WWE SummerSlam Analysis and Predictions

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Following WrestleMania each year, the WWE tends to find itself in a bit of a creative slump over the summer.  This year is no different.  There are very few hot wrestlers or exciting angles on WWE TV right now.  Battleground was critically panned as one of the worst pay-per-views of the year.

The WWE is looking to break out of the malaise when it invades Brooklyn this weekend for the 30th annual SummerSlam event.  As is always the case since the dawn of the WWE Network (without PPV time limits), this is a very crowded card with 13 matches, inclusive of the three on the pre-show.  There are a few matches with promise, and a few that will have to exceed expectations to become memorable.

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

Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins are back together after three years as adversaries following the breakup of The Shield.  The story behind their reunion was entertaining and compelling.  Even more importantly, this angle sets things up for one of them to turn on the other in time for a match at WrestleMania next April!  But in the here and now, the WWE fans are very excited to see them back together and will be hot for them during this match.

Having gone as far as they could in their careers as singles competitors, veterans Cesaro and Sheamus have re-invented themselves as tag-team competitors.  They are serviceable heels, and do a good job of keeping interest in the tag title championship by having the babyfaces chase them.  This matchup has the potential to steal the show.

Prediction: Winners and still WWE Raw Tag Team Champions, Cesaro and Sheamus

Finn Bálor vs. Bray Wyatt

Finn Bálor returns to the building where he simultaneously became the first ever WWE Universal Champion and broke his shoulder at last year’s SummerSlam.  As far as I can tell, he’s nothing more than a puny guy with an elaborate entrance who wears body paint once or twice a year.  Kind of like half of an Undertaker but like 1/25th as good as the Undertaker.

Bray Wyatt finally had his chance this year when he defended his first WWE Championship.  He blew it with a crappy match against Randy Orton and his weeks-long title run will be forever remembered for how badly it ended.  He hasn’t had much momentum since.

We just saw this match on Raw this week, but it was only to set up the reasoning behind Bálor deciding to wear his body paint for their SS match.  Wyatt won the first one, it would be a shame to see a 50/50 booking and give the win straight back to Bálor.

Prediction: Winner, Bray Wyatt

Big Show vs. Big Cass in a Singles Match with Enzo Amore suspended above the ring in a shark cage

The WWE must really like the shark cage gimmick as it was used earlier this year at the Royal Rumble with Chris Jericho trapped inside of it. Either that, or they spent a lot of money on it and are looking for a good return on investment.

Big Cass and Enzo Amore were a hot tag team, buoyed by a unique appearance, in-ring chemistry, and an entrance cadence that the audience loved to participate in.  When they predictably broke up a few months ago, their momentum fell flat and nobody seems to care about either one of them anymore.

The Big Show is always a dependable veteran.  This was an obvious match up between the two tallest men in the WWE.  There aren’t going to be too many moonsaults and frog-splashes in this match!

Prediction: Winner, The Big Show

Randy Orton vs. Rusev

Two once-promising guys turned lazy in a match with virtually no build-up.  Beer break.

Prediction: Winner, Rusev

AJ Styles (c) vs. Kevin Owens in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship. Shane McMahon will serve as special guest referee

As uninteresting as the Orton/Rusev match will be, the Styles/Owens match should be intriguing.  These two are among the most charismatic individuals to hit the WWE in the last several years.  More importantly, they are both innovators in the ring.  Their matches tend to always be among the best on any given card.  Throw in special guest referee, Shane McMahon, who wrestled Styles at WrestleMania earlier this year, and now has heat with KO, and you have an additional combustible element in the mix.  This should be a match to remember that has repercussions into the next pay per view.

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

Jinder Mahal (c) (with The Singh Brothers) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura in a Singles match for the WWE Championship

A star was born when Jinder Mahal won the WWE Championship from out of nowhere earlier this year.  It was a surprise move, one that you don’t see very often.  He had no lower singles championship, no memorable promo or catchphrase, and no signature match on his resume prior to his big win against Randy Orton.  The decision to put the strap on Mahal was a controversial one with most fans who thought he wasn’t deserving or ready.  But, I’m a big fan of Jinder.  He’s got a good look, is good on the microphone, runs a heel stable, and is fun to watch.

Shinsuke Nakamura, however, appears to be in over his head in the WWE.  Similarly to Bálor, he seems like he is nothing more than a guy with a big entrance.  What’s with these guys from NXT who come pre-packaged with these long entrances, anyway?  Is that all that is entertaining to fans anymore?

Nakamura was expected to be on the fast track to WWE Champion when me made the main roster the week after WrestleMania this year.  He had a reputation as a top-performer in Japan and in NXT here in the US.  Thus far into his WWE run, he’s been pretty lackluster and hasn’t done much to impress anybody.  He’s like a .330 hitter in AAA who can’t hit a major league slider and hits .215 when he gets the call to the big leagues.  He may have looked good in comparison to the rest of the talent in the lower rungs of professional wrestling, but isn’t anything special compared to the best wrestlers in the world in the WWE.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, Jinder Mahal

Naomi (c) vs. Natalya in a Singles match for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Sasha Banks in a Singles match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

Who thought it was a good idea to have two divas matches on the same card?

Prediction: Could be even worse than the Naomi/Natalya match

John Cena vs. Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin has been on the verge of breaking out for quite some time.  His latest push had him win Money in The Bank earlier this year, but bizarrely lost the cash-in match on Smackdown this past week.  That was a curious booking decision and it didn’t do him any favors.

John Cena, even in his part-time capacity, and at the age of 40, is still the best wrestler in the world right now.  He gets better with age and can put a good match together with anybody.  He’ll also do business, he will put guys over if it is the right thing to do for a storyline or character advancement.  Make sure you are in your seat for this match.

Prediction: Winner, John Cena

Brock Lesnar (c) (with Paul Heyman) vs. Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe vs. Braun Strowman in a Fatal 4-Way match for the WWE Universal Championship

This is the most intriguing match of the card, with a diverse set of competitors.  All four men have different backgrounds and stories, and are at different stages of their careers, but the one thing they have in common is super-human size and strength.

Samoa Joe is the newest to the WWE main roster, having made a huge impact since his debut in March.  This will already be his second pay-per-view main event.  He is a real underdog story, having wrestled in every other promotion in the world until his late 30’s when he was finally given a chance in the WWE.  Since then, the fans have connected with his character, a bruising, unapologetic, bully

Braun Strowman has steadily improved these past twelve months since he split off from The Wyatt Family.  He plays the part of a monster heel, but the fans have steadily rallied behind him anyway, mainly because his chief foil has been Roman Reigns.

Brock Lesnar continues to do what he does best, and that is to act like a beast.  The added stipulation of him leaving the WWE if he loses the title could set him up for a lengthy absence, perhaps to return to the UFC octagon.  Or, it could mean nothing if he retains the title.

Roman Reigns stinks.  He never improves.  He just reads whatever dumb lines the WWE writers hand him with all the emotion of the worst actor in the 5th grade play.  I’ll give you $1 if you can name me one classic singles match he’s ever been in.

This match can go in any direction.  There could be a strong case to put the title on Joe or Strowman to give one of the fledgling newcomers a title run.  The Lesnar leaves town stipulation could be a swerve and he could be slated to win.  There is always the horrible specter of another Roman Reigns title win hanging over us as well.  Nothing else to do to but sit back and watch.  But as an analyst, I’ll take a shot at a prediction.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Universal Champion, Braun Strowman

WWE Payback Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Cruiserweight Champion, Neville

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

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Samoa Joe

Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Roman Reigns

WrestleMania 33 Analysis and Predictions Part 2: The Smackdown Matches

Part two of my four-part series on WrestleMania focuses on the Smackdown matches.  In the nine months since the brand split, The Smackdown brand has done a good job of building up superstars who wouldn’t have had as much time on television otherwise.  This has given us a good lead-in to WrestleMania 33, and a very balanced list of matches on the card.  With the obvious exception of the mixed tag team match, these matches are gimmick free and will engage the wrestling purists among the viewing audience.

Shane McMahon vs. AJ Styles

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A classic Shane McMahon high spot during a recent Smackdown episode.

In January of 2016, neither of these two men were actively employed by the WWE.  In 2017, both are featured in a high-profile match against each other at WrestleMania. There has been a lot of fan backlash to his match, with many upset with the idea of pairing the immensely talented AJ Styles with a non-full time wrestler, Shane McMahon.  I don’t share in this criticism, I think that this is an intriguing matchup and that both men will get a chance to shine on professional wrestling’s greatest stage.

AJ Styles made his WWE debut (not counting his failed quick tryout in 2002) at the Royal Rumble in 2016, and within a few months he had caught fire and become WWE Champion.  It was a pretty remarkable debut year and something you don’t see very often, if ever.  Someone in their late 30’s that makes a debut on the WWE main roster and quickly becomes champion is more or less unprecedented.

