WrestleMania 36 Postscript

Undertaker Boneyard Match

The most unusual WrestleMania ever featured an unforgettable Boneyard Match between The Undertaker and AJ Styles

Vince McMahon and the WWE managed to defy the odds and stage WrestleMania 36, despite overwhelming regulatory pressure across America to avoid unnecessary work and remain socially distant.  The die-hard fan in me says that WrestleMania is necessary and must go on at all costs.  But I’ll leave it up to my readers to decide if it was a wise decision to go ahead with it, given the potential risks to the performers, production staff, anybody they came in contact with, and society as a whole.

The WWE did the best they could under the circumstances, but it is nearly impossible to put on a credible professional wrestling show without a live audience in the stands to react to what they are seeing and hearing in the ring.  Two nights of fan-less WrestleMania started to fall a little flat by Sunday.

It was the most obvious during the final match of Sunday night between Brock Lesnar and Drew McIntire.  This was a championship match in a WrestleMania main event that was made up of almost all finishing moves and not much else.  Under normal circumstances, the fans would have popped for the finishers and each subsequent false finish, finally exploding when the emerging hero Drew McIntire finally got the pin and took home the gold.  But with silence in the building, the match came across as underwhelming and lacked excitement.  That exact same match in front of 80,000 fans would have appeared to be much different.

It wasn’t all a wash, there were some fun moments, and some interesting spots that wouldn’t have happened in front of a live crowd.  You could hear what the wrestlers and their entourage members were saying, like when Paul Heyman said to Lesnar: “He’s good, you have to hit him again!”  And the wrestlers were able to make creative use of the props in the WWE performance center.

If I had to grade the show overall, I’d give it a “B”, but I’d give Saturday night an “A” and Sunday night a “C”.  Saturday night was a bit more compact, and it featured a very good match between Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins.  And of course, the main event Boneyard Match between The Undertaker and AJ Styles stole the show and will go down as one of the best WrestleMania matches of all time.

Sunday was a big more lackluster overall, not just because of the lackluster main event.  It also featured another cinematic match between Bray Wyatt and John Cena which didn’t work as well as the Boneyard Match on Saturday.  In their Firefly Funhouse Match, there wasn’t much of a match at all, but a satirical and bizarre career retrospective of both individuals that ended without much wrestling or fighting at all.  I see what the WWE was trying to do there, but it just didn’t work all that well.

Sunday also featured the Last Man Standing match between Randy Orton and Edge.  The match went way too long, and in fact clocked in at the second longest WrestleMania match ever behind only the sixty-minute Iron Man match between Shawn Michaels and Brett “The Hitman” Hart at WrestleMania XII.  As Causal Geekery points out, Last Man Standing matches are a creative trap to being with, they are an exercise in very long false finishes which try your patience.  Which is more exciting, a kick out at two and 7/8ths, or someone who barely gets to his feet after an excessively long 9 count and then falls back down again?  These two should have had an emotional and exciting match, instead all they did was hit each other over the head repeatedly and found ways to get up until Edge brained Orton with a Con-Chair-To to put the match out of its misery.

Per the norm, WrestleMania had its share of winners and losers.  Some came out looking very good, others not so much.

Losers

  • Seth Rollins: Seth came into WrestleMania with an impressive 6-1 record, having recorded at least one victory in every WrestleMania he had competed in. Those aren’t exactly Undertaker-like stats, but they were nothing to sneeze at and something he could have used to build interest in future WrestleMania matches.  That angle is now dead.
  • Charlotte Flair: Now that she’s the NXT champion, does that mean she’s demoted from the main brands?  This never made any sense.
  • Brock Lesnar: He sure loses a lot of WrestleMania matches, doesn’t he? At what point does he lose his mystique as The Conqueror?
  • Goldberg: Why was he brought back again?
  • Bobby Lashley: Jobbing to Aelister Black has no upside.
  • Daniel Bryan: Lost a championship match in two straight WrestleMania’s. He needs to regain some momentum if he wants to finish his career out on top.
  • Dolph Ziggler: They finally put him on a WrestleMania card in a singles match, and he loses to Otis? And Otis gets the girl in the end?  Oh man, just put Ziggler out of his misery already!
  • Randy Orton and Edge: Had a chance to put on a much better match than they did. Nobody told these veterans that “less is more”?

Winners

  • Kevin Owens: Seth Rollins’ loss is KO’s gain. He finally had his WrestleMania moment and can build off this.
  • Becky Lynch: Her match sucked, but she has her own Mack Truck!
  • Drew McIntyre: His WrestleMania moment lost a little something with no fans to enjoy it, but he still closed out WrestleMania with a championship win over Brock Lesnar, his journey to the top of the WWE is finally complete.
  • Braun Strowman: Let’s hear it for the guy who couldn’t ever seem to get to the top!  After all these years in WWE, he won his first singles title in 2020, only to lose the Intercontinental Title very quickly.  He had to replace Roman Reigns in a championship match against Goldberg with no buildup, and just like that he had his WrestleMania moment and walked out with the WWE Universal Championship!
  • Sami Zayn: His middling career finally includes a singles championship match victory.
  • Otis: This is the unlikeliest WrestleMania booking of them all. For a guy who is a rookie and a tag team specialist to get a singles win at WrestleMania is nearly unheard of.  And he got the girl in the end, I guess I must admit that the guy has game!
  • AJ Styles and The Undertaker: All I can say about their match is “wow!”  It was a masterpiece of the rarely utilized “Cinematic Wrestling” artform.  The Undertaker has been justifiably criticized for hanging on for too long and putting on sub-par matches.  But the creative editing in this non-traditional match made him look like a million bucks.  AJ Styles was the perfect foil for this match.  The guy knows how to be a heel, he cheats, he talks smack, and he begs for forgiveness right before he gets pummeled by the babyface.  It was a movie and a wrestling clinic all in one, and it will be included in the list of greatest WrestleMania matches of all time.  And it began and ended with “Now That We’re Dead” by the greatest band in the world, Metallica!

Moving forward, it is very hard to say what will happen next.  Not because of the natural unpredictability of WWE storylines, but because the world is still in the throws of the COVID-19 crisis, and that directly impacts how and if the WWE can still generate content.  Now that WrestleMania is over, safety is paramount, and we can only hope that the world returns to normal sometime soon and we can get back to enjoying Raw and Smackdown and WWE pay-per-views in front of packed arenas again.  That would make the world seem normal again!

