WWE SummerSlam Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

Samoa Joe.jpg

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Champion, Samoa Joe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, The Miz

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, Dolph Ziggler

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

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Finn Bálor vs. Baron Corbin

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Baron Corbin

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and new MITB holder, Kevin Owens

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

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

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

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

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

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

WWE FastLane Analysis and Predictions

The Road to WrestleMania 34 heats up with WWE FastLane (see what they did there?) this Sunday.  The Smackdown branded show will be the final pay-per-view before WrestleMania in April.  Much like the Raw-themed Elimination Chamber two weeks prior, expect a lot of stories to be told that help flesh out the WrestleMania card.

Another similarity that Fastlane has to Elimination Chamber is that this show is also a one-trick-pony.  The most interesting and impactful match will be the main event Six-Pack Challenge for the WWE Championship.  The Tag Team Championship match could add a bit of intrigue, but everything else is pretty much going to be a throw-away match.  Don’t even get me started on the Diva’s matches, I’m not going to review them.  Just flip to The Walking Dead when the Diva’s matches are on.

0843a-1520413855-800

Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Rusev (with Aiden English)

Rusev somehow found comedy gold in his pairing with Aiden English.  English was flailing on the roster when, almost by accident, he sang a song about “Rusev Day” and a gimmick was born.  This is somewhat of an unusual path for Rusev to take, having been brought to the WWE as a “monster ethnic heel” with a huge undefeated streak.  He showed all the characteristics of a great heel, but poor booking decisions made him look weak and almost irrelevant.  To suddenly become a guy with a babyface catchphrase seems out of place.  But in this match, he is going to work heel versus the fan favorite Nakamura so he’ll be getting back to what he does best.

Shinsuke Nakamura is enjoying a very popular first year on the WWE main roster.  Somehow the WWE managed to make him interesting by producing a unique entrance for him.  He doesn’t bring much else to the table.  I don’t know a thing about his character and I don’t know what “King of Strong Style” means.  Anyway, his matches are decent so he has that going for him.  He’s already headed to WresteMania having won the Royal Rumble, so this match is pretty much to make him look good headed into his title shot at the big event.

Prediction: Winner, Shinsuke Nakamura

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

This is the kind of match where you have to ask yourself “Why didn’t they just wait until WrestleMania for this one?”  On paper, a matchup between these teams is pretty much the best you are going to do in the Smackdown tag team division right now.  Not to mention that for all of their years on the WWE main roster, The Usos have never been featured in a WrestleMania match.

The New Day have become a bit stale, but Big E continues to anchor this group with his superb abilities on the mic.  This guy has a lot of charisma and clearly knows how to work a crowd.  Along with the Usos, this trio is certainly deserving of a big match at WrestleMania.

It will be interesting to see how this one goes and who takes the tile to WrestleMania.  The question will certainly be: what is next for both of these teams after FastLane?  This match and its aftermath should make the result pretty clear.

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

Bobby Roode (c) vs. Randy Orton in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship

Two boring guys in a boring feud that will be in a boring match at FastLane.  I just can’t get excited for this one, I don’t get the big deal about Bobby Roode and Randy Orton feels like he’s just mailing it in these days.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE United States Champion, Randy Orton

AJ Styles (c) vs. John Cena vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler Six-Pack challenge for the WWE Championship

This match is the biggest reason to tune in on Sunday for FastLane. These are the top singles talents on Smackdown right now, and each one of them has a lot on the line headed into WrestleMania.

  • Sami Zayn has come alive as a heel once he aligned himself with Kevin Owens. He seemed destined to become a jobber until the gloves came off as a heel and he can now say whatever he wants.  He could be in line for a feature role at WrestleMania, but don’t count on him walking away as champion on this night.
  • Kevin Owens is the best pure heel on Smackdown right now. He’s proven that he can carry a championship and could be a dark horse to win this match and face Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania.  It could be an outstanding match.
  • Dolph Ziggler continues to push against is ceiling in the WWE. He always looked and seemed like he could break out some day, but never did.  His latest character incarnation as a disgruntled old star hasn’t done him too many favors, other than get him a paid vacation from the WWE while he was written off of TV as part of his current storyline.  He’s never had a singles match at WrestleMania (no wonder he’s so pissed) and maybe if he finally had one, he’d cement a better legacy for himself.  If not, off to another three minutes in the André The Giant Battle Royal for Dolph.
  • Baron Corbin is ready to break out. He’s the number two heel on Smackdown behind Kevin Owens, and could certainly play the part of the hated champion that is being chased by the good guys.  The crowd genuinely hates him, and he would be a compelling opponent for Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania.  The way they book Corbin right now, however, doesn’t leave me with high hopes for his immediate future.
  • John Cena is at a career crossroads. He hasn’t been featured at WrestleMania since WrestleMania XXIX where he defeated The Rock in the main event.  The latest storyline has a sad sack Cena upset that he doesn’t have a match for WrestleMania lined up since he lost the Elimination Chamber and was told that The Undertaker won’t wrestle him.  Any championship match with Cena in it now raises the specter of his winning his 17th world championship, thus surpassing Ric Flair’s all-time championship record.  It doesn’t feel like this is going to be Cena’s night, it seems like there is money in stretching out the “Who will Cena face at WrestleMania?” storyline for a bit longer.  He will win his 17th championship some other day.
  • AJ Styles is the biggest independent pickup the WWE has made in recent memory. He went from a never-was in the WWE to the championship holder in a remarkably short period of time.  He has kept his momentum up and carries the championship well.  Into his 40’s, you have to wonder how much gas he has left in the tank.  It would seem that his time is now for Styles to work a memorable championship match against Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania 34.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, AJ Styles

