WWE WrestleMania 34 Analysis and Predictions

 

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It’s the best time of year to be a WWE fan!  No weekend out of the year is better than WrestleMania weekend!  WrestleMania 34 in New Orleans will have a stacked card from start to almost the finish!  Roman Reigns is set to ruin a fourth straight WrestleMania main event, but even the lack of suspense surrounding the outcome of his match won’t dampen my enthusiasm for the card.

In fact, there is enough mystery baked into this card to keep us guessing for most of the night.  In addition to there not being too many obvious winners on the card, there are a lot of questions that we don’t have answers for right now:

  • What is this “performance” that Elias has promised us going to entail?
  • What’s up with John Cena calling out The Undertaker to no avail? Is Cena really not going to have a match?  Would they have an unadvertised Cena/Undertaker match on the card?  Is something else going to happen?
  • Who is Braun Strowman’s TBD tag team partner? Or is he not going to have one and use some sort of reverse Feebird Rule to win the tag title himself?
  • Is this Brock Lesnar’s last match before returning to the UFC?
  • What happened to Bray Wyatt in the Lake of Reincarnation at the Hardy Estate two weeks ago? Is he going to make a surprise return with a new persona?
  • Is there going to be a heel turn we don’t see coming?
  • Is a WWE alumnus going to make his return? Will an NXT call up have an impact on the card?  Will someone from NJPW crash the show?

The WWE is at its best when it can actually keep storylines secret and you don’t have any idea what is going to happen.  It makes the show all the more enjoyable to sit back and watch.  I expect that this could be one of the best WrestleMania’s we’ve seen in the past 10 years, and we could be treated to at least one or more top-10-all-time best WrestleMania matches.

On to my expert predictions.

AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura in a Singles match for the WWE Championship

It’s hard to believe how far Shinsuke Nakamura has come in just one year on the Smackdown roster.  He showed up on the Smackdown following WrestleMania 33 with a violinist playing in his bizarre entrance.  He called himself the “King of Strong Style” and got the crowd to sing along with his entrance music in the following weeks.  He started to stand in the middle of the ring, do a squat, and scream “Come on!” at his opponents and the crowd ate it up.  Lastly, he came up with the catch phrase “Knee to Face” and that seemed to put him over the top.  I can’t figure out where the substance to any of this is, but the fans seem to really like it.

AJ Styles, conversely, is one of the top performers in the company right now, both on the microphone and in the ring.  His in-ring work is unparalleled on the WWE main roster right now and that has earned him the fans respect.  He reminds many of a master wrestling technician who can also sell and tell a story, like a young Shawn Michaels.  Even in his early 40’s, he’s the subject of anybody’s dream match right now.

The build for this match has been lackluster.  Anytime you have a big babyface vs. babyface match, the angle is a bit of a creative trap. They have to protect both guys image, and nobody can generate any real heat.  They have to pretend like there is a mutual respect for each other, and that is a very uninteresting way to promote a match.  Either way, when they get to the ring they should deliver.

There’s a lot on the line in this match.  Styles gets his first opportunity to defend a championship at WrestleMania and Nakamura has never wrestled a bigger match in his life.  His Tokyo Dome experience from NJPW is the little league compared to having to perform on the Grandest Stage of Them All.  Both of these men, at this stage in their careers will want to make a statement in this match.  It has the potential to be the match of the night, and perhaps a top-10 greatest WrestleMania match of all time.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, AJ Styles

The Miz (c) vs. Seth Rollins vs. Finn Bálor in a Triple Threat Match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

The Miz has come a long way since his WrestleMania XXVIII main event against John Cena in which he successfully defended the World Championship.  In many ways, he’s a better wrestler now, and his reign as Intercontinental champion has been more impressive than his World Championship.  He is the best heel in the business and is considered by many to the WWE MVP.

Seth Rollins has lost a great deal of momentum since he lost the WWE Championship following an in-ring injury.  He was the feel-good story coming out of WrestleMania 31, when he stole the championship from Brock Lesnar in the main event with a surprise cash-in of his Money In The Bank contract.  Since the injury which cost him a spot at WrestleMania 32, he hasn’t had too many noteworthy moments.  He flip-flopped back and forth as a heel, he re-united The Shield, but that angle fizzled due to illness and injuries to the other two.  He had a slow-burn angle with Jason Jordan which came to a quick end when Jordan himself was injured.  Rollins needs his luck to turn around, and a big match at WrestleMania 34 would certainly do that.

Finn Bálor is a one-trick-pony.  He has a slick entrance with audience participation.  Other than that, he’s a scrawny little twerp who wears tights with a leather jacket.  He should be in the 205 division, wrestling guys his own size.  He doesn’t look right wrestling guys who outweigh him by 75 pounds.  He has zero personality to make up for his lack of size.  I don’t expect him do much of anything interesting in this match.

I’d prefer to see this as a two-man match, but this is better than the typical 5-man ladder match they usually put on for the IC title at WrestleMania, so I’ll take it.  Triple-threat matches are all about timing the big spots between the three competitors and are stylistically very difficult to pull off.  The Miz and Rollins are going to have to be at their best to pull this off and carry Bálor.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, The Miz

Randy Orton (c) vs. Bobby Roode vs. Jinder Mahal vs. Rusev in a Fatal Four-Way Match for the WWE United States Championship

Not to be outdone by the triple threat match for the Intercontinental Championship, the United States Championship will be decided in a fatal four-way match.  A match like this will be either memorable for years because it was so good, or bowling shoe-ugly. Everybody will try to get a signature move in at some point in order to stand out.

Randy Orton continues to plod through the later stages of his career.  His championship win at WrestleMania was noteworthy because the crowd of over 70,000 was mostly silent throughout the match.  He’s going to need something better out of this year’s WrestleMania match.

Bobby Roode is the least interesting competitor in this match.  Over-produced entrance, an underwhelming personality, and way past his prime.  Nothing to see here.

Rusev snuck into this match because he suddenly has a popular catch phrase: “Rusev Day”!  It’s kind of weird but it works for him and should last for a little while longer.  I thought he was better as a monster heel, but I guess he’s selling more merchandise this way so good for him.

Jinder Mahal is the biggest home-grown star we’ve seen in years in WWE.  He’s had an amazing rebound from being fired from the WWE to his return and eventual ascension to WWE Champion.   He’s got a great look and played the part of the cliched ethnic heel to the best of his abilities.  If anybody deserves a WrestleMania moment and a win in this match, it’s Mahal.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE United States Champion, Jinder Mahal

Alexa Bliss (c) vs. Nia Jax in a singles match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

If you’ve ever followed this blog, you know what I’m about to say.

Prediction: This match will suck

The Usos (Jey and Jimmy Uso) (c) vs. The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston, and/or Xavier Woods) vs. The Bludgeon Brothers (Harper and Rowan) in a Triple threat tag team match for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship

Big build up all around for this match.  The Usos finally get a match on the main WrestleMania card for the first time in their careers.  They’ve put in the time and they did a good job re-inventing themselves after their bland Hardy Boyz-ripoff gimmick they started off with.  This is a big opportunity for them.

The New Day is as stale as can be, and this team is dying to be broken up.  Big E will go straight to the top, Xavier Woods will go straight to the middle, and Kofi Kingston will go back to being a jobber.  They’ve had a fantastic run, but it is high time for a swerve and a heel turn for one of them, bringing this faction to an end.

The Bludgeon Brothers are hot right now.  Harper and Rowan (having just lost their first names!) are the two most underrated big men on the roster right now.  These guys have all the tools to be the best in this game.  Their outfits are a little over the top, but everything else about this team screams heel champions.  Their build to this spot was masterful, having them lay waste to a host of jobbers and making them look unstoppable.  Watch this space, these guys are going to be big.

Prediction: Winners and new WWE Smackdown Tag Team Champions, The Bludgeon Brothers

Cesaro and Sheamus (c) vs. Braun Strowman and TBD in a tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

How great is this?  The best tag team on Raw takes on the hottest talent on Raw, with a bone-fide mystery partner by his side!  This is WWE at it’s best, creating a ridiculous situation that we’re dying to see.  Could you imagine paying to see the Yankees play a home game against a mystery opponent?  Wouldn’t ever happen!  But in professional wrestling, this is creative gold!