WrestleMania 36 Analysis and Predictions

WrestleMania splash

I hope you weren’t counting on Roman Regins to appear at this pandemic-influenced WrestleMania!

Amid a global pandemic that has shaken our reality to the core, WrestleMania weekend is here.  By all accounts, the entire show was recorded on several closed sets well in advance of the weekend.

Professional wrestling is impossible to be “socially distanced”.  Even a die-hard fan must wonder if the decision to go ahead with WrestleMania was a wise one, even with all the limitations that were placed on the event. Vince McMahon has a pretty shady past to begin with.  In 1983, he helped Jimmy Snuka beat criminal charges for the murder of Nancy Argentino. He proceeded to do business with Saudi Arabia in the face of overwhelming evidence that their royal family had a man tortured and killed.  You can almost hear him in a boardroom at WWE headquarters in Connecticut telling what’s left of his management team: “Dammit, I’m not going to let this coronavirus get in the way of what’s best for business, dammit!”  Whatever you think of Vince or decision, we now have two nights of WrestleMania to watch, and there isn’t much else to do!  Might as well tune in and try to enjoy it.

Against the backdrop of COVID-19, WrestleMania 36 had to be adapted radically, and it is going to look much different than what we are used to.  First off, as I mentioned, it had to be stretched into two nights to cover for the loss of the traditional surrounding events such at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony and NXT Takeover.  Second, number of competitors in matches has been limited, likely due to social distancing measures.  Gone are the Battle Royals.  Third, there will be no special guest appearances by non-WWE talent like we’ve seen in the past.  No Joan Jett, Flo Rida, or Living Color to play superstar entrance themes.

But the most obvious difference of them all is that there won’t be any fans in attendance.  It is hard to imagine professional wrestling taking place in front of an empty arena.  It is a performance art that completely depends on fan reactions, and it feels empty and meaningless without a live audience to react what is said and done in the ring.  This is going to put extra pressure on the performers themselves to figure out how to entertain a television audience that they can’t see or hear.

The one interesting thread outside of the announced matches is the inclusion of Rob Gronkowski as WrestleMania host.  Gronkowski recently flamed out of the NFL because he was no longer able to perform at an elite level. The WWE saw something in him and signed him to a contract.  I’d presume the original intent of his WrestleMania involvement was to have him get involved in a match leading to his first feud in WWE as a wrestler.  Now he’s on double duty so we’ll see where it leads.

At the time of this writing, there are sixteen (!) matches planned across two nights.  Of course, this means that there are too many active competitors on the WWE main rosters, and there is no way to hold an audience captive for long enough to watch all of them.  I suggest using the women’s matches to get up and stretch.  You won’t miss much, and it will help you concentrate on the better matches.

On to the predictions!

Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins in a singles match

Who is better on WWE programming right now than Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins?  These guys could be in a professional wrestling textbook chapter about how to get a classic good guy versus bad guy feud over with the fans.

The “Monday Night Messiah” cuts one of the best promos in WWE right now.  And he sports an impressive WrestleMania record of 6-1.  His only loss occurred at WrestleMania 31, but he went on to score a win later that same night anyway.  Kevin Owens missed WrestleMania last year due to injury and does not have a signature WrestleMania moment in his career.  He’s going to look to change that this weekend against Rollins.  This match could steal the show, which ever night it’s on.

Prediction: Winner, Seth Rollins

The Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford) (c) vs. Austin Theory and Angel Garza (with Zelina Vega) in a tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

This should be a decent filler match.  The Street Profits are hot right now, and Austin Theory, who was called up from NXT to replace the unavailable Andrade, are all motivated to put on a good WrestleMania match.

Prediction: Winners and new WWE Raw Tag Team Champions, Austin Theory and Angel Garza

Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair in a singles match for the NXT Women’s Championship

After headlining WrestleMania 35 last year, Charlotte Flair finds herself in one of the biggest WrestleMania main event demotions since what happened to King Kong Bundy at WrestleMania III.  She’s competing for the minor league title against a fledgling competitor that isn’t ready for the Raw or Smackdown stage, let alone WrestleMania.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Becky Lynch (c) vs. Shayna Baszler in a singles match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

See the notes about the Charlotte Flair match above, Becky is in the same boat.  It’s hard to understand why this happened to the women’s division year over year, but it probably has something to do with the fact that it is highly overrated and was not ready to headline WrestleMania 35 to begin with.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Drew McIntyre in a singles match for the WWE Championship

Drew McIntyre is the feel-good story headed into WrestleMania.  His tale of being fired, re-dedicating himself, and making his way to the top of the WWE card has been told ad nauseum in the run up to this main event.  This may seem like an organic storyline, the underdog that the crowd supported because they recognized his talent and effort, who was rewarded by the WWE with a WrestleMania main event appearance.  But it really isn’t.

Brock Lesnar is the face of the WWE.  He is the special attraction that sells tickets and draws ratings when he appears sparingly on WWE events.  Drew McIntyre is nowhere near Lesnar’s league, and Lesnar is going to make very short work of him on his way to a big WrestleMania win.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, Brock Lesnar

Goldberg (c) vs. Braun Strowman in a singles match for the WWE Universal Championship

Talk about COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the WrestleMania card.  First off, the WWE makes the ridiculous decision to have Goldberg come out of nowhere to squash The Fiend Bray Wyatt to set up a WrestleMania match between Goldberg and Roman Reigns.  Never mind that the WWE spent a year building up Wyatt to be an unstoppable force, only to completely undo the whole thing by having him completely job to Goldberg at a match in Saudi Arabia.  I guess they didn’t believe in Wyatt’s ability to sell tickets to WrestleMania, so they had to fall back to an ancient relic with better name recognition to fill that spot.

That match was designed to make Goldberg look strong headed into his WrestleMania main event against Reigns.  There was a brief in-person faceoff between Goldberg and Reigns to set up the feud.  But due to circumstances believed to be related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Reigns backed out of WrestleMania very late in the production cycle.  Therefore, the WWE was forced to substitute Braun Strowman in Reigns’ place with no time to build up any storyline whatsoever.  A situation like this is unprecedented in the WrestleMania era, no main event has ever been changed during WrestleMania weekend.

