WrestleMania 35 Postscript

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The view from my seats at MetLife Stadium for WrestleMania 35

I was fortunate to be able to attend WrestleMania 35 in person last night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.  It certainly was the most unique spectacle I’ve seen at MetLife Stadium, and the excitement in the crowd was high.  Even though the overwhelming consensus among my viewing group was that the show was just too damn long, we all had a great time.  The show exceeded my expectations and I am sad that it is over.

Aside from notable one-off performances by returning veterans no longer on a full-time schedule such as Triple H, Batista, and Beth Phoenix, the content of the show focused on showcasing the vast number of talented performers the WWE has on the active roster.  This WrestleMania did not rely very heavily on featuring aging stars of the past.

Of course, the focus was on the women’s division, which historically participated in the WrestleMania main event for the first time ever.  The crowd was as hot as it could be for that match, considering most of us were in our seats for almost seven hours by the time the bell rang!

Professional wrestling is a story that never ends.  But WrestleMania is both a time of closure of careers and storylines, as well as a launching pad for new ones.  Based on the outcome of yesterday’s results, there is going to be a big shuffle at the top of the card in both the men’s and women’s divisions, centered around who now holds, and who will chase the top championships on both Raw and Smackdown.

Both Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey are looking at long hiatuses, with Lesnar possibly making another UFC run, and Rousey having suffered a broken hand during last night’s main event.  The new title holders, Seth Rollins and Becky Lynch should get some clarity relatively soon with who they will be facing in their first title defenses.  The Universal Title picture is wide open right now, any number of Raw superstars are primed to step up and face Rollins for his newly won strap.

The situation with Lynch could simply reduce her feud from a three-way to two-way with just Charlotte Flair.  This would depend on if the Raw and Smackdown titles are united into one, or if she is forced to defend both.  The women’s roster isn’t as deep at the top as the men’s roster is, so the number of compelling competitors for Lynch isn’t nearly as deep as those that Rollins could face.

Kofi Kingston had the best night of his career.  He went from B+ player to A player at WrestleMania when he captured his first WWE Heavyweight Championship after 11 years of toiling in the mid-card.  What remains to be seen now is if WWE believes he can be a long-term “face of the company” or if he is a transitional campion who will drop the belt in short order at an upcoming pay per view.

There is a lot more to dissect from a show that contained sixteen matches.  There were a lot of winners and losers, and not just because of who won or lost their match last night.  A look at some of the losers and winners:

Losers

  • Ronda Rousey: Was on a tear in her first full year in WWE but suffered a badly broken hand during her match last night. She was rumored to be taking a hiatus sometime soon anyway, but this was a tough way to go out.
  • The Cruiserweight Division: If the best this division could do was a short match at the beginning of the pre-show, it is time to decide if the division is needed at all.
  • The Miz: The Miz is out of place as a babyface. Let’s hope that last night’s loss sends him back down the right path.
  • Kevin Owens: They couldn’t find anything for KO on this card? Why did they bring him back from injury before WrestleMania if they weren’t going to use him?  This is very peculiar, and I can only hope that they use this to get some heel heat on him in the immediate timeframe.
  • All participants in the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal: This match never helped anybody, and it never will. It was a consolation prize for most of the competitors who wouldn’t have been on the show otherwise.  Braun Strowman yet again didn’t get a very good spot at WrestleMania, let’s hope this trend isn’t permanent.
  • Rey Mysterio: Looked like a Barry Horowitz-type jobber on his way to getting squashed. Time to call it a career.
  • Drew McIntyre: Couldn’t pull out the victory in this match, the WWE needs to decide if it wants to get behind him or not.
  • Roman Reigns: Well, he won in life because he beat cancer and that’s what’s important. But he sucks just as bad as ever in the ring, delivering yet another snooze-fest of a WrestleMania match.  At least he didn’t ruin another main event.
  • The Undertaker: What has become of The Deadman? WrestleMania was his show for over two decades.  His WrestleMania win streak ended five years ago, and he appeared to retire two years ago when he lost to Roman Reigns and left his ring gear in the ring to end the night.  Well, he didn’t retire because last year he returned to WrestleMania to plant John Cena.  Then what?  No mention of him at all this year?  Don’t we deserve a little something better than a start-and-stop sendoff if his WrestleMania career is over?  And if it’s not over, why wasn’t he there last night?

Winners

  • Seth Rollins: Four years after he defeated Brock Lesnar for the title at WrestleMania 31, he managed to do it again last night. Look for a lengthy title run from this workhorse.
  • Brock Lesnar: Just because he lost the match doesn’t mean he wasn’t a winner. Another big payday for Brock, and when he wants another check, he’ll come right back to the WWE.  See you in Saudi Arabia, big guy.
  • Becky Lynch: Anytime you get your hand raised in the last match of the night at WrestleMania, you achieve professional wrestling immortality.
  • Elias: He can’t seem to ever get a match at a big show, but his routine of starting a song and being interrupted hasn’t gotten old yet. They will probably keep this up for some time to come.
  • John Cena: He didn’t have a WrestleMania match for the first time since he made his debut at WrestleMania XX, but he stole the show anyway in a surprise appearance in the Elias segment. He should return to his roots as a freestyle rapper more often.
  • Triple H: Returning from injury for the first time since October, The Cerebral Assassin delivered a punishing performance against his long-time friend Batista.
  • Batista: Congratulations to Batista on a great career as he announced his retirement on Twitter after the match. What a way to go out.  See you at a Hall of Fame ceremony very soon!
  • Ric Flair: This cat has nine lives! It was great to see him make a brief but effective run-in during the Batista vs. Triple H match.
  • Kurt Angle: Asking the crowd to serenade you with a “you suck” chant as you walk out of the stadium for the final time as an active performer is a form of retirement celebration that you would only see in the WWE!
  • Baron Corbin: He taunted the crowd that wanted John Cena in this match instead of him and went on to win. This is going to really help his development as a heel and help to move him forward.
  • Shane McMahon: The Best in the World showed yet again why he is WrestleMania’s best stuntman.
  • Samoa Joe: A quick and brutal victory, that was exactly the kind of WrestleMania performance Joe needed. He can build on this.
  • The Usos: Finally, finally, finally, they had a real WrestleMania moment. Any four-way tag team match has the potential for ugliness, but the Usos came through and looked impressive in their victory.
  • Daniel Bryan: This loss was really one of the biggest wins of his career. A year after his improbable return to professional wrestling following a brain injury, he participated in the best match of the night.  In any other year, this could have been the WrestleMania main event.
  • Kofi Kingston: As I said earlier, this was the best night of his career. The WWE handed him the football and he ran it in for a touchdown.IMG_3222

That is a wrap on WrestleMania 35 season, and I already can’t wait for WrestleMania 36 season next year.  In the meantime, there are a lot of potential happenings to come starting tonight.  I’d expect some NXT callups, as well as a “superstar shakeup” between Raw and Smackdown over the next few months.  And maybe The Undertaker comes back for another Saudi Arabia show!

