WWE Payback Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Cruiserweight Champion, Neville

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

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Samoa Joe

Roman Reigns vs. Braun Strowman

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Roman Reigns

WrestleMania 33 Analysis and Predictions Part 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).

 

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

 

WWE SummerSlam Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

Jon Stewart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Rusev

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, Ryback

Randy Orton vs. Sheamus

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Sheamus

Kevin Owens vs. Cesaro

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Kevin Owens

Stephen Amell and Neville vs. Stardust and King Barrett

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

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

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

Prediction: Winners, Stardust and King Barrett

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

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

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

Prediction: This match is going to suck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winners, Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, The Undertaker

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

WWE Money in the Bank Analysis and Predictions

With the new WWE Network content delivery model, pay-per-view events are fast and furious.  Just two weeks removed from the Elimination Chamber special, the WWE is bringing us Money in the Bank, one of the most important events of the year.  The winner of the MITB Contract holds the right to cash in a WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match at any time.  As we saw this year at WrestleMania, a properly timed cash-in of the contract can be a career defining moment.  Not only that, but the contract can give us months and months of suspense leading up to its eventual use.

Aside from the Money in the Bank Ladder Match, the rest of the card should provide some pretty interesting traditional matchups, and an emotional Ladder Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.  Let’s take a look at the card.

John Cena vs. Kevin Owens

The importance of Kevin Owen’s WWE debut match at Elimination Chamber against John Cena should not be understated.  I’m not the type of encyclopedic wrestling fan that can name places and dates of matches at will, but I really did struggle to think of a debut match that was a bigger upset than Owens win over John Cena in his first match.  Two that came to mind are Tazz’s victorious WWE debut against Kurt Angle at the Royal Rumble in 2000, and The Giant defeating Hulk Hogan at Halloween Havoc in 1995.  Neither one of these really can compare, given that Kurt Angle at the time was nowhere near the superstar that Cena is today. The Giant only won his match over Hogan by a disqualification.

Kevin Owens came to Raw, cut a set of disrespectful heel promos against John Cena, and then beat him cleanly in a highly competitive match.  Cena carried himself well, but there are not enough good things to say about how Kevin Owens handled himself in that match.  Every spot was executed to perfection and the match told an exciting and suspenseful story.  Finally, after the match was won, Owens grabbed the microphone and gave us one more disrespectful promo directed at the defeated John Cena as he walked out of the arena.

The ball is in Kevin Owens’ court now.  It’s hard to think of a more impactful WWE debut victory and only time will tell if he can carry this momentum and become a star.  He seems to have all the necessary tools and the right attitude, it is my expert opinion that someday he is going to be remembered as someone special.

On the other side of the ring, John Cena is still playing his part well.  It appears, at least for now, that he is not going to wrestle at the top of the card any time soon, but he still has credibility as an elder statesmen and the United States Champion and is always a force to be reckoned with.  John Cena doesn’t change much, and despite what most fans seem to think these days, what he does best still works for him.

It would be a huge mistake to give Cena a win and kill off Owens’ momentum after only two weeks.  I expect Owens to go over once again, and this time maybe cheat a little to win.

Prediction: Winner, Kevin Owens

Ryback (c) vs. The Big Show for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

In today’s WWE, most premier matches are a series of coordinated stunts.  Long gone are the days of 30 minute technical contests, and instead we get high spots predicated on match stipulations, such as guys falling off of ladders and through tables.  Even with this being the norm these days, there is still no substitute for two freakishly huge guys beat the hell out of each other, and that is exactly what we are going to get in this match.

Ryback is just two weeks into his first run as a singles champion in the WWE.  It took him several years of fighting through injuries and a few bad gimmicks to get to this point.  He was determined to play the “hero to the children” role and seems to have gotten to where he wanted to be.  His “feed me more” chant is over across the whole spectrum of the audience.  I expect his title run to endure for at least a few months to allow him to settle in as champion.

