WrestleMania 33 Analysis and Predictions Part 2: The Smackdown Matches

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

Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, AJ Styles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winners, The Miz and Maryse

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Baron Corbin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, Bray Wyatt

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

 

WWE Elimination Chamber Analysis and Predictions

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

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

Luke Harper vs. Randy Orton

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, John Cena

 

WWE Royal Rumble Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, AJ Styles

2017 Royal Rumble Match for a World Championship Match at WrestleMania

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

No Chance in Hell

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

Just Maybe…

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

The Unknown Competitors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If I Were a Betting Man…

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

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

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

WWE Survivor Series Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still Cruiserweight Champion, The Brian Kendrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still Intercontinental Champion, The Miz

Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Brock Lesnar

WWE SummerSlam Analysis and Predictions

The 29th annual WWE SummerSlam pay-per-view is upon us at a time of major change in the WWE.  Between the explosion of content on the WWE Network and the brand-split between Raw and Smackdown, which is now live, it takes an overwhelming amount of time to keep up with everything that is going on in the WWE.  On that note, an interesting trend started at WrestleMania earlier in the year; pay-per-views no longer have to be off the air at 11PM Eastern Time and can stretch longer than in years past.  I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing because a wrestling show that is longer than four hours could lend itself to less than stellar content.

On paper, this card is superior to that of WrestleMania 32.  A lot of the main event-level talents that were injured in the spring are back in action and will compete on Sunday.  There were also a lot of NXT call ups since ‘Mania and many will also be featured on the SummerSlam card.  It also features a large number of straight-up singles matches and doesn’t really have any over-booked, over-crowded matches that tend to be formulaic and somewhat underwhelming in execution.  With any luck, this could be the pay-per-view of the year.  Let’s take a look at the card.

John Cena vs. AJ Styles

This has turned into one of the more entertaining feuds of the year.  AJ Styles burst on to the WWE scene as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble and has been featured in a high-profile match in every pay-per-view since.  At first, he didn’t find a good footing as a babyface, but since his heel turn in the early summer, he has become one of the top performers on the WWE card.

John Cena was the perfect mark to use for Style’s heel turn.  The interactions between the two have been compelling and their shoot-style promos against each other have set the stage for another emotional match.  Styles’ “Beat Up Cena” catchphrase is genius in its simplicity, and Cena has countered with brilliant responses to it. This will likely be the “blow-off” match for this feud so I’d expect both performers to want to deliver a memorable performance on Sunday.

Prediction: Winner, AJ Styles

Rusev (c) (with Lana) vs. Roman Reigns in a singles match for the WWE United States Championship

This is a clash between two very high-profile developmental talents who have had roller coaster careers in the WWE, and who are both headed in different directions.

Rusev made his debut as a monster heel and rode an impressive undefeated streak for almost an entire calendar year as a rookie.  He subsequently was felled by injuries and damaged by being placed in an ill-advised love triangle angle with the dreaded career-killer, Summer Rae.  After some down time, Rusev was given his original gimmick back and has run with that opportunity, regaining his momentum.  He plays well off of the natural irony of being a foreigner with the WWE United Stated Championship.

While Rusev is on his way to the top of the WWE, Roman Reigns is sinking like a stone.  He was once the WWE golden child, being put in two consecutive WrestleMania main event matches.  Following an embarrassingly short run as champion, and an even more embarrassing drug-related suspension, Reigns is rapidly moving down the card.  This demotion is well deserved, as he was one of the weakest WWE champions we have seen since the Psycho Sid and Lex Luger days.  Vince McMahon is right more often than he is wrong, but when he picked Reigns to be his top guy, he made one of the biggest miscalculations of his storied career.  Luckily for the fans, the WWE got the hint and took Reigns out of the main event picture.  With any luck, his career will be relegated to doing jobs during dark matches before TV tapings and we don’t have to see him on TV for much longer.

I expect Rusev to carry this match as he is the superior in-ring performer.  He has a lot of subtle mannerisms and maneuvers in the ring that make him deliver a convincing performance.  On the other hand, his opponent, Roman Reigns clearly missed the “Ring Psychology 101” class when he was in NXT developmental and has many holes in his game.  His matches lack continuity and he never seems to know when or how to sell, or when to make a babyface comeback.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE United States Champion, Rusev

The New Day (Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods) (c) vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson in a tag team match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

The New Day have had a stranglehold on the WWE Tag Team Championship for an entire calendar year.  They used a heel gimmick to eventually get over as a babyface team, exploiting the “Freebird Rule” to share the titles amongst the three of them.  Like them or not, you have to respect the fact that they found a way to stay on top of a very crowded tag team division for so long.

Gallows and Anderson have been solid since their debut in the WWE earlier this year.  Buoyed by their success in Japan and their affiliation with AJ Styles, they earned a title shot at SummerSlam in a relatively short period of time.  They stay in their lanes as heels, and play the role well.  Especially as they participated in a worked-injury angle with Big E that has him sidelined from the match as part of the current angle between the teams.

