WrestleMania 38 Sunday: Analysis and Predictions

If WrestleMania 38 was just the Saturday card, it would have left everyone satisfied. Every performer on the Sunday show is going to have a hard time following the matches that took place on Saturday. It was a near-flawless show that exemplified professional wrestling at its finest.

There is no lack of star power lined up for WrestleMania Sunday, and there is a good mix of grudge matches and title matches. It is going to be capped with a title unification match between the two top stars in the WWE. If WrestleMania must be two nights, at least there is a lot to look forward to tonight.

The New Day (Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston) vs. Sheamus and Ridge Holland (with Butch)

This match is behind the eight-ball to begin with because Big E will not be able to compete in it, having suffered a broken neck on Smackdown in an accidental botched spot with Ridge Holland. Big E would have been the biggest star of the bunch, and it cost Butch his opportunity to be in the match. Instead, he will be the heater on the outside.

The New Day gimmick certainly has staying power and is still over with WWE fans. Sheamus and Ridge Holland are a much newer pairing, and Holland is in a good spot here with a chance to show that he can hang with this veteran group. Butch is the odd man out but should at least get a spot to draw some heat for himself.

Prediction: Winners, Sheamus and Ridge Holland

Queen Zelina and Carmella (c) vs. Sasha Banks and Naomi vs. Rhea Ripley and Liv Morgan vs. Natalya and Shayna Baszler in a fatal four-way tag team match for the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship

Try to say that one fast. This is the lone overbooked “let’s get everybody on the WrestleMania card” match of the weekend. These matches are always confusing and help nobody look good. This will give me an opportunity to catch up on my DVR queue while the show is still on.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

Johnny Knoxville vs. Sami Zayn in an Anything Goes match

Logan Paul crushed it on WrestleMania Saturday. Can Johnny Knoxville do the same? The Anything Goes stipulation opens a creative channel to introduce multiple Jackass-type stunts into the match. It also protects Knoxville if he can not wrestle at a competent level.

Prediction: Winner, Sami Zayn

Pat McAfee vs. Austin Theory

I caught Pat McAfee wrestling in a War Games match on NXT and was very impressed with how he carried himself. He does not have too many matches on his professional resume, but he has shown he can rise to the occasion. Austin Theory is among the youngest competitors at WrestleMania 38.  He is going to want to prove he has long-term potential to be a WrestleMania star.

McAfee has a great deal of name recognition outside the WWE as a sportscaster to begin with. This is an obvious spot for the WWE to give him a few highlight-worthy spots and a victory to draw some mainstream recognition.

Prediction: Winner, Pat McAfee

RK-Bro (Randy Orton and Riddle) (c) vs. The Street Profits (Angelo Dawkins and Montez Ford) vs. Alpha Academy (Chad Gable and Otis) in a triple threat tag team match for the WWE Raw Tag Team Championship

SHOOOSH!!! This one is not quite as bad as the women’s fatal four-way championship match, but there is going to be a lot going on that will distract from the individual talents. These are three very capable tag teams, and you must hope that their performances do not get lost in the shuffle.

Randy Orton is a former WrestleMania main-eventer who has slid down the card as a babyface tag-team wrestler. It seems logical that at some point he is going to backstab Riddle and turn heel. What better time and place than WrestleMania?

Prediction: Winners and new WWE Raw Tag Team Champions, Alpha Academy.

Edge vs. AJ Styles

A grudge match between two veterans with nothing titles or stipulations on the line? Yes, please! Edge working heel for the first time since his surprise return to the WWE? Yes, please! This one has match of the night potential.

Prediction: Winner, Edge

Bobby Lashley vs. Omos

It is good that Bobby Lashley made the WrestleMania card after it looked like he was suffering from some sort of injury that limited his participation at Elimination Chamber and saw him surrender the championship. Unfortunately, there was not much of a build for this match. But Bobby is one of the top stars in WWE today and it should be fun to watch these ridiculously large human beings do battle.

