WrestleMania 36 Postscript

Undertaker Boneyard Match

The most unusual WrestleMania ever featured an unforgettable Boneyard Match between The Undertaker and AJ Styles

Vince McMahon and the WWE managed to defy the odds and stage WrestleMania 36, despite overwhelming regulatory pressure across America to avoid unnecessary work and remain socially distant.  The die-hard fan in me says that WrestleMania is necessary and must go on at all costs.  But I’ll leave it up to my readers to decide if it was a wise decision to go ahead with it, given the potential risks to the performers, production staff, anybody they came in contact with, and society as a whole.

The WWE did the best they could under the circumstances, but it is nearly impossible to put on a credible professional wrestling show without a live audience in the stands to react to what they are seeing and hearing in the ring.  Two nights of fan-less WrestleMania started to fall a little flat by Sunday.

It was the most obvious during the final match of Sunday night between Brock Lesnar and Drew McIntire.  This was a championship match in a WrestleMania main event that was made up of almost all finishing moves and not much else.  Under normal circumstances, the fans would have popped for the finishers and each subsequent false finish, finally exploding when the emerging hero Drew McIntire finally got the pin and took home the gold.  But with silence in the building, the match came across as underwhelming and lacked excitement.  That exact same match in front of 80,000 fans would have appeared to be much different.

It wasn’t all a wash, there were some fun moments, and some interesting spots that wouldn’t have happened in front of a live crowd.  You could hear what the wrestlers and their entourage members were saying, like when Paul Heyman said to Lesnar: “He’s good, you have to hit him again!”  And the wrestlers were able to make creative use of the props in the WWE performance center.

If I had to grade the show overall, I’d give it a “B”, but I’d give Saturday night an “A” and Sunday night a “C”.  Saturday night was a bit more compact, and it featured a very good match between Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins.  And of course, the main event Boneyard Match between The Undertaker and AJ Styles stole the show and will go down as one of the best WrestleMania matches of all time.

Sunday was a big more lackluster overall, not just because of the lackluster main event.  It also featured another cinematic match between Bray Wyatt and John Cena which didn’t work as well as the Boneyard Match on Saturday.  In their Firefly Funhouse Match, there wasn’t much of a match at all, but a satirical and bizarre career retrospective of both individuals that ended without much wrestling or fighting at all.  I see what the WWE was trying to do there, but it just didn’t work all that well.

Sunday also featured the Last Man Standing match between Randy Orton and Edge.  The match went way too long, and in fact clocked in at the second longest WrestleMania match ever behind only the sixty-minute Iron Man match between Shawn Michaels and Brett “The Hitman” Hart at WrestleMania XII.  As Causal Geekery points out, Last Man Standing matches are a creative trap to being with, they are an exercise in very long false finishes which try your patience.  Which is more exciting, a kick out at two and 7/8ths, or someone who barely gets to his feet after an excessively long 9 count and then falls back down again?  These two should have had an emotional and exciting match, instead all they did was hit each other over the head repeatedly and found ways to get up until Edge brained Orton with a Con-Chair-To to put the match out of its misery.

Per the norm, WrestleMania had its share of winners and losers.  Some came out looking very good, others not so much.

Losers

  • Seth Rollins: Seth came into WrestleMania with an impressive 6-1 record, having recorded at least one victory in every WrestleMania he had competed in. Those aren’t exactly Undertaker-like stats, but they were nothing to sneeze at and something he could have used to build interest in future WrestleMania matches.  That angle is now dead.
  • Charlotte Flair: Now that she’s the NXT champion, does that mean she’s demoted from the main brands?  This never made any sense.
  • Brock Lesnar: He sure loses a lot of WrestleMania matches, doesn’t he? At what point does he lose his mystique as The Conqueror?
  • Goldberg: Why was he brought back again?
  • Bobby Lashley: Jobbing to Aelister Black has no upside.
  • Daniel Bryan: Lost a championship match in two straight WrestleMania’s. He needs to regain some momentum if he wants to finish his career out on top.
  • Dolph Ziggler: They finally put him on a WrestleMania card in a singles match, and he loses to Otis? And Otis gets the girl in the end?  Oh man, just put Ziggler out of his misery already!
  • Randy Orton and Edge: Had a chance to put on a much better match than they did. Nobody told these veterans that “less is more”?

Winners

  • Kevin Owens: Seth Rollins’ loss is KO’s gain. He finally had his WrestleMania moment and can build off this.
  • Becky Lynch: Her match sucked, but she has her own Mack Truck!
  • Drew McIntyre: His WrestleMania moment lost a little something with no fans to enjoy it, but he still closed out WrestleMania with a championship win over Brock Lesnar, his journey to the top of the WWE is finally complete.
  • Braun Strowman: Let’s hear it for the guy who couldn’t ever seem to get to the top!  After all these years in WWE, he won his first singles title in 2020, only to lose the Intercontinental Title very quickly.  He had to replace Roman Reigns in a championship match against Goldberg with no buildup, and just like that he had his WrestleMania moment and walked out with the WWE Universal Championship!
  • Sami Zayn: His middling career finally includes a singles championship match victory.
  • Otis: This is the unlikeliest WrestleMania booking of them all. For a guy who is a rookie and a tag team specialist to get a singles win at WrestleMania is nearly unheard of.  And he got the girl in the end, I guess I must admit that the guy has game!
  • AJ Styles and The Undertaker: All I can say about their match is “wow!”  It was a masterpiece of the rarely utilized “Cinematic Wrestling” artform.  The Undertaker has been justifiably criticized for hanging on for too long and putting on sub-par matches.  But the creative editing in this non-traditional match made him look like a million bucks.  AJ Styles was the perfect foil for this match.  The guy knows how to be a heel, he cheats, he talks smack, and he begs for forgiveness right before he gets pummeled by the babyface.  It was a movie and a wrestling clinic all in one, and it will be included in the list of greatest WrestleMania matches of all time.  And it began and ended with “Now That We’re Dead” by the greatest band in the world, Metallica!

