WrestleMania 37 Night 2 Analysis and Predictions

Two nights of WrestleMania? Best weekend ever? Or too much wrestling?

After watching last night’s card, I believe the WWE has fixed the “overcrowding” situation it used to have when WrestleMania was one night. There was only one over-booked match that was in place to get people on the card. Most of the matches were plain singles or tag team matches that were not rushed. While there were not too many surprises in the outcomes, most of them were very entertaining from start to finish.

Saturday’s show will be a tough act for Sunday’s show to follow. I think I would have been happy if last night was the entire WrestleMania card, but I am happy to watch again tonight. Here are my match predictions.

Riddle (c) vs. Sheamus in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship

I have always been the kind of wrestling fan that found most of the babyfaces to be annoying. Riddle is my worst nightmare. I do not know what they are thinking with this guy. All I can hope for is that Sheamus shoves Riddle’s scooter down his own throat, and then kicks Riddle’s head into the 19th row.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE United States Champion, Sheamus

Asuka (c) vs. Rhea Ripley in a Singles match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

Rhea Ripley’s gimmick seems to be to show up from NXT just before WrestleMania and get herself a major brand title shot. Not sure why this keeps happening to her, she does not bring much to the table.  Asuka certainly does not bring anything to the table either. 

Prediction: This match is going to suck

The Fiend (with Alexa Bliss) vs. Randy Orton

Big E (c) vs. Apollo Crews Nigerian Drum Fight for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

This is a head-scratching development. These guys were perfectly capable of carrying a babyface/heel feud centered over the Intercontinental Championship as they were. For some reason, Apollo Crews decided he was going to turn into an ethnic heel and develop a fake accent just a few weeks ago. There is nothing stranger than when a WWE Superstar gains or loses an accent, just ask Kofi Kingston.

Whatever a Nigerian Drum Match is supposed to be does not sound like it is WrestleMania-worthy. But these terrible creative decisions can not take away from the fact that these are two of the best wrestlers on the roster today. Hopefully, they can make chicken salad out of chicken scratch and turn in a memorable match.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Apollo Crews

Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn (with Logan Paul)

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are trying to challenge Randy Orton and John Cena for the longest feud ever. These guys know each other well and are both performing at a high level right now. They are going to have to get Logan Paul involved in the match somehow, hopefully in a way that does not interfere with the story the two professionals are trying to tell.

Prediction: Winner, Sami Zayn

Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler (c) (with Reginald) vs. Tag Team Turmoil winners in a Tag team match for the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship

The makeshift team of Natalya and Tamina was the puzzling choice to win Saturday night’s race-to-the-bottom turmoil match to earn a shot at the Women’s Tag Team Championship on Sunday. With any luck the title match is better, but I would not count on it.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

The Fiend (with Alexa Bliss) vs. Randy Orton

Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt are at it again at WrestleMania and hopefully this time their match is better than the aborted mess that was their WrestleMania 33 match. The 2017 version of Bray Wyatt was floundering, and the special effects used in the match were anything other than scary. Now that Bray Wyatt is working as his “Fiend” alter-ego and his television exposure has been kept to a minimum, his work is stronger than ever. Given the involvement from Alexa Bliss and some creative camera work and special effects in the fan-less WWE Thunderdome, the build for this match has been one of the only standout storylines on WWE television right now.

Randy Orton is a versatile performer and seems to be in his element dealing with the supernatural aspect of Wyatt’s character. These guys are going to want to erase the memory of their first WrestleMania match and deliver a match to remember this time around.

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

Roman Reigns (c) (with Paul Heyman) vs. Edge vs. Daniel Bryan in a Triple Threat match for the WWE Universal Championship

For years I complained that Roman Reigns was a talentless disaster that ruined every single WrestleMania main event he was in. He was miscast as a babyface, his promos and catchphrases were cringe-worthy, and his in-ring psychology defied logic. Then he disappeared the week before WrestleMania 36, forfeiting his spot in a championship match with Goldberg and stayed off WWE television for months.

Then something strange happened. Reigns pivoted into a heel and finally became a talent worth taking an interest in. His brooding mannerisms are much more suited towards being the arrogant “Head of the Table” than whatever the “Big Dog” was supposed to be.

While it is a feel-good story that Edge was able to return to the ring after being forced into retirement due to a neck injury, his reemergence has been a complete debacle. His WrestleMania 36 match with Randy Orton was among the worst on the card, a thirty-minute exercise in how many times they could hit each other over the head with a heavy object. Not much longer after that, Edge was lost to injury in a development that surprised nobody. While he was able to win the Royal Rumble and secure a title match at WrestleMania, it seemed like the match was lacking something big.

Cue everyone’s favorite underdog, Daniel Bryan. Bryan was the main event winner that WWE management did not even want on the card at WrestleMania XXX. After being forced into early retirement himself and making a miracle comeback, Bryan is now being asked to spring into action to spice up the action for the main event of WrestleMania 37. There has not been a career arc like this in WWE history!

For the first time in his career, Roman Reigns will be in a WrestleMania main event worth watching. Bryan knows his days are numbered and will look to make this a match to remember. This not only has match of the night potential, but it could also go down as a WrestleMania classic.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Universal Champion, Daniel Bryan

WWE Survivor Series Analysis and Predictions

As far as I’m concerned, everybody on Smackdown is dead to me.”  Among my circle of friends who are fans of WWE, this has been the going sentiment since the brand split in July.  None of us are really excited about another brand split and we can’t understand why the WWE is repeating an experiment that has already failed. We didn’t buy into the phony competition between the two brands the first time the WWE tried this and we aren’t buying it now.  Most of us are suffering from WWE fatigue from having to watch two shows to keep up with what is going on, or just not watching Smackdown at all.  This is not what the WWE wanted.  They really think we have enough time to watch three hours of Raw, two hours of Smackdown, and maybe a three to four hour pay-per-view each week!

The brand split comes into play at the Survivor Series as three matches on the will feature talents from both shows competing against each other.  Instead of the traditional babyface vs. heel Survivor Series teams that we have seen in the past, allegiances are based on brand.  Teams are now a confusing mess of good and bad guys that don’t have a compelling reason to care about each other.  In fact, in some cases, the card just looks plain silly.

For example, on Team Smackdown for the 5-on-5 elimination men’s match, Bray Wyatt and Randy Orton are on a team with Dean Ambrose.  It just looks outright silly to see Bray Wyatt in a blue Smackdown t-shirt and acting like he cares about the match and his teammates.  It also doesn’t make much sense for the Randy Orton storyline, having recently joined up with the Wyatt Family.  This doesn’t really cement his status as a member of an outsider heel faction if he is suddenly teaming up with several babyfaces he should be in a rivalry with instead.

On the other side of this match on Team Raw there is an even more ridiculous scenario with Roman Reigns teaming with Seth Rollins.  What possible reason could these to have to get along as teammates following Rollins’ betrayal of The Shield two years ago?  Why are they suddenly cooperating with each other?  Where is the logic behind this?