Styles is regarded by many as a “Modern Day Shawn Michaels” in the sense that his in-ring work is reminiscent of The Heartbreak Kid.  I don’t see the exact comparison, but I can’t deny that he is among the best wrestlers in the WWE today.  Very few can keep pace with him during matches and that is where the criticism of this matchup comes into play.

Shane McMahon has always endeared himself to WWE fans through his willingness to take incredible risks and almost impossible looking bumps.  He left us with indelible memories from the Attitude Era when he jumped off the Titan Tron, got thrown through a plate glass window, or jumped coast-to-coast across the ring.  His most recent death-defying stunt was when he jumped off the top of Hell in a Cell at WrestleMania 32 last year.

The flip side of that coin is that Shane is known as a one-trick-pony who’s matches are only meaningful if he takes a crazy bump.  He isn’t known as a sound technical wrestler. A number of fans are vocal in their displeasure of Shane being Styles’ opponent for this reason.

I’m going to take a wait-and-see attitude before I rush to judgement.  Both men are veterans and have delivered when put into the spotlight countless times throughout their respective careers.  This match doesn’t appear to be designed for Shane to take a crazy bump (Styles as much said so on the go-home Smackdown this week), but he doesn’t have to do that in order for the two to tell a story with this match.

Prediction: Winner, AJ Styles

John Cena and Nikki Bella vs. The Miz and Maryse in a Mixed Tag Team Match

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This is seriously the best they could do with “Big Match” John Cena?

This match is one of the aforementioned creative missteps that I alluded to in my previous blog post.  John Cena and The Miz are two of the absolute best in the world right now and deserved better than to be saddled with a mixed tag team match.

This isn’t WrestleMania VI when it was a novel idea to have a mixed tag match between “Macho King” Randy Savage and Sensational Sherri vs. “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire. At that time, women’s wrestling in WWE was occasionally interesting to watch, and Sherry and Sapphire were two of the best there were.  These days, women’s wrestling in WWE is insufferable to watch, a cacophony of shrieks and botched spots.  Nikki Bella embodies this terribleness as one of the absolute worst there are today.  Who would even know if Maryse is any good?  Does she even wrestle?

The Miz has been on a roller-coaster of highs and lows over his decade-long WWE run.  He was the main event winner at WrestleMania XXVII over John Cena and walked out of the building as the reigning WWE Champion that night.  Since then, he has toiled in the mid-card, not having worked any main event-level angles in that period of time.  He has shown steady improvement that entire time, however, and has become one of the most dependable heels on the WWE roster today.  The crowd genuinely hates him.

There aren’t enough accolades to describe John Cena at this stage of his career.  He’s taken a slight step back in his wrestling schedule, taking a few months off per year to film TV shows and movies.  When he is working WWE matches, he proves time and time again why he is the best in the world and has earned the moniker “Big Match John”.  He can work matches with anybody on the roster, and has spent a considerable amount of time making NXT products such as Rusev and Kevin Owens look good early on in their careers.  He also produced one of the best matches of the year against AJ Styles.

Much credit should be given to The Miz and John Cena for trying to make the most out of this mess.  The satirical comedy that The Miz and Maryse have performed in their take on “Total Bellas” has been hilarious.  They have done a good job of bringing the reality of the situation into the storyline, especially when pointing out the very real nature of Cena’s and Bella’s relationship together, one that is not based on love but the desire for the both of them to build their brands.  Cena has consistently and expertly countered their barbs and come back with clever one-liners of his own.  Nikki Bella has been terrible as usual.  Luckily, Cena, Miz, and even Maryse have overshadowed Bella’s awful performances so they are barely noticeable.

The bottom line is that John Cena and The Miz deserve better than this.  This should have been a singles rematch of their WrestleMania XXVII match, maybe with their respective significant others in their corners.  Maybe.  Instead, two of the best we have today will be saddled with this aborted mess of a match.  A match that is not designed to entertain regular WWE fans, but is designed to be a commercial for the “Total Bellas” reality show.

Prediction: Winners, The Miz and Maryse

Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Baron Corbin in a Singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

This match is an exciting opportunity for both the fans and the competitors alike.  The fans have a chance to see a meaningful title matchup for the WWE Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania for the first time in recent memory.  For the competitors, they both have an opportunity to make a statement with this match, and propel their fledgling careers.  Both men come into this match with a reasonable amount of criticism about their in-ring work and ability to entertain on the mic.  But they can put a lot of that talk to rest with a strong performance in a WrestleMania match.

The reigning Intercontinental Champion, Dean Ambrose, is in his fifth year on the main WWE roster.  He immediately rose to the top as a member of The Shield, and has had nearly three years to show us what he has as a singles competitor since the faction was broken up.  Ambrose is a former WWE Champion and has worked many pay-per-view main event matches.  His critics will point out that his in-ring work is lacking, especially given that he can’t throw a credible working punch.  It also feels like at times that he is trying too hard to act “insane” rather than just to be himself and let the crowd decide what they think about him.

Baron Corbin is just about to celebrate his first-year anniversary on the WWE main roster.  He was a surprise entrant in the André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania, and shocked the audience when he was the winner.  In the year since, he has been given a chance to get over with his “Lone Wolf” gimmick.  Most of the criticism towards Corbin is directed towards his ability to deliver convincing promos.  He sounds very scripted and insincere, kind of like he is trying too hard and not being himself when he talks.

These two were handed the ball when their feud was set up at Elimination Chamber when Corbin beat down Ambrose after Ambrose had eliminated Corbin from the match.  They’ve had a series of brutal encounters on Smackdown since, culminating in the announcement of their WrestleMania match.  It is put up or shut up time for these two.  If they come through and give us something to remember for years to come, it will go a long way towards getting them over permanently.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Baron Corbin

Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Becky Lynch vs. Natalya vs. Mickie James vs. Carmella (with James Ellsworth) vs. Naomi in a Six-pack challenge for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

This match is on the pre-show.  If you are at WrestleMania, you can stay in the parking lot and get drunk and you won’t miss much.  If you are watching at home, you can flip through the channels and maybe watch bowling on ESPN 4 and you won’t miss much.

Prediction: This is going to be the worst match of the night by a wide margin.  We’d be better off with nothing in its place.

Bray Wyatt (c) vs. Randy Orton in a Singles match for the WWE Championship

Randy Orton’s unexpected win of the Royal Rumble match in January took him to a very circuitous route to the WWE Championship Match against Bray Wyatt.  As a loyal member of the Wyatt Family, Orton immediately refused his guaranteed title shot at WrestleMania, citing his allegiance to the WWE Champion, Bray Wyatt. This set in motion a series of events that lead to AJ Styles winning a match against Luke Harper for the right to face Wyatt at WrestleMania 33.

In a Shakespearian twist, Orton abruptly turned on Wyatt and burned down the house that the mysterious “Sister Abagail” lived in, sending Wyatt into a rage.  In the process, Orton declared that he wanted his title shot back and was awarded a chance to face AJ Styles for the #1 contender spot in a match which he won.

It wasn’t the most straight-forward and logical wrestling angles we’ve seen, but it served the purpose to not only set up an emotional basis for the feud between Orton and Wyatt, but it also paved the way for the AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon match as well.

Randy Orton missed WrestleMania 32 last year with an injury, reportedly to his shoulder.  The Viper will be fired up and ready to put on a good show this time around.  He can always be counted on to deliver at WrestleMania, having been in more than one main event, most recently at WrestleMania XXX.

Bray Wyatt was at a career crossroads.  He had never won a WrestleMania match, nor had he won a singles championship of any kind since his debut on the WWE main roster as the Wyatt character.  He previously had an unsuccessful run as Husky Harris, but was re-packaged in NXT as an occult heel and the leader of the Wyatt Family faction.

At first, Wyatt was unique and a breath of fresh air. His bizarre ramblings and uncommon ring entrance were a big hit with fans despite him working mainly as a heel.  Unfortunately, as time went on, his act became old and stale, especially since he never seemed to be able to win a big match.  He was 0-2 at WrestleMania, and worked a forgettable angle with The Rock at WrestleMania 32 last year.  With no significant victories on his resume, you could pretty much count on him losing every big match he was in, thus making them difficult to become emotionally invested in.   All of this changed when he finally became WWE Champion in February at Elimination Chamber.  Suddenly, there became reason to believe he actually was a contender.

This match, along with any match Randy Orton is ever in, has the chance to be the match of the night.  These two have a bruising style, and move deceptively quickly for men of their size.  There is no doubt that they both view this match as potentially legacy-defining and will aim to bring the house down.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, Bray Wyatt

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

 

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.

WWE Royal Rumble Analysis and Predictions

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Unlike the past two WrestleMania seasons that were plagued by the predictability of a push of Roman Reigns that virtually none of us wanted, most WWE fans have no idea what to expect headed into The Royal Rumble this Sunday.  The only thing that is for certain is that the WrestleMania card will begin to take shape in more ways than one.

The Royal Rumble match itself is stacked like none other has been in recent memory.  In the absence of a strong rumor suggesting a WrestleMania main event is already planned for one of the competitors, the field is wide open, and you could make the case for at least 10 guys to win the match.