Moving forward, it is very hard to say what will happen next.  Not because of the natural unpredictability of WWE storylines, but because the world is still in the throws of the COVID-19 crisis, and that directly impacts how and if the WWE can still generate content.  Now that WrestleMania is over, safety is paramount, and we can only hope that the world returns to normal sometime soon and we can get back to enjoying Raw and Smackdown and WWE pay-per-views in front of packed arenas again.  That would make the world seem normal again!

WrestleMania 36 Analysis and Predictions

WrestleMania splash

I hope you weren’t counting on Roman Regins to appear at this pandemic-influenced WrestleMania!

Amid a global pandemic that has shaken our reality to the core, WrestleMania weekend is here.  By all accounts, the entire show was recorded on several closed sets well in advance of the weekend.

Professional wrestling is impossible to be “socially distanced”.  Even a die-hard fan must wonder if the decision to go ahead with WrestleMania was a wise one, even with all the limitations that were placed on the event. Vince McMahon has a pretty shady past to begin with.  In 1983, he helped Jimmy Snuka beat criminal charges for the murder of Nancy Argentino. He proceeded to do business with Saudi Arabia in the face of overwhelming evidence that their royal family had a man tortured and killed.  You can almost hear him in a boardroom at WWE headquarters in Connecticut telling what’s left of his management team: “Dammit, I’m not going to let this coronavirus get in the way of what’s best for business, dammit!”  Whatever you think of Vince or decision, we now have two nights of WrestleMania to watch, and there isn’t much else to do!  Might as well tune in and try to enjoy it.

Against the backdrop of COVID-19, WrestleMania 36 had to be adapted radically, and it is going to look much different than what we are used to.  First off, as I mentioned, it had to be stretched into two nights to cover for the loss of the traditional surrounding events such at the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony and NXT Takeover.  Second, number of competitors in matches has been limited, likely due to social distancing measures.  Gone are the Battle Royals.  Third, there will be no special guest appearances by non-WWE talent like we’ve seen in the past.  No Joan Jett, Flo Rida, or Living Color to play superstar entrance themes.

But the most obvious difference of them all is that there won’t be any fans in attendance.  It is hard to imagine professional wrestling taking place in front of an empty arena.  It is a performance art that completely depends on fan reactions, and it feels empty and meaningless without a live audience to react what is said and done in the ring.  This is going to put extra pressure on the performers themselves to figure out how to entertain a television audience that they can’t see or hear.

The one interesting thread outside of the announced matches is the inclusion of Rob Gronkowski as WrestleMania host.  Gronkowski recently flamed out of the NFL because he was no longer able to perform at an elite level. The WWE saw something in him and signed him to a contract.  I’d presume the original intent of his WrestleMania involvement was to have him get involved in a match leading to his first feud in WWE as a wrestler.  Now he’s on double duty so we’ll see where it leads.

At the time of this writing, there are sixteen (!) matches planned across two nights.  Of course, this means that there are too many active competitors on the WWE main rosters, and there is no way to hold an audience captive for long enough to watch all of them.  I suggest using the women’s matches to get up and stretch.  You won’t miss much, and it will help you concentrate on the better matches.

On to the predictions!

Kevin Owens vs. Seth Rollins in a singles match

Who is better on WWE programming right now than Kevin Owens and Seth Rollins?  These guys could be in a professional wrestling textbook chapter about how to get a classic good guy versus bad guy feud over with the fans.

The “Monday Night Messiah” cuts one of the best promos in WWE right now.  And he sports an impressive WrestleMania record of 6-1.  His only loss occurred at WrestleMania 31, but he went on to score a win later that same night anyway.  Kevin Owens missed WrestleMania last year due to injury and does not have a signature WrestleMania moment in his career.  He’s going to look to change that this weekend against Rollins.  This match could steal the show, which ever night it’s on.

Prediction: Winner, Seth Rollins

The Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford) (c) vs. Austin Theory and Angel Garza (with Zelina Vega) in a tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

This should be a decent filler match.  The Street Profits are hot right now, and Austin Theory, who was called up from NXT to replace the unavailable Andrade, are all motivated to put on a good WrestleMania match.

Prediction: Winners and new WWE Raw Tag Team Champions, Austin Theory and Angel Garza

Rhea Ripley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair in a singles match for the NXT Women’s Championship

After headlining WrestleMania 35 last year, Charlotte Flair finds herself in one of the biggest WrestleMania main event demotions since what happened to King Kong Bundy at WrestleMania III.  She’s competing for the minor league title against a fledgling competitor that isn’t ready for the Raw or Smackdown stage, let alone WrestleMania.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Becky Lynch (c) vs. Shayna Baszler in a singles match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

See the notes about the Charlotte Flair match above, Becky is in the same boat.  It’s hard to understand why this happened to the women’s division year over year, but it probably has something to do with the fact that it is highly overrated and was not ready to headline WrestleMania 35 to begin with.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Drew McIntyre in a singles match for the WWE Championship

Drew McIntyre is the feel-good story headed into WrestleMania.  His tale of being fired, re-dedicating himself, and making his way to the top of the WWE card has been told ad nauseum in the run up to this main event.  This may seem like an organic storyline, the underdog that the crowd supported because they recognized his talent and effort, who was rewarded by the WWE with a WrestleMania main event appearance.  But it really isn’t.