It is hard to say if Big E will somehow make a comeback and help his New Day teammates.  Or, conversely if he shows up and turns on them.  Or, if he just doesn’t show up at all.  His unknown status makes this match a bit of a wildcard in terms of predictions.  If Big E doesn’t show up, I would expect a technically proficient match between these two teams.  If he does show up, expect him to have a hand in the outcome of the match.  Either way, it is time for a new team at the top of the WWE Tag Team division.

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

Sasha Banks (c) vs. Charlotte in a singles match for the WWE Women’s Championship; Dana Brooke is barred from ringside

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens

New Jersey’s own Enzo Amore, and his tag team partner Big Cass were over with the fans before they even made the main WWE roster.  During their Raw debut, the crowd chanted their entire set of catchphrases in unison, having learned it from watching them in NXT.  They have made the most of their opportunity to draw attention to themselves as an odd-couple team with comedy flair.  They are going to have to work on new material as some of their lines are about to get pretty stale, but if they keep improving, they have very high upside potential.

Chris Jericho is in the middle of yet another nostalgia run and his act is wearing very thin.  He was never the best in WCW or in the WWE during the Attitude Era, and he isn’t fooling anybody now.   In this “New Era” of the WWE, it is time for him to be put out to pasture.  Kevin Owens deserves better than this matchup and really should have been given a singles match. This team is being set up to fail as both men are heels that clearly don’t like each other and will likely turn on one other before the match is over, thus costing them a victory. This finish is pretty easy to see coming.

Prediction: Winners, Enzo Amore and Big Cass

The Miz (c) (with Maryse) vs. Apollo Crews in a singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

The Miz has been a steady hand as a heel that anchors the mid-card, he will say or do anything to annoy the crowd and draw heat to himself.  With the addition of his equally annoying wife, Maryse at his side, he has become one of the most dependable bad guys the WWE has had in quite some time.  He can work a promo or a match with just about any babyface on the roster and make them look good.

Apollo Crews is still looking for his niche after his NXT call-up to the main roster.  He is using a classic whitemeat babyface gimmick which makes him a good opponent for The Miz.  I’m not convinced that there is room for this type of gimmick in the WWE anymore and would think that he would need some sort of an edge if he really wants to reach a high level of success.

This match will give Crews a chance to showcase his abilities and make a statement.  The Miz has been in many high profile matches in his career and I expect him to hold up his end of what should be an athletic competition.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, The Miz

Carmella, Becky Lynch and Naomi vs. Natalya, Alexa Bliss and TBD in a six-woman tag team match

This match is going to suck.  Even if Eva Marie hadn’t been suspended for using drugs this week, this match would still have sucked.  It’s not like they can even use Paige, she got suspended for using drugs this week, too!  Maybe all of this drug abuse explains why women’s wrestling is so bad in WWE!

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton

Brock Lesnar is coming off of what should have been one of the most successful events of his career, a win over Mark Hunt at UFC 200 in July.  He is the only athlete that the WWE has allowed to compete in the UFC while still under contract.  It was a huge risk for Lesnar to take, it could have ruined his reputation as “The Conqueror” had he lost his MMA match against Hunt.  He dominated the match, but we learned shortly thereafter that he was using performance enhancing drugs, just as his opponent had accused him of doing.  This is pretty much the worst case scenario for the WWE, the UFC, and Lesnar himself.  Now we all know that he is a complete fraud and cheated his way to the top.  He’ll probably be suspended from the UFC for two years and he will forever lose face with the WWE fan base who wanted to believe he was a natural monster.

Randy Orton is back after a sustained layoff due to a badly injured shoulder.  He missed all of WrestleMania season and is likely itching to regain his spot at the top of the WWE card.  This is a manufactured feud that didn’t grow organically.  Neither man had been on WWE TV for a while when it was announced they would face off at SummerSlam, the narrative of the match being that they came up together from the same developmental territory 15 years ago but never faced each other in a high profile match.

I expect this to be the match of the night.  These two are consummate professionals and are two of the most athletic men on the roster.  The build-up that “It only takes one RKO” will play out as Orton will likely attempt to steal a quick win at several points during the match by trying to use his signature move.  Brock Lesnar is a freak of nature (even if he used drugs to reach his athletic peak) and always delivers a spot that reminds the crowd just how strong and quick he is.

Prediction: Winner, Brock Lesnar

Finn Bálor vs. Seth Rollins in a singles match for the WWE Universal Championship

This match will have a significant historical meaning as it is the first time that a new WWE Universal Champion will be crowned.  This is the first time the WWE has issued a major championship in over a generation, and the winner of this match will be the answer to a trivia question for years to come.

Seth Rollins is the best heel on the roster today.  He managed to take any goodwill he had with the fans after returning from injury and dismissed it immediately, thus remaining on their bad side. He looks like he hasn’t missed a step since his return, and he is guaranteed to step it up in a prominent spot like this at the 2nd biggest pay-per-view of the year.