This is a bit of a curveball which makes the outcome of the match difficult to predict.  It’s hard to believe that the WWE would elevate Strowman to champion out of nowhere.  It’s also hard to believe that Goldberg is going to stick around for long as the champion when it appears that his job was simply to headline WrestleMania, hand the title to Reigns, and then fade away. It’s anyone’s guess, but I’ll make one anyway.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Universal Champion, Goldberg

John Cena vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt in a Firefly Fun House match

Bray Wyatt was a lost cause in the WWE, having not lived up to his full potential.  The WWE pulled him off television, repackaged him as The Fiend, and a star was born.  He became WWE champion and appeared to be on his way to a WrestleMania main event when he was inexplicably destroyed by Goldberg and lost the strap.

Even more inexplicable than that, the next night instead of challenging Goldberg to a rematch, he challenged John Cena to a WrestleMania match.  This is a rematch of their WrestleMania XXX match that Cena won.  It was a creative misstep to have Cena beat Wyatt at that time, and that sent Wyatt into his spiral of almost always losing big matches.

With the character of The Fiend all but ruined after his loss to Goldberg, it’s hard to care very much about him.  But he is going to continue to be a full timer in the WWE while Cena will likely leave after WrestleMania to return to his acting career.  Logic seems to dictate that Wyatt will take this victory under those circumstances.

Nobody knows exactly what a Firefly Fun House match is, or how someone wins it.  To watch how that unfolds should be an interesting development.

Prediction: Winner, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt

Bayley (c) vs. Lacey Evans vs. Naomi vs. Sasha Banks vs. Tamina in a Fatal 5-Way Elimination match for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

This match should be outlawed.  Not because it violates social distancing standards, but because it looks terrible on paper, and will probably be even worse in practice.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley (with Lana) in a singles match

I have no idea where this match came from or why I should care.  Bobby Lashley was doing some cool things in his “love triangle” program between himself, Lana, and Rusev.  That program went away, Rusev is gone, and he’s now in a match that with the underwhelming Aleister Black, a guy with a cool entrance and not much else.

Prediction: Winner, Bobby Lashley

The Undertaker vs. AJ Styles in a Boneyard Match

After inexplicably being left off last year’s WrestleMania card, the greatest WrestleMania performer of all time is set to compete against veteran AJ Styles.  The Undertaker made a surprise appearance at WWE Super Showdown in February to win the prestigious Tuwaiq Mountain Trophy, and to set up the feud with Styles for WrestleMania.

The Undertaker dropped his “deadman” gimmick for this feud as Styles called him out by his real name and referenced his wife Michelle McCool.  Paradoxically, this is going to be a Boneyard Match, so you’d have to assume that The Undertaker is going to approach the situation with a hybrid “deadman” and “American Badass” persona.  This should be one of the best matches on the card.

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

The Kabuki Warriors (Asuka and Kairi Sane) (c) vs. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross in a tag team match for the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship

Four of the worst performers on the main roster.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

The Miz and John Morrison (c) vs. The New Day (Big E and Kofi Kingston) vs. The Usos in a Triple Threat Ladder match for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship

It’s not WrestleMania without a ladder match, right?  These are two of the best tag teams in the game today, along with the Miz and Morrison.  It’s hard to understand why, when the talent roster is so stacked that the WWE brought back the highly overrated Morrison, but there are enough solid competitors in this match to carry him and make it entertaining.  Hard to imagine a ladder match without crowd reactions, though.

Prediction: Winners and new WWE Smackdown Champions, The Usos

Elias vs. King Corbin in a singles match

Corbin is coming off one of the best programs of his career with his long-running feud with Roman Reigns.  He’s among the best heels in the company right now and will be a formidable opponent for Elias.  Both guys always carry themselves as if they have something to prove, so expect them to go the extra mile to put on a great match.

Prediction: Winner, King Corbin

Edge vs. Randy Orton in a Last Man Standing match

After a nine-year absence from the WWE due to what was thought to be a career ending neck injury, Edge shocked the Houston crowd at the Royal Rumble with his surprise entry into the match.  At the time it was hard to imagine a better feel-good moment.  Well, the even better feel-good moment happened the very next night when Randy Orton attacked his former friend in the ring and attempted to re-break Edge’s neck!  And the best feel-good moment of them all was when Orton explained that he attacked Edge because he loved him and was for his own good!

As far as wrestling storylines go, it doesn’t get any better than this.  Randy Orton is cutting the best promos of his life right now and this is guaranteed to be an emotional, knock-down, drag-out brawl.  This match could stand as one of the main events, it has that kind of potential.

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

Sami Zayn (c) (with Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura) vs. Daniel Bryan (with Drew Gulak) in a singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

There is a lot happening in this match.  It is a bit overbooked with all the extra faction members that are involved.  Zayn and Bryan are more than capable of carrying this match on their own.  I don’t get where Drew Gulak even came from or who he is.  It is an odd pairing that does nothing for Bryan.  Nakamura and Cesaro are well past their WWE peaks and are running out the clock on their contracts at this point without much to offer anymore.  I’m hoping the focus is just on Zayn and Bryan and they put on an entertaining match.  Bryan always saves his best for WrestleMania and I expect this year to be no different.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Daniel Bryan

Otis vs. Dolph Ziggler (with Mandy Rose) in a Singles match

Otis being booked in a singles match at WrestleMania is as unlikely as it gets.  He is a tag team specialist and doesn’t have any memorable singles matches in the WWE at all.  But the WWE saw something in him when it created the soap opera-like angle with his ill-fated romance with Mandy Rose.  On the go-home Smackdown, a shadowy hacker revealed that Otis’ attempt at a date with Mandy Rose was sabotaged by a conspiracy between Sonya Deville and Dolph Ziggler.

This story is still being told, and its outcome is probably more interesting than the outcome of the match itself.  The real prize isn’t winning the match, it’s Mandy Rose herself.  One must hope that the outcome is for Dolph Ziggler to get her in the end, proving once and for all that nice guys finish last and chicks dig bad guys! Ziggler is a perennial under-achiever, this is a good opportunity for him to shine.

Prediction: Winner, Dolph Ziggler

That’s a lot of wrestling for two nights!  Even a pre-produced and crowd-less WrestleMania is still going to be the best of the WWE.  Enjoy the show and let me know what you think!