WrestleMania 35 Analysis and Predictions

Me and Daniel Bryan

Myself with WWE Champion, The New Daniel Bryan and WrestleMania Axxess

East Rutherford, New Jersey will be the most important place in the world on Sunday!  WrestleMania week is here!  The excitement is in the air in my home state of New Jersey where WrestleMania 35 will be held at MetLife Stadium.  There is no better tailgating scene in the NFL than at Giants and Jets games, and my crew and I are going to extend our parking lot grilling skills to WrestleMania.

There has almost never been a more peculiar time to be a WWE fan.  Ratings for Raw have been at historic lows, despite the glut in talent from the NXT feeder system.  There has never been a deeper WWE roster, but creatively, the WWE can’t seem to get out of its own way.  In recognition of the low ratings and viewer apathy, Vince McMahon returned to WWE television and promised to shake things up.  The shakeup included firing both general managers of Raw and Smackdown just to insert the McMahon family back as authority figures (because we’ve never seen that movie before), and promising a bunch of NXT call ups that either didn’t show up (what’s with that Lars Sullivan guy?) or completely failed to get over (EC3, I had such high hopes for you!).

But hey, WrestleMania 35 is here and there are at least 15 matches crammed into what will be a six-plus hour show.  Time to get excited!  We have title matches, battle royals, grudge matches, farewell matches, you name it!  The possibilities are endless!  We have no idea if The Undertaker, John Cena, or most oddly Kevin Owens are even going to be on the show.  But if they do or they don’t, this card has all the makings of what can become a top-five-best WrestleMania of all time.

Since there are so many matches, unlike the WWE, I’m going to practice a little brevity with my blog and not take your entire day with it.  But, if you are betting the matches offshore, you’ll want to take my predictions to the bank!

Special Attractions

Alexa Bliss is going to be the WrestleMania host.  The way they’ve been playing things out on TV, she’s been more of a heel commissioner type by creating matches for superstars, rather than being a host.  Either way, this is going to play out somehow, and will likely dictate the direction and finish of at least one match on the card.

Elias is going to put on a special musical performance.  I expect him to insult the crowd and get interrupted, which perhaps will turn things into a spontaneous match.

Triple H. vs. Batista in a No Holds Barred match with Triple H’s career on the line

After having completely botching Batista’s last return to the WWE ahead of WrestleMania XXX, the WWE got this one exactly right.  He’s back on a hot, reality-based, and emotional angle against his former mentor, Triple H.  Of course, Triple H is the perfect foil for this type of angle, always able to get any kind of storyline over.

For the second straight WrestleMania at MetLife Stadium, Triple H’s career is on the line in a match.  Unlike WrestleMania XXIX where he survived to see another day by defeating Brock Lesnar, don’t expect HHH to duplicate that feat.  He has looked older and slower in recent years during his one-off matches, and he suffered a major injury when he last competed at WWE Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia last year.  Time for the Cerebral Assassin, The King of Kings, The Game, whatever you wanna call him, to finally hang up his boots.

Prediction: Winner, Batista

Shane McMahon vs. The Miz in a Falls Count Anywhere match

Grudge matches don’t get much better than this.  The rivalry between these two was built in a slow-burn angle that started with The Miz begging Shane to be his tag team partner so The Miz could make his dad proud of him.  So, when the team failed, it set the stage for a masterfully executed heel turn by Shane when he attacked The Miz from behind in front of The Miz’s father.

The falls count anywhere stipulation was added to this match to accent McMahon’s talents as a stuntman.  There will certainly be some big spot that includes him taking a death-defying leap and exploding through a large object at the bottom of his fall.

Prediction: Winner, Shane McMahon

Buddy Murphy (c) vs. Tony Nese in a singles match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

This match is a complete waste of time and shouldn’t be on the card.  I wouldn’t know either guy if he bit me on the ass, and I’m betting you wouldn’t, either.  Not gonna bother making a prediction for this match other than I’ll probably ride it out on the nacho stand line in MetLife Stadium.

Kurt Angle vs. Baron Corbin in Kurt Angle’s farewell match

Kurt Angle finished his career out well after his return to the WWE at WrestleMania 33.  He’s a Hall of Famer and was featured in a high-profile WrestleMania match at WM 34.  He’s going out on a high note with a feature farewell match at WrestleMania 35 against Baron Corbin.

This is a great spot for Baron Corbin, to be featured in Kurt Angle’s last match.  He’s a great heel judging by the fan backlash against him being in this match.  He knows he’s annoying and that people hate him, and he doesn’t care.

Wrestling tradition dictates that when someone leaves town, he puts the new guy over.  It never fails.

Prediction: Winner, Baron Corbin

AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton

They’ve spent weeks on television trying to one-up the other on the microphone.  There’s no gimmick, no titles on the line in this match.  Just two of the best veteran professional wrestlers in the world in a heated grudge match.  It will be a treat to watch them trying to one-up the other in the WrestleMania ring.

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Ah, the refuge of the damned.  The Sixth annual André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal, the match that exists to “get all the wrestlers on the card” and hasn’t really produced any memorable moments.  It hasn’t helped any careers either.

It is unfortunate that Braun Strowman is stuck in this match.  This guy never seems to have any luck when it comes to WrestleMania booking.  He’s got some silly feud going with two guys from Saturday Night Live that nobody has ever heard of.  And there are 27 other competitors in the match, none of whom are marquee names.  Boring.

Prediction: Winner, Braun Strowman

Samoa Joe (c) vs. Rey Mysterio in a singles match for the WWE United States Championship

After a long wait, Samoa Joe finally gets a one-on-one matchup at WrestleMania.  Joe is one the most dependable heels on the roster and he is good at getting any storyline over.  This is a great spot for him to be in, and he should really be able to carry the inferior and undersized Rey Mysterio to an exciting match.

Prediction: Winner and still champion, Samoa Joe

Roman Reigns vs. Drew McIntyre

Roman Reigns isn’t going to be in a fifth straight WrestleMania main event and that is a good thing.  He wasn’t any good before he went away to get treated for Leukemia.  He didn’t improve during that time, but the human-interest story stemming from his cancer battle seems to have finally gotten him over with the fans.  That’s a long way to go to get over!

Drew McIntyre is believed to be a future WWE champion by many.  This is going to be the biggest match of his life, so expect him to deliver a brutal performance.

Prediction: Winner, Drew McIntyre

The Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection (Bayley and Sasha Banks) (c) vs. The Divas of Doom (Beth Phoenix and Natalya) vs. The IIconics (Billie Kay and Peyton Royce) vs. Nia Jax and Tamina in a fatal four-way tag team match for the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship

The Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection is far and away the worst name for a tag team the WWE has ever come up with.  I can’t even think of something that compares.  Bayley has the poorest gimmick in the WWE.  Just no to this whole thing.

