WrestleMania 33 Season News and Notes

WrestleMania season is always the best time of year to be a WWE fan, and with just two weeks left until WrestleMania 33, this year is no different.  The hype for the big event is in high gear at this point with 11 matches already announced for the card.  Things took an interesting turn today when the WWE got some press the probably weren’t hoping for.  News broke that one of the hosts of WrestleMania, Xavier Woods of The New Day was featured in a leaked sex tape with likely-soon-to-be-former WWE Superstar Paige.  It’s a New Day, yes it is!

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One of the WrestleMania 33 hosts, Xavier Woods of The New Day holding his trombone.  His other instrument was just shown to the world in a leaked sex tape today.

The press around the sex tape notwithstanding, the WWE always casts a wide net during WrestleMania season to attract both hardcore and casual fans.  The economic impact due to WrestleMania to the city of Orlando is expected to be massive. WrestleMania is the best opportunity for the WWE to increase the subscriber count for the WWE Network.  So, if you are a hardcore fan, you are likely to be happy with some of the announced matches on the card as they are geared towards you.  Some other matches, geared towards the casual fan, not so much.  There is a lot of good going on right now, and a little bit of bad.

What’s Looking Good So Far

No better place to start with the good than with the two major title matches.  One features two full-time superstars who are deserving of the honor of carrying one of the main events at WrestleMania.  The other features a part-time feature attraction, and a returning hero, years past his prime but still capable of producing an entertaining spectacle.

The Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton match is one that current fans should really enjoy.  It is a WWE title match built on a long-running and emotional angle. There is a huge amount of animosity between the two and has the potential to be a classic.

The new WWE Universal Championship will be defended for the first time at a WrestleMania when Brock Lesnar and Goldberg collide in the other main event.  This match is a bit more controversial among the regular fan base, with many bemoaning the fact that a part-timer and a returning superstar are taking away a spot from two regulars who should be in that spot instead.  I don’t share that view, I think that the build since Survivor Series towards this match has been pretty solid.  Despite the fact that Goldberg can’t wrestle for more than about five minutes, he is an imposing physical specimen, and carries himself with the same ferocity and intensity as he did during his WCW heyday.  The WWE had to put this match on the card, it will certainly bring back more than a few fans who were fans of the old WCW that have been gone for a long time.

Just behind the two main events on the “good” spectrum are two grudge matches, one between Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens and the other between AJ Styles and Shane McMahon.

The Jericho vs. Owens match is for the WWE United States Championship, but that is merely a footnote in this match. Their rivalry is built on a slow-burn storyline that has spanned months.  With their once comical and entertaining friendship now shattered, the animosity between the two is immense.  Both men are in a position to deliver one of the biggest matches of their respective careers.

AJ Styles will get a chance to showcase his talents for the second time at a WrestleMana against the unpredictable and risk-taking Shane McMahon.  Styles has been a smash-hit in his 14 month WWE tenure, drawing in-ring ability comparisons to Shawn Michaels, and having already captured and lost a WWE Championship.  Shane McMahon has earned the fans respect over the course of his on-and-off tenure with the WWE by laying it all on the line during his matches.  He might not be the best wrestler, but he can be counted on to practically risk his life to put on a good show, especially at WrestleMania.

What’s Looking Bad So Far

With probably what will add up to more than 11 matches and over 7 hours of content, there is no way that everything we see will be top-notch.  Either because the talents involved in them aren’t the best, or because the matches are geared towards entertaining the casual fan, chances are we are going to get a few stinkers.

First, there is The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns match, the match that virtually no fan wanted to see at WrestleMania.  The Undertaker is widely regarded as the best WrestleMania performer of all time, and sports an unprecedented 23-1 record at the biggest event of the year.  Roman Reigns, on the other hand, is absolutely terrible.  He has done nothing to gain the respect of WWE fans.  It’s not like he hasn’t had his chance, he’s already been in not one, but two WrestleMania main events.  If he hasn’t caught fire yet, he never will.  One can only hope that the rumors he will ruin a third WrestleMania main event next year never come to fruition.