Royal Rumble Analysis and Predictions

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The best time of the year to be a professional wrestling fan is WrestleMania season.  The Road to WrestleMania 36 begins this weekend with the Royal Rumble, so it’s time to get excited.

Fans of WWE are outright inundated with content these days between Raw, Smackdown, NXT, monthly pay-per-views, and other WWE Network original programming.  There’s barely time to keep up with it all.  Given there is that much airtime to fill, there was a lot of mediocre storylines and matches on WWE TV in the second half of 2019.  But coming into the Royal Rumble, a lot of wrestlers and their story arcs are heating up at the right time, and this has a chance to be a memorable pay-per-view.  Let’s get right to the predictions:

Roman Reigns vs. King Corbin in a Falls Count Anywhere match

King Corbin is among the best heels on the WWE roster today.  WWE fans boo him at every turn, and that has made him the perfect mark to keep them from booing Roman Reigns.  Their feud has been long running, but it has remained interesting because of the continued layering of the story with antagonists Robert Roode and Dolph Ziggler joining the fray, along with protagonists The Usos.  Both competitors in this match will also compete in the Royal Rumble, so expect the aftermath of this bout to carry on for the rest of the night.  The falls count anywhere stipulation should lend it self to some interesting spots in the cavernous Minute Maid Park in Houston.

Prediction: Winner, King Corbin

Shorty G vs. Sheamus

This is a filler match on the card, but it gives both men who didn’t have a chance to win the rumble itself to put on a showcase.  Sheamus is back after a long layoff, and Shorty G is still trying to distinguish himself from the plethora of mid-card talent on the roster.  If G plays his cards right, he can be the next Daniel Bryan underdog-type runaway hit.

Prediction: Winner, Sheamus

Andrade (c) vs. Humberto Carrillo in a singles match for the WWE United States Championship

This is a hot-shot angle match based on this week’s encounter between Andrade and Humberto Carillo on Raw.  Carillo is as cold as ice right now, and this is a directionless feud between the two.  Andrade has showed some promise as a mid-level heel as of late, so he’ll need the win here to continue his momentum.

Prediction: Winner and still United States Champion, Andrade

Becky Lynch (c) vs. Asuka in a singles match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

The WWE women’s Division was hot enough early in 2019 to carry it to main event status at WrestleMania.  In hindsight, it was the special attraction of Ronda Rousey that made the all the difference.  Since her abrupt departure after WrestleMania 35, the women’s division is boring and drab.  This match won’t have much consequence in the grand scheme of things.

Prediction: This match will suck

Bayley (c) vs. Lacey Evans in a singles match for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

My comments about the Becky Lynch match go double for this one.  At least Bayley turned heel and changed up her look, man was she annoying as a babyface.

Prediction: This match will suck

“The Fiend” Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Daniel Bryan in a Strap Match for the WWE Universal Championship

Two of the very best in the business today go head-to-head in a strap match.  This should be a clinic in storytelling in wrestling.  “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt is amid a career renaissance since his re-packaging as a multi-personality villain with both his twisted children’s host and horror movie-inspired fiend characters.  He’s finally operating at a level commiserate with his talents and carries the WWE Universal Championship as his reward.

Daniel Bryan regrettably turned babyface in order to feud with Wyatt.  He has done all of his best work in WWE as a maniacal heel and helped carry the match of the year in 2019 against Kofi Kingston at WrestleMania 35 in that capacity.  Even still, he’s one of the best wrestlers on the WWE roster right now and expect him to shine in this match.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Universal Champion, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt

Women’s Royal Rumble Match for a world championship match at WrestleMania 36

At the time of this writing, 24 hours before the Rumble starts, there are only nine women announced for this thirty-woman contest.  That should tell you how many women on the roster right now are even relevant.

Prediction: Extended bathroom and beer break for the live audience in Houston

Men’s Royal Rumble Match for a world championship match at WrestleMania 36

There is a lot to unpack in this match given the complex storylines headed into the rumble match, along with the countless possibilities for how it can go down. This match isn’t just about who wins, it’s going to also set in motion a bunch of angles that will lead to WrestleMania 36.

The winner gets a shot at the title of his choosing at WrestleMania 36, but the wrinkle to that story is that Brock Lesnar volunteered to join the match as the #1 entrant, and he is already carrying a WWE championship. It is unknown what impact that would have on WrestleMania if he were to win.

For the first time in many years, there are a host of hot babyfaces on the show right now that have transitioned from being heels but maintained their edge.  Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe fit that description.  A lot of competitors in the picture have interesting storylines on Raw and Smackdown as of late, especially Erick Rowan, Rey Mysterio, Dolph Ziggler, Rusev, Bobby Lashley, Aleister Black, Buddy Murphy, Seth Rollins, and The Miz.

Twenty seven of the thirty competitors have been announced so far for the match, none of them from NXT.  This leaves room for an “alumni” or an NXT up-and-comer such as Keith Lee to make a surprise appearance.

Given all that, I’ll split it into three categories of potential winners and losers.

No Chance in Hell:

  • Rey Mysterio
  • Ricochet
  • Elias
  • Dolph Ziggler
  • Otis
  • Tucker
  • Rusev
  • Bobby Lashley
  • Aleister Black
  • Buddy Murphy
  • Shinsuke Nakamura
  • Kofi Kingston
  • Big E
  • R-Truth
  • John Morrison
  • The Miz

Don’t Count ‘em Out:

  • AJ Styles
  • Randy Orton
  • Drew McIntyre
  • King Corbin
  • Kevin Owens
  • Samoa Joe

Odds-on Favorites:

  • Roman Reigns
  • Brock Lesnar
  • Braun Strowman
  • Seth Rollins

I’ll go ahead and pick one, based on my theory that the disruption it would cause if he were to win would cause a ratings spike on the next Monday Night Raw.

Prediction: Winner, Brock Lesnar

WWE WrestleMania 34 Analysis and Predictions

 

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It’s the best time of year to be a WWE fan!  No weekend out of the year is better than WrestleMania weekend!  WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans will have a stacked card from start to almost the finish!  Roman Reigns is set to ruin a fourth straight WrestleMania main event, but even the lack of suspense surrounding the outcome of his match won’t dampen my enthusiasm for the card.

