WWE WrestleMania 34 Postscript

WrestleMania 34 week is in the books.  Some critics are calling it the best four nights of wrestling in history.  That may be a bit of hyperbole, but between NXT Takeover, WrestleMania 34, Raw, and Smackdown, the WWE sure did give the fans what we want.

WrestleMania stood by itself as a very good show.  It may have fallen flat in a few places, but overall, it was certainly well worth the WWE Network subscription fee!  There were unexpected moments, thrilling matches, and the right amount of comedy throughout the evening.  The Styles/Nakamura match was an unexpected dud, but it didn’t help that the show ran so long and the crowd was exhausted before it started.  As usual, there are winners and losers coming out of WrestleMania.

WrestleMania 34 Winners

Ronda Rousey: I’ve been nothing but extremely critical of the Women’s division in the WWE for years.  It was probably a generation’s worth of calling them Diva’s, bad wrestling, and stupid gimmicks like bra-and-panties matches that put me off to the division for good.  When I heard Ronda Rousey was coming to the WWE, I had low expectations, given how poorly she left things off in UFC.  Her early promos on Raw were embarrassingly bad. Then something unexpected happened.  She put on a really good performance in her debut WWE match at WrestleMania.  Her match told a story and was very entertaining.  I’m not going to say that she can turn the Women’s division around, it is a complete mess right now.  But Rousey certainly is the best member of the division already.

Nicholas: How great is it that some random kid became the youngest champion in WWE history?  Of course, we found out on Monday that he wasn’t so random, he is the son of a WWE referee.  Either way, it was a feel-good story, and the crowd loved it.

Braun Strowman: There’s something about this guy.  He is involved in one ridiculous storyline after another.  He flips ambulances with his bare hands, he enters tag-team-battle-royals by himself (and wins them), and he picks a 10-year-old out of the audience as his tag team partner and wins a championship at WrestleMania.  In this reality-based era of wrestling, there is something to say about a wrestler who can get silly storylines like this over time after time.  Watch this space, Braun Strowman is trending upwards.

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Unlikely WWE Raw Tag Team Champs!

Corey Graves:  In just a short period of time, Graves has turned himself into the top announcer in the WWE.  His comedic wit and timing during his WrestleMania calls where impeccable.  How great was it when Ronda Rousey tagged into the match and he exclaimed “Call the cops!”?

Seth Rollins: Finally, something went this guy’s way.  After his program with Jason Jordan was scrapped due to injury, he walked away from ‘Mania with the IC title instead.  Not bad.

Brock Lesnar:  Shocked the world with a win and title retention.  Nobody would have bet against Reigns, but for some reason, they decided to keep the strap on Lesnar.  Good for him, well deserved.

The Undertaker:  Long live The Deadman!  We were lead to believe he was going to walk away after WrestleMania 33.  And with no official announcement, he returned to WrestleMania 34 to quickly destroy John Cena.  That match told a story, and an important one.  The greatest WrestleMania performer of all time still has some gas left in the tank.

John Cena: The squash loss didn’t hurt him one bit.  This was the highest profile match Cena had at WrestleMania in five years and he carried his end of it well.  His days as a full-timer are over, but he can still deliver at WrestleMania.

Daniel Bryan:  A three-year layoff due to brain damage, and he returned to The Grandest Stage of Them All with a convincing performance.  He’s too fragile to be the face of the company, but he’s back and will be featured prominently as long as he is healthy.

Shinsuke Nakamura: His match laid an egg, but nothing like a swerve and a heel turn at WrestleMania to make up for it!

The Miz:  This guy looks great, even when he loses. He truly did restore greatness to the Intercontinental Championship during his run.  He keeps getting better, don’t be surprised if he gets another WrestleMania main event in the future.

Jinder Mahal:  This guy gets a lot of criticism, but he keeps the hits coming.  I’m a fan, and I’m glad he had a WrestleMania moment as his great year continues.  The token ethnic heel wearing the US Championship is always entertaining.  Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn: These guys carried Smackdown with their months-long feud with Shane McMahon.   The feud came to an end with their loss at WrestleMania, but it was a job well done, especially by Sami who had nothing going on before his heel turn.

The Bludgeon Brothers:  Well-deserved tag-team championship victory for these two often-overlooked veterans.  They have all the talent in the world, and they will show it.

Sheamus and Cesaro:  Sold their end of the tag team championship with veteran savvy.  These guys are still at the top of their game, even without the straps.

WrestleMania 34 Losers

Elias: Deserved a match, not a quick appearance before the Cena match.

AJ Styles: Failed to deliver during his highly anticipated match.  Maybe it was placement on the card, but they put everyone in my apartment, and everyone in the Superdome to sleep during their match.  I didn’t expect much from Nakamura, but I had higher hopes for AJ.

Finn Bálor: This scrawny little punk needs to go to the 205 division, never to be heard from again.

The Usos: After waiting all of those years to finally have a match on the WrestleMania main card, they dropped the straps in a quick match.  Maybe next year, they’ll get at least 10 minutes in the ring.

The New Day: This gimmick is stale.  Time to split up.

Randy Orton:  Plodded through another WrestleMania match.  Is this guy ever gonna show some fire again?

Roman Reigns:  Is anybody in the WWE C-Suite listening?  People DO NOT LIKE ROMAN REIGNS! Time to find a new top guy!  At the very least, he didn’t win the match, so that’s good for us.

What’s Next?

