WrestleMania 35 Postscript

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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

WrestleMania 33 Postscript: Farewell to the Deadman

Prior to WrestleMania 33, the last time WrestleMania was held at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL was WrestleMania XXIV in 2008.  The most memorable match of that night was Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair as it was Flair’s last match in the WWE.  The running storyline was that Vince McMahon told Flair that Flair would have to retire should he lose a match.  So, it was pretty obvious that Michaels was going to win the match, sending Flair into retirement.  We could see it coming, but it was a very emotional and sad moment for fans of The Dirtiest Player in the Game.

Headed into WrestleMania 33, there were rumors that The Undertaker could be retiring soon, but nothing was confirmed.  We also didn’t know the ordering of the matches on the card, with many speculating that the Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg match would end the show.  There weren’t loud rumors that Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns would close the be the final match of the night.

The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns match was difficult to watch for many reasons. First off, Roman Reigns stinks and has virtually no command of the crowd with his limited offensive move set.  Someone at my WrestleMania party noted that “you could count the number of moves this guy has on one hand”.  All the Superman Punches that Reigns threw at The Undertaker were met with silence from the crowd.

But more upsetting than watching Reigns wrestle, was watching The Undertaker try to make it through the match.  There were several spots in the match that he didn’t seem like he had the strength to follow through.  Most notably, he barely was able to lift Roman Reigns up for The Last Ride powerbomb.

Father Time has caught up to The Undertaker.  His last great matches are long in the past and he was a shell of his former self at WrestleMania 33.  It was like watching the greatest shortstop to ever play baseball, Derek Jeter, struggle in his final season with The Yankees to hit .256 as they failed to make the playoffs.  It was similar to watching Martin Brodeur, the greatest goaltender in the history of hockey, make it to the Stanley Cup finals with the New Jersey Devils in 2012, only to get outplayed by the Los Angeles Kings’ young goaltender Jonathan Quick, and to watch The Kings win the cup.  In all three cases, Brodeur, Jeter, and Undertaker, it was heartbreaking to watch an all-time-great who’s career that I had followed from the very beginning while their skills eroded at the end of their careers.

Following the match, after his loss to Reigns, when The Undertaker took off his iconic gloves, jacket, and hat and laid them down in the ring to signify his intent to retire, it felt like it was the right time for him to go.  The WWE played out his exit from the ring and the sport of professional in a classy and dignified manner.  It was sad to see him go, but it was the right thing to do.  It was a beautiful moment, one that won’t be forgotten by fans of The Undertaker.

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One of the last moments of the iconic career of The Undertaker.

The flip side of the coin, however, was the baffling decision to make Roman Reigns the winner of the match.  Now the proverbial “torch” has been passed to Reigns, and he will be known as the person who retired The Undertaker.  Reigns has now been in three straight WrestleMania main event matches, and each one was a dud.

One of my readers told me before the show that if Reigns won, he’d cancel his WWE Network subscription.  After the show, he e-mailed me his confirmation e-mail saying that his subscription was indeed cancelled.  The mood at my viewing party was pretty grim when Reigns won. In fact, a guy wearing an Undertaker shirt left before the match even started because he was worried that he would lose and he didn’t want to see it.  That, and it was very late!

Our worst fears as WWE fans have been realized: The Undertaker, after 26 glorious years in The WWE has called it a career, and we are left with Roman Reigns on top.  What else is there to say?

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Here’s your new face of The WWE, Roman Reigns.

WrestleMania 33 was an interesting show, but in some ways, it was disappointing.  The big problem I had was the length of the show.  Counting the pre-show, it was just a shade over seven hours long!  This is bucking the trend in sports, the NFL, MLB, and NASCAR are all making changes to their events to make them shorter, and the WWE is bucking that trend by headed in the opposite direction.  Less would have been more for the WWE, had they cut out the women’s matches, shortened some of the entrances, and knocked out the mini Pitbull and Flo Rida concert, it would have been a much more manageable show.  Most of the people at my viewing party were falling asleep on the couch after 11 PM.  I can only imagine how worn out the live crowd was.

Only time will tell, but none of the matches jumped out at me as an “instant classic”.  Other than The Undertaker’s retirement, there weren’t too many other indelible WrestleMania moments.  There were however, some good spots and matches on the card, and I’ll break them down by looking at the winners and losers on the night.