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 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 2 of 3)

Part two of this three-part series about WrestleMania 31 will feature the matches in the mid-card.  You never know what you are going to get from the mid-card at WrestleMania, but you can be assured that the performers are going to give 100% in an attempt to forge an unforgettable “WrestleMania moment” of their own.  Sometimes you get a standout match like The Ultimate Warrior vs. Macho King Randy Savage at WrestleMania VII, or Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania X that go down in history as one of the all-time greats.  Other times, you get bowling shoe-ugly showcases such as Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs. Rick Martel in a blindfold match at WrestleMania VII, or what is widely considered the worst WrestleMania match ever, Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole at WrestleMania XVII.

The eternal WrestleMania mark in myself is hoping for something that fits in the former category, not the latter at WrestleMania 32.  Interestingly enough, since I published part one about the pre-show, the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal was moved up from the pre-show to the main card.  It’s hard to say exactly why this happened, but it’s likely going to compress the rest of the matches for time as there are now eight matches to squeeze into a four-hour time frame.  Those matches don’t include other features such as an appearance by The Rock, the Hall of Fame introductions, and whatever other skits they have planned between matches.

Hopefully this time crunch doesn’t take too much away from any of the matches and the performers don’t try too hard to rush a “this is awesome” spot, and instead focus on the story telling of in-ring psychology.  At the very least, hopefully the Diva’s match is kept to about 1:15 so this doesn’t become too much of an issue.

As I said in part one, I predict that Braun Strowman is going to win the André trophy.  My analysis and picks for the rest of the mid-card matches are as follows.

Kevin Owens (c) vs. Sami Zayn vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Zack Ryder vs. Sin Cara vs. The Miz vs. Stardust in a 7-man Ladder match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

This will be the 10th ladder match in WrestleMania history and the third time that it will be used to decide the winner of the Intercontinental Championship.  This match is also a repeat of last year when the opening match of WrestleMania 31 when Daniel Bryan won the IC belt in a 7-man ladder match to start the show.  This year, Kevin Owens enters the match as the champion and has a mostly different cast of characters to compete against.

Kevin Owens is coming off of a strong rookie year in 2015 when he defeated John Cena in his first match on the main card, instantly giving him credibility with the fans.  Following a few high-profile rematches against Cena, Owens’ push was slowed down a bit.  He did, however, manage to win the IC title on Raw and is in a high-profile match at WrestleMania so he is in a good spot.  Owens is a rarity on the Raw roster today as his target audience is mainly adults, and there is nothing kid-friendly about him.  He is a perfect wrestling heel, he is obnoxious, cowardly, and cheats to win.

Sami Zayn is one of the higher-profile NXT call-ups as of late.  He didn’t have much luck in his first go-around on the main roster. During his ring entrance for his debut match, he raised his arms in the air and managed to break his shoulder, costing him over eight months of his career.  Anyway, he rehabilitated his injury and now is in the biggest match of his life to date.  Although he appears to be somewhat of a standard white-meat-babyface, the WWE fans have taken to his ring entrance and his character.  I am not convinced; I need to see a few good matches out of him before I make a judgement call on his abilities.

Dolph Ziggler has performed well in ladder matches, having won the Intercontinental championship in a standout ladder match against Luke Harper in 2014 at TLC.  Ziggler has plateaued in his career and no longer really shows any main-event promise.  He is a solid worker but he oversells for his opponents and is playing out of position as a babyface.  This is the right match for him to be in and he will certainly perform at the best of his abilities on the WrestleMania stage.

Zach Ryder is the lucky winner in this match.  He is filling in for Neville who badly broke his ankle and leg just two weeks ago on Raw.  Ryder was the low man on the totem pole in the WWE before went into business for himself by filming his own YouTube show.  Fans took notice and started chanting for him at live events.  A quick push disappeared as fast as it started and he has been languishing in NXT for quite some time.  This is an opportunity for him to showcase his abilities on the grandest stage of them all and he should be very highly motivated in this match.