More importantly, a product of the brand split in July was the addition of a second major title for Raw.  This year, the winner will become number one contender for one of the two titles, whereas in previous years there was only one number one contender spot up for grabs.  This adds to the unpredictability factor of who might win, as the WWE is not painted into the corner creatively by only having three or four competitors in the match that had a legitimate shot of winning and going on to headline WrestleMania.

Given the number of main-event caliber talents in the match, there will also be many other stories told other than that of the winner.  Chances are that several other feuds will either be enhanced or will develop during the match that will lead to one-on-one matches at WrestleMania 33.

Aside from some filler matches, the undercard has two interesting matches for the top championship titles.  There is a lot of buzz and guessing going on right now, all of which is building anticipation for what, on paper, is a very exciting Royal Rumble card.

I’m not going to bother previewing the Cruiserweight and Women’s matches, as they will likely be very uninteresting and won’t really lead to anything of note at WrestleMania.  Instead, I’ll focus on the two title matches and the Royal Rumble match.

Kevin Owens (c) vs. Roman Reigns in a No Disqualification match for the WWE Universal Championship Chris Jericho will be suspended in a shark cage above the ring

Talk about an interesting stipulation for a championship match!  Here’s one you don’t see very often, someone known to help the heel champion cheat to win that is locked inside of a shark cage and suspended above the ring.  This one is so unusual, it is hard to predict what might actually happen. On the one hand, it would seem like that Chris Jericho will be completely neutralized in this match and will not be able to interfere on behalf of Kevin Owns like he has done in the past.  On the other hand, something tells me that it would be pretty boring for Jericho to simply dangle above the ring for 20 minutes, and that something could happen that could bust him out of the cage and allow him to get involved in the match somehow.  I’m not sure exactly which one will happen, but I’m thinking it’s likely to be the latter.

The Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho partnership has been unexpectedly riveting to watch.  Jericho was pretty much a washed-up has-been during his latest WWE run until he teamed up with the talented and charismatic Owens.  Their “friendship” is comically tenuous, and will of course break up and lead them to a one-on-one match (maybe at WM 33?). In the meantime, you never know what they might do to keep the WWE Universal Title on Kevin Owens.

Owens has been extremely impressive as WWE Universal Champion.  He works as a heel but he is so good at everything he does that the crowd can’t help but pop for him when he makes his ring entrance.  He overshadows his opponent in this match in every possible way.  Roman Reigns is the exact opposite of Owens, Reigns works as a babyface and the crowd continuously boos him out of the building.  He is a failed experiment that the WWE doesn’t seem to want to walk away from.  He has been pushed down a notch from main event status, let’s hope that he doesn’t find his way back on top for a third straight WrestleMania.

As I eluded to earlier, the stipulation for this match makes it tough to predict.  I don’t think it is likely that Jericho doesn’t find his way down somehow to interfere in the match in some way.  But the question is, when he does make it down from the cage, on whose behalf will he interfere?

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Universal Champion, Kevin Owens.

AJ Styles (c) vs. John Cena in a singles match for the WWE Championship

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there is nothing better than a one-on-one matchup for a championship with no stipulations attached to it.  When two top talents with a grudge against each other face off for a WWE Championship, it gives the fans an opportunity to enjoy the art of professional wrestling as it was originally intended.  AJ Styles and John Cena are two of the absolute best active wrestlers in the world today and I fully expect them to bring the house down.

John Cena is recently back in the WWE from his latest stint away from the company to film a reality TV show.  During his first night, back on Smackdown, he showed a bit of attitude by referring to the “New Era” as “B. S.”.  For a moment, I almost thought it was a heel promo.  But it was good stuff from Cena, working the crowd and giving us something to think about.

Very few talents have had the same impact in their first year in the WWE as AJ Styles had in 2016.  He got off to a strong start with his surprise entry into the Royal Rumble match.  Fans of his from his days in TNA, ROH, and NJPW where thrilled to see him finally get his shot in the WWE at age 38.  I watch none of those promotions so the first time I was exposed to him was that night.

At first I was somewhat underwhelmed with Styles and couldn’t understand what the hype was about. He had an interesting offensive move set, but was undersized and didn’t seem like he had very much charisma.  But a mid-summer heel turn really got him to take off.  His heel promos are top notch and his “Beat up John Cena” catchphrase became an instant classic.  It was only a few months into his first year in the WWE that he won his first major championship.

There is a lot on the line in this match.  First of all, John Cena stands as a 15-time World Champion.  He is one championship win shy of tying the all-time record of 16 World Championships held by the legendary Ric Flair.  It is hard to say if the WWE would let him tie the record at the Royal Rumble, or let him hang on until WrestleMania to finally tie the mark.  Also on the line is a chance to claim the prestige of defending the WWE Championship at WrestleMania.  It is likely that the winner of this match will not lose the title before ‘Mania.

This should be the best match of the night, nobody can tell a story better in-ring than these two can right now.  There is a reason that Cena is a 15-time champion and that Styles is the current champion, and those reasons will be on display during this match.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, AJ Styles

2017 Royal Rumble Match for a World Championship Match at WrestleMania

There are many possibilities in this match, not only for a winner to emerge, but for many other stories to be told.  At the time of this writing, there are only 22 announced participants, leaving 8 more as a surprise.  The known and unknown competitors can be fit into four buckets.

No Chance in Hell

  • Big E, Kofi Kingston, and Xavier Woods: This comedy-based trio turned their fortunes around as failing singles wrestlers and ended up setting a record as the longest reigning WWE Tag Team Champions of all time as The New Day. None of them, however, are positioned to work a WrestleMania main event at this time.  Look for the possibility of a heel turn and a breakup of the New Day in this match.  It has to happen sometime, why not now?  Maybe they can combine the heel turn with the annual “Kofi finds a way to miraculously stay alive in the Rumble” spot.
  • Big Show: I love the guy, but the IWC doesn’t call him “The Big Jobber” for nothing. He’s been used poorly by the WWE for 8 years now, there is no way he is going to win the match.
  • Big Cass: Not ready yet. Maybe someday, but not now.
  • Cesaro: He never was over, he’s not over now, and he never will be over. Move on, Cesaro Section, start rooting for Kevin Owens instead.
  • Dolph Ziggler: Time is running out for the career of this habitual under-achiever.
  • Luke Harper: He’s at the bottom of the Wyatt Family pecking order. Harper is an under-utilized talent; the WWE needs to send him in a new direction.
  • Mojo Rawley: Who?
  • Rusev: This guy is on a roller coaster run in the WWE, he’s had a lot of highs and lows. Right now, he’s pretty low.  He has main-event level talent, but he’s not going to win this year.
  • Sami Zayn: He hasn’t done much of anything useful in his WWE run other than his feud with Kevin Owens.
  • Sheamus: This former Royal Rumble winner and WWE Champion is holding up a tag team right now. Don’t look for that to change anytime soon.

Just Maybe…

  • Baron Corbin: The surprise winner of last year’s André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania might have another trick up his sleeve. He’s already surprised us once, why not one more time?
  • Bray Wyatt: Maybe the WWE finally just gives him a shot at a singles championship. It’s kind of ridiculous that he’s never been in the title picture yet.  He certainly can cut good promos headed into WrestleMania.  They need to either push Bray Wyatt to the top or cut bait in 2017.
  • Randy Orton: This odd pairing of Randy Orton with the Wyatt Family hasn’t really paid off yet. Not much of anything interesting has happened since Orton joined forces with Bray and Luke.  Time for them to finally break up and send Randy in a different direction.  Orton is a known commodity that can be trusted to carry a WrestleMania main event.
  • Dean Ambrose: On several occasions, Ambrose has handled PPV main event duties well. He is also a former WWE Champion.  Maybe he gets another shot at the prize this year.
  • The Miz: A former WrestleMania main-eventer as WWE Champion, the consummate heel is at the top of his game right now. The crowd hates him and he’d be the perfect foil for any babyface champion to face at WM.
  • Braun Strowman: This monster heel has benefited greatly from the brand split and his re-branding following his split from the Wyatt Family. Make no mistake about it, Strowman was built up very carefully over the course of the last 6 months, starting with his matches against “local talent” and working his way up to several possible feuds with top contenders in the Rumble match.  He has the size and the look, I’m not fully convinced about his talent on the microphone and in the ring yet, but I’d like to see what he can do on the grand stage.  If he doesn’t win this match, look for the seeds to be planted for a one-on-one matchup at WrestleMania against someone like The Undertaker or Brock Lesnar.

The Unknown Competitors

After DDP returned last year, no telling what relic the WWE is going to take out of the mothballs and give a quick spot to in the Rumble.  Jake “The Snake” Roberts, anyone?

How about a celebrity entry like Drew Carey? Shaquille O’Neal made a surprise visit to WrestleMania last year, maybe he takes his shot at The Rumble.  Or what about the kid from “The Arrow”?  What was his name?  Never mind, it doesn’t matter what his name is!