Prediction: Winner, Bobby Lashley

Brock Lesnar (WWE Champion) vs. Roman Reigns (Universal Champion) (with Paul Heyman) in a Winner Takes All match to unify the WWE Championship and WWE Universal Championship

This is the third time we have seen this exact same WrestleMania main event. But it is the first time that Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar have been positioned properly. Roman Reigns is finally the arrogant heel that the fans wanted him to be, and Brock is the “cowboy with a strange mohawk and ponytail” that is somehow working out very well for him.

There is a clear good guy versus bad guy dynamic in this match, and there is a title unification on the line. What more could you really ask for in a WrestleMania main event?

Prediction: Winner and Unified Champion, Roman Reigns

WrestleMania 38 Saturday: Analysis and Predictions

Seth Rollins vs. who?

I promise my ranting about WrestleMania being two nights long is over. It is WrestleMania weekend, and I am consumed with everything going on and am looking forward to it all. The stage for the weekend has been set by an emotional Hall of Fame speech by The Undertaker which hopefully inspired the current talent to be at their very best when it is their turn on The Grandest Stage of Them All.

I already expressed my opinion on the main event KO Show featuring Kevin Owens and Stone Cold Steve Austin so now I will take a look at the actual matches on the card.

Rey Mysterio and Dominik Mysterio vs. The Miz and Logan Paul

While I have never been much of a Rey Mysterio fan, I certainly admire his longevity in the WWE. Rey’s status helped his son Dominik cut the NXT line and get a spot on the main roster. At Rey’s age, however, the writing is on the wall that he is nearing the end. They Mysterio’s are going to want to impress at what could be their last WrestleMania appearance as a team.

The Miz drew the celebrity match card for a second year in a row, this time he has the celebrity on his side. Well, if you can call Logan Paul a celebrity. I am not sure exactly what his claim to fame is, he never really showed up in my YouTube feed. It remains to be seen if he has enough moves to work an entire match, or if The Miz will have to carry the load for his team. I would guess that The Miz will work most of the match and they will give Paul one big high spot.

Prediction: Winners, The Miz and Logan Paul

Drew McIntyre vs. Happy Corbin (with Madcap Moss)

Drew McIntyre was the pandemic-era champion of the WWE. Unfortunately, most times when a babyface champion loses the title, he ends up sliding down the card. Looks like that is what happened to Drew when he landed in this match.

Happy Corbin works a different gimmick every year. This time around he is… happy? I do not get it either. Somehow this guy seems to have enough talent to be good, but he never connects with the audience. With Madcap Moss in tow (I do not get him either), he should be able to deliver a bruising match against McIntyre.

Prediction: Winner, Happy Corbin

The Usos (Jey Uso and Jimmy Uso) (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura and Rick Boogs in a tag team match for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship

The veteran Usos are in their best professional run. They are both the best tag team in the WWE, and they are great heaters for Roman Reigns.

Shinsuke Nakamura and Rick Boogs are an odd pairing that are hard to understand. Nakamura has under-delivered throughout his WWE run that was supposed to have a lot more promise. Boogs somehow took Elias’ gimmick and does not bring much else to the table.

Prediction: Winners, The Usos

Becky Lynch (c) vs. Bianca Belair in a singles match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

Becky has not done much of anything interesting since her return from maternity leave. Belair uses her hair as a weapon. Do not expect much from this match.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Raw Women’s Champion, Becky Lynch

The New Day (Xavier Woods and Kofi Kingston) vs. Sheamus and Ridge Holland (with Butch)

This was originally supposed to be a six-man tag team match with a fully reunited New Day, but unfortunately Big E’s career came to a sudden end when he accidentally broke his neck in an encounter with Ridge Holland on Smackdown a few weeks ago. The New Day does not have the same cachet without the big man.

Sheamus is the veteran member of his team and being used to get Ridge Holland over. Butch, the former Pete Dunne from NXT, has not had enough time on the main roster with his new name and gimmick to connect with the audience. Sheamus is really going to have to do all the work in this match.