Sin Cara doesn’t have much going on for himself right now as he has been outshined by his tag team partner, Kalisto.  He does not display any character and is mostly voiceless.  We don’t know much about him other than that he is a Luchador-style high spot worker.  I would expect him to try some sort of death-defying bump during this match just to get himself noticed.

The Miz continues to be under-utilized on the WWE main roster.  He was once the top heel in the company, having defeated John Cena in the main event at WrestleMania XVII with an assist from The Rock.  That was the highlight of his career as he has been booked in the mid-card at best ever since.  A ladder match doesn’t seem like it plays to his strengths as a performer.  Overall, it doesn’t make much sense for him to be in this match and it probably won’t advance his career very much.

Stardust is among the most talented performers in this match.  As the son of The American Dream Dusty Rhodes, he was born and bred to be in the professional wrestling business.  He has earned critical praise for being all-in to his Stardust character and plays a very convincing character.  He is yet another under-utilized talent on the crowded WWE roster.  He certainly is deserving of a premier spot on the card and hopefully is featured prominently in this match.

These seven-man ladder matches are a tough proposition for wrestlers these days.  We have seen too many of them. The wrestlers are starting to run out of ways to use ladders as weapons, or fall off of ladders through tables.  They constantly struggle to find new and interesting ways to take death-defying bumps to wow the crowd.  Timing is also key in a match like this as quite often one or more of them need to either disappear for large swaths of time, or be standing in the right place at the right time to take their bumps properly.  Like I said at the top of this blog, it could either be a standout classic, or very ugly to watch.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, Kevin Owens

The New Day vs. The League of Nations in a 4-on-3 Handicap match

The New Day has enjoyed a very solid run as the top heel faction in the WWE over the past year.  They have been so good at it, they have slowly turned into a babyface trio as the crowd can’t help but laugh at the ridiculous things they say and do.  Their hard work and dedication to their gimmick has paid off as they have held the WWE Tag Team Championship using the Freebird Rule since the summer.  They are likely going to do an extensive comedy skit before the match as part of their entrance.  Let’s hope for everybody’s sake that they bring their best material as their skits can be hit-or-miss.

The League of Nations is a group of guys who make you scratch your head and ask yourself “how did he go so wrong?”  Sheamus actually held the WWE World Heavyweight Championship for a few weeks last year, not that anybody would remember.  King Barrett was on top of the world with his “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news” catch phrase, only to have inexplicably lost his momentum after winning King of the Ring in 2015.  Alberto Del Rio used to have one of the greatest ring entrances of all time, driving to the ring in ultra-expensive luxury cars while his personal ring announcer introduced him to the crowd in Spanish.  Since his return to the WWE, he beat John Cena in a match and quickly got pushed down the card.  The most depressing case out of all of them is Rusev.  He was the best monster heel the WWE has seen in years headed into WrestleMania 31.  That day was the turning point in his career as he started a losing streak that he still hasn’t recovered from.  The low point was when he permanently lost all credibility as a bad guy when he was entangled in a bizarre storyline about a love triangle with Summer Rae, Dolph Ziggler, and Lana.

What we have here are two factions headed in different directions.  The New Day has a lot of upside potential for the rest of 2016 and beyond.  It wouldn’t surprise me if most or all of the members of The League of Nations aren’t even on the WWE roster by the time WrestleMania 33 rolls around.  That will be a shame, as they are all very talented and deserve better than what WWE creative has handed them.

This should actually be a decent match as there is a good combination of size, strength, speed, and agility across the board.  I have a strong feeling that this match will play out in such a way that The New Day come out of it as babyfaces and stay that way for the foreseeable future.

Prediction: Winners, The New Day

Charlotte (c) (with Ric Flair) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks in a Triple Threat match for the WWE Divas Championship

Not even Ric Flair himself can save this train wreck of a match from being awful.  All I can hope for is that it is very short.  If we are really lucky, the show will be running long and it will get bumped because there is not enough time to have it.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho

Chris Jericho is about eight years past his prime.  He looks chubby, slow, and old in the ring.  He has left and returned so many times that it is no longer shocking or interesting when he shows up in the WWE from out of nowhere.  Despite all of this, if there is only one thing that he is still good at, it is his ability to cut a great heel promo.  His diatribe towards the crowd at WWE Roadblock two weeks ago was simply brilliant and has the fans solidly rooting against him.