The WWE is a story that never ends.  Homer couldn’t have written a longer tale than this.  Raw and Smackdown laid the foundation for what’s coming next.  A host of returning stars from injury, a few NXT callups, and the surprise return to the WWE of Bobby Lashley will freshen things up in the near-term.  Of course, the Superstar Shakeup will shift the lineups on both shows next week.

And how cool is the “Greatest Royal Rumble” card going to be.  It looks like it’s more ambitious than WrestleMania itself, and it is crazy that it takes place just three weeks from the big show!

We have all the ingredients in place for an interesting year ahead of WrestleMania 35 in East Rutherford, NJ in 2019.  Daniel Bryan vs. The Undertaker anybody?

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 Elimination Chamber Analysis and Predictions

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The Road to WrestleMania 34 (I still number them even if the WWE doesn’t) continues with the Raw-branded Elimination Chamber tonight in Las Vegas.  After Shinsuke Nakamura won the Royal Rumble and declared his intention to compete for the WWE Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania, it left open the question as to who will face Brock Lesnar for the WWE Universal Championship at the same event.  Of course, rumor has it that Roman Reigns was picked over a year ago to get the slot in the WrestleMania main event, yet again.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t hope that the rumors are incorrect and that anybody else wins the Elimination Chamber match!

This Pay Per View is a one-trick-pony, with the men’s Elimination Chamber being the only one that really matters for WrestleMania.  There are two women’s matches, one of which will be the first ever Women’s Elimination Chamber match.  Much like the dud that was the first ever Women’s Royal Rumble match in January, this match is going to suck.  In fact, it has the potential to be much worse given the confines of the chamber itself.

The one thing worth mentioning about the Women’s division is that Ronda Rousey will make an appearance at Elimination Chamber to sign her Raw contract.  Rousey was once the talk of the globe, having conquered the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Division.  Unlike the WWE Women’s Division, the UFC Women are respectable athletes and performers who are highly entertaining to watch.  The hope is obviously that Rousey will bring outside attention, and therefore new revenue into the WWE.

Unfortunately, Rousey crashed and burned in the UFC, having lost her two matches as the sport rapidly passed her by.  Instead of handling her losses with grace and sportsmanship, she handled it like a complete loser.  She ducked all media obligations, didn’t bother to talk about the fact she got her ass kicked, and left the octagon as a disgrace.

Given all that, and the fact that she has never worked a professional wrestling match in front of a live crowd, and that the talent around her in the WWE isn’t very good to begin with, chances are slim that Rousey is going to help the Women’s Division improve in the slightest.

I have been a constant critic of the WWE Women’s Division for years, I feel it has always been handled improperly and is painful to watch.  Even after they dropped the “Diva’s” moniker and gave the entire division a push with more screen time and high-profile matches, I have not seen any improvement.  Maybe I’m wrong and Rousey will give the division a shot in the arm and turn things around.  I’ll keep an eye on it (mostly because I’m being forced to), but I don’t have high hopes.  And that is all I will say about the Women’s division as it relates to the Elimination Chamber.

There are three men’s matches, two of which are filler.  If you just tune in just for the main event, you’ll learn all you need to know about the Road to WrestleMania.

“Woken” Matt Hardy vs. Bray Wyatt

I don’t watch independent wrestling so I have no idea what the “Broken” Matt Hardy gimmick was all about.  Now that he’s in the WWE and I’ve seen the “Woken” Matt Hardy gimmick is all about, all I can say is that I really don’t get it!  He just babbles nonsense, has a weird phony laugh, chants “delete” and loses matches all the time.  I’m not entertained.

Bray Wyatt is the biggest enigma of his time.  He has all the potential in the world, and it never gets him anywhere.  This is a dead-end feud that isn’t doing him any favors.  Considering how poor his WrestleMania 33 performance was last year, this guy could use a break.  He’s not going to get one here.

We already saw this match on the 25th Anniversary Raw.  It was boring then, and it’s not going to be much better tonight.

Prediction: Winner, Bray Wyatt

Cesaro and Sheamus (c) vs. Titus Worldwide (Apollo and Titus O’Neil) (with Dana Brooke) in a Tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

Sheamus and Cesaro are the best tag team in the WWE right now.  They are always fun to watch, and can be counted on to put on an entertaining match.  Apollo is the latest lucky winner of “the guy who lost his last name” award, which was once awarded to Cesaro!  Titus O’Neil has a great deal of upside as an “agent” who runs a heel stable.  It feels like the WWE is not giving him as much of a chance as he needs to really take this gimmick to the next level, and saddling him with a “statistician”, the nerdy-looking Dana Brooke isn’t helping out.

Regardless, this will be the second-best match on the card and it will be worth watching.  It will certainly set the tone for the Raw Tag Team Championship picture at WrestleMania.

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

Braun Strowman vs. Elias vs. Finn Bálor vs. John Cena vs. Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins vs. The Miz in a 7-Man Elimination Chamber match for a WWE Universal Championship match at WrestleMania 34

This match will represent the WWE at it’s finest.  It should last at least one hour, tell a compelling story, contain several high-spots, leave us wanting more when it is over, and will set the stage for two, if not three matches at WrestleMania 34.  There is something on the line for each of the entrants in this match.

Finn Bálor is badly in need of a signature match or even a moment in the WWE.  After his initial push in which he became the first ever WWE Universal Champion (and having to surrender the title a day later due to injury), not much has gone right for him.  It seems that people are becoming wise to the fact that all he has going for him is a well-produced ring entrance.  Beyond that, he doesn’t say or do much that is very interesting.  In fact, he comes off as a scrawny little twerp that should probably be in the 205 Cruiserweight division where nobody has to watch him.  If he finally shows us something in the chamber, he might gain some steam headed into WrestleMania.  If not, it’s off to the pre-show card for Finn.

