolutely nothing else to do.  It may be more rewarding to stare at the wall than to watch this match.  If you do happen to watch, you can laugh at how little the crowd cares about it.

Prediction: This match is going to suck and you shouldn’t care who wins.

John Cena vs. Kevin Owens

This match is another nod to the aforementioned youth movement underway in the WWE, as NXT champion Kevin Owens takes on the United States Champion, John Cena.  In somewhat of a surprising move, Kevin Owens was called up to the main roster only a few months after he made his NXT television debut in December and established himself as a heel right out of the gate.  He’s been on a hot streak in NXT, playing the role of a self-absorbed jerk who turns his back on his friends and takes whatever dubious means necessary to capture championships.  He’s a main attraction at NXT right now and it’s somewhat unprecedented to have a current NXT champion competing on the main roster.  It just goes to show the confidence the WWE has in him and he look to me a like a can’t-miss talent.

John Cena continues to be an integral part of getting the younger talents over in the past 14 months in programs with Bray Wyatt, Seth Rollins, Sami Zyan, Neville, and now Kevin Owens.  It seems like that is a rite of passage for any NXT call-up to have at least one televised match with John Cena.  Cena is doing well in his recent mid-card run, and is coming off of a wildly entertaining and emotional four-month feud with Rusev.  He is the perfect foil for the disrespectful rookie, Kevin Owens.

During their interactions on Raw, the crowd has steadfastly stood with the heel Kevin Owens and is firmly against the babyface Cena.  It seems as though the fans are begging for someone different to come along and beat Cena up for a change.  It could happen this Sunday.

Prediction: Winner, Kevin Owens

Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dean Ambrose for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

Another special event, another main event featuring former members of The Shield.  Interestingly enough, this one features the two that were seemingly the most likely to get left behind after the faction broke up in 2014, but that has not been the case.  These two are top-level performers and deserve the push that they’ve been given.

Seth Rollins looks like he’s studied years and years of footage of classic wrestling villains and how they conduct themselves as champion.  He is the total package, he’s devious, disloyal, cowardly, dishonest, arrogant, and an all-around-jerk.  He is also one of the best in-ring performers on the roster today and has adjusted his style to work as a heel.  He is poised to have a long run as champion, possibly hanging on the title even until WrestleMania 32 in Dallas next year.

As always, there are a lot of factors that come in to play when Rollins is in a match.  The Authority is a great heel faction and its members have the most character depth of anybody on the roster.  The hilarious and yet sometimes ironically effective J&J Security team always get involved in his matches.  Of course, Corporate Kane, with whom Rollins has an adversarial relationship, can also be a factor in this match, and it would be interesting to see what side he chooses.

Dean Ambrose was put back in the main event slot for this event after he spent the better part of 2015 on the mid-card.  There are unsubstantiated rumors that Ambrose was given this opportunity because someone behind the scenes made a case that they were “missing the boat with Dean Ambrose”.  His humorous and unpredictable style have connected with the fan base in a way that very few anti-heroes have in the past.  He has a little bit of CM Punk and Stone Cold Steve Austin in him, yet he is very unique on his own.

These two are still feuding from their breakup as Shield brethren last year.   They were in a middle of an emotional program that ended abruptly at Hell in a Cell with outside interference from Bray Wyatt during their match.  This time, I’d expect them to pick up right where they left off with an all-out brawl in a contest in which the odds are stacked against Dean Ambrose.

Prediction: Winer and still WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Seth Rollins

Additionally, I’d keep an eye out for Kane, The Big Show, Randy Orton, Roman Reigns, Harper and Rowan, and Bray Wyatt.  All of these competitors are not scheduled for a match (although Wyatt may be called in to action) and could possibly get involved in one way or another.