Prediction: The team with the dumbest name wins

Bobby Lashley (c) vs. Finn Bálor in a singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Finn Bálor is a scrawny little twerp who smiles too much.  His Demon King gimmick is lame and illogical.  I don’t get what the big deal with this guy is.  Bobby Lashley is the total package and has already participated in one of the highest profile WrestleMania matches of all time when he represented future WWE Hall of Famer Donald Trump.  Bobby won his match, giving them the right to shave Vince McMahon’s head bald.  Expect another big performance out of Lashley this Sunday.

Prediction: Winner and still champion, Bobby Lashley

WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal

I love WrestleMania, but there are way too many matches on this card.  If this match wasn’t on the show, not a single person in the world would think any less of WrestleMania.

The Revival (Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson) (c) vs. Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder in a tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

Hey, good for Hawkins and Ryder to be featured in a straight-up tag team match in a crowded card.  They haven’t done anything to distinguish themselves lately, but hey, here’s a chance!  Well, they’ll probably get smoked in a quick match, but you never know.

Prediction: Winners and still champions, The Revival

The Usos (Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso) (c) vs. Ricochet and Aleister Black vs. The Bar (Cesaro and Sheamus) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura and Rusev in a fatal four-way tag team match for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship

There’s a lot to unpack in this match.  To summarize the most important things you need to know about it:

  • The Usos: Veteran tag team that only made their first main-card WrestleMania appearance last year, only to get squashed and lose the titles. They want to put on a better show this year.
  • Ricochet and Aleister Black: Recent NXT callups that were randomly made into a tag team. They are hot right now and have a great deal of upside.
  • Shinsuke Nakamura and Rusev: Why are these guys a team? In fact, why is Nakamura still in WWE and why is Rusev constantly cooling off every time he gets hot?
  • The Bar: After middling singles careers, these two have turned into one of the best tag teams we’ve ever seen.

Prediction: Winners and new champions, The Bar

Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Seth Rollins Singles match for the WWE Universal Championship

Big Brock Lesnar continues to dominate the competition on Monday Night Raw.  That is, when he decides to show up!  Much to the chagrin of most fans, a part-timer is WWE Universal Champion.  Of course, none of them realize that there’s money in getting them to hate the guy, no matter what the reason.

As good as Seth Rollins is, expect Vince McMahon to continue to troll you all with a Lesnar win.  He can then go on to defend the title the next time the WWE heads to Saudi Arabia this year.

Prediction: Winner and still champion, Brock Lesnar

The New Daniel Bryan (c) vs. Kofi Kingston in a singles match for the WWE Championship

After a three-year layoff due to a brain injury, Daniel Bryan has been firing on all cylinders since his return a year ago.  Questions about his working style or the WWE’s commitment were quickly squashed when he became a heel champion in 2018.  The WWE has never committed to him more than they have right now.  Daniel Bryan is at his best when he works heel and is a breath of fresh air to see him shun his “Yes Chant” and trust in his ability to make the crowd hate him.

Kofi Kingston is playing out a role reversal with Daniel Bryan from Bryan’s lead in to WrestleMania XXX. The fans wanted Bryan to get a title shot so WWE creative asserted the storyline of him being labeled a “B+ player” who was being oppressed by the McMahon Family and had to earn his shot to main event WrestleMania.

Kofi caught lightning in a bottle in a gauntlet match on Smackdown that he wasn’t even supposed to be in. Filling in for the injured Ali, he put in a nearly hour long effort until finally losing to AJ Styles. After 11 years of toiling in the mid-card, Kofi was embraced by the fans who demanded that he get a title shot at WrestleMania. Since WWE creative had some time to kill, and apparently, they were out of new ideas, they replayed the exact same “B+ player who is being screwed by the McMahon Family” angle on Kofi. Of course, Kofi persevered, and now here he is in the biggest match of his life.

This match most certainly should be the best match of the night.  These are two of the best workers on the roster, and for the first time in 11 years, Kofi will go from a B+ player to an A player.  He’s still going to lose, though.

Prediction: Winner and still champion, The New Daniel Bryan

Ronda Rousey (c; Raw) vs. Charlotte Flair (c; SmackDown) vs. Becky Lynch Winner takes all triple threat match for both the WWE Raw Women’s Championship and the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

They said it couldn’t be done, but for the firs time in WWE history, women will headline the show in the main event.  As my faithful readers now, I am no fan of what is formerly known as the “Diva’s Division”, having suffered years of sub-par bra-and-panties matches, and other waste of time segments of the like.

That was then and this is now, and the WWE has fully committed to making the Women’s Division equal to the Men’s Division.   Although I’m still not really a fan of most of the division, I have to say that two of the best they have are in this match, in Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair.

I was convinced Rousey was going to absolutely suck when she burst onto the scene last year and I was surprised at how well she took to the business.  Her promos are raw and personal, and she is a workhorse in the ring.  I was initially interested in Charlotte Flair because she is Ric Flair’s daughter.  But she went on to distinguish herself almost immediately and is an imposing figure in the ring.

I am not sold on Becky Lynch.  She seems to have gotten over in the same manner as Daniel Bryan five years ago, and Kofi Kingston this year.  Her performances aren’t the best, and she is going to be overshadowed by the other two superior performers in this match.

Even I must hand it to these three.  From a division that was lucky to have one match on the WrestleMania card just six years ago, to the division that is in the main event, they certainly earned this opportunity.  I’m not sure what to make of this match, and the crowd is going to be exhausted after sitting through fifteen matches prior to this one.  The are going to have to bring their best in order to win over this crowd.  Expect them to try something special that we won’t forget.

Prediction: Winner, and new double-champion, Charlotte Flair

That’s as brief as I could make it!  I will see you at the show!

 

Guest WrestleMania Spot

by Ned Moraghan, special to The North Jersey Nonconformist

WrestleMania 35 is this weekend.  This will be the fourth time I will be attending in person and the first that I’m taking my kids with me.  I’m very much looking forward to going.  I also am trying to figure out which matches I will remember years from now.  At WrestleMania 18, it was Hogan vs Rock.   Hogan was supposed to be heel but we were going to have none of it.  We nearly willed Hogan to victory but he came up short.  I still remember being exhausted at the end of the match.  Of all the sporting events, concerts I’ve attended in my lifetime, I’ve never been a part of a crowd like that.  For WrestleMania XX, both main events were awesome.  I also vividly remember Lesnar vs Goldberg getting booed out of the building.  Punk vs Taker stole the show at WrestleMania 29.  The irony is that it’s Punk’s last WrestleMania match as well as the last match that Taker won in the Streak.

Now to figure out which matches have a chance of having that WrestleMania moment.

