WWE Elimination Chamber Analysis and Predictions


The Road to WrestleMania 34 (I still number them even if the WWE doesn’t) continues with the Raw-branded Elimination Chamber tonight in Las Vegas.  After Shinsuke Nakamura won the Royal Rumble and declared his intention to compete for the WWE Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania, it left open the question as to who will face Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Championship at the same event.  Of course, rumor has it that Roman Reigns was picked over a year ago to get the slot in the WrestleMania main event, yet again.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t hope that the rumors are incorrect and that anybody else wins the Elimination Chamber match!

This Pay Per View is a one-trick-pony, with the men’s Elimination Chamber being the only one that really matters for WrestleMania.  There are two women’s matches, one of which will be the first ever Women’s Elimination Chamber match.  Much like the dud that was the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble match in January, this match is going to suck.  In fact, it has the potential to be much worse given the confines of the chamber itself.

The one thing worth mentioning about the Women’s division is that Ronda Rousey will make an appearance at Elimination Chamber to sign her Raw contract.  Rousey was once the talk of the globe, having conquered the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Division.  Unlike the WWE Women’s Division, the UFC Women are respectable athletes and performers who are highly entertaining to watch.  The hope is obviously that Rousey will bring outside attention, and therefore new revenue into the WWE.

Unfortunately, Rousey crashed and burned in the UFC, having lost her two matches as the sport rapidly passed her by.  Instead of handling her losses with grace and sportsmanship, she handled it like a complete loser.  She ducked all media obligations, didn’t bother to talk about the fact she got her ass kicked, and left the octagon as a disgrace.

Given all that, and the fact that she has never worked a professional wrestling match in front of a live crowd, and that the talent around her in the WWE isn’t very good to begin with, chances are slim that Rousey is going to help the Women’s Division improve in the slightest.

I have been a constant critic of the WWE Women’s Division for years, I feel it has always been handled improperly and is painful to watch.  Even after they dropped the “Diva’s” moniker and gave the entire division a push with more screen time and high-profile matches, I have not seen any improvement.  Maybe I’m wrong and Rousey will give the division a shot in the arm and turn things around.  I’ll keep an eye on it (mostly because I’m being forced to), but I don’t have high hopes.  And that is all I will say about the Women’s division as it relates to the Elimination Chamber.

There are three men’s matches, two of which are filler.  If you just tune in just for the main event, you’ll learn all you need to know about the Road to WrestleMania.

“Woken” Matt Hardy vs. Bray Wyatt

I don’t watch independent wrestling so I have no idea what the “Broken” Matt Hardy gimmick was all about.  Now that he’s in the WWE and I’ve seen the “Woken” Matt Hardy gimmick is all about, all I can say is that I really don’t get it!  He just babbles nonsense, has a weird phony laugh, chants “delete” and loses matches all the time.  I’m not entertained.

Bray Wyatt is the biggest enigma of his time.  He has all the potential in the world, and it never gets him anywhere.  This is a dead-end feud that isn’t doing him any favors.  Considering how poor his WrestleMania 33 performance was last year, this guy could use a break.  He’s not going to get one here.

We already saw this match on the 25th Anniversary Raw.  It was boring then, and it’s not going to be much better tonight.

Prediction: Winner, Bray Wyatt

Cesaro and Sheamus (c) vs. Titus Worldwide (Apollo and Titus O’Neil) (with Dana Brooke) in a Tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

Sheamus and Cesaro are the best tag team in the WWE right now.  They are always fun to watch, and can be counted on to put on an entertaining match.  Apollo is the latest lucky winner of “the guy who lost his last name” award, which was once awarded to Cesaro!  Titus O’Neil has a great deal of upside as an “agent” who runs a heel stable.  It feels like the WWE is not giving him as much of a chance as he needs to really take this gimmick to the next level, and saddling him with a “statistician”, the nerdy-looking Dana Brooke isn’t helping out.

Regardless, this will be the second-best match on the card and it will be worth watching.  It will certainly set the tone for the Raw Tag Team Championship picture at WrestleMania.