AJ Styles was well received by the WWE faithful following his surprise entrance at The Royal Rumble in January.  In somewhat of an unusual step, a WWE outsider was brought in to the main roster without having to stop off in NXT developmental for a stay.  Styles is apparently a well know performer from TNA and NJPW, but as a WWE-only fan, I don’t know anything about him other than what I’ve seen these past three months.  So far he has shown flashes of impressive wrestling offense, but he is rather dull on the microphone.  This is a very good spot for Styles to be in, having gone from relative obscurity to a singles match at WrestleMania in a short period of time.

This is a repeat match that we’ve seen twice already.  The two were enemies, friends, and enemies again in just a matter of weeks.  They already have a pretty decent rapport and familiarity with each other, with Styles proving that he can carry the older and slower Chris Jericho through a match. I’ve always felt that wrestling is at its best when two performers square off in a one-on-one grudge match with no distracting stipulations.  This match fits that category and could be very entertaining.

Prediction: Winner, Chris Jericho

Thanks for reading part two.  Part three is coming soon and will feature the three main events on the card.

WWE FastLane Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, AJ Styles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The first of two awful Divas matches on the card.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winners, The Wyatt Family

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WWE Night of Champions Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winners, The Cosmic Wasteland

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winners, The Wyatt Family

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

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Rusev

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

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

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

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

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

    WWE Fan Axess Undertaker Meet and Greet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Kevin Owens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WWE Money in the Bank Analysis and Predictions

With the new WWE Network content delivery model, pay-per-view events are fast and furious.  Just two weeks removed from the Elimination Chamber special, the WWE is bringing us Money in the Bank, one of the most important events of the year.  The winner of the MITB Contract holds the right to cash in a WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match at any time.  As we saw this year at WrestleMania, a properly timed cash-in of the contract can be a career defining moment.  Not only that, but the contract can give us months and months of suspense leading up to its eventual use.

Aside from the Money in the Bank Ladder Match, the rest of the card should provide some pretty interesting traditional matchups, and an emotional Ladder Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.  Let’s take a look at the card.

John Cena vs. Kevin Owens

The importance of Kevin Owen’s WWE debut match at Elimination Chamber against John Cena should not be understated.  I’m not the type of encyclopedic wrestling fan that can name places and dates of matches at will, but I really did struggle to think of a debut match that was a bigger upset than Owens win over John Cena in his first match.  Two that came to mind are Tazz’s victorious WWE debut against Kurt Angle at the Royal Rumble in 2000, and The Giant defeating Hulk Hogan at Halloween Havoc in 1995.  Neither one of these really can compare, given that Kurt Angle at the time was nowhere near the superstar that Cena is today. The Giant only won his match over Hogan by a disqualification.

Kevin Owens came to Raw, cut a set of disrespectful heel promos against John Cena, and then beat him cleanly in a highly competitive match.  Cena carried himself well, but there are not enough good things to say about how Kevin Owens handled himself in that match.  Every spot was executed to perfection and the match told an exciting and suspenseful story.  Finally, after the match was won, Owens grabbed the microphone and gave us one more disrespectful promo directed at the defeated John Cena as he walked out of the arena.

The ball is in Kevin Owens’ court now.  It’s hard to think of a more impactful WWE debut victory and only time will tell if he can carry this momentum and become a star.  He seems to have all the necessary tools and the right attitude, it is my expert opinion that someday he is going to be remembered as someone special.

On the other side of the ring, John Cena is still playing his part well.  It appears, at least for now, that he is not going to wrestle at the top of the card any time soon, but he still has credibility as an elder statesmen and the United States Champion and is always a force to be reckoned with.  John Cena doesn’t change much, and despite what most fans seem to think these days, what he does best still works for him.

It would be a huge mistake to give Cena a win and kill off Owens’ momentum after only two weeks.  I expect Owens to go over once again, and this time maybe cheat a little to win.

Prediction: Winner, Kevin Owens

Ryback (c) vs. The Big Show for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

In today’s WWE, most premier matches are a series of coordinated stunts.  Long gone are the days of 30 minute technical contests, and instead we get high spots predicated on match stipulations, such as guys falling off of ladders and through tables.  Even with this being the norm these days, there is still no substitute for two freakishly huge guys beat the hell out of each other, and that is exactly what we are going to get in this match.

Ryback is just two weeks into his first run as a singles champion in the WWE.  It took him several years of fighting through injuries and a few bad gimmicks to get to this point.  He was determined to play the “hero to the children” role and seems to have gotten to where he wanted to be.  His “feed me more” chant is over across the whole spectrum of the audience.  I expect his title run to endure for at least a few months to allow him to settle in as champion.

The Big Show is a made-man in the WWE.  He can fill a variety of roles and is often plugged into angles up and down the card, flip-flopping between babyface and heel roles.  Usually, he ends up on the losing end of things, with the notable exception of his win of The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania in April.  Inexplicably, he is no longer a member of The Authority and has returned after a brief hiatus to do the first job for the newly crowned IC champ.