The Undertaker deserves better than this, he should be in the ring with John Cena or Braun Strowman this year.  Both men were rumored to be WrestleMania opponents of The Deadman, but that obviously did not happen.  The WWE even teased Strowman as the Undertaker’s opponent a few weeks ago on Raw. The live crowd was buzzing as the two men stood toe-to-toe in the ring.  Then the WWE made the creatively foolish decision to have Strowman, who was riding a high wave of heel heat as a monster heel, back down to the Undertaker and retreat from the ring.  You could feel mood in the arena deflate as Roman Reigns hit the ring instead and challenge the Undertaker to a WrestleMania match.

I’d prefer to have seen either Cena or Strowman take on The Undertaker.  Heck, I’d take pretty much anybody on the roster over Reigns.  Instead give me Big Show, Dolph Ziggler, Kane, Luke Harper, Dean Ambrose, Kevin Owens, Charlotte Flair, whatever!  Anybody but Reigns!

Or course, the most god-awful WrestleMania booking decision that I can even remember, is the mixed tag team match pitting John Cena and Nikki Bella against The Miz and Maryese.  It’s hard to say where “Big Match John” went wrong, but something is amiss if he suddenly was reduced from main-event status to being in what essentially is a commercial for The Total Bellas reality show.  This match isn’t targeted towards the loyal fan at all.  Instead it is intended as a gimmick to gain the interest of people from outside the circle of WWE fans.

Think about it for one minute.  John Cena is in a match versus Maryese.  Maryese!  Has she even had a match?  I fast forward through all Women’s matches on Raw and Smackdown, but even still, I don’t recall ever seeing her even wrestle!  Nikki Bella’s matches are almost always a series of botches and mistakes that are painful to watch.  John Cena is going to be in the ring with both them!  He’s a multi-time WrestleMania main-eventer!

To their credit, Cena and The Miz have done their best to build towards this match, cutting pretty vicious reality-based promos on each other.  The Miz is a dependable heel, and Cena is pretty much the best wrestler in the WWE right now.  But, like a guy at my old Harley Davidson dealership once told me: “You can’t polish a turd.”.  This match is going to suck.  It should have been a singles match between Miz and Cena, but we are going to have to suffer through this mess instead.

It also bad that there doesn’t appear to be an obvious top spot for Braun Strowman headed into WrestleMania.  Strowman is a rare case of the WWE building someone organically into a top heel.  Ever since the brand-split in July 2016, Strowman was showcased in a way that gave him a chance to gain the respect of WWE fans who want to see more of him.  Instead, it doesn’t look like he is going to be prominently featured on this year’s WrestleMania card, and if he isn’t, that is a shame.

The falling cruiserweight and women’s divisions will also be featured in at least three matches on the card.  Neither division is any good, and they very rarely produce interesting matches, at least not on main WWE programming.  These matches are great if you need to make a beer run or have to hit the bathroom, but they are certainly going to be bad if you have to sit there and watch them.

What We Don’t Know Yet

There’s still time between now and April 2 for the situation to develop.  Certainly, Braun Strowman is going to fit in somewhere on the card.  It looks like Dean Ambrose and Baron Corbin are set to collide in a singles match for the Interconnectional title.  If this comes to fruition, it will be a nice departure from the regular 7-man ladder match for the IC title we get every year.  There are still many spots open in the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal match which could lead to a special moment.  There is always a chance for a surprise NXT call-up, a returning legend to make a surprise appearance, or an unexpected heel turn.  I’ll be sure to stay tuned these next two weeks to see what else happens headed into the biggest night of the year in professional wrestling.

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

This is the third of a three-part series of my expert analysis and picks for the entire card.  Just one day to go until WrestleMania 31 in San Jose, California.  There were two big announcements this week that changed the complexion of the entire card. The first was the Brock Lesnar contract renewal.  On Thursday we learned that the The André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal had been bumped from the card and moved to the pre-show which will now be an hour long and will also include the previously announced Fatal Four Way match for the WWE Tag Team Championships.