Finn Bálor will be the luckiest guy of the night come Sunday.  He has accomplished very little in his WWE career, his only successes in the lesser-known New Japan Pro Wrestling circuit, as well as a run as NXT champion.  He was just called up to the main roster about a month ago, and has yet to prove himself on the biggest professional wrestling stage in the world.  He is undersized (topping out at a billed 190lbs), and is a one-trick-pony in the ring, relying on high-risk maneuvers from the top rope to gain credibility as a wrestler.  His split-personality gimmick in which he changes from a regular guy to a painted “Demon King” is cliché at best, and highly derivative of several other superstars we’ve seen in the past such as Mick Foley and Kane.  Bálor should enjoy this main event while he is in it, because it is straight to the mid-card for him after SummerSlam.

Prediction: Winner, and the first ever WWE Universal Champion, Seth Rollins

Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler in a singles match for the WWE World Championship

Dean Ambrose continues on as one of the unlikeliest of WWE Champions.  He doesn’t have the look, nor the technical proficiency we have seen from champions in the past.  However, his attitude and hard work have resonated with the fans.  He refused to get lost in the shuffle when The Shield broke up and Roman Reigns was given an ill-fated monster push.  Ambrose made the most of the opportunities he had to showcase his talents and the fans took notice.  He is now in the middle of an impressive run, and I’d expect it to continue after SummerSlam.

Dolph Ziggler was the surprise number one contender for the WWE Championship headed into SummerSlam.  His career has long since plateaued, and he was a pretty consistent jobber over the past few years, mostly brought in to make heels look good.  It looks like he is getting one last shot at a main event before he gets pushed back down the card.

Both men are working this angle as “tweeners”, neither emerging as a strong babyface or heel.  Instead, they both have cut shoot-style promos against each other, built up some heat, and have let the crowd decide who to cheer for. If the Orton/Lesnar match is going to be the match of the night, this will be a close second.  It is built around two guys with a score to settle and the WWE Championship on the line.  What can be better than that?

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, Dean Ambrose

WWE Money in the Bank Analysis and Predictions

This year’s WWE Money in the Bank pay-per-view card looks to be potentially very exiting.  On the heels of the “New Era” NXT call ups following WrestleMania 32, the MITB card is indicative of all the creative improvements the WWE has shown these past few months.  It will feature matches between young and veteran talent, and will showcase the resurgent tag team division.

I had the opportunity to attend the last PPV, WWE Extreme Rules, in person in Newark, NJ in May.  It was good to get my finger on the pulse of what the live crowd is thinking these days.  One thing for sure is that Roman Reigns, and anything that has to do with Roman Reigns, is roundly despised by the crowd.  Reigns’ cousins, The Usos, who have enjoyed a babyface run for the entirety of their WWE careers were loudly booed by the crowd when they entered the ring.  Reigns, of course, continues to flounder as WWE Champion and the Jersey crowd made sure to disrespect him at every chance.  Even when he hit a move that made him look like he knew what he was doing, the crowd serenated him with a “You still can’t wrestle” chant.  When Seth Rollins made his triumphant return to the WWE following Reigns’ match, the crowd gave its loudest cheer of the night as Rollins planted Reigns with The Pedigree.  On the way out of the building, I spoke with several fans who were genuinely upset that AJ Styles failed to win the match and capture the belt.

While Reigns continues to bungle his opportunity to be a babyface champion, the rest of the talents around him are carrying pay-per-view cards and I have high hopes that MITB will be among the best we see in 2016.  I’ll break down the matches and explain why.

Apollo Crews vs. Sheamus

Apollo Crews is one of the latest NXT call ups and was packaged in a classic whitemeat-babyface gimmick with the billing that he is a five-tool superstar.  I don’t know exactly what the five-tools are (I’m guessing strength, size, speed, charisma, and verbal skills?) but he is reminiscent of a young Tito Santana or Ricky Steamboat.  I don’t know if this type of gimmick still has legs in today’s WWE, but so far the crowd has seemed receptive to him and he has a good opportunity to showcase his skills against the veteran Sheamus.

I like the somewhat realistic angle that sparked the rivalry between the two, as the veteran Sheamus appears to be threatened by the influx of new talent on the roster and wants to protect his spot.  This is a real-life concern among WWE veterans as older talents are constantly cycled through in favor of new ones.  In this case, I would assume that a dependable performer like Sheamus is safe for a while, but it makes for an entertaining storyline.

Hard to say exactly what to expect out of this match as it is the first time that Crews will get a chance to work a one-on-one match on a PPV.  With any luck, his style will complement that of the brawling style of Sheamus and this will be an entertaining match.

Prediction: Winner, Sheamus

Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin

This running feud between Ziggler and Baron is a good example of WWE creative sometimes missing the mark.  Baron Corbin had all the momentum in the world, when he was the surprise victor in the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32.  He was immediately put into a feuding program with Dolph Ziggler and that was things started to go off the rails.  Ziggler’s career, having plateaued years ago, is pretty much only good as a jobber these days, and his duty should be to put other talents over.  Over the course of their program, both Ziggler and Corbin have traded victories which I think is a mistake.  If the WWE wants to build up Corbin as a legitimate heel, the best thing for him to do is regularly crush Ziggler, thus setting him up for programs with members of the upper card.  This so-called “50/50” booking isn’t helping either guy look good.

With any luck things turn around for Corbin this weekend, he emerges victorious over the hapless Ziggler, and regains some of his lost momentum in his pursuit of relevancy.