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

Braun Strowman vs. Elias vs. Finn Bálor vs. John Cena vs. Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins vs. The Miz in a 7-Man Elimination Chamber match for a WWE Universal Championship match at WrestleMania 34

This match will represent the WWE at it’s finest.  It should last at least one hour, tell a compelling story, contain several high-spots, leave us wanting more when it is over, and will set the stage for two, if not three matches at WrestleMania 34.  There is something on the line for each of the entrants in this match.

Finn Bálor is badly in need of a signature match or even a moment in the WWE.  After his initial push in which he became the first ever WWE Universal Champion (and having to surrender the title a day later due to injury), not much has gone right for him.  It seems that people are becoming wise to the fact that all he has going for him is a well-produced ring entrance.  Beyond that, he doesn’t say or do much that is very interesting.  In fact, he comes off as a scrawny little twerp that should probably be in the 205 Cruiserweight division where nobody has to watch him.  If he finally shows us something in the chamber, he might gain some steam headed into WrestleMania.  If not, it’s off to the pre-show card for Finn.

Elias is the biggest up-and-comer in this match and stands to gain a lot ahead of WresteMania.  He’s the classic “heel with a guitar”, combing nerve-grating singing with out-of-tune guitar playing and lots of great insults.  People want to cheer him, but he’s such a dick to the live audience, they have no choice but to boo.  His crowd reactions get better and better each week on Raw, and his in-ring work is very solid.  Keep an eye on this guy, he probably won’t win, but will come away with a good feud in the near-term.

Seth Rollins is a victim of bad luck many times over.  His first run as WWE Champion ended unceremoniously with a broken knee, and subsequently he missed WrestleMania 32 while on the mend.  He hasn’t been in the title picture since his return.  He reunited with The Shield to a huge fan response, only to have Dean Ambrose suffer an arm injury (which will cause Dean to miss WrestleMania 34) and have that faction quietly break up.  He was paired with Jason Jordan and was headed towards a match with him at WrestleMania, until Jordan suffered a neck injury a few weeks back, and he will now miss WrestleMania leaving Seth without an obvious opponent.  Seth is a highly talented young performer who has proved that he can carry the mantle for the WWE in the past.  He needs a good Chamber match that somehow gives him a good opponent at WrestleMania.

The Miz is the best heel in the WWE right now.  He is in a better place in his career now than when he headlined WrestleMania WrestleMania XXVII to mixed critical reviews.  He has also become a master promoter for the WWE to outside media outlets and can be counted on to represent the company well, which helps make him a potential main eventer at WrestleMania this year.  Keep an eye on him, he can be a dark horse pick to win the chamber match, especially given the stipulation that he has to enter the chamber first.  That will certainly add to the intrigue of this match.

John Cena would be a great pick to win this match.  He hasn’t main evented a WrestleMania since he beat The Rock at WrestleMania XXIX in New Jersey.  Since that time, he’s been saddled with mid-card matches at ‘Mania, his low point coming last year when he had to participate in a mixed-gender tag match and pretend to propose to one of the Bella Twins, just as a way to advertise her reality show.  Cena is one of the best wrestlers of all time and would be worthy of the main event spot at WrestleMania once again.

Braun Strowman is red hot right now.  He is an example of the proper way to bring up a talent from NXT and make him into a star, in stark contrast to Roman Reigns.  The two have almost parallel careers, but Strowman has outshined Reigns in every way.  Strowman was a heel that the fans forced to turn babyface because he was so good.  Everything about his matches, promos, and vignettes prove that this guy gets it.  You won’t hear fans complain that Strowman is being “forced down their throats” even though that’s exactly what is happening.  People don’t mind because he is deserving of the screen time he gets.  A Strowman/Lesnar main event would blow the roof off of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Unfortunately, Roman Reigns is the favorite to win this match, and go on to ruin yet another WrestleMania main event.  I continue to be bewildered by his never-ending push.  I also can’t understand why he never improves.  No matter how many interviews he does, he never has any real emotion or feeling when reading off the memorized lines he’s given.  His ring psychology sucks, he has no idea how to properly sell for heels, or get any kind of fire for his comebacks.  I repeat these same complaints over and over again because, with Roman, nothing ever changes.

