WrestleMania 33 Postscript: Farewell to the Deadman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Losers

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

The Winners

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

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

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

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.