The overall issue with the three Survivor Series matches on the card is the fact that we won’t be able to really decide which teams to root for.  The fans don’t really care about Smackdown vs. Raw, we just care about good guys vs. bad guys.  And we want to decide who the good and bad guys are, not be told who they are (see Roman Reigns for example).  The best thing to hope for is some entertaining spots in these matches and hope the storylines progress on individual levels.  As such, I’m not going to attempt to predict who will win or lose these matches.

There are some things to look for with the rest of the card, certainly highlighted by the return of Goldberg to face Brock Lesnar. There is also a chance that we will see The Undertaker return in some capacity, and we may also see the beginnings of some WrestleMania storylines. Let’s take a look at the remaining matches.

The Brian Kendrick (c) vs. Kalisto in a singles match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship; if Kalisto wins, the title and the cruiserweight division will transfer to SmackDown

That certainly is some stipulation!  I have no idea why it’s needed.  Do the fans really care which show the cruiserweight division competes in?  Is this stipulation going to somehow enhance this match?  Can’t Kendrick and Kalisto have a championship match without having to worry where they show up for work this week?

The Cruiserweight division seemed to do well on its own when it kicked off this summer with the Cruiserweight Classic specials on the WWE Network.  It was marketable to a niche set of WWE fans that appreciate the type of fast-paced and high-flying action that the cruiserweights deliver.  It had a mix of young and veteran talent, and was well received by the fans.

When the division made it to Raw, it has gotten lost in the shuffle.  It doesn’t pair well with the rest of the roster, and in many cases, it is illogical in the sense that there are other competitors that compete at under 205 pounds but are not obligated to only compete as cruiserweights.  Maybe it needs more time to settle in, but the division doesn’t work well for me right now.

This match will be a typical cruiserweight match with lots of quick spots and back-and-forth action.  Look for Kalisto to attempt to defy gravity, and hopefully for Kendrick to use some sort of underhanded means to gain an advantage in the match.

Prediction: Winner and still Cruiserweight Champion, The Brian Kendrick

The Miz (c) (with Maryse) vs. Sami Zayn in a singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship; if Zayn wins, the title will transfer to Raw

Here we go again with another Raw vs. Smackdown angle, this one around the prestigious Intercontinental title. The Miz surprisingly won the title from Dolph Ziggler on Raw and was inserted into this match at the last minute.  I’m not sure I understand the logic behind this, especially since Ziggler was the one who issued the challenge to the Raw roster to defend the title against one of them.  Then again, there isn’t much logic to what we’ve seen lately in the run up to Survivor Series, so what’s the difference?

The title pictures are a muddled mess between the two brands.  It’s hard to tell what is what.  The only obvious ones are the Smackdown Women’s and Tag Team Championships because they are named after their own brand.  But the Intercontinental title isn’t named after a brand so somehow it floats in the middle of things.

What is important to me is the prestige of the IC title itself. Some of the greatest wrestlers of all time have proudly worn the IC championship belt, and it often has been misused in the past decade or so with forgettable and brief championship runs.  The Miz is one of the best IC champions we have seen in a long time and has held the title for most of the last six months since the Raw after WrestleMania.  He is a dependable heel, and cuts some of the best promos in the business.  The fans genuinely hate the guy and that in turn helps his opponents look better as they chase the title.

Sami Zayn continues to underwhelm audiences all over the world.  Having been known as a Kevin Owens ally prior to their WWE runs, Zayn has been outshined by the more talented Owens in every way.  His matches and his promos are average at best and he really hasn’t done much to distinguish himself.  It would be a disservice to see him win the IC title.  The title works best when the talent is already over before winning the belt.  It doesn’t work very well when the title is used to get the talent over.

I wouldn’t expect this match to be remembered as a classic.  One thing for sure, Maryse will certainly interject herself in the match in an attempt to help Miz gain an advantage.  Other than that, this will probably be a pedestrian effort and an average match.

Prediction: Winner and still Intercontinental Champion, The Miz

Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg

At least this match has nothing to do with Raw vs. Smackdown!

I had the privilege of attending WrestleMania XX in person in 2004 at Madison Square Garden.  The worst match of the night was Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg.  Stone Cold Steve Austin was the guest referee, and even he couldn’t bring any excitement to the match.  At some point during the match, a fan in the upper deck dressed up as Hulk Hogan started posing to the crowd, and he got bigger cheers then either of the two combatants in the match.  It was a forgettable affair, not suitable for WrestleMania, and both men left the WWE immediately after WrestleMania XX.

For some reason, in Goldberg’s first match after a 12-year absence, we get the exact same matchup for his return.  The placing of this matchup tells you a lot about what WWE things of Goldberg.  His first match back is at Survivor Series, not WrestleMania.  The rivalry had a short build, and it started with an ESPN interview in which Goldberg said he’d like to grant Lesnar a rematch.

The build has been shaky at best.  Even Paul Heyman himself has struggled to get the crowds to treat Goldberg as the babyface and Lesnar as the heel.  His promos were designed to get the crowd to chant “Goldberg” and more often than not, the crowd cheered “Goldberg sucks!” instead.  It didn’t help that the WWE tried to push this angle in Lesnar’s home state of Minnesota.

It would be a huge mistake for Goldberg to win this match.  The WWE painted themselves into a corner when Lesnar ended The Streak at WrestleMania XXX.  Once Lesnar made The Undertaker 21 and 1, they set him up for a future as a destroyer that can’t be beat.  If Lesnar loses to a man who is in his late 40’s and hasn’t wrestled in 12 years, it invalidates everything they built for him as The Conqueror.

One final note about Goldberg, he was advertised as “The Greatest WCW Champion” upon his WWE return.  Did the person who wrote this line think we’d forget about Ric Flair? Please!

There’s not much of a need for me to predict what this match is going to look like.  Pull up their match at WrestleMania XX on the WWE Network and see how bad the first one was for yourself.  Is the rematch somehow going to be any better?  I would doubt it.

Prediction: Winner, Brock Lesnar

WrestleMania 32 Analysis and Predictions (part 3 of 3)

The first WrestleMania in 1985 was based around one main event featuring Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.  There were other matches on the card and several celebrity appearances, but the main event was really the only draw that made the event successful.  In order for WrestleMania to grow into the global phenomenon that is capable of selling out football stadiums that it is today, it had to feature more than just one main event to make the card special.

WrestleMania 32 will feature three main event-level matches that have been heavily hyped and advertised these past few months.  They will feature an interesting mix of legends who wrestle part time, full time competitors, the boss’ son, and a featured babyface that has been panned by the critics over the past two years.  Any one of these three matches has potential to be top-10 all-time great WrestleMania match, or perhaps even take a shot at being the best ever.

This is my final of three blog posts on WrestleMania 32 and it will feature my expert analysis and picks for the main event matches.  If you are going to be betting on any of these matches, you’ll want to pay close attention!