Even if Reigns does go on to win the match, given the talent level, and the specter of the chamber itself, this has Match of The Year potential.  I expect it to very enjoyable and am very much looking forward to it.

Prediction: Winner, Braun Strowman

I obviously just picked who I want to win, not who I think will win.  Too bad, I’m a wrestling fan and that’s what we do!

Royal Rumble Analysis and Predictions

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

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


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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, AJ Styles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar

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

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

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

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

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

No Chance in Hell:

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

Could Shock the World:

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

Favorites to win:

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

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

Prediction: Winner, The MIz

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

WWE SummerSlam Analysis and Predictions


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

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

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

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

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

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

Finn Bálor vs. Bray Wyatt

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Bray Wyatt

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, The Big Show

Randy Orton vs. Rusev

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

Prediction: Winner, Rusev

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, Jinder Mahal

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck

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

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

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

John Cena vs. Baron Corbin

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

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

Prediction: Winner, John Cena

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Universal Champion, Braun Strowman

WrestleMania 33 Analysis and Predictions Part 3: The Raw Matches

Part three of my four-part series on WrestleMania 33 will focus on the Raw matches.  On paper, these matches, in isolation, would make for a great pay-per-view card.  As part of the overall show which is much bigger, the performers in them are going to all have to step things up a notch in order to be noticed and remembered.  There is no shortage of opportunities here for some of these matches to considered classics if done well.

Seth Rollins vs. Triple H in a Non-Sanctioned Match


Nothing like a contract signing to get the juices flowing for a WrestleMania match.

This match is a great example of how long-term storytelling can build a tremendous amount of anticipation for a match.  This match was made to be at WrestleMania for almost three years now and we finally can get out payoff for years of investment in the storyline.

The Shield was the most popular faction the WWE had seen in years when it made its debut on the main WWE roster in 2012.  At the time of their arrival, it seemed that all three members had unlimited potential as singles competitors, and they had their chance to do such when Seth Rollins turned on the other two members of The Shield in a masterfully orchestrated heel turn in 2014, and aligned with Triple H.  Rollins immediately overshowed Roman Reigns who turned out to be the most overrated of the three.  Rollins went on to be WWE Champion and United States Champion over the course of a torrid heel run.

Unfortunately, Rollins lost all the momentum he had when he badly broke his knee at the tail end of 2015, forcing him to forfeit his championship and to miss WrestleMania 32.  Upon his return in 2016, Rollins was eventually placed in a match for the new WWE Universal Championship which he lost to Finn Bálor at SummerSlam.  The feeble Bálor was injured during the match and had to immediately vacate the title, thus setting up Rollins for a second chance to win it in a fatal-four-way match on Raw.  Much to everybody’s surprise, Triple H, who hadn’t been seen on TV since WrestleMania 32, made his return to Raw, and gave Rollins The Pedigree.  This handed the championship to Kevin Owens and turned Rollins babyface.  It also set the stage for this match at WrestleMania 33.

Unfortunately for Rollins, he re-injured his previously broken knee in the run-up to WrestleMania 33 earlier this year.  There was speculation that he wouldn’t be medically cleared for WrestleMania yet again this year, but he appears to have re-habilitated his knee to the point that he will be able to make it through a match.  The WWE added his knee injury to the creative angle of the match by making it a non-sanctioned match, ostensibly forcing Rollins to waive any liability to the WWE if he suffers further injury.

Triple H has amassed a 9-11 WrestleMania win/loss record in his 20 WrestleMania appearances. Very few of those matches are remembered as timeless classics, he always seems to be overshadowed by somebody else on the roster.  But there is no doubt that The Cerebral Assassin brings his best to WrestleMania.