Prediction: Winner, Baron Corbin

Charlotte and Dana Brooke vs. Natalya and Becky Lynch

My buddy took a picture of me sleeping during the women’s match at WWE Extreme Rules and posted it on Facebook.  I wasn’t embarrassed at all, in fact, I would have been more embarrassed had he posted a picture of me actually paying attention to a WWE women’s match.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Rusev (c) (with Lana) vs. Titus O’Neil in a singles match for the WWE United States Championship

Rusev has been on a roller coaster ride during his WWE run, having been at the top as a monster heel in a major program with John Cena, and at the very bottom in a love-square storyline between himself, Lana, Dolph Ziggler, and the career-killing Summer Rae.  Luckily, someone in WWE creative realized what they had done to a talent that they had worked so hard to create, and reunited Rusev with Lana and gave him back his monster-heel-from-a-foreign-country gimmick.  He even re-captured his US Championship at WWE Extreme Rules.  With any luck, he can shake the fan’s memories of the horrid angle with Summer Rae, and charge back towards the top of the card as a heat-seeking bad guy.

Titus O’Neil is back on WWE TV after a bizarre suspension following an incident between himself and Vince McMahon shortly after Daniel Bryan’s retirement speech in Seattle, Washington.  He had enjoyed some marginal success on WWE TV prior to his suspension, but really wasn’t ever given enough TV time to connect with the fans and let us know who he really is.

This should be a physical match between these two big men.  I would expect Titus to really go the extra mile now that he has a rare title shot in a singles match on a pay-per-view. Rusev always delivers in his matches, and I would expect him to be on the attack against O’Neil.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE United States Champion, Rusev

The New Day (Big E and Kofi Kingston) (c) (with Xavier Woods) vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson vs. Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. The Vaudevillains (Aiden English and Simon Gotch) in a Fatal 4-Way match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

As I eluded to earlier, the WWE has made a significant investment in its tag team division of late.  The WWE is at its best when it has a strong and diverse tag-team division as it gives performers a lot more options to express themselves creatively, both in the ring and when cutting promos.

The four teams featured in this match are all riding hot streaks, and should be able to tell a compelling story.  The New Day have been the top faction in the WWE since re-capturing the Tag Team Championships at Summer Slam in 2015.  Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson have been well received by the fans since they came over from NJPW just over a month ago.  The Vaudvellians have somewhat of an odd gimmick, but they managed to get over as heels and will certainly generate a lot of heel heat during this match.  Big Cass and Enzo Amore have shown a great deal of potential both as individuals and as a team.  They have a great look and both have great mic skills.

Fatal 4-Way matches always have the potential to be awkward as there are a lot of spots to manage with eight competitors in a match.  I predict that this match will be well-paced and will give each team a chance to showcase their talents and get over with the fans.

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

John Cena vs. AJ Styles

For fans of wrestling circuits outside of the WWE, this match is a long time in the making.  Both men, in their late 30’s have been regarded as the best in their respective companies for years but have never faced each other in a WWE ring.  It’s almost surprising that this match wasn’t saved for a bigger event such as SummerSlam but it should be one of the best matches on the card at MITB.

AJ Styles stumbled a bit out of the gate in WWE.  He was received well by the fans, and then proceeded to job to an over-the-hill Chris Jericho, and then lose twice to Roman Reigns.  Fortunately, a well-executed heel turn a few weeks ago, along with his new program with John Cena, should really help him turn things around.

John Cena is always dependable in big spots.  He works well with new talents on the WWE roster, whether they are NXT rookies or newcomer veterans such as AJ Styles.  His matches deliver excitement more often than not, and he will surely be motivated to look strong in this match, having missed an extended period of time with a shoulder injury.

This match should be very entertaining and should feature a lot of drama and some high spots.  If anything, AJ Styles really needs a clean victory here if he is ever to be taken seriously as someone who can win in WWE.  Cena has a history of laying down when the time is right to get another talent over, I would expect tonight to be no different.

Prediction: Winner, AJ Styles

Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro vs. Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens vs. Alberto Del Rio in a Money in the Bank ladder match for a WWE World Heavyweight Championship match contract

This is one of the most anticipated matches of the year on the WWE schedule.  Not only is a MITB match good for some thrills, but it sets up a storyline that can persist for the better part of a year, as the winner can attempt to steal the WWE Championship at any time.  Of course, the greatest cash-in of all time saw Seth Rollins steal the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 31 in 2015.  It’s hard to say what will come of this year’s MITB match winner, but the possibilities are endless for each of the competitors.