Elias is the biggest up-and-comer in this match and stands to gain a lot ahead of WresteMania.  He’s the classic “heel with a guitar”, combing nerve-grating singing with out-of-tune guitar playing and lots of great insults.  People want to cheer him, but he’s such a dick to the live audience, they have no choice but to boo.  His crowd reactions get better and better each week on Raw, and his in-ring work is very solid.  Keep an eye on this guy, he probably won’t win, but will come away with a good feud in the near-term.

Seth Rollins is a victim of bad luck many times over.  His first run as WWE Champion ended unceremoniously with a broken knee, and subsequently he missed WrestleMania 32 while on the mend.  He hasn’t been in the title picture since his return.  He reunited with The Shield to a huge fan response, only to have Dean Ambrose suffer an arm injury (which will cause Dean to miss WrestleMania 34) and have that faction quietly break up.  He was paired with Jason Jordan and was headed towards a match with him at WrestleMania, until Jordan suffered a neck injury a few weeks back, and he will now miss WrestleMania leaving Seth without an obvious opponent.  Seth is a highly talented young performer who has proved that he can carry the mantle for the WWE in the past.  He needs a good Chamber match that somehow gives him a good opponent at WrestleMania.

The Miz is the best heel in the WWE right now.  He is in a better place in his career now than when he headlined WrestleMania WrestleMania XXVII to mixed critical reviews.  He has also become a master promoter for the WWE to outside media outlets and can be counted on to represent the company well, which helps make him a potential main eventer at WrestleMania this year.  Keep an eye on him, he can be a dark horse pick to win the chamber match, especially given the stipulation that he has to enter the chamber first.  That will certainly add to the intrigue of this match.

John Cena would be a great pick to win this match.  He hasn’t main evented a WrestleMania since he beat The Rock at WrestleMania XXIX in New Jersey.  Since that time, he’s been saddled with mid-card matches at ‘Mania, his low point coming last year when he had to participate in a mixed-gender tag match and pretend to propose to one of the Bella Twins, just as a way to advertise her reality show.  Cena is one of the best wrestlers of all time and would be worthy of the main event spot at WrestleMania once again.

Braun Strowman is red hot right now.  He is an example of the proper way to bring up a talent from NXT and make him into a star, in stark contrast to Roman Reigns.  The two have almost parallel careers, but Strowman has outshined Reigns in every way.  Strowman was a heel that the fans forced to turn babyface because he was so good.  Everything about his matches, promos, and vignettes prove that this guy gets it.  You won’t hear fans complain that Strowman is being “forced down their throats” even though that’s exactly what is happening.  People don’t mind because he is deserving of the screen time he gets.  A Strowman/Lesnar main event would blow the roof off of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Unfortunately, Roman Reigns is the favorite to win this match, and go on to ruin yet another WrestleMania main event.  I continue to be bewildered by his never-ending push.  I also can’t understand why he never improves.  No matter how many interviews he does, he never has any real emotion or feeling when reading off the memorized lines he’s given.  His ring psychology sucks, he has no idea how to properly sell for heels, or get any kind of fire for his comebacks.  I repeat these same complaints over and over again because, with Roman, nothing ever changes.

Even if Reigns does go on to win the match, given the talent level, and the specter of the chamber itself, this has Match of The Year potential.  I expect it to very enjoyable and am very much looking forward to it.

Prediction: Winner, Braun Strowman

I obviously just picked who I want to win, not who I think will win.  Too bad, I’m a wrestling fan and that’s what we do!

WWE Payback Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Cruiserweight Champion, Neville

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

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Samoa Joe

Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Roman Reigns

WrestleMania 33 Postscript: Farewell to the Deadman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Losers

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

The Winners

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

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

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

WrestleMania 33 Analysis and Predictions Part 3: The Raw Matches

Part three of my four-part series on WrestleMania 33 will focus on the Raw matches.  On paper, these matches, in isolation, would make for a great pay-per-view card.  As part of the overall show which is much bigger, the performers in them are going to all have to step things up a notch in order to be noticed and remembered.  There is no shortage of opportunities here for some of these matches to considered classics if done well.

Seth Rollins vs. Triple H in a Non-Sanctioned Match

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Nothing like a contract signing to get the juices flowing for a WrestleMania match.

This match is a great example of how long-term storytelling can build a tremendous amount of anticipation for a match.  This match was made to be at WrestleMania for almost three years now and we finally can get out payoff for years of investment in the storyline.

The Shield was the most popular faction the WWE had seen in years when it made its debut on the main WWE roster in 2012.  At the time of their arrival, it seemed that all three members had unlimited potential as singles competitors, and they had their chance to do such when Seth Rollins turned on the other two members of The Shield in a masterfully orchestrated heel turn in 2014, and aligned with Triple H.  Rollins immediately overshowed Roman Reigns who turned out to be the most overrated of the three.  Rollins went on to be WWE Champion and United States Champion over the course of a torrid heel run.

Unfortunately, Rollins lost all the momentum he had when he badly broke his knee at the tail end of 2015, forcing him to forfeit his championship and to miss WrestleMania 32.  Upon his return in 2016, Rollins was eventually placed in a match for the new WWE Universal Championship which he lost to Finn Bálor at SummerSlam.  The feeble Bálor was injured during the match and had to immediately vacate the title, thus setting up Rollins for a second chance to win it in a fatal-four-way match on Raw.  Much to everybody’s surprise, Triple H, who hadn’t been seen on TV since WrestleMania 32, made his return to Raw, and gave Rollins The Pedigree.  This handed the championship to Kevin Owens and turned Rollins babyface.  It also set the stage for this match at WrestleMania 33.