I was not very enthusiastic about the Battle Royal to begin with, it was a transparent attempt to get as many superstars on the card as possible.  To that end, I’m not sad to see it get bumped from the show.  On the other hand, it feels like a few guys deserved better, especially Kane, The Big Show, The Miz, and Mark Henry.  These guys have all paid their dues and have appeared multiple WrestleMania cards in the past and it is too bad they are going to miss this one.

We are down to seven matches on the main card, six of which are one-on-one or tag team matches, and there is now only one multi-talent gimmick.  They are all driven by slow-burn feuds or championship belts.  From a purist standpoint, this our best case scenario as fans.

There is a non-scientific poll on WWE.com asking fans which match they are most excited about.  As of this writing, there are just over 15,000 responses and the results are as follows:

  • 32% Sting vs. Triple H
  • 24% WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns
  • 20% The Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt
  • 12% Multi-Superstar Intercontinental Title Ladder Match
  • 5% United States Champion Rusev vs. John Cena
  • 3% AJ Lee & Paige vs. The Bella Twins
  • 3% Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins
  • 1% Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
  • 0% WWE Tag Team Title Fatal 4-Way Match

These numbers are somewhat telling.  The WWE has done a good job of selling the fan base on the myth of Sting.  I suppose there is something about the novelty that has piqued the interest of the WWE Universe.  I still maintain my contrarian opinion that this match is going to be bad and that Sting is overrated, only having been presented well to the current generation of fans in well-edited video packages.

It also says a lot about the bottom two matches.  The fans don’t seem to be very excited about both and it looks like the decision to put them on the pre-show was the right one.  I was going to do an analysis of the tag team fatal 4-way match and had prepared a few disparaging remarks about the horrific New Day faction, the underperforming Cesaro and Tyson Kidd tandem, and the kids-only friendly teams of Los Matadores and the Usos.  Ultimately, I decided not to waste my time or yours with a preview.  According to the WWE poll, not a single person cares about this match!

On to the matches.

AJ Lee & Paige vs. The Bella Twins

A whopping three percent of the fans are interested in this one.  This is the match I have the least interest in out of them all.  Let’s start at the beginning.  I hate the word diva!  It sort of crept up on us in the mid 2000’s as part of the lexicon and somehow they decided to brand the WWE Women’s Championship as the WWE Divas Championship and we have been stuck with this irritating word ever since.  What is a diva?  What does it even mean?  Who still uses that word besides the WWE?

The Divas division these days only exists to act as a commercial for the WWE Total Divas reality show on E.  For years there has been a dearth of talent on the roster when it comes to the female competitors in the WWE.  Their matches are filled with blown spots and obvious miscues.  Their promos are cringe-worthy.  As far as them just being “eye candy” for the male audience, I’m not all that impressed.  The way they dress for their matches in the never sexy combination of some sort of bikini or lingerie type outfit along with big, ugly, flat-footed wrestling boots and knee pads is laughable.  Quite frankly, you can hobnob with way hotter and better dressed chicks yourself on any given Saturday in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

The Divas match on a pay-per-view is typically slotted in just before the main event in what is called the “death spot” on the card that is pretty much just a working intermission.  It gives the crowd a chance to hit the can and relax their voice ahead of the match they really want to see.  Due to the fact that the sun doesn’t set in San Jose until almost 7:30 PM PDT on Sunday, I would suspect that this match will go on earlier so that the Wyatt/Undertaker match can start with as little daylight as possible for their respective entrances.  Whose idea was it to have WrestleMania outdoors in California, anyway?

I have wasted enough of your time and mine on this Divas match.  Here is the competitor breakdown and prediction.

AJ Lee & Paige

These two suck

The Bella Twins

These two suck

The match:

This match is going to suck.

Prediction: Use the opportunity to check your Twitter feed or use the lavatory if you have to go.  Whatever you do, don’t watch this match.

Bray Wyatt vs The Undertaker

This is one of the toughest matches to predict, yet so much can be said about it.  It is going to be a clash between an aging icon known as the greatest performer in WrestleMania history and an up-and-comer with the most unique persona in the WWE today.  We haven’t seen The Undertaker on live TV in over a year and he has been kept absent during the entire run up for the match.  Bray Wyatt has never cut better promos in his life in order to generate interest in this thus-far one-sided feud.