In fact, there is enough mystery baked into this card to keep us guessing for most of the night.  In addition to there not being too many obvious winners on the card, there are a lot of questions that we don’t have answers for right now:

  • What is this “performance” that Elias has promised us going to entail?
  • What’s up with John Cena calling out The Undertaker to no avail? Is Cena really not going to have a match?  Would they have an unadvertised Cena/Undertaker match on the card?  Is something else going to happen?
  • Who is Braun Strowman’s TBD tag team partner? Or is he not going to have one and use some sort of reverse Feebird Rule to win the tag title himself?
  • Is this Brock Lesnar’s last match before returning to the UFC?
  • What happened to Bray Wyatt in the Lake of Reincarnation at the Hardy Estate two weeks ago? Is he going to make a surprise return with a new persona?
  • Is there going to be a heel turn we don’t see coming?
  • Is a WWE alumnus going to make his return? Will an NXT call up have an impact on the card?  Will someone from NJPW crash the show?

The WWE is at its best when it can actually keep storylines secret and you don’t have any idea what is going to happen.  It makes the show all the more enjoyable to sit back and watch.  I expect that this could be one of the best WrestleMania’s we’ve seen in the past 10 years, and we could be treated to at least one or more top-10-all-time best WrestleMania matches.

On to my expert predictions.

AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura in a Singles match for the WWE Championship

It’s hard to believe how far Shinsuke Nakamura has come in just one year on the Smackdown roster.  He showed up on the Smackdown following WrestleMania 33 with a violinist playing in his bizarre entrance.  He called himself the “King of Strong Style” and got the crowd to sing along with his entrance music in the following weeks.  He started to stand in the middle of the ring, do a squat, and scream “Come on!” at his opponents and the crowd ate it up.  Lastly, he came up with the catch phrase “Knee to Face” and that seemed to put him over the top.  I can’t figure out where the substance to any of this is, but the fans seem to really like it.

AJ Styles, conversely, is one of the top performers in the company right now, both on the microphone and in the ring.  His in-ring work is unparalleled on the WWE main roster right now and that has earned him the fans respect.  He reminds many of a master wrestling technician who can also sell and tell a story, like a young Shawn Michaels.  Even in his early 40’s, he’s the subject of anybody’s dream match right now.

The build for this match has been lackluster.  Anytime you have a big babyface vs. babyface match, the angle is a bit of a creative trap. They have to protect both guys image, and nobody can generate any real heat.  They have to pretend like there is a mutual respect for each other, and that is a very uninteresting way to promote a match.  Either way, when they get to the ring they should deliver.

There’s a lot on the line in this match.  Styles gets his first opportunity to defend a championship at WrestleMania and Nakamura has never wrestled a bigger match in his life.  His Tokyo Dome experience from NJPW is the little league compared to having to perform on the Grandest Stage of Them All.  Both of these men, at this stage in their careers will want to make a statement in this match.  It has the potential to be the match of the night, and perhaps a top-10 greatest WrestleMania match of all time.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, AJ Styles

The Miz (c) vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Bálor in a Triple Threat Match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

The Miz has come a long way since his WrestleMania XXVIII main event against John Cena in which he successfully defended the World Championship.  In many ways, he’s a better wrestler now, and his reign as Intercontinental champion has been more impressive than his World Championship.  He is the best heel in the business and is considered by many to the WWE MVP.

Seth Rollins has lost a great deal of momentum since he lost the WWE Championship following an in-ring injury.  He was the feel-good story coming out of WrestleMania 31, when he stole the championship from Brock Lesnar in the main event with a surprise cash-in of his Money In The Bank contract.  Since the injury which cost him a spot at WrestleMania 32, he hasn’t had too many noteworthy moments.  He flip-flopped back and forth as a heel, he re-united The Shield, but that angle fizzled due to illness and injuries to the other two.  He had a slow-burn angle with Jason Jordan which came to a quick end when Jordan himself was injured.  Rollins needs his luck to turn around, and a big match at WrestleMania 34 would certainly do that.

Finn Bálor is a one-trick-pony.  He has a slick entrance with audience participation.  Other than that, he’s a scrawny little twerp who wears tights with a leather jacket.  He should be in the 205 division, wrestling guys his own size.  He doesn’t look right wrestling guys who outweigh him by 75 pounds.  He has zero personality to make up for his lack of size.  I don’t expect him do much of anything interesting in this match.

I’d prefer to see this as a two-man match, but this is better than the typical 5-man ladder match they usually put on for the IC title at WrestleMania, so I’ll take it.  Triple-threat matches are all about timing the big spots between the three competitors and are stylistically very difficult to pull off.  The Miz and Rollins are going to have to be at their best to pull this off and carry Bálor.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, The Miz

Randy Orton (c) vs. Bobby Roode vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Rusev in a Fatal Four-Way Match for the WWE United States Championship

Not to be outdone by the triple threat match for the Intercontinental Championship, the United States Championship will be decided in a fatal four-way match.  A match like this will be either memorable for years because it was so good, or bowling shoe-ugly. Everybody will try to get a signature move in at some point in order to stand out.

Randy Orton continues to plod through the later stages of his career.  His championship win at WrestleMania was noteworthy because the crowd of over 70,000 was mostly silent throughout the match.  He’s going to need something better out of this year’s WrestleMania match.

Bobby Roode is the least interesting competitor in this match.  Over-produced entrance, an underwhelming personality, and way past his prime.  Nothing to see here.

Rusev snuck into this match because he suddenly has a popular catch phrase: “Rusev Day”!  It’s kind of weird but it works for him and should last for a little while longer.  I thought he was better as a monster heel, but I guess he’s selling more merchandise this way so good for him.

Jinder Mahal is the biggest home-grown star we’ve seen in years in WWE.  He’s had an amazing rebound from being fired from the WWE to his return and eventual ascension to WWE Champion.   He’s got a great look and played the part of the cliched ethnic heel to the best of his abilities.  If anybody deserves a WrestleMania moment and a win in this match, it’s Mahal.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE United States Champion, Jinder Mahal

Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Nia Jax in a singles match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

If you’ve ever followed this blog, you know what I’m about to say.