People have argued that this isn’t the best spot for Braun Strowman and that he deserves to be in the main event.  I’m a huge fan of his, but I think this is a great spot for him.  Roman Reigns is the “chosen one” and there’s nothing we can do about it.  Strowman is still going to get his push, and he’s going to take the ball and run with it.  He does monster heel, he does comedy, he performs ridiculous feats of strength.  What’s not to love about the guy?  Just because he’s not in the main event, doesn’t mean he can’t be awesome.

Who is his partner?  I’ve read all kinds of speculation that it could be a returning hero, an NXT call up, or someone else already on the roster.  What’s the point in trying to figure it out now?  Just sit back and let the show come to you!

Cesaro and Sheamus always deliver.  They are going to nail their parts in this match and you can count on that.  When they lose the title, it will be fun to watch them chase it back down.

Prediction: Winners and new WWE Raw Tag Team Champions, Braun Stroman and TBD

Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Asuka Singles match for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

Out of respect for Ric Flair, I won’t disrespect his daughter.  But this match is as good as it gets for women’s wrestling because the bar is set so low.  Asuka is average at best and her gimmick is annoying.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE SmackDown Women’s Champion, Charlotte Flair

Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey vs. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon in a mixed tag team match

Kurt Angle made a hero’s return to the WWE last year at the WWE Hall Of Fame ceremony, and then re-joined the regular show as Raw General Manager.  Rumor had it there would be a big build to a WrestleMania 34 match for the Olympic gold medalist.  Instead, he got saddled with this abortion of a match.

Ronda Rousey left the UFC as a loser and a shell of her former badass self.  In the time between her UFC days and her WWE days, she did nothing to repair her reputation.  Thus far, she has completely bombed on the WWE stage.  Her promos are embarrassingly awkward.  As one of my readers pointed out to me “she had the personality of a wet blanket in UFC” and apparently, her ability to memorize and read lines the WWE creative team feeds her is zero.  Who even knows if she can wrestle?  Probably not very well.

I can’t feel too sorry for Triple H, he’s had some very good WrestleMania matches in his career.  But Kurt Angle deserved better than this.  I don’t think either one of them can save this mess.

Prediction: Winners, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon

Daniel Bryan and Shane McMahon vs. Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn in a tag team match and if Owens and Zayn win, they will be rehired to SmackDown

Daniel Bryan’s surprise return to Smackdown changed the current landscape in the WWE in a way nobody saw coming.  He was close to the Shane McMahon rivalry with the Owens/Zayn duo for months, and he is perfectly positioned to return in this match.

Kevin Owens is the top heel on SmackDown, and the story arc of his simmering feud with Shane McMahon has taken on many Shakspearian twists since it began in 2017.  It’s now involved Sami Zayn, included the both of them sending McMahon to the hospital, and then getting themselves fired by Daniel Bryan before beating him up on the night he announced his return to active competition.  This was top heel work and WWE creative at its best.

This could be the most entertaining match of the night.  It has three of the best workers in the WWE right now, along with Sami Zayn who will play his supporting role as well.  It has “win” written all over it for Zayn and Owens, and it will be fun watching the aftermath on Smackdown when it’s all over.

Prediction: Winners, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

Brock Lesnar (c) (with Paul Heyman) vs. Roman Reigns in a singles match for the WWE Universal Championship

A fourth straight WrestleMania event is about to be ruined by Roman Reigns.  It’s a good thing this card is so stacked because the show will end with a thud with this match.  We’ve known for a year that Reigns is going go win the match.  The “like me because I’m a full-timer and Brock is a part-timer” angle is boring and has not helped Reigns improve one bit.  He still sucks on the mike and his in-ring psychology is poor.  No matter how many WrestleMania main events he gets, he never improves.

Brock Lesnar is about to walk out on the WWE.  His act has gotten tired and it will be good for the WWE to move on from him at the top. He had a great run since his return as a part-time special attraction, and something needs to be said about how less exposure can actually help a superstar in the WWE.  But it is time to go.

This match is going to fail to entertain.  The crowd will be tired, Lesnar will have his eye on the exit, and Reigns will continue to stink.  Try to stay awake if you can.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Universal Champion, Roman Reigns

WWE FastLane Analysis and Predictions

The Road to WrestleMania 34 heats up with WWE FastLane (see what they did there?) this Sunday.  The Smackdown branded show will be the final pay-per-view before WrestleMania in April.  Much like the Raw-themed Elimination Chamber two weeks prior, expect a lot of stories to be told that help flesh out the WrestleMania card.

Another similarity that Fastlane has to Elimination Chamber is that this show is also a one-trick-pony.  The most interesting and impactful match will be the main event Six-Pack Challenge for the WWE Championship.  The Tag Team Championship match could add a bit of intrigue, but everything else is pretty much going to be a throw-away match.  Don’t even get me started on the Diva’s matches, I’m not going to review them.  Just flip to The Walking Dead when the Diva’s matches are on.

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Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Rusev (with Aiden English)

Rusev somehow found comedy gold in his pairing with Aiden English.  English was flailing on the roster when, almost by accident, he sang a song about “Rusev Day” and a gimmick was born.  This is somewhat of an unusual path for Rusev to take, having been brought to the WWE as a “monster ethnic heel” with a huge undefeated streak.  He showed all the characteristics of a great heel, but poor booking decisions made him look weak and almost irrelevant.  To suddenly become a guy with a babyface catchphrase seems out of place.  But in this match, he is going to work heel versus the fan favorite Nakamura so he’ll be getting back to what he does best.

Shinsuke Nakamura is enjoying a very popular first year on the WWE main roster.  Somehow the WWE managed to make him interesting by producing a unique entrance for him.  He doesn’t bring much else to the table.  I don’t know a thing about his character and I don’t know what “King of Strong Style” means.  Anyway, his matches are decent so he has that going for him.  He’s already headed to WresteMania having won the Royal Rumble, so this match is pretty much to make him look good headed into his title shot at the big event.

Prediction: Winner, Shinsuke Nakamura

The Usos (Jey and Jimmy Uso) (c) vs. The New Day (Big E, Kofi Kingston, and/or Xavier Woods) in a Tag team match for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship

This is the kind of match where you have to ask yourself “Why didn’t they just wait until WrestleMania for this one?”  On paper, a matchup between these teams is pretty much the best you are going to do in the Smackdown tag team division right now.  Not to mention that for all of their years on the WWE main roster, The Usos have never been featured in a WrestleMania match.

The New Day have become a bit stale, but Big E continues to anchor this group with his superb abilities on the mic.  This guy has a lot of charisma and clearly knows how to work a crowd.  Along with the Usos, this trio is certainly deserving of a big match at WrestleMania.

It will be interesting to see how this one goes and who takes the tile to WrestleMania.  The question will certainly be: what is next for both of these teams after FastLane?  This match and its aftermath should make the result pretty clear.

Prediction: Winners and still WWE Smackdown Tag Team Champions, The Usos

Bobby Roode (c) vs. Randy Orton in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship

Two boring guys in a boring feud that will be in a boring match at FastLane.  I just can’t get excited for this one, I don’t get the big deal about Bobby Roode and Randy Orton feels like he’s just mailing it in these days.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE United States Champion, Randy Orton

AJ Styles (c) vs. John Cena vs. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. Baron Corbin vs. Dolph Ziggler Six-Pack challenge for the WWE Championship

This match is the biggest reason to tune in on Sunday for FastLane. These are the top singles talents on Smackdown right now, and each one of them has a lot on the line headed into WrestleMania.