Dean Ambrose vs. Brock Lesnar in a No Holds Barred Street Fight

Any match with Brock Lesnar in the WWE is a main event.  Brock is a once-in-a-generation gifted athlete and is among the best in-ring workers we have ever seen in the WWE.  He looks like was chiseled out of stone and displays feats of strength in his matches that are almost unbelievable.  Unfortunately, he is not in the WWE title hunt this year like he deserves, but he is still going to put on a wrestling clinic at WrestleMania 32.  Of course, always at his side, his advocate Paul Heyman is certainly going to cut an entertaining promo during the show that is going to bring the crowd to their feet.

His opponent, Dean Ambrose, has been a surprise success on his own since The Shield broke up two years ago.  When he first came up, it seemed like he was destined to wrestle as a heel for his entire career but the crowd has taken to his “lunatic fringe” gimmick and he has worked in several pay-per-view main events as a solo competitor.  This match is a better spot for Ambrose than it is for Lesnar as it really gives Ambrose a chance to elevate his status with the WWE fans if he delivers an unforgettable performance.  A lot of critics have been calling for Ambrose to make a career-defining statement in this match and I think he has a chance of doing it.

The build for this match has been entertaining.  The creative angle of making it a street fight was done to give Ambrose the appearance of having a chance to win as there is no way he could beat brock in a straight wrestling match.  Ambrose has filmed several vignettes with hardcore legends such as Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie, with each of them “passing the hardcore torch” to the younger Ambrose by giving him their favorite weapons of choice.  Of course, Ambrose isn’t going to saw Lesnar’s arm off with Charlie’s Chainsaw, but it was certainly funny watching those segments.

This match is going to be wild and will feature Ambrose and Lesnar using all kind of prop weapons against each other.  It is going to be a stiff looking all-out brawl between the two and it could steal the show if these two can bring the best out of each other.

Prediction: Winner, Brock Lesnar

Shane McMahon vs. The Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match; if Shane wins, he will get control of Raw and Undertaker will be barred from competing at WrestleMania again.

This is the match that nobody saw coming headed into the final stretch of WrestleMania season.  The memories of a lackluster FastLane pay-per-view were quickly erased when on the opening segment of the next night’s Raw, Shane McMahon made his return to WWE programming after a seven-year absence and was put in a high-stakes match against the Undertaker at WrestleMania in a Hell in a Cell.  This caught almost all observers off guard as almost nobody guessed that McMahon was going to be this year’s opponent for The Undertaker.

Shane McMahon is competing for the opportunity to take control of the company away from his father and sister.  The narrative for this match was somewhat hastily implemented and it is almost bizarre in the sense as it is somewhat unclear what The Undertaker’s motivation was to compete against McMahon, but when the stipulation was added that if he loses to McMahon he can no longer compete at future WrestleManias, it gave him something to fight for.

Shane McMahon will always be admired by the fans because his resume of in-ring accomplishments from the Attitude Era are staggering.  He shed the notion that he was only part of the show because he was the boss’ son by taking death-defying bumps in almost all of his matches.  He displayed a surprising amount of talent and wrestling ability for someone who didn’t look like an athlete.  His willingness to lay his body on the line and take risks earned him respect and admiration from all observers of the sport.

The Undertaker has the best WrestleMania resume of any performer in WWE history.  Despite the fact that his legendary winning streak ended at WrestleMania XXX, he still boasts a 22-1 win/loss record at WrestleMania and has set a mark that will likely never be matched.  His WrestleMania matches, especially towards the end of his streak, would look and feel more important than the actual WWE title matches on the same card.  His match against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXV is widely recognized as the greatest WrestleMania match of all time.  There aren’t enough superlatives to describe The Deadman’s WrestleMania accomplishments.

The Hell in a Cell stipulation will add an element of surprise and danger to this match.  The HIAC structure became legendary when The Undertaker threw Mankind off the top of the cage in one of the most iconic moments in WWE history.  Nobody has ever been able to top that moment, but HIAC matches when done well have told dramatic and brutal stories.  Given the fact that Shane McMahon and The Undertaker are the participants in this particular HIAC match, it is a safe bet that this match could become an instant classic and be remembered as one of the best ever.  McMahon is likely going to damn near commit suicide in an attempt to wow the Dallas crowd.

I believe there are a few tells here that indicate the winner of match is going to be The Undertaker.  First off, it doesn’t seem likely that Shane McMahon is going to quit his day job and return to the WWE in a full-time capacity.  It also isn’t likely that The Undertaker is going to retire from WrestleMania competition any time soon.  He can still perform at a high level and has been advertised for future matches later this month in Europe.  If they are going to retire The Undertaker from WrestleMania, they might as well retire him for good.

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

Triple H (c) vs. Roman Reigns in a Singles match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

The likely outcome of this match is a moment that most WWE fans have been dreading for the last two years.  Vince McMahon’s insistence that Roman Reigns is the next face of the company is one of the biggest mysteries that WWE fans have pondered in years.  We clamor for pretty much anybody else on the card to be the top babyface champion in the company, yet we are met with Vince McMahon’s intransigent attitude on the matter.  His putting Roman Reigns in the WrestleMania main event for the second straight year is an example of his truculent stance against the fans.  It is as if he decided years ago that Reigns was going to be the top guy in the company and he is going to give it to us whether we like it or not.

The problem the fans have with Roman Reigns isn’t that he is the chosen one. The problem we have is very simple; Roman Reigns isn’t a very good wrestler.  He lacks basic in-ring psychology, never seemingly knowing when to sell an injury or when to make a comeback.  His offensive move set lacks excitement (who pops for the Superman Punch?) and he applies his biggest moves at the least appropriate times.  Most importantly, he lacks the ability to captivate the audience when he cuts a promo.  He is uninteresting and unable to properly emote.

This is not a case where a wrestler isn’t ready for the big time and needs time to develop.  Reigns was given the exact opportunity that Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose were to develop and get over with the crowd.  The sole problem that Roman Reigns has is that he is just not very good and he does not appear likely to ever improve.

Likely due to the rash of injuries and other extenuating circumstances in the WWE, Triple H had to insert himself in the main event picture to make this match interesting.  The WWE COO rarely wrestles anymore, but he always competes in a high profile match at WrestleMania.  This year, in his 20th WrestleMania, he enters the main event as WWE champion.  Given injuries to Seth Rollins and John Cena in particular, there weren’t too many people left that could credibly carry the title to the WrestleMania main event against Reigns.

Despite the fact that Roman Reigns is booked as the babyface and Triple H is booked as the heel in this match, the crowd have been audibly behind Triple H and not Roman Reigns.  Triple H received a huge ovation from the crowd when he viciously pounded Reign’s bloody face into the Raw announce table shortly after this match was announced.  It was a classic cowardly heel maneuver and yet the crowd loved it.  Conversely, nobody seemed to care when Reigns got his revenge several weeks later on Triple H by delivering him a beating of his own.  Both crowd reactions indicated less the fact that the fans are supporters of Triple H, and it is more likely that they are just solidly opposed to Roman Reigns and will support anybody who challenges him.