  • Angle vs Corbin – I’m very torn on this.  I’ve following Angle’s career and been at some of his most memorable matches (first title win against the Rock, street fight against Shane, WrestleMania XX against Eddie).  Angle’s matches were always must see.  He was an Olympic gold medalist and picked up pro wrestling so easily.  However, he’s now 50 and has definitely lost a step.  This is his retirement match and he’s facing Baron Corbin.  That is a huge disappointment. Ric Flair got HBK for his final match.  HBK got Taker.  I’m glad that I get to see his last match but I wish it was against a better opponent.  Winner: Corbin.
  • Miz vs Shane – The Miz is right, he is must see TV.  I’m not aware of any current wrestler that is better than the Miz both in the ring and on the mic.  He gets Shane who is now 49.  AJ Styles carried Shane to a decent Wrestlemania match.  I believe that Miz can too.  The falls count anywhere guarantees some crazy spot will happen, hopefully the rest of the match is good too.  Winner: Miz
  • HHH vs Batista – Really don’t see the need for this match.  Winner: HHH
  • Battle Royal(s) – The second year in a row they are wasting Braun Strowman.  Hopefully they move him over to Smackdown to face Daniel Bryan.  As for the women’s side, they have also wasted Asuka who can actually put on a decent match.  Winners:  Strowman and Asuka
  • Bryan vs Kofi – This match could steal the show.  Both are great workers and here is Kofi’s first chance to shine on the grandest stage.  Bryan’s heel turn has rejuvenated his career.  I think Bryan hangs onto the title for a little bit longer.  Winner: Bryan
  • Styles vs Orton – A sleeper pic for match of the night.  Styles has put on some classic matches since joining WWE.  I think Orton has one more classic still in him.  Winner: Styles
  • Reigns vs McIntyre – I’m happy that Reigns has beaten leukemia.  I’m also happy that Reigns is not in the main event this year.  Raw is lacking some top heels.  Hopefully, they let McIntyre become the monster heel.  Winner: McIntyre.
  • Lesnar vs Rollins – Similar to Angle, I also in person for Lesnar’s first title win, also against the Rock.  His part time status hurts more than helps.  The Universal championship should be defended at every ppv and for years now that hasn’t happened.  It’s time to let Rollins run with the title one more time.  Winner: Rollins
  • Rousey vs Flair vs Lynch – the WWE has done a great job booking this match.  The seeds were planted at Summerslam when Lynch beat the crap out of Flair after losing the title match.  That was the spark that pushed this feud into high gear. SummerSlam was also Rousey’s first title win.  I thought that Rousey was going to be the female equivalent of Angle. Unfortunately she is the female equivalent of Lesnar.  One year in and she’s already burnt out.  Lynch is going to win, the question is will it be the match of the night.

WWE SummerSlam Analysis and Predictions

The Hottest Show of The Summer invades the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York this Sunday and I couldn’t be more excited.  I’ll be there in person and it will be the third SummerSlam I’ve attended.  The first one was in 1989 at the old Brendan Byrne Arena in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  The highlight of the card for me was when The Ultimate Warrior defeated Ravishing Rick Rude for the Intercontinental Championship due to a distraction from Rowdy Roddy Piper.  I was sitting next to future WCW superstar Crowbar and we both popped huge for the pinfall! I’m hoping for the same level of excitement this year in Brooklyn.

Interestingly enough, 1989 was the last year that SummerSlam didn’t feature either John Cena or The Undertaker, so this year represents a bit of a changing of the guard.  The card is stacked with matches with everybody who is hot on the WWE roster right now, except for Elias!  What’s up with that?  Anyway, on to the match analysis and predictions.

AJ Styles (c) vs. Samoa Joe in a singles match for the WWE Championship

AJ Styles and Samoa Joe are both enjoying a late-career resurgence as members of the WWE roster, after having spent most of their earlier years toiling in the lesser promotions.  This match is every wrestling fan’s dream, whether you followed them their entire careers, or if you only know them from their WWE work.  Two of the absolute best in-ring talents in the world right now, and also two of the best storytellers.  This is one of the several matches on the card that can potentially be match of the year eligible.

Samoa Joe.jpg

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Champion, Samoa Joe

The Bludgeon Brothers (Harper and Rowan) (c) vs. The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston, and/or Xavier Woods)     Tag team match for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship

The New Day sure does have a persistence about them that I didn’t see coming.  When they formed as a babyface trio, they absolutely sucked and I expected them to get released in a few months.  When they turned heel and became tag team champions using the Freebird Rule, I couldn’t have been happier for them.  When they eventually turned babyface again because they were so good they started go get cheers, I even had to hang on as a fan because they were still pretty funny.  Now when I see them flinging pancakes to the crowd, I want to throw my TV out the window.  It’s time for Big E to turn on the other two and go on a monster heel run.  Kingston and Woods can go back to being jobbers.  They’ll be remembered well when their careers are over.

The Bludgeon Brothers are at a career peak right now.  I never understood why they weren’t dominant tag champions when they were in The Wyatt Family, but there is no time like the present for these two talented veterans to show what they can do.  Nobody lays down a vicious beating like Harper and Rowan, and I’m hoping they leave The New Day lying in a heap in the middle of the ring.

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

Cedric Alexander (c) vs. Drew Gulak Singles match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

Prediction: I’ll be finishing off my dinner at The Shake Shack on Flatbush Avenue while this pre-show match is taking place.  Do you care anymore than I do about it?  I don’t think so.

Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Jeff Hardy in a singles match for the WWE United States Championship

Nakamura saved a disappointing WrestleMania match against AJ Styles by turning heel with a surprise low blow.  With that one nut-shot, he turned around a floundering babyface run and turned his fortunes around as a diabolical ethnic heel.  You can never have too many ethnic heels in the WWE, and of course, one of them always has to be the United States Champion to really get on our nerves.

Jeff Hardy is performing well despite his advanced age and the wear and tear on his body that he’s suffered from absorbing so many high-impact bumps over the course of his career.  Even if he is somewhat bland as a character (his face paint is kinda cool), he is usually entertaining as a wrestler, and he’s fun to watch lose.

Randy Orton is a potential wildcard in this match.  He is not booked to compete as a wrester, but he has been stalking and regularly beating Jeff up lately.  It’s good to have the heel Randy Orton back, he is a new man and should factor into the finish of this match somehow.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE United States Champion, Shinsuke Nakamura

Carmella (c) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair in a triple threat match for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

Prediction: This match is going to suck.  Maybe I’ll sneak back out to Shake Shack for desert while it’s on.

Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz

An old-fashioned one-on-one blood feud match with no stipulations or championship on the line?  Do my eyes deceive me?  How great is this?

The Miz/Bryan feud is typical of modern day storytelling in the WWE.  With kayfabe dead and gone, a great way to get characters over as babyfaces or heels is to use a reality angle.  This feud is a great example of that playing out.  You get the sense that these guys truly hate each other.  The intersections of their real-life events such as the both becoming fathers and Bryan having to take an extended time off due to brain damage enhance the intrigue behind their conflict.

Daniel Bryan is one of the most overrated wrestlers in the world, but this is a good spot for him.  Somewhere on the mid-card with a top-notch heel that can carry him in a match is the best thing for him right now.  This is another one of the matches on the card that has match of the year potential.