  • Sami Zayn has come alive as a heel once he aligned himself with Kevin Owens. He seemed destined to become a jobber until the gloves came off as a heel and he can now say whatever he wants.  He could be in line for a feature role at WrestleMania, but don’t count on him walking away as champion on this night.
  • Kevin Owens is the best pure heel on Smackdown right now. He’s proven that he can carry a championship and could be a dark horse to win this match and face Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania.  It could be an outstanding match.
  • Dolph Ziggler continues to push against is ceiling in the WWE. He always looked and seemed like he could break out some day, but never did.  His latest character incarnation as a disgruntled old star hasn’t done him too many favors, other than get him a paid vacation from the WWE while he was written off of TV as part of his current storyline.  He’s never had a singles match at WrestleMania (no wonder he’s so pissed) and maybe if he finally had one, he’d cement a better legacy for himself.  If not, off to another three minutes in the André The Giant Battle Royal for Dolph.
  • Baron Corbin is ready to break out. He’s the number two heel on Smackdown behind Kevin Owens, and could certainly play the part of the hated champion that is being chased by the good guys.  The crowd genuinely hates him, and he would be a compelling opponent for Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania.  The way they book Corbin right now, however, doesn’t leave me with high hopes for his immediate future.
  • John Cena is at a career crossroads. He hasn’t been featured at WrestleMania since WrestleMania XXIX where he defeated The Rock in the main event.  The latest storyline has a sad sack Cena upset that he doesn’t have a match for WrestleMania lined up since he lost the Elimination Chamber and was told that The Undertaker won’t wrestle him.  Any championship match with Cena in it now raises the specter of his winning his 17th world championship, thus surpassing Ric Flair’s all-time championship record.  It doesn’t feel like this is going to be Cena’s night, it seems like there is money in stretching out the “Who will Cena face at WrestleMania?” storyline for a bit longer.  He will win his 17th championship some other day.
  • AJ Styles is the biggest independent pickup the WWE has made in recent memory. He went from a never-was in the WWE to the championship holder in a remarkably short period of time.  He has kept his momentum up and carries the championship well.  Into his 40’s, you have to wonder how much gas he has left in the tank.  It would seem that his time is now for Styles to work a memorable championship match against Shinsuke Nakamura at WrestleMania 34.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, AJ Styles

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 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

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.

WWE Night of Champions Analysis and Predictions

Coming off of an exciting SummerSlam weekend in August that saw the WWE sell out the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn three nights in a row, the WWE found a way to grind things to a screeching halt with the events that transpired following the big event.  In somewhat of an unfortunate turn of events, they brought back several relics from the past that are way past their prime, they bombarded us with the dreadful “Diva’s Revolution”, and they derailed a promising young talent’s progress by putting him in an emasculating love triangle.

Even with all of this nonsense, there is some potential for at least half of the card to be decent at this Sunday’s Night of Champions, which will be anchored by the top heel in the company, WWE Champion Seth Rollins.  Let’s take a look at what to expect:

Neville and The Lucha Dragons (Kalisto and Sin Cara) vs. The Cosmic Wasteland (The Ascension (Konnor and Viktor) and Stardust)

The first match advertised on the card isn’t all that interesting.  There hasn’t been much of a build up for this six-man feud.  The natural tag teams in this contest don’t have much momentum right now.  The Ascension is one of the rare few NXT call-ups of late that failed to catch on.  The Lucha Dragons are a one-dimensional act that have virtually no personality.  The Neville and Stardust feud could be interesting, but they keep getting paired with other talents so their animosity towards each other gets lost in the shuffle.

I don’t expect this match to impress from either an emotional or stylistic standpoint.  We may see a few high spots from the Neville lead high flyers, but those tend to get boring after you’ve seen them enough times.

Prediction: Winners, The Cosmic Wasteland

Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns, and TBA vs. The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper, and Braun Strowman)

A second six-man tag team match pits the old Shield against the newly re-formed Wyatt family. You get the impression that the WWE feels like they split these two factions up too quickly and never capitalized on what could have been a money-making extended feud during their original run so they are trying to re-capture that lightning in a bottle by staging this match.

The Wyatt Family now features a new member, NXT rookie Braun Strowman.  Strowman has the look and attitude of a potentially successful character player in the WWE.  Early impressions are that he is being packaged in a gimmick that works well naturally for him, that of an evil and brutal big man that can’t be pushed around by the babyfaces.  I’ve been critical of Bray Wyatt getting stale of late, but at least a new member gives the Wyatt Family something different to work with.

The same can’t be said for Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns. Ambrose continues to show promise after having worked several main-event programs last year.  Unfortunately, he is once again tasked with carrying the underperforming Roman Reigns in a match.  If you don’t believe my repeated criticisms of Roman Reigns, take a listen to a recent Stone Cold Steve Austin Podcast at around the 1:25 mark.  In the midst of reviewing SummerSlam, Austin ripped Roman’s performance to shreds in extreme detail.  As only an insider of Austin’s stature can, he pointed out every single hole in Reign’s game and listed everything that he should be doing better.  From the way he smiles too much, to his inability to work a credible offense set, to his inability to sell, and to his inability to buy time in his matches, Austin made a great case for why Reigns needs to go back to school and learn how to wrestle.

There are a lot of theories on line on who the unannounced third member of The Shield’s team will be.  Could be a returning regular like Kane or Randy Orton, could be an NXT rookie making his surprise in-ring debut.  Hopefully, whomever it is will be ready to make up for Reign’s lack of ability and has some chemistry with the Wyatt Family.

It feels like it is a safe bet that The Wyatt Family goes over this time.  They will likely want to showcase the new big man in Braun Stroman and get him over as a crusher that can’t be stopped. Whomever is the TBA will likely not be involved in the finish.

Prediction: Winners, The Wyatt Family

Nikki Bella (c) vs. Charlotte in a singles match for the WWE Divas Championship; If Bella gets counted out or disqualified, she will lose the title.

You got all that?  Eh, don’t bother.  I’ll skip straight to the prediction, not even the daughter of one of the all-time-greats can save this train wreck of a match.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Dolph Ziggler vs. Rusev

I am outright bewildered when I watch what the WWE has done to Rusev.  After building him up for almost an entire year as a superior athlete that hates America and destroys anybody in his path, they have systematically reduced him to a henpecked wuss in a matter of months.

When Lana was Rusev’s spokesperson, her speeches gave Rusev depth that he wouldn’t have had on his own.  She told his story and made the crowd hate him. Her presence only empowered Rusev and made him seem stronger and dominant.

His pairing with Summer Rae has rapidly destroyed the illusion that he is a force to be reckoned with.  Not only do the two have no chemistry with each other, but she has done nothing but make him seem like a oppressed loser who doesn’t even realize that he is being dragged down by their relationship.  Who would take him seriously these days as someone who is a legitimate threat to his opponents?

Dolph Ziggler peaked as a professional years ago.  He doesn’t have the skill set to work as a babyface but he has been stuck in that role for quite some time.  He moves from feud to feud with little stability or direction.  His pairing with Lana doesn’t do much to enhance his character as the two also have no chemistry with each other.

At the heart of the animosity between Ziggler and Rusev is the rivalry between Summer Rae and Lana.  This rivalry has given us some of the worst TV the WWE has produced in years.  I’m not saying I’m happy that Lana was recently injured, but if I had to watch one more barefoot catfight between her and Summer Rae, I was going to kick a hole in my television.  The dopey jealousy angle between the women and the men and the cringe-worthy locker room scene with Summer Rae and Ziggler are just an outright insult to the fans intelligence.  All I can hope for is that this match ends this debacle and they all move along in separate directions when this is all over.

The match itself could be OK if Rusev and Ziggler were left alone to work with one another.  Ziggler has a tendency to over-sell, but Rusev is already a ring general that can work with anybody.  Sadly, there is no doubt that the women will play some sort of role in this match and it is not going to be for the better.

Prediction: Winner, Rusev

The New Day (c) vs. The Dudley Boyz in a Tag team match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

The New Day were unable to get over as a babyface faction so they turned heel.  They are so good as heels that the crowd now cheers them!  It goes to show that in today’s wrestling product, kayfabe is dead and the fans will decide who the good and bad guys are and can no longer be dictated to.  It also goes to show that the three members of this faction, Kingston, Woods, and Big E are all better off as a team than as solo competitors.  None of them were ever as interesting as individuals as they are now as a team.  I also love how they use the Freebird Rule to randomly choose two members each night to defend the titles.  It keeps the fans guessing and gives us unexpected moments whenever they compete.

It speaks volumes for the state of the tag team division that the WWE had to resurrect the careers of The Dudley Boyz and put them into the tile mix against The New Day for lack of a better opponent.  The Dudleys were given a hero’s reception by the crowd, but many people seem to have forgotten that the Dudleyz were most effective as heels during The Attitude Era, cheating and terrorizing their opponents by putting them through tables.