At the very least, we can expect this to be a physical matchup with both competitors to display several feats of strength.  Don’t look for too many drop kicks or senton bombs from these two!

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, Ryback

Nikki Bella (c) vs. Paige in a Singles Match for the WWE Divas Championship

I think this is like the 8th pay-per-view in a row these two have wrestled.  I can’t remember because I never watch any of the Divas matches.  Can’t they find two other awful wrestlers to fill this spot just to change things up?

Prediction: Don’t waste your time on this match, flip the channels for the three minutes they are going to give them to wrestle.

The New Day (c) vs. The Prime Time Players in a Tag Team Match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

The “Modern Day Freebird” gimmick has really reversed the fortunes of The New Day.  They went from one of the worst babyface stables we’ve seen in years and into formidable champions in a big hurry.  They complement each other well in the ring and the one man advantage they have as a three-man tandem always gives them an entertaining unfair edge against their opponents.  Kofi Kingston, in particular, has never looked better throughout his previously underwhelming WWE career.  It’s always amazing what a well-timed heel turn can do in the WWE.

The Prime Time Players are in their second go-around as a team.  Neither Titus O’Neil nor Darren Young have really gained a foothold as either singles competitors or as a team.  This team is symptomatic of the weak state of the WWE Tag Team Division.  They aren’t very interesting and really don’t stand much of a chance of winning this match.  With any luck, they manage to make The New Day look good.

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

Neville vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Randy Orton vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Sheamus vs. Kane vs. Roman Reigns in a Money in the Bank Ladder Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match contract

The namesake match of the evening stands a chance to either be memorable for quite some time, or a chance to be bowling-shoe ugly.  We get inundated with ladder matches these days, they are typically featured at TLC, WrestleMania, Extreme Rules, and Money in the Bank.  There are only so many ways to fall off of a ladder or use it as a weapon and it feels like we’ve seen it all.  It’s going to be a challenge for these guys to find a way to make this match interesting.

Either way, a new MITB contract winner will be crowned and will have the potential to become champion sometime within the next year.  This could be a career-defining moment for one of these competitors and the winner can expect a big push up until he cashes in the contract.  Here is a rundown of the competitors:

Neville: “The New Sensation” Neville is off to a decent start since his call-up to the main roster in April.  It’s a little early in his run to make a determination of how well he is going to do in the WWE.  Thus far, he’s been a one-trick-pony with his high-flying moves and not much else.  This is a good opportunity for him to make an impact, but he doesn’t have a realistic chance of winning.

Dolph Ziggler: Permanently mired in the mid-card, Dolph Ziggler will continue to be a supporting cast member unless something drastically changes.  His feud with Rusev was stalled due to Rusev’s recent legitimate ankle injury, so he was put in the MITB match instead.  He will gain attention now that Lana is by his side, but that is never the type of attention that a superstar really should want.  If you are overshadowed by your valet, it exposes a lack of charisma, and that is never good.  I expect him to take some nasty bumps in this match but he isn’t a contender to actually win the contract.

Randy Orton: The Rattlesnake is currently in a supporting role in his on-and-off program with Seth Rollins. He continues to do the right things to make Rollins look like the top villain in the company. He is a threat to win any match he is in and is one of the favorites headed into this match as both a former MITB winner and former WWE Champion.

Kofi Kingston: As I stated earlier, Kofi has underwhelmed throughout his WWE run but has never looked better since The New Day turned heel.  His annoying attitude is the perfect complement for his in-ring style.  Instead of trying to wow the crowd with his agility, he now can focus on looking like a jerk while he wrestles and he does that well.  I love the fact that The New Day alluded to using The Freebird Rule on the MITB contract if Kofi wins it.  It’s doubtful that Kofi is going to win this match, but it would be hilarious if all three of them acted as though they hold the contract.

Sheamus: So far, so good since his return.  The company was severely lacking in heels on the roster headed into WrestleMania (they really only had Rusev and Rollins as top heels at the time), but with his new look and his nasty demeanor, he adds character depth to the WWE.  As always, he can be counted on to rely on a brutal in-ring style to make it look like he is delivering all of his opponents a severe beating.  I’m giving him about a 20% chance of winning this match.

Kane: The most versatile character over the past generation continues to deliver solid performances in his multi-faceted Corporate Kane character.  He is the foundation of the entire Authority stable, yet we never know where his tormented character is going to head next. Is he finally going to snap and turn on Seth Rollins, or is he going to remain loyal to Triple H and do what is best for business?  His antagonistic angle with Seth Rollins has been a slow-burn feud that has yet to pay off.  Wouldn’t it be great if he wins the contract while still in his role as Seth Rollins’ enforcer?