The Big Show is a made-man in the WWE.  He can fill a variety of roles and is often plugged into angles up and down the card, flip-flopping between babyface and heel roles.  Usually, he ends up on the losing end of things, with the notable exception of his win of The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania in April.  Inexplicably, he is no longer a member of The Authority and has returned after a brief hiatus to do the first job for the newly crowned IC champ.

At the very least, we can expect this to be a physical matchup with both competitors to display several feats of strength.  Don’t look for too many drop kicks or senton bombs from these two!

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, Ryback

Nikki Bella (c) vs. Paige in a Singles Match for the WWE Divas Championship

I think this is like the 8th pay-per-view in a row these two have wrestled.  I can’t remember because I never watch any of the Divas matches.  Can’t they find two other awful wrestlers to fill this spot just to change things up?

Prediction: Don’t waste your time on this match, flip the channels for the three minutes they are going to give them to wrestle.

The New Day (c) vs. The Prime Time Players in a Tag Team Match for the WWE Tag Team Championship

The “Modern Day Freebird” gimmick has really reversed the fortunes of The New Day.  They went from one of the worst babyface stables we’ve seen in years and into formidable champions in a big hurry.  They complement each other well in the ring and the one man advantage they have as a three-man tandem always gives them an entertaining unfair edge against their opponents.  Kofi Kingston, in particular, has never looked better throughout his previously underwhelming WWE career.  It’s always amazing what a well-timed heel turn can do in the WWE.

The Prime Time Players are in their second go-around as a team.  Neither Titus O’Neil nor Darren Young have really gained a foothold as either singles competitors or as a team.  This team is symptomatic of the weak state of the WWE Tag Team Division.  They aren’t very interesting and really don’t stand much of a chance of winning this match.  With any luck, they manage to make The New Day look good.

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

Neville vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Randy Orton vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Sheamus vs. Kane vs. Roman Reigns in a Money in the Bank Ladder Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match contract

The namesake match of the evening stands a chance to either be memorable for quite some time, or a chance to be bowling-shoe ugly.  We get inundated with ladder matches these days, they are typically featured at TLC, WrestleMania, Extreme Rules, and Money in the Bank.  There are only so many ways to fall off of a ladder or use it as a weapon and it feels like we’ve seen it all.  It’s going to be a challenge for these guys to find a way to make this match interesting.

Either way, a new MITB contract winner will be crowned and will have the potential to become champion sometime within the next year.  This could be a career-defining moment for one of these competitors and the winner can expect a big push up until he cashes in the contract.  Here is a rundown of the competitors:

Neville: “The New Sensation” Neville is off to a decent start since his call-up to the main roster in April.  It’s a little early in his run to make a determination of how well he is going to do in the WWE.  Thus far, he’s been a one-trick-pony with his high-flying moves and not much else.  This is a good opportunity for him to make an impact, but he doesn’t have a realistic chance of winning.

Dolph Ziggler: Permanently mired in the mid-card, Dolph Ziggler will continue to be a supporting cast member unless something drastically changes.  His feud with Rusev was stalled due to Rusev’s recent legitimate ankle injury, so he was put in the MITB match instead.  He will gain attention now that Lana is by his side, but that is never the type of attention that a superstar really should want.  If you are overshadowed by your valet, it exposes a lack of charisma, and that is never good.  I expect him to take some nasty bumps in this match but he isn’t a contender to actually win the contract.

Randy Orton: The Rattlesnake is currently in a supporting role in his on-and-off program with Seth Rollins. He continues to do the right things to make Rollins look like the top villain in the company. He is a threat to win any match he is in and is one of the favorites headed into this match as both a former MITB winner and former WWE Champion.

Kofi Kingston: As I stated earlier, Kofi has underwhelmed throughout his WWE run but has never looked better since The New Day turned heel.  His annoying attitude is the perfect complement for his in-ring style.  Instead of trying to wow the crowd with his agility, he now can focus on looking like a jerk while he wrestles and he does that well.  I love the fact that The New Day alluded to using The Freebird Rule on the MITB contract if Kofi wins it.  It’s doubtful that Kofi is going to win this match, but it would be hilarious if all three of them acted as though they hold the contract.