For personal reasons, it is difficult for me to me to be happy to see the Dudley Boyz again and it has all to do with an in-person encounter with one of them.  I’ve had opportunities to meet three professional wrestlers in my lifetime:

  1. I was childhood friends with Crowbar and we remain in touch to this day. I went to watch him wrestle at Iron Mike Sharpe’s school while he was still in training.  He was, and is to this day, the best kind of guy there is, he’d give you the shirt off his back.
  2. I met The Undertaker during Fan Axess the week before WrestleMania XXIX here in New Jersey. I paid for the VIP experience to meet Ric Flair, but unfortunately, his son died a few days before the event and he was replaced by The Undertaker.  My disappointment in not getting to meet flair was tempered by getting a chance to meet one of my other all-time favorites.  While our encounter was brief, I still thought it was cool to meet the man and he was very polite and friendly.  I asked him about his motorcycle and we spent about 45 seconds talking about riding while he posed for a picture with me.  It was a cool experience.

    WWE Fan Axess Undertaker Meet and Greet

    I took this picture while on line to meet The Undertaker at WWE Fan Axxess prior to WrestleMania XXIX

  3. A friend of mine and I spotted Bubba Ray Dudley at Bar Anticipation in New Jersey in the summer of 2011. My buddy suggested we go say hi and I agreed and we approached him.  The guy couldn’t have been a bigger jerk, waiving us off as if we didn’t exist.

I’m a big boy and it really didn’t matter too much to me that Bubba Ray told us to get lost at a bar.  Call me petty and immature if you will, but a jerk is a jerk and there is no way I’m rooting for The Dudleyz against one of my favorite current teams on the roster.

This match could be entertaining to watch especially if The New Day finds a creative way to use their numbers advantage to cheat.  No matter what happens or who wins, expect someone to go through a table.

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

Ryback (c) vs. Kevin Owens in a Singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Kevin Owens has shown flashes of greatness in his short time on the WWE main roster.  He made a splash with huge victory over John Cena in his first match, and although he went on to lose his next two to Cena, he made an indelible mark on the fan base as a rookie to watch.  I particularly enjoy his promos, he can convey many characteristics at the same time, mainly cowardice, false bravado, and most importantly, disrespect.  The way he needles his foes automatically makes you want to sympathize with them.  He has all the makings of one of the biggest wrestling heels we’ve ever seen. That along with his innovative in-ring style gives him unlimited potential in the WWE if he continues to improve.

Ryback works his role as a mid-carder admirably, finally earning his first singles WWE title when he became the IC Champ earlier this year when Daniel Bryan had to vacate the championship.  He works a kid-friendly superhero gimmick with a few over-used catch phrases.  At the very least, his matches tend to always feature a feat of strength that is fun to watch.

This match should have some dramatic false-finishes, and I’d expect both men to take a serious beating throughout its duration.  I’d give a slight edge to Owens as this could be a good time to continue his push by giving him a championship he can brag about and taunt his opponents with.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Kevin Owens

Seth Rollins (c) vs. John Cena in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship

You’d be hard pressed to find a guy who has had a better year than Seth Rollins in quite some time.  He stole the WWE Championship in the main event at WrestleMania, a match he wasn’t even booked in.  He spent the following months as the top heel in the company, all along barely hanging on to his championship, like any good wrestling bad guy should.  He capped off a solid summer by defeating John Cena to win The United States Championship at SummerSlam and now is a dual-title holder.  Go ahead, name someone who had a better year in recent memory than that!

John Cena is continuing on in his role as the mid-carder who helps younger talents look good.  He hardly ever works main events anymore, but his persona is consistent to the point of constant frustration by the fans.  He never gets the credit he deserves for being a solid in-ring worker that can put on an entertaining match with anybody.

This match should go on early in the card, most likely first.  It will set up the main event that also features Rollins defending his WWE Championship.  I would expect that he will take a beating so as to give him a perceived disadvantage when he faces Sting in the last match of the night.  Cena and Rollins have already put on some entertaining matches against each other this year and they won’t disappoint when they meet again on Sunday.

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

Seth Rollins (c) vs. Sting in a Singles Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

In his second match of the night, Seth Rollins is going to be tasked with carrying the decrepit and haggard Sting.  For the second time this year, the WCW retread has been given featured booking on a pay-per-view.  Following his loss to Triple H at WrestleMania 31, Sting somehow managed to get himself into title contention with an 0-1 record.  Granted, win and loss records don’t mean much in professional wrestling, but it is a stretch to think that he’s actually earned this title shot.

I still don’t get why people are fascinated with Sting as a special attraction.  He wasn’t very good when he was young in the NWA, AWA, and WCW.  The only difference between then and now is that he’s a heck of a lot older and hasn’t worked regularly in years.  His match against Triple H at WrestleMania really only worked because of the outside interference by a slew of WWE Hall of Famers distracted us from what was going on inside the ring. Don’t expect much more out of him this time around.

I’m hoping for Rollins’ sake this match ends up halfway decent.  It is likely that there will be some sort of interference from someone on the outside on Rollins behalf, continuing along his path as a cheating heel who pulls out all the stops to win his matches.  There was a tease that Sheamus is going to cash in his Money-In-The-Bank championship shot but I don’t think that is in the cards this time around.  It feels like it makes the most sense for Rollins to continue his championship run and for Sheamus to continue to bide his time to wait for the most opportune time to cash in and win the championship.

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

There could be some surprises built into this show, especially if Kane or Randy Orton somehow get involved.  It will also be fun to watch how Rollins performs in two big matches on the same card and the measures he will resort to in order to try to retain both titles.

WWE Elimination Chamber Analysis and Predictions

In the old WWE special television event offering model, they charged between $60 and $75 per monthly pay-per-view.  When they offered the WWE Network at $10 per month and it included all pay-per-views, 24-hour-a-day content, and access to an on-demand back catalog going back 40 years, you didn’t exactly need to draw up a spreadsheet to determine that this was a pretty good deal.  In somewhat of a surprise move, the WWE has added a bonus live event in between the normal PPV cycle in the form of The Elimination Chamber this Sunday.  This network deal keeps getting better and better.

Additionally, the WWE has combined synergies between its developmental promotion, NXT, with the network to deliver an enhanced product to its customers.  The NXT live events have really taken off with the fans since they began airing weekly on the network, and it has begun to stand on its own as a quasi-independent group from the main WWE content.  Additionally, NXT has proven to be a solid feeder system of new talent to the main roster. We are in the midst of the biggest roster overhaul since the days when the blue-chip class of Batista, Randy Orton, John Cena, and Brock Lesnar trained together in Ohio Valley Wrestling in the early 2000’s and were all called up at around the same time.

The Elimination Chamber card from bottom to top is full of talents that were called up from NXT within the last two years.  WWE programming feels much different than it did three years ago (anybody remember when Orton and Cena wrestled 5-6 PPVs a year?) with a new set of faces in the ring.

Let’s take a look at what to expect on this Sunday’s card.  I need to improve my pick percentage after the debacle that was my pick set at WWE Extreme Rules in April.  I have decided to challenge myself to at least do better than this jabroni who writes about WWE for the International Business Times.

Sheamus vs. Ryback vs. R-Truth vs. King Barrett vs. Rusev vs. Dolph Ziggler in an Elimination Chamber match for the vacant WWE Intercontinental Championship

Wow, there is a lot going on here.  Sheamus is back after a hiatus with a new look and a bad attitude, and has looked strong in his program with Dolph Ziggler.  Ryback continues to play up his “hero to the children” role and at the very least has the crowd with him when he starts his “FEED ME MORE!” chant.  King Barrett is back on a roller coaster ride, having lost almost every match he competed in on his way to a defeat for the IC title at WrestleMania 31, only to come back out on top by winning the prestigious King of the Ring Tournament last month.  Rusev is back to being Bulgarian and recently broke up with Lana, forcing her into the arms of Ziggler.  Ziggler has heat with at least three other guys in this match.  Finally, there’s R-Truth.  Ok, I have no idea why he’s in this match.  It all takes place inside of the unforgiving Elimination Chamber.

Unfortunately, it appears that Rusev has suffered a legitimate injury at Smackdown this week and his status for the match is uncertain.  He’s been pulled from the live shows this weekend and replaced with Kane.  Rumor has it that Bray Wyatt is on standby if Rusev can’t go on Sunday.

This should be a standard-fare fast-paced and brutal chamber match with a lot of high spots.  I’d also expect a lot of emotion, especially with some twists and turns involving the budding love triangle of Rusev, Ziggler, and Lana.  In particular, if he competes, I have my eye on Rusev in this match.  He’s coming off of three straight losses to John Cena, he lost his mouthpiece in Lana, and he’s not even Russian anymore.  This look and his subtleties in the way he works in the ring make him a standout talent and I hope that he re-gains some of the momentum he lost beginning at WrestleMania.