Unfortunately for Rollins, he re-injured his previously broken knee in the run-up to WrestleMania 33 earlier this year.  There was speculation that he wouldn’t be medically cleared for WrestleMania yet again this year, but he appears to have re-habilitated his knee to the point that he will be able to make it through a match.  The WWE added his knee injury to the creative angle of the match by making it a non-sanctioned match, ostensibly forcing Rollins to waive any liability to the WWE if he suffers further injury.

Triple H has amassed a 9-11 WrestleMania win/loss record in his 20 WrestleMania appearances. Very few of those matches are remembered as timeless classics, he always seems to be overshadowed by somebody else on the roster.  But there is no doubt that The Cerebral Assassin brings his best to WrestleMania.

If there is one thing Triple H is good at, it is building and selling a hot wrestling angle.  His verbal assault and his beatings he’s placed on Seth Rollins these past few weeks have been absolutely brutal.  He has the crowd in the palm of his hand, with them all hoping he gets beat by his former protégé. Not to mention, he always has an outrageous entrance at WrestleMania that is sure to bring the crowd to its feet.

I have high hopes for this match, as long as Rollins’ knee is up to the task.  If he is healthy enough to perform, I would expect that Rollins will put on a technical masterpiece, and this match will tell an intense story.

Prediction: Winner, Triple H

Neville (c) vs. Austin Aries in a Singles match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

The cruiserweight division has not caught on and is not over with the fans of the WWE Raw flagship show.  Once the division made its debut on Raw in 2016, it lost all momentum it had gained after the critically acclaimed Cruiser Weight Classic tournament.  In the isolation of their own show on the WWE Network, the cruiserweights were able to put on an entertaining program.  When thrust into Raw, the individual competitors got lost.  There’s no good reason for the fans to care about any of them, they just showed up with over-the-top ring entrances and theme music with no other real backing of their characters.  Eventually, I would just start to fast-forward through their segments and matches because they are boring.  I’m done with it, something is going to have to drastically change for me to care about the Raw Cruiserweight Division.

I suppose that if you are actually paying attention, these two are going to lay it on the line and perform some high-flying spots designed to get a pop out of the crowd.  The match won’t go very long as it is part of the pre-show, where it belongs.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Cruiserweight Champion, Neville

Bayley (c) vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks vs. Nia Jax in a Fatal 4-Way Elimination match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

Not even the daughter of Ric Flair can save this match from being a total abomination.  At least it will be a good time for a bathroom break during the show.

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

Chris Jericho (c) vs. Kevin Owens in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship

This match is a shining example of how great storytelling, the right setting, and the right amount of time, can set up a stellar matchup at WrestleMania.  The months-long “friendship” angle between Owens and Jericho seemed like it was designed to be a joke or a one-night-only occurrence at first.  But the angle was kept alive for months, and delivered enough twists and turns to take us to an eventual WrestleMania match between the two.

Chris Jericho has never been the best, despite his massive ego and how he refers to himself.  He was overshadowed by his contemporaries like The Rock, Kurt Angle, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and Shawn Michaels for good reason.  They were all better than him.  His many returns as a nostalgia act over the past several years didn’t catch on at all, and resulted in some boring and routine matches that didn’t resonate with the WWE fan base.  All this changed when he paired up with Kevin Owens in his most recent run.

Kevin Owens caught on with the WWE audience since day one.  He doesn’t have a prototypical WWE wrestler’s look, in fact, he’s clearly overweight and not a physical specimen at all.  However, he connected with the fans as someone who is relatable to them.  Despite the fact that he has worked exclusively as a heel, he appealed to adult fans and gets his fair share of cheers.  Fans respect his ability to get a storyline over with his great promos, he can be funny, evil, arrogant, and sarcastic, just like any top heel should be able to do.  He has an innovative in-ring style, and his matches keep you on the edge of your seat.

The pairing of Owens and Jericho has revitalized Jericho’s career. Some say this is his best and most memorable run ever.  At age 46, he probably is nearing retirement from the ring, and this match could be his last chance to create a lasting WrestleMania memory.  Owens, on the other hand, still has plenty of gas left in the tank and wants to show the world that he can be a WrestleMania headliner at some point in his career.

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

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson (c) vs. Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. Cesaro and Sheamus in a Triple threat ladder tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

Unlike most of the matches on the card, this one has veered towards “overbooked” territory.  It would be one thing if it were a just a triple-threat tag team match.  All three teams have had a great year and are deserving of being on the card somehow.  But the late addition of the ladder stipulation was unnecessary.  It’s almost as if somebody in WWE creative said to themselves last Monday “Oh, crap!  We forgot to book a ladder match at WrestleMania!  It’s not WrestleMania without a ladder match!”

The triple-threat ladder match at WrestleMania was revolutionized by Edge and Christian, The Hardy Boys, and The Dudleys during The Attitude Era.  The revolution grew organically because the talents in them had shown the ability to work well in ladder matches prior to WrestleMania.  The trio of wrestlers in this year’s ladder match don’t exactly have the same resume as those three classic teams had headed into WrestleMania 2000.

