Royal Rumble Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, AJ Styles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar

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

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

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

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

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

No Chance in Hell:

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

Could Shock the World:

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

Favorites to win:

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

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

Prediction: Winner, The MIz

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

WWE 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 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.

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 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

Expert WrestleMania 31 Analysis and Picks (part 1 of 3)

This is the first of a three-part series of my expert analysis and picks for the entire card.  Just five days to go until WrestleMania 31 in San Jose, California.  The go-home Raw is in the books with Bray Wyatt cutting the promo of his life, the foundations for all eight matches being cemented, and an awkward confrontation between Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar to end the show.

WrestleMania is the most unique of the twelve pay-per-views that the WWE runs every year. It draws the most fans, it is held in the biggest stadiums, and it makes the most money of any event they hold.  The WWE goes out of its way to make this event stand out in the fans minds as the most grandiose event of the year.  They have described it as “The Grandest Stage of Them All”, “The Granddaddy of Them All”, “The Birthplace of Legends”, and “The Showcase of the Immortals”.

The matches themselves and the announcer’s commentary take on a unique characteristics throughout the event.  Finishing moves which would normally fell an opponent on Monday Night Raw won’t work on the first try, and they will lead to many suspenseful false finishes.  The announcer’s commentary will be dotted with superlatives, telling stories about the passion and the emotion that drives each competitor to succeed in their respective matches.  Ring entrances will be grander and longer than usual.  Every detail of the show will be designed to instill drama, excitement, and awe in the audience.

There are eight matches announced for the card thus far.  Six of them are one-on-one or tag team contests, and the other two are multi-talent matches, designed to fit as many members of the active roster on the card as possible.  These matches tend to be somewhat confusing to watch as there are too many things going on to focus on any particular one of them.  Talents tend to force high spots into their matches in order to create so-called “WrestleMania moments” for their own legacies.

In this article, I’m going to break down and pick the multi-talent matches, the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, and the seven-man Ladder Match for the WWE Intercontinental Title.

The André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

For the second year in a row, the André the Giant Battle Royal will be part of the WrestleMania card.  Last year, the match was mostly uninteresting until the final moments when Cesaro body slammed The Big Show over the top rope to win the match.  It was a memorable spot to see someone pick up a man the size of The Big Show and it seemed as though the victory would have primed Cesaro for a big push towards main-event status in 2014.  That never happened and he has floundered on the mid-card ever since, even being sent back down to developmental NXT for parts of the year.

This year, there are only a handful of competitors that seem to have a chance to win, and the rest are there to support the show.  At the time of this writing, there are 18 known entrants for the match, and a 19th will come from of the winner of an NXT tournament that will take place on Thursday.  It is highly unlikely that anybody who wasn’t announced for the match already is going to emerge as the winner.  Some notables thus far:

The Miz and Damien Mizdow: The feud between these two will probably be a highlight of the match given how long the animosity between the two has grown.  It would be disappointing to see the feud get blown off in a non-singles match, the predictable meltdown of this strange-bedfellow tag team will certainly come into play at some point during the match, and one of these two are probably favorites to win.

Curtis Axel: This third generation competitor has yet to get over with the fans in a meaningful way. Even a pairing with Paul Heyman as his spokesperson and a run as IC Champ really didn’t generate any interest in his character.  His latest gimmick, a spoof on the fact that he never made it into the Royal Rumble and therefore was never eliminated has at least gotten him noticed, if only for the time being.  I’d expect him to get a pop with his “Axelmania” shirt and Hulk Hogan imitation, but I wouldn’t expect that he stands a real shot of winning the match.

Ryback: The Big Guy has had his ups and downs over the past few years.  He carried a main-event program with CM Punk, which to this point has been the highlight of his career.  He’s been back on the mid card for the past year and a half or so and it seems like he is always on the verge of a bigger push to the top.  I’d expect for him to be in the mix at the end of this match.

The Big Show: For the second year in a row, Show is probably considered a favorite to win this match, if only due to his size.  As usual, I expect to see the same tired old spot where he’s too big to throw over the top until either a hero or a gang eliminates him.  He’ll be in it until the end, but he’s not going to win.