Prediction: Winner and new Intercontinental Champion, Rusev.  If Rusev pulls out of the match, I predict Ryback will win and take the title.

The New Day (c) vs. The Lucha Dragons vs. Tyson Kidd and Cesaro vs. The Prime Time Players vs. The Ascension vs. Los Matadores in a Tag Team Elimination Chamber match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

Wow, there’s a lot going on here, too.  For the first time in history, we are going to get a tag team match inside of an Elimination Chamber.  The rules were clarified on Raw this past Monday in that two teams will start out in the match with the other four each crammed into a pod.  When one member of a team is eliminated, that team is out of the match and must exit.  Much like the IC chamber match, this should be a fast and furious match with several teams showing off their agility, speed, and strength.

The New Day turned their fortunes around in a big hurry.  Just three months ago, they were an awful babyface faction that couldn’t get over with a catapult.  Since their heel turn and Tag Team Championship victory using the Freebird Rule, they have new life and have surprised many with how well they now come off.  On a recent podcast, Lance Storm theorized that The New Day was supposed to be a heel faction all along but were brought in as awful babyfaces in order to get them over as heels.  If that’s the case, it sure worked because they were awful until the heel turn.

Tyson Kidd and Cesaro, as always is the case with them as singles or tag team competitors, can’t seem to get over the hump.  The fans want to love them but they really don’t have anything interesting going on for themselves other than a unique finishing move, a variant of the popular “Cesaro Swing”.

The other teams in this match are a mishmash of performers at various stages of their careers.  The Prime Time Players are in their second go-around after having not found much success as a team several years ago.  The Ascension is an NXT call-up that has thus far missed the mark and has not connected with the fans of the main WWE roster.  Los Matadores and the Ascension are WWE’s answer to Lucha Libre-style masked tag teams and have very little character.  They seem to be popular with children, but ultimately don’t say much on the microphone and work more like stunt men than wrestlers.

The two stand out teams in this match are The New Day and Tyson Kidd and Cesaro.  This match will likely come down to the two of them as the last teams standing and I’d expect to see some sort of interference from the third member of The New Day who does not compete in the match.

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

Neville vs. Bo Dallas

This is going to be a classic squash match, designed to make one superstar look good by beating up a jobber.  Bo Dallas, of course, is the jobber in this match.  Both of these NXT-groomed competitors have exhibited different levels of success thus far in their WWE runs.  Bo Dallas can’t seem to get the fans committed to his villainous “positive thinking” gimmick.  Neville has been riding a hot streak since his post-WrestleMania call up to the main roster.  He’s been presented well with is “Man Who Gravity Got” tagline and his acrobatic skills in the ring.  He’s won some and lost some and has the look of someone the WWE wants to give a big push to see what he’s capable of.

The only thing to really expect in this match is an offensive explosion for Neville, most likely showcasing his acrobatic skills in a series of high spots throughout the contest.

Prediction: Winner, Neville

Nikki Bella (c) vs. Paige vs. Naomi in a Triple Threat match for the WWE Divas Championship

I only suggest watching this match if you are really, really bored and have absolutely nothing else to do.  It may be more rewarding to stare at the wall than to watch this match.  If you do happen to watch, you can laugh at how little the crowd cares about it.

Prediction: This match is going to suck and you shouldn’t care who wins.

John Cena vs. Kevin Owens

This match is another nod to the aforementioned youth movement underway in the WWE, as NXT champion Kevin Owens takes on the United States Champion, John Cena.  In somewhat of a surprising move, Kevin Owens was called up to the main roster only a few months after he made his NXT television debut in December and established himself as a heel right out of the gate.  He’s been on a hot streak in NXT, playing the role of a self-absorbed jerk who turns his back on his friends and takes whatever dubious means necessary to capture championships.  He’s a main attraction at NXT right now and it’s somewhat unprecedented to have a current NXT champion competing on the main roster.  It just goes to show the confidence the WWE has in him and he look to me a like a can’t-miss talent.

John Cena continues to be an integral part of getting the younger talents over in the past 14 months in programs with Bray Wyatt, Seth Rollins, Sami Zyan, Neville, and now Kevin Owens.  It seems like that is a rite of passage for any NXT call-up to have at least one televised match with John Cena.  Cena is doing well in his recent mid-card run, and is coming off of a wildly entertaining and emotional four-month feud with Rusev.  He is the perfect foil for the disrespectful rookie, Kevin Owens.

During their interactions on Raw, the crowd has steadfastly stood with the heel Kevin Owens and is firmly against the babyface Cena.  It seems as though the fans are begging for someone different to come along and beat Cena up for a change.  It could happen this Sunday.

Prediction: Winner, Kevin Owens

Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dean Ambrose for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

Another special event, another main event featuring former members of The Shield.  Interestingly enough, this one features the two that were seemingly the most likely to get left behind after the faction broke up in 2014, but that has not been the case.  These two are top-level performers and deserve the push that they’ve been given.

Seth Rollins looks like he’s studied years and years of footage of classic wrestling villains and how they conduct themselves as champion.  He is the total package, he’s devious, disloyal, cowardly, dishonest, arrogant, and an all-around-jerk.  He is also one of the best in-ring performers on the roster today and has adjusted his style to work as a heel.  He is poised to have a long run as champion, possibly hanging on the title even until WrestleMania 32 in Dallas next year.

As always, there are a lot of factors that come in to play when Rollins is in a match.  The Authority is a great heel faction and its members have the most character depth of anybody on the roster.  The hilarious and yet sometimes ironically effective J&J Security team always get involved in his matches.  Of course, Corporate Kane, with whom Rollins has an adversarial relationship, can also be a factor in this match, and it would be interesting to see what side he chooses.

Dean Ambrose was put back in the main event slot for this event after he spent the better part of 2015 on the mid-card.  There are unsubstantiated rumors that Ambrose was given this opportunity because someone behind the scenes made a case that they were “missing the boat with Dean Ambrose”.  His humorous and unpredictable style have connected with the fan base in a way that very few anti-heroes have in the past.  He has a little bit of CM Punk and Stone Cold Steve Austin in him, yet he is very unique on his own.

These two are still feuding from their breakup as Shield brethren last year.   They were in a middle of an emotional program that ended abruptly at Hell in a Cell with outside interference from Bray Wyatt during their match.  This time, I’d expect them to pick up right where they left off with an all-out brawl in a contest in which the odds are stacked against Dean Ambrose.

Prediction: Winer and still WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Seth Rollins

Additionally, I’d keep an eye out for Kane, The Big Show, Randy Orton, Roman Reigns, Harper and Rowan, and Bray Wyatt.  All of these competitors are not scheduled for a match (although Wyatt may be called in to action) and could possibly get involved in one way or another.

WWE Extreme Rules Preview and Predictions

With WrestleMania 31 in the books, the WWE resumes its normal pay-per-view schedule with WWE Extreme Rules tonight.  After a shaky Road to WrestleMania build up for the biggest pay-per-view of the year, the WWE delivered a surprisingly strong show that was received well by critics.  After all the hype that surrounded the event, it is only natural that there is a bit of a WrestleMania hangover right now and it feels like some talents have lost some momentum. The WWE tells a story that never ends, but as is the norm, the storylines tend to reset after WrestleMania.

Right now, the focus is on the new WWE Champion Seth Rollins.  Rollins wasn’t even scheduled to be in the main event at WrestleMania but he opportunistically pounced on a prone Roman Reigns to cash in his Money in the Bank contract and walk away from WrestleMania as the champ.  This was a fascinating turn of events given that for months prior to WM 31, the WWE had grabbed us by the nose and said “You must love Roman Reigns!” over and over again.  The fan backlash was severe, as the general consensus was that the reason for the hatred was that Reigns “wasn’t ready to be champion”.  I never believed that was exactly the case, I don’t like Roman Reigns because he just isn’t very good.  I felt that he was the weakest former member of The Shield and that he was picked only for his look and his pedigree.  It seems to me that my theory was right because now that Rollins is champ, I haven’t heard or read a single criticism that he “isn’t ready” to be champion at all, and he came up to the main roster at the exact same time that Reigns did.  Rollins is just better than Reigns as an overall in-ring performer, and is a natural on the microphone.  The WWE made the right call when they made Rollins the champion.