Brock Lesnar is the face of the WWE.  He is the special attraction that sells tickets and draws ratings when he appears sparingly on WWE events.  Drew McIntyre is nowhere near Lesnar’s league, and Lesnar is going to make very short work of him on his way to a big WrestleMania win.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, Brock Lesnar

Goldberg (c) vs. Braun Strowman in a singles match for the WWE Universal Championship

Talk about COVID-19 wreaking havoc on the WrestleMania card.  First off, the WWE makes the ridiculous decision to have Goldberg come out of nowhere to squash The Fiend Bray Wyatt to set up a WrestleMania match between Goldberg and Roman Reigns.  Never mind that the WWE spent a year building up Wyatt to be an unstoppable force, only to completely undo the whole thing by having him completely job to Goldberg at a match in Saudi Arabia.  I guess they didn’t believe in Wyatt’s ability to sell tickets to WrestleMania, so they had to fall back to an ancient relic with better name recognition to fill that spot.

That match was designed to make Goldberg look strong headed into his WrestleMania main event against Reigns.  There was a brief in-person faceoff between Goldberg and Reigns to set up the feud.  But due to circumstances believed to be related to the COVID-19 pandemic, Reigns backed out of WrestleMania very late in the production cycle.  Therefore, the WWE was forced to substitute Braun Strowman in Reigns’ place with no time to build up any storyline whatsoever.  A situation like this is unprecedented in the WrestleMania era, no main event has ever been changed during WrestleMania weekend.

This is a bit of a curveball which makes the outcome of the match difficult to predict.  It’s hard to believe that the WWE would elevate Strowman to champion out of nowhere.  It’s also hard to believe that Goldberg is going to stick around for long as the champion when it appears that his job was simply to headline WrestleMania, hand the title to Reigns, and then fade away. It’s anyone’s guess, but I’ll make one anyway.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Universal Champion, Goldberg

John Cena vs. “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt in a Firefly Fun House match

Bray Wyatt was a lost cause in the WWE, having not lived up to his full potential.  The WWE pulled him off television, repackaged him as The Fiend, and a star was born.  He became WWE champion and appeared to be on his way to a WrestleMania main event when he was inexplicably destroyed by Goldberg and lost the strap.

Even more inexplicable than that, the next night instead of challenging Goldberg to a rematch, he challenged John Cena to a WrestleMania match.  This is a rematch of their WrestleMania XXX match that Cena won.  It was a creative misstep to have Cena beat Wyatt at that time, and that sent Wyatt into his spiral of almost always losing big matches.

With the character of The Fiend all but ruined after his loss to Goldberg, it’s hard to care very much about him.  But he is going to continue to be a full timer in the WWE while Cena will likely leave after WrestleMania to return to his acting career.  Logic seems to dictate that Wyatt will take this victory under those circumstances.

Nobody knows exactly what a Firefly Fun House match is, or how someone wins it.  To watch how that unfolds should be an interesting development.

Prediction: Winner, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt

Bayley (c) vs. Lacey Evans vs. Naomi vs. Sasha Banks vs. Tamina in a Fatal 5-Way Elimination match for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

This match should be outlawed.  Not because it violates social distancing standards, but because it looks terrible on paper, and will probably be even worse in practice.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Aleister Black vs. Bobby Lashley (with Lana) in a singles match

I have no idea where this match came from or why I should care.  Bobby Lashley was doing some cool things in his “love triangle” program between himself, Lana, and Rusev.  That program went away, Rusev is gone, and he’s now in a match that with the underwhelming Aleister Black, a guy with a cool entrance and not much else.

Prediction: Winner, Bobby Lashley

The Undertaker vs. AJ Styles in a Boneyard Match

After inexplicably being left off last year’s WrestleMania card, the greatest WrestleMania performer of all time is set to compete against veteran AJ Styles.  The Undertaker made a surprise appearance at WWE Super Showdown in February to win the prestigious Tuwaiq Mountain Trophy, and to set up the feud with Styles for WrestleMania.

The Undertaker dropped his “deadman” gimmick for this feud as Styles called him out by his real name and referenced his wife Michelle McCool.  Paradoxically, this is going to be a Boneyard Match, so you’d have to assume that The Undertaker is going to approach the situation with a hybrid “deadman” and “American Badass” persona.  This should be one of the best matches on the card.

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

The Kabuki Warriors (Asuka and Kairi Sane) (c) vs. Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross in a tag team match for the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship

Four of the worst performers on the main roster.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

The Miz and John Morrison (c) vs. The New Day (Big E and Kofi Kingston) vs. The Usos in a Triple Threat Ladder match for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship

It’s not WrestleMania without a ladder match, right?  These are two of the best tag teams in the game today, along with the Miz and Morrison.  It’s hard to understand why, when the talent roster is so stacked that the WWE brought back the highly overrated Morrison, but there are enough solid competitors in this match to carry him and make it entertaining.  Hard to imagine a ladder match without crowd reactions, though.

Prediction: Winners and new WWE Smackdown Champions, The Usos

Elias vs. King Corbin in a singles match

Corbin is coming off one of the best programs of his career with his long-running feud with Roman Reigns.  He’s among the best heels in the company right now and will be a formidable opponent for Elias.  Both guys always carry themselves as if they have something to prove, so expect them to go the extra mile to put on a great match.