Kane: Quite possibly the most underrated talent on the main roster today, Kane’s body of work has spanned an entire generation.  He is one of the most versatile personalities we’ve ever seen, from working with or without a mask, to being evil or humorous, to today’s corporate stooge, he is always able to evolve his character and always deliver in the ring while he is at it.  It is good to see him continue to play a high-profile role in the twilight of his career as a member of The Authority, a character loosely based on his real life hobby as a Libertarian blogger and spokesperson.  I’d like to see more out of Kane and it is quite possible that he is a dark horse pick to win the whole thing.

Mark Henry: Along with Kane, and The Big Show, Mark Henry is a seasoned veteran who seems to get better with age.  He seems to come and go a lot more often these days, quite possibly hampered by injuries.  They have flip-flopped his character this past year between heel and babyface and it is somewhat unclear where he is right now.  His last high profile WrestleMania match was a victory over Ryback at WM 29.  He’s another guy I’d expect to see at the end but I would doubt that he’s likely going to win.

Goldust: Goldust is at the end of his unexpected comeback.  One of the most outlandish competitors we have ever seen surprised many with his most recent run, he appears to be lighter and quicker than he ever was which is no small feat for a man in his mid-40’s who has been in the business for as long as he has.  I felt that they should have had a Goldust vs. Stardust match at WrestleMania to send him off but that obviously didn’t happen, that feud was blown off with an odd finish to their match at FastLane.  Either way, this could very likely be his last WrestleMania as an active competitor.  It would certainly be a feel good moment if he were to win this match.

NXT: There is going to be at least one NXT developmental talent in the match.  Whomever it is will certainly get a chance to shine in his first main-roster WrestleMania appearance.  If WWE Creative has a long-term vision for whomever wins, he will probably at least look strong in this match.  It doesn’t do much good to bring a developmental talent up to the main roster, put him in a WresteMania match, and have him get tossed immediately.  He should at least be given a shot to make an impression.

Sheamus:  We haven’t seen him in months and vignettes on Raw suggest that he is returning sometime soon, most likely as a heel?  Is he going to enter the match?  Is he going to interfere?  If he does make a surprise return during the Battle Royal, expect him to make an impact.

The Flotsam and Jetsam: There isn’t much to make of the others in the match such as Fandango, Adam Rose, Zach Ryder, Titus O’Neil, or Heath Slater.  Most of them are developmental talents that have failed to get over, or glorified jobbers that stick around on the card to enhance mid-level talent.  They are going to get eliminated early and not be much of a factor in the match.

This is a tough match to call, there are at least five or six men who stand a legitimate shot of winning.

Prediction: The Miz to win by eliminating Damien Mizdow

Ladder Match for the WWE Intercontinental Match

This match is a curious mishmash of seven contrasting personalities and wrestling styles.  It is set against a humorous backdrop of the opponents of champion Bad News Barrett taking turns stealing his title belt as if it were their own.

I don’t like this match for two main reasons.  One is that the ladder match is past the point of being overdone, it has been a pay-per-view mainstay since WrestleMania X and it even has a pay-per-view of its own every December.  There is very little suspense left with each false finish when someone can’t quite reach the belt before he is knocked off the ladder by someone else.  The second reason is that seven competitors is too many.  It is going to be difficult to focus on the action and there are going to be long pauses where someone falls off the ladder and becomes “temporarily incapacitated” outside the ring in order to lie low and allow the cameras to focus on some other spot.  There are at least three too many men in this match, it would have been a little more interesting if it were only four competitors to follow.

A rundown of the competitors and what to expect:

Bad News Barrett (c): Barrett’s career has been a bit of a figurative roller coaster since his debut as part of the Nexus.  He has had some highs right out of the gate, in particular as a part of a main event program against John Cena.  His lows unfortunately were during times when he was on the injured list after suffering numerous harms that required surgery and rehab.  He got over with the fans in a big way when he mysteriously started coming to Raw and delivering one or two lines of “bad news” and won the IC championship as a babyface.  He was stripped of the title when he got hurt but upon his latest return, he was given the title back.  He’s still called “Bad News” although he has stopped giving the crowd their bad news.

Of late, he has been booked to look like a weak champion, losing many matches to his competitors in the run up to WrestleMania, as if to tell us that he is vulnerable and we should pay attention because there could likely be a new champion.  I expect BNB to deliver some of the most memorable spots in this match as he attempts to retain his title.