The WWE is at its best when the champion is a heel and the babyfaces have to chase the title.  Rollins is the top heel in the company right now, and he plays the part perfectly.  He is equal parts jerk, entitled, liar, coward, cheater, and psychopath.  He is also surrounded by a great heel faction in The Authority, which only enhances his aura as someone who should be hated by the fans.

In particular, Kane has done a fantastic job of getting Seth Rollins over.  I say it all the time, Kane is the most underrated talent on the roster.  He has been a mainstay on WWE television for almost two decades and is the most versatile character they have ever had.  He can convey a wide range of emotion and intent, and can work well against anybody in the ring.  His character has been evil, humorous, and conflicted over the years.  His current role as a corporate shill who is conflicted by his job responsibilities, his past as an evil demon, and his dislike for a snarky champion that he helped create has been fascinating to watch.  His promos have never been better and he is perfectly placed as wild card headed into Extreme Rules. Expect him to play a major part in the main event as the Cage Gatekeeper of the main event between Rollins and Randy Orton.

The rest of the card, unlike WrestleMania, is a focus on the main roster talents.  There are no special attractions, and I wouldn’t expect anything that happens at this even to have a direct carry over to WrestleMania 32.  The “Extreme Rules” moniker is borderline false advertising in today’s PG WWE, but there are some matches that should be interesting to watch on the undercard and I expect this to be a decent show from top to bottom, with the obvious exception of the Divas match.  Let’s take a look at the matches.

Tyson Kidd and Cesaro (c) vs. The New Day for the WWE Tag Team Championship

This pre-show match is right where it belongs.  The WWE Tag Team Championships, along with the talents in this match, are pretty much all at the bottom rung of the WWE these days.  The tag team division is aimlessly languishing, and everybody in this match is marching towards a pink-slip from the WWE as a bunch of individual failed talents.  The WWE couldn’t get The New Day faction over with a catapult.  To their credit turned them into heels.  Fans still don’t seem to care about them either way.  Not much can be said about Tyson Kidd and Cesaro either.  No matter how many times they are repackaged, they can’t seem to get off the ground.

Prediction: Winners and still champions, Tyson Kidd and Cesaro

Daniel Bryan (c) vs. Bad News Barrett for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

The snake bitten 14-month run of Daniel Bryan continues.  He got himself another WrestleMania moment at WM ’31 in a triumphant championship victory in the opening ladder match on the card.  Almost immediately he was injured again and pulled off the tour.  This guy just can’t catch a break, and it is starting to look like it is true that he really is just a B+ player, his body just can’t stand up to the rigors of a full-time WWE schedule.

There isn’t much to say about this match, the WWE is tight-lipped about his injury and we don’t know if it is even going to happen.  If it does, and he Bryan is hurt, they may work a kayfabe injury into the match and have him lose right away.  It all depends on his health.  Given all the unknowns, I’m not going to give a prediction here, and if you are betting on this card, I’d suggest staying away from this match altogether.

Roman Reigns vs. The Big Show in a Last Man Standing Match

After the failed Roman Reigns experiment at the top of the card, he landed in a post-WrestleMania feud with The Big Show.  This is the best spot for him for now, in a match that isn’t going to draw too much attention to his weaknesses because it is so far down on the card.  The Big Show is coming off of a surprise win at The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at ‘Mania and actually has some momentum for a change given his typically poor win-loss record.

Reigns is in need of a change of some sort, perhaps a re-packaging after being written off of TV for a while.  Perhaps he would benefit from a two to three year stint in NXT developmental where he can work on his matches and promos.  Until then, there is nowhere to go with him now that he is not going to have his monster babyface championship run.  It really makes no sense for him to win this match and disrupt The Big Show’s momentum.

Prediction: Winner, The Big Show

Nikki Bella (c) vs. Naomi for the WWE Divas Championship

Two boring characters who can’t wrestle.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Dolph Ziggler vs. Sheamus in a Kiss Me Arse Match

This is an intriguing matchup with a classic stipulation we haven’t seen in quite some time, one which will force the loser to kiss the winner’s ass after the match is over.  That’ll give you some incentive to win a match!

Sheamus made his return from a lengthy layoff on the night after WrestleMania and was repackaged as a heel with a great new look.  The Celtic Warrior was long overdue for a heel turn, and his new Mohawk and braided beard fit his new character nicely.  His attitude and demeanor are just what the WWE needs right now given that they really only have two or three legitimate top heels in the company right now.

Dolph Ziggler perpetually is on the brink of a breakout but seemingly can’t find a way to make it to the top.  He is considered a steady hand in the ring but has drawn some criticism of late by Stone Cold Steve Austin for over-selling for his opponents.  Either way, I would expect the crowd to be fully on his side for this match and I expect them both to give it their all, and they could potentially steal the show.

Prediction: Sheamus wins and Dolph Ziggler has to kiss his arse!

Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper in a Chicago Street Fight

This matchup between two guys left behind from the Wyatt Family and Shield factions which both broke up last year has a chance to be either memorable or bowling-shoe-ugly.  The competitors in this fight are matched up very well, both are mysterious “unstable” characters who like to fight.  However, there may be a tendency to rely on too many high spots in a WWE street fight that could fall flat given the constraints of PG television standards.

Dean Ambrose performed well in late 2014 in several pay-per-view main events, at Hell in a Cell and TLC.  He is a fan-favorite and can take some nasty bumps.  He is not a technical wrestler and has more of a brawling style, which is why they book him in pay-per-view matches with stipulations such as these.  His biggest drawback these days is that the WWE Creative team seems to have him on a leash by putting too many words in his mouth and forcing him into over-the-top scenarios designed to convince us that he is unstable.  I’d love to hear him say what is actually on his mind for once, I have a feeling he would be very entertaining.

Luke Harper is still a bit of an enigma.  We just don’t know much about him other than he was aligned with Bray Wyatt when he made his debut on the main roster, and now he is on his own.  We don’t know why he was a member of the Wyatt Family, nor do we know what happened that lead to Wyatt setting him free.  It’s hard to tell what motivates the big man, and there is no good way for the fans to identify with him.  Here is another guy that I’d love to hear what is actually on his mind.  I might start to care about him if he finally says something interesting, he certainly has the look and the wrestling skills to be a top performer in The WWE.

There are probably going to be a lot of weapons used in this match, and they will likely spend a great deal of time outside of the ring.  The Spanish Announcers table will likely be in peril.  At the very least, these two are going to lay their bodies on the line and both take a pretty hefty beating.  I would hope that they think this match through and work to a crescendo at the end, rather than string together a series of high spots.

Prediction: Winner, Luke Harper

John Cena (c) vs. Rusev in a Russian Chain Match for the WWE United States Championship

The biggest shame of WrestleMania 31 was that Rusev finally had his undefeated streak come to an end at the hands of John Cena.  Rusev, in less than one year, made himself into one of the top heels in the company.  His undefeated streak felt like it still had some steam left in it and would have been a draw for several more pay-per-views.  Alas, WWE Creative felt like they wanted to put the title on John Cena and Rusev had to lose.  At least he got to ride into Levi Stadium in an actual tank!  I still can’t figure out where they got the tank from.

This is the third straight pay-per-view in which these two competitors have faced off so we already know that they are capable of putting on a competitive match, with each of them owning a victory over the other.  Lana was the difference in both matches, providing a distraction that lead to Rusev’s victory at FastLane, and accidentally colliding with Rusev at WrestleMania which caused him to lose to Cena.  The friction between Rusev and Lana may come into play during this matchup.

The Russian Chain stipulation is a twist on the traditional strap match, with a chain as a substitute for the strap.  Both competitors will be chained together and that will force them to alter their styles as they likely won’t be able to run the ropes.  On the flip side, the chain can be easily weaponized as Rusev has demonstrated lately on Monday Night Raw.  The visual of him applying a vicious Accolade to Cena using the chain around his face was brutal.

I’d like to see Rusev go over in this match, I believe in his potential to work his way up the card to main-event level status sooner than later, and two loses in a row against Cena will certainly slow his progress down.  Cena will be fine either way, he will be the face of the company no matter where he sits on the card or what title he carries.

Prediction: Winner and new United States Champion, Rusev.

Seth Rollins (c) vs. Randy Orton in a Steel Cage Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship with Kane as the cage gatekeeper; Orton is banned from using the RKO

At first glimpse, this match seems to be a bit overbooked in the sense that there are a lot of stipulations at play.  A steel cage, a cage gatekeeper, and a banned finishing move?  That’s a lot to keep track of for your average fan!