What about a returning superstar that still has some gas left in the tank?  Does Cody Rhodes patch up his differences with WWE creative and come back home?  Is Ryback just swerving us with his podcast that he uses to constantly bash the WWE?  Is the newest member of the WWE Hall of Fame, Kurt Angle aiming for a final run with the WWE?  Does CM Punk give up on his ridiculous and failed UFC dream and resume his professional wrestling career?  OK, that’s a stretch but never say never in the professional wrestling business.  After all, Bret “Hitman” Hart came home to the WWE years after the Montreal Screwjob.

There are a number of active competitors who should make an appearance.  Kane certainly comes to mind, he could get a chance to enhance his impressive Royal Rumble elimination statistics.  Maybe Goldust or Curt Hawkins will get a chance to show up and get thrown over the top rope.  Of course, James Ellerton will be there to take a short, if not comedic beating.

What about Triple H?  Aside from an unexplained run-in where he screwed Seth Rollins out of a WWE Universal Championship match, we haven’t seen him in a WWE ring since he lost the title at WrestleMania 32.  It’s time to set him up for his WrestleMania match.  And what about Rollins?  Did he really lose his spot in the match?  Is he not booked at all for the Rumble?  Wouldn’t that be strange?  Shouldn’t he at least start up a feud with Triple H so they can finally clash at WrestleMania?

How about some NXT call ups? Could one of them surprise us with an appearance?  Could they surprise us even more with a Rumble win? Shinsuke Nakamura is 36 years old, it is go or go home time for him.  Same goes for the 37-year-old Samoa Joe.  Joe got off to an auspicious WWE start when he recklessly injured Tyson Kidd during his first match and nearly killed Kidd, instantly ending his career in the process.  He has been in NXT long enough, hopefully he has learned how to use the Muscle Buster on his opponents without maiming them and can make the jump to the main roster at the Rumble.

Is there another AJ Styles out there?  A guy who paid his dues in every promotion other than the WWE and is looking to make his mark in the big leagues of professional wrestling?  Given the success AJ Styles has had, it would make sense for the WWE to try to find another proven commodity like him and give him a shot at the Rumble.

If I Were a Betting Man…

  • Chris Jericho: How about a Jericho Rumble win combined with an Owens championship defense? Former best friends face off for the WWE Universal Championship at WrestleMania, maybe even with Jericho’s career on the line?  Sound good, anybody?
  • Brock Lesnar: The Beast looks more likely to resume his feud with Goldberg at WrestleMania than get a title shot, but maybe he comes out on top of the Rumble while he is at it.
  • Goldberg: See Brock Lesnar, same story for the former WCW standout.
  • The Undertaker: How great would it be to see the Deadman get a title shot at WrestleMania? Now that The Streak is history (although he is working on a meager 2-0 win streak right now which is actually better than a lot of people can say), he needs something to fight for.  How about a major championship of his choosing since he seems to be brand-agnostic?

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

The possibilities for the outcome of this match are nearly limitless.  I like not knowing what to expect, and it looks like most WWE fans are like-minded.  Tell me, what do you think will happen at The Royal Rumble?

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

WWE SummerSlam Analysis and Predictions

The 29th annual WWE SummerSlam pay-per-view is upon us at a time of major change in the WWE.  Between the explosion of content on the WWE Network and the brand-split between Raw and Smackdown, which is now live, it takes an overwhelming amount of time to keep up with everything that is going on in the WWE.  On that note, an interesting trend started at WrestleMania earlier in the year; pay-per-views no longer have to be off the air at 11PM Eastern Time and can stretch longer than in years past.  I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing because a wrestling show that is longer than four hours could lend itself to less than stellar content.

On paper, this card is superior to that of WrestleMania 32.  A lot of the main event-level talents that were injured in the spring are back in action and will compete on Sunday.  There were also a lot of NXT call ups since ‘Mania and many will also be featured on the SummerSlam card.  It also features a large number of straight-up singles matches and doesn’t really have any over-booked, over-crowded matches that tend to be formulaic and somewhat underwhelming in execution.  With any luck, this could be the pay-per-view of the year.  Let’s take a look at the card.

John Cena vs. AJ Styles

This has turned into one of the more entertaining feuds of the year.  AJ Styles burst on to the WWE scene as a surprise entrant in the Royal Rumble and has been featured in a high-profile match in every pay-per-view since.  At first, he didn’t find a good footing as a babyface, but since his heel turn in the early summer, he has become one of the top performers on the WWE card.

John Cena was the perfect mark to use for Style’s heel turn.  The interactions between the two have been compelling and their shoot-style promos against each other have set the stage for another emotional match.  Styles’ “Beat Up Cena” catchphrase is genius in its simplicity, and Cena has countered with brilliant responses to it. This will likely be the “blow-off” match for this feud so I’d expect both performers to want to deliver a memorable performance on Sunday.

Prediction: Winner, AJ Styles

Rusev (c) (with Lana) vs. Roman Reigns in a singles match for the WWE United States Championship

This is a clash between two very high-profile developmental talents who have had roller coaster careers in the WWE, and who are both headed in different directions.

Rusev made his debut as a monster heel and rode an impressive undefeated streak for almost an entire calendar year as a rookie.  He subsequently was felled by injuries and damaged by being placed in an ill-advised love triangle angle with the dreaded career-killer, Summer Rae.  After some down time, Rusev was given his original gimmick back and has run with that opportunity, regaining his momentum.  He plays well off of the natural irony of being a foreigner with the WWE United Stated Championship.

While Rusev is on his way to the top of the WWE, Roman Reigns is sinking like a stone.  He was once the WWE golden child, being put in two consecutive WrestleMania main event matches.  Following an embarrassingly short run as champion, and an even more embarrassing drug-related suspension, Reigns is rapidly moving down the card.  This demotion is well deserved, as he was one of the weakest WWE champions we have seen since the Psycho Sid and Lex Luger days.  Vince McMahon is right more often than he is wrong, but when he picked Reigns to be his top guy, he made one of the biggest miscalculations of his storied career.  Luckily for the fans, the WWE got the hint and took Reigns out of the main event picture.  With any luck, his career will be relegated to doing jobs during dark matches before TV tapings and we don’t have to see him on TV for much longer.

I expect Rusev to carry this match as he is the superior in-ring performer.  He has a lot of subtle mannerisms and maneuvers in the ring that make him deliver a convincing performance.  On the other hand, his opponent, Roman Reigns clearly missed the “Ring Psychology 101” class when he was in NXT developmental and has many holes in his game.  His matches lack continuity and he never seems to know when or how to sell, or when to make a babyface comeback.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE United States Champion, Rusev

The New Day (Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods) (c) vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson in a tag team match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

The New Day have had a stranglehold on the WWE Tag Team Championship for an entire calendar year.  They used a heel gimmick to eventually get over as a babyface team, exploiting the “Freebird Rule” to share the titles amongst the three of them.  Like them or not, you have to respect the fact that they found a way to stay on top of a very crowded tag team division for so long.

Gallows and Anderson have been solid since their debut in the WWE earlier this year.  Buoyed by their success in Japan and their affiliation with AJ Styles, they earned a title shot at SummerSlam in a relatively short period of time.  They stay in their lanes as heels, and play the role well.  Especially as they participated in a worked-injury angle with Big E that has him sidelined from the match as part of the current angle between the teams.

It is hard to say if Big E will somehow make a comeback and help his New Day teammates.  Or, conversely if he shows up and turns on them.  Or, if he just doesn’t show up at all.  His unknown status makes this match a bit of a wildcard in terms of predictions.  If Big E doesn’t show up, I would expect a technically proficient match between these two teams.  If he does show up, expect him to have a hand in the outcome of the match.  Either way, it is time for a new team at the top of the WWE Tag Team division.

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

Sasha Banks (c) vs. Charlotte in a singles match for the WWE Women’s Championship; Dana Brooke is barred from ringside

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Chris Jericho and Kevin Owens

New Jersey’s own Enzo Amore, and his tag team partner Big Cass were over with the fans before they even made the main WWE roster.  During their Raw debut, the crowd chanted their entire set of catchphrases in unison, having learned it from watching them in NXT.  They have made the most of their opportunity to draw attention to themselves as an odd-couple team with comedy flair.  They are going to have to work on new material as some of their lines are about to get pretty stale, but if they keep improving, they have very high upside potential.

Chris Jericho is in the middle of yet another nostalgia run and his act is wearing very thin.  He was never the best in WCW or in the WWE during the Attitude Era, and he isn’t fooling anybody now.   In this “New Era” of the WWE, it is time for him to be put out to pasture.  Kevin Owens deserves better than this matchup and really should have been given a singles match. This team is being set up to fail as both men are heels that clearly don’t like each other and will likely turn on one other before the match is over, thus costing them a victory. This finish is pretty easy to see coming.