Gallows and Anderson have had a start-and-stop push since their WWE debut in 2016.  In the beginning, they made a big splash as members of “The Club” along with AJ Styles and were received well by the fans.  They ended up somehow getting lost in the pack after the brand split in July, but hung in there and were eventually awarded the Raw Tag Team championship.  They seem to be still finding their way in the WWE, but this championship run, along with this match on WrestleMania 33 will certainly help their cause.

Enzo Amore and Big Cass hit the floor running when they received the call to the main roster last year.  Their exposure from NXT had the crowd chanting along with their cadence on their very first night.  They are an entertaining duo despite the fact that they work exclusively as baby faces.  This is the type of pairing that is destined to break up at some point and feud with each other, so it is best for them to seize the opportunity they have now while they are still together.

Cesaro and Sheamus are together as a team, likely because the WWE has run out of ideas what to do with them as singles competitors.  Cesaro is never going to catch fire, and Sheamus has been to the top but that was in the distant past.  They found chemistry together and work well against both of the teams they are facing off against in this match.

This match could be either remembered as a classic, or bowling shoe-ugly.  The ladder stipulation isn’t helping matters much.  Instead of tagging in and out, all six men will be in the ring at the same time, making it difficult for them to time their spots well.

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

Goldberg (c) vs. Brock Lesnar (with Paul Heyman) in a Singles match for the WWE Universal Championship

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WWE Universal Champion, Goldberg is ready for his WrestleMania rematch against Brock Lesnar.

Who would have seen this match coming this time last year?  Goldberg was an afterthought, a revered WCW hero who never caught on in the WWE, who seemed to be happy to have moved on with his life. All we knew about his departure from the WWE was that it was acrimonious and it didn’t seem like, at age 50, he was destined to come back for one more run.

What we didn’t know, was that Goldberg had the desire to come back one more time due to a life-changing event, the birth of his son.  As he grew older, Goldberg wanted to give his son, Gabe, a chance to see him wrestle one more time.  It seems that this humbled Goldberg and he was able to patch up his differences with the McMahon family and agree to return for the Survivor Series in 2016 for a match against Brock Lesnar.

The professional wrestling world was shocked at the outcome of the Lesnar/Goldberg Survivor Series match when Goldberg easily defeated Lesnar in about a minute and a half.  Critics were quick to point out that they thought that the reason this happened was because of Goldberg’s age and lack of ability, the longest he could last in a match was under two minutes.  What the critics didn’t see, however, was the WWE building towards a bigger feud between the two that will culminate in a WrestleMania 33 match between the two.

This is a very interesting angle that the WWE used to build this match.  Brock Lesnar has been presented as an unbeatable destroyer since he ended The Streak of The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX.  By painting him as someone who “underestimated” Goldberg, causing him to lose, it keeps his credibility as a destroyer intact.  It also paints Lesnar as a credible threat to turn the tide and defeat Goldberg the second time around.

I had the misfortune of seeing their first matchup at WrestleMania XX live at Madison Square Garden.  That match was a mess as both men, and the audience, knew they both were about to leave the WWE after that night.

This time around, both men are in a different place in their careers and their personal lives.  Both genuinely want to put on a good show this time around, and make up for their lackluster performance in 2014.  Goldberg isn’t known for putting on long matches, and at this age, it’s not known if he even can perform in a long match.  But, that is beside the point.  If this match goes 1 minute, 5 minutes, or 30 minutes, it will certainly be designed to tell a story and give the live crowd something to react to.

Prediction: Winner, and still WWE Universal Champion, Goldberg

I realize I’m going against the grain with this pick.  The betting odds heavily favor Lesnar as Goldberg is rumored to be done with the WWE after this match.  But the WWE shocked us once before at Survivor Series the last time these two faced each other.  It wouldn’t surprise me if it happens again at WrestleMania 33.

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

 

WrestleMania 33 Analysis and Predictions Part 1

The pinnacle of the professional wrestling year, WrestleMania 33, takes place this Sunday.  The WWE has come up with a new tagline for this year’s installment: The Ultimate Thrill Ride.  Given that it starts at 5 PM EDT and will likely not end until about midnight, it had better be thrilling to keep us engaged for 7 straight hours!

WrestleMania has grown at an exponential pace over the last decade.  It has a tremendous economic impact to the city it takes place in, and it gives the WWE a chance to connect with people who are not members of its current fan base.  Most importantly, it helps drives subscriptions to the WWE Network, the centerpiece of the WWE’s long-term business strategy.

Given all of these factors, WrestleMania will have a different look and feel than other pay-per-view events throughout the year.  For one, it’s much longer because the WWE no longer is subject to the hard-out times of cable operators and can stream for as long as they’d like on their own network.  There are also entertainers brought in that don’t normally appear on WWE programming. Booking decisions behind matches are also sometimes out of the ordinary.

The unusual feel of WrestleMania may at times cause the serious fan to feel somewhat alienated.  Given that we are already hooked on the product and spend our money on merchandise, tickets to live events, and the WWE Network, we aren’t interested in the gimmicks that the WWE uses to lure casual fans to the product.  This year, however, the WWE has done a good job of protecting us in a lot of ways through the build-up and matchmaking decisions for WrestleMania 33.

With the exception of a few egregious creative missteps, the WWE has done a good job of delivering a compelling set up matches for WrestleMania 33, many of which we are emotionally invested in as the means to an end of a long-running story.  Unlike the WrestleMania’s of recent years past, this year’s card is full of one-on-one matchups, built around feuds and championships.  There are fewer all-hands-on-deck matches that clutter up the card than in years past.  For once, the Intercontinental Championship won’t be settled in a 7-man ladder match, instead the winner of a one-on-one matchup will be crowned champion.  In this WWE blogger’s opinion, this is the best WrestleMania card we’ve seen in a very long time, possibly even since the Attitude Era.