Prediction: Winner, The Miz

Dolph Ziggler (c) (with Drew McIntyre) vs. Seth Rollins (with Dean Ambrose) in a singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Interesting pairing of Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre as a mini-heel faction.  It’s hard to quite understand why they are together, but what they are doing works.  Ziggler is a great heel champ, always bragging about how good he is only to cheat to win every time with the help of his heater.

Seth Rollins did a good job of carrying the IC title before losing it to Ziggler.  The feud between the two has made the title seem very important and sought after.  With the re-emergence of Dean Ambrose who is coming off of a lengthy recovery from injury, there could be enough excitement and intrigue in this match to rival that of the Warrior/Rude match for the same title that I witnessed in ’89!

Keep an eye on things here, this match is ripe for a swerve.  Either McIntyre or Ambrose could be likely to turn on his partner during the match match, or at least play some sort of role in the finish.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, Dolph Ziggler

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

Yes, Ronda Rousey is the best thing going in the Women’s division.  That’s not saying very much, she has a low bar to clear.  I guess I better get used to seeing her, there is a strong rumor that she and Charlotte Flair are going to main event WrestleMania 35 in East Rutherford next April, and I plan to be there live.  What fun.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Finn Bálor vs. Baron Corbin

I feel like I’m missing the point with both of these competitors.  I don’t get why Bálor isn’t in the 205 division, and I don’t get why he walks around smiling all the time.  He couldn’t be less interesting to me.

Corbin looks and sounds like the worst actor in the high school play.  His promos are forced and contrived, and he doesn’t feel like he means what he says.  He is over-matched in his segments with WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle as his “constable”.

Even still, these two could put on a surprisingly good match.  The size disparity between the two men will certainly come into play, and if they sell for each other, it will look like an evenly matched fight.

Prediction: Winner, Baron Corbin

Braun Strowman (MITB holder) vs. Kevin Owens in a singles match for the Money in the Bank contract. Should Strowman lose by disqualification or count out, he will lose the contract

The best feud in the WWE is on display in this match.  These two wrestlers are playing their roles to perfection, and they are the most fun to watch on Raw right now.

Braun Strowman feels like he is just a few months away from breaking out as the face of the WWE.  He is better working as a heel, but the fans realize how good his is and won’t let him be one.  He improves with every single promo and match.  In regards to this match, his constant tormenting of Kevin Owens is nothing short of hilarious.

Kevin Owens has carried his end of the hilarity in this feud as well.  His cowardice is usually met with some sort of brutal looking physical punishment from the larger Strowman.  His fall off the top of the steel cage at Extreme Rules came with a great twist as he technically won the match, earning him this opportunity to seal the MITB contract by bellyaching to Stephanie McMahon.

I have to wonder if the winner of this match will go on to cash in later in the evening during or after the main event.  The MITB contract is always a wild-card, you never know when it will be cashed in.

Prediction: Winner and new MITB holder, Kevin Owens

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

Anybody know how many times we’ve seen this match already?  It seems like it’s been a lot!  I’m not sure what they can do to make it more interesting this time around.

Brock Lesnar’s real-life contract situation with WWE, along with his frequent appearances in UFC work well for generating heat from the fans.  Every single person who believes that Lesnar doesn’t care about the WWE and is just in it for the money is a mark.  He is one of the all-time-greats, and that doesn’t happen without hard work, dedication, and passion for his craft.  The fact that he wants to diversify his career by dabbling in high-level MMA doesn’t make him a bad person.  But the majority of us WWE fans are very gullible and are eating this narrative up!

Roman Reigns continues to suck.  He will never get better, and this storyline isn’t doing him any favors.  Let’s just hope that he doesn’t headline a fifth straight WrestleMania in 2019!

Prediction: Winner and still, WWE Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar.  Kevin Owens then cashes in his MITB contract on a prone Lesnar, and wins the Universal Championship!

If you are going to the show, come find me at the Shake Shack beforehand!

WWE WrestleMania 34 Postscript

WrestleMania 34 week is in the books.  Some critics are calling it the best four nights of wrestling in history.  That may be a bit of hyperbole, but between NXT Takeover, WrestleMania 34, Raw, and Smackdown, the WWE sure did give the fans what we want.

WrestleMania stood by itself as a very good show.  It may have fallen flat in a few places, but overall, it was certainly well worth the WWE Network subscription fee!  There were unexpected moments, thrilling matches, and the right amount of comedy throughout the evening.  The Styles/Nakamura match was an unexpected dud, but it didn’t help that the show ran so long and the crowd was exhausted before it started.  As usual, there are winners and losers coming out of WrestleMania.

WrestleMania 34 Winners

Ronda Rousey: I’ve been nothing but extremely critical of the Women’s division in the WWE for years.  It was probably a generation’s worth of calling them Diva’s, bad wrestling, and stupid gimmicks like bra-and-panties matches that put me off to the division for good.  When I heard Ronda Rousey was coming to the WWE, I had low expectations, given how poorly she left things off in UFC.  Her early promos on Raw were embarrassingly bad. Then something unexpected happened.  She put on a really good performance in her debut WWE match at WrestleMania.  Her match told a story and was very entertaining.  I’m not going to say that she can turn the Women’s division around, it is a complete mess right now.  But Rousey certainly is the best member of the division already.

Nicholas: How great is it that some random kid became the youngest champion in WWE history?  Of course, we found out on Monday that he wasn’t so random, he is the son of a WWE referee.  Either way, it was a feel-good story, and the crowd loved it.

Braun Strowman: There’s something about this guy.  He is involved in one ridiculous storyline after another.  He flips ambulances with his bare hands, he enters tag-team-battle-royals by himself (and wins them), and he picks a 10-year-old out of the audience as his tag team partner and wins a championship at WrestleMania.  In this reality-based era of wrestling, there is something to say about a wrestler who can get silly storylines like this over time after time.  Watch this space, Braun Strowman is trending upwards.

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Unlikely WWE Raw Tag Team Champs!

Corey Graves:  In just a short period of time, Graves has turned himself into the top announcer in the WWE.  His comedic wit and timing during his WrestleMania calls where impeccable.  How great was it when Ronda Rousey tagged into the match and he exclaimed “Call the cops!”?

Seth Rollins: Finally, something went this guy’s way.  After his program with Jason Jordan was scrapped due to injury, he walked away from ‘Mania with the IC title instead.  Not bad.

Brock Lesnar:  Shocked the world with a win and title retention.  Nobody would have bet against Reigns, but for some reason, they decided to keep the strap on Lesnar.  Good for him, well deserved.

The Undertaker:  Long live The Deadman!  We were lead to believe he was going to walk away after WrestleMania 33.  And with no official announcement, he returned to WrestleMania 34 to quickly destroy John Cena.  That match told a story, and an important one.  The greatest WrestleMania performer of all time still has some gas left in the tank.