Roman Reigns: Reigns is back to being on the fans good side now that the perception that he is being shoved down our throats has passed.  People are comfortable with where he is on the card right now and he looks like someone that the WWE is still trying to build.  Unfortunately, he still lacks in many areas of his game, including in-ring psychology and his microphone skills.  Every match and every promo are exactly the same, and none of them impress.  I feel like it would serve him well to send him back to NXT for a few years to work some of his shortcomings out.  I doubt that is going to happen and he is still going to have to learn on the job in front of us all.  He is one of the favorites headed into this match.

Prediction: Winner and new Money in the Bank Contract holder, Kane

Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dean Ambrose in a Ladder Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

Here we go again, another ladder match.  I love these two competitors but could do without this stipulation.  There already is a ladder match on this card and it seems like Dean Ambrose has been in a hundred ladder matches these past eight months.  Sure, it is fun to watch him fall off the ladder over and over again, but I would have liked a different stipulation for this match, maybe a cage match or an Iron Man match would have been better.  Still, expect these two to deliver a solid match that could and should steal the show.

This match goes to show how well The Shield got over with the fans and how well the former members have done since the split last year.  Dean Ambrose seemingly lost a little momentum during WrestleMania season, having filled in for an injured Roman Reigns in a main event program prior to The Royal Rumble.  But he is back on top as a main-eventer now, and he really earned this spot.  The crowd is very much on his side as they tend to be with the anti-hero babyface characters.  How often do you see the good guy steal a championship belt and be favored by the crowd as he keeps doing?

Seth Rollins is the man at the top right now.  His performance at WWE Extreme Rules was a clinic in how a heel champion should work a match.  He pulled the most cowardly move possible by putting the referee in harm’s way so he could get himself disqualified and retain the championship.  Not only did that make him look like a bigger jerk than he already was, but it was the perfect setup for their upcoming match this Sunday.

There are a lot of ways this match can go.  These two have an emotionally charged basis for their animosity towards each other that began the day The Shield broke up.  It is good that this feud was kept warm this entire time and I have a feeling that not only is this match going to be fun to watch, but it’s not the last we are going to see of these two together.  I expect Rollins to pull this one out by cheating to win yet again.

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

This pay-per-view, particularly the main events, will be a direct lead in to Brock Lesnar’s return to the WWE in the coming weeks and should begin to set the stage for Summer Slam in August in Brooklyn.  This should be a very entertaining couple of weeks of WWE television ahead of us.

WWE Elimination Chamber Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neville vs. Bo Dallas

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Neville

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

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

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

John Cena vs. Kevin Owens

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Kevin Owens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WWE Extreme Rules Preview and Predictions

With WrestleMania 31 in the books, the WWE resumes its normal pay-per-view schedule with WWE Extreme Rules tonight.  After a shaky Road to WrestleMania build up for the biggest pay-per-view of the year, the WWE delivered a surprisingly strong show that was received well by critics.  After all the hype that surrounded the event, it is only natural that there is a bit of a WrestleMania hangover right now and it feels like some talents have lost some momentum. The WWE tells a story that never ends, but as is the norm, the storylines tend to reset after WrestleMania.

Right now, the focus is on the new WWE Champion Seth Rollins.  Rollins wasn’t even scheduled to be in the main event at WrestleMania but he opportunistically pounced on a prone Roman Reigns to cash in his Money in the Bank contract and walk away from WrestleMania as the champ.  This was a fascinating turn of events given that for months prior to WM 31, the WWE had grabbed us by the nose and said “You must love Roman Reigns!” over and over again.  The fan backlash was severe, as the general consensus was that the reason for the hatred was that Reigns “wasn’t ready to be champion”.  I never believed that was exactly the case, I don’t like Roman Reigns because he just isn’t very good.  I felt that he was the weakest former member of The Shield and that he was picked only for his look and his pedigree.  It seems to me that my theory was right because now that Rollins is champ, I haven’t heard or read a single criticism that he “isn’t ready” to be champion at all, and he came up to the main roster at the exact same time that Reigns did.  Rollins is just better than Reigns as an overall in-ring performer, and is a natural on the microphone.  The WWE made the right call when they made Rollins the champion.

The WWE is at its best when the champion is a heel and the babyfaces have to chase the title.  Rollins is the top heel in the company right now, and he plays the part perfectly.  He is equal parts jerk, entitled, liar, coward, cheater, and psychopath.  He is also surrounded by a great heel faction in The Authority, which only enhances his aura as someone who should be hated by the fans.