  • Chris Jericho is the least likely to win. He has delivered a number of dud matches since his latest full-time return to WWE.  Chances of him ever recapturing the WWE title are pretty much zero and he should consider hanging up his boots sometime soon.
  • Cesaro is a persistent fan favorite, especially since his return following a shoulder injury. Still, he isn’t championship material, and the WWE would really have to make some changes to his character and persona to ever get him into the position to be the face of the company.
  • Sami Zayn has built up a bit of a cult following since his return from injury (there sure were a lot of guys on the injured list lately), and his feud with Kevin Owens has been a lot of fun to watch. Still, it’s unlikely that Zayn is going to get a WWE title shot anytime soon, it is just too early in his WWE career for that kind of push.
  • Dean Ambrose is one of the WWE’s top earners and is very popular with the fans. If there is a dark horse in this match, it is Dean Ambrose.  He is the kind of guy who the WWE could make into at least a transitional champion for a short while.  An Ambrose win could also potentially set up a three-way feud between himself and the other former members of the Shield, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins.
  • Alberto Del Rio is a former WWE Champion himself and the WWE is always very high on his potential, especially due to his marketability with the WWE’s Hispanic audience. He has been a bit aimless these past few months, a MITB contract would make him interesting to watch again.
  • Kevin Owens, in my opinion, is the favorite to win this match. He is a genuine heel and an offensive innovator.  He has built up a great deal of name recognition, and a lot of critical acclaim for his in-ring workrate and ability to cut top promos.  He would carry the WWE Championship very well if he were to win MITB.

Although those are my views as to who the favorites and the underdogs should be, it wouldn’t surprise me if any one of them won the match and were to run with the opportunity to hold the MITB contract.

Prediction: Winner, Kevin Owens

Roman Reigns (c) vs. Seth Rollins in a Singles match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

I’m getting tired of blogging about how bad Roman Reigns is, so I’m not going to repeat myself this time.  Just look back to the beginning of my WWE blog if you want to know more.  There are enough other guys on the roster who can take his spot and run with the WWE Championship, it is time to put this nonsense to an end and give the belt back to someone else.

Seth Rollins, who got the call up to the WWE roster at the same time as Reigns, is immeasurably more talented than the current champion.  In 2015, he was in the midst of one of the best years we’ve seen from a WWE superstar in quite some time when he was felled with a badly broken knee in November.  He missed an extended period of time and should pick up right where he left off, as the top heel in the company.  He never lost the championship, and should be primed to go in his first match back.

Seth Rollins will have to carry the inferior Roman Reigns if this match is going to be interesting at all, but if the result is what the WWE fans want to see, it could be remembered as one of the best main events for quite some time.

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

 

WWE Payback Analysis and Predictions

The first Pay Per View after WrestleMania 32 is being billed as “The first pay-per-view of a New Era”.  I suppose they want us to think that a lot of things have changed lately and that is why this is a new era.  On one hand, we have a lot of new faces on Raw over the past few weeks and months, and that is a positive development.  On the other, we still have Roman Reigns being force fed to us as the babyface hero, and there is nothing new and exciting about that.

A month after WrestleMania 32 and it seems as though most of the show existed in a one-night vacuum. Consider:

  • The stipulation of the Undertaker/Shane McMahon match was that if Shane won, he’d gain control of Raw and The Undertaker would be done. So, Undertaker won the match, Shane took over control of Raw the next night anyway, and we haven’t seen the Undertaker.  You have to wonder if this was always the plan, or if the WWE was telling the truth when they said that the overwhelming response to Shane on social media was why he was running Raw.
  • Zach Ryder had a surprise WrestleMania moment by winning the Intercontinental title in a ladder match. The crowd went wild, he celebrated in the ring with his dad, and the feel-good story came to a crashing halt the next night when he jobbed to The Miz and lost his championship in about 24 hours.  The guy didn’t even make it to the next pay-per-view as champ!
  • Triple H hasn’t been seen on TV since he lost the title in the main event at WrestleMania. Shouldn’t he have at least shown up and talked some smack?
  • AJ Styles lost in a critically derided match to Chris Jericho, and somehow he became the #1 contender for the WWE title at Payback shortly thereafter.

Of course, as a wrestling fan, you are supposed to suspend reality, logic, and reasoning and become immersed in the show and just let it happen.  But, wouldn’t a little bit of continuity in the storylines kill the WWE creative team?  Some of these things are just head-scratchers.

Either way, if this truly is a new era, we have a chance to see how it all plays out in a new pay-per-view.  The names on the card certainly very different than the names on pay-per-views this time last year, so at the very least, we have something different to watch.  Here is my expert analysis and picks for each meaningful match.

The Miz (c) (with Maryse) vs. Cesaro in a Singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

As much of a fan of The Miz as I am, I never enjoy when a guy who can stand on his own is paired with his real-life wife in a storyline.  He doesn’t need help drawing heat from the crowd, he is a natural heel that is easy to hate.  This pairing with the returning Maryese isn’t going to make him look any better than he already does.

The fan favorite Cesaro returned to Raw the night after WrestleMania to a hero’s welcome after a lengthy absence due to a nasty shoulder injury.  Maybe I’m forgetting something, but I can’t remember anything he really did to distinguish himself before he got hurt, and I can’t figure out why the crowd is so behind him.  It’s like the WWE fans want him to be the next Daniel Bryan for some reason that I can’t decipher.

I don’t have very high hopes for this match, Cesaro isn’t a technical master and often blows spots.  Maryese is certainly going to interject herself into the match in an annoying way, and nobody is going to come out of it looking very good at all.