John Cena: The squash loss didn’t hurt him one bit.  This was the highest profile match Cena had at WrestleMania in five years and he carried his end of it well.  His days as a full-timer are over, but he can still deliver at WrestleMania.

Daniel Bryan:  A three-year layoff due to brain damage, and he returned to The Grandest Stage of Them All with a convincing performance.  He’s too fragile to be the face of the company, but he’s back and will be featured prominently as long as he is healthy.

Shinsuke Nakamura: His match laid an egg, but nothing like a swerve and a heel turn at WrestleMania to make up for it!

The Miz:  This guy looks great, even when he loses. He truly did restore greatness to the Intercontinental Championship during his run.  He keeps getting better, don’t be surprised if he gets another WrestleMania main event in the future.

Jinder Mahal:  This guy gets a lot of criticism, but he keeps the hits coming.  I’m a fan, and I’m glad he had a WrestleMania moment as his great year continues.  The token ethnic heel wearing the US Championship is always entertaining.  Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn: These guys carried Smackdown with their months-long feud with Shane McMahon.   The feud came to an end with their loss at WrestleMania, but it was a job well done, especially by Sami who had nothing going on before his heel turn.

The Bludgeon Brothers:  Well-deserved tag-team championship victory for these two often-overlooked veterans.  They have all the talent in the world, and they will show it.

Sheamus and Cesaro:  Sold their end of the tag team championship with veteran savvy.  These guys are still at the top of their game, even without the straps.

WrestleMania 34 Losers

Elias: Deserved a match, not a quick appearance before the Cena match.

AJ Styles: Failed to deliver during his highly anticipated match.  Maybe it was placement on the card, but they put everyone in my apartment, and everyone in the Superdome to sleep during their match.  I didn’t expect much from Nakamura, but I had higher hopes for AJ.

Finn Bálor: This scrawny little punk needs to go to the 205 division, never to be heard from again.

The Usos: After waiting all of those years to finally have a match on the WrestleMania main card, they dropped the straps in a quick match.  Maybe next year, they’ll get at least 10 minutes in the ring.

The New Day: This gimmick is stale.  Time to split up.

Randy Orton:  Plodded through another WrestleMania match.  Is this guy ever gonna show some fire again?

Roman Reigns:  Is anybody in the WWE C-Suite listening?  People DO NOT LIKE ROMAN REIGNS! Time to find a new top guy!  At the very least, he didn’t win the match, so that’s good for us.

What’s Next?

The WWE is a story that never ends.  Homer couldn’t have written a longer tale than this.  Raw and Smackdown laid the foundation for what’s coming next.  A host of returning stars from injury, a few NXT callups, and the surprise return to the WWE of Bobby Lashley will freshen things up in the near-term.  Of course, the Superstar Shakeup will shift the lineups on both shows next week.

And how cool is the “Greatest Royal Rumble” card going to be.  It looks like it’s more ambitious than WrestleMania itself, and it is crazy that it takes place just three weeks from the big show!

We have all the ingredients in place for an interesting year ahead of WrestleMania 35 in East Rutherford, NJ in 2019.  Daniel Bryan vs. The Undertaker anybody?

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?

WrestleMania 32 Analysis and Predictions (part 1 of 3)

Where have you gone, John Cena?  What’s become of you Daniel Bryan?  Does anybody know what actually happened to Randy Orton?  What about the “Next Best Thing”, Seth Rollins?  What fate befell Cesaro, Luke Harper, and Neville?

WrestleMania week is here and we are about to watch a show without the majority of the top and mid-level stars that we have come to love and hate over the past few years.  The WWE roster is riddled with injuries from top to bottom headed into WrestleMania and many performers who would have likely been featured in top matches are not going to be on the card.  And that is not counting C. M. Punk who abruptly quit two years ago and who fans still chant for to this day.

Still, the roster is loaded with talent, and WrestleMania always features a high-profile match or two with part-time talents that are a throwback to a previous era so there is potential that we could be treated to a very entertaining show.  Unfortunately, there is the specter of the main event hanging over our heads.  A match which will feature a legendary icon of professional wrestling versus an opponent who is not worthy of being the top star in the company.  For a second year in a row, the WWE fans are furious that Roman Reigns was given the top babyface spot in the main event of a WrestleMania, and we are cringing at the thought that he could finally begin his long-term championship run that most of us have feared for the last two years.

While this situation has persisted for quite some time, the flames of our ire were fanned in the lead-in to WrestleMania pay-per-views and Raw episodes.  First, at the Royal Rumble, the fans were exuberant when Reigns was eliminated from the rumble match, thus stripping him of his title.  Triple H was serenated with cheers when he won the title himself.  This, despite the fact, that Triple H was booked as the heel and Reigns booked as the babyface.

Any good feelings that were present at the end of the Royal Rumble were quickly squashed as Reigns was announced to be in a triple-threat match at FastLane against Brock Lesnar and Dean Ambrose for the #1 contender spot for the championship at WrestleMania.  Suddenly, the whole main storyline for WrestleMania 32 became very predictable: Reigns would win the match at FastLane and go on to defeat Triple H for the title at ‘Mania.

Sure enough, the first part of that dire prediction came true when Reigns did indeed win his match at FastLane and will headline WrestleMania for the second year in a row.  It is likely only a matter of time before the other shoe drops and he walks off with the title on Sunday.

WrestleMania is known as the most unique show of the year on the WWE schedule.  It looks different and feels different than every other pay-per-view.  As such, there is more to look forward to than just one main event match, typically there are several main event matches that fill out the card.  There is potential for this show to be remembered for more than just a disappointing end to the main event.

From the outset, it doesn’t look like this WrestleMania is going to become an instant top-to-bottom classic like WrestleMania X-7.  There aren’t too matches that are candidates for consideration as an all-time-great such as Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker at WrestleMania 25, or Randy Savage vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat at WrestleMania III.  But hey, my WWE Network subscription is already paid for and I have a room full of people coming over to watch the show.  I’ll keep an open mind and hope for the best.

We have a card loaded with the best (and healthy) talents on the roster today, and a Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and the returning Shane McMahon so there are pieces in place that could steal the show and give us something to look forward to. We also know that The Rock will be on the show and there are rumors that Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin will be there as well.

This is the first of my three-part series featuring my expert analysis and predictions for WrestleMania 32.  Last year, my overall pick record wasn’t stellar, but I nailed the prediction that Triple H was going to beat Sting and I’m pretty proud of that.  Thank you for reading so far, and let’s see how I do this year.  Part 1 is going to feature the pre-show matches.

The Usos vs. The Dudley Boyz

A straight-forward tag team match is a safe way to get things started at WrestleMania.  While a lot of matches on a ‘Mania card tend to be over-booked or over-crowded, this matchup will showcase two pure tag teams in a grudge match without any stipulations or championships on the line.