Sheamus: So far, so good since his return.  The company was severely lacking in heels on the roster headed into WrestleMania (they really only had Rusev and Rollins as top heels at the time), but with his new look and his nasty demeanor, he adds character depth to the WWE.  As always, he can be counted on to rely on a brutal in-ring style to make it look like he is delivering all of his opponents a severe beating.  I’m giving him about a 20% chance of winning this match.

Kane: The most versatile character over the past generation continues to deliver solid performances in his multi-faceted Corporate Kane character.  He is the foundation of the entire Authority stable, yet we never know where his tormented character is going to head next. Is he finally going to snap and turn on Seth Rollins, or is he going to remain loyal to Triple H and do what is best for business?  His antagonistic angle with Seth Rollins has been a slow-burn feud that has yet to pay off.  Wouldn’t it be great if he wins the contract while still in his role as Seth Rollins’ enforcer?

Roman Reigns: Reigns is back to being on the fans good side now that the perception that he is being shoved down our throats has passed.  People are comfortable with where he is on the card right now and he looks like someone that the WWE is still trying to build.  Unfortunately, he still lacks in many areas of his game, including in-ring psychology and his microphone skills.  Every match and every promo are exactly the same, and none of them impress.  I feel like it would serve him well to send him back to NXT for a few years to work some of his shortcomings out.  I doubt that is going to happen and he is still going to have to learn on the job in front of us all.  He is one of the favorites headed into this match.

Prediction: Winner and new Money in the Bank Contract holder, Kane

Seth Rollins (c) vs. Dean Ambrose in a Ladder Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship

Here we go again, another ladder match.  I love these two competitors but could do without this stipulation.  There already is a ladder match on this card and it seems like Dean Ambrose has been in a hundred ladder matches these past eight months.  Sure, it is fun to watch him fall off the ladder over and over again, but I would have liked a different stipulation for this match, maybe a cage match or an Iron Man match would have been better.  Still, expect these two to deliver a solid match that could and should steal the show.

This match goes to show how well The Shield got over with the fans and how well the former members have done since the split last year.  Dean Ambrose seemingly lost a little momentum during WrestleMania season, having filled in for an injured Roman Reigns in a main event program prior to The Royal Rumble.  But he is back on top as a main-eventer now, and he really earned this spot.  The crowd is very much on his side as they tend to be with the anti-hero babyface characters.  How often do you see the good guy steal a championship belt and be favored by the crowd as he keeps doing?

Seth Rollins is the man at the top right now.  His performance at WWE Extreme Rules was a clinic in how a heel champion should work a match.  He pulled the most cowardly move possible by putting the referee in harm’s way so he could get himself disqualified and retain the championship.  Not only did that make him look like a bigger jerk than he already was, but it was the perfect setup for their upcoming match this Sunday.

There are a lot of ways this match can go.  These two have an emotionally charged basis for their animosity towards each other that began the day The Shield broke up.  It is good that this feud was kept warm this entire time and I have a feeling that not only is this match going to be fun to watch, but it’s not the last we are going to see of these two together.  I expect Rollins to pull this one out by cheating to win yet again.

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

This pay-per-view, particularly the main events, will be a direct lead in to Brock Lesnar’s return to the WWE in the coming weeks and should begin to set the stage for Summer Slam in August in Brooklyn.  This should be a very entertaining couple of weeks of WWE television ahead of us.

WWE Elimination Chamber Analysis and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neville vs. Bo Dallas

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Neville

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

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

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

John Cena vs. Kevin Owens

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Kevin Owens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WWE Extreme Rules Preview and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winners and still champions, Tyson Kidd and Cesaro

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, The Big Show

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

Two boring characters who can’t wrestle.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Dolph Ziggler vs. Sheamus in a Kiss Me Arse Match

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

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

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

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

Dean Ambrose vs. Luke Harper in a Chicago Street Fight

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner, Luke Harper

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and new United States Champion, Rusev.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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