Prediction: Winner and still Intercontinental Champion, The Miz

Dean Ambrose vs. Chris Jericho

Both of these guys are coming off of a very disappointing WrestleMania.  Jericho won a snoozefest against AJ Styles in the second match of the night, nearly putting the 101,000 fans in the audience to sleep in the process.  Ambrose was given a chance to make a career-defining statement against Brock Lesnar in a street fight.  He produced a match that was short and uninteresting, and it generated very little chatter.  It was not much of a career-defining statement for Mr. Ambrose.

These two were hastily thrown into a program via an argument over who got to host a talk show.  This is certainly the type of angle that lends itself nicely to a grudge match.  It remains to be seen if any of the heat that these two are carrying into the match is going to translate into something interesting to watch.  Jericho is about ten years past his prime and hasn’t put on a decent match since his latest return.  Ambrose has shown flashes of brilliance (his WrestleMania match against Lesnar notwithstanding), but he doesn’t have much to work with against a decrepit Chris Jericho.

Prediction: Winner, Chris Jericho

Charlotte (c) (with Ric Flair) vs. Natalya (with Bret Hart) in a Singles match for the WWE Women’s Championship

The WWE thankfully dropped the term “Diva” for good and that is the best thing that’s happened to women’s wrestling in recent memory.  Unfortunately, the quality of the women’s matches is still going to be awful.  The one bright spot we have to look forward to is the return to TV by Bret Hart for the first time since he announced that he was suffering from prostate cancer.  Let’s hope The Hitman is recovering well and looks good when we see him.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady vs. The Vaudevillains in a Tag team match to determine the #1 contender for the WWE Tag Team Championship

For the masses of fans who chant “N-X-T! N-X-T!” at live events, this match is for you.  Both of these teams have made a splash on the main roster, both of them making their first appearances on WWE TV after WrestleMania, and then making it to the finals of the #1 contender tournament for the WWE Tag Team Championship.

The Vaudevillains are working some sort of retro gimmick, with an overly-produced ring entrance, and an authentic Vaudeville-esque attire.  They haven’t had too much of a chance to show much personality yet, and it is hard to tell if they are heels or babyfaces.

Enzo Amore and Colin Cassady are working a classic gimmick of an “opposite” tag team.  They look nothing alike but manage to jell together as a team.  They built up such an avid following in NXT that the crowd chanted along with their cadence during their ring entrance during their Raw debut.  Anchored by Bergen County, New Jersey’s own Enzo Amore, this team is already a charismatic presence on the WWE main stage.

No telling what this match is going to be like, but these two teams are young and hungry and will certainly going to try to make a good first impression on a WWE pay-per-view and set themselves up for a championship run in the near future.

Prediction: Winners, Enzo Amore and Colin Casssady

Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin

The WWE went for a surprise moment when Baron Corbin won the André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania.  Corbin wasn’t even announced for the match; he was a surprise entrant representing the NXT brand.  He eliminated Kane and captured the trophy for himself.  It’s hard to imagine a better WWE debut moment.  Corbin rode his momentum to the next night at Raw and cut a great heel promo, totally turning the fans off to him.

Corbin is being fed Dolph Ziggler in his singles pay-per-view debut.  This is a good chance for him to show what he can do in a one-on-one match.  Ziggler is an experienced hand who oversells his opponent’s offense and will likely make Corbin look strong in victory.

Prediction: Winner, Baron Corbin

Sami Zayn vs. Kevin Owens

This has potential to be the match of the night.  In fact, it is the only match on the card that has me genuinely excited.  The storyline behind their feud is based on their actual real-life history together as friends and travel companions on the independent circuit.  The angle was built as a slow burn beginning in NXT last year and it has finally resulted in a match between the two on a pay-per-view.  In a way it is a shame this match wasn’t on the WrestleMania card.

Sami Zayn immediately got over with the fans as a babyface.  I don’t see the attraction, but the crowd has taken to his hokey entrance music and strut.  Kevin Owens is a natural heel and an innovator in the ring.  He is so good at his job that the crowds have no choice but to cheer him anyway.  He has performed at a very high level over the course of the last year he has been on the main roster.

This match should tell a fascinating and dramatic story.  Owens and Zayn have been in the ring together for years and should have a good chemistry with each other.  Expect lots of dramatic moments and near-falls.  This will be a classic good guy vs. bad guy grudge match.  Hopefully it won’t be the last matchup between the two.

Prediction: Winner, Kevin Owens

Vince McMahon to announce his decision regarding Shane McMahon running Raw

Like I said earlier, this storyline doesn’t make much sense.  By way of his loss at WrestleMania to The Undertaker, Shane is supposed to be gone.  It’s somewhat intriguing that he’s stayed on WWE TV for so long.  It was initially believed that he was brought back to the WWE just as an emergency fill-in to give The Undertaker a credible opponent at WrestleMania, and that he was going to return to his day job after the match was done.  Not much is known about exactly why Shane left WWE seven years ago, but he certainly did branch out on his own and it is not publicly known if he plans to resume his career, or stay with the WWE on a more permanent basis.

This announcement will probably turn into some kind of angle, likely with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, possibly even leading up to a match at the next pay-per-view.  Maybe the next match will have another useless stipulation attached to it.