Prediction: Winner, King Corbin

Edge vs. Randy Orton in a Last Man Standing match

After a nine-year absence from the WWE due to what was thought to be a career ending neck injury, Edge shocked the Houston crowd at the Royal Rumble with his surprise entry into the match.  At the time it was hard to imagine a better feel-good moment.  Well, the even better feel-good moment happened the very next night when Randy Orton attacked his former friend in the ring and attempted to re-break Edge’s neck!  And the best feel-good moment of them all was when Orton explained that he attacked Edge because he loved him and was for his own good!

As far as wrestling storylines go, it doesn’t get any better than this.  Randy Orton is cutting the best promos of his life right now and this is guaranteed to be an emotional, knock-down, drag-out brawl.  This match could stand as one of the main events, it has that kind of potential.

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

Sami Zayn (c) (with Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura) vs. Daniel Bryan (with Drew Gulak) in a singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

There is a lot happening in this match.  It is a bit overbooked with all the extra faction members that are involved.  Zayn and Bryan are more than capable of carrying this match on their own.  I don’t get where Drew Gulak even came from or who he is.  It is an odd pairing that does nothing for Bryan.  Nakamura and Cesaro are well past their WWE peaks and are running out the clock on their contracts at this point without much to offer anymore.  I’m hoping the focus is just on Zayn and Bryan and they put on an entertaining match.  Bryan always saves his best for WrestleMania and I expect this year to be no different.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Daniel Bryan

Otis vs. Dolph Ziggler (with Mandy Rose) in a Singles match

Otis being booked in a singles match at WrestleMania is as unlikely as it gets.  He is a tag team specialist and doesn’t have any memorable singles matches in the WWE at all.  But the WWE saw something in him when it created the soap opera-like angle with his ill-fated romance with Mandy Rose.  On the go-home Smackdown, a shadowy hacker revealed that Otis’ attempt at a date with Mandy Rose was sabotaged by a conspiracy between Sonya Deville and Dolph Ziggler.

This story is still being told, and its outcome is probably more interesting than the outcome of the match itself.  The real prize isn’t winning the match, it’s Mandy Rose herself.  One must hope that the outcome is for Dolph Ziggler to get her in the end, proving once and for all that nice guys finish last and chicks dig bad guys! Ziggler is a perennial under-achiever, this is a good opportunity for him to shine.

Prediction: Winner, Dolph Ziggler

That’s a lot of wrestling for two nights!  Even a pre-produced and crowd-less WrestleMania is still going to be the best of the WWE.  Enjoy the show and let me know what you think!

WrestleMania 35 Postscript

IMG_3222

The view from my seats at MetLife Stadium for WrestleMania 35

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Losers

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

Winners

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

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

WrestleMania 35 Analysis and Predictions

Me and Daniel Bryan

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

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

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

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

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

Special Attractions

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Batista

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Shane McMahon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Baron Corbin

AJ Styles vs. Randy Orton

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

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Braun Strowman

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still champion, Samoa Joe

Roman Reigns vs. Drew McIntyre

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Drew McIntyre

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

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

Prediction: The team with the dumbest name wins

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still champion, Bobby Lashley

WrestleMania Women’s Battle Royal

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

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

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

Prediction: Winners and still champions, The Revival

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

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

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

Prediction: Winners and new champions, The Bar

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still champion, Brock Lesnar

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still champion, The New Daniel Bryan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WWE SummerSlam Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

Samoa Joe.jpg

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Champion, Samoa Joe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, The Miz

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, Dolph Ziggler

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

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Finn Bálor vs. Baron Corbin

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Baron Corbin

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and new MITB holder, Kevin Owens

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

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

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

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

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

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

WWE WrestleMania 34 Analysis and Predictions

 

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It’s the best time of year to be a WWE fan!  No weekend out of the year is better than WrestleMania weekend!  WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans will have a stacked card from start to almost the finish!  Roman Reigns is set to ruin a fourth straight WrestleMania main event, but even the lack of suspense surrounding the outcome of his match won’t dampen my enthusiasm for the card.

In fact, there is enough mystery baked into this card to keep us guessing for most of the night.  In addition to there not being too many obvious winners on the card, there are a lot of questions that we don’t have answers for right now:

  • What is this “performance” that Elias has promised us going to entail?
  • What’s up with John Cena calling out The Undertaker to no avail? Is Cena really not going to have a match?  Would they have an unadvertised Cena/Undertaker match on the card?  Is something else going to happen?
  • Who is Braun Strowman’s TBD tag team partner? Or is he not going to have one and use some sort of reverse Feebird Rule to win the tag title himself?
  • Is this Brock Lesnar’s last match before returning to the UFC?
  • What happened to Bray Wyatt in the Lake of Reincarnation at the Hardy Estate two weeks ago? Is he going to make a surprise return with a new persona?
  • Is there going to be a heel turn we don’t see coming?
  • Is a WWE alumnus going to make his return? Will an NXT call up have an impact on the card?  Will someone from NJPW crash the show?

The WWE is at its best when it can actually keep storylines secret and you don’t have any idea what is going to happen.  It makes the show all the more enjoyable to sit back and watch.  I expect that this could be one of the best WrestleMania’s we’ve seen in the past 10 years, and we could be treated to at least one or more top-10-all-time best WrestleMania matches.

On to my expert predictions.

AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura in a Singles match for the WWE Championship

It’s hard to believe how far Shinsuke Nakamura has come in just one year on the Smackdown roster.  He showed up on the Smackdown following WrestleMania 33 with a violinist playing in his bizarre entrance.  He called himself the “King of Strong Style” and got the crowd to sing along with his entrance music in the following weeks.  He started to stand in the middle of the ring, do a squat, and scream “Come on!” at his opponents and the crowd ate it up.  Lastly, he came up with the catch phrase “Knee to Face” and that seemed to put him over the top.  I can’t figure out where the substance to any of this is, but the fans seem to really like it.