Prediction: Winners, Sheamus and Ridge Holland

Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Ronda Rousey in a singles match for the WWE SmackDown Women’s Championship

I was at WrestleMania 38 when Rousey managed to mess up the finish of the first ever women’s main event at WrestleMania. I regret not leaving early to beat the traffic. Then she disappeared for three years. I don’t imagine she has gotten much better since then, and I don’t have high expectations for this match.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE SmackDown Women’s Champion: Ronda Rousey

Seth “Freakin” Rollins vs. TBA

Mr. McMahon will announce Rollins’ opponent during the show. I won’t get into what the rumors are because most wrestling Internet rumors tend to not come true. Although this one seems likely to happen, you never know.

That makes this one hard to predict. But you can count on Seth Rollins to be his very best no matter who they trot out to wrestle him. He is known for his WrestleMania performances and this match is very likely going to steal the show.

Prediction: Winner, Seth Rollins

2022 Royal Rumble Analysis and Predictions

The Road to WrestleMania 38 begins Saturday night at the Royal Rumble in St. Louis. WrestleMania is now an unnecessarily long two-night event, so there are a lot of storylines to lay out between now and then. The matches on the Rumble card that will have the biggest consequences for WrestleMania are the men’s rumble match, and the two men’s championship matches.

Edge and Beth Phoenix vs. The Miz and Maryse in a Mixed tag team match

A lot of what Miz does these days is mid-card work that promotes his outside interests in reality shows. He is still the most dependable heel the WWE has on the roster and could easily move up the card if he was not mired in situations like this.

You would be hard-pressed to find an Edge fan who wanted to see him come out of retirement to be in a mixed tag team match with his wife. This is a long way down from last year when he won the 2021 men’s rumble match as the #1 entrant and went on to get smoked by Roman Reigns in the WrestleMania main event.

Prediction: Winners, The Miz and Maryse

Becky Lynch (c) vs. Doudrop in a Singles match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

No comment.

Prediction: I’m going to take a nap during this match.

Brock Lesnar (c) (with Paul Heyman) vs. Bobby Lashley (with MVP) in a singles match for the WWE Championship

These are two of the very best in the game right now. Both competitors have similar backgrounds as amateur wrestlers-turned pro who then bounced between professional wrestling and mixed martial arts. Lesnar has been near or at the top of the WWE for his entire career, but Lashley was more of a late bloomer, not winning his first WWE championship until he was in his mid-40’s.

Time has not slowed these two down at all, they are both peak athletes and freakishly large. This is a WrestleMania caliber match that I cannot wait to watch.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Champion, Bobby Lashley

Roman Reigns (c) vs. Seth “Freakin” Rollins in a Singles match for the WWE Universal Championship

These two former Shield members are feuding again. They have both undergone many character machinations since Rollins took the belt off Reigns at WrestleMania 31. Reigns took longer to find himself but he finally figured out how to be the top guy in the company. This will be the first time they clash as heels. The Uso’s have been banned from ringside so Reigns will have to go it alone.

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Universal Champion, Roman Reigns

Women’s Royal Rumble Match

Ronda Rousey is going to make a surprise return to win the Royal Rumble and go on to face Becky Lynch at WrestleMania.

Men’s Royal Rumble Match

The rumor mill has not had much to say about this year’s men’s rumble winner. The main men’s matches at WrestleMania are going to feature Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar (potentially even head-to-head) so that leaves a spot open for someone to jump into the main event picture.

The WWE is cross promoting the new Jackass movie and will place Johnny Knoxville in the rumble match where he will likely eliminate Sami Zayn. Zayn always seems to be the mark to get guest celebrities over. Not a bad spot to be in.

At the time of this writing, there are five spots that have yet to be announced. They’ll likely be filled by NXT call ups and returning retirees. None of them have potential to contend for the win.