Roman Reigns (c) vs. AJ Styles in a Singles match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

If this match is representative of “The New Era” in the WWE, please somebody take me back to The Attitude Era!  There are a lot of things wrong with this match, it’s almost hard to decide where to begin.  Let me give it a shot:

  • AJ Styles is clearly a babyface. Why did they book Roman Reigns against a babyface when he is supposed to be a babyface himself?  Wouldn’t they be doing Reigns a favor by booking him against a heel instead?
  • How did AJ Styles suddenly get booked in a main event? He just got to the WWE in January, now he’s a main-eventer?
  • Why should I care about a guy who couldn’t even beat Chris Jericho at WrestleMania?
  • Whatever WWE writer that came up with Roman’s new “I’m not a bad guy, I’m not a good guy, I’m just the guy” catch phrase needs to be fired and blackballed from the professional wrestling industry.
  • Roman even gave up his somewhat cool ring entrance through the crowd that originated during his days with The Shield and now comes down the ramp. Yet, he still wears that stupid flak jacket.

I could go on all day, but I am not impressed with either of the two and I’m not sure who to even care about in this match.  There will likely be some sort of involvement from Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows in this match as they are working an angle that leads us to believe they are about to swerve their friend, AJ Styles.

If anything, maybe we all get lucky and something interesting does happen.  Like AJ Styles does a heel turn and wins the match due to outside interference from Gallows and Anderson.  Or Reigns does a heel turn by joining forces by Gallows and Anderson and gains an underhanded victory.

No matter what happens, don’t expect the wrestling to be any good.  Roman Reigns has yet to look good in a singles match in a main event.  His match against Triple H at WrestleMania was average at best, and that was because he was in the ring with one of the all-time greats.

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

WrestleMania 32 Analysis and Predictions (part 3 of 3)

The first WrestleMania in 1985 was based around one main event featuring Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.  There were other matches on the card and several celebrity appearances, but the main event was really the only draw that made the event successful.  In order for WrestleMania to grow into the global phenomenon that is capable of selling out football stadiums that it is today, it had to feature more than just one main event to make the card special.

WrestleMania 32 will feature three main event-level matches that have been heavily hyped and advertised these past few months.  They will feature an interesting mix of legends who wrestle part time, full time competitors, the boss’ son, and a featured babyface that has been panned by the critics over the past two years.  Any one of these three matches has potential to be top-10 all-time great WrestleMania match, or perhaps even take a shot at being the best ever.

This is my final of three blog posts on WrestleMania 32 and it will feature my expert analysis and picks for the main event matches.  If you are going to be betting on any of these matches, you’ll want to pay close attention!

Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar in a No Holds Barred Street Fight

Any match with Brock Lesnar in the WWE is a main event.  Brock is a once-in-a-generation gifted athlete and is among the best in-ring workers we have ever seen in the WWE.  He looks like was chiseled out of stone and displays feats of strength in his matches that are almost unbelievable.  Unfortunately, he is not in the WWE title hunt this year like he deserves, but he is still going to put on a wrestling clinic at WrestleMania 32.  Of course, always at his side, his advocate Paul Heyman is certainly going to cut an entertaining promo during the show that is going to bring the crowd to their feet.

His opponent, Dean Ambrose, has been a surprise success on his own since The Shield broke up two years ago.  When he first came up, it seemed like he was destined to wrestle as a heel for his entire career but the crowd has taken to his “lunatic fringe” gimmick and he has worked in several pay-per-view main events as a solo competitor.  This match is a better spot for Ambrose than it is for Lesnar as it really gives Ambrose a chance to elevate his status with the WWE fans if he delivers an unforgettable performance.  A lot of critics have been calling for Ambrose to make a career-defining statement in this match and I think he has a chance of doing it.

The build for this match has been entertaining.  The creative angle of making it a street fight was done to give Ambrose the appearance of having a chance to win as there is no way he could beat brock in a straight wrestling match.  Ambrose has filmed several vignettes with hardcore legends such as Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie, with each of them “passing the hardcore torch” to the younger Ambrose by giving him their favorite weapons of choice.  Of course, Ambrose isn’t going to saw Lesnar’s arm off with Charlie’s Chainsaw, but it was certainly funny watching those segments.

This match is going to be wild and will feature Ambrose and Lesnar using all kind of prop weapons against each other.  It is going to be a stiff looking all-out brawl between the two and it could steal the show if these two can bring the best out of each other.

Prediction: Winner, Brock Lesnar

Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match; if Shane wins, he will get control of Raw and Undertaker will be barred from competing at WrestleMania again.

This is the match that nobody saw coming headed into the final stretch of WrestleMania season.  The memories of a lackluster FastLane pay-per-view were quickly erased when on the opening segment of the next night’s Raw, Shane McMahon made his return to WWE programming after a seven-year absence and was put in a high-stakes match against the Undertaker at WrestleMania in a Hell in a Cell.  This caught almost all observers off guard as almost nobody guessed that McMahon was going to be this year’s opponent for The Undertaker.

Shane McMahon is competing for the opportunity to take control of the company away from his father and sister.  The narrative for this match was somewhat hastily implemented and it is almost bizarre in the sense as it is somewhat unclear what The Undertaker’s motivation was to compete against McMahon, but when the stipulation was added that if he loses to McMahon he can no longer compete at future WrestleManias, it gave him something to fight for.