AJ Styles, conversely, is one of the top performers in the company right now, both on the microphone and in the ring.  His in-ring work is unparalleled on the WWE main roster right now and that has earned him the fans respect.  He reminds many of a master wrestling technician who can also sell and tell a story, like a young Shawn Michaels.  Even in his early 40’s, he’s the subject of anybody’s dream match right now.

The build for this match has been lackluster.  Anytime you have a big babyface vs. babyface match, the angle is a bit of a creative trap. They have to protect both guys image, and nobody can generate any real heat.  They have to pretend like there is a mutual respect for each other, and that is a very uninteresting way to promote a match.  Either way, when they get to the ring they should deliver.

There’s a lot on the line in this match.  Styles gets his first opportunity to defend a championship at WrestleMania and Nakamura has never wrestled a bigger match in his life.  His Tokyo Dome experience from NJPW is the little league compared to having to perform on the Grandest Stage of Them All.  Both of these men, at this stage in their careers will want to make a statement in this match.  It has the potential to be the match of the night, and perhaps a top-10 greatest WrestleMania match of all time.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, AJ Styles

The Miz (c) vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Bálor in a Triple Threat Match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

The Miz has come a long way since his WrestleMania XXVIII main event against John Cena in which he successfully defended the World Championship.  In many ways, he’s a better wrestler now, and his reign as Intercontinental champion has been more impressive than his World Championship.  He is the best heel in the business and is considered by many to the WWE MVP.

Seth Rollins has lost a great deal of momentum since he lost the WWE Championship following an in-ring injury.  He was the feel-good story coming out of WrestleMania 31, when he stole the championship from Brock Lesnar in the main event with a surprise cash-in of his Money In The Bank contract.  Since the injury which cost him a spot at WrestleMania 32, he hasn’t had too many noteworthy moments.  He flip-flopped back and forth as a heel, he re-united The Shield, but that angle fizzled due to illness and injuries to the other two.  He had a slow-burn angle with Jason Jordan which came to a quick end when Jordan himself was injured.  Rollins needs his luck to turn around, and a big match at WrestleMania 34 would certainly do that.

Finn Bálor is a one-trick-pony.  He has a slick entrance with audience participation.  Other than that, he’s a scrawny little twerp who wears tights with a leather jacket.  He should be in the 205 division, wrestling guys his own size.  He doesn’t look right wrestling guys who outweigh him by 75 pounds.  He has zero personality to make up for his lack of size.  I don’t expect him do much of anything interesting in this match.

I’d prefer to see this as a two-man match, but this is better than the typical 5-man ladder match they usually put on for the IC title at WrestleMania, so I’ll take it.  Triple-threat matches are all about timing the big spots between the three competitors and are stylistically very difficult to pull off.  The Miz and Rollins are going to have to be at their best to pull this off and carry Bálor.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, The Miz

Randy Orton (c) vs. Bobby Roode vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Rusev in a Fatal Four-Way Match for the WWE United States Championship

Not to be outdone by the triple threat match for the Intercontinental Championship, the United States Championship will be decided in a fatal four-way match.  A match like this will be either memorable for years because it was so good, or bowling shoe-ugly. Everybody will try to get a signature move in at some point in order to stand out.

Randy Orton continues to plod through the later stages of his career.  His championship win at WrestleMania was noteworthy because the crowd of over 70,000 was mostly silent throughout the match.  He’s going to need something better out of this year’s WrestleMania match.

Bobby Roode is the least interesting competitor in this match.  Over-produced entrance, an underwhelming personality, and way past his prime.  Nothing to see here.

Rusev snuck into this match because he suddenly has a popular catch phrase: “Rusev Day”!  It’s kind of weird but it works for him and should last for a little while longer.  I thought he was better as a monster heel, but I guess he’s selling more merchandise this way so good for him.

Jinder Mahal is the biggest home-grown star we’ve seen in years in WWE.  He’s had an amazing rebound from being fired from the WWE to his return and eventual ascension to WWE Champion.   He’s got a great look and played the part of the cliched ethnic heel to the best of his abilities.  If anybody deserves a WrestleMania moment and a win in this match, it’s Mahal.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE United States Champion, Jinder Mahal

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

If you’ve ever followed this blog, you know what I’m about to say.

Prediction: This match will suck

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

Big build up all around for this match.  The Usos finally get a match on the main WrestleMania card for the first time in their careers.  They’ve put in the time and they did a good job re-inventing themselves after their bland Hardy Boyz-ripoff gimmick they started off with.  This is a big opportunity for them.

The New Day is as stale as can be, and this team is dying to be broken up.  Big E will go straight to the top, Xavier Woods will go straight to the middle, and Kofi Kingston will go back to being a jobber.  They’ve had a fantastic run, but it is high time for a swerve and a heel turn for one of them, bringing this faction to an end.

The Bludgeon Brothers are hot right now.  Harper and Rowan (having just lost their first names!) are the two most underrated big men on the roster right now.  These guys have all the tools to be the best in this game.  Their outfits are a little over the top, but everything else about this team screams heel champions.  Their build to this spot was masterful, having them lay waste to a host of jobbers and making them look unstoppable.  Watch this space, these guys are going to be big.

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

Cesaro and Sheamus (c) vs. Braun Strowman and TBD in a tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

How great is this?  The best tag team on Raw takes on the hottest talent on Raw, with a bone-fide mystery partner by his side!  This is WWE at it’s best, creating a ridiculous situation that we’re dying to see.  Could you imagine paying to see the Yankees play a home game against a mystery opponent?  Wouldn’t ever happen!  But in professional wrestling, this is creative gold!