This is the first time that Seth Rollins will defend his WWE World Heavyweight Championship and he is at the top of his game and at the top of the company right now. As I detailed above, he is a classic wrestling heel and seems primed to carry the title for quite some time.  He is going to have to deliver in this match, however, if he wants to maintain his credibility and prove that he can handle himself in this spot.

Randy Orton is an experienced hand and is the perfect foe for Rollins right now. He holds a clean victory over Rollins at WrestleMania and has a lot of credibility as an opponent who has a legitimate chance to take the tile away from Rollins.  Orton needed a new direction after a seemingly never-ending feud with John Cena for almost his entire career and he has shown that he has a lot of chemistry with Rollins.

I thought they could have done a bit of a better job at their WrestleMania match, it lacked drama and that was a bit surprising to me.  Perhaps there were some time constraints working against them, but at least they ended the match with a cool finish.  For reasons that are somewhat unclear, Rollins has stopped using The Curb Stomp as his finishing move, and Orton is banned from using his RKO, so we will have to expect the unexpected in this match.

The role of Kane is going to add a final twist in this match.  The way things are going, he can either be supportive of Rollins, or turn on him and back Orton.  Either way, rest assured that he will be prominently featured in this match as the Cage Gatekeeper, and his actions will likely influence the outcome of the match.

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

WrestleMania 31 Postscript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Losers

Daniel Bryan

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

Sting

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

Rusev

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

Roman Reigns

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

The Tag Team Division

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

John Cena

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

Dean Ambrose

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

Bray Wyatt

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

Roman Reigns

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

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

The Divas

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

The Winners

The Big Show

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

Triple H

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

Shawn Michaels

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

The Undertaker

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

Brock Lesnar

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

Paul Heyman

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

WWE Developmental Promotion NXT

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

Ronda Rousey

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

Seth Rollins

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

What’s next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Expert WrestleMania 31 Analysis and Picks (part 2 of 3)

This is the second of a three-part series of my expert analysis and picks for the entire card.  Just three days to go until WrestleMania 31 in San Jose, California.  Excitement has never been higher following the announcement of the most public contract renewal in WWE history.  The Internet wrestling fan community erupted when news broke on Tuesday evening that Brock Lesnar had renewed his contract and will stay on past WrestleMania, thus ending his MMA career and ending speculation that he was going to return to The UFC.

In this article, I’m going to discuss Lesnar’s contract renewal and the domino effect it could have on the entire card.  I’m also going to break down and pick the mid-card matches between Triple H and Sting, Rusev and John Cena, and Randy Orton and Seth Rollins.

The Lesnar Contract Renewal

The rumors started in early 2014 but really picked up steam after June 2 when The Shield broke up unexpectedly on Monday Night Raw.  What had been a white-hot babyface faction was suddenly no more and all three competitors were about to go their separate ways.  The dirt sheets and rumor mill websites began to spread word that a monster babyface push was in store for Roman Reigns as a singles competitor, and it would culminate in a wins at the 2015 Royal Rumble and in a championship main event match against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 31.  Lesnar would then step aside from the WWE and return to the UFC.

At the time, Roman Reigns was largely an unknown commodity as a singles competitor.  His promos and matches were almost exclusively held with his Shield teammates Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose. Any weaknesses he may have had either on the mic or in the ring could have been masked by the other two. I thought it was rather odd at the time that they would have already projected Reigns as the chosen one given that he had yet to prove himself.   I also was rather annoyed that the ending for WrestleMania 31 was leaked to the public about nine months before it happened.  But, I chose not to think too much of it as fact-checking and most wrestling websites do not tend to go hand-in-hand.  There was plenty of time to wait for the situation to develop so I sat back and watched.

And watched I did as Reigns began to underwhelm as a singles competitor.  His offensive move set was limited and repetitive.  His catch phrase was uninteresting and his promos were weak.  I felt that there was no way that they could continue with the rumored plan (if that rumor was even true to begin with) and they would have to give someone else the title shot.

Of course, Reigns went on to win The Royal Rumble and the crowd in Philadelphia was having none of it. Even a surprise appearance by The Rock couldn’t save the show, a victorious Reigns was booed out of the building.  A friend of mine who was at the show summed it up like this: the problem was that everybody there knew exactly what was going to happen.  The Internet fan community reacted similarly to the live crowd in Philly, denouncing Reigns and lamenting the eventuality that would be his win at WrestleMania.

The Road to WrestleMania was off to a bumpy start.  This was not the reaction the WWE was hoping for, and they seemingly had to change course in booking decisions.  Instead of showcasing Reigns as the one and only savior that could challenge and beat Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship, they had to spend the last two months trying to convince us that he was actually good enough to even be in the WrestleMania main event to begin with.

Most of us had resigned ourselves to the realization that the rumors from last year were true and that they were going to stick to the plan; Roman Reigns was going to win the WWE Championship at WrestleMania and Brock Lesnar was going to walk away from the company. The betting lines on Bovada reflected that sentiment as Reigns was the heavy favorite to win.

Well, the entire wrestling world was shaken to its core on Tuesday when word broke that Lesnar had re-signed with the WWE.  The WWE themselves broke the news on their website.  Never before have had they publicly commented on a contract signing like this, especially during WrestleMania week.  The blogosphere and twitterverse was abuzz with speculation that the plan might now change now that Lesnar was going to stay on and that he may retain the title.  Within a day, Lesnar became the favorite to win on Bovada.

Speculation also began about the effect this could have on the rest of the card.  As my fellow expert WWE blogger Bill Hanstock summed up, there is a theory that with Lesnar continuing on as a part-time champion that the WWE will elevate the secondary Intercontinental and United States championships by awarding them to Daniel Bryan and John Cena respectively so that they can carry the pay-per-view main events with them that Lesnar is not obligated to compete in.

I’m not sure that I buy all that and I am not backing off of my earlier prediction that Bad News Barrett is going to retain the IC title and it is not going to change my opinion of the Cena/Rusev match which I will discuss shortly.

Either way, for the first time since last June, we really do not know what is going to happen at the main event at WrestleMania 31 and that is the best possible outcome any of us could have hoped for.

On to the matches.

Sting vs. Triple H

I actually have very little to say about this special attraction match.  I am not looking forward to it and I think it will be an uninteresting bust.  The only thing that I am looking forward to is going to be Triple H’s entrance, he usually comes up big at WrestleMania with something creative every time.  But even still, I think he missed an opportunity to bring Metallica out to play during his entrance given that the show is being held in their backyard.

Sting

In one respect, this match is the last of its kind.  Sting is the last big-name active competitor that earned his stripes in the WCW but never once competed in The WWE.  There is nobody else that can really make that claim.

When it comes down to it, do people really care that much anymore?  Maybe it was a big deal in the years after the WCW demise when Goldberg came over the WWE for a stint.  But the Monday Night Wars were still fresh on the minds of the fans.  This week was the 14th anniversary of the end of the WCW.  Do people still even care?

I started to wonder why I did not like the idea of Sting making his debut in the WWE.  All I knew was that I really did not like him.  But I could not recall why.

As you can probably tell by reading my blog, I have spent a great deal of time watching wrestling.  The more I thought about it, I couldn’t recall any Sting matches.  I didn’t check YouTube or the WWE Network, I just tried to jog my memory and came up blank.  I think he feuded with Ric Flair for a bit but I don’t remember much else.  The guy absolutely failed to make an impression on me for all his years in the WCW.  I think that is my problem with him.

I may be in the minority opinion (not like that has ever bothered me in my entire life), but I did not find his debut in the WWE and his participation since then to be very interesting.  His entrances lacked excitement, his interaction with Triple H at FastLane lacked intrigue, and when he finally ended his silence and started talking last week, the words and emotions did not mesh well with his face-painted look.

Finally, there is Sting’s age to consider. He is in his 50’s.  No disrespect to my elders, but how many people are still in their athletic prime at that age?  Can he still bring it in the ring at the highest level at this age and this long of a layoff?  My hopes are not that high for that to be the case.

Triple H

The WWE COO is known as one of the all-time greats in the WWE and is a sure-fire first-ballot WWE Hall of Famer.  He is body of work at WrestleMania is rivaled by only a small handful of the best.  Despite his less-than-stellar record of 8-10 in his 18 appearances at ‘Mania, he has participated in some iconic matches and always delivers on the grandest stage of them all, particularly in the later stages of his career, his three matches against The Undertaker being among the most memorable.