Triple H is one of the best WrestleMania competitors the WWE has ever known and can always be counted on to deliver a memorable match.  He is in his mid-40s and trains like a man half his age. He is seemingly still at his peak and will have to deliver the match of his life in order to carry the inferior Roman Reigns through this match.  The stakes are high and if Roman Reigns is going to be our babyface champion for the near future, this match is going to have to be top-notch.  If Reigns is ever going to get over, Triple H is going to have to act as the catalyst to make this change in attitude towards Reigns happen.

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

And with that, there is nothing else left to do than sit back and enjoy the 6-hour extravaganza on the WWE Network today, hoping for the best.  Enjoy the show!

WWE SummerSlam Analysis and Predictions

The WWE will descend on Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center this weekend for the second biggest pay-per-view event of the year, SummerSlam.  This event was originally announced to take place in the Izod Center here in New Jersey, which was unfortunately shuttered shortly thereafter.  The move to the Barclays Center has been fortuitous for the WWE as ticket prices in the aftermarket have gone through the roof.  It was not as fortunate for me as I was unable to get tickets in the primary market (thanks for nothing, Ticketmaster) and I’ve decided against paying upwards of $500 to go see it live.  Call me cheap, but at that price I’m quite content to sit on my couch and watch it on the WWE Network which I already paid my monthly $9.99 fee for in August.

As SummerSlam returns to the New York area for the first time following a six year run in Los Angeles, the WWE is riding a hot summer.  Network subscriptions and quarterly earnings are up, and the stock price has risen as a result.  Looking to make a splash, the WWE has taken the unusual step of making SummerSlam a four hour event, a lengthy duration typically reserved only for WrestleMania.  Not only are they trying to sell this as a stand-alone even to drive network subscriptions, but they are also setting us up for WrestleMania 32 in April, an event that can potentially shatter live attendance records if it is marketed properly.

The card is loaded from top to bottom with veteran and young talent in nine matches, and is also peppered with celebrity involvement.  There are a few potential Match of the Year candidates, and two main-events which will probably have fans buzzing for weeks after the show is over.  Interestingly enough, there are three singles matches with no stipulations or titles on the line, they are simply old-school grudge matches.  There is so much publicity headed into the show that it actually going to be covered on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Sunday. Let’s take a look at what to expect.

Jon Stewart

The former host of The Daily Show was recently announced as the celebrity host of the show, his biggest public appearance since stepping aside from his own show.  Stewart is a huge wrestling fan and worked a faux-feud with Seth Rollins on the Daily Show earlier this year.  He followed that up with a live appearance at WWE Raw in Newark in March in which he hosted a humorous segment with Rollins and J&J Security that culminated with Stewart delivering a swift kick to Rollins’ family jewels.

While Jon Stewart was known for his polarizing political views as host of The Daily Show, he is also a talented entertainer, and has already proved that he can fit in nicely with the WWE talents in a live setting.  It is tough to say exactly how he is going to be used, but I’d expect it to be funny to watch no matter what happens.  If I had to guess, he’ll have some sort of interaction with Seth Rollins, likely agitating the heel champion.

Dolph Ziggler (with Lana) vs. Rusev (with Summer Rae)

Rusev enjoyed a spectacular run during his rookie year making his debut shortly after WrestleMania XXX in 2014 with his valet Lana.  After a few modifications to his character, including dropping his first name and re-branding his character as a Russian, he caught a hot streak that carried him all the way to WrestleMania 31 as an undefeated heel.  Lana was the perfect pairing for Rusev, often riling up the crowd with her faux-Russian accent, playing off of very real anti-Russian sentiment that was popular at the time due to the situation in The Ukraine.  Rusev was the classic foreign wrestling heel, and the pair could captivate an entire arena.

Unfortunately, Rusev has lost a great deal of momentum this year.  A high-profile victory over John Cena at FastLane in February was followed by three straight losses to Cena starting at WrestleMania 31.  He was legitimately injured in a match and missed some time with a broken ankle.  He was once again re-branded as a Bulgarian, his actual native country.  He split up with Lana.  But worst of all, he was paired with the odd-looking and talentless Summer Rae as his new valet.

Summer Rae is among the worst of the Divas currently on the WWE roster, and the bar was already set pretty low to begin with.  She couldn’t get Fandango over during her program with him, and nobody really missed her when she disappeared from TV.  Whereas Lana empowered Rusev with her promos by making him appear to be strong and ruthless, Summer Rae only emasculates Rusev and makes him appear to be weak and dependent on her.  She’s done nothing to advance his character and only continues to sabotage his career development.

Dolph Ziggler is back from filming another straight-to-DVD movie from WWE Films, having been written off of TV for a month following a faux-injury at the hands of Rusev.  Ziggler is at his peak as a wrestler, having never broken through to consistent main-event level programs.  He is an unnatural and awkward babyface and would be much better off if he returns to being a heel.  His pairing with Lana is uninteresting doesn’t really do either much good.

In summary, three of the four talents in this match are being misused, and the fourth, Summer Rae, really needs a pink slip.  Despite all of that, both Rusev and Ziggler are talented performers and both have the ability to carry an exciting match.  If the valets stay in the background, you can expect this to be an entertaining contest.  If the cameras focus on the Summer Rae/Lana feud, this could turn into a stinker.

Prediction: Winner, Rusev

The Prime Time Players (c) vs. Los Matadores vs. the Lucha Dragons vs. The New Day in a Fatal Four Way match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

Not much to say about this match, it is yet another indication that the tag team division is languishing.  It feels like every single major pay-per-view has a multi-team tag match for the championship for lack of a better idea for the tag team talent on the roster.

Los Matadores have failed to get over at all on their own, the only thing going for them is they bring a midget to the ring costumed as a bull that kids seem to like.  The Lucha Dragons are never going to get a push, they are only on the roster to appeal to the Lucha Libre fans in the international audience.  The champions, The Prime Time Players, have simply been re-packaged as the same failed team they started off as several years ago.  It feels like they were given the championship simply because Titus O’Neil is highly regarded within the company because of his commendable community outreach work.

The crown jewel of this match is the Freebird-like three-man-tandem of The New Day.  What was originally supposed to be an uplifting babyface gimmick for the trio backfired and turned into a terrific heel gimmick.  They have the crowd right where they want them, even leading them in a chant that they know is going to be turned against them, getting themselves mercilessly booed every time they walk down the aisle.  I am also a huge mark for the “Freebird Rule” that allows two random members of the faction to compete as a tag team on any given night.  It is just so ridiculous that something like that could be a rule even in the fantasy world of the WWE, and that is what makes it so entertaining.