Daniel Bryan: Oh, how the mighty have fallen.  Last year, Daniel Bryan became the first person to win multiple matches on a WrestleMania card including a main event World Title match since Randy Savage at WM IV.  Everybody’s favorite underdog, the man that the masses forced upon WWE creative in at WrestleMania XXX is now one of seven men in a battle for a secondary title.  I’ve never been a fan of Daniel Bryan the babyface, I thought he was at his most interesting as a paranoid heel who came to the ring in a Ric Flair-style ring robe.  But even I have to question the motivation behind this move and I’m left to wonder why he couldn’t be given a singles match against anyone else in this match.

Either way, I expect a solid performance out of Bryan when he does have the focus. His style pretty much works with everyone, it’ll be interesting to see what he comes up with during a ladder match, especially since none of his submission holds will be relevant.

R-Truth: Curious decision to book R-Truth in this match, he hasn’t had much of a singles push to speak of in years.  He came out of nowhere to be in this match and I wouldn’t expect him to be much of a factor at all.  He is probably one of the guys they could have cut and this match wouldn’t have lost anything.

Dean Ambrose: The “Unstable” Dean Ambrose has been trying to regain some of the momentum that carried him late into 2014.  He more or less filled in Roman Reign’s spot last year at the top of the card while Reigns was out with a hernia.  He did an admiral job in several main event matches at pay-per-views including above average bouts with Bray Wyatt and Seth Rollins.  His personality, odd look, and brawling style have surprisingly gotten him over as a babyface even though he seems more suited to work as a natural heel.  He is the closest thing to an anti-hero since Stone Cold Steve Austin.  Perhaps his biggest limitation thus far has been creative decisions to force the notion that he really is “unstable” on us, including forgettable segments where he maimed a mannequin, or threw the contents of a hot dog cart on members of The Authority.

Ambrose has been booked to look strong lately, with several wins on Raw.  He also seems to be a hit with the fans as they voted for him on the WWE app during last Monday’s Raw.  Expect him to be a factor in this match and a possible favorite to win.

Luke Harper: Since his departure from The Wyatt Family, Harper has been searching for an identity.  He hasn’t changed his look or mannerisms at all since the split, but it is tough to decide exactly whom he really is and what he stands for.  He already made a strong impression in a ladder match at TLC in December against Dolph Ziggler, likely earning this opportunity. Until they figure out a new creative direction for Harper, I expect the big man to spin his wheels in the mid to lower card.  Don’t expect him to win this match.

Dolph Ziggler: Dolph is another competitor similar to BNB in that every time he seems to get hot, his career is slowed down by injuries.  The night after WM XXIX he captured his first World Championship by cashing in his Money in the Bank contract against Alberto Del Rio and received the biggest audience pop of his life. Unfortunately for him, shortly into his run ne was felled by a serious concussion and has not emerged in the main-event scene since.

Dolph has the crowd behind him now that he has turned his back on his arrogant heel gimmick. He is another person, similar to Bryan, who pits the fans against WWE creative.  The fans want more of him and want to see him compete for championships, but WWE creative seems to not share that notion and continues to book him in mid-level matches.  Given that he is a former IC champ, he is probably considered among the favorites to win, but I expect them to head in a different direction.

Stardust: The son of WWE Hall of Famer “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, and the younger half-brother of Goldust, Cody Rhodes (aka Stardust) has professional wrestling in his DNA.  He is at his mid-career level and has had several high profile bookings in his past.  He is a versatile personality and a steady-hand in the ring.

In this case, he doesn’t seem to be a fit for this match.  The WWE booking team has missed the obvious chance to put him in a brother-vs-brother match against Goldust. Instead, their feud seemingly came to an end at WWE FastLane and they are now in separate matches. His participation in this match was booked late and it doesn’t feel like he belongs in this match.

Overall I expect his match to be confusing, full of high spots involving ladders, and dotted with many false finishes.  Most of it will likely be repeats of what we have seen in past ladder matches, and my hopes for this match to be anything special are pretty low. With any luck, we at least get a set up for a new feud, a contender for the IC title at the next PPV, or a heel turn.

Prediction: Winner and still Intercontinental Champion, Bad News Barrett

Later this week, part two of this series will break down Sting/HHH, Rusev/Cena, and Orton/Rollins.