People have argued that this isn’t the best spot for Braun Strowman and that he deserves to be in the main event.  I’m a huge fan of his, but I think this is a great spot for him.  Roman Reigns is the “chosen one” and there’s nothing we can do about it.  Strowman is still going to get his push, and he’s going to take the ball and run with it.  He does monster heel, he does comedy, he performs ridiculous feats of strength.  What’s not to love about the guy?  Just because he’s not in the main event, doesn’t mean he can’t be awesome.

Who is his partner?  I’ve read all kinds of speculation that it could be a returning hero, an NXT call up, or someone else already on the roster.  What’s the point in trying to figure it out now?  Just sit back and let the show come to you!

Cesaro and Sheamus always deliver.  They are going to nail their parts in this match and you can count on that.  When they lose the title, it will be fun to watch them chase it back down.

Prediction: Winners and new WWE Raw Tag Team Champions, Braun Stroman and TBD

Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Asuka Singles match for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

Out of respect for Ric Flair, I won’t disrespect his daughter.  But this match is as good as it gets for women’s wrestling because the bar is set so low.  Asuka is average at best and her gimmick is annoying.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE SmackDown Women’s Champion, Charlotte Flair

Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey vs. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon in a mixed tag team match

Kurt Angle made a hero’s return to the WWE last year at the WWE Hall Of Fame ceremony, and then re-joined the regular show as Raw General Manager.  Rumor had it there would be a big build to a WrestleMania 34 match for the Olympic gold medalist.  Instead, he got saddled with this abortion of a match.

Ronda Rousey left the UFC as a loser and a shell of her former badass self.  In the time between her UFC days and her WWE days, she did nothing to repair her reputation.  Thus far, she has completely bombed on the WWE stage.  Her promos are embarrassingly awkward.  As one of my readers pointed out to me “she had the personality of a wet blanket in UFC” and apparently, her ability to memorize and read lines the WWE creative team feeds her is zero.  Who even knows if she can wrestle?  Probably not very well.

I can’t feel too sorry for Triple H, he’s had some very good WrestleMania matches in his career.  But Kurt Angle deserved better than this.  I don’t think either one of them can save this mess.

Prediction: Winners, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon

Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a tag team match and if Owens and Zayn win, they will be rehired to SmackDown

Daniel Bryan’s surprise return to Smackdown changed the current landscape in the WWE in a way nobody saw coming.  He was close to the Shane McMahon rivalry with the Owens/Zayn duo for months, and he is perfectly positioned to return in this match.

Kevin Owens is the top heel on SmackDown, and the story arc of his simmering feud with Shane McMahon has taken on many Shakspearian twists since it began in 2017.  It’s now involved Sami Zayn, included the both of them sending McMahon to the hospital, and then getting themselves fired by Daniel Bryan before beating him up on the night he announced his return to active competition.  This was top heel work and WWE creative at its best.

This could be the most entertaining match of the night.  It has three of the best workers in the WWE right now, along with Sami Zayn who will play his supporting role as well.  It has “win” written all over it for Zayn and Owens, and it will be fun watching the aftermath on Smackdown when it’s all over.

Prediction: Winners, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

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

A fourth straight WrestleMania event is about to be ruined by Roman Reigns.  It’s a good thing this card is so stacked because the show will end with a thud with this match.  We’ve known for a year that Reigns is going go win the match.  The “like me because I’m a full-timer and Brock is a part-timer” angle is boring and has not helped Reigns improve one bit.  He still sucks on the mike and his in-ring psychology is poor.  No matter how many WrestleMania main events he gets, he never improves.

Brock Lesnar is about to walk out on the WWE.  His act has gotten tired and it will be good for the WWE to move on from him at the top. He had a great run since his return as a part-time special attraction, and something needs to be said about how less exposure can actually help a superstar in the WWE.  But it is time to go.

This match is going to fail to entertain.  The crowd will be tired, Lesnar will have his eye on the exit, and Reigns will continue to stink.  Try to stay awake if you can.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Universal Champion, Roman Reigns

Working the Shoot for WrestleMania Season

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WWE fans like to think that we’re smarter than our predecessors from 30 years ago.  We think we know what is going on behind the scenes because we can read about backstage news online.  Now that kayfabe is dead, we know all the insider wrestling terms that the wrestlers give away on their podcasts.  We know what a “work” is and what “shoot” means.  We’d rather not cheer for the “babyface” or the “heel” based on their on-screen persona, we’d like to choose who we like and cheer or boo depending on how we think the WWE is using him.  We want to feel like we’re on the inside and we know what is going on.

Well, I have news for all of you.  We are, indeed, a bunch of “marks” during this WrestleMania season. The WWE is giving us all sorts of “reality” storylines and promos to make us think that the setup behind WrestleMania matches is based in reality.  In fact, nothing can be further from the case.  The WWE creative team is working us all on the way to WrestleMania, both with true-style angles, and completely over-the-top ridiculousness, and the fans are eating it all up!

Take a look at the yet-to-be-announced John Cena vs. Undertaker match. The Undertaker has yet to make an appearance during WrestleMania season at all.  But John Cena has been selling a story line that has brought him from Raw to Smackdown in a futile effort to have a match at WrestleMania, all the while hinting that he should wrestle The Undertaker.  Finally, he called out The Dead Man on Raw one night and pretended that “they would cut off his mic because they told him the match wouldn’t happen”.  Guess what?  Whoever “they” is, wrote every line he spoke that night.  It was a total work, and an extremely effective one.  What probably would have been a dull match is now very highly anticipated.