The Prime Time Players have churned out a few entertaining vignettes these past few months, but they really don’t have much else going for them.  The New Day was just finding their way as champions when they dropped the titles, it’s time for a second championship run for the trio.

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

Ryback (c) vs. Big Show vs. The Miz in a Triple Threat Match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

It has been a tough year for Intercontinental champions in the WWE.  Daniel Bryan won it at WrestleMania and immediately suffered a potential career-ending concussion before he could defend the title on a pay-per-view.  Ryback won the title and was felled by a staph infection.  Fortunately for him, he recovered in time to return to the roster without being stripped of the title.

This match was supposed to have happened already but was postponed due to Ryback’s injury.  The feud is stale at this point and this is going to be a “what you see is what you get” type of match.  The Miz has been stuck in neutral in years and spends as much time filming movies as he does working in the WWE.  The Big Show has flip-flopped sides so many times, the fans can barely remember if he is a babyface or heel week over week.  Ryback has the most upside out of the three of them right now, but even he is running the risk of overusing his “feed me more” tagline. I don’t expect this match to be remembered as a classic.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, Ryback

Randy Orton vs. Sheamus

The animosity between these two was contrived only a few weeks ago, I think this match will be pleasantly surprising and should be entertaining from an aesthetic standpoint.  Both Randy Orton and Sheamus are known commodities and can work any type of match with anybody.  Sheamus has been criticized by some for not using much traditional heel psychology during his matches.  However, his new look and attitude, along with his in-ring talents are enough to cover him and get him over as a top heel that the company so desperately needs right now.  Randy Orton’s vicious and deceptively quick style should complement Sheamus’ penchant for brawling, and you can expect them to beat the hell out of each other one way or another.

The Money in the Bank contract that Sheamus carries around is going to be a permanent wild card until he finally cashes it in.  Is he going to win and cash it in at SummerSlam?  Is he going to lose and cash it in at SummerSlam?  Is he going to do a run-in during the title match, attempt to cash it in, and get thwarted by John Cena?  Who knows?  It certainly carries enough intrigue to get me to stay tuned.

Prediction: Winner, Sheamus

Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro

Cesaro can’t seem to get anything going.  He won the initial Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 30 and that was quickly forgotten.  He was paired with Paul Heyman, and they never really had much chemistry and the pairing was quietly dropped.  He was criticized for not getting over by Vince McMahon himself in a non-kayfabe interview on the Steve Austin Podcast on the WWE Network.  He was paired with Tyson Kidd in a tag team that the fans wanted to embrace, but unfortunately Kidd suffered what is likely a career ending neck injury at the hands of a careless Samoa Joe.  So, it’s back to the drawing board again for Cesaro.  This time around the fans are trying their own grass-roots effort to get him over by printing out “Cesaro Section” signs and handing them out to each other at live events. Even still, he stumbles through his promos and can’t seem to get through a match without blowing at least one spot.

Kevin Owens burst on to the scene with a surprise victory over John Cena at The Elimination Chamber earlier this year and immediately captivated the fan base that was hungry for new talent.  Of course, the WWE wasn’t going to let that victory stand for long and Owens lost his next two matches to Cena.  But the quality of his matches were unexpectedly good, and the rookie has the look of a can’t-miss prospect, reminiscent of a young Kurt Angle when he made his pro debut.

This match should be interesting, if only for the fact that both men are carrying themselves as someone with something to prove.  Expect to see a showcase of innovative offensive moves from the imaginative Kevin Owens, and let’s hope that Cesaro can keep pace.

Prediction: Winner, Kevin Owens

Stephen Amell and Neville vs. Stardust and King Barrett

Every so often, the WWE brings in an outside celebrity to generate interest from fans from the outside.  In the past we’ve been treated to sightings like Liberace, Billy Martin, Cindy Lauper, Muhammed Ali, and Mr. T. at WrestleMania I, Ozzy Osbourne at WrestleMania II, Lawrence Taylor at WrestleMania XI, and of course, Mike Tyson at WrestleMania XIV.  Maybe something is lost on me, but I somehow doubt that Stephen Amell is going to be regarded in the same light as the examples I just sited.  Perhaps I’m living under a rock because I have no idea who the guy is or why they brought him in.  I could google it but I care so little that I’m not going to waste my time.

I see what the WWE is doing here but this match just isn’t for me.  They want Neville to come off as a comic book hero for children, and Stardust to face off against him as a comic book villain.  Fair enough, but throwing in an actor and King Barrett, who changes direction almost monthly, is going to take away from what could have been a decent match.  They are going to have to cover for Stephen Amell’s lack of experience.  I can’t see how this is going to help Neville or Stardust much in the long run, and Barrett is basically a lost cause at this point.

I’ll keep an open mind, but I wouldn’t promise anybody that this is a must-see match headed into it.  I’m willing to bet that most WWE fans would probably laugh if Amell were legitimately injured in this match.

Prediction: Winners, Stardust and King Barrett

Team Bella vs. Team B.A.D. vs PCB in a Three-Team Elimination Match

So, the WWE decided to make a splash in the Diva’s division by bringing up a bunch of rookies from NXT, in the hopes that it would captivate the audience in a way not seen since the Wyatt Family and The Shield factions were brought up to the main roster.  Predictably, this angle has fallen flat and their segments and matches couldn’t be more agonizing to watch.  I fast-forward through all of them and it still feels like torture when they are on my screen.  I read somewhere that the fans at Raw were chanting for Brock Lesnar during one of their matches this past Monday so I’m probably not alone.

Out of respect for Ric Flair, I’m not going to throw his daughter, Charlotte under the bus.  As far as I’m concerned, the rest of them are talentless and I’d much prefer to not have them as part of the show.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper vs. Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose

A bit of a throwback here to the short-lived feud between The Wyatt Family and The Shield headed into WrestleMania XXX.  This time, of course, Seth Rollins is working a main event program as champion and Eric Rowan is out with a shoulder injury so we are down to four of the original six members of these two factions.

Dean Ambrose is still coming into his own and has already shown that he can work main event-level matches, having essentially filled in for Roman Reigns in 2014 while he was on the shelf with an injury.  Reigns continues to be limited both by his lack of compelling mike skills, and his unoriginal and repetitive move set in the ring.  The fans will never allow him to reach the top of the WWE unless he undergoes a significant improvement or radical change to his persona.

It was a mistake to break up The Wyatt Family without a workable plan for Luke Harper and Eric Rowan.  Both weren’t really given a chance to show their personalities and drew very little attention from the fans as singles competitors.  At least as members of the Wyatt Family, they seemingly had direction together.

I’m about ready to be done with Bray Wyatt.  I really wanted to like him at first, if for no other reason than he was unique and mysterious.  His character seemingly had depth and layers of intrigue beneath the surface. He was tormented, evil, intellectual, and psychotic and could cut promos that nobody else on the roster could.