Shane McMahon will always be admired by the fans because his resume of in-ring accomplishments from the Attitude Era are staggering.  He shed the notion that he was only part of the show because he was the boss’ son by taking death-defying bumps in almost all of his matches.  He displayed a surprising amount of talent and wrestling ability for someone who didn’t look like an athlete.  His willingness to lay his body on the line and take risks earned him respect and admiration from all observers of the sport.

The Undertaker has the best WrestleMania resume of any performer in WWE history.  Despite the fact that his legendary winning streak ended at WrestleMania XXX, he still boasts a 22-1 win/loss record at WrestleMania and has set a mark that will likely never be matched.  His WrestleMania matches, especially towards the end of his streak, would look and feel more important than the actual WWE title matches on the same card.  His match against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXV is widely recognized as the greatest WrestleMania match of all time.  There aren’t enough superlatives to describe The Deadman’s WrestleMania accomplishments.

The Hell in a Cell stipulation will add an element of surprise and danger to this match.  The HIAC structure became legendary when The Undertaker threw Mankind off the top of the cage in one of the most iconic moments in WWE history.  Nobody has ever been able to top that moment, but HIAC matches when done well have told dramatic and brutal stories.  Given the fact that Shane McMahon and The Undertaker are the participants in this particular HIAC match, it is a safe bet that this match could become an instant classic and be remembered as one of the best ever.  McMahon is likely going to damn near commit suicide in an attempt to wow the Dallas crowd.

I believe there are a few tells here that indicate the winner of match is going to be The Undertaker.  First off, it doesn’t seem likely that Shane McMahon is going to quit his day job and return to the WWE in a full-time capacity.  It also isn’t likely that The Undertaker is going to retire from WrestleMania competition any time soon.  He can still perform at a high level and has been advertised for future matches later this month in Europe.  If they are going to retire The Undertaker from WrestleMania, they might as well retire him for good.

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

Triple H (c) vs. Roman Reigns in a Singles match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

The likely outcome of this match is a moment that most WWE fans have been dreading for the last two years.  Vince McMahon’s insistence that Roman Reigns is the next face of the company is one of the biggest mysteries that WWE fans have pondered in years.  We clamor for pretty much anybody else on the card to be the top babyface champion in the company, yet we are met with Vince McMahon’s intransigent attitude on the matter.  His putting Roman Reigns in the WrestleMania main event for the second straight year is an example of his truculent stance against the fans.  It is as if he decided years ago that Reigns was going to be the top guy in the company and he is going to give it to us whether we like it or not.

The problem the fans have with Roman Reigns isn’t that he is the chosen one. The problem we have is very simple; Roman Reigns isn’t a very good wrestler.  He lacks basic in-ring psychology, never seemingly knowing when to sell an injury or when to make a comeback.  His offensive move set lacks excitement (who pops for the Superman Punch?) and he applies his biggest moves at the least appropriate times.  Most importantly, he lacks the ability to captivate the audience when he cuts a promo.  He is uninteresting and unable to properly emote.

This is not a case where a wrestler isn’t ready for the big time and needs time to develop.  Reigns was given the exact opportunity that Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose were to develop and get over with the crowd.  The sole problem that Roman Reigns has is that he is just not very good and he does not appear likely to ever improve.

Likely due to the rash of injuries and other extenuating circumstances in the WWE, Triple H had to insert himself in the main event picture to make this match interesting.  The WWE COO rarely wrestles anymore, but he always competes in a high profile match at WrestleMania.  This year, in his 20th WrestleMania, he enters the main event as WWE champion.  Given injuries to Seth Rollins and John Cena in particular, there weren’t too many people left that could credibly carry the title to the WrestleMania main event against Reigns.

Despite the fact that Roman Reigns is booked as the babyface and Triple H is booked as the heel in this match, the crowd have been audibly behind Triple H and not Roman Reigns.  Triple H received a huge ovation from the crowd when he viciously pounded Reign’s bloody face into the Raw announce table shortly after this match was announced.  It was a classic cowardly heel maneuver and yet the crowd loved it.  Conversely, nobody seemed to care when Reigns got his revenge several weeks later on Triple H by delivering him a beating of his own.  Both crowd reactions indicated less the fact that the fans are supporters of Triple H, and it is more likely that they are just solidly opposed to Roman Reigns and will support anybody who challenges him.

Triple H is one of the best WrestleMania competitors the WWE has ever known and can always be counted on to deliver a memorable match.  He is in his mid-40s and trains like a man half his age. He is seemingly still at his peak and will have to deliver the match of his life in order to carry the inferior Roman Reigns through this match.  The stakes are high and if Roman Reigns is going to be our babyface champion for the near future, this match is going to have to be top-notch.  If Reigns is ever going to get over, Triple H is going to have to act as the catalyst to make this change in attitude towards Reigns happen.

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

And with that, there is nothing else left to do than sit back and enjoy the 6-hour extravaganza on the WWE Network today, hoping for the best.  Enjoy the show!

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 FastLane Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, AJ Styles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first of two awful Divas matches on the card.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winners, The Wyatt Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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