If you are interested in the entertainment aspect of WrestleMania, someone named Tinashe is going to sing “America the Beautiful”.  Pitbull, Flo Rida, Lunchmoney Lewis, and Stephen Marley are also going to perform in some capacity.  I’ve heard of none of them other than Flo Rida, and I only know him because he performed at WrestleMania XXVII.  Al Roker is going to be the guest ring announcer for the John Cena match. Most importantly, Metallica’s “Am I Savage?” will be the official theme song for the Triple H vs. Seth Rollins match.

Closer to home, The New Day are scheduled to appear, but in a non-wrestling capacity as the hosts of WrestleMania.  Other than a big entrance and a comedy-based skit, it’s anybody’s guess what their angle will be during the show.  Maybe they get involved in a match?  Maybe they are confronted in the ring by a returning WWE Superstar or NXT call-up?  Maybe one of them turns heel and attacks the other two?  How cool would that be?

The potential outcomes of the matches, or any unexpected participation by superstars not currently announced to be on the card, are almost endless.  Some feuds will come to an end, and others will continue on for some time.  Some competitors will look to deliver a career-defining performance.  In a crowded field of 13 matches, we may bear witness to an instant classic like Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXV.  Maybe we get a double-turn ala Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XXIII.  Maybe Roman Reigns won’t suck for once.  OK, that last one is a longshot, but one can hope for the best!

This is the first of my 4-part series on WrestleMania 33.  Part 2 will cover the Smackdown matches, Part 3 will cover the Raw matches, and Part 4 will be dedicated to The Undertaker vs. Roman Reigns match.  I’ll break down the competitors and likely outcomes of each match, and offer my expert pick for the win.  To round this first blog post out, I’ll give a rundown of the battle royal as it doesn’t fit any of these three categories.

2017 André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

20170307_WM33_Andre--430c681388814db3ef74fcdfd3f2bdd8.jpg

The André The Giant Memorial Battle Royal Trophy along with it’s namesake.

In only the 4th installment of the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, the match has lost a lot of the original luster it had at WrestleMania XXX.  Nothing much came of the first two that were won by The Big Show and Cesaro, and last year’s surprise victory by Baron Corbin was unexpected.  Instead of build on last year’s momentum, the WWE has moved the battle royal back to the pre-show.  The full entrant list is already public and there will be no surprises, unlike last year when Shaquille O’Neal entered and Corbin qualified by winning an NXT even the night prior.

Most of the competitors in the match have no shot at winning.  They barely are seen on WWE live TV, and many of them are in tag teams that have lost their push and barely have an impact on any ongoing storylines.  Only a handful seem likely to emerge as the victor, either because of past experience, or an apparent desire for the WWE to give one of them a push.  Here are the competitors, bucketed by odds:

No chance

  • Aiden English
  • Bo Dallas
  • Chad Gable
  • Curt Hawkins
  • Curtis Axel
  • Epico
  • Fandango
  • Goldust
  • Heath Slater
  • Jason Jordan
  • Jey Uso
  • Jimmy Uso
  • Jinder Mahal
  • Kalisto
  • Konnor
  • Mark Henry
  • Primo
  • Rhyno
  • R-Truth
  • Simon Gotch
  • Sin Cara
  • Tyler Breeze
  • Viktor
  • Tian Bing

Longshot

  • Apollo Crews
  • Dolph Ziggler
  • Sami Zayn
  • Titus O’Neil

Favorite

  • Big Show
  • Braun Strowman
  • Mojo Rawley

It is disappointment to see the veterans Goldust, Mark Henry, Rhyno, and R-Truth in the No Chance category.  They all have an impressive resume, highlighted by solid heel runs in the past. There just doesn’t seem to be any room for them in today’s WWE product to be featured in any other capacity than a quick in-and-out at WrestleMania.

The longshots have a chance because they gather a bit more attention on regular WWE programming.  Sami Zayn and Apollo Crews are relevant as recent NXT products who appear to have a push behind them.  Dolph Ziggler and Titus O’Neil are career underachievers, but are bolstered by the fact that they occasionally do get a moderate push.

The favorites, in my opinion, are The Big Show, Braun Strowman, and Mojo Rawley.  The Big Show is rumored to be winding down his two-decade-long career and was also rumored to have almost been in a match against Shaquille O’Neal that didn’t come together.  The WWE may want to give him the consolation prize of his second career André trophy.  Braun Strowman was in the middle of a huge push when he had all of his momentum derailed as a pawn in the Roman Reigns/Undertaker feud.  The WWE might want to re-start his push with a win in this match.  Mojo Rawley is a man without much of an identity at this point, but has spent a lot more time on TV lately, and is likely somebody the WWE has plans for going forward.  The André trophy could be the catalyst for him taking the next step in his career.

Either way, this match is probably not going to be a classic.  When it starts off with 31 guys in the ring, all they can really do is throw punches and kicks at each other, and awkwardly throw each other out of the ring until there are maybe 5 or so competitors left.  At that point, the match may tell a story and give someone a bit of a push in the end.