Prediction: Winners, Enzo Amore and Big Cass

The Miz (c) (with Maryse) vs. Apollo Crews in a singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

The Miz has been a steady hand as a heel that anchors the mid-card, he will say or do anything to annoy the crowd and draw heat to himself.  With the addition of his equally annoying wife, Maryse at his side, he has become one of the most dependable bad guys the WWE has had in quite some time.  He can work a promo or a match with just about any babyface on the roster and make them look good.

Apollo Crews is still looking for his niche after his NXT call-up to the main roster.  He is using a classic whitemeat babyface gimmick which makes him a good opponent for The Miz.  I’m not convinced that there is room for this type of gimmick in the WWE anymore and would think that he would need some sort of an edge if he really wants to reach a high level of success.

This match will give Crews a chance to showcase his abilities and make a statement.  The Miz has been in many high profile matches in his career and I expect him to hold up his end of what should be an athletic competition.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, The Miz

Carmella, Becky Lynch and Naomi vs. Natalya, Alexa Bliss and TBD in a six-woman tag team match

This match is going to suck.  Even if Eva Marie hadn’t been suspended for using drugs this week, this match would still have sucked.  It’s not like they can even use Paige, she got suspended for using drugs this week, too!  Maybe all of this drug abuse explains why women’s wrestling is so bad in WWE!

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton

Brock Lesnar is coming off of what should have been one of the most successful events of his career, a win over Mark Hunt at UFC 200 in July.  He is the only athlete that the WWE has allowed to compete in the UFC while still under contract.  It was a huge risk for Lesnar to take, it could have ruined his reputation as “The Conqueror” had he lost his MMA match against Hunt.  He dominated the match, but we learned shortly thereafter that he was using performance enhancing drugs, just as his opponent had accused him of doing.  This is pretty much the worst case scenario for the WWE, the UFC, and Lesnar himself.  Now we all know that he is a complete fraud and cheated his way to the top.  He’ll probably be suspended from the UFC for two years and he will forever lose face with the WWE fan base who wanted to believe he was a natural monster.

Randy Orton is back after a sustained layoff due to a badly injured shoulder.  He missed all of WrestleMania season and is likely itching to regain his spot at the top of the WWE card.  This is a manufactured feud that didn’t grow organically.  Neither man had been on WWE TV for a while when it was announced they would face off at SummerSlam, the narrative of the match being that they came up together from the same developmental territory 15 years ago but never faced each other in a high profile match.

I expect this to be the match of the night.  These two are consummate professionals and are two of the most athletic men on the roster.  The build-up that “It only takes one RKO” will play out as Orton will likely attempt to steal a quick win at several points during the match by trying to use his signature move.  Brock Lesnar is a freak of nature (even if he used drugs to reach his athletic peak) and always delivers a spot that reminds the crowd just how strong and quick he is.

Prediction: Winner, Brock Lesnar

Finn Bálor vs. Seth Rollins in a singles match for the WWE Universal Championship

This match will have a significant historical meaning as it is the first time that a new WWE Universal Champion will be crowned.  This is the first time the WWE has issued a major championship in over a generation, and the winner of this match will be the answer to a trivia question for years to come.

Seth Rollins is the best heel on the roster today.  He managed to take any goodwill he had with the fans after returning from injury and dismissed it immediately, thus remaining on their bad side. He looks like he hasn’t missed a step since his return, and he is guaranteed to step it up in a prominent spot like this at the 2nd biggest pay-per-view of the year.

Finn Bálor will be the luckiest guy of the night come Sunday.  He has accomplished very little in his WWE career, his only successes in the lesser-known New Japan Pro Wrestling circuit, as well as a run as NXT champion.  He was just called up to the main roster about a month ago, and has yet to prove himself on the biggest professional wrestling stage in the world.  He is undersized (topping out at a billed 190lbs), and is a one-trick-pony in the ring, relying on high-risk maneuvers from the top rope to gain credibility as a wrestler.  His split-personality gimmick in which he changes from a regular guy to a painted “Demon King” is cliché at best, and highly derivative of several other superstars we’ve seen in the past such as Mick Foley and Kane.  Bálor should enjoy this main event while he is in it, because it is straight to the mid-card for him after SummerSlam.

Prediction: Winner, and the first ever WWE Universal Champion, Seth Rollins

Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Dolph Ziggler in a singles match for the WWE World Championship

Dean Ambrose continues on as one of the unlikeliest of WWE Champions.  He doesn’t have the look, nor the technical proficiency we have seen from champions in the past.  However, his attitude and hard work have resonated with the fans.  He refused to get lost in the shuffle when The Shield broke up and Roman Reigns was given an ill-fated monster push.  Ambrose made the most of the opportunities he had to showcase his talents and the fans took notice.  He is now in the middle of an impressive run, and I’d expect it to continue after SummerSlam.

Dolph Ziggler was the surprise number one contender for the WWE Championship headed into SummerSlam.  His career has long since plateaued, and he was a pretty consistent jobber over the past few years, mostly brought in to make heels look good.  It looks like he is getting one last shot at a main event before he gets pushed back down the card.

Both men are working this angle as “tweeners”, neither emerging as a strong babyface or heel.  Instead, they both have cut shoot-style promos against each other, built up some heat, and have let the crowd decide who to cheer for. If the Orton/Lesnar match is going to be the match of the night, this will be a close second.  It is built around two guys with a score to settle and the WWE Championship on the line.  What can be better than that?

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, Dean Ambrose

WrestleMania 32 Analysis and Predictions (part 1 of 3)

Where have you gone, John Cena?  What’s become of you Daniel Bryan?  Does anybody know what actually happened to Randy Orton?  What about the “Next Best Thing”, Seth Rollins?  What fate befell Cesaro, Luke Harper, and Neville?

WrestleMania week is here and we are about to watch a show without the majority of the top and mid-level stars that we have come to love and hate over the past few years.  The WWE roster is riddled with injuries from top to bottom headed into WrestleMania and many performers who would have likely been featured in top matches are not going to be on the card.  And that is not counting C. M. Punk who abruptly quit two years ago and who fans still chant for to this day.

Still, the roster is loaded with talent, and WrestleMania always features a high-profile match or two with part-time talents that are a throwback to a previous era so there is potential that we could be treated to a very entertaining show.  Unfortunately, there is the specter of the main event hanging over our heads.  A match which will feature a legendary icon of professional wrestling versus an opponent who is not worthy of being the top star in the company.  For a second year in a row, the WWE fans are furious that Roman Reigns was given the top babyface spot in the main event of a WrestleMania, and we are cringing at the thought that he could finally begin his long-term championship run that most of us have feared for the last two years.

While this situation has persisted for quite some time, the flames of our ire were fanned in the lead-in to WrestleMania pay-per-views and Raw episodes.  First, at the Royal Rumble, the fans were exuberant when Reigns was eliminated from the rumble match, thus stripping him of his title.  Triple H was serenated with cheers when he won the title himself.  This, despite the fact, that Triple H was booked as the heel and Reigns booked as the babyface.

Any good feelings that were present at the end of the Royal Rumble were quickly squashed as Reigns was announced to be in a triple-threat match at FastLane against Brock Lesnar and Dean Ambrose for the #1 contender spot for the championship at WrestleMania.  Suddenly, the whole main storyline for WrestleMania 32 became very predictable: Reigns would win the match at FastLane and go on to defeat Triple H for the title at ‘Mania.

Sure enough, the first part of that dire prediction came true when Reigns did indeed win his match at FastLane and will headline WrestleMania for the second year in a row.  It is likely only a matter of time before the other shoe drops and he walks off with the title on Sunday.

WrestleMania is known as the most unique show of the year on the WWE schedule.  It looks different and feels different than every other pay-per-view.  As such, there is more to look forward to than just one main event match, typically there are several main event matches that fill out the card.  There is potential for this show to be remembered for more than just a disappointing end to the main event.

From the outset, it doesn’t look like this WrestleMania is going to become an instant top-to-bottom classic like WrestleMania X-7.  There aren’t too matches that are candidates for consideration as an all-time-great such as Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker at WrestleMania 25, or Randy Savage vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat at WrestleMania III.  But hey, my WWE Network subscription is already paid for and I have a room full of people coming over to watch the show.  I’ll keep an open mind and hope for the best.

We have a card loaded with the best (and healthy) talents on the roster today, and a Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and the returning Shane McMahon so there are pieces in place that could steal the show and give us something to look forward to. We also know that The Rock will be on the show and there are rumors that Shawn Michaels and Stone Cold Steve Austin will be there as well.

This is the first of my three-part series featuring my expert analysis and predictions for WrestleMania 32.  Last year, my overall pick record wasn’t stellar, but I nailed the prediction that Triple H was going to beat Sting and I’m pretty proud of that.  Thank you for reading so far, and let’s see how I do this year.  Part 1 is going to feature the pre-show matches.

The Usos vs. The Dudley Boyz

A straight-forward tag team match is a safe way to get things started at WrestleMania.  While a lot of matches on a ‘Mania card tend to be over-booked or over-crowded, this matchup will showcase two pure tag teams in a grudge match without any stipulations or championships on the line.