In particular, Kane has done a fantastic job of getting Seth Rollins over.  I say it all the time, Kane is the most underrated talent on the roster.  He has been a mainstay on WWE television for almost two decades and is the most versatile character they have ever had.  He can convey a wide range of emotion and intent, and can work well against anybody in the ring.  His character has been evil, humorous, and conflicted over the years.  His current role as a corporate shill who is conflicted by his job responsibilities, his past as an evil demon, and his dislike for a snarky champion that he helped create has been fascinating to watch.  His promos have never been better and he is perfectly placed as wild card headed into Extreme Rules. Expect him to play a major part in the main event as the Cage Gatekeeper of the main event between Rollins and Randy Orton.

The rest of the card, unlike WrestleMania, is a focus on the main roster talents.  There are no special attractions, and I wouldn’t expect anything that happens at this even to have a direct carry over to WrestleMania 32.  The “Extreme Rules” moniker is borderline false advertising in today’s PG WWE, but there are some matches that should be interesting to watch on the undercard and I expect this to be a decent show from top to bottom, with the obvious exception of the Divas match.  Let’s take a look at the matches.

Tyson Kidd and Cesaro (c) vs. The New Day for the WWE Tag Team Championship

This pre-show match is right where it belongs.  The WWE Tag Team Championships, along with the talents in this match, are pretty much all at the bottom rung of the WWE these days.  The tag team division is aimlessly languishing, and everybody in this match is marching towards a pink-slip from the WWE as a bunch of individual failed talents.  The WWE couldn’t get The New Day faction over with a catapult.  To their credit turned them into heels.  Fans still don’t seem to care about them either way.  Not much can be said about Tyson Kidd and Cesaro either.  No matter how many times they are repackaged, they can’t seem to get off the ground.

Prediction: Winners and still champions, Tyson Kidd and Cesaro

Daniel Bryan (c) vs. Bad News Barrett for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

The snake bitten 14-month run of Daniel Bryan continues.  He got himself another WrestleMania moment at WM ’31 in a triumphant championship victory in the opening ladder match on the card.  Almost immediately he was injured again and pulled off the tour.  This guy just can’t catch a break, and it is starting to look like it is true that he really is just a B+ player, his body just can’t stand up to the rigors of a full-time WWE schedule.

There isn’t much to say about this match, the WWE is tight-lipped about his injury and we don’t know if it is even going to happen.  If it does, and he Bryan is hurt, they may work a kayfabe injury into the match and have him lose right away.  It all depends on his health.  Given all the unknowns, I’m not going to give a prediction here, and if you are betting on this card, I’d suggest staying away from this match altogether.

Roman Reigns vs. The Big Show in a Last Man Standing Match

After the failed Roman Reigns experiment at the top of the card, he landed in a post-WrestleMania feud with The Big Show.  This is the best spot for him for now, in a match that isn’t going to draw too much attention to his weaknesses because it is so far down on the card.  The Big Show is coming off of a surprise win at The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at ‘Mania and actually has some momentum for a change given his typically poor win-loss record.

Reigns is in need of a change of some sort, perhaps a re-packaging after being written off of TV for a while.  Perhaps he would benefit from a two to three year stint in NXT developmental where he can work on his matches and promos.  Until then, there is nowhere to go with him now that he is not going to have his monster babyface championship run.  It really makes no sense for him to win this match and disrupt The Big Show’s momentum.

Prediction: Winner, The Big Show

Nikki Bella (c) vs. Naomi for the WWE Divas Championship

Two boring characters who can’t wrestle.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Dolph Ziggler vs. Sheamus in a Kiss Me Arse Match

This is an intriguing matchup with a classic stipulation we haven’t seen in quite some time, one which will force the loser to kiss the winner’s ass after the match is over.  That’ll give you some incentive to win a match!

Sheamus made his return from a lengthy layoff on the night after WrestleMania and was repackaged as a heel with a great new look.  The Celtic Warrior was long overdue for a heel turn, and his new Mohawk and braided beard fit his new character nicely.  His attitude and demeanor are just what the WWE needs right now given that they really only have two or three legitimate top heels in the company right now.

Dolph Ziggler perpetually is on the brink of a breakout but seemingly can’t find a way to make it to the top.  He is considered a steady hand in the ring but has drawn some criticism of late by Stone Cold Steve Austin for over-selling for his opponents.  Either way, I would expect the crowd to be fully on his side for this match and I expect them both to give it their all, and they could potentially steal the show.

Prediction: Sheamus wins and Dolph Ziggler has to kiss his arse!

Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper in a Chicago Street Fight

This matchup between two guys left behind from the Wyatt Family and Shield factions which both broke up last year has a chance to be either memorable or bowling-shoe-ugly.  The competitors in this fight are matched up very well, both are mysterious “unstable” characters who like to fight.  However, there may be a tendency to rely on too many high spots in a WWE street fight that could fall flat given the constraints of PG television standards.