Prediction: This match will suck

The Usos (Jey and Jimmy Uso) (c) vs. The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston, and/or Xavier Woods) vs. The Bludgeon Brothers (Harper and Rowan) in a Triple threat tag team match for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship

Big build up all around for this match.  The Usos finally get a match on the main WrestleMania card for the first time in their careers.  They’ve put in the time and they did a good job re-inventing themselves after their bland Hardy Boyz-ripoff gimmick they started off with.  This is a big opportunity for them.

The New Day is as stale as can be, and this team is dying to be broken up.  Big E will go straight to the top, Xavier Woods will go straight to the middle, and Kofi Kingston will go back to being a jobber.  They’ve had a fantastic run, but it is high time for a swerve and a heel turn for one of them, bringing this faction to an end.

The Bludgeon Brothers are hot right now.  Harper and Rowan (having just lost their first names!) are the two most underrated big men on the roster right now.  These guys have all the tools to be the best in this game.  Their outfits are a little over the top, but everything else about this team screams heel champions.  Their build to this spot was masterful, having them lay waste to a host of jobbers and making them look unstoppable.  Watch this space, these guys are going to be big.

Prediction: Winners and new WWE Smackdown Tag Team Champions, The Bludgeon Brothers

Cesaro and Sheamus (c) vs. Braun Strowman and TBD in a tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

How great is this?  The best tag team on Raw takes on the hottest talent on Raw, with a bone-fide mystery partner by his side!  This is WWE at it’s best, creating a ridiculous situation that we’re dying to see.  Could you imagine paying to see the Yankees play a home game against a mystery opponent?  Wouldn’t ever happen!  But in professional wrestling, this is creative gold!

People have argued that this isn’t the best spot for Braun Strowman and that he deserves to be in the main event.  I’m a huge fan of his, but I think this is a great spot for him.  Roman Reigns is the “chosen one” and there’s nothing we can do about it.  Strowman is still going to get his push, and he’s going to take the ball and run with it.  He does monster heel, he does comedy, he performs ridiculous feats of strength.  What’s not to love about the guy?  Just because he’s not in the main event, doesn’t mean he can’t be awesome.

Who is his partner?  I’ve read all kinds of speculation that it could be a returning hero, an NXT call up, or someone else already on the roster.  What’s the point in trying to figure it out now?  Just sit back and let the show come to you!

Cesaro and Sheamus always deliver.  They are going to nail their parts in this match and you can count on that.  When they lose the title, it will be fun to watch them chase it back down.

Prediction: Winners and new WWE Raw Tag Team Champions, Braun Stroman and TBD

Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Asuka Singles match for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

Out of respect for Ric Flair, I won’t disrespect his daughter.  But this match is as good as it gets for women’s wrestling because the bar is set so low.  Asuka is average at best and her gimmick is annoying.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE SmackDown Women’s Champion, Charlotte Flair

Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey vs. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon in a mixed tag team match

Kurt Angle made a hero’s return to the WWE last year at the WWE Hall Of Fame ceremony, and then re-joined the regular show as Raw General Manager.  Rumor had it there would be a big build to a WrestleMania 34 match for the Olympic gold medalist.  Instead, he got saddled with this abortion of a match.

Ronda Rousey left the UFC as a loser and a shell of her former badass self.  In the time between her UFC days and her WWE days, she did nothing to repair her reputation.  Thus far, she has completely bombed on the WWE stage.  Her promos are embarrassingly awkward.  As one of my readers pointed out to me “she had the personality of a wet blanket in UFC” and apparently, her ability to memorize and read lines the WWE creative team feeds her is zero.  Who even knows if she can wrestle?  Probably not very well.

I can’t feel too sorry for Triple H, he’s had some very good WrestleMania matches in his career.  But Kurt Angle deserved better than this.  I don’t think either one of them can save this mess.

Prediction: Winners, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon

Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a tag team match and if Owens and Zayn win, they will be rehired to SmackDown

Daniel Bryan’s surprise return to Smackdown changed the current landscape in the WWE in a way nobody saw coming.  He was close to the Shane McMahon rivalry with the Owens/Zayn duo for months, and he is perfectly positioned to return in this match.

Kevin Owens is the top heel on SmackDown, and the story arc of his simmering feud with Shane McMahon has taken on many Shakspearian twists since it began in 2017.  It’s now involved Sami Zayn, included the both of them sending McMahon to the hospital, and then getting themselves fired by Daniel Bryan before beating him up on the night he announced his return to active competition.  This was top heel work and WWE creative at its best.

This could be the most entertaining match of the night.  It has three of the best workers in the WWE right now, along with Sami Zayn who will play his supporting role as well.  It has “win” written all over it for Zayn and Owens, and it will be fun watching the aftermath on Smackdown when it’s all over.

Prediction: Winners, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Brock Lesnar (c) (with Paul Heyman) vs. Roman Reigns in a singles match for the WWE Universal Championship

A fourth straight WrestleMania event is about to be ruined by Roman Reigns.  It’s a good thing this card is so stacked because the show will end with a thud with this match.  We’ve known for a year that Reigns is going go win the match.  The “like me because I’m a full-timer and Brock is a part-timer” angle is boring and has not helped Reigns improve one bit.  He still sucks on the mike and his in-ring psychology is poor.  No matter how many WrestleMania main events he gets, he never improves.

Brock Lesnar is about to walk out on the WWE.  His act has gotten tired and it will be good for the WWE to move on from him at the top. He had a great run since his return as a part-time special attraction, and something needs to be said about how less exposure can actually help a superstar in the WWE.  But it is time to go.

This match is going to fail to entertain.  The crowd will be tired, Lesnar will have his eye on the exit, and Reigns will continue to stink.  Try to stay awake if you can.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Universal Champion, Roman Reigns

Working the Shoot for WrestleMania Season

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WWE fans like to think that we’re smarter than our predecessors from 30 years ago.  We think we know what is going on behind the scenes because we can read about backstage news online.  Now that kayfabe is dead, we know all the insider wrestling terms that the wrestlers give away on their podcasts.  We know what a “work” is and what “shoot” means.  We’d rather not cheer for the “babyface” or the “heel” based on their on-screen persona, we’d like to choose who we like and cheer or boo depending on how we think the WWE is using him.  We want to feel like we’re on the inside and we know what is going on.

Well, I have news for all of you.  We are, indeed, a bunch of “marks” during this WrestleMania season. The WWE is giving us all sorts of “reality” storylines and promos to make us think that the setup behind WrestleMania matches is based in reality.  In fact, nothing can be further from the case.  The WWE creative team is working us all on the way to WrestleMania, both with true-style angles, and completely over-the-top ridiculousness, and the fans are eating it all up!