If there is one thing Triple H is good at, it is building and selling a hot wrestling angle.  His verbal assault and his beatings he’s placed on Seth Rollins these past few weeks have been absolutely brutal.  He has the crowd in the palm of his hand, with them all hoping he gets beat by his former protégé. Not to mention, he always has an outrageous entrance at WrestleMania that is sure to bring the crowd to its feet.

I have high hopes for this match, as long as Rollins’ knee is up to the task.  If he is healthy enough to perform, I would expect that Rollins will put on a technical masterpiece, and this match will tell an intense story.

Prediction: Winner, Triple H

Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries in a Singles match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

The cruiserweight division has not caught on and is not over with the fans of the WWE Raw flagship show.  Once the division made its debut on Raw in 2016, it lost all momentum it had gained after the critically acclaimed Cruiser Weight Classic tournament.  In the isolation of their own show on the WWE Network, the cruiserweights were able to put on an entertaining program.  When thrust into Raw, the individual competitors got lost.  There’s no good reason for the fans to care about any of them, they just showed up with over-the-top ring entrances and theme music with no other real backing of their characters.  Eventually, I would just start to fast-forward through their segments and matches because they are boring.  I’m done with it, something is going to have to drastically change for me to care about the Raw Cruiserweight Division.

I suppose that if you are actually paying attention, these two are going to lay it on the line and perform some high-flying spots designed to get a pop out of the crowd.  The match won’t go very long as it is part of the pre-show, where it belongs.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Cruiserweight Champion, Neville

Bayley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax in a Fatal 4-Way Elimination match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

Not even the daughter of Ric Flair can save this match from being a total abomination.  At least it will be a good time for a bathroom break during the show.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Chris Jericho (c) vs. Kevin Owens in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship

This match is a shining example of how great storytelling, the right setting, and the right amount of time, can set up a stellar matchup at WrestleMania.  The months-long “friendship” angle between Owens and Jericho seemed like it was designed to be a joke or a one-night-only occurrence at first.  But the angle was kept alive for months, and delivered enough twists and turns to take us to an eventual WrestleMania match between the two.

Chris Jericho has never been the best, despite his massive ego and how he refers to himself.  He was overshadowed by his contemporaries like The Rock, Kurt Angle, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Shawn Michaels for good reason.  They were all better than him.  His many returns as a nostalgia act over the past several years didn’t catch on at all, and resulted in some boring and routine matches that didn’t resonate with the WWE fan base.  All this changed when he paired up with Kevin Owens in his most recent run.

Kevin Owens caught on with the WWE audience since day one.  He doesn’t have a prototypical WWE wrestler’s look, in fact, he’s clearly overweight and not a physical specimen at all.  However, he connected with the fans as someone who is relatable to them.  Despite the fact that he has worked exclusively as a heel, he appealed to adult fans and gets his fair share of cheers.  Fans respect his ability to get a storyline over with his great promos, he can be funny, evil, arrogant, and sarcastic, just like any top heel should be able to do.  He has an innovative in-ring style, and his matches keep you on the edge of your seat.

The pairing of Owens and Jericho has revitalized Jericho’s career. Some say this is his best and most memorable run ever.  At age 46, he probably is nearing retirement from the ring, and this match could be his last chance to create a lasting WrestleMania memory.  Owens, on the other hand, still has plenty of gas left in the tank and wants to show the world that he can be a WrestleMania headliner at some point in his career.

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

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (c) vs. Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Cesaro and Sheamus in a Triple threat ladder tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

Unlike most of the matches on the card, this one has veered towards “overbooked” territory.  It would be one thing if it were a just a triple-threat tag team match.  All three teams have had a great year and are deserving of being on the card somehow.  But the late addition of the ladder stipulation was unnecessary.  It’s almost as if somebody in WWE creative said to themselves last Monday “Oh, crap!  We forgot to book a ladder match at WrestleMania!  It’s not WrestleMania without a ladder match!”

The triple-threat ladder match at WrestleMania was revolutionized by Edge and Christian, The Hardy Boys, and The Dudleys during The Attitude Era.  The revolution grew organically because the talents in them had shown the ability to work well in ladder matches prior to WrestleMania.  The trio of wrestlers in this year’s ladder match don’t exactly have the same resume as those three classic teams had headed into WrestleMania 2000.