Given that HHH has scaled back his schedule to focus more on his front office work in WWE corporate, he only books himself in a few matches a year.  It makes sense that he put himself in the Sting match, might as well keep this situation between the two of them and not tie up an up-and-comer in a feud with a relic that should have stayed away.

The match:

I have very low expectations for this match and I hope that this is Sting’s one and only match in the WWE.  In that regard, it makes very little sense for him to go over, he should lose his only WrestleMania match and walk away for good.

Prediction: Triple H for the win.

WWE United States Champion Rusev vs. John Cena

Rusev

If there were a Rookie of the Year award in the WWE, Rusev would have won it running away in 2014.  In fact, I would go so far as to anoint him Rookie of the Decade, his debut year surpassing even those of The Shield, The Wyatt Family, and Daniel Bryan.

The way Rusev has been handled and presented since his debut in the main roster is a textbook example of how to build a monster heel.  It shows that with proper planning, along with the ability to adapt when needed, a developmental talent can take the roster by storm and get over with the fans.

His initial call-up to WWE was at the 2014 Royal Rumble as “The Bulgarian Brute” Alexander Rusev.  His debut was somewhat muted by the fact that most fans had never heard of him at the time and he was eliminated from the match without much fanfare.  He disappeared from TV for a few months and came back after WrestleMania XXX with a proper debut.

Paired with his valet Lana, Alexander Rusev was presented as a super athlete.  He had a unique and impressive physique, and wrestled barefoot.  He destroyed inferior opponents and the announcers began to take note that he was working on an undefeated streak.

Somewhere along the way, someone in WWE creative decided to tweak his character.  Noticing the anti-Russian and anti-Vladimir Putin sentiment in the country due to Russian aggression in the Ukraine, Rusev was re-branded as “The Hero of the People of The Russian Federation” and his first name was jettisoned.  This, despite the fact that he has a tattoo of the country of Bulgaria on his arm!  Nonetheless, with these changes to his character, he generated a great amount of heat and his rivalries began to script themselves.

Natural feuds began with Jack Swagger, Mark Henry, and The Big Show began, playing off of each superstar’s American patriotism, defending their country’s honor against the villainous foreigner.  Rusev topped them all and remained undefeated.

Throughout his run, Rusev put on a clinic in how to play a wrestling heel.  He has all the necessary elements:

  • He has a gimmick that makes it virtually impossible to like him
  • He regularly insults the crowd and his opponents
  • He doesn’t try to be “the cool heel” and rely on funny catchphrases
  • He has a brutal, dominating, physical wrestling style
  • His valet can do a great deal of the talking for him and she insults his opponents and the fans while praising him
  • He can hold his own on the mic and deliver a powerful promo
  • He cheats to win

His feud with John Cena has been entertaining thus far and I like the fact that this is a re-match of their first encounter at FastLane in February. We’ve already seen Rusev defend his undefeated streak against Cena and very little has changed since then.

John Cena

John Cena is 8-3 at WrestleMania. Last year his eighth win moved him into a tie with Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart for second place on the all-time WrestleMania wins list.  For the second year in a row, he has taken a step down from the main event and is giving “the rub” to a newcomer to the main roster, having defeated Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 30.

John Cena, polarizing as he is with the fans, is still the unquestionable “face of the company” at age 37.  It is rumored that nobody moves as much merchandise as he does, and he is particularly favorited by the children in the audience.  His appeal with children is likely what has him turned off to the adult fans.  His enduring “fighting good guy” persona has endured for a decade and has not varied much, if at all, during his run at the top of the company, to the frustrations of many.

While a full discourse of his remarkable career and the love-hate relationship the fans with him could be quite lengthy, it is important to note how well this matchup fits well within the context of his career.

John Cena really is the only person on the roster right now that can lend credibility to this match.  Given how many superstars have tried before him and failed to defend their country’s honor and snap Rusev’s undefeated streak, nobody else is left that could plausibly mount a challenge to The Super Athlete. Against the backdrop of the anti-American rhetoric that Rusev has peppered Cena with throughout their struggle, Cena has made the case that this is the most important match of his career because he is not just fighting for himself, he is fighting for his country.

Of course that is not really the case, any one of his main-event title matches, and especially his two “Once-in-a-Lifetime” WrestleMania matches with The Rock (if they were once-in-a-lifetime, how did it happen twice?) were certainly much more important than this match.  But this year, the WWE needs to make a statement of some sort to lend credence to the importance of this mid-card match, so why not use good old American patriotism to stir some emotion in the fan base?

The match:

Their first match at FastLane delivered in both brutality and suspense and had a well-planned ending with Cena passing out from the pain of Rusev’s submission hold, having ended up in such a predicament after Lana distracted the referee and Rusev delivered Cena a devastating kick to the plumbs. I think there is still life left in this undefeated streak that Rusev is working on.  I would like to see it, along with his feud with Cena continue on after WrestleMania and into the next pay-per-view, and I don’t think too many fans would see that coming.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE United States Champion, Rusev

Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins

I have my eye on this match as the one that can steal the show, and it could possibly become an instant classic similar to Savage vs. Steamboat at WrestleMania III.  These are two of the best workers in the game right now, both have a smooth style and sell very well.  I expect this match to be fast paced and will tell an exciting story with numerous false finishes.

Randy Orton

Randy Orton enters his twelfth WrestleMania with a 4-7 win-loss record.  His career has been checkered with injuries, attitude problems, and issues with addiction.  Orton has seemingly straightened himself out these past three or four years and it shows in his performance.  Of late, he can be counted on to really get a storyline over and hold up his end of some pretty intense matches.

Having suffered from a bit of overexposure, he took some time off to film a movie and returned with a vengeance to WWE television a few weeks ago to resume his feud with Seth Rollins and The Authority.  His absence due to a worked injury at the hands of Seth Rollins has made their rivalry all the more intense.  In a way it goes to show that they can take overexposed superstars that the fans are bored with, take them off the show for a while, and have them come back with serious momentum if the story is written well.

Orton’s superior in-ring ability is often overlooked.  For a man his size, he can move very quickly and he paces a match very well.  There are never any wasted movements from Randy Orton, everything he does is for a reason.

Seth Rollins

Seth Rollins stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Rusev as one of the top heels in the WWE today.  Another product of the developmental system, Seth Rollins broke in with the high-profile Shield faction and kept his momentum since the group broke up in June.  He is a natural bad guy who, along with Rusev, does all the right things to keep the heat on himself and keep the fans from cheering him.  When Raw was in his home state of Iowa recently, the crowd wanted to get behind him during a promo but he preemptively insulted them and the entire state so they had no choice to but boo.

His handling of the Money in the Bank contract has added a dimension to his character and the fact that he has held it for so long shows that the company believes in his long-term prospects.  There has been speculation that he may try to cash in this Sunday immediately after the prone champion has just won the main event match but I don’t think that’s going to happen.  That scenario seems too far-fetched and over-worked for a WrestleMania.  The last time we’ve seen something like that was when Hulk Hogan challenged Yokozuna for the title at WrestleMania IX after Yoko had just defeated Bret Hart.  That finish is not remembered fondly by most wrestling fans.

What Rollins lacks in size, he makes up for in other ways.  When he is handed an open mic, expect him to deliver an emotional promo that rivals the best in the business today.  He proved that he can carry a long segment when he was booked to a The Daily Show with John Stewart segment at a recent Raw in Newark.  I happened to be in the fifth row at that show and was impressed with how well he came off in his verbal joust with an actual seasoned comedic talk show host.

When given the opportunity to work a long match, Rollins has shown that he is one of the most reliable performers on the roster today.  His ability to sell is on par with a young Shawn Michaels.  He has surprising strength and speed, and is in prime physical condition. He is at his best when matched with someone on his level and given the time to tell a story in the ring.

The match:

I am very excited about this match.  Getting to watch two of the best wrestlers in the business settle a slow-burn feud in a long match at a pay-per-view is pretty much as good as it gets.  Add the possibility of the possibility of a run-in by The Authority and this match is a wrestling fan’s dream.

Prediction: Winner, Seth Rollins

Stay tuned for part three of this series where I will give you everything you need to know about the Divas match, and The Undertaker/Wyatt, and Lesnar/Reigns matches.  My analysis of the divas match is probably going to be at least 20,000 words.