The problem I know have is that there is never any payoff to the mystery behind the man.  He talks and talks and talks and just goes from one inexplicable feud to another.  We don’t even know why he does what he does, he just picks on the next guy time and time again.  The whole thing is getting tired, he’s coming across as a guy whose mouth writes checks his ass can’t cash.  Even worse, he has yet to win a championship and he is a glaring 0 and 2 at WrestleMania.  He really can’t point to anything in the way of in-ring accomplishments to give him some validity as a competitor.  I still want to like the guy but something has to change in order for me to really get behind him.

This should be an entertaining match.  The three out of the four wrestlers in this match that aren’t Reigns should more than make up for his shortcomings.  Ambrose and Wyatt can both be counted on to do something unorthodox and outside the box in their matches against each other and have demonstrated chemistry in the past when facing off against each other.  This match could also have the possibility of something unexpected, like a heel turn or a surprise run-in that shakes up the finish.

Prediction: Winners, Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper

John Cena (US c) vs. Seth Rollins (World c) in a singles match with both the United States Championship and the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on the line

It is always cool to watch a champion vs. champion match, they are few and far between.  I remember my first one as a kid, Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VI.  The hype lasted for months and we couldn’t wait to watch the match.  The crowd was seemingly split between the WWF champion, Hogan, and the on-the-rise IC Champ, The Ultimate Warrior.  Neither man was remembered for their in-ring ability but that match is considered by many critics to be one of the best that either man had in their distinguished careers.

This match has nowhere near the mass appeal as Hogan/Warrior, but there are certain parallels to consider.  In many ways, John Cena is the modern-day Hulk Hogan, the fighting babyface champion who is a hero to kids.  Rollins, similarly to Warrior, is the up-and-comer.  He already has a WWE Championship victory at WrestleMania, but he is relatively new to the main roster as compared to Cena.  He still has a lot of upside potential that has yet to be taped into.

Cena has taken a step back as a main-eventer these past year since his defeat at the hands of Brock Lesnar at the last SummerSlam.  He has worked some high-profile programs with younger stars, notably Rusev and Kevin Owens, helping both of them get over with the fans.  Ironically, his first WWE Championship title shot since January, this match isn’t even the main event of the evening.

Rollins is running well as the heel champion.  I repeat the same thing in every blog post and I’ll say it again: he plays the role of the wrestling heel as it is written out in the textbook. He cheats to win, he whines and complains, and rather than pander to the crowd, he regularly insults the fans.  I’ve always felt that the WWE is at its best when the champion is a heel, and Rollins continues to prove that sentiment.

These two should work well together.  The triple-threat match they had at The Royal Rumble for the championship along with Brock Lesnar was the stand out match of the evening.  I’d expect the two of them to put on a good show without Lesnar as they are two of the best in-ring storytellers the WWE has on the roster right now.

I don’t see Cena winning this match.  He is currently one championship run of tying Ric Flair’s record of 16 championships, and I feel like they would save the moment he ties Flair for something of a larger magnitude, perhaps at WrestleMania, or at least at a pay-per-view where his match is the main event.  I also feel like there are legs to Rollins’ current championship run and he could possibly be set up for a title defense at WrestleMania 32.

Prediction: Winner, still WWE World Heavyweight Champion, and new United States Champion, Seth Rollins

Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker

April 6, 2014 is a day that will forever live in infamy for an entire generation of WWE fans.  The legendary undefeated WrestleMania streak, colloquially known as “The Streak”, was halted at 21 wins at the hands of Brock Lesnar.  A hush fell over the entire crowd of 75,167 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans after the referee counted to three.  Nobody could believe what they saw, and they didn’t know what to say or do.  It was the end of a storyline that lasted over 20 years, the type of which we will never see again.

Following the match, The Undertaker walked up the ramp and out of the stadium, not to be seen again on television or at a live event until WrestleMania 31 a year later.  In the meantime, Brock Lesnar used the victory to propel his status as The Beast and The Conqueror into the stratosphere as he embarked on a dominant run the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the early Hulk Hogan days.  He utterly destroyed John Cena for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam and carried the title to the main event at WrestleMania 31.

In the ensuing months following the end of The Streak, it always struck me as odd that there was no word from The Undertaker.  While it made sense in retrospect for The Streak to end in order to give the rub to Lesnar, The Deadman’s silence was deafening.  Was he just going to let the ending of his streak at the hands of Brock Lesnar go?  Where did he go after WrestleMania XXX and why did he never seek retribution from Lesnar?

We didn’t see The Undertaker at all until he walked down the aisle at WrestleMania 31 for his match with Bray Wyatt.  Although it was good to see that he was still in good shape and still had most of his hair, there were still questions that lingered after his victory about The Streak.  But once again, he walked up the aisle at WrestleMania without saying a word.

Everything changed at Battleground in July.  Brock Lesnar had Seth Rollins pinned and was poised to regain the championship he lost from Rollins at WrestleMania 31 only to have the lights go out in the arena as the referee was just about to count to three.  The eerie gong of the Undertaker sounded, the lights came back on, and there he was, in an angry stare-down with the man who ended The Streak.  The crowd was buzzing with anticipation, and interestingly enough, ‘taker initiated the physical encounter with a swift kick to Lesnar’s groin, a move typically reserved for heels.  He proceeded to beat Lesnar up and walk out of the arena, setting up what is now called “The most anticipated rematch of all time, a match too big for WrestleMania.”

The next night on Raw, we finally heard from The Undertaker and his reasoning for making a return was curious in that he claimed he was upset that Paul Heyman and Brock Lesnar kept rubbing it in that Lesnar had ended The Streak.  Again, it seemed as though ‘taker was taking a heel-ish turn as that is the type of a promo that only a cowardly and insecure bad guy would cut.  Later in the evening, we were treated to an epic pull-apart brawl between The Undertaker and Lesnar that had a very realistic look and feel to it.

Finally, in the go-home Raw before SummerSlam this week, Brock Lesnar came out to a hero’s welcome in his home state of Minnesota.  With Paul Heyman singing his praises as the hometown hero, The Undertaker once again appeared out of the darkness, and once again went for the low-blow.  Just prior to the lights going out, Paul Heyman made a point of addressing the fact that The Undertaker delivered a low-blow to Lesnar at Battleground.  The crowd booed in disapproval, and suddenly it seemed that The Undertaker was meant to be booked as a heel along in this feud.

I would not have suspected that The Undertaker would seek vengeance for The Streak as a heel, he had worked as a babyface for many years, and returning legends typically are always cheered.  Not to mention, the fans loved the streak and hated to see it go, it seemed like they would want him to get revenge.

I like this twist as it was unexpected.  Both men have reversed roles since WrestleMania XXX, now Lesnar is the beloved babyface and The Undertaker is the vengeful villain.  He’s show that he will resort to any type of tactic to get his revenge, even if the fans disapprove.