Dean Ambrose performed well in late 2014 in several pay-per-view main events, at Hell in a Cell and TLC.  He is a fan-favorite and can take some nasty bumps.  He is not a technical wrestler and has more of a brawling style, which is why they book him in pay-per-view matches with stipulations such as these.  His biggest drawback these days is that the WWE Creative team seems to have him on a leash by putting too many words in his mouth and forcing him into over-the-top scenarios designed to convince us that he is unstable.  I’d love to hear him say what is actually on his mind for once, I have a feeling he would be very entertaining.

Luke Harper is still a bit of an enigma.  We just don’t know much about him other than he was aligned with Bray Wyatt when he made his debut on the main roster, and now he is on his own.  We don’t know why he was a member of the Wyatt Family, nor do we know what happened that lead to Wyatt setting him free.  It’s hard to tell what motivates the big man, and there is no good way for the fans to identify with him.  Here is another guy that I’d love to hear what is actually on his mind.  I might start to care about him if he finally says something interesting, he certainly has the look and the wrestling skills to be a top performer in The WWE.

There are probably going to be a lot of weapons used in this match, and they will likely spend a great deal of time outside of the ring.  The Spanish Announcers table will likely be in peril.  At the very least, these two are going to lay their bodies on the line and both take a pretty hefty beating.  I would hope that they think this match through and work to a crescendo at the end, rather than string together a series of high spots.

Prediction: Winner, Luke Harper

John Cena (c) vs. Rusev in a Russian Chain Match for the WWE United States Championship

The biggest shame of WrestleMania 31 was that Rusev finally had his undefeated streak come to an end at the hands of John Cena.  Rusev, in less than one year, made himself into one of the top heels in the company.  His undefeated streak felt like it still had some steam left in it and would have been a draw for several more pay-per-views.  Alas, WWE Creative felt like they wanted to put the title on John Cena and Rusev had to lose.  At least he got to ride into Levi Stadium in an actual tank!  I still can’t figure out where they got the tank from.

This is the third straight pay-per-view in which these two competitors have faced off so we already know that they are capable of putting on a competitive match, with each of them owning a victory over the other.  Lana was the difference in both matches, providing a distraction that lead to Rusev’s victory at FastLane, and accidentally colliding with Rusev at WrestleMania which caused him to lose to Cena.  The friction between Rusev and Lana may come into play during this matchup.

The Russian Chain stipulation is a twist on the traditional strap match, with a chain as a substitute for the strap.  Both competitors will be chained together and that will force them to alter their styles as they likely won’t be able to run the ropes.  On the flip side, the chain can be easily weaponized as Rusev has demonstrated lately on Monday Night Raw.  The visual of him applying a vicious Accolade to Cena using the chain around his face was brutal.

I’d like to see Rusev go over in this match, I believe in his potential to work his way up the card to main-event level status sooner than later, and two loses in a row against Cena will certainly slow his progress down.  Cena will be fine either way, he will be the face of the company no matter where he sits on the card or what title he carries.

Prediction: Winner and new United States Champion, Rusev.

Seth Rollins (c) vs. Randy Orton in a Steel Cage Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship with Kane as the cage gatekeeper; Orton is banned from using the RKO

At first glimpse, this match seems to be a bit overbooked in the sense that there are a lot of stipulations at play.  A steel cage, a cage gatekeeper, and a banned finishing move?  That’s a lot to keep track of for your average fan!

This is the first time that Seth Rollins will defend his WWE World Heavyweight Championship and he is at the top of his game and at the top of the company right now. As I detailed above, he is a classic wrestling heel and seems primed to carry the title for quite some time.  He is going to have to deliver in this match, however, if he wants to maintain his credibility and prove that he can handle himself in this spot.

Randy Orton is an experienced hand and is the perfect foe for Rollins right now. He holds a clean victory over Rollins at WrestleMania and has a lot of credibility as an opponent who has a legitimate chance to take the tile away from Rollins.  Orton needed a new direction after a seemingly never-ending feud with John Cena for almost his entire career and he has shown that he has a lot of chemistry with Rollins.

I thought they could have done a bit of a better job at their WrestleMania match, it lacked drama and that was a bit surprising to me.  Perhaps there were some time constraints working against them, but at least they ended the match with a cool finish.  For reasons that are somewhat unclear, Rollins has stopped using The Curb Stomp as his finishing move, and Orton is banned from using his RKO, so we will have to expect the unexpected in this match.

The role of Kane is going to add a final twist in this match.  The way things are going, he can either be supportive of Rollins, or turn on him and back Orton.  Either way, rest assured that he will be prominently featured in this match as the Cage Gatekeeper, and his actions will likely influence the outcome of the match.

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