Contrast the Cena/Undertaker angle with the Cesaro and Sheamus vs. Braun Strowman and his yet-to-be-announced tag-team partner storyline.  How ridiculous is Braun Strowman?  He’s strong enough to pull down lighting rigs, flip ambulances, flip tractor trailers, and turn the entire Raw stage upside down.  Kurt Angle announced a tag-team Battle Royal to determine #1 contendership for the Raw Tag Team Championship at WrestleMania, and Brawn Strowman inserted himself into the match by shouting at the referee, and he proceeded to win it without a partner.  From a reality standpoint, this guy is totally ridiculous.  Yet Strowman is the hottest guy on the roster right now, getting more and more popular every day.  We love it!

How about Daniel Bryan?  Who saw that coming?  Out of nowhere, the guy we thought was forced into retirement as a result of brain damage, was medically cleared to wrestle.  He started off Smackdown the day the story broke with a heart-felt promo about how grateful he was that his family and fans supported him while he was in retirement and he was so happy to be back.  That was as real as it gets on the WWE microphone.  How does the show end?  By him taking a worked beating at the hands of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens and leaving the arena on a stretcher.  Starting with a shoot and ending with a work, we got the best storyline on Smackdown all WrestleMania season!

Finally, there is the Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar WrestleMania rematch that pretty much nobody wants to see.  This match was rumored as far back as WrestleMania 33, so there wasn’t much suspense leading up to Reigns’ clinching of the spot at Elimination Chamber.  As usual, Roman Reigns can be counted on to be a boring dud on the microphone, and the WWE needed to find a new angle to use to sell this rerun of a match.  Somebody in WWE creative noticed that the WWE and UFC were both in Las Vegas on the same weekend, and that Brock Lesnar was photographed with Dana White on The Strip, while he didn’t attend the WWE show.  They got the brilliant idea to tell Brock to no-show Raw and have Roman Reigns cut a shoot-style promo saying that Reigns was abusing his part-time status by not showing up to Raw, and that we should take Roman’s side because he “shows up for work every day”.  As if that would somehow make him a good wrestler for a change.

At first, the wrestling rumor sites ate it up, and published stories that it appeared to be true that Lesnar really did no-show Raw due to some sort of altercation or disagreement with WWE brass.  The WWE faithful ate it up.  “How dare he disrespect us?  He really is like they say, he doesn’t care about the business he only cares about himself and money!  Screw him!!!”  Suddenly, Roman Reigns sounded somewhat interesting, not because he did anything noteworthy or good, but because people really started to hate Lesnar because he didn’t come to Raw.

The lines between reality and fantasy began to blur and crack the following week when Lesnar no-showed Raw again.  After the third week, it was apparent the storyline was a complete work when Lesnar no-showed for a third time.  The WWE took the unusual step of having the cameras follow Reigns into the “Gorilla Position” behind the entrance ramp curtain to confront Vince McMahon about the situation.  Doesn’t get any more “real” than that, right?

Well, none of the above was “real”.  The Lesnar storyline was a work.  All of it is a work.  We’re all marks and we are eating it up headed into WrestleMania 34.  In today’s wrestling landscape, the WWE has found a way to transform itself from “good guy vs. bad guy” to reality-based angles, and it is working very well right now.

It is the best time of the year to be a wrestling fan and I couldn’t be more excited for WrestleMania week.  Watch this space for expert analysis for all important WrestleMania matches and storylines.  I’m looking for your feedback, too, so stay in touch.

By the way, how cool was that Matt Hardy vs. Bray Wyatt Ultimate Deletion match on Raw two weeks ago?  Why don’t they do more stuff like that more often?  And what does it mean for WrestleMania?

WWE FastLane Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Rusev (with Aiden English)

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Shinsuke Nakamura

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, AJ Styles

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 Payback Analysis and Predictions

On the Monday Night Raw after WrestleMania 33, Vince McMahon proclaimed that the WWE is not lethargic and that the big wheel keeps on turning.  Sure enough, in the immediate aftermath of the biggest event of the year in the WWE, a new set of storylines began, a number of talents were called up from NXT, and superstars were traded between the Raw and Smackdown brands.  All of this was done with an eye towards selling us on a year’s worth of television, live events, and WWE Network subscriptions, leading into WrestleMania 34 in 2018.

Well, I have a spoiler alert for you.  Roman Reigns is going to be in his fourth consecutive WrestleMania main event at next year’s big show, and he will walk out of the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans as a winner and a champion.  Whether or not the rumors are true that there will be a repeat of the WrestleMania 31 main event with Reigns facing Brock Lesnar, it doesn’t change the situation.  Reigns was anointed to be the face of the WWE for the duration of his career.  His win over The Undertaker at WrestleMania was the figurative passing of the torch.

There is going to be a lot of hand-wringing from the fan base of the direction that Reign’s career is headed. It is a waste of time to point out all the flaws in his game and his overall lack of ability.  We are stuck with him no matter what.  Might as well enjoy booing the hell out of him every time he steps out of the curtain. It is somewhat cathartic.

While Reigns sits atop the food chain of the WWE these days, there are still lots of other compelling superstars to watch over the next year. The superstar shakeup has given us a chance to see some new matchups (except for the fact that Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens are now on Smackdown together so they’ll probably wrestle each other 25,000 times between now and WM 34), and you never know what you’re going to get with the latest round of NXT callups to the main roster.  Wrestling fans always love something new, and we are certainly going to get it.