Bray Wyatt

Bray is somewhat of an enigma to wrestling fans.  He is neither an obvious babyface nor heel, exhibiting characteristics of both.  His entrance is designed to generate fan involvement.  He has lead sing-alongs with the crowd in the past.  He has a unique look that is often imitated by fans at live events. Yet he cuts heel promos and cheats to win matches.

His character is unique and it was well worth the risk he took to head in a different direction than his original Husky Harris gimmick he was given as part of the Nexus four years ago.  He has since admitted that the WWE was going to let him go unless they could think of a better way to use him.  While it is easy to spot the obvious influences of Jake “The Snake” Roberts and The Undertaker on him, we have never seen anything quite like the horror movie villan-esque Wyatt in the WWE.  Fans who clamor that wrestling is boring and repetitive these days are not paying attention when Wyatt speaks or wrestles.

Wyatt’s subtle mannerisms, extensive vocabulary, perfect diction, and bizarre subject matter make him the most interesting person to watch in the WWE today.  His promos are difficult to understand but always feel like they have a purpose and you have to read between the lines and use your imagination to understand them.

The self-proclaimed “Eater of Worlds” is in a precarious spot headed into his second WrestleMania.  He has never held a championship and is coming off of a loss to John Cena at WrestleMania XXX.  If he is going to gain some momentum, and more importantly some credibility with the fans, he is going to need something happen soon to get him to the next level and a victory over The Undertaker would do the trick.  A loss and a resulting record of 0-2 at WrestleMania can be very damaging to his future prospects.

The Undertaker

Beginning at WrestleMania VII, and for over two decades the unprecedented 21 WrestleMania match winning streak of The Undertaker became the stuff of legend.  Over the years it was colloquially referred to as “The Streak” and it became the longest running storyline in WWE history.  Quite often his matches would overshadow championship main events headed into WrestleMania and often steal the show.  The drama The Streak brought to his matches was unlike any other creative angle we were ever exposed to.

The announcers started to make mention of The Streak headed into his match against Sycho Sid at WrestleMania 13 where he would capture his sixth win.  It became legendary at WrestleMania X8 when he defeated the incomparable Ric Flair for his 10th win.

In my opinion, the importance and the influence of The Streak was at its peak during the four year run from WrestleMania XXV through the “End of an Era” match at WrestleMania XXVIII during which The Undertaker defeated “Mr. WrestleMania” Shawn Michaels and Triple H two times each, and in the process ending Shawn Michaels’ career.

The Undertaker vs Triple H match at WrestleMania XXVII perfectly demonstrates why no storyline has ever added more intrigue to a match than The Streak.  The Undertaker was protecting an 18-0 winning streak headed into the match and Triple H was out to seek vengeance for Shawn Michaels who was forced into retirement after a loss to ‘Taker the previous year.  Every single false finish in that match was a thing of beauty.  Triple H had beaten down the Undertaker so badly, even at one point using his own Tombstone Piledriver against him, and yet Undertaker kicked out just before the three count every time he was pinned. Near falls are typical in any match, but you could cut the tension in the room with a knife every time he went down for the count.  Just when it seemed that The Undertaker was about to finally stay down, he grabbed Triple H out of desperation and locked him in the Hell’s Gate submission maneuver.  Sensing that this was his only opportunity left to win the match, the crowd was brimming with anticipation until Triple H finally tapped out.

Normal matches, even main events at pay-per-views don’t have this kind of built-in suspense and The Streak will never be duplicated.  There are very few storylines that last more than two pay-per-view cycles in the WWE, let alone one that lasted for over 20 years.  This is why it was so difficult for me to come to grips with the fact that it ended with a loss at WrestleMania XXX last year.