This match should be nothing short of epic.  It won’t be remembered as a technical masterpiece, but it will be a wildly entertaining between two brutal ring generals who know how to tell a story with their actions.  I am just as caught up in the anticipation for this match as the WWE wants me to be and I can’t wait to watch it.  There could be all kinds of swerves and this may put an end to their feud, or it could be another chapter in a long-running conflict between these two legends.

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

Are you still reading this?  Ten matches is a lot for one pay-per-view.  It is top-heavy with two main events, but I really think that most of the matches should be highly entertaining. What are your thoughts?

WrestleMania 31 Postscript

The WWE gave us a nod to its past and a glimpse of its future with a solidly packed five hour long extravaganza last Sunday, WrestleMania 31.  It was a show full of pageantry, drama, and excitement and can’t believe that just two weeks before the show I wasn’t necessarily thrilled with how the card was shaping up.

I watched the show the way it should be done, with a room full of WWE fans in my apartment.  I spent all day cooking up a feast for everyone and had the WWE Network on all day.  We did what wrestling fans love to do, talk about wrestling with each other all day!  There weren’t too many Roman Reigns fans in attendance.

I took a ribbing from my friends as the show progressed and my picks that I blogged prior to the show didn’t exactly pan out the way I had predicted.  I was accused of being biased and told that maybe I should blog about gardening instead.  Well, I got some things right:

  • Cesaro and Tyson Kidd retained the WWE Tag Team titles. OK, who cares?
  • The Divas match sucked.
  • Triple H defeated Sting.

If I was going to get one pick right, I’m glad that it was Triple H.  I hated the whole Sting storyline and have very little regard for him as a wrestler, especially at age 56.  The fans were convinced that there was no way Sting was going to come to the WWE for one match just to lose it.  Well, that’s exactly what happened and I couldn’t be happier that match will define Sting’s WWE legacy.  It made no sense at all that they would have Triple H lose to a one-and-done relic like sting given the long term plans they have for him as the head villain in the WWE.  I have to hand it to myself on this one, I saw it coming a mile away!

Throw in the pre-show and WrestleMania was five hours long.  There’s a lot to say about the show, about both the matches that were announced, and the things we didn’t see coming at all.

The intensity of the wrestlers entrances was somewhat dampened by the daylight on the West Coast at the time.  It was particularly noticeable for Triple H, Bray Wyatt, and The Undertaker.  The production value they put in to some of the more elaborate ones more than made up for the lack of darkness.  The Triple H entrance was a classic, and even Sting’s intro was fun to watch.

The André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal was more entertaining than I thought it would be, it worked well as part of the pre-show.  There were a few interesting spots with Curtis Axel and The MIz and Mizdow.  They even teased a repeat of last year’s finish with Cesaro tossing The Big Show over the top, but it wasn’t to be as The Show broke free and eliminated Cesaro and then the rest of his opponents to win the trophy.

I wouldn’t say that any one particular match is going to be remembered as a classic, but there were many surprise moments, and as a whole the show took an unexpected direction.  From a technical standpoint, probably the best match was Seth Rollins vs Randy Orton, particularly the crazy reversal of the curb stomp into an RKO for the finish.  But I felt like that underachieved a bit and could have been better had it gone longer.

The nod to the past was mainly apparent in the Triple H vs Sting match.  We were treated to a spontaneous re-creation of the Monday Night Wars as represented by members of The nWo and Degeneration-X who made run-ins during the match.  This was likely done to help cover the fact that Sting is too old and withered to carry a one-on-one match at WrestleMania.

Both the nod to the past and the glimpse of the future were evident in the surprise long-running segment that pitted Stephanie McMahon and Triple H against The Rock and Ronda Rousey of UFC fame.  This segment wasn’t even rumored to take place before the show.  There were rumblings that The Rock was going to join the show but nobody predicted that Ronda Rousey would end up in a WWE ring as part of the show. This segment was very likely a commercial for a huge event involving The Rock and Ronda Rousey as special participants, perhaps even at WrestleMania 32 next year in Dallas when the WWE will need a special attraction in order to break their WrestleMania III attendance record of 93,173.

The Undertaker looked good in his return, sporting a leaner physique than we’ve seen in previous years.  The lack of an undefeated streak to defend certainly gave his match against Bray Wyatt much less of a dramatic feel than a typical Undertaker ‘Mania clash, but it was good to see The Deadman erase any doubt that he could still compete at the highest level even on the week of his 50th birthday.

The main event championship match between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns took an unexpected twist. Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank contract during the list minute of the match, turning it into a triple-threat contest and ultimately stealing the title in a feel-good moment to end the night.

This match was shorter than most WrestleMania events, likely victim to the time crunch caused by the Rousey segment.  Brock Lesnar cemented his status as the most popular superstar on the active roster today, and Roman Reigns didn’t do much to disprove his detractors that he was good enough to perform in a WrestleMania main event.  I was surprised that Seth Rollins stole a victory by cashing in the MITB contract, it is unusual for a WrestleMania event take a twist like that, most of the time it is just focused on the announced participants of the match.  Either way, you had to be happy for Seth Rollins as he got his hands on his first WWE championship in his third WrestleMania match.

Wins and losses in professional wrestling are obviously meaningless, but there are winners and losers in another sense.  People can come out of WrestleMania riding a wave of momentum headed into the next round of pay-per-views, or they can watch their current push go down the drain and head into mid-card purgatory for the foreseeable future.  Let’s take a look at the losers and winners.

The Losers

Daniel Bryan

How is Daniel Bryan a loser coming off of a win in the opening match to capture The Intercontinental Championship?  Simple, put it in the context of his career.  Last year, the fans propelled him to an improbable WWE Championship main-event win at WrestleMania XXX.  This year, he has been demoted to the mid-card and with the IC title around his waist, he is not going to be in the mix with Seth Rollins for the WWE Championship anytime soon.  Quite a fall from grace in just one year.

Sting

His WrestleMania legacy will consist of one match in that he looked old, slow, and incapable of holding together a one-on-one match without a major run-in from over a half-dozen others.  Farewell Sting, you won’t be missed.

Rusev

This guy rode a monster push in his rookie year that carried him to a high-profile match against John Cena at WrestleMania and it was predicated on his undefeated streak.  Now that streak is gone and expect him to slide back down the card.  His entrance was one of the best I’ve ever seen at WrestleMania, though.  Where did they get an actual tank from?

Roman Reigns

Just as every expected, the crowd was not on his side during his match.  He exhibited the same predictable offensive move set that he does in all of his matches and really failed to get over as the babyface savior that the WWE wanted him to become.  This will probably be the last pay-per-view main event for him in a while, perhaps ever.  I predict that if he’s not re-packaged, he will be gone in a year or two.

The Tag Team Division

There is not much excitement in this division right now.  The New Day gimmick couldn’t get over with a catapult, one of The Uso’s are hurt, Los Matadores never really had any momentum, and Cesaro and Kidd are a couple of retreads that are still searching for something that will make them stars.  This match wasn’t any better than anything we’d see on Raw or Smackdown.  This division is going to need an overhaul if anybody is ever going to care about it.