The Dudley Boyz returned to the WWE in August of 2015 after a lengthy hiatus of roughly a decade and were immediately put in the tag team championship picture.  They were welcomed back as heroes by the fans and resumed their gimmick of a team that puts their opponents through tables.  Most of us who remember them from their heyday in the Attitude Era recall they did their best work as heels who became one of the most decorated tag teams of all time.

At first, it appeared that they were going to be back for a nostalgia run and ride a wave of good feelings towards them.  Finally, in Feburary of 2016, the Dudley Boyz did what they did best and turned heel when they attacked The Usos after a match on Raw.  For the first time since their return, the Dudley Boyz started to act like their old selves.

The Usos had an up-and-down 2015 as Jey Uso suffered a serious shoulder injury and missed six months, thus derailing their momentum.  The Usos returned in a lower spot on the card upon their return as their status as the #1 tag-team in the WWE was eclipsed by The New Day.

The lead-in to this match has somewhat been lost in the shuffle this WrestleMania season. We were given enough to see that there is bad blood between these two teams and it is clear who the good guys are and the bad guys are.

Stylistically, this match should look familiar to long-time WWE fans as The Usos have lifted most of the offensive move set from The Hardy Boyz, a long-time rival of the Dudleys.  The high-flying and risk-taking style of the Hardys formed an odd complement to the bruising and brawling style of The Dudleys in their many encounters.

I would expect this match to feature a lot of high-risk high spots off the top rope from The Usos, and at least one combatant in this match getting put through a table.  It probably won’t be given too much time to play out, so expect this to be fast-paced and quickly resolved.

Prediction: Winners, The Dudley Boyz

André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

For the third time, WrestleMania will feature a 20-man-over-the-top Battle Royal to determine the winner of the André the Giant Memorial Trophy.  This match hasn’t been too kind to its participants in its first two iterations.

Cesaro won the first one at WrestleMania XXX with a memorable spot by lifting The Big Show and tossing him out of the ring.  Following his victory, he immediately turned heel and failed to get over with the fans, even with Paul Heyman as his advocate.  He lost all momentum from his victory, didn’t really do anything noteworthy over the following year and a half, and then broke his shoulder and is currently out of action.

Last year, the Battle Royal match was bumped down to the pre-show.  The Big Show won the match, this time getting the upper hand from Cesaro and finally eliminating the crowd-favored Damien Mizdow.  He posed with the trophy for the next few weeks on TV and then went back to flip-flopping between babyface and heel, and jobbing most of the time.  Once again, the André trophy failed to give any lift to its winner.

This year, it looks like the WWE has completely given up on trying to make this a meaningful match.  The participants announced for the match look like they are only there as a consolation prize to get them on a WrestleMania card for just being on the roster.  Other than a few sentimental favorites such as The Big Show, Kane, Goldust, and Mark Henry, there is barely anybody left to root for in this match.  With such bums as Konnor, Viktor, Darren Young, Fandango, and The Social Outcasts in the match, it’s hard to pick a clear-cut winner as practically nobody in this match appears to be going anywhere with his career at this point.

I have a theory that we are going to get swerved.  The Wyatt Family has been mysteriously written off of TV lately.  Usually when that happens, they make a surprise return at an unexpected moment to cause some sort of havoc.  I think that one or more of them is going to enter the match and end up the surprise victor.

Prediction: Winner, Braun Strowman

The Total Divas (Brie Bella, Paige, Natalya, Alicia Fox and Eva Marie) vs. B.A.D. & Blonde (Naomi, Tamina, Lana, Emma and Summer Rae) in a 10-Diva tag team match

Just thinking about this match makes my stomach hurt.  This has the potential to be the worst WrestleMania match since Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole at WrestleMania XXVII.  On a scale from one to five stars, I’m going to go ahead and give it a zero right now.

Prediction: This match is going to suck so much that I can’t even think of a word to describe it.

Kalisto (c) vs. Ryback in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship

This is one of the more unusual pairings on the card and has a potential to be a surprise hit match.  Both participants are performing at a very high level in their own respect and will compete in a standard match with a title on the line.

Kalisto was a bit of a face in the crowd on the WWE roster for most of 2015.  He was one half of the token Luchador style tag-team in the WWE, The Lucha Dragons along with Sin Cara.  Despite not having much of a chance to display any kind of personality traits from behind a mask, he managed to distinguish himself at WWE TLC in December by performing his Salida Del Sol (a form of a standing sitout shiranui DDT) from the top of a ladder and through another.  He was awarded with a Slammy, and went on to a feud with Alberto Del Rio, emerging with the United States Championship.

Ryback was on another aimless run, a one-dimensional babyface hero with a repetitive catch phrase and a hulking physique.  It seemed like the crowd was tired of him until he masterfully executed a heel turn following WWE FastLane and shifted his gimmick to more of a monster heel.  This turned the crowd sufficiently against him and he instantly began to draw heat on himself.

What we are left with is a perfect contrast in style, size, and attitude between the two combatants in this match.  I would expect Ryback to display several feats of strength by tossing the smaller Kalisto around the ring like he is a paperweight.  Of course, Kalisto is going to stick with his bread and butter by executing several fast-paced high spots, showcasing his speed and agility.  If given enough time, this match could tell an interesting and entertaining story.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE United States Champion, Ryback

Later this week, part 2 will feature all of the mid-card matches.

WWE 2016 Royal Rumble Analysis and Predictions

WrestleMania season is upon us in 2016.  What should be the best time of year for any wrestling fan begins with the WWE Royal Rumble.  This year, the WWE hopes to rebound from two very poor showings at the last two Royal Rumble events, where fans revolted at both of them forcing the WWE to change around their WrestleMania plans on the fly.

In 2014, the plan was for Batista to make his triumphant return to WWE active competition after a lengthy absence with a win at the Royal Rumble and a main event championship match at WrestleMania XXX.  The only problem was that the fans wanted Daniel Bryan to get that spot instead.  The returning Batista was booed out of the building when he won the Rumble match.  The ensuing build to WrestleMania was clearly re-written on a week-to-week basis and included a Batista heel turn. It culminated in a triple-threat match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and Daniel Bryan ended up with the title.

The 2014 Royal Rumble is also notable as the unofficial beginning of Roman Reigns’ big babyface push.  Although he didn’t win, he eliminated 12 competitors from the rumble match, breaking Kane’s 13-year-old record of 11 eliminations.  This certainly foreshadowed what would happen at the 2015 Royal Rumble.

The 2015 Royal Rumble was notable because the wheels figuratively fell off of the train right in front of our eyes.  Once again, the crowd wanted Daniel Bryan to win.  When he was eliminated early on, everybody in the building and everybody at home realized the inevitable was about to happen.  It was rumored for months that Reigns was going to win the Rumble match and go on to main event WrestleMania.

Maybe it was the fact that Bryan was a non-factor in the match.  Maybe it was because people didn’t like the predictability of Reigns winning the match.  Maybe it was because most fans think that Roman Reigns outright sucks.  Whatever the case may be, the Philadelphia crowd booed the last 5 minutes of the rumble match very loudly.  They seemed like they were on the verge of a riot when Reigns finally won the match.  He looked scared and confused as he looked at the crowd in what should have been a shining moment for a victorious hero.  The WWE fans wanted no part of this.

The build to WrestleMania suffered as a result.  The entire two months was designed to brainwash us into getting behind Roman Reigns as our champion.  They even staged a match between Daniel Bryan and Reigns at FastLane and put Reigns over cleanly as if to say “get used to it” to the fans who clearly were behind Bryan.

The rest of 2015 was about starting and stopping the Roman Reigns push and championship run.  Seth Rollins “stole” the championship title at WrestleMania by cashing in his Money in the Bank contract.  Rollins had a solid championship run while Reigns continued to flounder.  Reigns had a few useless feuds with Bray Wyatt and The Big Show, showing very little improvement along the way.  The fans still didn’t seem to care much about him.

Finally, the time came to give Reigns the championship title shortly after The Survivor Series.  It felt like the WWE couldn’t wait any longer and decided that they just had to go ahead and give him the belt and execute their long standing plans to make him the face of the company.  But it also felt like they knew they still had work to do to get him as over with the fans as they would have liked.  This is evidenced by the fact that they pulled Triple H off of TV and resurrected the Mr. McMahon character as Reign’s main antagonist.  It seems, for lack of a better idea, they are trying the whole “McMahon vs. Austin” storyline some 17 years later hoping that some sort of magic will happen again.

This leads us to this year’s Royal Rumble.  This will be the third straight rumble match that the WWE will attempt to condition us to love Roman Reigns.  This time the deck is stacked against him and his championship run, he is the victim of the evil Mr. McMahon’s plot to take away his championship by forcing him to not only defend his title in the rumble match, but enter the ring as the first out of thirty competitors.  As fans, we are supposed to be outraged that this happened and we should cheer the underdog champion to victory.