The first Raw-themed pay-per-view since WrestleMania, Payback, takes place this Sunday and will pick up where WrestleMania left off.  Several matches on the card are rematches from WrestleMania, or they are the continuation of stories that were part of the WrestleMania build up.  Let’s take a look at what to expect.

Kevin Owens (c) vs. Chris Jericho in a Singles Match for the WWE United States Championship, if Jericho wins, he will be transferred to Smackdown

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The WWE missed a great opportunity to wrap up Jericho’s career at WrestleMania.  After a long and middling career that had been directionless for almost a decade, Jericho embarked on what was the best angle of his career when he was paired with Kevin Owens.  Their month’s long program revolving around their on-and-off again friendship produced drama, comedy, suspense, and surprise.  Jericho had never been so hot in his life.  At age 46, it would have been the perfect time for him to lose in a “loser goes home” match to Owens at ‘Mania.  He would have gone out at his absolute peak.

Instead, Jericho’s career persists with nowhere to go but down. Their match at WrestleMania was a serviceable effort, carried mainly by the younger and more talented Owens.  Chances are that this rematch will be a fun one to watch as it will likely blow off their feud for good and they will want to go out with a bang.

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

The Hardy Boyz (Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy) (c) vs, Cesaro and Sheamus in a Tag Team Match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy returned home to the WWE to a hero’s welcome at WrestleMania 33 with their surprise entrance into the Raw Tag Team Championship match.  The Attitude Era holdovers enjoyed a successful run on the independent circuit of late and drove the crowd into a frenzy with their win.

What many probably don’t realize is that the Hardy Boyz used to lose during the Attitude Era.  A lot.  They hardly ever won a pay-per-view match in their heyday.  They were known as the team that could deliver high spots, but never come out on top.  Their win at WrestleMania was a surprise in that respect.

Cesaro and Sheamus continue to be a tag team of convenience.  The WWE didn’t know what to do with them as singles competitors anymore, so they were paired up as a babyface/heel combination.  This match gives them the opportunity to show what they can do as tag team competitors facing the veteran Hardy Boyz for the first time.

Prediction: Winners and still WWE Raw Tag Team Champions, The Hardy Boyz

Randy Orton vs. Bray Wyatt in a House of Horrors Match

While I am always reluctant to declare a match as one or the best or worst in WrestleMania history without giving it a few years to look back on things, the jury is out on the Orton/Wyatt match at WrestleMania.  The verdict is that match sucked, and it could go down as one of the bigger failures we’ve ever seen in WrestleMania history.

The WWE tried to use special effects to bolster the visual effect of the occult-like abilities of Bray Wyatt during the match.  It failed to captivate the audience when a projector suddenly showed images of bugs and grubs on the ring mat at various points during the match.  In fact, someone at my WrestleMania yelled at the TV “They’re just using a projector!  How dumb is that?”

The end result was not good for Bray Wyatt’s legacy.  He is now 0-3 at WrestleMania and will forever be associated with this dud of a WrestleMania match.  Randy Orton didn’t come out of it looking too great, either.

This House of Horrors match between the two is shrouded somewhat in mystery.  It is a stipulation we have never seen before, and it will likely build on some special effects, similar to what we saw at WrestleMania.  Given how poorly that worked out, I wouldn’t expect this match to be much better.  Besides, Bray Wyatt never wins big matches, why should we care about him?

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

Neville (c) vs. Austin Aires in a Singles Match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

I still haven’t figured out why I should care about the WWE Cruiserweight division.  Have you?  Someone wake me up if you do.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Cruiserweight Champion, Neville

Bayley (c) vs. Alexa Bliss in a Singles Match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

The bar was set very low for the WWE Women’s division before Bayley arrived.  She somehow managed to lower it a great deal, and that is no small feat.  Awful gimmick, awful look, and awful wrestling.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe

Samoa Joe is a fresh addition to Monday Night Raw.  Already in his late 30’s, he doesn’t have much more of a shelf life in the professional wrestling business, so it is go-time for the big man.  I like what they are doing with his character, presenting him as a hit-man for The Authority.  It gives him a chance to do some nice heel work, and pair well with the babyfaces on the Raw roster.

Seth Rollins has never regained the momentum he lost as a heel champion in 2015 before he broke his knee and missed an extended period of time, including WrestleMania 32.  He isn’t a natural babyface and worked much better as an arrogant and cowardly heel.  This matchup against Samoa Joe, however, could end up being the match of the night.  The two veterans are capable of putting on a compelling match.  Certainly, Samoa Joe will want to make an impression in his WWE pay-per-view debut match.

Prediction: Winner, Samoa Joe

Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

I’ve said my piece about Roman Reigns at the beginning of this blog, and in pretty much every other blog post I’ve done over the past several years.  I’m getting tired of repeating myself.

The shame of it is that Reigns is killing Strowman’s momentum and credibility, just at a time when Strowman was starting to get good and be recognized by the fans.  The WWE did a fantastic job of building Strowman to be a monster heel over the second half of 2016, and he has shown constant improvement over the last year.

Unfortunately, Strowman had been used as the sacrificial lamb to get Reigns ready for his eventual win against The Undetaker at WrestleMania 33.  When he lost to Reigns at Fastlane, he lost a lot of his shine.  He recovered a lot of it with his vicious (and somewhat funny) beat down of Reigns on Raw a few weeks ago, that included him turning over an ambulance that Reigns was in!

All of that is going to be lost, when yet again, he jobs to Reigns.  I really wish that they had picked someone else for this spot and left Strowman off the card altogether.  It doesn’t benefit Strowman to be in this position at all, there is no way he is going to come out of this looking good when he loses, yet again, to Reigns.

Prediction: Winner, Roman Reigns