The Dudley Boyz returned to the WWE in August of 2015 after a lengthy hiatus of roughly a decade and were immediately put in the tag team championship picture.  They were welcomed back as heroes by the fans and resumed their gimmick of a team that puts their opponents through tables.  Most of us who remember them from their heyday in the Attitude Era recall they did their best work as heels who became one of the most decorated tag teams of all time.

At first, it appeared that they were going to be back for a nostalgia run and ride a wave of good feelings towards them.  Finally, in Feburary of 2016, the Dudley Boyz did what they did best and turned heel when they attacked The Usos after a match on Raw.  For the first time since their return, the Dudley Boyz started to act like their old selves.

The Usos had an up-and-down 2015 as Jey Uso suffered a serious shoulder injury and missed six months, thus derailing their momentum.  The Usos returned in a lower spot on the card upon their return as their status as the #1 tag-team in the WWE was eclipsed by The New Day.

The lead-in to this match has somewhat been lost in the shuffle this WrestleMania season. We were given enough to see that there is bad blood between these two teams and it is clear who the good guys are and the bad guys are.

Stylistically, this match should look familiar to long-time WWE fans as The Usos have lifted most of the offensive move set from The Hardy Boyz, a long-time rival of the Dudleys.  The high-flying and risk-taking style of the Hardys formed an odd complement to the bruising and brawling style of The Dudleys in their many encounters.

I would expect this match to feature a lot of high-risk high spots off the top rope from The Usos, and at least one combatant in this match getting put through a table.  It probably won’t be given too much time to play out, so expect this to be fast-paced and quickly resolved.

Prediction: Winners, The Dudley Boyz

André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

For the third time, WrestleMania will feature a 20-man-over-the-top Battle Royal to determine the winner of the André the Giant Memorial Trophy.  This match hasn’t been too kind to its participants in its first two iterations.

Cesaro won the first one at WrestleMania XXX with a memorable spot by lifting The Big Show and tossing him out of the ring.  Following his victory, he immediately turned heel and failed to get over with the fans, even with Paul Heyman as his advocate.  He lost all momentum from his victory, didn’t really do anything noteworthy over the following year and a half, and then broke his shoulder and is currently out of action.

Last year, the Battle Royal match was bumped down to the pre-show.  The Big Show won the match, this time getting the upper hand from Cesaro and finally eliminating the crowd-favored Damien Mizdow.  He posed with the trophy for the next few weeks on TV and then went back to flip-flopping between babyface and heel, and jobbing most of the time.  Once again, the André trophy failed to give any lift to its winner.

This year, it looks like the WWE has completely given up on trying to make this a meaningful match.  The participants announced for the match look like they are only there as a consolation prize to get them on a WrestleMania card for just being on the roster.  Other than a few sentimental favorites such as The Big Show, Kane, Goldust, and Mark Henry, there is barely anybody left to root for in this match.  With such bums as Konnor, Viktor, Darren Young, Fandango, and The Social Outcasts in the match, it’s hard to pick a clear-cut winner as practically nobody in this match appears to be going anywhere with his career at this point.

I have a theory that we are going to get swerved.  The Wyatt Family has been mysteriously written off of TV lately.  Usually when that happens, they make a surprise return at an unexpected moment to cause some sort of havoc.  I think that one or more of them is going to enter the match and end up the surprise victor.

Prediction: Winner, Braun Strowman

The Total Divas (Brie Bella, Paige, Natalya, Alicia Fox and Eva Marie) vs. B.A.D. & Blonde (Naomi, Tamina, Lana, Emma and Summer Rae) in a 10-Diva tag team match

Just thinking about this match makes my stomach hurt.  This has the potential to be the worst WrestleMania match since Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole at WrestleMania XXVII.  On a scale from one to five stars, I’m going to go ahead and give it a zero right now.

Prediction: This match is going to suck so much that I can’t even think of a word to describe it.

Kalisto (c) vs. Ryback in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship

This is one of the more unusual pairings on the card and has a potential to be a surprise hit match.  Both participants are performing at a very high level in their own respect and will compete in a standard match with a title on the line.

Kalisto was a bit of a face in the crowd on the WWE roster for most of 2015.  He was one half of the token Luchador style tag-team in the WWE, The Lucha Dragons along with Sin Cara.  Despite not having much of a chance to display any kind of personality traits from behind a mask, he managed to distinguish himself at WWE TLC in December by performing his Salida Del Sol (a form of a standing sitout shiranui DDT) from the top of a ladder and through another.  He was awarded with a Slammy, and went on to a feud with Alberto Del Rio, emerging with the United States Championship.

Ryback was on another aimless run, a one-dimensional babyface hero with a repetitive catch phrase and a hulking physique.  It seemed like the crowd was tired of him until he masterfully executed a heel turn following WWE FastLane and shifted his gimmick to more of a monster heel.  This turned the crowd sufficiently against him and he instantly began to draw heat on himself.

What we are left with is a perfect contrast in style, size, and attitude between the two combatants in this match.  I would expect Ryback to display several feats of strength by tossing the smaller Kalisto around the ring like he is a paperweight.  Of course, Kalisto is going to stick with his bread and butter by executing several fast-paced high spots, showcasing his speed and agility.  If given enough time, this match could tell an interesting and entertaining story.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE United States Champion, Ryback

Later this week, part 2 will feature all of the mid-card matches.

WWE 2016 Royal Rumble Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Mark Henry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Kevin Owens

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bumpy Road to WrestleMania 32

It seems of late that many WWE bloggers have seized on the opportunity to twist the WWE’s annual “Road to WrestleMania” metaphor that is used to create hype for WrestleMania season.  I figured I might as well join in the fun, considering the state of affairs in the current WWE landscape.  Between the rash of injuries, questionable storylines, a failed “Divas Revolution”, and the horrific decision to make Roman Reigns the WWE champion, there has been a viewer exodus of WWE programming since the beginning of 2015. There is both empirical and measurable evidence that 2015 ended on a sour note for the WWE and that things aren’t looking up any time soon.  The timing couldn’t be worse as we are just about 3 months away from WrestleMania 32 at AT&T Stadium, a facility which has the potential to hold the largest crowd ever to attend a WrestleMania event.

Injuries on The Road to WrestleMania

There seems to be a WrestleMania 31 curse on anybody who won or retained a men’s championship at last year’s event at Levi’s Stadium:

  • WWE Tag Team Champions Tyson Kidd and Cesaro are both on the shelf with injuries. Tyson Kidd suffered a career-ending injury and was nearly killed in the ring when he broke his neck during a match with a careless Samoa Joe.  Cesaro injured his shoulder and is out indefinitely following surgery.
  • Daniel Bryan wasn’t able to defend the WWE InterContinental title he won at WM 31, having suffered a career-ending concussion shortly thereafter. The WWE medical staff will not clear Bryan to return and we have seen the last of the charismatic fan-favorite as an in-ring competitor.
  • John Cena won the WWE United States Championship at WrestleMania 31. In early January 2016, he announced on Twitter that he was having surgery on his shoulder.  The timeline for his return is unknown, but he won’t be back for WrestleMania 32 in an in-ring capacity for sure.
  • Seth Rollins saw his inspirational WWE World Heavyweight Championship run come to an abrupt end when he broke a knee during a match with Kane on a recent European tour. He had to vacate the title and will be lucky to be back in the ring by the time SummerSlam rolls around. This is probably the most upsetting story out of the four as his surprise championship win at WrestleMania 31 was the feel-good story of the year in the WWE.