The Losers

  • Rob Gronkowski: He was too injured to play the second half of The Patriots’ NFL season but he was good enough get physical on the WrestleMania pre-show? Hopefully, Bill Belichick was watching and plans to cut Gronk from the team in response.
  • Braun Strowman: He had a great build from July until the month before WrestleMania. Just as he was starting to get over, he jobbed to Reigns, backed down from The Undertaker on Raw, was relegated to the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal on the WrestleMania pre-show, and was eliminated early in the match.  He had momentum, now he has lost all credibility and probably won’t recover.
  • The Big Show: In what was likely his last WrestleMania, he was also eliminated early from the Battle Royal. Unfortunate send off for the big man.
  • Baron Corbin: Underwhelmed and lost in his first WrestleMania one-on-one match.
  • John Cena: No, he didn’t really get engaged to Nikki Bella after their awful match. This was done as a commercial for a reality show, folks.  Cena deserved a better WrestleMania moment than this.  He once was a WrestleMania main-eventer, what happened?
  • Bray Wyatt: Now 0-3 at WrestleMania, and was champion for just over one month.
  • Samoa Joe: Why wasn’t he anywhere on the card?
  • The Cruiserweight Division: Still not over with the fans.
  • The Women’s Division: Not only is it not over with the fans, it will never be over with the fans, and now it is completely over-exposed. Both women’s matches were brutally awful to watch.
  • WWE Fans: We sat through seven hours of a show that ultimately anointed Roman Reigns as the face of the company for years to come. He’s worked three straight WrestleMania main events, he’ll never be any better than he is now.

The Winners

  • Mojo Rawley: For what it’s worth, winning the Battle Royale was an important win for him. Let’s see if he can capitalize.
  • AJ Styles: Made his match with Shane McMahon look great, and he got his first career WrestleMania win at age 39.
  • Shane McMahon: The daredevil held up his end of the bargain in his match against Styles. McMahon never disappoints.
  • Dean Ambrose: The WWE’s hardest worker walked out with his Intercontinental title in hand. He’ll never be the face of the company, but is a steady hand that the fans enjoy.
  • Kevin Owens: Owens added another title to his resume after an entertaining program and WrestleMania match against Chris Jericho.
  • Chris Jericho: After a long and mediocre career, Jericho finally got hot these past eight months. Good for him, that at his age he was able to perform well in a one-on-one WrestleMania match.
  • The Miz: The match was awful, but he drew raves for his skits spoofing The Total Bella’s show these past few weeks. He’s one of the best heels the WWE has right now and can build off of this momentum.
  • Triple H: Coolest entrance of the night. He got to ride a custom-built trike to the ring with a police escort.  How great was that?
  • Seth Rollins: Toughed out a recent knee injury to put on a good show.
  • Stephanie McMahon: The 40-year-old mother of three never looked better. She did a great job of selling her bump through the table, something she rarely does.
  • The Hardy Boyz: Triumphantly returned home to the WWE with a raucous reception from the crowd as they won championship gold.
  • Jim Ross: After he was unceremoniously fired in 2013, Ross made his surprise return to WrestleMania to call the main event match.  Good end to a tough two weeks for Ross following the tragic death of his wife.
  • Brock Lesnar: Back on top as “The Destroyer” after he beat Goldberg to win the WWE Universal Championship. It was a fast-paced match and the crowd was hot for it.
  • Goldberg: Exercised the demons from his initial WWE run with a highly entertaining program with Brock Lesnar. He got to be champion one more time, and he got to wrestle in front of his young son.  This match was immensely better than their previous clash at WrestleMania XX.
  • The Undertaker: Had one of the best careers of any professional wrestler. Thanks for the memories, Deadman.  It is hard to imagine WrestleMania without you.

With WrestleMania 33 in the books, expect things to reset starting with Raw and Smackdown this week.  There are likely going to be wrestlers called up from NXT this week, and there could be some trades between the Raw and Smackdown brands.  The WWE never takes any time off, it’s the story that never ends.  It will be interesting to see where things head this month.

If you have any questions or comments, please comment below or send me an e-mail (advice@njnonconformist.com).

WrestleMania 33 Analysis and Predictions Part 3: The Raw Matches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Triple H

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Cruiserweight Champion, Neville

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

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, and still WWE Universal Champion, Goldberg

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

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