Take a look at the yet-to-be-announced John Cena vs. Undertaker match. The Undertaker has yet to make an appearance during WrestleMania season at all.  But John Cena has been selling a story line that has brought him from Raw to Smackdown in a futile effort to have a match at WrestleMania, all the while hinting that he should wrestle The Undertaker.  Finally, he called out The Dead Man on Raw one night and pretended that “they would cut off his mic because they told him the match wouldn’t happen”.  Guess what?  Whoever “they” is, wrote every line he spoke that night.  It was a total work, and an extremely effective one.  What probably would have been a dull match is now very highly anticipated.

Contrast the Cena/Undertaker angle with the Cesaro and Sheamus vs. Braun Strowman and his yet-to-be-announced tag-team partner storyline.  How ridiculous is Braun Strowman?  He’s strong enough to pull down lighting rigs, flip ambulances, flip tractor trailers, and turn the entire Raw stage upside down.  Kurt Angle announced a tag-team Battle Royal to determine #1 contendership for the Raw Tag Team Championship at WrestleMania, and Brawn Strowman inserted himself into the match by shouting at the referee, and he proceeded to win it without a partner.  From a reality standpoint, this guy is totally ridiculous.  Yet Strowman is the hottest guy on the roster right now, getting more and more popular every day.  We love it!

How about Daniel Bryan?  Who saw that coming?  Out of nowhere, the guy we thought was forced into retirement as a result of brain damage, was medically cleared to wrestle.  He started off Smackdown the day the story broke with a heart-felt promo about how grateful he was that his family and fans supported him while he was in retirement and he was so happy to be back.  That was as real as it gets on the WWE microphone.  How does the show end?  By him taking a worked beating at the hands of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens and leaving the arena on a stretcher.  Starting with a shoot and ending with a work, we got the best storyline on Smackdown all WrestleMania season!

Finally, there is the Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar WrestleMania rematch that pretty much nobody wants to see.  This match was rumored as far back as WrestleMania 33, so there wasn’t much suspense leading up to Reigns’ clinching of the spot at Elimination Chamber.  As usual, Roman Reigns can be counted on to be a boring dud on the microphone, and the WWE needed to find a new angle to use to sell this rerun of a match.  Somebody in WWE creative noticed that the WWE and UFC were both in Las Vegas on the same weekend, and that Brock Lesnar was photographed with Dana White on The Strip, while he didn’t attend the WWE show.  They got the brilliant idea to tell Brock to no-show Raw and have Roman Reigns cut a shoot-style promo saying that Reigns was abusing his part-time status by not showing up to Raw, and that we should take Roman’s side because he “shows up for work every day”.  As if that would somehow make him a good wrestler for a change.

At first, the wrestling rumor sites ate it up, and published stories that it appeared to be true that Lesnar really did no-show Raw due to some sort of altercation or disagreement with WWE brass.  The WWE faithful ate it up.  “How dare he disrespect us?  He really is like they say, he doesn’t care about the business he only cares about himself and money!  Screw him!!!”  Suddenly, Roman Reigns sounded somewhat interesting, not because he did anything noteworthy or good, but because people really started to hate Lesnar because he didn’t come to Raw.

The lines between reality and fantasy began to blur and crack the following week when Lesnar no-showed Raw again.  After the third week, it was apparent the storyline was a complete work when Lesnar no-showed for a third time.  The WWE took the unusual step of having the cameras follow Reigns into the “Gorilla Position” behind the entrance ramp curtain to confront Vince McMahon about the situation.  Doesn’t get any more “real” than that, right?

Well, none of the above was “real”.  The Lesnar storyline was a work.  All of it is a work.  We’re all marks and we are eating it up headed into WrestleMania 34.  In today’s wrestling landscape, the WWE has found a way to transform itself from “good guy vs. bad guy” to reality-based angles, and it is working very well right now.

It is the best time of the year to be a wrestling fan and I couldn’t be more excited for WrestleMania week.  Watch this space for expert analysis for all important WrestleMania matches and storylines.  I’m looking for your feedback, too, so stay in touch.

By the way, how cool was that Matt Hardy vs. Bray Wyatt Ultimate Deletion match on Raw two weeks ago?  Why don’t they do more stuff like that more often?  And what does it mean for WrestleMania?

Royal Rumble Analysis and Predictions

The road to WrestleMania 34 begins at the Royal Rumble in Philadelphia tonight.  At what should be the creative peak of the WWE year, both Smackdown and Raw are in the midst of a lull.  There is a lot of unwatchable content on WWE these days with the proliferation of the Women’s and Cruiserweight Divisions. You pretty much have to watch Raw and Smackdown on a DVR so you can fast-forward through all of that.  Not to mention, Roman Reigns is laying in wait to ruin yet another WrestleMania main event, so there isn’t much suspense right now in wondering who is going to get the big push in the coming months.

There are many bright spots in the middle card right now, and the Royal Rumble is always one of the more entertaining cards of the year.  So, there is plenty to look forward to this evening, of course with the exception of the Women’s Royal Rumble.  You should change the channel or take a nap or pet your dog or do anything else you can think of while this abomination is on.

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AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a Handicap match for the WWE Championship

AJ Styles has been a fan favorite since his first days in the WWE, having distinguished himself in every other major wrestling promotion in the world prior to his WWE debut.  His current run as WWE champion has been solid, and his momentum could carry him to WrestleMania 34 to defend his championship in the semi-main event.

Kevin Owens is the best heel on the Smackdown brand.  He is a relentless jerk, and never runs out of things to say to draw heat to himself.  Sami Zayn was spinning his wheels for his entire WWE run as a white-meat-babyface, and his fortunes turned around mightily when he turned heel by aligning himself with his former foe, Kevin Owens.  The two are a natural pairing, and they complement each other very well as annoying, cowardly heels.