The curse didn’t stop with the champions at WrestleMania 31, as several other talents that were prominently featured on the show were also felled with major injuries:

  • A decrepit 56-year-old Sting, who had no business in a WWE ring at his age, suffered a neck injury at WWE Night of Champions against Seth Rollins. Sting, of course, jobbed to Triple-H at WrestleMania 31.  His WWE career pay-per-view record has ended at a pathetic 0 and 2.
  • Randy Orton defeated Seth Rollins in a hotly-contested grudge match at WrestleMania 31. In late October, he badly dislocated his shoulder while taking out the trash.  The subsequent operation to repair the damage is going to keep him out for an extended period of time.  It’s unknown if he will recover in time for WrestleMania 32, but it doesn’t seem likely.

Considering the fact that none of these competitors will be physically able to compete in time for WrestleMania 32, it is going to have a drastically different look than last year’s event.  But it is going to be a big question mark as to who on the current roster, or what legends will be called out of retirement, will be featured in the main events this year.

Bad Storylines

When professional wrestling is at its best, you can find yourself immersed in a match that tells a story and you forget that it is a work.  When it is at its worst, you get bad television which not only ruins the moment, it damages the talents that are forced to participate in them, leaving them as afterthoughts in most fans minds.

While there have been a lot of poor story arcs in the WWE in the past 8-9 months, the one that stands out to me as the worst was the Dolph ZigglerSummer RaeRusevLana love square.  Not only was it bad television at the time, but it did irreparable damage to each of the four talents that will dog them for the rest of their careers.

Dolph Ziggler has floundered in the mid-card for his entire career so he pretty much broke even at the end of this debacle.  Summer Rae was already the kiss of death (see her association with Fandango) for anybody she latched on to, so she as well wasn’t harmed much.

The one who suffered the most from this mess was Rusev.  Headed into WrestleMania 31, he was among the hottest heels on the roster.  He was booked strongly with a “destroyer from an enemy country” gimmick. His pairing with Lana was one of the few instances in recent years that an association with a diva was helpful for a superstar rather than harmful.  He had an undefeated streak and was on a roll.

Once Rusev lost to John Cena at WrestleMania 31, his momentum slowed down.  He could have easily recovered had he not ended up in this storyline.  Whereas Lana made him look strong and powerful, Summer Rae made him look weak and vulnerable.  Mercifully, the angle was killed off abruptly when TMZ reported that Lana and Rusev were engaged in real life.

Rusev was once again paired with Lana, but the damage was done.  Instead of being a feared and hated destroyer, he’s now languishing in the mid-card as a member of the hastily arranged “League of Nations”.   Anytime he enters the ring, it is hard to take him seriously as someone who can win any match he is in.  In fact, he’s expected to lose.

Early in 2015, Rusev was poised to become a main event-level heel.  His entanglement in one bad storyline has destroyed his credibility.  At a time when the WWE desperately needs talent to step up to replace those on the injured list, Rusev is not currently an option to take that spot due to bad booking.  It remains to see if he can recover at all.

The Divas Revolution

I can’t remember a time as a wrestling fan that a fellow fan has ever said to me: “I can’t wait to see the Divas match at the next WWE Pay Per View”.  I also can’t find any evidence that a Divas match has ever ended a pay-per-view.  It doesn’t seem to me that the division has been much of a draw of any kind for the WWE.  Conversely, the Divas matches on the development promotion, NXT have drawn critical praise and the division has drawn the attention from senior management within the WWE.

Following the momentum of the NXT Divas division brief success, the WWE decided to double-down on the main roster WWE Divas division by calling up several NXT talents at once and calling it a “Divas Revolution”.  Several months into this Divas Revolution, not much has changed at all.  In fact, it’s likely that this Divas Revolution has done the talents more harm than good.

The Divas segments on Raw (the word Diva still drives me nuts!) are nearly unwatchable.  It is impossible to distinguish between the babyfaces and the heels.  Their matches are three minutes long and are filled with blown spots. Despite his involvement in the story with his daughter Charlotte, not even Ric Flair himself has been able to save this train wreck of a division.  Some revolution this turned out to be.

Roman Reigns as Champ

It was rumored for years that Roman Reigns was the golden boy, the chosen one that Vince McMahon personally selected as the next megastar babyface champion and face of the company.  The WWE fans made it clear during the Royal Rumble in 2015 that they were not onboard with that sentiment.  The booking decision to have Roman Reigns win the Rumble was met with a near-revolt from the Philly fans in attendance that night and the Internet crowd wasn’t much better.

The WWE wisely decided against making Reigns the champion at WrestleMania 31 and instead put the title strap on Seth Rollins.  Rollins carried the title well during his reign, slowly winning over critics as time went by.  During that same time, Reigns continued to flounder, showing no improvement whatsoever.  He still can’t carry a long promo and his matches lack basic ring psychology.

Late in 2015, the WWE made the fateful decision to make Roman Reigns the champion.  They booked him as the underdog against The Authority, reprising a tired and old storyline that goes back to the Attitude Era and Stone Cold Steve Austin’s days a champion.  The biggest problem here is that Reigns still isn’t very good and the fans aren’t buying the underdog angle at all.

Headed into WrestleMania XXX, Daniel Bryan gained a lot of momentum with his conflict with The Authority.  The big difference with Daniel Bryan was that senior WWE management really didn’t like him at all and were frustrated by the fan base that demanded he become champion.  They finally caved and made him the champion when it was apparent that the fans were not going to accept Batista in that spot.  The Roman Reigns conflict with the authority, however, has no basis in reality.  Everybody knows that this is the opposite situation and that management was behind Reigns all along.  This is not an organic movement and the fans are still not behind Reigns.

Right now, the Roman Reigns experiment has us facing a situation with a weak hand-picked champion, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Lex Luger’s run as champion over twenty years ago.  He isn’t going to approve any time soon, or probably ever, and we are likely stuck with him at the top for quite some time.

What Happens Next?

Time marches on and The Royal Rumble is upon us.  Right now we know virtually nothing about the WrestleMania 32 card of who will be featured on it.  We could see some faces from the past such as Bill Goldberg or Shawn Michaels come out of retirement to add a jolt to the card.  We could see current mid-card stars such as Kevin Owens be called on to carry main event level matches.  We could see NXT talents such as Finn Bálor called up to the main roster.  No matter what happens, all we can do is hope for the best headed into WrestleMania season, and hopefully get a turnaround from what has been a big downturn in the quality of the WWE product as of late.