The Undertaker is one of my all-time favorite wrestlers and The Streak was my favorite part of WrestleMania every year.  At 21-0 headed into his match against Brock Lesnar who didn’t have all that much momentum at the time, it seemed that 22-0 was all but a formality.  The match, however was disappointing from nearly the beginning.  The Undertaker seemed to be a half step behind Lesnar and almost looked confused and dizzy.  Lesnar delivered F5 after F5 to The Undertaker and he would kick out every time just like he had at every WrestleMania before this.  In one of the most shocking and unexpected moments in WrestleMania history, after taking a 3rd F5 from Lesnar, The Undertaker was unable to kick out of the ensuing pin before the referee counted three, and suddenly The Streak was over at 21-1.  The crowd in New Orleans fell silent.  Those of us watching from my couch shouted “What just happened?” in disbelief.  I was devastated.

The Undertaker regained consciousness and walked to the back to a standing ovation from the crowd.  We would find out later that he collapsed as soon as he made it behind the curtain and would spend the next few days in the hospital. Vince McMahon himself rode along with The Undertaker to the hospital in the ambulance and didn’t even see the end of WrestleMania in person.

In the days and months following WrestleMania XXX, I could not come to grips with the decision to end The Streak like that, especially to someone like Brock Lesnar.  My feeling was that you just can’t create another storyline like that out of thin air, it took over twenty years! Lesnar was rumored to be leaving after the next WrestleMania and we didn’t get any payoff from The Undertaker because we haven’t seen him on TV since.  It definitely gave Brock Lesnar a boost in the short-term, but long-term I was convinced that it was a mistake to end The Streak just to get Lesnar over for a handful of pay-per-view matches before he would leave WWE and head back to The UFC.

My stance has softened greatly these past few weeks seeing how well Lesnar has done, and knowing that he is going to stay on for several more years.  I also warmed up to the idea that was smart to leave The Undertaker off of TV this entire time.  We have absolutely no idea what to expect when we see him on Sunday.  Don’t get me wrong, I am still upset that The Streak is over, but I have every confidence that The Deadman, just days removed from his 50th birthday is going to come back better than ever on Sunday against Bray Wyatt.

The match:

If anything, the entrances of both Wyatt and The Undertaker should be interesting.  Both are done in low-light conditions and will most likely be elaborate for WrestleMania.  The Undertaker has had some particularly entertaining entrances in his WrestleMania career, especially the ones in which dozens of druids holding torches line the entrance way.  As an avid motorcyclist, I would pop from my couch if he resurrected his biker gimmick and rode his Jesse James West Coast Chopper to the ring.

This is the toughest match to predict on the card.  We have no idea what condition The Undertaker is in and he has never worked a match with Wyatt before.   The one thing we do know is that the drama of The Streak is gone and near-falls will mean nothing, it doesn’t matter if The Undertaker wins or loses this match.  They will have to find some other way to keep the crowd on the edge of their seats.

Prediction: Bray Wyatt captures the win

WWE World Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns

One of the most controversial main events in WrestleMania history has been the hottest topic of discussion since Roman Reigns won The Royal Rumble in January and the live crowd and Internet fans immediately turned on him.  The backstories behind these two competitors headed into this match could not be more opposed.  While Brock Lesnar’s story is a masterpiece, Roman Reigns’ story is a tragedy that would only get worse if he were to win the match and capture the championship.

Roman Reigns

The fans have rightfully turned on Reigns and do not want him to become our champion.  While the general consensus is that he “isn’t ready” for this opportunity and that is why people don’t like him, I have a slightly different take on things.  I don’t like Roman Reigns because he simply isn’t very good and it pisses me off that he was hand-picked for this match over a year ago only because he has “the look”.

When he broke in to the main roster as a member of The Shield, Reigns was paired with Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, they were a trio that complemented each other like none other.  They were actually very little alike but the sum of the parts was greater than the individuals.  Each brought something to the table and I always felt that if you could combine the three into one, you would have the perfect wrestler.  Dean Ambrose had the attitude, Seth Rollins had the in-ring ability, and Roman Reigns had the look.

In my opinion, the look is the least important of the attributes that make a successful wrestler.  The annals of WWE history are littered with the limited drawing ability of past champions that were chosen based solely on their looks.  Lex Luger and Sycho Sid are two prime examples.  Remember them? I barely do, either.  When given the main-event push, both were exposed as having very little actual ability and they didn’t last very long at the top.