In addition to the perennial Roman Reigns mess, the WWE has painted themselves into a corner creatively these past three years with the rumble match itself.  The old stipulation was that the winner of the rumble match went on to WrestleMania to face the champion of his choice.  That left the match hard to predict as there were many people in the match who could challenge for either the WWE Championship in a ‘mania main event, or challenge for the lesser World Heavyweight Championship (formerly the WCW championship) in a mid-card match.  Once the WWE consolidated the two titles before WrestleMania XXX, there really were only a small handful of competitors who had a realistic shot of winning.  The other 27 or so were just kind of in the way during the match.

This year, the WWE championship is on the line for the first time since 1992.  In the 1992 Rumble, Ric Flair won his first WWF championship in inspiring fashion, entering the ring at number three and surviving until the end.  This year, even though the stipulation has changed from the winner being top contender to the actual champion, the creative dilemma still persists.  How many entrants in the rumble match have a realistic shot of winning the WWE title and going on to defend it at WrestleMania?  Not too many.  In fact, as I’ll address shortly, I’m left to wonder why they are bothering with the rumble at all and why not just have Reigns and one other wrestler square off in a singles match instead.

Anyway, even if it doesn’t sound like it, I am the eternal optimist when it comes to the WWE.  I look at every pay-per-view as a chance to be something special and I’m hoping that the Royal Rumble surprises me and is an outstanding show.  With my preamble out of the way, here is my expert analysis and my picks for all the announced matches on the card.

Darren Young and Damien Sandow vs. The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray Dudley and D-Von Dudley) vs. The Ascension (Konnor and Viktor) vs. Mark Henry and Jack Swagger in a Fatal four-way tag team match to qualify for the Royal Rumble match

Yawn.  Is this the best they can do to get us excited for the Rumble?  Eight guys we barely care about that have no shot of actually winning the rumble match in a four-way tag?   Jack Swagger, Darren Young, and Damien Sandow have barely been on TV in months.  The Dudley Boyz are a nostalgia act and are barely noticeable on the show since their return in the fall.  And what happened to Mark Henry?  He used to be near or at the top of the card for years.  Has he fallen so far that this is the best they can do for the World’s Strongest Man?

Anyway, this match would be fine if it were on Smackdown but I don’t expect it to be very noteworthy.  No matter who wins, they aren’t going to be a factor in the rumble match itself.

Prediction: Winner, Mark Henry

Alberto Del Rio (c) vs. Kalisto for the WWE United States Championship

The checkered history of Alberto Del Rio in the WWE has continued upon his return to the company.  What started out as a promising run in the early 2010’s had fizzled out towards the end of his run in 2014.  The Mexican Aristocrat had a grand entrance with his own ring announcer and a never ending line of expensive cars.  He won the Royal Rumble and numerous championships along the way but somehow faded to middle card status before he was unceremoniously fired for a reported backstage incident with a WWE staffer.  Having toiled in a few lesser promotions in the meantime, the WWE decided that all was forgiven in 2105 and brought him back.

The problem with his return is that it was completely botched almost from the get-go.  It started off well on the first night as he made an unannounced return to Hell in a Cell and defeated John Cena cleanly for the US Championship in a very entertaining match.  Shortly thereafter, he was paired with his former xenophobic adversary, Zeb Coulter.  The two of them bizarrely promoted the idea of combining Mexico and America into one country called “Mexamerica”.  Nobody knew what to make of this and the WWE quickly backtracked and separated the two.  With no real backup plan for Del Rio, he has been drifting aimlessly ever since.

His involvement with the hastily arranged “League of Nations” faction has the potential to be interesting, but we haven’t seen much from the group, and Del Rio appears to be lost in the shuffle.  I would assume that there are plans for Del Rio at WrestleMania, but at this point, nothing seems to be building towards anything interesting involving his character.

Kalisto is a lower-profile superstar as a member of the Lucha Dragons tag-team.  The Lucha Dragons are the token masked luchadores on the WWE roster these days and have a narrow fan appeal.  They are usually good for a few high-spots per match but have no personalities as they are masked and rarely speak.  Kalisto did, however, distinguish himself in December at the TLC pay-per-view by performing his signature Salida del Sol finishing move from the top of a ladder.  His partner, Sin Cara, was hurt shortly thereafter, so the WWE decided to strike while the iron was hot and put him in a feud with Alberto Del Rio for the United States Championship.

In a sequence of matches on Raw and Smackdown, Kalisto surprisingly won the US Championship from Del Rio only to lose it back the next night.  Their feud continues at the Royal Rumble on Sunday in a rematch for the US title. It was an interesting way to build interest in a pay-per-view match by repeating the same match for a third time in a short period.  On the one hand, it could seem repetitive.   On the other, it could be interesting to see who walks away in the third of three matches in the feud with a victory.  I’m guessing that it is going to be the former and remind us of two matches we just saw with not much new to offer.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE United States Champion, Alberto Del Rio

The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston and/or Xavier Woods) (c) vs. The Usos (Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso)

There isn’t much new to say about this match due to its repetitive nature.  These are the two most popular tag teams in the WWE right now and always seem to cross each other’s path.  If it wasn’t for the fact that Usos missed time due to an injured member, this match would probably have happened ten times by now.

The New Day was a surprise hit after their heel turn gave them an edge that resonated with the fans.  They certainly are annoying and good at cheating to win matches.  However, they seem to be running out of ideas, likely due to over-exposure every single week on Raw.  They are given too much time on the microphone and simply seem to be running out of material.

The Usos found their rhythm again after their hiatus.  They are back to the kid-friendly Hardy gimmick that made them popular in the past.  Their in-ring style mimics that of Matt and Jeff Hardy, although their target audience is way too young to realize that they are copycats.

Expect more of the same from these two teams.  The Usos will flash some highspots.  The New Day will use numbers to their advantage and attempt to cheat to win.  We’ve seen it all before.  Many times.

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

Charlotte (c) (with Ric Flair) vs. Becky Lynch for the WWE Divas Championship

The Divas division is horrible and is the least entertaining part of the WWE right now.  Not even Slick Ric himself can save this debacle of a match.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Dean Ambrose (c) vs. Kevin Owens in a Last Man Standing match for the WWE Intercontenintal Championship

This match is clearly the most interesting out of all of the matches on the card, maybe even more so than the rumble match itself.  These are two of the most underrated in-ring talents on the roster, and also two of the more charismatic.  They both are only limited by how they are being used by the WWE right now and have limitless potential.

Them both have followed an unconventional path to their current spots on the WWE roster.  Neither of them has the “look” of a classic wrestler.  They aren’t tall and don’t have impressive physiques.  They made up for all of that by putting on entertaining matches and cutting interesting and passionate promos any chance they are given.

They are a natural pairing in their current feud.  Both their wrestling styles and ability to talk complement each other very well.  Although Ambrose is booked as a babyface, I would expect to see a split crowd during their match as Kevin Owens has made a good connection with the fans.  This match is designed to be a brawl, with each competitor trying to render the other unconscious for a ten count in order to win the IC Championship.  If we are lucky, this could be an early Match of the Year candidate.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Kevin Owens

30-Man Royal Rumble match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

As I mentioned before, all eyes will be on Roman Reigns in this match.  He is the underdog champion, having been screwed over by the McMahon family and forced to defend his title against 29 other superstars in the same match.  This is the longest set of odds any WWE Champion has ever faced in a single match.

Given the ramifications of this match, there really only two people who have a viable shot of winning: Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns.  Everybody else is likely just going to fill time between action.  Maybe we might get a setup for a feud or two headed into WrestleMania, and there could possibly be a heel turn somewhere in the mix.  Some of the notables to keep an eye on besides Roman Reigns:

  • Brock Lesnar has a very good chance of winning the match and going on to WrestleMania as champion. If that doesn’t happen, look for an interaction that sets him up for a grudge match at WrestleMania instead, maybe against a member of the Wyatt Family or a returning superstar.
  • Chris Jericho has returned for the 1,000th time as a full-time wrestler. For reasons I can’t explain, the WWE features him very heavily at pay-per-view matches when he does return.  Jericho is a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.  To steal the phrase, he was a “B+ player” during his wrestling heyday.  When he isn’t wrestling, he is a mediocre rock star, a boring podcast host, and a terrible talk show host (see last summer’s WWE Tough Enough).  I have no idea what is still so interesting about Jericho other than his over-inflated ego.  I expect him to end up in a feud with someone following this match.
  • The Wyatt Family is probably going to tangle with someone in this match with an outcome that will lead to something else shortly down the road. Bray Wyatt was actually made to look strong and powerful in the go-home Raw last Monday, as if his leadership of the fearsome group could lead to him contending for a win of the rumble match itself.
  • Returning superstars could play a factor in this match. Usually we get a surprise entrant or two every year (Diamond Dallas Page, Bubba Ray Dudley, etc.) that gets a minute or two of TV time before they are eliminated, but it is fun to watch them while it lasts.  This year, there could be several returning stars (other than Jericho) that enter the match, some with an actual chance of making a dent in the outcome of the match.  Also, while he is still very much a member of the active roster, we haven’t seen Kane in quite some time, this would be the perfect time for him to return to television.  Who knows, maybe Randy Orton or Daniel Bryan aren’t hurt as badly as rumored and they come back this Sunday?
  • NXT developmental superstars stand a good chance of getting a spot or two in this match. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Finn Bálor or Hideo Itomi make their main roster debuts in this year’s rumble.