Gallows and Anderson have had a start-and-stop push since their WWE debut in 2016.  In the beginning, they made a big splash as members of “The Club” along with AJ Styles and were received well by the fans.  They ended up somehow getting lost in the pack after the brand split in July, but hung in there and were eventually awarded the Raw Tag Team championship.  They seem to be still finding their way in the WWE, but this championship run, along with this match on WrestleMania 33 will certainly help their cause.

Enzo Amore and Big Cass hit the floor running when they received the call to the main roster last year.  Their exposure from NXT had the crowd chanting along with their cadence on their very first night.  They are an entertaining duo despite the fact that they work exclusively as baby faces.  This is the type of pairing that is destined to break up at some point and feud with each other, so it is best for them to seize the opportunity they have now while they are still together.

Cesaro and Sheamus are together as a team, likely because the WWE has run out of ideas what to do with them as singles competitors.  Cesaro is never going to catch fire, and Sheamus has been to the top but that was in the distant past.  They found chemistry together and work well against both of the teams they are facing off against in this match.

This match could be either remembered as a classic, or bowling shoe-ugly.  The ladder stipulation isn’t helping matters much.  Instead of tagging in and out, all six men will be in the ring at the same time, making it difficult for them to time their spots well.

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

Goldberg (c) vs. Brock Lesnar (with Paul Heyman) in a Singles match for the WWE Universal Championship


WWE Universal Champion, Goldberg is ready for his WrestleMania rematch against Brock Lesnar.

Who would have seen this match coming this time last year?  Goldberg was an afterthought, a revered WCW hero who never caught on in the WWE, who seemed to be happy to have moved on with his life. All we knew about his departure from the WWE was that it was acrimonious and it didn’t seem like, at age 50, he was destined to come back for one more run.

What we didn’t know, was that Goldberg had the desire to come back one more time due to a life-changing event, the birth of his son.  As he grew older, Goldberg wanted to give his son, Gabe, a chance to see him wrestle one more time.  It seems that this humbled Goldberg and he was able to patch up his differences with the McMahon family and agree to return for the Survivor Series in 2016 for a match against Brock Lesnar.

The professional wrestling world was shocked at the outcome of the Lesnar/Goldberg Survivor Series match when Goldberg easily defeated Lesnar in about a minute and a half.  Critics were quick to point out that they thought that the reason this happened was because of Goldberg’s age and lack of ability, the longest he could last in a match was under two minutes.  What the critics didn’t see, however, was the WWE building towards a bigger feud between the two that will culminate in a WrestleMania 33 match between the two.

This is a very interesting angle that the WWE used to build this match.  Brock Lesnar has been presented as an unbeatable destroyer since he ended The Streak of The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX.  By painting him as someone who “underestimated” Goldberg, causing him to lose, it keeps his credibility as a destroyer intact.  It also paints Lesnar as a credible threat to turn the tide and defeat Goldberg the second time around.

I had the misfortune of seeing their first matchup at WrestleMania XX live at Madison Square Garden.  That match was a mess as both men, and the audience, knew they both were about to leave the WWE after that night.

This time around, both men are in a different place in their careers and their personal lives.  Both genuinely want to put on a good show this time around, and make up for their lackluster performance in 2014.  Goldberg isn’t known for putting on long matches, and at this age, it’s not known if he even can perform in a long match.  But, that is beside the point.  If this match goes 1 minute, 5 minutes, or 30 minutes, it will certainly be designed to tell a story and give the live crowd something to react to.

Prediction: Winner, and still WWE Universal Champion, Goldberg

I realize I’m going against the grain with this pick.  The betting odds heavily favor Lesnar as Goldberg is rumored to be done with the WWE after this match.  But the WWE shocked us once before at Survivor Series the last time these two faced each other.  It wouldn’t surprise me if it happens again at WrestleMania 33.

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


WWE 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 2016 Royal Rumble Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Mark Henry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Kevin Owens

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

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

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

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

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

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