People who say that Roman Reigns isn’t ready are just being kind.  The fact of the matter is that he has limited talent and it doesn’t seem apparent that more experience is even going to help.  His offensive move set in the ring has been openly criticized by many including Stone Cold Steve Austin.  He doesn’t seem to know how to piece a match together logically by doing something like working an opponent’s body part.  He relies too heavily on both The Superman Punch and The Spear as mini-high spots, both of which are very similar maneuvers.

His promos are uncomfortable to watch.  He completely fails to sell himself to the audience as a credible contender when he speaks.  When he tries to emote, he reminds me of the worst kid in the high school play.  Nothing comes naturally to him, it feels like he is trying to act like someone that he isn’t.  His catchphrases and his demeanor fail to make him sound interesting.  The “I don’t like being told I can’t” and “Believe that” repetitive claptrap hasn’t done anything to make him connect with the audience.

Even his supporters don’t do a very good job of making it sound like his going to do well in his spot.  The best things they can say about him are things like “he works hard.”  That’s just a back-handed compliment, a way of saying “well, he doesn’t come off as being good but he deserves to be here because he really tries.”  Everybody talent in the WWE works hard.  That doesn’t make them all good.

The worst part of his run up to WrestleMania is that they have done nothing to convince us that he is capable of defeating the red-hot Brock Lesnar.  Lesnar has outright dominated his opponents these past 14 months and Reigns has not beaten anyone near his caliber.  They have had no physical confrontations and there is no logical reason to think that he could ever win this match.

Brock Lesnar

On the other end of the spectrum we have Brock Lesnar who is enjoying one of the best and most dominating 14 month runs we have ever seen in the WWE.  Just consider his body of work in that time:

  1. A dominating and brutal takeout of The Big Show at the Royal Rumble in 2014.
  2. He ended The Streak at WrestleMania.
  3. He annihilated John Cena at SummerSlam in one of the most lopsided championship matches ever.
  4. He won a triple-threat match against Cena and Seth Rollins at The Royal Rumble.

The way Lesnar has been presented during this time has been nothing short of masterful.  His pairing with the best talker in the business, Paul Heyman is among the best manager/wrestler tandems since Bobby “The Brain” Heenan and Mr. Perfect.  Heyman can cover the one hole in Lesnar’s game, his limited abilities on the microphone. The segments in which Lesnar stands by and chuckles to himself while Heyman explains to the crowd how dominating of a competitor Lesnar is are both meaningful and powerful.

Lesnar is booked as a heel but has had such a great year that the fans seemed geared up to give him a huge pop when he hits the ramp at WrestleMania.  He is one of the most unique champions we have seen in quite some time.

The match:

What was once believed to be a foregone conclusion that Reigns was going to win this match and Lesnar would retire from The WWE is no longer now that Lesnar has publicly signed a new contract with WWE. We really don’t know what is going to happen in this match and many possibilities have been speculated.

  1. The WWE doubles-down on Roman Reigns, sticks to the plan and he beats Lesnar for the WWE Championship.
  2. Paul Heyman turns on Lesnar costs him the match and then teams with Reigns. This scenario could also include a double-turn with Heyman siding with Roman Reigns as heels.
  3. Reigns wins the match and Seth Rollins cashes in the MITB contract and he himself walks out as champion after quickly beating Reigns who is exhausted after his match.
  4. Lesnar wins the match and Seth Rollins cashes in the MITB contract and wins the WWE Championship with help from Paul Heyman.
  5. Brock Lesnar annihilates Roman Reigns in a similar fashion to what he did to John Cena at SummerSlam 2014 and retains the title.

Had to say at this point if one of any of these could actually be true, but I like the fact that we know Lesnar is going to stay and thus anything can happen.  My preference out of the five choices above would be #5, I think that would go down as one of the most memorable WrestleMania main events ever.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar

My WrestleMania week analysis and picks are now complete.  I have gone from not being very excited to super-psyched for WrestleMania on Sunday.  Nothing left to do but sit on the couch, hope for no issues with the WWE Network, and mark out for the show!