I am handicapping the field as follows:

No Chance in Hell

  • Angelo Dawkins
  • Montez Ford
  • Dominik Mysterio
  • Austin Theory
  • Johnny Knoxville
  • Happy Corbin
  • Madcap Moss
  • Sami Zayn
  • Omos
  • Riddle
  • Chad Gable
  • Otis
  • Dolph Ziggler
  • Robert Roode
  • Shinsuke Nakamura
  • Rick Boogs
  • Ricochet

Dark Horse Potential

  • Sheamus
  • Damian Priest
  • AJ Styles
  • Kofi Kingston
  • Randy Orton

Favorites

  • Rey Mysterio
  • Big E
  • Kevin Owens

The No Chance in Hell field contains nobody with WrestleMania main event potential, at least not in 2022.

Damien Priest has been on the rise this year and could surprise with a big win. The rest of the dark horse field are former champions and can be counted on to carry a WrestleMania title match. A win by any of them would be a surprise, but not a shock.

Rey Mysterio has been at the forefront of WWE storylines and is on the cover of the latest WWE video game. The geriatric luchador apparently is still a moneymaker and might have one big main event run left in him.

Big E is a recent former champion and may be poised to take off again. He would match up well against Reigns or Lesnar in a one-on-one match.

Kevin Owens recently returned to working as a heel which is his natural state. He would be able to sell a WrestleMania main even against a top babyface in his sleep. Maybe this is finally KO’s time to have a big WrestleMania moment.

WrestleMania 37 Postscript

What was up with Alexa Bliss at WrestleMania?

The WWE delivered in a big way over the two-night showing of WrestleMania 37. It was dealt a tough hand with a storm in Tampa which forced a 40-minute rain delay at the beginning of Saturday’s show. Once the rains subsided enough for the show to start, the first live crowd the WWE has hosted in over a year was clearly excited for action.

Most critics tended to agree that both shows were exciting from start to finish and exceeded expectations. What makes that interesting is that this was more of a transitional WrestleMania than it may have appeared to be. Consider that this was the first time since WrestleMania XVI in 2000 that there was no involvement from The Undertaker or John Cena. Also consider that the WWE did not reach into the past to bring back a relic like Goldberg or a part-timer like Brock Lesnar to generate interest in the show. It mainly ran with the regular talent roster and one big outside celebrity. Maybe there is a lesson to be learned there.

I have been a constant critic of both Roman Reigns and the WWE Women’s division. Roman Reigns returned after an absence in 2020 to reinvent his character and put on a masterful performance in the main event of night two. Aside from the Women’s tag team matches that laid an egg both nights, even I must admit that Sacha Banks and Bianca Belair put on the match of their lives and that certainly bolstered the division.

There were some great moments along the way, along with some inconsistencies and some odd creative decisions. Out of it all emerged a clear list of winners and losers, with the winners far out numbering the losers.

Losers:

The Fiend: Here’s Bray Wyatt’s career arc: Gets built up, fans buy in, loses in a peculiar fashion, reinvents himself, repeat. That loss to Randy Orton did not help either competitor, the finish with Alexa Bliss made no sense at all.

Big E: Lost the Intercontinental Championship in his home city.

Mandy Rose: Through no fault of her own, she slipped on the wet ramp during her ring entrance. This will haunt her on the Internet for the rest of her life.

Bayley: Her championship run in 2020 was not enough to earn her an actual match at WrestleMania 37. Instead, she was stuck with a comedy bit that did not work and got tossed aside by the Bella Twins. The crowd had the wrong reaction to the episode anyway!

Hulk Hogan: Worked babyface, got booed. His magical aura is clearly a thing of the past.

Winners:

Bobby Lashley: Opened the show with a surprise win over Drew McIntyre. This was his biggest WrestleMania moment since “The Battle of The Billionaires”.

Cesaro: In his first ever singles match at WrestleMania, he picked up a signature win over Seth Rollins.

Omos: Looked like a killer in his debut. Hopefully he is always booked that way.

Shane McMahon: Even though it is entirely predictable that he is going to take an insane bump, he still makes it entertaining. His in-ring career is one car crash after the next.

Braun Strowman: Looked great in his match. He is a physical specimen that can cut a skilled promo and tell a story in the ring.

Bad Bunny: Far exceeded any expectations with his in-ring ability. Granted, the other guys helped make him look good, but he still carried himself like a pro.