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

I can’t fathom a realistic outcome of the rumble match other than Reigns or Lesnar winning it. Hopefully, it turns out to be an entertaining rumble that sets us up for a big WrestleMania season this winter.

The Bumpy Road to WrestleMania 32

It seems of late that many WWE bloggers have seized on the opportunity to twist the WWE’s annual “Road to WrestleMania” metaphor that is used to create hype for WrestleMania season.  I figured I might as well join in the fun, considering the state of affairs in the current WWE landscape.  Between the rash of injuries, questionable storylines, a failed “Divas Revolution”, and the horrific decision to make Roman Reigns the WWE champion, there has been a viewer exodus of WWE programming since the beginning of 2015. There is both empirical and measurable evidence that 2015 ended on a sour note for the WWE and that things aren’t looking up any time soon.  The timing couldn’t be worse as we are just about 3 months away from WrestleMania 32 at AT&T Stadium, a facility which has the potential to hold the largest crowd ever to attend a WrestleMania event.

Injuries on The Road to WrestleMania

There seems to be a WrestleMania 31 curse on anybody who won or retained a men’s championship at last year’s event at Levi’s Stadium:

  • WWE Tag Team Champions Tyson Kidd and Cesaro are both on the shelf with injuries. Tyson Kidd suffered a career-ending injury and was nearly killed in the ring when he broke his neck during a match with a careless Samoa Joe.  Cesaro injured his shoulder and is out indefinitely following surgery.
  • Daniel Bryan wasn’t able to defend the WWE InterContinental title he won at WM 31, having suffered a career-ending concussion shortly thereafter. The WWE medical staff will not clear Bryan to return and we have seen the last of the charismatic fan-favorite as an in-ring competitor.
  • John Cena won the WWE United States Championship at WrestleMania 31. In early January 2016, he announced on Twitter that he was having surgery on his shoulder.  The timeline for his return is unknown, but he won’t be back for WrestleMania 32 in an in-ring capacity for sure.
  • Seth Rollins saw his inspirational WWE World Heavyweight Championship run come to an abrupt end when he broke a knee during a match with Kane on a recent European tour. He had to vacate the title and will be lucky to be back in the ring by the time SummerSlam rolls around. This is probably the most upsetting story out of the four as his surprise championship win at WrestleMania 31 was the feel-good story of the year in the WWE.

The curse didn’t stop with the champions at WrestleMania 31, as several other talents that were prominently featured on the show were also felled with major injuries:

  • A decrepit 56-year-old Sting, who had no business in a WWE ring at his age, suffered a neck injury at WWE Night of Champions against Seth Rollins. Sting, of course, jobbed to Triple-H at WrestleMania 31.  His WWE career pay-per-view record has ended at a pathetic 0 and 2.
  • Randy Orton defeated Seth Rollins in a hotly-contested grudge match at WrestleMania 31. In late October, he badly dislocated his shoulder while taking out the trash.  The subsequent operation to repair the damage is going to keep him out for an extended period of time.  It’s unknown if he will recover in time for WrestleMania 32, but it doesn’t seem likely.

Considering the fact that none of these competitors will be physically able to compete in time for WrestleMania 32, it is going to have a drastically different look than last year’s event.  But it is going to be a big question mark as to who on the current roster, or what legends will be called out of retirement, will be featured in the main events this year.

Bad Storylines

When professional wrestling is at its best, you can find yourself immersed in a match that tells a story and you forget that it is a work.  When it is at its worst, you get bad television which not only ruins the moment, it damages the talents that are forced to participate in them, leaving them as afterthoughts in most fans minds.

While there have been a lot of poor story arcs in the WWE in the past 8-9 months, the one that stands out to me as the worst was the Dolph ZigglerSummer RaeRusevLana love square.  Not only was it bad television at the time, but it did irreparable damage to each of the four talents that will dog them for the rest of their careers.

Dolph Ziggler has floundered in the mid-card for his entire career so he pretty much broke even at the end of this debacle.  Summer Rae was already the kiss of death (see her association with Fandango) for anybody she latched on to, so she as well wasn’t harmed much.

The one who suffered the most from this mess was Rusev.  Headed into WrestleMania 31, he was among the hottest heels on the roster.  He was booked strongly with a “destroyer from an enemy country” gimmick. His pairing with Lana was one of the few instances in recent years that an association with a diva was helpful for a superstar rather than harmful.  He had an undefeated streak and was on a roll.

Once Rusev lost to John Cena at WrestleMania 31, his momentum slowed down.  He could have easily recovered had he not ended up in this storyline.  Whereas Lana made him look strong and powerful, Summer Rae made him look weak and vulnerable.  Mercifully, the angle was killed off abruptly when TMZ reported that Lana and Rusev were engaged in real life.

Rusev was once again paired with Lana, but the damage was done.  Instead of being a feared and hated destroyer, he’s now languishing in the mid-card as a member of the hastily arranged “League of Nations”.   Anytime he enters the ring, it is hard to take him seriously as someone who can win any match he is in.  In fact, he’s expected to lose.

Early in 2015, Rusev was poised to become a main event-level heel.  His entanglement in one bad storyline has destroyed his credibility.  At a time when the WWE desperately needs talent to step up to replace those on the injured list, Rusev is not currently an option to take that spot due to bad booking.  It remains to see if he can recover at all.

The Divas Revolution

I can’t remember a time as a wrestling fan that a fellow fan has ever said to me: “I can’t wait to see the Divas match at the next WWE Pay Per View”.  I also can’t find any evidence that a Divas match has ever ended a pay-per-view.  It doesn’t seem to me that the division has been much of a draw of any kind for the WWE.  Conversely, the Divas matches on the development promotion, NXT have drawn critical praise and the division has drawn the attention from senior management within the WWE.

Following the momentum of the NXT Divas division brief success, the WWE decided to double-down on the main roster WWE Divas division by calling up several NXT talents at once and calling it a “Divas Revolution”.  Several months into this Divas Revolution, not much has changed at all.  In fact, it’s likely that this Divas Revolution has done the talents more harm than good.

The Divas segments on Raw (the word Diva still drives me nuts!) are nearly unwatchable.  It is impossible to distinguish between the babyfaces and the heels.  Their matches are three minutes long and are filled with blown spots. Despite his involvement in the story with his daughter Charlotte, not even Ric Flair himself has been able to save this train wreck of a division.  Some revolution this turned out to be.

Roman Reigns as Champ

It was rumored for years that Roman Reigns was the golden boy, the chosen one that Vince McMahon personally selected as the next megastar babyface champion and face of the company.  The WWE fans made it clear during the Royal Rumble in 2015 that they were not onboard with that sentiment.  The booking decision to have Roman Reigns win the Rumble was met with a near-revolt from the Philly fans in attendance that night and the Internet crowd wasn’t much better.

The WWE wisely decided against making Reigns the champion at WrestleMania 31 and instead put the title strap on Seth Rollins.  Rollins carried the title well during his reign, slowly winning over critics as time went by.  During that same time, Reigns continued to flounder, showing no improvement whatsoever.  He still can’t carry a long promo and his matches lack basic ring psychology.

Late in 2015, the WWE made the fateful decision to make Roman Reigns the champion.  They booked him as the underdog against The Authority, reprising a tired and old storyline that goes back to the Attitude Era and Stone Cold Steve Austin’s days a champion.  The biggest problem here is that Reigns still isn’t very good and the fans aren’t buying the underdog angle at all.

Headed into WrestleMania XXX, Daniel Bryan gained a lot of momentum with his conflict with The Authority.  The big difference with Daniel Bryan was that senior WWE management really didn’t like him at all and were frustrated by the fan base that demanded he become champion.  They finally caved and made him the champion when it was apparent that the fans were not going to accept Batista in that spot.  The Roman Reigns conflict with the authority, however, has no basis in reality.  Everybody knows that this is the opposite situation and that management was behind Reigns all along.  This is not an organic movement and the fans are still not behind Reigns.

Right now, the Roman Reigns experiment has us facing a situation with a weak hand-picked champion, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Lex Luger’s run as champion over twenty years ago.  He isn’t going to approve any time soon, or probably ever, and we are likely stuck with him at the top for quite some time.

What Happens Next?

Time marches on and The Royal Rumble is upon us.  Right now we know virtually nothing about the WrestleMania 32 card of who will be featured on it.  We could see some faces from the past such as Bill Goldberg or Shawn Michaels come out of retirement to add a jolt to the card.  We could see current mid-card stars such as Kevin Owens be called on to carry main event level matches.  We could see NXT talents such as Finn Bálor called up to the main roster.  No matter what happens, all we can do is hope for the best headed into WrestleMania season, and hopefully get a turnaround from what has been a big downturn in the quality of the WWE product as of late.