The underpinning storyline behind this match is the budding feud between Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon that lead to the stipulation that this will be a handicap match for the WWE title.  Expect the Bryan/McMahon situation to explode somehow during this match, affecting the outcome.  I find it highly unlikely that they will award the WWE championship to two men using the Freebird Rule.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, AJ Styles

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

The unlikely pairing of Kurt Angle’s “son”, Jason Jordan and Seth Rollins was made possible due to the unfortunate injury to Dean Amborse.  Jordan was put in an interesting spot with the illegitimate child angle (no pun intended), but not too many interesting moments came out of it until he paired with Rollins.  Now, they are a classic good guy/bad guy tag team, and play well off of each other.  Jordan has made the most of his role, and has gotten over as a heel.

Cesaro and Sheamus continue to impress as the best tag team in the WWE today.  Both were likely at the end of their WWE runs before they paired as a tag team, and they caught fire once they united.  They have great in-ring chemistry, and put on great matches on pay-per-views.

Prediction: Winner and new Tag Team Champions, Cesaro and Sheamus

The Usos (Jey and Jimmy Uso) (c) vs. Chad Gable and Shelton Benjamin in a 2-out-of-3-falls match for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship

The way these teams have been presented, I don’t know who is the babyface or heel team, nor do I understand why this has to be a 2-out-of-three falls match.  There isn’t much interesting going on here, and I expected better out of Shelton Benjamin since he returned to the WWE.

Prediction: Winners and still WWE Smackdown Tag Team Champions, The Usos

Brock Lesnar (c) (with Paul Heyman) vs. Braun Strowman vs. Kane in a Triple threat match for the WWE Universal Championship

No doubt about it, this is going to be the match of the night.  Braun Strowman is red hot right now, he has gotten over with the fans and has potential to carry the company if he plays his cards right.  He has freakish size and strength, in-ring ability, and is great on the mic.  The over-the-top displays of strength he shows by pulling down lighting rigs and flipping over semi-trucks are outright hilarious.  He has surpassed Roman Reigns in terms of ability, and hopefully WWE brass realizes that soon.

Kane is making a late-career main event run.  After having lost a considerable amount of time to injury, he made his way back into the top of the card.  Kane may seem like an odd pick for this match, but he has consistently been one of the most dependable performers in the WWE over the past 20 years, and will play an important part in this match.

Brock Lesnar is very consistent, if not somewhat stale.  Unlike Kane, not much changes with his character.  It might be time to change some things up if he’s going to stick to the WWE for an extended run.  I’d expect him to put on a great match like he always does.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar

2018 Women’s Royal Rumble match for a women’s championship match at WrestleMania 34

This is a horrible idea.  It’s going to be the worst match of the year, and it’s going to go on way too long.  If you like watching people with pink and purple hair blow spots for an hour, you are in luck.  If you’re like me, there’s probably something better on TV at the time to watch instead.

Prediction: This match is going to suck and let’s hope it’s one and done and they never do it again!

2018 Men’s Royal Rumble match for a championship match at WrestleMania 34

The most unpredictable and unique match of the year will help shape one of the biggest matches on the WrestleMania card.  Interestingly enough, only 18 of the participants have been named thus far, with 12 remaining.  The mystery remains who the other 12 will be, but it is unlikely that the winner is among that group.  For the most part, the Royal Rumble only has a handful of people with a reasonable chance of winning and going on to a title match at WrestleMania.  There are a few categories that the competitors can be bucketed into.

No Chance in Hell:

  • Matt Hardy: The fans wanted his “Broken” gimmick from TNA. They got a “Woken” gimmick and it is terrible.
  • Rusev: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Once a dependable heel, now he’s a babyface with a catchphrase. A funny catchphrase, but not ‘Mania-main-event-worthy.
  • Aiden English: Funny guy, will get tossed.
  • Apollo Crews: I watch WWE every week, I barely know who he is.
  • Titus O’Neil: Perennially underused, too old for a push to the top.
  • Tye Dillinger: Bad gimmick and very boring. Will never be WWE champ.
  • Big E: Has potential to be a top guy in the company, need to flip to heel and leave the New Day first.
  • Kofi Kingston: Is not going to WrestleMania in a singles match.
  • Xavier Woods: See Kofi Kingston

Could Shock the World:

  • Elias: Has done well with the opportunity he’s been given since his Raw call up.
  • Shinsuke Nakamura: The most perplexing guy on the roster today. What’s with that entrance he does?  What does “King of Strong Style” mean?  Why should I care about this guy?  Despite me not having the answers to these questions, people seem to like him, I don’t get it.
  • Finn Bálor: Another one that is “all entrance and nothing else”. Rumor has it that Vince McMahon thinks he is bland.  I wonder what took the old man so long to figure that out?
  • Baron Corbin: Seems to be hanging on to his push pretty well. A former André The Giant Battle Royal and Money in the Bank winner, he could surprise here.

Favorites to win:

  • Roman Reigns: Will headline WrestleMania whether he wins or not. Remains to be seen if they want him to get booed out of Philly for a second time after winning the Royal Rumble.  Sounds like a stubborn Vince McMahon move to me.
  • Randy Orton: Won last year’s rumble, had a horrific match at WrestleMania 33 against Bray Wyatt.
  • Bray Wyatt: Was in the same boat as Orton last year, maybe he gets to redeem himself this year.
  • The Miz: The best heel in WWE right now and former WrestleMania headliner. It could be his year.
  • John Cena: Needs one more championship to surpass Ric Flair’s career total. He’s part time now, so WrestleMania is as good a time as any.  Unless the rumors are true and he’s slated to work with The Undertaker this April.

Also, to consider would be some NXT callups making the match, and we might also see returning veterans who are no longer full-time wrestlers get involved.  Or maybe a leading independent wrestler, or someone tied to TNA or NJPW will make a surprise debut in the rumble.

Prediction: Winner, The MIz

A lot of things can happen in the Rumble match that set up other feuds or angles for the next two months headed into WrestleMania.  With a ruckus Philly crowd, the energy in the room should be good.  Despite the creative quagmire the WWE is in right now, this could turn out to be a great show, despite the Women’s Rumble!

WWE SummerSlam Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finn Bálor vs. Bray Wyatt

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Bray Wyatt

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, The Big Show

Randy Orton vs. Rusev

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

Prediction: Winner, Rusev

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, Jinder Mahal

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck

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

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

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

John Cena vs. Baron Corbin

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

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

Prediction: Winner, John Cena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Universal Champion, Braun Strowman

WWE Payback Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Cruiserweight Champion, Neville

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

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Samoa Joe

Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Roman Reigns

WrestleMania 33 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.