Bianca Belair: Put on probably the best women’s match the WWE has ever seen in her WrestleMania debut. Hopefully, the rest of the division follows her lead and steps up their game.

Sheamus: Hit some great moves in his win over Riddle and walked out with a singles title.

Apollo Crews: It was a very round-about way to become a singles champion, but if becoming an ethnic heel is what it took, good for him.

Daniel Bryan and Edge: Both were forced to retire due to injury but ended up in the main event of WrestleMania anyway. The losses did not hurt them at all, they looked good in defeat.

Roman Reigns: Against all odds, turned his career around and is now the clear face of the WWE. Unlike in the past where he ruined every WrestleMania main event he was in, he turned in a commanding performance this time.

The WWE added WrestleMania branding to the Backlash pay per view for the first time ever. With any luck, they can continue some of the momentum they now have from a strong WrestleMania weekend into that show.

WrestleMania 37 Night 2 Analysis and Predictions

Two nights of WrestleMania? Best weekend ever? Or too much wrestling?

After watching last night’s card, I believe the WWE has fixed the “overcrowding” situation it used to have when WrestleMania was one night. There was only one over-booked match that was in place to get people on the card. Most of the matches were plain singles or tag team matches that were not rushed. While there were not too many surprises in the outcomes, most of them were very entertaining from start to finish.

Saturday’s show will be a tough act for Sunday’s show to follow. I think I would have been happy if last night was the entire WrestleMania card, but I am happy to watch again tonight. Here are my match predictions.

Riddle (c) vs. Sheamus in a Singles match for the WWE United States Championship

I have always been the kind of wrestling fan that found most of the babyfaces to be annoying. Riddle is my worst nightmare. I do not know what they are thinking with this guy. All I can hope for is that Sheamus shoves Riddle’s scooter down his own throat, and then kicks Riddle’s head into the 19th row.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE United States Champion, Sheamus

Asuka (c) vs. Rhea Ripley in a Singles match for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship

Rhea Ripley’s gimmick seems to be to show up from NXT just before WrestleMania and get herself a major brand title shot. Not sure why this keeps happening to her, she does not bring much to the table.  Asuka certainly does not bring anything to the table either. 

Prediction: This match is going to suck

The Fiend (with Alexa Bliss) vs. Randy Orton

Big E (c) vs. Apollo Crews Nigerian Drum Fight for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

This is a head-scratching development. These guys were perfectly capable of carrying a babyface/heel feud centered over the Intercontinental Championship as they were. For some reason, Apollo Crews decided he was going to turn into an ethnic heel and develop a fake accent just a few weeks ago. There is nothing stranger than when a WWE Superstar gains or loses an accent, just ask Kofi Kingston.

Whatever a Nigerian Drum Match is supposed to be does not sound like it is WrestleMania-worthy. But these terrible creative decisions can not take away from the fact that these are two of the best wrestlers on the roster today. Hopefully, they can make chicken salad out of chicken scratch and turn in a memorable match.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Intercontinental Champion, Apollo Crews

Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn (with Logan Paul)

Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn are trying to challenge Randy Orton and John Cena for the longest feud ever. These guys know each other well and are both performing at a high level right now. They are going to have to get Logan Paul involved in the match somehow, hopefully in a way that does not interfere with the story the two professionals are trying to tell.

Prediction: Winner, Sami Zayn

Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler (c) (with Reginald) vs. Tag Team Turmoil winners in a Tag team match for the WWE Women’s Tag Team Championship

The makeshift team of Natalya and Tamina was the puzzling choice to win Saturday night’s race-to-the-bottom turmoil match to earn a shot at the Women’s Tag Team Championship on Sunday. With any luck the title match is better, but I would not count on it.

Prediction: This match is going to suck

The Fiend (with Alexa Bliss) vs. Randy Orton

Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt are at it again at WrestleMania and hopefully this time their match is better than the aborted mess that was their WrestleMania 33 match. The 2017 version of Bray Wyatt was floundering, and the special effects used in the match were anything other than scary. Now that Bray Wyatt is working as his “Fiend” alter-ego and his television exposure has been kept to a minimum, his work is stronger than ever. Given the involvement from Alexa Bliss and some creative camera work and special effects in the fan-less WWE Thunderdome, the build for this match has been one of the only standout storylines on WWE television right now.