Prediction: Winner, Braun Strowman

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

WWE Survivor Series Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still Cruiserweight Champion, The Brian Kendrick

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still Intercontinental Champion, The Miz

Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Brock Lesnar

WWE SummerSlam Analysis and Predictions

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

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

John Cena vs. AJ Styles

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

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

Prediction: Winner, AJ Styles

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE United States Champion, Rusev

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck

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

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

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

Prediction: Winners, Enzo Amore and Big Cass

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, The Miz

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

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Brock Lesnar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, Dean Ambrose

WWE Money in the Bank Analysis and Predictions

This year’s WWE Money in the Bank pay-per-view card looks to be potentially very exiting.  On the heels of the “New Era” NXT call ups following WrestleMania 32, the MITB card is indicative of all the creative improvements the WWE has shown these past few months.  It will feature matches between young and veteran talent, and will showcase the resurgent tag team division.

I had the opportunity to attend the last PPV, WWE Extreme Rules, in person in Newark, NJ in May.  It was good to get my finger on the pulse of what the live crowd is thinking these days.  One thing for sure is that Roman Reigns, and anything that has to do with Roman Reigns, is roundly despised by the crowd.  Reigns’ cousins, The Usos, who have enjoyed a babyface run for the entirety of their WWE careers were loudly booed by the crowd when they entered the ring.  Reigns, of course, continues to flounder as WWE Champion and the Jersey crowd made sure to disrespect him at every chance.  Even when he hit a move that made him look like he knew what he was doing, the crowd serenated him with a “You still can’t wrestle” chant.  When Seth Rollins made his triumphant return to the WWE following Reigns’ match, the crowd gave its loudest cheer of the night as Rollins planted Reigns with The Pedigree.  On the way out of the building, I spoke with several fans who were genuinely upset that AJ Styles failed to win the match and capture the belt.

While Reigns continues to bungle his opportunity to be a babyface champion, the rest of the talents around him are carrying pay-per-view cards and I have high hopes that MITB will be among the best we see in 2016.  I’ll break down the matches and explain why.

Apollo Crews vs. Sheamus

Apollo Crews is one of the latest NXT call ups and was packaged in a classic whitemeat-babyface gimmick with the billing that he is a five-tool superstar.  I don’t know exactly what the five-tools are (I’m guessing strength, size, speed, charisma, and verbal skills?) but he is reminiscent of a young Tito Santana or Ricky Steamboat.  I don’t know if this type of gimmick still has legs in today’s WWE, but so far the crowd has seemed receptive to him and he has a good opportunity to showcase his skills against the veteran Sheamus.

I like the somewhat realistic angle that sparked the rivalry between the two, as the veteran Sheamus appears to be threatened by the influx of new talent on the roster and wants to protect his spot.  This is a real-life concern among WWE veterans as older talents are constantly cycled through in favor of new ones.  In this case, I would assume that a dependable performer like Sheamus is safe for a while, but it makes for an entertaining storyline.

Hard to say exactly what to expect out of this match as it is the first time that Crews will get a chance to work a one-on-one match on a PPV.  With any luck, his style will complement that of the brawling style of Sheamus and this will be an entertaining match.

Prediction: Winner, Sheamus

Dolph Ziggler vs. Baron Corbin

This running feud between Ziggler and Baron is a good example of WWE creative sometimes missing the mark.  Baron Corbin had all the momentum in the world, when he was the surprise victor in the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32.  He was immediately put into a feuding program with Dolph Ziggler and that was things started to go off the rails.  Ziggler’s career, having plateaued years ago, is pretty much only good as a jobber these days, and his duty should be to put other talents over.  Over the course of their program, both Ziggler and Corbin have traded victories which I think is a mistake.  If the WWE wants to build up Corbin as a legitimate heel, the best thing for him to do is regularly crush Ziggler, thus setting him up for programs with members of the upper card.  This so-called “50/50” booking isn’t helping either guy look good.

With any luck things turn around for Corbin this weekend, he emerges victorious over the hapless Ziggler, and regains some of his lost momentum in his pursuit of relevancy.

Prediction: Winner, Baron Corbin

Charlotte and Dana Brooke vs. Natalya and Becky Lynch

My buddy took a picture of me sleeping during the women’s match at WWE Extreme Rules and posted it on Facebook.  I wasn’t embarrassed at all, in fact, I would have been more embarrassed had he posted a picture of me actually paying attention to a WWE women’s match.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Rusev (c) (with Lana) vs. Titus O’Neil in a singles match for the WWE United States Championship

Rusev has been on a roller coaster ride during his WWE run, having been at the top as a monster heel in a major program with John Cena, and at the very bottom in a love-square storyline between himself, Lana, Dolph Ziggler, and the career-killing Summer Rae.  Luckily, someone in WWE creative realized what they had done to a talent that they had worked so hard to create, and reunited Rusev with Lana and gave him back his monster-heel-from-a-foreign-country gimmick.  He even re-captured his US Championship at WWE Extreme Rules.  With any luck, he can shake the fan’s memories of the horrid angle with Summer Rae, and charge back towards the top of the card as a heat-seeking bad guy.

Titus O’Neil is back on WWE TV after a bizarre suspension following an incident between himself and Vince McMahon shortly after Daniel Bryan’s retirement speech in Seattle, Washington.  He had enjoyed some marginal success on WWE TV prior to his suspension, but really wasn’t ever given enough TV time to connect with the fans and let us know who he really is.