John Cena

There was a theory that if Brock Lesnar retained the championship that John Cena was going to be given the WWE US Championship at WrestleMania so that he could be the “main event guy” for house shows and pay-per-views that Lesnar did not perform on.  Only one of the two happened, so much for that theory.  This is the beginning of the winding down of John Cena’s career, don’t expect to see him in the main event picture as often as he used to.

Dean Ambrose

The high-profile program he worked while Roman Reigns was on the shelf really elevated his status in the minds of the fans. It looks like he is now on his way to being the first member of The Shield to be forgotten.  He’ll need to turn it around soon or he will turn into a full-time jobber.

Bray Wyatt

Wins and losses don’t always matter in the WWE, but the guy is off to a 0-2 start at WrestleMania.  He’s going to have to win some high profile matches or a title if fans are going to take him seriously.

Roman Reigns

This was his shot to win a main event at WrestleMania and he did not get over.  Towards the end of the match when he began to gain the upper hand on Brock Lesnar, the crowd could not have been more vocal in their disapproval.  They went so far as to cheer the heel Seth Rollins when he beat Reigns just because it meant that Reigns would not win the title.

The Roman Reigns experiment at the top of the card was a failure.  He did not get over as the babyface savior and he will need to be repackaged if he is ever going to win over the crowd.  Perhaps they should send him back to NXT for a few years to work things out.

The Divas

For yet another WrestleMania, The Divas match proved to be a waste of time, a kind of “working intermission” that gave the fans a chance to take a break without halting the show completely.  This situation is not going to change any time soon, The Divas will never work a meaningful WrestleMania match.

The Winners

The Big Show

It was good to see The Big Show finally win a WrestleMania match, his record is less than stellar.  The tired old bit of “let’s all gang up on the big guy” didn’t pan out and for once Show didn’t live up to his reputation as a jobber.  He should get some mileage out of this win.

Triple H

The Game still has it, he worked his way through that match with a nasty looking injury on his left leg.  Following that, it looks like he inserted himself into a potential return of The Rock and some sort of confrontation with Ronda Rousey.  Triple H will endure as one of the most important characters on the roster.

Shawn Michaels

Even if only for a brief moment, it was great to see the retired Mr. WrestleMania steal the spotlight and work the crowd like only he can.  It only lasted a few seconds but his superkick to Sting followed by an unapologetic stare down with the crowd was classic heel work at its best.  He’s still got it.

The Undertaker

The Deadman silenced his doubters and made his successful return to WrestleMania with a resounding win against Bray Wyatt.  There were rumors that ‘Taker was old and out of shape, but he came out looking much better than he did last year, appearing to have trimmed down, and with an actual real haircut again.  Look to see him again at WrestleMania 32 in Dallas and it wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t see him on TV again until that day.

Brock Lesnar

Lesnar came into and left WrestleMania 31 as the hottest talent on the roster.  He had the crowd in his pocket and delivered a masterful performance in the ring last Sunday. Lesnar plays his part better than anybody else does in the WWE these days.  He is a must-see attraction, and with his part-time contract in hand, plan on seeing him show up for only the biggest events going forward for quite some time.

Paul Heyman

The best talker in the business can hang on for as long as he wants as Brock Lesnar’s advocate, or he can split off from Brock and partner with one or many of his opponents going forward.  Either way, the fans are going to eat up everything he says and give him one of the largest ovations of the night every time he speaks.  This was the third WrestleMania in a row that Heyman played a large part in, and expect that trend to continue for the former ECW mastermind.

WWE Developmental Promotion NXT

Most fans who complain that NXT talents aren’t given good enough pushes when brought to the main roster don’t understand the big picture.  Watch the progression of NXT call-ups Bray Wyatt, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Luke Harper, and Rusev and where they are today.  Each of them spent considerable time in NXT and were brought to the WWE main roster with a plan and a commitment, and thus far every one of them has turned into a star and participated in a high-profile match at WrestleMania 31.  There are a few misses along the way (Xavier Woods and Tyson Kidd for example) but expect the investment in NXT to pay off as a pipeline for new talents for years to come.  If you haven’t watched the show on the WWE Network, check out some guys like Kevin Owens and Finn Baylor.

Ronda Rousey

Nobody saw this angle coming, who would have predicted that Ronda Rousey would appear in a WWE ring at WrestleMania?  Ronda is a cross-industry superstar in several facets of sports and entertainment, building off her brand as the Most Dangerous Woman in the World.  Her bread-and-butter will continue to be her participation in the UFC Women’s division (note, that they don’t use the word “diva” in UFC!) but it seems like this angle is going to continue in the WWE and that we haven’t seen the last of Rowdy Ronda.  This could very well have been a preview for WrestleMania 32.

Seth Rollins

The man of the hour at WrestleMania was Seth Rollins.  Although many speculated that he could cash in the Money in the Bank contract during or after the main event, it seemed unlikely to me that the WWE would throw in a swerve like that and would stick to the one-on-one matchup of Reigns and Lesnar.  Well, that theory was incorrect and Rollins’ run-in with the MITB contract in the last minute of the match created an indelible WrestleMania moment as he stole the WWE Championship.  Rollins came up to the WWE main roster with a chip on his shoulder after having spent 2½ years in NXT developmental.  When he was given the chance, he ran with the opportunity he was given and eventually outshined his former Shield teammates and is now the top heel on the roster.

What’s next?

The Monday Night Raw following WrestleMania has given us a look at how the next few pay-per-views, and possibly even WrestleMania 32 are going to shape up.

The vicious beatings that Brock Lesnar delivered to the announce team and a camera man on Raw are going to be remembered for quite some time.  His subsequent “suspension” was a way of keeping him off of TV for some time until he makes his return to take a run at the title, I’m guessing at SummerSlam.

It was good to see Sheamus return with a new look and a new attitude on Raw.  He immediately inserted himself into a feud with either Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler, or both.  I would expect this angle to turn into a highly entertaining set of matches in the coming month or two.

We got another call up from NXT when Neville made his debut on the main roster. Save for one match on Raw last year, we have only seen him on NXT.  I’m not sure what is with this last-name-only movement the WWE has instituted on new talents, but I would expect them to be very high on his abilities and he should work a high-profile program soon.

Seth Rollins has two potential opponents for his title in Randy Orton and Roman Reigns.  It seems likely that one of those two is going to get a shot at the title at the next pay-per-view, Extreme Rules.  In my opinion, the WWE is at its best when the champion is a heel and the babyface roster is chasing the title.

Not much was mentioned about it on Raw, but planning for WrestleMania 32 is already well underway.  There is a lot that can happen between now and then, especially among the 11 pay-per-views that will take place over the next year.  Expect evolving storylines that reach their crescendo at ‘Mania 32 involving The Undertaker, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, John Cena, Brock Lesnar and Triple H for sure, and possibly also involving The Rock, and Ronda Rousey.

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!