Randy Orton is a versatile performer and seems to be in his element dealing with the supernatural aspect of Wyatt’s character. These guys are going to want to erase the memory of their first WrestleMania match and deliver a match to remember this time around.

Prediction: Winner, Randy Orton

Roman Reigns (c) (with Paul Heyman) vs. Edge vs. Daniel Bryan in a Triple Threat match for the WWE Universal Championship

For years I complained that Roman Reigns was a talentless disaster that ruined every single WrestleMania main event he was in. He was miscast as a babyface, his promos and catchphrases were cringe-worthy, and his in-ring psychology defied logic. Then he disappeared the week before WrestleMania 36, forfeiting his spot in a championship match with Goldberg and stayed off WWE television for months.

Then something strange happened. Reigns pivoted into a heel and finally became a talent worth taking an interest in. His brooding mannerisms are much more suited towards being the arrogant “Head of the Table” than whatever the “Big Dog” was supposed to be.

While it is a feel-good story that Edge was able to return to the ring after being forced into retirement due to a neck injury, his reemergence has been a complete debacle. His WrestleMania 36 match with Randy Orton was among the worst on the card, a thirty-minute exercise in how many times they could hit each other over the head with a heavy object. Not much longer after that, Edge was lost to injury in a development that surprised nobody. While he was able to win the Royal Rumble and secure a title match at WrestleMania, it seemed like the match was lacking something big.

Cue everyone’s favorite underdog, Daniel Bryan. Bryan was the main event winner that WWE management did not even want on the card at WrestleMania XXX. After being forced into early retirement himself and making a miracle comeback, Bryan is now being asked to spring into action to spice up the action for the main event of WrestleMania 37. There has not been a career arc like this in WWE history!

For the first time in his career, Roman Reigns will be in a WrestleMania main event worth watching. Bryan knows his days are numbered and will look to make this a match to remember. This not only has match of the night potential, but it could also go down as a WrestleMania classic.

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Universal Champion, Daniel Bryan

WWE WrestleMania 34 Postscript

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

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

WrestleMania 34 Winners

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

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

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

Braun_04082018MM_0007--04dc9147d5347c78880c958b103c85ad.jpg

Unlikely WWE Raw Tag Team Champs!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WrestleMania 34 Losers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Next?

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

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

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

WWE WrestleMania 34 Analysis and Predictions

 

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

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

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

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

On to my expert predictions.

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Champion, AJ Styles

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and still WWE Intercontinental Champion, The Miz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: This match will suck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winners, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winners, Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Winner and new WWE Universal Champion, Roman Reigns

Working the Shoot for WrestleMania Season

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WWE fans like to think that we’re smarter than our predecessors from 30 years ago.  We think we know what is going on behind the scenes because we can read about backstage news online.  Now that kayfabe is dead, we know all the insider wrestling terms that the wrestlers give away on their podcasts.  We know what a “work” is and what “shoot” means.  We’d rather not cheer for the “babyface” or the “heel” based on their on-screen persona, we’d like to choose who we like and cheer or boo depending on how we think the WWE is using him.  We want to feel like we’re on the inside and we know what is going on.

Well, I have news for all of you.  We are, indeed, a bunch of “marks” during this WrestleMania season. The WWE is giving us all sorts of “reality” storylines and promos to make us think that the setup behind WrestleMania matches is based in reality.  In fact, nothing can be further from the case.  The WWE creative team is working us all on the way to WrestleMania, both with true-style angles, and completely over-the-top ridiculousness, and the fans are eating it all up!