This should be a physical match between these two big men.  I would expect Titus to really go the extra mile now that he has a rare title shot in a singles match on a pay-per-view. Rusev always delivers in his matches, and I would expect him to be on the attack against O’Neil.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE United States Champion, Rusev

The New Day (Big E and Kofi Kingston) (c) (with Xavier Woods) vs. Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson vs. Enzo Amore and Big Cass vs. The Vaudevillains (Aiden English and Simon Gotch) in a Fatal 4-Way match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

As I eluded to earlier, the WWE has made a significant investment in its tag team division of late.  The WWE is at its best when it has a strong and diverse tag-team division as it gives performers a lot more options to express themselves creatively, both in the ring and when cutting promos.

The four teams featured in this match are all riding hot streaks, and should be able to tell a compelling story.  The New Day have been the top faction in the WWE since re-capturing the Tag Team Championships at Summer Slam in 2015.  Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson have been well received by the fans since they came over from NJPW just over a month ago.  The Vaudvellians have somewhat of an odd gimmick, but they managed to get over as heels and will certainly generate a lot of heel heat during this match.  Big Cass and Enzo Amore have shown a great deal of potential both as individuals and as a team.  They have a great look and both have great mic skills.

Fatal 4-Way matches always have the potential to be awkward as there are a lot of spots to manage with eight competitors in a match.  I predict that this match will be well-paced and will give each team a chance to showcase their talents and get over with the fans.

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

John Cena vs. AJ Styles

For fans of wrestling circuits outside of the WWE, this match is a long time in the making.  Both men, in their late 30’s have been regarded as the best in their respective companies for years but have never faced each other in a WWE ring.  It’s almost surprising that this match wasn’t saved for a bigger event such as SummerSlam but it should be one of the best matches on the card at MITB.

AJ Styles stumbled a bit out of the gate in WWE.  He was received well by the fans, and then proceeded to job to an over-the-hill Chris Jericho, and then lose twice to Roman Reigns.  Fortunately, a well-executed heel turn a few weeks ago, along with his new program with John Cena, should really help him turn things around.

John Cena is always dependable in big spots.  He works well with new talents on the WWE roster, whether they are NXT rookies or newcomer veterans such as AJ Styles.  His matches deliver excitement more often than not, and he will surely be motivated to look strong in this match, having missed an extended period of time with a shoulder injury.

This match should be very entertaining and should feature a lot of drama and some high spots.  If anything, AJ Styles really needs a clean victory here if he is ever to be taken seriously as someone who can win in WWE.  Cena has a history of laying down when the time is right to get another talent over, I would expect tonight to be no different.

Prediction: Winner, AJ Styles

Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro vs. Chris Jericho vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Kevin Owens vs. Alberto Del Rio in a Money in the Bank ladder match for a WWE World Heavyweight Championship match contract

This is one of the most anticipated matches of the year on the WWE schedule.  Not only is a MITB match good for some thrills, but it sets up a storyline that can persist for the better part of a year, as the winner can attempt to steal the WWE Championship at any time.  Of course, the greatest cash-in of all time saw Seth Rollins steal the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 31 in 2015.  It’s hard to say what will come of this year’s MITB match winner, but the possibilities are endless for each of the competitors.

  • Chris Jericho is the least likely to win. He has delivered a number of dud matches since his latest full-time return to WWE.  Chances of him ever recapturing the WWE title are pretty much zero and he should consider hanging up his boots sometime soon.
  • Cesaro is a persistent fan favorite, especially since his return following a shoulder injury. Still, he isn’t championship material, and the WWE would really have to make some changes to his character and persona to ever get him into the position to be the face of the company.
  • Sami Zayn has built up a bit of a cult following since his return from injury (there sure were a lot of guys on the injured list lately), and his feud with Kevin Owens has been a lot of fun to watch. Still, it’s unlikely that Zayn is going to get a WWE title shot anytime soon, it is just too early in his WWE career for that kind of push.
  • Dean Ambrose is one of the WWE’s top earners and is very popular with the fans. If there is a dark horse in this match, it is Dean Ambrose.  He is the kind of guy who the WWE could make into at least a transitional champion for a short while.  An Ambrose win could also potentially set up a three-way feud between himself and the other former members of the Shield, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins.
  • Alberto Del Rio is a former WWE Champion himself and the WWE is always very high on his potential, especially due to his marketability with the WWE’s Hispanic audience. He has been a bit aimless these past few months, a MITB contract would make him interesting to watch again.
  • Kevin Owens, in my opinion, is the favorite to win this match. He is a genuine heel and an offensive innovator.  He has built up a great deal of name recognition, and a lot of critical acclaim for his in-ring workrate and ability to cut top promos.  He would carry the WWE Championship very well if he were to win MITB.

Although those are my views as to who the favorites and the underdogs should be, it wouldn’t surprise me if any one of them won the match and were to run with the opportunity to hold the MITB contract.

Prediction: Winner, Kevin Owens

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

I’m getting tired of blogging about how bad Roman Reigns is, so I’m not going to repeat myself this time.  Just look back to the beginning of my WWE blog if you want to know more.  There are enough other guys on the roster who can take his spot and run with the WWE Championship, it is time to put this nonsense to an end and give the belt back to someone else.

Seth Rollins, who got the call up to the WWE roster at the same time as Reigns, is immeasurably more talented than the current champion.  In 2015, he was in the midst of one of the best years we’ve seen from a WWE superstar in quite some time when he was felled with a badly broken knee in November.  He missed an extended period of time and should pick up right where he left off, as the top heel in the company.  He never lost the championship, and should be primed to go in his first match back.

Seth Rollins will have to carry the inferior Roman Reigns if this match is going to be interesting at all, but if the result is what the WWE fans want to see, it could be remembered as one of the best main events for quite some time.

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