Take a look at the yet-to-be-announced John Cena vs. Undertaker match. The Undertaker has yet to make an appearance during WrestleMania season at all.  But John Cena has been selling a story line that has brought him from Raw to Smackdown in a futile effort to have a match at WrestleMania, all the while hinting that he should wrestle The Undertaker.  Finally, he called out The Dead Man on Raw one night and pretended that “they would cut off his mic because they told him the match wouldn’t happen”.  Guess what?  Whoever “they” is, wrote every line he spoke that night.  It was a total work, and an extremely effective one.  What probably would have been a dull match is now very highly anticipated.

Contrast the Cena/Undertaker angle with the Cesaro and Sheamus vs. Braun Strowman and his yet-to-be-announced tag-team partner storyline.  How ridiculous is Braun Strowman?  He’s strong enough to pull down lighting rigs, flip ambulances, flip tractor trailers, and turn the entire Raw stage upside down.  Kurt Angle announced a tag-team Battle Royal to determine #1 contendership for the Raw Tag Team Championship at WrestleMania, and Brawn Strowman inserted himself into the match by shouting at the referee, and he proceeded to win it without a partner.  From a reality standpoint, this guy is totally ridiculous.  Yet Strowman is the hottest guy on the roster right now, getting more and more popular every day.  We love it!

How about Daniel Bryan?  Who saw that coming?  Out of nowhere, the guy we thought was forced into retirement as a result of brain damage, was medically cleared to wrestle.  He started off Smackdown the day the story broke with a heart-felt promo about how grateful he was that his family and fans supported him while he was in retirement and he was so happy to be back.  That was as real as it gets on the WWE microphone.  How does the show end?  By him taking a worked beating at the hands of Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens and leaving the arena on a stretcher.  Starting with a shoot and ending with a work, we got the best storyline on Smackdown all WrestleMania season!

Finally, there is the Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar WrestleMania rematch that pretty much nobody wants to see.  This match was rumored as far back as WrestleMania 33, so there wasn’t much suspense leading up to Reigns’ clinching of the spot at Elimination Chamber.  As usual, Roman Reigns can be counted on to be a boring dud on the microphone, and the WWE needed to find a new angle to use to sell this rerun of a match.  Somebody in WWE creative noticed that the WWE and UFC were both in Las Vegas on the same weekend, and that Brock Lesnar was photographed with Dana White on The Strip, while he didn’t attend the WWE show.  They got the brilliant idea to tell Brock to no-show Raw and have Roman Reigns cut a shoot-style promo saying that Reigns was abusing his part-time status by not showing up to Raw, and that we should take Roman’s side because he “shows up for work every day”.  As if that would somehow make him a good wrestler for a change.

At first, the wrestling rumor sites ate it up, and published stories that it appeared to be true that Lesnar really did no-show Raw due to some sort of altercation or disagreement with WWE brass.  The WWE faithful ate it up.  “How dare he disrespect us?  He really is like they say, he doesn’t care about the business he only cares about himself and money!  Screw him!!!”  Suddenly, Roman Reigns sounded somewhat interesting, not because he did anything noteworthy or good, but because people really started to hate Lesnar because he didn’t come to Raw.

The lines between reality and fantasy began to blur and crack the following week when Lesnar no-showed Raw again.  After the third week, it was apparent the storyline was a complete work when Lesnar no-showed for a third time.  The WWE took the unusual step of having the cameras follow Reigns into the “Gorilla Position” behind the entrance ramp curtain to confront Vince McMahon about the situation.  Doesn’t get any more “real” than that, right?

Well, none of the above was “real”.  The Lesnar storyline was a work.  All of it is a work.  We’re all marks and we are eating it up headed into WrestleMania 34.  In today’s wrestling landscape, the WWE has found a way to transform itself from “good guy vs. bad guy” to reality-based angles, and it is working very well right now.

It is the best time of the year to be a wrestling fan and I couldn’t be more excited for WrestleMania week.  Watch this space for expert analysis for all important WrestleMania matches and storylines.  I’m looking for your feedback, too, so stay in touch.

By the way, how cool was that Matt Hardy vs. Bray Wyatt Ultimate Deletion match on Raw two weeks ago?  Why don’t they do more stuff like that more often?  And what does it mean for WrestleMania?

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).